Chapter 3

June 7, 2013

The Lady And Her Match

Of all the things of God’s green earth, there were few things—in the opinion of Lady Savannah Wrightwaite—that were worse than a rake. Next up would be Satan himself and of course, highest on her list—Royce Summerville.

Golden, powerful—a feature of his she knew on a personal level she did not appreciate—and worse, intelligent, Summerville epitomized all that was wrong with the world entire. And he smiled while doing it.

At first glance—since no one in their right might would introduce the most outspoken miss in two centuries to the most outlandish bastard of all time—he’d taken her breath quite away. He’d been knocking her to the ground at the time, but in that fleeting moment between his body impacting hers and the ground rushing up behind her, she’d been just as awed by his beauty as any other miss, Missus or Mr, for that matter. The King himself would probably have been surprised at his thick ringlets, squared jaw, chiseled features of rare, sensual fullness and of course, his brilliant sapphire eyes. She judged—as she was no longer breathing and as such had naught else to do—that he was taller than herself by a good half-foot, something of some notability as she’d be referred to as “Taller than God” on more than one occasion. The breadth of his shoulders was double hers and though she wasn’t supposed to notice (least of all through all the blasted layers of clothing required for someone of her station), the man was made of solid rock. A lot of it.

She’d hoped for an apology. What she got instead was the blighter raising up on his forearms to stare down at her speculatively and murmur, “You’re quite a nice fit, what’s your name?”

Never one to mince with appropriateness, she’d raised her knee the way her brother showed her (brilliant man that he was, he assumed someone would try to kill his sister and that poor fool would most likely be a man) and set the man off her with an unbecoming wheeze. By the time Lady Savannah recovered her feet, quite a crowd had stopped to gawk at the two of them, covered with dust in the middle of Bond Street.

It showed some degree of their infamy that not a single soul was interested in doing more than watching the spectacle.

“That wasn’t very polite, Blossom,” Summerville managed after a few brief coughs.

“I am no one’s blossom, vine or any other plant,” she replied, left with the undignified duty of wiping her bottom free of grime. “You, sir, owe me an apology.”

“And you, my Lady, have ruined my horse.”

“Excuse me?” It wasn’t a shriek. Not by Lady Savannah’s standards. She could quite outdo that small bit of emotion, but to the likes of Royce Summerville—who’d only of late heard cries involving his name, that of God and quite satisfied sighs—it might as well have been the battle cry of Napoleon.

“You were standing in the middle of the street, Madam-”

“Miss!” she interjected.

“Really?” he asked, looking her up and down as one would a work animal. “I suppose that’s not surprising. At any rate, your impossible crossing will most likely lame my animal.” (In truth, while the poor gelding had long ago seen his best days, he was no worse the wear for the momentary excitement)

Lady Savannah was much of the opinion that traffic was meant to yield to those of a more pedestrian nature and as such, she often plowed right through it. This was the first time that her actions had ever landed her in any physical harm—she blanched at the idea of the odious man driving a phaeton instead of over-aged horse—which added insult to injury when she couldn’t come up with a response.

“I am not buying you a new horse.”

“I don’t remember requesting one.”

Drat him, he hadn’t. He’d just accused her of ruining it.

Summerville rose to his feet—and kept rising. Soon enough, she was looking up at his beautiful face, touched with an uncomfortable amount of awe.

Until he smiled.

Though it took her several days to admit she did so in a snit, Lady Savannah stamped her foot, spun on her heel and walked through the laughing crowd to the first store she could enter.

It would be only four months later until she saw him again, this time fully armed with his name, station and knowledge of his impeding earldom—once the current earl did the world a favor and died, that was. Sadly, the knowledge did her very little service.

“We meet again, Blossom,” his soft voice resonated in a whisper behind her, his large hand fitting over hers while her fingers caressed the so-recently lifted emerald bracelet of the Duchess of Devlinshire. “Whatever would you be doing here?” he’d asked, moving to the other side of her, his full lip caressing the shell of her ear.

Despite the fact that she’d been caught red-handed in the Duchess’s jewelry box, her body as the audacity to tingle. That and tighten it’s grip on the stolen bracelet.

“I should ask you the same question,” she replied breathlessly, knowing she was already overstaying her timetable before the servants returned to warm the room.

“I was invited,” he replied, boldly pressing his body against her back, using his hold on her wrist to pull against him. “I did remember you right. How very interesting that the first time I meet a woman who fits me so well has the tongue of a viper and the grip of a blacksmith.”

“Really now, there’s no need for insults.” She tried not to lean her head back onto that broad shoulder while his lips continued their oddly interesting canvassing of the spot beneath her ear, but her coiffure was so very heavy.

“It wasn’t meant as one. I believe a woman with a good grip has many redeeming qualities.”

Smoke curled through her. That’s what it felt like, as his hold seemed to blanket her, making her feel small and delicate when she was anything but. He snaked his free hand across her throat, touching her with a possession that she’d never imagined. Roughened fingertips grazed the hollow of her throat, spread wide at the fingers so there wasn’t an inch of her chest he didn’t touch before snagging on her décolletage and shocking her into gasping.

And releasing the bracelet.

Which fell right into his other hand.

Looking down, Lady Savannah managed to push him away—something she knew only happened because he allowed it, which served to heighten her anger more—and spun against the dressing table. “How dare you!”

He raised a finger to his full lips, his bright eyes twinkling at her. “Now, now, you don’t want to disturb the servants.”

Which, of course, now that he was the one holding the bracelet, she certainly did. As she opened her mouth to scream, he frowned and cupped his huge hand over her mouth.

“Have you no sense of self-preservation? How do you plan to explain your presence here, my Lady?”

She pawed at his hand and reared backward, disturbing bottles and jewels on the table. “I’m quick-minded, I’ll come up with something.”

He nodded. “Well then, that leaves only one option, Blossom.”

“My name is Savannah!” she snapped in a harsh whisper.

The idiot merely smiled at her. Then, probably because he could, he kissed her senseless and put those oversized clubs just about anywhere on her person he felt like. She comforted herself that she ripped some of those fine golden curls out of his head as she kissed him back. But the comfort was cold as he shortly thereafter toppled her over a chair and tied her in place with a bed pull.

“We will see each other again, Blossom,” he said, cheerfully and quickly gagging her while her eyes blazed at him. “I expect this is just the beginning for us.”

“I hate you!” she’d yelled, stomping at the ground as he bowed before her. It lost some of its venom because it sounded more like, “AhPhewfu!”

“See you next round,” he said, tipping an invisible hat and disappearing out of the room.

She convinced herself that she didn’t describe him to the authorities only because she didn’t want to implicate herself, but the truth was—despite her little penchant for stealing and returning jewels—she’d much rather tear the impoverished Earl-to-be apart with her own hands.

Beating him at their little game proved harder than she imagined. He made an effort to be at most of the same events as she, even had the audacity to dance with her on a few occasions—which she assured herself meant nothing and took great pains to rub the glow from her skin after every dance—and whenever there was a reported robbery, Savannah had to chalk up a victory to him. In four years, she’d only bested him twice, each time on her birthday—a present from the cad, no doubt.

She’d decided she needed some sort of ally in her war with the handsome rogue. Not that she wanted him dead, but she did rather relish the idea of seeing him turn purple with impotent rage, and took upon her most dangerous challenge to date. She went to find the Earl of Kenby.

But alas, her blasted sense of timing caught up with her…and all she found was the bleeding body on his study floor.

 

Chapters

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