Well, long time no Wallingford! I know you guys like the occassional taste of this bad boy,so here's a little excerpt that did not even make into the final draft of the book. My editor, in fact, has not even seen it. I decided to leave it out,due to a number of factors, the least of which was word count.
But I really liked it,and saved it, thinking that Wallingford's fans might be interested. In this scene, Jane has followed him after seeing that he's received a mysterious missive from a woman. In a fit of pique and curiosity, Jane impetuously goes after him.
Jane crouched to her knees and steadied herself by holding on to a thick branch. It had been mere child’s play to follow him to this spot in the meadow that bordered the Wyre Forest. A male voice, rumbling a short distance away, caught her attention. Jane swayed gently on the balls of her feet, moving from side to side in an attempt to see Wallingford and his mystery woman from between the rustling leaves. “You told me you would come back soon,” a small quiet voice said from beyond the leaves. “You lied to me.” “Is it not soon?” he drawled in that exasperating laughing way of his. She could almost see him standing with his arms folded across his chest and his black brows arched in mocking hauteur. “Don’t tease.” “Never you, love,” he drawled, his voice deepening. “You know I never tease you.” “I was afraid that maybe…maybe you no longer l…l..liked me.” “Silly pet,” he murmured as a twig snapped beneath his boot. “You know how very fond of you I am.” “I am your favourite woman,” she replied then promptly giggled. “My very favourite.” Unable to stem her curiosity, Jane knelt to her knees and parted the leaves that hung profusely from the branches. She saw Wallingford from the knees down as well as a flicker of lemon yellow muslin that wrapped around the leg of his blue wool trousers whenever the breeze picked up. Damnation! She wished she could see more. She was certain this creature was not Lady Burroughs. The countess was brazen and worldly; this creature sounded innocent and frighteningly naïve, which made her question what the devil Wallingford was doing in the middle of the forest meeting an innocent. “I made you angry last time when I refused to do what you wanted.” A male grunt followed that statement, but he did not speak. “That’s why you left. Because I didn’t please you. I didn’t like being left like that.” “And that is why we are meeting here, is that not right, so you can make amends?” Jane felt her lips firm in indignation. What blatant manipulation on his part. Why, he was turning the woman’s obvious guilt to his advantage. He was actually going to coerce this poor innocent into a sordid affair in the middle of a meadow. “I want to please you,” the voice whispered in the quiet. “I do not like it when you are cross with me.” “Come then, let us try again,” he said in a deep drawl. “I’m afraid,” the voice suddenly cried, and Jane pressed forward in order to see them, but her bonnet caught on a branch and pitched forward obstructing her view. “There is nothing to be afraid of, pet.” “It’s…It’s awfully big.” Tearing the bonnet from her head, Jane smothered a gasp of shock. Bloody hell, the libertine! Was he taking this woman’s hand and pressing it against his trousers as he had done with her? Wallingford’s sudden chuckle sent an unsavoury ripple down Jane’s spine. She assumed it was a shudder of disgust, but then she felt warmth seep into her blood as she recalled just how large he was beneath his trousers. She was scandalized to discover that it was not completely disgust, but a small measure of jealousy she was experiencing. “You wouldn’t want a small one. Trust me, love.” “I might want it to be small,” came the frightened reply. “After you get the knack of it you will not want a small one. Trust me.” “I’m not sure what to do.” “Why do we not start by touching him, hmmm?” “No, I don’t want to.” There was a brief rustle of starched muslin and the faintest of feminine whimpers that made Jane think they were tussling. “He’s hard.” “Mmm,” came a low murmur. “It’s moving!” shrieked the woman. “Well of course it’s moving!” he said through what Jane could tell were gritted teeth. “He finds your touch pleasurable. He’s moving in for more of your hand. Give him what he wants, pet.” Bloody hell! What disgusting act was he forcing on this…this innocent? “It’s wet.” “Happens. It’s been a bit since he’s been ridden hard. He can’t quite hide the fact he’s been neglected.” “I…I’m afraid,” came the voice again, but this time it sounded more like a child than a woman. “I don’t know what to do.” “Let me show you, pet. You’re doing so well. Can’t you see how much he is enjoying your touch? ” “What do you want me to do?” “Sit astride him.” “No!” the woman gasped. “I can’t. He’s too big.” “Sssh,” Wallingford soothed. “Now you promised me, and we cannot go back on our promises now, can we?” A little whimper escaped the woman’s lips and Jane felt her stomach contents churn uncomfortably. What would he do if the woman refused--would he rape her? She had heard rumblings about him before, his seductions that leaned toward forced. Jane’s breath caught in her throat. No, she would not let him! No woman would suffer such a fate if she was nearby to prevent it. God above, she’d scratch his eyes out before she let him hurt any woman. “How long must I sit on him?” “As long as it takes.” Wallingford replied silkily. “Who knows, perhaps you won’t want it to come to an end.” She heard the woman make a sound, but Jane could not see her, nor decipher it was a noise that stemmed from doubt or excitement. “Come, pet, I will buy you some sweets if you do this.” “I want a doll. You promised to buy me a doll if I sat on him. ” Jane’s spine straightened and she sat up, gagging at what she heard. This was a child. And a young one at that. “Very well, you shall have a new dolly. A pretty china one. As pretty as you. Now then,” he said with a slight grunt. “Climb on and lets have a go. You’ve teased long enough.” “You bloody bastard,” Jane roared, charging from her hiding spot in the bushes. Her bonnet was swinging in the air and her reticule shot out in a wide arc as she flailed her arms like a mad woman, hoping her weapons would connect with something, preferably his head. “Leave that child alone, you bloody lecher!” She hissed as her reticule connected with his shoulders. “Damn you, Wallingford, you bloody leech, you debauched…” she panted as she brought her bonnet atop his head, preparing to crown him with it. “How could you? How could do this to an innocent? What pleasure is there to be had in a child-” Choking on her panting breaths, Jane paused to catch her breath and bring her bonnet smashing one more time atop Wallingford’s head. A strong hand manacled her wrist and her gaze immediately shot to his dark hand gripping hers, then to his eyes which looked murderous. Blinking widely Jane darted her gaze to the right and nearly fainted dead away at the sight before her. “Good day,” the woman said as she smiled brightly. Her gaze volleyed back to Wallingford who arched one questioning brow. Mortified, she pushed away from him and took a step back. “Miss Rankin,” he snapped, and Jane saw how his gaze lowered to her skirts, which she knew were damp and dirty about the knees. “I see you’ve been spying on me. How very awkward.” “I…I…” she swallowed hard and looked up at him. He was dressed in only his shirtsleeves and trousers. His jacket and waistcoat lay in a heap in the long grass. Her gaze swung to the child—or what she had thought was a child. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered as she started to back away. The girl, a young lady, really, was sitting atop a huge chestnut horse, her yellow gloved hand busily brushing the beast’s glistening wet nose. “My sister,” he snapped as he waved his hand in the direction of the young lady atop the horse. “Lady Sarah Astbury. Sarah, pet, this is Miss Jane Rankin.” Oh God, what had she done? He must think her mad. “How do you do,” the woman replied and Jane saw that she had straightened her posture and was slowly rocking back and forth in the saddle as her hands nervously began to wring in a ball, the reins becoming tangled between her fingers. “Come, pet,” Wallingford said softly as he reached for her. “You’re becoming agitated and the horse can sense that. There’s a girl,” he murmured, steadying her as her feet landed on the ground. “I am sorry, Matthew that I did not ride him as I promised you.” “Sssh,” he said with an affectionate smile. “You did your best. Next time, hmm?” She smiled brilliantly and turned her gaze from her brother and settled it on Jane. “I’m afraid of horses,” she said simply. “My brother says I must learn to ride, but I do not want to. He says I can have a doll, though, if I learn. I like dollies.” The body of a young woman, the mind of a child. Sarah Astbury was a good head taller than Jane and as slender as a reed. From beneath Sarah’s bonnet brim, Jane could see that she shared the same colored eyes as her brother. “I’m seventeen,” Sarah said proudly. “My brother says that maybe I can come to London and go to a ball. I can dance. Matthew taught me. I love to dance. Do you dance, Miss Rankin?” “Ah, no,” she said, glancing at Matthew. “My brother will you teach you, won’t you, Matthew? Matthew loves to dance.” Jane felt herself flushing, but Wallingford took it in stride as he smiled benevolently down at his sister. “Matthew says that if I learn to ride, he will take me riding in Hyde Park. I’ve never been to Hyde Park. Have you?” “Pet,” Wallingford said on a laugh. “It’s best for a lady to keep an air of mystery about her. You’ll have told Miss Rankin your life story in the first five minutes of your acquaintance, then what would you have to talk about over tea?” “Gossip,” Sarah replied bluntly. “Father says women have nothing better to do over tea than gossip. And I am a woman, and women gossip. Is that not right?” Lady Sarah asked her pointedly. Wallingford laughed and wrapped his arm around his sister’s shoulders. With an affectionate squeeze he looked down at her and smiled. Jane was quite stunned by that show of affection. “Do you think she knows?” Sarah asked in what was meant to be a whisper. Wallingford’s eyes softened and his smile melted away. “Do not concern yourself, pet.” “Pray forgive me,” Jane choked out as she took an awkward step back. “I mis.. that is to say…” “You thought I was ravishing a child and you came to save the day, is that it?” “What does ravishing mean?” Sarah asked. “I thought perhaps…well, that is to say you could hardly blame me for thinking…” “Oh I can blame you,” he snapped. “I’m sure it all sounded very debauched and sordid with you hidden and crouched on your knees listening to everything.” His black brow arched as he pointedly looked at her. “Hard and big and sitting astride obviously took on a different meaning to you than from what I had intended.” Jane blushed red to her roots and looked away. “No doubt you were recalling those few moments back in Raeburn’s salon, when hard and big was undoubtedly the truth. She glared at him. Wicked, wicked man! “I hear something,” Sarah said, her voice suddenly guarded. “Father,” Sarah cried, pressing against Wallingford. “I know the sound of his boots.” “Sssh, pet.” Wallingford soothed, but the gentleness of his voice was lost beneath the roar coming from the brush. “Damn you, girl, where the devil have you got to?” Jane watched as Wallingford whispered something in her ear as a middle aged man with white mutton chop sideburns and unruly hair came barging out from between two large bushes. “Well, well,” the man said, looking between the three of them. “What have we here?” “N…N…Nothing,” Sarah cried. The man gave Sarah a withering glare. “Simple, useless girl,” he snapped. “Get over here.” Jane felt her spine go rigid as the man pointed to a spot by his boots as though he were demanding a dog to come to heel. “Stay,” Wallingford commanded the girl in a soft voice. “You will release her to me,” the man roared. “Sarah, damn you, come here at once. You know you are not to leave the estate. Lord, the last thing I want is the villagers seeing you.” “Return to the estate, you Grace,” Wallingford replied through snarling lips, “and I will bring Sarah back in an hour.” “Don’t meddle in my affairs, sirrah,” the man hissed, then promptly snatched Sarah from Wallingford’s hold. “The chit is none of your concern. I’m embarrassed enough by you, why should I add to my mortification with this bumbling creature as she goes about, humiliating me with her stupidity? Get going, girl,” the man ordered, shoving Sarah along. Jane watched as Matthew’s gaze turned murderous. “If you harm her you will answer to me.” The man laughed and crossed his arms over his chest. “And what will you do?” he said with a cruel laugh. “You can’t even rouse yourself out of bed, let alone get up the nerve to confront me.” “Don’t threaten me.” “Who is this?” the man asked, suddenly turning his gaze to Jane. “None of your concern.” “No, eh?” the man said, looking her over with his bright eyes. “Everything concerns me. I hold the land, the title and the purse strings, if you will but remember.” “Miss Jane Rankin,” Jane said with a curtsey as she ignored Wallingford’s narrowed gaze. “Another lightskirt,” the man grumbled. Jane gasped at the insult and took a step forward preparing to give the man a scathing set down. Wallingford stopped her with a hand on her arm. “You will come by the estate before you leave the county,” the man addressed Wallingford. “We have business. Business that can’t wait.” Jane watched as the man cupped his hand around Sarah’s slender neck and ushered her toward the bush. Wallingford let out a choked growl from deep in his chest and took a step forward. “I will kill him if he hurts her.” Jane glanced at Wallingford and saw the promise shining in his eyes. “Your father, I presume?” He turned his gaze to her and slowly nodded. “Charming, isn’t he?” Jane swallowed hard and tilted her head to the side so that she could watch as the duke and Lady Sarah disappeared amongst the trees. “And Lady Sarah, she will be safe with him?” “For now,” he muttered, looking away. The silence that ensued was awkward between them and the humiliation soon began to reawaken. Lord, she had made such a muck of things. If only she had tamped down her jealousy she would not have followed him out here and behaved so abominably. But then you would have never seen him like this, considerate of the feelings of another. Loving and caring a woman who was imperfect. “Shall we?” he asked, motioning to the horse. “I’m certain our whereabouts are being questioned.” “Perhaps then, we should not be seen arriving back at the house together,” she murmured, conscious how it would look if she were seen with him, riding atop his horse. “I trust you can find your way safely back, then?” “Indeed.” With a shrug, he bent and picked up her bonnet that had fallen to the ground and handed it to her. “Good day, Miss Rankin.” “Good day, my lord.” He was vulnerable, a little voice inside her whispered as she watched Wallingford ride away. It had been there, shining in his eyes. She had seen something kind and loving in a man she thought incapable of love or kindness. She had wanted to reach out and place a hand on his arm and touch him, ground him. God help her, she still wanted to. But what she wanted more was to peel back the pieces of this man and learn what truly resided deep within him. Like an onion, Wallingford had many layers, most of which would make a woman cry.