Eight Spinsters Singing - Monica Burns
An award-winning author of erotic romance, Monica Burns penned her first short romance story at the age of nine when she selected the pseudonym she uses today. From the days when she hid her stories from her sisters to her first completed full-length manuscript, she always believed in her dream despite rejections and setbacks. A workaholic wife and mother, Monica believes it’s possible for the good guy to win if they work hard enough.
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Abigail stood rigidly at the window pretending she could see the snow-covered ground through the endless black pitch beyond the glass. Instead of snow, she saw the parlor behind her reflected in the window pane. While her sister played the piano, her three brothers surrounded Lydia as they boisterously sang God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.
Her father watched the merriment from his stuffed, leather chair, while smoking his favorite pipe. Just a slight turn of her head rewarded her with the shimmering image of a fire crackling in the hearth and a massive pine wreath hanging over the mantle. A large purple bow accented the wreath, matching a similar bow atop the large Scots pine tree in one corner of room. Even from here she could feel the heat of the candles lighting the branches of the tree.
The scent from the tree her brothers had cut only a few days before wafted beneath her nose teasing her senses as she stared at the fuzzy images in the glass. Her gaze settled on the one figure she’d been trying to ignore. Abigail bit the inside of her cheek as the Earl of Tunbridge’s tall form wavered in the window. It was difficult to tell, but she thought his head had turned in her direction for just a moment.
Her composure was just as fragile now as it had been when he’d appeared in the parlor doorway. After what had transpired between them, she had not expected him to attend her family’s annual Christmas night gathering. The instant she’d spied him in the room, shock had rooted her where she was while her family had quickly rushed to welcome their neighbor.
Although instinct had urged her to run, she’d refused to do so. Instead, she’d managed to maintain her composure and except for that one breathless moment when Zachary had kissed her hand in polite greeting. His mouth against her skin had made her tense with longing and a bit of fear. It had been difficult not to jerk her hand out of his as the touch had been a vivid reminder of how eagerly she’d succumbed to other, more intimate, caresses.
Rattled by his presence, she’d barely managed to extract her hand from his without trembling. Bent over her hand, he’d looked up to study her intently, his gaze glittering with cool, dangerous assessment. Sharp and visceral, it had made her realize her efforts to remain unaffected by him were hopeless.
The power and magnetism she’d succumbed to a year ago had only intensified with time. He’d always set her senses on fire, but tonight there was a dark, sinful edge to him that was new and disturbing. What would she do if the two of them were suddenly the only ones left in the room? Would she succumb to him as easily as she had the last time? Instantly, her body tightened with need, and she had her answer.
More than a year had passed since she’d mistaken her room for Zachary’s at Lord Munford’s house party. A chill washed over her at the memory. It was impossible to remember a time when she hadn’t loved Zachary, but not until that night in his bed had she ever dreamed of something more lasting between them.
In his arms, she’d found passion, pleasure and a sweet tenderness that had led her to believe he might return her love. Hope had sustained her for more than a week after that blissful night as she’d constantly reassured herself that Zachary would come to her. But his silence in the days that followed brought with it a disappointment and fear that soon became her constant companions.
Abigail’s hand fisted in the silk of her gown. It had been difficult to accept that Zachary would use her so unconscionably. She’d thought better of him. Not once had he ever given her any reason to doubt he was a gentleman. Even when she’d stumbled into his bedroom he’d given her the choice to leave or stay. It had taken a visit from Zachary’s sister to bring Abigail to her senses.
There had been little tact or sympathy on Caroline’s part as she’d bluntly stated her brother would never marry a social climber like Abigail. The Earl of Tunbridge couldn’t begin to contemplate taking a commoner as his wife, let alone one without a sizable fortune. Perhaps the most humiliating moment of his sister’s visit had been Caroline’s scornful description of Abigail sneaking out of Zachary’s room.
The moment the other woman had left the house in a grand display of disgust, Abigail fled to her room to lick her raw wounds. When she finally ventured downstairs two days later, her father had handed her the invitation to visit her mother’s family in Boston. Eager to put as much distance between herself and any possibility of a chance meeting with Zachary, she’d left within the week. But not even in Boston, where her mother’s family had passed more than a dozen suitors in front of her, had she been able to forget Zachary.
“The Twelve Days of Christmas, Lydia. Play the Twelve Days of Christmas,” Matthew exclaimed over the noise.
The request made Abigail’s heart sink. As a child, her younger brother had reinvented the song. They’d all thought him quite clever at the time. Even she had laughed at the idea of twelve rakes cavorting and eleven mamas plotting. But eight spinsters singing had become a painful reminder that she would never marry.
She no longer found anything entertaining about the short phrase that was repeated over and over again in the song. Abigail closed her eyes for a brief moment. It wasn’t Matthew’s fault she’d given her heart to a man who would never marry her. Forcing a smile to her lips, Abigail straightened her shoulders and whirled around with a happy enthusiasm she didn’t feel.
“Yes, Lydia. Let’s sing Matthew’s version of the Twelve Days of Christmas,” she said with a laugh. “It will be fun.”
A slight frown crossed her twin brother’s face. James could always sense when something was wrong with her, and tonight was no different. She offered her twin an even brighter smile to hide her pain. There were worse things than becoming an old maid. A marriage to someone she didn’t love would be far worse.
“Why don’t we have eggnog instead, Abigail?” Her twin asked as he pinned his astute gaze on her.
“Oh not yet, Jamie. I’m in the mood to sing.” Abigail forced another laugh past her lips as her gaze flitted across every face in the room save one. “Come, Lydia. Play the song.”
Abigail quickly moved forward to rest her hands on her sister’s shoulders as Lydia’s fingers touched the piano keys. Determined to hide the way her heart was breaking, Abigail kept a smile on her face as everyone’s voices filled the room. They were halfway through the song when she suddenly realized she didn’t hear Zackary’s dark baritone.
Without thinking, she glanced in his direction. Her heart slammed into her chest as her gaze met his. Something in his dark eyes made her think he could see her pain beneath the false facade of happiness she wore. Alarmed by the thought, she quickly averted her gaze. A moment later, they finished the song, and before anyone could suggest another tune, Jamie cleared his throat.
“I’m for the eggnog. What say you, father.” Her twin turned and arched his eyebrow at his father. With an agreeable smile, Squire Caulfield stood up and nodded his head.
“A capital idea, Jamie.”
Noisily, the small group moved toward the large bowl of eggnog Cook had set up near the hearth. As Jamie drew Zackary into conversation, Abigail cautiously circled the piano and moved to her father’s side. In a loving gesture, she caught her father’s hand in hers and carried it to her cheek.
“Forgive me, father, but I think I’ll retire for the evening.”
“You’re unwell, my dear?” the Squire leaned forward to brush his lips over her forehead.
“No. Simply tired,” she lied. Her lips curved in a smile that made her cheeks hurt as she kissed her father’s cheek then left his side.
Eager to flee, she slipped quietly out into the hall undetected by anyone. Almost instantly, the tension holding her muscles tight with trepidation receded. Grateful she’d put distance between her and Zackary, she walked toward the library. It would be impossible to fall asleep easily and reading would keep her mind occupied. A mocking laugh echoed in the back of her head, but she ignored the sound. Inside the library, she reached for the book ladder and pulled it along its rail to where her father kept his collection of Plato.
Lifting her skirts up to her calve, she quickly climbed several of the ladder rungs to study the books on the top shelf. Head cocked to one side, she read the titles on the hardcover binding, looking for something that would occupy her through what she was certain would be a very long night. Just as she reached out to pull a book from the shelf, a firm hand gripped her ankle. With a gasp, she gripped the sides of the ladder and jerked her gaze downward. Zackary. It took her a moment to realize she’d breathed his name out loud, but the way his eyes narrowed said he’d heard her.
“Come down from there, Abigail.” The dark and unrelenting note in his voice sent a shiver down her spine as she shook her head.
“I’ve not finished looking for a book.”
“Forget the book. I want to talk to you.”
“But I don’t want to talk to you,” she snapped. His warm hand leisurely slid upward to caress the back of her knee, and her insides were suddenly little more than jelly. “Stop that.”
“Stop what?” he asked arrogantly.
“Take your hand off my leg. Now, my lord.”
“Why? I like touching your leg. It’s quite delectable. In fact, I believe I’ve kissed this very spot.”
His thumb brushed against the crevice at the back of her knee, and her heart stopped as she remembered how deliciously wicked she’d felt when his mouth had explored every inch of her. Desperately, she tried hard to ignore how his fingers were searing her skin through her stocking. She failed. Scrambling off the ladder, Abigail pushed him away before quickly putting several feet between them.
“You take liberties you are not entitled too, my lord.”
“Do I?” A hint of steel layered the question, which wasn’t really a question at all. It was a warning. She swallowed hard.
“You said you wanted to speak with me, Lord Tunbridge, and I’m listening.”
She jumped backward as he closed the distance between them, only to find herself trapped between him and a shelf of books pressing into her back. Abigail’s mouth went dry as she met Zachary’s penetrating gaze. His fingertips brushed across the top of her exposed shoulder to slide toward her throat.
“Such a beautiful neck,” he murmured as his fingers drifted down to slide across the tops of her breasts. It was a gentle touch, but something in his expression made her think he wanted to throttle her with his hands. Her heart stopped then resumed beating at a frantic pace.
“My lord, please stop.” She wanted to bite her tongue off at the note of desperation in her voice, especially when she saw Zachary’s eyes narrow.
“Fear, Abigail? You weren’t afraid the night you came to my bed.” The mocking note in his voice made her lift her chin.
“I’d had far too much champagne and it wasn’t until…” she paused and heat flooded her cheeks at the memory. Slightly tipsy, she’d undressed in the near dark completely oblivious to Zackary’s presence. “I thought I was in my own room.”
“And yet you didn’t try to leave the moment you realized your mistake.”
“I…I wasn’t thinking clearly.”
“Nor was I,” he said in a soft, dark voice that caressed her senses.
The seductive sound made her heart race even faster, and a tremor streaked through as he bent his head to brush his mouth along the edge of her jaw until he gently nipped at her earlobe.
“My name, Abigail. Say my name.”
“Please Zackary...” Her protest was more of a sigh as he nibbled at her ear again.
“Did you really think you could simply walk away from me, my sweet?” he murmured as he gripped her waist and pulled him toward her.
“I didn’t walk away,” she gasped. Her hands pressed into his chest she tried to put space between them, but he thwarted her attempt.
“You’re right. You didn’t walk, you ran away.”
“That’s not true,” she protested.
“You ran away to Boston.”
Zachary’s body clenched with anger as he bit out each word. After one incredible night, she’d left him dangling in the wind just as a hangman would a condemned man. The worst part was the way she’d discarded him so easily. It was far too reminiscent of his own behavior when it came to his mistresses. She’d turned the tables on him, and he didn’t like it.
“I went to visit my mother’s family in Boston,” she said in a stubborn tone. “I’d hardly call that running away.”
“It’s of little consequence now as we can easily continue where we left off.”
“What?” Her gasp made him smile with satisfaction. One arm wrapped around her waist, he held her close and ran the back of his hand across her bare shoulder. Her skin was soft as down.
“We are far from finished, sweetheart. I’ve only had a small taste of you, but I intend to have more.”
His anger receded and desire took its place as his fingers slid along the edge of her bodice across the tops of her firm, large breasts. She quivered beneath his touch, and he remembered his hands caressing the rest of her lush curves. No woman had ever responded to him the way Abigail had. Desire surged through him as he remembered how tight she’d been around his cock.
“You’re mad if you think I’ll agree to a liaison with you.” The brittle words pulled him back into the present.
“Not a liaison, Abigail. I’ve already asked your father for your hand in marriage.”
“Marriage…you asked…but why?” she stammered as a bewildered look crossed her features.
The confusion on her face erased the last of his anger. He’d made a mess of everything. He should have said to hell with the cotton mill and come to her straight-away after that night at Munford Hall. He understood her confusion. It was exactly what he’d experienced the morning after she’d shared his bed. In those brief moments between sleep and awareness, he’d reached for her, certain that it would be the first of many mornings waking up beside her.
When he’d discovered her gone, self-disgust had replaced his initial disappointment. Even when he’d learned she’d left Munford’s house at the crack of dawn he’d not been surprised. He’d compromised her. What reason would she have had to stay when he’d not even broached the subject of marriage? The memory made him grimace.
“As you say, a liaison is out of the question, which leaves me with no choice but to marry you.”
The look of horror on her face was as tactile as a sharp jab to his jaw. Did she hate him as much as Caroline had said? His stomach lurched with fear. If only he’d gone straight-away to see her the day after Munford’s party. Instead, he’d chosen to send her a simple note before he traveled north to end the threat of violence between striking workers and management at his cotton mill.
It had been a hastily written letter with little more than the assurance that he would call on her as soon as he completed his business in the north. Thinking back on the note he’d given to his sister to hand-deliver, he could only imagine what Abigail must have thought about his matter-of-fact message.
“I won’t marry you,” she snapped with a sharp shake of her head. He winced at the vehemence in her voice.
“Do you find the thought of marrying me so repulsive?” The knot lodged in his throat was large enough to block his windpipe, and he tried hard to swallow it.
“The thought of a marriage without love repulses me.”
“Then you do not find me repulsive.”
He clenched his jaw as an odd expression flashed across her face before her mouth thinned to a mutinous line. When she didn’t reply, he quickly released her. Hands clasped behind his back, his nails digging deep into his palms, he could feel the tic in his cheek as he studied her defiant expression. Caroline had warned him that Abigail would want nothing to do with him.
Christ Jesus, what had he expected? Perhaps if he’d declared himself the night he’d bedded her she wouldn’t find him so despicable. Instead, he’d relied on a miserable piece of paper to convince Abigail his intentions were honorable. A message that had been stilted and awkward at best.
“You have every right to despise me, Abigail,” he rasped as turned away from her unable to bear the look of disgust on her fact. His fingers spiked through his hair in a vicious stroke. “But I want to make amends.”
“Amends?” The sharpness of the word cut through him like a blade. “Marrying me will only make both of us miserable.”
“I don’t believe that,” he said fiercely as he turned back to her.
“And I don’t particularly care what you believe. I won’t marry you.”
Even angry she was as beautiful as he’d remembered. Auburn hair softly framed her round features, and her pale pink lips made him ache to kiss her. For years he’d only seen her as the sister of a good friend, but that night at Munford Hall he’d come to his senses and realized why he’d spent so much time visiting at Caulfield House over the last few years.
As Zachary watched, the tip of her tongue flicked out to wet her lips, and his mouth went dry as he remembered the sweet taste of her. God, he’d missed her. He took a step toward her, and she immediately darted for the door. Zachary let her go. The door was locked, and he had the key. Abigail rattled the door then whirled to face him, her blue eyes wide with outrage.
“Open this door, my lord, before I scream.”
“On one condition.” His quiet reply made her eye him warily.
“I want one more night with you.” His words were almost as much of a surprise to him as they clearly were for her. Abigail’s mouth fell open in amazement before she straightened her back to stand rigidly in front of him.
“You can’t be serious.”
“Oh, but I am.” He nodded. “I want one more night of pleasure with you.”
“Pleasure?” she scoffed hoarsely.
“Don’t deny you found it pleasurable, Abigail. I know better.” His words made her blanch.”
“All pleasure has a price. I paid my fee more than a year ago, and I have no intention of adding to the experience.”
“Damn it to hell,” he ground out between clenched teeth as he took two steps forward to shorten the distance between them. “You misjudge me, Abigail. I might have bedded you, but I didn’t walk away.”
“Didn’t you?” Her contempt was as icy as a winter storm.
“No. I didn’t.” Her eyebrows arched upward, and he grimaced. “I know my letter was far from satisfactory in terms of a proposal, but I did tell you I would return soon. Instead of waiting to hear what I had to say, you fled to America.”
“What did you say?” All the color had drained from her face, and Zachary frowned. She looked as though he’d hit her.
“My letter. I know I’m not a poet, but I thought you’d understand that I intended to offer for you.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Why the devil not?” He exclaimed. “I gave the note to Caroline with explicit instructions that she was to come see you and deliver it into your hands alone.”
“Your sister came to see me, but she gave me no letter.” Abigail shook her head, her words sharp and bitter.
“She simply informed me that you would never marry a commoner, particularly one without a sizable dowry.”
“Sweet Jesus,” he said softly. Why would Caroline say such a thing? “Are you telling me you didn’t read my letter?”
“I received no letter. Nothing except a reassurance from your sister that you wanted nothing to do with me.”
Without hesitating, he closed the gap between them and tugged her into his arms. She was trembling badly, and he nestled her close against his chest. There would be hell to pay when he saw Caroline. His sister had almost cost him the woman he loved. His throat tightening with emotion, he bent his head and pressed his lips against the top of her head.
“The letter,” she whispered. “What did it say?”
“It’s what it didn’t say that’s more important.” His fingers tipped her head backward so he could look down into her eyes. “It didn’t say how much I love you.”
A choked cry parted her lips as she closed her eyes for a moment. When she looked at him again, she blinked away tears then reached up to press her fingertips against his mouth.
“It’s true? You really love me?”
“Yes.” He took her hand and pressed his lips to her palm. “
“Oh, Zachary,” she said with a sob as she pulled his head downward and began to feather his face with kisses. “I love you. I’ve always loved you.”
Tenderly, he caught her face in his hands and pressed his mouth to hers. Warm and soft, her mouth was every bit as sweet as he remembered. The familiar scent of orange blossoms filled his nostrils, and he deepened their kiss with a quiet groan. Sweet Jesus she tasted good. No better than good. She tasted right. As if she’d been made just for him. She was the best Christmas present anyone had ever given him, and he would never let her go.
It was a gamble she was born to make…
Raised in a brothel at a young age, Allegra Synnford quickly learned that survival meant taking charge of her destiny. Now, a renowned courtesan skilled in the pleasures of the flesh, she chooses her lovers carefully—vowing never to be vulnerable to any one man. Until a mesmerizing Sheikh strips that control from her…
With a man who wasn’t used to losing.
Sheikh Shaheen of the Amazigh has been hiding from his past for a long time, but not enough to forget how another courtesan made him abandon his life as the Viscount Newcastle. It’s why the yearnings this dangerous temptress ignites within him are so troubling. Worse, thoughts of Allegra pervade every fantasy, threatening to undermine his cover. With old enemies circling, experience tells him he must resist her charms at all cost. In fact, he’s betting on it. That’s a risky wager when it comes to a woman of pleasure. But Allegra has her own reasons for playing games…with a man who can’t afford to lose.
What happens between them is Kismet…
Read first two chapters of Kismet: Here
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