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EXCERPT:

The PLEASURE of the ROSE
by JANE BONANDER

 A noise woke him. He listened for other sounds, but heard nothing familiar. The smell was different, too—no stale, salty air. No dampness. At least he was on solid ground; his stomach had stopped rolling and tossing with the ship./p>

He struggled to open his eyes. His gaze met a huge, wooly head with a long dark snout. Enormous eyes peeked out from beneath thick furry brows. “What the hell?” He jumped to a sitting position, but he had moved too quickly and felt faint. Expelling a vile curse, he fell back against the pillows, coughing as though he’d bring up a lung He slowly opened his eyes again. The animal was still there. Its giant tongue came out and slathered his cheek with animal spittle.< /p>

Another figure appeared at the bedside. He peered up. It was a woman. She whispered something that Fletcher didn’t understand and the great gray behemoth left the bedside.

Fletcher swore soundly again; he ached all over. Every muscle in his body screamed in pain. With effort, he surveyed his surroundings, noting the high, intricately stuccoed ceiling and the wide shaft of light that came in through a long window across the room. “Where am I?” he asked, and then swore once again, as even the sound of his own voice made his head ache.

The woman blinked and continued to stare but said nothing.

Fletcher rolled his tongue over his teeth. His mouth was dry and he coughed again. “Who are you? Ah, hell, never mind. The inside of my mouth tastes like buffalo shit. Get me some whiskey.”

She didn’t say a word, just stared at him, her expression one of shock and bewilderment.

He cursed loudly once again. How could he communicate if she couldn’t understand him? “You do speak English, don’t you?”

Her expression quickly changed from confusion to impatience. “Aye, but from the sound of it, not as colorfully as you do.”

Oh, God, he thought, a sharp-tongued woman. They were the worst kind. “I asked for whiskey,” he repeated. “Please.” He felt like hell and needed a drink.

“To wash away the taste of buffalo dung, I imagine,” she answered, her voice sharp and sarcastic.

Fletcher frowned. “Whiskey.”

“You’re ill.” She paused, then added, “Your Grace.”/p>

The first few weeks of the voyage he’d spent with his head over the side of the ship, relieving himself of anything he tried to eat. And then the fever and cough had hit him, making him as weak as a kitten. He was glad the trip was over, but he still felt like hell. He studied her, noting her starchy demeanor. “Do you work for me?”

She opened her mouth and then closed it and finally said, “Aye, I’m in your employ.”

“Then get me some goddamned whiskey! Now!” Christ. Suddenly he felt as though he were rocking with the waves again, and he fought back the nausea that climbed his throat.

She backed away from the bed but did not appear afraid. Her gaze grew hard and she didn’t look away.

He looked down at himself. “Where are my clothes?”

“In the fireplace.”

“You burned my clothes? You burned my clothes?”

She looked completely unapologetic. “They stank like cow dung, or, if you prefer, buffalo dung, and were not fit to be saved. And my dog found them irresistible, and I was afraid if she tried to eat them, she’d get ill. So, aye, I burned them.”< /p>

Ah, so the behemoth was a dog. It was almost as big as a horse. “That wasn’t your decision to make,” he groused. “There is a way to clean them.”

“’Tis done, and there’s no retrieving them.”

Hell. He saw his knife resting on the bedside table. “At least you didn’t burn this.” He picked it up. “Are you ever going to get me that whiskey?”

Her gaze was focused on the knife. “Are you threatening me with that barbaric weapon?”

“If that’s what it takes to get me a drink,” he countered.

She tossed her head; he noticed the fine, porcelain line of her neck and thought he detected a pulse at her throat. “As you wish.”

Her tone was like ice. Everything about her was icy. Cold. Wintery. Just like the damned weather in this place. The last time he’d been awake they had been skirting the Scottish shore. The seas were wicked, the air was damp and bone-chilling, and the sky shrouded in misty clouds. He missed the Texas heat.

She returned with a glass and a bottle.

Ignoring the glass, he took the bottle from her and drank deeply, the liquor burning a path to his stomach. He lay back and felt himself relax, although there was still a chill in the room. He swore he could see his breath. “It’s cold as a witch’s tit in here.” He pulled the blanket higher, cradling the bottle close.

“I’ll have someone add peat to the fire. Surprisingly, your clothes didn’t generate as much heat as I thought they might, considering all the raw animal fuel they contained.”

She was pretty damned rude for a servant. “Who in the hell are you?”

“I’m Rosalyn Marshall. Your Grace,” she added, as if it were an effort to address him so.

“Geddes’s sister.”

She gave him an imperious nod.

The widow. The veritable paragon of womanhood, according to her brother. She was pretty, but she looked like the kind of woman who would never dream of shedding her clothes and sliding naked into bed next to a man and pressing her breasts against him. The kind of woman who wouldn’t dream of grabbing him between the legs and giving him a good, hard squeeze. The kind of woman who could freeze a man’s balls off by just looking at them. Brrr.

In other words, she looked like the kind of woman he had avoided all of his life.

“Is there someone else besides you working here?”

Her head inched up a notch. “You’re not happy with me?”

He scrubbed his face with his hand. “I would say, ma’am, that you’re not happy with me. I get the impression that you feel you have better things to do.”

“I think it’s best if I deal with you. I’m not afraid and your bellowing won’t send me running from the castle.” She crossed her arms over her generous bosom. “If you must know, Your Grace,” she said, once again appearing hesitant to use the term, “you are not what we were expecting.”

“Just what were you expecting?”

She blushed but did not break her gaze. “Geddes wired me that he’d located you, but he neglected to inform me of your unusual lineage.”

Fletcher puffed himself up and scowled. “He didn’t tell you I was a goddamned red-skinned savage? Well, then, off with his head!”

She looked at the floor and appeared to stop a smile. “You may tease if you like, Your Grace, but you have no idea how people will react when they first see you and realize that you truly are the new duke.”

“Believe me, ma’am, sometimes even in Texas we breeds attract more attention than we wish to.”

“Nevertheless, I am here to take care of you. You have a fever and your cough is troublesome. I am a suitable nurse.” She had haughtiness about her, a cool superiority that made him want to give her trouble. God, women like her really brought out the worst in him.

He kicked off the blanket, leaving himself bare. “I want a bath, and some clothes. And I’ve got to get up; my ass is getting numb from lying here. And where’s the piss pot?”

A pink stain crept up her neck, into her cheeks. “The chamber pot is under the bed.”

He swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood, testing his strength—and her resolve. He felt dizzy. “Whoa.…Will you get it for me?”

“What?”

“Get me the piss—ah, chamber pot. Please.”

With obvious reluctance, she got to her knees, reached under the bed, and brought out the pot. From his position he could see the swell of her breasts. They were creamy and soft looking. She removed the lid and dropped it on the floor; it clattered noisily. She started to walk away.

“Where are you going?”

She leveled him with a gaze that, though carefully controlled, could not hide her anger. “To give you some privacy.”

“I may need your shoulder to lean on. I feel weak.”

“Then I suggest you use the bedpost.”

Good one, he thought. “As my nurse, aren’t you supposed to help me?”

She nudged the pot with her toe and moved it toward the end of the bed. “There. Use the bedpost.” Then she disappeared behind a folding curtain.

When he finished, he took the blanket and wrapped it around himself, and then sat down on the bed again. “I’m done.”

The door opened and a dour-looking middle-aged woman with sad eyes entered, carrying two steaming pails of water. Geddes strode in behind her, carrying two more. “We have your hot water, Your Grace.” They disappeared behind the folding partition and he heard water splashing into a tub. The woman left, carrying the empty buckets, and Geddes stoked up the fire. “How are you feeling?”

Out of the corner of his eye, Fletcher saw the sister stop what she was doing and watch the exchange. “I feel like a herd of buffalo has trampled me.”

“Yes, well, my sister Rosalyn will see that you feel better.”

Fletcher raised an eyebrow in her direction. “She burned my clothes.”

Geddes gave the woman a pointed look. “You did?”

“They stank.” Her voice was matter-of-fact.< /p>

“Unless you want me to walk around stark naked, I suggest you get me some clothes,” Fletcher said.

“We will find something,” Geddes promised, then added, “My sister will be your nurse. She insisted that she alone will tend to you, my lord. Isn’t that right, Rosalyn?”

Rosalyn shot daggers at her brother.

He crossed to the door. “I’ll leave you in Rosalyn’s very capable hands.”

When he left, the room was quiet, except for the ticking of the clock on a long table below an enormous painting of some young dandy in a long wavy wig and ruffled shirt.

“You alone? How flattering,” Fletcher commented with a smug smile. “How very flattering, indeed.”

“I offered to nurse you, that is all. Barnaby is the valet. I will send him up to you while you bathe, but…he’s really quite decrepit, and the less he is required to climb the stairs, the better for his rheumatism.”

“Hmm, he sounds useless,” Fletcher said around a purposefully careless yawn. “Why is he still here?”

“He has been in the employ of the MacNeils since he was a lad.” She became fiercely protective. “Your grandfather has stipulated that Barnaby be allowed to stay on here until the day he dies.”

Fletcher knew this; Geddes had gone into detail about everyone in the household. But if the widow could treat him with contempt, he could give her a hard time. “We’ll see about that.”

Her clenched jaw and narrowed eyelids spoke volumes.

He grasped the bedpost to steady himself. He really did feel weaker than he’d imagined. He shook his head and felt the floor come up.

She was immediately at his side. “Maybe you should lie down.” Her voice was kinder, less icy.

“I’m not getting into that bed again until I have a bath.”

“Fine,” she said sharply, but placed his arm around her shoulders and helped him to the tub. He could smell a flowery scent in her hair, as if she had rinsed it with roses. It was the color of Texas wheat, and looked soft and abundant. He glanced down at her chest again, outlined by her fitted dress. She had a bosom most women would envy. Odd, he found himself wondering what she would be like in bed, curious to know what secrets lay between her thighs.

Alone, he sat in the water for a long time, his mind fuzzy, yet not entirely asleep. He did need a woman; it was simply that he hadn’t had one in so long, even this one tempted him.

©2016 by Jane Bonander

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