The Highwayman’s Bite

Scandals With Bite Book 6

ISBN: 978-1981299164

 

One stolen kiss

When Vivian Stratford ruins her reputation by challenging a suitor to a duel, she is packed off to her great uncle’s estate until the scandal blows over. On the way, her carriage is stopped by a rakish highwayman. Vivian unsheathes her rapier and duels with the thief. He steals a kiss before disappearing into the night.

Rogue vampire, Rhys Berwyn, robs carriages to help his mortal descendants pay the mortgage on their farm. Sadly, he cannot steal enough to pay off the massive debt owed to the Lord Vampire of Blackpool, and time is running out before his family will be evicted.

Will change her life forever…

When Rhys discovers that the beautiful swordswoman he encountered is none other than Blackpool’s niece, he abducts her and holds her for ransom for the money to save the family farm.

While he keeps Vivian tucked away in a seaside cave, Rhys has trouble keeping his promise to leave his delectable hostage untouched.

Excerpt:

Chapter One

Lancashire, England, 1825

 

Vivian Stratford looked out the carriage window and yawned, even though sleep was impossible on this long journey. The full silver moon in the sky was so bright that the carriage lanterns were almost unnecessary. The rutted road to Blackpool was fully illuminated, a bright path to her impending isolation.

To her reclusive uncle, who would keep her locked away until the scandal died down.

Madame Renard, Vivian’s companion, made an indelicate snorting sound as she woke from her doze. “Have we arrived yet?”

Vivian shook her head. “No, but the moon is bright. Perhaps we can stop and have another lesson?”

Madame Renarde sighed and stroked her square jaw. “My joints are aching too badly for such rigorous exercise. Besides, it is not safe for women out in the dark.”

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“We are in the middle of nowhere,” Vivian retorted a little sharper than intended. Immediately, she was contrite. “I am so sorry, Madame. It is just that I’m weary of being trapped in this carriage. I want to stretch my legs and practice…”

Madame Renarde straightened her cap with a frown. “Your father told me to never allow you to touch a rapier again.”

Vivian had expected as much, but hearing the confirmation still felt like a thrust to the heart. “Did he find out about you teaching me?” Or worse, Madame’s bigger secret?

“No,” Madame said quickly. “And I will not stop teaching you. I know that fencing is your passion. But we must be careful and I think it would be a good idea to keep our steel sheathed for a time. At least until we learn your uncle’s habits so we can discern a safe time and place to fence.”

Yes, that sounded like the wisest course of action. Especially since it was her blade that landed her into this scandalbroth, which resulted in Father packing her off to her great-uncle’s estate. But Vivian was veritably rabid with the need to have her sword in her hand. Those blissful moments of thrusts and parries, dancing light on her feet with the ring of steel in her ears were the only time she felt she had any control in her life.

The rest of the time, it was always what someone else wanted of her. From her governess to her tutors, her dancing instructor, her father, and her suitors, she was always expected to comply, to play a part like a scripted actress that would end with her… what?

The unanswered question made her age-old panic slither over her like funeral crape. Yes, Vivian was aware that she was supposed to marry a suitable man with a good title and preferably a substantial income and bear him heirs. But what else would there be? In all of the stories of fair ladies and princesses, they ended when the heroine married her dashing hero. Why couldn’t Vivian be more like a hero? Have adventures and defeat monsters like Beowulf and Odysseus. Her governess had told her such thoughts were unnatural. Her father only squinted and frowned. Most other ladies her age either shunned or mocked her for wanting more than landing a good match. So she’d learned to be silent about her unconventional thoughts and wordless sense of want for something more.

Only Madame Renarde understood Vivian’s inner turmoil. “I know precisely what it is like to feel that the life Society expects of you is somehow wrong in a way that you cannot quite identify. Yet the notion haunts you like a shade.”

The paid companion had only been at Father’s estate for two months before she’d come upon Vivian late at night out in the garden, where she’d broken down in helpless tears without even knowing why. The aging French matron had pulled Vivian into her arms and coaxed the story out of her as Vivian rested her head on the companion’s surprisingly broad shoulder.

“That is it, exactly,” Vivian had said, wiping her eyes. “I only wish I knew what it was that I want.”

“It will come to you.” Madame Renarde stroked her hair. “Until you do, I advise that you find a hobby that gives you pleasure. Such can clear your mind and allow your deeper needs to come forth.”

“I do have hobbies,” she’d lifted her head from her companion’s shoulder, slightly embarrassed that she’d been caught in such an emotional state. “I read, dance, and study various languages.”

“Yes, and your dance steps are quite deft.” The companion’s gaze had turned speculative. “Wait here.”

Vivian sat on the marble bench, listening to the wind whispering through the leaves of the trees and rosebushes, her curiosity stretching minutes into hours. When Madame Renarde returned, Vivian blinked in astonishment to see thin sword blades gleaming in the moonlight.

“You’ve brought rapiers?” she asked, wondering if she was dreaming.

“Would you like to learn how to fence?” Madame Renarde tossed one of the blades toward her. The rapier flew through the air in an arc and stabbed the grass beside Vivian like a javelin. She stared the quivering metal, fascinated by its delicate, deadly beauty. Slowly, she reached down and gripped the pommel, a primal desire flowed through her being. The sword seemed to represent power. She wanted it.

“Yes,” she’d whispered.

Madame Renarde executed a salute that was both elegant and theatric. “First you will learn the stances.”

They’d trained almost every day. And sometimes, Madame Renarde would disguise Vivian and take her to witness fencing matches. Vivian longed to compete, but as a female, she’d never be permitted.

Madame Renarde was a master fencer, astonishingly quick and nimble for an old woman. Vivian asked her how and where she learned, but it was months before the woman trusted her enough with that story. And months more before she learned of her companion’s ultimate secret.

A secret that her father must never uncover, or Vivian would lose her closest friend forever.

The carriage jerked to a halt, throwing Vivian against the sqaubs, and making poor Madame Renarde fall to the floor. The horses shrieked and made the conveyance lurch again before a man’s voice boomed, “Stand and deliver!”

“A highwayman,” Vivian whispered, her pulse in her throat. She’d heard tales from her father of the days when the thieves ran rampant through England’s country roads. But these days, they had grown rare.

Madame Renarde recovered herself first. She reached under the seat and withdrew her rapier quick as the fox that was her namesake. Then she leapt up from her seat, positioning herself in front of Vivian.

When the carriage door was flung open, Renarde thrust her blade forward. Vivian heard a hiss of pain before a man came into view. The large slouch hat that he wore cast most of his face in shadow, but she could see an exquisite sculpted chin, mischievously arched lips—and the barrel of the pistol he pointed at them.

Madame Renarde sent the pistol flying out of the highwayman’s grasp. Vivian expected him to flee right then and there, but instead, he brought his own blade to meet Madame Renarde’s with a speed that made Vivian gasp.

The ring of steel was piercing in the closed space of the carriage.

The highwayman laughed. “I had not expected such a diverting encounter. You are quite good for an old man. I don’t know why you hamper yourself with skirts.”

Both Madame Renarde and Vivian sucked in sharp breaths. How did he know? Madame Renarde had fooled everyone they’d encountered, including Vivian herself for several months. The shocking observation took the companion off guard, and her sword went clattering to the carriage floor.

“Don’t you hurt her!” Vivian shouted and dove forward to meet the highwayman’s blade with her own.

He moved back, visibly startled by her attack. Vivian continued to lunge, attacking him with a fury of a magnitude that she’d never experienced. The highwayman deflected her blade with lazy parries, yet he did continue to retreat.

Triumph swelled in Vivian’s breast… until her feet touched the packed dirt road outside the carriage. He’d lured her out here so he had more room to regain his offense. Sure enough, the highwayman danced at her and brought his arm across in a Coup d'arrêt attack. But it was a feint, she should have seen that. She barely got her blade back up in time.

“I see that you are a student of that molly,” the highwayman said with a grin. His white teeth flashed in the moonlight. Something seemed off about them, but she didn’t have time to ponder it.

He moved into reposte, a counter attack that rivalled hers in speed and precision.

She matched his attack with the requisite parries, naming them in her head. Tierce… quinte… septime.

As they danced and their rapiers clashed, Vivian realized two things. The first was that she could tell that he was holding himself back. He’d disarmed Madame Renarde with little effort and yet Vivian was still holding strong. Yes, she was faster on her feet than the older woman, but Madame Renarde was quicker and more well-versed with her blade. Madame Renard was a master who’d trained under someone even more impressive, yet this highwayman before her was equal, if not superior. He moved beautifully, and Vivian could see that he was capable of more. She should be insulted that he was letting her continue the match. If not for her second realization.

She was enjoying herself.

As ludicrous as it was, her being outside in the middle of the English countryside at night, crossing swords with a highwayman bent on robbing her, yet her blood sang in her veins, her face flushed with pleasant heat, her heart pounded in exhilaration as they moved together, more exciting than any waltz.

“Flawless Passa-sotto,” he murmured as she dropped her hand to the soft grass and lowered her body to avoid his blade.

His praise warmed her all over. At last, a man appreciated her swordplay rather than scorning it. Vivian shook her head. Had she gone daffy? Why should she care what this thief thought of her? Furious that he was able to wreak such havoc on her emotions, Vivian redoubled her attack.

The highwayman grinned as if he read her thoughts. “I’m afraid I must cut this diversion short.” In an executed move, he knocked the sword from her hand. “Out of respect for your defense of the molly and the skill that he taught you, I will not rob your odd companion.” Before she could breathe a sigh of relief, he stepped forward and seized her arms. “But I cannot depart empty-handed.”

He snatched the jeweled comb that held her hair neatly atop her head.

“How dare you!” she said as her brown tresses tumbled about her shoulders. “Give that back!”

“I have to take something.” The highwayman chuckled. “I wager that fancy locket between those lovely breasts would fetch an even better price.”

Vivian reared back, clutching the locket that had been her mother’s and her grandmother’s before her. The locket that held her mother’s miniature. Desperation flooded her heart. “Please don’t take it.”

“I’ll let you keep the trinket,” the highwayman said, his gloved fingers lightly caressing the bare flesh of her upper arms. Gooseflesh rose up on her limbs, but surely it was only the chill night air. “In exchange for a kiss.”

“I beg your pardon?” she whispered as her heart hammered against her ribs. She’d been kissed twice in her two Seasons and only one had been welcome. But she’d never had a man ask her for a kiss. Much less a highwayman who’d already taken her comb.

“A kiss from a beauty such as yourself to warm me in this cold, lonely night.” The highwayman tilted his hat and favored her with a rakish grin. “That is the price I demand. That, or your locket.”

Heat flooded Vivian’s cheeks as she studied him. His eyes glittered in the moonlight, but the shadow of his hat made it impossible to discern their color. From what she could see of his nose, it was straight and pleasing. Her eyes traveled back down to his firm, masculine jaw and the sharp curves of his lips. Her mouth went dry as she whispered, “Very well.”

She rose up on her toes and lifted her chin to meet him. In time with her move, he lowered his head. Their lips pressed together like the light meeting of their swords. His hands slide down to clasp her waist and she reached up to loop her arms about his neck. He deepened the kiss like a Coulé, sliding his lips over hers in a testing exploration as he’d done with his blade.

Vivian moaned and opened further, submitting to him even as she reveled in the taste of him and the forbidden sensations he’d wrought. This was no chaste peck on the lips like she’d received from an awkward suitor. This was passion made flesh.

Suddenly, he released her with a ragged gasp. “With kisses like that, I’d soon beggar myself. I will depart before I am tempted to ask for more.” He saluted her with his sword. “Thank you for the diverting match and your sweet kiss. I will dream of you.”

With a rakish tip of his hat, he disappeared into the shadows.

COLLAPSE

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