Sealed with a Kiss

By Sierra Glenn

 Chapter One: Lord Roderick Demmings       

 June 6th, 1805

            It is a typical ball; chandelier light pools through every window, orchestras entice couples into alluring dances, liquor flows freely in every cup, and young girls giggle and fawn over eligible men like Lord Roderick Demmings. Roderick stands in a dark corner of the ballroom, unamused by the flirtation and the gaiety for once in his lifetime. Normally, the pretty girls fluttering eyelashes and fans would intrigue him, yet tonight he is seething with rage towards Lord Hubert Winslow. Is he his mentor, yes, and is it inappropriate to confront him at his daughter’s debut ball? Absolutely, but that isn’t going to stop him. Lord Winslow owes him a bloody explanation.

            “You don’t seem to be enjoying yourself, old chap,” a voice chimes as Roderick turns to face Oliver Winslow.

            “You can thank your father for my sour disposition,” Roderick grumbles before Oliver’s charming face screws up with confusion. Roderick sighs and hands Oliver the letter from his waistcoat pocket. Oliver reads it quickly before his jaw drops.

            “Willow Glades? When did he—“

            “I was in London when he transferred the deed into his name,” Roderick interrupts as he takes the letter back.

            “Well, you might have to wait until after Linett’s entrance, or you will not get the chance to talk to him,” Oliver says with green eyes full of sympathy.

            “I don’t plan on talking to him, Oliver. I want to wring his bloody neck, or at least curse him a little,” Roderick growls.

            “Then please wait until after the ball. I didn’t come from London to have you ruin Linett’s night,” Oliver retorts.

            “Is your sister so uptight that this ton parade really matters to her?” Roderick scoffs and Oliver chokes on a shocked laugh.

            “Linett? Uptight? If you’ve met my sister, you’d realize how ridiculous that statement is. This ball is important for her reputation though. She needs to make a good impression or she won’t marry well, which is important to me…have you never met Linett?” Oliver asks, yet Roderick replies with a shrug.

            “Not like I’m really interested. I met your other sister in London a few times, but she seemed pretty standoffish,”

            “Yeah, well Eveline had an issue with Father taking on such a young apprentice,” Oliver says, which only reminds Roderick of Lord Hubert’s betrayal.

            “I agree with that sentiment,” Roderick mumbles, his jaw ticking as rage flashes in his eyes. Oliver gives him a small, sympathetic, smile.

            “If I can find Linett, I’ll introduce you two finally,” Oliver mutters, and Roderick grins to hide his angst. It is very unbecoming for a man to brood, or so his mother said.

            “You sure you want me to meet her? With my wicked reputation?” Roderick teases, and Oliver’s smile widens.

            “She isn’t a silly tart easily seduced, Roderick, and I know you’re loyal enough to restrain yourself,” Oliver retorts, yet before Roderick can reply, the orchestra stops playing, patrons stop talking, and every ton member turns to face the arched entryway. Over bejeweled curls, feathered pins, and slicked hair, Roderick sees a small girl with a demure smile on her lips standing beside Lord Hubert Winslow. Her raven locks are controlled and laced with small pearls that catch the light when she curtsies low. She straightens with that meek smile plastered to her face like the perfect ton doll. Her white muslin gown swishes across the floor as she slips into the crowd.

            “Please tell me that’s your sister,” Roderick mumbles and Oliver laughs, watching Linett greet guests with her chaperone two feet behind her.

            “We may look nothing alike, but yes. That’s Linett,” Oliver says and he couldn’t be more accurate. Oliver and Eveline have golden locks, yet Linett’s hair is pitch black, her skin is alabaster while theirs is olive and tan, and her lips are full while theirs are thin. Besides the bright green Winslow eyes, there is nothing that would expose her as his sister. Oliver notices Roderick’s intense stare and groans, “Remember to behave, Roderick. She doesn’t need you to ruin this for her,” Oliver warns as Roderick flashes him a wolfish grin. They both watch as Linett mingles with the crowd, her hands clasped innocently in front of her. It isn’t until she sees Oliver that the mask falls. She politely excuses herself, and weaves through the crowd, losing the female chaperone who was supposed to keep Linett in line. Finally, Linett reaches Oliver’s side before hurling herself at him, his arms wrapping quickly around her waist.

            “Oliver!” she cries, her green eyes gleaming in pure delight, “I can’t believe you’re here! I thought you would be too busy with school,”

            “I managed to get a few days to come see you. You know I wouldn’t miss this ball for any reason,” Oliver chimes as he sets her back on her feet, “Though you should be more reserved, Linett. You are sixteen now,”

            “And you sound just like Father,” Linett counters, “I swear he lectured me all the way down the stairs about propriety, and staying with my chaperone, and not to leave the ballroom…” she ends her speech with a sigh, and Roderick chuckles, remembering when Lord Hubert told him the same thing two years ago. Though for very different reasons. Roderick’s laugh draws Linett’s attention away from her brother, and Roderick smirks when her jaw drops lightly. He’s surprised her. Good. Even though he wears the traditional formal garb for a ball, his careless black locks, shocking blue eyes, broad shoulders, and imposing height has him standing out in the usual ton gathering. He cocks an eyebrow at her, and she jumps into a clumsy curtsy with a bright blush on her cheeks. The wicked part of him wants to use Linett for his own pleasure, and Lord Winslow’s demise, yet he promised he’d restrain himself. With his pleasure comes Linett’s ruin, which is something he could never do to a woman.

            “Lord Roderick Demmings, this is Lady Linett Winslow,” Oliver formally introduces before Roderick bows with a smirk on his lips.

            “It is a pleasure to finally meet you, Lady Linett. I’ve heard wonderful things about you,” Roderick chimes and Oliver rolls his eyes.

            “Wonderful? You jest. This little girl is a harpy,” Oliver teases, and Linett dramatically gasps.

            “Oliver, I am not,” she cries before turning to Roderick, “He’s just mad that I used to beat him in card games. He will never forgive me for it,” she adds and Roderick laughs, enjoying the way Linett’s full lips slip from the pout of a child to the searing grin of a young woman. He’s intrigued by Oliver and Linett’s banter, especially since he was raised as an only child. He had companions, of course, but this…this is different.

            “You know you always cheated,” Oliver accuses with a small jab to her arm. Linett looks up at Oliver with equal stubbornness in her eyes.

            “How could I cheat when you— “Linett starts, but stops when she realizes everyone in the ballroom is watching her. Judging her. Roderick pities the girl as she forces herself to go back to the boring, perfect-postured, doll that the ton expects her to be. Women in his Society weren’t allowed to be loud and expressive. Most of them were told to be calm, and simper behind their feathered fans. Marriage and fortune were too important for them to lose their tempers in public.

            “I apologize, Linett. I didn’t mean to get you in trouble,” Oliver whispers, yet she just shrugs, “How has Eveline been?” he asks, hoping to get the conversation to safer grounds.

            “She is fine; engaged to Lord Anders so I do not see her as much as when you were home,” Linett coldly states. She doesn’t want the ton to disapprove of her on the first night, though Roderick prefers her fire.

            “Really…I thought Lord Buxley proposed to her…”

            “He did. Father rejected the marriage, and engaged her to Lord Anders instead,” Linett mutters, dropping her gaze to the ground. Roderick notices the girl in question talking animatedly with young Lord Buxley, a brown-haired man with little fortune, and not many estates. The pair shares an amicable laugh, and Roderick can tell that Eveline shares Buxley’s feelings. Too bad Lord Winslow is too greedy and pompous to realize their attachment.

            “I guess Lord Anders is a good enough match. He is wealthy,” Oliver exclaims, drawing Roderick’s attention back to the siblings in front of him. Linett shifts from one, small, slipper heel to the other.

            “Indeed…hopefully he makes her happy,” Linett mumbles, yet something about Linett’s demeanor exposes a different feeling.

            “Linett—“

            “Oliver!” Lord Hubert Winslow barks, startling the group. Roderick’s blood boils with rage, and he is about to confront the man when he notices his pale complexion, and emerald eyes full of dread. Whatever news he has isn’t good news.

            “Father…?” Oliver starts, yet the older lord just shakes his head and gestures for his study, “Excuse me for just a moment,” Oliver says before disappearing into the crowd of muslin gowns and wool waistcoats.

            “Linett, where is your chaperone?” Lord Winslow glumly says, and Linett shrugs.

            “I forgot…” she mumbles and he sighs.

            “Roderick, please do me a favor and watch out for her. I don’t have time to find Eveline, and I trust you will keep your hands to yourself for once,” Lord Winslow growls before wandering after Oliver. Roderick looks down at the girl in front of him, surprised she is sixteen when her small stature only brings her to his chest. She looks as if she could be so much younger, and her frailty is probably why Lord Winslow is so protective of her…

            “So why do you hate Lord Anders?” Roderick asks, startling Linett from her composure. She opens her mouth and closes it, caution dripping in her sweet, emerald, eyes, “Don’t worry, I’m not about to tell the fool,” he adds as her eyes drop to the ground again.

            “What makes you think I hate him?”

            “Well, you’re not in love with him, are you?” Roderick retorts and the panic, rage, and shock on Linett’s pretty face make that question all worthwhile.

            “Absolutely not!” she cries, her fists clenched as he raises his hands in submission. It takes her about five seconds to recover her composure, and Roderick is sure he’s going to break it again. He has to.

            “It was just a question…so why do you hate him?” Roderick replies, flashing an innocent smile as her cheeks flush angrily.

            “Why would Father want someone like you for an apprentice…” she grumbles, and Roderick laughs darkly.

            “My witty personality?” he chimes, and Linett laughs. The sound is pure music to his ears.

            “I honestly doubt that,” she exclaims, and Roderick grins wickedly.

            “How about I show you?” Roderick counters as he offers her his hand. Quickly, hesitation replaces her charming smile.

            “Father told me I’m not allowed to dance,” Linett says. Roderick cocks a challenging brow as his smirk widens.

            “Do you always do what your father wants?” he asks, and Linett’s caution falters. He promised Oliver he would refrain from his rakish ways, yet a little charm doesn’t hurt…right? Linett’s chin lifts defiantly, and a small smile forms on her lips.

            “No not always, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to dance with—“ she stops, her green gaze changing from defiance to utter fear as she spots something over his shoulder. Her fear makes him curious and concerned as hell.

            “Linett?”

            “Yes, I’ll dance with you. Please,” she quickly says, her voice pitching anxiously.

            “All right then…” Roderick chimes, his smirk soothing some of her fear away. She clings to his arm so tightly that he can feel her nails dig through his wool coat and cotton shirt sleeves. This is not the reaction he was expecting from her. This is the reaction of an animal being hunted. Not a woman at a ball.

            “It will be all right,” Roderick whispers as he spins Linett into his arms. His large hand consumes her small waist, and he mentally curses corsets. Linett gasps slightly at the contact, and she stares up at him with that pleading fear in her eyes, “It will be all right,” he repeats and she smiles softly. He steps towards her, leading her into a waltz, and enclosing the distance between them. His tall form encompasses her, and he can see her relax in his arms, her fear subsiding as the music and the dance comfort her, though on every turn her eyes flicker to the crowd watching them. Roderick recognizes Lord Hubert’s anguished stare, which comforts him slightly. Let the old man think he’s corrupting his daughter. Next to Lord Hubert is Oliver, and although his eyes are pained, he’s smiling at them. But that isn’t who Linett is looking at.

            “See anyone important?” Roderick mutters and Linett jumps slightly, her cheeks flaring brightly.

            “No, no one,” she quickly stammers, her face only inches from his as he leads her into another dance, “You are a very good dancer, Lord Demmings,” Linett exclaims before Roderick laughs lightly.

            “My mother was a very good teacher. She often told me that women don’t marry bad dancers,” he replies with a sheepish grin, “She was the one who made sure I had the propriety, charm, and skills necessary for the ton,”

            “How did you end up an apprentice if you’re a lord?” Linett candidly asks. Anyone else would find her curiosity intrusive, yet Roderick finds her openness oddly endearing.

            “Well…my parents died when I was young, and my godparents couldn’t train me in the financials of being a lord, so I asked Lord Hubert for assistance,” Roderick explains, surprised he even told her that story. He’s never shared his past with anyone, except Oliver. And now her.

            “I am so sorry, Roderick,”

            “It is all right. That was five years ago,” he quietly says, spinning Linett once more before the music ends, and everyone politely claps. Roderick smiles at her, “You are not a bad dance partner either,”

            “Thank you,” Linett chimes, her green eyes happily gleaming. Roderick can’t help but stare at her. This was probably why Lord Hubert didn’t want Linett to socialize: her eyes draw men in like a siren’s call, and make them desire more from her.

            “Linett, I—“

            “Why, Linett. There you are,” a man calls, and just like that, Linett’s glee is gone. Roderick watches as the fear flashes across her face before she defaults to a completely blank expression and turns away, still clinging to his arm desperately.

            “Good evening, Lord Anders. What can I do for you?” Linett says calmly. The immaculate lord stands before her in a vibrant waistcoat, cravat, and breeches; hell, even his boots shine in the ballroom light. His blond hair is slicked back to fashion, and his chocolate brown eyes stare greedily at Linett. Roderick feels Linett’s fingers dig into his arm again; something about this interaction doesn’t feel right to him, yet it would be improper for him to interrupt. The pale, cold, stare on Linett’s face tells him to screw propriety. He clears his throat and straightens to his full imposing height, which is a few inches taller than Lord Anders.

            “Linett, who is your friend?” Lord Anders asks and Roderick feels her nails again. She doesn’t just hate this man, she is terrified of him.

            “I am Lord Roderick Demmings, and I do believe you should address her as Lady Winslow. That is more appropriate, do you not agree?” Roderick exclaims, and Lord Anders grins coldly.

            “Indeed. You are correct. I apologize if I insulted you, Lady Winslow. I was hoping you would treat me to this next dance,” Lord Anders muses, reaching a perfectly gloved hand towards her. Linett’s grip tightens on his arm, and even though Roderick has no claim to Linett, he isn’t about to let Lord Anders dance with her.

            “Actually, Linett asked me to escort her to the garden,” Roderick interrupts, and Linett nods quickly.

            “I’m sorry, Lord Anders, but I really need some air,” Linett breathlessly mutters. Lord Ander’s eyes narrow on her grip on Roderick’s arm, and he frowns.

            “Don’t think seducing the daughter will win you any points, Apprentice,” Lord Anders growls.

            “Don’t be ridiculous, Gregory. I asked him to escort me not the other way around,” Linett snaps before stepping back, “Excuse us,” she pulls on Roderick,  half-dragging him with her out of the ballroom through glass doors.

            “Well that was interesting,” Roderick chuckles as he slows his pace, “Linett…relax…he didn’t follow us,” he adds when she won’t stop walking. Finally, she stops by a beautiful water fountain and stone railing.

            “I know…I just didn’t want everyone else to see us either,” she mumbles, releasing her death grip on his arm. Roderick laughs lightly.

            “You really shouldn’t be alone with me. I do not have the best reputation,” Roderick teases and she grins.

            “Oh, I know. I’ve heard some particularly awful stories from Father, however, you are my chaperone, and I really didn’t want to be alone with Lord Anders,” she says, perching on the stone rail.

            “Yeah, what was that about, Linett?” Roderick questions and she sighs lightly.

            “Nothing…he just makes me nervous,” she quietly states, yet he can tell it isn’t the full truth. For now, it will do.

            “Well I am more than happy to provide you with an escape,” he chimes and her smile brightens. The fear melts from her eyes as she stares at him.

            “You know…you don’t seem like someone who would work well with my father,” Linett says and he laughs.

            “We have our moments,” he vaguely replies.

            “Do you plan on leaving his service?” she asks.

            “Eventually…why?” he retorts and she blushes lightly.

            “No reason. I was just curious,”

            “Why, Lady Linett…do you fancy my company?” Roderick counters with a wicked grin. She just laughs.

            “I find you fascinating. I mean nothing else by that question,” she states with a defiant smile on her face.

            “Hmm…if you say so,” Roderick purrs, smirking down at her as he steps closer. He is mesmerized by her sparkling eyes, flushed cheeks, and full lips. She hesitantly stands, looking up at him with a flicker of desire in her eyes.

            “Roderick…” Oliver calls, and instantly Roderick steps away from Linett. He bows slightly as Linett runs to her brother’s side. Oliver’s face is ashen, his eyes full of fear.

            “Oliver, what’s wrong?” Linett asks him and he just sighs.

            “I need to speak to Roderick,” Oliver murmurs, handing Roderick a letter with shaking hands. The seal on it causes Roderick’s heart to sink, and fear to bubble in his veins.

            “Linett…um…we will be right back. Are you going to be all right?” Roderick hesitantly says and she nods, confusion written all over her face, “It was wonderful meeting you this evening,” Roderick adds before bowing and following Oliver out of the garden, the heavy dread resting in his chest as he realizes his life as he knows it is over. He and Oliver were drafted for war.

 

THANK YOU ALL FOR READING!         

We hope you enjoyed this exciting excerpt from a soon to be published deliciously Romantic Historical Novel 'Series', that I for one am eagerly anticipating with 'baited breath' ( how else would one wait for that devastatingly handsome rogue 'Roderick' or the clearly desirable 'Oliver' ), shared with us by  our very own extraordinarily talented author Sierra Glenn.

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