A Rake for Christmas

By: Ann Lethbridge

Chapter One

December 24, 1813

8 o’clock ante meridiem

Dear Lord Townsend,

It is with regret I must once more write to you on the matter of neighborly consideration. I recognize, as you so kindly pointed out in your last letter, that your duties as host required you to ensure your guests enjoy their visit. Nevertheless, I remind you of your responsibility to respect the sensibilities and peace of the individual who has the misfortune to share your walls.

After yet another disturbing night of revelry, I must humbly insist you use your obviously inventive abilities to find a way to muffle the sounds which permeate through to my side of the house.

Your neighbor,

Eugenie Hartwick

P.S. I have only one cat and if your gardener would simply repair the gaps in the hedge I am sure he would not stray onto your side of the garden.

Richard eyed the neatly penned missive delivered by a footman at some ungodly hour that morning. The cat lady who occupied the other half of his rented Hampstead accommodation and therefore shared a wall with him, clearly had not a scrap of Christmas good cheer. What bad luck.

And they were paper-thin walls as he knew to his cost.

In the early hours of each morning, around seven o’clock as near as he could judge, sounds of her life began drifting through his walls. Often he lay in bed, with one lady or another fast asleep on his chest, and listened in some odd haze of fascination to those peaceful ordinary sounds. The quiet quick tap of her footsteps. The modulated voice used for servants and the warm tones as she spoke to her infernal cat. Tones which stirred interest in his blood.

At night, though, after a bout of sensual acrobatics with his latest mistress, in that moment of silent satiation between waking and sleeping, the sounds from the other side of those walls were quite different. Thumps on a pillow. Sighs. And finally muffled moans. Then silence. In that silence, he imagined the flushed skin and pounding heartbeats of release.

And every damned time, he became hard as steel. It was like making love to a woman with none of the benefits. No touch or sight and worst of all, no culmination. Sensual torture. He was beginning to think she did it on purpose.

And it was getting worse. Now, in the throes of making love to his mistress, he’d started thinking about the spinster who lived next door. The cat lady’s imagined responses to what she was hearing, anticipating how she would sound when he was done. Distracting to say the least.

Once or twice, he’d toyed with the idea of inviting her over, but Sonya was far too jealous to allow another woman in his bed. He sighed. Sonya was no fun at all, anymore. In fact, she bored him to tears.

And he could not look to his neighbor to enliven his nights. She was a lady, not a light skirt. One slip and he’d be taking the road to hell. A forced marriage.

So he satisfied his urge for congress through their acrimonious correspondence. The fine art of written sparring. He found her acerbic wit amusing and her intelligence an unexpected challenge.

He reread the note. How to respond today? The clock struck the hour. He lifted his gaze from the precise elegant script to stare out of the window overlooking the lawn, gazing over the low privet hedge between her house and his with a sense of anticipation and, dammit, a growing arousal.

Right on time, the orange cat slunk from her side to his through a break in the greenery.

Pen in hand, Richard leaned back to watch. Daytime voyeur instead of nighttime eavesdropper.

Clad in a dark blue gown he could only describe as drab and sensible, her shoulders wrapped in a gray wool shawl, her head enveloped in a wide-brimmed bonnet, Lady Eugenie tripped down her garden path. He hated that shawl and that bonnet. They hid her hair and her face and much of her figure. If he could only get a look at a sharp spinster face, or perhaps a stick-thin body, he might not have this throbbing ache in his groin.

An ache neither his hand, nor even another go with Sonya would entirely dispel.

The thing was, while he tried to imagine her as a crone, the sway of her hips, the lithesome stride of her long legs, made every hair on his body stand to attention. Along with his other unruly part. She walked like a woman in tune with her body. She moved with the sultry grace of a siren.

And that sent his thoughts right back to the sweetly soft sounds she made on the other side of his chamber wall.

His erection demanded a meeting. It insisted he seek an introduction. It didn’t care if turned out she had the face of an old boot. It wanted those legs wrapped around his hips. It wanted that slender body beneath him.

At a break in the hedge she halted, her annoyance quite evident in her posture and the tilt of her head.

He leaned forward.

Her head turned, sending a quick glance at the back of his house. He grabbed up the telescope he’d placed, handy. He cursed foully. Too late. She’d already fallen to her knees, stretching her arm through the break in the hedge, her delectable bottom suggestively raised.

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