Darling Beast (Maiden Lane #7)

A big, powerful man chained, made helpless. She’d seen boys poke at a chained bear—a beast they’d run screaming from were it free to do as it would. Little boys—and weak men—fancied themselves brave in the face of such helplessness. It made them giddy with false power. And they were apt to wield that power in terrible and cruel ways. Had such a thing been done to her Caliban?

And yet he was holding the hand of a little boy and trailing the boy’s exasperating mother. Perhaps he was lonely. Or perhaps it was the look in her eyes when he’d emerged from the pond and found her watching him that urged his footsteps on. It had been a long time—a very, very long time—since a woman had last looked at him like that. As if she saw something she liked.

Apollo straddled the prone dandy and leaned down into his face, intimidating him as he’d dared to do to Lily. “Don’t come… back until… you can talk… to her with a civil tongue.

Apollo widened his eyes, trying to look harmless—sadly, nearly impossible. He’d hit six feet at age fifteen and topped that by several inches in the fourteen years since. Add to that the width of his shoulders, his massive hands, and a face that his sister had once affectionately compared to a gargoyle’s, and trying to appear harmless became something of a lost cause.

At first she saw only the mess of roots. There wasn’t space in there, surely, for a small dog, let alone a man and boy. But as she watched, a huge hand slapped down on the edge. She started for the hole even as Caliban emerged, head and broad shoulders blackened, clutching Indio to his chest like Hephaestus rising from his underworld forge. She’d never seen such a wonderful sight.

Fear had a tendency to drive away the courtesy of civilization.

Good Lord, His Grace the Ass hiding in the bushes,” Apollo muttered. “Whatever are you doing here?” “Ah, Kilbourne, you’ve regained your voice,” Wakefield drawled. “Pity, but I presume my wife is thrilled. And you are?” He looked pointedly at Montgomery.

He bent to lay his mouth on hers, thrusting his tongue lazily past her lips until she sucked on the thick length. “Are they any different?” he whispered against her mouth, “my kisses? Have they changed so much with my name?” She cracked her eyelids to look at him and murmur into the humid heat between them, “I can’t tell. Perhaps you should demonstrate again.” He licked at the corner of her mouth. “A scientific study, you mean?” His mouth trailed up her cheek, soft as a moth. “Quite,” she breathed. “As you wish.

He burst from the water. He was facing her now. The muscles bunched on his arms as he slicked his wet, shoulder-length hair back from his face. The mist swirled amber over the surface of the water, adorning his gleaming skin as if he were the tributary god of this ruined garden. Her pity evaporated, burned away by the sudden realization that she had it all wrong. He was… She swallowed. Good Lord. He was magnificent.

He’d forgotten, in those long years in Bedlam, through fear and grief and pain, what it was like to simply be with a pretty woman. To tease and flirt and yes, perhaps steal a kiss. He didn’t know how she felt about that kiss—or if she’d let him kiss her again, but he was certainly going to try. He had lost time to make up—much of life itself to live. He’d spent four years in limbo, simply existing, while others found lovers and friends, even started families. He wanted to live again.

He made no reply to that, so she continued, gently wiping around his nose, over the broad brow, and up the craggy cheekbones. Not a handsome face. Not pretty or comely. But it was a good face, she thought. Certainly masculine. Certainly one she was attracted to. She paused, swallowing at the thought. She did not know this man. She knew of him—knew that he would without hesitation fling himself into a filthy hole to save her son, knew he was kind to silly dogs and quarrelsome old women, knew he could, with a single, certain look, make her insides heat and melt—but she did not know him.

Her brows had drawn together over those big eyes, in an expression that no doubt she thought stern, but that was, in reality, rather adorable. Like a small girl chiding a kitten. A streak of anger surged through him. She shouldn’t be out by herself in the ruined garden. If he’d been another type of man—a brutal man, like the ones who’d run Bedlam—her dignity, perhaps even her life, might’ve been in danger. Didn’t she have a husband, a brother, a father to keep her safe? Who was letting this slip of a woman wander into danger by herself?

His hand stilled on her hair and he said, very carefully and calmly, “There is never any excuse for a man to hit a woman—any woman—let alone one he professes to love.” She was quiet a moment, just basking in his gentle strength.

I found it after the soldiers came and I kept it. I don’t know why because at that point I wasn’t sure I’d ever see you again. But then when I uncovered it this morning, I knew… that is…” She reached out and flipped the pages of the notebook until the last page lay open in his hands. She’d written something there. He bent and read. I love you, Beast. I love you, Caliban. I love you, Apollo. I love you, Romeo. I love you, Smith. I love you, Gardener. I love you, Aristocrat. I love you, Lover. I love you, Husband. I love you, Friend. I love you, You. He inhaled and looked up. She was twisting her hands together. “For a writer, I’m awfully ineloquent. I don’t know—” He dropped the notebook and pulled her into his arms, kissing her passionately. He held her sweet face between his palms and caressed her temples with his thumbs as he opened his mouth over hers, inhaling her gasp. When at last he drew back, he whispered against her lips, “Do you know where we are?” “Yes,” she murmured, her eyes closed. “At the heart of the maze.” And when she opened her lichen-green eyes he saw all the love he’d ever hoped for shining in her eyes just for him. “At your heart—and mine.

Indio started forward and took the big man’s hand as naturally as he’d taken his mother’s. “Come on! Maude’s making roast chicken and there’ll be gravy and dumplings.

In that moment Apollo resolved that no matter how ridiculous their mating might be, he wasn’t going to let her change her mind. She was his now—and if he had any say in the matter, she’d be his always.

Lily stopped dead in the doorway to her room and then took a step back. Apollo cocked his head. It’d been a very long day full of trepidation mixed with tediousness and he’d used up all his patience. “If you leave, I’ll follow you out and we’ll have this discussion in the hallway where everyone can hear.” She scowled ferociously at him, but came all the way in the room and shut the door. “What do you want to talk about?” “Us.” “There’s nothing to discuss.” “Yes,” he said patiently, “there is.

Maude was still scowling. “What’s wrong with him? Can’t he talk?” “No, he can’t,” Indio said simply, saving Apollo from having to do his dumb show. “Oh.” Maude blinked, obviously taken aback. “Has he had his tongue cut out?” “Maude!” Miss Stump cried. “What a horrible thought. He has a tongue.” Her brows knit as if from sudden doubt and she peered worriedly at Apollo. “Don’t you?” He didn’t even bother resisting the urge. He stuck out his tongue at her. Indio laughed and Daffodil began barking again—obviously her first reaction to nearly everything. Miss Stump stared at Apollo for a long second and he was aware that his body was heating. Carefully he withdrew his tongue and snapped his mouth shut, giving her his most uncomprehending face.

She ducked her head, studying his fingers, spreading them against her own, comparing their lengths. His hand dwarfed hers.

She glanced again at Caliban as she said, “You and Daffodil were very brave.” “And the best part, Mama,” Indio said, tugging her hand to get her attention, “the best part is Caliban spoke. Did you hear him? He shouted my name!” “What?” Lily stared at Indio’s filthy little face and then back up at Caliban. She absently noted that he had a bleeding scratch on his cheek. That shout right before the accident—had that been him?

She pulled back and murmured, “I’m still mad at you.” “Are you?” His wounded voice had descended into Stygian depths. He pressed open-mouthed kisses to her jaw. “Yes.” She yanked at his hair in emphasis. He grunted, but her grip didn’t prevent him from lowering his mouth to hers again. He nipped at her lips and then licked at them, softening the sting. “I’ll have to see what I can do to regain your good graces.

She rose and walked to the small fireplace, where a kettle had been set long before supper. It was gently steaming now. She caught up a rag and reached for the handle, but another, much bigger, hand got there first. Lily gave a tiny jump, watching wide-eyed as Caliban picked up the hot kettle as easily as lifting a twig. At least he’d had enough sense to shield his palm from the heat with a rag. He stood blank-faced until she pulled herself together. “In here.” She stepped gingerly around his bulk and led him into the little bedroom. A tin hip bath was waiting, laid beside the bed on some old cloths. It was already half full of cold water. “You can pour it in there.” He lifted the hem of his shirt to hold the bottom of the kettle and she caught an unsettling flash of his stomach. Hastily she looked away, her cheeks heating.

She stood still a moment, watching him, and he had no idea at all what she was thinking. Finally she laughed quietly, gesturing with her free hand at the marble figure. “It’s a minotaur. I suppose that’s appropriate.” He looked at the figure, all horns and massive shoulders. “The monster in the maze?” “Yes.” She turned in the dark to face him, and all he could see was the limned starlight on her cheek, the glimmer of the reflected moon in her eyes. “Indio thought you were a monster at first. Did I ever tell you?” He shook his head slowly. “Am I still a monster to you?” “No.” She reached up to trace his eyebrow. “You’re not… that. You never were, really.

that Lady Herrick has a birthmark in the shape of a butterfly on her left buttock. Oh, and that said birthmark turns an interesting shade of lavender when slapped.” Apollo stopped in the hallway outside the breakfast room and simply stared at his companion. “What?” Montgomery looked irritated. “I defy any man to not take the opportunity when presented to slap a lovely arse.

The end of his vicious rant ended in a satisfying squawk as Apollo backhanded him. The other man staggered and fell on his arse. “No, don’t hurt him!” Lily cried, and Apollo hated to think she cared for this man. “I won’t,” he assured her in a level tone. He stared at the sputtering rogue for a moment and made up his mind. “But neither will I… stand by while he… abuses you.” So saying, he picked up the man and tossed him over his shoulder. “Wait here.” The man made a sort of moan and Apollo hoped he wouldn’t toss his accounts down his back. He’d bathed and changed into a fairly clean shirt before coming to see Lily. Pivoting, he marched toward the dock, the man still over his shoulder. “Caliban!” He ignored her calls. He didn’t really care who this ass was—as long as he was nowhere near Lily or Indio.

They had taken away something very important from him when he’d been made helpless. It should’ve broken him, being forced into chains. Yet it hadn’t. Even in her grief she was amazed. She framed his face with her hands, tilting it up so she could look in his eyes. “You survived. You endured and survived.” His lips curved bitterly. “I had no choice.” She shook her head. “There’s always a choice. You could’ve given up, let them take your soul and mind, but you didn’t. You persevered. I think you are the bravest man I have ever met.” “I think, then, that you’ve not met many men,” he whispered. His voice was light, but his face still held the years of tragedy.

What,” she barked, “is that?” “We have a guest for supper tonight,” Miss Stump replied, and as she glanced back at him he thought he saw a mischievous glint in her eye. “Indio’s monster, in fact—though Indio now calls him Caliban.” “Caliban?” Maude narrowed her eyes, cocking her head as she examined him critically. “Aye, I can see that, but is he safe in the theater with us is what I’m wanting to know?” Apollo felt a tug on his hand. He looked down at Indio, who whispered, “She’s nice. Truly.

What the hell was that?” he hissed at Montgomery. “A question.” The duke reached for another piece of toast. “Did you mean to alert him to our investigation on purpose?” Apollo growled. “Yes and no.” Montgomery shrugged. “I’m bored. Nothing’s happening. Sometimes it’s best to send the fox into the chicken house to see if a snake slithers out.

When at last they rose by some unspoken male accord, she noticed with a pang that Indio came only to Caliban’s waist. The man towered over the boy, so much taller and broader that his gentleness was all the more moving as a result. They walked to the pond’s bank and Indio launched his boat. Caliban restrained Daffodil from jumping in after. This man was not at all like Kitty’s husband. Not at

When he’d worked in the garden, he’d awoken as the birds had heralded the rising sun. But here inside, in a soft bed with a softer, warm woman against his side, he found it harder to brush away the tendrils of sleep. “What?” Lily mumbled as he gently removed her arm from his belly. He’d like to linger longer. To kiss her awake and make love to her again, but it was only a matter of time before the servants descended on the room. Besides, the sooner he left, the less likely that he’d run into other guests. So he dressed quickly as she sighed and rolled to burrow into the warm spot he’d left. Apollo gathered his coat and gave a last glance around the room before bending to kiss her again on the lips. Her brow wrinkled ferociously and she cracked her eyelids to mutter, “Is it?” He smiled. Evidently she wasn’t an alert waker. “I’ll see you later.” Her only reply was an unfeminine grunt as she pulled a pillow over her head. The smile still lingered as he crept into the hall and gently shut the door behind him.