Sinful by Carole Mortimer

Chapter One

July 1816

Castle Mona, residence of the Duke of Atholl,

Douglas, Isle of Man

“Who is that magnificent gentleman who just entered the ballroom?” Ordinarily, Olivia wouldn’t have spoken in such effusive terms about any man, gentleman or otherwise.

At the age of one and twenty, with four London Seasons behind her, Olivia considered all men to be feckless and shallow, with no brain to speak of except for the part which, it seemed, dictated the needs of that independent and unthinking member between their legs.

This gentleman, however, did not appear to be of that ilk. Possibly aged in his mid to late thirties, he was exceedingly tall, with hair of the same richness of color and shine as refined molasses. His eyes, as he glanced coolly about the crowded ballroom, appeared to be the clear blue of a summer’s sky. High cheekbones flanked a patrician nose, sculpted lips unsmiling, his jaw square and uncompromising.

There was a defined musculature to the wide shoulders and chest, shown to advantage in the tailored blue cutaway jacket of his dress uniform. Several magnificent medals adorned the top of the jacket on the left side, as well as it being liberally decorated with gold braid down the front and at the cuffs of the sleeves. Gold-tasseled epaulettes gleamed at his shoulders. Beneath a cream waistcoat, those shoulders and chest filled out a white silk shirt to perfection. His waist was narrow, long legs also appearing muscular in cream breeches and white stockings.

Being more accustomed to seeing soldiers in Society, Olivia had no knowledge of what the gentleman’s naval uniform might signify She could only suppose all that gold braid meant this man was somewhat higher in rank than, say, the midshipman who had flirted so determinedly—and without success—with one of her younger sisters during this year’s London Season. Unsuccessfully because their mother would never agree to one of her daughters marrying someone so low in station and rank.

Well…perhaps one, Olivia conceded wryly, but as she had never been courted by so much as a common sailor, it had never been an option.

“That, my dearest Olivia, is Admiral Lord Magnus Forsythe, the Earl of Rockborne,” Cecilia’s announcement was accompanied by a coquettish giggle.

A habit which, considering the two women were the same age and both unmarried, was the exact opposite of what Olivia considered to be her own no-nonsense sensibilities. But in the month since her arrival on the island, Olivia had come to value Cecelia and her parents. Frances Fitzgerald was a cousin of her mother’s but she had insisted Olivia call her aunt and her husband Uncle Cormac. Olivia had also come to appreciate Cecilia’s undemanding and easygoing company. Her own two sisters could be extremely verbally vicious when they wished to be.

Olivia’s smile was far more reserved. “Could you possibly say all that again? I became lost after you announced ‘Admiral Lord Magnus Forsythe…’” In truth, all her attention had still been occupiedas she continued to stare at that newly arrived gentleman. But she was not about to admit to that.

Cecelia linked their arms together. “One is certainly lost for choice in regard to what to call him. Is Magnus not a most delicious name? So strong and powerful, just like the gentleman himself.” She gave the admiral another admiring glance. “I can only imagine how wonderful it would sound to call him darling Magnus when in the throes of—”

“Cecilia.” Olivia had learned over these past four weeks that this was the easiest way to stop Cecilia’s attention drifting from whatever subject they were discussing.

Particularly, as in this instance, Cecilia seemed to be about to imagine herself in the bedchamber with the magnificent Magnus Forsythe. A fantasy which caused an uncomfortable pang of…something within Olivia’s chest.

Surely, when she had not so much as spoken to the gentleman, it could not be a feeling both of a proprietary claim in regard to the imposing admiral himself and hostility toward whomever occupied his bed?

“Is he married?” The words were blurted out before Olivia had opportunity to prevent them.

“Only to the sea.” Cecilia immediately alleviated that worry. “It is rumored that many have tried and failed to engage the gallant admiral’s romantic interest.”

Olivia gave a dismissive sniff. “I do not care for rumors.”

“Nor I, as a rule,” Cecilia stated with a blatant lack of truth. Charming as she was, Cecilia was also one of the biggest gossips on the island. “But,” she continued in an excited whisper, “it is also rumored that the admiral suffered some disappointment of the heart during his youth, and the reason he has never married is because he has been pining for his lost love ever since.”

Olivia couldn’t imagine pining for any man for what must, in view of the admiral’s age, be getting on toward twenty years. Besides, he had not met her as yet to be able to appreciate how foolish it was to indulge in such romantic nonsense as “pining for a lost love.” One man, or woman, was surely as bearable and just as replaceable as another?

An attitude which is precisely why I am still unmarried at the age of one and twenty, she wryly reminded herself.

“His full name again, if you please Cecelia,” she invited briskly.

“Sorry.” The other young lady blushed becomingly. “He is Admiral Lord Magnus Forsythe, the Earl of Rockborne,” she repeated with breathy drama. “As a war hero and personal friend of the Prince Regent, he is on the island as His Majesty’s representative and the guest of honor at the governor’s ball this evening.”

Ah. He was that admiral everyone on the island had been talking about for the past two weeks, since it was announced he and the officers of the three ships he commanded were to attend the island’s week-long celebrations.

Olivia inwardly laughed at herself. Of course, it was him. There were no other admirals of the Crown presently on the island.

Her only excuse for her distraction was that Rockborne’s handsome looks and haughty presence had initially prevented her from fully hearing the list of all his other names and titles. Indeed, she was quite unable to look away as he crossed the room to greet his host and hostess, moving with a feline grace surprising for one so tall and muscular.

Everyone in Society, in England, knew of Admiral the Earl of Rockborne. Most especially of his magnificent valor during the sea battles against Napoleon’s navy, the many accounts of which had thrilled them all for so many years when they appeared in the newspapers.

Many of the men on the Isle of Man had joined England’s navy or army in the fight against the despotic Corsican, and some had given their lives to that end. Which was gallant and self-sacrificing of them when the Isle of Man, situated in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland, was a Crown dependency rather than part of the British Isles, with the Prince Regent having the title of Lord of Man rather than being its sovereign.

But it was testament to how close the links between England and the island were that the Prince Regent had sent his most favored admiral to represent him during the island’s yearly celebration of Tynwald Day, Tynwald being the name of the island’s political government. Of almost eight hundred years’ duration, it was the longest running and uninterrupted parliament in the world.

Olivia had been horrified when, toward the end of the London Season, her mother had announced that Olivia was to spend the summer months with the Fitzgeralds at their home on the Isle of Man.

Indeed, her mother had not even waited for the Season to end before literally shipping Olivia off to the island.

The journey by carriage to Liverpool had been tedious. But thank goodness Olivia had never been seasick in her life, which made the crossing from the English seaport to Douglas on the Isle of Man an enjoyable experience rather than the unpleasant one her mother had warned it might be.

And without so much of a concern if that should be the case, Olivia recalled ruefully.

The friction between her mother and herself had existed for all of Olivia’s life, it seemed. It was certainly much in evidence when Olivia was old enough to be presented and enter Society.

Their father was a vague but kind man who never opposed any of his wife’s wishes or attitudes. Nor had he done so when his wife announced Olivia was to be sent away for the summer months.

Olivia had been a little apprehensive about staying on the island with people she barely knew, having met the Fitzgeralds only infrequently as she was growing up, when they happened to visit London. Which had not been often; the family preferring to spend their time on the island.

But her Aunt Franny and Uncle Cormac couldn’t have been more welcoming to Olivia, and despite, or because of, their differences in nature, she and Cecilia had quickly become firm friends.

The island itself was a delight, and unspoiled for the main part by too much carriage traffic and overcrowding. Instead, it was a series of undulating hills and beautiful valleys between gracious homes and small towns and villages, and always with the sea not far from sight.

Olivia had quickly fallen in love with its simplicity and beauty.

A love which she had never come even close to bestowing on any gentleman.

She again focused her attention across the room on the admiral decked out in his dress uniform, only for her eyes to widen when she found herself the focus of the intensity of that gentleman’s blazing blue gaze.

And not, she was taken aback to realize, in a pleasant way.

Thunderous dark brows were lowered over those sky-blue eyes as he appeared to glare at her from between narrowed lids. His jaw was clenched, his mouth unsmiling, and a nerve pulsed above the tightness of that uncompromising jaw.

He looked, for all that Olivia was sure the two of them had never so much as set eyes on each other before this evening, as if he would like to place his large hands about her throat and squeeze until there was no more breath left in her body!

“—so honored to have you and your officers join us for our Tynwald celebrations.”

Magnus barely heard the lieutenant governor’s wife’s gushing enthusiasm regarding his own and his officers’ presence on the island as he stared incredulously at the woman across the room. She reminded him far too much of Emelia Brigham, the young woman who had single-handedly attempted to ruin both his life and career eighteen years ago.

That she had not done so was due mainly to Magnus’s own determination of character. His rank as admiral and the three ships under his command currently at anchor in Douglas Bay were evidence that he had succeeded in that mission.

Those ships and the men who sailed them were expected to remain there for the next four days. No doubt the ordinary seamen in his crew would spend the majority of that time, when they were not on duty, enjoying the company of the island’s young ladies. Magnus could only hope it would be the single ones.

Even so, if it was within his power to do so, he would now return to his ship immediately and issue the orders to set sail for anywhere that was not the Isle of Man.

Unfortunately, he did not have that luxury. Prinny had personally commanded him to be on the island as his representative for the Tynwald celebrations.

“I thank you for the warmth of your welcome, my lady, Lieutenant Governor.” Magnus gave a polite bow to John Murray, the Duke of Atholl and his duchess before moving away to stand unmoving, with an air of unapproachability, beside the unlit marble fireplace in the crowded ballroom. It seemed as if all the island’s Society had been invited to attend.

A single glance across the room showed Magnus that that woman was no longer standing where he had last seen her in conversation with a blonde-haired young woman. At the time, the two of them had been standing beside where the small ensemble of musicians were tuning their various instruments in preparation to begin the evening’s dancing.

Magnus allowed his gaze to move slowly about the room, but could see no sign of the slender and black-haired beauty he sincerely hoped never to set eyes on again. Where the hell could the hellion have disappeared—

“Good evening, Admiral. Or do I call you Lord Forsythe? Or perhaps simply Rockborne will do?”

Magnus’s spine stiffened upon first hearing that lightly mocking female voice.

A voice that sounded familiar and yet at the same time was not.

Just as, when he turned to face the owner of that voice, it was confirmed that this woman was much younger than the one who had wished to drag Magnus’s reputation into the midst of a scandal of epic proportions eighteen years ago.

Indeed, this woman’s youthful appearance indicated she had possibly not even been born at the time that almost-scandal had occurred.

This woman had the same diminutive height, dark hair, and pale and delicately lovely facial features.

But she was looking up at him with forthright and long-lashed eyes of the same violet color as her gown, rather than the avaricious blue gaze Magnus remembered so vividly.

The heaviness eased slightly in Magnus’s chest. But only slightly.

Because the similarity in the two women’s appearance, both in that slenderness of stature and unusual beauty, was still far too much for the two women not to be related in some way.

Magnus had no interest in having even a brief acquaintance with a single member of Emelia Brigham’s family. Nor did he appreciate being ambushed in this way. This young woman’s forward behavior in speaking to him at all without an introduction was as unacceptable as it was shocking.

A fact her blonde-haired companion of earlier, now standing several feet away, seemed wholly aware of as she stared at the two of them whilst twisting her gloved hands together and chewing on her bottom lip.

Magnus straightened to his full height of three inches over six feet to look down the length of his nose with a coldness of expression guaranteed to cause his officers to quake in their boots and the able seamen under his command to suddenly find something very much in need of their attention at the other end of the ship.

Not so this forward young miss, who met his gaze with an unwavering confidence rarely found in one so young. “I believe you are speaking out of turn, madam.”

“I am unmarried,” she corrected cheerfully.

Magnus eyed her coldly. “In that you should not be addressing me as anything until after the two of us have been introduced.”