The Rutledge Family: The Spinsters
Book One

Mastered by Midnight

[Chapter One]

Bow Street Runner Office
, Late July 1802

The office was quite normal. A square room, probably the size of most ton's closet, decorated with nothing more than a wall of bookshelves to the left while a large cabinet on the right. A desk stood in the center wall in front of the large window that had been half-closed with curtains. A single chair, a seat that Francesca "Cassie" Rutledge now sat, was placed at a distant in front of the desk—a distant perfect for interrogation. Cassie felt interrogated.

Gareth Garland, the Bow Street Runner who sat with his back slack, head cocked to one side, hand placed under his chin, legs crossed, was staring at her. He had said nothing since he had asked Cassie to explain her presence in his office. It was obvious that Cassie had a problem and she needed him to fix it. Instead, his silence made her wanted to fidget like a school girl who had been naughty. And of course, someone had been naughty. But it wasn't her.

"What is it that you want me to do?"

There was no gentry respect in his words. It was sliced with a coldness that should have upset her, which it did, but Cassie held her head higher and sat straighter. The man would not scare her off. He was the best runner and she wanted, no rephrase, needed the best.

Even if he was an arrogant man blessed with face of Adonis, deep piercing silver eyes, sharp strong jaw that was beginning to show hair with full lips that made Cassie thought how it would feel to kiss a man of his ilk. His shoulders were large and broad, a perfect shield that most gentlemen would gladly make use of. He wore a simple white shirt with a patterned black waistcoat covered by another layer of black tailor coat. They wrapped perfectly against his body, showing his male attributes to its very best. It was hard to see anything below his waist from where she sat, but she knew it was every bit as powerful looking—if not more wicked—as his other parts of his body that Cassie seemed to have a hard time looking away from.

"A wedding ring, Mr. Garland." Cassie explained once again, hoping irritation didn't show. She wanted to cross her arms, frown, and scold him for being a difficult man. Why couldn't they just do something without asking questions? Even her brothers and male cousins had a hard time following orders.

"And half of London is married."

"If you were listening carefully, I had revealed the identity of the bearer." She answered smoothly.

"A dog." He sounded so repulsive that Cassie had to smile.

"Yes. Not just any dog, but Lady Boughey's."

"Of course, the old widow who is wealthier than half the ton itself and dressed her dog in jewels and fancy clothing." The runner answered with amusement. "And she happened to be your God Grandmother."

"So, you were listening."

"I was doing more than just listening, Miss Rutledge." An easy smile appeared on his handsome face that forced a heat straight down Cassie's toes. She may not be immune to handsome men, but that didn't mean she liked them.

Cassie placed a scowl on her face and cleared her throat. "So you will do it?"

"Locate the dog?" His eyes weren't quite looking at her face, but a few inches below. Men. They really were beasts. Show them a set of good apples, and you would have them wrapped around your little finger. Unfortunately for her, she had a set of watermelons.

"Well, yes. That is why I am here for." If she had it her choice, she would have asked for another runner—someone who isn't sexually assaulting her with their eyes, but Grandmother Boughey had specifically asked for him, which Cassie still couldn't understood why.

"Consider it done Miss Rutledge, but under one condition."

Cassie frowned.

Here it came. She had been placed in situations like these before where a gentleman proposed an indecent offer to her. While she may lack in youth and have a more common face than most ton women, she was endowed with several sets of attributes that made her an ideal courtesan—curves, large bosom, and lips that Cassie had heard of men spoke of being "indecently wicked." And it seemed that the infamous Gareth Garland was also not immune by it.

Cassie prepared herself mentally as she waited for him to continue. She would not fidget like a little girl in anger or would she reveal her thoughts of how exactly she would like to do (which included using physical emotions) gentleman like him. Instead, she would carried her a most graceful and polite manner and leave his office in the same honorably fashion like how she had first entered. Of course, that didn't mean it wouldn't hurt her.

"Try to convince her to lay off the jewelries on the dog." Mr. Garland spoke with such seriousness that Cassie wasn't sure she heard him correctly.

"I beg your pardon?" She nearly blinked twice at him.

"The dog, Miss Rutledge." He spoke, "Have the old widow remove the jewelries. With all that crystals hanging on the mongrel, it's only begging for it to be stolen."

"The dog wasn't stolen."

"It wouldn't make sense for him to runaway from such luxuries."

"He was chasing a squirrel, Mr. Garland."

"And got lost?"

"Yes. He got lost." Cassie nodded. The explanation was quite straightforward and she couldn't understand why such a fine runner as himself could not comprehend it. In fact, he looked even more perplexed.

"And how does the wedding ring play into this?"

"Because Walter ate it."

"Who's Walter?"

"The dog."

The hardness from his faced told Cassie that the dog was either crazy or she was crazy. Well, she felt crazy at the moment. Grandmother Boughey had been restless after learning her wedding ring was missing and possibly been eaten by Walter. When the mongrel failed to returned home from his little afternoon excursion last night, Grandmother Boughey was having a fix of apoplexy. She had blamed herself for taking off the ring, rue out her coming days, and begged her dead husband for forgiveness. It was certainly a situation where anyone would do anything to just bring back the smile to the old lady.


"Well, what?"

"The dog, Mr. Garland."


"Yes." The conversation was going nowhere. Taking her stand, Mr. Garland immediately rose with her. So the man did know some manners. It would do him good to show it all the time. "Grandmother Boughey had asked that you pay her a visit tomorrow afternoon. It was breakfast that she invited, but knowing that gentlemen do not wake past noon, then lunch it would be. Good day to you, Mr. Garland."

She waited for no response from the man, but left the room. If she stayed a second longer, she would have knocked her bag, in which had two thick novels, upon his possibly thick head. Surely, her younger sister Arabella would forgive her for treating her works with such grace.

The corridor was empty with only a few workers. They each greeted her with a nod, some have the nerves to wink at her, as she walked pass them. She paid them no marks and exited from the building she wished never to set foot in ever again. James, the coachman, greeted her with a low bow and opened the door to the fashion orange carriage that had caught more attention to bystanders than necessary. It was that or a pick of lime green and hot pink.

"Thank James, back to Grandmother Boughey please." She smiled at the coachman and entered.

The door closed behind her as Cassie settled down onto the cushioned leather seating. It was a luxurious carriage, large seats and foot spaces with walls all in slick black decorated with sparkling jewels on the ceiling that were placed like constellations. Cassie should not question Grandmother Boughey's taste in fashion, but she had often wondered how in the world had her late strict and paragon grandmother had became friends with Grandmother Boughey. The two were as opposite as night and day.

Settling onto the comfort of the seat, Cassie blew out a breath. She closed her eyes and immediately was met with brilliant silver eyes gazing back at her. Her eyes flew open with a scowl. It was bad enough that the man affected her, but even worst if she was meeting him even in her mind.

Gareth Garland had stared at the closed door for nearly five minutes now. Fives minutes of wondering why he was still wondering about Francesca Rutledge. Which made no sense. There was nothing remarkable about her. He had seen many English beauties and Miss Rutledge was not one of them. Her coffee brown hair was pulled back like an old strict governess. The dull color of her dress highlighted nothing of her honeyed skin or the woman wearing it. Her face showed no emotions other than slight irritation, though he nearly caught a smile from her. Her posture was so straight and rigid, and he wanted touch her just to see how she would react. Would she bite back or would she only deepen her glare in silence? He would love to see her bite back, he thought.

But there was something about her that drew him—other than the large bosom that her simple dress could not hide. Certainly that was one of the reasons for him to wonder how it would be like to pull down her high decent décolletage and unwrap the two presents that he so wanted to see. Just thinking about them, creamy and soft, forced Gareth to groan like a schoolboy.

He adjusted his seating to let the result of his thoughts into a more comfortable position. It would do him good to think of something else than walking around the office with a hard bulge in his pants, not to mention it would be damn uncomfortable working in it.

Francesca Rutledge, what to do with her? Maybe a stolen kiss and a little groping would sate his sudden lust toward her. Surely the attraction would die as quickly as it appeared. He smiled. He could already imagine how she would sound when his mouth touched hers, hot and wicked. She would gasp with desires when his hands played with her breast and cry out when he pinched her hard nipples. She would beg for more and he would gladly give it to her.

Gareth let out another groan and readjusted his seat.

"And I suggest you sate your lust elsewhere, Garland." Phineas Grey entered his office with a knowing smirk on his face. "The woman may be of age to do many indecent things with, but her family would ground you not six feet, but twelve feet under. I would still like to enjoy several more days working with you."

Gareth scowled at his friend. Phineas Grey, the fourth son of a marquess, and Harry Pearson, a bastard of a viscount, had been friends since they were young. Three lonely boys met one day at Eton and banded together as brothers-in-arms. What simple reasons they have had grown into familial and respect.

"Yes, I purposely left that little information out." Gareth nodded to the empty seat that probably was still warm from Miss Rutledge's derriere.

"I could introduce you to lovely pair of blonde twins. They are as wicked as they look innocent." Grey sat down, crossed his legs, eased into the chair and grinned at him. "But if you prefer something more similar to Miss Rutledge, then I know of a dark exotic brunette."

"I think it's best if we don't share woman, Grey." Gareth lazily smiled. "They would leave you in a heartbeat."

Grey laughed. "I think it was Pearson who was the more handsome of us three."

"I think you fell in last." The scowl that Grey sent Gareth brought another smile to him. But the time for relaxation—and sating ones own lust—would be for later. "You got something?"

Grey nodded. The playful air around Grey disappeared leaving only the seriousness in his eyes. "I did." He nodded with a grim face. "It may not be enough for a lead, but it was better than nothing at all."

Gareth nodded in agreement. Something would always lead to somewhere. Nothing would lead to nowhere. "And?"

"It is confirmed that a gentleman of rank may play a hand into the disappearance of the women. But there are no leads that point to him." Grey began. "Those who had been caught by us had described the man who hired them in a fashion that fit to be a crook. But the crook had confessed that it was a gentleman who had hired him." He leaned forward with his forearms placed on top of his thighs. His hands naturally came together. It was a gesture that often told Gareth that the man was frustrated.

"He had described the gentlemen as a blonde man with a scar down his left eye, but lacked the lordly attitude. This man can easily be a gentleman's gentleman. But the biggest question is whose? Finding this man will lead us to the next." Grey explained.

"And Pearson?"

"Out hunting."

Gareth absorbed the new information. His thoughts ran over the past few months where women had been reported missing or "stolen" from their beds. Most of these women were from the slums of London. There have been cases were lady's maids or wealthy household maids have gone missing, but to avoid gossip, the maids have been reported to "fled" their work.

"Another question would be how are they smuggling the women? It would be too risky by ship, but nearly impossible by horse and carriage." Gareth hated that there weren't enough information for him and his team to work with. The families who had reported offered no more than a shrug or tears of hysteria. Even the wealthier families refused to let the problem become a scandal for them. With no more than a ghost tale to follow, Gareth and his team was left with endless reckoning.

"Tell Pearson to report back what he finds." Gareth stood up and began to button his jacket. "And I need a drink. You're welcome to join me."

"You needn't to offer. I could use a drink myself."

Cassie watched Grandmother Boughey happily indulging herself with sweet cakes and tea in the Flower Parlor, a room decorated in vivid colors and flower patterned walls. The colors in the old woman's cheeks had returned back and there was more energy in her movements. And surely, her appetite had returned ten folds.

"What do you mean Walter returned back?"

"Oh, it was when you had gone to Bow Street." Grandmother Boughey explained, taking a large piece of cake onto her fork and placing it into her mouth. The exaggerate sound of contentment forced Cassie to smile. "I took a walk in the garden and then heard a dog barking. I followed the sound and whola!" The old woman gestured her arm like an actress on her last stage. "Walter was handsomely barking a greeting to me."

"Walter doesn't bark." Cassie reminded her grandmother.

"He does now." The words were said in a mouthful of cake and a gulping of tea.

"And the jewels?"

"Not a single stitch left on him." Grandmother Boughey let out a girlish giggled. "I almost couldn't recognize him myself. He looked dirty and his fur had been cut. But after I ordered a bath, he looks as handsome as ever."

"What about the ring?"

"Oh, the ring!" Grandmother Boughey yelped with sudden guilt in her eyes. "Well…you see…" She looked at Cassie from underneath her lashes. "I forgot that I had it sent to be clean." She fidgeted with her cake, stabbing it a few times with her fork.


"Yes. I just received a message about it a while ago." She gave Cassie her most innocent smile. "So everything is solved now!"

Yes, it does. And the trip to Bow Street had just suddenly become a waste. Well, maybe not entirely a waste. "And where is Walter now?" Cassie asked.

"Taking a nap." Grandmother Boughey stopped eating for a moment, turning to finally looking at Cassie with a bright smile on her face. "The old man surely needed to regain his strength after his little excursion."

Cassie smiled. "I'm glad that Walter returned back, but I'm sorry that the jewels were missing."

"Pssh!" Grandmother Boughey rolled her eyes. "Those jewels mean little to me. It's Walter that's the real treasure, my dear!" She winked with a brilliant smile.

Cassie wasn't so sure. The jewels definitely weigh in more gold than the dog. "Then what should we do about Mr. Garland?"

"Who is Mr. Garland?" The question was asked once again in a mouthful of cake.

"The man from Bow Street." She explained, wondering if she should pull away the tray of cakes. Sweets were not good for the old woman's bones. "You invited him to lunch tomorrow."

"Then he shall have lunch with us tomorrow." She answered as carefree as ever. "Was he as handsome as they say he was?"

"Well…" Before Cassie could answer, her grandmother continued.

"I just adore handsome boys…"

Mr. Garland was handsome. Maybe even more handsome than most, but that little detail Cassie would keep to herself. She already had her mother and aunts matchmaking endlessly, having Grandmother Boughey added into the group would be an impenetrable army.

"Don't you have a ball this evening, my dear?" Grandmother Boughey asked popping the last piece of cake into her mouth.

"Yes, I believe I do." Of course, Cassie had forgotten about it.

"Then leave child! Go and prepare for your ball. You have a handsome boy to catch." Her grandmother's eyes twinkled with wonder.

Cassie didn't want to remind Grandmother Boughey that after eight seasons, she had realized that catching any man—let alone boy—was near impossible. She was a seven-and-twenty-years-old-spinster of a large dowry. What she attracted was a herd of treasure hunters. It didn't take much convincing for her to come to terms with her situation. Marriage was not for her, or more like, it would not happen to her. Once upon a time, Cassie had dream of a marriage like her mother and father and a houseful of children. But she had been foolish then.

This season would be her last.

"Ask James to take you home, my dear. I wouldn't want you to rush with tonight's big ball."

"You will be alright then Grandmother Boughey?" Cassie asked.

"Yes, my dear. Walter has returned and I am sorry to have worried you." Grandmother Boughey grabbed Cassie's hand with her and gently patted it. "But, I am fine now. Go and find your handsome boy."

Cassie left her grandmother and asked James to take the carriage out. Once again, alone in the luxury of the carriage, settled into the seat and stared out the window. The London fashionable streets passed by as Cassie watched the people mingled with each other, some greeted with a nod when they saw Cassie and others waved. Cassie returned back the same gesture and closed the window curtain.

The darkness swallowed the light and her thoughts wandered into emptiness. It was the end of July and the season was coming to an end. Balls, garden parties, soirées, and the like were held without stop. A woman's day would be filled with a garden party or Venetian breakfast that would last well into the afternoon and then a ball or two in the evening. Cassie's days had once been filled with such balls, afternoon teas, and Venetian breakfasts but years after years of the same entertainment had nearly driven her crazy. Cassie longed for something different—something…

She wasn't sure how to explain it. She felt at a loss and out of place whenever she entered a ballroom. The polite conversations that she was forced to have left her mouth sour at the end. The smiles and the jolly laugh that she must endured made her bitter inside. She felt herself at such a distant with these people that she lacked the effort to welcome the joy of the season.

Her thoughts came to a stop when she heard James. The door opened and the coachman bowed polite as always to her, "Have a good day, my lady."

"Thank you James. Have a safe trip back." Cassie approached the large Georgian London home to her for nearly three decades. It would be hard to leave it behind.

Cassie frowned.

She would have to tell her mother soon.

Lady Potteringer's Summer End Ball was proving to be just as mundane. The same previously hired musicians played their strings with grace despite the lack of audiences who rather gossips on the latest scandals. The young debutantes were stuck at the side of their governesses or chaperons waiting anxiously for a chance to dance. Sadly, the gentlemen have no courage to remain long in the ballroom before seeking an escape to the card room.

At one side of the ballroom, where wallflowers and spinsters dallied with no importance, sat Cassie who had entertained enough sets of dances, even if the dances were conducted with her cousins, to withdraw herself to a corner. She was dressed in a deep ocean blue silk with fashionable sleeves and a decent low-cut décolletage, which only paid more homage to her already large bosom. She had already gotten several glances down at the swell of her breasts from both men and women. Jealous mothers glared at her as they compared hers and the lack of their daughters. Cassie could only politely smile at them before excusing herself and finding refugee with her cousins—or the darkest corner.

It was getting warmer in the ballroom and Cassie was tempted to leave for the gardens. There were more people than what Lady Potteringer's house could hold. The odor of perfume and sweat mingled together in a scent that made Cassie want to wiggle her nose. But it was improper to wiggle her nose in public or even at all. Scanning the room to make sure no one was watching her, Cassie stood up. Her legs took no more than two steps toward the sets of doors that led into the gardens before her eyes caught sight of the very man who had occupied her mind many times that day.

Gareth Garland.

He was dressed in colorless black with a white shirt and navy waistcoat that snuck perfectly against his person. His black breeches outlined the powerful form of his thighs where it met with a tall boot of quality leather. The cravat was at his neck was simply done, but sophisticated. His tailor coat effortless dressed his person of importance and meaning. He immediately gained attention from those around him, but his eyes were elsewhere. He scanned the room as if determining the worth of its subjects. Then his eyes landed with hers. The corners of his lips lifted easily and sensually.

Cassie felt a pull of strings in her stomach and she knew she should look away, but instead, she found herself narrowing her eyes at him. He winked in return, barely noticing the scowls that the gentlemen beside him were sending. Cassie sent her most stern, indifferent, look before releasing herself from his gaze, which had taken more effort than necessary.

"Well, that was entertaining." Her younger sister of five years, Arabella, gracefully fell beside Cassie.

"How so?"

"It's not everyday that we get to see a mysterious handsome gentleman…three if I may say." Arabella answered easily. Though only at the age of twenty-two, she had claimed herself a spinster. After four seasons, Arabella had withdrawn herself from the marriage mart and pursued a career in writing, though no one but the family knew about Arabella's bluestocking side. "And here I thought the Rutledge males were the only ones blessed with good looks."

The man was too handsome for his own good. "Researching again?" Cassie teased, hoping to ease the discomfort inside her.

"Of course." Arabella answered watching the direction where Mr. Garland, and the gentlemen with him, had left to. Cassie could see Arabella mentally noting every detail possible in her head. "Do you remember the colors of his eyes?"

"Silver." She answered easily and Arabella only nodded in silence, not asking why Cassie could note such detail. She didn't want to explain that she had met the man-in-question just that morning. And even then, she had thought of nothing but doing wicked things with him. Recalling the way Mr. Garland's eyes had undressed her brought a tingly heat to her body.

The man was obviously a dangerous sort. He was a runner, he knew the games of cat and mouse—chase and run—capture and release. A primitive male as himself would be looking for a new conquest and Cassie could easily fall in the role—if she let herself. But a little dally with a bow runner was not what she was looking for—aiming for—hoping for. But that did not mean that his flirtations were unaffected. After all, she was still just a woman and him a man.

"I think I will take a walk out in the garden." Her words came out a little too breathless.

"Excellent." Arabella smiled. "I think I would seek my own escape to the lady's retiring room. And then, maybe plead a headache so I could put my notes into writing. I have the best idea for my newest novel." She stood up with a knowing smile upon her lips. "Cassie, sister-dear, do stay out of the shrubbery." With almost a salute, Arabella left happily toward the lady's room.

Arabella's words should bother her, but she decided against it for now. Within moments of her sister's departure, Cassie made her way toward her own escape. Several couples were out enjoying the cool summer breeze and a clear night with bright stars and a full moon.

Cassie let herself gazed upon the clear sky for a moment before setting out toward the darken gardens beyond the set of stairs from the terrace. No one paid her any attention and Cassie was glad for it. She didn't want any companion but only a moment of peace and quietness to herself. The deeper she walked into the gardens, the more distant the voices and the music became.

And soon the shadows fell aside her.

Francesca Rutledge was proved to be more than just a distraction. Gareth did little but thought of her—undressing her—all day. Even the drinks that he had consumed at White's did little to numb the sight of her pale skin that constantly teased him. Coming to the Potteringer's ball tonight, he had hoped to find another sort of distraction.

But instead, he found her.

Gareth had become instantly hard when his eyes landed to what she was wearing. Out of her modest dress and into a temptress gown that had his nostrils flaring. When their eyes met, he had purposefully given her a sensual smile. He wanted her to know exactly what she was doing to him. If he had it his way, he would have cross over the threshold of the ballroom, pull her into his arms, and kiss her senseless.

When he caught her leaving the ballroom, Gareth was more than eager to follow her. With a warning from Grey and a silent scowl from Pearson, Gareth followed his prey out. He purposely had given her a head start before lazily—primly—following her behind. He enjoyed the sway of her hips and how skirts had snug shamelessly against her derriere. It took every effort to rein in his demons and not attack her. He waited until they were deeper into the dark gardens before he made his presence known.

Gareth naturally fell in beside her. He was greeted with a small gasp but the woman quickly masked her shock with a polite smile.

"Mr. Garland, we meet again." Her voice was melodious to his ears and he wondered how it would sound like if it was screaming out in pleasure. He could already image it. Two long and milky pair of legs wrapped around his him as he plunged deep into her core. She would gasp at pleasure and cry for him to go…harder. He would first tortured her…slowly and then humored her, giving her to what she wanted and what he needed.

The bulge in his breeches felt heavier.

"Miss Rutledge, you look lovely." He easily smiled at her though he could barely control the hoarseness at the back of his throat. His hands slightly shook and it took all the effort not to place them on her person.

Slowly. He warned himself. You do not want her to bolt.

Gareth wasn't sure what to call his attraction to her, other than lust. So why did he it bothered her when her body suddenly stiffened by his words. It disappeared as fast as it happened.

"Thank you." The words came out almost in a whisper, but she gave him an appreciative smile.

Whatever that had happened was now gone. Deciding it was best not to probe for it; Gareth lifted his arm toward her. Though she hesitated only but for a moment, she took his arm and placed her hand very so lightly on it. She fell into steps with him and let a modest distant fall in-between them. He wanted to pull her closer, but thought otherwise. Miss Rutledge was a prey that would bolt if it felt threaten. Gareth would have to trend carefully with her. He would have to hide his claws and woo her. Woo her? Gareth shook his head. Next time, he would be sprouting poetry and flowers in the moonlight under her window.

"Walter has returned." Miss Rutledge pulled him away from his thoughts.

"The dog?"

"Yes, the dog." She answered.

"And the ring?" Gareth asked.

"Was sent out to clean."

"That's a wise choice knowing that it had been in the pit of a mongrel's stomach." They were coming upon the end of the path that would eventually curve back to the house.

"It seemed that that wasn't the case." Miss Rutledge turned just slightly toward him. A lock of hair bobbed along the side of her cheek and Gareth wanted to wrap it around his finger and bring it to his lips. "Grandmother Boughey had forgotten that she had sent the ring out to be clean."

"Well, that definitely seemed to be a better case than having it eaten." He smiled.

Miss Rutledge smiled in return. Gareth felt his breath caught and mind go blank. It was the most beautiful sight he had ever seen. There was nothing sensual about it, but rather, innocent and filled with the sparks of life. Her smile was like a drug that he suddenly wished he could indulge in.

"But you are still welcomed to come for lunch. It seems that Grandmother Boughey is eager to meet the infamous bow runner." Her eyes twinkled with a bit of sarcasm. For a moment, her shield fell and she looked young and innocent—her eyes filled with mischief. Oddly, the view sent a flutter of warmth inside him.

Unconsciously, his thumb brushed against her lower lip. Immediately her smile faltered and she tried to pull away, but Gareth held to her fast. Whatever distant that was between them was gone in one step, and her hand no longer held onto him, but him to her. His arms came around her waist, pulling her to him until their bodies met.

"This is highly in improper, Mr. Garland." There was a warning in her voice, but Gareth also heard the breathlessness as well. She was as unsettled as he was. The attraction between them was becoming something he was fast enjoying to discover more about.

"There is nothing proper about me, Miss Rutledge." He answered, lowering himself toward her. Her eyes widened at his confession. He gave her a full smile with teeth. He only gave her a moment to refuse, before his mouth fell against her.

Gareth groaned. Her lips were full, lush, and tasted wonderful. Her mouth was closed to him, but he would remedy that in a moment. Instead, he trailed kisses along the side of her jaws. He pulled her closer into his arms where her full breasts were pressed right against him. The feeling felt wonderful—just right. Perfect. His nose fell against her hair and he took in her scent. Lilac. He breathed against her and nibbled at the lope of her ear. When he let out his tongue to lick her, she let out a gasp. He smiled against her skin.

"You are irresistible, Miss Rutledge."

"I can hardly believe that, Mr. Garland."

"Then you will just have to trust me, love."

He made his way back onto her lips, pausing to kiss at the corner. She sighed against him, opening just a little for him. He suckled at her lower lip and was rewarded with a womanly groan. He took advantage of her moment of surrender and slipped his tongue into her hot mouth, tasting her. Her body stiffened at the foreign intrusion, but quickly relaxed—melting in his arms and giving him what he wanted—needed. He smiled when she pulled him closer to deepen the kiss. He gladly gave it to her, enjoying the honey taste her lips, warmth of her tongue and the desires of her response.

They played, kissed, and waged against each other's tongues. It was a battle that neither could win but rather surrendered to the temptation. That was what exactly they did.

When Gareth finally pulled back, his head was clouded and he could barely think. Francesca Rutledge looked of a woman thoroughly ravished with swollen lips, cheeks pink, and such heat in her eyes that it nearly snapped his control. He felt like a beast and the beast inside him was screaming: claim her.

Cassie couldn't hear anything other than the heaviness of their breathing. Their bodies were still against one anther and their eyes were locked together, shrouded with haze and desires. Mr. Garland—Gareth—looked like a predator ready to devour her. Oddly, she wanted him to. She should feel ashamed of such thought, but at the moment, she only cared how to get his lips back onto hers.

Was this how it felt to be kissed…indecently wicked? With tongues rutting with each other like a battle that could not be won and with such burning sensations engulfing every part of the body that needed touching to sooth its ache? That was exactly how Cassie felt. Burned. Hot. Needy.

Her desires must have been written on her face, because Gareth gave her a tight smile.

"It will not stop at a kiss next time, love." He caressed her cheek in such softness that it went against the raw emotions in his eyes.

Ever so slowly, their bodies released each other and Gareth took one step back. Cassie silently moaned the loss of him. She watched him from underneath her lashes, wondering if what he tasted pleased him. It had never occurred to her that pleasing a man would be a something she would worry about. Certainly it never bothered her before, but now…she felt herself opened—vulnerable—as if she had lost something and would never get it back.

Faint footsteps forced Cassie to end her thoughts. Their eyes connected for one brief moment before Gareth grabbed her hand and pulled her past the shrubbery. They had only but a moment to blend into the darkness, when a group of young couples came to view.

The young debutantes giggled girlishly as their eye lashes fluttered flirtatiously. It was an invitation Cassie realized and wondered if she looked as silly as them. Had she really invited Gareth into her arms—or in this case her into his—and let him kissed her—ravished her?

She wanted to turn to him, look at him…question him about what happened between them. Now that her breathing became steadier and her mind wasn't so shrouded with yearning, the situation at hand was to be rather—bad—scandalous. Who would have thought that Francesca Rutledge, the spinster of seven-and-twenty, was a capable wonton!

The idea struck hard at her mind and she felt—she wasn't sure what she felt actually. There was an incredible ache, yet a numbness of panic. Ruined. The word echoed in her mind like curse that her brothers fancied when dealing with unmanageable females. Cassie needed to think. However the large and very hot aroused male was behind her was making it hard for her. She wanted to pull away—run away.


Cassie quickly shook her head. If she was wise, she should run away. She was not used to—made for—these kinds of games. Lust was a strong emotion between two people—any two people. Was she so desperate that she had kissed a man she merely met hours ago? Not to mention, she knew nothing about him but his name and the infamous stories she have heard, which was best left behind closed doors.

Cassie shook her head again.

She was neither foolish nor desperate.

Gareth Garland was not a man to dally with.

She would do well to remember that.

Much later that evening, Gareth sat in his study with a glass of whisky in his hand. Several stacks of paper lay on his desk, some marked others were yet to be read. He settled more comfortable in large chair and thought back to the woman who had been occupying his mind more than often. The kiss that they shared had been delicious, but it was what came afterwards that bothered him.

Women had always been a mystery to Gareth outside of bed and Miss Rutledge, once again, proved that to him. It had irked his temper more than he realized. He had wanted to shake the silly woman and demanded an explanation for the wall that she erected, distant of her voice and coldness in her expression. Of course, he had let her dismissed him like a pup with his first unsatisfied woman and watched her turned her back on him.

It had been the hardest moment in his life, feeling as if something was slipping from his grasp. That very thought should worry him, but instead, Gareth found himself wondering how to catch her—entrap her to him.

Oddly the idea was proving to be more appealing with each sip of hard whisky.

Thank you for reading and showing interest in Mastered by Midnight. This is book one of the Rutledge Family Series. There will be several books since the Rutledge family is quite a big family (full of brothers, sisters and cousins). If you have any comments, suggestions or questions, please feel free to write to me. Your support and interest means a lot to me! Thank you once again!