The Bastard’s Forbidden Kiss (Preview)


Chapter One

The London streets were dodgy, wet, and smelled of urine–just as he remembered. Martin Barnwall was back in England.

Lawks, he never thought he would be here again. When he’d left for the Continent at eighteen, he did so without looking back once. He may be the son of a duke, but that did little for him when he was a bastard, as well. According to the ton, any money or good looks he inherited from his father meant nothing when he didn’t have the title to accompany it.

High society, that is what drove him out of here in the first place. He despised it. The way they turned up their noses at him, or anyone else that didn’t fit perfectly within their rigid, outdated, and extremely British narrative. He only had to take one look at the shiny boots and frilly hair around him to know that nothing had changed in the past six years that he’d been gone.

But it would be good for business, being back in England. At least, that’s what he told himself. And—unfortunately for him—if he was going to make anything of himself, he supposed he’d have to do it here. He’d face down his demons and the ghosts of his past and he’d come out on top. That was the plan. He sighed as he felt the carriage slow, the horse hooves growing quieter and quieter until they stopped completely.

“You’re going to the Duke o’ Dudley’s house?” the coachman asked him, giving him a wary look. But Martin was used to that, as he’d been getting that look all his life. It was just what happened when your father was a duke and your mother was a housemaid.

His parentage may have been an open secret, but he still was not allowed the finer things in life. He was dressed in the clothes he had brought from France, and they were ratted ones at that—ill-fitting, uncomfortable and, he had to admit, not particularly fresh-smelling. Even for all that, however, Martin Barnwall cut a more impressive figure than the dandies mincing along the London streets in their tight trousers and styled curls. He broke his reverie to answer the coachman’s query.

“I am indeed bound for the Duke of Dudley’s,” he confirmed. But then he thought of his father—thought of being in that house again and the angry memories that awaited him there.

“Wait! No. Do not take me there. Drop me off in town, please, near an alehouse.” He’d need a good, stiff drink before he’d be able to countenance an audience with the duke. Not some fancy leggy port one might get at the bloody opera, something strong. Preferably a healthy pour of gin, unsullied.

“As you wish,” responded the coachman, a bit disappointed to lose the longer fare and the potential for a larger tip.

He pulled the coach to a stop and Martin leapt out. He let his gaze wander over the muddy streets that bustled with activity—legal and otherwise. Martin had not forgotten his way around this part of town. There was a pub just a short walk from here. The Boar’s Head. He had used to frequent it back when he still lived in his father’s servant quarters with his mother, who still to this day worked for the man, the duke, the casual seducer of housemaids, the hypocritical louse.

Ah, the memories. Martin chided himself. Back in those years, as a youth with the first hint of mustache and full of resentment of his situation, he’d sneak out and have an ale and chaser and bemoan his life with the low and the miserable, as if any of the poor men there cared about his troubles. He was perhaps somewhat disgraced when he left, a bastard leaving for France, of all places. But if they served him at thirteen, he doubted they’d have a moral complaint about serving him now. The coachman cleared his throat, recalling Martin to the obligations of the moment.

“Here you go. On your way, now.”

“And a good day to you, sir.”

Martin tipped the carriage driver and then the horses were off, leaving him alone with the London night. It was muggy and wet, a bit chilly—heavy, even. Perhaps he should’ve asked to be dropped off right at the pub. But the horses were already off, and there was no use crying over it. He had dealt with this weather for eighteen years; he couldn’t possibly have gone soft so quickly.

There were some people out and about. A couple of soused rounders on the same street that he expected they sat on every night, a giggling girl who was much too pretty to associating with the well-dressed older man she was with. An adventuress, most likely. He chuckled, thinking of the man spending all his money on this girl, feeding it into her pocket, and going back to his high society peers and acting as if nothing had happened. Hypocrites, all of them.

He took a closer look at her, just to make sure she was not in distress. She seemed quite in control of her aged companion, however, and he knew better than to get between a courtesan and her coin.

So, he kept walking, heading towards the Boar’s Head and taking in the city around him. It was better at night, he thought. More human. With real people out and about. He had almost reached the pub when he heard it.

It started with arguing. A man’s voice was most prominent, but he heard a woman, too. She sounded panicked. And he sounded angry. Then Martin heard a scream—a shrill, anguished shriek that hit his ears so hard he wouldn’t be surprised if they bled, leaving a ringing echo even after it had subsided. Instinctively, he ran towards the noise, his need for gin mostly forgotten at the thought of someone in trouble.

“Let me go!” he heard the woman say. “Leave me be!” She sounded breathless, and he thought he heard sounds of struggle, an angry oath as a well-aimed boot met a shin, perhaps. Good on her, Martin thought, quickening his pace.

“Be quiet, you bloody whore,” the man said. The voices were closer; he was almost to them now. Footsteps shuffled about on the road and the sounds of struggling and heavy breathing were louder.

“What are you going to do with me, you… you monster!” she cried. He could see her now. She was young, couldn’t be more than sixteen. Her dress was covered by a long, white apron. A maid.

“I haven’t decided yet,” the vile man told her when he finally got her into his arms. “Can’t decide if you’ll be mine, or if I’ll sell you off. Could make me a pretty penny, you. Either way, you’re comin’ with me.”

Lawks. This man was crazy. And this girl was in grave danger.

Unwilling to waste another minute while the man struggled to get the maid into his carriage, Martin yipped to get his attention and began to run towards him. The road was cobbled and uneven as he pounded his feet against it, rushing toward the man who was once again trying to get the girl into the carriage, yelling expletives and pushing her to it. But Martin was faster. His heart thumped in his chest as he got closer. He had no idea what he was going to do; he only knew that he had to protect her.

“Get off of her!” he yelled in a low, carrying voice that pounded off of the brick and stone. The man finally noticed him, a panicked look crossing his sullen features. His hands tightened and the woman let out a wail of pain.

Martin was almost at him now, only a couple more steps, when the man grunted loudly at the maid’s struggling and seemingly gave up. Throwing her down onto the ground with all his strength, the man buggered off in the other direction.

Martin looked at the girl below him. “Are you alright?” he asked, carefully offering his hand to assist her back up.

She nodded, eyes wide while she looked at him. “Yes,” she said, “I… I believe I will be fine.”

He nodded, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder and glancing behind himself to see how far the man had gotten.

“You can go after him,” she assured him, clearly reading his conflicted face. “I certainly would feel safer with that man gone, wouldn’t you?”

She gave him a smile. Though it was small and unconvincing, it was enough to get him chasing off behind him, hot on the trails of the thankfully slow man.

“Wait a moment! What’s your name?” she called after him. He paused, looking back at her while he tried to keep moving.

“Martin. Barnwall.” And then he was back off.

Perhaps the ruffian didn’t expect Martin to pursue him for the sake of a young maid—and many of the people in this town likely wouldn’t. Regardless, he seemed shocked to glance behind himself and see Martin barreling towards him. He must’ve looked a fright. Six feet and three inches of a dark-haired, long-limbed, well-muscled man, likely totally disheveled. Good, Martin thought. Let him be scared.

The man wasn’t fast, so the chase was over quick enough. An inelegant stumble of his foot on an unanticipated curb just made it easier for Martin to reach him and tackle him to the ground. The man struggled and flailed under him as Martin climbed atop him, avoiding the kicks or punches that were unsuccessfully thrown his way.

“What? Do you not like this treatment for yourself?” he asked, getting the thrashing man under his control.

“You’re wingin’ me arm,” was gritted between dirty teeth. Martin rolled his eyes, twisting the arm just a bit more for effect.

There are few things that Martin Barnwall could not tolerate. A bloody disgusting free-trader trying to steal a woman was quite easily one of them. A girl, no less. This man was going to gaol if he had to take him himself.

He scrambled to his feet, taking the bounder with him. It wasn’t a long walk to the closest gaol, and he wouldn’t be able to enjoy any gin until this scrub was shackled.


Chapter Two

Abigail could hear her father from where she sat in the library. He was moaning with distemper and coughing up something awful. She frowned, wishing she could do something, anything to help. The physician was coming in nearly every day now with different herbs and instruments to use on the earl, but nothing was working. He was failing.

She had spent a lot of time in her father’s bedchamber when he first became bedridden. Reading to him, or taking her tea at his bedside. But recently she had been avoiding the room. He was often asleep, or at best delirious, and it hurt to see him so weak. They may not have been the closest of families, but since the death of her mother he was all that she had. Her hope for his recovery was dwindling, and she feared what would come next. Fear of his death, and fear of what might become of her if he did perish.

How she wished daughters could be heirs. That she could take control of the house, get her father better care than that leech of a physician, and let the servants live about the house with her. She could read all day and assist Mrs. Allen in the kitchen or Mr. Bragg in the garden.

But that was just a dream. Fiction. The truth was that she was one-and-twenty, unmarried, and soon to be orphaned, and she had little faith in the man who would take the earl’s title. She shuddered at the mere thought.

She continued with her reading, nose buried in the novel she had bought from Hatchards that morning. Then she heard the knock at the door. Someone had come into the home. She heard the loud wooden door creak and Mrs. Allen, the housekeeper, speaking to someone down the stairs. Abigail couldn’t hear the name announced, but they were not expecting anyone. The physician had already left for the day.

She stood, marked her place in the novel and placed it back on the bookshelf. Making her way out of the library, she listened for another clue as to who had come in. The voice sounded familiar, but she couldn’t quite place it yet. Perhaps the physician had forgotten something.

Abigail made her way down the long, blue hallways, ignoring the portraits and paintings she’d seen a thousand times before. “Lady Abigail!” she heard Mrs. Allen call for her. She didn’t answer, just continued on her way to the drawing room. She had just reached the descending stairs when she saw him.


Robert Dowding, her cousin. Her father’s heir. And an absolutely despicable man. The mere thought of him made her shiver with distaste. The sight of him was worse; even one glance at him, and Abigail felt physically ill. His hair and skin sat slick on him, cruelty seeped from him. This was the boy who would put on his nice riding boots and nonchalantly tread on her slippered foot as a child, the boy had who laughed aloud, jeering at her when she received word of her mother’s death. This was, now, the man who was going to step into her father’s place when he inevitably and, it would appear, imminently, joined his wife in death.

“Why are you here?” she asked,

“Why, I am here to take over my house,” he said with a large smile. It didn’t reach his eyes, though. It never did. His eyes were always blank and wicked no matter what shape his face was twisted into.

“Your house?” she repeated, not wanting to believe what she was hearing. The disrespect of this man, coming to ‘claim’ his property before her father even perished.

“Yes, my house,” he growled, lip curling into a scowl. He took a step towards her, looking down, she knew, so that he might be more intimidating. But she didn’t stand down. “I’ll be the Earl of Wolster soon, won’t I? Might I start acting like it?”

“How did you know my father was sick?” she asked. She certainly had not written him.

“He wrote me, darling,” Robert said with a smirk. “Seems someone on this side of the family has their head on right.”

“I hardly think my father would be chomping at the bit to hand the reins to you, cousin,” she gritted out. He didn’t even falter.

“Well, I suppose what you think doesn’t matter, does it?” he said smugly, a wide smile painted onto his pale face. “Since you’re not the heir, that is. Cousin.”

There was no use talking to Robert. Ever. And especially not now. Not wanting to fall into one of his traps, Abigail simply turned to leave. Ready to return to the library and, hopefully, not come out for the remainder of her cousin’s visit.

“Oh, and Abigail?” he called after her, that ever present air of distaste in his voice.

“Yes, Robert?” she responded tiredly.

“You may call me milord.”

No. She may not. She rolled her eyes of him. “What do you want, Robert?”

“You should start looking for a husband presently,” he told her flippantly, as if it was nothing. As if he wasn’t demanding something of her that would be nearly impossible. “I have no use for a ward.”

“Excuse me?” Even Robert couldn’t be so cruel as to push her out of her own home. Would he?

He would. “Find a match,” he reiterated. “Soon. If you do not, I will be forced to find one for you.”

And with that, he sauntered off to the guest wing, whistling a bit to enjoy his new estate.

Abigail had an awful taste in her mouth. Find a match? Now? So soon? Her father had never pushed her, never. She didn’t even know many eligible men, for spending so much of her time in the past year caring for her father had left little room for last season’s events. Her dowry, she guessed, might be enough for some boring society bloke out there, but that’s not what she wanted. That had never been what she wanted.

Abigail had always wanted a love match. Since she first understood what marriage was, she dreamed of the way her heart might beat when she saw her love for the first time, the way her lips might tingle after a kiss. She wanted to be hopelessly in love with her husband, to not be able to imagine life without him. How was she supposed to find that?

“Robert!” she called after him just as he was about to round the corner to the hall. He stopped, turning towards her.

He looked at her quizzically, clearly not expecting her last bit of gumption.

“You may be the future Earl of Wolster,” she said slowly, steadily. “But you are not my father. And he is still alive, even if you do not like it. You are not yet the head of this house.”

A gaping Robert glared at her, hands clenched by his sides and eye twitching. Good, Abigail thought, be angry. She was angry, too. Suddenly, he spun around, turning back to find his chambers with a loud, dramatic huff. His feet stomped against the floor; she heard them up until his door slammed on the other end of the home. It made her giggle, despite herself.

Abigail caught a glance of herself in the mirror. She stared at the girl looking back at her. She was blonde, a bit stout but slim, growing the curves she dreamed of as a child so that she might attract her one true love. How pathetic, she thought, fighting back tears as she tore her eyes away and moved to return to the library.


The musty pub was the first place Martin felt at home since arriving in England. It smelled of must and sweat, which felt cool against his skin. The place was practically underground. He ordered his drink and sat in the first seat he could find, furthest from the other people sipping away at their ale and claptrapping to each other.

Tare an’ hounds, he deserved this bloody drink after his night. He took a large gulp of his gin, willing himself not to glare when another man sat in the place across from him. He was a gentleman, dressed and polished much too nicely for a place like this. He was young, looked like a blade. He immediately started talking to another man at the table, thankfully leaving Martin alone. Good, Martin thought as he finished his drink.

He became aware, vaguely, of someone beside him saying, “George, George. Aye, George.” But thought nothing of it. That is, until he felt a tug on his shoulder. He looked up, seeing an older man who recoiled as soon as he met his gaze.

“Sorry there,” he said, clearing his hoarse voice and backing away. “I thought you were my boy. You’re not George.”

Martin softened just a bit. “No, I am not,” he said. “Martin Barnwall. Pleased to meet you, though.”

“Martin Barnwall?” the gentleman across from him asked. He turned, frowning into his gin as he did so. The young man was looking at him with wide eyes, almost excitably. “You’re the man who saved Lord Hallington’s maid, aren’t you?”

He squinted his eyes at the man, unsure of how he would have heard that or why he would care enough to follow him in here. The thought didn’t escape his mind that this man could be involved, as well. Or perhaps was just a quiet bystander. More likely, he was just paranoid.

He vaguely remembered the Hallingtons. The lord was a viscount, he believed. But he had not the faintest idea if that frightened girl was their maid. And the man was looking at him like he already knew the answer.

“I suppose I am,” Martin replied carefully.

A smile broke onto his face. How strange. With great enthusiasm, a hand was stuck into his space, awaiting him to take it. “Good on you, sir. I am Vincent Earnton. My father’s property is near to Hallington’s, I know Miss Olivia quite well. She came running back to the home, told us a bloke named Martin in Parisian clothes saved her.”

“It’s true!” a high-pitched voice chimed in from the table near the back. The woman was a bit disheveled, and looked like a rough sort. Certainly not the kind of woman you’d find in the fancy balls of the ton. “I saw it all. Tackled the bastard to the bloody ground.”

A faint blush threatened to tint Martin’s cheeks, and he fought to keep it pushed down. Why such a spectacle had to be made of it, he didn’t know.

“What’d this lad do?” asked the gruff man who poured his drink.

“Saved Lord Hallington’s housemaid,” the woman shrieked back. Someone really should take that ale away from her. “From that rake Tallins—he was trying to kidnap that poor thing.”

“Aye?” said the tender. A few other patrons piped up, as well, but Martin stayed silent.

“Lord Hallington would like to have you for tea tomorrow,” Vincent said, a sincere look in his eye that Martin didn’t often see in the men of high society. “Four in the afternoon.”

Martin opened his mouth to tell him to bugger off, say no thank you. But, this was why he was here. To charm the ton, become allies with a few wealthy men and build a business. Become something. Why give up the opportunity now?

With a sly smile and a new plan, Martin shook the man’s hand. “I’d be honored.”

If you liked the preview, you can get the whole book here