A masculine sigh drifted past the partially open bedroom door, interrupting Lady Astra Keane’s private gesture of commiseration. Poor Wesley. She paused to deposit the crystal vase overflowing with freshly cut flowers she’d arranged, placing it onto the sitting room’s nearest side table. Astra was certain her late husband’s cousin and her own dear friend from childhood would hate for her to witness his despair, especially since he’d done his best to cheer her over his change in fortune.

Still, with the new lord’s arrival imminent, Wesley’s banishment here to Eastlan’s guest wing must truly be excruciating for him. The sound of a sharp intake of breath followed by a throaty moan halted her escape. Was Wesley crying?

Perhaps the shock of discovering an unexpected heir, a stranger to all of them, had all been too much. Once again he was merely the steward and no longer the acting lord, now just a distant relative who would have to ingratiate himself to their new master. Currently, they were all simply guests of James Keane, former American privateer and the new baron of Eastlan.

Astra crept toward the bedchamber to check on Wesley. Despite their ardent respect for one another’s privacy, she felt compelled to let him know he had a friend, a kindred spirit, someone who understood the cruelty of fate and English entailment. She nudged the dark paneled door and it silently swung open.

A couple—standing exposed in the middle of a sunlit bedroom—locked in a lewd embrace. Astra swallowed her shocked gasp. Wesley had a lover! She jerked back, almost stumbling.

The wave of shock subsided in an instant with her realization that Wesley was not the man hungrily sucking the breast of the newest addition to their staff. Melva’s fiery red curls piled atop her head and her bare pale shoulders sprinkled with freckles were hard to mistake.

The man gripped the maid’s waist with large hands Astra noticed were tanned from too much time outdoors. Melva held him to her with fingers tangled in his hair. His booted feet were spread. He was much taller than he first appeared. Most definitely not Wesley. As she watched, Astra reached for the door handle, torn between running from the sitting room and confronting the couple as she knew she should.

Though she was relieved to confirm Wesley’s character remained untarnished, the carnal exchange set Astra’s heart racing. Once she identified the man, Astra would report them both to the housekeeper. A situation such as this had never occurred while she’d resided as Eastlan’s baroness. Her tenure had been marked by sickbeds and sadness, but never lusty couples throwing caution to the wind.

After another look at the man, Astra was certain she did not recognize the maid’s strapping companion. The breadth of his shoulders stretching his worn linen shirt marked him as a laborer, perhaps a stranger making a delivery. His sun-streaked hair tied with a leather thong had come loose at Melva’s greedy fingers. Though fair-haired, his coloring was his only resemblance to Wesley who had always struck her as slight. A glance lower proved the stranger wore scuffed leather boots. Strong thighs flexed through the faded material of his black wool breeches as he sucked the maid with enough enthusiasm to hollow his cheeks.

Astra’s face heated. When was the last time she’d noticed any part of a man’s anatomy much less his thighs? A very long time…and the only reason why she could imagine she felt compelled to linger on such a shocking interlude.

The man pulled his head away from Melva’s grip, though she tugged on his freed hair to keep him from escaping entirely. He reached up and caught her wrists, pinning them to her sides before returning his mouth to Melva’s aroused and exposed nipples. She gasped as he sucked her hard once more, the sound of his mouth pulling away from her loud and wet.

Astra pursed her lips to stop her own harsh breath from escaping. She should leave, feared she would be caught staring at the couple. No, it would be best to wait for the moment she could slip away unnoticed.

“Greedy, aren’t you?” he murmured in a deep voice that contrasted her impression that he was a randy villager. His accent was odd. The confident timbre sent a shiver down the nape of Astra’s neck. Then, all the heat that had been building in her stomach plummeted when she realized the stranger’s identity.

“Only for you, my lord,” the maid crooned. “Welcome to Eastlan. It’s my pleasure to be at