Authors: Lynne Silver
Lord Pierce Brandford promised his mother he’d find a bride—and planned to leave her and return to his debauched life in London as soon as possible. But that was before his marriage to Lady Helene Sayer, a woman with a wanton reputation and passionate nature to match his own. When he discovers his new wife is actually a virgin desperate to suppress her desires, he vows to initiate her in all manner of sensual delights until she begs her wicked husband to take her in every way….
Oh dear, he was doing it again. Staring at her. She darted behind a potted palm praying no dirt would mar the pristine condition of her white ball gown. A quick glance from behind a particularly large leaf told her she was still the object of his attention. Drat, she’d never accomplish a single goal if
insisted on marking her with his attentions. Although, admittedly, she’d done her fair share of staring at him.
She’d first caught sight of him last week at the Fauntley rout and smiled graciously, before she’d known who he was, of course. Once he’d entered the room, it was as though all the other eligible bachelors faded into the walls, leaving only him. She’d gazed at his tall, broad form and dark hair in raptures. At last, a newcomer to the Ton. A man who wouldn’t know her reputation and scorn her at once.
Unfortunately, the whispers of his reputation quickly circled the ballroom, filling her heart with disappointment. Who cared if he was a Marquis? With his tarnished name, he may as well have been a chimney sweep for all the good he’d do her. With a silent prayer to be left alone, she shrank behind the plant again and counted the minutes until the evening’s end.
“What about that one?” Pierce gestured to the woman hiding behind a plant, a woman he’d been discreetly tracking since last evening. He seemed to have some sort of special awareness when it came to her, for once he’d seen her all other debutantes faded in comparison.
She appeared older than the rest of the innocent chits circling the ballroom like cats hunting mice. Mice, of course, being eligible bachelors.
“No. Absolutely not. You don’t want
,” Adam, Viscount Ryder, said.
“Why not? What’s wrong with her? She appears to be the right age, and if she has the sense to avoid gossipy old biddies here by hiding, then she shows a modicum of intelligence lacking in every other lass I’ve spoken to tonight.” His exasperation rose. Day one of his wife search had extended into week one and was now hovering on week two. Damn, how hard could it be to find an eligible miss, get the papa’s permission, marry her and beget an heir? Apparently more difficult than foreseen.
His prolonged absence from good societal events had ensured his reputation had sunk to a tattered ruin. Furthermore, his frequent attendance at events lacking in all propriety buried it even more than a mudlark’s boots. Few fathers and even fewer mamas seemed willing to let their daughters take a turn around the dance floor, let alone marry him.
“Don’t let the white fool you. She’s no innocent,” Ryder said with a scowl on his face. “And besides, she appears to be hiding from
Pierce snorted. “You deride her innocence with such disdain as if you’ve never dallied in a lady’s bed. While I’m intrigued by the notion of taking a woman’s virginity, as it is the one sin I’ve yet to commit, I do not require my wife to be a virgin.”
“Marriage to Lady Helene Sayer will do nothing to repair your reputation, nor gain you entrance into the best Ton homes,” Ryder said.
Pierce remained silent. He’d allowed Ryder to imagine his marriage hunt was an attempt to mend bridges with good Ton, but in reality, his search for a wife and desire to procreate was simply fulfillment of a deathbed promise to the one decent woman he’d ever known, his mother. He assumed he’d be like his father and abandon his wife at his estate and come back to London. Back to the days filled with gaming and drinking at his disreputable club and nights fucking a myriad of nameless, faceless women and the occasional man. He took a step toward the potted palm and Lady Helene. “Introduce me. I wish to dance with her.”
He ignored the groan that emerged from Ryder and continued on his path.
Oh, Lord. He was actually coming closer. Helene’s heart pounded a rhythm faster than the country dance currently in progress. A glance behind her revealed neither escape, nor another human for whom Lord Brandford could possibly be headed. Suddenly aware of the ridiculous picture she made, Helene stood to her full height and pretended the blazing candelabra on the post in front of her was of sudden fascination. Perhaps if he thought her daft, he would bypass her altogether.
No, of course her luck had abandoned her this evening, and, in fact, had done so long before. Not for the first time, she wished for some sort of magical carpet or contraption that would transport her three years past. Back to when she was the belle of every ball and eligible bachelors threw proposals at her feet. Before a wild whim led her to assuage her curiosity about her own desires.
But no such magic existed, and here she was, firmly on the shelf and a laughingstock to boot. So, of course, the villain of the Ton would seek her out. He probably assumed she was just like him based on her degrading reputation. Well, she refused to succumb without a fight. If Lord Brandford thought to pull her into the muck alongside him, he had another think coming.
She’d done nothing to even allow a whisper of scandal near her in three years, and sometimes she thought she saw some progress. There were certainly fewer whispers behind fans and fewer indecent proposals from supposedly decent gentleman. However, if her name became in any way connected to Lord Brandford, all her hard work would be for naught. All the pointed fingers, snide remarks and direct cuts would be placed in her path again. Permanently.
And then he was upon her, accompanied by Lord Ryder, who was still accepted in most ballrooms, though his reputation bordered on being unacceptable.
“Lady Helene, may I present Lord Pierce Brandford?” Lord Ryder swept a neat bow in her direction.
She swiveled her head, praying her father would come rescue her as she’d seen most parents do when Lord Brandford approached their precious daughters. No such luck for her, of course. Father remained hidden away at the gaming tables in a distant room, not caring about his daughter’s reputation. Only that she not embarrass him further.
“A pleasure, sir.” She faced her unwanted visitors again and extended a gloved hand and bobbed a miniscule curtsy as a screaming hint for the two men to leave her.
“Lady Helene.” Lord Brandford bowed over her hand and gave a gentle, yet delicious, squeeze to her fingertips. A hint of humor winked in his eye, and he showed no concern for her clear resistance to his presence. “May I please have the honor of the next dance?”
Time froze as she mentally rolled through excuses to absent her from further contact with this wicked lord. It was currently raining buckets outside, so she could not express a wish for fresh air, and that would only gain an unwanted escort to the balcony. Would they believe her father was looking for her? Before she could tell him she needed to use the ladies’ retiring room, he’d grasped her elbow and propelled her toward the center of the room where couples were finishing up a set.
Helene had managed to catch snippets of Brandford’s misdeeds circling the opera house like wildfire when he dared put in an appearance at a performance a few evenings past. It had not helped that several of the female performers had winked and waved at him as the curtain fell to close the first act. And now the blackheart wanted to dance with her.
To her horror the first notes of a waltz sounded, and Lord Brandford swept her into the first steps. Keeping her hands fisted at her sides would cause more comments so she gingerly locked her arms into position, careful to keep as much distance between them as possible.
It was difficult. His masculine scent of brandy mixed with some subtle cologne tantalized every breath. Beneath her gloved hand, she could feel warm, male muscle that rolled and flexed as he led her through the dance steps. Helene ignored every stare and whisper directed at them and kept her eyes straight ahead on the wide chest of her dance partner. If she didn’t engage him in conversation and showed no interest in him, surely he would leave her alone after this one dance. One dance never destroyed anyone, right?
“I hear we have matching dastardly reputations?” Pierce said just to shake off her ice queen demeanor. He stifled a grin as her head flew up and she met his gaze, shock and rage masking her face.
“As you may have heard, I’m in the market for a bride. It would be nice to have one whose misdeeds match my own. Less need for apologies that way. Shall I speak to your father?” He couldn’t help but goad her. Lucky for him, daggers were not part of a woman’s costume these days, or he’d have one sticking into his black heart. But, she was too much fun to tease and he couldn’t resist. As if he’d propose marriage after a mere three minutes in a woman’s presence. Even if said woman was the most tantalizing creature he’d laid eyes on in years, whores and ladies alike.
“Sir, I beg you.” She bit off a silent curse and fired every bit of fury her green eyes could muster at him.
What had started as a jest, now suddenly became possible and even desirable, especially if she kept breathing hard causing her perky breasts to move enticingly within her altogether too modest bodice. Having her in his bed panting, not in anger, but with lust suddenly shot to the top of his list.
“Lord Brandford, please have a care. You may not give a whit about your reputation, but I do. I can’t afford not to.” She muttered the last bit under her breath.
She was truly a fascinating creature, and one he wished to explore further. All virginal and starchy appearance, contradicted by the sensual longing in her eyes as they danced, along with fire in her voice as she’d tried to deny the spark of connection between them. Oh, yes, he’d finally met someone intriguing enough to keep him in Ton ballrooms another day.
Two weeks later
Helene blinked as her eyes adjusted to the flickering candlelight in the unfamiliar room, groggy from her sleep. When she tried to sit up, something tugged at her arms pulling her back into pillowlike softness. Where was she? Quickly, she reviewed her last moments, trying desperately to remember where she was and how she’d arrived there.
“Oh good, you’re awake,” a voice said softly from the corner of the room.
Her head spun rapidly toward the sound of the voice. It was coming back in bits and chunks now. Pierce…the wedding…but why…how?
“The wine,” her new husband said, rising from his seat and approaching the bed. “You seemed near hysteria over our marriage, so I tried to calm you with a few drops of laudanum in the wine in the carriage. Apparently, I might have overdone it. You passed out at once.”
Relief flooded her at the logical answer, but then she remembered the ropes around her arms. “Then why am I tied up?” she asked, indignation rising like a sail on a ship. She gave a good tug at the ropes, but they held fast.
“You threatened to run away the whole carriage ride home from the church. I’ll loosen them so you can sit up?”
“Loosen them? Why not untie me entirely?” she demanded and rose off the bed as far as her restraints allowed. Oh Lord, every rumor about him was true. He was going to take her in the most degrading of ways then abandon her. The marriage was some sort of sick joke on his part. Anger and helplessness at her situation pounded into her. And to think she’d believed he was changing his ways.
“If you think to consummate this marriage, think again. I have no intention of letting you have your debauched way with me,” she said, fear adding a shrewish tone to her voice.
“Relax, darling” Pierce said. “Even in this light, I can see your imagination running wild. Despite the many titles and sins attributed to me, rapist is not one of them.”
She fell back against the bed relieved but confused.
“But have no doubt, before the week is out, you’ll beg me to consummate the marriage.”
A gasp rose is her chest. “Never, you swine. You forced me into this marriage, but I will never allow you in my bed.” She held back miserable tears as she wished in vain for a father who’d cared enough to protect her from villains and not one who’d jumped at the chance to marry her off to a lofty title, despite his reputation. If only her mother were alive, this never would have happened.
Pierce lowered himself till he sat next to her, his hip to her abdomen. His finger traced a line up and down her bare upper arm, and she shivered at his nearness. “Sweet Helene. First, you know you had other options. For all you professed your innocence and desire to marry one of those boring Ton fools, you wanted
Don’t bother to deny it, your body betrays you.” With a flick, he swiped at her pebbled nipples eliciting a noise from her that fell somewhere between a gasp and a moan.
“Second, you are in
bed, which is where you will stay until I decide otherwise. And you have nothing to fear. Nothing will be done to you that you won’t be begging for, I promise you.”
With that, her arse of a husband placed a gentle kiss on her lips, rose and exited the room, but not before he had loosened her ropes and opened the curtains to allow the setting sun to pour in.
“Good riddance,” she muttered at his departing back, then took stock of her surroundings, ignoring her still-tingling lips from Brandford’s kiss. She shifted till her back was raised against the pillows. Masculine hues dotted both the bed, curtains and rug. Very few personal items lay on the two pieces of glossy, wooden furniture. Nothing to give her more clues into her husband’s mental state.
A glance down had her gasping from shock. This nightrail had most definitely not been included among her personal trunks. Her breasts spilled out from the wispy lace on top and the thin satin below was sheer enough to highlight the curls shielding her virginity. Yet every rustle and movement of her body caused the lace to abrade and tease her breasts. Tied up as she was, her body was completely on display for anyone who wandered into the room.
A rumble emanating from her belly reminded her that it had been hours if not days since she’d eaten a real meal. Knowledge of her upcoming marriage had diminished her appetite, but now she found herself ravenous. As if on cue, the door opened and Pierce strode back in, followed by a young, handsome footman, who balanced a tray heaped with food in his muscular arms.