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Authors: Robyn Dehart

A Little Bit Wicked (19 page)

BOOK: A Little Bit Wicked
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Vivian turned and made a sweeping motion to the crowd behind her. “I hid my secret and then worked to hide all of theirs. Oh, the things I know about the people in this town.”

Vivian could see Marcus coming up behind the girl, and she took a steadying breath. Annie was almost safe. But there was more she wanted the girl to know.

“And all these years, I thought I was safe. Frederick hadn’t returned, he’d stayed in Paris and my secret was mine to protect. He has come back to London, though, not too long ago, it would seem, and with him he brought wretched letters and threats, blackmailing me to protect my secret.”

Again, more shocked gasps whispered through the crowd.

“But protecting that secret isn’t worth it,
not worth it. I made a mistake. You made a mistake, but it doesn’t have to destroy your entire life.” Vivian glanced at Marcus. “You could still know love, still go on to do everything you always planned to do.” She glanced at the people all around her. “Look at all the faces out here, Annie. If you knew how many other women in this crowd had done the very same thing you have done, you would be far more forgiving of yourself.”

Annie stood there for several moments and then she nodded. She turned back to the window and Marcus appeared offering a hand to assist her back inside.

The crowd cheered. Vivian stood waiting for Marcus to bring Annie down. A handful of people, starting with Annie’s parents, thanked Vivian, but for the most part people stayed clear of her. Perhaps tonight she had gone from paragon to pariah, but at least she had done it on her own terms and hadn’t allowed Frederick the pleasure. And if she were completely honest with herself, she was glad she’d told them all, in her own words. She was glad the burden of that secret was gone.

She felt lighter, perhaps ready to start anew. Marcus came out of the house with Annie and walked the girl straight over to her parents. Annie embraced her family, but one look at Vivian had her rushing into Vivian’s arms.

Vivian caught Marcus’s glance above Annie’s head. His jaw clenched and the steely look in his blue eyes seemed to grab hold of her heart. Then he turned and walked away. Vivian closed her eyes and held onto Annie.

“Thank you,” Annie whispered. “I thought I was so alone.”

“Of course not,” Vivian said, rubbing the girl’s back. “Perhaps we could start a club,” she teased. But inside, Vivian felt as if she were the one dying. Marcus had heard the truth about her and been so disgusted, he’d walked away.

Once Marcus had gotten Annie safely back down to her family he taken one look at Vivian and wanted nothing more than to pull her in his arms and hold her tight. But he had more pressing matters to deal with first. He would go to her soon, tell her what an ass he’d been by storming off the way he did. He’d had no idea about the burden she’d been carrying, or why that son of a bitch had been blackmailing her, which was precisely why he had someone to see before he went to Vivian, now that he knew the man’s name.

Marcus felt certain he knew right where to find him. Now everything made sense.

Vivian’s reaction to his letter from the tour company made sense now. She’d thought that after he proposed he was going to leave her exactly the way Frederick had. And she hadn’t seen herself as worthy of being another man’s wife, since she believed herself to be tarnished.
Oh sweet, sweet, Vivi.

Upon his arrival at Diana Cosgrove’s townhouse, he slammed the knocker against the door. The butler had barely opened it before Marcus shoved the man aside. He tore up the stairs and opened several bedchamber doors before he found her. Diana lounged on her bed, the coverlet half covering her, half not. She didn’t seem to care much that she was exposing herself to him.

“Where the hell is he?” he asked. Marcus looked around the room. The wall across from the bed held a dressing table with the usual accoutrements. Leaning next to the table and against the wooden paneling were several painted canvases. There was a door in the far right corner, presumably leading to a dressing closet or adjacent room. He looked back at Diana.

She gave him a slow smile. “Whom are you looking for?”

“Darling, I was thinking—” Frederick walked through the doorway from the adjoining room without a stitch of clothing on him. “Ah, Lord Ashford, how interesting of you to join us. I should think you would allow us to dress properly before we can accept visitors. We could meet you in the parlor on the first floor.”

“This won’t take long,” Marcus said. With that, he slammed his fist into Frederick’s perfect face. “And it certainly doesn’t require clothes on your part.” He landed another blow and then another. He wanted to continue to hit the man until all the anger he felt on Vivian’s behalf seeped out of his body, but he knew if he did that, he’d kill the man.

Frederick howled in pain and Diana screamed. Marcus stepped away from the man who’d doubled over in pain. Frederick looked up at him, blood pouring from his now broken nose and Marcus noted the bastard would probably be nursing some cracked ribs. “You broke my nose,” he said.

“If either of you two ever contact Miss March in any capacity, you will have to deal with me. Am I understood?”

“Now see here, man,” Frederick said, coming to stand upright. His voice was nasal as he continued to hold his bleeding nose.

“No, I will not see here.” He took a step toward Frederick and the man backed up. “Allow me to put it into terms you can readily understand. I have spent the last ten years of my life traveling through the wilds of Africa and India. I have seen men killed in ways in which the civilized people here in England could never even dream.” He met the man’s eyes. “Don’t make me have to come find you again. The next time I will not be so kind.”

Frederick nodded swiftly.

Diana slid from the bed and now having found some shred of modesty, she clutched the coverlet to her body. “What of your art, dearest? That bitch owes you.”

Marcus whipped towards her. “Is that what he told you?” Marcus shook his head in disgust. “No, he seduced her while she was still an innocent, stole her virtue, and then broke her heart. Vivian owes him nothing.” Then he looked back at Frederick and motioned to the paintings leaning against the far wall. “And you are a terrible artist. No one in London will ever pay money for your wretched paintings.”

Vivian sat at her dressing table absently braiding her hair. So much had happened in the last few weeks it was hard to think upon all of it at once. Tomorrow everything would be different. She would no longer be The Paragon. People would no longer seek her out to give them coverage and sanctuary. She had ruined everything by sharing the truth about herself tonight. Now everyone knew of her less than virtuous past.

She searched her mind and body for signs of guilt or regret, but oddly, found none.

She had even received a note from Annie this evening thanking her for sharing her story, for stopping her from doing something so profoundly stupid.

The carriage ride home had been spent with Aunt Rose crying into her embroidered handkerchief. She hadn’t been upset with Vivian for her mistake, but rather for her believing that she or Lillian would have ever seen Vivian differently because of it. Vivian had apologized, but knew that tomorrow she’d have to talk to her more. Vivian owed her more of an explanation.

Suddenly her door opened and Marcus stood there.

“Marcus, what are you doing here?”

But then he was there, right next to her, his hands all over her, his mouth on hers, and words were forgotten in the kiss. He threaded his fingers through her damp hair, unbraiding it and allowing the whole of it to cascade down her back. He massaged at her scalp, then his fingers moved to the fastenings on her nightrail. So deft were his movements, the only way she knew he was done was the cool air hitting her bare skin as the garment fell to her feet.

Then his mouth was on her breast, sucking and nipping and devouring. He seemed to be everywhere at once, touching her, kissing her, moving her toward the bed. A moment later he was undressed and atop her. His body was warm and heavy on hers and so very welcome.

She thought she’d lost him, but he was here, in her bed. She gave her heart permission to hope.

She could be here in this moment forever, having him press kisses all over her body, having his fingers weave magic through her veins. Just him. Just Marcus and she could be happy. Finally happy because she loved him. It was on her lips to tell him and then he was inside her and she forgot everything but the sensations he created.

Her body matched his movements, with every thrust she met him, climbing higher and higher until her climax teetered at the edge of the cliff. She bucked against him, trying to push herself over, to release herself from the sweet torture. Her nails dug into his shoulders and she wrapped her legs around his waist. And then her release hit and she pushed her head into her pillow and moaned his name again and again.

They lay quietly a moment. He rolled off her and settled himself on the pillow beside her and then he pulled her to him. She put her head on his chest, listening to the steady rhythm of his heart. In that moment she realized none of this would be worth it if she couldn’t be with Marcus forever. Letting herself love Marcus would bring her peace and make her whole. Most of all, she deserved to love him. She deserved for him to love her in return. That is, if it wasn’t too late.

“I love you,” she said.

He pulled back until she could see his face. “What did you say?”

“I said I love you. Marcus, I love you.”

His eyes narrowed. “What is this about, Vivian?”

“Us. Me.” She released a nervous laugh. “It’s about what I want. I want you.” She eyed him for a moment, trying to gauge his reaction, but he was quiet. She chewed at her lip. “Is that question you asked me the other day…” She exhaled slowly. “Do you still want me? Do you still want me to be your wife? Because I would very much like another chance to answer.”

“Yes, I do, but what about Thomas Adventure Tours?” he asked.

She shook her head. “I’ll go with you. I could probably stand to get out of London for a while.” Then she narrowed her eyes at him. “But something tells me that’s not really what you’re asking me. You are resigning,” she said as she realized what a fool she’d been. “Oh, Marcus, I’m so sorry for accusing you.”

He squeezed her to him. “Perhaps we shall travel someday, but yes, I resigned, you goose. I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving you, which, frankly, is not very masculine of me.”

She smiled broadly as happiness poured through her like rays from the sun, warming every part of her body. “I won’t tell anyone.” She waited for him to say something else, but he was quiet. “I am sorry I said such nasty things to you about that, Marcus.” She shook her head. “I do not think such things about you.”

“You don’t need to apologize for anything. Vivi, I wish you’d told me about the blackmail. I could have helped. I found the letter, you know, but I waited, like a fool, hoping you’d seek my help.”

She released a shuddering breath. “I didn’t want you to know the truth about me.”

“The past is the past. I never give that a second thought. But I doubt you’ll ever hear from Frederick or Diana Cosgrove ever again.”

She leaned on her elbow and eyed him. “What did you do?”

“I might have hit him. Once or twice.”

“Marcus,” she chided, then giggled. “Did you hurt him?”

“Broke his nose.”

She kissed him firmly on the lips. “Oh, he’ll hate that. He loves his face.” His blue eyes locked on hers. “Thank you.” She was quiet for a few moments before asking, “Does that mean…?”

“What?” he asked. “Ask me, Vivi.”

“Does that mean that you love me, too?”

“Yes, you maddening woman, I love you.”

“No matter what?”

“No matter what.”


Christmas, 1866

Vivian stood in front of the tree in the corner of their parlor and tilted her head. The clean piney smell from all the hung boughs filled the air. She inhaled, enjoying the distinctive holiday smells.

She eyed the tree. Something was still missing. Marcus had already put candles all over the evergreen, and now she was putting on the finishing touches. Perhaps it needed a few more ribbons. She bent to retrieve them, and a fluttering moved through her belly. She stood abruptly, hand to her rounding abdomen. There—against her hand, she felt it again, a slight movement. Tears sprang to her eyes.

“Hello in there,” she whispered.

“Who are you talking to, love?” Marcus asked from the doorway.

“The baby. Come here, he’s moving.”

“Still so certain it’s a boy?” he asked, striding toward her.

She grabbed his hand and put it on her stomach. “Right there, feel that?” Another movement. She smiled broadly at her husband. “He’s strong.”

“Yes,” Marcus said. “But
might be a

“You know you are supposed to want an heir.”

He shrugged and gave her one of those grins that still made her heart flip-flop. “I do, but perhaps this first one could be a little girl. A girl as beautiful as her mother, who will smile up at me with those same brown eyes, and I know already I shall be defenseless.”

She grabbed Marcus and fell into his arms for a tight hug. “I love you so very much.”

He squeezed her to him. “And I love you.” He kissed the top of her head. “I brought you something.” He led her to the settee and made her sit. “Besides, you should be resting. I can finish decorating the tree.”

She looked over at the tree in the corner. It still seemed too bare in some spots. “It needs more color. It needs to be finished before the rest of the family arrives in a few short hours,” she said.

He came over with a beautifully wrapped package and set it in her lap.

She looked up at him. “But Christmas isn’t until tomorrow.”

“An early present,” he said. “Open it.” He sat next to her on the settee.

Love swelled within her, threatening to choke her, and she wondered for a moment if anyone had ever died from too much happiness. She carefully unwrapped the paper, and then opened the box. Inside she found three pairs of warm woolen stockings. Tears filled her eyes and she ran her fingers down the length of them. They were soft, the finest of wools, and they must have cost him a fortune.

“Yes, this, this is precisely what I always dreamed of. I just didn’t know it would be you,” she said. She met his gaze, startled by his handsomeness and the love that shone in his eyes.

“It’s merely stockings, love,” he said, smiling.

“No, it’s so much more.
are so much more. I love you.”

“But it is everything you deserve. I love you, Vivian.” Then he kissed her.

BOOK: A Little Bit Wicked
13.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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