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Authors: Robyn Dehart

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BOOK: A Little Bit Wicked
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“You did not,” Clarissa said. “That would be dreadful.” She actually smiled at him.

“You’re right, dear sister. We didn’t do that, but we did fire a few warning shots into the water and then paddled as quickly as we could. We got out of the water safely and made our camp for the night.”

“How do you keep the animals away at night?” This question came from Vivian. He had begun to wonder if she was paying any attention to his tale.

“We had guards and we took turns. And as I said, we had guns. Plenty of them. And we lit fires that surrounded the campsites.”

“Sounds horrifically dangerous,” Lady Garner said.

“Sounds exciting,” Justin said.

“It’s all of those things. I won’t lie and say we haven’t had any injuries or close calls, but we do our best to keep it as safe as possible for people.”

“Would you go back?” Viscount Danford asked.

“Of course. I’ve been to Africa many times, to many countries within—Egypt and Morocco. I’ve also traveled to the Orient and India and many places in between.”

“The animals don’t frighten you?” Again it was Vivian who asked.

“Some of them do.” He smiled. “I’m not particularly fond of snakes or scorpions. They can be quite nasty. But you learn to shake out your clothes and shoes.”

Again a round of laughter. Everyone was entranced. He hadn’t expected her plan to work, but he’d be the first to admit she had been right. Of course, this was but a small gathering of London’s finest. There were more people to deal with, and he knew the worst of this situation wasn’t over yet. But protecting Clarissa was the most important thing for him to do now. He had walked out on his family once, and he wouldn’t do that again. Once Clarissa was married off, he’d be free to return to his life as before. But until then he’d do what he could to protect her.

The rest of the dinner party flew by in a flurry of questions, with him telling story after story of his adventures. He didn’t mind it; he enjoyed his travels. It was one of the reasons he’d sought out the position with Thomas Adventure Tours.

Again and again, as he spoke, he found his eyes drawn to the woman at the end of the table. Her sable gaze had stayed on him, but as soon as he’d meet it she’d look away, turn to the person next to her to ask a question, or she’d take a sip of her drink. Anything, it seemed, but lock eyes with him.

He unsettled her, he could see that. It wasn’t so much that he made her nervous—Vivian March seemed to have a strong constitution—but he knew she was constantly aware of him. He rather liked that fact. It meant that she, quite likely, was as attracted to him as he was to her.

There were other women to be had in London. Just this evening he’d received a handful of suggestive glances from the women in attendance, two of whom were already married. But it was Vivian March who had captured his interest. There was simply something about her, something he couldn’t ignore. And he wanted to speak to her tonight. Alone.

He enjoyed her conversation, the tone of her voice. It was her proper way and he wanted nothing more than to make her stumble. Not literally, but merely in her thoughts. Wanted to trip her up, catch her off guard. Get her to say more things that she hadn’t meant to say. That was when people were the most honest.

As the guests began to depart he made a point of leaving his sister conversing with two other women in the party. Vivian stood near the door saying goodbye. Then he motioned for Clarissa and Lena and Henry to make their way to the carriage.

“Henry, be a good sport and see the ladies to the carriage. I need a word with Miss March and I shall be right behind you,” Marcus said.

“Very good,” Henry said as he led the women out the door.

“Why are you not leaving?” Vivian asked as his party left him standing alone with her.

“I wanted to speak with you. Privately.”

She glanced around them to ensure no one had heard him. “That’s not a good idea.”

“I promise not to ravish you.” He arched his brows. “At least, not tonight.”

“You are incorrigible and remarkably inappropriate,” she said, though her tone did not suggest she was all that scandalized by his behavior. “If you will excuse me,” she said to the other guests, “I am going to see Lord Ashford out.” They walked out into the hall and she opened her study door. “We are alone now. If we must speak privately, you could at the least tell me whether or not you think tonight was a success, or do you still believe my plan to be an utter failure?”

He smiled and nodded in concession. “Yes, I do think tonight was a success. I admit that perhaps you know what you are talking about. You certainly understand these people more than I do.” He wanted to touch her, but he knew if he reached out too soon, she’d spook. Much like the prey alerted to the hunter that stalked nearby. “I’ve traveled with aristocrats, but that is different. Out there, in the wilds of a dangerous land, they must rely on me and the other guards to keep them safe. They can’t afford to behave in their usual entitled fashion.”

“I’m glad you can admit when you’re wrong,” she said with a nod. “It’s a rare trait.”

“Rare in men, or people in general?”

“People in general, but men in particular.” She smiled a genuine smile that struck him right in the gut.

“You were the loveliest woman here tonight,” he said.

“I see you have other traits, of charming and lying, as well.”

“I’m not lying. I never lie when it comes to speaking of a woman’s beauty. And with you, the lie would have been unnecessary.”

She chuckled, then perhaps realized from his expression that he was telling the truth. “Thank you.”

“And I see you, too, can admit when you’re wrong. I’ve wanted to do this all night.”

He pulled her to him and pressed his mouth down on hers. His lips slanted across hers, and it took very little coaxing to get her to respond. Her tongue stroked against his, and desire thundered through him. He held her against him and kissed her with every ounce of passion he felt. Her response was intoxicating, so heated and unrestrained. He couldn’t get enough. He deepened the kiss, and he could have sworn he heard her sigh.

He wanted to toss her onto the floor and plow into her.

She pressed her hands against his chest and pushed him away. “That will be quite enough.”

“You should stop being so tempting if you want me to stop kissing you.”

“You need to control your urges. Good evening, my lord,” she said and he knew in no uncertain terms he’d been dismissed.

He toyed with the idea of kissing her hand, but didn’t want to push her too far tonight. Instead, he bowed slightly. “Until the next time, Miss March.”

As he walked to the waiting carriage, he replayed their kiss. Her reaction had been perfect. She might claim to not want his advances, but her kisses spoke otherwise. Her passion was intoxicating, exhilarating, and potentially addictive.

Yes, kissing Vivian was most assuredly dangerous.

But Marcus loved danger.

Chapter Five

Marcus stood next to the table and with a flick of his hands unrolled the collection of maps. He set paperweights at each corner, and then stood back to survey his work. He didn’t need to look at the maps because he’d already memorized the routes he’d created.

Thomas Adventure Tours: Around the World.
They’d be the first touring company to offer such a trip. It had been weeks since he’d submitted his itinerary, carefully planned out over weeks of poring over these same maps in dimly lit tents leading that last tour in Africa. But no word yet from Mr. Thomas and which itinerary they’d selected.

He stared at the map so long it became a blur of lines and curves. Even if he was selected to lead the tour, he didn’t know if he could leave. He wanted to, that much he knew. But he wasn’t so heartless as to recognize that whether his sister knew it or not, she needed him. So he couldn’t simply desert her. At least, not yet. While he was eager to hear from Mr. Thomas, he recognized that it wasn’t a bad thing that word hadn’t yet come.

He focused again on the maps. The one on top was of America, where he’d proposed a stagecoach journey from the east to the west coast. It seemed that nothing fascinated aristocrats more than the wilds of the American west, with tales of gold and silver mines, problems with Indians, and gunfights in the middle of the streets. It was well populated, but seemed untamed and uncivilized, and to the genteel population of London, it was a source of endless intrigue.

“Are you planning a visit to the Americas?” Clarissa asked from the other side of the table.

Only a short amount of time in London and already his instincts were fading. He hadn’t heard her approach. That would not have been good had she been a wild cat or a native carrying a sharp weapon.

“Not precisely. This is a route I mapped out for a special holiday that Mr. Thomas wants to provide.” He stepped around the table, diverting her attention from his maps. “Did you need something?”

She wandered over to the leather chairs opposite his desk. Marcus followed her and sat in the chair adjacent to hers.

“I was wondering if perhaps you might make a better effort to be kind to George,” she said.

“I have not even met him, and he has made no effort in remedying that situation. I may have been out of London for a while, but I do believe it is still important for a man courting a woman to seek out the men in her family for approval.”

She set her jaw. “So you will not even walk up to him and introduce yourself?”

“I will not.” Marcus tried to soften his voice. “Clarissa, this man has done nothing, as far as I can tell, to indicate he has any intentions that lean toward courtship, let alone marriage, with you. Yes, he dances with you, but so do Lord Blankenship and Justin, as well as a whole host of other men.”

“We walk together every Wednesday in the park,” she said defensively.

“And how long has that been a tradition?” he asked.

She sucked in a quick breath. “Perhaps eight months or so. We have been friends for a while.”

“Eight months, and yet he has not made formal intentions of courtship known. Clarissa, the man has no interest in marrying you.”.

Her eyes widened. “You do not know him.”

“No, but I am a man. If he wanted to marry you, he would have asked already.” The bastard was going to hurt his sister and that was not to be tolerated, at least if Marcus could help it. “From now on I do not want you to spend any time with him.”

“You cannot do that.”

“I can and I will. I am quite serious, Clarissa. No more time with this Wilbanks man. If, as you say, he is prepared to offer for your hand, he will come speak to me. But no more walks, no more dancing, none of it. Am I understood?” She could hate him now, but eventually she would see that this was the best decision for her.

“I am not a child,” she said, coming to her feet.

“No, but you are my sister and it is my duty to protect you. This is the only way I know how to do so.”

“You are a cretin.”

“Perhaps,” he said.

“And if I disobey?”

“We shall retire to the country for an extended stay. I’m told that Ashford Manor could use some attention.”

She stared at him for several moments, her chest rising and falling quickly in her anger. Then she turned on her heel and left.

She’d already been angry with him, but this was something that had to be done. In the meantime, he might consider finding out which club George Wilbanks frequented so he could have a conversation with him. Tell the bastard to stay the hell away from his sister.

Vivian had gone over the speech in her head several times already that morning. Then she’d practiced once again in the carriage on the way to his townhouse. Now that she was waiting for him, she knew precisely what to say and how to lead into it. This was a delicate matter, but it had to be handled. She could no longer allow Marcus to continue to take liberties with her, especially since she seemed to have no defenses against his advances. It seemed as though, once he was in the room with her, she completely forgot what she was about, what she’d stood for these past ten years. He’d nearly made her forget her own name with his wicked kisses!

She paced across the Persian rug in his front parlor waiting for him to appear. She had specifically told the butler she wanted to see him alone. This would, hopefully, be the last time that they were alone, but it was most assuredly a conversation they needed to have in private.

“Miss March,” he purred as he stepped into the room. “You wanted to see me in private.” He flashed her a wicked smile and walked toward her. “I appreciate your boldness.”

She held her hand up. “Please do not come any closer. I find that you have cast some sort of wicked spell over me, which prevents me from thinking clearly. But it stops today.” She cut her hand across her palm for emphasis. “I’ve come to discuss something of utmost importance with you.”

“Very well, let us sit.” He motioned to the chairs behind them. “I admit I am eager for what it is you’ve come to say.”

She sat and then took great care straightening her skirt. Despite her rehearsals this morning of how to discuss this with him, admittedly she was somewhat nervous, which truly made no sense. She had had countless discussions far more difficult than this with any number of other gentlemen. “Well, then, allow me to come right out with it, as it were. You need a wife.”

“Miss March, this is all so forward.” He braced his hand on his chest to look taken aback. “I’m flattered, truly, but we’ve only known each other a few days.” He grinned, as if enjoying his own jest.

She snorted. “You are hilarious.”

He gave her a mock bow. “Thank you,”

“I, however, am quite serious, Marcus. You
a wife and I intend to find you one. It will be the perfect diversion away from your sister’s scandal. Once the word is out that you are looking for a wife, all the marriageable misses and their mothers will turn their attention to that instead of worrying about poor Clarissa and her conversation with Mr. Rodale. Another available earl—and this one with money.” She smiled. “Honestly, I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before.”

“I don’t want a wife.” He stretched his long legs out in front of him as if daring her to look. Which, of course, she did because they appeared impossibly long encased in his black trousers and how was it even possible she could see the muscular nature of his thighs? She averted her eyes quickly.

She shook her head. “Every man wants a wife. Every man needs a wife.”

“That is a completely false statement.”

“Is it? I don’t think so. Perhaps you, the adventurer, didn’t need a wife. But you are an earl now, and you must have a wife—you need an heir.” She waved her hand. “It’s bound to happen sooner or later, and I’m the perfect person to select a bride for you. I know all of the available women, and I can give you the details on them.”

“I take back what I said before about your previous plan.
is the foolish plan.”

“I don’t believe it is.”

He came to his feet so that he towered over her. “Don’t think I don’t know the real reason you are doing this.”

“Because you need a wife, I told you,” Vivian said. She crossed her arms over her chest as she looked up at him.

“No, you’re doing this—” He leaned over, bracing his hands on the arms of her chair, effectively pinning her into her seat. He looked directly into her eyes. “—because you think it will keep me away from you.” His glance dropped to her mouth and he licked his lips.

Vivian wasn’t certain if her corset was too tight or if she was nearing a swoon, but it suddenly felt difficult to breathe. She watched his tongue slide across his bottom lip and she bit down on hers to keep her own mouth closed.

He leaned in close and whispered against her ear. “You think it will keep me from kissing you.”

She shivered in response and knew her breath caught.

Again he looked into her eyes. “But know this, Vivian March. Finding me a wife isn’t going to distract me from pursuing you. I’m coming after you, so you had best prepare yourself.”

Coming after her.

What did that mean? And why the devil was she currently feeling so bloody alive? She should be furious at his roguish behavior! She was certainly intent on finding him a wife. Tomorrow Clarissa and her aunt would come for a visit and together they would create a list of potential brides for him. This matchmaking was going to happen despite his efforts otherwise. Once he saw the beautiful young women eager to be on his arm, he’d forget all about this ridiculous idea of seducing her.

Vivian would be a liar, though, if she didn’t admit there was a tiny piece of her that hoped he might be successful. But she knew she’d never allow herself to be seduced again.

The following morning, Vivian closed the door to the front parlor and turned to face her aunt and her two guests. “I’m so pleased you could join me this morning. We have a most important task ahead of us, ladies, so I felt it best for all of us meet.”

Clarissa and her Aunt Maureen sat beside one another on the pale green settee. “Your note was most urgent,” Clarissa said. Then her hand went to her throat. “Oh dear, have the rumors begun?”

For the first time, the girl seemed truly concerned about the predicament in which she’d placed herself. Vivian waved her hand. “No, no, nothing of the sort. This meeting is entirely about your brother.”

Clarissa visibly relaxed. “Boorish, isn’t he?”

“Well, I—that is to say, I believe he needs a wife.” She wasn’t going to detail all that had transpired between herself and Marcus with his sister and aunt, so she used another excuse. “A feminine hand will soften his rougher edges—civilize him, so to speak.” Not to mention, she herself was so weak, she feared she’d need him married off so she wouldn’t succumb to temptation.

“Excellent plan, my dear,” Aunt Rose said. “But matchmaking, Vivian? Need I remind you about the time you attempted to convince Miss Rosewood to set her cap for Viscount Tilton?”

Vivian shook her head. “No, I’m still trying to forget.” Then she started to giggle.

“Someone had to
her to set her cap for him?” Clarissa asked. “Oh, you simply must tell us the story.”

Vivian looked at the faces surrounding her, smiling, expectant. “He seemed lonely and she was not as yet married and it seemed like a good idea at the time. So I gently suggested to her that she make it known to him she would welcome his attentions.”

“She not only let him know, but the rest of London as well,” Rose said.

“Yes, well, the girl evidently has no understanding of subtlety. And poor Viscount Tilton, every time he sees me, he glares at me. And it’s been two years. Do you know she is still following him around? Poor girl tries to hide herself behind trees and lamp posts.”

Aunt Maureen laughed. “Her mother should keep a closer watch on her.”

“Yes, well, evidently he had attempted courtship when she’d first been introduced into society, but it had gone very poorly,” Vivian said.

Aunt Rose smiled. “There was no possible way you could have known they’d had a past. He’d kept that secret for a while.”

“And for good reasons, it seems,” Vivian said. She was so accustomed to knowing people’s secrets that it always came as a bit of a shock if someone had one with which she was unfamiliar. “Nor could I have known how obsessive she is. Or perhaps I should say possessive. It is no wonder the girl is still unmarried.” Vivian smoothed her skirts.

“That was only one, though,” Clarissa said. “Have you tried to match other couples?”

“Should I tell them about the time you tried to match Henrietta and Finley?” her aunt asked with a grin.

Vivian held up her hand, but could not keep herself from smiling, too. “I maintain that is a perfectly made match. How was I supposed to know they were already a couple? No one knew they had eloped. But clearly I could see how well they went together. That is a success story.”

Clarissa clapped her hands. “Oh, that is too perfect.”

“Vivian, love, with all your talents,” Rose said, shaking her head, “perhaps there is an alternative solution here.”

“No, matchmaking it is. But those previous situations were precisely the reason I have called in reinforcements.” Vivian smiled warmly at Clarissa and Maureen. “Though he has been away for many years, you two lovely ladies know Marcus the best. Not only that, but you both have splendid ties in society, and I have no doubt you’ll have some suggestions.” She withdrew a small notebook from the table beside her, along with a pencil. “Now then, shall we begin making our list?”

BOOK: A Little Bit Wicked
11.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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