Authors: Natasha Blackthorne
©Copyright Natasha Blackthorne 2015
Cover Art and photo by The Killion Group, Inc. 2015
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this e-book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form, including email or IM, without prior written permission from the author, Natasha Blackthorne, at [email protected]
The unauthorized reproduction, sharing, or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to five years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
This e-book contains explicit erotic scenes and graphic sexual language. Some readers may consider such content offensive. It is for sale to adults ONLY, as defined by the laws of the country and/or state where this e-book was purchased. Please store your files where minors cannot access them.
DISCLAIMER: Natasha Blackthorne writes romantic fiction for entertainment purposes only. Please do not attempt to use this book as a “how-to” book for any topic. Her works are not meant to be guides or representations of modern BDSM practices or lifestyles. Please seek the guidance of an experienced practitioner and/or your personal physician before trying any new sexual practice. The author, Natasha Blackthorne, will not be responsible for any loss, harm, injury or death resulting from use of the information contained in any of her titles.
Adrian Sutherland, Earl of Danvers, surveyed the crowded ballroom. Soft lamplight shone on walls draped in yards and yards of rich crimson velvet. The twang of someone warming up a violin cut above the steady rumble of deep voices. A faint miasma of smoke from those gentlemen who favored the habit lent an acrid edge to the scent of a little too much cologne in the packed ballroom.
But something else crackled just beneath the surface, the energy of barely-contained male anticipation that marked a courtesans’ ball.
And not just any courtesans’ ball. This event showcased the cream of available impures of the Season. Only the wealthiest and titled gentlemen were allowed entry.
Adrian circled the crowd, scanning the swarm of male bodies clad in dark evening clothes. To his left, a man shifted, and the wall of bodies parted. His gaze caught a glint of fiery copper highlights in a luxuriant profusion of glossy, dark auburn curls.
Flawless, pale ivory skin.
The flash of white teeth against lush, blood-red curving lips.
His heart began to thud, and the buzz of conversation faded.
Miss Miranda Jones.
He couldn’t stop his gaze from following the curl that trailed her bare shoulder down to the curve of generous breasts above the bright scrap of sapphire velvet adorned with sparkling beads.
A mental picture flashed of her lying on white sheets wearing nothing but the silver locket that rested between the generous valley. Her chest expanded with every breath, and he held his breath in anticipation of a peek of pink nipple barely covered by the scandalous bodice.
Had his father felt this way? For the first time, Adrian understood his father’s disastrous actions. What man wouldn’t ruin his life for a woman like her?
And not just any woman. She was the niece of the very woman who had stolen, then feasted, on his father’s heart.
What a complex and tragic coil life could be.
Christ, why had he let Dorothy coerce him into confronting Miss Jones?
After the death of her protector, the Duke of Carrville, Miranda disappeared from society for months. A seeming eternity during which he’d been unable to keep from scanning ballrooms, opera boxes and carriages in the park, some traitorous, senseless part of himself hungering for just the sight of her. That, he realized with disgust, was why he’d agreed to speak with her. He wanted her.
Exquisite courtesans like her had expensive tastes and emotionally demanding natures. Worse, they insisted on long-term contractual commitments from their protectors.
And usually got whatever they demanded.
He had no time for such nonsense. He preferred less demanding women, with clean scrubbed faces, modest clothing and grateful, generous natures.
Women like Dorothy, dowager Lady Chadwick, his late wife’s sister, as well as his lover of several years. He was quite fond of her, but owed her no particular faithfulness.
He tried to visualize Dorothy’s finer points, her sensible, light brown hair and warm coffee brown eyes.
Instead, velvety ivory skin and luminous auburn hair intruded.
Yes, he understood why the gentlemen here tonight vied for this woman’s favors.
His own father had spent what had remained of the family fortune courting such a woman. In the end, he’d earned only her rejection.
The men of his family had a weakness for such emotional punishment.
At Miss Jones’ side, a man of about forty, with a pleasant face and slightly balding plate, gazed at her with worshipful eyes… the Duke of Froster.
It’s her fault that Papa died.
Dorothy’s strident words echoed in his mind.
Miranda Jones pushed and pushed until he caved to her demands for more luxury, more gifts. She hounded him, forced him to place all his money in a losing investment. The strain of it killed him. I know it did.
Now she’s set her sights on Lord Froster. He’s such a dear, sweet man. You must stop her.
He told himself it had been the urgency in her voice, the pleading in her eyes that made him unable to deny her request. Dorothy was more than a lover. She was his friend. But, in truth, her final plea is what finally goaded him into action.
If you won’t do it for me, then do it to make her feel what it means to lose. Make her atone for Papa. Make her atone for your sons having lost their grandfather so early and so needlessly.
The nerve she hit reminded him how much his sons had lost so early in their lives. The night he sat at his wife’s deathbed he’d vowed to make up for that. They had lost both of their grandfathers too soon. He couldn’t bring Carrville or his own father back. However, he could prevent the mild-mannered and naive Duke of Froster from throwing his grandchildren’s financial legacy away as Adrian’s father had.
Despite these truths, despite his private vow and promise to Dorothy, something even more private had driven him here tonight.
He wanted Miranda Jones to look him in the face.
He wanted to confront her.
It was a damned waste of his time. There wouldn’t even be any good prospects for large wins in the card room. These events, where gentlemen were so focused on the women, proved poor pickings for a gentleman like him, one bent on rebuilding his family fortune via gambling.
As he approached the circle of fawning, worshipful men, not a single one greeted him but, instead, kept their eyes glued to the lovely, glittering night bird.
“Froster,” Adrian said.
The duke didn’t reply, and Adrian realized the man was so caught up in the slightly naughty little jest that Miss Jones was telling that he didn’t hear him.
“Froster,” Adrian said, sharply, unable to conceal his disgust with the older man’s enraptured state.
Froster turned, his eyes alight with pleasure, cheeks flushed. “Good evening, Danvers.” He motioned for Adrian to come closer. “Miss Jones has been telling us the most delightful stories.”
“Has she?” Adrian said, forcing a disinterested tone as he directed his attention towards Miss Jones.
Eyes of palest green, with a radiance like pearls, met his. Eyes that narrowed slightly.
Her haughty, slightly bored expression stung his pride. He was the twenty-seventh Earl of Danvers, a Sutherland, descended from a bloodline with noble roots as old as England itself. Who was she? A commoner. Just another woman among scores of her kind in Mayfair, no different from thousands of her poorer sisters selling their wares to the highest bidder on the streets of London.
He fought to keep his expression pleasant.
“Good evening, Miss Jones,” he said smoothly.
“Good evening, Lord Danvers.” Her expression warmed to starchy politeness, the barest hint of a curve to her lush mouth.
“Start the story over, Miss Jones,” Froster said with boyish earnestness.
Adrian shook his head. “No, that’s not necessary.” He held out a hand to Miss Jones. “I hear the quartet setting up. Perhaps you’d care to dance?”
Her lush, red mouth dropped open, and her eyes rounded. A lovely, exaggerated performance. “Dance, my lord? With you?”
She glanced around at her circle of admirers, her gorgeous mouth twitching. With a graceful flourish, she swept her fan up to cover her nose and mouth. Then she laughed, her eyes dancing above the gold lace that edged the fan.
All exaggerated actions.
Just the type of behavior that he despised—and expected—from women of her type.
The noblemen who flocked around her echoed her laughter like pathetic puppies. He kept his attention focused on Miss Jones.
“You find something amusing in my invitation?” he said.
“My lord, it is well known that you do not dance with courtesans.”
“What man wouldn’t make an exception in your case, Miss Jones?”
“My goodness.” Miss Jones fanned her face with slow, languid motions, making her ringlets flutter.
The gentlemen around her continued to chuckle.
“Will you dance with me or not?” he asked tersely.
Though she continued to smile, her gaze hardened. “You do me quite an honor, Lord Danvers. I can hardly say no, can I?”
He offered his hand again.
She took it.
“Now see here, Danvers,” Lord Peters said. “You have no right to just stroll in here and take our lovely Miss Jones away.”
“Yes, quite so,” Lord Thomason said. “You don’t even attend events like this.”
Adrian ignored them and led Miss Jones to where the other couples were assembling for the dance.
As Miss Jones followed at his side, she smiled. She sparkled.
Every male gaze followed her.
She exuded such sensual appeal, such dramatic exuberance, it was impossible not to notice her. Not to stare.
She certainly seemed to have overcome any grief she might have felt over the loss of her long-time protector.
However, she wasn’t Carrville’s widow. There were no rules to mandate a mistress’ mourning period. And she would need to find a new protector.
It was only fair to give her a chance.
This impromptu interview, this dance, was her chance to prove that she wasn’t the scheming, predatory creature that Dorothy believe her to be.
However, Miss Jones didn’t know she was being interviewed. Did she even stop to suspect that she might be tested? Confronted?
He took her hand and they circled each other.
Her expression continued to radiate excitement, joy, warmth. Yet when her gaze met his, he glimpsed the iceberg.
Cold enough to freeze a man’s stones off.
Unable to stop casting a covert glance at her ivory-hued cleavage, he led her through the moves of the dance, too aware of his hardening erection.
“I am not interested in a one-night assignation.” Her cool, cultured tone fell over him like icy water.
“What?” he blurted.
“My lord, it is well-known that you have no interest in keeping a high flier for a mistress. Well, I am not interested in being a one-time light o’ love of any man. No matter his rank or…” As the dance pulled them apart, she slid her gaze inch by inch down his body as though recording every detail of his face, cravat, coat and waistcoat.
So intense was her inspection, he almost felt her touch. His erection grew hard as iron, his cock leaking.
She lifted her gaze to his face. “His
He returned a lazy, lengthy assessment of his own. Despite his painful erection, he maintained a cool expression at the sight of every luscious inch of her. He managed a grin. A slight one. “What makes you think I am interested in a one-night assignation?”
“Why else approach me?”
“Perhaps I am simply being friendly to the former mistress of my late wife’s father. Not just my father-in-law but a dear friend and mentor.”
“You were friends once, yes, but in later years not that close.” Her arch glance cut into him. “He was confused at the loss of your closeness.”
Guilt pricked, but he shrugged. “Friends often grow apart.”
“It is not the kindest act to turn away from a true friend.”
Anger flared. What the devil would this chit know about what had motivated his cooling towards Carrville?
“How unfortunate that Carrville and I had that parting of the ways. As a result, you and I have not yet had the chance to come to know each other.”
Her eyes flashed with ire. “I’ve told you that I have no interest in being party to any gaff
That flash in her eyes. Another brilliant, yet all too brief, flash of utter beauty. Like lightning, it crackled through him, sending his heart racing.
Christ, what was it about her that made him think in such an appalling excuse for poetic phrasings? Was it just her youth? Or perhaps it was the memory of her once wide-eyed innocence when her aunt had first presented her at a courtesan’s ball four years ago. Did he hold on to vague hope that that innocent girl still existed beneath her cool expression, elegant coiffure and glittering wardrobe?
Heaven help him if part of him struggled under
For he knew all about her kind. She was the daughter of a courtesan. Such characteristics had been born and bred into her. Time had won out.
Only a fool would cling to a memory.
And external beauty was the most treacherous of all illusions.
They danced in silence after that.
She smelled delicious. The most delicate, refined blend of rose and musk imaginable. Then came a sweet scent of fruits too exotic to name, followed by a hint of spicy things too ephemeral and nuanced for him to discern.
The music ended, and he led her away from the dance floor. As he did, the meaning of her words struck him. Once on the edge of the chamber, he stopped and turned to her.
“Gaff?” he asked.
“You treat your women cheaply,” she said.