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Authors: Shayla Black

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She was a clever thing; their verbal exchange the morning he’d left Norfield proved
she was more than a pretty face. She had surprised him with her spirit and clever
mind, and she’d bested him.

His lust had not dimmed for a moment since setting eyes on her four days ago, and
her quick mind only served to make her more intriguing. Gavin took another swallow
of brandy. Desiring his cousin’s fiancée was both foolish and dangerous
, f
or he knew all too well from his father’s exploits that if a man allowed such appetite
free rein, he could be induced to behave with total indiscretion.

“Lord Vance,” whispered the baron’s son as he grabbed his brandy glass. “I’ve heard
some tantalizing gossip about you and a certain Miss Melbourne. Is it true? Please
tell me. Is she as wanton as the whispers say?”

Pulled from his thoughts by the sound of Kira’s name, Gavin held in a curse. So much
for discretion. While he wanted to know about the woman and her scandal, he certainly
didn’t wish to spread more gossip in case James’s engagement to her did become public—or
worse, his cousin actually married her. The family would only have to live it down
later.

“Lord Vance, are we not here to play cards? What of your hand?” Gavin tried to change
the subject.

“I’m out.” With a flash of lace at his wrists, the nobleman threw his cards on the
table. Then he slapped a salacious smile on his young face and pushed a rogue lock
of sandy hair from his forehead. “Miss Melbourne is as wanton as they say and more,
a veritable goddess of sex.”

“Sir, what is in your hand?” Gavin asked of the other man.

The baron’s son never even looked in his direction. “The pot is yours, your grace.”

Splendid. He’d won a jackpot he did not deserve with a hand he ordinarily would not
have played. Such a lack of interest in money or cards did not bode well for a change
in subject.

Fuming, he silently raked in the pot. Now what?

The young baron’s son leaned across the round table, closer to Vance, his smile lewd.
“I have heard Miss Melbourne is pretty.”

“Uncommonly so,” Vance assured his audience.

“She was…accommodating?” asked the young man.

“Accommodating?” his lordship scoffed. “She was insatiable. I collapsed with exhaustion
after a night of tupping her senseless. The last thing I recall was her cry of satisfaction.
Yet I awoke near dawn with her astride me, my cock shoved deep inside her. She rode
me again until well past breakfast. And that was merely the first day of our acquaintance.”

Gavin winced. While he had little reason to doubt Vance, to hear the thing put so
bluntly did not please him.

Worse, Vance’s words painted a mental picture that inflamed Gavin. He drew in a sharp
breath, forcing his thoughts away from Miss Melbourne.

“Same game, gentlemen?” Gavin asked, praying they took the misdirection.

They both ignored him.

“She sounds voracious,” said the baron’s son in tones of hushed reverence. “So you
tupped her again?”

Lord Vance’s grin widened to reveal white teeth and a man used to wielding his charm.
“Every chance I had. I have never been so exhausted after two days in bed!”

Arousal flushed the baron’s son’s face. He couldn’t be more than twenty, and he looked
as if he might succumb to an orgasm brought on by nothing more than Vance’s suggestive
conversation.

“I want to hear
all
about her,” he breathed.

In truth, Gavin wanted to hear as well. Though he had suspected Miss Melbourne’s lascivious
nature from the moment of their introduction—such a face could only inspire carnal
thoughts—he wanted to know precisely how inappropriate she was for James.

And though he knew he shouldn’t, Gavin also wondered how wickedly satisfying she could
be for himself.

Vance groaned. “Oh, she has the most incredible breasts, very responsive to a man’s
touch. I had only to flick a thumb across them so I might watch them distend and swell.
Ah, and her slender waist is only emphasized by the perfect curve of her hips. Such
long legs.” He sighed in fond remembrance. “Legs long enough to wrap around a man
and then some. Legs she eagerly spread at my slightest whim.”

“Yes, and what else?” the younger man prompted, salivating.

“She has the most exotic little birthmark on her hipbone.” Vance pointed to the left
side of his body. “It’s shaped nearly like a heart. It tends to draw the eye down,
to where a man wants to plant himself in the tight sheath.”

The two younger men guffawed.

Gavin clenched his jaw. He wished Vance was less descriptive, both for Kira’s benefit
,
as well as
his own. Against his will, Gavin pictured her naked and felt his body responding.

“Best of all,” Lord Vance leaned in and whispered, “When you get her on her knees,
she has the most talented mouth—

“Are we to play cards or not?” Gavin interrupted with a voice of steel. He’d heard
enough—and more.

They turned to him with identically stunned expressions. Vance had the good grace
to look a bit sheepish.

“Of course. Can’t blame a man for wanting to reminisce about such pleasure, can you?”

Gavin shuffled the cards and began to deal. “Any woman you find so pleasing you should
consider wedding, particularly one who was an innocent.”

Lord Vance recoiled. “Marry a half-Persian whore? She’s all well and good for a tumble,
but really… Miss Melbourne is no more innocent than any of us here, I daresay.”

Gavin stared at the young rake, at odds with himself. On the one hand, Vance likely
told the truth about Kira Melbourne; she probably had opened her thighs for him and
others before. And though the information disturbed him, she likely deserved her despicable
reputation. But he did not believe any woman deserved to be gossiped about with such
blatant disrespect. Clearly, though, Vance did not care how badly anyone thought of
Miss Melbourne.

The distasteful observation aside, Gavin knew he
must
prove Vance’s salacious claim—somehow—then present his proof to James posthaste,
so the boy might act appropriately. Otherwise, scandal would engulf his family again
,
and equally distressing
,
Gavin would continue to suffer this peculiar lust for a woman who was, for him, strictly
forbidden.

* * * *

“You’re looking out of sorts.”

Unsure how to reply to her observation, Gavin turned to the woman at his side, Cordelia
Darrow, Dowager Countess of Litchfield.

After a moment’s thought, he settled for evasion and sent her a fond smile. “I am
merely tired.”

He and Cordelia made their way through an elegant ballroom framed by gold brocade
drapes. White plaster arches abounded with dancing cherubs while pungent flowers mixed
with perfume to fill the humid air. The vast room was decorated by the gathering of
London’s finest, the ladies swathed in every conceivable color.

Gavin sensed all eyes upon
him
and Cordelia. Seemingly oblivious, she rested her hand in the crook of his arm and
cast a blue-eyed gaze of skepticism his way.

With her pale blond
e
hair arranged tastefully atop her head and her elegant blue lace-trimmed gown draping
her tall frame, Cordelia looked cool and regal—but then, she always did. It was one
of the many reasons Gavin admired her. A wealthy widow at a mere twenty-four, Cordelia
was the
ton’s
most popular hostess and a mark for unmarried men, rich and poor alike.

He and Cordelia would marry someday. Everyone assumed so, even Gavin himself. While
he disliked her penchant for gossip, Cordelia was, in every other way, perfect for
him—well bred, well
liked, clever, a friend even, though he’d never considered a female thus before. She
understood that marriage was a business arrangement. Between seeing to his sisters’
futures and being a partner in a new railroad, he simply had not had the time to propose
properly. But he would.

“Tired, are you?” Cordelia’s eyes danced with mischief. “Well, playing cards with
Lord Vance until very nearly dawn would exhaust anyone.”

He turned to her with a sardonic smile. While Gavin had expected her to learn of the
incident eventually, he’d thought it would take a bit more than eighteen hours.

Cordelia answered him with a tinkling laugh. “Don’t be put out with me, Gavin. And
before you ask, I have my ways of learning these things. I take it he gave you—and
anyone who would listen long enough—an earful about the scandalous Miss Melbourne.”

Gavin tread carefully. No one beyond the family knew yet of James’s unfortunate, and
hopefully temporary, engagement. If Cordelia learned of it, he feared that London
would be abuzz by morning. He wanted to delay the news until he could decide how to
handle the disreputable beauty.

“I heard a bit more than I wanted, yes.”

But it was more than enough to keep him awake last night, spinning fantasies of Kira
Melbourne naked, nipples swollen, cheeks flushed with arousal, legs splayed wide,
writhing in his bed. As he had done more than once last night, he ruthlessly shoved
the thought away.

“But you wanted to hear some of the gossip?” She sent him a measuring glance. “It
rather looks like you sought out Lord Vance for his…conversation. Why else would you
suddenly frequent his regular club, which seems a mere step up from a common ale house?”

He should have been prepared for the question, but did not have a credible answer.

“A whim.” He shrugged.

Cordelia regarded him with a dubious stare before she turned her face to the crowd
again, wearing a half
smile. “You never indulge in whims. Since you have no mistress at the moment, am I
to assume you’re hungry for some lurid tales?”

Gavin barely held in his sigh. Cordelia could be frightfully direct—and very cheeky.
When no one could overhear, she enjoyed poking fun at his proper deportment. Thankfully,
the approach of his cousin Lady Madeline and her husband, Mr. Brock Taylor, Gavin’s
partner in the T & S railroad, saved him from responding to Cordelia’s outrageous
question.

“Cousin Gavin, hello.” Maddie smiled, auburn hair gleaming in the candlelight. She
turned to Cordelia. “Lady Litchfield, good to see you, as always.”

“Lady Madeline,” Cordelia returned.

She cast her cool gaze to Brock. Gavin watched as she contemplated the former servant
turned wealthy businessman. Though she did like Brock, Cordelia had confessed, Gavin
knew she enjoyed her social power. Perfectly dressed in evening black and well composed
as always, Brock waited with a knowing smile. She would recognize him; these days
she always did
,
but when she wished to do so.

“And Mr. Taylor.” Cordelia held out her gloved hand. Brock took her fingers and bowed
over them, all politeness. “How is my investment?”

“Splendid, my lady.” Brock turned to Gavin, clearly ready to discuss business. “I’ve
good news to give all the investors we invited here tonight. We’re set to open on
May thirtieth, nearly seven weeks ahead of schedule, not to mention eight thousand
pounds under budget. Consider this gathering an official celebration!”

Gavin had known Brock was brilliant in business but even this exceeded his expectations.
“Everything is in place?”

“All but a few finishing touches. Maddie and I will be visiting each of the hotels
along the route to make sure they are up to standard.” He turned to Cordelia. “Naturally,
we would like your good opinion, as well.”

Likely Brock wanted Cordelia so entranced by the establishments that she would tell
all of the
ton
.
Gavin smiled at his partner’s clever tactic.

Inside, Cordelia was undoubtedly pleased, but she merely answered with a gracious
incline of her head. “As an investor, I shall happily do so.”

“I will have my man of business send you the details.”

Brock then turned to Gavin. “If you will excuse us, ladies. We have a bit more business
to discuss.”

“Seek your entertainments and we will join you soon,” Gavin added, assuming Brock,
in the usual fashion, wished to speak more about their joint venture, his labor of
love.

Cordelia glanced at Gavin, a pale brow raised in challenge. “Perhaps I shall dance
with Lord Toth in your absence.”

Lord Toth had been chasing Cordelia since the day she ceased officially mourning her
husband two years past. Titled and eligible, Toth made no secret of the fact he wanted
to marry Cordelia. And Gavin knew she enjoyed taunting him with the fact. It should
have bothered him, he supposed.

“In the event he should persuade you to run to Gretna with him tonight, I offer my
congratulations now,” he teased.

Cordelia’s mouth compressed into a thin line, but he saw her hiding a smile. “You
are not very gallant.”

“And yet you still like me. Does your tolerance know no bounds?”

BOOK: Strictly Forbidden
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