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Authors: Anna Campbell

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BOOK: Tempt the Devil
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“True. But so are most men in the ton. What do you know about him in particular?”

“I know he's a cocky sod. I know he's cut a swath through the petticoat brigade. He left England sixteen years ago to join the diplomatic service and has rarely been back since. Everywhere he goes, he sets up the most popular courtesan as his mistress then abandons her flat when he moves on.”

“That hardly matters,” she said tranquilly. “I'm not planning a lifetime of devotion to the fellow.”

“He treats women as trophies.” Perry scowled at her, clearly annoyed she didn't share his outrage. “Sops to his vanity. Now he's back for his daughter's wedding…”

“His daughter's wedding?” Her hand tightened on the engraved handle of the hairbrush. For some reason, she hadn't imagined a wife. Stupid. Lord Erith must be nearing forty, and most men that age were well and truly shackled. “He's married?”

Perhaps Lord Erith was beyond her touch after all. The one rule she kept was that her paramours were unmarried. In spite of many extravagant offers to compromise, she'd kept her vow never knowingly to break another woman's heart with what she did.

Perry's full rosy lips turned down. “No, he's not married, confound him.” He knew her rules as well as she did. “He wed young and his wife died in a riding accident after she gave him two children, a boy and a girl. The girl's match is the talk of the season. You've kept to yourself these last months, I know, but surely you've heard Lady Roma Southwood is to marry Thomas Renton, old Wainfleet's heir.”

“No, I hadn't heard.” Her voice seemed to come from a long way away.

Olivia sucked in a deep breath. That couldn't be relief unfurling in her belly, could it? One man was the same as the next, although even she admitted that Erith was more interesting than the majority of his sex. But perhaps only because he was a stranger.

She met her troubled brown gaze in the glass.

She released the hairbrush and turned on the stool to face Perry. “You haven't told me if he's rich.”

Perry's unhappy expression intensified, but to his credit he didn't lie. “As Croesus.”

“He sounds perfect.”

This afternoon Erith hadn't seemed perfect. This afternoon that arresting, tanned face with its deep-set gray eyes and cynical expression had disturbed her.

He looked like a man who had experienced everything and felt nothing.

Perry all but snarled. “He's anything but perfect. He's a rake without a scrap of kindness to offer a woman. He has a reputation for ruthlessness and hard dealing. He's fought duels on the Continent and killed three men I know of. If he weren't so cursed brilliant at what he does, the Foreign Office would have brought him home long ago. He's a disgrace to his country and to his name. Good God, Olivia, he foisted his own children on his sister before his wife was cold in the grave and he's barely seen them since. He's interested in his own selfish pleasure, and Devil take anyone who gets in the way. Does this sound like a man you wish to entrust with your person?”

Perry's vitriol surprised her. “Why the indignation? You're hardly a pattern card for conventional morality yourself.”

His mouth tightened. “I look after my own, at least. You used to have a greater sense of self-preservation. Give yourself to Carrington if you must give yourself to anyone. He's
always been mad for you and he's damned plump in the pocket. Or stay here.”

“I can't be your pensioner, Perry.” This was an old argument. Her occasional sojourns in his opulent town house served both of them, but she didn't want to become a permanent fixture. She began to plait her hair ready for bed. “I'd break Carrington's heart. I suspect Erith has no heart to break. I can handle him.”

“He's clever and merciless and self-centered, Olivia. He'll end up hurting you.”

Her busy hands stilled. “He's violent?” She wouldn't have thought so, but Perry kept up with gossip much better than she.

“No,” he said reluctantly. “I haven't heard that. But there are more ways to hurt a woman than hitting her.”

Yes, wasn't she living proof of that? She spoke quickly before cruel memory sank its claws into her. “I can look after myself. You credit the earl with powers he doesn't possess.”

The anger seeped from Perry's face, and she read the aching concern underlying his temper. She loved only two men in the world and he was one. It hurt her to distress him. But whom she took into her bed was always her choice alone.

“Anything I say falls on deaf ears. You've decided, haven't you?”

She rather thought she had. Although tomorrow's conversation over the tea table—she smiled to recall the earl's shock at being invited to share the harmless beverage—would lead to a final decision.

“Yes.” She tied the end of her plait, rose and shucked off her robe. Underneath she wore the plain white nightdress she preferred when she wasn't working. “My next lover is the Earl of Erith.”

“Then God help you. I'll say no more.” Perry rolled off the bed and kissed her on the cheek. “Good night, my darling.”

“Good night,” she murmured, staring into the fire as Perry closed the door behind him.

God help her indeed, although instinct whispered that both she and Erith were beyond heavenly help.

She hadn't told Perry the real reason she'd selected the earl as her keeper.

When she looked into those cold, cold eyes, she'd seen a man without a soul. Who better for a woman who was herself without a soul to choose as lover?


Erith arrived at Lord Peregrine Montjoy's town house precisely at four. As he handed hat, gloves, and cane to the butler, he surveyed the gaudy decorations. Mirrors, gilded candelabra, ormolu, painted plasterwork, naked classical statues. All male and none sporting a concealing fig leaf over their exaggerated genitalia.

Had Lord Peregrine chosen the decor to advertise his houseguest's profession? Olivia Raines didn't need to resort to such blatant measures. Her air of conscious sensuality was apparent to any man with blood in his veins.

The house was gorgeous, although overdone. It could have been an expensive brothel, if not for the fact that everything was the highest quality and beyond the purse of even the most successful madam. Strangely, he'd imagine his prospective mistress would prefer more restrained surroundings. Perhaps that dramatically plain crimson gown yesterday was the aberration.

While he cooled his heels on a fiendishly uncomfortable chair in the hall—the wench certainly wasn't making a fuss of him to soothe his vanity—he puzzled over the fabulous Miss Raines.

What was she doing living here, openly under Lord Peregrine's protection? And if Montjoy was her long-term lover, why tout for trade elsewhere?

From what Erith had learned, she always returned to this house after a liaison ended. Did Montjoy operate as
her benevolent pimp? What did Lord Peregrine have that brought her back? What did she seek that she inevitably left again?

Perhaps she was merely another faithless jade. Although gossip indicated that once she accepted a man's carte blanche, she remained loyal until she tired of him. So far he'd yet to hear of a man tiring of

He'd met a few lucky fellows who had shared her favors. Well, perhaps
wasn't the precise word. It was perfectly clear all would relinquish their hopes of heaven for a chance of one more night in Olivia Raines's bed. Her paramours had spoken of her with awe, almost as if she possessed supernatural powers. A more sentimental person than Erith would say she spoiled her lovers for other women.

One thing he'd noted was that not a one of them seemed quite
enough for her. So either her voracious passions sapped the poor beggars of their masculinity or she chose spineless samples of manhood in the first place.

If that was the case, she was due for a surprise when she took on the Earl of Erith. He glimpsed his dark face in a gold-framed mirror on the opposite wall and straightened from his slouch. Julian Southwood might be justifiably confident but he never

Still, his blood heated pleasurably as he contemplated the unspoken challenge she'd issued yesterday. Their encounter had sparked with edgy awareness and lightning shifts of power. Oh, yes, he'd enjoy himself mightily before he finished with Olivia Raines.

“This way, your lordship.” The butler appeared and showed him upstairs to a small room quite as gaudy as yesterday's salon.

Erith caught the eye of one of the many rampant young men filling the room's murals. Naked and improbably endowed wrestlers in a classical setting surrounded him on three walls. The fourth wall was lined with windows facing an immaculate parterre garden.

“Lord Erith.” Olivia Raines rose and curtseyed with a poise that wouldn't have discredited a princess.

He stepped forward and took her hand. No gloves today, he noticed with a ripple of pleasure. He bent and grazed his lips across her fingers. It was the first time he'd touched her flesh. Her skin was fine and cool and faintly perfumed. Soap perhaps. But beneath the flowery sweetness lurked a female essence that lured him to sin. He mightn't barter his place in heaven for a night in her arms, but she certainly smelled like paradise.

“Miss Raines. No Lord Peregrine?”

“I always hold these discussions alone,” she said coolly, withdrawing her hand and gliding across to a laden tea table. Even the jaded Erith yearned after the delicious fragrance of her as she moved away. “Or do you require a chaperon, my lord?”

He bit back a snort of laughter. He'd been right about her yesterday. She was a forward baggage with no proper respect for his standing. His interest piqued, focused. This was quarry worth the hunting. The first in a long time.

“My reputation will survive half an hour in your company.”

Half an hour now. Decadent days to come. Sensual anticipation swirled into turbulence at the thought.

“I'm pleased to hear it.”

The voluptuous mouth that had haunted his dreams quirked into a wry smile. Good God, he couldn't remember the last time he'd dreamt of a woman. Or a living woman, at least.

With the grace that invested every movement, she gestured toward a chair opposite her. “Please sit down, my lord.”

He took his place and, apart from answering how he preferred his tea and whether he wanted a sandwich or cake, watched her in silence. Yesterday he'd wondered if
were a euphemism for something more interesting. Apparently not. He could already tell his chances of a quick tumble in this oppressively elaborate room were less than none.

It was like taking tea with his sister. If not for the blazing sexual awareness in the air.

She was less formally dressed than yesterday. The light green muslin set off her creamy skin and tawny hair to perfection. He'd been right about her height. When she stood to greet him, her head reached his chin. It was a rare woman who came that close to staring him eye-to-eye.

He'd already decided she
a rare woman.

“You know why I'm here,” he said once he had her full attention. Most women who attracted the Earl of Erith's fancy worked hard to keep it. Olivia Raines was as calm as a deaf dowager at a charity musicale. “I want to be your lover.”

A blunter approach than usual, but something in him insisted this woman wouldn't respond to a hypocritical wooing. He remembered her flaunting that ridiculous fan under his nose yesterday. She'd dared him to be shocked, the impudent wench.

He hadn't been shocked. But he'd most definitely been intrigued.

Another twitch of those lips, although she didn't smile. Today he noticed a small dark mole near the corner of her mouth. The need to taste that velvety spot then possess her mouth with his surged in on a tide of heat.

Devil take it. He hadn't got excited at the thought of a kiss since he was a boy lusting after the chambermaids.

And he was undoubtedly excited. Thank God the table hid quite how titillating he found her elegant detachment.

“Straight to the point, I see,” she said musingly.

She lifted her cup to take a sip. It rankled that her hand was perfectly steady. He suspected she wasn't impressed with the great Earl of Erith. An unfamiliar situation. Particularly when he approached a member of the demimonde. His fortune, if nothing else, always gained him an eager hearing.

“Would you prefer something more indirect?”

He hated that his voice betrayed his annoyance. Who was
this flibbertigibbet of a female to needle him? Yet she did. More than he cared to admit.

“No. I find your frankness…refreshing.” She replaced her teacup and regarded him with distant curiosity. He'd built a brilliant diplomatic career on his ability to read the most subtle signals. For the life of him, he couldn't read this woman. “How do you see this proceeding?”

He'd like to proceed with a long, hard fuck on the Aubusson. He shifted in the delicate mahogany chair to relieve his heavy erection. How the hell had she got him so stirred up? He'd barely touched her, and she'd said nothing overtly suggestive. Yet he was so randy, his cock was harder than an iron bar.

He swallowed and strove for his famous sangfroid. But his voice was husky as he spoke. “I'm in London until July, when I return to my diplomatic posting in Vienna. I'll lease you a house, arrange servants, an allowance, a carriage while I'm here.”

“And in return I am at your disposal.” Her tone held an irony he didn't fully understand.

“Exclusively.” He didn't share. She needed to know that before they negotiated further.

What if she denied him this condition? Any other doxy, he'd shrug his shoulders and move on to the next candidate. With this woman, he didn't know.

Damn her. How did she do this? He suffered a moment's nostalgia for placid, willing Gretchen who had been as stupid as a sheep but never presented him with a moment's puzzlement or concern. He could already tell Olivia Raines was a million miles removed from his last mistress. From any previous mistress, he recognized with a sinking feeling of disaster. The sinking feeling a man got when he realized no amount of swimming would save him from the engulfing wave.

BOOK: Tempt the Devil
11.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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