The Jealous Love of a Scoundrel (The Marlow Intrigues)

BOOK: The Jealous Love of a Scoundrel (The Marlow Intrigues)
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The

Jealous Love

of a

Scoundrel

 

 

by

Jane Lark

The Jealous Love of a Scoundrel

 

 

How do you fight a calling that comes from your soul?

 

Lillian is in love with her charming protector. He brings her gifts and gives himself to her at night, but she knows nothing of his days; all she knows is that with Peter visiting her she is happier than she has ever been. The way he touches her and treats her is so different from other men.

 

Emily is excited, hopeful and expectant, waiting on the moment that everything seems to be leading towards. Lord Peter Brooke has courted her for a year; she is awaiting his proposal, certain it will come very soon, and everything he does indicates that it will.

 

Peter is torn; his soul is seeking one thing, but his mind wants another, and what about his heart? Where does his heart lie?

Copyright © 2015 Jane Lark

All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior permission from Jane Lark.

 

 

The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Names, characters, places, and plots are a product of the author’s imagination. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

www.janelark.co.uk

Cover images and design by
Zoë Jackson
of ZMedia Copyright © Jane Lark

 

 

The

Jealous Love

of a

Scoundrel

 

Part One

 

 

 

Lord Brooke slid forward to the edge of his seat. His arms folded and he leaned on the rim of his theatre box. The room was dark and the atmosphere in the theatre charged, as
Mendelssohn's
Wedding March
began to play.

“Here she is; wait until you see her,” Peter breathed to his friends without turning his head.

Lillian proceeded along the theatre aisle, on the arm of the magician, walking in the steady pace of a bride approaching the altar, with a posy of white paper roses gripped in her hand. Peter could not see her face, her face was hidden beneath her veil, but he could see her long, slender, delicate fingers gripping the arm of The Magical Monsieur Milligan.

The hem of her white dress was several inches high and it showed her slender ankles.

“Wait,” he breathed to his friends, Mark and Harry.

The sea of bawdy men in the pit parted in awe, like an ocean before Moses, as Lillian approached them. All eyes were on her, those of perhaps four hundred men and a few dozen women. 

Monsieur Milligan gripped her hand as she daintily hurried up the steps, lifting her dress and showing a little more leg, to cheers from her audience in the pit.

“She has a way with her,” Mark whispered.

She had more than that. Peter was entranced; he’d never felt this absorbed in a woman. So here he was again, watching her for perhaps the thirtieth time, as absorbed as the ruffians in the pit.

Monsieur Milligan followed her up the steps and patted her bottom, smiling to his audience, who leered. Something firm and violent caught hard in Peter’s gut.

There was a small, mocked-up wooden altar on the stage, and two painted stands made to look like stained glass windows, along with other props. The acrid smell of the gas lamps and the sweaty scent of unwashed men filled the warm air that rose from below.

A man, dressed in the robes of a vicar, walked onto the stage, with an open book in his palms as he muttered something in a mumbling voice the audience were never supposed to hear. Lillian faced him, gripping her posy. Monsieur Milligan turned and made a gesture as if he gripped a noose about his neck and pulled it tight, then shook his head. Laughter rang about the auditorium.

The vicar gestured for Monsieur Milligan to give Lillian a ring. She held out the slim hand that Peter loved touching him, and Milligan slid the ring on, yet within a moment it slid off and flew back into Milligan’s hand. The audience laughed. Milligan made a theatrical face. The gesture was done three more times, and thrice more it flew back into Milligan’s hand, until he shrugged and gave up.

“In sickness and in health… Until death do us part…” the fake minister orated to his audience.

Milligan made a face and pointed to his forehead then upward as though inspiration had just hit. He turned and took a sword from the model of a statue which lay on a tomb.

Lillian knelt before the altar as if to pray, her back to the audience, and the thick white veil still covering her head.

Milligan pulled a red silk handkerchief from his pocket, threw it in the air, and sliced through it with the sword; it fell in two separate pieces.

Mark sucked in a breath beside Peter, with the rest of the audience.

Milligan gave them no chance to wonder what would happen next, to judge if he would risk the life of the delicate woman who was meant to be his bride. He swiped the sword at her neck, both hands gripping the hilt, and his feet stepping wide. Lillian’s head left her shoulders and tumbled forward, wrapped in its veil, and it struck the stage with a heavy thud, then rolled away spilling a red liquid that looked like blood.

The audience reeled in a chorus of shock as various notes of gasps and some high-pitched female screams filled the room.

Lillian left a pause for people to feel the impact of the trick. Peter loved that little pause, when her body was bowed in the moment before he acquired the first glimpse of her face. She stood, slowly, lifting her head as she moved. Milligan looked to the audience in disbelief and horror as the sword clattered to the floor.

Dark curls fell to Lillian’s shoulders. Her hair was cut to the length of her neck to better enable the trick, but it was a cloud of glossy, ebony black that Peter loved gripping in his hands.

“She is a beauty,” Harry said in a low voice as Lillian looked at Milligan, sweet, innocent, and trusting, as though the man had not just raised a sword to her.

“But what of Emily?” Harry added, playing conscience.

Peter refused to think of Emily here. Emily lived in a world apart from here.

“I agree, she’s a rare diamond,” Mark confirmed from Peter’s other side.

“Man and wife…” the vicar pronounced.

Milligan threw his hands in the air, disbelief and annoyance on his face. Then he looked at the narrow, four-poster bed which stood a little to the side of the stage and rubbed his hands together, expressing the illumination of another sudden idea.

In an overly gentlemanly flourish, Milligan offered his hand to Lillian. She smiled, lighting up the theatre, as she lay her fingers in his. Milligan helped her climb a step up onto the bed, acting the perfect husband, as though he was leading her to her wedding night. Lillian lay down on the crimson sheet, her head resting on the pillow, and then Milligan pulled a bedspread over her, covering her like a corpse.

The vicar stepped forward, and with Milligan, they spun the bed on its casters, showing their audience all sides.

Peter had never quite worked out how she acquired her extra head at the altar, but this trick he knew, she’d told him the secret. A stuffed body shape lay beside hers and at this very moment she was rolling through the false bottom in the bed, and when it was placed against the altar she would crawl through a door in the altar and then drop through a trap door in the stage floor, where the vicar had stood. Lillian was probably scrabbling through it as he watched.

Having paused for effect and given Lillian enough time to get out and away, the vicar and Milligan turned the bed again, and then Milligan pulled a knife from his sleeve and slashed open the false figure which presented a mound beneath the bedspread. White down feathers filled the air as the audience cried out with fear and then gasped with shock.

The entire theatre exhaled when Milligan stepped back and waved a frustrated fist.

Peter smiled as he imagined Lillian running through the corridor under the pit.

The audience broke into awestruck applause, then feminine yells rose from the back of the auditorium. A light shone there, and Lillian stood in its beam, waving her posy angrily.

The audience cheered, and Lillian ran forward.

The bawdy men in the pit were not so willing to part for her alone. Peter saw her touched numerous times as she passed through them. Aggression and possessiveness clutched in his stomach. But then she was on the stage, jubilant and taking her bow, a glitter in her eyes from the energy she’d expended as she’d run along the halls.

He loved it more when her eyes glittered once they’d tired each other out after the show.

“Yes. I agree, she is exceptional,” Mark sighed.

“I can understand your infatuation,” Harry said. “But I think it unfair on Emily, if you have an intent…”

Peter ignored Harry. He did not wish to hear Harry’s voice of conscience, he had his own to fight a war with. “I am not going mad then? She is as beautiful as I think.”

Mark slapped a hand on his shoulder. “She is probably more beautiful than you think.”

Peter’s eyes were still focused on the stage.

When Lillian finished accepting the copious applause, her gaze lifted to his box. It was only for an instant, and yet the fact that she’d looked up punched him in the chest.

She turned and ran off the stage.

Peter stood. “Come on, I will introduce you.”

He slipped his hands into his pockets as he walked from the box. Harry and Mark followed. A part of him longed for Drew’s company too; his closest friend would talk sense into him, Mark would not, and Harry was being self-righteous and merely annoying.

But Drew had given up debauchery and turned his life around. Peter craved the things his friend had. A beautiful wife. A child. Peter had been there the day the infant was born and seen just how precious a little human being might be. It had given him an itch to be wed, and yet here he was, wading deeper and deeper into an affair with an actress. His craving for Lillian was equal to his craving for a family life. If not stronger.

He could not stop himself. Lillian Hart had become an obsession.

When he and his friends reached the hallway containing the magical door to her dressing room, the space was crowded with a dozen men.

Perkins, the stage manager, stood beside the pathway into paradise, accepting gifts but telling the men they were not allowed inside. If Peter was not here, they would be in her dressing room, the whole crowd of them fawning over her, trying to win a favour from her. On his first visit he’d been one of the crowd; by his second, she’d seen him alone. He’d written her a letter full of poetry on the quality of her skin and the colour of her eyes and lips. Lillian could not read, but she’d asked the magician to read it to her.

Perkins nodded at him, turned the handle of her door and let him through with Mark and Harry, while the men outside behaved like a pack of howling wolves.

Her room was full of flowers. The three largest bouquets had come from him. She was sitting before her table and mirror, brushing out her hair. She put the brush down and stood when she saw him, smiling broadly, then she looked at Harry and Mark.

“I have brought my friends to meet you. This is Mark Harper.”

She curtsied, but Mark swept about Peter and caught up her hand, lifting her out of the curtsy as he pressed a lingering kiss on the back of her hand. The force of a punch, similar to the one Drew had once thrown at him, hit Peter in the face. Now he knew how Drew had felt. Seeing Mark hold her hand twisted nausea in his stomach.

Peter stripped off his gloves and put them on the side, by her make-up, and took off his hat too.

He was staying then…

Of course he was; nothing would pull him away now that he was in the room with her.

“And Mr Harry Webster,” Peter completed.

Harry stepped about Peter’s other side and as Lillian curtsied again, Mark passed over her hand. Harry barely held it, merely stared at her in a way that measured her up.

They had shared women for years, like whores were no different than sharing wine. But now Peter’s gaze hovered on her hand in Harry’s and jealousy bit into his chest.

Why the hell is this cutting me?

Harry let her hand go.

Lillian looked at Peter, at last, and she moved forward, but instead of taking the hand he held out, she gripped his shoulders and lifted to her toes, then kissed his cheek in a gentle blessing. “Hello, Peter. I did not know you were coming tonight.”

He gripped her chin and pressed a quick kiss on her red lips. “I could not stay away. I am not supposed to be here.” It was true. He had to face up to the truth tomorrow; he could not keep delaying what he should do.

“He is supposed to be gambling with us,” Mark stated, “In some dark wild gambling hell, that would have had us completely drunk and losing a fortune, he probably saved us all by dragging us here.”

The fact that Mark left out was that they would also have had whores draped over them by now. Peter had intended to try and work off his fixation for Lillian. He had not even reached the gambling hell. When they’d met in White’s he’d spent the entire half an hour there persuading Mark and Harry to come and see Lillian instead.

“I am not unhappy with the alternative,” Mark added.

Peter looked at him. He wanted Mark and Harry to go now. He wished to have Lillian to himself. Fortunately his friends had always known when to take a hint.

Mark winked at him. “Still, it is not too late for us to enjoy some gambling. Harry, are you coming? I presume you are staying here, Peter.”

“Enjoy yourselves and do not lose too much.”

Mark slapped Peter’s shoulder as he walked past, and then Harry punched him in the arm a little harder than was playful. Peter lifted a hand as they walked out, then crossed the room and locked the door behind them.

Lillian came to him. He looked into her eyes as her fingers combed into his hair. She had the strangest, most beautiful colour eyes he’d ever seen. They were a dark blue, but the blue was green—teal. Her eyes were teal. Who the hell had eyes the colour of teal? Lillian.

Against her dark hair and eyelashes her eyes sucked emotions of awe from his chest.

He lowered his head and kissed her, because what else was he to do.

His hands ran down the side of her body, following her slender curves, until they reached her hips, and then they slid to grip her soft bottom.

A dozen memories of a dozen nights when they’d pleasured each other here played through his mind. He ought to set her away. This was not right. He should be ending this. It should be over. Yet perhaps one last time would sweep her from his blood. A goodbye for him to hold on to.

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