Nash lifted the crystal tumbler to his lips and paused when a gut-wrenching laugh of the female persuasion captured his interest. He scanned the room, eager to discover the creature behind that stirring voice, and halted at the sight by the parlor door.
He blinked. Swathed in layers of sheer silk, he noticed the woman’s gown first. A highly unusual design that appeared almost…nude. His rapt gaze traveled up her curvy frame to a set of tits a priest would have trouble ignoring. Compelled as he was to go bury his face between them, one might think she had wrapped her dainty fingers around his cravat and yanked him off his randy ass.
“My god, Marks, who is the chit flanked by Godfrey and Jones?” Nash squinted, trying to make out her face, but was unable to discern who she could be with the wide-brimmed bonnet shading her eyes. What he did notice consisted of shiny black ringlets and pale skin the same shade as her gown.
“Cock tease, is she not?” Edward Marks, his dearest friend and business partner stroked his curled moustache. “I would wager a month’s pay she’ll be plucked up faster than a grouse at Christmas.”
Nash took a healthy swallow of brandy. “I’ll take your wager and raise you my finest horseflesh that I will have her plucked and panting by midnight.”
The table erupted in laughter. But Nash was not laughing. No. He could not tear his gaze from the strange woman gracing the threshold of his parlor. A parlor scented by the sweetness of Madam Taffy’s perfumed girls and pungent hashish.
With restrained lust, his gaze roamed over her once more and his control faltered. Hell, he hadn’t even seen her face yet and here he was, reacting like a boy about to blow a wig. A sudden and overwhelming desire for drunk, sexual abandon, no matter the place, be it on a soft mattress or bent over the stairwell toyed with his mind.
Nash glanced up at Taffy, who stood over his shoulder. “You did not tell me you had a new girl, Taff.”
Madam Taffy, highly respected and grossly desired by his wealthy friends appeared startled as she eyed the woman. “She could be new.” Her eyes narrowed in appraisal. “I cannot say for certain.”
Nash frowned. “How could you not know your own girl?”
Taffy leaned down and licked the soft spot beneath his ear. “You know well what I know, Ollie.”
Any other time such bold words and scandalous action would have unleashed his inner beast. However, the temptation in silk standing by the door had turned his mind to mush. She appeared to be a lady of polite society, not the soiled doves he usually entertained.
“You are mine, remember?” Taffy purred. “Eager Taff will take care of you better than any woman in all of London, you wretched tease. We both know only I can satisfy your animal desires.”
Obvious jealousy flashed in Taffy’s eyes. She shuffled between Nash and the table and sprawled across his lap, shifting her generous hips. Nash squinted and bit his lip as Taffy’s bum bent his cock at an appalling angle.
“Taffy, love,” he barked through clenched teeth. “If you have any care for me you will get off my lap this instant.”
Her honey-brown eyes widened. “Shall we go to your chamber then?”
Taffy scooted off his lap, her powdered cheeks flushed with embarrassment. Before Nash could apologize for his roughness, she lowered her head and made a hasty retreat to another table. By God, if she had twisted one more time she would have maimed him. He shuddered and gestured for a footman to bring another drink. He sorely needed it now.
Again, he sought out the unknown woman. How could he not when he wanted to lick every delectable inch of her pale flesh, right down to the space between her toes. He yearned to kiss her mind blank and thrust up her shirts.
No woman had recently beguiled him in such a way. His trousers tightened and his stomach turned in anticipation. It was almost suffocating how she raked her eyes slowly over him, appearing uninterested after a lagging perusal. Women usually sought him out, what was wrong with this girl? However, her lack of interest piqued his.
Truthfully, it was not the strong drink that he wanted, more like a warm and willing female. If his active imagination should speak freely, he would much rather spill the intoxicating liquid between her soft bosom and savor the taste from there. Trail his eager tongue over the silky texture of her globes, then press them together with his hands and nibble on her delightful nipples. What a delicious treat that would be.
Godfrey and Jones were damned lucky to be in her acquaintance, Nash thought. The stunning smile she gave them could have melted a frozen lake, and he itched to approach her as well. Itched to touch her. Watch goose flesh kiss her delicate skin. Her sinful golden complexion made her look like a Spanish flower, ripe and ready to be plucked and thoroughly plundered.
He imagined a room only bathed in moonlight, and her naked body spread upon his bed. And then his breath caught, for she removed her bonnet and the exquisite shine of her short midnight curls reminded him of black pearls. A bounty worthy of only the most feared and finest pirate.
Nash did not bother to concern himself with how high her price would be. She would be his for tonight. It was his home, his private party, and his alcohol, therefore the woman had to be his.
Bloody hell, he had not felt this randy for a woman in years.
A hand slammed down on his back just as he took another sip. The crystal clinked on his teeth and the strong liquid forced a searing path all the way down. With watery eyes, he glared up at Marks. The old man’s shoulders were shaking from suppressed laughter. If it were anyone but his most trusted friend, his fist would have cracked the man’s jaw for startling him during such wicked thoughts.
“Are you ill?” Marks stroked his mustache, his keen gaze burning into the woman, then back to Nash. “You seem out of sorts, my friend.”
“No, I am not ill.” Nash avoided Marks’ annoying gaze. “The woman gives me pause is all. I’m hard-pressed to believe she is a woman of the night. Look at her. Take a long, close look at her. She could be a lady, and there has not been a lady in this home for many years.” Nash raked a hand through his thick, dark hair.
As usual, his thoughts suddenly turned to his estranged wife. He often wondered how she spent her days overseas, and if his life would be different if she had not left him. As a husband he had every right to force her to bow to his command but he could not do it. He did not wish to wed her, nor look upon her. It was best she was gone the morning after they had married, although it pained his pride she felt the need to run away. It was because of his damned father they had to marry to begin with, and now she was in America with her family. She could damn well stay there. All he wanted for the time being was to find a pleasing mistress and release his stifling stress into the haven of a hot, wet puss.
God help him, he was falling into a lonely, drunken hell.
Nash stood up and moved to the window, trying very hard to ignore the lovely sound of the strange woman’s laughter on the other side of the room. He stared at the reflection of his pale face and dark hair. It blended well with the graying sky, a perfect combination of brooding.
Women called him a scoundrel, and he loved their attention. He did not have enough fingers and toes to count the pairs of appreciative eyes following him while he conducted business in town. Yes, he played a role for the ladies. Seduced them to purring kittens, tied them up like thieves and spanked them. Every one of them screamed his name at one point. Polite society would shun him to know of what tricks he mastered in the privacy of a bedroom, or closet, or even the floor for that matter.
He sipped his drink thoughtfully, secretly wishing he was a different kind of man, at least, the right man with the right woman. Truthfully, madly, and deeply, he wanted a woman to call his own. A warm body to turn to in the night, someone he could trust, with eyes to gaze into and see her reciprocated love while he slipped himself inside her. He even wished just to brush his fingers through her soft hair, allowing the fine strands to cascade like a waterfall of silk against the calluses that scarred his work-roughened hands. Like a little piece of heaven in this reality within hell.
Lady Pembleton managed to ruin everything for him, even though it really was not her fault. Somehow, someway, life took a wrong turn that he could not spin out of. Vividly, he pictured an afternoon ten years past when he stood on Abbotsbury Hill by St. Catherine’s Chapel, after the vows were spoken. It had been a beautiful afternoon, but he was foolish to hope for a good marriage. The years following that fateful day were as dark as the English Channel, and the gold ring felt heavy on his finger, like iron around the neck.
“By God, Nash, what has gotten into you? Has Lady Pembleton made contact with you?” Marks placed a comforting hand on Nash’s shoulder.
“I have heard from her, but what troubles me is my life and what it has become. I have enough blunt to last a lifetime, but not enough…lust to fill it.” He almost said love, but Nash would never say that word aloud to anyone. A man admitting he wanted love in his life was like admitting he did not have a cock and balls.
“Every few months the woman sends a letter describing the details of her life, as if I give a damn. But I will tell you something for certain; her frame of mind should be questioned. Maybe it is something in the water that makes one mad, like our twisted King. It would be the only sensible explanation. How could she write to me of wanting to make love to a man? It is baffling, really. I do not understand women.”
“We’ll never understand the female population. You might as well shut your mouth about it,” Marks stated with a chuckle. “Remember when Silvia was angry with me for imbibing too much, and demanded I get on my knees and beg her forgiveness? I did that, and much, much more, if you know what I mean. Well, after I delivered her wish, she still made me sleep in the bloody library.”
Nash resisted the urge to laugh. “At least you had a choice of what to read, not eight pages of mindless feminine prattle.” They exchanged a look of pained understanding.
How he wished to find himself a woman with such passion and confidence as Marks’ lovely Silvia. Society could be unfair at times, especially to a young lady, and he understood his own wife’s plight, but life amongst the ton was not his to rule. She was a well-bred lady and must act accordingly.
He tried to imagine his wife’s profile as he downed another healthy dose of liquor, forgetting about Silvia and frowning over Lady Pembleton. No face came into view. After those fateful words were spoken, she did not have the courtesy to remove her veil for a kiss, and after a cold night without his bride, she had run away, sailed for the colonies. A lot had changed since then, and now he would not be able to tell if she passed him on the street. Ten years felt like a lifetime.
Dull black hair, nondescript eyes, and an unattractive dusting of freckles on her nose. That much he remembered. She would be twenty-seven now, and probably her mother’s shadow. A woman like that did not interest him.
When the bargain was made between their fathers, because of his father’s gaming debts, an unwanted marriage was born. Vividly, he remembered the argument with his father that night. How he stormed into the study demanding an explanation, when all Hubert said was, “You will fulfill your duty as my son. Nothing you say or do will change my mind. Remember, Oliver, you’d be nothing without me. This is what you must do to right the wrongs.”
Nash proved to the old bastard who was wrong. His shipping company was by far the largest and most productive in all of England, importing exotic merchandise from all over the world. He did not need anyone to survive, nor did he need a demanding, shrieking wife with as much passion as a hen. He slammed his fist down on the table beside the window in a sudden burst of anger, still hurt over what he had to do for the sake of the old man’s mistakes.
That was the way of the world, he knew. Many young men and women were forced into the contract of marriage to pay for another’s deeds. A bastard was treated as such when he had no choice in the matter of being born, and some young ladies must walk blindly into the arms of a man who could cage her like a wild bird, or worse yet, beat her. He would kill a man who had the gall to harm a woman, never mind not being able to support her with a proper home and money. All women, no matter what shape or walk of life, deserved shelter and safety, whether the marriage was out of love or not.
He had an estate that, over the years, went through major repair. Yet, it was a cold and uninviting home. In some ways, he was a cold and uninviting man, but never one a woman could not be safe with. Because of gossip and lies, his country folk believed him to be a monster.
All he needed now, to fulfill the emptiness in his life, was a mistress. Preferably one who could challenge his mind and his sexual prowess, for he refused to sail across the ocean to fuck his wayward wife.
He crunched his hands into tight fists. From across the room he could feel the passion exuding from the strange woman like the tip of a burning whip.
If she did not belong to Madam Taffy, then why was she here? Who was she?
“I’d be a fool not to sink myself betwixt that vixen’s thighs. She’d be a lovely mistress.” His eyes once again sought the strange woman. To his delighted surprise, she actually blushed when her gaze met his.
“I’m afraid your chances of capturing that rare angel may be hard-won,” Marks teased. “Besides, my Silvia would castrate me if I dared flirt with a woman. You, on the other hand, could use a good romp this evening.”
“Is that a challenge, Edward?” Nash grinned.
“Why, that poor female will discover an animal approaches with one glance.” Marks chuckled, raising his glass in a silent toast to the evening’s contest.
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