Lords of Scandal
By Tammy Andresen
This is the free prologue to the “Lords of Scandal” series. I hope you enjoy meeting these devilishly sinful lords. They’ll each get their own story by the time we’re through!
Duke of Daring
Marquess of Malice
Earl of Exile
Viscount of Vice
Baron of Bad
Let the debauchery begin…
Smoke and th sound of male laughter permeated the air, making a thick curtain about the table. This was the best part of the evening, as far as Jack was concerned. The crowd of drunken ne’er-do-wells had finally gone home. Now he and his friends sat about counting the money. A large pile of coins filled the center of the table; drunken ne’er-do-wells were good for one thing: spending.
In fact, Jack, The Earl of Effington, had amassed a small fortune through this gaming establishment, aptly named Den of Sins. Enough that his life was back on the path he was meant to tread. The path he’d been on before a treacherous woman had nearly destroyed him.
Just thinking about the Lady Cristina Hathaway, now the Countess of Abernath, made his skin crawl. How her husband still had any money left, or dignity for that matter, he couldn’t say. But healing the scars she’d left on his life had taken many years. Not only had she managed to run his accounts dry, she’d broken his heart when he’d found her in bed with his former best friend. He’d spent a great many years trying to repair the damage, some ways more productive than others.
He ran a hand through his dark blond hair. With the money he’d made at the Den of Sins, he’d returned his estate to its former glory, bought a London townhome, and participated in a full season. During that time, he’d found a lovely fiancée and their wedding was just weeks away.
Lady Emily Winchester was in every way the opposite of the countess. She was beautiful inside and out, so much so that he’d fallen madly in love. All these years had been worth the trouble because of her. Sometimes, he thought he’d clawed his way back from the pits of hell.
And while he enjoyed his friends at the Den of Sins, he wished to leave behind this part of his life. With his lands now supporting themselves, this would be one of his final nights living his double life in this gaming hell under his secret name, Effing.
The Duke of Darlington sat to his right; here he was known only as Daring. They wore masks in the club, though he suspected a great many of the den’s visitors had guessed their real identities. Still, there was plausible deniability with the names and the masks. “Tonight may be one of our best nights yet,” Daring rumbled, his dark and craggy features just distinguishable in the fog. “Business is booming. How can you contemplate leaving?”
Jack shrugged. “Fun as watching men waste their lives is, I’ve got my own life to begin.”
Malice, The Marquess of Malicorn, snorted from his other side, his razor-sharp looks and dark eyes piercing Jack. “What does marrying have to do with anything? So what if you’re about to marry and make little heirs? Why does that mean you have to stop whoring, gambling, and drinking?”
Exile laughed from across the table as his nimble fingers stacked coins. He was a strapping Scot with a shock of bright red hair. “Haven’t you been paying attention, Malice? The man hasn’t drank, whored, or gambled for months. Effing hasn’t been…well…effing around at all. He’s caught the dreadful disease.”
“Disease?” Bad coughed. The Baron of Baderness was the newest member of the group, his blond good looks making him look younger than all of the other men, despite being the same age.
“Love,” Exile gagged. “Cover your face or you’ll catch the vapors.”
All the men laughed, even Jack. He couldn’t deny the truth, he was completely and totally in love. He never wanted to touch another woman again as long as he lived. “Careful gentlemen or you could find yourself afflicted as well.”
“Fat chance,” Daring said. “But I could use a warm body or two. This weather is damn wet and cold. Has anyone sent for some girls?”
“Girls?” Malice curled his lip. “What would we want with girls? I sent for a passel of lovely women near an hour ago.”
The other men laughed again, but this time Jack didn’t. He pressed his lips together. At one time, he might have eagerly participated. But not anymore. Even before he’d fallen in love with Emily, he’d grown tired of the lifestyle. He still cared deeply for these men, would take a bullet for anyone of them, but he had no inclination to touch a dirty whore. “That’s my cue to retire for the evening.”
“Retire?” Bad called, pushing his chair back. “For heaven’s sake, why?”
He gave a small smirk. “Maybe it is for heaven’s sake.”
The other men laughed again, that low throaty chuckling men often did. Vice, the quietest man in the group, his dark looks carrying an almost dangerous edge, quirked a brow. “I’m sure none of us are going to heaven. Me least of all.”
The Viscount of Viceroy had a mysterious past that the other friends had learned not to ask about. “Likely not. But I promised Emily I’d attempt to make the last dance at the Edgmeres’ ball and I should like to see my promise met.”
Exile cleared his throat. “I doubt you’ll make it, Effing. It’s already half past two.”
Jack’s stomach clenched. This was another reason he needed to quit the club. Most of his free time was spent here and it wasn’t the first time he hadn’t fulfilled a promise to Emily. “Damn it all to hell.”
“Hell,” Exile guffawed. “That’s right. That’s where we’re headed.”
Bad narrowed his gaze. “Why do you care if you please her?”
Jack ran his hand through his hair, frustration making his voice curt. He’d grown tired of explaining desire for change to them and he worried how Emily would react to failure to once again appear when he’d promised. “Her happiness matters to me.”
The answer was met with silence. As Jack’s gaze swept across the table, men stared at him with open mouths, scrunched brows, and cocked heads. They simply didn’t understand.
“You’re tied to her skirts.”
He snorted. “Hardly. I’m sitting here with you, aren’t I?”
Daring shook his head. “You’re here with us in body but your spirit has already flown to her side.”
Vice thumped his chest with his hand. “We’ve lost him.”
Malice snorted. “I’ll drink to that. Effing is leaving us, but he won’t be forgotten.” Then he stood raising his glass. “Forever more he’ll—”
A knock interrupted his speech. “Excuse me, gentleman.” One of the men guarding the door opened it a crack. “But there is a group of lovely young ladies here to see you.”
Malice dropped his cup, his speech forgotten as a smile split his face. “Why are we wasting time talking? Show them in, good man.”
Jack grimaced as he tossed several coins back on the pile, ready to leave. This evening had gone to hell. What he didn’t yet know, but was about to find out, was how much worse it could get.
Lady Emily Winchester sat in the rocking carriage, jammed between her sister, Diana, and her cousin, Minnie. Across from them were two more of her sisters, Grace and Cordelia, and their other cousin, Ada.
A carriage filled with six women in a conveyance barely meant for four should have been a loud affair but the interior was silent. Except, of course, for Emily’s sniffles.
He’d done it again. Her fiancé, the Earl of Effington, had not attended an event he’d promised to be at. Well, that wasn’t exactly true. He’d promised to try and attend. But he’d had to make a trip into the country to see to his holdings and he wasn’t sure he’d make it back in time. At least that’s what he’d told her.
Except lately, she’d begun to wonder. Most lords did not need to return to the country so frequently, especially in late winter. The roads were a muddy mess. Was he lying to her? Her fears had gotten the best of her and tonight, when he hadn’t attended the ball, she’d gone to the powder room teary-eyed. The Countess of Abernath had followed her in.
The woman was beautiful in a way that made Emily shiver. Her features were perfectly symmetrical but drawn in hard lines, the blue of her eyes icy as her lips turned down in a cold frown. “Upset, darling?”
She didn’t know the woman at all, so the false endearment grated on Emily’s already frazzled nerves in addition to being in stark contrast to her looks. “Not at all. I always cry at the end of balls.”
The countess had trilled a fake laugh, the sound making Emily wince. “Of course you do. Especially with such a handsome fiancé who never escorts you to any of these events.” The woman had leaned in conspiratorially. “I’d be upset if I were you too.” She reached a hand out to touch Emily.
“I’m not upset. My fiancé isn’t here for good reason.” She’d straightened her spine. She didn’t like whatever this ice-cold woman was insinuating.
“And what reason did he give you exactly?” The countess swayed closer, her lithe body almost hypnotic.
Emily had frowned. “That’s not your concern.”
“You’re right, of course. I just don’t like to see another woman suffer.”
Without thought, Emily took a step back. “Suffer? Why would I be suffering? Lord Effington is a fine man who—”
The countess clucked her tongue. “Didn’t you know? Those who truly understand him don’t call him Effington, but Effing.”
What was she talking about? “Effing? What does that mean?”
The countess raised her perfectly arched brows. “I’ve heard the man is a master in the bedroom. I mean how could he not be after spending so much of his time at the Den of Sins.”
Cold, hard dread made her head faint and her knees weak. Had he really lied about his whereabouts? The name itself didn’t sound good. Disreputable and dangerous, most likely. And if her fiancé was a part of this place…she shuddered inside. “The Den of Sins?”
“Oh yes, darling. Over on Bedford Street. You’ll know the place. It’s next to the building marked with a W. In fact, I heard a rumor he’s there right now.” The Countess had patted her shoulder with a hand and then walked away, but not before Emily, eyes brimming with tears and blurry, caught her smirk.
The next half hour had passed in a blur as she’d relayed the story to her sisters about what had happened.
“The bastard,” Diana had spit, her dark hair flinging over her shoulder. “I knew he was too handsome to be that good.”
Emily wanted to protest. But how could she?
“We don’t know he’s actually done anything.” Grace, the youngest and fairest with shining blonde hair and large blue eyes, had pointed out as she patted Emily’s hand. “In the morning we’ll find him and—”
“Morning?” Emily croaked. She had to spend the entire night like this?
Cordelia, the second youngest, but always attempting to be the wisest, held up one of her slender fingers as she pushed up her spectacles. “We know where the establishment is. Why not go there now? Catch him in the act. That way there can be no doubt if you need to end the engagement.”
The group fell silent. Her cousin, Ada, was a sweet soul with beautiful auburn hair and stunning green eyes, but she was timid by nature, which she displayed in that moment. “That neighborhood? We couldn’t possibly.”
“There are six of us,” her sister, Minnie clucked, her coloring far more vibrant and her personality as well. “Don’t be a ninny.”
“But what if someone sees us,” Ada’s voice quavered.
“Oh, I know.” Diana clapped her hands. “The hostess had a basket of dominos by the door. We’ll use the masks to cover our identities.”
Ada frowned but fell silent as Diana and Minnie pulled Emily to standing. Her knees wobbled again but she locked them in place. “We’re really going to do this?” Then she straightened up her spine. “Yes. We’re doing this.” She clenched her fingers around Diana’s and Minnie’s. “What if it’s awful? What if I find him…” She swallowed. “If I cancel the wedding, I’ll be ruined.”
Inside, her heart shattered into a thousand tiny pieces. She wasn’t just marrying Jack, she loved him. Her reputation was honestly the least of her concerns.
“Worry about that after,” Grace whispered. “Let’s go before we change our minds.”
Together they started for the carriage.
Jack tossed another coin on the pile, his gut clenched in dread. “I’ll leave all of you to finish the counting, but don’t let the whores near the money. You know what happened the last time.”
“Whores?” A feminine voice trembled from the doorway. It rang with a familiarity that made his chest tight, but he dismissed the feeling. They likely all sounded the same though he hadn’t meant to offend.
He shouldn’t care but he hated to hurt a woman’s feelings. “Tradeswoman, love, if it makes you feel bet…” The words died on his lips as he glanced up to give the woman his most charming smile. But a whore didn’t stand in front of him. Nor did a maid, or a beer wench. Standing in the doorway was Emily, wearing a domino that did nothing to disguise her identity. He’d know her anywhere. His heart sank to his knees. “I can explain.”
She wrapped her fingers about her neck. “I don’t need your explanation. I already understand.”
Two heads popped up on either side of her shoulders. He recognized her cousin and sister, Minnie and Diana. Suppressing a groan, he ran his hands through his hair. While he was glad she hadn’t travelled alone, somehow witnesses worsened the situation.
“What’s happening?” Diana hissed, nudging Emily forward.
Suddenly the flood gate opened, and women spilled into the room. Jack’s feet were planted to the floor.
“Hellfire and damnation,” Daring muttered. “I knew you getting married would be the death of us.”
“What does that mean?” Minnie huffed, her hand coming to her hip. Then her eyes narrowed in her domino. “Goodness gracious, you’re the Duke of Darlington.”
Daring gave a rumble of deep dissatisfaction as he stood, his chair crashing to the floor. “That is privileged information.”
Jack’s feet unstuck, as he stepped in front of his friend. These men had carefully guarded their identities for years. The whole place was about to crash down on their heads along with his impending marriage. “I’m sure these ladies will understand that they can never share with anyone what they saw here. It’s their reputations as well as ours.” He could only hope that would pacify Daring.
“So it is,” Malice rumbled low and deep, his eyes sweeping over the group of women.
Emily’s hands trembled as she clasped them in front of her. “What are we keeping secret exactly? That six lords sit in a room counting money and order in whores?” Her voice shook and a tear slid down her cheek from unerneath the mask. “Your secret is safe with us. Jack, you’ll have to find a reason to end our engagement that does not destroy my reputation so that I might be able to—”
“End our engagement?” His voice was far louder than he’d intended and his heart, which had perhaps reached his stomach fell down into his shoes. “Emily. No. There is no need to end—”
“Come on.” Diaa grabbed Emily’s hand. “We’re leaving.” Then Diana pointed at her cousin. “Ada, walk behind her in case she faints.”
“Me?” Ada dutifully stepped behind her cousin. “I’m the smallest, you know. If she goes down, she’s taking me with her.”
Vice actually chuckled and Jack sent him a look that promised death. Malice, who better understood what was happening, stepped behind the women and closed the door, locking it in place.
At least two of the ladies screamed. Another gasped and a fourth let out a huff of breath. That must have been Diana because she let go of Emily’s hand and stepped toward Malice. “Open that door at once.” Her hands were on her hips and her chest puffed out as she lifted her chin. “I won’t ask again.”
“You need a lesson on how to speak to a gentleman,” Malice growled.
Diana sashayed toward him. “Are you threatening me?”
Exile stepped between them. Easily the largest man in the room, his brawny head dropped down toward Diana’s face. “Easy lass, no one wants trouble here. We all just need to talk for a minute, and we don’t need any interruptions. Everyone’s reputations are better served with some privacy.”
“Don’t placate her.” Malice said as he stepped up behind Exile. “She’s being rude and—”
Quick as a snake, Exile turned back to Malice, giving him a shove that sent the man crashing back into the door. “You’ll watch your tongue when speaking to a lady.”
Jack had barely taken his eyes from his soon-to-be bride but even he noted how protective Exile was over Diana. He gave Exile a questioning glance which the man ignored.
Emily swayed on her feet and his attention snapped back to her. He reached out and pulled her against his chest. “Darling, listen.”
“I’m not your love?” Her voice quavered, but her eyes were hard as she pushed against his chest. “You save that for your ladies of the night? Is that who you’re with every time you make a trip to the country?”
Damn. His fist clenched at his side. This was awful. “I would never hurt you,” he whispered, locking his gaze with hers so that she might see the truth. He brushed a lock of her silky brown hair. “I lost track of time, but I had every intention of meeting you at the ball.”
She frowned as her lush lips pulled into a hard line. “And your trips to the country?”
His chest ached. “I can explain.”
“Why should I believe you?”
“What I want to know is how did you ladies get in here?” Daring asked just behind him.
Jack swore softly under his breath. These distractions were going to be the death of him.
Cordelia attempted to step around Diana and Exile but tripped and wobbled to the side, crashing into Malice, who was still leaning against the door. “Oh dear. My apologies.” She held onto his shoulders as he grasped her waist. “Without my glasses, I can’t see a thing.”
He reached up a hand and removed the domino from her face as he watched her, drinking in every detail. “Leave the spectacles off, you don’t want to see this anyhow,” Malice said, tossing the domino to the floor before he returned his hand to her back.
“I’ll take your word for it,” Cordelia answered, her fingers splaying out on his neck and collarbone. “It sounds terrible.”
Malice did something that Jack hadn’t seen him do in ages. The man smiled. An actual, genuine grin that lit his face making him look years younger.
“It does indeed,” Malice said.
“Can we get back to the question?” Daring snapped, his voice ringing with authority. “How did you get in?”
Emily still pushed Jack’s chest and he was running out of patience. This was his future. “The guard mistook them for the harlots you sent for,” he growled out. Then he turned to Emily. “And I had every intention of leaving before they arrived. This is business, Emily. Nothing more. We run a business, do you understand? No women for me. Well, that isn’t true. There is one woman for me…you.” If he hadn’t lost her forever.
She softened underneath his hands, at least a little, her own no longer pushing at his chest. “I want to believe you.”
“This is why you shouldn’t waste your time with marriage,” Malice said, though he still held Cordelia against his chest. Jack would have pointed that out but he wasn’t speaking to anyone but Emily. His friends be damned. He needed her to stay by his side.
Cordelia looked up at Malice. “Are you a lord, sir?”
He looked down in her face, and Jack could swear that his features relaxed, that his cheeks were less hard, the slope of his mouth more gentle as his dark eyes glittered in the candlelight. “I think that information is best left unsaid.”
“Oh, forgive me. Of course,” Cordelia answered. “It’s just that, if you are, won’t you eventually marry if for no other reason than to produce an heir?” Then she started in his arms as though she realized she’d allowed a man to hold her while discussing making babies. Pulling away, she smoothed her skirts. “Thank you for catching me.”
Malice said nothing more and Jack turned back to Emily. He needed to speak with her alone, he was tired of the interruptions. “Emily, listen to me.” He gathered her closer. “I gave my notice here. I’ll never step foot through these doors again if you ask it of me. You are what’s important. Not this place. I’ve only continued on to provide the life that you deserve.”
“Oh, that is so sweet.” Ada gave a tiny clap before Diana silenced her with a look.
“You’re doing this for money?” Emily’s hands started sliding up around his neck. “If this was a business, why didn’t you say something?”
He hadn’t wanted to tell her about his humiliating past or his earlier financial woes in addition to the club’s secret nature. That was an excellent question and a sticky one too.
Emily’s insides churned so much that she didn’t know how she’d keep the contents of her dinner in her stomach. Cold sweat slicked her forehead. Her life was falling apart.
Jack’s warm brown eyes stared down into hers. His eyes had been what she’d fallen in love with first. While much of him was hard angles and strong muscles, his eyes were like home.
“It’s not a respectable establishment,” he answered. “We keep our identities secret, which is why you being here is doubly dangerous.”
Emily swallowed. Dangerous? “You’re not going to hurt us, are you?” Even as she said the words, she didn’t believe them. But she also wouldn’t have believed her fiancé ran a place like this or that he’d lie to her. How little did she know…
His brows crinkled and he leaned down to softly kiss her lips. “I would never hurt you. Nor will I allow any harm to come to your sisters or cousins.”
She gave a tiny nod. “What sort of business?”
“No,” Daring ground out from next to Jack. “No more information.”
Minnie, her red hair flashing in the candlelight, stepped up to the duke. “They are trying to save their future.”
He leaned down, his nose nearly touching hers. “I am trying to save our livelihoods and our reputations.”
She gave a loud sniff. “You’re men. You’ve almost nothing to lose. Unlike Emily, who could be utterly ruined. You’re not to interrupt her again.”
“You’re not to tell me what to do.” He reached for her arm, but she knocked his hand away before he could grasp it.
“Don’t even think about it,” she said between her teeth.
He made a noise deep in his throat. Emily wasn’t certain if he was angry or enjoying the interaction. But all these people were not helping her and Jack come to any conclusion. “I should never have come here. I’m sorry that I did.” In a quick motion she pushed away from him. “We’ll discuss this tomorrow. Tonight, we should get some rest.”
“No,” Jack said, pulling her toward him again. “We’ll discuss it now. Open the bloody door,” he said to Malice.
Malice gave a small shake to his head. “I’m sorry, Jack, but we need to figure out what to do. No one is leaving.”
For the first time, real fear trickled down her spine. While Jack had said they weren’t in any danger, what if these other men had different plans for her sisters and cousins? “Jack,” she whispered softy, her fingers digging into his hard biceps. “What’s happening?”
In that moment, she understood a few realities. One, she depended on Jack to see her and her family through this night. And he would. In this, she trusted him absolutely.
“Everything’s fine.” He pulled her against his chest and whispered in her ear, “I love you, Emily. You’re everything to me. Do you understand?”
She nodded against his chest.
“Here is what’s going to happen,” he said, continuing to hold Emily tucked against his body. “In five minutes, we’ll put the ladies’ masks back on.” He pointed to Malice. “Then they’ll leave. They will not say a word because, as Minnie already stated, they have far more to lose by being here than we do.”
“Minnie?” The Duke curled his lip. “What a ridiculous name.”
“Oh Darling, you say the sweetest things,” she sneered back.
He growled an actual growl as he stepped closer to Minnie. “It’s Darlington to you, or in these walls, it’s Daring, but I am not your darling.”
Minnie’s eyebrows went up. “Is that like a secret name? Now I’m curious what sort of business you’re doing here.”
“For feck’s sake.” The large redheaded Scot spit on the floor. “Stop talking, Daring. You’re only making it worse.”
Emily swallowed. Her sister needed to be quiet so they could leave. “Minnie, you too. This isn’t helping.” She needed to aid Jack in their removal from the room. “Gentlemen, my apologies for invading your personal space. We didn’t mean to put your business at jeopardy. I thought Jack a customer at a brothel, if I were honest.” She turned in his arms and lifted her hands. “When the Countess of Abernath mentioned the name, I just assumed.”
“Wait.” Daring stepped closer. “Did you say the Countess of Abernath?” He gritted his teeth and she shrunk closer to Jack.
“Did I say something wrong?” She turned back to her fiancé, his heat the only thing that kept her from shivering.
“No, not at all.” He gave her a reassuring smile. “In fact, that’s quite helpful to know. Wouldn’t you say, Daring?”
“Indeed, it is,” Daring answered. He slowly raised his elbow and stepped next to Minnie. “Jack is right, of course. We need to send these women home before anyone misses them. We trust ladies, that you will keep our secret just as we will keep your visit here under the strictest of confidences.
Minnie squinted her eyes but slowly slipped a hand into his elbow. “Of course, we’ll tell no one.”
One by one, the men held out an arm to the ladies. Malice was next, giving Cordelia his elbow. “Stay close and I’ll see you to your carriage.”
She gave a tentative nod in return.
The big Scot slipped his arm about Diana.
She swatted his hand. “Hold out your elbow, cad.”
A ridiculously handsome man with blond hair and clear blue eyes held out his arm to Grace while an almost frightening-looking fellow, his features dark and dangerous, stepped next to Ada.
Jack held up his hand. “I need a moment to speak to my future bride in the hall.”
Daring let out a loud breath through his nose. “We should wrap this up.”
“Just a moment,” he answered as he pulled Emily toward the door, his hands still firmly on her waist.
She knew, more or less, what he wanted to ask and she was fairly certain of her answer.
The door lock clicked and they moved through the crowd of people, stepping into the much cooler hall. “Emily,” his voice was rough. “Please say you believe me and that you still intend to marry me.”
She tipped her head back to stare into his warm brown gaze. Her heart fluttered the way it always did when she looked at him. Lifting the domino from her face, she held his biceps, trying to draw strength from him. “I’m sorry, Jack. But I can’t.” She shook her head. “It’s not that I don’t love you or even believe you, but you’ve lied to me for months. What other lies will I discover should I marry you?”
Jack may as well have been cut open, his insides spilled on the floor. “There are no other secrets.”
Emily shook her head again, the pain in her eyes stabbing into his chest. “Of course there are. I still don’t have a clue what you do here.” She shuddered against him. “I’m tired, Jack. Take me home and we’ll finish discussing this in the morning.”
His head screamed no. So did his heart. He wanted to keep her here until he’d convinced her that she was making a mistake. “Of course,” he answered. “I’ll pull my carriage around and we can discuss this as we drive. Where is your vehicle?”
She shrugged, her eyes closed. “Circling about, I think.”
He turned back to the room of silent onlookers and gave a stiff nod. Passing the guard who’d allowed the women in in the first place, he ordered, “My carriage.” The man was about to have a very bad night.
Behind him, he heard the rustle of skirts as men silently led the ladies out onto the street. Their carriage already waited by the front door near the mouth of the alley. The men began handing the ladies in one by one until only Emily remained on the cobblestone street.
“Em,” Diana called from her seat. “We’ve made room.”
“I’m riding home with Jack,” Emily said, not looking at anyone. “We’ve a few details to discuss yet.”
“No,” Minnie and Daring said at the same moment.
Daring cleared his throat. “I think it best to get the women home without any further incident.”
“I agree,” Minnie said, sticking her face out the door. “He could do anything to her once they’re alone.”
Jack’s head snapped straighter. His lips thinning over his teeth. What were they insinuating exactly?
Emily looked at her sister then. “Minnie, Jack would never hurt me.” She raised her hand. “Cover for me at home if mum is still awake.”
“Cover?” Grace let out a huff. “How do you expect us to accomplish that?”
“Think of something.” Emily waved her hand as Jack’s carriage pulled up behind hers. “I’ll be along shortly. Leave my window unlocked, would you?”
“Emily,” Diana started.
“I’m already ruined,” Emily said in a sigh of resignation. “There’s no point arguing.”
Diana frowned but pulled her head back in the carriage and the footmen snapped the carriage door closed. Jack nearly slumped in relief. He needed this time alone with Emily to change her mind.
Pulling her toward his carriage, he heard the other begin to rumble away. At least her family was safe. He glanced back to the five solemn faces of his friends. He’d have to discuss all of this with them later. They weren’t likely to forget what had transpired nor was this the end. Of that he was certain.
But right this moment, he needed to focus on Emily. Handing her in, he took one final look back at his friends. Climbing in, he snapped the door behind him. “Em, please think about what you’ve said. We don’t need to cancel the wedding—”
“I don’t want to talk anymore,” she said as she leaned toward him.
He rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m taking you home precisely so we can talk.”
She reached out and grabbed his face with both of her hands. “Jack,” she croaked. “Just kiss me.”
He didn’t need her to ask him twice. With his feet on the floor, he leaned over her seat and captured her willing lips with his own. They’d kissed before, each one passionate and intense, but this time, there was an air of desperation that had them clinging together, as he lowered his body on top of hers.
She pawed at his cravat, loosening the knot and tossing the bit of fabric on the floor. She skimmed along the bare skin of his neck.
He pulled at the buttons of his shirt even as his lips trailed down the delicate column of her neck across her chest to the exposed part of her bosom. Tugging at the back of her dress, her breast popped free of her corset and he sucked one of her nipples into his mouth.
Emily cried out, digging her fingers into his hair. He responded by doing the same to the other until both rosy peaks stood taut in the cool air.
With his shirt undone, she pushed the fabric off his shoulders, running her hands along his ridges of his biceps then down his chest and abdomen until she was pulling at the falls of his breeches.
“Emily,” he gasped as her fingers curled about his manhood. “Sweetheart, we should wait.”
She gave him a squeeze and one of his hands dipped under her skirt, running up the smooth flesh of her leg. “Wait for what?” she gasped as he found the slit in her drawers and parted the fabric, touching her most intimate flesh. “Oh yes, Jack. Do it again.”
Desire tightened every muscle in his body, his cock rock hard as he parted her silky flesh now slick with her own need. She arched against him as his fingers made another pass.
“Em,” he groaned, using one his fingers to open her silky channel. “Oh, sweetheart. I love you.”
“I love you, too,” she said, finding his lips with her own.
Jack kissed her long and hard, moving his fingers in and out of her, her body writhing against his. He could feel her tightening on his finger, her breath gasping out.
“Jack.” She pulled away from him. “Jack, I want all of you.”
His body cried for release. His pants were already undone, and he began tugging at them with his one free hand, but a doubt niggled in the back of his thoughts. No. “We should wait, Em. Wait until the wedding.”
She turned her face away from his. “I thought you understood.”
His finger stilled inside her. “Understand what?”
“I already told you, we’re not getting married.”
It was as though cold water had been dumped over his head. His finger was still inside her and he started to pull it out but then pushed deeper. “I disagree.”
She gasped and writhed against him, her body undulating to his movements. “It’s not that I don’t love you,” she said as he pulled out and then slowly pushed his finger back inside.
“You’re mine, sweetheart. We belong together.” Then he pulled at the front of his breeches, likely tearing several buttons but he didn’t care. “Do you really want all of me?”
“Yes.” She turned back to him, her lips clinging to his in a long kiss.
He removed his fingers and pushed her skirts even further up her waist. “Then you get all of me, Em. You get the parts where I inherited a failing earldom. The parts where I wasn’t welcome in any drawing room. The part where I was near broken by another woman. Where I scraped and scrimped and saved and worked to put my holdings back together.” He leaned down and kissed her as the head of his manhood pressed against her folds. He shook as he kept himself from pushing inside. “You get the part where I started a gaming hall to make enough money just to participate in a season so that I might meet you.”
She gasped and pushed against the tip as he sank inside her a bit. She dug her fingers into his shoulders. “That’s what that place was? For men to gamble?”
“Yes.” He gritted his teeth. “And I stayed as long as I did after I asked you to marry me, because I want to renovate a home for you to live in. The house you deserve. We’ll have to live on my lands after that but I’ve grown the profits and I think we can do it. So tell me. Emily. Do you want all of me or not?”
She looked up into his eyes, her hazel gaze filled with a light he’d never seen before. “Yes, I want all of you.”
“Even the not-so-pretty parts?” His jaw was clenched in agony.
“All of it.” She pushed again and he slid inside her part way, her channel so tight that every muscle in his body shook with effort to maintain control. She felt better than anything he’d known before.
“As my wife?” He swirled his hips, pulling out of her and she whimpered, reaching to hold him close.
“Yes, as your wife.”
He couldn’t take another second and he thrust inside her, feeling her maidenhead tear. She gave a cry of pain and he cupped her cheek, finding her lips. “I swear to you, Emily. I’ll never keep another secret again.”
She kissed him back, their bodies locked together. “I believe you.”
Slowly he slid out of her and then back in, giving her body time to adjust as he kissed her again and again. They said no more words as their bodies moved together. When she tightened around him, crying out, he exploded inside her, their breath panting together.
Emily was his forever.
Back at the Den of Sins…
Daring sat staring at his friends. The women who were supposed to be the evening’s entertainment had finally arrived minutes after the proper ladies had left. He’d sent the professionals away. He needed to keep his wits about him, not lose himself in a harlot. Besides, after the encounter he’d just had, the women of the trade had lost their appeal.
They were willing and eager, almost nauseatingly so, wanting the deed over as quickly as possible. He realized that what he actually craved was a…challenge. A woman who would not give in easily, a woman who would test him at every turn a woman…like Minnie.
Bloody hell, was that her actual name? Couldn’t be.
“Gentlemen, we have a problem,” he said, flipping one of the coins that sat in front of him. “The question is, what are we going to do about it?”
Exile sat up in his chair, his neck giving a menacing crack. “I’ll tell you what we’re not doing. We’re not hurting those women. Any man who is thinking that will have to go through me.”
“No one is hurting them,” Malice answered. His own fist clenched. “We rarely stand together on anything, Exile, but in this I am with you. You’ll have to go through both of us and I’m going to be honest. You three would have a tough time accomplishing the deed.”
Daring sat back, surprised. Not at Exile. The man was a gentle giant, but Malice treated most of life like a game that he always won. He rarely took anything seriously. “No one has proposed we should.”
Bad thrummed his fingers on the table. “What we need is a bit of assurance that those ladies keep our secret. They could leak details about who we are or the club without implicating themselves.”
“And then we could out them for having been here.” Vice added. “Whichever one said it was right…they’ve more to lose than we do.”
Daring shook his head. “That one standing toe-to-toe with me, I don’t trust her not to share out of sheer spite. She might be smart enough to out us without entangling herself.” He scrubbed his cheek. “But perhaps if we each saw fit to talk to the ladies personally. Make sure they understand the consequences of telling, then we might rest easier.”
Bad’s fingers ceased their movement. “Each of us pick one woman to talk with. I like the idea. It has merit.”
Vice kicked his feet up onto the table. “We could also use our private conversation to collect additional ammunition or just observe them and make certain they’re not the sort of addled-brained females that gossip without thinking through the consequences.”
Exile’s neck cracked again. “What does that mean? Additional ammunition?”
Vice held up his hands. “I just mean that we collect a bit of information on them. If they seem as though they might share our hidden occupation, we figure out a way to make sure they don’t. Nothing that would actually hurt them, but we’d have just enough to keep them quiet.”
Exile drew in a deep breath. “We could marry them.”
“I beg your pardon?” Daring nearly choked on his own spit. Partially because the idea was unexpected. He’d thought the idea of marriage would be revolting but instead, he found the notion rather pleasant. “Marry that viper?”
Exile cocked a brow. “I didn’t name a specific woman. Which viper are you referring to Your Grace?”
Damn, he’d stepped into that one.
But before he could answer, Malice stepped in. “The idea of marriage does have some merit.”
“Did Jack infect you?” Bad stared at Malice as though the man belonged in the asylum.
Malice rolled his eyes. “I didn’t fall in love with a single glance, you egit. We’ll all have to marry eventually. It’s part of the title. And they already know our secret so that saves us from the sticky situation Jack is in. As far as I’m concerned, perhaps I could marry that little country mouse who felt rather nice. I’ll tuck her into my country estate and visit a few times a year to ensure I have an heir.”
“Delightful.” Vice curled his lip. “You’ve managed to sully the most Godly pursuit we’re likely to engage in…marriage.”
“That does beg the question,” Daring interrupted. “Malice clearly has a Chase girl (I don’t know what this means – “Chase girl”, chosen?) in mind. Which woman does each of us address?”
Malice spoke first. “I want Cordelia.”
“You want Cordelia? That’s your country mouse? Are you certain?” Bad asked, cracking his knuckles.
Malice gave him a look of death. “Who’s your choice?”
“That pretty blonde I walked out. I don’t remember her name. She was quiet though, which I like.” Bad gave them a wink. “I’ll not only observe her but woo her and then she’ll keep our secret because she wants to, she’ll be so enamored with me.”
Vice gave a short bark of laughter. “Bloody fool.” Then he cleared his throat. “I like the redhead. I’ll hunt her for sport.”
Daring felt possessive jealousy prickle down his spine. “The redhead is the girl I intend to bring to heel.”
“Not the one with the bright red hair, you can have that minx. I want the quieter one with the auburn coloring. Reminds me of sunrise.”
Daring’s mouth hung slightly ajar. Was Vice waxing poetic? What the bloody hell was happening? “That leaves Exile with the dark-haired loudmouth, Diana.” Daring eyed Exile over the table.
His friend gave a nod of ascent. “Fine with me.”
“It’s settled then. We each have a chat with our chosen girl, collect some sort of guarantee that she keeps our secret and then go about our business.” Whatever each man decided that business was.
The men around him nodded their assent but no one looked confident or happy. Daring understood. Deep in his gut he had the feeling that he’d never be the same again.
Want to find out if Daring ruins Minnie or if Minnie tames the gnarly duke? Can Cordelia soothe the beast in Malice and will Diana prove too much for Exile? Just how bad is Bad and will he ruin Grace? And what will sweet Ada do when the Viscount of Vice hunts her down? Find out in the new series: “Lords of Scandal!”