Her Wicked Marquess – Lisa Torquay

Hester Green sat across from Drake as the housekeeper served their meal. She looked at the man who took her as mistress a year ago, his brown hair gleaming in the candlelight, not as short as fashion demanded. But then, the Marquess of Worcester cared liƩle for any demands that came his way. In truth, he usually had his way. His bone structure conferred an almost rude tinge to him made even more so with the evening stubble shadowing his rugged jaw. A fluƩer arrowed through her at the memory of smoothing her hands over his masculine face. A hand, that had once showed calluses and scratchiness from work, but not for a year. In this period, she’d lived the life of a lady without being one. He consumed another bite of food, and she followed the muscles on the jaw and thick throat flexing with his gusto at the fare. Gusto was another word that defined the marquess— in every respect. His brandy-coloured eyes liŌed to her, intent and liquid. His eyes had called to her even before she learned his name. The light shiŌed their hue, the sun made it more intense, fierier, just like the man himself. With the candles on the table, they acquired a dark shade yet sƟll liquid. In the throes of passion, they stormed even darker.

“Your cook did an excellent job today,” he commented in that deeply silky voice of his. It also changed when he lost himself in the primal desires to which he introduced her. That was when he ended her innocence and reared her sheer lust for him. A lust that had lurked in her core from the first minute she’d set her eyes on him. “My cook was well chosen,” she answered, as he saw to hiring the staff. Though nothing, absolutely nothing, here was hers. Not the discreet but elegant house; not the furniture or the decoraƟon; not her clothing, and certainly not his heart … never his heart. This percepƟon lanced acute pain through her. Noblemen took actresses like her as mistresses. They forged the very view that in her circle women were liƩle beƩer than lightskirts.

Those women had fled poverty, by trading what they hadn’t offered in the first place. And Hester had joined the crowd. Not because penury loomed—her family owned a Ɵdy theatre company—but because she hadn’t been capable of resisƟng the impossibly severe attraction she felt for him. One corner of that carnal mouth liŌed humorously. “I liked that you invited me here tonight. You never did it before.” And he drank his wine with the same relish he ate his food, or drove her to maddened sensuality. No, taking the iniƟaƟve wasn’t something mistresses did, she learned fast. They sat in their leased houses, with clothes that weren’t theirs, pampering themselves with expensive giŌs, and waited. They waited for the men who paid for their lives, paid for their finery, paid for the exclusive privilege of calling on them.

Sent messages for their mistresses to ready themselves, avail their bodies for them. Men those women provided for. Provided entertainment, provided a break from boring families, boring social-lives, boring marriage beds. And that’s what Hester had done for the past year. Wait, provide, and yield. They finished the meal she’d asked the cook to prepare with special attention. They stood from the table, and Hester couldn’t help but stare at him. Six feet four of height and almost as broad. Every Ɵme her eyes measured him, a molten wave of heat rippled in her middle. He was so big.

Everywhere! His solid legs, his bunched arms, his wall of a chest. All of him. He must have come from a breed of Viking warriors that plundered these lands so long ago. She was of peƟte build, and he dwarfed her standing… or lying. The simple impression got her ready for him instantly. Both headed for the drawing-room, where she busied herself with serving his brandy and her tea to dispel the sensations his height invariably produced in her. She turned with his glass in hand nearly to collide with him standing so close that she registered every nuance of his magnificent eyes, the liƩle points of light as his head lowered to hers. Then the irises darkened. “If you called me here, it’s because you need me.” He retrieved the glass and placed it back on the sideboard behind her.

And sure as day followed night, he brought up the role he’d appointed for her in this pantomime. The mistress that waited, provided, and yielded for the lord, for the man who paid her way. UnƟl men like him Ɵred of women like her or found someone more amusing, more beauƟful, or younger. Overnight their old-news mistresses had to leave. The leased houses, the lovely dresses, they had to leave with nothing but the thing they’d given those men—their bodies. Or they had to leave with what those men engendered in them, their bastards. “And I need you.” Drake rasped as she felt his large hands cup her buƩocks to pull her to him. The scent of him, earth and man had the power to deflect her aƩenƟon from what this evening was about. And when she clashed with his rock-hard erecƟon, the deflecƟon almost turned into surrender.

“No, I—” She blurted as her palms rested on his massive chest. Her clear, decided intentions nearly faltered. She might put this off until later, Much later. Sure as day followed night, Drake would also abandon her; soon. For the other reason lords forgot about their meaningless mistresses: Marriage. She didn’t frequent his exclusive circles, but she got to hear the gossip. His mother had been pressuring him for a match for years. He’d taken his sweet Ɵme since at one and thirty he’d slipped the chore. The wagging tongues, though, assured everyone that he’d seƩle for Lady Millicent, and his mother was on cloud nine with it. “Oh, you’re in those days?” He growled and ground closer.

“We can be… inventive.” InvenƟveness was his middle name. And she knew exactly what he meant as every nerveending overheated with the idea, almost as much as they heated with his impending nupƟals. The thought launched excruciaƟng anguish over the same nerves. It caused her to want to scream, pull at her hair. Then thrash every delicate object in view. Then she only could shed a river of tears like Ophelia, or Juliet, in their tragic grief for love and loss. But unlike Juliet, Hester was not loved. While like Ophelia, she was drowning in a dark brook of sorrow and hurt. With a gargantuan effort and a dwindling will, she pulled him away and paced to the window where the night allowed her merely to see her own grim reflecƟon.

She thanked years of theatre training that afforded her to look as cold as that brook where Ophelia died. And encrusted her voice with the icy shards she intended it to display. “I called you here because I’m ending our liaison.” As she swivelled to him, she darted those shards at his rugged person. The veritably savage scowl that smothered him told her this wasn’t going to be as straightforward as she’d expected. Drake Theodore Rannell Aldridge stared at Hester from the height of eight generaƟons of Worcesters while his mind worked franƟcally to assimilate what the deliciously diminuƟve woman was saying. Back in the day, he’d sown his wild oats and counted a good number of notches on his bedpost. He didn’t remember their names or their faces, but he did remember not receiving a single refusal. Not a bloody one. Worse, not one of those women had abbreviated their liaison.

Not a bloody one! Now, this slip of a girl looked at him with a foreign expression and even more foreign noƟon. She’d been the longest mistress in his life ever. The others lasted an average of weeks, two months at most unƟl he got bored with their lack of substance, lack of morals, or lack of imagination. Hester had giŌed him with all three. Life with her was never boring. As a member of Drury Lane, she possessed cultured tastes in reading and the arts. And Drake would always marvel at her creaƟvity in the performances she put in their joint soirees. His townhouse stood perpetually open for those who also enjoyed the fine accomplishments of new painters, new poets, or new sculptors. And Hester fit in them so perfectly it became a wonder. Their soirees listed already as one of the most sought aŌer in London, even if they started with scandalous fame.

In the year that passed, the presence of dukes, earls, and rich merchants had lent a polished glow to them. As for the morals, she had it in spades. She didn’t ask for money, or dresses, or trinkets. In fact, Drake wondered if she had a single materialisƟc bone in her delectable body. He’d not seen her fussing, gossiping, or making any intrigue either. As far as he knew, her passion rested on the arts and the plays she recited majestically. A passion so intense it bled everywhere! He’d leave her imaginaƟon be for the Ɵme being before his groin responded even harder to her. His brain needed a shake, and he kicked at it mentally. “What do you mean by end our liaison?” Short of roaring, he kept his temper in check. “I spoke English, and you heard me.

” Her melodious voice could acquire any tone she desired, but she said that with a flatness that hadn’t been there in the Ɵme he interacted with her. Bellying that, her eyes flashed with determination. Whenever she directed those beams at his person, she unbalanced him. Her eyes were of a shade of green that changed with her every mood. From sea green when she felt happy, to hazel in the candle-lights of the stage. But in the throes of fierce perdiƟon, they transformed into a brilliant hue of parakeet that invariably engulfed him. That was how he knew her core would clamp on him in such a hopeless way he’d be doomed to downfall. The memory nearly brought him to his knees with arousal. Another thing that didn’t change since the first Ɵme he laid eyes on her, his helpless desire for her. Her answer and his reaction to her clouded his brain further.

“Of course you’re not ending it.” He growled. This simply wasn’t done. Mistresses leŌ for two reasons. Their keepers Ɵred of them. Or, he swallowed grit, they betrayed their keepers, at which the laƩer kicked them into the street. That she might have betrayed him unleashed such a primal rage he had difficulty dealing with it. “You’re bedding someone else.” To his own ears, his voice carried a cartload of contempt. AŌer an indomitable insistence on his part, she came to him as a virgin.

His and only his, and that’s how he’d intended it to remain. Her eyes shiŌed again to a basil shade that indicated her irritaƟon. Every Ɵme she looked at him, a bonfire lit in his veins. To hell if she bedded another, he wouldn’t be able to stop wanƟng her. He’d been waiƟng for this afflicƟon to end, but it gave no sign of dousing any Ɵme soon. Those lips that put only one thing to his mind stretched in a scornful grin. “Naturally, there must be a man involved because a woman cannot decide by herself.” Rosy and full, he’d never forget her applying her lips and her imagination to him. Her use of by herself seized his fractured aƩenƟon. “No other men then.

” And hoped his relief didn’t show as vividly as he felt it. Those delicate brows pleated in annoyance. “Do you think I’d have the Ɵme or,” she blushed as furiously as when they were caught in the storm of heat, “inclination for such?” He knew he didn’t because he invariably ended their sessions, half-dead, in paradise, and thinking of when he could go for more. “Fine, now we can forget this nonsense and proceed with our evening.” At that, her entire frame went so rigid she resembled a sculpture on a rock by the sea, her contrariety seeming to slash her with tempestuous waves. “I’m leaving tomorrow morning unless you request me to do it right away.” Just like that sea, the seriousness of her words threatened to pull him under. Currents he possessed no way of naming pulled at him. VexaƟon … yes, frustraƟon … most certainly, but there was one other element in this mixture that he refused to call loss. He’d not felt it before, why would he at this moment? A mere woman, a mistress didn’t inflict the likes on him, ever.

Pride sloƩed in and made him swallow this rubble flogging his guts. He didn’t know what it was and would thrash anyone who did. “You’re sure you want to give up on all this.” He drew an encompassing gesture to their surroundings. The imprint of contempt on his tone hit her as she snapped up her head and shot him a burning look. Hester showed no sign of aƩachment to material comforts, but he had to meet a woman who didn’t cling to them. “No one can give up on what’s not theirs.” The vehemence added to the rubble roiling in him. Had she asked he’d have given anything and everything she might wish. He’d have seƩled her for life, bought her a house in Mayfair, paid for books, jewels, art, and taken her to the moon and whatever else the hell he might think of.

“I gifted them to you, it’s all yours.” He emphasized. If possible, she became even more rigid, a magnificent statue emerging from the sloshing sea contained in her eyes. The haughƟness that Ɵlted her chin up wasn’t regal, regal was feeble, vulgar. It was downright imperial. Katherine the Great and Messalina wrapped in one. And he wanted nothing more than to carry her to bed and worship every inch of her. Breach the marble on the surface and delve in the warm, responsive woman beneath. She might be an actress, but this was no act even if he’d not seen her like this before. “I don’t want anything.

” The coldness turned to frost. He looked at her and, through the haze of these foreign emoƟons she incited in him, he wondered if she had another reason for this preposterousness other than a man. “Are you with child?” Most mistresses understood that if that should be the case they were in for a rough ride, and despair caused people to make wild decisions. The possibility of a child nearly doubled him over with more strange reacƟons. He’d protect any child of his, though if it came from her, he’d treasure it. In one year, there had had no sign of her geƫng with child. For an unfathomable reason, he’d not taken any precauƟons. Perhaps he had not, because touching her caused him to forget king, country, and his wits. The quesƟon plunged in Hester like a boulder in a deep river. One minute, the waters ran down to the ocean already in turmoil, the other everything overflowed and whirled.

There wasn’t the remotest probability of that. In all this Ɵme revelling in the joys of the bedchamber, being in the family way didn’t happen. Every month, fear and expectaƟon had twined in her only to be disabused by the stains of her bleeding. She didn’t have the faintest idea of what she’d do if that came to pass, but the noƟon melted her insides with tenderness. During these months, she wondered if the cause there had not been any news on that front might be barrenness. Hers. “No.” She blurted, trying to disguise the disappointment at a possible inability to conceive. Drake abruptly gave her his back as she wondered if he aimed at hiding his relief. AŌer a heartbeat of silence, he pivoted to her again.

“Why this?” The quiet quesƟon came laden with how ludicrous he thought it. Her eyes bulged on him and she would have sold her soul not to answer and lay bare how affected she’d been by the gossip. It crossed her mind to lie, say that she didn’t welcome his aƩenƟons anymore. Say that she would move on and focus on the theatre. Find someone and seƩle down even. But the single truth, the one she didn’t want out, was that he and another woman together disgusted her, unleashed so much bile, and rage, and hopelessness she possessed no words to describe it. A deep breath gave her courage to draw slight nonchalant shrug. “The whole town is abuzz with your impending betrothal.” Long fingers raked through his wavy brown hair and an ugly imprecaƟon escaped his expert mouth. The memory of what that mouth had taught her, had incited her surrender unƟl she’d begged for more, made heat course through her.

“Betrothal? To whom?” Hester would have laughed if those two laconic questions didn’t soar her rage to out-ofcontrol heights. How could he ask when everyone knew? If he insulted her intelligence by trying to pretend he had nothing to do with it, she’d be hard-pressed not to react physically. “Don’t fake ignorance!” She accused. He cast her a hard gaze. “I’m not. I don’t lie as you are well aware.” True, he didn’t. He didn’t lie when he approached her at the theatre aŌer the play she acted in finished, and invited her to dine at his townhouse, to hear a blatant refusal. He didn’t as, the next day, flowers in hand, renewed the invitaƟon with a wicked glint in those luminous brandy eyes. Neither did he lie when he offered whatever she wished if only she accompanied him to one of those licentious places where everything happened.

It didn’t cross his mind to suggest a walk in the park where anyone would see them, not a ride in an open carriage for the same reason. An extended invitaƟon for a garden party, a tea party or some such whimsical ton funcƟons wouldn’t even cross hers. Even a remote tavern didn’t figure in the whole farce. Her role was to lurk in the shadows so his pleasure didn’t suffer shame or limitation.

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