Lady Wicked – Scarlett Scott

She had returned to London. He had celebrated this decidedly unhappy event by drowning himself in Sauternes at the Black Souls club. But the wine had done nothing to quell either the ire or the ardor which had been threatening to consume him since the moment he had discovered they once more shared the same shores. Shelbourne’s carriage conveyed him over the London streets beneath the cloak of darkness. The jangling of tack, the familiar scent of the well-oiled squabs, the sound of the wheels rumbling on the road, did nothing to distract him. Still, there was no comfort in either the lateness of the hour or the commonplace encroachments upon his senses. Damn her. Nothing could keep her from his thoughts. Nothing could abate the knowledge that Lady Julianna Somerset had come back to England. The vehicle came to a halt at last in the mews behind his townhome. Cagney House was one of the lesser holdings of his father, the Marquess of Northampton. But as Viscount Shelbourne, and the heir to the marquisate, it was Sidney’s London home. A place of respite from his father’s tyrannical insistence Shelbourne marry and secure the line. Marriage would happen soon enough. Lady Hermione Carmichael was as inspiring as a piece of unbuttered toast, with hair the color of a murky puddle and the personality of a plate of biscuits.

Her face was plain, her voice was quiet, and she would never refuse him when he asked for her hand in marriage. Unlike her. But he would not think of Lady Julianna now. On a growl, he leapt from his carriage and stalked into a pelting wall of rain, much to the consternation of his groom, who called out some nonsense about an umbrella. “Fuck the umbrella,” he said over his shoulder with a dismissive wave of his hand. Mayhap dousing himself in rain would prove the diversion he required. “But sir,” came the protest, along with scurrying boots. Shelbourne did not bother to turn. “If you follow me with that contraption, I’ll shove it up your arse and then open it.” The footsteps stopped.

Excellent. He was in a grim mood, and he had no wish to be fussed over by well-intentioned servants. He had every expectation of settling in the library, calling for a bottle, and continuing down the path of destruction he had begun earlier this evening. Or had it been afternoon? Who the devil cared? What he needed was more wine, and he needed it now. If he spent the next day with his head hung over a chamber pot, at least he would not be thinking of the flame-haired temptress who had given him her innocence and then laughed at his offer of marriage. Shelbourne made his way into the main hall, dripping water as he went. His butler hastened toward him, looking as if he had just caught a mischief of rats in the larder. “What can it be, Wentworth?” he demanded, irritated by the thought of any domestic squabble that would dare to stand between him and his mission of getting so soused he would forget her name. Hell, he may as well get so tap-hackled he forgot his own name as well. Seemed reasonable.

Wentworth bowed. “Lord Shelbourne, there is a visitor who has been awaiting you for the last several hours. I have repeatedly informed her you are not at home, and that the hour is late, but she refuses to leave. She claims to be a lady, or I would have had her removed well before now.” A visitor? At this time of night? Christ, it was likely half past two in the morning. It could not be Charlotte. Although she had begged him to visit her this evening, he had known he would only be thinking of Julianna when he was bedding his mistress. After all, it was no mistake he had chosen a stunning redheaded actress as his current paramour. He would sooner eat a pail of nails than allow himself to imagine he was fucking Julianna. Mayhap he would have to get thoroughly drunk before he visited Charlotte next.

Or find a replacement. One with hair as black as his heart. “I do not want to be troubled, Wentworth,” he snapped, shaking himself from his reveries. “Send her on her way and see to it that a bottle of Sauternes is delivered to the library, won’t you?” “Of course, my lord.” Wentworth bowed. “I would be more than happy to do so.” “Oh, and Wentworth?” he added belatedly. “Mayhap some towels as well. I am a bit… wet.” Without awaiting a response, Shelbourne trudged down the rest of the hall to the library, leaving a veritable river in his wake.

Once within the familiar, shelf-lined walls, he discarded his sodden coat, tugged at his necktie, and flicked open the buttons of his waistcoat. His pocket watch would live to see another day. A consultation of it revealed he was either more inebriated than he had supposed, or he was sorely in need of spectacles. “Fuck,” he swore, and tossed the elegant gold timepiece to the floor atop a pile of drenched fabric. He paced the library while he waited for his bottle, his soaked shoes making interminable squishing sounds as he hastened toward the door. Where the devil was Wentworth with his wine? He was almost to the threshold when the clack of approaching footfalls in the hall alerted him to the presence of someone else. Someone who was decidedly not Wentworth. Someone who was wearing a lady’s heeled boots, and who walked with purpose. “Madam! I beg of you, please stop or we shall have no recourse but to bodily remove you from his lordship’s home.” The breathless, frustrated male voice calling after the owner of the boots was undeniably his butler’s.

“I will not go without speaking to Lord Shelbourne first,” countered a feminine voice he knew too well. Except, there was something about it that sounded…different. A change in the accent. It was less clipped and precise, more drawled and drawn out. But there was no mistaking it otherwise. He had never heard another quite like it, throaty and yet innocent, husky and melodious. Once upon a time, he’d experienced the singular pleasure of hearing that voice moan his name. But that had been when he had been deep inside her, when he had thought it an undisputed fact they would be married. Rage soared through him. He stormed toward the library door with purposeful strides, reaching the threshold just as she came barreling into him.

They collided, the impact sending him staggering backward. Into a bloody table, as it happened. One moment, he was on his feet, and the next, he was on his back, staring up at the intricate plasterwork on the ceiling. Only, he could not truly see the delineations. The ceiling was deuced blurry. His arse and his head were sore. So, too, his pride. The combination of which was only made worse when the loveliest face he had ever beheld hovered over him. Good God, his first sight of her in two years, and she was sideways, presiding over him like some sort of avenging deity. She was no deity, however.

If anything, Lady Julianna Somerset was a witch. “Shelbourne,” she said, as if his very name produced a bad taste in her mouth. And mayhap it did, because Christ knew hers did in his. “My lady,” he gritted, clenching his jaw. “Madam, come this way, if you please,” said Wentworth then, reaching for Lady Julianna, his face a mask of concern. “Your lordship, are you injured?” Was he injured? Ha! The sudden urge to laugh hit him. He clutched his heart. “Mortally wounded.” “My lord?” The butler’s brows raised to his hairline. “’Tis a joke, Wentworth.

Get me the goddamn Sauternes, if you please. One glass. The lady will not be staying.” At his mocking emphasis on the word lady, Julianna’s lush lips tightened. Damn her thrice to hell and back. How had she gotten more alluring since he had seen her last? Were her breasts larger? Her eyes bluer? Her hair more vibrant? Skin creamier? He did not fucking care. “Are you certain, Lord Shelbourne?” Wentworth pressed. “Utterly.” He sat up, rubbing the back of his head. “Get out, Wentworth.

” His butler bowed and made haste on his retreat. Shelbourne turned to his most unwanted—and despised—guest. “What the bloody hell are you doing in my house, Lady Julianna?” She sniffed the air. “Are you drunk, my lord?” “Not as drunk as I am about to be,” he said cheerily, rising to his considerable height. All the better to tower over her. One thing had not changed. Julianna was still deuced petite, the top of her head not reaching his shoulders. He refused to think about the way her body had fit with his. “You did not answer my question. Why are you here?” Her tongue darted over the lush fullness of her lower lip.

“I need to speak with you.” He threw back his head and gave in to the mad urge for laughter which had been flirting with him ever since his tumble to the floor. He laughed. And laughed. And laughed some more. When he was finished, he took a deep, calming breath, and held her gaze. “How amusing you are. Unfortunately, for you, I do not give a damn what you need.” “Lord Shelbourne,” she began. “Get out, Julianna,” he bit out atop anything else she would have said, all pretenses gone.

“Now. Before I do something we will both regret.” Like kiss her. Damn it, but the old desire had remained, festering beneath the resentment like a gangrenous wound. He had known it, of course. But seeing her now—having her within reach—made the bloody yearning so much bloody worse. “This is imperative, Shelbourne, and I have not much time.” He snorted. “Quelle coincidence. I have not any time.

For you. Goodbye, Lady Julianna.” And good riddance. Why had she returned? Two years gone, an entire ocean between them. And now, she was here. In his own home. Trespassing. Hardly mattered what she wanted. There was only one thing he wanted from her, he told himself, and he had already had it. No different than what he could get from any other woman.

There was nothing special about her. His attraction to her was all down to his inconvenient, raging cock. Getting sotted made him randy. Apparently. Or mayhap that was just getting sotted and then having his solitude interrupted by her. But she had not gone. The infuriating woman had thrown her shoulders back in defiance, and she was refusing to retreat. “I need you to have time for me tonight, Sidney.” Sidney. His name in her honey-drenched voice brought back too many unwelcome memories.

He sneered. “You do not have leave to call me by my Christian name, madam. You gave up that right when you refused to marry me.” Stupid, drunken sot. Why had he alluded to his humiliation and her infuriating rejection? He had not meant to. She appeared as unaffected by the bitterness in his voice as she was by his insistence she leave. The damned woman did not budge a hairbreadth. “That is why I am here, Shelbourne.” Her announcement confused him. He squinted at her, and for a brief, maddening moment, he saw two Lady Julianna Somersets.

Christ, he had thought there could be nothing worse than one of her. “What do you mean, that is why you are here?” he demanded, doing his damnedest not to sway or lose his balance. “Cease speaking in vagaries and stop plaguing me. Say what you want and be done with it.” All that goddamn wine was truly having its effect upon him now. Yes, that had to be it. His drunken state was the only plausible explanation for the words that emerged from her lovely, traitorous lips next. “I want to marry you.” * * * She had done it. Julianna had blustered her way into a meeting with Shelbourne, and she had blurted out the words that had been stuck in her throat and weighing down her heart since well before her journey across the Atlantic with Emily.

Somehow, the floor had not opened to swallow her. She had not burst into flame. Her humiliation had not incapacitated her. But then Shelbourne did the one thing she had least expected. He threw back his head and laughed. Her shame swelled to its highest tide yet. Still, above the embarrassment, she could not help but to allow her gaze to devour him. She would have preferred for the intervening years since she had seen him last to have had an adverse effect upon his stunning masculine beauty. They had not. Even soaked to the skin from the rain battering the streets beyond his elegant townhome, and thoroughly inebriated, he made her heart pound and her breath catch.

His dark-brown hair was wavy, tousled, and worn long enough to fall over his brow and hide half his ears. Longer than it had been two years before. This evening, he wore a shadow of whiskers on his angled jaw that suggested he had gone several days without his valet passing a razor over his skin. His green eyes were light, ringed with gray. Cold now. Colder than they had ever been. But that did not matter. Nor did the manner in which his wide, sensual lips had thinned in distaste when he had first spied her. His nose was straight and strong, his cheekbones perfect slashes, and his loosened necktie revealed the most riveting swath of his neck. The jut of his Adam’s apple, where she had once dared to kiss him, called to her foolish lips.

Nothing could detract from Viscount Shelbourne’s allure. Nothing except for her selfrespect. And the memories of how he had stolen her heart and then betrayed her. Yes, there was that. Her bitterness, pain, and loss had not diminished in the time she had been away in New York as she had expected them to. Her life had changed, and quite drastically. She had found happiness again, but the emotions she carried for Sidney—Shelbourne, she reminded herself sternly—had not worn smooth like river rocks. Instead, they remained sharp and jagged, capable of leaving scars. “Are you quite through with your amusement?” she asked him coolly, pleased with herself for allowing nary a tremor into her voice. She was sure there was no way he could detect her inner turmoil.

Her time away from England had shown her how strong she was. She would not falter or surrender with ease. He inhaled deeply, a smug, mocking smile curving the corners of his lips. “Depends, my lady.” She hated the way he looked at her now. Initially, he had been indolent rather than cutting. She preferred the sauntering rakehell to the sharp-as-a-blade lord ready to wound. Julianna struggled to maintain her sangfroid. “Upon what does your mirth depend, Lord Shelbourne?” “Upon whether or not I am so drunk I misheard you. I thought you said you wanted to marry me.

Ludicrous, is it not? Considering I offered to make you my wife two years ago. You were the one laughing then, were you not?” Memories of that horrible day made her stomach churn. She tamped the recollections down, refusing to allow them to derail her from her tracks. “You heard me correctly. If you would cease laughing and allow me to explain—” “No,” he interrupted. His voice, like his gaze, was frigid. There was not a hint of amusement lingering in his visage or his tone. “Please, Lord Shelbourne. What I am about to offer you is—” “A jest, surely.” He raked his fingers through his hair.

“The only offer I want from you involves you on your knees, sucking my cock.” Scalding heat washed over her, and not all of it was embarrassment, much to her mortification. Some of it was desire, too. Because all the parts of her that could not be controlled still longed for this man. She always had, from the first moment she had seen him—her dear friend Lady Helena Davenport’s forbidden older brother. And she suspected it was likely she always would. Damn him. “If that is the offer you await, I am afraid to inform you that you are doomed to disappointment,” she told him, priding herself for her ability to remain where she stood, near enough to smell the familiar scent of him, mingled with wine and leather, and neither touching, kissing, nor slapping him. All actions she wanted to take. “Then I am afraid you are doomed to get the fuck out of my house,” he bit out, before turning away from her and striding to the door.

“Wentworth! Where the hell is my wine? And an escort for my unwanted guest?” His beleaguered butler appeared, bottle of wine in hand. “Here you are, my lord.” The domestic was unflappable. And Shelbourne’s behavior unpardonable. Moreover, more wine was the last thing the viscount needed. Julianna found herself hoping his current dissolute state was not a regular event. She had waited hours for him to arrive home, and it was likely three o’clock in the morning by now. But instead of going to bed, he was calling for more poison. Shelbourne took the uncorked bottle from his butler, holding it by the neck, and raised it to his lips. Rudely, he wiped the back of his hand over his mouth when he had finished taking a draught.

“Get her out of here, Wentworth.” The butler’s expression looked, for a fleeting moment, troubled. But then he did his duty and erased all emotion from his countenance. “Of course, my lord.” Oh no he would not. Julianna refused to leave until she was ready. Until she had said everything she needed to say. Her future depended upon it. Most importantly, Emily’s future depended upon it. She pinned the butler with her frostiest glare.

“You will have to forcibly remove me, sir. Is that what you want?” The butler faltered, his gaze traveling between his employer and Julianna. It was clearly not what he wanted. Nor was it every day—indeed she suspected any day—that a butler was required to remove a female guest from the household by force. “Christ, woman,” Shelbourne spat. “I will not hesitate to throw you over my shoulder.” He would have to catch her first. And in his current state, he would not be nearly as nimble. “I have been waiting for hours,” she said primly instead of airing her innermost thoughts. “Surely my time deserves a reward.

” He raised a brow. “Only one reward I have for you.”

.

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