Marquess of Menace – Tammy Andresen

HELLS BELLS, Dylan hated these sorts of parties. Loathed them, actually. To be honest, he didn’t like anything that involved society or the ton. Awkward, considering he was a marquess. Dylan Amesbury, Marquess of Milton, leaned against the wall with his arms crossed as he watched a sea of dancers sway back and forth in front of him, his face set in an annoyed frown. He much preferred to spend his time at his secret gaming hell, the Den of Sins, or at his boxing club, or to be absolutely clear, having his fingernails ripped off one by one. He wasn’t meant for this sort of life, never had been. A fact his family was often fond of reminding him. In some ridiculous series of events, he had inherited the Milton title, which should have gone to his third cousin, Lord Henry James Marks. Then his second cousin, the Honorable Steven Winthrop. His older brother, Mr. William Amesbury, would have been better but no. For some odd reason fate had placed the title in his hands. Loaded to the gills with debt, he’d been given the title and all the responsibility of turning the blasted marquisate around. Laughable, really because of all the men who might have inherited it before him, he was the absolute worst choice.

He drank, gambled, and generally skirted through life barely keeping himself out of trouble. Well, serious trouble anyhow. His mother had gone into fits when she’d realized that he’d become the marquess. And her parting words to him on her death bed were, “Try not to bring the family any more shame.” He let out a long breath, shaking his head. Three girls nearby giggled as they snapped their fans over their mouths and made eyes at him above the fluttering instruments. It was February. How could they be hot enough to fan with such vigor? He looked away again, not bothering to even feign interest in the debutantes. It wasn’t that he didn’t like women, he liked them very much. Short ones, tall ones, curvy ones, brash ladies who swore like sailors, exotic beauties, and everyday harddrinking women who liked a quick laugh and a bit of fun with an even quicker tumble.

He’d even dallied with a few ladies of society. Widows were a personal favorite of his. If there was one type he didn’t go for, it was the giggling, covered-in-lace, fan-waving, marrying type. More precisely, he didn’t mind the giggles or the lace…just the marriage part. He let out another long breath. The very idea of tying himself to one woman left him cold deep inside. He’d been meant for life of fun, leisure, and debauchery. It’s all he’d ever been good at. Ask anyone in his family. They’d agree.

But he found himself drowning in ledgers, crop counts, and…marriage prospects. The Den of Sins had actually helped reduce the mountain of debt he’d inherited. But he had two crumbling estates with villages that had largely been abandoned and fields that had ceased producing. He’d attempted to think of other ways to right the title, but the only real asset he had to leverage at this point was…well…his looks. Dylan had been born handsome. A fact he’d utilized to its fullest advantage for most of his life and one he’d use again now to repair the title and prove to his family that he was capable of doing something no one else had done in the past few generations: be a successful marquess. He scrubbed a hand through his hair and heard one of the ladies sigh. Longingly. He should ask one of them to dance. But dread churned in his stomach.

He couldn’t do it. Still, he’d have to introduce himself to one of the taffeta confections at some point. If for no other reason than he needed to discern which of these women had the largest dowry and would make for the best candidate to become a marchioness. To a sham marquess. Neither reared for the duty nor holding the necessary dignity for the position, he was sure to disappoint. He looked back at the girls, picked the one with the most lace and ribbons in her hair and winked. It was the only metric he could think to choose one of them over the others. He knew this was not how most titled lords went about courting. There were introductions and pretty words and formal dances and blah blah blah. But he didn’t have the time or energy for such pleasantries.

The sooner he wed and repaired his finances, the sooner he could go back to his old life of drinking and gaming hells. Where he was comfortable. Where he excelled. And it turned out that debutantes and working women had a great deal in common because all three ladies blushed and giggled, and the fans moved even faster. Perhaps courting wouldn’t be as awful as he’d imagined. “Good evening, my lord.” An older woman stepped in front of the three young ladies and gave him a smile, coquettish and obvious as she dipped into a curtsy. “I am Lady Price, and these are my daughters, Lady Judith, Lady Penelope and Lady…” He ceased listening. Each of the girls dipped into a matching curtsy to their mother’s as they lowered their fans. Judith’s bow was awkward, Penelope’s teeth were horse-like, and whatever her name was…just no.

But he stood there making polite conversation for what seemed like hours before another matron introduced herself and her daughters and then another and another. Each more painful than the last. Finally, not able to stand another moment, he slipped from the crowd that had developed around him and started toward the terrace. He needed air or a carriage to whisk him from this party to the nearest gentlemen’s club or, better yet, the Den of Sins. Where men unabashedly participated in cursing and drinking and womanizing. But just as he reached the doors, he glanced over and saw her. Miss Eliza Carrington. Tall and statuesque, her dark brown hair was piled high atop her head. Her coiffure lacked the ribbon and lace of so many other girls, which only added to the appeal of the lush locks. Dark lashes fringed her large, warm eyes, making them extremely mesmerizing.

Her nose was small and straight, set off by high cheekbones and her mouth was so full and lush it made a man ache. He didn’t allow his gaze to sweep down her body. He already knew that her full curves would set him off into a riot. He’d met Eliza on two separate occasions. One, very proper. The wedding of his best friend, the Duke of Devonhall, to Eliza’s sister, Isabella Carrington. But the other time made him grin. It had been the least proper meeting of a proper girl that he could think of. Which meant it had been exceedingly fun. In addition, Eliza was nothing like the rest of these girls.

She had spirit and spunk and…he stopped. Eliza was a distraction. Nothing more. Even now two men stood near her, both intent upon her while she hardly looked at either of them. She was a woman made to tease men. Normally, he’d love to allow her to tease him, but he had a future to prepare for. She didn’t have the connections or funds he required and he needed to leave her be. Which was why he kept moving and headed out onto the terrace. Eliza Carrington was not the right woman for him. Nor was he the right man for her.

She struck him as the sort that would see right through his wicked ways to the black heart he hid underneath. ELİZA WATCHED the Marquess of Milton head out the doors. Cad. To his friends, he was just Menace. An apt name. The man was trouble. Eliza knew when a man was best left alone. Too handsome by half, as near as she could tell, Menace had never worked an honest day in his life. She gave an indelicate snort as she watched him walk out the doors. “Don’t make such noises, dear.

” Her Aunt Mildred patted her arm. “It isn’t polite.” Eliza frowned at the other woman who wasn’t actually her aunt. The truth was, she was an actress that Eliza and her sisters had hired to play the part of their real aunt. The actual Mildred hadn’t left Scotland in twenty-five years, which made impersonating the lairdess exceedingly easy. The why of the whole situation was a bit more complicated. It started with her mother’s death and her father’s disappearance. Her mother’s death hadn’t actually been the complicated part, which had been a standard case of disease of the lung. Funny how the mundane could be so heart wrenching. But their father, a merchant, had been on a trip to the Orient when she’d passed.

They’d made several attempts to contact him but to no avail. Lucas Carrington had neither returned home nor written to say when he might. It had been almost a year since they’d received any communication from him. She covered her stomach as nerves raced along her skin. And their uncle, their mother’s sister’s husband, had had their father declared dead and seized any assets he could get his claw-like hands on. Including Eliza and her sisters. Malcolm had tried to marry them off to whatever man would have them. More accurately, he wished to sell Eliza to the highest bidder to collect the purse, but her younger sister, Isabella, had met and married a duke. The Duke of Devonhall now had all four Carrington sisters under his protection. Which was a blessing at this exact moment.

Because her uncle stood next to her with the noxious Mr. Taber. “Eliza,” the man hissed as he reached for her arm, gripping her too hard. “I know you remember our friend, Mr. Taber.” Taber gave her a greasy smile, his eyes wandering all over her. “Miss Carrington.” He stepped closer, the odor of him filling her nostrils and curling her nose. He stank of old cigar and body odor, his hair slicked back giving him a greasy appearance. “Mr.

Taber,” she replied coolly. Her uncle had planned to marry her to this man before Devonhall had stepped in. “I wondered if I might have the pleasure of a dance.” His gaze travelled over her body again, lighting with greedy desire. She shivered. Then he reached out a hand, his nails overly long in a way that made them resemble talons and touched her bare shoulder. She stepped aside. “Apologies, but my dance card is full.” Her uncle made a noise of dissent, tightening the hand of her other arm. “Then why are you standing here?” “I am waiting for my escort, though you may have frightened him off,” she replied, notching her chin higher.

She refused to be intimidated by her uncle. He had no sway over her. He yanked at her arm, causing her to lose her balance and lean closer. “Listen to me, girl,” he hissed in her ear. “You may think that you can get away from me, but I am still your uncle and you’ll do as I say.” “I won’t,” she fired back. Mr. Taber sneered. “It’s all right, Malcolm. I like a filly that needs to be broken.

” That made her start. The words were so coarse and deep-down crass that she attempted to take a half step back. And Eliza never ran from anything. But this man was dangerous and so was her uncle. Her stomach roiled as she considered the idea of intimacy with him. A shiver ran down her spine. She couldn’t. She would not allow this man to touch her. Ever. Eliza and Isabella had decided that the best way to keep all the sisters safe was to marry each of them to a respectable man and so they were attending every party they could gain an invitation to in order to officially enter the marriage mart.

As soon as her sisters were married…she’d be free of her uncle and his schemes forever. Of course, in the meantime, partaking in society meant her uncle could easily find them. Her sister and new husband usually attended but they’d taken an evening for themselves. A miscalculation. Eliza would have to tell them that Devonhall needed to be with them at every event. She nearly sighed. Bash had taken on a great deal of responsibility when he married her sister. She looked back at the Menace, clearly visible on the terrace. Despite his title, the Marquess of Menace was not on the list of potential candidates. He was a man no respectable woman should marry.

Not that Eliza was all that respectable. In the period between her mother’s passing and her sister’s wedding, Eliza had done a great many things that would have ostracized her from society, but she regretted none of them. She’d do them all again to save her sisters. She’d managed to keep her virtue but her innocence…that was long gone. She knew things about the world now and there was no going back. “If you’ll excuse me, Uncle. I see my escort.” And then she yanked her arm, with a quick jerk, out of his grasp. Because she needed to escape this conversation. And much as Eliza hated to admit it, Menace could help.

So as the fake Aunt Mildred patted her sister Emily’s arm and pointed to a major she wished for Emily to meet, Eliza stepped backward and slipped out onto the terrace. Away from her scowling uncle and leering Mr. Taber. She’d die before she married that man. Menace stood with his back to her, staring off into the darkness. Even she had to admit that his shoulders were devilishly broad as he stood with his arms crossed. His dark hair waved back from his face in a careless windswept look that highlighted his strong jaw and piercing green eyes. Not that she could see his features now. But the memory of them haunted her more often than she cared to admit. She drew in a steadying breath, trying to decide where to begin.

She looked back to see Mr. Taber still watching. “What do you want, Eliza?” Menace asked, not turning to look at her. She stopped, still several feet away. The cad. How had he known it was her? Still, she was strangely relieved to be out here with him and not in the ballroom still. “What are you doing here? I never see you at these sorts of events.” “Because I never come,” he replied. Then he turned to look at her. A half wall flanked the terrace and he rested his lean hip against it, looking casual and masculine and rakishly handsome.

“And you answered a question with a question.” “So I did,” she murmured, moving closer again. But not too close. The man was distractingly appealing. He radiated the sort of heat that made her flush and he smelled like…leather and pine and male musk that scattered her thoughts. Rakes were so good at that. And he was the best. “I was hoping to ask you a few questions. Privately.” She heard him let out a sharp breath, his back straightening up.

“No.” Drat. Eliza suspected that her brother-in-law, the duke, had warned Menace to stay away from her. Which suited her just fine. She didn’t need a rake making her already complicated life even messier. In fact, she’d like to avoid men and marriage all together. Her sisters all had a rosy view of their parents’ marriage, one that drew them to the union. But as the eldest, Eliza knew better. Her father had been gone for long stretches, casting most of the work onto her mother. Work her mother had then relied on Eliza to help complete.

The truth was, Eliza didn’t need a husband and she wasn’t sure she wanted one either. Not when she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself. But the sooner she got her sisters married, the sooner they’d be out of her uncle’s clutches. “You don’t even know what questions I might ask.” He shook his head. “I know exactly what questions you’re going to ask. Ask them of your brother-in-law.” Eliza held in her huff of frustration. She had…multiple times. Bash, in a misguided attempt to protect her, kept telling her not to worry.

The men were handling it. She didn’t need to be coddled or protected, she’d been the protector her entire life. “Well, I’m going to ask you. Has anyone found any direct evidence of wrongdoing on my uncle’s part?” Menace grimaced as he turned to face her, his eyes wandering down her frame. She knew the look. Men often gave her such glances. The difference was the effect his had on her. Heat prickled along her skin. “Besides when one of his henchmen shot Bash’s driver?” She stepped closer. “Thank goodness he recovered.

” Menace shrugged. “I agree except the shooter swore it was an accident and where there was no death…” She frowned. “No wrongdoing.” “Nope,” he replied, leaning his backside against the wall and kicking out his feet. “I know he sold your house. But that’s it and that was completely legal. Are we done now?” She moved closer still, making certain to add a bit of sway to her hips. He noticed. “Nearly.” She gave him her most angelic smile.

The one she used when she needed something. “The mystery man who keeps appearing. Do we know who he is yet?” A man had raced in and rescued her and her sisters when their uncle had attacked their carriage, but no one knew who he was. They did know that their father had a secret partner and they’d wondered if their mystery man was one and the same but so far, they’d gotten no proof. “Why are you asking me all of this?” He gave her a level stare. “Because,” she started, then paused. She was close now, close enough to touch him. Her fingers flexed. She shouldn’t want to reach out. She should only be calculating whether or not she should touch him to get the information she needed.

“Bash is under the misguided impression that he needs to protect me.” Menace raised his brows. “How foolish.” “Exactly,” she replied. “I don’t need protection. I—” “You practically threw your sister at him in order to gain his protection, if I recall.” He had her there. But Eliza had noticed the attraction between the two when she’d suggested her sister get involved with the duke. “Isabella did need help. Emily and Abigail need him too.

” “But not you…” he murmured. His voice had dropped so low the sound made her shiver. He’s a rake, she reminded herself. “Not me.” “But you need my help now?”

.

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