Passions of a Wicked Earl – Lorraine Heath

Morgan Lyons, the eighth Earl of Westcliffe, unhurriedly trailed his fingers over the slender bare back—the appearance of which always delighted him. A light touch, barely there, as soft as a cloud drifting across the late-afternoon sky. He’d discovered that Anne responded best to only the hint of sensation, as though the torment of being denied more pressure heightened her pleasure. She was such a wonderfully carnal creature, willing to explore passion and pleasure in all its forms. It was the very reason he sought her company. She was soundly asleep, not reacting to his subtle gestures, but she would be miffed if he took his leave without giving her a proper farewell. Gathering up her hair, with its hints of red that often made it seem as though it might ignite at any moment, he draped it over one shoulder, exposing the nape of her slender neck. Shifting his body so she was cradled beneath him, he pressed his hot, moist mouth to the ridge of her spine and began to leisurely travel downward. Moaning low, she stretched languorously, like a feline lazing in the sun. “Mmm, I do so enjoy the way you awaken me.” Her voice, lazy, raspy, sultry, caused him to harden swiftly and painfully. With his knees, he spread her thighs, opening her to him, and slid into her velvety haven. It was only here, when he could become lost in wicked sensations, that he was master, that the world and all its disappointments receded. Welcoming him with a groan of satisfaction, she lifted her hips slightly, and he delved deeper. Now he was the one to groan, a growl really, low and throaty.

This was what he needed, what he always needed. Hands gliding, fingers teasing, mouths devouring. Theirs was an ancient ritual of writhing bodies, escalating sighs, and intense sensations. With a triumphant laugh, she bucked him off, straddled him, claimed him. Even as he took her again, even as he caused her to cry out his name, he felt nothing beyond the searing press of flesh. Why the bloody hell couldn’t he feel more—true enjoyment, immense satisfaction, contentment—instead of this bloody wasteland of lackluster emotion? The room echoed with their grunts, their shouts, their cries. He knew how to touch, how to stroke, how to please, how to bring her the ultimate in pleasure. Even when she collapsed over him, he fought his own cataclysm, staved it off as long as possible, until it consumed him, came crashing around him. Replete, exhausted, breathing heavily, he lay beneath her. As always it was never enough.

His legendary prowess mocked him, leaving him dissatisfied. Ah, the physical release was grand, but afterward, he always experienced a keen sense of bereavement, of something amiss, something that he could wrap neither his head nor his heart around. He was always left wanting more, but for the life of him, he couldn’t define exactly what the more should be. He knew only that for all her exquisite beauty, she didn’t provide it. But he also knew the fault resided with him, not her. He lacked something essential. It was the reason no woman had ever loved him. As gently as possible, he eased her off him. Her green eyes lethargic, she gifted him with a contented curl of her lips, a cat that had lapped up the last of the cream. He pressed a kiss to her forehead before rolling out of bed.

He gathered up his clothes from where they’d landed on the floor when she’d first divested him of them hours earlier. It wasn’t until he’d sat in the purple velveteen chair to pull on his boots that she scooted to the foot of the bed and said, “Tell me what’s troubling you.” He peered over at her, now wrapped modestly in the red satin sheet. She swung her legs off the end of the bed and grabbed one post. She gave the appearance of someone sitting on a swing, and he was reminded of a golden-haired girl he’d long ago seen in that exact pose. If he were capable of flowery emotions, he might have thought he’d begun to fall in love with Claire that day. Silly thought. “You’ve grown bored with me,” Anne said succinctly, before he could answer. Not that he would have. He was not in the habit of sharing anything that resided within him.

He allowed only the outer shell to be available for her amusement. Haughtily, making a great show of securing the sheet more tightly around herself, she walked to the window. “They say no woman can hold on to you. I thought to prove them all wrong.” After tugging on his boots, he crossed the room and wound his arms around her waist, inhaling her fading scent mixed with the musky fragrance of passion he’d unleashed earlier. “I’ve not grown bored with you.” “Then stay the night. For once, stay the night.” He tucked his finger beneath her chin, tilted her head around, and took her mouth as though he owned it. Only when she turned and sagged against him, did he lift her into his arms and carry her to the bed.

Setting her down gently, he drew the covers over her. “Not tonight.” As he was striding toward the door, she called out, “I hate you!” Her words gave him no pause. He’d heard them before, from others. The first time he was fiveand-twenty. The words had pained him then, but never since. Why did women not understand that hate could not hurt if there was no semblance of love? She didn’t love him. He knew that, accepted it. She was as frosty as he. It was the reason they were well suited, the reason he’d not yet grown bored with her.

“Westcliffe?” Striving to come up with a way to communicate that he wasn’t upset with her, he glanced back and merely said, “Tomorrow.” “I expect to receive a very nice bauble.” He gave her a grin and a wink. “Something to match the green of your eyes, I should think.” She blew him a kiss. She was so easily mollified. He was weary of growing bored, but ennui hovered nearby, waiting impatiently— He would not succumb. Not this time. She deserved better. He hurried down the stairs and out the front door into the lightly falling rain, where his carriage waited, illuminated by the distant gas streetlamps.

The footman leaped forward and opened the door. “St. James,” Westcliffe ordered as he climbed inside and settled back against the plush bench for the journey to his residence. Not a home. Simply a place where he resided, where he would wallow in his whiskey and contemplate why he refused to stay the night with Anne. Such a small request, but conceding to it would give her too much control over him. And he was a man who relished his freedom. He’d gone too much of his life without possessing either control or independence. His father, damn him, had left behind little except debt, two sons, and a widow who understood the ramifications of her dire circumstances well enough that, without delay, she’d chosen as her second husband a man with a more powerful title and a good deal more wealth—the Duke of Ainsley. She’d blessed him with an heir, and five years later, he’d left her a widow—one who no longer relied on anyone for anything.

It was years before the same could be said of Westcliffe. He’d been dependent on the kindness and generosity of his youngest brother, Ransom Seymour, the present Duke of Ainsley. He may have been the last born, but he acted as though he were the first— irritatingly responsible, obsessed with duty. He comported himself with the mien of someone three times his age. Their mother had often remarked that even from the cradle, he’d given the impression that he could handle the greatest of matters. Westcliffe had found it exceedingly difficult to usurp his brother’s rightful place in the sibling hierarchy when the next moment could very well involve holding out a hand, asking for favors. It was one of the reasons that Westcliffe had spent as little time as possible with his family—to avoid the reminders of the failures he’d inherited from his father, which had weighed heavily on his shoulders as he’d grown into manhood. He’d been more than willing to take whatever actions necessary to shed them. It had been damned mortifying to go to the whelp whenever he needed anything: assistance in managing his estate, clothes, food, coins to purchase a trinket for his occasional lovers. So he’d welcomed the opportunity to be rid of his pauper’s realm—only to discover that the ultimate price was a battering of his pride far worse than anything he’d previously suffered.

The wheels whirred, splashing the rainwater against the sides of the carriage. He sought comfort from the calm, constant swishing, allowing it to seep into his soul. Perhaps tonight, he would fall into a deep, untroubled sleep. Perhaps tonight, for a brief time, he could escape the blight of Claire’s betrayal. Yet the memory of it rose as bitter as bile in his throat while his carriage drew to a stop in front of his residence. He’d not set eyes on Claire since that fateful night when she’d taken his younger brother Stephen to her bed. During the intervening years, he’d received but one missive from her. Forgive me. To which his drunken youthful self had cleverly responded, When you’re rotting in hell. The man he was now would not have responded at all.

He’d have forced her to wallow in guilt and self-recriminations without a hint as to his true sentiments. The absence of knowledge was its own punishment, and she deserved to suffer. He leaped from the carriage, only to discover that another waited in the drive, one he recognized as belonging to him. If he hadn’t known, the liveried men standing about would have served as a clue. What the devil? Taking the wide steps two at a time, he rushed up the stairs. The door opened just as he arrived. His butler’s pale face told him all he needed to know. “Where the hell is she?” he demanded. “The library, my lord.” His gut tightened.

His sanctuary. He allowed no one in there. Least of all her. Tossing back his hat, cloak, and gloves, not caring if they landed in Willoughby’s arms or on the floor, he strode down the hallway. He became abruptly aware that he smelled of another woman. Lilac. He considered, for a heartbeat, racing up the stairs to take a quick wash, then decided against it. He still remembered the sandalwood stench of his brother emanating from her when he’d discovered them— The footman opened the door to the library as he approached, and he wished she’d had no warning that he was about to barge in on her. Three long years, and the silly chit dared to intrude on the life he’d created in her absence. With fury emanating from him, he stormed into the room.

He was halfway across it, having passed two seating areas, when she turned from her perusal of the books aligned neatly on his shelves. He came to a staggering halt as though he’d taken a powerful blow to the chest. He’d fought so damned hard to forget her, to forget everything about her. And here she was in the flesh. Slightly older yet undeniably more lovely. Claire. His traitorous wife.

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