Rival Desires – Annabel Joseph

The Marquess of Wescott leaned away before his victim’s fuchsia-pink slipper could connect with his forehead. It caught the edge of his gold-blond hair instead, which had long since straggled free of its velvet tie. “Don’t be naughty, Ellie,” he scolded, delivering a few more spanks to the quivering backside balanced upon his lap. “If you can’t behave yourself, I’ll have to tie you up.” “Oh, you wouldn’t be so cruel, sir,” she cooed, twisting herself upright until she managed to straddle his thighs. She tugged one of his wavy locks, not at all intimidated by his stare. “I think we both know I can be considerably crueler.” He taunted the buxom courtesan with a hard twist of her nipples, reveling in her pain-filled moan. Across the room, his friend Viscount Marlow tightened his fingers in Berta’s hair, urging her to take his cock deeper in her humming throat. She wiggled her ample arse while she serviced him, showing off the cane welts he’d made minutes earlier. “If only Lord Townsend was here, my sweet,” he said, thrusting between her lips. “He’d have been pleased to add a few more stripes to your bottom while you suck me off.” “Ooh.” She paused long enough to simper with theatrical alarm. “He’d bugger me too, wouldn’t he, milord? Right up my sore arse, hard and rough like?” “You’d love that, wouldn’t you?” Marlow pushed back his riotous, white-blond hair and favored her with a grin.

“And Towns would love to do it. Too bad he’s off pining over someone.” “Pining over who? Some society lady?” Ellie sniffed. “Such a faithless customer. He hasn’t been here in weeks.” “Tedious, to be in love, and miss out on such glorious perversions,” said Wescott, arranging Ellie back over his lap. “More tedious still to be in love with someone he can’t tell us about,” said August from the silkdraped bed. The dark-haired man was more formally known as the Earl of Augustine, but he didn’t look very formal now as he stroked his rigid cock, waiting his turn. “I bet he’s burning for Lady Pissy Pot.” “Good God, not her.

” Wescott spanked Ellie’s cheeks for emphasis, then pointed at his friend. “And it’s Lady Priscilla Pott to you, you perverse bull calf. She’s got money and class, even if she hasn’t the best temper. You wish you had half a chance at courting her.” “I wish no such thing. Unlike you, I don’t have anyone on the hook, and I prefer it that way.” Wescott rolled his eyes. Everyone in the ton knew he was all but betrothed to the beautiful Lady June, not that he wished to think about that now, with a famously lewd courtesan draped across his lap. “If you ask me, Miss Priss would be perfect for Towns, with his love of proprieties,” said Marlow. “As for me, all I want is right here.

” He fondled Berta’s full, round arse, then bent her over a chair for more caning. The lass danced and whined at each stroke, but also arched her back with the grace of a quality professional. No, talk of engagements and marriages didn’t belong in high-class brothels like Pearl’s Erotic Emporium, where duties fell away and fantasy reigned. Townsend’s secret sweetheart might cut into his randy activities, breaking up their foursome for a while, but there was still plenty of fun to be had. Wescott sent Ellie over to tend to August’s waiting erection and settled in to watch Marlow flick a cane against Berta’s reddening arse. Why did he enjoy the frantic struggling and crying of women? Why did he enjoy punishing them, and watching them go wild? And what would happen once he won the hand of Lady June, and settled down into a society marriage? All his life, women had thrown themselves at him with lusty abandon, earning him a reputation as a rake. His handsome features, combined with his bold height and stature, had been more a curse than blessing. His parents, the Duke and Duchess of Arlington, hoped a marriage would improve his reputation, but life would be dull without forays to the brothel. At Marlow’s invitation, Wescott gave Berta a few stripes of his own, flicking the cane mercilessly against her already tender cheeks. She gave a tormented squeal at each stroke, her feigned agony rousing him to full staff for the third time that night.

“Go on and take her cunny, you horny bastard,” Marlow offered. “I’ll have her mouth.” Wescott shoved into the courtesan’s soaked quim, fucking her steadily enough that she could still fellate his friend, but firmly enough to elicit some ball-tightening groans. Meanwhile, August alternated between spanking and diddling Ellie on the bed, until her giggles and cries rose to moans of ecstasy. Suddenly, a gruff male voice interrupted them, and a fist pounded on the door. Charlie, one of the house bruisers from downstairs, shouldered it open and entered, gasping for breath. “There’s a fire coming this way, milords, a terr’ble fire burning up Parker’s Lane,” he cried. “We’re getting everyone out, right now. Berta, Ellie, put on clothes and run for yer lives, quick like. Take yer money and yer coats!” Wescott helped Berta to her feet while Marlow ran to the window.

The women scrambled to grab gowns, perfume, and baubles, the pleasing erotic tableau of moments ago exploded into panicked activity. “Don’t stop to collect things,” scolded Charlie. “Gents, you must go too, with the clothes on your back.” He waved the women out as August fumbled to button his shirt and Marlow did up his trousers. “Leave your damn cravat,” Wescott shouted to August. “We’ve got to get away, get to the coach.” They herded frightened, half-dressed harlots as they went, and avoided the eyes of their fellow customers, lords, and some ladies, who’d come to Pearl’s for a pleasurable night. When they made it down the stairs and through the door into the open air, a flood of people had already filled the streets, fleeing surrounding buildings. The dry, warm fall had primed London for a spark to catch flame. Smoke poured toward them, advancing like a wall.

“Such a fire,” a rasping man croaked beside them, “and the wind’s blowin’ toward Drury Lane.” “We’ll take the horses,” Wescott said, his senses sharpened despite the smoke in his eyes. August covered his mouth with his shirtsleeve, his words muffled. They’d left their tailored coats and waistcoats behind. “It’s spreading south,” he said. “No way to go home.” “Getting away will be enough.” Wescott wove between panicked groups, pulling his friends to the side lane where his coach-and-four waited. His groom stood near the shifting horses, watching anxiously in the direction of Pearl’s. “Release the horses,” Wescott shouted as they arrived.

“We must get away quickly.” The groom untethered the beasts with dexterous speed, aided by Wescott and his friends. They were finely trained stallions, standing still for the men to swing onto their backs, even amid the crowds and threatening flames. The groom paused at the last horse and shouted to Wescott. “I’ll take the reins now, my lord, and try to roll the coach home.” “Nonsense. Ride the horse and leave the coach to burn.” “But my lord—” He coughed through billowing smoke. “You’ll never get the coach through the crowds, damn it. I can buy another.

Go, and I’ll meet you at the house.” The fire brigade clattered past, their massive carriages parting the crowds as they made their way back toward the flame and smoke. Men labored over pumps and levers, many of them half dressed and half asleep. Wescott’s friends were already away. “Go on, then,” he yelled at his groom, and to his relief, the man obeyed, freeing the lead horse and riding him bareback through a break in the crowd. Wescott patted his stallion’s mane, taking care to give the animal clear signals as he navigated the chaos. The fire advanced at a terrifying pace, so he was forced to turn east as another engine arrived with groaning cisterns of water. He urged his mount in the direction of Broad Street, leaving the straighter path of escape to those on foot, but the fire followed, crackling and hissing in the dry night air. “The theaters,” a gentleman bellowed in the middle of the exodus. “If the brigade can’t stop the fires, they’ll burn.

” Indeed, the evening’s opera would just be ending at this hour. As Wescott came to Exeter Square, the crowds ballooned as London’s upper crust poured from the theaters’ ornate doorways into sootfilled roads. Many carriages had gotten away to rattle down the street, but others were abandoned by their owners, left to burn. He spared a thought for his luxurious coach, with its custom interior and painted doors. This very moment, the silk-paneled walls might be melting under the flames. He patted his horse’s neck to calm him, keeping a firm, easy grip with his thighs. He’d learned to ride bareback on the wild Welsh moors of his mother’s childhood manor. He wished he were there now, in the open, fresh air, rather than this flame-choked corner of the city. People fled en masse, peers and commoners alike, their mouths covered and heads bowed against the smoke. Ladies pressed their pristine gloves to coughing lips, running, however unladylike, across crowded streets to cleaner air.

The menfolk guided them, urging them forward when they wilted. This was no time to fall out in a swoon. Amidst the clamor of exodus, Wescott noticed a woman cowering against one of the theater’s grand columns, as if she might find shelter there. She was a performer, perhaps an operatic actress, considering her bright, Italianate costume and hip-length black curly wig. She coughed, clutching at her clumsy skirts, looking about for rescue, but everyone around her had already fled. Behind him, he could hear the advancing crackle of fire and the shouts of the brigade. They were chasing the flames, which were still heading this way. “Come with me,” he said, leaning down to offer his arm. “I can’t,” she sobbed. “A driver is coming for me.

” “He won’t make it. He’s likely stuck somewhere.” The poor, frantic actress was garishly made up. On closer perusal, he could see blonde wisps escaping the bounds of her heavy black wig. Her tears smudged the theatrical kohl lining around her eyes, lending her an otherworldly look. “I don’t know where to go,” she said. “I was to meet the carriage here, by the stage door.” “You can’t wait for it. The fire’s just behind me, and they haven’t yet got it in check.” She stared at him, frightened to numbness.

He imagined he looked less than trustworthy, with no coat or hat, and his clothes disarranged. His horse started to dance, so Wescott braced himself and leaned farther, and pulled the woman up, depositing her in his lap, gown, wig, and all. She clutched at his shoulders, then at her wig as he galloped across the now empty square toward Parker’s Lane. Once he arrived there, he found the fire had circled around, cutting off his path to the north. He turned south again, cursing beneath his breath. Whoever’d begun this damn fire was causing a terrible lot of destruction. “I c-can’t br-breathe,” the woman cried, choking on the words. “Turn your face into my chest,” he said. “Cover your mouth and nose with that hair if you must.” He covered his face too, drawing his collar higher against the smoke and ash in the air.

She mumbled something else about her carriage, but he couldn’t help her locate it now. He had to find somewhere the two of them could breathe, and where his faltering horse could take water and rest. He turned east when he was able, praying the flames would die down, and the fire extinguish itself in the Thames before it made its way to Charles Street. “How are you doing?” he asked the woman. She didn’t respond, but he could feel her breathing in and out against his chest. He held her with one arm, guiding the horse with the other, disregarding propriety in service of keeping her safe. Her long performer’s wig covered her back like a cloak, and reminded him she wasn’t precisely a lady, so propriety needn’t be foremost in his mind. Still, he was a gentleman, a peer of the realm. He wouldn’t take advantage of an actress in a desperate situation. She lifted her face and tried to speak, her voice catching.

“What?” he asked. “There’s so much smoke. Where are we going?” “Hold on to me, miss. I won’t let you come to harm.” He rode with his trembling, sniffling passenger for half an hour, urging his mount eastward, until the ringing bells and shouts of the fire brigade faded and they found calmer, cleaner night air. His horse rallied, and the actress didn’t cough as spasmodically as she had, but he didn’t know where he was, or where he should go. He only knew he couldn’t turn homeward, not with the fire still burning, covering the streets in smoke. “Hell and the devil,” he said, pausing at a trough outside a quiet pub to water his horse. The woman stirred against him, roused by clearer air. “Pardon my language,” he said as she peeked up at him.

“I believe we’re out of danger. How are you faring, miss?” In answer, she burst into tears. He stared down at his half-buttoned shirt—of excellent quality— now ruined by the smeared stage paint she wore. Despite the paint, he could see she had a pretty face, with wide eyes and elegant cheekbones, and full, appealing lips. He also could not fail to notice she possessed particularly alluring curves. She must have found it easy to make the stage with such accoutrements, and wondered how many admirers she had. Perhaps, like many actresses, she had a gentleman sponsor who spoiled and kept her. The thought displeased him as soon as it crossed his mind. Why, do you wish to take her as your mistress? A ridiculous idea to entertain as the actress leaked tears in her wig and ruined makeup, with both of them covered in smoky grime. He was of an age and status where he might take a mistress if he wished, sponsor a dancer or actress and buy her pretty things.

He might even retain such a mistress after his eventual marriage, but that couldn’t be his focus tonight. He buttoned his shirt and made a loose knot of his cravat, a clumsy attempt to improve his piratical appearance. “Don’t cry,” he said, being so bold as to run a finger down one of her sullied cheeks. She shrank from the affectionate gesture, glancing around nervously. “I don’t know where we are.” “I’m not sure either.” “I waited for the carriage. I thought it would come.” “You can’t worry about that now.” He wondered whose carriage had been coming to pick her up.

Some gentleman who’d been waiting to spend the night in her arms? “It’s likely the driver couldn’t get through,” he said. “The theater had emptied by the time I got there.” “This is terrible,” she said through her tears. “What if the carriage caught fire? Or was overtaken by the crowds? Or…or…” She sniffled, struggling for breath. “What if they’re still there looking for me?” “I don’t think that’s possible, as the smoke would have driven them away. In fact, I fear it may be some time before it’s possible to ride back. Where is your home, miss? Where do you live?” She hesitated before she told him. “West of the theater, near Grosvenor Square.” Grosvenor Square? This pretty young actress had a serious sponsor then, a wealthy one. No doubt the man was someone he knew, someone who moved in aristocratic circles.

“I know that area,” he said aloud. “Your name?” She balked, as if he might be some charlatan prying for information. Well, his hair was loose and wild, and he was riding bareback through London in his shirtsleeves, fresh from a sex parlor. “You needn’t tell me your real name,” he said with a shrug. “Your stage name will do.” “I don’t have a stage name.” She touched her cheeks, the theatrical creature. “I’m La—Miss Layton.” Silly, that she didn’t trust him enough to reveal her real name, but the popular novels of the day were all about murder, mayhem, and kidnapping for ransom, actresses and infamous ladies being the victims of choice. He had no liking for murder, and no need for ransom money, so she needn’t have worried.

He only wished to get her somewhere warm and less smoky. Even here, curls of ash wafted on the wind. “Will the fire still come?” she asked in a shaky voice. “I don’t think so. They’ll run it toward the river, and it’ll burn itself out before it reaches these streets.” Now that Wescott’s horse was refreshed, he guided it into a walk along a quiet lane. “I’ve never been in a fire before,” she said. “Nor have I, nor do I ever wish to be again.” “The smoke was terrible. I thought I would die.

” She held his stallion’s neck as she spoke, apparently at ease on horseback. Indeed, now that she wasn’t sniveling, her elocution marked her as a woman of elegant manners, which might explain how she’d secured such a wealthy patron. “Thank you for helping me, and escorting me from danger.” “You’re welcome, Miss Layton. I was raised to assist those in need.” “And…sir…who are you?” she finally asked. He was used to meeting women in formal introductions, at dinner parties, or in ballrooms. No need for such pomp here. “I’m Jack,” he said, giving her his childhood nickname. “Mr.

Jack Drake.” He decided not to intimidate the chit with his full, toplofty name and title, although he wondered if he outranked her rich patron. Why did he care? Because you’re playing the hero, Wes, and she’s charming. And talented, probably in more ways than one. If only he knew the name of her patron, he’d have an idea if this woman was the type to suit him in bed. Now that they’d made their dramatic escape, he pictured an inn, a small room, the two of them together, and her eager to thank him for rescuing her from the fire… By God, what was wrong with him? At times like this, he understood why the society gossips had fun changing his surname from “Drake” to “Rake.” This wasn’t an opportunity for flirtation or seduction. Both of them were filthy and tired, and he’d already had plenty of sex for one night. They rode awhile in silence, his well-trained horse stepping delicately on the unevenly cobbled road. “Where are we going, Mr.

Drake?” his actress asked. “If we can’t return to our homes?” “We’ll stop at an inn, as soon as we come across a reputable one.” “I don’t…” She looked on the verge of tears again, brushing at the soot-stained ruching that festooned her theatrical skirts. “I can’t stay at an inn, sir. It…it wouldn’t be proper.” He subdued the urge to chuckle. Playing the proper lady, was she? With her garish costume and wig, and the carriage meeting her outside the stage door, to escort her to her lover’s nest near Grosvenor Square? “It’s hard to be proper in such circumstances,” he countered. “Would you rather sleep outside in the lingering smoke?” She started trembling again, whether from fear or embarrassment, he didn’t know. Did she worry he’d take advantage of her? Tempting as it was to plan a seduction, no fantasies could be acted out this night. “You’ll have your own room, Miss Layton,” he assured her, “if that’s what you’re worried about.

” “I haven’t any money for a room. I’ve just come from—from onstage.” “I’ll pay for the rooms, and a warm bath too. Please, calm yourself. You’ll be kept perfectly safe until the air clears and we can return to our respective homes. I’ll deliver you to Grosvenor Square by morning light, if that will do.” “That would be…that would be very kind.” She blinked at him. “Thank you, Mr. Drake.

” Her voice was roughened, perhaps by tears, perhaps by damage from the smoke. “I promise you’ll be repaid for your assistance.”


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