Seducing the Viscount – Alexandra Ivy

The two gentlemen seated before the fire at the small coaching inn in the midst of Winchester appeared oblivious to the near riot they were causing among the guests and staff. In truth, they were oblivious. Raoul Charlebois with his white-gold hair and piercing blue eyes was accustomed to crowds gaping and fawning over his elegant beauty. As the most renowned actor in all of England, it would be more shocking if he could walk into a room without causing a stir. Even Ian Breckford was familiar with such titillated interest. Known throughout London as Casanova, he possessed a dark, sultry beauty that had captivated women from the moment he had left the cradle. He might not comprehend their fascination with his golden eyes framed by sinfully long lashes, or the thick ebony curls that tumbled carelessly about his lean, fiercely male countenance, but he was always swift to take advantage of their enthrallment. The same way he was always swift to take advantage of those gentlemen foolish enough to sit down opposite him at a card table or wager against him in the boxing ring. He might have been born a bastard, but he had forged a position among society that even the most aristocratic gentlemen envied. Now he lifted a glass of his favorite whiskey in a mocking toast. “To Fredrick,” he announced, a cynical smile playing about his full lips. “May his honeymoon be delectable enough to compensate for the years of being shackled in holy matrimony.” Raoul touched his glass to Ian’s, his own expression one of satisfaction. Typical. Although Raoul had been fostered by Mr.

Dunnington at the same time as Fredrick and Ian, he had swiftly taken on the role of older brother and devoted himself to bullying, encouraging, and at times comforting his young charges. Dunnington might have been the father they had so desperately needed, but it was Raoul who had rushed to Fredrick’s rescue when the local ruffians attempted to rob him of his coins, and thumped Ian soundly when he caught him cheating at cards. Now the ridiculously handsome man was nearly preening at the thought that Fredrick had managed to wed a woman he clearly adored. “I do not believe he will object to being shackled to Portia. Indeed, he has never appeared more content with his lot in life.” Ian gave a sharp laugh. “Well, he always did have an appalling preference for the dull and tedious sort of existence. Why else would he tinker with those ridiculous gadgets of his? No doubt he shall feel quite at home as a respectable husband and heir apparent to Lord Graystone.” Raoul grimaced. “At least once he forgives his father for keeping his legitimacy a secret all these years.

” “Ah, yes. The infamous secret.” Ian tossed the whiskey down his throat as he recalled the moment the three of them had discovered that Dunnington had left them each a legacy of twenty thousand pounds on his death. Money that the tutor had extorted from their respective fathers to keep some deeply hidden secret . well, secret. Fredrick had traveled to Winchester to find the truth and learned he was not the bastard he had always been named, but instead Lord Graystone’s legitimate heir. A discovery that was bound to change his life forever. “I suppose we knew when we heard of Dunnington’s legacy that our dear papas must harbor something dark and wicked in their pasts. But to have allowed Fredrick to believe he was a bastard just to gain Wilhelmina Burke’s dowry . well, that is one hell of a skeleton in the cupboard.

It makes a wise man consider leaving his own skeletons alone.” Raoul shrugged, but his eyes were watchful as he studied Ian’s tense features. “There are any number of bastards who would be delighted to discover they are true bloods.” “Devil a bit.” Ian shuddered, quick to refill his glass with the whiskey from his flask. “I cannot think of anything more hideous.” “Why?” Raoul gave a lift of one pale, perfect brow. Everything about Raoul was perfect. “Your father is one of the wealthiest gentlemen in all of England. Not to mention he possesses a near-dozen homes and estates from here to Scotland.

As his heir you would become one of the most respected and powerful men in the world.” Ian glanced toward a gaggle of maids who were currently giggling and batting their lashes in his direction. Not far behind them, two elegant women in the latest fashion were needlessly pacing near the door of the common room in an obvious attempt to gain his attention. “I have no desire for power or respectability. God knows that I have devoted my life to avoiding either of those fine traits,” he mocked even as his lips twisted with bitterness. “And I would rather be strung from the rafters than be beholden to the frigid Lord Norrington. I would not accept a groat from him, let alone his entire bloody fortune.” Without warning, Raoul set aside his glass and leaned forward. The brilliant blue eyes were filled with concern. “Then return to London with me, Ian.

There is nothing for you in Surrey but ancient secrets and wounds that have not healed. Both are best left alone.” Ian gritted his teeth. “Do you not think that I have packed my bags to return to London on a dozen occasions?” “Then what has halted you?” That was a question that had haunted Ian on far too many sleepless nights. Common sense warned him to avoid Surrey and his father, Viscount Norrington, like the plague. What good could come of uncovering some secret that no doubt had nothing to do with him? Unfortunately, he never heeded common sense. He was a creature of impulse and passion who possessed an uncanny instinct for finding trouble. Realizing his friend was regarding him with an expression that warned he was about to whack Ian over the head and drag him back to London, Ian heaved a restless sigh. The older man had an unshakable belief that he always knew what was best for others. “Fredrick had the right of it when he said that knowing my father is hiding some dark sin would be like a splinter in my flesh that is bound to fester.

I have to know. I cannot explain why, but I have to know.” Raoul was not appeased. “And yet you have lingered here for near a month.” Ian gave a sharp bark of laughter. “You could not expect me to miss Fredrick’s wedding?” “No, I suppose not. But—” “Just leave it be, Raoul,” Ian growled, his expression warning he would endure no more. “I will travel to Surrey when I am ready.” Raoul studied him a long moment. “What are you looking for, mon ami?” Ian turned his head to study the flames dancing in the fireplace, his heart oddly heavy.

“I suppose I will know when I finally find it.” Several hours later, Ian sat on the edge of the mattress and struggled to pull on his Hessians. It was a task that should not have posed a great deal of effort. He had deliberately requested that the boots be cut so that he could easily attend to them without the need for a valet. A gentleman who enjoyed spontaneous and frequent trysts had to consider such matters. It was one of those tiny details that made the difference between a successful rake and a bumbling amateur. Unfortunately, on this night his usual expertise was absent. No doubt because he was gloriously, marvelously, and spectacularly drunk. “Devil a bit,” he muttered as he gave the demon-spawned boot a last jerk and nearly tumbled onto the rough-planked floor. “Ian?” The soft, sleepy voice came from behind him, and Ian glanced over his shoulder at the pretty maid curled beneath the thin cover.

They had retired to her cramped room above the tavern, leaving only a small fire burning in the grate to offer light. Now, with the shadows filling the room, Ian could make out little more than a round face with a cloud of brown hair that tumbled about her naked shoulders. “Shh,” he murmured softly. “’Tis late. Go back to sleep.” “What are ye doing?” “I fear that I must be on my way.” “Now?” With a lazy smile, the maid tugged down the cover to reveal the lush bounty of her breasts. “We still have plenty of time before the sun comes up. Why don’t ye lay back down and we’ll have some fun?” Ian’s body stirred at the sight of her warm, luscious curves. Hell, what man would not be stirred? Stirred, stimulated, and stiffening by the moment.

And there were few things he would like better than to dive back beneath the covers and drown in her sweet heat. It was only the thought of Raoul Charlebois that kept him from yanking off the damnable boots and tumbling back into the woman’s waiting arms. Although the older man had left for London after their meal together, his smoldering concern lingered like a bad taste in Ian’s mouth. He had not come out and accused Ian of hiding in Winchester like a coward. No, the trained actor was far too subtle for that. But the unspoken words had hovered between them nonetheless. Now Ian was faced with the unpleasant decision of whether to seek the truth of his own father or return to London and an existence that was becoming increasingly empty. The feel of warm fingers stroking through the strands of his dark hair brought Ian out of his broodings with a small start. Bloody hell. He should never have consumed so much whiskey.

It was making him positively maudlin. “A most tempting offer, sweetness,” he murmured, turning to smile with open appreciation at the pretty maid. “You are as exquisite as a freshly bloomed rose. To pluck you is to know paradise.” The woman giggled at his flamboyant compliment. “You always say the nicest things.” “I speak only the truth.” “Ha. ”She heaved a sigh, a hint of bewitchment in the wide eyes. “Ye must be Irish, speaking with that silver tongue.

Stay, Ian Breckford. I promise to make it worth yer while.” “Any moment in your presence is beyond worth, beyond gold,” he said as he leaned down and brushed his lips over her forehead. “Unfortunately, I have an appointment that will force me to awaken at some ungodly hour so I can continue my journey.” “I suppose yer off to London?” the maid pouted, tugging the blanket up to her chin. “I wish I was going. All them fine gents and ladies dashing from one fancy place to another. And them homes . la, so big and beautiful a girl could find her dreams in them.” Pulling back, Ian frowned at the petulant words.

Rosemary was a common tavern wench who had clearly sold her innocence long ago, but he instinctively experienced the urge to protect her from her own foolishness. He was a gentleman who thoroughly appreciated women. All women. And unlike most rakes, his admiration extended well beyond a quick tumble beneath the covers. How could you claim to love women and treat them with disdain the moment you had what you desired from them? “No, sweetness, listen to a gentleman who is older and far more experienced than you. There are no dreams to found in London,” he warned sternly. “I have seen too many young girls broken and left in the gutters. Remain here where you are loved and cared for.” “Here?” She cast a disdainful glance around the cramped room that held the chill and dampness of the late spring night. “’Tis nothing here for me.

” He gave a shake of his head as he rose to his feet and reached for his coat. “Do not be a fool, sweetness. You have family. And that is everything.” Chapter 1 The dreary spring weather that had draped Surrey in a relentless gray mist abruptly gave way to a watery sunlight that brought with it welcome warmth. It also brought with it a flurry of spring cleaning that consumed Rosehill estate from attics to cellars. With an enthusiasm that was near frightening in its intensity, the housekeeper herded the maids in a storm of scrubbing, polishing, and buffing that sent the residents of the elegant home fleeing for safety. Even the usually oblivious Mercy Simpson was forced from the shadows of the vast library to the surrounding countryside. If she became lost in her studies as was her custom, there was a very good chance she might be tossed out with the rest of the rubbish. Avoiding the formal gardens where Viscount Norrington and his sister, Miss Ella Breckford, had chosen to find peace, Mercy instead wandered for a time among the thick woods that surrounded the beautiful estate before coming to rest on a flat stone in the center of a small meadow.

With a faint smile, she studied the beauty spread before her. Perhaps it was a blessing she had been forced to set aside her books and enjoy the lovely afternoon, she ruefully acknowledged. Too often she became so obsessed with the past that she forgot to appreciate the present. At least that was the warning her parents delivered with monotonous regularity. Her smile faded as she recalled the letter she had tucked into the pocket of her gown earlier in the day and promptly forgotten. It was from her parents, of course. She had no other family or friends who would bother to write to her. Until she had come to Rosehill nearly a month ago, she had lived an isolated life in a small cottage near three hours away. As the only child of two elderly parents, she had devoted her life to caring for their needs. She had never resented the responsibilities she shouldered or the endless duties that were expected of her.

Not even when it meant she was rarely allowed the opportunity to leave the small cottage. But since she had been at Rosehill . Well, she had to admit she thoroughly enjoyed her first taste of freedom. For once she could concentrate solely on her overwhelming fascination with history. There were no chores to be tended to, no incessant bells to be answered, and no one to chide her for disappearing into her books for endless hours. Although Miss Breckford had invited Mercy to Surrey to be her companion, she had swiftly made it obvious she had no genuine need for Mercy beyond assisting with her various charity events. The sweet-tempered woman with the twinkling brown eyes and ready smile possessed more spirit and vigor than most women half her age. She had asked nothing of Mercy. Nothing but her friendship. It had been liberating for a young maiden who had always been expected to be at the beck and call of others.

Which no doubt explained why she was so reluctant to open the letter clutched in her fingers. Over the past fortnight, her parents had become increasingly insistent in their demands that she return home. They claimed the nurse she had hired to care for them during her absence was incapable of keeping the house as clean as they preferred and that her father had taken a dislike to her cooking. A part of her understood it was her duty to return and ease their discomfort. They were the only family she possessed. But another part, a part she was ashamed to acknowledge, urged her to remain just a few more days. After all, once she returned home she would never have such an opportunity again. She would be forgotten in her small cottage as she aged into a lonely spinster. Surely she deserved a few weeks just for herself? She wrinkled her nose at her attempts to justify her selfish desires. Her father would tell her that it was the devil whispering in her ear.

And he would be right. “Dear God.” The male voice floated on the air behind her, intruding into her dark musings. “Do not move.” Mercy instinctively stiffened in alarm. “What is it? A bee? A snake?” “An angel.” She frowned at the unexpected retort. “What?” “Ah no, I am mistaken.” There was the sound of footsteps before a tall, stunningly beautiful man stepped into view. “It is a wood sprite come to welcome spring.

” Just for a moment, Mercy was bewitched by the stranger. She had little experience with the opposite sex, but she did realize when she stumbled across a fine example of one. And this gentleman was . exquisite. Even casually attired in a blue coat and buff breeches there was no mistaking he was built on the lines of a racehorse. He was all hard, corded muscles on a lean, elegant frame that moved with the grace of a trained warrior. And his countenance complemented the fine, noble lines. Her eyes skimmed over the finely sculpted features, the aquiline nose, the full curve of his lips, and the high arch of his dark brows. They lingered a moment on the astonishing golden eyes that were heavily lashed and filled with a wicked humor before moving to the thick, raven locks that tumbled carelessly about that magnificent male face. Good .

heavens. This was the sort of gentleman her mother had always warned her about. The sort that possessed the beauty of an angel and the wiles of Lucifer. The sort that seduced naïve chits before tossing them aside without a care. She should be terrified. Instead her heart was racing with an illicit excitement that she could feel to her very toes. “Botheration.” In an effort to hide her fierce reaction to his appearance, Mercy busied herself with knocking the clinging leaves from her muslin gown. “You nearly frightened me to death.” He offered a slow, lethal smile.

“Forgive me, sweetness. I was caught off guard to stumble across such beauty in the midst of this godforsaken countryside.” Her own smile was wry, inwardly wondering if he offered such smooth compliments to every woman he encountered. She would bet her last quid he did. How else would he have become so very good at them? “I doubt that God has forsaken such a lovely meadow. Indeed, it appears rather blessed.” “I stand corrected.” His smile widened. “It most certainly has been blessed.” “Are you lost?” “From the moment I caught sight of you perched upon that rock, my love.

” “My name is Miss Simpson, not sweetness or my love, and if you are lost, then I suggest that you continue down the path to Rosehill,” she informed him in her usual soft tones, glancing toward the horse he had left tethered to a nearby bush. “The groom would be happy to offer you directions.” He stilled, as if he were surprised that she had not yet melted into a puddle at his feet. Then, narrowing his brilliant golden eyes, he took a deliberate step closer, his expression that of a predator suddenly on the scent of his prey. “I have no desire to seek anything from the cantankerous Delany, not even if he has managed to mellow in his old age,” he drawled, his eyes running a restless path over her startled features. “I far prefer to linger in this meadow with you, Miss Simpson.” She took an instinctive step back. Not only because she was shocked by his familiarity with Rosehill, but because the warm, tantalizing scent of his skin seemed to tease at her senses in a sinful manner. “You know Delany?” “We have a passing acquaintance. I fear that he has never quite forgiven me for borrowing my father’s prize horse and entering him in the local steeplechase.

Quite unfair of him since I did offer him half the prize money I won.” Her lips parted in shock. “You are Mr. Breckford,” she breathed. “My reputation precedes me, I see.” It certainly did. Although Lord Norrington never mentioned his bastard son, Ella Breckford could rarely allow a day to pass without some mention of her nephew. She spoke of his daring escapades, his success at the card table, the manner society fawned over him despite the fact he was illegitimate. It was obvious she adored the rapscallion, although he rarely bothered to visit his family. “You are not expected.

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