Sins of Viscount Worsley – Stacy Reid

Michael Alexander St. Ives, Viscount Worsley, stared through the open windows of his private apartments at the young lady standing in the fog-shrouded street below his gambling club. She was handing out pamphlets, apparently desperate to save the lost souls who clambered up the steps into his particular brand of hell. Her efforts were a lost cause of course, as almost everyone sidestepped her or crumpled the sheet of paper and dropped it onto the cobbled streets. The sanctimonious moral prigs had yet to realize that people chose to enjoy life—or sinned as they called it—entirely of their own free will. He couldn’t quite place his finger on what about her had arrested his attention. The lady and her companion were not the first to protest his establishment in recent months, railing at his clientele to repent their ungodly ways. Perhaps it was her nervousness, evident to him though he glanced down at her from three stories above. It was the manner in which she kept stiffening at each carriage as they rattled up to the entrance of his lair. The way she lifted her shoulders before she walked with militant grace over to the gentlemen and carefully disguised ladies, handing them that small piece of paper which denounced him as the devil, leading the innocent men and women of London astray with the diabolical vices he offered in ‘The Club.’ He drew deep on his cheroot, slowly releasing the smoke, studying her with an air of amused tolerance. She wore a dark blue dress and a matching hat with a narrow brim, her shoes were serviceable, and her gloves appeared well worn. “Michael darling, I am not quite sure I understand your preoccupation with the streets below,” Lady Temple said, from where she reposed with catlike grace on the sofa by the fire. A brief glance showed she had an affected pout on her thin lips. Her pale blue eyes narrowed in jealous contemplation, she snapped, “Is it that very odd creature who has snagged your regard? Upon my soul, it is quite alarming that you’ve been staring at her for several minutes now.

” Lady Temple was always unhappy when attention shifted from her. She had been trying to entice Michael to her bed for almost two weeks. Nothing in him had stirred to play that particular seductive dance of cat and mouse. The lady saw him as a challenge and had boldly told him so, right before falling to her knees and reaching to unfasten the flap of his trousers. He had stepped away to her great annoyance, but she hadn’t left, and for the moment he allowed her presence in his private rooms. Society would be thrilled and titillated with mock horror if they discovered he’d not had a lover in eleven long months. Sometimes, that fact even astonished him whenever the awareness of his self-imposed celibacy jolted through him. Eleven months. The usual debauchery and scandalous pursuits of society seemed to no longer appeal to his jaded senses. Michael couldn’t quite place his finger on when or why they had become less exciting and less satisfying to him.

He was the purveyor of sin and vices, yet recently everything had become intolerably boring. His good friend, the duke of Wycliffe, had suggested recently to him, that perhaps Michael really wanted a wife and children now and was ready to settle down to domesticity. He had stared at the duke, but only a feeling of icy horror had burned through his veins. The very idea of faithful monogamy terrified him. “Good God, Wycliffe, it isn’t a wife I hunger for. I am not like you who believe in that love claptrap.” “What then?” had been the duke’s reply. “And what is wrong in believing in love?” And Michael had had no answer, the void inside grew deeper, leaving him considerably puzzled as to the nature of his own malaise. It wasn’t that he did not believe in love, he certainly saw enough people in society, giving each other ridiculously sappy smiles and sighs. He just hadn’t felt the evidence of it for himself to feel any yearning for such affections.

Nor did he perceive its benefits to make him desperately want love. He was not sure he would know how to recognize love if it came knocking on his door. With all the lovers he’d had over the years, he had never once felt the urge to look at one the way Wycliffe stared at his duchess. It was as if the damn man had lost all his senses. Nor had Michael ever given himself over to any vice—gambling, drinking, whoring, racing—he had too much awareness of self and control for that. Love seemed like a vice to his way of thinking. He had known men on the continent who fought duels in the name of love and had gotten themselves killed. Had known a few who cried into their liquor because of unrequited love, and those who even rashly spoken of killing themselves. For love. That could be the worst sort of vice in which a man could manage to get trapped.

He tore his gaze from the spectacle down below in the streets and stared at the countess. A bright, pleasing smile appeared at finally securing his full attention. A goldpainted half-mask adorned her face, and her blonde hair was piled in a riot of curls atop her slender neck. She lifted her chin, baring the delicate line of her throat to his gaze. Invitation glowed in her eyes, and her chest lifted rapidly as anticipation darkened her blue orbs. “Vivian…” He lowered the glass of brandy he’d been nursing on the thick ledge of the windowsill. “I am not seeking a lover.” How many times had he said that exact phrase in the last year? She sauntered shamelessly close, pressing her body against his, yet nothing inside him moved. “Neither am I. A night of glorious passion is what I am after.

In the morning, I shall not care about you any further,” she murmured with a wily smile. “And won’t your husband object to such an arrangement?” She cast him an irritated glance. “I am certain he is now already abed with his mistress,” she spat the words, pain, and anger shooting sparks from her eyes. “It is her alone he cares about.” “Ah…so is this revenge then? Are you to use me to make your earl jealous? And when you inform him that you’ve been bedded by the wicked Worsley and he challenges me to a duel and I kill him, then what?” he asked with chilling civility. “Is it widowhood you seek and believe I am the instrument of your brazen manipulation?” She huffed and swirled away from him, slipping through the door heading back to the bowels of his club. Michael left his room and made his way down three flights of stairs and outside into the overly warm night air. He removed a matchbox from inside his coat and lit another cheroot. A few lords and ladies exchanged questioning glances at seeing him at the entrance to his club but nodded their heads in polite homage and continued inside. He turned and stared at the force which had tugged him outside.

It was quite astonishing, the way she captured his regard. Inexplicably, he lingered over her features. A slightly rounded face, elegant cheekbones, lush lips. He was too far away to discern her eye color, but it was evident she was a voluptuous woman of considerable beauty. She shifted, and her features were cast in the shadows, but she became aware of his regard for she had faltered into remarkable stillness. He stared openly, very willing to let her see his interest. Michael was much used to the different religious groups protesting outside his gambling den shouting their moral hypocrisy and blaming him for the choices other men willingly made. Never had he seen a lady before, and he would not count that Quaker woman last month. She hadn’t been a day under seventy with no reputation to lose. But this lady was young and sweetly curved in all the right places.

The man who stood several feet from her clutched a bible along with his pamphlets. Perhaps her husband. Surely no young, unattached lady would be in London’s dangerous streets at this hour, even if his club of ill repute was in the better half of town. She was not unsettled by him in the least, lifting her chin, in a gesture of defiance. Michael wanted to unsettle her. The idea surprised him into a laugh. He continued staring, trying to determine if he should approach her. But for what reason? Yet, Michael could feel his heart pounding faster, that dark and dangerous urge to coax and ravish sliding through his veins. What a paradox she presented, being so curvaceous and tantalizing, yet so demure and obviously out of his reach. The awareness of that desire coursing through his veins felt like a punch in the gut.

Despite earning the moniker of one of society’s most profligate rakes, he had never taken a lover to his bed without much closer acquaintanceship. Certainly, his cock had never twitched from merely looking at a lady. With a scowl, he ruthlessly buried all traces of arousal, slowly calming the racing of his heart to its normal rhythm. This unknown woman presented an unexpected appeal. And for the first time in months, Michael desperately wanted to indulge. “ the vicar Peter Ashbrook said, an expression of disgust carved into his face. “That is where she fell…and many others will too if we do not protest this disgusting attack on the moral fabric of our society. Those who sit in our pews are already saved. Jesus walked the earth to preach to sinners far and wide, and he was not afraid. So why should we be?” he demanded with righteous indignation, his dark green eyes so very much like her own filled with an agony of emotions.

“Yes, father,” Marianne dutifully replied, clutching the pamphlets her father had ordered printed in a tight grip, staring at the imposing brick building which housed it—Sin. That awful force to which her sister, Lucy, had fallen prey. The only information Lucy had revealed about her predicament was the gentleman she had fancied herself in love with had taken her in disguise to ‘The Club,’ and she had irrevocably lost all sense of herself. This was the last place Marianne wanted to be when she should be home with her mother and sisters. But Papa had been determined to travel to London to find out what had happened to dear Lucy, and to bring the man who had ruined her to justice. Papa had been righteous in his fury and pain and had even packed a pistol in his luggage. Mama had wept with relief when Marianne had started packing too, refusing to let her father travel to town alone, especially when he did not seem at all rational. The large dark red oak door opened, raucous laughter, revelry, and music spilled out into the air. Vices and wickedness were taking place within the dark recesses of that gambling den, where a man known to all and sundry as Lord Worsley—a viscount—owned and operated that sinful place. Marianne tried hard not to imagine the debauchery it enclosed.

She had even heard he was vaunted for his profligacy and celebrated for it in some circles. And she suspected the man who had just exited that very door, was viscount Worsley himself. Every part of her had been aware of him as he peered down from an open window like a dark angel. He stood under the weak beam of a gas lamp, yet the man seemed covered in darkness. Her father handed her a few more pamphlets and headed toward the queue of carriages, not wanting any of the patrons heading into the club to escape a piece of his sermon. Odd and terrifying sensations crashed against her senses when the man unexpectedly sauntered in her direction. She glanced about, and no one seemed interested in them, even her father was too preoccupied with the masked lady he was preventing from sidestepping him. He would want to save her, for he believed if only he had preached harder and been more vigilant, his daughter too might have been saved. Marianne’s thoughts scattered under a tide of confusion as the man stopped a few paces from her. He was devilishly handsome, and it was as if his mere presence stole the breath from her lungs.

The man was tall with powerful shoulders, muscular legs, and appeared to cloak himself in a mask of civility and chilling elegance. He was clad in black from his longer than what is considered respectable hair to his foot, except for his snow- white shirt and cravat, and the deep burgundy silk waistcoat which fitted his lean frame to perfection. A straight nose and sharp, arrogant cheekbones lent an air of aristocratic breeding…and his eyes were the gray of tempered steel. How beautiful. She was wicked, wanton at heart, to react so to a gentleman! Shame burned inside Marianne and she glanced away. Perhaps if she ignored his presence, he would not approach her. A shadow twisted with hers and she spun around. A harsh breath puffed from her to see him standing so close. “Sir! It is ungentlemanly of you to be this close.” “Ah…so you are a lady who still has expectations of polite conduct even though you are hovering outside of a den of ill repute?” She flushed at the amusement which leaped into his eyes.

Selecting one of the pamphlets she handed it to him. “If I could leave this with you, Sir, I am certain it may help when you need it.” A brow arched and he perused the piece of paper, slanting it towards the beam of the lamp. “It seems that I prey on the weak and those addicted to gambling to ruin their souls. It also seems that I ruin good men and women for my own evil gain.” He slanted her a probing glance. “And do you really believe this?” “That you lead good men and women astray?” She only had to think about her sister and arrive at the truth. “Yes, I do, and without any conscience.” “And do you not believe some vice to be tolerable and needed by men and women of society?” the dark angel asked, a crooked yet so attractive smile slanting his lips, “as a sort of release from the tedium of life?” Marianne’s heart jerked, and she felt mortified for having even noticed his handsomeness. She cast a quick glance at her father, who was too busy handing out his pamphlets and warning away potential customer of the wickedness to be found in those gambling walls and why they should stay away.

“No…any sort of indulgence would only lead to further decay,” she said stiffly. “I provide employment to young ladies whose only other alternative would be to walk the streets of London. Surely there is honor in that?” Oh, why did she feel as if he mocked her? “I am certain you could offer more honorable work!” “My business is not in the red-light district,” he refuted smoothly. “There you will find numerous whorehouses and more profligate gambling dens…should you not take your righteous protests there instead?” A flush went through her body, and his eyes sharpened. Suddenly Marianne felt like a field mouse under the piercing stare of a hunting hawk. Interest lit in his eyes, his expression shifted ever so slightly, and she felt as if the devil had come knocking at her door. “Ah…a true innocent, and how prettily you blush,” he drawled with wicked provocation. Before she could blink, he had taken hold of her and tugged her into a dark pocket of shadows, where the light from the gas lamp did not reach them at all. Even the fog seemed to be directed by his will, as it curled around them, shrouding them more into dark obscurity. He lifted one hand and lightly cupped her cheek.

Shock scattered her thoughts, and her hands flew up in automatic defense to rest on a solid wall of warmth and vitality. A tremor ran through her at the feel of his thumb so close to her lips. “Si…Sir!” “It has been a long time since I’ve had the urge to kiss a woman,” he murmured darkly. Her heart jerked, but she stood still, trying to understand the weakness assailing her. “I’ll scream,” she murmured huskily. “And my father has a pistol.” “Concerned about me?” “No.” That crooked smile appeared again. “I wouldn’t have pounced, I was about to ask permission to kiss you.” She sucked in a sharp breath.

As if she would allow her first kiss to be with such a wicked rogue. “Denied.” He lowered his arm. “Pity. It would have been delightful.” “For you, perhaps! Men like you only use and discard.” His head canted left. “Men like me?” “Rakes and seducers of innocents, who take what they want without any thoughts or consequences for the ladies they leave behind!” “I would have only left you after I’ve wrung every scream, and moan of pleasure from your lips, and release from your body. You would be satisfied, I promise.” Marianne’s hand flew as if it had a life of its own to slap his cheek, but he caught her hand in a gentle clasp.

The wretched man pressed a kiss to her gloved knuckles, and she felt the heat of his lips through the material. “There are only wolves in these parts of town, you should stay away, my lady.” Then he stepped back, whirled around, and made his way back inside his club. “Marianne?” her Papa shouted, spinning around. One step forward and she left the pocket of darkness. Relief lit in his eyes when he saw her. “Our work here is done. I promised your mother we would come home for the weekend, and we must keep that promise.” She nodded, relief worming through her. “Yes, Papa.

” And they made their way down the darkened streets. As her father hailed a hackney, Marianne couldn’t help glancing behind her once more.

.

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