The Rakehell of Roth – Amalie Howard

Was it peculiar that she didn’t feel married? A forgotten glass of warm champagne in hand, Lady Isobel Vance, the new Marchioness of Roth, peeked up at the towering, silent gentleman beside her as they stood on the balcony. The Marquess of Roth could be a statue carved from marble instead of flesh and bone. Starkly beautiful. Impenetrable. Impossible to read. Her husband. A thoughtful frown limned his full lips, turning them down at the corners, and his gray eyes held less warmth than shards of flint. Hardly a doting bridegroom. Other than the exchange of vows, he hadn’t said more than two words to her since they’d left the chapel. Isobel swallowed past the thickening knot in her throat and the feeling of unease growing in her belly. Shouldn’t a bride feel a modicum of happiness on her wedding day? Then again, her nuptials to Lord Roth had been rather abrupt. Over the past few months in London with her aunt and uncle, the marquess had treated her with polite courtesy and charming indulgence. He wouldn’t have found her disagreeable in looks, she knew. Most men didn’t. Her sister, Astrid, had always bemoaned her beauty as a curse, but Isobel well knew that men craved beautiful things.

In their world, beauty was coveted, much like pedigree. And the Marquess of Roth was of exceptional pedigree. Heir to the Duke of Kendrick, he was well-heeled, handsome, and young. A desirable catch, by all accounts. And he wasn’t the lecherous Edmund Cain, Earl of Beaumont, who was twice her age and had been trying to lift her skirts since the moment she’d been old enough to marry, especially after compromising her own sister. Poor Astrid had quit London, only to fend off his return as earl nine years later—and his vile pursuit of Isobel—by wedding the dreaded Duke of Beswick. Isobel had attempted to take matters into her own hands to secure a husband who wasn’t the earl, but it had only been with Beswick’s help that she’d been able to avoid the earl’s trap altogether. Astrid’s scarred duke had not only persuaded the Prince Regent to favor Roth’s suit, but had also procured a special marriage license. Gratitude didn’t begin to cover what she felt. She’d escaped Beaumont’s clutches and secured an enviable match with a marquess.

A man who was both beautiful and heroic. Noble and honorable. The perfect gentleman. Already half-enamored, girlish visions of a blissful future had danced in her head, full of laughter and joy, family and children. They would be rapturously happy. Despite a few vague rumors of his aversion to matrimony, their wedding had been a boon, and what had caused him to propose hadn’t been of interest to her, only that he had. Now, however, Isobel frowned. Why had he decided to settle down? Roth didn’t need her dowry. As far as she knew, he was in line for a very solvent dukedom. She’d heard the gossip that the marquess had the reputation of a notorious rake, but which young gentleman wasn’t a bit of a rogue? Her aunt had always said that reformed rakes made the best husbands.

Isobel didn’t know if that was the case with Roth, but she hoped his roué days were over. Her own father had been faithful to her mother, and though Isobel knew that many gentlemen of the ton kept mistresses, the idea did not sit well with her. Not that she would have any say in such things. A society lady was meant to do her duty and provide an heir, and even if her husband sought carnal diversions elsewhere, it was of no consequence. With a face like his, it wasn’t hard to picture the dashing marquess being surrounded by fawning, simpering women. She spared him a furtive glance through her lashes and promptly lost her breath. The man made the estimable Beau Brummell look like a shriveled toad. Tall, broad-shouldered, and superbly fit, he was every lady’s dream. Hers as well, if her galloping heart had anything to say about it. Even in profile, his sharply edged masculine beauty made her cheeks heat.

Sculpted lips, high cheekbones, thick, golden-brown hair curling into a wide brow, and glittering eyes the color of a glacier in a winter storm. His given name was fitting. Winter. Because at the moment, he embodied the frigid season. Suppressing a tiny sigh, Isobel sipped at her warm drink and winced. She’d give anything for a glass of her sister’s whiskey. Or some French brandy. Something with a little more bite to bolster her flagging confidence. Or ward off the chill of her iceberg of a husband. Perhaps he had other things on his mind, like matters of business? She drew a bracing breath, determined to make the best of it.

“Are you well, my lord?” she ventured softly. Slate-gray eyes fell to hers, confused for an instant as if he didn’t know who she was or what she was doing there, as though she were some species of creature he did not recognize. But then they cleared, and recognition filled them. “Yes, of course. And you?” “I’m well, thank you.” “Good.” Awkward silence spooled between them. So much for brilliant conversation. Ducking her head, Isobel cringed and gulped the rest of her tasteless drink, her eyes darting to the revelry within the balcony doors. Lady Hammerton’s ball was in full swing, and Isobel knew that Astrid would be there.

A small comfort, at least. “I…I suppose we should go in,” she suggested. The marquess gave her an unreadable look, though his mouth pinched with the barest hint of resignation. “Yes, the show must go on, mustn’t it?” She blinked in confusion. “The show, my lord?” He leaned down to graze his lips over her cheek, the soft caress at odds with his mocking tone and taking her by surprise. Inhaling deeply as though scenting her skin, his nose drifted down the curve of her jaw until his mouth hovered over the corner of hers. Isobel’s lips parted of their own trembling accord, in unspoken invitation, which he did not accept. Kiss me, she wanted to beg. She didn’t. But shyly, she tilted her chin, trying to show him what she yearned for.

With a muttered curse, the marquess reared back and stared at her with a strange blend of irritation and desire in those flinty eyes. Isobel swallowed her disappointment. “Did I do something wrong, my lord?” It felt like an eternity before that beautiful gray gaze landed on her, the brief hint of desire from earlier no longer present. Not one ounce of warmth came through his impassive regard. It wasn’t irritation now, she realized, but forced indifference. Why would he need to be indif erent? “No,” he murmured. “This is simply new to both of us.” “Marriage?” His lip curled. “Until death us do part, love.” The sentiment and endearment should have eased her, but the cynical way he uttered those words did not sound like the commitment and union they were meant to represent, though rather more of a curse.

But then, once more as if in contradiction of himself, he lifted her hand and brought her knuckles to his lips. Ever so slowly, he brushed his mouth over her gloved hand, until she could feel her heartbeat throbbing in each fingertip. The gentleness of the caress undid any worry she had. If he touched her like this, they were going to be just fine. … Winter sat back against the velvet squabs of his coach and settled in for the ride to his father’s ancestral seat in Chelmsford, his family home and the only place he could take a wife. Bloody hell. Not a wife. His wife. God, how his sister would have cackled to see the great Winter Vance leg-shackled. I shall never marry! His twelve-year-old self had puffed his chest.

Girls are annoying, just like bratty little sisters. Prue had paid his male posturing no mind. Then I shall curse you, my favorite brother, to marry the most beautiful angel in the world! And here he was. Married to exactly that. Winter forced himself to focus on the task at hand. He couldn’t go to his private estate, Rothingham Gable, for obvious reasons. For one, that particular abode was not prepared for a Lady Roth, given the week-long house party that had just been hosted there. He had not even been in residence. Rutland and Petersham and the rest of their fast set had run the show, desperate for some wild country fun to offset the terminal boredom of the season. While he missed them from time to time, those days of endless dissipation were over.

They had been since Prue’s death. Not that anyone actually knew…or had noticed. People believed what they wanted to believe. Winter slanted his new wife a glance. Her attention was caught outside the small window, her face held in pensive thought. Her profile was exquisite, perfect in its symmetry from the classic line of her forehead to her delicate nose and pink rosebud pout. Isobel was young, fresh out of the schoolroom, but he couldn’t deny her exceptional beauty…or his irritating and inconvenient attraction to her. Christ, he wanted to debauch that mouth right there on the balcony—take it from virginal pink to passionate red. The urge had taken him by surprise. The honeysuckle scent of her satiny skin had been an aphrodisiac.

When he’d grazed the corner of her mouth and seen her undisguised longing, the bolt of lust tunneling through him had nearly brought him to his knees. Just like it threatened to do now. Ripping his gaze from her tempting lips, he let it drift down the elegant line of her throat. He imagined tasting the skin there, nuzzling her fluttering pulse beneath his lips, and inhaling more of her sweet, flowery smell. Winter bit back a groan. He would no doubt sample both later…when he’d be expected to do his marital duty. Hell. He’d have to hold himself in check. Make it perfunctory. And most of all, quick.

The act was a necessary obligation, nothing more, because he had an inkling that this woman could be the end of him. “Did you enjoy seeing your sister?” he asked, his voice rough edged. They’d called in at Beswick Park after leaving Lady Hammerton’s. Her rousing entertainments had gone well into the dawn hours. His wife startled, attention flying to him. “Yes, of course, my lord. Thank you for arranging the visit.” “Call me Winter,” he said. She flushed. “Winter.

” His wife turned the full force of those ice-blue eyes on him, and for a moment, it felt like his skin had been seared by lightning. But that gaze also shone with no small degree of infatuation. It didn’t take much to interpret the shy glances and the soft blushes whenever she thought he wasn’t looking. This was why it could never work. He wanted sex and a warm body; she wanted sonnets and his soul. The plain truth was that he’d needed to marry. An expedient wedding was the answer to Winter’s problems and hers—and he’d jumped at the solution. His father’s recent codicil stated if he wasn’t married by his twenty-first birthday, he wouldn’t get a finger on the rest of his inheritance until he was thirty. That was over a decade away! The social club he’d opened with his best friend, the Duke of Westmore, using the first portion of his inheritance, was in its infancy. Anything could happen.

Which was why marriage was a lesser evil—it paid to be prepared. And Winter didn’t have to court anyone, endure evenings at Almack’s, or worry about matchmaking mothers, fortune hunters, and the like. Isobel Everleigh was the perfect choice for a quiet, dutiful bride. He did not intend to be another casualty to fate, love, or beautiful women. He’d seen too much of what marriage and dependence had done to his own mother and his sister to ever want that deadly yoke for himself. Love made people weak and foolish, and drove them to madness or worse. And Isobel—as perfect a bride as she might be—was no exception. Reluctant amusement built in his chest. Oh yes. His sister definitely would have laughed herself silly at his predicament that he’d gone and gotten himself wedlocked to a jejune, enraptured debutante with romantic starbursts in her eyes.

She’s just what you deserve, Win, she would have teased. The angel to your devil. Right now, his devil wanted to strip the angel bare. Make her writhe and moan. Corrupt her with sin. “What’s your home like?” Isobel asked, interrupting his depraved thoughts, her sweet voice flicking against his senses. He’d much rather hear that soft voice screaming with pleasure, head thrown back and eyes glazed, golden curls tumbling down… Damnation. Stop. Winter cleared his tight throat. “Kendrick Abbey is much like Beswick Park, I suppose.

Rolling hills, manse, ornamental ponds, a lake, tenants, the usual.” He waved an arm, guessing that she might share her sister’s penchant for horses. “You can ride to your heart’s content.” “I don’t care for horses.” A frown creased his brow. “You don’t?” “One threw me when I was a girl,” she explained with a pretty blush. “My sister insisted I get back on, but I was much too timid. They frighten me, really. To be honest, mounting such an enormous, powerful animal makes my pulse race.” Winter stared at her, his frown deepening as his pulse kicked up a notch.

Was she being facetious? At his look, his wife bit her lip, and his stare swung to that moistened, plump roll of flesh when she released it. Hell if he didn’t want to taste it. Winter tore his gaze away and focused on the delicate slope of her nose. Yes, that was a safe bet. When had it gotten so hot in the carriage? It was bloody sweltering. He tugged at his collar. “What do you enjoy doing, then?” “I like balls,” she replied shyly, and the ones in his pants throbbed in approval even though they had nothing to do with the event in question. “I liked dancing with you at Lady Hammerton’s very much.” “Did you?” His voice sounded choked, even to his own ears. Nodding, Isobel’s tongue darted out to wet her lips, and Winter dug his fingers into the bench.

Everything she did and said was so artless and yet so deeply erotic he felt it in his bones. Christ, he needed to get in control! Oblivious to his deteriorating composure, she warmed to filling the silence with conversation while he descended into silent torture. “I also enjoy playing the pianoforte, though I’m not very adept, I’m afraid. My sister accuses me of pounding the keys too hard at times.” Oh, bloody hell, there was no way she didn’t know what she was doing to him with those provocative words—mounting, balls, pounding—but her pretty face remained earnest and sincere, not an ounce of artifice to be seen. It was just him then, lost in the mire of obscenity. Control, for the love of God, Roth. “Anything else?” he managed politely. She brightened at his interest. “I enjoy embroidery.

It’s a wonderful, ladylike pastime. Though I do not enjoy getting pricked.” Winter made a strangled noise. It was no use. He was going to fucking die.


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