What a Vulgar Viscount Needs – Tammy Andresen

Raithe, the Baron of Balstead, watched as his last two victims walked through the door. Good. They were all here. He’d carefully chosen this cast of characters, his soon-to-be house guests. He needed them for a very particular purpose, though he had no intention of telling them what that purpose was. This was a situation where it was best to lie. He found many situations were that way. Not all of them, of course. But here, at his gentlemen’s club, where drinking and gambling were the primary activities, it was all about the bluff. Just to his right sat three friends. Lord Dashlane, Lord Crestwood, and Lord Craven. They were his first three potential…guests. Craven was one of the few men in England that actually frightened him a bit. Quiet and sullen, he was also tall and well-muscled. He looked quick as a snake and equally as deadly.

Then there was Dashlane, blond with a flashing smile, he was a charmer, to be sure. Crestwood was dark-haired and handsome. All three liked their fair share of women and liquor but he’d seen them defend a group of harlots that another band of ruffians had attempted to rob and that put these gents on his list. “Are you going to tell us what this is about?” Dashlane asked, bringing his whisky to his lips. “In a minute,” he answered, holding up a finger. A wide range of patrons/guests crowded the club tonight, seats limited, which worked for him. His last two players had entered the club but hadn’t picked him out of the crowd yet. The Duke of Rathmore made his way through the mash of people and stopped directly in front of Raithe. Rathmore turned to his cousin and best friend, Lord Hartwell. “Don’t you love the smell of leather, cigars, and good whisky?” Hartwell rolled his eyes.

“I prefer brandy, and thank goodness we missed the speaker,” he quietly announced as he brushed back his rich brown hair. “I’ve no appetite for politics today.” Rathmore raised his brow. “What’s gotten into you?” “Charlie.” Hartwell grimaced, his mouth tightening. Raithe’s insides tightened. Charlie was short for Charlotte, Lady Charlotte Rainsville. She was Rathmore’s cousin and Hartwell’s sister. As vivacious as she was beautiful, she’d come out the season before. Fearless and outspoken, many had said she should have been born a man.

Not that her strong personality stopped her from garnering male attention. In fact, Charlie had been the premiere debutante last season with droves of men following her about, but she’d yet to choose a husband. Raithe had not been one of those men. He stayed away from respectable girls as a general rule and Charlie in particular. Something about her beauty made her difficult to even look at. A man might lose his head and he couldn’t afford to do that now. “Are you worried for the upcoming season? I know you were beating men off with sticks and clubs.” Rathmore chuckled. Hartwell’s grimace turned into a full-on spasm. “Worried doesn’t begin to cover how I feel.

And sticks and clubs were the least of the needed weapons. I had two incidents that involved a sword and one that required a pistol.” Chase clapped his cousin on the back. “I’ll help you.” Hartwell gave him a light shove. “You said that last year too. But we both know you’re too busy to help me keep Charlie out of trouble.” “Busy doing what?” Raithe asked, a light grin playing at his lips. He knew full well what sorts of illicit pastimes the duke engaged in that kept him occupied. Both men turned to look at him.

Hartwell appeared leery while Rathmore crossed his arms over his chest. “Don’t sneak up on me like that.” “I didn’t sneak.” His grin broadened. “I’ve been sitting here the entire time. Isn’t that right, Dashlane?” “Are they who we’re waiting for? Can we get on with it then?” Dashlane cracked his knuckles. “I’ve got a lovely brunette waiting for my attention.” Rathmore frowned at the other fellow. “Must you be so indiscrete about your indiscretions?” Crestwood quirked a brow. “How else should a man be? We are young, single, titled.

Seems perfect to me.” “It’s tawdry. It’s one thing to participate in such behavior but another to speak so openly about it.” Rathmore frowned and Raithe realized he should get this conversation moving before the men began to squabble. That could come later. “Gentlemen,” he started, clearing his throat. “I’m having a party at the end of next week. You are the premier guests on the list.” Crestwood slapped the table, his attitude completely changing. “Now we’re getting somewhere.

” Craven continued to grimace, his face a complete mask. “What sort of party?” “The sort men of your kind would like.” He winked. Raithe had a particular sort of reputation for having parties filled with women and liquor. That wasn’t what this was going to be and so he wouldn’t outwardly promise such delights. It would give him plausible deniability later. Rathmore dropped his arms to his sides. “Next week? I couldn’t possibly.” Raithe tried not to frown. The duke, once a notorious rake, had hardly been seen at the gaming hells or at parties of ill repute.

Coupled with his comments to Crestwood, that made him the most important candidate of them all. Hartwell stepped forward. “We’re headed to the coast to check in on some of our properties.” Excellent. He tightened his grip around his glass. “Then you’ll be close to my home. Surely, you can spend a few days with us.” Hartwell shook his head. “My sister will be travelling with me. I seriously doubt she is suited to one of your parties.

” Raithe didn’t respond. This gathering would be perfectly appropriate for such a lady, but he wasn’t about to tell them all of that. Besides, Charlie was the last woman he wanted in his house, under his roof, near his bed. “That doesn’t mean Rathmore can’t attend. For a few days at least.” He leaned forward. “Tell me you’re not craving something different.” He saw the flicker of indecision in the other man’s eyes. Victory roared in his blood. “Count me in,” Crestwood crowed.

“What about you, Dashlane?” Dashlane took a sip of his drink. “Why not? I could use a change of pace. Craven?” The third man frowned. “I suppose.” Raithe didn’t care if Craven attended or not. In fact, he’d prefer he didn’t but the three were often together making Craven a necessary evil. “Rathmore?” “I’ll think on it,” Rathmore shrugged, staring at the far wall. “I’ll attend,” another voice called from the corner. Raithe turned, his jaw clenching when he’d seen who spoke. His Grace, the Duke of Danesbury, sat partially obscured by shadow.

The man was rarely seen out, his face having been scarred on one side from some accident or another. Raithe’s eyes widened to see the man here on such a busy night. “Your Grace?” he asked. Strictly speaking the man was not invited but as a duke, he’d be difficult to refuse. “I’ve heard of your parties, Balstead. I’ll come if you’ll have me.” Raithe swore softly under his breath. This was not one of the carefully chosen men. He didn’t know what sort of man Danesbury was and didn’t wish to find out. “Of course, Your Grace.

” Raithe sat back in his chair. He had five men after all. Not the five he’d originally set out to invite but still…that ought to give Cassandra some choices… Chapter One Miss Cordelia Moorish sat on the bench of her pianoforte and stared down at the keys as they blurred in front of her vision. Perhaps that champagne had been a bad idea after all. She’d just gotten so excited for her sisters. Three of them had announced their engagements. Tonight, her family was hosting a ball in their honor. And the fourth…well, she’d seen her sister Juliet sneak off to the garden with Lord Hartwell. He was a man of the highest quality and Juliet would surely receive an offer in the morning. She’d sipped champagne and reveled in their success, so happy for them.

And then her joy had turned dark and that had been when she’d grabbed her second glass. Likely a mistake. She was neither accustomed to alcohol nor jealousy. She took a deep breath and trusted her fingers on the keys where her eyes failed her, striking up a low, soft tune on her pianoforte. She didn’t even wish to marry. That was the odd part. She’d already found the love of her life and even now, her fingers stroked her first and only mate, effortlessly invoking beautiful music from the instrument. She wasn’t foolish enough to think she might be able to perform as a professional musician. That was a career only awarded to men. But she could write music.

As C. Moorish, she’d already begun to send pieces to other players for purchase. Normally, a father might not support such a career for his daughter but with four of her sisters about to marry, Cordelia was certain hers would agree to allow her to become a spinster. Well…perhaps certain was a bit confident. But she did have reason to think he might consider the idea. Thomas Moorish didn’t wish to travel to London to see her matched, the only place she was likely to find a suitable candidate, and besides, he was a lover of the arts. Some part of him would rejoice at her chosen path. Hopefully. Which was why she couldn’t explain her sudden fit of longing. She didn’t want a man of her own, he’d only hold her back.

And yet…the party tonight had sparked some sort of secret wish. When she thought about a stolen kiss, or a hand at her back, her breath caught. For the first time, she considered what she might be giving up. Each of her sisters had become engaged, one by one. And each now glowed with a happiness that left her feeling…empty. Her fingers flew over the keys as she attempted to drown out the ball just across the hall. Her desires had forced her from the room, and she’d retreated to her bench, a place to remind herself who she was and what she wanted. “Lovely,” a male voice said behind her. The low baritone of his voice skimming down her spine and making her tingle with all sorts of secret longings. Despite the champagne, or perhaps because of it, Cordelia’s vague notions about a man’s touch sharpened.

She didn’t want just any man. In fact, she’d only had these thoughts when one very particular male had arrived at her door a few days ago. Lord Dashlane. She’d recognized his voice now. “Thank you,” she said, not turning to look at him. That would only muddle her thoughts further. He had golden blond hair and flashing greyblue eyes like the ocean after a storm. His square jaw was softened by full lips and a ready smile that likely put many at ease but only served to make her more on edge. No, she didn’t need to look at him now. She’d memorized every detail already, so instead, she lifted her glass of champagne and drained the last of the bubbly beverage, feeling the drink tickle its way down her throat.

“I’ve always loved to play.” His low chuckle made her skin shiver. “I wasn’t talking about your skills at the pianoforte. I was referring to you.” Cordelia sat straighter on the bench, her eyes fluttering closed. Her body pulsed at his low words, the intimate tone of it, and once again, she blamed the champagne. She knew what he was. A rake. He’d likely told a hundred women tonight the very same line. It would be folly to change her path now for such a man, even if she wished to.

Which she didn’t. “Liar,” she mumbled softly, letting the single word settle between them. “I beg your pardon?” he said, and she could hear that he moved closer as he spoke. She slid her hands off the keys, gripping the bench she sat on. “I said that you were a liar, my lord. My playing makes me lovely. But I am…” she drew in a breath, searching her muddled thoughts for the correct word, “plain.”

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