Winter’s Whispers – Scarlett Scott

THERE WAS A female under his bed. Trouble, warned his instincts. A female was what had landed Blade here, in the monkery, at a cursed country house party being held by his half brother Devereaux Winter. Not this particular one, though. He would have recognized the ankles. Blade was a connoisseur of ankles. And knives. Not necessarily in that order. This one’s ankles were fine-boned, nicely turned, covered in pale stockings. He noted those first. He noted her arse second. A plummy handful, that. Too bad it was draped in an unappealing gown of virginal white. Virgins weren’t his sort. Innocence wasn’t his sort.

Blade preferred debauched. Sinful widows, wicked wives. A woman who wasn’t afraid to suck a cock. Which was why the miss rooting about beneath his bed needed to go. At once. He cleared his throat, hoping the strange bit of petticoats would realize she was no longer alone. But she did not emerge. Instead, she wriggled about, emphasizing the tempting qualities of her ankles and rump. Damn. Too bloody bad he was here to stay out of trouble.

Those ankles presented a strong temptation to create an exception to his rule. There was a muffled sound emerging from the bed now. He closed the door at his back and strode nearer, drawn by a combination of perplexity and attraction. By God, was the woman having a conversation? Under his bed? “Miss Wilhelmina, do come,” the strange creature was saying in a sweet, cajoling voice that would have certainly worked wonders upon Blade. She had the voice of an angel, this one. “I shall give you liver, I promise.” The devil? Blade crouched down by the shapely bottom, curiosity triumphing over patience. “What the hell is under my bed?” “Ahhhh!” Her scream was muffled, but the jolt that went through her body was evident, as was the undeniable sound of her head connecting with the wooden slats on the underside of the bed. She muttered something that sounded suspiciously like an epithet. If he were a gentleman, he would cease ogling her arse, but he wasn’t, so he kept watching as she wiggled, slowly emerging.

He had never been much concerned about a woman’s derriere, but there was something about this one that was mesmerizing. He imagined cupping it in his hands, shaping and molding it. Not now, Blade, you bloody sot. It is not the time to get a cockstand when there is an innocent miss hiding beneath the bed along with a creature she has promised liver. As she sidled her way from under the bed, he could not help also admiring the manner in which her gown and petticoats were bunching up as she went, revealing more and more of her curved, stocking-clad legs. She was deliciously shapely, but that was not something he ought to be noticing either. The duel he had fought with the Earl of Penhurst had been enough for his half brother Dom to banish him from London and their gaming hell, The Devil’s Spawn. Petticoats were dangerous, and he did not need any more problems than those which currently bogged him down. Still, it did not help when the creamy skin of her thighs, just above her stockings, was exposed. Nor did it do a whit of good when she finally emerged, a dark-haired beauty with wide, hazel eyes and the most inviting pair of pink lips he had ever seen.

To say nothing of her bosom, spilling over the top of her modest gown. Apparently, her foray beneath his bed had also rendered her bodice askew. Her cheeks were prettily flushed. Everything about the woman who had slithered from beneath his bed was delectable. This was going to be a problem. He could bloody well sense it. “Sir!” She rubbed her head. “It was terribly rude of you, speaking without announcing your presence. I may have done myself great injury.” Incredible.

The baggage was taking him to task. She was a lady, that much he could spy instantly. Her gown was fine, though not as bang up to the mark as Lady Penhurst’s fashion. Her voice was cool, clipped. Aristocratic. He passed his hand along his jaw, allowing his gaze to roam over her freely. “Reckon the rude one is the one who stuffed herself under my bed.” Her flush deepened, creeping down her throat. “I am attempting to rescue Miss Wilhelmina.” “Miss Wilhelmina,” he repeated.

Mayhap her wits were addled. He had yet to see a sign of anything under the bed save her. “My kitten.” She struggled with her gown, belatedly covering her limbs. A feline. He was appalled. Cats were detestable animals. The offer of liver finally made sense. “Christ.” His lip curled.

“Get it out of here.” She frowned at him. “That is what I was trying to do when you interrupted me, sir.” “Blade,” he corrected, sketching a mocking bow. “No sir. No mister.” Her frown deepened, that hazel gaze of hers—not quite green, nor brown, yet almost gray— searched his. “I beg your pardon?” “The name’s Blade Winter. Half brother to the host. Reluctant guest.

Ardent hater of cats,” he listed off each fact idly, watching, fascinated by her in spite of himself. “Definitely not the sort of cove you ought to find yourself alone with, in a bedchamber.” Her brows rose. The becoming pink flush had reached the tops of her breasts now. “Oh dear.” Bloody hell. Mayhap a fortnight trapped in the wintry wilds of England was not going to be nearly as boring as he had supposed. What a sophisticated, genteel miss thing to say, oh dear. As if they were in the drawing room and she had struck a discordant note on the pianoforte or whatever the hell it was that fancy nibs and ladies did together. Blade wouldn’t know.

All he did with fancy ladies who dressed in silk and smelled of sweet perfume was bed them. “Fetch the liver,” he told her, irritated that she remained, tempting, wide-eyed, and within reach. Nettled that desire was sliding through him, even now, when he could plainly see she was the last sort of lady with whom he would ever dally. “Liver?” She blinked. “Eavesdropping is a talent of mine, especially when there’s a lady stuffed beneath my bed, having a chat with her cat while her arse hangs in the wind,” he said scathingly, just to see if her flush would deepen. She gasped. “How dare you? My bottom was most certainly not hanging in the wind.” He could not contain his grin at her prim refusal to say the word arse, which just made him want to remark upon it more. “No need to worry, sweetheart. It’s a plummy arse you’ve got.

” “Plummy!” Her color heightened. Her lips parted. “Careful. Wouldn’t want to catch flies, eh?” He cocked his head, considering her, his gaze dipping to her bosom once more. And a fine bosom it was, indeed. That the front and upper half of her was every bit as good as the lower back was both a source of appreciation and irritation. Appreciation because he was Blade Winter, and he excelled at two skills: fighting and fucking. Irritation because the latter of those two skills was one in which he could not currently afford to indulge. Stupid bloody duel. He was an expert marksman—came with the trade—and if that twat Penhurst hadn’t moved, his bullet would have grazed his left arm as planned, only enough to put a rip in the coat sleeve rather than enough to make him bleed.

And potentially lose the limb. “Would you go, please?” the interloper in his chamber asked in her perfect, aristocratic English. Surely he had misheard her. “Pardon?” “Miss Wilhelmina will be too fearful to emerge with a stranger here.” He still could not believe she had named a cat Miss bloody Wilhelmina. It was something only a pampered lady would do, one who had never needed to worry where her next meal would come from. One who had never feared the shadows in the night. One who had never suffered a moment in her privileged life. “Too fucking bad for Miss Wilhelmina,” he snapped, in a foul mood at the reminder of his cursed past. “This is my chamber, and she is not welcome here.

Nor are you. I don’t tup virgins, and even if I did, you aren’t my sort, sweetheart.” He was being rude, he knew. He had cursed and referenced all manner of things not fit for a proper lady’s ears. But Blade Winter wasn’t a gentleman. And he was only rusticating in the midst of nothing in Oxfordshire because Dom had strong-armed him into it. As the leader of the bastard Winters, the eldest of them all, and the one who ran The Devil’s Spawn, Dom made such decisions. The rest of them fell in line like good little soldiers. Even if it meant being sent to the monkery where strange, lovely ladies were rummaging about beneath their beds in search of cats with preposterous names. “There is no cause to use such language, sir, or to be so ungenerous,” the lady in question said now, her tone frosty enough to rival the wintry winds buffeting the outside of this massive old cavern of a home.

“I’ve been traveling for two days, and this is the last place I want to be,” he pointed out, punctuating his words with an annoyed sigh. “Enough talking, madam. I will extract the beast myself.” He noted the carpet was thick and new. Fine, too. Of course it was. Nothing but the best for old Dev. Blade tried to temper the bitterness festering inside him whenever he thought of the legitimate heir to the Winter fortune. Devereaux Winter had been born on the right side of the blanket, the eldest and only legitimate son of their father, a merciless merchant who owned half of London by the time he had cocked up his toes. But neither the bastard Winters—Dom, Devil, Blade, Demon, Genevieve, and Gavin—nor the legitimate Winters—Devereaux, Pru, Eugie, Grace, Bea, and Christabella—had been aware of one another until their sainted sire’s death.

“You cannot fetch Miss Wilhelmina,” the vexing woman intruding upon his solace said, cutting through Blade’s thoughts. “Well, you are not fetching her, are you?” he pointed out. “And I want my chamber back. Stands to reason one of us has to get the damned thing, and it may as well be me.” She bit her lower lip, drawing his attention to the ripe succulence of her mouth. She had the sort of lips made for kissing, no denying it. And though she wasn’t his sort—he hadn’t been lying about that—he found himself drawn to her in a most unwanted way. A most dangerous way, too. She is not for you, Blade. Virgins make your cock shrivel.

Most of them did. Pity this one didn’t. Then again, mayhap she was no virgin at all, but a bored wife. The prospect improved his mood. She appeared young, and the pale-ivory gown suggested an innocent, but he had reached an assumption about her too soon. “She will claw you, Mr. Winter,” she warned. “I found her, lost and wandering, and she is quite suspicious of anyone aside from myself. Please, it is best if I fetch her.” “Reluctant to be returned to your loving arms, is she?” He quirked a brow, trying to ignore how radiant she was at this proximity, how her sweet scent of jasmine invaded his senses.

“I am afraid I do not know your name, and if I am to rescue your feline, I ought to have that, at least. Do you not think?” Her nostrils flared, and he was struck by the most ridiculous urge to kiss the tip of her nose. He banished the unworthy thought. As nonsensical as the name of her cat. “Lady Felicity Hughes,” she said, giving him a name at last. Hughes. Blade knew the name. The bastard Winters were in the business of earning as much coin as they could from the quality, and it behooved them to stay informed. Her papa was the Earl of Harding. Pockets to let.

Bad gambling habit, that old cur. Had three daughters, all in desperate need of husbands. The eldest was a diamond of the first water. Lady Felicity. Blade had never crossed paths with her, limited as he was to Cyprian balls and wicked house parties for the depraved. Until now. She was a virgin, damn it. There went all his fun. His lip curled. “I’ll be fetching Miss Wigglesby now, my lady.

” He lowered himself, belly first to the carpet—dreadfully annoying position when his cock was hard—and slid beneath the bed. “MİSS WİLHELMİNA,” FELİCİTY corrected the outrageous bounder whose room she was unintentionally intruding upon. But her words did not seem to reach him, for the tall, lean man was already slipping beneath the bed. She could not wrest her gaze from him, no matter how inappropriate it was for her to be alone with this uncouth man. His breeches were fitted to his long legs perfectly, showing off his muscular thighs and calves. To say nothing of his bottom. That reminded her. He had remarked upon her bottom. Had claimed it had been in the wind. The man was a devil.

An ill-mannered, ill-tempered boor. Also handsome. Desperately, rakishly so. A golden-haired Adonis, with a surly disposition. That was her ill fortune, little Miss Wilhelmina—who was not supposed to be present at this house party to begin with —hiding herself beneath this man’s bed. Felicity shuddered. And that was when she realized her bosom had almost fallen out of her décolletage. She had been putting on a shocking display. That devil! His eyes had been wandering all over her as he said nary a word. She tugged at her bodice, frantically hauling it upward.

That was the problem with having a generous bosom. She was forever attempting to hide it. Truly, she ought to have donned a fichu before she had gone traipsing after Miss Wilhelmina. But she had been too distressed to think of anything else when she had noticed the kitten missing. “There you are,” Mr. Winter growled from beneath the bed. “I’ve got you now.” More shifting—Felicity averted her gaze, which wanted to linger on his distressingly masculine form, then stole one last glance at the way his breeches clung lovingly to his backside—and he had emerged, holding Miss Wilhelmina aloft by the scruff of her neck. Felicity took the poor darling from him at once, cuddling her precious ball of fur to her bosom. When in need of a fichu, the kitten would do.

Soft, gray fur, purring like mad, warm and beloved, nestled against her. “That is no way to hold a kitten, Mr. Winter,” she chastised, aware of his eyes on her. She was overheated. Why was it so dreadfully hot in here? Why could she not stop being fascinated by the fullness of his lips? “That is how the mother cat moves them about,” said those lips. “Now do run along, Lady Francine. I do not like cats or trespassers.” She frowned. How lowering. The mannerless rogue had already forgotten her name.

“Lady Felicity, sir. And how can you dislike cats? Do you not have a soul?” “I expect not.” His response should have been a warning she ought not to linger, now that she had Miss Wilhelmina back where she belonged. But as the eldest of three sisters who had been motherless from the time Esme had been born, Felicity had been doing what she should for far too long. This country house party was her last chance to experience the smallest modicum of freedom before she would have to wed. “Surely there must be good in you somewhere, Mr. Winter,” she allowed. “You just rescued Miss Wilhelmina.” “Selfish,” he clipped. “I want you and the feline gone.

” Despicably rude would have been more apt. His curt words stung. “We shall not burden you a moment more, then.” With as much elegance as she could summon— as it turned out, not much when she was flustered and clutching a cat to her bosom—she rose to her feet. He remained where he was, idly sprawled on the floor without showing a hint of deference to the fact that she was a lady. Just who was this Mr. Winter? A scoundrel and a rogue, it was certain. He rested his forearm on his knee as if he had not a care in the world, tilting his head, his strikingly bluegray eyes perusing her once more. Forcing herself to dip into a curtsy, she tipped up her chin. “Good day, Mr.

Winter. Thank you for finding Miss Wilhelmina.” He raised a brow. “Keep the creature where it belongs, Lady Francesca.” Dreadful man. Was he getting her name wrong intentionally? She would not doubt it. This time, she swept from the chamber without bothering to correct him.

.

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