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The sex was killing him! Channing Deveril shifted carefully, so as not to wake the brunette asleep against his shoulder, and sighed. There, that was better. He hadn't slept in his own bed for the last seven nights and he was sorely missing the luxury of a big bed all to himself where his long limbs could spread out at will.
It was a sentiment that would surprise a certain population in London who believed Channing Deveril was the luckiest man alive. While they strutted and postured their way through boring musicales and tedious outings to the park, and dedicated their nights to dancing at Almack's without the benefit of strong drink, all in the effort of competing for the few true prizes on the marriage mart, Channing had women competing for him. Not just any women, but the best sort of women, the sort one could bed and not have to marry-the rich ones looking for exciting bed sport. And if rumour was to be believed, they even paid him for his presence in their beds. It was something else that a certain population's pride would never admit to, but who couldn't do with a little extra blunt and who wouldn't mind earning it that way? In their opinion, Channing Deveril was living the dream; all the sex and money he could manage.
Right now he wasn't managing the dream very well. That certain population would also be surprised to note that his first thought upon waking, other than the sex was wearing him out, was a calculation of the odds: what were his chances of getting out of Lady Bixley's lavender-scented sheets and to the door before she woke up? Marianne Bixley had been a tigress. Nothing had slowed her down-not the ropes, not the blindfold, not even the extra shot of brandy.
This was closely followed by the third thought: he just wanted to go home. The 'luckiest man in London' was tired, his mouth tasted like stale liquor and he wanted a few hours' sleep in his own bed before it began all over again. Channing blew out a breath and tried an experimental move. Marianne Bixley murmured, but didn't move. His arm was free. Now all he had to do was wait a few moments and roll.
How was he going to last the Season if he was this tired already? The Season hadn't even started. These last two weeks had merely been the preamble. The Easter break was coming and then the Season would begin in earnest. Already, the agency, his very popular League of Discreet Gentlemen, was struggling to keep up with demand.
The League of Discreet Gentlemen had become such a success he was having difficulty scheduling his men to fill the requested appointments while still keeping the League discreet, as its name suggested. The latter had been a problem ever since the previous year when Nicholas D'Arcy, one of his top men, had almost been caught tupping a lord's wife in the lord's town house, an episode that had done much for the League's popular notoriety and little for preserving the secrecy Channing preferred.
Providing a woman's pleasure was not a topic for public purvey in his opinion and he rather liked the idea that most of London's ton hadn't originally been sure if the existence of the League was fact or fiction. These days, it was becoming harder to preserve the mystique of the unknown. Everything was becoming harder.
But that wasn't why he'd stepped in to take on a few additional assignments. Usually, most of his days were spent administering the programme and that was work enough. He could rationalise the decision to step back into the role of full-time escort as the business's booming need, but he knew his motives were more selfish than that. Lady Marianne Bixley was supposed to be the cure for what ailed him. So far, he didn't think it was working.
Beside him, Lady Marianne gave a soft moan. It was working for her, however. He'd done his job well last night. He'd be doing it again, too, if he didn't extricate himself from her sheets quickly. Just the thought that he wanted to get out of a beautiful woman's warm bed was testament to the cure's failure. Not even the persuasion of a morning erection and the warm comfort of Lady Bixley's lush curves could compel him to stay.
Channing lifted the sheets and rolled out of bed. He held his breath as Lady Marianne stirred briefly, then settled. He began to dress, quickly, quietly. Since when had sex not cured everything for him? From boredom to loneliness to physical satisfaction, sex had been his go-to antidote since he'd turned sixteen, his constant companion. Now, it was letting him down most thoroughly. The past year and a half had been peppered with disappointment in that regard.
Channing reached for his boots. He was almost free! He would put them on in the hall to avoid making additional noise. It wasn't that he couldn't perform. Lady Marianne was proof enough that he could please even the most demanding of sensual appetites. He gathered up the remaining package of French letters on the nightstand and stuffed them into his coat pocket. Leaving them behind might give her the idea he was hoping for a repeat engagement. He made for the door with stealthy footsteps.
He was almost out when her voice, sultry with sleep, caught him, his hand on the knob. 'Leaving so soon? Come back to bed.'
Channing turned, pasting a regretful smile on his face. 'I wish I could. Unfortunately, I have an appointment I need to prepare for.' It was true. Amery DeHart, one of his up-and-coming new escorts, had requested a meeting, but that wasn't until later this morning. He could see from the pouting frown on Lady Marianne's lips she thought it was another woman.
'I'm sure I'm more exciting,' she purred, letting the sheet drop a bit to reveal the swell of full breasts. Her eyes lowered to his trousers where his morning glory still flowered heavily against the fabric. 'Your cock certainly thinks so.'
'I'm sure you are, but business is business.' Channing made her a small bow and took the chance to exit while she unravelled his comment. She was a smart woman, she would understand the reference and, when she did, she would be none too pleased to be categorised as an appointment. Appointments with the likes of Amery DeHart were business, but appointments with the likes of Lady Marianne were business, too, even if they were conducted at night. The sun had come up and it was time to move on with his day.
Channing was finding it hard to move on three hours later even after a bath and a change of clothes. He'd had to forgo the nap and it had left him struggling to focus. Channing pushed a hand through his hair, trying hard to concentrate on whatever it was Amery DeHart was saying. His thoughts kept returning to the question that had taunted him this morning: when had sex failed to meet his needs? Maybe his dissatisfaction with the act was a sign he should retire, close up shop altogether or hand the business over to someone else who had an appetite for it the way he had when he'd started the whole affair. Either way, perhaps it was time for him to get out.
'I think it's time for me to get out.'
Channing didn't hear the rest. Amery's words roughly jerked Channing's attention front and centre. For a moment he worried he'd spoken his own thoughts out loud. 'I beg your pardon?'
Amery gave him a disapproving stare that suggested he knew Channing hadn't been listening. 'I said I think it's time for me to get out to the country and see the family,' he repeated patiently.
'You're not thinking of quitting, are you?' The last time Channing had sent an escort to the country, it had been Nick D'Arcy and the dratted man had got himself married. Channing wasn't sure what he'd do without Amery. He'd come to rely on the younger man quite regularly in the past year with the departure of his three veteran rakes. Amery had been good with training the new gentlemen Channing had hired as replacements and the ladies liked him.
'Not permanently,' Amery clarified. 'I've had a letter from home. I'll be gone three weeks to a month. My sister is getting married and there's some other family business to see to.' Channing knew Amery liked his job, but he loved his family. If Amery was going home for a wedding, he'd be bringing his sister the finest wedding dress to be had in London. Channing handled all the finances and was aware just how much money Amery sent home to his mother.
Amery sighed apologetically and there was no doubting the sentiment was genuine. 'I don't like the idea of handing off an assignment halfway through, but my client and I were slated to attend a house party out of town for the Easter break.'
Channing flicked his gaze to the calendar on his desk. The Easter break, the last dash to the country before the Season began in earnest, was just three days away.
'There's no way I can make it,' Amery was saying. 'It would hardly be fair to desert her halfway through.' Amery winked. 'In all honesty, I think she'd do better with you anyway. She's rather mature.'
'I'm only thirty, Amery, hardly in my dotage.' Channing tried not to feel offended by the comment.
Just because he was contemplating retirement and had spent the morning fleeing a lusty woman's bed did not mean he was old, only that he might be in the market for a new adventure.
'It's not age, it's the maturity of her thinking, her mannerisms. It's hard to explain.' Amery groped for words. Interesting. Amery was never at a loss for what to say. Then he came out with it. 'Oh, hell, Channing, she's beyond me,' Amery admitted baldly. 'She's too sophisticated. She's got the Continent written all over her.'
'Who were you assigned?' Channing did a mental sort through the recent placements, but came up blank. Amery was slated to take the Misses Bakers to the opera on Wednesday since their brother couldn't come up to town just now; he was escorting a diplomat's wife to a fête at the Belgian embassy on Thursday. Multiple assignments at once were one way of keeping everyone guessing about the fact or fiction of the League, but none of the women on Amery's roster fit his description.
'You wouldn't know her. She's one of the clients I took on while you were gone for your nephew's birth. Her name is Elizabeth Morgan.'
Ah, that explained it. He'd left Amery in charge while he'd gone home for a few weeks in February to see the new family addition.
'I don't think any of the new fellows will do,' Amery went on, making his case. 'Perhaps Nick or Jocelyn could have done it if they were around, but..' Amery gave a shrug as his words dropped off to imply the impossibility. Nick and Jocelyn were happily married.
'Amery, do you ever feel as if you're the only bachelor left in London?' Channing gave a chuckle, but it wasn't funny, not really. Dear lord, weddings were thick on the ground these past twelve months. Nick and Jocelyn had married, as had Grahame, all three of them his veteran escorts. Both of his sisters had married last August in a double ceremony at his family's estate.
And, of course, his older brother, Finn, had married their childhood friend, Catherine Emerson, even before that and had wasted no time in begetting an heir, a squalling, red little thing with a shock of black hair who had melted his rather cynical heart on sight and had done much in resolving some of the lingering tension between he and Finn after his last visit home.
Amery merely smiled. 'I'm a bachelor and proud of it. Marriage is fine for some, but men like you and I need the spice, the thrill of a single life.'
Channing knew the thrill Amery spoke of: the thrill of sex as a tool for pleasure or power. The games one could play were limitless. He'd learned years ago those games served him far better than anything more emotional, more meaningful. Sex in that particular arena left one too vulnerable. Although that specific game had been heady, he'd not cared for the aftermath of that experience or the woman who had served it to him. Since then, he'd limited himself to the business of pleasure and women like Marianne Bixley.
Amery leaned forward. 'Will you do it, Channing? I would be for ever grateful.'
There was nothing for it. There was no one else to send and he did owe Amery for filling in for him in February. It was only fair. Channing nodded. 'I'll do it. Now, go on and pack.'
Channing leaned back in his chair, pushing his hand through his hair again, this time in restlessness. He hadn't intended to be out of town. He'd hoped to use the Easter lull as a chance to catch up on paperwork, go over the League's accounts and maybe work with some of the new escorts before the Season. But perhaps a house party was what he needed to shake himself out of these megrims. He did admit, even in his current state of exhaustion, a twinge of curiosity over meeting a woman who'd managed to rout Amery DeHart.
He hoped the party had a decent hostess. He should have asked Amery where it was being held. The right activities were the key to any house party's success. If not, given his current state of mind, this was going to be the house party from hell, no matter how 'Continental' Elizabeth Morgan was.