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The Sins of Viscount Sutherland
By Samantha James
AvonCopyright © 2011 Samantha James
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt was time to let the night play out.
To one who might look on, Claire Ashcroft
was the very essence of aplomb. Of composure.
Indeed, one never would have guessed the churning
need for vengeance that seared her soul.
Knowing her nemesis was near tied her stomach
He stood near the edge of the ballroom, a
figure clad in blacka fitting color for the man.
His jacket was stretched taut over wide, muscled
shoulders; nary a wrinkle was visible. He stood
tall and powerful, like a pillar from ancient
Greece. His height was such that he seemed to
stretch clear to the ceiling. He embodied power.
Her eyes slid over his profile. She couldn't deny
he was arrestingly handsome to the eye. His hair
was black as coal, cropped short. High cheek
bones slanted above a square jaw line. He was
clean-shaven, but his jaw was faintly shadowed.
It spun through her mind that he must doubtless
shave twice each day.
His was a pose most formidable, yet his pose
was indolently careless. His expression was
Claire sucked in a breath. The sight of him made
His gaze roamed the room, an almost lazy
perusal. She sensed boredom. She sensed cynicism.
A distance that was almost icy set him apart. And
then he turned
Their eyes locked, for one long, nerve
So this was Viscount Grayson Sutherland.
The blackguard who had killed her brother.
The man who had changed her life forever.
A strange sensation slid up her spine. His
examination of her had turned no less than fierce.
A hundred feelings went through her in that
instant. It was as if everything else in the world
The sheer physicality of the man was . . . Claire
struggled for the proper word. Formidable.
Almost frightening. She wasn't prepared for it. It
was as if his eyeswere they a pale blue or a
silvery gray?sliced into her. A tremor shook her, a
shiver that was almost violent.
A hand touched her elbow. "Claire?"
It was Penelope. Dear, sweet Penelope who had
paved the way for her reception into Society. Her
dearest friend in all the world, Penelope Grove
her name had changed from Robertson when she
wed Theodore Grove.
The two of them had attended finishing school
together. Penelope was a year older. They were
an odd-looking pair, the two of them. Penelope
was as delicate as fine china, her demeanor tiny,
her features angelic. Claire was half a head
taller than Penelope, her limbs long and spare.
To Claire, her proportions always seemed out of
She and Penelope had become acquainted in
a rather unusual way. Claire had always felt odd
duck out. She was taller than most girls and,
indeed, many boys. Little wonder that she'd start
finishing school feeling the outsider. She was
aware she was the brunt of amusement for
several older girls. She had been a bit awkward, the
subject of many a joke. She pretended it didn't
hurt, but it did. Outside one day in the school
yard, she saw an older girl named Ramona
deliberately push Penelope into a puddle. The front
of Penelope's gown and face was spattered with
mud. Claire saw tears in her eyesand saw red.
She helped Penelope to her feet and turned to
A moment later Ramona was seated on her
bum in the middle of the puddle. She burst into
Oh, what satisfaction there had been!
Ramona teased neither of them from that day
And, well, Claire hadn't been dismissed,
though only because of her parents' intervention.
She and Penelope had become the best of
friends. To be sure, it was Penelope who had
taught her there was more to being a lady than
anything she'd learned in school.
And Claire was no longer graceless. No longer
sensitive to her height. She'd grown into a tall,
striking woman who earned many an admiring
glance. Her carriage was one of pride and grace,
her limbs were long and elegant. But on the verge
of a come-out, her mother's unexpected illness
took the family back to Wildewood, back to the
countryall but Oliver. Claire remained at home
to nurse her mother through her illness, a lung
infection that had been long and difficult. There
was neither the time nor the inclination to return
to the current of Society. It all seemed so shallow
and insipid after those months at her mother's
Then came the stunning blow of Oliver's death.
No, she thought. Not his death
"Are you ready?" Penelope's gaze held hers.
One hand rested on the small rise of her belly.
Covered by lace and pleats and ribbons, her
condition was hardly apparent.
Claire frowned. "Are you all right? The baby"
"Is merely reminding me of his presence. He
moves often now, particularly when I wish to
Penelope was convinced she carried a boy.
"And as for you, Claire"Penelope raised her
brows"I would feel better if you told me. Are
Claire took a deep breath. She nodded.
"I . . . am ready." Did she sound convincing?
It would seem not. Penelope looked at her
closely. "There's still time to change your mind,
Claire's chin came up. It had taken great care
and planning to get to this point. She couldn't
have done it without Penelope. Dear, sweet Penelope,
whose husband Theo was in the Peninsula
fighting that upstart Corsican. It was Penelope's
most ardent hope that Theo would be home in
time for the birth of their baby.
She suspected that if Theo were here, he might
not have approved. But Penelope's help had been
immeasurable. Invaluable. Penelope had helped
her find lodging, a small, comfortable houseoh,
and so many things!
At first Penelope shook her head. "I've seen him
at parties, Claire, and he is not a man you should
associate with. He is more often foxed than not.
He gambles to excess. And where women are
"I'm aware of his reputation," Claire had said
quietly. "Indeed, I am counting on it."
"Why? How can you gain satisfaction?"
"You won't approve, Pen."
"I won't help you unless I know."
At times Penelope could be stubborn.
"Very well, then. Given the viscount's
predilection for the ladies, it's my hope I can use it to
Penelope's apprehension was clear. "How?"
Despite her married state, Penelope could also
be decidedly innocent. Claire remained silent,
while dawning awareness spread over Penelope's
"Claire, no! You cannot"
"Make him fall in love with me?"
Pen's mouth still formed an "O" of astonishment.
Claire sought to explain. "It's all I can think to
do." She was silent for a moment. "Perhaps I am
a fool," she said softly. "But I will never rest easy
until I make him hurt. I must have some measure
of satisfaction. I must at least try."
Claire had reached out and squeezed Penelope's
hand. "I beg of you, help me, my dearest
friend. I've been away from Society for a long
time." Penelope was the daughter of a viscount.
"You can take me places where I could not
otherwise go. Places where he will be present. You can
show me to Society once more."
"Claire, the man is the worst kind of scoundrel."
Penelope's expression was pained. She took a
long breath, torn, it seemed. Yet she knew there
would be no changing Claire's mind. "Very well,
then," she conceded. "You are my friend and I
will help you."
Claire reached out to hug her. "I know I could
count on you, dear. I knew it."
And with Penelope's introduction, the doors
to Society had opened. There was Lady Belfield,
at whose home Claire had attended tea the other
afternoon. And there was Lady Sumpter, whose
fete she had attended only last night. And now
she was here, at Lady Blakely's ballher firstin
the hope that the viscount would be here.
"No." Claire was adamant. "I won't change my
mind, so please do not try to sway me."
"I worry for you," Penelope confided. "I do not
want you hurt again."
"He can hurt me no more than he already
has." Bitterness seeped through her soul, like
slow poison. "He robbed me of my brother. He
robbed me of the last of my family." She took a
long, steadying breath. "It's time, Pen. Time to
make myself known to Grayson Sutherland as
your widowed cousin, Claire Westfield, visiting
from the country."
Her gaze softened as she beheld Penelope's
worry. "Thank you, Pen. No matter what hap-
pens, I thank you."
"I would never abandon my greatest friend in
all the world." Penelope squeezed Claire's fingers.
Claire smiled slightly. This was it, she thought.
The time had come. Was it a fool's errand she
undertook? Panic flared, leaving her breathless for
an instant. What if the viscount discovered her
intention? Her plan to lure him under her spell
to make him fall in love with herthen cruelly
dismiss him as if he were nothing.
As Oliver had been nothing to him, she
No, she thought. No. He couldn't possibly. She
wouldn't fail. It was just as she'd told Penelope.
She wanted this too much. And she and Penelope
had been scrupulously careful, painstakingly
anticipating every detail.
In those days following Oliver's death, nearly
every thought was of Sutherland, and every
thought of him consumed her. If she could take
a pistol and shoot the blackguard the way he'd
shot Oliver, she would. But she was a woman. She
hated the helplessness lent her by her sex.
At night she paced, unable to sleep. Thoughts
twisted every which way in her mind. There had
to be a way to make him pay. There had to be.
And perhaps there was. Claire could not say
precisely when it occurred to her. Perhaps she
was not as powerless as she thought. After all, his
reputation was scandalous. It was said no man
dared cross him. No woman could resist him.
Her own reputation was of no consequence. By
God, perhaps she could use the cur's hedonism
to her advantage.
So it was that her plan was set in motion. Her
intent? To make Viscount Grayson Sutherland
pant after her while holding the cur at bay, only
to ultimately turn him away. Only a year ago she
would have been horrified at herself. Spitefulness
was not her way. Malice was not her way. But if
she could wound him in some waystrip him
of his pride perhapsit would give her at least
some measure of satisfaction. The cost to herself
was of no consequence, none at all.
All she had to do was play her part.
Perhaps Penelope sensed her sudden self
doubt. "You're beautiful, Claire. Every man here
has eyes for you."
It was only one man Claire was concerned with.
Beside her, Penelope sucked in a breath. "He's
here, Claire. Near the dance floor. Next to the
man in gray pinstripes, the Duke of Braddock.
Sutherland wears black"
"I see him." An odd sensation seized hold
of Claire. Her voice was faint. She sounded so
strange as she heard herself speak.
Pen's eyes searched her face. "Are you certain
you want to do this?"
Claire's eyes darkened. "I must," she said
fervently. "I must." Determination swept away all
"You must be careful," warned Penelope.
"Watch yourself. And watch him."
Adamant as she was, in truth Claire was
terrified. But she disguised whatever fears she had.
This was too important. Indeed, it consumed her
Her gaze returned to the man who stood across
the polished parquet floor. Hatred spilled through
her. Lodged in her breast was dark resolve.
This man had robbed Oliver of his life's blood.
Robbed him of all that life's journey should have
Oh, yes, Viscount Grayson Sutherland would
pay, she vowed. He would pay for Oliver Ashcroft's
She would see to it.
It was time to begin in earnest. Time to put her
plan in motion.
By heaven, the game was on.
Two men stood next to each other on the fringes
of the ballroom. One possessed hair as dark
as blackened ink, the other but a shade lighter.
When standing, they were evenly matched in
height and build. The pair had been friends
since attending Eton together. And now here
they were, two of the so-called four Lords of
They were womanizers, all, but the duke was
indeed a particularly coveted prize. Despite his
horrid reputation, matchmaking mamas steered
their daughters toward Clive Fielding, Duke of
Braddock, eager to gain the prize of marrying a
rich, handsome duke. It seemed they would
overlook his reputation.
Which quite suited Viscount Grayson Sutherland.
Many a miss thrilled to a glance from the
viscount, but their matchmaking mamas were
quite horrified. They shooed their daughters far
distant. Gray cared not that his manner was called
beastly. It didn't matter to him in the slightest that
he was not considered a "suitable" match. Once
. . . once he had been a coveted prize indeed
So much had changed since then, for now with
the women he sought outand the women who
sought him outthere existed a mutual under
understanding. Each sought the carnal pleasures of the
flesh, no more, no less.
All sought amusement in the arms of each
And now two male gazes had fastened
appreciable eyes on the woman who stood near the
edge of the dance floor. A beauty he'd never seen
Excerpted from The Sins of Viscount Sutherland by Samantha James Copyright © 2011 by Samantha James. Excerpted by permission of Avon. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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