She may grace his bed, but she will never wear his ring
They whisper her name in the ballroom's shadowsthe marquis's mistress! It will take all of Alice Sweetly's renowned acting skills to play this part: smile until it no longer hurts, until they believe your lie, until you believe. Pretend he means nothing.
If the Marquis of Razeby thinks he can let his mistress go easily, he is so very wrong. Each night she appears before a rapturous Covent Garden audience, taunting him with her beauty. But Razeby must marry, and while Alice could grace his bed she can never grace his arm.
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London, EnglandApril 1811
'Razeby, you surprise me! I wasn't expecting you until later.' Much, much later. Miss Alice Sweetly's fingers were flustered as she shoved the sheet of paper she had been writing upon into the drawer and rammed it shut, but her sudden anxiety had nothing to do with not being ready for her protector. Within seconds she was on her feet and hurrying towards the Marquis of Razeby to distract his interest from the desk. 'You've caught me unawares.'
'Forgive me, Alice. I did not mean to startle you when you were so absorbed.' Razeby said in his rich, aristocratic voice.
'Hardly absorbed. I was just writing a letter to a friend.' In her nervousness her natural soft Irish lilt grew stronger than ever and she felt her face burn with traitorous colour at the lie.
'Lucky friend.' Razeby smiled with his usual good nature.
She tensed in case he meant to quiz her on the fictitious letter and friend. But, true to form, Razeby trusted her and did no such thing. He did not even glance over at the little bureau.
'Finish your letter. I will fetch myself a brandy while I wait.'
'I'll do no such thing.' Embarrassment rippled through her, making her face grow hotter just at the thought of sitting back down at the desk with him watching. With a glance down at her shabby moth-nibbled woollen shawl and the morning dress beneath it, with its old-fashioned style, the pretty muslin faded and worn, she changed the subject. 'Look at the state of me! I'm only wearing this old thing to keep my fine clothes good.' It was a habit she found hard to break, having grown up with nothing. 'And I've a lovely silk ready to wear tonight. I best get up the stairs and change into something decent.' She made to pass him.
But Razeby swept an arm around her waist, stilling her panic and pulling her against him. 'Relax, Alice. You look beautiful just as you are. As ever.' His eyes, deep brown and true, met hers as he stroked an escaped strand of hair away from her cheek. 'And have I not told you, it is not the clothes that are important, but the woman beneath?'
'Flatterer,' she accused, but she smiled and his tall, masculine body in such proximity sent waves of attraction and excitement crashing through her.
'It is the truth as well you know it.' Razeby could charm the birds down from the trees. He was still smiling as he pulled her closer. 'But if you have a wish for a new wardrobe, then you shall have one.'
'I've no wish for a new wardrobe. I've enough dresses up those stairs to clothe half the women in London!'
'I like buying you thingsit makes you happy.' He gathered her right hand in his left. 'And I want you to be happy, Alice.'
Alice tried to curl her fingers to hide the black ink-stains that marred her fingers, but Razeby did not let her. He slid his thumb to rub against the marks on her skin.
'Mmm ' His eyes lingered over the inkstains before moving teasingly to hers. 'I do believe a new pen is a requirement.'
'No.' She laughed, but her face flamed anew at the mention of writing and of the precious silver pen that was so dear to her. 'I don't want another pen. I like the one I've got just fine.'
'I am very glad of that,' Razeby murmured huskily and pressed her inkstained fingers to the warmth of his lips.
'You know I'm happy. Very happy ' She paused before adding softly, 'And not because of the things you buy for me.' It was the truth.
He smiled a strange, almost poignant, smile, stroked his fingers against her cheek and stared into her eyes.
And it did not matter that she had been his mistress for six months, sleeping with him nearly every one of those nights. When he looked at her with that look in his eyes she felt that same flare of desire that had sparked between them the very first moment they met in the Green Room of the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden. Indeed, familiarity had not diminished the passion, or all that had grown alongside, between them, only sharpened and heated it. Her stomach turned cartwheels, her skin tingled all over and her thighs seemed to burn. He glanced away, over towards the window, a pensive, sombre expression upon his face. 'Alice '
But whatever he meant to say was lost as she gently took hold of his face, turned it to hers and kissed away the worry that she saw there.
Razeby retaliated in kind, his mouth passionate and warm and irresistible as the night he had first kissed her in the moonlight outside the theatre stage door.
Breaking the kiss, she watched him as she smiled, a mischievous smile this time, and let her hand stroke lightly over the hard bulge in his breeches. He swallowed and she felt the shiver that rippled through his body, felt the way it strained to meet her and heard the slight catch of the breath in his throat.
He caught her hand in his own and moved it away from temptation, his eyes darkening to that familiar smoulder that made the fire of desire twist and curl and dance all the more, low in her belly. 'Alice, you are a wicked woman,' he breathed in a velvet voice that tickled against her ear and sent a shiver tingling across her skin.
'Very wicked, indeed, Razeby.' Her top teeth caught at her bottom lip. ' So wicked that you might need to put me across your knee and spank me.'
'I would be remiss in my duty to you if I did not do so.' She could hear the low stroke of desire beneath his words.
'And the one thing about you, Razeby, is that you're never remiss in your duty.' Again she thought she saw the shift of a shadow in his eyes so she teased her skirts higher to flash him a glimpse of a stockinged ankle, wanting to make him forget whatever was troubling him. And it worked.
'Be careful, Miss Alice Sweetly,' he cautioned.
'I prefer to be reckless, James Brundell, Marquis of Razeby. But isn't that the truth of why you like me?' She arched an eyebrow and playfully unfastened the buttons at the top of her bodice, allowing the dress to gape and reveal the bulge of her breasts over the transparent linen of her shift.
Razeby's eyes darkened. His focus narrowed and sharpened upon her. He swallowed, then wetted his lips. 'Alice, you are a temptation I cannot resist.'
'I hope so.' She laughed, and one by one she plucked the pins from her hair, until the neatly coiled length of fair hair loosened and tumbled long and wanton over her shoulders.
Razeby discarded the neatly fitted dark tailcoat on the sofa behind him. His fingers moved to the buttons of his pale waistcoat, unfastening it and shrugging it off. Around his neck his white cravat was still neatly tied in a fashionable knot. She reached and tugged an end of it, pulling it free and draping it over the back of the sofa. Through the fine white lawn of his shirt she could see a hint of his flesh and the dark peppering of hair that covered it. Her eyes swept lower to the tight buckskin of his breeches that did little to disguise the extent of his arousal or the long muscular thighs beneath. And lower still to the glossy black riding boots that were coated with dust from his having ridden from his own town house in Leicester Square to the one he kept for her here in Hart Street.
She knew the body beneath those clothes, intimately, every inch of honey-coloured skin, every hard taut muscle. She knew the sweep of his tight buttocks and the breadth of his chest, the feel of his skin beneath her fingertips and the way his heart beat fast and hard after he had loved her. She knew the scent of him, the feel of him, the taste of him and the way he made her heart blossom with such warm tenderness. It just made her want him all the more.
She turned round and, sticking out her bottom, wiggled it to taunt him.
'You are playing dangerously, Alice.'
'Are you close to yielding?' she asked over her shoulder.
He stepped towards her.
She skirted around the other side of the sofa so that they faced one another as opponents across that barricade.
'When I catch you, Alice.'
'f you catch me ' She smiled and arched an eyebrow. 'What are you going to do to me?' she asked, as excited by the game she had instigated as he was.
'I am going to pull up your skirts.'
'Yes.' she breathed.
'And bend you over my knee.'
'And then.?' She felt breathless at the thought.
He stepped closer to the sofa, lowering his voice to little more than a husky whisper as he did so. 'You know there is only one way this can end, Alice.'
'Really? How might that be, my lord?'
He lunged over the sofa for her.
Alice dodged clear, making a run for the door of the drawing room. 'You'll have to be faster than that, Razeby!'
She made it to the first landing of the staircase before he caught her, his arm fastening around her waist and pulling her to him.
She gave a yelp and a giggle.
'Minx,' he whispered in her ear as he kissed the side of her neck, where the blood pulsed strong and wild.
He scooped her up as if she weighed nothing at all. Her breathing was loud and ragged while Razeby's was barely changed at all. For all her squeals he threw her over his shoulder like some marauder from olden times abducting his woman and strode up the rest of the stairs.
'Razeby!' she protested and gave a wriggle, but all she got in return was a slap on the bottom before he kicked open the door to their bedchamber and threw her down upon the bed.
'Now, woman of mine,' he said. 'We have a score to settlea matter of some spanking, I believe.'
'Oh, you think so?' She laughed and, rolling on to her stomach, began to quickly crawl across the bed to evade him.
'I will not let you escape me,' he said in a strict voice as his fingers fastened around her ankle and hauled her back across the bed towards him, catching her skirts on the bedcovers and hitching them up her legs in the process. She was still lying on her stomach, her stockings revealed. He pushed her skirts higher to expose her naked thighs and bottom in full.
'Now there is a sight to behold,' he murmured and she caught her breath as his fingers traced down the curve of her hip.
The mattress dipped as he sat down upon it and she gasped as she felt herself hauled to lie across his thighs, her skirts twisted high around her hips, her buttocks bared for whatever he chose to inflict upon them.
'Mercy, my lord Razeby, I beg of you,' she pleaded, but she was smiling and the words were breathless with anticipation.
'I swear, my love, that when it comes to you I have no mercy or resistance.' His hand stroked against the fullness of her buttocks, then he spanked her bare bottom, several small light slaps that were little more than cupped caresses.
She laughed again, as did he, as he turned her in his arms, cradling her to him and kissing her mouth. She wound her arms around his neck, kissing him with all the passion that was burning within her. He rolled her flat on to the mattress and she pulled him down on top of her, stroking his face, threading her fingers through his hair.
'Alice,' he whispered, and caressed her cheek. His eyes were a dark liquid brown, so filled with both tenderness and desire as they stared into hers.
'Razeby,' she said softly.
Their eyes held as he plucked a single deep intimate kiss from her lips.
He rose, long enough to divest himself of his shirt over his head and unfasten his breeches and drawers. Her fingers were still working upon the buttons of her bodice when he returned.
'Allow me to assist,' he offered, and then in a move that would have done justice to any Viking warrior in the midst of some rape and pillage Razeby took hold of the neckline and tore the length of the bodice open.
'Such impatience, my lord,' she chided.
'It is the state you push me to, wench.'
'You'll be tying me to the bed next.'
He glanced up at the lengths of black silken cord that dangled from the headboard of the bed. 'Let us save that game for later.'
'If you insist, Lord Razeby.'
'I do, Miss Sweetly.'
She smiled at that and felt the place between her thighs grow hotter at the thought.
He gave a growl as he pushed the flimsy torn linen and sprig muslin aside, exposing her nakedness to the hunger of his gaze.
'Do you know what you do to me?' She could hear the strain in his voice, see it in his face. He touched her lightly, trailing his fingers across her breasts, making their tips harden and grow unbearably sensitive.
'I could hazard a guess,' she murmured as he lowered his face, all the while keeping his gaze locked with hers, and flicked his tongue to taste her.
The gasp escaped her, loud and needful, and in response his torture grew only more exquisite.
She groaned her need of him, arching her back to thrust her breasts all the more into his mouth so that he suckled her in earnest. Her fingers threaded through the dark feathers of his hair, clutching him to her, wanting him never to stop, wanting this, and more, so much more. He laved her, worked each rosy nipple in full until it was bullet hard and so sensitive that she was in danger of finding the fullness of her pleasure before he had even touched between her legs. She tried to hold back, tried to resist, but, seeing how close she was teetering to the edge, he smiled.
'No mercy, Alice,' he said in his low, sexy velvet voice and then did something so clever with his tongue that rendered all resistance futile. She let go and exploded in a bliss that was blinding and overwhelming, making her body ripple and shimmer as the pleasure, absolute and all consuming, filled her from head to toe and she was gasping aloud with the wonder of it.
She was still pulsing inside as his face came up to hers. 'Razeby,' she whispered.
'Naughty girl,' he said and he was smiling.
She let her hands glide over the pale honey-coloured contours of his shoulders, over the muscles at the top of his arms. He was strong and lean from all the fencing and horse riding and pugilism, his body so different from hers, so much bigger, so masculine.
'It's all your fault,' she said.
'Guilty as charged,' he admitted, and his eyes smouldered all the darker. He kissed all the way up the column of her neck, kissed the line of her jaw, kissed her chin.
Already she could feel the desire stoke again within her. Her woman's place between her legs ached for him.
She scraped her teeth against the naked skin of his shoulder, licked him there, sucked him there while one hand slipped lower to caress the long hard length of him.
She felt the involuntary contraction of his muscles, heard the sharp intake of his breath as she stroked him.
She smiled and bit his shoulder.
Razeby took her mouth with masterful possession, plunging his tongue into its depths as she wrapped her legs around him and welcomed him home.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
*A wonderful addition to this series