THE FIRES OF VENGEANCE
With her cascading raven curls and sleek, sinewy curves, Jocelyn Asbury is a woman any man would want. And Rayne Garrick, 4th Viscount Stoneleigh, wants Jocelyn...in his arms, and in his bed. He found her among a ragtag band of scamps and cutthroats—and saved her from a fate worse than death. But even as she yielded to him with a blazing hunger that matched his, she would soon betray him…in a night of shocking violence that would plunge them both into a world of treachery, danger, and all-consuming passion.
THE FLAMES OF DESIRE
From the teeming slums of London to its scandalous salons and dazzling ballrooms, from a vast estate on Hampstead Heath to the stone walls of Newgate Prison and a magnificent plantation on the shores of Jamaica, two lovers are about to embark on an unforgettable journey—one that is as dangerous as it is irresistible… in Sweet Vengeance.
"Magnificent reading and filled with hot and wonderful passion. Martin is superb!" —Romance Reviews
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By Kat Martin
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1993 Kat Martin
All rights reserved.
London, England March 1807
What a bloody fool.
Rayne Garrick, Fourth Viscount Stoneleigh, propped his broad shoulders against the tufted red velvet seat of his gleaming black barouche while one big hand clenched unconsciously into a fist. He'd known better than to get involved with the lady again, had done it out of nothing short of boredom.
Now he wondered if he'd be spending the night in the voluptuous woman's bed or facing her wrath — and her husband's pistols in the morning.
Rayne cursed roundly. What demon had driven him to accept the woman's passionate overtures yet again? He was well aware he was asking for trouble. From the day she had burst upon the London scene in a swirl of expensive silk skirts, Genevieve Morton, Lady Campden, had been nothing but trouble. Still, who would have guessed that trying to end their brief affair would result in the lady threatening to expose him to her husband?
And the old fool was just crazy enough to call him out.
Bloody hell. Cursing his own stupidity — and the ache in his breeches that had caused all this trouble in the first place — Rayne glanced out the window of the carriage. It was dark outside, no moon, no stars, and the streets were relatively empty. Just a few elegantly garbed ladies and gentlemen of the ton adjourning their fashionable West End town houses for an evening of entertainment somewhere in the City.
Rayne heard the shrill whistle of his coachman calling to the pair of perfectly matched bays that pulled the carriage. The man tugged on the ribbons, and the conveyance turned off Haymarket onto King Street, heading for Lord Dorring's town house on a small lane near St. James's Square.
Every Tuesday night for the past several years, Dorring had hosted the members of his box club, the Pugilist's Hand. The small group of men who sparred together at Jackson's Parlor gathered at Dorring's to drink, play cards, and gamble. Later in the evening, they paid visits to their mistresses, kept assignations, or sought the pleasures of a favorite brothel.
Having ended his relationship with his current mistress some weeks ago, then broken off his renewed affair with Lady Campden, Rayne had envisioned an evening of cards, then a pleasant diversion at Madame Du Mont's, the most elegant brothel in the City. Instead, if he submitted to Genevieve's blackmail, he would be forced to see the lady in question at least one more time.
Rayne frowned. Would one more night of seduction be enough to persuade the lusty countess not to endanger the life of her aged yet overzealous husband?
Maybe. If Rayne could bring his volatile temper under control — which he was far too often unable to do.
Rayne grumbled into the darkness inside the carriage. If it wasn't one thing, it seemed it was another. What he needed was a change of pace, something different, outside the rigid strictures of society — not that he paid them much heed. Something to add the spark that had been missing from his life ever since he'd left the army and returned to London.
It was obvious, now more than ever, what he didn't need was another damnable woman!
* * *
"Do ye see 'im, Jolie gel?"
"He'll be here. You can bet y' last quid on that. Night watch just called the hour. The bloody bastard will be here in less than fifteen minutes — just like he always is."
Brownie chuckled, a harsh rasping sound that came from deep in his chest. "Right ye are, gel. 'Is bleedin' lordship's as regular as a wise whore's monthly flux."
Jo felt the heat rush into her cheeks. She should be used to Brownie's ribald humor; she'd been hearing it every day for the past two miserable years. Truth was, she had picked up more than her own fair share of buckish slang, and she used it well and often, a means of passing unnoticed among the ragtag unfortunates she'd been forced to live with on the filthy London streets.
Funny thing was, if it hadn't been so sad, Jocelyn Asbury, once a model of genteel decorum, now a thief and pick-lock, a rum dubber among the lowest dregs of the City, might rather have relished being able to blister the ears of the vilest cant beggar, to stand up to the lowest doxy on St. Katherine's wharf.
"'Ere he comes!" That from Tucker, a thin blond boy of thirteen she and Brownie had adopted into their ragged little band. "Carriage is roundin' the corner. Ye can see it passin there 'neath the street lamp. 'E'll be turning down the lane any minute."
"Get down!" Jo whispered.
According to their carefully laid plan, they ducked behind the hedgerow that ran from the side of the narrow town house all the way to the street. It was just a few short feet away from where the viscount's carriage would roll to a stop. Just a pistol shot away from where the tall thick-chested man would be stepping to the ground on his way into the house, the man responsible for her terrible years of poverty and grief.
Jocelyn pulled the heavy weapon from the waistband of her breeches. She wore a ragged pair of faded brown twill pants that hugged her slender curves, a full-sleeved homespun shirt, and a tattered, cast-off, once-elegant brocade waistcoat spun with tarnished gold thread. She had stuffed the short black curls around her face beneath a woolen stocking cap pulled low across her forehead.
God in heaven, grant me the courage I need.
"Get ready." Her grip tightened fiercely on the pistol, and Jo held her breath. Any moment, the viscount's carriage would roll to a stop and he would descend the stairs. A few moments more, and Jocelyn Asbury would step from behind the hedge to fulfill her vow of revenge.
* * *
"We're here, your lordship." The footman pulled open the carriage door and stood aside so that Rayne could climb down.
He grabbed his narrow-brimmed beaver hat from the seat beside him, his mind still weighing the course he would take later this evening, stepped down from the carriage, and the footman closed the door.
Rayne had taken only two long strides when he felt cold steel shoved against his ribs, heard the unmistakable cocking of a hammer.
"That's far enough, gov'nor." An older man with a slight paunch, long graying hair, and a thick mustache, held the weapon that protruded from the hedge.
A younger man, slender, shorter than Rayne by nearly a foot, also stepped forward. "I'd suggest, y' lordship, neither you nor y' servants make any too-sudden moves."
Rayne flashed a brief look toward his coachman, then motioned for his footmen to stand away. He noticed a thin blond boy behind and a little to his left, wearing an expression of disdain.
"If it's my purse you're after, take it and be gone." Rayne reached carefully into the pocket of his white pique waistcoat, withdrew a small leather pouch laden with coins, and tossed it to the graying man.
"Give o'er the rest." The man stuffed the bag into the waistband of his breeches and nudged Rayne painfully in the ribs with the pistol. "Rich swell the likes o' ye is bound to have a bleedin' fistful o' the king's pictures."
Cursing, Rayne started to reach inside his waistcoat pocket.
"This ain't about your quid," the second man said with a sharp warning glance at his partner.
Rayne's dark brow arched up. "Is that so?"
The youth had the bluest eyes, he noticed, taking in the boy's long black lashes and lush, almost sensuous lips. "If it isn't money you're after, then what is it?"
The lad's skin looked clear, his features so refined they seemed almost feminine. In fact ... Rayne studied the young man closely, saw the subtle curves outlined by the worn brown breeches, the small but obvious peaks of a pair of feminine breasts. He reached for the low-slung stocking cap pulled nearly to the arch of a pair of black-winged brows and jerked the tattered woolen from her head.
"Keep your bleedin' 'ands off me!" Glossy jet-black hair tumbled forward into the woman's pretty face, which hardened into lines of rage. "Make another move like that, your bloody lordship, and I swear by God's breath I'll pull the trigger."
Rayne perused her slender figure, assessing her weight and slightly above average height. She couldn't have reached her twentieth year.
"You're the ones who tried to hold up my coach last week in the alley outside Boodles." He hadn't gotten a clear look at them then, but there was something familiar about the size and build of the woman who stood in front of him, and this time he was prepared.
"Too right, gov'nor," the graying man said. He chuckled, the sound a little harsh. "Black'earted cove the likes o' ye oughtn't to be such a man o' 'abit." Though he carried a bit of a belly, his shoulders were thick and solid and there was a hardness to his features that left no doubt the man could be a formidable foe. "Times a'wastin'. Go ahead, Jolie gel, say yer piece and get on with it."
"Yeah, Jo, shoot 'im," urged the skinny blond boy.
Rayne fixed his attention on the girl. The lines of her face were strained, her lips pressed firmly together. One look at the hatred in those ice-blue eyes and he knew all too clearly that murder was exactly her intent. Except that Rayne wasn't about to let it happen.
"Now, Finch!" he shouted to his coachman, erupting in a torrent of movement, heaving his muscular body into the graying man and lashing out at the girl. Atop the carriage, the coachman swung up the pistol he carried beneath his seat while Rayne grabbed the one in the graying man's hands. He jerked it free, spun, and knocked the girl's arm upward just as she discharged her weapon, the gunfire shattering the stillness in the air.
"Run!" she ordered her companions. "Get the bloody hell outta here!" For a moment the pair stood frozen, watching her struggle in his grip, eyeing the pistol Finch pointed in their direction.
"First one moves is a dead man," the coachman warned.
"Run!" the girl shouted again, afraid more for her friends, it seemed, than she was for herself. "Y'll wind up in Newgate for sure!"
Her words galvanized the two into action, the boy diving forward toward the hedge, the older man spinning away, his big feet pounding against the earth.
"Halt, I say!" Finch waved the gun unsteadily, aimed, then pulled the trigger, the pistol shot echoing loudly. The big man tripped as he rounded the corner, but both of them kept running till they disappeared into the darkness.
"Let them go." Rayne tightened his hold on the girl's narrow waist, making her gasp for breath, but still she continued to fight him.
Even as he dragged her toward the carriage, she kicked and scratched, pounded his chest and tried to bite him. Cursing, he wrenched one of her arms behind her back, jerked open the carriage door and shoved her in, blocking her exit with his tall frame as he followed her inside.
"Get us the hell out of here," he called up to his driver, and the man whipped the horses away. The girl named Jo studied the inside of the carriage, eyed his hard, determined features, and lunged once more for the door.
"Oh, no you don't." Rayne grabbed a handful of her shiny black hair and hauled her backward, tossing her onto the seat on the opposite side of the carriage. "I'd advise you to sit there and behave," he warned, his voice cold and rough.
She watched him a moment, weighing her chances, the peaks of her breasts beneath the waistcoat rising and falling with each ragged intake of air. "I'm not swingin' from no gallows, y' bleedin' sod!"
He eyed her with a cool regard that belied his raging temper. "Maybe you and your friends should have considered that sooner."
"Bugger off, y' bastard!" Shrieking like a fishmonger's wife, she launched herself at him, her hands balled into fists, her slim feet kicking his shins, all the while calling him a string of vile names Rayne hadn't heard since his days in the army.
"Bloody hell!" Dodging the nails she raked down his cheek, he gripped her wrists, dragged them above her head, then twisted and used his body to pin her beneath him on the seat. "Dammit, hold still! I'm not going to hurt you — not unless you force me to — and I don't intend to see you hang, at least not until I find out why the hell you want me dead."
She swallowed, her body still tense, her breathing even more ragged. "Then where ... where are you taking me?"
He looked at her hard, saw the fear she worked to hide, felt her trembling, noticed that even though her clothes were old and shabby, her face and hands were clean, her breath sweet, and her hair shiny. She smelled of lye soap, but it was tempered with the soft scent of woman.
"What's your name?"
"Y'll know that just before I pull the trigger."
A muscle bunched in his cheek. "Is that so?"
Her look turned mutinous, but she said no more, just stared at him with those cold blue eyes and a look of bitter loathing. As tough as she tried to appear, she didn't fit the image of a typical gutter waif, nor that of a seasoned doxy. Even her speech seemed a little off the nod. At times she spoke with an accent straight from the London docks, but every now and then her words sounded almost refined.
He wondered what her past was, wondered who in the devil she was. And what any of it had to do with him.
She grunted at his heavy weight, and he shifted a little of it off her.
"I asked where y' were takin' me?" She flashed him a look of contempt, but he felt her trembling again. He watched her steel herself, saw the way her eyes had turned a deeper shade of blue, the way her thick black lashes swept down to hide her uncertainty, the way her breasts pushed softly against her dirt-smudged tattered jacket.
The single word echoed across the confines of the carriage, and the moment it fell from his lips, the girl's struggles ceased.
* * *
Stoneleigh. Jocelyn could scarcely believe it. For three long years the huge stone mansion on the edge of Hampstead Heath just north of London had haunted her nightmares and inflamed her temper. Stoneleigh. She had dreamed of going inside, been fascinated by its awesome beauty — and appalled by its vicious, cold-hearted master.
Stoneleigh. She looked at the man who carried that same name, and it occurred to her that the house and the man both exuded that same disturbing mix of beauty, strength, and cruelty. Though she had followed the viscount's movements off and on for the past two years, other than his habits, she still knew little about him.
She had seen he was handsome, but up close he was more than that. There was a power about him, a raw, sensual masculinity that made other men seem frail in comparison. There was a danger about him, too. A lethal quality that emanated from every muscle and sinew in his big hard body.
She wouldn't have guessed it from the ease with which he moved in his impeccably tailored velvet-trimmed coat and snug buff breeches, the casual way he wore his elegant white cravat. She hadn't guessed it, and now it was too late.
She twisted beneath him, then shuddered at the ease with which he held her.
"I'm twice your size; you might as well quit struggling."
She could feel his strength in the bands of muscle across his chest as he pressed her down on the tufted red velvet. The large, powerful hands that gripped her wrists held her immobile, yet oddly, she felt no pain. He hadn't hit her, though she had certainly given him cause. Still, his actions meant nothing. She knew the kind of man he was, the crimes he had committed, and nothing on the face of this earth could keep her from making him pay.
"I'll let go of your wrists," he said, "if you'll promise to stop fighting me."
Jo glared up at him coldly. "Go to bleedin' 'ell." She surged against his hold, then winced when he easily forced her back down.
"I warned you before, you had better behave."
"Why should I?"
"Because if you don't, I shall unleash the temper I'm trying so hard to control and give you the thrashing you deserve."
"I'd expect a beatin' from a man the likes of you."
One corner of his mouth curved up in a smile that really wasn't. "Then you won't be surprised when I start by blistering your scheming little bottom."
Jocelyn's eyes went wide. He could certainly do it. And she would be powerless to stop him. In the years since she had left home, she had suffered all manner of indignation — fortunately, not that particular one. And the thought of the hated viscount being the man to deliver such a blow to her dignity made the idea all the more repugnant.
Excerpted from Sweet Vengeance by Kat Martin. Copyright © 1993 Kat Martin. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Is there such a word as "stupidest"? If not, there should be to cover the character of Jo.- Other than the obvious, I see no reason why Rayne should want to marry such an idiot - never mind, love her. Poor Rayne!!! and poor dump kids they may have had!
Unbelievaby immaginative in the twists and turns of the plot. Lorraine
As usual, Kat Martin wrote an intense, sexy novel with wonderful characters. Loved this book!!
The third floor of an apartment complex on the edge of the city.
This converstions over