Authors: Alexandra Ivy
“Are you sure you should be leaving your bed?” Portia asked. “The wound has closed over but you still have a lump on your forehead.”
With a swift motion, Frederick had captured her wrist in a light grip. “Is it bad enough to tempt you to kiss it better?”
Portia sternly told herself to move away. His touch was light enough that she could easily break his hold. But it was sending tongues of flames up her arm and over her shivering skin.
“Certainly not,” she breathed, her voice oddly husky.
“Even if I tell you that it still aches like the very devil?”
“Perhaps I should call for the doctor.”
“I would prefer a kiss.”
The flames spread to curl in the secret depths of her stomach. Oh, yes. A kiss. A simple, delicious kiss.
It was what she had desired from the moment she had walked into the room and saw him lying on the bed like some fallen angel. He gave a light tug on her wrist, steadily pulling her closer to his sinfully tempting lips. Then, before she could pull back, his hands had shifted to capture her face, his lips softening as they swept over hers with slow, drugging kisses.
Sweet, blissful heat flowed through her body as she instinctively parted her lips and allowed his tongue to explore ever deeper. Oh . . . God. Nothing in all her six and twenty years had ever felt like this . . .
Books by Alexandra Ivy
Guardians of Eternity
WHEN DARKNESS COMES
EMBRACE THE DARKNESS
BEYOND THE DARKNESS
DEVOURED BY DARKNESS
BOUND BY DARKNESS
FEAR THE DARKNESS
HUNT THE DARKNESS
The Immortal Rogues
MY LORD VAMPIRE
MY LORD ETERNITY
MY LORD IMMORTALITY
BORN IN BLOOD
SOME LIKE IT WICKED
SOME LIKE IT SINFUL
SOME LIKE IT BRAZEN
BEDDING THE BARON
SEDUCING THE VISCOUNT
SEDUCE ME BY CHRISTMAS
And don’t miss these Guardians of Eternity novellas
TAKEN BY DARKNESS in YOURS FOR ETERNITY
DARKNESS ETERNAL in SUPERNATURAL
WHERE DARKNESS LIVES in THE REAL WEREWIVES
OF VAMPIRE COUNTY
And look for this Sentinel novella
OUT OF CONTROL in PREDATORY
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation
Kensington Publishing Corp.
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
The townhouse tucked in Lombard Street was a perfectly respectable brick structure, with a perfectly respectable garden, in a perfectly respectable neighborhood.
It was remarkable only for the fact that it managed to meld so easily into its surroundings as to be nearly invisible.
The owner, Mr. Dunnington, was equally successful in blending into his surroundings.
Even his most intimate acquaintances would admit they knew little of the gentleman. Nothing beyond the fact that he had once been a tutor who had come into a small inheritance and after buying the townhouse had converted it into an exclusive school for boys of superior, if not precisely legitimate, birth.
Bastards, some would call them, but with enough money from their fathers to ensure that they received a proper education and the ability to establish decent careers.
Beyond his obvious skill at teaching, Mr. Dunnington, however, remained an intriguing mystery.
Of course, there was no one who could have suspected just how mysterious he would prove to be. Certainly not the three gentlemen currently seated in the library of the townhouse.
At a glance, the gentlemen held little in common. Well, nothing beyond the fact that all three were the sort to cause a riot among the most fastidious of women.
Raoul Charlebois leaned negligently against the mahogany desk and was perhaps the most captivating of the three.
It was more than his pale, golden beauty or the perfection of his lean body. There was simply something in the grace of his movements and the compelling emotions that played over his classic features with a mesmerizing ease. There was no surprise that he was currently London’s most celebrated actor.
Ian Breckford, in contrast, was a dark, smoldering gentleman who managed to succeed in everything he attempted. He was the best swordsman, he held the fastest record of traveling from Dover to London on horseback, he had made a fortune at the gambling tables, and women throughout London referred to him as Casanova.
He was a genuine hedonist who was admired and envied by every gentleman in London.
Fredrick Smith was neither as fair as Raoul, nor as dark as Ian. His hair was a pale honey with an annoying tendency to curl over his ears and at the nape of his neck. His features were delicately carved and had been the bane of his existence when he had been a lad. What boy wanted to look like a cherubic angel? Thankfully, age had managed to add a layer of unmistakable masculinity to the wide brow, the angular cheekbones, and the thin line of nose. Nothing, however, could alter the eyes that were an odd grey that could shift from silver to the deepest charcoal depending upon his mood.
His body was also thinner, although he spent enough time in his workshops to develop the sort of hard muscles that were nicely displayed by the current fashion of skintight breeches and tailored jackets.
Not that he entirely approved of all the latest styles, he wryly acknowledged. There was nothing pleasant about the black slippers that he had hastily purchased for the funeral. They not only pinched his toes, but he feared the laces were beginning to cut off the bloodstream to his feet. Had he known that this appointment was going to take the better part of the day, he would have worn his comfortable boots.
It had been nearly an hour since the small, annoyingly fussy solicitor had excused himself from the room, but the shocked silence remained as thick as the moment the will had been read.
Seated near the crackling fire that battled the late January chill, Fredrick sipped on the fine brandy that he had possessed the foresight to bring.
He had expected the day to be difficult. Mr. Dunnington had been more than a teacher to him and his two companions. He had been a father, a mentor, and the cornerstone of their lives. Even after they had left this townhouse to seek their fortunes in the world, they had never lost contact with the man who had given them something none of them had ever expected to discover.
A rare and precious commodity for a bastard.
To know that he had gone from this world forever left a gaping wound in Fredrick’s heart that would not soon heal.
There was a loud pop from the fireplace as one of the logs shifted. It was enough to jerk the three gentlemen from their broodings and with a muffled oath Raoul rose to his feet and paced toward the bow window.
“I’ll be damned,” he muttered.
“That seems to sum it up nicely,” Fredrick said dryly.
Ian made a sound deep in his throat. “The old man was always a bit batty and we all thought he must harbor some mystery in his past, but this . . .” He gave a shake of his head, the handsome face for once devoid of its wicked smile. “Bloody hell.”
Raoul leaned against the frame of the window and folded his arms over his chest. His movements were not the smooth, almost profound movements he usually employed. Raoul Charlebois was an actor who considered the whole world his stage. It was only when he was with Fredrick and Ian that he allowed himself to lower his guard.
“It does all seem highly unlikely.”
“Unlikely? It is a great deal more than that.” Ian surged to his feet, a restless energy crackling around his lean body. “It is one thing to possess a hidden lover or even an addiction to the gaming hells. Good God, even an occasional trip to the opium dens would have been less shocking. Who the devil could have suspected he was a brilliant extortionist?”
Fredrick remained seated, his mind methodically working through the stunning revelations that had shaken all of them. When they had been requested to attend the meeting with Dunnington’s solicitor, they had all presumed that the old man had left them some small memento, a reminder of the past they had shared. Certainly none of them expected to be told that they were each to receive a legacy of twenty thousand pounds. Or that the money they were each to receive had been bilked from their respective fathers over the course of near twenty years.
Absently, he reached beneath his jacket and pulled out a small notebook and nub of pencil he always kept handy. He was a man who understood that any problem could be solved once it was sorted into manageable details. No doubt it was the result of his career as an engineer.
Or perhaps he became an engineer because he possessed an obsession with details. Fate was a strange thing.
And getting stranger by the moment, he ruefully acknowledged as he began to jot down notes.
Across the room, Ian paced to pour himself a glass of Fredrick’s brandy. “What I want to know is how? It is one thing to manage to learn of a scandal. Hell, I do not doubt that I could be blackmailed under the right circumstances. But to have extorted each of our fathers out of twenty thousand pounds . . . Christ, it is nothing short of remarkable.”
Raoul narrowed his gaze as he brooded on his friend’s words. “True enough. Not that our dear, beloved fathers led blameless lives. We three are proof of that. Still, what sort of dark sin would they be willing to pay such a sum to keep hidden?”
“They must be sins worthy of the devil.” Ian gave a short, bitter laugh. “Hell, it almost makes me hopeful. I assumed that my father must have been forced at gunpoint to actually impregnate my mother, the cold bastard. Now I discover he has another sin or two up his sleeve. Perhaps he is mortal after all.”
“I think you have something there,” Fredrick murmured, scratching on his pad. “Whatever secrets our fathers are hiding must be of great importance. At least to them.”
“What the blazes are you doing, Fredrick?” Without warning Ian was across the room and standing next to Fredrick’s chair. “Making one of your damnable lists?”
Fredrick shrugged. “It always helps me to sort things out to see them written in logical order.”
“Let me see.” Ian plucked the notebook from his hands.
Raoul stepped forward, his handsome features hardening with a flare of annoyance. “Ian . . .”
“Let it be, Raoul,” Fredrick said softly. He understood Ian. Behind his sardonic wit and restless need to forever be proving himself, he was a gentleman who felt deeply. The death of Dunnington, followed by this disturbing legacy, had left him unsettled, and battling the desire to strike out.
“Item one,” Ian read from Fredrick’s notebook. “Dunnington leaves a legacy of twenty thousand pounds to three of his students. Why only three?”
.” Raoul sucked in a sharp breath, his eyes narrowing as he studied Fredrick. “As usual, you have managed to hit on the pertinent point, Fredrick. Dunnington must have had twenty or more boys here over the years. Why would he choose us three?”
Fredrick reached for his brandy and took a sip. “We were the first three he brought in. Maybe it was no random coincidence,” he said slowly. “Perhaps Dunnington already had the information on our fathers before opening the school and when it came time to acquire his first pupils, where better to search than three powerful gentlemen who were clearly willing to go to any length to keep their secrets?”
Ian gave a lift of his brows. “So you suggest that Dunnington had managed to stumble across some intriguing information and he used that to fund his school for bastards?”
“Yes,” Fredrick agreed.
Ian mulled the notion for a moment. “Do you know . . . I think it more likely that he started the school
of us. He was a sentimental old fool. It would be just like him to have caught sight of us or even just heard about us when he was a tutor at the various households. If he became determined to help us in some way, he could have set about discovering information about our fathers. After he had us settled, it would have been a natural thing to continue his efforts to assist other boys in need.”
There was a short silence before Raoul at last gave a low chuckle. “Egad, Ian. Did you actually make use of the organ located in your skull rather than your breeches?”
Ian smiled with dry humor. “Not nearly as rewarding, I fear.”
Fredrick smiled at the affable teasing. The three men were closer than brothers could ever be. They had more than the ties of blood, after all. They had the shared shame and burden of knowing they were unwanted. Not only by their families, but by society who considered them as outcasts.
Their lives would be a constant struggle to make a place for themselves in the world. Thank God they had each other.
“I think it is a reasonable hypothesis.” Fredrick reached to reclaim his notebook. “Let us say that Dunnington decided he wished to help us and managed to uncover the sort of information a gentleman would not wish bandied about.”
Raoul nodded. “Not a difficult task for a tutor. They are in an odd position within the household. Not precisely servants, and yet, not a member of the family. They seem to disappear between the upper and lower stairs. It would be a simple matter for them to overhear any number of conversations, or to catch sight of clandestine meetings.”
Ian returned to his quick, impatient pacing. “Well, whatever information he managed to uncover it had to be more serious than possessing a bastard. None of us were actually denied by our fathers.”
“Just unwanted,” Fredrick muttered.
“Hear, hear,” Ian muttered, lifting his glass in a mocking toast.
“Unwanted by our fathers, perhaps, but Dunnington appears to have wanted us. Quite desperately,” Raoul murmured, his perfect features softening as he recalled the man who had altered all of their lives. “After all, he could have walked away with sixty thousand pounds and lived a life of considerable luxury if he wanted.”
Fredrick smiled as he recalled the image of the thin, somber gentleman who was always tidily attired with his hair carefully combed to hide the encroaching baldness. At a glance he appeared the sort of staid fusspot that young boys detested. Beneath his stoic demeanor, however, he possessed an extraordinary intelligence and a rare ability to inspire the most reluctant student. Even young Fredrick, who had been a shy lad with the tendency to retreat from others.
It had been Dunnington who had recognized Fredrick’s gift for anything mechanical. Indeed, he spent a small fortune on providing Fredrick with a variety of materials so that the young boy could build and tinker to his heart’s content. The long-suffering man had even occasionally attempted to make use of the strange (and by and large useless) inventions, including a water clock that had leaked so often that it had ruined the floorboards.
“I am not certain that Dunnington could ever have been satisfied unless he was educating some reluctant lad. He devoted his life to teaching,” Fredrick said. “However, I do not doubt he was happier to be in charge of his own school as opposed to being at the whim of an employer.”
Ian halted at the fireplace and stared down at the flames with a brooding expression. “More the fool him. He should have taken the money and devoted his days to debauching his way through society.”
“Not all of us consider debauching a rewarding career,” Fredrick pointed out.
“Certainly not you.” Ian turned to regard Fredrick with a narrowed gaze. “How you can bear to spend your days in that cramped workroom with all those bits and pieces of machinery . . . it is enough to give a gentleman the hives.”
Fredrick smiled. His workroom was no longer cramped. Indeed, he now owned several large buildings throughout London and employed near fifty people. Not bad for a gentleman who had started with nothing more than dreams.
“Those bits and pieces have made me a tidy fortune.”
“Bah.” Ian turned his attention toward the silent Raoul. “At least Charlebois understands the pleasures to be found in debauchery. Eh, old friend?”
Raoul shrugged, as usual far more reserved about discussing the women who warmed his bed. Odd considering most actors conducted their affairs with the same flamboyance as they lived their lives.
“It does offer its share of amusement,” Raoul murmured. “Although I must confess that anything can become tedious over time.”
Ian gave a lift of his brows. “Ah. Then the rumors must be true that you have ended your torrid affair with the beautiful Mirabelle.”
“All affairs must end.”