Authors: Kate Harper
Tags: #Fiction, #Erotica
The Accidental Mistress
Copyright Kate Harper 2011
‘I’ve heard a rumor,’ Lord Antony Fortnum had to raise his voice to be heard above the din of the Hellfire Club.
Devereux gave his friend a sideways look, dark eyes amused. They’d shared the best part of three bottles of claret together and Tony was well in his cups. Dev, on the other hand, was more or less clearheaded; he had a reputation of being able to drink most men under the table.
‘Rumors are a sad fact of life, Tony. Which one is it this time? My impending marriage? I’ve challenged some other poor fool to a duel?’
‘They’re a little more sultry than that. The rumors are all around Alice Gaskell.’
Dev arched an eyebrow, wondering how the hell word had gotten around about his interest in Alice. He’d been very discreet because, while Alice wasn’t marriageable material, ruining her would be scandalous and he didn’t wish the world to know that he was interested in the chit.
Which was why he’d taken such pains to keep his proposed seduction a secret. ‘You listen to others too much Tony and then you compound your folly by talking rot. Have another glass of wine!’
‘Oh now, rot is it? Well you’re wrong there because I
. Rumsey was talking about it at White’s just yesterday. Saw you and the Gaskell chit off in a quiet corner in the gardens, heads together and as thick as thieves. Everybody knows that you’ve got your eye on the gel. Why wouldn’t you? With her looks half the blades in London are dancing attendance. But it’ll land you in trouble,’ his friend predicted, ‘She’s not one of your usual bits of skirt and you won’t be able to pay her off with a couple of pretty trinkets. She’s Quality for all her mother’s family smells of the shop.’
Which was, Dev reflected wearily, quite true. But Alice was a ripe little piece who was as keen as he was to take their acquaintance further. She’d made her interest in him perfectly clear from the outset. Alice Gaskell knew exactly what she wanted and he was more than happy to give it to her. ‘I wouldn’t worry about it Tony,’ he murmured, turning his attention back to the two men who were going at each other in the ring, stripped down to breeches, both of them gleaming with sweat. Clearly both boxers were getting tired for their swings were becoming progressively wilder as they staggered across the canvas. ‘I’ve yet to be nailed by some pretty young hopeful
her grasping mother. You may believe me when I tell you that I’m in no danger now.’
‘Ha!’ Lord Fortnum hiccupped and drained his glass once again, ‘That’s what you say! But the world knows that Felicia Gaskell has a dead set on making a good match for that girl of hers and I’ve an inkling that she’ll get one. She has the ear of Lady Jersey
Lady Beddlington. You don’t want to go putting them offside. Trust me Dev; luscious she may be, Alice ain’t worth the trouble she’ll bring if you try and bed her without a ring.’
‘I’m well aware of what I’m doing, Tony. Relax. I’m not about to fall into marriage just yet.’
‘Keep playing with fire and you might not have a choice.’ Fortnum muttered, turning his attention back to the fight. He had a wager on Boucher and by God, it looked as if he were going to collect. ‘Thorpe’s looking woozy. One good uppercut and he’ll go down.’
Dev smiled and poured them both more claret. ‘He will, I won’t. I don’t want you talking about me and the Gaskell chit Tony. The girl is a lovely piece of perfection, no doubt about it but that’s
she is. A pretty face with nothing of substance behind it.’ He offered his friend a glass, ‘So? Your silence?’
‘Oh certainly. I’ll put a lid on it but I’m not the
one talking. Take care, Dev. That’s all I’m saying. At some stage, all men must fall, although most of the time they trip their way into the shackles.’
Dev grinned and they turned back to the fight just as Boucher landed the winning punch. Game over. But not for him, Dev mused. He was a long way from tripping into anything as foolish as marriage.
Just the same… he thought of Alice’s golden ringlets, the perfection of her alabaster skin and those enormous China blue eyes… Virgin territory or not, he would have her and be damned. And afterwards? Well, he was Devereux, Marquis of Roxburghe and he would deal with the consequences when they occurred. As delightful as Alice Gaskell was, she was not the kind of girl he would ever take for a wife.
But she would make a damn fine mistress for a month or two…
Sophie Hartwell spent an uneasy day, unable to settle to anything, haunted by an impending sense that all was not well with the world. It was Alice’s peculiar behavior since they’d returned from the masquerade ball the previous evening that had set Sophie pacing the floor. The ball that Alice had disappeared from for half an hour without a chaperone and without an explanation. Sophie had quizzed her afterwards but Alice had remained stubbornly silent all the way home. Sophie had waited, knowing full well that her cousin never could keep a secret. Sophie was aware that Alice was a complete scatterbrain when she thought her affections engaged and she was worried that her infatuation with the dark and disastrously handsome Marquis of Roxburghe was leading her into trouble. How could it not? The man
trouble. He carried with him a cloud of dangerous intrigue, which only served to make him more attractive to the susceptible opposite sex.
So, convinced that something was in the wind, Sophie had trapped Alice after luncheon, determined to wheedle the truth out of her. It hadn’t taken long, for by then Alice was desperate to tell somebody what her great secret was, although she’d prevaricated, just a little to honor whatever rash promise she’d made.
‘I shouldn’t,’ she’d sighed, dropping into a chair. A small smile had played about her mouth for all of her feigned reluctance. ‘I
‘Who did you promise?’ Sophie asked, knowing that Alice wanted to be coaxed.
‘Well,’ the girl shot a look at Sophie from beneath preposterously long lashes, ‘I’ll tell you but only if you
that you won’t tell a soul. It’s a great secret!’
‘I don’t think I can swear.’ Sophie objected honestly, ‘What if it’s something foolish? Honestly Alice, you’re a shocking minx. I saw you flirting with at least six different men last night.’
‘Yes,’ her cousin had admitted happily, ‘It was a dreadful crush, wasn’t it? And there were so many obliging men who wanted to dance with me. But truly Sophie, there was only one who had my heart.’
Sophie ignored the flowery sentiment and went straight to the crux of the matter. She’d been trying to keep an eye on her cousin ever since she’d realized that she stood in very real danger of ruin. ‘Roxburghe.’
‘Yes.’ Alice breathed ecstatically.
Sophie looked at her cousin bleakly. This was very bad news. The Marquis was a fatal combination of elements that might as well have been manufactured specifically to appeal to impressionable girls; dangerously wild, hopelessly good-looking and absurdly wealthy. Alice had been besotted with the wretched man for weeks. ‘You know of Roxburghe’s reputation. He’s ruined more debutantes than any man in England.’
Alice had tossed her golden girls. ‘Oh poo! He will not ruin me.’
‘He will if you listen to his blandishments.’
Alice shook her head, dismissing this. ‘You don’t understand Sophie. Dev
Sophie sighed. She didn’t believe it for a minute. Devereux, Marquis of Roxburghe loved only himself and his own pleasures. But she knew her cousin well enough to realize that the silly chit wouldn’t listen. Just the same, Sophie had to try. ‘You’re making a mistake, Alice. Roxburghe is a scoundrel. Do you not remember Mary Trewellyn?’ They had met the girl several times when they had first arrived in town but then she had mysteriously disappeared. Rumor had it that she had been seduced by the most wicked rake in town, but the matter was quickly hushed up. She had returned to the wilds of Lincolnshire and some predicted she would not been seen in London again for some time.
‘Oh Sophie, you don’t understand. Dev
me. And have you ever seen a more handsome creature? Amelia Trigg looked absolutely sick when he came across the room and asked me to dance.’
‘Alice,’ Sophie began, then paused. What could she say to get through to the girl? As lovely as her cousin was, she wasn’t terribly bright. ‘You need to be careful, is all I’m saying. The man is an even more appalling flirt than you are.’
‘Nonsense.’ The look on Alice’s face had told Sophie all too clearly that, whatever she may say, her cousin was far too enamored with the Marquis of Roxburghe to listen. ‘Dev would never hurt me.’
Time to try another tack. ‘So what was this promise that you gave him?’ Sophie enquired with some trepidation. Lord, let it only be a kiss that he was demanding from her addle pated cousin! It seemed unlikely. A man like Roxburghe was rarely satisfied with so little. Few women were safe from his attentions unless, she’d reflected wryly, they happened to be Miss Sophie Hartwell who had a habit of disappearing beside the radiance of her cousin’s beauty. Sophie never troubled herself overly much with her gowns or her hairstyles if they were going out for the evening for she knew she became invisible when she was standing next to Alice.
‘He wants to go away with me.’ It came out on a whispered breath.
Sophie experienced a sinking sensation. ‘
‘I know!’ Alice had nodded, voice wondering, ‘The Marchioness of Roxburghe. Could anything be so marvelous? Think of the jewelry, the houses, the
. Mama is delighted.’
knows that Roxburghe intends to seduce you?’ Sophie had said incredulously.
Alice had shot her a hurt look. ‘Not
, Sophie. He intends to marry me. I absolutely know he does.’
‘And he has said as much?’
‘Not in so many words but he will.’ Alice had risen to her feet, ‘My dearest Roxburghe wears his heart on his sleeve and that heart belongs to me. Now I must go and find Mama. I want that new blue satin we ordered last week from Madam Martine for tonight. I simply must look my best.’
‘Alice, wait! What about Lord Halstead? I am certain he intends marriage and he’s dreadfully rich and utterly besotted with you.’
‘Oh… Halstead is very sweet, I’ll give you that. But he’s no Roxburghe.’
Indeed he wasn’t. For a start, Halstead’s intentions were honorable. Sophie had put an anxious hand out, making Alice pause. ‘Does the Marquis mean to elope with you?’ Alice’s smile had spoken volumes, ‘When, Alice? When is this to happen?’
‘Soon. Very soon. Oh Sophie,’ Alice had sighed with rapturous pleasure, ‘A marchioness. Only imagine…’
Sophie had been left to imagine all kinds of things, the chief of which was that it was likely her cousin was heading for certain ruin and a sudden return to Yorkshire with all her hopes in tatters. Truly alarmed, she had sought out her aunt who had been dozing in front of the fire in the drawing room, a novel from the lending library unheeded on her lap. It had proved to be as frustrating an interview as the one with Alice for Aunt Felicia was of the same opinion as her daughter, convinced Roxburghe intended marriage.
‘But Aunt,’ Sophie had said, exasperated, ‘If that was his intention then he would come and talk to Uncle Edward. He would ask for Alice in the usual way. Surely you must see that?’
‘And so he shall.’ Felicia Gaskell had said comfortably, ‘A gentleman can’t go around seducing girls like my Alice as he sees fit. He’ll come up to speed Sophie, you mark my words. And my little Alice will have done very well for herself. Roxburghe is everything I ever wanted in a husband for her. And after my girl is matched, well then we’ll find some likely suitors for you, never you worry. You won’t be left on the shelf, I promise you.’