Authors: Margaret McPhee
How to Tempt a Viscount
A disastrous start to their marriage caused Ellen to leave her husband, Marcus Henshall, Viscount Stanley. Instead of retreating in humiliation, Ellen has been busy learning how to transform herself from a timid girl into a confident, sensual siren. Now she has returned to London—and Marcus—with a mission: to seduce her husband and show him how it feels to have desire go unrequited. But when her plan starts working, she may not be able to resist her own attraction to Marcus….
How to Tempt a Viscount
is very short and very steamy. It came to me after I had written Arabella and Dominic’s story in
Unmasking the Duke’s Mistress
, and I began to wonder about Marcus Henshall, Viscount Stanley, the only one of Dominic’s friends who did not go to Mrs. Silver’s House of Pleasures that fateful night. And the woman who had so tamed him.
So I turned back the years to bring you Marcus and Ellen’s story of temptation and love. I sincerely hope that you like it.
With very best wishes
P.S. You might also recognise some of the characters from
A Dark and Brooding Gentleman!
For Dicky - steamy bits to be censored before reading!
Within the Duke of Arlesford’s private box in the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, neither Viscount Stanley nor any of the friends with whom he was sitting could cease staring. But they were not watching the play.
‘I did not know you had let your box, Stanley.’ Arlesford’s voice was subtle yet Marcus heard the unspoken question within the words.
Marcus’s attention did not shift from his box on the opposite side of the theatre and the lone woman who had just entered it. She could not have timed her entrance any better to pique his curiosity if she had tried, arriving only moments before the start of the play so that Marcus was provided with a fleeting glimpse of an enticing creature with golden brown curls piled high on her head, and a scarlet-edged cream silk gown cut low and moulded to a perfect body. The lights dimmed but even then the shimmering pallor of her dress marked her from the shadows, illuminating her in tantalising allure.
The actors took to the stage and a murmur rippled through the theatre, but Marcus knew it was not the start of the play exciting the theatregoers’ interest.
The woman took her time in making herself comfortable, her movements unhurried, leisurely, sensual almost, as if she had every right in the world to be sitting there in his box; as if she were waiting for him. Every eye could see that she was quite alone, save for her maid.
Sebastian Hunter, who was sitting on his right-hand side, grinned and whispered what Marcus knew every man in the house would be thinking. ‘No wonder you kept quiet about that little diamond, you sly dog!’
‘A trifle…indiscreet, Stanley,’ cautioned Arlesford sotto voce so that only Marcus would hear. ‘Southampton is not exactly the other end of the country.’
Southampton—where Ellen had been ‘visiting’ her parents for the last four months. It was as close as anyone came to mentioning his wife. No one ever mentioned his wife. Or his marriage. No one dared.
Marcus’s face was stony yet he did not take his eyes from the woman. Whoever she was she must have known that she was stirring a scandal, perched provocatively, blatantly even, in his box as if he were exhibiting his mistress when his marriage was barely six months old. It occurred to him that perhaps Amanda had sent her to cause trouble. And as he watched, the woman turned her gaze from the players upon the stage to him. Their eyes met across the auditorium. Held for that moment too long. As if she were daring him. Teasing him. Marcus’s heart skipped a beat at the shock of the sudden recognition.
‘Devil take it!’ The words slipped as a breath from his lips. He stared, scarcely able to believe it and saw what he should have seen from the very beginning. ‘If you will excuse me, gentlemen.’ He got to his feet, and there was a rustle of movement as those in the surrounding boxes craned to see, and below in the stalls a sea of pale faces upturned in unison. His expression was grim as he glanced once more across at his own theatre box and drew her a small nod of acknowledgement. ‘I believe I should be sitting with my wife.’
Every jaw dropped in the Duke of Arlesford’s theatre box and every eye widened in disbelief. Marcus did not wait to watch them drool all the more over her.
Ellen Henshall, Viscountess Stanley, took a deep breath and tried to calm the thunder of her heart and the nervous tilt of her stomach. In a few moments Marcus would be before her and this façade—the looks and poise, that had taken so much effort in the weaving—must withstand the closeness of his scrutiny. A moment of doubt swept over her but then she remembered just why she was doing this. And with those memories of the first few months of her marriage came determination and a hardening of resolve. And a strength that overcame all of her anxiety.
‘Ellen.’ His voice was rich and cool, stroking a shiver down her spine. ‘You did not tell me you were returning to London.’
So you could ensure that you had rearranged your engagements to minimize the time you must spend in my company?
She had not spoken the words to him before out of timidity. She did not speak them now because they were contrary to the purpose she had in mind.
‘I wanted to surprise you, Marcus.’
Most certainly she wanted to do that.
She curved her lips and looked at him with that heat in her eyes, just the way Kitty had shown her, and held his gaze for precisely three seconds before she released it.
‘I am most certainly surprised.’ He was looking at her in a way that he had never looked at her before.
Her smile was almost genuine this time. Emboldened by success, she threw him a flirtatious glance up through her lashes before pretending to turn her attention back to the stage; as if that were possible with Marcus present. He took the seat by her side, yet she did not look around. A small silence opened up, different from all the silences that had been between them before. This silence was not strained or awkward. She did not twist the fingers of her gloves out of nervousness, or attempt to raise inconsequential small talk that he would ignore. This time she let the silence stretch, as if she had forgotten that he were there, although awareness of his very proximity tingled through her and the whole side of her body closest to him warmed from the heat and masculinity of his aura. And all the while she did not let her gaze leave the stage.
‘How were your parents?’
‘They were very well.’ And relieved that their daughter had gone back to her husband. Had they known of what she had planned and plotted all these months past they would have felt nothing of that relief.
‘Most educational.’ In more ways than he could possibly imagine.
His attention was not elsewhere, cool and oblivious of her presence, and always with that underlying edge of resentment. She could feel the intensity of his stare, the full weight of his focus, and with it, for the very first time, came a sense of power, and the feeling was a balm to the rawness in Ellen’s heart.
‘You seem…different. I barely recognised you.’
She barely recognised herself when she looked in the peering glass. Her hair had been washed in beer to make it shine, then curled and pinned and dressed for hours. Her freckles were covered with a fine dusting of rice powder and her lips were stained with the smallest hint of carmine before a smear of gloss. The corsets and dresses revealed her body in a way it had never been revealed before. And then there was her posture and her way of moving. Ellen had been a diligent pupil. On the outside, the plain mousy girl was gone, and on the inside, determination seemed to have obliterated all of her fears and anxieties.
‘Different?’ She looked at him then, with raised eyebrows that had been perfectly plucked and shaped and combed, her expression all feigned innocence. ‘How so?’
His gaze moved over her hair, down over the line of her throat, to linger upon her breasts, which were in danger of escaping the bodice of her dress, before coming back up to study her face. Ellen quashed her embarrassment, quelled that instinct to look down at her lap and fidget.
‘Your dress…’ There was nothing of the usual barely veiled disinterest in his tone, nothing of that strained reserve. Indeed, he was looking at her, really looking at her for the first time. She saw the bob of his Adam’s apple as he swallowed.
‘I have found myself a new dressmaker.’ She leaned ever so slightly towards him, lowering her voice to a husky whisper as if they were conspirators, and presenting him with a more impressive view of her cleavage. ‘Do you like it?’ His eyes dropped to her breasts, just as Kitty had said they would, before he dragged them back to her own.
‘Very much so.’
She smiled invitingly before returning her view to the play. ‘
Romeo and Juliet.
Did you know it is my favourite Shakespeare?’
‘I did not,’ she heard him say. ‘But then I am only just realising there is much I do not know about you, Ellen.’
She watched the figures on the stage without seeing them, for she was trying too hard to keep the swell of emotion hidden. And she was too conscious of the tall, dark handsome man by her side, and of what she had come to London to do to him.
How could a man fail to recognize his own wife?
Marcus was still asking himself the question by the time they were travelling home in the carriage. She was his
He had known her in the most intimate of senses, yet, if he were honest, he did not know her at all. Not the girl who had stood so quietly by his side at the altar and lain beneath him so unresponsive in the marriage bed, nor the woman who sat opposite him in the shadowed light of the carriage now. In the glow of the street lamps his eye skimmed over her perfect face, down over the long black velvet cloak that he knew hid the perfect figure. His memory of his wife was of a timid girl, painfully shy and whom his company seemed to make nervous and uncomfortable. He wondered how he could have failed to notice the strong sensual woman who now sat opposite him. But then given the mess of his emotions at the time of his wedding he supposed it was possible. Simmering anger, betrayal and resentment had a way of blinding a man to all else.
‘What has prompted your return to London?’ he asked.
‘It is the start of the Little Season and what was it that Dr Johnson said…? “When a man is tired of London he is tired of life.” I wanted to visit the shops, the social scene, the theatre…and my husband, of course.’ He heard the small seductive smile more than saw it. ‘And then there are my duties as your wife—’ she smiled again and he felt his mouth go dry and his blood surge even though she finished it with words of innocence ‘—charitable works, entertaining, support and the like.’
And then, while he watched in stunned fascination, she laid her head back against the squabs and closed her eyes. The rest of the journey was in silence.
Ellen was too much on his mind. Marcus could not sleep that night nor could he concentrate the next day in critical discussions over his father’s Tollerton estate. There was a sensual tension between his wife and him that, by the time of Fallingham’s ball the following evening, seemed to be winding tighter with every hour that passed.
Attraction. The very air seemed thick with it as he stood watching Arlesford partnering her upon the dance floor. She had barely noticed him all night, engaged as she was in having such a good time chatting and laughing and dancing with everyone except him. The steps she wove with Arlesford were those of a chaste cotillion yet Marcus found himself unable to take his eyes from her. And even though Arlesford was his friend and Ellen his wife, he found himself brooding with a possessiveness he had never previously felt. So that when the set and the music finished and the
began and Arlesford showed no sign of returning her, he found himself up on the floor cutting in on the duke. The
—hardly a dance of the
but one that he had no intention of letting her dance with another.