Lady Folbroke's Delicious Deception (3 page)

BOOK: Lady Folbroke's Delicious Deception
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Hendricks paused again. To take her side when in the presence of her husband would seem close to mutiny. He had been Adrian’s aide-de-camp in the army, and had the fierce loyalty of a soldier to a superior officer to match his dedication to a friend and employer. But then he said, as though the confession was a thing he did not want to share, ‘If the instruction came from you, and it was meant for his own good, I would do it. There are reasons for his aberrant behaviour, which you will understand soon enough. But if he is no longer able to act in his own best interests, then someone must do it for him.’

Emily touched Hendricks’s shoulder to reassure him. ‘Do not fear for your position. I promise you will come to no harm for doing what is right. But we must be agreed on this before we begin. I will ask him to come. And if he does not, you must help me remove him.’

‘Very well.’ He nodded. ‘Let us do the thing quickly, now that we are decided. The situation cannot stand as it does much longer.’

They walked through the door together, Hendricks close at her shoulder. And Emily stepped back into him as she took in the room before her. The sound of drunkenness hit her first: laughing, fighting and ribald song. And then the smell—urine and vomit added to the smoke from a blocked chimney and burned meat to make the room even more unpleasant. She had expected to find Adrian in some normal gaming hell where the play was deep and the women were not ladies. Or perhaps a whorehouse where the play was of a different sort entirely. But she had assumed it would be the sort of place where lords went, when they sought to amuse themselves outside polite society.

There was no sign of even the lowest members of their set in evidence. This was a rough place full of even rougher men who had come to enjoy their vices with no care for the law of God or man.

Hendricks put his hand on her shoulder. ‘We will take a table in the corner, out of the way of this mob. And I will enquire after him for you.’ He led her to the corner, and a barmaid brought two mugs to the table with a sneer on her face. Emily glanced into hers to see that it was already filled. She smelled juniper.

Hastings placed a hand over her glass. ‘The strength of the gin will not make up for the dirtiness
of the glass.’ He tossed a coin on the table. As the barmaid reached for it, he caught her by the wrist. ‘The Earl of Folbroke. Do you know him? Is he here?’ The girl shook her head, but he did not release her. ‘Do you know an Adrian Longesley?’

‘Addy?’ She gave a single nod, and he let go of her arm, but his action had drawn the eyes of others.

The men who rose from the nearest table were hulking brutes, looking for any reason to fight. ‘Here now, stranger. You have a dollymop of your own, do you not?’ The one who spoke gave Emily a toothless leer.

‘Aye,’ said another. ‘If you wish to share our Molly, then you must share as well.’ Behind her, a man leaned close, and she inched her chair away.

‘Now, see here.’ Hendricks’s gaze was steely, and his shoulders broad. Though she thought him timid when compared to Adrian, he had been a captain in the army, and she had no doubt that he would defend her honour to the best of his considerable abilities. But with so many against him, she doubted that his strength would do them much good.

And as she feared, when Hendricks started to rise, a fist to his jaw knocked him back into the chair.

She gave a little shriek of alarm as one of the men crowding the table reached for her. This had been a dreadful mistake. The place was horrible, the men were horrible, and what was likely to happen now would be the fault of her own stupidity. Even if her husband was here, she doubted she wanted to see
him. If he were part of the crowd around her, he was most likely beyond redemption.

And then, as she gave another cry of alarm, a hand reached out through the press of bodies around her chair, seized her by the arm and pulled her forwards until she was crushed against the body of her rescuer.

Chapter Three
 

‘C
an’t you see that she does not wish your company?’ A silver-headed cane shot out, rapping one man upon the head and another across the knuckles. The men who were struck gave sharp cries of pain, and grumbled as their fellows laughed at their distress.

Emily wrapped her arms about the waist of the man who held her to keep from swooning with relief. She recognised the voice of her husband, and was more gratified to be close to him than she had been at any time since the day of their marriage.

‘And you think she wants you instead?’ a man called. There was a chorus of laughter from around the room.

‘How can she not?’ Adrian called back. ‘I am the only gentleman amongst you.’

More laughter in response.

‘And she is clearly a lady of discerning taste, if she has the sense enough to reject you.’

There was yet more laughter to this, and she could not decide if it was directed to Adrian, or to the fact that she had been called a lady.

There was a pause, as she wondered if he meant to answer the insults to her with anything more than jests. Then he turned her to face him.

He had changed, of course, but not so much that she could not recognise him. His coat was of good quality, but ragged and dirty. His neckcloth was stained and his dark brown hair needed combing. But he still had shockingly blue eyes, though they gave her little more than a sidelong glance. And there was the roguish smile that he shared with other women more often than he did with her. His body was just as strong and solid as it had ever been, so muscular that she felt dwarfed against him as he held her close. Frightened of being crushed, and yet still protected.

She could feel her nerve failing now that he was close, and the growing desire to sink into him, soaking in the warmth of his body as though immersed in the bath. What was around them did not matter. She was with Adrian. She would be all right.

And then he kissed her. On the mouth.

The suddenness of it shocked her. She had expected a distant greeting, and his customary slight frown, as though, even as he was saying hello, he was thinking of ways to say goodbye.

But he was kissing her. They were really kissing. And it was like nothing she had experienced before. He tasted of gin and tobacco, smelled of sweat, and his cheeks were rough with several days’ beard growth. It was a sensory onslaught: a strange combination of the pleasant and the unpleasant. Joyful. Abandoned. And wet.

His kisses of the past had been unmemorable. Reserved. Flavourless and without texture. And much as she had wanted to feel otherwise, she had not liked them very much. He had been so careful to give no offence that he could not have enjoyed them either. Even in consummation, he had set himself apart from her, allowing no loss of self-control.

But today, in a crowded tavern, without asking her leave or showing a care to the men watching them, he devoured her mouth as he might a piece of late-summer fruit, giving a low
hmmm
of approval at the ripeness, the juiciness. He clutched her bottom through her skirts, and eased a leg between her parting thighs, giving her a small bounce there, to make sure that he had shaken her to the core.

And for a moment she forgot her anger with him and her fear. All the feelings of hurt and betrayal disappeared, along with the shyness she felt when she was with him. After all this time, he had decided he loved her. He wanted her. And if she could have him back, just like this, everything would be all right.

Then he pulled away and whispered in her ear, ‘Here now, love. Nothing to be frightened of. Let
us leave these brigands behind. Come and sit on my lap.’

‘I beg your pardon.’ The happy thoughts froze in her head, and cold logic returned to its proper place. The request was odd, and delivered in a way that showed a strange lack of feeling for his friend and servant, Hendricks, struggling back to consciousness in the chair in front of him.

Adrian gave her another small hug and a quick kiss on the lips to coax her. ‘You may help me with my cards tonight. There will be a shiny sovereign for you, if you are good.’ He said it as if he were talking to a stranger. There was no trace of recognition in that voice. No hint that this was to be a shared joke, or a lark or that he was trying to protect her from the ruffians by hiding her identity.

Was he honestly so drunk that he did not know her?

‘Help you with your cards?’ she said. The last haze of desire cleared from her mind. If he did not claim her as wife, then just who had he thought he’d been kissing? ‘I should think you could manage them without my help, just as you normally do, my lord.’

The censure in her voice did not seem to register. ‘You would be surprised, my dear.’ He was whispering in her ear. ‘It seems I need more help by the day.’ He kissed her on the side of the head, as though to confirm to the others that he was whispering endearments, and then said more loudly, ‘Since we are to be fast friends, you may call me Adrian.’ And then
he pulled her away from the crowd, stumbling back towards a gaming table on the other side of the room.

Emily struggled against him, trying to catch her breath long enough to argue that this behaviour was an insult worse than any she had yet borne. But he conquered her easily and sat down on a chair with his back to the wall, drawing her into his lap. And all the time he continued to kiss the side of her face and her neck, as though he could not get enough of the contact.

The feel of his lips, hot on her skin, made her anger seem distant and unimportant. If he could not overcome this sudden desire to touch her, then why should she? His body knew her, even if his mind did not. She arched her back and pressed her cheek against his lips, vowing that while they had differences to settle, surely it could wait a while longer.

And then he whispered in a calm voice, unaffected by the nearness of her, ‘They will deal a hand to me, and you must read the pips on the cards into my ear. Pretend it is merely affection, just as I have done to you. Help me to know the cards that are played. And as I promised, you shall have your sovereign.’

‘Pretend?’ Was that all this was to him?

‘Shh,’ he whispered, lips still against her jaw. ‘A guinea, then.’

Her anger returned. He was nothing more than she believed him to be: a drunken reprobate who could think no further than his own pleasure. And she was
a fool who could not conquer the fantasies she had created around him, no matter how many times he showed his true face to her.

And with the anger came curiosity. He still did not know her. But it seemed his seduction was just as much a sham for the stranger he thought he held. He seemed to care more for the cards than he had for the kisses. And if that was true, his actions made no sense at all to her. So she did just as he had requested, hoping the motive would become clear with time. He held her close as the hands were dealt, and she whispered a description of the play into his ear.

Emily watched the men across the table from her, certain that they must have some idea of what was going on, for they kept their eyes on her, and their hands tilted carefully towards them, as though fearing that she might be attempting to read what was concealed there.

But her husband did not seem to notice the fact, nor care what the others might hold. He greeted each new hand with a vacuous and unfocused smile, head tilted slightly to one side so that he might concentrate on the words she whispered in his ear.

As she watched, she began to suspect that it was not his smile that was unfocused. It was the look in his eyes. He looked not on her, or the cards before him—not even the men across the table. It was as though he were peering through the space around him, a little to the left, at some spot near the floor, expecting an invisible door would open a view to
another place entirely. Was he drunk, or was it something far worse?

Despite his strange behaviour, his mind was still sharp. After a single recitation of information, he had no trouble keeping his hand straight, nor with bidding or points. He won more than he lost. And then he ran his hands once over the winnings heaped in front of him, conscious of any move to cheat him out of what should rightfully come to his side of the table, reaching for his cane and tapping it sharply on the floor to emphasise his disapproval, if what he found was not to his liking.

She saw the wary look that the men around them gave to that stick and its heavy silver head, and the speed with which they put an end to any mischief when Adrian reached for it. They seemed to view it and her husband not with fear, but with a sort of grudging respect, as though experience had taught them he was an opponent who would not be easily bested.

After a time, Adrian seemed to tire of play, shifting her on his lap as though he grew restless. ‘Enough, gentlemen,’ he said with a smile, pulling the money before him to the edge of the table and into a purse he removed from his coat. He gave a theatrical yawn and turned his head to hers again and said, ‘I am of a mind to retire for the evening.’ And then, ‘If you would be so kind as to accompany me, I will give you the coin I promised.’

He pocketed the purse and his hand went back to
her waist, and then up, stroking the underside of her breast through the fabric of her dress.

She gave a little yelp of alarm, embarrassed by his forwardness, and slapped his fingers away. ‘Please do not do that.’

The men around them laughed, and she kept her eyes firmly on the table, not wanting to see what Hendricks thought of this public affront upon her person.

Nor did she wish him to see the flush of excitement on her cheeks. Though she did not want to feel anything from it, her husband’s touch was arousing her. It was probably just as well that he did not know her. If he had, he would have stood up, spoken politely and taken her by the arm instead of the waist. Then he would have rushed her back to the country so that her presence in London would not have spoiled his fun.

Instead, she could feel the hardness beneath her bottom, and the way her denial of him had made his response more urgent. He buried his face in the hollow of her throat, inhaling deeply and licking once at her collarbone. ‘I cannot help my reaction. You smell wonderful.’

BOOK: Lady Folbroke's Delicious Deception
6.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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