Authors: Jordan Summers
“Brandy,” he snapped as a servant walked by.
The man looked at him warily, then glanced at someone across the room before complying. William followed his gaze to a raven-haired woman dressed in a scarlet curve-hugging gown. He raised his glass in her direction, even though he couldn’t quite make out her features in the shadows. She might’ve smiled. He couldn’t tell. Didn’t care. He turned away intent on enjoying his brandy.
William’s topaz pinky ring winked in the low lighting as he tipped the glass and swallowed half his drink. The family crest surrounding the gem a permanent reminder of exactly how far he’d fallen.
“May I help you?” The question slid down his spine like a brush of fingertips, tempting and provoking at once.
Lavender-water perfume enveloped him. William turned quickly, spilling the last of his brandy down the front of his breeches. He swore under his breath, then glanced at the woman who’d asked the question. A scathing reprimand died on his lips as he caught sight of her up close. She was stunning. Moisture left his mouth and his heart thumbed loudly in his chest.
William drank in her raven beauty, his hungry gaze automatically dropping to her barely concealed voluptuous breasts. How he longed to lick and suckle her, feed from her ripeness while he plunged his cock into her. The thought of fucking her hardened his entire body. Perhaps afterwards he’d bring out the lash and leave luscious welts across her pale ass. She’d love that. They all did in the end.
“Should I thank you for the drink?” he asked, though he had no intention of doing so.
“Not at all. It’s my pleasure to have you in the establishment,” she said, raking him with her gaze.
He swallowed hard, attempting to banish the image of her naked from his mind. This was no time to get sidetracked. William cleared his throat. “I think quite possibly your assistance will be needed—later,” he said, his gaze flicking to her face in time to see her smile widen.
She was well aware of the effect she had on men. Like a feral cat toying with field mice, she played with them until she tired of the game, then devoured them whole.
William smiled. He loved women of experience. What would it feel like to have those full lips wrapped around his shaft? She looked more than ready to meet his every demand. For a second, his resolve to kill Rose faltered. No, he would not leave now. He was here for a purpose and no whore, not even one as beautiful as this one, would dissuade him.
Her gaze flicked to the empty glass in his hand. “I have everything a man desires and you look famished.” She glanced at his topaz ring, then regarded him with newfound appreciation.
William wasn’t flattered. He noted her undisguised interest in the only thing he owned of any value. He kept his expression placid despite the rage beating at his brow. His gaze swept the length of her once more. She was ripe for the picking and seemed more than willing to allow herself to be plucked. Whores were so predictable. “What’s your name?” He did not give her the courtesy of addressing her properly, since it was more than obvious she was no lady.
“Josephine,” she answered her French accent tickling the air.
“Josephine,” he repeated, letting her name curl around his tongue. He placed his glass on a passing tray. “Beautiful.”
He smiled. “I have a specific need tonight, Josephine—one that must be met before we continue this conversation somewhere more private.” He ran a knuckle along her collarbone.
She shuddered and her nipples came dangerously close to popping out of the top of her dress. “Pity, but I think you misunderstand me.” Her smile became a pout, but the move did not match the intent in her rich brown eyes.
“I don’t think so,” William said. “I believe I understand you perfectly and I accept your offer.”
Her spine stiffened. “This is my establishment. I do not ‘service’ clients anymore.”
“But you’d make an exception for me.” William closed the distance between them, allowing his coat to brush against her breasts. Despite his semi-downtrodden appearance, William knew he wasn’t unappealing to the eye. His looks alone had convinced innocents and not-so innocents alike to grace his sheets. From the expression on Josephine’s face, she was tempted, making her no different from the others.
She sucked in a breath and took a step back, her erect pink nipples clearly visible through the thin material of her gown. He shut his mouth to keep from crowing in victory. Josephine’s demeanor changed, whether from excitement or irritation, he did not know. Possibly a bit of both. Either way, it suited her. He enjoyed a woman’s anger and excitement in equal parts.
“What are your needs? We can meet anything you desire,” she said. Gone was the seductive minx. In its place stood a shrewd proprietress.
“Take care, ma petit, for I desire much,” he purred.
Her lips quirked and she arched a brow. “I have no doubt.”
William knew he’d intrigued her, but he couldn’t act upon it—yet. “Tonight, I’m in the mood for a red-head.” He straightened his rumpled waistcoat.
“I’m sure Marie will please you well,” she said.
William shook his head. “No, I have a specific girl in mind.” He allowed his gaze to linger on her upturned face.
“Is that so? Who may I ask?” Genuine curiosity flashed in her dark expressive cat-like eyes.
“Her name is Rose Carlson,” he said.
Josephine’s expression remained carefully blank. “There is no one by that name in my employ,” she said.
“I believe she’s known as ‘Red Rose’,” William said.
“Ah, yes.” Josephine laughed, but the sound held no humor. “She was one of my best. Losing her has cost me dearly.”
“What do you mean you lost her?” William grabbed her by the arms more forcefully than he’d intended. “To whom?” If she’d moved on to another house, he needed a name.
Josephine tossed her ebony hair back, then tilted her chin to meet his eyes. “She finished our contract over a month ago. She is free to do as she pleases.”
“Damn it!” William released her and slammed his fist on the bar, shaking the glasses nearby. He felt his face harden. “Do you know where she went?”
Josephine shrugged a delicate shoulder. “Perhaps.”
He reached out and grasped her arms again, this time making sure his fingers bit into her flesh.
“It’s important that I know exactly where she went. Was she alone or did she travel with Lord Lyon?” he asked.
“Lord Lyon wed. I doubt very much that his new bride would allow him to travel with a whore.” Her lips thinned. “Now release me this instant! You’re hurting me.”
William leaned close until their faces were but mere inches apart. His breath fanned her check, stirring the hair framing her face. “I’m going to do a lot more than hurt you, if you don’t tell me what I need to know. Where did she go?”
Josephine struggled to break his hold. “I’ve told you more than enough,” she growled, her accent thickening. She glanced over her shoulder and two bruisers appeared from out of the shadows, closing on them with the speed of a runaway carriage. The men’s noses were bent at strange angles and scars marred their meaty fists. Josephine turned back slowly to face him. “I am going to ask you again to release me. If you do not, then my friends will assist you out the door.”
William glanced at the two men, whose black eyes glittered with anger, and then at Josephine. She’d won this round, but this wouldn’t be their last encounter. He released her slowly, uncurling his fingers one by one. “You’ve made a mistake, madam. You have threatened a peer in front of witnesses.”
“Au contraire, monsieur. You are the one who is mistaken. I guarantee no one here saw a thing. Now get out before I change my mind and have my friends escort you into the alley instead.”
“You’ve not seen the last of me. I’ll be back after I take care of Rose and her demon lover, Lord Lyon.”
Josephine giggled with delight and a smile spread across her face. “I believe that is the brandy talking, monsieur.”
William pulled his coat down, straightening it with a snap. “I’m quite serious, madam.”
Josephine’s delicate brow arched. “You’re truly after Lord Lyon?”
“Then you are on a fool’s errand.” She gave an unladylike snort and shook her head, sending ebony curls over her creamy pale collarbone. “Now I’m afraid I must bid you adieu, for this
the last I see of you, monsieur.” She turned and walked away, her lush hips swaying with each step.
“You underestimate me, madam. I will be back.” William called after her, ignoring the bruisers who stood by his side. Neither man touched him, but the threat was clear.
Josephine stopped and glanced over her shoulder. “No, you will not, monsieur.”
“Why are you so sure?” he asked.
She shrugged. “It is simple. No one attacks Lord Lyon and lives.”
* * * * *
Pain streaked through Lazarus as the stone encasing him began to crack. The fissures widened, then crumbled, falling to the ground. He quaked as chunks of stone were absorbed into his body in place of tissue. Skin formed, stretching over the stone until it resembled hands and feet. Stretching his arms and legs, he wiggled his fingers and toes. Lazarus ran a hand over his new form, enjoying the rigid feel of flesh beneath his palms. He glanced down to make sure everything was where it was supposed to be and grinned. He had everything he needed to seduce his golden goddess. Glossy black wings sprouted from his back until they surpassed the length of a carriage. Lazarus flapped them once, twice, then leapt straight into the air, enjoying freedom once more.
Lazarus entered the McKeon manor by magic. He’d found some of Richard’s tucked in the attic of Hyde Hall. Fortunately they were in good repair. Although a little snug, they fit him well enough to pass as a guest. It had been easy to trick the servant at the door into believing he possessed an invitation to the ball. Humans were often susceptible to suggestion and they had no defense against magic. Too bad he couldn’t use his magic on the woman. It would make things much simpler. It hadn’t taken him long to find her after she’d left Hyde Hall. He’d simply flown over the nearby estates until he’d spotted her in a window.
He stretched his
, enjoying the feel of flesh upon his bones. His wings were once again tucked safely inside his body. He glanced down at the stack of discarded invitations. The lady in question was hosting this event. He smiled. Lady Abigail McKeon, her name was a beautiful as the woman who owned it. He reached out with his senses. She was near, very near. A thrill shot through him.
Lazarus strolled down the corridor and into the throng. It took but a moment to spot his prey. She stood off from the crowd, overseeing the festivities. She held her regal head high, her golden hair neatly pinned at her nape, while her cobalt gown accentuated her eyes and caressed her length.
He stood for a moment, allowing his senses to reach out for her. Lust slammed into him as he absorbed her essence. Lady Abigail was not only beautiful, but she was bright and spirited. A lady through and through. That knowledge made him want her even more.
He forced his attention to her face and sought outside himself once more. Lazarus brushed her cheek with a thought. He saw Abigail’s eyes widen and her cheeks flush as her hand flew to her face. She glanced around warily until her gaze fell upon him.
Lazarus saw her quick intake of air from all the way across the room where he stood. He smiled. He couldn’t help himself. Their eyes locked and he took a step in her direction. Her lashes fluttered and she quickly looked away. The thrill of the hunt surged through Lazarus, as hunger nearly consumed him. One kiss would draw her, tempt her beyond reason. He’d waited lifetimes for this chance. He wasn’t about to let anyone or anything stand in his way.
People parted as he neared, subconsciously sensing the power within him. He’d almost made it across the room to her side, when a large Highlander stepped in front of him, blocking his path. Lazarus tried to sidestep, but the man mirrored his actions.
“What do you seek here, grotesque?” the coal-haired, green-eyed monstrosity of a man asked, his gaze coolly assessing Lazarus from head to foot.
Lazarus’s nostrils flared and his eyes widened in surprise. How? He opened his mouth to reply when it occurred to him that the man standing before him was not a
at all. Suddenly, his shoulders relaxed. So he wasn’t the only one here with a secret. Lazarus smiled, allowing his gaze to float to the redhead standing behind the vampyre.
He pushed past the Highlander. “I do not believe I’ve had the pleasure. My name is Lord Lazarus Hyde.” He bowed over her hand and gave her his best smile.
The vampyre hissed under his breath. Humans couldn’t hear it, but Lazarus could.
“Lady Rose Carlson.” She blushed and dipped into a slight curtsy. “Hyde? As in Hyde Hall?”
“One and the same. My family built the pile generations ago, but eventually retreated to a…
existence. I know this is rather informal. Forgive my bad manners, but may I have this dance? Unless it is already taken.” His gaze swung back to the vampyre, daring him to object.
Rose glanced at the Highlander, and then back to Lazarus. “I’d be delighted since Laird MacDougall has informed me he does not partake of such frivolous activities.”
Lazarus arched a brow and grinned as the vampyre stiffened beside him. “Shall we?” He held his arm out for the lady. She did not disappoint him. In fact, if Lazarus didn’t know any better he’d say she enjoyed goading the vampyre as much as he.
He twirled Rose around the dance floor, while at the same time peppering her with questions. “So how do you know Laird MacDougall?” Lazarus spun her, bringing her close.
“Actually,” Rose flushed, “we just met.”
Lazarus’s gaze strayed to the Highlander. “He seems quite possessive of someone he barely knows.”
She laughed. “You are mistaken, my lord.”
He smiled. “When it comes to affairs of the heart, I’m
mistaken, my lady.”
“I fear this time you are.” Rose pulled back. “Hamish has no interest in me. None whatsoever. He’s made it abundantly clear.”