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Authors: Samantha Holt

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Sinful Cravings

BOOK: Sinful Cravings
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Sinful Cravings

A Cynfell Brothers Novella

Samantha Holt

 

Copyright 2015 ©Samantha Holt

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organisations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Cover Art by
www.lovelustandlipstickstains.com

Edited by Em Petrova

Proofed by Timony Souler

Special thanks to Liette Bougie for the title suggestion.

 

 

Chapter One

London, 1898

Was it his imagination or was the scent of perfume emanating from that woman? Jasper peered over his wine glass at the lady—no, girl perhaps—in the doorway and pondered just how much Guerlain’s
Jicky
she could possibly be wearing if he could smell it from his position near the fireplace at the back of the wine bar. Of course, he knew the perfume well. Many women of his acquaintance wore it. He couldn’t recall the number of sweetly-fragranced necks he’d burrowed into while murmuring how delicious they smelled. And the response the vast majority of the time had been a giggle and ‘
Oh it’s just Jicky
.’

Jasper let his brow furrow as he considered the woman with a hand to her hat. This was not the sort of woman to wear expensive perfumes or to bother with anything other than soap in his experience. Her stiffly starched collar, small, non-descript cameo broach, tight jacket and long skirt spoke of a woman with little patience for vanity.

A few speckles of rain and an umbrella in her hand told him the weather had turned since his arrival at Gordon’s. She turned his way, her hand still to the brown, wide-brimmed hat. It reminded him of something a pastor might wear and he had the urge to accidentally knock the monstrosity from her head and stomp on it. No woman should be dressed so dully.

And she was definitely a woman, though he could be forgiven for thinking of her as younger because of an air of innocence that was wasted on her. Any other young woman would be using that petite face and wide brown eyes to beg for assistance, but her pursed lips and severe eyebrows kept every man at bay.

Including him. He had no interest in her even if he puzzled over why someone like her had stepped foot in Gordon’s Wine Bar—a place with a reputation for beautiful women, scandalous happenings and the occasional illegal activity.

Jasper managed to ignore her until she stumbled not far from the bar. She glanced around again and he saw colour spring up on her cheeks when her gaze connected with his. For some odd reason, he didn’t look away. Perhaps he simply liked making her more uncomfortable. That had to be it. He didn’t wish to think about a passably pretty face and fairly attractive brown curls creeping out from that...monstrosity on her head.

Anyway, was he not meant to be thinking of Constance? Constance and her painted lips and artfully decorated eyes. Constance who would not be seen dead with a brown hat and a starched collar. Constance whom he had pursued quite fervently this week and fully intended to take to bed tonight so he could appreciate what he’d spied beneath those low bodices. Unfortunately Constance was not here yet and Miss Ugly Brown Hat was.

Miss Ugly Brown hat who was moving farther into the bar and starting to attract attention. It couldn’t be for her looks. There were plenty of decent-looking women in the bar, most of whom could be bought by the hour, but this lady had a look of utter naivety to her. Her nervous movements and darting gaze said
easy mark
. And if he knew anything about women’s clothing—which he did—hers were of decent quality. She was no princess but no pauper either. The likelihood was, she’d have a few bob on her.

Jasper tightened his grip on the wine glass. The patrons knew it too. He grimaced to himself. She was going to get herself in trouble. What was a woman like her doing in a place like this anyway? Certainly he spent time with women here but they were never alone and never made themselves look so vulnerable. No one would dare look at Constance like that. She might be a rich widow but the patrons knew they’d never survive touching her.

He blew out a lengthy breath and placed down his glass. There was no escaping it. He’d have to go to her defence. Ugly hat or not, he couldn’t very well stand by and watch her be robbed.

Two men rose from their seats before he did and they were a darn sight closer. She had the look of a fox being chased by a hound as they approached. She gripped the umbrella and held it across her chest like a shield. One of the men leaned close to her to say something Jasper couldn’t catch. Then the other touched her.

Jasper came to his feet and strode over, fully prepared to grab the man who had latched a hand about her arm.

Before he reached her, there was a blur of movement and an
oof
from the man who’d dared touch her. He staggered back and the woman whirled again, brandishing her umbrella like a sword. It was only when the touchy man retreated with a hand to his stomach did Jasper realise he’d nearly been impaled by the umbrella. He fought down a smirk when she turned the weapon on the other man and smacked him around the ear, rather like a naughty boy.

He let out a yowl and eyed the woman for several moments, perhaps deciding if she was worth the hassle. Clearly the blackguard decided no, as he retreated to join his friend while they nursed their wounds.

Jasper took a few steps forward and held up his hands when she turned the point of her umbrella to him.

“Stay back,” she warned, her voice slightly throaty and astonishingly appealing for a woman with an averagely pretty face.

“I have no intention of robbing you, ma’am. I am quite rich enough, thank you. But I would like to offer my protection.”

Her eyes narrowed at him from under the brim of her hat. “And who would protect me from you?”

“You need no protection from me, I can assure you.” He eyed the wavering end of the umbrella. “Let me escort you to a cab.”

“I have no intention of leaving and certainly not with you.”

Jasper grimaced to himself. Why had he even bothered with her? She could clearly fend off an army with the lethal umbrella. “This is no place for a young lady such as yourself.”

“I’m aware of that. I just need to speak to the landlord.” She darted a look around.

“Well, you won’t find him here today.”

“How do you know that?”

“I’m a regular,” he drawled.

She lowered the umbrella and pushed up the brim of her hat enough to run her gaze over him. Her mouth opened then closed, as if debating what she would say next. She clamped it shut then shifted forward a step. “Who are you?”

He ignored her abruptness and even offered her a slight dip of his head. “Lord Jasper Cynfell.”

Realisation seeped into her eyes. Whoever this woman was, she was not wholly out of society if she recognised his name.

She pressed aside a damp strand of brown hair that clung to her cheek. “Yes, I’ve heard of you.”

Jasper suspected by the tone of her voice she’d heard nothing good. Not that he was surprised. Only the men who longed to be like him would speak of him with praise. The mamas, protective fathers and any other uptight member of society would have nothing good to say of his antics.

What a bloody fine job he didn’t give a fig for their opinions. He gave no apologies for living as he did. He enjoyed life, enjoyed sex, enjoyed...well, enjoyment. It was not as though he had any responsibility to worry about, so why the hell not?

He ignored her pinched lip expression and grinned. “Now that we’ve established who I am, to whom do I have the honour of addressing?”

“Miss Henrietta Foster.”

The name meant nothing, although he did know a young woman by the name of Foster. He couldn’t imagine they were related. Miss Emma Foster was bright and radiant and quite the bold little thing. Too young to appeal to him but sadly old enough to be taken advantage of by some of his more unscrupulous friends. Yes, even he had his limits and young virgins was certainly one of them.

Running his gaze over her apparel again, he concluded there was no chance they were remotely related.

“Miss Foster, may I repeat my offer of escorting you to a cab?”

She peered around, though what she was searching for he didn’t know. “I’m quite capable of finding transport myself, my lord, thank you. Good evening to you.”

Armed with her umbrella, she pivoted away and ducked out of the door. Jasper eyed the doorway for several moments before heaving a sigh. It was dark, wet and dangerous out there. And she was alone. Most people of his acquaintance would be astonished that it bothered him. In fact, it even surprised him a little. For some reason, he did not want this woman’s fate on his conscience. He wouldn’t rest tonight...well, maybe not
rest
exactly, if Constance turned up. But he wouldn’t be able to enjoy himself if he wasn’t assured of Miss Henrietta Foster’s safety.

He stepped out into the dark and allowed his eyes to adjust. Rain pattered onto the pavement and pools of golden light from the bar reflected off the puddles. Miss Foster stood on the pavement edge, tucked under her umbrella. A carriage raced past and she squeaked and stepped back when water sprayed from the wheel. Jasper took the chance to come to her side and take her arm. She released another squeak, this time indignant, and if his reflexes were not so good, he would have lost an eye to that damned umbrella.

Rain began to seep through his jacket, not surprising considering he’d left his greatcoat in the bar along with his hat. He hoped some blackguard didn’t make off with it. If he got wet and lost his coat, he would hold Miss Foster personally responsible.

“Lord Jasper,” she protested, trying to tug from his hold.

A cabriolet went by and she released a sound of annoyance as it ignored her frantically flapping hand. He peered up and down the street and led her a little farther along to the busier part where two roads intersected each other.

“Lord Ja—”

“Here we are,” he announced, trying not to think about how he quite liked having this wriggling, odd woman on his arm. He motioned to the carriage waiting patiently at the side and drew the driver’s attention.

Even over the patter of rain, he heard her
harrumph
. It made him grin. She ceased her wriggling when he led her over to the carriage and opened the door for her.

“Where are you staying?”

As she ignored his proffered hand and settled onto the seat, she narrowed her gaze at him.

“So I can inform the driver,” he explained with exaggerated slowness.“I have little intention of following you home, unless you shall let me escort you?” The way her glare turned icy made his smile expand. “I shall take that as a no.”

“Arlington Street,” she muttered.

“Excellent.” He gave the driver the instructions and offered her a minute bow. “Miss Foster, it has indeed been a...pleasure.”

She didn’t respond. Only eyed him in the most curious manner. As though fascinated by him but, at the same time, thoroughly disgusted. He couldn’t help watch her leave and enjoy the way he caught her glancing back at him. What a curious creature this Miss Henrietta Foster was.  

Chapter Two

Lord Jasper Cynfell should not be occupying so much space in her mind, Hettie concluded. After all, she was meant to be concentrating on finding her sister. Why a scandalous man like Lord Jasper should be interfering with her thoughts every two minutes, she didn’t know.

Hettie puffed out a sigh as she buttered her toast. She’d only been in London for two days since receiving her aunt’s desperate express letter but she really thought she’d have found her by now. How did a pretty, popular girl like her sister vanish like that?

“Henrietta,” her aunt trilled from across the table. “Please do not look so forlorn. It does my nerves no good.”

Hettie bit back any response. Aunt Flora was a lovely lady, if a little overwrought at times, but how could she have let Emma go off gallivanting around like that? From what she could tell after her investigations Emma was allowed free reign. Her newest friend in London, a Miss Clara Thompson, was known for being a flirt and quite the scandalous young woman. Emma should never have been allowed to be friends with her.

“I am worried for Emma,” Hettie finally admitted. What if she wasn’t in London? What if she had taken up with some awful rake like Lord Jasper? What if they were on their way to Scotland to get married as they spoke? “It seems as though she has truly vanished.”

Aunt Flora twined her hands together before pouring a dramatically shaky cup of tea. “I cannot believe she has betrayed my trust. When she didn’t come back for one day, I assumed she had simply lost track of time. She’s such a sweet girl. Why would she do something like this?”

Another sigh threatened to break free from Hettie. Emma was a sweet girl. And her sister well knew it. For as long as she could remember, Emma had been using her delicate looks and charming manner to get what she wanted. Even their papa hadn’t been able to see through it. Thank goodness Mama and Papa were in Yorkshire, aiding with charitable work. Her father was not a young man anymore. It would kill him to know his favourite daughter was missing.

“I’ll find her, Aunt Flora,” Hettie assured.

She prayed she sounded more confident than she felt. Clara had listed some of the places they used to frequent together—places Hettie was hard pushed to imagine her sister in. She’d always thought she’d had quite the understanding of Emma. They were four years apart in age but they’d been close growing up. It was only as Emma had started to reach fourteen that the distance between them had occurred. However, Hettie had always been an observer. It was something she’d done since she was a little girl. Rather than jump into the crowd like Emma did, she liked to stand back, watch things play out and understand her place before getting involved.

That hadn’t really worked yesterday, had it? Before she’d had a chance to establish anything, those two men in the bar had been upon her...and then Lord Jasper. Goodness, why could she not forget his face? He was handsome to be sure, but she knew well what a reputation he had. Almost everyone in England did, even she, who spent most of her time in Wiltshire at the orphanage rather than in London looking for a husband.

Hettie nibbled on her toast and felt her stomach protest the food. But eat she must, so she forced it down along with some sweet tea. She needed to keep up her strength for the rest of the day if she was to be trekking about London in search of some clue as to her sister’s whereabouts.

Perhaps she should have come with her. Perhaps she should have counselled her father on the disturbing elements she’d seen in her sister’s behaviour. Everyone in Burcombe seemed oblivious to it, even the families of their acquaintance. The sweet daughter of a vicar would never behave scandalously, surely? However, Emma’s flirting and reckless behaviour with men had not passed Hettie’s notice. Growing up in the country afforded one certain freedoms, to be sure, but Emma seemed to delight in throwing every civility out of the window to the point that Emma found herself following her sister around and ‘interrupting’ any potential dalliance.

There had been one moment with Robert Turner that had been as close to scandal as one could get, she recalled. Had anyone but she caught them, Emma would have been married off to the no-good son of a Baron who would never treat her properly. As frustrated as she was with her, Hettie knew her sister deserved better than a man who had never lifted a finger in his life unless is was to beckon a young girl to her doom.

She should have come to London with her. Hettie jabbed the halibut on her plate and pushed it around while she tried to summon some appetite. Why had she not come? But of course, she couldn’t abandon the orphanage. Not with her parents gone. Unfortunately, she’d been left with little choice but to come to London now.

Really, she should have accompanied her sister in the first place. Mrs Feathergill didn’t need her help. Working at the orphanage made her feel somewhat valued in the world and she adored the children, but Hettie had to admit to herself that they could function quite well without her.

Now Emma was missing and their father’s health would suffer terribly if he found out. Their parents were due back from Yorkshire in two weeks. Emma had to be found and returned to Wiltshire before then.

Hettie gave her poor fish one last jab before giving up and settling on another sweet tea. Sugar would have to get her through the day today. Regret rolled in her stomach and it would never allow her to digest anything more.

“Did you find out anything useful?” her aunt asked, eyeing the disfigured fish on her plate.

“Nothing yet, Aunt.”

Only that her sister frequented places that catered to ruffians and wastrels. She should have asked Lord Jasper if he knew of her, perhaps, but surely he wouldn’t be interested in a country girl.
His tastes likely ran more in the direction of expensive courtesans or rich heiresses. Someone more of his own standing.

Though perhaps a fresh country girl of only six and ten appealed to men like that. They probably saw girls like her sister as a game, something to toy with before they flung them aside.

Blast, she should have stopped to quiz him. The trouble was, he made her feel so out of sorts that she’d almost forgotten why she was there and had simply wanted to escape him. To think he wished to ride with her. She wasn’t sure she could have coped having him beside her in a carriage. No one would gossip about her—no one knew her—but to have a man like that in close proximity was more than she could bear.

Not because he was devilishly handsome, of course.

No, it was his reputation that was the problem. She doubted he’d try to take advantage. A simple lass like her wouldn’t appeal to him any more than her sister. But how could she suffer a man like Jasper Cynfell? Tales of his antics were legendary, even to someone like her who avoided London at all costs. Her aunt loved the regale them with tales when she visited them in Wiltshire, and the gossip columns—while often mentioning all the Cynfell men—paid particular attention to Jasper’s latest conquest.

Of which there were many.

As near as she could tell, he had to run through several women a week. That man was simply a glutton for women.

“Where shall you go today?”

Hettie snapped out of her building annoyance and glanced at the window. “I thought maybe the park.”

“She will not very well be wandering around there, surely?” Aunt Flora pushed her wire-rimmed glasses up her nose and took a long sip of tea. “I fear we shall never find her and your mother will never speak to me again. I have failed Emma most terribly.”

Hettie reached across the table and patted her hand. Really, she could almost forgive her aunt for being deceived by Emma. She was no different to the rest of their family, all of whom thought Emma entirely trustworthy and sweet-natured.

“I will find her before Mama and Papa return, Aunt.”

She peered out of the window again, relieved to see she wouldn’t need her umbrella today. But a parasol might be in order. She doubted she’d need to use it to fend off any unsavoury men this time, however. Hyde Park would present no danger to her but plenty of opportunity to speak with people. Whether anyone would speak with this odd woman, quizzing them about some unknown country girl, she didn’t know, but she had to try. Flora said Emma spent a lot of time in the park with Clara and a few of their friends. She longed to find out exactly who these friends were. Clara had been very evasive when Hettie had quizzed her about that.

“Well,” Hettie announced, coming to her feet, “I see no need to wait any longer. It is too early for the fashionable hour but I’m sure I shall be able to find some people to talk to.”

“Just be cautious, dear. One can never be too careful.”

Hettie thought of the men she’d attacked with her umbrella and allowed her lips a slight quirk. Perhaps delicate ladies needed to be cautious in London but she was a country girl. She had spent most of her childhood climbing trees and mud-wrestling with the farmers’ sons. Then, when she’d been older, she’d set to work at the orphanage. Splitting up fighting boys had taken quite a bit of strength and tenacity. She doubted those men who’d approached her yesterday had expected her to do anything other than meekly hand over any money she had.

“I shall be back for supper.” She paused to give her aunt a peck on the cheek.

Poor Aunt Flora. It wasn’t her fault she was so naive and a terrible guardian for Emma. Hettie supposed she should be cross with the woman for letting her sister run so wild but her parents shouldn’t have entrusted her in the first place. In truth, the only person she was cross with was Emma. And perhaps herself, a little. If she’d made more of an effort to make her family aware of the true nature of her sister, perhaps this would never have happened.

Either way, it was up to her to fix things.

Hettie opted to take her parasol and regretted it as she started down the road. Though the sun shone brightly between the clouds, a bluster of wind whipped up the narrow street and nearly knocked the thing from her hand. After fighting with it for nearly ten minutes of walking and almost attacking a gentleman on the street—entirely accidentally—she put the lace annoyance down and held it at her side.

Her aunt lived in a pleasant house, only twenty minutes walk from Hyde Park. Though her family were not rich, they were comfortable and Aunt Flora had married well. Her shipping magnate husband had died many years ago and so she enjoyed having her nieces for company. Another wedge of guilt slipped into Hettie’s throat. If she’d have spent more time with her aunt, perhaps this wouldn’t have happened. But London never appealed to her. She longed for clean, fresh air and peaceful walks where she wouldn’t have to greet anyone for miles.

Hettie skirted around some horse droppings and grimaced before nearly getting run down by a carriage driving too fast. She couldn’t wait to leave here—with her sister in tow.

Hyde Park would have been a welcome break from the busy traffic of London and the smoke that hung thing in the air except it proved to be remarkably busy, even at this time of day. Several cyclists whipped past her and she had to jump out of the way of too many men driving recklessly in their cabriolets. She noted they were with women and most likely showing off. It was exactly the sort of thing she pictured Lord Jasper doing, though why she even thought of the man she’d met for all of two minutes, she didn’t know.

Hettie followed the path alongside the Serpentine. She had seen it crowded on sunnier days at a more popular time but, at present, only a few people milled around the water’s edge. A few grubby boys dipped their toes into the water while elderly ladies peered out at the water from their seats on benches. Maybe she should have waited until fashionable hour.

Maybe this was all a big mistake. The truth was, she hardly knew where to start. London was so vast and though she had an excellent sense of direction, she had found herself lost several times over the past few days. What if Emma had simply become horribly lost and found herself in a ghastly situation? What if she wasn’t being irresponsible at all?

Hettie pressed her lips tighter. She couldn’t think like that. It did not help one bit.

She continued along the riverside, looking over the river toward Rotten Row where several men and ladies were already making use of it on horseback. She couldn’t very well leap in front of them and demand if they knew her sister so she’d have to find someone else.

A gentleman about her father’s age and a woman he assumed to be his wife strolled her way and when he offered her a tip of his hat she took her chance.

“Excuse me,” she asked, breathlessly. “Forgive me, but I’m hoping you can help me.”

“What can we do for you, dear? Are you lost?” the woman asked.

Hettie had to conclude she had been looking a little lost, which was probably true, though not in the sense this couple thought.

“No, no. I’m looking for someone—my sister.”

She fumbled to pull open the locket she normally kept stashed in her skirt pocket and held it out to them. It held portraits of the two of them. They both had one but neither of them had worn them after having them painted last year. A shaft of anguish pierced her. Had she been a truly awful older sister? Was this why Emma’s behaviour had become so extreme? She hadn’t felt right wearing it when Emma had declared she didn’t want to. That had pained Hettie more than she’d wanted to admit.

“Pretty young thing,” the woman murmured, “but I do not recognise her I’m afraid. George, do you know her?”

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