To seduce an earl, p.1
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       To Seduce an Earl, p.1

           Lori Brighton
 
To Seduce an Earl


  To Seduce an Earl

  Published by Lori Brighton

  www.LoriBrighton.com

  All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced , stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademark status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

  This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

  ********

  To Seduce an Earl

  by Lori Brighton

  ********

  Chapter 1

  1867, England

  He always received the virgins.

  Really, it wasn’t fair.

  Alex sighed in disgust and sank into the wing back chair, the antique legs protesting with a creak. The decorative Baroque style was more for show and offered only the façade of comfort. Much like his life.

  Just once he’d like a woman who knew what she wanted, what she was capable of; a woman who would take charge and please him. But it wasn’t about him. It never had been. It never would be.

  His necktie felt suddenly too tight, the room too warm. With experienced fingers, he tugged the snowy white material loose. At Lady Lavender’s Estate of Seduction evening wear was a requirement.

  Resisting the urge to fidget with his clothing, he tapped his fingers against the curved walnut arm of the chair, impatient to leave, impatient to begin the evening and get the entire ordeal over with. But like a lad at supper, he couldn’t leave until she excused him.

  “Bloody hell.”

  Ophelia glanced up sharply from behind her desk.

  Shite, had he said that aloud?

  Her amethyst eyes flashed eerily under the glow of the gas chandeliers she’d recently had installed throughout the first floor of the estate. When most of England was straining its eyes under candle and lamp light, Lady Lavender read in ease. “Watch your language.”

  It wasn’t an elegant woman’s desk made of delicate scrolls that she resided behind. It was a man’s desk; massive, domineering. It was the only thing about her that wasn’t feminine. She was proving a point with that desk. Although her business revolved around the pleasuring of women, it was still a business and she treated her business as a man would. No feelings. No attachments. No excuses.

  Taking a page from her book, Alex refused to apologize for his use of profanity, but he did manage that charming smirk that had made him famous with his clients. Inside he seethed. He was bloody sick of apologizing.

  His stubbornness gained him nothing but contempt. Her icy gaze continued to drill into him. She didn’t back down. She wouldn’t. Ophelia, or Lady Lavender as the world knew her, held the impression of a lady, but underneath she was as heartless as any male brothel owner. Twelve years ago her cold gaze would have had him shifting with unease. Hell, even four years ago. Now, he barely cared.

  Ending their silent war, she sighed and stood. “Why must you be so difficult lately?”

  He didn’t bother to answer. What he had to say would merely get him into trouble…again. She strolled toward him. Those rounded hips swathed in the finest of imported silks, although it was early spring and most women still wore wool. Her lavender gown, narrow at the waist, flared into a bell of frills and ribbons that ended at satin slippers. Completely inappropriate for the chill English weather. Completely inappropriate for a woman who must be at the very least forty, yet looked more of twenty.

  Even in the privacy of her office she wore the highest of fashion, an imitation of their Queen Victoria, she said. And Ophelia was a queen, if only queen of her own sinful domain.

  Even now, twelve years after the day she’d practically forced him into prostitution, Ophelia was still beautiful. Not a speck of gray in that white-blonde hair. Not a wrinkle around those amethyst eyes. Not a hint of time. When others aged, she didn’t seem to. A pact with the devil, Gideon always muttered. Perhaps he was right.

  She idly drew her hand down the blue, velvet curtains, glancing casually out the windows. Did she truly see the beauty of the setting sun, or was she ignorant to something so pure?

  “Have I not given you shelter?” she asked, her voice holding that slight accent he couldn’t quite identify. “Have I not fed you? Clothed you in the finest of suits.”

  She glanced pointedly at his silk vest and black trousers with the thin gray stripes. The highest of fashion.

  “Have I not kept your secrets, Alex?”

  Unwanted memories swept through his mind. Memories he tried to ignore. Annoyed, he didn’t dare show his feelings on his face. How dare she mention his family yet again. A veiled threat that never went unnoticed. Damn, but he hated when she had the audacity. How hard it had been those first years to pretend his family didn’t exist. All for their own good.

  His hands tightened around the arms of his chair, fingernails biting into hard wood. It had taken years for him to forget his parents and within an instant, she could bring back the painful memories. Of course she did it on purpose…a reminder of what she knew, the control she held over him. A verbal slap.

  What was done was done. His parents would have given up their search and toasted Demitri as the new heir. Perhaps he should have tried to escape, in those early days, if he’d had the choice. But he’d been too damn afraid. When one was secluded in the country a good hour from London, with brutes watching your every move, escape had seemed impossible…at least to a boy of thirteen. Although her thinly veiled threats no longer intimidated him, now Alex stayed for an entirely different reason…he had no money and nowhere to go. He was pathetic.

  God forbid she realize his true fear.

  “Perhaps I no longer care about my secrets,” he couldn’t help but taunt in a soft voice. The war was over. Society no longer cared if you were from Russia; even he, secluded as he was, knew that must be true.

  She paused behind him, and casually placed her hands upon his shoulders. But he felt the stiffness in her touch. Anger and annoyance practically vibrated around her. She knew as well as he that she no longer held the power over him she once had. For one brief moment he couldn’t help but gloat and savor the thrilling shiver of victory.

  “Perhaps,” she leaned down, her lips brushing the shell of his ear. Yet her touch offered no comfort, not even the stirrings of lust as it had when he was young. “But what will you do in the outside world, Alex? Return to the bosom of your family?”

  Victory vanished. Suppressed ire flooded his neck in an unnatural heat that quickly moved higher to his cheeks. In one sentence she’d hit upon the problem. He had no where to go. Worthless. A useless whore.

  Ophelia straightened away from him, but the cloying scent of lavender remained as a reminder of her presence. The scent hovered inside the estate and the fields around them. If he never saw a purple bloom, it would be too soon.

  “Do you think they’ll take you back? There is no place in the outside world for people like us. And think about what would happen if your family uncovered the truth…that you’ve been prostituting yourself for year
s.” She paused in front of him, her eyes wide with feigned innocence. She rested her hand on her heart as if she cared. As if she had a heart. “Or worse, society uncovered the truth. Why, if your family has finally found a place within the ton, they’d be shunned within weeks.” She shook her head and sighed as she moved toward the fireplace. “They’d certainly be forced back to Russia. And with the war over, the people starving, Russia is no place for loved ones.”

  His body had gone cold, numb. A threat that went too far, damn her. But he should have known she would use whatever she could to keep her claws deeply embedded in his soul.

  “Alex, darling,” she said. “You’re charming. You know how to put a woman at ease. This new client needs you.”

  He resisted the urge to snort. Give, give, give, that’s all he did. But he had a feeling that’s how Lady Lavender wanted it. Punishment, but why punish him? What had he done to her? The eternal, unanswerable question that had plagued him for years.

  He raked trembling hands through his hair, the wavy curls clinging to his fingers. Perhaps Gideon’s paranoia was working its magic, but he didn’t trust her anymore than he had as a lad at thirteen when she’d offered him the world and instead, had given him hell.

  She turned toward him in a swirl of skirts that showed off white petticoats. “Come, give me that charming grin the ladies so love.”

  Alex dampened down his ire and widened his smile, knowing the dimples flashed. At times he felt trapped in his own skin; a bear with a chain wrapped around his neck, as he’d once seen in the old country. And only she held the key to that lock.

  Ophelia seemed to relax and floated toward the marble hearth, her footfalls quieted by the thick Persian carpet. The low fire casting leering shadows across the papered walls, crackled and sputtered, hissing at her approach. “Take it easy on her for now. She’s as scared as a doe at the end of a pistol. Her driver even insisted she be taken through the kitchens so as not to be seen.”

  Alex surged to his feet, eager to get away from Ophelia before he did something reckless, like throttle her. “As if anyone would see her. We’re in the middle of a damn field, a good hour from London.”

  “Alex,” she warned, throwing him a threatening glare.

  He kept his smile in place. He was a machine; one of those factories that chugged away in the city, producing black smoke that hid the reality of dreary old London. Ophelia told him to smile, and he smiled. She said fuck, and he fucked. Why? Because he didn’t care.

  “Where is she?” he asked.

  But she didn’t answer immediately. Instead, she tilted her head to the side in a thoughtful manner, her eyes narrowing as if to study him. Alex grew uneasy.

  “Your room. No intercourse. She merely wants to learn to kiss, touch.”

  Wonderful. Just bleedin wonderful. “I’ll see what I can do.” But he had to wait for her dismissal and apparently she was in a hesitant mood this eve.

  She floated forward, not pausing until she was a breath away. Slowly, she tilted her head back and gazed directly into his eyes. For one brief moment she merely stared at him, as if trying to read his thoughts. Alex barely breathed, afraid she would. With their gazes locked, she slid her hand down his silk vest, lower to his waist. With a firm grip she cupped the front of his trousers, taking the bulge of his cock in hand. He didn’t even flinch.

  “Do not fail, Alex.”

  Her touch didn’t do a damn thing to him. Neither did her threat. “Of course not.”

  She released her hold and gave him a dismissive wave. She’d moved on already, her next client, her next wad of cash. Alex gave a mocking bow to her back, then turned and made his way into the hall. How he hated her. How he despised everything about her.

  Wavers, her guard dog, shifted from his position near her door. Watching them, always watching them through those beady, black eyes. The bastard never spoke, but with a face like his, he didn’t need to.

  “Wavers.” Alex brushed his fingers under his chin, a silent command to fuck off.

  Ophelia’s henchman didn’t respond, but then they never did. Her muscled statues had two purposes in life: protect their lady and when her boys were behaving badly enough, beat them into submission. For that, she paid them handsomely and like mutts, their loyalty was unwavering.

  Feigning a nonchalance he sure as hell didn’t feel, Alex started down the hall, whistling a tune under his breath. How impressed he’d been when he’d first arrived, a lad used to living in splendor, he expected nothing less and thought he’d found a second home. The estate was beautiful, only the best. Marble floors, golden sconces highlighting the ornate scrolls hand painted on the walls. Above, gas chandeliers flickered and sputtered adding warmth and moderninity to the abode.

  And there, on the outskirts, were objects meant to entice even the coldest of women. Statues of naked couples frolicking half-hidden around corners. Large tropical plants that added vitality. Warm scents meant to relax. Paintings of virile men hanging on the walls. It was a lush lifestyle meant to seduce and please, if one didn’t mind selling one’s soul.

  Alex’s fingers moved to the fine linen of his shirt, buttoning that top button. He smoothed down the silk embroidered vest. Outside appearances must be kept, even if inside he fumed. The cravat that hung loose around his neck was tied as quickly as his trembling fingers would allow. Thrumming through his mind, years of teaching prevailed. Virgins tended to be skittish if you showed any skin. Yes, he’d have to tiptoe around this one, like always.

  At first, he’d loved holding the upper hand, making innocent women quiver under his touch. Knowing they not only wanted him, but underneath, feared him. A powerful aphrodisiac, indeed. Now…hell, now he was damn tired of teaching them how to seduce their future husbands. Tired of their wide-eyed stares. Tired of their innocent blushes. Tired of the game.

  “Another virgin?”

  Startled from his thoughts, Alex paused, glancing toward the parlor. Gideon leaned against the doorframe, a scotch in hand. He’d changed in the past twelve years. Taller, broader. Those muscles, dark hair, and silver eyes made more than one woman tremble with fear and desire. But no matter how many beatings the man had endured as a youth, his stubbornness remained intact. The evidence was there…in the hardness of his face, the tenseness of his body. The idiot would get himself killed if he didn’t at least pretend to play Ophelia’s games.

  Alex snatched the glass from the man’s scarred fingers and drank the amber liquid. The alcohol burned a trail down his throat, making him wince.

  “Why do you have scars on your fingers, Gideon?” he’d asked him once, when he, James and Gideon had first arrived.

  “None of your damn business,” Gideon had replied.

  And so had been the start of a tumultuous relationship, an uneasy truce between three lads brought together. There were many things Alex didn’t know about Gideon, but there were also things he’d deduced from years of companionship.

  Alex had never been one to drink; he liked to have all his wits about him when facing the Angel of Hell, as he’d dubbed Ophelia. Gideon liked to deal with life by being in a habitual state of half-drunkenness, although the man held his whiskey so well, one could barely tell. James acted as if their lives were an honored position they should be proud of. And Alex, well, he pretended. He was good at pretending. He’d had years of practice with his parents. Pretending to be someone he wasn’t, pretending to be happy, charming. And now, pretending he enjoyed pleasing women every day of the week.

  “Yes, rotten luck, another virgin, unfortunately.”

  Gideon merely smiled, a rarity. “At least you won’t have to worry about the pox.”

  “Hmm,” Alex replied. Small condolences.

  “You’re too pretty,” he said the words with disdain. “It’s why she gives you virgins. Scar your face a bit. I’d be happy to hold the knife.”

  “Amusing.” Alex brushed a piece of lint from his vest. “You’re welcome to her.”

  “Oh no, she’s all yours.
Gideon set the glass on a small side table. His gaze slid down the hall where Wavers still stood silently watching. The atmosphere shifted, becoming thick with tension and Alex knew what was to come.

  “Did you think about it?” Gideon asked.

  Alex swallowed hard and lowered his gaze to the hall runner. He felt like a coward; his thoughts jumbled when he knew he should have had a ready answer. Why? Why didn’t he immediately agree? Why did his body grow cold and clammy with thoughts of escape?

  “Yes, I’ve thought about it.”

  “And?”

  His heart thumped madly in his chest, unease and desperation battling within. Once he agreed, he was placing his life in the hands of a man he barely trusted. Still, wasn’t being dead better than being alive here? “Do you truly believe we’ll be able to escape?”

  “Yes. She’s hoping our lack of fortune and lack of self-respect will bind us to her. And, of course, she’s got her men. But her trust is building. Has she not decided to take you to the Rutherford Ball when you’ve never gone before?”

  True. And there would be no better opportunity to escape than at a crowded ballroom.

  “And think about what would happen if they uncovered the truth…that you’ve been prostituting yourself for years.”

  Ophelia’s warning whispered tauntingly through his head. The thought of his mother…his father…knowing that he was nothing more than a whore left him ill. He had no doubt, should he leave her establishment, Ophelia would post about his life in the dailies. But would the ton believe her word? “I’ll have to think on it.”

  Gideon’s jaw clenched, annoyance hardening his pewter gaze. “And James?” he asked.

  Alex floundered for a response. James was tricky, he always had been a bit naïve. Did his loyalty to Lady Lavender supersede his loyalty to them? For some reason the idiot had the insane belief that Ophelia had saved them. “I don’t know. He seems to believe he owes her.”

 
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