It’s been years since the Marquis de Beaumont, London’s most notorious rake, felt anything more than sexual need. But something about the mysterious nursemaid Miranda Brown catches his eye. Why is her face so terribly scarred? Why does her speech slip into the cadence of the upper class? Why is she haunting his dreams?
Miranda is used to hiding in plain sight. After fleeing her vicious guardian, she’s wary of everyone, especially the Marquis, who stars in her most secret nighttime fantasies. But not even her fantasies could prepare her for the truth about the Marquis, the Duke, the Earl and the Countess…or for the intense passion that flares between them. As the secrets from her past begin to surface, she fears their fragile bond won’t survive, and that not even her three masters will be able to save her from a cruel fate.
Inside Scoop: This Regency-set tale boasts ménage, BDSM…just about everything you could possibly want in a hot historical.
Lying awake at night in a state of worry wasn’t unusual for me. Ever since I’d run away from my guardian, the Vicious Viscount—as I called him—I’d encountered one dangerous situation after another, each more dire than the next. The Marquise had seemed to be a reprieve, as unlikely as that seems. I knew she was a bitter, horrible woman. I knew she derived enjoyment from the suffering of others. I knew some sort of monstrous pain infected her soul. But once I began caring for her, she became my patient and I ceased to pass judgment upon her. We’d got on fairly well, all in all.
But could it be that she’d been storing all her cruelty for one final act?
The notorious Marquis de Beaumont—my master?
In the dark, my face burned as I recalled some of the Marquise’s stories about her husband. At Eton he’d been caught in bed with three students and a professor—at the same time. He was equally voracious with men and women, and his sexual appetites knew no bounds. He’d once kidnapped another man’s mistress, chained her in a dungeon and tormented her until she crawled to him on her knees, begging for his… I blushed even to think it. How she could crawl when she was chained, I failed to see. On occasion I would wonder if all the Marquise’s stories were true. But it was not my place to question. If I questioned, she might stop her tales, and that… I couldn’t bear.
I’m ashamed to admit that I lived for those stories. Shocking and titillating though they were, when I crawled into my tiny cot in my mistress’s dressing room, I thought of nothing else. It was as if I were transported into another world. A dungeon, perhaps, where I hung helplessly in chains, my arms stretched overhead, my naked body exposed to the ruthless black gaze of the devil himself. With that sardonic twist of his mouth I’d come to know, he’d come closer, closer, then he’d lift one gloved hand, touch his finger to my nipple and a shivery sensation would sing through me. I’d sag against the chains, panting and begging for… I knew not what.
I’d sneak my hand between my legs, where my fingers would dip into a soft, liquid slipperiness. There was a spot there, just there. If I rubbed it a certain way, a seed of a feeling would blaze to life. My heart would begin to pound, my breath come fast, and soon joy would shriek through me. As I arched and held my hand tight against my throbbing body, the horror of the world would disappear.
Maybe it was wrong—it probably was wrong—but when everything has been ripped away from you, such considerations don’t carry much weight.
The Marquis hadn’t left Beaumont House. He’d decided to stay the night. Servants always know such things, and I would have known in any case. The very air felt different when he was present. Even now, I felt his dark existence pulling me as if it were some magnetic force. How could I work for him when he unsettled me so? It would be impossible.
The solution was simple. I had to tell him that I had no intention of entering his household. And I had no reason to wait another moment. The Marquis was a notorious night owl. No doubt he was in the billiards room or perhaps the library.
I rose to my feet and drew on the simple brown homespun dress I wore over my shift. I left off my pattens as they made too much noise for the quiet nighttime household. I stole through my mistress’s room and ran silently down the stairs.
I didn’t have to search far. The door to the library was slightly ajar and firelight flickered within. I tiptoed to the door and peered in. The Marquis sat sprawled in a leather armchair squarely in front of the hearth. He must have asked a footman to move it, or perhaps he’d done so himself, the unpredictable man. One hand dangled to the side, a snifter of brandy held carelessly in its loose grip. I wondered if he was asleep, or merely in his cups.
That question was answered soon enough.
“Who’s there?” he drawled thickly, the “s” and the “th” melding together on his tongue.
In his cups, most decidedly.
Cautiously I came closer. I’d seen the Marquis in a drunken state before, and I knew he didn’t become threatening. But he was always a man of whom to be wary. “It is I, Miss Brown, your wife’s nurse.”
“Miranda,” he murmured, and I knew a moment of shock that he knew my given name.
“Don’t lurk behind me. Come around here.” He gestured with his glass.
I approached him the way one might a wild boar. Step by step, he guided me to the spot where he wanted me, which was right in front of him, between the man and the fireplace. Warmth from the low fire caressed my back. Heat from the Marquis’ gaze scorched my front.
He regarded me with black, heavy-lidded eyes. I wasn’t accustomed to such scrutiny. Most people barely saw me—a plain, inconsequential servant in brown. A heavy sensation weighed down my limbs, and for a long moment I forgot why I’d come.
“So I’m to be your new master,” he said, one side of his mouth curling in a mocking half-smile.
Yes, that’s what it was, the topic I’d come to discuss. I opened my mouth, but he forestalled me.
“I have many bad habits, chérie, but employing innocents has never been one of them. Something will have to be done.”
The fact that I’d thought precisely the same thing fled my mind. “I believe I’d make an excellent employee.”
He smiled, that glittering, complicated smirk for which he was famous. “I have no doubt. I’ve seen how loyally you’ve served my wife. But would you be such a faithful servant to one such as myself? Perhaps you know my reputation.”
Color flooded my face. I knew his reputation perhaps better than he did himself. I was fascinated by it.
Once, in a moment of spectacular boldness, I’d asked the Marquise why she’d married him if he was so sinful. She laughed until she began to cough and I had to fetch her some mullein. When the spasms died down, she answered, “We were two of a kind, or so I thought. But the bastard disappointed me. He left me in hell, all alone.”
Had she banned her husband from her bed? I never once witnessed any moment of physical intimacy between them. I never saw him enter her bedchamber before that final conversation. Why did she allow so many others to partake of her favors when she denied them to her rightful husband? The husband whose bedroom exploits provided fodder for a thousand stories during the year I cared for her. The husband who haunted my dreams and made that place between my legs burn with need.
I put my hands to my scalding cheeks. “Yes,” I admitted stiffly.
“And yet you’re still willing to enter my household?”
No. Of course I wasn’t. That was why I’d ventured into the library. But I found myself nodding. He shifted his legs so his knee brushed against my dress. His head tilted backward so it rested on the russet leather chair back. He looked utterly disreputable, and utterly fascinating. “I’m not sure I believe you.”
I said naught. I felt guilty, as though I’d been caught in a lie.
“I’m afraid I’ll require some proof.”
“Proof that you’re fit to work for me. I require a certain ease with one’s sexual nature. I cannot have prudes in my house. Are you a prude, Miss Miranda Brown?”
The diabolical glitter in his eyes made my knees weaken. This was how I’d always imagined him in my midnight fantasies. For a wild moment, I wondered if I was dreaming this whole encounter. I swayed from side to side.
“My dear, you look a bit faint,” said the Marquis. “Perhaps you should lean against that mantel behind you.”
I glanced behind me. A beautiful rose marble mantelpiece protruded from above the hearth. My mistress had a taste for ornate Italian design. I could comfortably lean my shoulders against it, but that would take me farther away from the Marquis, and I discovered I didn’t want that. I shook my head.
“Then come here and stand between my legs. I promise to keep you upright.” He said the word “upright” with light irony, as if referring to more than my stance.
I stared at him with wide eyes. Perhaps now was the time to tell him I wouldn’t work for him. Couldn’t work for him. Instead, I took a step forward, then another, until I stood between his two long legs clad in fine garnet velvet. His boots shone in the light of the fire. His waistcoat was slightly open, his cravat hanging to one side. His dark hair fell over his forehead in unruly waves. I’d never seen the impeccable Marquis in such disarray.
“Are you quite all right, milord? Shall I fetch a tonic for you?”
“Don’t waste your worry on me. I’m merely drinking to my soon-to-be late wife.” He raised his glass and swallowed more brandy. “Besides, I don’t want you to leave yet. I haven’t gotten my proof yet.”
“It’s nothing overly difficult. It won’t take long, the matter of a mere moment.”
Excited chills raced up my spine. What was he referring to? The way he was speaking, and watching me with those lazy black eyes, it had to be naughty. Again I swayed, but he caught me between his strong legs. Through my dress, through his velvet breeches, I felt the heat of him, and it made my head swim as if I’d been drinking the brandy. “Wh…what?” I whispered.
“Let me look at you.”
He was looking at me. Closely. Heatedly. Confusingly. “But, sir, you are—”
“Lift your dress.”
The quiet words dropped into the library like stones into a well. Lift my dress. The Marquis wanted me to expose my private area to him. And that very region of my body seemed to pulsate with the desire to do just that. Heat tingled between my legs. I stared at him, feeling flushed and chilled in alternating waves.
He stared back and I knew his message. If I wanted to leave—the library or his employ—now would be the perfect moment to do so. Should I choose to remain, well, the dark promise in his wicked face left no doubt that I’d be traveling down a road to new sensual horizons.