Wicked Surrender, страница 1
Table of Contents
Praise for the novels of USA Today bestselling author Jade Lee
“[A] refreshingly different, sexy Regency romance.”
“Lovely historical romance.”
“It’s unflinching and unabashed in historic social and cultural detail . . . Elegant complexity and beautifully rendered.”
—Booklist (starred review)
—Romance Reviews Today
“An exotic and emotional historical romantic tale.”
“I enjoyed the sensual and hot love scenes, and boy were they hot. WOW!”
—Night Owl Romance
“Lee . . . [has] brought something new and intriguing to erotic romance . . . This is what places her in a class with the best.”
“A highly enjoyable read.”
—All About Romance
“Jade Lee provides a wonderfully refreshing tale.”
—Genre Go Round Reviews
—Midwest Book Review
“An exhilarating fast-paced tale from start to finish.”
—The Best Reviews
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A Berkley Sensation Book / published by arrangement with the author
Berkley Sensation mass-market edition / September 2010
Copyright © 2010 by Katherine Ann Grill.
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To Kate Seaver, who is the absolute best!
You’ve made this book ten times better.
To Pamela Harty, agent extraordinaire.
It goes without saying that this would
never have happened without you.
To Deb Miller, who made me keep going
when I had decided my only option
was to join a navel-gazing cult.
All three of you are incredible,
inspiring women. Thank you!
“He’s not here.” Scheherazade Martin said the words aloud in an attempt to force her mind to stop looking for someone she didn’t want to see. He wasn’t in tonight’s playhouse crowd, and she had no interest in being pursued by him anyway. She even prayed nightly that he would lose interest and leave her alone. But some desires went deeper than her mind’s ability to block. And yet, it made no sense. Why did she want him so?
He was a lord pursuing a passing fancy. She was an actress and no lord would deign to marry her no matter what he whispered. Besides, her longing was only a symptom of a larger problem. Yes, she craved Lord Blackstone, but she also wanted . . . something else. Something elusive.
The word “love” whispered through her mind, and she ruthlessly shut the idea away. Love didn’t come to the likes of her. Her goal was marriage and even that wouldn’t happen with him. So it was best if she stopped looking for Lord Blackstone and concentrated on the task at hand. She turned toward the Green Room, moving so quickly that she nearly caught her skirts on fire.
“Move that lamp,” she said to the newest stagehand, pointing to the offending lantern set casually on the floor where anyone could kick it. The Tavern Playhouse was small, barely enough room for a stage and fifty people, all standing. One little fire and the entire building would burn to the ground before she had the chance to scream. “Do you want to be burned alive?”
“Yeh,” grunted the boy, barely ten years old, but he didn’t move from where he was lying down, peering into a hole that led beneath the stage. Not until he was cuffed from behind by Seth.
“Ow!” he cried, leaping up, his fists raised. “Wot’s that fer?”
Seth didn’t answer, except to point at the lamp. He was a mute, but he still managed to handle an army of boys with seeming efficiency. Especially since he had the help of Joey, the oldest of Seth’s helpers.
“That’s Lady Scher, lackwit,” Joey barked as he came around from behind the curtain. “We do wot she says as she says it. Or find yer bread elsewheres.” He thrust his chin at the backstage door.
There was a tense moment when Scher thought the new boy would fight or bolt. Boys were the most unpredictable in their first week, but he looked at Seth’s massive bulk and changed his mind. Slumping over to the lantern, he grabbed it with enough force to break the handle. Seth was beside him in a minute, pulling him to the door by his ear. The boy started bellowing, but Scher turned away. She didn’t want to see Seth’s brand of discipline. All she cared about was that it worked, and that it was a damn sight better than what waited outside the Tavern Playhouse doors. Besid
“Thank you for your help, Joey,” she said.
“Yes, m’lady, yes! I’ll finish up ’ere. I’ll do it right an’ tight, jes how you like!”
Scher managed a smile, and Joey’s face lit up like a beacon. “You’re a good boy,” she said as she slipped past another curtain to the hallway that led to their tiny Green Room. It was a narrow path and dark, but she had been walking it her entire life, so she paid little heed to where she stepped.
She was just ordering her thoughts to the task ahead when it happened. She felt an arm on hers, a push from the side, and then she was spun around to face her attacker. She had only the vaguest impression of largeness—large hand, tall body, and a dull flap as his heavy cloak rippled around them. By the time she gasped, she was already pushed up against the wall. Her backside hit first, so she was able to prevent her head from banging painfully against a ladder, but that was all she could do as his body came hard and full against her, and his cloak hid her from sight.
Her hands fisted and her belly tensed. Slight as she was, she could still fight. And she was already drawing breath to scream. Seth and his boys would be at her side in a moment. No man dared accost Lady Scher, not in her own tavern.
“You’re late,” he said, his voice a dark shiver up her spine.
Him. The man who touched her too boldly every night—in person first, then later in her dreams. Tension coiled in her belly, as much from hunger now as from fear. Still, it took a moment for her to ease the breath from her lungs.
“Demanding crowd,” she whispered. She lifted her head to see better, but he had braced his forearm and cloak on the wall above her head. All was darkness in the shadows he created, though she already knew every angle of his chiseled, masculine face. She concentrated instead on other impressions. His legs were spread just a little wider than her own, trapping her thighs between his. His belly was flat, but his groin was not, and she felt heat there like never before. But most of all, she smelled the mint of his breath. In a world of stale ale and men’s sweat, mint was a beautiful, elegant scent.
But she had tasks to do and a reputation to maintain, so she pushed against his chest. “They are expecting me in the Green Room.”
He eased back, but not because she pushed him. She could not have moved him if she put all her weight into it. But he was a gentleman, and so he moved off her. She would have sighed in regret, but he didn’t go far enough for that. There was barely an inch of heated air between them.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, startling her once again. “You seem sad.”
She held her breath, stunned that he could read her so easily. Then she released it in a controlled laugh. “La, sir, but there is not—”
He caught her chin fast enough to make her gasp. “Do not lie to me, Lady Scher.”
She didn’t speak. She hadn’t the breath, not with him so dark and so forceful before her.
“Tell me,” he whispered as he bent his head to her neck. His lips began a slow tease to her skin, and she shivered in response. God help her, he was good at what he did. And when his tongue teased a circle just beneath her jawline, she was ready to do whatever he commanded.
She didn’t. She couldn’t. As the daughter of an actress, she’d learned early not to trust anyone, least of all a man. “I’m tired, is all. Delilah has the headache, which always makes her unpredictable, and Seth caught one of the boys pickpocketing. The child is turned out now, and you know how his life will go. It saddens me, ’tis all.”
He didn’t answer because he was ministering to her collarbone, right above the fichu of her modest, brown gown. But she knew he heard her. He was a man who used all his senses. He likely read the rapid pulse of her heart, the shallow whisper of her breath, and the feminine weakness in her knees. For her part, she knew his sharp features and his brown eyes, whether she could see him or not. She knew that taken piece by piece, his looks were average, his build unremarkable except for his height. But as a whole, he had presence. When he looked at her, she felt as if he were looking straight through her into her thoughts. And so he learned things that he should not. Like when she lied about her mood.
He pulled back far enough to hover over her lips. Below, his legs tightened ever so slightly against the outside of her thighs. “I don’t like it when you lie.”
“Of course you do,” she countered. “You’d love it were I to lie with you, but that will never happen.”
He brushed his lips across hers, and she felt her mouth swell from the caress. “Grammatical banter. I’m impressed,” he whispered, and she could taste the mint on his breath.
“I went to school,” she said stiffly.
“Then lay your troubles aside as you lie with me, and together—”
“We will lay all our lies to rest?”
He chuckled, the sound sending a low tremor through her belly. “Yes.”
“No.” She forced herself to push him away as reality intruded with the sound of raucous laughter from the Green Room. She was needed in there. Lady Scher’s presence tended to dampen the worst of the high spirits.
“I must go,” she said as she pressed her palms to his chest and pushed.
He didn’t move. If anything, his legs pressed her harder against the wall. “Tell me what saddens you.”
“Do not presume—” She got no more words out. His mouth was upon hers. Not brutally, with lips and teeth mashed together. Not gently, as one might reserve for a virginal new wife. But assuredly, with nips of teeth against the edge of her lips and the tease of his tongue between the tiny seam she allowed.
She did not want to kiss him. She did not want the heat of his body to infiltrate her own. She did not like it that she opened her mouth to him, relishing every sweep of his tongue. She was no virgin, but neither was she a whore. Her role in the theater company was as a lady hostess, and so she needed the illusion of purity.
He stripped all that away. He did no more than kiss her, then invade her mouth and touch her until she was light-headed from the joy of it. He didn’t even press his hips against her so that she could feel his hunger. But she knew it nonetheless, and she knew her own. In barely more than a month, he’d become as vital to her as the cash in the cash box. This man was the newest and brightest light in her very gray and cluttered life.
He finished his kiss, and she damned herself for releasing a moue of regret. Even in the darkness, she saw his teeth flash white as he grinned. So she made her tone especially sharp as a way to salvage her pride.
“I must go. Tonight is not the night for Delilah to preside alone. She’s likely to alienate someone.”
“Tell me what has happened,” he coaxed. “I might be able to help, you know.”
She might have told him then. She might have spilled her entire malaise in a heated rush, but she couldn’t explain what she didn’t herself understand. So she shook her head. “It takes a lot more than grammar to gain my trust, Lord Blackstone.”
“I can do more,” he said, his every word a sensuous promise. “I will—”
“No,” she said making sure her weariness showed in her voice. “I must go.”
He stepped back and away, but before she could duck past, he grabbed her hand. His fingers were gloved, as they always were, and hers were blunt and chapped, as they always were. “I will come to you tonight,” he whispered. “I will make it better.”
“I am too tired.”
His teeth flashed again with a boyish grin. “I will revive you.”
How she wanted to say yes. The simmering of her blood clamored that she wanted him to bed her, to own her as a man owned a woman, but she would not walk that path again. When she was sixteen, she had believed a man’s lies. Now she had that experience and the example of a dozen more actresses to know that the men who came to the Tavern Playhouse offered sweet kisses and pretty lies. That path led nowhere. The only escape for women like her was with a w
He bowed in acknowledgment, though there was mockery in the movement. The kind of mockery all titled men had for their actress whores. “Yes, Lady Scher. Tonight.”
She walked away, though she had to force her reluctant feet to move. She listened for the sound of his footsteps—either coming closer to her or withdrawing—but she heard nothing over the growing noise of the Green Room. Then she was pushing open the door with her customary quietness and slipping inside with the pretense of subtlety.
A few people saw her. Delilah was the first, her eyes flashing with a mixture of gratitude and irritation at Scher’s late arrival. Their lead actress loved the flattery of her admirers, but sometimes their demands grew wearisome. Even from across the tiny room, Scher could see a pinched tightness to her smile, and most especially to her gestures. But at least she wasn’t cursing anyone, and she looked like a queen seated at the only cushioned chair in the room.
Three other actresses acknowledged her with a flicker of an eye or a slight nod. They held court in the other corners, but made sure in one way or another that their admirers knew Lady Scher was here. After all, so long as the “lady” was here, they could pretend they were “chaperoned” and cling to the illusion of being a higher sort of actress. It was a lie, of course, but one that brought in a better class of clientele. And that benefited them all.
Scher maneuvered into the tiny room as gracefully as possible. Not too many tonight—barely more than a dozen guests—which made it easier to breathe, but Scher feared for the company pocketbook. The Green Room offered special brandies and wines, all with higher prices. The more people crushed in here, the more who would drink while waiting for their turn with Delilah.