MY LOVE IN HER ATTIRE
My love in her attire doth show her wit,
It doth so well become her:
For every season she hath dressings fit,
For winter, spring, and summer.
No beauty she doth miss,
When all her robes are on;
But Beauty’s self she is,
When all her robes are gone.
Spring 1847, England, The Sussex Coast
At first breathtaking sight, Marcus Fitzalan was willing to wager his membership in the Society of Scoundrels that the Lady Jade Smithfield was proud to be a scandal.
Black leather breeches embraced her long sleek legs. A matching waistcoat caressed her lush, ripe breasts and nipped at a waist smaller than the span of his hands. Her pirate’s blouse laced high enough for modesty, but low enough to tantalize.
She kept him standing in her study, as if on the auction block, circling him in a way meant to intimidate—like a buyer examining a stallion’s fine points—not entirely unaware that her perusal afforded him the same enticing opportunity.
Hair of rich sable silk fell in loose waves down her back, pointing to such a fine little bottom, Marcus itched to introduce it to the palm of his greedy hands.
If acquiring a position in her outrageous household were not so important, he’d match her shocking tactics, without a backward glance, and teach her a few tricks into the bargain.
As things stood, her proximity made him feel like that stallion, agitated and vigilant, as if something momentous were about to be granted. Her very scent stirred him, and though he dare not initiate an advance, neither would he disregard her slightest overture.
“Are you buying?” he asked, tongue in cheek.
The siren stiffened, all lucent cream porcelain in black leather, and when she raised her defiant chin and leveled him with her ebony gaze, Marcus became transfixed.
Her eyes gave her skewering power and that hint of a widow’s peak added sorcery to the blend. Even as she held him in her sight, Marcus wondered what demons compelled so young a woman to flaunt society’s rules as boldly as did this one.
Marcus smiled, cocked his head, and passed her the gauntlet, so to speak.
Jade raised her chin at the audacity of the unlikely man of affairs, examining her every bit as thoroughly as she did him, his blue eyes narrow, piercing in their cobalt intensity, as if he would draw her out and bare her soul . . . clear to the panic she kept hidden there.
She straightened her shoulders and firmed her stance. He would not see what she did not want him to. “Please remember which of us holds the whip hand,” she said, as much to remind herself.
“At your service,” the bounder said, his cocked brow belying his words, his overt masculinity sounding a warning in her head.
Thick muscles. Wide-shoulders. Hands, big and . . . capable of cold-hearted brutality. A thoroughly daunting scent, perilous and soothing at one and the same time—tobacco, leather, and spearmint—called to her like the dashing blade her imagination conjured late at night when she held no control over her mind and allowed, for a blink, that a good man might exist somewhere in this sorry world.
His skin shone bronze, his raven hair unshorn, a lazy lock falling over one eye. A scamp, a scoundrel . . . heartless. His lips appeared sculpted by a master, and when the slight curve of them, one side up, as now, hinted at a smile, a chin dimple appeared, dead center.
He stood annoyingly cocksure and secretly-amused, his gaze so brazen, she’d swear he could see through her clothes to her lace chemisette and reveled in the sight. Half her girls would swoon, if they saw him, the rest would run screaming from the room.
If the scoundrel all-out grinned, Jade feared she would lose her breath.
“I am yours to command,” he said with a bow.
Jade had lost her ability to blush at twelve, but when the ominous warmth threatened, she turned her back, went round her desk, and sat behind it, placing it square between them—placing herself, once more, in the position of authority. “Sit,” she said, “if you please.”
Fitzalan sat, as instructed.
“Not just any knave,” Jade said, “but a practiced one,” which only served to augment his aura of ambient potency, drat the blighter. “You won’t do.” She straightened. “You’re too young and too . . . perfect, except that you need a shave.”
His bark of laughter baffled Jade. She’d been prepared for anger; he was a man, after all, but ’twas incredulity furrowed his brow. “Perfect?” he asked.
Odd that vanity did not march beside magnificence in this one. “No, not perfect,” she said. “No man is; you’re all rotten.”
He raised a shrewd brow. “You’ve met the wrong men.”
“Scores of them,” she said.