Iain Sinclair, Marquis of Alynwick, is certain there is a special hell for him. An unrepentant rake, he holds nothing sacred—except for beautiful Elizabeth York. For years, Alynwick has tried to forget the woman he loved so well, and treated so badly. A woman who could hold nothing in her heart for him but hatred.
All of society believes Elizabeth, the blind daughter of a duke, to be a proper young lady. But no one knows of her wanton affair with Alynwick. When Lizzy learns of her ancestor's ancient diary—filled with exotic tales—she longs to uncover the identity of the unnamed lover within and hesitantly agrees to allow Alynwick, who claims to have knowledge of the "veiled lady," to help her solve the mystery.
Eager to be Lizzy's eyes, Alynwick brings the seductive text to life, and each night it takes greater effort for her to remember his betrayal. With each whispered word, her resolve gives way, without her knowing that a centuries-old secret will lead them to a present-day danger.
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Charlotte Featherstone writes erotic historical romance, and historical romance for Harlequin Spice, and HQN Books. Her writing style has been described as beautiful, haunting, emotional and sensual. Charlotte lives on Lake Erie's North Shore in Ontario Canada, with her husband, daughter and two lovable but ill behaved dogs. Charlotte's website address is www.charlottefeatherstone.netExcerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
There was a special place in hell for men such as him. A small berth closest to the hellfires, one that reeked of smoke and brimstone and rotting souls, would be his home for eternity. His berth, he was quite certain, would read Blasphemer. Seducer. Whoremonger and Licentious Rogue, to name only a few. But to list all his failings and sins would require a tablet the size of which Moses used to recount the Ten commandments.
As a man not given to excessive description, he found the abovementioned failings communicated quite well the depth of his amoral, unfeeling soul. He was rather enamoured of that—it had taken years to cultivate a hardened shell with no humanity within.
He wondered if even now the Black Angel's minions were preparing for his reception into the underworld. How he hoped so, for he would need a merry party after the conclusion of tonight's business. Shifting into the light cast by the gas lamp, Iain Sinclair, Marquis of Alynwick and laird to the clan Sinclair, gazed into the looking glass, only to see the devil himself staring back at him. He wondered, with a self-deprecating grin, if it wasn't a premonition of sorts. A prelude of where his eternal soul would rest if things did not go as planned tonight.
The devil, he mused, as he stared into the mirror, was a strikingly handsome fellow with long dark hair, given to curl, that had sent many a lady into swoons. Chiselled cheeks and chin, and a set of dark eyes—their colour could only be described as obsidian. Dimples in both cheeks flashed when he grinned in mockery, as he now was. His lips—oh, such decadently full lips that promised every kind of pleasure and rapture while indulging in the most wicked of sins.
The devil, Iain thought, as he motioned for his valet to pass him his tumbler of Scotch, looked remarkably like himself—a beautiful male, a dark, soulless bastard.
He was not a vain man—self-deprecating, true, but never vainglorious. The women of the ton might think him beautiful, showering him with compliments on his handsome face and muscular body. But he knew the truth: that what everyone saw on the outside was the polar opposite of what lurked inside him—a wretched ugliness that was slowly eating away any inner beauty he might have once possessed. No, his shell might be worthy, but inside he was anything but.
A sigh from the bed behind him confirmed this observation.
"You're as beautiful as Lucifer, and as wicked as the lord of the underworld could ever hope to be."
His gaze flashed back to the mirror, where the image of a woman lying naked and flushed pink amongst the white, rumpled bedsheets greeted him. His body jolted at the sight, as if he had all but forgotten the visitor. The lady—a rather loose term for the female—was not the sort he was used to cavorting with. She was too thin and slender, almost fragile. He preferred buxom. Blowsy, they used to call women such as his ideal back in the day, when a plump, luscious armful was every man's fantasy. How could he help it? He adored the female shape, with all its softness and curves. With breasts and hips, and thighs that made a man feel like a man, that cushioned and welcomed him and made him think of safe harbours and all the other melodramatic sap spouted by the poets.
Poetry be damned. The truth was Iain was a fool for a set of lovely big tits, and a nice round arse to grip in the throes of carnal pleasures. It had always been this way for him; a pair of plump breasts could keep him pleasantly occupied for hours on end, and the lady deeply satisfied. As coarse as his mouth was, it was highly skilled—and devilishly wicked, able to produce the most wondrous results while pressed against his favourite part of the female anatomy.
His gaze slipped to the lady's breasts. Rather disappointing for a man of his proclivities and appetites, but there it was. He was doing his duty, seeing to his obligations as one of the ancient Brethren Guardians.
Sighing again, she watched him, one arm tucked beneath her head, making her back arch in the belief she appeared more buxom. It was a useless endeavour. She would never possess the sort of body he liked to worship—or the one in particular he craved with every amoral fibre of his being.
Her knee rose, her delicate foot sliding along the crisp sheets. When her leg dropped to the side, so did his gaze, following the sensual action. She was well made there, he supposed, but already he'd tired of it. Strumpets never could hold his attention.
"Won't you come back to bed and play with me?" she said, her voice coy, yet her tone holding just a hint of cloying desperation. "I'll let you be as naughty as you desire."
"I doubt you could handle that. My sort of needs would make you swoon."
"In ecstasy, I'd wager."
He shared a secret grin with Sutherland, his valet. Iain supposed he should be rather mortified that his servant was here in this room of utter debauchery, witnessing such a thing while assisting him with dressing. But it was habitual for his valet, who had been with him for decades. Sutherland had witnessed one sort of debauchery and debacle after another. Besides, the lady lounging on the bed rather fancied the whole idea. She had been the one to suggest the activity, after all. She had a fantasy, she'd admitted to him, of lounging naked in his bed, watching his valet assist him with his toilette.
Iain was all for fantasies. He had a few very special and intimate ones of his own—so deeply personal that he wouldn't dare share them with anyone, except perhaps the lady who always featured in them. Those were for his own private pleasure, when he was alone and could indulge himself without interruption.
He didn't really relish this particular fantasy. However, the lady seemed to be enjoying herself, and that was the objective. He needed her cooperation.
"It really is scandalous how handsome and magnificently built you are," she murmured as she studied his body in the mirror. "The gossip spread by your past lovers certainly wasn't embellished. I think magnificent a rather bland word to describe you, and what you possess below the waist. Monstrously marvellous is what I call it."
"My dear, I am a Highlander. We are brawny lads built for hard work, both menial and more pleasurable tasks."
"Then put me in a carriage to Loch Lomond and gift me with an entire clan!"
She giggled, and his brow arched as he slipped his arms into the sleeves of the shirt Sutherland held out.
"Oooh." She sighed dramatically. "If only I hadn't met Larabie first, I might now be Lady Alynwick, and what is it the Scots call the laird's wife?"
What the devil made her think she would be the one, after a long—very long—list of lovers? He would never marry. Never. And certainly, he would never think to marry someone like her. He was jaded, but he wasn't cruel. The women he cavorted with were no more interested in a lasting liaison than he was. Which made them infinitely good choices. It was a mutual, if unspoken agreement: all parties were in it for themselves. Women for pleasure and the notoriety and novelty of sharing his bed, and him for a relationship born of convenience, and to assuage his animal's needs—of which he seemed to have more than his share. Another sin, no doubt.
"Oh, come now, my love, you give the impression that you are emotionally unavailable. But I know the truth," she pressed.
"Do you? So you've realized that I am not 'unavailable,' but vacant. Completely, emotionally empty—which means, of course, that I am 'available' to no one."
"How your disdain for the world and everyone in it arouses me."
"We make a good pair, do we not? Everything we touch turns black."
Her gaze raked over him from head to foot and he felt as though he were being devoured, his statement of how he saw them completely missing its mark. "Oh, you might act that way now, Sinclair, but I assure you, when I want something enough, I get it. And I want you...very much. Available, unavailable, vacant—it matters not. I want to possess you."
He heard Sutherland's grunt, which meant he was either smothering his amusement or enjoying himself at his master's expense. Either way, Iain glared at his valet while buttoning his own shirt.
"You've already had me, luv," he murmured silkily. "Be content with that."
"Contentment eludes me. I peaked three times tonight, and already I want more. I have learned that I'm rather insatiable when it comes to your skill in the boudoir. You truly are a master of lovemaking."
No, not lovemaking, but fucking. He hadn't made love in years.
"Oh, I've already done myself in, haven't I? I married Larabie when I should have waited another month till I met you. Perhaps you'll remedy that tonight when you're duelling my husband over my honour."
Iain winked at her while Sutherland wrapped the pale green and sky-blue plaid of his Sinclair kilt around his lean waist. The lady nearly swooned at the sight, which made her forget all that nonsense about possessing him. No woman possessed him—ever.
"And Highland dress to fight for me, my lord? You make my head spin."
His was spinning as well, and not in a pleasurable way. Reaching for the Scotch, he drained it in one long swallow, emptying the tumbler. He motioned for Sutherland to refill it, which the faithful retainer did while Iain saw to his kilt.
If he was going to die tonight, he wanted to meet his maker in the clothes that best suited him—Highland dress. It was a bit elaborate for an old-fashioned English duel, but it fit him. He was an outlandish character, forever scandalizing the English peers with his brutish Scottish ways. He'd never fit into this world of delicate manners and anaemic pleasures. It was not his way. He was not delicate, not polite and his sexual desires were anything but staid. When he fucked, he didn't want to remember to be gentle and soft. He wanted to lose himself in the woman, be taken to a place where no god or devil dwelt—no demons, no memories, just unspeakable pleasure. During that rapture, he wanted to say the words in his own way, to lose all control and let the cultured English accent that his father had literally beat into him fall away, leaving his Highland brogue to whisper in the woman's ear. He couldn't hide his more amorous emotions behind his English accent. That accent was cool and mocking, designed to disguise what he was feeling, giving him that devil-may-care aura. When he talked thus, he sounded like his late father, a pompous prat with little concern for anyone, which strangely enough enthralled the ladies.
Hell, Iain could barely remember a time he felt that much at ease to let himself go. In the bedroom he was always calculating, every move a choreographed dance. He didn't lose himself, and most definitely had never been transported to his imaginary plane of pleasure on the wave of a fierce climax.
"Shall I wait here for your return, my love," she asked, "or will you come ravish and debauch me in Larabie's bed?"
Iain smiled at that and watched her in the mirror as he belted his kilt with the little leather strap and buckle. "A wicked creature you are. Have you no shame, Georgiana, mussing up the earl's sheets with another man's body?"
Her smile was scheming as she sat up and came to her knees, unashamed of her nudity and the fact that there was another present in the room with them to witness it.
"Very little, I'm afraid. You've stripped me of any decency I might have had."
"Indeed?" he asked before taking another drink.
Her eyes were glittering. "You've stripped me of many things with your immoral ways, my lord. I fear being bad with you is really rather addicting."
"Rather like Scotch," Sutherland grumbled as he knelt to fasten Iain's clan pin to the kilt.
"Watch it," he growled, "or I'll slam my knee into your nose."
Sutherland, immune to his moods and taciturn disposition, merely ignored the threat and squelched a grin.
"Well, my dear?" Iain inquired as he slipped his dirk into his woollen sock. "Do I pass muster?"
"Indeed you do. I see that the story one hears about a true Highlander is correct—you do wear nothing between the plaid and your flesh."
Halfway to being good and sotted, Iain turned away from the mirror and faced his paramour. Lifting the kilt, he showed her what she wanted to see. Grasping himself, he let the lady admire it.
"That part of you is magnificently made, Sinclair, even in this state."
Quirking his lips, he stroked himself once, giving the lady what she wanted, so that later, she would give him what he wanted—which differed vastly from what she desired. He was bedding her only to get information about a secret club she frequented—the House of Orpheus. Orpheus was an enemy of the Brethren Guardians, and had to be destroyed. Iain was playing the part of a Casanova to gain what he and the other two guardians—the Earl of Black and the Duke of Sussex—needed.
Casanova, he mused mockingly as he let his kilt fall back into place. No, he did not feel like the legendary Italian lover, but rather like a male whore—as filthy and corrupt as an East End flash boy.
When he had concocted this plan, his friend the duke had told him that nothing good would happen out of it, but he had laughed, mocking him for the prig that Sussex was. Iain believed his soul was already gone, believed himself impervious to any more pain. But the truth was, he was not. He was drowning in sin, and any time now, he believed he'd wake up one morning only to look in the mirror and find all the sins he had committed marring his face. It would be a horrific sight, but a true reflection of what resided in his soul.
"Have you time for another round? Sex always invigorates men."
"You think me full of sap, then?" he teased, when he did not feel the least bit light and cajoling. "You are a biter, aren't you, sweetheart?"
Sutherland did laugh then, smothering the outburst quickly.
Her eyes narrowed. "I hope that isn't derogatory, my lord. I would hate to have to instruct my dear husband to shoot you dead."
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