tagRomanceEnglish Rose Ch. 08

English Rose Ch. 08


"Marcus? Marcus, open the door," Joan demanded, her voice tinged with fear and anger. Pressing her palms against the door she pleaded once more, "Marcus, please."

"My lady," Dillon urged gently, "come away."

Resigned, Joan allowed herself to be led down the hall and into her small sitting room. She sat numb, immobile, as servants surrounded her. They worked quietly lighting the fire, serving her tea and eventually even a sip of brandy. Everything went untouched.

Four days.

Four days since the Huntington's ball. Four days since Marcus slipped from the bed and into his study, shutting her out of his life.

Four days ago


Joan turned from the carriage window and looked to where Marcus sat sprawled on the seat beside her. "A little," she admitted.

Marcus gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile. "You'll do great, of that I have no doubt." Reaching into his coat, he withdrew a flask and took a fortifying drink. Turning back to the window, his wife pointedly ignored his indulgence.

"I fear I'll do something to embarrass you," Joan said quietly. A heartbeat passed as she waited for Marcus to say something, the butterflies in her stomach taking flight.

Marcus considered his wife, the light from the carriage lantern highlighting the long line of her neck where it met the curve of her shoulder. He knew the flavor of the skin just there, knew that it tasted different than bend of her elbow, the underside of her breast or the back of her knee. He ached to touch her, to press his lips to her skin and inhale the scent of her. Unfortunately, he knew that once embarking on that particular path he would be unable to stop until he was buried to the base of his shaft and there was no time for such detours - no matter how pleasant.

"Marcus?" Joan was aware of the sudden silence and her husband's heated gaze. She had come to know that look and felt her body throb in response.

"You could never embarrass me," he assured her. "Besides, I don't give one whit what anyone there thinks."

Marcus tipped back his flask, surprised at finding it already empty. Going to have to do something about that. The Huntington's townhouse was in the most fashionable area of London and invitations to the ball the most sought after of the season. It would take some time for them to reach their destination. With nothing else to do, Marcus sat back and allowed himself the pleasure of watching his wife.

A short time later Joan allowed Marcus to hand her down from the carriage and caught her first glimpse of the Huntington residence. The house itself was massive, dwarfing its neighbors on either side in both size and structure. Inside, guests moved about the ballroom, the sounds of music and conversation carried through the open windows out into the night. Outside, liveried footman hurried to help guests and direct carriages. Marcus gave Joan a moment to look her fill before tucking her hand under his arm and escorting her inside. "In case I forgot to tell you, you look splendid this evening, the dress and the jewels suit you."

Joan smiled, her face flushing slightly with pleasure. "You may have mentioned it already but a lady never tires of such compliments."

Starring down into his wife's upturned face, Marcus felt desire war with the darkness. He knew what he wanted, knew that there were pleasures to be had and even happiness. But there was a pressure building, an unstoppable force was coming for him, threatening to overtake him and run him down in its path. Joan flashed him a smile and for a brief moment Marcus felt the darkness recede. He had promised himself this evening - one night devoted to his wife, to seeing her safely established in society, and one night for him. Only then would he yield to the darkness.

They crossed the foray together, Joan careful to maintain an expression of polite interest. It would not do to appear impressed or worse, intimidated, by the surroundings. Still, she couldn't quite stop the slight catch in her breath as they stepped into the ballroom.

Already a crush, the ball was in full swing with the ton's most powerful people moving about the room. It wasn't the size of the thing, by ton standards the guest list would be considered small. The devil, as they say, was in the details.

"Breathe," Marcus cautioned and steered them into the crowd.

Joan looked up at him. "I'm alright; I just needed a moment."

Marcus gave the hand on his arms a discreet squeeze while looking around for a footman. He needed a drink. "Of course, but know that it is the only one you are going to get."


Marcus' caught the eye of a passing footman before turning to his wife. "Lady Huntington," he provided, "our host."

Joan watched as Lady Huntington descended upon them, a small entourage following in her wake.

Wearing a dress of burnished gold, the color instantly bringing to mind the precious metal, Lady Huntington was obviously beyond the school room but with years left to spend in her prime. She moved with a purpose, a smile hinting at her awareness of their growing audience and the knowledge of how to play to it.

"We are so pleased that you chose our little affair to make your marital debut," Gloria said, pitching her voice just so. "Lord Edington, always a pleasure."

Marcus gave a curt bow, "Lady Huntington."

"Come," Gloria said, hooking her arm with Joan's and drawing the young woman to her side. "I don't believe you've met my husband."

Joan watched as Lady Huntington drew a distinguished looking gentleman to their small group and made the introductions. Lord Huntington was older than his wife by some years, his hair heavily touched with gray. Nevertheless a handsome man, Lord Huntington greeted Joan with a quiet smile and a soft spoken word.

"I have had a number of requests for introductions," Gloria said as she started moving about the room. "Marcus so rarely graces us with his presence and this time with his new bride - is it any wonder that this is shaping up to be our best ball yet?"

Joan knew the question was rhetorical but it offered her some insight. Sabrina had been right; Lady Huntington had capitalized on their attendance tonight letting it be known and likely trading on it for favors.

Joan spent the next hour circling the ballroom on Lady Huntington's arm, Marcus trailing behind them drink in hand. Each introduction had been hand-picked by Lady Huntington; some would benefit Joan and Marcus, some the guest while Lady Huntington would benefit from them all.

"Well," Lady Huntington said as she withdrew her arm and offered Joan her first real smile of the evening. "I must admit that I enjoyed that much more than I anticipated. You are a charming young lady; one could do worse than to spend an hour in your company."

"Thank you, my lady," Joan said, amused by the backwards compliment.

"Now, if you'll excuse me, I have other guests to see to." Not bothering to wait for a response, Lady Huntington smiled at them both and moved off into the crowd.

Joan flipped open her fan, using it to conceal part of her face and let out a deep sigh of relief. "I'm glad that is over."

"You were marvelous," Marcus said, lightly resting his hand on the small of her back and guiding her to the side of the room. "You dazzled them."

Joan gave him a small smile. Marcus had remained quiet throughout their introductions, always within arm's reach but separate from the rest of them. She had tried not to notice the constant flow of champagne or the request for something stronger that had come half way through their tour of the room. Still, he appeared sober and steady on his feet. "It was not much different from any other ball," she said.

"Do not fool yourself or belittle your accomplishment here tonight," Marcus said. "These are not your average members of the ton." While the alcohol had served its purpose - dulling his senses - he was aware of a sense of pride in his wife. He had been proud to stand by her side, to watch her woo and shine without guile. Already there were whispers of the "refreshing" Lady Edington.

Marcus had watched with no small amount of surprise as his young wife had charmed, chatted and dazzled. While Gloria had kept her promise and introduced them to those most likely to look at Joan favorably Marcus had noted one or two guests that she'd thrown in there as an obvious test. Men - and a few women - that had no patience for brainless youth. Joan had been able to recognize the difference and offer up intelligent conversation and opinions.

"Champagne?" Marcus asked.

Joan tore her gaze from the crowded room. The introductions over, she allowed herself the chance to stand back and watch the rest of the guests. As Sabrina had said, on the surface everything looked like your typical ball but underneath there were currents of wealth and power.

"I would love some," she said with a smile.

Marcus looked around; unfortunately all of the footman carried empty trays or circled the other side of the room. It would take several minutes before one reached them. "Wait here while I get us something to drink."

Joan nodded and went back to watching the crowd.

"I hear she's increasing."

"I'm not surprised; you know how virile Edington is!"

Startled, the sound of her husband's name drew Joan's attention to the conversation taking place nearby.

Feminine laughter met her companion's comment. "True, but I think she looks more like Weaverly's type; too young for Edington."

Joan felt her face pale as realization dawned. She fought the urge to reassure herself by pressing her hand to the flat of her stomach. Such a gesture would only be seen as confirming an obviously nasty rumor.

"Come, now, Anna. As I recall, Lord Edington was rather public in his rejection of your proposal."

Joan looked to her left, surprised to find her savior in the shape of a petite blond.

"Besides," the young woman continued. "From the cut of that dress it's quite clear that Lady Edington is not increasing. Madam Lisette?"

Automatically, Joan nodded. "Sabrina, ah, Lady Radcliff recommended her."

Ellie reached out and took Joan's hands, pulling her close and pressing a friendly kiss to both cheeks. "Sabrina sends her love and her regrets at not being able to attend."

"Of course," Joan said, understanding. This must be Sabrina's childhood friend, Lady Mathews. "How is she?"

"She is well," Ellie said. "She's expecting a full accounting of tonight's events when next you two see each other. Anna. Melody."

"Lady Mathews," both women said in unison, reluctance marking every line of Anna's body as she was forced to curtsy.

"I see you're still wearing the latest that Bond Street has to offer," Ellie said, her voice holding a distinct note of distain.

Anna sniffed. "Yes, well, I haven't decided if I want to risk switching to a new modiste."

Ellie raised one delicate shoulder. "You needn't bother; Madam Lisette isn't accepting new clients. Well, of course she made an exception for you," she said, turning to Joan with conspiratorial smile. "When is the fitting for the rest of your new wardrobe?"

Joan forced herself to match Lady Mathews' smile with one of her own. "Next week, she has some designs that she promises will be perfect."

"Perhaps you'll allow Sabrina and me to join you?"

"Of course," Joan agreed. "We should make a day of it."

Ellie watched in satisfaction as the two women moved off but noticed that they did not go far. Disappointed at having their sport spoiled, they were obviously hoping for another chance.

Joan gave the women her back, concealing her face and turning to Lady Mathews. "Thank you."

Ellie's smile never slipped but anger darkened her deep blue eyes. "Anna is a bitch, Melody not much better for allowing herself to be led around by one such as that."

"You must be Lady Mathews," Joan said.

"Please, call me Ellie." Ellie's smile noticeably warmed. "I apologize for the overly friendly greeting but it seemed warranted."

"No apology necessary, I appreciate the assistance." Joan frowned, recalling Anna's words. "Is it true? Are there rumors?"

Silently, Ellie cursed Marcus for leaving his bride unaware. "There are bound to be rumors, given the speed with which you married..."

"But where would they have gotten Weaverly's name?" Joan asked. "Unless he's the one spreading such nonsense."

"I'm not sure how the rumors got started or by whom," Ellie hedged.

"Eleanor," Marcus drawled in greeting. "I see Mathews has let your leash slip once again."

Ellie rolled her eyes at Joan before turning to find Marcus standing behind her, two glasses of champagne in hand and a scowl fixed firmly to his face. "I see Joan has her work cut out for her when it comes to teaching you some manners."

"I wouldn't ask her to waste her time; we both know I'm a lost cause." Marcus stepped around Ellie and handed Joan a glass, his eyes narrowing as she took a long sip that nearly emptied the glass. "Is everything alright?"

"Of course," Joan said.

"No," Ellie corrected. "It is unwise to leave your wife alone for long; some of the locals are feeling decidedly vicious tonight."

Marcus caught Ellie's pointed gaze.

"Leave it be," Joan said when Marcus took a step in the ladies' direction. "Please, Marcus. You'll only give them something more to speak of."

Marcus stared down into his wife's face, the sudden need to protect her catching him unaware. Slowly, aware of their audience, Marcus lowered his head until his lips brushed the delicate shell of her ear. "Dance with me," he said.

Joan shivered as the husky words feathered across her skin. Innocent as they were whispered here in the ballroom, they held a promise of a more intimate dance to come. "Of course," she said.

Marcus took her glass and handed it along with his to Ellie who smiled at him in approval. Choosing a direction that deliberately crossed Anna's and Melody's path, Marcus pointedly ignored both women - his attention focused solely on his wife as he led her out onto the dance floor.

Joan caught her breath as Marcus wrapped his arm around her waist pulling her close and slipping them into the dance. She couldn't take her eyes from his face, from the stark sensuality that was this man she had married. His classic good looks had always held an edge but tonight what had been dark had become dangerous.

Eyes locked, Marcus tightened his hold and took them into a turn, enjoying the press of his wife's breasts against his chest. Something primitive stirred inside of him, the need to protect and claim pushing him to hold her closer than necessary. He felt hungry, predatory and a desire to dominate.

Joan was caught in his eyes. She could feel his arms wrapped around her, steel bands that wouldn't be broke, even if she wanted to try. His body was unyielding, his steps unforgiving, forcing her into an aggressive pace until she felt like she was flying, her feet barely touching the ground.

Marcus couldn't remember the last time he'd danced with someone having eschewed the formal niceties long ago. Feeling his wife surrender to him, he knew that no matter what was to come he would never dance with anyone else ever again.

"Marcus," Joan whispered.


"Take me home." She felt fevered, flushed with desire. Despite her heavy skirts, she had discerned the evidence of her husband's arousal, had seen it reflected in his eyes.

Marcus took them into the next turn and spun them out of the dance and into the crowd. He refused to release his grasp, instead pulling her close to his side and propelling them through the crush. A quick word and a handsome tip had their carriage brought around in record time.

"My cloak!" Joan cried.

"Forget it," Marcus said, vaulting himself up onto the seat beside her. "I'll send someone around for it tomorrow."

Any objection she may have had died on her lips as Marcus claimed her mouth, his tongue sweeping inside demanding she meet him in another kind of dance. Breaking free on a gasp, she surrendered as he buried his fists in her hair, pins pinging as they scattered across the floor of the carriage.

Marcus growled as the taste of her exploded on his tongue. Something inside of him snapped driving him to get closer. Dropping to his knees, he pushed up her skirts and pressed between her spread thighs. He didn't slow down, couldn't slow down. Somewhere in the back of his mind he was aware of the rapid rise and fall of her chest and knew that she raced along with him.

Wrapping his hand around the back of her neck, Marcus pulled her into another searing kiss. At the same time, he reached beneath her skirts and pressed the heel of his hand to her core. "Oh, thank God," he said at finding her wet and feeling her shudder. Near desperate now, he shifted his grip and thrust two fingers deep inside of her.

"Marcus!" Joan flung her head back at the sudden invasion and climaxed.

"Again," Marcus growled, thrusting. This time it was his turn to shudder as his wife's passage clamped down around his fingers, her inner muscles milking him mercilessly. He'd felt those same muscles milking his cock and knew the intense pleasure that awaited him. As if in answer, his cock throbbed and strained. Marcus couldn't stop the instinctive roll of his hips and fought the urge to release himself and sink inside of his wife.

"Marcus, Marcus, please," Joan strained. Hands braced on the bench besides her hips, she pressed her pelvis more firmly into his hand, riding her husband's fingers.

"Tell me what you want," Marcus ordered.

"Please," Joan begged.

"Tell me."

"You, Marcus, I want you."

"You don't want me, you want to cum." Marcus growled, ruthless. "I want to hear you say it."

"I want you," Joan insisted. "I want you to make me cum."

Marcus groaned at the erotic picture she made with her head thrown back, legs spread and breasts heaving. On the next thrust he curled his fingers and pressed hard at the spongy spot that was sure to send her over the edge.

Joan felt her body snap taunt before breaking apart in searing pleasure.

Marcus watched as Joan rode the waves of her release, her body twisting so violently as to nearly dislodge his hand. Sliding his arm around her hips, he anchored her to bench and slowed the thrusts of his fingers until the last of her climax faded.

Joan came back to herself slowly. Her head felt light, barely connected at the neck as she turned to look where Marcus sat still kneeling between her thighs. Silently, she watched as he sucked his fingers into his mouth, cleaning them of her juices before smoothing down her skirts. "Marcus?" she inquired. His eyes were fever bright with desire.

"Not yet," he insisted. Moments later the carriage rocked to a stop. Marcus didn't bother to wait for a footman, instead dropping to the ground before turning to help his wife down.

"Marcus!" Joan cried in surprise as he swept her up into his arms and carried her into the house. Once across the threshold he didn't bother to stop or issue orders but continued upstairs and hurried down the hall. "Where are we going?" she asked as they passed the door to her rooms.

"I want you in my room tonight," Marcus said. "I would see you spread out across my bed, catch your scent on my sheets."

Joan felt herself warm at his words, the passion she thought spent stirring awake between her thighs.

Marcus shouldered his way into his room, kicking the door closed behind him. The fire was lit, the bed turned down for the night and a bottle of wine on the table. Walking to the end of the bed, he released her legs letting her slide down the length of his body until her feet touched the floor.

Staring down at the top of her head, Marcus was reminded just how petit his wife was, her head barely reaching his chin. He wasn't surprised to see his fingers tremble slightly as he reached out, placed the tip of his finger under her chin and tipped her face back to look at him. Her eyes were bright, staring at him with something he didn't want to examine too closely.

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