The Devil's Bargainbywishfulthinking©
Wilham strode to the small study off the main hall with long strides. He was trailed by a young, flustered footman who hurried to announce him. "T-the Duke of Ellesmere."
Schelldon was seated before a fire place, his large girth weighed down by jewels and a ceremonial sword at his waist. Wilham doubted the man had ever used a sword for its intended purpose in his life. His graying hair and wrinkled skin were a familiar sight, but there was a sunken paleness about his features that had not been there before.
"Ellesmere," Schelldon acknowledged, waving him to a nearby seat. Wilham remained standing and refused the whiskey offered. He would have refused Schelldon's summons also had he not possessed something Wilham wanted. And they both knew it.
"Trenton's made a favourable offer for Kellendale."
Wilham stiffened imperceptively. Schelldon was well known for his games, in and out of the bedroom. Kellendale was Wilham's mother's family home, and held great sentimental value to her. Even though unentailed, Kellendale had been in her family for seven generations. His brother had lost it in a bet with Schelldon two years past, and Schelldon had taken great delight in dangling Kellendale out of Wilham's reach ever since.
"I'm considering it," Schelldon added when no response was forthcoming.
"Then I'll leave you to your deliberations. My last offer was more than generous."
Wilham pivoted on his booted foot, but Schelldon flung out a hand.
Wilham's eyebrows rose. Schelldon never showed weakness. To him it was the worst sin. That he did so now meant only one thing. He wanted something. "My last offer still stands," Wilham said over his shoulder.
"Money means little to me where I am going."
"Then what is it you want?" Wilham asked curtly, turning to face the him. Any sign on pity on Wilham's part would only be viewed by with scorn.
"I have no sons. Upon my death my entire estate passes to my nephew, who is an intolerable fool, and so too is his whore of a wife."
"I fail to see-."
"I want an heir."
"Again, I fail to see how I can be of assistance. This is something only a wife can provide."
"Your grandfather got four sons on his wife, three of which reached maturity. You have eight male cousins, whom many have sons of their own."
"My first three wives failed in their duty. My fourth is healthy and ripe for a child."
"Then surely why waste time talking of such matters to me?"
"I want you to get a male child on her."
Wilham stepped back, stunned. "You want what?"
"As soon as she is breeding, I will sign Kellendale over to you."
"What makes you think I would pay such a high price? To beget a child on some stranger then walk away, leaving my child to fend for itself without the protection of my family's name?"
Schelldon cut the air with his hand. "All I ask is two things. That you do not speak of this to anyone."
"My silence is assured. What of the other?" Wilham's disgust was obvious.
"That you meet my wife before making your decision."
"Even if she could suck the wind from my sails with an expertise that would make a courtesan envious, my answer is still be the same," Wilham said crudely.
"Then there is no harm in meeting her for the sake of a dying man."
Schelldon's attempt to manipulate was laughable. "Does she know of your intention to sell stud rights?"
"No, nor will she."
"Is she such an imbecile that she would mistake her husband in the dark for another? Or is she in the habit of taking lovers?"
"She is no imbecile. I will make the necessary arrangements." Schelldon rose unsteadily and moved to the window overlooking the terrace. "She is there."
Of their own accord Wilham found his feet moving to the neighbouring window. Curiosity, he told himself. Rumours had circled several years ago about the hasty marriage between Schelldon and a country lass of no standing. Many had believed Schelldon to have been caught dallying with the young chit and forced to wed her. When it became apparent that Schelldon never intended presenting his young bride to court, or of allowing her to leave his country estates, the gossip escalated.
Wilham brushed the velvet curtain aside. And felt as though he had been kicked in the gut by a horse. She was tiny, with silvery blonde hair curling around a delicate heart-shaped face dominated by large blue-gray eyes. It was those eyes that caught and held his attention. They shone with life and laughter, their sweetness exuding none of the familiar jaded disinterest of ladies of his experience. She wore a simple peach silk gown that covered any hint of cleavage and the womanly curves beneath, and a single rope of creamy pearls at her throat. When she smiled as a servant poured her tea from a silver pot, a tiny dimple appeared in her right cheek, and he itched to trace it with his tongue.
Her shining innocence astounded him. Married to a devil like Schelldon since she was fourteen, and now barely nineteen if he could recall, Wilham had expected some of her husband's enjoyment of certain bed sports would have lent her an air of... what? Experience? Maturity?
As Wilham gazed upon her, the thought of her in Schelldon's hands grated excessively. What could her parents have been thinking, to marry her off to a decrepit old man old enough to be her grandfather? A man who enjoyed whipping young boys for his pleasure no less. Was her delicate skin marred beneath her gown? Wilham dragged his eyes from her and reached for the bottle of whiskey on the bookshelves and poured it into a glass tumbler. He took a large swallow, knowing Schelldon watched him, savouring his reaction. Hell.
The rumours were false. Wilham suspected the wily devil had kept her under lock and key for a wholly different purpose. He took another swallow as he imagined her tiny figure smothered beneath the pressing weight of Schelldon as he bedded her. His knuckles turned white where they gripped the glass.
What Schelldon proposed went against Wilham's every moral fibre. Yet he could not deny that the thought of giving her pleasure, perhaps for the first time, and showing her young body how to please him, teased his jaded appetite. He felt himself stir at the thought of stealing into her melting warmth, of planting his seed in her womb.
Hell and damnation he thought, slamming down the glass. Schelldon was a treacherous bastard. Wilham's eyes slid back to the exquisite angel. Perhaps she had not a thought in her brain, and giggled incessantly? Would it matter once he silenced her with his kiss? Fury, disgust and lust twisted in his gut.
"No," Wilham ground out as he strode from the study.
Thomasyn watched from beneath lowered lashes as the dark stranger strode toward her where she sat on the stone bench, her papers and charcoal at her side. He was impossibly tall and broad, his hair black as night. His eyes, green jewels, flashed with the heat and vibrancy that emeralds lacked. He was rugged and manly, unlike the pretty men that always seemed to flutter around Henry on her rare visits to Hauxley.
He bowed low before her, and she spied Henry hurrying toward them over his shoulder.
"I thank you for your hospitality, my Lady. I am Wilham, Duke of Ellesmere."
Thomasyn knew she should be shocked at his forwardness for not seeking an introduction by Henry, but somehow she found her fingers caught in his. He brushed his lips against the fluttering pulse at her wrist, just above the lace trim of her glove. Thomasyn tried not to blush. He rose, and again her breath caught at his imposing virility. She tugged on her hand, but he held firm.
"Your manor is majestic, and I shall endeavour to explore it thoroughly during my stay here and discover every last treasure."
Thomasyn glanced at Henry, for surely it was abominably rude to address her without acknowledging the master in his own residence. Yet Henry's face gleamed with an unfamiliar intensity.
"Then you must let Thomasyn guide you," Henry offered. Thomasyn blinked in surprise at Henry's uncommon affability.
"But Henry, I am only familiar with the gardens..." she hesitated. She rarely visited Hauxley, and when she did she kept to the gardens, preferring to keep out of Henry's way. Yet this man was not to know that.
"Thomasyn, I expect you to treat my guest with the utmost hospitality. You are to ensure the Duke's every desire is met."
Thomasyn blushed at Henry's rebuke. She felt her breath hitch as the Duke drew her gracefully to her feet and tucked her hand on his arm. With one last bewildered glance at Henry, she was led along the terrace by the tall Duke. She felt his gaze upon her as they strolled toward the steps leading to the lower gardens.
"You are exquisite."
Thomasyn stumbled slightly. Her cheeks warmed. "You should not say such things, your Grace."
She nodded slightly, pretending a sophistication she did not possess. She knew without question that he was insufferably arrogant and commanding, yet his gravelly voice made her knees weak.
"Surely I am not the first man besides Schelldon to comment on your loveliness?"
"I quite do not know what I have done to deserve such compliments on a moment's acquaintance, your Grace. But they are quite enough to turn a girl's head. "
"Are they?" Thomasyn was unable to look at him, knowing he must surely be laughing at her. A man such as he would be used to tarring with the most experienced of flirts. Then her breath caught. Was he flirting with her? She peeked at him from beneath lowered lashes. Surely not? "Are you often a visitor of Hauxley, your Grace?"
He paused at the top of the stone steps and turned to face her. "Wilham."
She fought to contain a smile. "Your Grace."
Her scandalized face flew to his. "You mustn't!"
"Don't you like it?"
"It is unladylike, your Grace," she replied sternly. How was it that he so easily tangled up her tongue? "Only my sisters call me Thommi."
"What of your husband?" She felt the warmth of his regard as she plucked at the lace at her wrist.
"Do not be improper." Then she sighed, according him this victory. "I will call you by your first name if you refrain from calling me Thommi." She slipped her hand from his arm and caught up her skirts.
She walked down the steps, the Duke following silently in her wake. Thomasyn new she was out of her league. She sensed an undercurrent to his words, but could not comprehend its source. The silence stretched as the Duke prowled at her side through the perfectly manicured lawns.
They walked through the gardens, occasionally stopping to look at the marble statutes Henry was so fond of. It was lush and peaceful, the low sweep of the lightly rustling trees affording the feeling of seclusion. The Duke was a vibrant, powerful man, yet slowly she began to relax in his presence. Thomasyn found she had continued walking when the Duke had paused. She turned to discover him staring at her intently only a step away.
He covered the distance between them, and her heart fluttered. His dark head dipped, and his mouth settled gently over hers. She froze, her shocked gaze lifting to his. His lips lightly brushed over her unmoving ones, his breath warm on her face. Her knees almost buckled when his tongue touched the corner of her mouth. Warm hands curled around her upper arms to hold her steady as the kiss deepened. When he finally lifted his head, she gazed up at him with wide eyes. There was a gentleness, an unexpected tenderness in his kiss that left her feeling dazed.
"Wilham. Say it," he murmured. Her fingers flew to her tingling lips as she hastily stepped back and gazed about her. "There is no one about to discover our lovemaking."
"Lovemaking?" Thomasyn choked, her wide eyes returning to his masculine face. Why was she still standing there? Thomasyn asked herself. She should have stormed off, or at the very least have slapped him for his forwardness! "Your Grace, you overstep yourself."
She turned in the direction of the manor and began walking briskly, her skirts sweeping out behind her. Every fibre of her being knew that he followed her at a more leisurely pace.
"Would passing the afternoon engaging in lovemaking be such a very bad thing?"
"Now I know you say that to shock me!" She turned, her skirts flaring.
"Did I succeed?" A devilish smile curled his lips as he strode toward her.
"You are toying with me, your Grace. I lack the sophistication and refinement of the ladies you are accustomed to. No doubt the female guests of Henry's would offer you more scintillating conversations than I."
"You would seek to banish me and suffer their boorish self importance?" At her faintly shocked look, he continued "Your sweetness and candor are refreshing, my lady. Yet you are so easily shocked."
"Your propensity to go around kissing strangers is shocking, your Grace."
"Not strangers, Thommi. Only you."
Thomasyn didn't quite know how it happened. His arm snaked out, capturing her waist and drawing her up against his chest. He made as if to kiss her again, but she turned her face away. The feel of her breasts crushed against his chest did strange things to her. A large palm cupped her cheek, turning her face to look up at him.
"Please, your Grace," she whispered. "It is not seemly."
"Do you care what others think?"
"Of course I care what others think, your Grace. It would greatly disappoint me if I knowingly caused Henry dishonour."
"Even if Schelldon does not warrant your honour?"
Her lips parted on a gasp. Before she knew it her palm stung and a red mark darkened the Duke's cheek. Thomasyn turned and fled, picking up her skirts as her slipped feet moved swiftly over the grass.
Wilham gazed after her, his interest deepening. Thomasyn was a curious minx, a mixture of innocence, tease and pluck. He knew his ingrained cynicism was to blame for believing a young, beautiful wife of a decrepit old man would eagerly fall into another man's arms like ripe fruit. He hadn't expected to be kept at a distance, but rather coyness or seductive flirting. Instead he was left feeling like an ass with the finesse of a callow youth seeking to tumble his first maid.
Thomasyn must have fallen asleep beneath the warmth of the sun in the tiny walled rose garden perfumed with heavy scent. Slowly she blinked, and buff breeches came into startling focus. Her blue eyes rose over the firm muscular legs, silk green tunic stretching over broad chest and shoulders, to a devilishly handsome face. Somber green eyes were fixed intently on her. He stood but two arms lengths away, leaning against the trunk of a tree, his arms crossed over his wide chest.
Thomasyn blushed at being caught so. "I beg your pardon, your Grace. I – "
"It is I who humbly begs your pardon, my Lady."
"What I said to you earlier was disrespectful. It was wrong of me."
"Just thank you? You do not wish to gloat? For I can promise you, I rarely apologise."
"That seemed clear to me, your Grace."
"Are you to imply my apology was lacking?" Thomasyn blushed at the underlying amusement evident in his voice.
"There was no such implication, your Grace."
"Call me Wilham."
"I cannot. It would not do."
"Even in private?"
"Especially in private."
"Ah, I can see I have underestimated you, Thomasyn. You are determined to make a man beg."
"I have never made a man beg, sir. Nor did I give you leave to address me by my first name."
"Never? Pity." Her toes curled at the smile he gave her, his head tipped to the side. "Good day, my fair Thomasyn."
With that he turned and left, leaving her gazing after him in a mixture of confusion, annoyance and curiosity.
Thomasyn smiled nervously at Henry as he softly closed the door behind him. She sat on the stool before the hearth, feeling the warmth through her pale green bed gown buttoned up to the throat. Beneath his watchful gaze she tugged the silver brush through her long strands.
Henry's urgent missive demanding her presence at Hauxley that day had surprised her. Even more surprising was his expressed intention that he visit her in her chamber after the maid had cleared away the remains of her solitary evening meal. On her last visit she had dined in her chamber a month before receiving Henry's summons.
She watched with curious eyes as he poured a glass of the honeyed mead and held it out to her. Thomasyn accepted it with a shy smile, and took a small sip at his urging. It was cool and sweet and melted on her tongue. He took the brush from her small hand and began stroking it through her hair as she savoured the mead. She closed her eyes, feeling herself relax.
"Drink it all up, my sweet. I want none to waste."
When she had finished the glass, feeling slightly dizzy, she protested as he poured her another.
"Do you seek to displease me, Thomasyn?" he queried.
"No, Henry," she whispered. She sipped at the mead beneath his watchful gaze, feeling the tingling ball low in her belly begin to spread throughout her. She felt heady and fuzzy yet alive. He caught her as she slipped off the stool with a gasp of laughter.
"Forgive me, fa-Henry. I – the mead..." she trailed off. His hand at her waist guided her to sit on the bed.
"Just one more, my sweet. This was a gift from a good friend, and I do not wish it to go to waste."
"It would please me, Thomasyn."
She did as he bid, and he held her gently upright as she drank the mead. Her head spun, and she tried to gather her thoughts.
"I must confess something, Henry, but I do not wish to make you angry."
"What is it, sweet?"
"I – a stranger kissed me."
He was silent a long while as he gazed upon her. She was surprised that he was more sad than angry. "Did you enjoy it?"
"Henry!" she gasped, shocked. At his urging, she whispered "I...I think so."
He poured her another glass, and with his fingers wrapped around hers, lifted it to her moist lips. She offered no protest when finally he took the empty glass from her trembling hand and guided her onto her back on the bed.
Light spun behind her closed eyelids as she clung to his hand. "Are you ready, my sweet? I chose him just for you. He has impeccable breeding lines."
She moaned softly before sleep stole over her, not knowing what he meant.
A sigh escaped her as she felt a hot mouth crush her lips as muscular arms slid around her, drawing her into his heat. Her hands slid up over bare shoulders and threaded through the silky mane. The world spun as the kiss deepened in her dream. She imagined she lay on her side pressed against him, her arms twining around his neck as she kissed him back.
Thomasyn whimpered as he pressed her onto her back on the grass, his mouth sliding down over her throat. Fingers tugged impatiently on the tiny buttons of her gown, peeling them apart and exposing her breasts. Cool air feathered over her skin, before his mouth slid down over a tiny swell. A shocking warmth flooded her secret place as she lay there, feeling him surround her as he licked and teased her nipples.
She felt a light touch between her thighs, stroking through the sparse thatch of curls. He blew against her breast as the fingers became more insistent beneath her gown, tracing the dry valley and coaxing shudders from her. She had never experienced anything the like.
He drew a nipple into his mouth, suckling the taut crown. She whimpered, her fingers digging into his shoulders. She lay there dazed as he lavished her breasts with kisses, tasting them, dragging on them with his mouth and generating an exquisite tension where he fingers explored her.
She didn't resist as his hands roughly parted her thighs. His weight shifted, and he moved to kneel between them. She felt his hands fumbling with the rest of her buttons, and her hand covered his shyly where the rested just above her belly button.