Excerpt read by Victoria Vane
“You must meet the girl soon.” Barbara gave a languid stretch, arching her back to display her breasts to best advantage. He had already capitulated to her demands once, but Barbara was never satisfied for long. She had come to his rooms before he could even unpack his bag and had nearly torn his clothes off in a lust-inspired frenzy.
“I believe I have.” Hadley ignored the blatant invitation for a second course, threw his legs over the side of the bed, and pulled his shirt back on over his head.
“How so? When?” she demanded.
“This morning, shortly after my arrival. In the music room. She was receiving most ineffectual dance instruction.”
“But Monsieur Gaspar is the best…at dancing anyway. Unfortunately, his lack of …inches… makes him quite inadequate in other capacities.” She rose and pressed her breasts to Hadley’s back, stretching her arms about his waist and licking the shell of his ear. Once, that might have driven him near insane, but now it was faintly annoying.
He gently but firmly disentangled himself and continued dressing. “Nevertheless, he had her so agitated the poor thing was positively tripping over herself.”
“But that is only her natural predisposition!” Barbara laughed. “Didn’t I tell you what a coarse creature she is? I despair that she’ll ever be ready to present. ‘Tis a good thing you are arrived. Mayhap we can now forgo the certain fiasco of taking her out into society.”
“Perhaps her manners and deportment lack refinement, but there’s nothing coarse about the girl. To be frank, I though her artlessness rather refreshing.” He smiled inwardly at their moment of ludicrous laugher at the dancing master’s expense. He couldn’t recall the last time he’d chuckled so naturally and spontaneously.
“That’s absurd! You can’t be saying you are taken with her, Hadley?” Something in his expression made Barbara’s gaze narrow. “Well, I suppose it’s best if she doesn’t altogether repulse you. It will facilitate the task at hand.”
“And what task is that?” he asked. He had far more important matters on his mind—like how to secure a loan and garner sufficient support to petition the king. Perhaps he would do better to try the queen? Walpole had managed to run the country through her and Hadley could charm the petticoats off any woman. Why would a young and reasonably attractive queen prove any different?
“Darling, I never thought you obtuse. You must wed the chit before someone else claims her fortune.”
“Wed her?” the words jarred him out of his ruminations. “Is your mind disordered of a sudden, Barbara? I have no plans to wed anyone. Ever.”
She gave him a petulant look. “But how else do you suppose we are to get our hands on her money?”
“Is that the scheme you had in mind when you wrote me? To bilk an unwary young heiress of her fortune?”
“Brilliant, isn’t it?” She laughed. “I told you I had discovered a means of getting it all back—and so much more. She is exceedingly rich and once we have the money, it should be no trouble at all to secure the influence needed to restore your title.”
“How much?” he asked, veiling his interest. “What is the girl actually worth?”
She crawled onto his lap and laved her tongue up his neck. “That information will come at a price.” She was begging to be taken again and Hadley felt nothing…or rather nothing but an immense sense of relief that he was over her. He jerked his head away. “I’m not in the mood for any more games.”
“Pity,” she pouted. “Have you another lover now, Hadley? Or perhaps you have developed a penchant for Venice’s unnatural pleasures? Most well-travelled men do, you know. And I confess your valet was an exceptionally pretty creature.”
“How much?” he repeated icily, ignoring her insinuation.
She sighed. “I can’t begin to tell you how much work that took to discover. Sir Richard is tediously protective of her assets.”
“Sir Richard? What has he to do with this?” Hadley demanded.
“Yes, darling,” she rolled her eyes. “That same obnoxious boor. Did I not tell you the girl is his ward?”
“That girl is Sir Richard’s ward?” When the girl in the music room had introduced herself as Mary Elizabeth Edwardes he had not made the connection, but then again, wily Sir Richard had taken care not to reveal anything about the Edwardes heir.
“One and the same my love, and worth every bit of fifty thousand a year! That plump little pigeon is one of the richest women in England, and thanks to me, she is yours for the plucking.”
The blood roared in his ears. It was just too bloody good to be true. The very one who held his lands was residing under Barbara’s roof. The girl was not only the means to a large fortune but also of revenge. “That certainly does throw a different light on matters.” He took heed not to betray his growing excitement. “But you and I both know Sir Richard would see me hanged before granting consent for me to wed his ward.”
She smiled. “Who said anything about seeking his consent?”
“You intend for me to despoil her to force a marriage? My dear Barbara, such rude and crass methods don’t suit me at all. The entire thing lacks finesse.”
She scowled. “Then how else do you propose we get control of her fortune?”
“I would propose gaining the girl’s good faith and cooperation.”
“And then what? Do you think she will just hand it over to you?”
“Something very close to that.”
“You are overly confident.”
“Not at all,” he laughed. “I have never failed to achieve my object where a woman was concerned, nor has any ever complained of my methods.”