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Wakefield, England, 1813
EMMA Fitzgerald left the groomed path that skirted Wakefield Manor. She rose on tiptoe and peeked through an open window into one of the lavish parlors. And what an eyeful she received! At ten o'clock in the morning!
Inside, a woman was reclined in the middle of the room, her body artfully draped across a fainting couch. She was buxom, striking, her lustrous auburn hair piled up on her head. Attired solely in a flimsy white robe that was loosely cinched at her waist, one of her breasts was completely exposed, the nipple large and attenuated. She sipped on a glass of wine—so early in the day!—clutching the stem of the ornate goblet, and swirling the contents round and round.
As she rolled to her side, her robe widened further to reveal her curved stomach, her shapely thighs, her long legs, her . . . her privates. Astoundingly, she had no hair down below, her nether lips smooth as a baby's bottom.
"Oh, my goodness," Emma murmured as she evaluated the lewd scene.
How—and why—would a woman do such a thing to herself?
Considering the stories circulating about John Clayton, Viscount Wakefield, and his dubious associates who'd ensconced themselves on the property, the extravagant woman's behavior was hardly surprising. But to have such an offensive, risqué episode so conspicuously displayed was reprehensible. Anyone might stroll by.
The degeneracy seemed beyond the pale, even for the notorious aristocrat.
The ravishing woman laughed, the sultry, feminine chortle billowing out, and Emma liked the sound. She paused, curious as to what was happening that had put the lady in such a playful mood. From the gossiping in the village, she'd anticipated that the mansion was inhabited by bossy, cantankerous snobs, so the spontaneous burst of merriment seemed peculiar.
She studied both directions, realizing that she was sheltered by the meander of the walkway and the shrubbery. If she dawdled, no one could see. Risk of discovery was slim, and a mischievous imp must have been egging her on, because she continued to observe, exhaustively examining every aspect of the indecent exhibition.
A man strutted into view. Partially clothed, he wore no shirt, but his lower torso was covered by tan pants and black riding boots. His back was to her, and entranced, she surreptitiously assessed his anatomy.
He was tall—at least six feet—and broad shouldered, but thin at the waist and hips. His arms were muscled and defined, and he had the countenance of a gentleman who utilized fencing or pugilism as a technique for keeping himself in commendable condition.
Whatever his mode of training, it worked. He had an amazing, manly physique that gave him an air of elegance.
He sauntered to the sideboard, converging on the spot where she was hidden, and she shrank into the foliage. With the angle of sun and shadow, she couldn't be detected. Not that he was looking. He was too intent on a beverage, and he reached for a crystal decanter and poured himself a glass of amber liquid, swilling it down in a quick gulp, then he poured another and drank it down, too.
Turning toward the window, he gazed across the lawn. His stance and nearness afforded her the ideal excuse to furtively spy, and spy she did. She was transfixed.
He was gorgeous. Nay, beyond gorgeous. Into the realm of godlike.
As though some deity had taken a special interest in his formation, his features were perfectly constructed, each bone and stretch of skin flawlessly situated for maximum effect. His hair was lush, blond, the color of ripened wheat, the type that made a woman eager to run her fingers through it. A few of the untamed locks dangled rakishly over his noble forehead and, as if he'd been too busy to have his valet render a necessary trimming, the back was too long and deliciously curled.
His eyes were blue and penetrating as the waters of the Mediterranean Sea were said to be. Not that she'd been to the Mediterranean, or would ever go, but she imagined that the shade was an exact match.
A tempting layer of hair coated his immense chest. It was a tad darker than the golden hair on his head, and it was matted in a thick pile across the top, then it narrowed to disappear into his trousers and masculine points below.
He tucked both hands behind his neck and stretched, and she was presented with a mesmerizing glimpse of the tufts of bristly hair under his arms, the bones of his rib cage.
As he arched out, the tightness of his pants was more noticeable, his powerful thighs splendidly delineated, his vital regions explicitly outlined. She could make out ridge and contour, and there was certainly a great deal to investigate.
He shifted to the side, furnishing her with a profile of his John Thomas. It was larger now, having increased in length, probably from his contemplation of the nude beauty loitering behind him. In visible discomfort, he pushed the heel of his hand at the erect rod, striving to ease the constriction.
Hung like a racing horse.
The crude phrase echoed past, and she blushed to the tips of her toes.
What was she doing, skulking and prying, while cogitating as to the genital size of the robust rogue? No doubt, he was about to participate in a tryst with the woman on the sofa, and Emma refused to watch.
In a temper, she reminded herself of why she'd come, of the righteousness of her mission. It had naught to do with the virile scoundrel, and she wouldn't be dissuaded by him or the sordid spectacle that was about to unfold.
Annoyed with herself, she stepped away, and above her, she could make out the white shutters and trim, the gray bricks of the majestic mansion. It was perched on a hill so that its wealthy occupants could loftily stare down on the land and the poor inhabitants living below. In the July sunlight, the panes in the dozens of polished windows sparkled like diamonds.
She peered across the expanse of rear yard. Despite the current dour state of the local economy, the estate grounds didn't look any the worse for wear. The bright green lawns were meticulously swathed, the gardens carefully pruned, the bushes and hedges painstakingly sheared, the flower beds weeded and arranged in eyecatching designs.
When people in the surrounding villages were struggling so terribly, the flaunting of such blatant affluence made her furious.
In her fist, she clutched the eviction notices that had been sent to various acquaintances the previous day by the viscount. The ruthless missives had targeted widows and the elderly, those least inclined to self-sufficiency, those who were most in need and, in some perilous cases, who were owed lifetime compensation from the Clayton family.
Most of the recipients couldn't read the horrid tidings. Seriously agitated, they'd rushed to the tiny, ramshackle cottage where she'd moved—with her disabled mother and younger sister—after her father had died and his housing and income allowances had been terminated.
Imploring her for information and encouragement, they'd come to her as they always had in the past, pleading for a reassurance she couldn't give.
Why, she, herself, had received one of the spurious orders for displacement. After her father's nearly half a century of dedication to the Wakefield district.
Had the viscount no shame? No sense of obligation or fealty?
Well, she wouldn't submissively tolerate such abhorrent nonsense, particularly when it was being dished out by a pampered, rich, self-indulgent ne'er-do-well such as John Clayton. She'd once relinquished the roof over her head without a whimper of protest, and she wasn't about to do so again. If the viscount was resolved to proceed, his edicts would not be implemented easily or peacefully.
Not if Emma Fitzgerald had anything to say about it.
With a fresh wave of ire and conviction shooting through her, she tried to picture him.
What would such a despicable lout be like?
"Majestic as an angel painted on a church ceiling," the housekeeper's sister had maintained.
"A silver-tongued devil, who could outcharm the snake in Eden," had been the opinion of the gardener's wife.
"Usually tippling hard liquor by noon," was the conclusion of the gardener, himself.
To her knowledge, the unrepentant villain hadn't formerly put in an appearance at the estate. At age thirty, he'd assumed the title the prior autumn after his father, Douglas Clayton, had passed away. He'd been the viscount for almost a year, and his total abdication of responsibility had left him with a steady, significant income, coupled with extensive leisure opportunity in which to squander it at his disreputable pursuits.
According to rumor—and there were many—his hobbies were reckless gambling, wild women, and intemperance. He was a man of town, a handsome, dissolute libertine who thrived on degraded activity. His history was a long line of debauchery, immorality, and vice, with nary an intervening interlude of exemplary behavior or ethical conduct.
There was no escapade in which he wouldn't wallow, no antic too outrageous, no indiscretion too scandalous, no abomination too disgraceful.
How dare he show up now, demanding more than his faithful crofters could provide? Just so he could hie himself back to London and waste their hard-earned money at the faro tables.
He'd traveled to the estate with a London retinue in tow. It contained a bevy of beautiful, unchaperoned women, and a collection of bawdy, impertinent men—the pair upon which she was gawking a consummate example of the scurrilous group. The interlopers had fully established themselves, running roughshod over the servants with their requirements and directives.
They reveled and caroused, staying up till dawn. An endless card game was in progress, with wagering for high stakes. Inebriation was rampant, as were flaunted forms of undress, and there was ample indication that Wakefield's companions were prone to lecherous fornications, systematically enjoying sexual congress with miscellaneous partners.
The viscount had been in residence for a week and had swiftly succeeded in twisting the placid mansion into a veritable den of sin and iniquity.
Her poor father, the beloved Vicar Fitzgerald, had to be rolling over in his grave.
She was determined to depart, when the woman spoke from the fainting couch.
"Is it a pleasant day outside?" Her voice was husky, tantalizing, and Emma wondered if it was natural or if it was a practiced affectation.
The man was distracted, but responded, "It's quite nice."
"Will we be able to go riding?"
"Perhaps," he said noncommittally.
"While you're up, darling, would you refill my glass?"
For some reason, the simple request had the man glaring at her over his shoulder. He was testy, irritated. "I'm not your darling, and I'm not your damned slave, either. Get it yourself."
A lovers' spat. How indiscreet. How uncivilized to listen to it. Yet, Emma wasn't about to desist.
The woman achieved a credible pout. "Don't tell me you're still angry over the incident with that insipid serving girl. She deserved to be slapped."
Emma's brows flew up in astonishment as she conjectured as to which girl had been the object of the shrew's temper. She couldn't wait for one of the neighbors to drop by and chat so that she could be apprised of all the details.
The man glowered, the irate force of his gaze making the woman fidget. He almost made a cutting remark then, in the next instant, his wrath vanished, as if he'd considered whether the matter was worth a quarrel and had decided that it didn't merit an expenditure of energy.
"These people are country bumpkins," he contended.
He was so flip that Emma was sincerely offended, and she questioned how she could have found him attractive. Clearly, he was handsome only until he opened his mouth and talked.
"They don't understand the concept of adequate service," he went on, "and they aren't discerning enough to comprehend their mistakes. I warned you before we came that you'd have to make do."
"You failed to mention that the domestic staff was comprised of untrained barbarians."
"Yes, well," she huffed condescendingly, "with the sloppiness that's allowed here, we might as well be camping in a cave."
"You can be such a bitch." He peered outside, rolling his eyes in repugnance—or maybe it was exasperation—and Emma was left with the distinct impression that the woman was goading him beyond his limits, but she was too self-centered to realize it.
"I thrive on it," she retorted puckishly, making a pretty moué with her lips. "But that's what you love about me."
"Not bloody likely." The man's rejoinder was so quiet that only Emma had heard him.
He lifted an arm, steadying it against the sill, the posture extending his lank frame. Emma froze. She was so close that she could distinguish the individual hairs under his arm, the bumps on the brown ring of his nipple, could swear she perceived the earthy scent of his skin.
"Georgina"—he referred to the woman by her name—"I permitted you to accompany me for the sole purpose of entertainment. If you're not up to the task, I'd be more than happy to send you back to town."
Evidently, his comment was a threat, one that had a fascinating result. Georgina frowned at him with concern and panic, which were abruptly masked and replaced by what was an attempt at an earnest smile.
"Don't let's fight so early in the morning." Cooing, she was fairly dripping with sexual promise. "I didn't mean to upset you, darl—" She cut off just before expressing the loathed endearment. "Would it make you feel better if I apologized to the silly chit?"
He chuckled. "You wouldn't have the faintest idea how."
"I could do it. For you."
He chuckled again, and Georgina's relief was palpable—a catastrophe avoided—although Emma couldn't deduce what calamity she'd almost beheld.
Georgina slithered off the couch, gliding toward him and untying the belt on her robe as she neared.
They were going to engage in the marital act. Disgustingly, Emma couldn't compel herself away.
She was riveted, agog to finally have the opportunity to learn secrets about which she'd incessantly ruminated. The intriguing mysteries of libidinous conduct were about to be unraveled.
Her pulse rate elevated, her breathing escalated, her palms tingled.
She was a wanton at heart. Who could guess that under the prim, proper exterior of a vicar's daughter, she harbored such base tendencies and corrupt character? Deep down, she was possessed of a weak moral constitution. How mortifying.
Georgina was directly behind him, and she spread the lapels of her robe so that both breasts were bared, and she rubbed herself across his back, her hands rounding his waist to stroke his stomach and chest.
"You're a bundle of nerves," she cajoled. "I'm going to relax you."
"That is what you get paid to do. It's about time you remembered."
His mistress! How decadent. Emma had never before encountered anyone so disreputable.
Georgina halted in mid-caress. "Don't be cruel. I said I was sorry."
They stood, paralyzed, on the brink of a more heated argument, but the man relented, taking one of her hands and guiding it lower. Whether he was giving permission, or commanding compliance, Emma wasn't sure, but Georgina avidly acquiesced.
With skilled dexterity, she fondled him, pressing and squeezing his cock, manipulating the fabric over the prominent crest. Scant effort had his hips flexing, and she teased and toyed while she slowly unfastened the buttons on his pants. She tugged at the placard, exposing him so that he was clutched in her hand, her fist making a tight circle into which he could languidly thrust.
Emma stared, then stared some more. She couldn't look away.
He was so beautiful. So manly.
Through her extensive nursing duties, she was no stranger to nakedness, and she had seen more than her share of male privy parts, but never like this. The appendage—usually small and withered—had regularly been viewed on dying old men or sick little boys.
His phallus was hard, onerous, proudly jutting out. It appeared so virile, so potent. So . . . so . . . gigantic.
Go. Go. Get out of here, a soft voice scolded, but she was immovable, no more capable of departing than she was of blocking the sun in its trek across the sky. Ashamed of herself, but utterly titillated, she scrutinized every second of the ribald display.
Plainly, Georgina had made love with him frequently, for she knew specifically what he wanted and when he wanted it. She prowled around his torso, until she was in front of him, then she yanked at her robe so that it slipped off and fell to the floor.
Emma analyzed the woman as though she were a curious laboratory specimen. She had voluptuous, swinging breasts, graceful, wide hips. In comparison, Emma felt downright skinny. Though she'd always deemed herself shapely, with a pleasing figure, next to the statuesque, generously proportioned femme fatale, she felt deficient, gaunt, and ordinary.
Amazingly, not only was the hair on Georgina's genitalia absent, but the hair under her arms and on her legs had been removed, as well. She was glossy, sleek, her skin smooth as silk all over. Her slick torso inflamed the man to an incredible plateau, his bodily tension heightening dramatically.
Gripping her hips, he twirled her and shoved her against the wall so that she had to brace her hands for balance. He kneed her thighs, raised her, then, with no restraint or regard for her comfort, he entered her with a fierce penetration, and he thrust in a deliberate rhythm, providing Emma with a thoroughly enlightening and educational demonstration.
At the incursion, Georgina inhaled sharply but, as if she were used to such rough handling, she made no verbal complaint. Bored, she held on to the wall, staring straight ahead. Obviously, she couldn't wait to be finished with the tiresome chore, and Emma was confounded.
How could a woman be mounted by such a dashing rascal and remain so detached?
It didn't take long for the man to reach orgasm. As he spilled himself, his legs quaked at the moment of impact, but other than that temporary trembling, he evinced no reaction. He was so apathetic that he might have been sipping his breakfast tea.
Then, without so much as a word being exchanged, he retreated from her, tucked himself into his trousers, and buttoned them.
Feeling cheated, Emma scowled. While she was definitely no expert on carnal affairs, she was no simpering miss, either. A confirmed, virginal spinster, she'd never had sex herself, but she'd delivered hundreds of babies in her twenty-eight years, and she'd heard just as many or more stories as to how each of them had been conceived.
Lovemaking was meant to be indulged with vehement passion, with a profound commitment toward enjoyment, yet this joining had been so devoid of emotion that she was almost disappointed at having stayed for the grand finale.
She was most surprised by the gentleman's impassive comportment. He was a lusty Lothario, vibrant and robust in all the ways that counted. She'd expected that he'd be so much more adept. Surely, he knew the pertinent methods for pleasuring a woman.
Didn't he hope for more? Seek more? Aspire to more?
If she was ever offered an opening to unleash his baser instincts, she wouldn't lightly pass up the chance. What she wouldn't give to get her hands on that impressive anatomy. She'd show him a thing or two about desire.
With a start, she noted where her preposterous ruminations had strayed. As time went on, her musings were becoming more exorbitant and outlandish. Spinsterhood was gradually driving her mad.
Shaking her head, at her absurdity, at her foolishness, she crept away as Georgina spun toward the man. The paid harlot was struggling to pull herself together, to seem satisfied and thrilled, not wanting him to detect how unmoved she'd been.
Saucily, she patted the front of his pants, elated over the bulge that endured, confirmation of her hold over him. "Feeling better?"
Indifferent, he shrugged. "No."
"You are such a beast, Wakefield. I don't know why I put up with you."
Wakefield! The odious aristocrat, himself. She might have known it was he. How could she have not?
To think that she'd been dawdling in the bushes, mooning and drooling over him. How embarrassing.
Appalled, furious, she stalked off, not looking back, not wanting to see or hear anything further from the contemptible couple.
"Wakefield and his mistress."
She felt soiled by their debauchery. What a detestable pair. How could she have been enthralled?
So this was how the viscount spent his mornings. In between signing eviction orders for widows and cripples, he loafed, drank liquor, and fornicated with compensated whores.
Oh, wasn't he in for it.
Grumbling aloud, she traipsed around the side of the mansion, detouring past the verandah, and she was relieved that there were no guests lurking on the elaborate porch, but then, the slackers were probably still abed.
Out of habit, she started toward the servants' door, then she halted. She was on official business, and she wouldn't demean herself by slinking in the back door like a groveling supplicant.
She'd go to the front door. If the viscount didn't approve, too bad.
Righteous indignation spurring her on, she marched up the bricked drive and climbed the stairs, banging the knocker with three marked raps.
A thin, scrawny butler in an expensive black suit answered. He was no one local whom she knew, so he was likely a Wakefield employee from London.
"I'm here to speak with the Viscount Wakefield," she announced before the servant could take a breath.
Patronizingly, he stared down at her. "And you are . . . ?"
"Emma Fitzgerald. From the village." She wouldn't be cowed by the pompous lackey. "With a petition. I demand an immediate audience."
"I'm quite sure he's too busy to confer with you."
"When will he be available?"
"He won't be," and he commenced shutting the door in her face.
Ignoring him, she pushed with all her might, then swaggered across the threshold and pranced into the foyer. Apparently, people were more polite in the city, or perhaps he carried more authority there, because he was egregiously flummoxed by such a breach of polite etiquette. As he pondered what to do with her, his mouth flapped open and shut, like a fish tossed on a riverbank.
She planted herself in a chair. "I'll wait."
"You most certainly will not. I'll have the footmen escort you out."
She shot him such an evil grimace that he flinched. "Do you really suppose they could?"
He sputtered, then blustered, "It might be hours before the viscount is free."
Standing, she pointed an angry finger at his chest. "You tell that bounder for me that if he hasn't sent for me in fifteen minutes, I'm coming in to find him." She sneered malevolently. "And heaven help the man who tries to stop me."
The retainer harumphed and scampered off, destined for his master with the dreadful news that she'd arrived.