The Harlot Countess by Joanna Shupe
Wicked Deceptions # 2
Releasing April 28th, 2015
Lady Hawkins’s debut was something she’d rather forget—along with her first marriage. Today, the political cartoonist is a new woman. A thoroughly modern woman. So much so that her clamoring public believes she’s a man…
FACT: Drawing under a male pseudonym, Maggie is known as Lemarc. Her (his!) favorite object of ridicule: Simon Barrett, Earl of Winchester. He’s a rising star in Parliament—and a former confidant and love interest of Maggie’s who believed a rumor that vexes her to this day.
FICTION: Maggie is the Half-Irish Harlot who seduced her best friend’s husband on the eve of their wedding. She is to be feared and loathed as she will lift her skirts for anything in breeches.
Still crushed by Simon’s betrayal, Maggie has no intention of letting the ton crush her as well. In fact, Lemarc’s cartoons have made Simon a laughingstock…but now it appears that Maggie may have been wrong about what happened years ago, and that Simon has been secretly yearning for her since…forever. Could it be that the heart is mightier than the pen and the sword after all?
The long corridor outside the drawing room resembled a maze, with doors every which way. Picking a direction, Maggie searched for a footman. Perhaps he could draw her a detailed map on how to find the terrace.
From the shadow of an alcove, a figure stepped into her path. “Lady Hawkins.”
Simon. She started, pressed a hand to her chest. “You scared the life out of me. What are you doing out here?”
He folded his arms, the fine wool of his coat pulling taut across his broad shoulders. “I could ask you the same question—only I suspect the answer. Where did you have it planned?”
“Simon, I think you had better return to the dining room—”
“The music room? The conservatory?” he continued, steady steps bringing him closer. “I happen to know there are hundreds of little spots all over this house where one—or perhaps two—could hide for an extended period of time.”
She tried to make sense of his words over the thundering of her heart. Was he insinuating . . . ? Oh, for heaven’s sake. Did he always assume the worst of her? Feet planted, she stopped moving and lifted her chin. “Are you under the impression I’m engaging in some sort of a tryst? In the middle of a dinner party?” It was so absurd, she could hardly speak it.
His smirk confirmed it. “Convenient you and Markham both excused yourselves within moments of one another, wouldn’t you say? Let me give you a piece of advice for next time: It draws less attention if you sneak away once the gentlemen join the—”
She came forward to hiss, “You hypocritical horse’s arse. I stepped out for some air. Alone.”
He had the gall to snort. “Yes, I’m quite sure Markham would offer up a similar story if we were to ask him.”
Anger rushed through her veins, settling in her chest like a heavy mound of potter’s clay. Simon loomed over her, snarling down in self-righteous fury, and she discovered he’d backed her up against a wall. She knew in that moment he would never believe her denials; he’d formed his opinion of her ten years ago and there would be no changing his mind.
Fine, she could play the harlot for him. Maybe then he’d leave her alone—though she truly longed to crack him one across his closely shaven jaw.
She exhaled, forced her limbs to relax, and licked her lips. Predictably, his gaze locked on her mouth, so she rolled her bottom lip between her teeth. His chest continued to rise and fall, the harsh exhales filling the room, and his eyes darkened to sapphires. Oh yes, revenge could be sweet. Ever so slowly, she dragged one finger down the length of her bare collarbone. “Did you corner me in hopes of taking his place?” she asked, her voice low and intimate.
Simon shifted closer, the pure male, spicy scent of him filling her nose. She liked the way he smelled, orange and sandalwood with a hint of tobacco. The proximity of his frame distracted her as well. His evening clothes held no padding, and the well-tailored fit hugged him quite perfectly. She could see the outline—
“If I chose to take Markham’s place,” he started, placing his hands against the wall, one on either side of her head, to cage her in. He leaned in and for one terrifying, heart-stopping moment she thought he was going to kiss her, but he shifted just before their lips touched. The tip of his nose slid across her cheek, tiny puffs of breath heating her skin as he nuzzled her. Maggie’s breasts swelled, and her lids fell with the rush of pleasure that rippled the length of her body. “If I chose to take his place, it wouldn’t be here,” he whispered near her ear. “I’d take you to my bed at Barrett House and show you wickedness Markham could not even begin to imagine. But that is not why I cornered you.”
Close. He was much too close. Despite her desire to remain unaffected, her belly fluttered and warmth tingled between her legs. Why on earth had it only ever been this odious man to elicit such feelings? She swallowed. “Then why?”
He flicked her earbob with his tongue, then nipped the lobe with gentle teeth. She inhaled sharply. “What game are you playing at, Maggie?”
“I—” Her traitorous voice caught, so she cleared her throat. “There is no game, Simon.”
Her control began melting away. She longed to do every improper thing in the world to him—and for him to return them in kind. Odd since she hadn’t ever enjoyed intimacies with a man. Had hated it, actually. But somehow, this was different.
Why had she started this? Oh yes, she’d thought to teach him a lesson, make a fool of him. Have him panting with lust and then leave him begging—only this was turning into something else entirely.
“I like games,” he continued, his lips brushing over her throat in a seductive caress. “But I also like to win. I wonder, are you prepared to pay the price when you lose?”
She shivered. There wasn’t enough air in the damn room. “I never lose,” she rasped. “And you have more at stake.”
“Do I?” His nose slid along the sensitive line of her jaw, the skin prickling in his wake. “I think I could take you against this wall. Right now. Right here.” His hips pressed against hers, his erection stiff and unapologetic, and she sucked in a breath. Before she knew it, her hands clutched at his waist to hold him in place.
“But you should know,” he continued, his mouth hovering above her lips, “I only play games when there aren’t quite so many players. I do not care to be one of many.”
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