Read Seducing the Viscount Online

Authors: Alexandra Ivy

Seducing the Viscount (2 page)

Chapter I

The dreary spring weather that had draped Surrey in a relentless gray mist abruptly gave way to a watery sunlight that brought with it welcome warmth.

It also brought with it a flurry of spring cleaning that consumed Rosehill estate from attics to cellars.

With an enthusiasm that was near frightening in its intensity, the housekeeper herded the maids in a storm of scrubbing, polishing, and buffing that sent the residents of the elegant home fleeing for safety. Even the usually oblivious Mercy Simpson was forced from the shadows of the vast library to the surrounding countryside.

If she became lost in her studies as was her custom, there was a very good chance she might be tossed out with the rest of the rubbish.

Avoiding the formal gardens where Viscount Norrington and his sister, Miss Ella Breckford, had chosen to find peace, Mercy instead wandered for a time among the thick woods that surrounded the beautiful estate before coming to rest on a flat stone in the center of a small meadow.

With a faint smile, she studied the beauty spread before her.

Perhaps it was a blessing she had been forced to set aside her books and enjoy the lovely afternoon, she ruefully acknowledged. Too often she became so obsessed with the past that she forgot to appreciate the present.

At least that was the warning her parents delivered with monotonous regularity.

Her smile faded as she recalled the letter she had tucked into the pocket of her gown earlier in the day and promptly forgotten.

It was from her parents, of course. She had no other family or friends who would bother to write to her. Until she had come to Rosehill nearly a month ago, she had lived an isolated life in a small cottage near three hours away.

As the only child of two elderly parents, she had devoted her life to caring for their needs. She had never resented the responsibilities she shouldered or the endless duties that were expected of her. Not even when it meant she was rarely allowed the opportunity to leave the small cottage.

But since she had been at Rosehill . . . Well, she had to admit she thoroughly enjoyed her first taste of freedom.

For once she could concentrate solely on her overwhelming fascination with history. There were no chores to be tended to, no incessant bells to be answered, and no one to chide her for disappearing into her books for endless hours.

Although Miss Breckford had invited Mercy to Surrey to be her companion, she had swiftly made it obvious she had no genuine need for Mercy beyond assisting with her various charity events. The sweet-tempered woman with the twinkling brown eyes and ready smile possessed more spirit and vigor than most women half her age.

She had asked nothing of Mercy.

Nothing but her friendship.

It had been liberating for a young maiden who had always been expected to be at the beck and call of others.

Which no doubt explained why she was so reluctant to open the letter clutched in her fingers.

Over the past fortnight, her parents had become increasingly insistent in their demands that she return home. They claimed the nurse she had hired to care for them during her absence was incapable of keeping the house as clean as they preferred and that her father had taken a dislike to her cooking.

A part of her understood it was her duty to return and ease their discomfort. They were the only family she possessed. But another part, a part she was ashamed to acknowledge, urged her to remain just a few more days.

After all, once she returned home she would never have such an opportunity again. She would be forgotten in her small cottage as she aged into a lonely spinster.

Surely she deserved a few weeks just for herself?

She wrinkled her nose at her attempts to justify her selfish desires. Her father would tell her that it was the devil whispering in her ear. And he would be right.

“Dear God.” The male voice floated on the air behind her, intruding into her dark musings. “Do not move.”

Mercy instinctively stiffened in alarm. “What is it? A bee? A snake?”

“An angel.”

She frowned at the unexpected retort. “What?” “Ah no, I am mistaken.” There was the sound of footsteps before a tall, stunningly beautiful man stepped into view. “It is a wood sprite come to welcome spring.”

Just for a moment, Mercy was bewitched by the stranger. She had little experience with the opposite sex, but she did realize when she stumbled across a fine example of one. And this gentleman was . . . exquisite.

Even casually attired in a blue coat and buff breeches there was no mistaking he was built on the lines of a racehorse. He was all hard, corded muscles on a lean, elegant frame that moved with the grace of a trained warrior.

And his countenance complemented the fine, noble lines.

Her eyes skimmed over the finely sculpted features, the aquiline nose, the full curve of his lips, and the high arch of his dark brows. They lingered a moment on the astonishing golden eyes that were heavily lashed and filled with a wicked humor before moving to the thick, raven locks that tumbled carelessly about that magnificent male face.

Good . . . heavens.

This was the sort of gentleman her mother had always warned her about. The sort that possessed the beauty of an angel and the wiles of Lucifer. The sort that seduced naïve chits before tossing them aside without a care.

She should be terrified. Instead her heart was racing with an illicit excitement that she could feel to her very toes.

“Botheration.” In an effort to hide her fierce reaction to his appearance, Mercy busied herself with knocking the clinging leaves from her muslin gown. “You nearly frightened me to death.”

He offered a slow, lethal smile. “Forgive me, sweetness. I was caught off guard to stumble across such beauty in the midst of this godforsaken countryside.”

Her own smile was wry, inwardly wondering if he offered such smooth compliments to every woman he encountered. She would bet her last quid he did. How else would he have become so very good at them?

“I doubt that God has forsaken such a lovely meadow. Indeed, it appears rather blessed.”

“I stand corrected.” His smile widened. “It most certainly has been blessed.”

“Are you lost?”

“From the moment I caught sight of you perched upon that rock, my love.”

“My name is Miss Simpson, not
sweetness
or
my love
, and if you are lost, then I suggest that you continue down the path to Rosehill,” she informed him in her usual soft tones, glancing toward the horse he had left tethered to a nearby bush. “The groom would be happy to offer you directions.”

He stilled, as if he were surprised that she had not yet melted into a puddle at his feet. Then, narrowing his brilliant golden eyes, he took a deliberate step closer, his expression that of a predator suddenly on the scent of his prey.

“I have no desire to seek anything from the cantankerous Delany, not even if he has managed to mellow in his old age,” he drawled, his eyes running a restless path over her startled features. “I far prefer to linger in this meadow with you, Miss Simpson.”

She took an instinctive step back. Not only because she was shocked by his familiarity with Rosehill, but because the warm, tantalizing scent of his skin seemed to tease at her senses in a sinful manner.

“You know Delany?”

“We have a passing acquaintance. I fear that he has never quite forgiven me for borrowing my father's prize horse and entering him in the local steeplechase. Quite unfair of him since I did offer him half the prize money I won.”

Her lips parted in shock. “You are Mr. Breckford,” she breathed.

“My reputation precedes me, I see.”

It certainly did. Although Lord Norrington never mentioned his bastard son, Ella Breckford could rarely allow a day to pass without some mention of her nephew. She spoke of his daring escapades, his success at the card table, the manner society fawned over him despite the fact he was illegitimate.

It was obvious she adored the rapscallion, although he rarely bothered to visit his family.

“You are not expected.”

“I never am.” He reached out to flick a careless finger down the line of her jaw. “The question, however, is how you would know whether I am expected or not. The last occasion I visited Rosehill it was decidedly lacking in wood sprites.”

His light touch sent a strange sensation through the pit of her stomach. It was . . . well, it was something she had never felt before. She did know, however, that she liked it.

With an effort, she met his curious gaze. “I am Miss Breckford's companion.”

“Aunt Ella has need for a companion?” Something that might have been concern darkened the golden eyes. “Is she ill?”

“She is in remarkable health, so far as I know.”

“Then why the need for a companion?”

“She claimed that she desired a female to keep her company during the long winter months, but to be honest, I believe that she was simply being kind to me.” An unwitting smile touched her lips as she thought of the older woman's endless generosity. “She knew how anxious I was to visit Rosehill.”

“Anxious?” The concern faded as he studied her countenance. “Why the devil would a beautiful young woman wish to bury herself in that frigid mausoleum?”

“I happen to find Rosehill a fascinating estate, and I am much in your aunt's debt for extending her invitation.”

His lips twitched at the unmistakable reprimand in her tone.

“Well, I must admit that it grows more fascinating by the moment. How did you come to know my aunt? I was under the belief that she rarely travels in society these days.”

“We have corresponded for the past year. I wrote to her when I learned that your—” She broke off her words, not certain whether or not to refer to Lord Norrington as his father. Even in the short time she had been at the estate, she had sensed that the two gentlemen did not have a close or comfortable relationship. “That Lord Norrington possessed an extensive library. I hoped your aunt would be able to tell me if his collection included the history of the Byzantine era.”

He once again appeared bemused by her response. “You are interested in the Byzantine era?”

“More precisely I am interested in Theodora, who was an empress during that era.”

He gave a short, disbelieving laugh. “Do not tell me that you are a scholar?”

Her lips thinned. Delectable rake or not, no one was allowed to mock her work.

“I cannot claim to be a scholar, but if my research is successful I have hopes of writing a paper on the empress and having it published in one of the London journals. I have already written to several editors, and one has expressed an interest in my work. It is past time that the women who altered history are given credit for their contributions.”

He held up his hands in a gesture of peace, but that smile continued to tease at his lips.

“I fully agree. Women have been the driving force of mankind since Helen launched a thousand ships. I was just startled such a young and lovely maiden would devote herself to studying the past when you could be enjoying the pleasures that society could offer.”

“I have no place among society, Mr. Breckford,” she said without apology. “My father is a retired vicar who has always lived a quiet life. And even if I did possess the opportunity to indulge in such a frivolous existence, I would have no interest. There are more important matters to keep me occupied.”

“Ah.” His smile abruptly widened. “Not a scholar, but a bluestocking.”

She rolled her eyes at his typical response. Why did gentlemen presume that any woman who did not spend her days desperately attempting to attract the attention of some man or other must be a bluestocking?

Turning on her heel, Mercy began walking toward the distant estate. As much as she enjoyed bantering with the wicked gentleman, she would not waste her time with anyone who did not respect a woman for her mind.

“Actually, Mr. Breckford, I am simply a female with enough intelligence to comprehend the difference between genuine gold and dross,” she informed him over her shoulder.

His eyes widened before he was hurrying to catch up with her retreating form.

“Good Lord, have I just been hoisted upon my own petard?” he demanded.

“I certainly hope so.”

“Where are you going?”

“Unlike you, sir, I do not live a life of leisure. I have duties awaiting me at Rosehill.”

“And you are the sort of woman who must always have the last word?”

“Always.” Reaching the gate to the meadow, she stepped through and firmly closed it before he could follow. “Good-bye, Mr. Breckford.”

 

 

Not surprisingly, Ian's thoughts were consumed with Miss Simpson as he gathered his mount and continued down the path to Rosehill.

Actually, more than his thoughts were consumed, he acknowledged as he felt a familiar tightening of his groin.

The chit was a rare beauty with her satin curls the precise shade of sunlight and the dark, slightly slanted eyes that were as soft and beguiling as a midnight sky. Even her body was perfectly designed to tempt a poor gentleman with delicate curves and an air of fragility that stirred his most primal instincts to offer his protection.

And that voice . . .

It was the voice of an angel. Low and soft, it had brushed over him like the finest velvet.

The mere thought of listening to that melodic voice whisper in his ear as he made slow, delicious love to her was enough to make Ian groan out loud.

Ah, yes. Before his stay at Rosehill was over, he intended to have a taste of the tantalizing wood sprite.

As if the thought of Rosehill suddenly conjured it into being, Ian rounded a sweeping curve to discover the manor house spread in all its glory across the parkland.

It was an enormous building, of course, but built along clean, crisp neoclassical lines that would be pleasing to the most fastidious eye. Covered in stone-colored tiles, it boasted four square turrets and a large portico as well as a stunning conservatory with a delicate glass rotunda that was Lord Norrington's pride and joy.

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