Excerpt from Devil's Bargain

     

     "Is this my room alone?" Lynette asked. "Or do I share?"
     She detected a slight lift to his lips, but his eyes remained remote, his tone distant. "It is yours alone." Then he gestured to a doorway half hidden in shadow beside the bed post. "That leads to my bedchamber. I will thank you to knock before entering."
     She stiffened, turning to him in shock. "I shall not enter it at all, sir! I am to be married, and I shall enter that state with my purity and my honor intact."
     This time he did smile, though the expression seemed cold. He stepped into the room, folding his arms across his chest as he leaned negligently against the bedpost. "Your honor is not my concern. Your purity, however, shall be grossly torn by even the most lax standards."
     His words shook her. He spoke as if it were a foregone conclusion that she would be dishonored. But what were her alternatives? She could not run. She had no money to return to Kent, and even if she did, her family had already left for her uncle's. They thought her safely ensconced in a nunnery. What would she say to them? That she had decided to take a jaunt to London? Alone?
     Her reputation would be in tatters. She had to make the best of her situation here. So she lifted her chin, deciding to salvage her pride, if nothing else.
     "Sir, you are offensive," she said stiffly.
     He nodded, as if that, too, were a foregone conclusion. Then he abruptly sketched a mocking bow. "Please, allow me to introduce myself. I am Adrian Grant, Viscount Marlock, and this is my home."
     "Your home," she echoed weakly as her mind whirled. Had she heard tales of the Viscount Marlock? Even in Kent? Was he the one with a reputation for debauching young girls? She could not remember. So she took refuge in good manners, dropping into a demure curtsy.
     "Perhaps you were told that I shall be assisting your education," he drawled.
     Lynette was trembling. She did not know why, but she felt the weakness in her limbs and was powerless to stop it. If only she understood what he intended. "You will find me a husband?"
     "You will have a bridegroom and a rich one at that. Indeed my fortune and yours depend upon it."
     She shook her head, denying everything he said. "But—"
     He cut her off with a single raised finger. "Do you know what a courtesan is?"
     She bit her lip, trying to decide how she should answer. Her father would have flown into a rage if she confessed the full truth: that she had eagerly listened for any drop of gossip about such creatures. So instead of a full confession, she chose a partial truth. "I only know what little I have heard. I am sure none of it could be true."
     "Of course it could be true. That and a great deal more," he drawled, his amusement obvious. "No matter. You, my dear, will be taught very much like those wonderful creatures."
     She gaped at him in true horror. Her a courtesan? "But I was told—"
     "Listen to the rest, Lynette. You will become a Marlock bride. Like a courtesan, you will be beautiful, accomplished, and knowledgeable in a variety of pleasures. But you will also be loyal, gentle, and of course, presentable. And for this, some man—likely an older, experienced man—will pay a great deal to wed you. So that you may grace his table by day and entertain him in bed at night."
     "But, I don't understand. Why would they marry me? When a... a courtesan's pleasures can be had—"
     "For a few gems? Until the man becomes bored? Or the woman unpresentable?"
     She nodded. That is exactly what she meant. Why would a man wed what can be had for a few pennies?
     "Because a smart man knows the value of paying once instead of monthly or at a lady's whim. Of tying a woman to him for the rest of his life—assuming she is the right woman—rather than for a few months. Of finding a bride who will nurse him kindly in his old age, rather than abandon him to seek her own pleasures."
     "But you cannot promise that—"
     "Of course, I can!" he snapped. "Because you will. Because I have done it six times before and my reputation stands on that promise." He stepped closer until he was looming over her, his breath hot on her face.
     "My lord," she gasped, wondering what she could say to make him retreat.
     "Will you be faithful to your husband?" he asked. "Will you please him at night, care for him in his dotage, even if he is a hundred years old with cold hands and rancid breath?"
     She blinked, wondering why tears blurred her vision.
     "Will you, Lynette?" he demanded.
     "Yes!" she gasped, knowing that was the answer he wanted. Knowing, too, that it was the truth. For whatever reason she wed, she would not dishonor the man she married. "I could not break a vow made before God," she whispered.
     He stepped back, his entire body suddenly relaxed, almost congenial. "Then I believe you shall be my best bride yet." He reached out, gently stroking her cheek with an almost paternal air. "You will fetch a high price indeed."
     She jerked backwards, drawing her face away from him. "I don't understand—" she began. But he cut her off.
     "Enough questions. It is all too new for you." Then he abruptly headed for the door. "There were be time enough after the initial evaluation."
     That drew her up short. "Evaluation?" she asked.
     But he was already gone.

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