Page 40

Author: Anne Stuart

And he wouldn’t be doing his best to blot out the memory of his evil, vicious tongue. He was capable of being a nasty son of a bitch, and he knew it. He’d proved that early this morning, letting his evil inner demon free to slash and hack like a medieval warrior, leaving his victim broken and bleeding on the ground.


Except that he wasn’t a medieval warrior, and his weapons had been words, not maces and broad-swords. Words that were lies, slashing at the woman he’d just made love to, destroying her until there was nothing left.


He could still see her face, calm, unmoving, the utter bleakness in her dark blue eyes. He’d managed to smash Charity Carstairs’s infernal amour propre, gotten through to the heart of her, the soul of her, and crushed her.


He’d drained the glass, he realized, and he could still see her. He reached for the bottle and took a deep drink, letting the fiery taste of it slide down his throat. He should see if he could get some good Scots whiskey. That would work even better than French brandy. Too bad the British weren’t as adept at creating something to knock a man on his arse.


He could ask his brother the direction of the opium den he habituated if he got desperate enough. Anything to forget what he’d done. But Brandon had disappeared, and wouldn’t return, at least, not until the infernal fraternity lost its hold over him. The opium would still lay claim to his soul, but Benedick would help him deal with that when the time came.


He cursed, with long, inventive, impossibly obscene phrases. He had the unbearable suspicion that he wouldn’t be able to save Brandon. That no matter what he did, he couldn’t stop the spiral of self-destruction that was driving him, any more than he was able to save his sister from her disastrous marriage.


He took another swallow, letting the blissful veil of confusion float down over him. There was something else he was trying not to think of, something that kept pushing through to torment him. It had something to do with Charity Carstairs. Melisande. A beautiful name for a beautiful woman. Creamy skin. Magnificent breasts. Sweet little sounds when he took her, delicious shudders when she climaxed, shock in her eyes each time she reached her peak. He’d shown her, hadn’t he, he thought dismally. Taught her just what she was missing. And then made sure she’d never seek it out again, if cruelty was the price she had to pay.


Why had he done it? He was adept at ridding himself of females he’d lost interest in, all without offending them. But maybe that was the problem. He hadn’t lost interest in her. He’d become so wretchedly obsessed and entangled with her, after one night of sweaty, wicked delight, that he’d panicked.


He was supposed to hold his liquor, treat women with civility and never show fear. He’d cocked that up to a fare-thee-well. His mother would be horrified. His father would thrash him. No he wouldn’t. Too big to thrash. B’sides, his father always hated to punish him. His mother’s disappointment would be reward enough.


Melisande’s face swam in front of him, the softness of her mouth, so vulnerable, so sweet, so innocent. The Saint of King Street, and here he was, debauching her. He shouldn’t feel guilty, but he was. It didn’t matter. He still wanted that mouth. He wanted so much more—there’d barely been time to do more than touch the possibilities of the flesh. He wanted to do things to her that had never interested him before. He wanted to cover every inch of her creamy skin with his mouth. He wanted to see if he could make her scream in pleasure. He wanted…he wanted…


The brandy bottle slipped from his hand, hitting the Aubusson carpet and rolling toward the fire. He reached out for it, and his balance faltered. The chair went over, and his head smashed against something hard. Might knock some sense into him, he thought dazedly.


But maybe he could sleep just a little bit, since he was already lying down. The floor was as good a place as any. He hadn’t taken Melisande on the floor, had he? He’d wanted to.


Bloody hell. She was still haunting him. He reached out for the brandy bottle, but it had rolled out of his reach, and there was something wet and warm on his head. He reached up a hand to touch it, then brought it down to look at it.


Blood. He didn’t like blood. In fact, among his other, un-gentleman-like transgressions, he couldn’t stand the sight of it.


And he finally, happily, passed out on the library floor.


28


Miranda Rohan de Malheur, Countess of Rochdale, let out a shriek of dismay, raced into the room and sank down next to the unconscious figure of her oldest brother. There was blood everywhere, and she threw her arms around him, terrified that he was dead.


He rewarded her with a loud snore, and she caught the reek of brandy. She sat back on her heels with annoyance, turning to look up at her husband. “He’s dead drunk, and I think he hit his head. He’s bleeding like a pig, the carpet is ruined, and I thought we were here to save Brandon, not Benedick.”


Lucien de Malheur, the lady’s husband, lately referred to as the Scorpion for his less than honorable habits, limped into the room, staring down at his brother-in-law. “How the mighty have fallen,” he murmured softly. “My heart, you’re getting blood all over that lovely frock. Leave him to me. The Rohans are blessed with very hard heads, and I don’t doubt he’s suffered worse. He’s going to be more troubled by his hangover than a little scalp wound.”


Miranda looked back at her brother, the stalwart she’d always depended on, fear and annoyance fighting for dominance. “Are you quite certain?”


“Absolutely. Go find that elderly manservant and see if he can round up a few strong footmen to remove your brother to his bed. I doubt we’ll need to call a doctor—even from here the wound looks superficial, but he’ll need a cleanup. Do your brothers tend to cast up their accounts when they’ve drunk too much?”


“They don’t usually drink too much. Something must be very wrong. Benedick usually fixes things. He doesn’t give up and drink himself into a stupor. Things must be very bad, indeed.”


“Things are never as bad as they seem. And that’s why we’re here, my love. I received word that the Heavenly Host are holding a gathering in Kent this Saturday, and according to Salfield, the newly re-formed organization is a far cry from the harmless activities I remember.”


“Harmless?” Miranda said with a screech, her flashing green eyes promising retribution. “I seem to remember a very unpleasant evening…”


“Pray, don’t!” Lucien said with a shudder. “Haven’t I paid for my transgressions sufficiently?”


“No.” She blew him a kiss before turning back to her brother. His color was good, his breathing even, and the blood, while horrific in appearance, seemed to have stopped flowing. Her husband was right: Benedick was foxed but perfectly fine. She rose, taking the handkerchief her husband offered and wiping the blood off her hands. “You take care of him, and I’ll go in search of Brandon.”


“I thought the old man said he had moved out.”


“Richmond,” she corrected. “And he knows more than that. He always does. You clean up this mess—” she cast a withering glance at her favorite big brother “—and I’ll start working on the other.”


The brandy had betrayed him completely this time, Benedick thought, in between being violently ill. Not only was Melisande Carstairs still haunting him, but now he had the infernal vision of his despised brother-in-law holding the basin for him. He could think of no worse punishment than imagining the Scorpion at hand, but at least, in his still-drunken state, he knew perfectly well that his sister and her husband almost never left the Lake District and the bastard would never dare show his scarred, ugly face at Benedick’s house.


He slept, awoke to cast up his accounts once more, demanded brandy, received none, imagined his brother-in-law conversing with Richmond, the traitor, and then slept again.


When he awoke it was the full light of day, though which day was anybody’s guess. His head hurt like the very devil, his stomach was tender, and he felt both raw and sticky. He sat up, slowly, to see that he was in one of the guest rooms. He vaguely remembered the footmen trying to get him upstairs, and then having a battle when he refused to be put in his own bed. The servants would have changed the sheets. But they couldn’t change his memories. Nothing could, sod it. Not bottles of brandy, not smashing his head. Nothing.


He reached up and felt the matted strands of his hair above the tender lump. Served him right, he thought. And the visions were nothing more than he deserved. Seeing his mortal enemy in his drunken dreams wasn’t much better than Melisande’s face, but at least it engendered rage, not despair.


The door opened, and he stiffened, expecting a disapproving Richmond, come to clean him up and lecture him simply by looking at him, and then he froze. He was no longer drunk. And Lucien de Malheur was standing inside his bedroom door.


He didn’t think, didn’t hesitate. He launched himself across the room, flattening his brother-in-law, and began pummeling him with enthusiasm.


But the Scorpion was a strong man, despite his bad leg, and Benedick had the hangover of the century, so it was over quickly. Benedick lay curled up, breathless in pain, as the Earl rose to his feet, brushing himself off.


“You dirty bastard,” Benedick gasped. “You fight like a street rat.”


“Of course I do,” Lucien said calmly.


Benedick said nothing, trying to catch his breath and wondering if his plan for an heir was now moot, when he was vaguely aware of someone else in the room.


“What did you do to him?” came his sister’s caustic voice.


“No less than he deserved. He decided it was time to avenge your honor.”


“Too late,” Miranda said cheerfully, leaning down beside him. She smelled of lemon and spice, her familiar scent, and beneath all the misery, fury and pain he felt a surge of remembered affection. “You shouldn’t try to hit Lucien, Benedick. He has no scruples.”


Benedick coughed. “I remember.” He was beginning to breathe again, and he decided ignoring Malheur was the best thing he could do. For now. “What are you doing here, Miranda? Are you well?”

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