Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sunday Serial:Lord Merville's Whore Part 3

Lord Merville's Whore: Chapter Three
Madelynne Ellis
All Rights Reserved.

Tight, sickening pains cramped Thea’s stomach as she slipped from beneath the eiderdown. Richard lay sated in quiet repose, his white toes peeking from the covers. She had to leave before he woke. Before his caresses coaxed her back beneath the covers and spurred her further descent into hell. No, she’d made her choice when she’d sworn to be a loyal and obedient wife. It was her duty to see Phillip freed.

Besides, she couldn’t trust Richard. He’d always been changeable and no doubt he’d grow bored of her. She wouldn’t demean herself by becoming his whore. At least as Phillip’s wife she held some measure of respect.

Hastily, she threw some possessions into a sack. It was for the best. She’d deny anything had ever taken place, forget the pleasure. Life with Phillip wasn’t so bad that she’d abandon him at the first sign of trouble.



Light from the stained windows streaked the marble floor of the entrance hall. Every footfall echoed, the sound bouncing off the newly bared walls, and accompanied by the swish of the laundry sacks into which she’d stuffed her belongings. Even the grand front door seemed naked, stripped of its twin bronzes of Hades and Persephone. It stood open, a gaping hole onto the descending twilight. Not a stick of furniture remained on the lawn.

This was it. Much as she wanted to believe she’d be coming home again, doubt cradled her heart with a tenacious grip. She couldn’t shake the feeling that even once she’d accomplished Phillip’s release, she’d never be mistress here again.

A fox slunk passed her as she wound her way to the red-brick stables, no doubt seeing an opportunity to prey upon the poultry while there were no servants busy about the yard. Bessie whinnied in welcome as Thea swung her arms over the top of the stable-door. “It’s all right, girl,” she soothed, relieved to find the mare still present. Presumably, Richard had claimed the livestock along with the bricks and mortar. “Time for a jaunt. Not far, just to call on Mr. Pounder. You remember, Mr. Pounder don’t you? His boy likes to give you carrots.”

Nonsense words to soothe her own flighty pulse. A few minutes alone and she was already talking to herself, but there was comfort in just hearing a voice. Unaccustomed to saddling the horse, Thea struggled first with the side-saddle and then with the lighter saddle the groom used to put Bessie through her paces and ensure the mare didn’t grow too fat. Its contours felt unfamiliar against her thighs, in which the muscles already protested from Richard’s usage. A little unsteadily she trotted out of the yard, twin pistols tucked into the pockets of her skirt.

*****

Richard rose not long after Thea left the room. It had killed him to lie still and keep his breathing even as she’d crept about stuffing belongings into sacks, but he knew there’d be no stopping her. He might tempt her back to bed for a while, but she wouldn’t stay with him no matter how ardently he desired it, or pressed her.

Some things weren’t easy to forgive and Thea, held grudges with the sort of tenacity normally reserved for England’s royalty. Whether he’d meant to betray her and the reasons for it, were irrelevant. The fact was he’d done it, and he couldn’t undo it. Nor would she see that he was trying to help her now.

It was true that he could have burned the debt bond once he had won it. He’d certainly considered it, but that rested upon the assumption that he was wholly immune to her charms, which of course he wasn’t, or he wouldn’t have sat up so straight when Phillip had scrawled he ridiculous IOU in the first place. He knew all the intimate habits of the lechers that had sat around the table that night, having shared numerous evenings pissing in the same chamber pots and sharing whores—he’d never claimed to be a saint—and he was damned if he was going to let any of them have their way with her.

He closed his eyes and felt again the thunderclap of lust that had pounded his body the first time they’d met. It had been her eyes that had first ensnared him. The defiance in them as she stood, head meekly bowed, sandwiched between her father and eldest brother, rank, the both of them, present only to goad others into treasonous action.

Of course his father had wanted no part in it; the glorious bugger valued his head and his property too highly to risk it trying to put another idiot Stuart on the throne. No, the Merville’s had toed the trig since as far back as Tudor times, and had no notion of changing that. Well, least ways his father didn’t.

Thea had been sewn into a fanciful gown with a domed petticoat the size of a table and boning so rigid that she came over faint if she walked more than four steps. Her family had come to arrange an alliance with whomever they could tempt, and she was the prize, but she’d tolerated the pain and humiliation, and he’d liked her for that. He’d rarely seen that sort of tenacity in a woman, most of them would have swooned away at the first opportunity and been carted off to recover on a daybed somewhere.

He padded over to the window, hoping to catch a glimpse of her as she passed across the lawn. Stark’s men had long since departed, so there’d be no one to oppose her flight.

God, he’d been a fool to give her up when he’d had the chance, but if he was a fool then Phillip Roche was a bigger one; to have her and not cherish her. Richard rubbed at the scratches she’d left across his chest the second time they’d made love. She’d actually broken the skin in places. The deepest gouge, left of one nipple, was tender and troubling it roused a pleasant sensation of heaviness in his loins.

He saw her turn towards the house and stepped back from the window.

He’d keep trying; it’s all he could do. At least it was something he was good at. Meanwhile, the night was already drawing in, and much as he’d like to stay here and mope, there were other matters he had to attend to.
*****

“You’re Mrs. Roche, aren’t you?” The housekeeper, who opened the door to Mr. Pounder’s cottage, respectfully dipped her head as she stepped aside to let Thea enter. “Bad night to be out, milady. The master’s not expecting you, is he? But see you get yourself warm before the fire, and I’ll let him know you’re here. He’s still at work in his study.”

Thea huddled to the fire place, rubbing her still tingling hands together, only to retreat again as the smoke got in her eyes, leaving her blinking through a haze of tears.

“Mrs. Roche?”

“Your fire.” She fanned the noxious smoke, barely able to discern the rotund figure of the notary in the parlor doorway. “You should have your housekeeper call a sweep. If I could beg a glass of something.”

“Aye, well, I suppose.” He eschewed the teapot and poured milk into a used teacup, before passing it over with an irritable sniff. “Have to confess I’m at a loss as to why you’re here. Never took you for the begging type.”

“I don’t understand.” She sipped at the milk. During the dreary ride over, with the drizzle soaking into her riding coat, she’d turned over the probable conversation with the respected notary. Likely, he’d already learned of Phillip’s arrest and had addressed the matter of documents, so that all she’d have to do was take the relevant papers to the magistrate to see Phillip released. But perhaps news of the arrest hadn’t yet spread. She returned the glass to the tray.

“My husband… You may not have heard. Sir, I’m not proud to confess he’s been arrested. I hoped, that as his friend and advisor, his legal man—.”

“Madam,” Pounder brought his chubby palm down flat against the sideboard making the crockery rattle. “Your damn fool husband owes me five thousand pounds. The only advice I have for him, is to pay up. I’ll seek neither leniency from the judges or his jailors for the man. He’s a crook.”

“Five thousand!” She shook her head, unable to believe it. “Then you’re responsible.”

“Not alone. There’s a good group of us. It’s gone on too long to overlook, especially seeing as he’s no security now.”

Elsdon had claimed Frosterley and word had obviously got out.

“How much?”

Pounder shrugged. “Who’s to say, all totaled up.” His hands clasped across his rotund stomach.

Thea stewed in her thoughts. If it were Phillip’s friends responsible for his ruin, then the situation was direr than she’d first imagined.

“Perhaps if we shared some fresh tea, we might agree some arrangement for depreciating the debt.” He turned with a surprisingly sprightly step to reach for the bell pull.

“I can’t see how that’s possible. I have nothing.”

“Oh, come now, Mrs. Roche.” He knelt before her. “I’ve heard tell that Phillip never truly appreciated your value.”

What the devil did the man mean?

He walked his fingers along the hem of her skirt.

Thea curled her toes. Sudden dread curdled the hastily sipped milk in her stomach. Pounder rested his index finger upon the toe of her shoe, and eyed the curve of her ankle.

Dear God, Richard’s advances had been bad enough, but at least there was attraction there, and that damn bond Phillip had signed. What Pounder was hinting at was altogether more calculating. Obeying Phillip’s wishes was one thing; after all she’d made that promise before God, but she had no intention of deliberately cuckolding him on a regular basis, not even to rid them of debts. Once had been quite costly enough to her sanity.

She stood, forcing Pounder’s retreat. “Sir, I think I must take my leave. It’s late.”

He staggered slowly to his feet, and dusted off his vestments. “Aye, maybes it’s best. I’ll not force an arrangement. Though I hope you’ll remember it was offered.”

She was hardly likely to forget. The mere thought of the vile old tongue-padder positioned above her drew a sob to her throat. Her skin prickled with the distaste at his imagined caress. Lord, was this to be her fate, to be made crude offers and bullied into prostitution, because no respectable person would offer her genuine sanctuary? How much worse would the situation become once her liaison with Richard was known?

It must never be known.

The night had grown thick during her short visit. Dark clouds sculled cross the moon as she hurried out to where Bessie stood tethered to a ring upon the wall of the sprawling cottage.

“Mrs. Roche.”

She squealed as Notary Pounder followed her down the steps.

Frantically, she took up the reins and hoisted herself onto Bessie, her legs curling once more around the unfamiliar saddle.

“One piece of advice you might heed, before you make haste. Take yourself off to your family. Loyalty to Phillip will only see you pulled into the pit of depravity in which he resides. Godspeed, Mrs. Roche. Watch the road. They’re not the place for a lone woman after dark.”

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