Read Claiming the Courtesan Online

Authors: Anna Campbell

Claiming the Courtesan

A
NNA
C
AMPBELL

C
LAIMING
The C
OURTESAN
Contents

Chapter 1

Justin Kinmurrie, Duke of Kylemore, looked across the tumble of…

Chapter 2

Kylemor entered the house and in a matter of moments…

Chapter 3

How long did Verity stand in that dim corridor while…

Chapter 4

Kidnapping is a capital offense,” Verity said steadily. Never let…

Chapter 5

The moment Verity spoke, she recognized her mistake.

Chapter 6

Kissing her had been an almighty mistake.

Chapter 7

The depressing awareness of failure and the more galling knowledge…

Chapter 8

The rain stopped before dawn, and the day promised to…

Chapter 9

Kylemore reined in on the rough patch of grass before…

Chapter 10

On unsteady legs, Verity found her way downstairs to the…

Chapter 11

A tangled mass of shrubbery crowded against the side of…

Chapter 12

At first, Verity thought that the strangled sound was part…

Chapter 13

Kylemore stalked into Verity’s room, intent on proving to both…

Chapter 14

Kylemore crawled into the dark hollow in the bushes where…

Chapter 15

Panting as if she’d just climbed a mountain rather than…

Chapter 16

“Jesus, no!”

Chapter 17

Verity still pondered the duke’s extraordinary parting lines—how could she…

Chapter 18

Kylemore lay awake in the barren little room he’d claimed…

Chapter 19

As she made her way along the hallway, Verity was…

Chapter 20

Verity was still wallowing in a daze of bliss and…

Chapter 21

Verity noticed the change in the duke immediately. Her ruthless…

Chapter 22

The glen had never looked as beautiful as it did…

Chapter 23

Although Verity had never seen her in the flesh, she…

Chapter 24

“Verity lass, will you tell me what happened?” Ben asked…

Chapter 25

Kylemore’s clipped words wrenched Verity from the lightless bastion where…

Chapter 26

Papers littered the satinwood desk in Kylemore’s beautiful library. It…

London, 1825

J
ustin Kinmurrie, Duke of Kylemore, looked across the tumble of stained sheets to where his mistress lay in apparent exhaustion. His Grace suspected the exhaustion was feigned, but he had been too well pleasured to take issue with the hint of artifice.

He paused in tying his neckcloth to admire her supine body, naked, creamy and glowing in the afternoon light. The long legs. The delicately rounded hips. The slightly concave stomach. The magnificent breasts cushioning the pigeon’s blood ruby pendant he’d given her two eventful hours ago to mark the end of their first year together.

For a long and delightful moment, his attention lingered on those lush white mounds with their rosy crests. Then his eyes traveled up to her face, pale and pure as any painted Madonna’s.

Even after all this time, the contrast of the harlot’s body
and the saint’s face sent a very masculine thrill through him.

She was beautiful.

She was the most notorious woman in London.

And she belonged to him, as much a part of his prestige as his perfect tailoring, his famous stables or his rich estates. He permitted himself a slight smile as he returned to dressing in front of the large gilt mirror.

“Shall I call Ben Ahbood to assist Your Grace?” Her extraordinary eyes, light gray and clear as water, were, as usual, expressionless in her gorgeous mask of a face. He sometimes wondered if this lay at the heart of her fascination—her innate detachment despite her skills as a lover.

No, it was more than that.

It was the promise that for the right touch, the right word, the right
man,
worlds of heat and feeling and meaning waited behind that serene gaze. The duke, for all his current well-being, had never deceived himself that he’d breached this formidable reserve. And after a year as her protector, he was beginning to understand he never would.

Did she guess how intriguing her distance made her? He would be surprised if she didn’t. Emotional containment in no way meant she wasn’t as clever as a glen full of vixens.

“My lord?”

He shook his head. “No. I can manage.” In truth, her huge mute manservant, widely rumored to be a eunuch, made him uncomfortable, although he’d submit to keelhauling before he confessed to that shaming fact.

She stretched her supple body, the body that both maddened him and gave him more pleasure than he’d ever imagined. Kylemore recognized the return of arousal. By the glint in her eyes, so did she, damn her knowing soul.

“It is not so late.” One slender hand slid up to toy with the ruby. The movement drew his attention—as, he realized, she
was perfectly aware—to the round, full breasts he found so alluring.

“I am not at leisure this afternoon, madam.”

“That’s a shame,” she said neutrally, rising to scoop a blue peignoir from the floor. Kylemore deliberately ignored her naked back and the way her buttocks tightened as she bent.

Or ignored the sight as much as any red-blooded man could.

It had always been this way between them, from the moment he’d met her cool assessing gaze across a crowded salon six years ago. She’d been another man’s mistress then. And she’d had another keeper since, in spite of Kylemore’s efforts to capture her interest. She had only consented to their present arrangement after the exchange of a small fortune and contracts detailed enough to keep a coven of lawyers in a flutter for a month.

But if he’d believed that finally possessing this woman would end their subtle battle for dominion, he was to be sadly disappointed. If anything, the game between them was more intense than ever.

And while the world might consider the advantages his, he knew his mistress had equally puissant weapons of her own. Her beauty. Her detachment. And most of all, the fact that he’d wanted her six years ago and, curse her, he wanted her still.

With unwilling regret, Kylemore watched her veil her lithe curves with the peignoir. Not that the diaphanous silk did much to conceal the glories beneath.

She flicked her black waist-length hair away from her face and came to stand behind him. Their eyes met in the mirror, where he took such a lamentably long time to dress.

“I can’t persuade you to change your mind?” She twined her arms around him and pressed her warmth to his back, filling his head with the scents of recently satisfied woman
and the sensual ambergris perfume she favored. He closed his eyes as her deft fingers fiddled with the fastening of his trousers, then slipped inside to stroke his stiffening cock.

The speed and vigor of his response made him brush her hand away. A man at the mercy of his appetites was no more than a brute animal. “Next time.”

She didn’t show any chagrin, Devil take her. She merely shrugged, wandered across to lean against the carved bedpost and watched as he repaired her predations on his clothing. He pulled on his coat and turned.

“I thank Your Grace for your continuing kindness.” She stepped toward him and kissed him on the mouth.

They rarely kissed, and a kiss as a gesture of affection was an unprecedented event.

But that’s what this felt like to Kylemore. She wasn’t trying to seduce him. After a year, he would recognize seduction. And he’d already given her the extravagant pendant. Even greedy as she was, she couldn’t hope to coax another maharajah’s bauble from his pocket.

No, he could only assume she’d kissed him because she’d wanted to.

That revolutionary idea had just taken hold when she drew away. The soft pink lips that had clung so sweetly to his—and sweet was the only word he could bring to mind—curled into a faint smile. “Good day to you, Your Grace.”

He snatched at her hand and, still lost in the memory of her kiss—which was absurd, given the debaucheries they had indulged in all afternoon—raised her slender fingers to his lips with the reverence due to a princess.

When he lifted his head, he caught a bewilderment that matched his own in her silver eyes. “Good day to you too, madam.”

He released her and strode from the room, down the stairs and out of the villa he’d bought her a year ago. But no matter
how far he went, he couldn’t quite banish the memory of her mouth on his in a kiss that was almost…
innocent
.

His infamous, dangerous, enigmatic Soraya. And he was no closer to understanding her now than he’d been six years ago.

 

She heard the duke’s determined footsteps take him out of the neat little house. He always moved as if he knew exactly where he was going. It was one of the first things she’d noticed about him.

But for a moment, when she’d kissed him, he had looked young and unsure, not like the chilly, self-possessed Duke of Kylemore at all. Thoughtfully, she went behind a gaudy—and remarkably lewd—Chinese screen and replaced the aqua peignoir with a plain cotton wrap. There was a knock on the door just as she emerged.

“Come in,” she said, absently collecting discarded garments from the floor. The house had a full domestic staff, all on the duke’s retainer, but old habits died hard.

A hulking figure in striped Eastern robes entered and observed her out of perceptive dark brown eyes.

“I’ve got those lasses downstairs heating water for your bath, Verity,” he said in the thick Yorkshire accent she had tried and failed to eradicate.

“Thank you.” Verity Ashton, familiar to the world as the incomparable Soraya, looked around the wreck of the bedroom. “I can hardly believe my time as Soraya is over at last.”

The man sighed and tugged off his flowing headdress. Immediately, the inscrutable Ben Ahbood, mute Arabian guardian to London’s most scandalous demimondaine, became Benjamin Ashton, North Country farm lad and as unassailably English as pork pies or the white cliffs of Dover. “Did you say owt to his nibs?”

Verity ignored the hint of hostility toward the duke. Her
younger brother hadn’t approved of any of her protectors, but for some reason, he reserved particular opprobrium for Kylemore. An antipathy she suspected the duke shared, if he could bring himself to admit feeling anything for so lowly a creature as a fallen woman’s manservant.

“No, you and I agreed it’s better just to disappear.”

Ben made a disapproving sound deep in his throat. “But now you’re feeling bad about it. I don’t know how a soft-hearted widgeon like you survives in this cutthroat world.” He took a tray from the dresser and began methodically stacking scattered plates and glassware. The disordered room, she knew, offended his sturdy yeoman’s mind.

In his four years with her, Ben had never really reconciled himself to her profession. If he hadn’t been a mere child of ten when she’d launched her present career, he would have stopped her, she knew. But then, if he hadn’t been so young, if her sister hadn’t been even younger, perhaps she’d have had some choice in the matter.

“I think…I think the duke is an unhappy man,” she said softly, dismissing the old memories. She rarely dwelt on the past, but today was an ending, so inevitably she contemplated Soraya’s beginnings.

Ben cast her an unimpressed glance. “As unhappy as a great fortune and a pretty face and all a man can want could be. He’s nobbut spoilt, that’s all. He won’t like losing his toy. But all that lovely brass will soon buy him another. Don’t fret yourself over yon high-toned bastard.”

“Not saying good-bye seems shabby. We don’t have to sneak away. When I became the duke’s mistress, he knew the arrangement was only for a year. He signed a contract that said so.”

“He was so mad with lust back then, he would have signed away his soul if you’d asked. And smiled as he did it. Take my word, lass—a written agreement means nowt to a sodding
duke. When he got you, he’d wanted you for five long years. He meant to have you, never mind the price.”

She bent her head, studying the fine Turkish carpet beneath her feet. It was, in fact, the only genuine Middle Eastern item in the room.

“I suppose so.”

Not for the first time, she wished she’d never kissed the duke. Any demirep worth her hire knew that was asking for trouble.

“You’re eight and twenty, Verity. You’ll soon be too long in the tooth for this lark. Then see if high and mighty Kylemore thinks twice before changing you in for a fresher bit of muslin.”

Verity laughed briefly. “What an old crone you make me sound!”

Her brother smiled back. “Oh, I don’t reckon you’re ready for the knacker’s yet. But you’ve planned this a long time. Don’t let misplaced pity change your mind.”

“You’re right.” The duke had always been a means to an end, her chance to leave this unnatural life behind forever. He’d soon recover from whatever damage her departure inflicted on his pride. “Soraya is no more.”

Ben’s smile widened. “That’s grand, lass. Aye, and I don’t mind telling you summat else—I’ll be right glad to see the back of Ben bloody Ahbood, the sultan’s favorite eunuch, as well!”

 

An hour after leaving his mistress, the Duke of Kylemore stood in his large library, embroiled in a quarrel with his mother.

This was in no sense an exceptional occurrence. Kylemore and the duchess shared a difficult relationship at the best of times—and the best of times were fleeting and rare. But today’s clash was even more bitter than usual.

“You will marry, Justin! You owe it to your name and your family. You owe it to me. You owe it to the title.” This wasn’t a new conflict, but his mother had taken it up with particular vehemence this afternoon. She stood opposite him, tall and slender, and blindly set on her wishes prevailing.

“There are times I believe the world would be a better place if the title sank into permanent oblivion,” Kylemore said wearily, leaning one elbow on the carved marble mantelpiece and staring down into the unlit grate.

“Justin! What would your dear departed father say if he could hear you?”

“My father was too addicted to drink, opium and the viler sins of the flesh to care.”

“How dare you say that?”

“Because it’s true.” Kylemore looked up. With a sense of inevitability, he watched his mother shake out a scrap of lace to dab at her eyes.

“What in heaven’s name did I do to deserve a son who is so unfeeling?”

“I don’t believe that’s a line of argument you wish to pursue, madam,” he said icily.

His mother could produce crocodile tears at will. The sight of her clutching a handkerchief evinced only ennui.

“Letitia would make you the perfect wife, Justin.”

Kylemore suppressed a shudder. “She’d make you the perfect spy, you mean.” His mother had pushed her ward, Lady Letitia Wade, at him for years. But recently, her efforts had become increasingly desperate, perhaps because she saw any hold she had over her son dwindling away to nothing.

Margaret, Duchess of Kylemore, cared for one thing only—power. In its pursuit, she’d seduced half the government, lied, connived and manipulated. Without a shred of compunction, she destroyed anyone and anything that hindered her own selfish ends. He’d seen her in action often enough.

But her days of influence faded, and she knew it. Planting the whey-faced Letitia, always utterly her creature, into her son’s household was something of a last stand.

The duchess’s delicate chin took on a stubborn line. “People are talking. If you don’t make it right, the poor child’s reputation will be beyond redemption.”

“If there is gossip, it has only one source. And that is you.” Kylemore took a step closer. “I will never take that sheep-featured little sneak to my bed. If tongues are wagging about her sleeping under my roof, perfectly well chaperoned, I might point out, that can easily be remedied. The dowerhouse is ready for occupancy.”

His mother’s yelp of outrage held no artifice. “Leave Town? In the middle of the season? You must be mad. Everyone will condemn you for cruelty and neglect if you compel me to this monstrous act.”

Kylemore had had enough. He perhaps hadn’t hated his mother for his full twenty-seven years, but, God, he felt as if he had. And the ideal revenge lay so close to hand. The moment had arrived to show the duchess how truly monstrous he could be.

He permitted himself a cold smile. “I think not. The world will consider my actions perfectly reasonable in a newly married man.”

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