Authors: Victoria Dahl
The man above Marissa York groaned loudly, his breath shuddering over her cheek.
She turned her head and frowned at the wall as the room spun slowly around her.
This wasn't going well at all. Thankfully, it seemed it was nearly over.
After an endless summer of pretending to look for a husband in London, Marissa had thought to treat herself to a night of forbidden pleasure. It was her family's first house party of the hunting season, after all. Everyone else was having a rollicking good time, and Marissa had thought to find some fun too. But instead she'd found clumsy rumbling, not to mention a bit of discomfort and lots of grunting. Perhaps this was why girls were ordered to keep themselves pure for marriage. No matter how unfortunate the consummation, there was no turning back afterward.
"My love," Peter White sighed into her ear. "My sweet, sweet Marissa. That was beautiful. Perfect."
She stretched her neck, trying to ease the strain on her back. "Um, could you please ... arise?"
"Of course, I'm sorry." He pushed up to his elbows. Unfortunately, though this eased the weight on her chest, it pushed his bottom half more thoroughly against her. Everything down there felt rather... squishy.
"Mr. White, please? Get up?"
He gave her a sly grin. "Don't you feel silly calling me Mr. White right now?"
"When we are married, I hope you will call me by my Christian name, at least in—"
He leaned down to press a kiss to her nose. Marissa wiped it away.
"I'll speak to your brother tomorrow," he purred.
"You will do no such thing! Now get off. It's taking you more time to dismount than you spent riding."
Finally, the stubborn fool seemed to sense that she wasn't limp with gratitude at his rutting. He drew back, squishing even more firmly into her.
"Oh, just get off me, you great dolt!" she cried.
He gasped, "Marissa!" as shocked horror took over his face.
And that was when she heard the footsteps in the hall. Her eyes went wide. She pushed at his chest. And the door opened.
Marissa held her breath. It was dark. The light
from the hallway might not have reached them. If they just kept quiet. . .
Peter White cleared his throat. "If you would close the door, please. We require privacy."
Before her shock could twist into anger, the shadowed figure shifted. "Pardon me?" Her brother's voice.
Not her brother.
The door flew fully open, and Marissa had to squint against the light from the hall, so she could only assume they were now visible. Her heart sunk down to rest on her spine. "No," she breathed.
"Marissa Anne York!" her brother bellowed just before he lunged for the man atop her.
Mr. White was finally off her, but she could hardly summon a feeling of thankfulness. The shadows of the two men merged into one large beast that lurched into the darkest corner of the room. Vases shattered. A table crashed into the wall.
"Stop!" Marissa screamed, hoping her shout would put an end to the fight and stop time as well. If she could only go back to a half hour earlier when she'd finished that last glass of wine and let Mr. White coax her into this room . . .
Tempted to jump up from the sofa and sprint to her chambers, Marissa instead chose the more daunting path. She tugged her skirts down and pushed unsteadily to her feel to face her brother. "Edward! Stop.
"You foul bastard," her brother's voice huffed.
A loud thump of flesh on flesh made Marissa flinch. The chaos ceased, and suddenly only the sound of the two men panting emerged from
the dark. She could do nothing but stand there and shake.
"Edward?" she breathed.
Broken glass slid against the wood floor. One of the shadows rose up and started toward her. Marissa backed away, afraid of her brother, only because she couldn't
him. He would never hurt her, no matter what she did. But he looked like a goblin coming at her from the dark.
Or perhaps it was Mr. White, and her brother lay unconscious on the floor.
The shadow shifted at the last moment, her brother's snarling face finally coming into the light, and he moved past her. Glass rattled. A match struck.
Light swelled slowly over the room. When it reached the farthest corner, she saw that Mr. White wasn't unconscious at all, but sitting up with a hand pressed to his eye. At the sight of him, Marissa had to tamp down an urge to fly at his face and do further damage. Easier to be furious with him than with herself.
A shadow cast itself from the hallway, and Marissa glanced up to see her cousin Harry standing there.
"What in the world is all the ruckus?" Harry asked. Oh, this was only getting worse. How many others had heard?
"Marissa," her brother said, that one word full of worry and hurt and confusion and fury.
She wrapped her arms around herself and turned slowly toward him. "I apologize." Her voice was steady, just as she meant for it to be. "I did not mean for you to see that."
it?" he barked.
A maid appeared at Harry's side, her apron clutched in her hands.
"Harry," Edward said carefully. "Please wait for me in the study. And
close the door:"
This situation would have to be handled very carefully. Her family was not known for coolness or rationality. Impetuousness flowed in their veins like blood, and she'd clearly gotten her own share of it. But now she'd need to choose her words carefully. "Edward. I'm sorry. Obviously, I acted as ... I was not—" She was interrupted by the worst possible statement.
"We shall marry immediately," Mr. White said from the floor.
Her brother was already nodding.
Marissa shook her head to counter him. "We most certainly will not."
Glass shifted and clinked as Mr. White moved. "If you'll give me a few moments to ... arrange myself, Baron York, I will meet you privately in—"
"No!" she protested. "There will be no meeting! I have no intention of marrying Mr. White. None at all."
Her brother turned toward her, his green eyes bruised with hurt and disappointment. "You can't mean you dallied with this man without even a hope of marriage?"
"That's exactly what I mean. And if I'd have considered the idea before, I certainly wouldn't now. Do you see any evidence of gratification on my face? I wouldn't marry that eager hound for anything."
Edward's eyes snapped back toward Mr. White. "Did he force himself on you?"
"No, no. He only failed to meet even the lowest expectations of performance."
"Performance?" her brother sputtered. "What could you know of—"
"Here now!" Mr. White said. "I won't tolerate this. We shall be married as soon as we can possibly manage. Baron York, do you have any means of arranging a special license?"
"Oh, for God's sake," Marissa interrupted. "I won't marry him! I can't possibly make it any more clear." Whispers floated in from the hallway on the tail end of her words.
Mr. White, having apparently
himself, strode forward to put a hand on her shoulder. "With all due respect, Miss York, you have no choice but to marry me."
"I've taken your virtue. The maids are already talking. You're mine now, darling."
"Yours?" She jerked her shoulder from his grasp and stepped away to glare at him. "I most certainly am not."
Edward cleared his throat. "Let us worry about our own servants, Mr. White."
"Of course. And the talk will be meaningless once the vows are exchanged. Miss York is understandably beset by emotion. Let's discuss this man to man, Baron. She isn't thinking logically."
Marissa drew herself up in outrage. "On the contrary, I am thinking quite logically. It's very clear to me that I'd rather enter a nunnery than spend the rest of my nights suffering your grunting efforts between my legs, Mr. White. Now I'd like to have a private convention with my brother, if you don't mind."
Her brother choked on horror, but Mr. White's face went red with a different emotion. "I have had yon, and yon
marry me, young lady."
Too late, she realized what he'd meant earlier when he'd first snuck his hand beneath her skirt. "Finally," he'd breathed. "You'll be mine." She'd thought he meant a more temporary ownership. She should have known better. He'd already proposed twice.
Her brother took a step forward. "White, I need to speak with my sister. Please await me in my study."
Anger creased his Hushed forehead. "You can t mean to indulge her. She made her choice when she laid herself down on that couch, sir. I won't let her call off now."
Her vision narrowed until all she could see was Peter White's face. One eye was already swelling. She focused on the undamaged one, wondering how much strength it would take to create a matching set. "You won't
me? I've told you twice now that I won't be your wife."
He had the nerve to smile at her. "If you meant that, you should have stopped me. We will be married. You've no choice."
"White," her brother growled, "Marissa is twenty-two and can't be forced to anything."
Mr. White scoffed. "She might already have a belly full of me. And as the head of the household, it's your job to protect her from her own foolishness. When word gets out that—"
Edward took another step, drawing menacingly close to the other man. "How would word get out?"
"There are forty guests in your house right now, Baron. Surely one of them will hear the tale. Your cousin saw it firsthand. You would not want it put about that your sister is a trollop, would you?" Triumph gleamed in his eyes.
"You awful cur," she whispered. "You
Edward's hand shot out and wrapped around Peter White's cravat. "You did plan this, didn't you?"
"I mean to give her my
My devotion. There is no harm done here. She should be honored. My grandfather is—"
She'd heard his speech about the glory of his bloodlines before, so she was relieved when Edward cut it off with a blow to Mr. White's jaw. The man stumbled back, clutching his chin with both hands before he fell to his rump.
"Get out of my house," Edward growled.
"You can't be serious!"
White shook his head. "I'm in love with her."
Marissa gasped in offense, but Edward just pointed at the floor. "Get out of my home, and if you breathe a word of this to anyone, I will hunt you down and kill you."
Mr. White watched him carefully, clearly considering whether Edward could or would commit murder. He looked doubtful. Marissa was sure she did too. Edward had a wicked temper, but it cooled quickly. He was known as the mature one in the family. Once Mr. White was away, he was probably in little mortal danger. Unless ...
Edward smiled. "And if I can't find you, I'm quite sure my brother Aidan can. He'll enjoy the hunt, vicious ruffian that he is."
Well, Aidan was another matter entirely. Even Marissa cringed at the thought of him finding out about this. And he would.
Peter White rolled his shoulders and pressed his fingers gingerly to his jaw. "This is absurd. You're both upset. I'll take my leave for now, but I shall return in a few days' time. I love you, Marissa."
"Oh, I'd wager you love the idea of my five-hundred pounds a year," she snapped. Mr. White ignored her and stalked from the room.
She'd wanted him to go, but now she was alone with her brother. Shame welled to her skin like blood. Her throat tightened. "I'm sorry," she managed to whisper.
"Marissa, what... ?" His shoulders slumped. "How could you have done this?"
"I'm sorry! I shouldn't have! I was bored, and I've had too much wine, and I... there's no man I've even come close to falling in love with, and I suppose I was... curious." That was mostly the truth, anyway, with only a few details left out.
"Ah, 'Rissa," her brother sighed. "You've gone and done it this time."
"I was stupid. I know that. But I swear he wasn't nearly so awful beforehand. I rather liked him until this."
Her brother watched her closely, sadness etched on his face in deep lines.
"What is it?"
"I won't try to make you marry him. He's a cad. But—" He reached for her hand and held it between both of his. "You'll have to marry someone now."
"What?" she yanked her hand away. "Why ?"
The door suddenly burst open, and her mother stretched her arms wide, filling the room completely, despite her short stature. "What has happened?" she wailed.
Marissa shook her head. "Nothing. Everything's wonderful."
Her brother waved their mother inside and slammed the door. "Everything is not wonderful. Everything is a mess."