Read The Seduction of Emily Online
Authors: Rachel Brimble
“Emily?” His voice was like liquid velvet. Soft and warm, rich and luxurious.
“Does Milne kiss you?”
“Surely you do not expect me to answer that?”
“No.” The word tripped from her mouth before she could catch it. “I know he wants to. I see it in his eyes.”
His gaze dropped to her mouth and she flicked out her tongue to wet her lips. When he met her eyes, the desire she saw so often in Milne’s was reflected in Will’s—but in an entirely different, nonthreatening way. A wonderful new sensation pooled liked liquid heat in her stomach. A sensation that made her silently plead for him to crush his lips to hers. . . .
He bowed his head until his lips hovered barely an inch from hers. “May I?”
“Will . . .”
His mouth covered hers. Shock gave way to yearning and Emily kissed him deeper. She wanted his touch, wanted him to discover her—and as much as those wishes terrified her, for one blessed moment, Emily did not think and instead surrendered. . . .
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City of Bath, 1895
ill Samson stood at the back of the auction house, watching and waiting. Over two hundred people stood around him. Rather than part with their hard-earned cash, he suspected they were there hoping to catch a glimpse of one man in particular. The same man he waited for.
Mr. Nicholas Milne. One of Bath’s most eligible bachelors.
Milne was a celebrity. A man written about and either admired . . . or feared. Will curled his hands into fists.
He was a rapist. A woman-beater. A dead man walking.
Today, Will was coming for Milne, ready or not. He lifted his hat and pushed the hair back from his face. The tension in his neck and shoulders grew worse as each second passed and the ache in his temples throbbed mercilessly.
He turned his gaze once again to the open double doors at the back of the room. “Come on, you scumbag. Where are you?”
The furor surrounding the sale of the day’s most prestigious lot, a diamond, ruby, and pearl necklace known as the Heart of Kingston, had escalated to fever pitch over the last few weeks. The auction house had taken full advantage of the waiting crowd by dragging out the suspense. What better way to heighten the nerves and hunger of bidders than to have them think the real prize—Milne—might not materialize after all?
Replacing his hat, Will slid out of sight behind a marble pillar. Discretion was key. Although confident the people of Bath were unaware of his real occupation, he daren’t run the risk of his carefully prepared disguise as a middle-class gentleman being exposed. When was a confidence trickster ever welcome at a high-class auction?
He closed his eyes and leaned back against the wall, planting the sole of his boot against the white alabaster. His mother’s beautiful face appeared behind his closed lids. She’d asked him countless times not to avenge the beating Milne had inflicted on her two years before, but the fire inside Will would not extinguish itself until Milne was nothing but ashes.
Resentment and hatred swirled in his gut. The same emotions had long ago burned and scarred any love he was once capable of feeling for another. So many months of tracking Milne down, so many weeks of wanting to get his hands around his neck had left Will a shadow of his former self. Maybe once Milne was dead or behind bars, Will could start living again.
He opened his eyes. He would make the man’s life a living hell until he decided how to ruin him completely. The only promise Will would keep to his mother was he wouldn’t hang by the neck for his endeavours.
When the fever took her into God’s arms, Will’s heart and soul filled with the heinous intention to wreak vengeance on Milne. God only knew how many more women Milne had hurt in the months it took Will to track him from Bristol to Bath. That knowledge burned like acid in Will’s throat.
The raucous chatter and laughter of the room descended into discreet whispering and elbow nudging. Will pushed away from the wall and rage shot through his chest. The man of the hour had arrived. Blood roared hot and heavy in his ears. Milne strolled in with a smile that bespoke a man who possessed everything. A man completely unaware of how soon his privileged life would change.
The urge to sprint forward and clasp his hands around Milne’s throat made Will tremble with suppressed anger. He looked to Milne’s left and froze as his gaze swept over his companion.
His caught breath released in a low whistle. Attraction twitched his groin. “My God, tell me you’re not his.”
His gaze languidly travelled from the tip of the feather in the woman’s hat, to the glossy black hair curled and twisted beneath it. Her eyes were big and dark, her skin as smooth as glass over sweet apple cheeks. The vivid royal blue dress she wore was pulled in at a waist small enough to fit in his splayed hands, her stature poised and proud. She was exquisite.
Will smiled. Although her ample bosom was decently covered, the soft white netting revealed the faintest hue of her flesh. What he wouldn’t give . . . He forced his gaze upward and stiffened. She stared straight at him—and her mouth twitched with amusement. He pulled back his shoulders and flashed her a smile.
She didn’t lower her eyes as he expected.
Intrigued, he tipped her a wink.
A moment passed before she surprised him again. She did not turn away in disgust or demand Milne punch him to the ground; instead the minx winked straight back. Desire hit Will hard in the gut as a bubble of laughter tickled the back of his throat.
Who was she? He revelled in the tinge of pink staining her cheeks and suspected that inside, she laughed right along with him.
Their secretly shared moment came to an abrupt end when Milne took her hand and placed it possessively in the crook of his arm. He led her in Will’s direction and Will bowed as they passed. The woman stared ahead and his gaze fell on the elderly gentleman following slowly behind them. The woman’s father?
Although he was an intelligent man to accompany someone as audacious as his stunning daughter, the man looked as though he needed to be in bed with a tot of brandy in his hand and a warmed bottle at his feet. The party made their way to the front of the room.
As soon as their backsides touched the seats, the auctioneer took his place at the podium. Will smiled. Clearly, his earlier suspicion was right. The house waited for Milne. He looked to the woman again. If Milne was after the Heart of Kingston, no doubt she was the beauty who would soon be in possession of it.
The bang of the gavel was loud in the room and the audience fell into abrupt silence.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I apologize for the lateness but we are now ready to begin.” The auctioneer gestured to a man beside him, who came forward and stepped onto the dais. He held a red velvet box. When he raised the lid, a wave of drawn breath swept around the room.
The auctioneer’s already red face turned redder. “
today’s final and most precious lot, the magnificent Heart of Kingston. This exquisite piece has travelled all the way from India. A fantastically cut ruby, surrounded by diamonds and clasped to a string of the finest quality pearls.”
Will sniffed and crossed his arms. “Come on then, Milne. Let’s see your cash.”
The bidding started in earnest. Will moved closer to the front and grinned as the competition gathered momentum. With an open view of Milne, Will’s satisfaction grew as the man’s nonchalant stance floundered. The flush of his cheeks and the set of his jaw showed Milne hadn’t anticipated this intense level of interest.
He glanced time and again at Milne’s beautiful companion as the bidding grew more frenzied. The son of a bitch seemed rattled.
Another ten minutes passed and two bidders dropped out. The fight remained between Milne and one unwavering opponent. Satisfaction soothed Will’s tension as Milne perspired under the pressure. His hand trembled when he raised it for another bid. Why was the necklace so important to him? Or was the presence of his companion the reason behind this rare show of unease?
Having tailed Milne for the last two weeks, Will possessed a good idea of what he liked and didn’t like, where he went and who he saw. When the time was right to strike, Will would have all the ammunition he needed to cut him as deeply as possible.
Milne turned to his female companion and Will studied him. The first hint of Milne having a need for another person shone in his eyes. Her face was turned from Milne’s, her chin slightly raised, and her eyes trained succinctly on the auctioneer. It wasn’t beyond possibility she didn’t return the sentiment. His gaze travelled softly over her hair and profile. Will grinned. The man wanted her.
Satisfaction spread like honey through his blood. He’d heard rumors of Milne’s engagement but dismissed them out of hand. Who’d ever heard of two people in love enough to marry yet never stepping out together? Now it seemed his dismissal was premature. Was this Milne’s fiancée? The woman in blue, whose eyes shot through Will’s heart like two sharpened daggers.
She had something Will had never seen in another female of her obvious class. The wink she gave him and the way she bit down on her bottom lip made her hugely appealing. Or maybe her attractiveness came from the fact that she was Milne’s. The smooth curve of her neck and the soft curl of the tendrils caressing the creamy white of her skin brought a flash of inspiration. Will’s heart picked up speed.
His blood pumped faster as the thought became more of a need—a lust. If he seduced Milne’s fiancée, it would be the perfect first cut.
The bang of wood against wood resounded around the room once more.
“Lot number 116 is sold at 350 pounds to Mr. Nicholas Milne.” The auctioneer beamed. “May I be the first to congratulate you on the acquisition of such a fine piece, sir?”
Milne dipped his head and slowly closed his eyes in acknowledgement before turning to the new object of Will’s mission. Taking the lady’s gloved hand in his, he brought her to her feet and pressed a kiss to her fingers. Her mouth momentarily twisted in disgust before evolving into a wide smile when Milne lifted his head. Will shook his head and grinned.
“You, my fair lady, are going to be the best fun I’ve had in years.”
Emily Darson walked from the auction room struggling to keep her serene expression in place. What a farce! Having heard nothing from Nicholas in over a week—happiness for her, concern for her father—he deemed to bring her to an auction for the afternoon. Not only did he insist on arriving late to cause a fanfare, he then bid on the most ostentatious jewelry she’d ever seen.
She glanced at him from beneath lowered lashes and inwardly grimaced. What sort of man made such an obvious exhibition of his wealth in front of his intended? It made her nauseous.
He turned. “Do change your expression, Emily. You look as though you would rather be anywhere else than here.”
She curved her lips into a perfunctory smile. “Not at all. The day has been nothing short of fascinating.”
His eyes narrowed. “Do not think for one minute I cannot detect the irony in your tone.”
“I am not being ironic. I am merely—”
“You are being ironic. Now, for goodness sake, can we try to maintain some semblance of affection? Surely you are aware people are here to see us rather than the wares on offer.”
Emily glanced around her. “What if I don’t want to be
” “The choice isn’t yours to make. We’re engaged. We’re talked about in the papers.” His eyes flashed with annoyance. “Most women would enjoy the attention.”
She smiled wryly. “Ah, now there’s the problem, Nicholas. I’m not most women.”
His gaze travelled the length of her. “Indeed you are not.”
Angry heat pinched her cheeks. “Can we just leave and—”
“So, do you like the necklace, my love?” Nicholas stared across the anteroom.
The abrupt change in his tone caught Emily off guard and she followed his gaze. Her father watched them from a few feet away whilst talking to an associate. Comprehension struck. Keeping up appearances for her father. Nicholas was nothing more than a fraud. She planted on a wide smile and nodded at her father. He nodded back. Irritation spread across her skin, making it itch. She and Nicholas were actors in someone else’s play—nothing more, nothing less.
He cleared his throat. “I trust you’ve something suitable to wear to show off such a piece . . . or will I have to buy you a decent dress as well?”
Emily gripped her hands together as they continued to stare about the room, nodding and smiling at acquaintances. “I have some beautiful dresses already. You know I do.”
“What I consider beautiful and what you do are two entirely different things. Once we are married—”
“I’ll undoubtedly be forced to wear something you approve of whatever the occasion.”
Tension crackled and her blood heated. No matter that her destiny was to become Mrs. Nicholas Milne in a matter of months, Emily refused to become his lapdog.
He cupped his hand to her elbow, his fingers ever so slightly pressing the flesh as he led her forward. “Why do you insist on making our union so troublesome? It is of benefit to us both.”
Frustration burned behind her ribcage. “It’s a contract. Not a union.”
“You will have nothing without our marriage. It would serve you well to remember that . . . as your father does.”
“My father is dying. His fears are amplified by illness. I, on the other hand . . .”
“Would do well to learn the art of holding your tongue.”
Anger burned Emily’s throat.
This is necessary. This is necessary
. She repeated the words over and over in her head until her cheeks cooled. Exhaling a heavy breath, she willed her temper into submission. Money was everywhere. In the cut of the clothes, the quality of the shoes, and the shine of the jewelry. Although she was better off than many who lived in Bath, the expensive objects mocked her. Displayed what she might never have for her unborn children if she balked at their arranged marriage.
Love was not an option for her but she dreamed of new rules and new ambitions. She’d heard of changes on the horizon and made it her business to educate herself accordingly. For now she was trapped in a world she couldn’t escape. Yet, hope swelled in her heart that one day her children would have options. Money oiled the cogs of choice and Emily would not forsake them the chance of a different life.