A feisty lady of the ton is ready to seduce the viscount until he shows her his inner beast.
Gabriel glanced up from his ledger at the sound of glass shattering on the marble floor outside his study. “Now what?” he grumbled, irritated by the interruption. Repeatedly, he had gone over the calculations, never getting the same total. Banking bored him. Normally, he let his solicitor handle his accounts, but when the man showed concern over the growing mound of statements from every store in London, he was compelled to have a look. He’d discovered for himself the extent of his wife’s extravagant spending habits.
Rising from his seat behind his desk, he poked the pen back into the holder next to the inkwell. A few drops splattered on the ledger.
“I’m sorry for the disturbance, Lord Laramore.” His manservant apologized from the doorway.
“Silas, what is going on out there?”
“Her ladyship has arrived, and I think she’d like you to join her in the foyer.”
“Lady Laramore? Here? Today?”
“Yes, milord, and she has—”
“Well, isn’t that fortuitous to have her show up at the same time I needed to speak to her.” Gabriel moved around his desk. “I have a few choice words to say. You might not want to be around when I do.”
“Yes, milord, however, I feel obligated to remind you that—”
“Not now, Silas.” Gabriel marched out of the room, into the spacious foyer, ready to confront the spendthrift he’d married. They had never taken up residence under the same roof, since a marriage of convenience didn’t require it. He certainly didn’t know all he might about her, but her excessiveness could one day be the ruin of him if he didn’t put his foot down. She had presented herself as a sensible and simple lady during their brief courtship. Her manners were impeccable, her lifestyle far from extravagant. Yet, the growing pile of bills from creditors showed him just how badly he had misjudged her.
The sight of Carmody, Lady Laramore, slowed his stride. Regret for marrying the exquisite creature vanished in that moment. As if an angel descended from the heavens, she stood in the glowing ray of sunlight fanning the room from the glass dome in the ceiling. Beneath the straw hat adorned with yellow ribbons, her hair spilled over her shoulders and shone with the sparkling vibrancy of spun gold. God had designed her to perfection.
He took a deep breath. The twenty feet that separated them didn’t prevent him from inhaling her unique, perfumed scent. From the fateful year of their meeting until now, he’d never forgotten the exhilarating rush to his senses.
Marriage was an event he hadn’t looked forward to until he caught the sight of her dancing at one of the social events of the ton. Enchanted immediately by her elegance and beauty, he fell in love. Unfortunately, his situation dictated that he keep feelings out of the nuptial contract.
“Lady Laramore.” He bowed his head in greeting, breaking the spell blocking his prior thoughts. “Tell me you don’t mean to burden me with your spending until I’m in the poor house?”
“Good afternoon to you as well, Lord Laramore. It’s nice to see you are in excellent health.” Her brow rose in a perfect arch as she reprimanded him for his rudeness with a terse glance.
“What are you doing here?” He reined in his annoyance before it took control. Women had a way of ending up the winners in a heated debate. Staying composed best suited his plans. If he was going to keep the future of his finances on solid ground, he had to curb his wife’s spending habits.
“I should ask the same of you.” Carmody pulled off her white gloves.
An expression he took as frustration darkened her features.
“I live here.” He advanced, his anger dissipating completely by the cause of Carmody’s wrinkled brow. “Are you all right?”
Obviously, the breaking glass had done more than nick the marble floor. It had inflicted injury to his wife. Blood spiraled down the back of her hand and dripped from her palm.
“No, I’m not all right.” She used the ruined glove to dab at the cut near her middle knuckle. “I couldn’t get my key to work in that old lock. When I knocked on the glass, I apparently hit it too hard. Why in heaven’s name is that door bolted anyway?”
Without a convenient and suitable answer, Gabriel didn’t respond. He glanced at Silas, wishing the man would overstep his position and lie.
“I have a towel and water.” Another servant hurried in, toting a bowl and clean cloth and began attending to Carmody’s wound.
Gabriel watched with worry. She’d have a scar on her flawless skin. While he’d not consider it an imperfection, she might. Anything that could distress her affected him.
“Ouch,” she squealed at the first touch the woman made to clean the cut.
“Here, give me that.” Gabriel took the rag and held Lady Laramore’s slender hand.
He moved in close to her rather than making her extend her arm. It gave him a chance to inhale the fragrant reminder of what had captured his attention when they first met. He ministered to her with gentle care, wiping lightly, inspecting the severity of her cut as well as the soft texture of her fingers lying across his palm. He hadn’t seen her in a long time. To have an opportunity to stand close and inhale her pleasing scent was a golden moment. Roses and lavender drew his thoughts to the day they married. Her minted breath had barely whispered over his lips in a kiss sealing the deal. Two years had passed since the ceremony, six months since he had seen her at his London house while they exchanged residences.
“Everyone, leave,” he ordered the servants, sensing their stares were too intense upon him. Never having seen him and his wife together, they made him feel self-conscious about his actions. Was he showing too much concern? Not enough? Did they wonder and talk about the odd marital relationship? Of course they did.
“Milady?” The woman who had brought the bowl of water hadn’t left like the others.
“I’m fine, Frances.” Carmody used her unscathed hand to wave the woman away. “You can go.”
Gabriel paused in his meticulous cleansing of his wife’s hand and dared a quick look at her. Her expression hinted at amusement instead of irritation. Did she think him a buffoon for his concern?
“You were going to tell me what you were doing here.” Her warm breath caressed his cheek.
“Like I said, I live here.” He let her hand slip free from his grasp and stepped back. “What is it that brings you here?”
“We agreed, don’t you remember? I would have Laramore Manor for the season.”
He looked out the window. “Is it that time of the year already, milady?” he asked as if he didn’t know.
“Yes, it’s that time of the year. Do you sit here with your head in a cloud all winter, Lord Laramore?”
If only he could. Instinct had given him signals—inherent warning signs to avoid females. Those traits he wished to keep secret were his enemy. Carmody stood within his reach, and he knew now he had chosen to ignore the time of year with purpose. The opportunity to confront her about the debts was nothing compared to the chance to be near her. He hungered to pull her into his embrace and kiss her with every measure of desire to express his lust.
“Our agreement was that I use the house for the spring and summer, just as I did last year.” She took the cloth from his hand. “It’s important that I entertain, and the house in town is too small for me to have dinner parties grander than the occasional intimate ones.”
“Intimate?” The word hit a raw spot in his thoughts.