Margaret McPhee

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How to Tempt a Viscount



Within the Duke of Arlesford’s private box in the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, neither Viscount Stanley nor any of the friends with whom he was sitting could cease staring. But they were not watching the play.

‘I did not know you had let your box, Stanley.’ Arlesford’s voice was subtle yet Marcus heard the unspoken question within the words.

Marcus’s attention did not shift from his box on the opposite side of the theatre and the lone woman who had just entered it. She could not have timed her entrance any better to pique his curiosity if she had tried, arriving only moments before the start of the play so that Marcus was provided with a fleeting glimpse of an enticing creature with golden brown curls piled high on her head, and a scarlet-edged cream silk gown cut low and moulded to a perfect body. The lights dimmed but even then the shimmering pallor of her dress marked her from the shadows, illuminating her in tantalising allure.

The actors took to the stage and a murmur rippled through the theatre, but Marcus knew it was not the start of the play exciting the theatregoers’ interest.

The woman took her time in making herself comfortable, her movements unhurried, leisurely, sensual almost, as if she had every right in the world to be sitting there in his box; as if she were waiting for him. Every eye could see that she was quite alone, save for her maid.

Sebastian Hunter, who was sitting on his right-hand side, grinned and whispered what Marcus knew every man in the house would be thinking.

‘No wonder you kept quiet about that little diamond, you sly dog!'

‘A trifle...indiscreet, Stanley,’ cautioned Arlesford sotto voce so that only Marcus would hear. ‘Southampton is not exactly the other end of the country.’

Southampton—where Ellen had been ‘visiting’ her parents for the last four months. It was as close as anyone came to mentioning his wife. No one ever mentioned his wife. Or his marriage. No one dared.

Marcus’s face was stony yet he did not take his eyes from the woman. Whoever she was she must have known that she was stirring a scandal, perched provocatively, blatantly even, in his box as if he were exhibiting his mistress when his marriage was barely six months old. It occurred to him that perhaps Amanda had sent her to cause trouble. And as he watched, the woman turned her gaze from the players upon the stage to him. Their eyes met across the auditorium. Held for that moment too long. As if she were daring him. Teasing him. Marcus’s heart skipped a beat at the shock of the sudden recognition.

‘Devil take it!’ The words slipped as a breath from his lips. He stared, scarcely able to believe it, and saw what he should have seen from the very beginning. ‘If you will excuse me, gentlemen.’ He got to his feet, and there was a rustle of movement as those in the surrounding boxes craned to see, and below in the stalls a sea of pale faces upturned in unison. His expression was grim as he glanced once more across at his own theatre box and drew her a small nod of acknowledgement. ‘I believe I should be sitting with my wife.’

Every jaw dropped in the Duke of Arlesford’s theatre box and every eye widened in disbelief. Marcus did not wait to watch them drool all the more over her.”

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