A GENTLEMAN’S WAGER
Published by Virgin, Black Lace
ISBN # 978-0352341730
First printed May 2003. Reprinted April 2008. Digital version 31st July 2012 .

When Bella Rushdale sets out to win Viscount Marlinscar’s hand, she doesn’t expect her rival to be another man. Vaughan, the decadent Marquis of Pennerley has desired Lucerne for years, and now, on the wild Yorkshire Moors, intends to claim him.

A scandalous and passionate struggle results between the debauched aristocrat and an improper young lady. Ultimately, it will be up to Lucerne to choose the outcome — a decision that is bound to cause outrage and upset somebody’s plans.

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“intense, subtle, and heartfelt.” Lisabet Sarai, for ERWA. Read the review here

‘Explicit, romantic and flawlessly authored… A sizzling, refreshingly unconventional love triangle…passionate power struggles and absolutely searing bisexual sex.’  GOOD VIBRATIONS

‘Forbidden passion, risqué love, smoldering desires – A GENTLEMAN’S WAGER had it all!’ Romance Junkies

Titles in the Scandalous Seductions Series:

A Gentleman’s Wager | Indiscretions | Phantasmagoria | Three Times the Scandal | Her Husband’s Lover | The Ghosts of Christmas Past | The Serpent’s Kiss

CHAPTER ONE:

‘Faster, faster! Come on!’

Bella twisted in the saddle to peer at the distant figure of her groom. Only the low boundary wall and the brook stood between her and victory. She took them at the charge, and cleared them in two easy bounds.

By the old millpond, she reined in her mare and slipped from the saddle to land among the reeds. Although it was early September, the day was sticky and sweet like honey, drowned with an oppressive heat that made everything damp. It was far too hot to be racing. Her pulse pounded in her head after the short gallop, so that she almost felt that she’d rather be at home, sipping iced tea on the lawn and eating strawberries. But that meant entertaining her neighbours, smiling at their conversation and pretending she cared about their petty gossip.

Bella pulled off her hat and used it to shield her eyes while she waited.

Mark cleared the wall, then slowed his mount to wade the shallow copper-tinted water. He stopped a few feet from her.

‘Where were you?’ she asked.

Mark’s thighs flexed as he dismounted, pulling his homespun breeches tight across his muscular rear. Safely on the ground, he eyed her thoughtfully with one coffee-coloured eye, the second masked by his long fringe.

‘Next time you can ride this old nag, then we’ll see who wins.’

‘Certainly, if you ride side-saddle.’

His brown gaze danced over the bulky, unwieldy saddle, then over Bella’s long skirt. ‘Fine,’ he agreed. ‘Let’s do it now.’

Bella shook her head. Her chemise was plastered to her back, and her boned stays rubbed more than usual. She wanted to sit by the pond for a while and cool her feet. ‘Maybe in a while,’ she said dismissively.

‘Scared I’ll beat you?’

‘No.’

Mark rubbed his hand along the edge of his fur-lined jaw, and gave her a crooked wolfish smile. ‘So get in the saddle and we’ll race.’

To be called chicken-hearted by her groom was too much. Bella sighed, but hitched up her dress and put her foot in the stirrup.

The warm leather of the unfamiliar saddle felt strange between her thighs; it was nearly sixteen years since she’d sat astride a horse. She’d been eight when her father had given her the vile choice: either ride side-saddle like a lady, or not at all. The threat of losing her pony had won her obedience then. Now she saluted to heaven and her father. No use dwelling in the past when there was a race to be won.

‘Where to?’ asked Mark, his long legs folded around the uncomfortable sidesaddle. To be fair, he looked more at ease than she felt.

Bella peered at the horizon. Grey sheep dotted the North Yorkshire hillsides and in a distant hollow, murky smoke curled from the tall chimneys of the mine that her grandfather had started and her brother now owned – too far. Nearer, across the valley stood Lauwine Hall, its rooftops just visible between the trees. The absent owner had neglected the old house for years, and she thought ahead to how the overgrown gardens would offer some welcome shade.

She nodded her head in that direction. ‘Lauwine.’

‘All right. Ready?’

Bella dug in with her heels; pushed the horse into a canter down the hillside, determined to prove she was the better rider. She doubted Mark had ever ridden side-saddle before. He was wobbling slightly, but considering how the leather was chafing her bare thighs, that wasn’t much of an advantage.

She charged across the footpath at the base of the valley and began the gentle ascent across the fields towards the gates. The beat of hooves sounded muffled in the still air, except for the occasional ring of iron against the patches of bare rock. To her left, Mark was gaining ground. Bella grimaced with determination and swept back her crop, goading the horse to greater exertion. She reached the old gate a fraction behind Mark, sore above her stocking tops and faint from the heat.

‘Ouch,’ she complained, and pushed her skirts between her thighs to stop them chafing. The saddle had given her friction burns. If she was going to ride astride again she’d have to wear breeches, or at least long fussy underwear.

‘Too bad,’ Mark offered as he helped her down. He wiped the perspiration from his brow with the back of his hand. ‘I still won.’

Bella turned her back on him to peer through the rusted gate: a dried ribbon of earth and rough grasses led through the trees to the house. She gave the wrought iron a push and it creaked open. ‘Shall we?’

Leaving the horses tethered by the entrance, they ventured along the overgrown avenue. Bella ran ahead to caress the cracked stone of a beautifully endowed faun. Its silent, pleading expression brought out her coquettish side. As she touched its stone cock, her eyes locked with Mark’s. She’d planned to have him this afternoon; it was just a matter of when. Losing the race meant that she wouldn’t have to ask. He’d demand his prize soon enough.

Bella smiled. She shot a look at his sweat-streaked shirt. Her groom, like the land around them, was open to her gaze. Judging from his jaunty stride and the smirk on his lips, she knew he was already imagining a tumble with her in the long grass.

At the back of the house the roses bloomed uninhibited, blood red, hard up against the mullioned windows. Wild flowers mingled with the weeds in a flood of colour. Bella stood at the top of the lawn with the grass and the tall yellow buttercups licking her thighs, and watched the summer breeze make ripples. She plucked at the ties on her bodice, and once freed from the constriction, breathed a deep lungful of air.

Mark beckoned to her and she joined him by the huge willow tree that dominated the lawn. ‘You owe me a prize,’ he said. Bella nodded. They scrambled beneath the shady boughs and collapsed against the soft earth, Bella on top.

The fabric of his shirt clung to the contours of his chest. She could smell his body, a musky blend of sweat and horses. His lips moved against hers, nibbling and teasing. Bella tugged the linen from his breeches so that she could lick the perspiration from his skin. The salty taste on her tongue sharpened her hunger for him. Mark’s flat penny-shaped nipples crinkled. Sparing a glance down, she confirmed that his prick was hard too, and already straining towards her touch.

‘Have mercy, Bella.’ He licked his lips ‘Suck him, just a little…please,’ he added in a voice like warm butter.

Bella shimmied down his body. His cock already lifted the flap fastening of his breeches, tenting the fabric. She kissed him through the cloth, tormenting him with the promise of her mouth.

‘How much do you want it?’

Mark’s deep brown eyes glazed. ‘You don’t need me to answer that.’

She opened his buttons with her teeth; nuzzled into the curls around his root, before letting the head press into her mouth. The challenge was to take him all, something she’d never worked out how to do. After the second attempt left her gasping for air, she concentrated her attention on the head, and used her hands on his shaft. His sharp breaths rapidly turned into tiny contented groans. Eager for more, he lifted his hips up to her.

‘Shhh! What was that?’ Bella hissed.

Mark shook his head, and pushed his cock back towards her lips. Bella merely licked him, then turned her head aside. Along with the birdsong and the rustle of branches, there was another low whisper of movement. Someone or something was wading through the long grass.

‘I think someone’s coming.

Mark groaned. A silver bead of dew seeped from the eye of his cock. ‘Ignore them. It doesn’t matter.’

‘I just want to see who it is.’

‘Bella!’ He grasped her wrist and slid his cock into her palm, then nodded at his straining erection.

‘It won’t take a minute.’

She frowned and cautiously brushed aside a handful of green twigs to peer out. About twenty feet away, two men stood on the lawn. The man nearest to her was blond, and wore a beautifully cut blue satin frock coat. Bella took her hand away from Mark’s cock to rub her eyes, and ignored his moan of complaint. Lauwine infrequently saw visitors. The miners sometimes came here to catch hares, but this pair weren’t poachers, they were gentlemen.

Behind her Mark was grumbling, but surprisingly he hadn’t taken his cudgel in hand.

‘It’s certainly not the crumbling ruin I’ve been led to believe.’ The man in the blue coat encompassed the house with a gesture, unaware that he’d captured Bella’s attention.

‘No, but it still needs work. Nature has seen fit to reclaim its own. I’ll give you that the walls and timbers are sound, and the furnishings are dated but functional. But you’re unlikely to impress anyone.’ the other man was plump and dressed like a squire. When he turned, Bella recognised him as Charles Aubury, a local landowner

‘I’m settled on the country, Charles. You may as well accept it. London’s lost its charm.’

‘Well then, it may as well be here.’

‘My thoughts exactly.’ He turned towards the house. ‘The labourers have been at work for a month and I’m satisfied with the main house, although the east wing isn’t fit to be seen. Work on the gardens will commence tomorrow, and I hope to move in by the start of October.’

‘Bella!’ Mark complained.

Still intrigued, Bella rolled over and presented him with her bottom. She watched the blond man carefully smooth the line of his coat. A flash of sunlight hit the glass in the French doors and briefly dazzled her.

Mark smacked her, half-heartedly. ‘What’s so damned interesting?’

‘You’re mad, Marlinscar,’ said Aubury. ‘You’ve not spent winter in the country, have you?’

‘No, but I’m sure it can’t be that bad, and after a bottle of brandy I don’t suppose it’ll be any worse.’ They stepped into the building and swung the door to behind them.

Comprehension dawned. He was the owner, Viscount Marlinscar, Lucerne. She let out a long whisper. Sudden tears prickled in her eyes. Bella blinked slowly to clear them, but they escaped to trickle down her cheeks. It would be wonderful to have the hall inhabited again, but, sadly, it would mean the end of the hayfield lawn. Soon a whole flock of servants would move in, and Lauwine would no longer be her own private sanctuary. Certainly, sucking off her groom in sight of its windows would be out of the question.

With that thought she remembered Mark, and let the branches fall back into place.

Mark’s erection had dwindled. The length was still there, but the rigidity had gone.

‘Sorry,’ she murmured, as she sidled up to him to place an affectionate kiss on his jaw. ‘They’re gone now.’

‘Thank god for that.’ He nuzzled against her cheek. Bella dropped a hand to his lap. The shaft of his cock was warm and soft. She stroked it rhythmically, watching his dark eyes cloud with lust as he stiffened. Within seconds, he was hard again.

‘Bella,’ he murmured, placing his hands on her shoulders and pushing her down. She rubbed her cheek against his chest and stomach, then circled his navel with her tongue, briefly dipping into its hollow. Ignoring his pleading eyes and over eager cock, she straddled him and pressed her pubis into his face.

‘Lick me, just a little,’ she said in imitation of his earlier words and rocked her hips in encouragement. ‘Come on Mark, you want it, you have to give me something first.’

His groan was muffled, but he obediently thrust his tongue into her. He lapped, twirled and licked at her until he’d coaxed her clitoris from its hood. A couple more strokes and she found herself climbing towards orgasm.

That’s it, she thought, as she squirmed over his hot mouth and felt the prickle of his stubble. Her clitoris leapt. Waves of light spirited her skyward. Only his mouth was important. Nothing else mattered: not his needs, or his painful erection – nothing.

Disconnected, panting, floating somewhere close as the afterglow washed through her, Bella was dimly aware of him gently kissing her. His lips softly grazed her swollen mound, almost bringing her back down.

‘Do I get a turn now?’ he asked, his voice still muffled and slightly hoarse.

Bella lifted her buttocks and wriggled down his body so that she captured his cock between her thighs and the ruddy head nuzzled into her wet quim. The thrill she got from it surprised her; her body wanted to welcome him. It would feel so good just to let him slip inside, but making him wait would be even better.

‘Say please,’ she demanded, grasping his hands and pinning him down.

Mark struggled unconvincingly. He could easily have broken free, but chose not to. Instead, he lifted himself towards her in a wordless plea.

‘Say it or you’ll get nothing.’

He clamped his mouth closed and shook his head from side to side. Bella smiled. She rolled her hips so that her outer lips rubbed along the length of his shaft, ready to engulf him. She’d already made him shiny with her dew. Fresh beads of moisture peppered his upper lip. She licked at them and stared down into his eyes.

‘Oh God!’ he gasped. ‘All right…please!’

She took hold of his cock, briefly releasing his hands in order to guide him inside, and then held him down again. Mark panted and struggled. He lifted himself, wanting her, driving into her. On top and in control Bella rode him hard, taking all the pleasure she could from his stiff cock. Their bodies slapped together; his balls rubbed against her bottom. Her tongue slid into his mouth as their motion became more frenzied.

Bella’s sex was all of a tingle. She was climbing again, but she knew she wouldn’t get there in time. She’d already put his stamina to the test.

Mark gave a dry gasp. Bella felt his penis twitch, then pulse with life. His spine flexed and he groaned as if he’d been hit. She gripped him tightly with every muscle in her body and willed it to last just one minute more, even as it ended. For a moment, they lay very still. Then he pushed her off, wiped his spent cock on his rumpled shirt, and tucked the linen back into his breeches. When she didn’t move, he lifted her hand and kissed her knuckles.

‘We should leave, before whoever it was comes back.’

‘You go,’ said Bella with a heavy heart. Whenever she was eager for more, men always wanted to give up, and frequently they just wanted to roll over and sleep.

Mark frowned. ‘We should both go.’

‘No, you go. Take the horses, I’ll follow on foot.’

It was a half-dozen miles back home to Wyndfell Grange and, although his lips thinned, a sure sign that he was unhappy, he didn’t argue. Without another word, he slipped away.

*****

She must have dozed off; Bella realised on waking some time later. The sun was still hot and strong above. She wiped the perspiration from her brow with a grimy hand and listened for voices.

The grounds were quiet. Bella slipped out of the willow cave and headed down the slope of the deserted lawn to the path by the river. As she strolled idly along the leafy track a few moments later, the men had become indefinite, as illusory as her dreams. That was until she almost ran into Lucerne.

Viscount Marlinscar was stooped behind the bushes, rinsing his hands in the stream. The other man was nowhere in sight. Bella dropped to the ground, and scurried into the foliage of the rhododendrons. A reprimand for trespassing was not how she envisioned her introduction to him. Thankfully, he didn’t notice her sudden motion. It seemed her best option was to wait here until he left. In the meantime, she could get a closer look at him.

Bella flattened herself against the damp ground and wriggled forward. With her cheek pressed to the earth, she had a reasonably clear view of him sitting on the river-bank. He’d hung his coat over a branch, and as she waited, he lifted his loose white shirt over his head, stood and removed his breeches.

Bella blinked then gaped at his bare bottom. A warm glow of desire washed over her as her breath caught. Once she’d recovered from the shock, she realised that not only was he wealthy and fashionable; he was also attractive, something of a rare combination. Mostly, men of any standing or taste seemed unaccountably saddled with gout or else had two chins or none at all. Not so Lucerne Marlinscar, he was by comparison touched with angelic features, though undoubtedly far from angelic by nature.

Lucerne dropped into the river.

While he dipped below the water, Bella wriggled a little closer, eager for a better view. Despite the niggling doubts in her head about invading his privacy, her response was one of rapt fascination. His lack of modesty delighted her. Here was a man who wasn’t afraid of his body, who paid no heed to convention.

Deep inside her, the spark of her thwarted orgasm rekindled. Moisture welled between her thighs, and she clamped her legs together. However, instead of reducing her need, the strain only fuelled it. She closed her eyes and could almost feel him beneath her fingertips. Hot to the touch, his body heat great enough to evaporate the gleaming beads of moisture left from his swim. His skin was silky smooth, soft against her own. She gasped in anticipation and opened her eyes.

Lucerne looked up, straight ahead to where she lay. A flicker of ice passed through his deep blue eyes. Convinced she’d been seen, Bella shuffled backwards while her stomach did a triple jump. She lay still for what felt like eternity.

He had seen her, hadn’t he?

It was time she went, Bella realised, coming to her senses. He obviously hadn’t seen her. Reluctantly, for she was still drawn to him, she stood and began to dust herself off. A few too many twigs and her brother Joshua would ask questions. She was all ready to sneak away and force a path through the rhododendrons when a splash turned her head back to the water.

Lucerne emerged from the stream glittering like the morning dew on the grass. Upright and completely naked before her, he paused to tilt his head to the sun, and run his hands through his tangled hair.

Oh yes! Oh, my!

Bella had to fight the crazy urge to undress and join him. All thoughts of departing vanished from her head. Mesmerised, she watched the water trickle down his body. His front was every bit as pleasing as his bottom had been. Long-limbed and lean, lightly muscled across the chest, hairless except for a thin golden line that trailed down from his navel to his groin, he was like the statue of David, and everything Bella admired most.

Her focus narrowed down to one silvered droplet. She followed its winding downward journey as it traversed his abdomen, snaked across his hipbone and finally came to rest on his thigh. Bella stood open mouthed, frozen like the statues of the fauns, but feeling unbearably hot. She hardly dared look, too terrified she’d be unable to contain a gasp of delight, but powerless to stop herself. Her gaze shifted slowly sideways from where the droplet rested to the dangling weight of his manhood, although dangling wasn’t quite what it was doing. The contrasting temperatures of the lazy afternoon sun and the cold water had done more than wash the toils of the day away. He stood glowing and half-erect.

Apparently unaware or unconcerned by his condition, Lucerne waded along the bank through the thick grass. Bella followed behind the treeline, drawn to him by an invisible thread. A few paces on he settled among the rushes and disappeared from sight.

‘No! No, no, no!’

Bella looked around in frustration, seeking a vantage point. To her right stood a gnarled yew tree, with comfortable lower branches in which she could perch. She scrambled into its bows with her skirts hitched to her knees, grazing her shins on the way up.

The view was perfect.

Lucerne lay sprawled out with his eyes closed, letting the sun dry his skin. One hand was combing through his short hair, while the other travelled an erotic, unhesitant path down his body, over his chest and across the flat plane of his stomach to his groin, where a sizeable erection lay. His penis, pale and perfect, splashed with blue veins, curved slightly to the left. The tip, to which he pressed a finger, was flushed deep plum.

Bella’s mouth watered. Her body hungered for him. Fascinated by every movement and eager for more revelations, she watched him touch himself. His hand worked while he writhed luxuriously against the grass as if it were soft silk. His handsome face twitched with longing. Soon his movements became more focused.

Bella stifled her desire to go to him by biting her lip. Unconsciously she rocked herself back and forth against the branch. To touch his pale skin; tangle her fingers in the knots of his hair were her only thoughts. Lucerne was everything. Not even the wren chirping above her head caught her attention. She wanted to come with him, but her balance was too precarious.

Lucerne reached climax with a deep groan, and painted a sticky fountain over the nearby grass. In the afterglow, his hands came back to his head and he relaxed, letting his erection slowly fade. He turned his head to one side and opened his eyes.

‘What in hell?’ Lucerne jerked upright, gaze fixed on Bella perched in the tree.

Panicked, Bella came crashing down. Regaining her wits faster than him, she dashed from the underlying bush while he stared after her dumfounded.

‘Jesus! Hellfire, and damnation!’ she cursed. In a straight race, he would easily catch her, and that would only mean trouble. Her only hope was to weave a path through the tangled web of rhododendrons to the drive. It was unlikely he knew the grounds as well as her.

Back on the main path, Bella sprinted down the final stretch of canopied pathway, her thighs chafing badly to remind her of the earlier race. Only when she was safely through the gates did she stop running.

She held on to the wrought iron, panting, her breath dry and heavy in her lungs. At the far end of the avenue, having given up his pursuit, Lucerne Marlinscar watched her.

Bella turned her back on him and walked away.