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THE DEVIL’S PEARL
Sir Devlin Vaughn will never forget the sweet, sensual pleasures of his beloved “Jewel.” Charmingly naive in the ways of love, she had blossomed under his guidance to become the most skilled lover a man could ever desire. And desire her he did-especially after she disappeared, leaving him alone and longing for her touch. Now, Devlin will do anything to get her back. Even kidnap her . . .
Julia Beaumont will never forget the man who unlocked her deepest desires and made her crave things no decent woman should. Fearing she would never be more than his mistress, she left, vowing never to see him again-until one reckless night, when a stranger in black appears from the shadows and sweeps her away to his bedroom chamber. Now, she will be his courtesan, his captive, his slave. Can she free herself from Devlin’s thrall, or will their passion be her ultimate undoing?
He had her. After twelve long months of searching, he finally had her in his sights.
Sir Devlin Vaughn sank deeper into the smoky shadows of the ostentatious drawing room. He studied her as she flicked her cards open and smiled prettily at the man sitting opposite her. The dark tresses framing her face bounced to her shoulders, and her small hand curled suggestively around the cards.
He shook off the memory of that hand curling around him, caressing him, bringing him to fulfillment with a silky touch. He'd taught her that particular skill, but no other woman he'd known had such a talented hand. And he'd known many.
Devlin's fist crushed the black velvet curtain that hid most of his body from her sight, crumpling the delicate fabric. She'd left him brutally, nearly bringing him to his knees before hundreds of people. She'd shattered his heart then carelessly tossed the pieces to the crowd. She'd turned away from him to step into another man's carriage. Then she'd escaped to the Continent and become a high-priced courtesan, so pretentious that even the deep-pocketed Viscount Clayton hadn't been able to satisfy her expensive tastes.
Now men surrounded her, vying for her attention. She knew it and played it up, teasing and coy. A thin, blond-haired fop whispered to her and she gazed at him from beneath sooty lashes, her laugh like a delicate splash of sunlight that turned other men's heads. Oh, she knew what she was doing, all right—she'd once played these very same games with Devlin.
She'd played him for a fool.
Bitter resentment welled up in his gut, and he dragged in a lungful of air. He couldn't watch any more of this, or he'd do something foolish, like blacken the eyes of every single man who had dared cast a lustful glance at her—a dozen of them, at least—then toss her over his shoulder and haul her out of here with a score of witnesses gaping after them.
Dropping the now-rumpled curtain, he escaped the salon, stomped down the corridor, escaped through the back door, and circled to the front of the building to lie in wait.
He had loved her. Completely. Desperately. He would have given her anything. In those long, lazy afternoons they'd spent together, she'd made him believe she loved him too. She'd made him believe she was his, and, stupidly, he'd believed her.
She'd been playacting, though—he knew now that for her it had all been about the blunt. The small gifts he'd given her—gifts he'd thought of as tokens of his affection for her, as symbols of the bond he'd felt between them—hadn't been enough. Not nearly enough.
Coldness pierced Dev's many woolen layers. He paced the dark street with his hands gripped together behind his back and gazed up at the star-speckled sky. Ice crunched under his feet.
She would come out with one of the men. He knew it, and he could not contain the rage that truth incited in him. The man would take her to some elegant townhouse and take her to bed. Eventually she would leave her sated customer, and Dev would snatch her away. Then he would keep her with him. Away from this life, from all these men he couldn't bear to witness looking at her with lust in their greedy eyes.
When he'd first heard she'd returned to London a little over a month ago, the plan had sprouted in his mind and grown there like a rampant weed, and he'd poured all of his furious energy, born of jealousy and anger and other emotions he didn't want to name, into his preparations.
He'd planned only to watch tonight, to observe her in action so he could go home and make the finishing touches to his plan. But then he'd seen her in that dark room, the shining light in the midst of all those lecherous men, so beautiful she hurt his eyes. He'd watched her sip her champagne and laugh and flirt. He'd watched her distractedly brush away that one wayward curl that always fell into her face. She was real. Just as stunningly beautiful as ever.
He couldn't allow this to continue. This had to end. Tonight.
He paced along the sidewalk, trying to avoid thinking of her inside that warm salon that smelled of tobacco and spice, trying not to picture the way the bodice of her skirt hugged her sweet curves, trying not to remember her fluttering lashes or her coy laughter.
But he didn't succeed. He remembered, and with every moment that passed, the burn in his chest increased. By the time she finally exited the party, Devlin had forgotten the cold.
She was on the arm of not one, but two men.
Boiling inside, raw and jagged and almost out of his mind with pain and fury, he lunged after them.
* * *
"Miss Beaumont, I fear you've had a bit too much of the bubbly."
Julia grinned at the teasing tone in her cousin's voice. "I daresay you're right, Algie," she said, "but Lud, it feels marvelous to be a touch addled."
She rose up on her tiptoes, leaned in and kissed Algernon Ayers's smooth cheek, stumbling on a cobble in the process. The men righted her promptly.
She wasn't truly sotted. The two glasses of champagne she'd drunk were just enough to make her feel nicely frayed about the edges.
"It was fun, wasn't it?" She sighed, blowing that blasted curly strand of hair out of her face. It had been so long since she'd had fun. When she'd left England for Paris, she had not expected her life to fall into such an abyss of desperation and fear. Viscount Clayton, who she'd trusted as a friend and confidant, had turned on her when she'd rejected his advances. After that horrible night, after she'd fended him off by kicking him in the ballocks and then running for her life, he'd returned to London and spread vicious lies about her.
Knowing she'd never again be welcomed at her uncle's house in London, she had been living in Paris on the edge of destitution for several months, trying to survive off the odd sewing job and struggling desperately to make ends meet, when Algernon had arrived to bring her back to England. With her talent for clothing design, he said, she could make something of herself in London.
After all that had happened between her and Lord Clayton in Paris, after she'd ripped her reputation into tatters beyond repair, Algernon hadn't judged and condemned her like everyone else. Instead, he had convinced her that she still possessed value as a human being. She loved him for that.
Now she staggered home between Algernon and Thomas Jones, her cousin's lover. Algernon and Julia had been inseparable in childhood and had stayed close, the two proverbial black sheep in their pious family.
Thomas grinned. "It was fun indeed, m'dear. You are ravishing. You had every gentleman at the party primed to drop to his knees for you."
Algernon flashed Thomas a quelling look. She squeezed his forearm and spoke gravely. "It's all right. Please don't worry about me, dear Algie."
Algernon knew everything—she'd told him back in Paris. He'd worried even then, not quite convinced that she'd done the right thing by leaving London. But even after hearing the whole sordid tale, he still hadn't judged her. And even though he trusted her not to make any more foolish mistakes, she still saw these flashes of concern in his eyes. She knew he wanted her to be happy. She was trying—she really was. But for the past year, happiness for Julia had been an elusive, ethereal thing, impossible to hold onto.
"I am not worried about you. You know that."
She smiled gratefully. Returning home was the most frightening thing she had ever done, and she could not have done it without Algernon. He had given her employment as head seamstress in his stylish tailoring shop, a position that kept her in the back room of his shop and separated from society. Tonight it had been fun to flirt a little, but she had no plans to try to reestablish herself in society. It would be impossible, considering how Viscount Clayton had slandered her.
She was someone altogether different from the person she had been a year ago. She knew now to always use her head and to no longer be controlled by matters of the heart. She had come to her senses and remembered that in the end, men only wanted one thing, and it was always temporary. Lord Clayton, whose intentions she had so naively thought honorable, had driven the lesson home.
A single growled word yanked Julia from her thoughts. "Stop."
The voice had come from behind them. Rough. Deadly. Familiar.
All three of them froze. Algernon and Thomas dropped her arms and spun around. Julia turned more slowly, fear rising like a flood in her chest.
The man stood in the shadows about ten feet away. He was dressed in black, and it was nearly impossible to make out his features in the darkness of the night. He took a single step forward, the crunch of his boots on the ice like a loud crack in the cold, late-night stillness.
And even though she couldn't see him, she knew who he was. She knew the way he stood, his stature, the square, broad shape his shoulders made beneath his coat, the way his dark hair curved into a widow's peak at the top of his forehead.
"You will be coming with me, Julia. Walk slowly toward me." His voice was low and gravelly-rough. "You two," he added, tilting his head first at Algernon, then at Thomas, "stay where you are."
Julia cast a frantic look at their surroundings. She didn't know this street; she only knew that they were somewhere near Algernon's house in Bedford Place. It was a narrow lane, quiet, with not a soul in sight. The houses abutting the pavement were dark, their occupants long since retired for the evening. But if she screamed loudly enough…
No sooner had she opened her mouth to do just that than he took another step forward and snapped, "Don't make a sound."
"And you—don't come any closer," Algernon warned, raising his hand in the universal gesture to halt. A brave, blessed soul, her cousin. She was close enough to him, however, that she could feel the tremors running through his body. She didn't blame him. Sir Devlin Vaughn stood several inches taller than Algernon and was twice as broad. He was a dark, looming figure, as imposing as an avenging angel on this cold and lonely London street.
"Come here, Julia," Dev commanded, reaching out his hand to her. She remained rooted to the spot.
Algernon straightened beside her and said stoutly, "I will not allow you to harm this lady."
Lowering his hand, Dev laughed, but it was a bitter, caustic sound devoid of humor. "Well now, she's hardly a lady, wouldn't you agree?"
She swallowed, blinked hard, and gazed down at her feet, her heart constricting at his words. Like everyone else in London, Dev thought her a trollop. Lord Clayton had not forgotten anyone when he'd spread his vicious lies.
It hurt, but she shouldn't be surprised.
She nudged Algernon with her elbow. "I know him. It is Sir Devlin Vaughn. He was the one—" She drew in a shallow breath. "I know him."
Thomas gripped her elbow. "We will not let him have you, Julia."
"Unhand her," Dev growled. Julia could feel the heat of his gaze on the spot where Thomas held her.
Immediately, Thomas dropped her arm.
"Touch her again and you will regret it."
In the gloom, she could not decipher the look upon Dev's face, but he'd taken yet another step closer, and now she could see his fists bunched at his sides.
How she had missed him. Part of her wanted to run to him, to throw herself into his arms. Ridiculous, considering his attempts to bully the three of them. But how could she forget the talks and laughter she and Dev had shared, the cozy days in his bed and at the inn, the passionate lovemaking…?
A shudder rolled through her. Relinquishing her body to him had given her the most profound pleasure she had ever known. Her life in the past year had been utterly sterile in comparison.
"Come to me, Julia," he ordered, his tone of one accustomed to command.
That voice sent waves of heat pulsing across her skin, centering low in her belly and pooling into desire.
No, no, no. That was a terribly incorrect response to this man—to this situation. What a traitorous body she had.
She might have spent the happiest afternoons of her life with Sir Devlin Vaughn, but he had also ruined her for anyone else, and now he threatened her closest friends in the world. She clenched her jaw against a sudden flare of anger.
"I will go," she whispered to her cousin.
"Julia, you are not thinking clearly! You cannot."
"I am thinking quite clearly." And she was. Dev's presence here, tonight, had a magically sobering effect. Dev himself, on the other hand, must be three sheets to the wind. What else could have prompted his appearance? "Let me go," she whispered to her cousin. "I don't want you to get hurt."
She would not watch Thomas and Algernon get pummeled on her behalf. There was no question they would lose, even two against one. Dev was a trained fighter who boxed for sport, and Algernon and Thomas were…well, they were tailors, for heaven's sake. They could, perhaps, do some damage with a needle and a thread, but not with their fists.
She couldn't get them involved. Dev was her problem, and she would face him head-on. She took a step forward.
"Julia!" Thomas hissed.
She turned back and gave them a smile she hoped masked her quavering insides. "I will see you soon."
Thomas shook his head and began to unbutton his greatcoat, preparing to fight.
"Please don't, Thomas. I beg you. I promise he won't hurt me." A bitter taste rose in her throat at the lie. Dev could hurt her, but not in the way they imagined—she knew that much. "I promise, Algie. He would never harm me. I'll go with him and talk some sense into him. If I am not home by morning, come fetch me from his house in Mayfair."
Thomas's hands paused over his buttons. A deep crease appeared between Algernon's brows.
"Please," she added in a desperate whisper. "I don't want violence. I can defuse his anger, I know I can."
"No. Now promise me you won't go to the authorities."
"Julia—" Thomas said.
"Promise me!" she snapped.
The upper crust of London society often avoided the authorities and took matters into their own hands because the repercussions, should certain things become subjects of gossip, could be devastating. Instinct told her it would be wise to follow their lead in this matter.
Algernon looked bewildered, clearly not understanding why involving anyone else would probably only serve to make matters worse. "I don't think—"
Now. She had to go to Dev now or they would do something rash. She couldn't allow that to happen. She turned her back on them, lifted her skirts, and hurried up to Dev, stopping when she was within an arm's length of him.
She looked up into his handsome face, with its straight, long nose, square jaw and brooding eyes. Ignoring her stuttering heartbeat, she met his dark gaze.
"Very well, Sir Devlin. Here I am." And a rebellious spark somewhere deep within her added, Now what are you going to do with me?
Without sparing a backward glance at those ridiculous fops, Devlin took Julia's arm and pulled her around the corner. Once they were out of sight, he half pushed, half dragged her to Tottenham Court Road, where he hailed a hackney.
It had been hotheaded and imprudent to take her so publicly, but his plans had changed. He couldn't stomach the thought of her being bedded by those two little men. He muttered, "Don't say a word," as he nudged her inside the cab.
He shouldn't be gentle with her, God knew. Not after what she'd done to him. But hurting Julia, causing her pain or marring her beautiful skin—it was something he couldn't conceive of doing.
The ride to his house was brief, filled with silent tension. She obeyed his command and stared straight ahead in silence. His thigh pushed against hers in the tight confines of the hackney cab. He could not take his eyes off her. Christ, he wanted her, even when she sat stiff and proper beside him, her lips compressed into a tight, angry line. Even when she refused to meet his gaze. His body felt like one taut, flaming nerve. If she were to reach out and touch him, he would explode.
- PRAISE FOR USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR JENNIFER HAYMORE: "4.5 stars, HOT! Readers have been eagerly awaiting this sequel to Confessions of an Improper Bride, in order to finally uncover the truth about Meg Donovan's "death." Haymore creates a highly satisfying answer, drawing the reader in with wonderfully realistic characters, adventure, passion and unexpected plot twists while crafting another delightful entry in the Donovan series."—RT Book Reviews on PLEASURES OF A TEMPTED LADY
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- "Sweep-you-off-your-feet historical romance! Jennifer Haymore sparkles!"—New York Times bestselling author Liz Carlyle on A TOUCH OF SCANDAL
- "Jennifer Haymore's books are sophisticated, deeply sensual, and emotionally complex. With a dead sexy hero, a sweetly practical heroine, and a love story that draws together two people from vastly different backgrounds, A TOUCH OF SCANDAL is positively captivating!"—Elizabeth Hoyt, New York Times bestselling author on A TOUCH OF SCANDAL
- "A unique, heart-tugging story with sympathetic, larger-than-life characters, intriguing plot twists, and sensual love scenes make A HINT OF WICKED an impressive romance debut! I was rooting for both Tristan and Garret to win the lovely Sophie's hand for a second time. For jaded romance readers, Jennifer Haymore is an author to watch!"—New York Times best-selling author Nicole Jordan on A HINT OF WICKED
- "Jennifer Haymore is an up-and-coming new writer who displays a skilful touch in her erotic tale of a woman torn between two lovers."—Shirlee Busbee, New York Times bestselling author on A HINT OF WICKED
- "Complex, stirring, and written with a skillful hand, A HINT OF WICKED is an evocative love story that will make a special place for itself in your heart."—Romance Reviews Today on A HINT OF WICKED
- "HINT OF WICKED is an exhilarating regency romance!"—Harriet Klausner Romance Reviews Today on A HINT OF WICKED
- "Ms. Haymore's talent for storytelling shines throughout this book."—Eye on Romance on A HINT OF WICKED
- On Sale
- May 7, 2013
- Page Count
- 120 pages
- Forever Yours