A Little Bit Wicked Excerpt
Taken from Chapter One
He eyed his aunt who had, for all intents and purposes, just laid him out. “Who is this person, the one who can solve this problem?”
“Vivian March. The Paragon.”
The name had sounded vaguely familiar, but Marcus couldn’t place it. Vivian March. Well, she would be here soon enough and he could meet her then. His aunt had assured him that this woman, whom evidently was referred to as the Paragon, would be able to divert attention away from the scandal, effectively making it disappear before it did much damage. But in order for that to happen, she would have to agree to align herself with them, which would require a certain amount of decorum from him.
Marcus had never been particularly good at playing Society’s games. It was one of the reasons he’d left London to begin with. He much preferred the wilds of Africa and India and the like to the well-polished pretentious behavior he found here. At least in the wild, animals acted out of survival. People did not adhere to such courtesies.
But he’d agreed, for this evening, to mind his manners, and to meet with this woman to see if she could assist his sister and her debacle. So it was that he and Clarissa and their Aunt Maureen sat silently waiting for this Paragon to appear. At precisely seven, the butler opened the door and introduced her.
“Miss Vivian March,” he said.
The woman entered the room covered in a burgundy velvet cloak. She withdrew the hood and then slid out of the contraption, allowing the butler to remove it from her. She wasn’t overly tall and had generous curves that filled her pale pink satin ball gown nicely without being too revealing. Chocolate brown curls were expertly piled on her head in an intricate coiffure. Long black satin gloves covered her hands and slid all the way up to just passed her elbows. She was the picture of English modesty.
“Thank you so much for coming, Miss March,” Aunt Maureen said, coming forward to greet the woman.
Vivian March tilted her head and he finally saw her entire face and his gut knotted as a jolt of recognition struck him. Now he knew why he name sounded familiar. He knew her. Or at least he had known her, had met her. Briefly. He stepped forward to make his own greeting, her eyes met his. She didn’t even flinch, in fact she showed no sign at all she recognized him. But he knew one thing for certain about Miss Vivian March, she was no paragon.
“My Lord, it is my understanding you have recently returned from traveling abroad,” she said. Her voice was rich and sultry, full of seductive promise.
“I have,” he said. “And it would seem my family is in a bit of turmoil. I was told you might be of some assistance.”
She inclined her head, then turned to Maureen before she spoke. “Perhaps we should sit and you can tell me more about the situation.”
“Yes, of course,” Aunt Maureen said. She rang for the tea tray with cakes and they all sat in the parlor. “Please do sit, Miss March and thank you again for coming on such short notice.”
Miss March sat in a high-backed chair, but if it was possible sat even straighter than the wood back. Her gloved hands rested on her lap and a pleasant smile played at her lips.
Clarissa had yet to utter a word, instead she sat staring at her hands as they knotted the fabric of her skirt. Perhaps she was still angry with him for earlier today.
Marcus leaned against the hearth and watched the women sugar and stir their tea. How could Miss March not recognize him? He knew for certain it was she, though now ten years older. Womanhood had softened and rounded her figure to a voluptuousness he could scarcely look away from.
After she had taken a sip of her tea, she glanced first at Aunt Maureen, then at Clarissa. “Now what seems to be the problem?” she asked.
“Nothing,” Clarissa said. She set her teacup down and offered a feigned smile. “I had a conversation with a gentleman. That is all that happened. It is unclear to me why this has to be such an ordeal.”
“Yes, well what actually happens and what might have happened are not always perceived differently,” Miss March said. “So you had a conversation with a gentleman. Is he truly a gentleman or is that simply his species? Also, was this conversation had in private or in a public location?”
He half expected the woman to withdraw a notebook and begin making notes, but she simply waited for Clarissa to answer. When there was a long pause, Miss March spoke again, this time she looked directly at him. “Perhaps she would feel more comfortable if she and I spoke alone.”
He had lost count as to how many times he’d been dismissed today by the women in this house. Perhaps he wasn’t as prepared to handle this sort of situation the way Charles would have been, but damnation he’d only just returned to London. They might not want him to be the head of the family and they might not believe him to be competent, but he wasn’t going anywhere.
Marcus shoved off the hearth and walked toward Miss March. “This is a family affair. And whether or not the women in my family approve or not, I am part of this family. You were called here to help us. If my sister refuses to cooperate, then I’ll tell you what happened. The chit was seen talking to the owner of a gaming establishment.”
Miss March nodded and while she looked at him while he spoke, her body was still pointed toward where Maureen and Clarissa sat.
He turned to his sister. “Were you sitting in the carriage, or standing on the street?”
“On the street,” she said, her eyes locked on tea tray in front of her.
Miss March patted Clarissa’s knee. She was quiet for a few moments, then took another sip of her tea. “Yes, well, I can see why we have a potential problem. Do you know, perhaps, who saw you? That is, who brought this matter to your attention?” she asked Clarissa.
“Lady Jessup informed me at a card party yesterday,” Aunt Maureen said.
“Well, I can only guess it was her husband who saw you then, Clarissa. Lord Jessup is a horrific gambler and an even worse gossip. Chances are that other people know now. So it would seem that you definitely have a potentially damaging situation on your hands.” She came to her feet.
Aunt Maureen stood as well. “Will you help us?”
“I shall consider it this evening and will be in touch tomorrow morning,” Miss March said. She straightened her gloves and patted her hair.
“Is that all?” Marcus asked not quite certain what he’d been expecting but a woman who came, sipped tea, confirmed that yes indeed they were in trouble, then fled, was not precisely the big solution he’d been waiting for.
“I must consider the situation,” she said.
“I’ll walk you out,” he said.
“That truly won’t be necessary.” Miss March made her way to the door.
Marcus followed her regardless of her dismissive tone. He took her cloak from the butler. “I’m offended that you would pretend not to remember me,” he said. He held the cloak away from her, forcing her to turn and look in his direction.
She looked up at him; her warm brown eyes met his gaze. “I beg your pardon,” she said, her voice full of innocence.
So it was a game she intended to play. Well, a game he would give her. He draped the cloak over her shoulders, then bent to her ear. “Just remember that I know the truth. I know you are not the paragon people seem to believe you to be.” There was a sharp intake of her breath. “Until tomorrow, Miss March.”