Sutton’s Sins by Scarlett Scott

CHAPTER1

LONDON, 1816

Rafe woke, as he often did, with a woman in bed next to him. Nothing at all out of the ordinary in that regard.

No, indeed. It was not the bed that was the problem, though it was a mite small.

Nor was it the aching in his head, which was damned unpleasant, he would not lie.

Nor, even, was it the fact that he was naked without recalling a single moment of the glorious fucking he must have enjoyed the night before. Though, to be fair, that was a disappointment.

The true problem was that he did not know where the floating hell he was.

The room was unfamiliar. Small and spare. That in itself was hardly remarkable. But the carpet was fine. And the windows were large. The light coming in around the edges of the curtains landed in the hair of the slumbering female at his side. Blonde-red, that hair. A truly beautiful color, a combination of fire and gold, like a sunset.

A sunset?

What a sapskull. He hoped he was still cup-shot. ‘Twould be the only excuse for thinking such tripe.

But the woman’s hair was unique and lovely. He didn’t think he had ever seen another shade quite like it, and Rafe had seen a great many ladies with their hair unbound.

He took up a long curl and twirled it around his finger, wondering who she was. Her back was to him, the bedclothes tucked neatly around her as if they were a protective shield. And for the first time, he took note of something else. She had her own counterpane separate from his. That was damned odd. She was swaddled like a babe, as far from him as possible. There was also a pillow separating them.

Hmm.

Rafe pulled back his portion of bedclothes to confirm he was as naked as he felt. Nary a stitch. Had his bedmate belatedly acquired modesty? Careful not to wake her, he gently hooked her counterpane with his forefinger and drew it back to reveal her shoulder.

She wore a crisp-white night rail trimmed with lace. When was the last time he had bedded a woman and she had donned a garment, rolled to the edge of the bed, and placed a pillow between them as if it were a defensive wall?

Grimacing, he tucked the coverlet back into place and then scrubbed a hand over his face. Had he been an arse? Displeased her in some way? Who was she, and where was he?

Suddenly, the haze leached from his mind. Memories tumbled over themselves. The day before had been steeped in madness, quite literally. His brother’s wife, Lady Octavia, had nearly been killed. Together, Jasper and Rafe had rushed to Jasper’s new town house, and they had found Octavia suffered from a slash to the throat. The surgeon had been called, the madwoman responsible for the heinous deed taken away by the charleys, and Rafe had been left watching over his twin nieces, Anne and Elizabeth, along with their new governess. He remembered finding the brandy after his sister-in-law had been patched up.

Surely he had not…

Nay, he would not have been so depraved, he was sure. And if the governess had possessed such unique hair, he would have taken note. But suddenly, he recalled that all her hair had been tucked away in a hideous cap.

Still, he would not have bedded his nieces’ new governess, would he?

Rafe struggled to remember, but his mind was blank as a starless sky. There had been brandy with the governess—Miss Bird was her name, he thought—and then nothing after. The name did not seem right. Not Miss Bird. Something else. Miss Hen?

A scratching sounded at the door. “Miss Wren?”

Christ!The voice belonged to one of his nieces. He could not tell the twins apart, not by sight, and most certainly not by voice. Was it Elizabeth or was it Anne? He supposed it hardly mattered. He could not run the risk of them waking the woman whose bed he was currently occupying. It was imperative she remain asleep until he figured out just what the hell had happened.

Jasper was going to give him a sound drubbing if he had indeed tupped the governess.

Gathering the bedclothes around him like a shroud, Rafe rose from bed. He padded to the door in his bare feet and softly opened it. Two curious sets of hazel eyes looked up at him.

“Uncle Rafe?” they asked in unison.

“Where is Miss Wren?” one of the girls asked.

“Why are you wearing a counterpane?” the other queried.

He grimaced. “She is sleeping and I… I am cold.”

Predictably, his nieces began chattering.

“Why are you in her chamber?”

“I’m hungry.”

“Elizabeth pulled my hair.”

“I told you I was sorry,” said that twin to her sister.

And at last, Rafe could tell who was whom.

He blinked, his headache thumping harder.

“Do not tell your papa you saw me in Miss Wren’s chamber,” he said, though he knew it was wrong to encourage his nieces to lie.

As if it were not enough that Rafe was wearing nothing but a counterpane and conversing with his innocent nieces while their governess, whom he may or may not have bedded, slept on, another creature bounded down the hall. His brother’s youngest pup, Motley, approached the girls with a playful bark.

Damn it, what a muddle.

“Take the bleeding hound to see your papa, girls,” he told them as Motley sprang forward and caught the corner of his counterpane in his sharp teeth. “Blast it, arsehole, leave me be.”

“Come, Arsehole,” Elizabeth said cheerfully, using the decidedly improper name the pup had inherited thanks to his poor manners.

Rafe winced. Jasper’s wife would box his ears if she learned he was cursing around the girls. She had already warned not only himself but the rest of his brothers and all the men at his family’s gaming hell, The Sinner’s Palace, as well.

“Perhaps you ought not to repeat everything Uncle Rafe says,” he muttered.

Or perhaps it would be more apt to say the twins ought not to repeat anything Uncle Rafe said. Ever. Most especially not anything he did.

Bedding their governess—if he had—would not have been one of his more exemplary moments. But then, did he truly possess exemplary moments? Likely not any suitable for the ears of his innocent young nieces.

“Why are you cold?” Anne asked.

Because I am bloody well bare-arsed underneath this cursed blanket.

“Perhaps I’m ill,” he lied without compunction.

“You don’t look it to me,” Elizabeth pronounced.

“Mayhap he’s cropsick,” Anne suggested to her sister, before turning a considering look back at him.

Twin pairs of hazel Sutton eyes swept over him from head to toe.

“Cropsick,” he repeated, wondering how she knew the word to describe the pronounced affliction affecting a man the day after he had been as drunk as David’s sow. “And where did you hear of that?”

“Uncle Hart and Uncle Wolf,” the girls said in unison, making him wonder what else his brothers had been teaching their nieces. Nothing beneficial, he was sure.

Damn it all, he needed to put an end to this interview.

Now.

He cupped a hand to his ear, pretending as if he had heard something down the hall. “I do believe your papa is calling for you.”

Motley began tugging on the counterpane and growling. Cursed mongrel. To think Rafe had often shared his supper with the traitor.

The girls turned away as if about to skip off at last.

“Wait,” he bit out, jerking his counterpane free of Motley’s persistent jaws. “Don’t forget the hound.” He pointed a finger at Motley and summoned his most commanding tone. “Off you go, beast.”

Motley tilted his head and offered another deep bark.

Did no one in this bloody household listen to him?

He gritted his teeth, about to issue another command, when Elizabeth snapped her fingers at the dog.

“Come along, Arsehole,” she said sternly.

“I thought I told you not to repeat Uncle Rafe,” he reminded weakly.

“You need to brush your hair, Uncle,” Anne offered helpfully.

Now he was being insulted by a mere stripling of six years of age. And this after a hound had nearly stolen the sole textile keeping him from being naked as a babe. After he had arisen in the bed of a governess with absolutely no memory of what had happened the night before.

This was not going to be the best damned day of Rafe Sutton’s life. That much was for bleeding certain.

“Run along, the lot of you,” he growled at his nieces and the furred menace.

Giggling with delight, the twins obeyed at last, scampering away with Motley trotting obediently at their heels.

Now, he was left to face the ramifications of his actions. Grinding his molars, he closed the door and turned to face Miss Hen.

Er, Wren.

* * *

Feign slumber, Persephone. If he thinks you are asleep, he is likely to leave and spare you the embarrassment of an explanation.

Footsteps neared the bed as she kept her eyelids tightly closed against the light of late morning. The brightness of the sun suggested she had overslept. A strange development indeed when there had been an unwanted man on the other side of the pillow wall she had built to separate herself from his body. From his naked body.

Do not think of his body. Nay, you must not…

Too late.

She was recalling him as he had shucked his garments in an almost trance-like state, thanks to the laudanum she had given him in the hopes he would sleep. And he had slept. He was not formed like any other gentleman of her acquaintance, Mr. Rafe Sutton. Lean hips, broad shoulders, so much muscle, and good heavens, the forbidden place where her shocked gaze had lingered. The recollection of his long, thick hardness rising high was thoroughly unwanted, sending a flush from the soles of her feet to the roots of her hair.

Pray he does not notice, you hen wit. You have not ventured this far only to succumb to the whims of a charming scoundrel.

The steps drew closer. And with them came his presence. An awareness settled over her, one that was very much unwanted, along with a warmth she could not deny. Still, she took care to maintain deep, even breaths as if she were yet asleep.

Go away, she willed him. Go far, far away. Take your charming grins and your handsome scoundrel’s air and leave me.

“Blast your top lights,” he muttered.

Was he cursing her or was he cursing himself? She could not be sure. All Persephone could do was concentrate on her own slow, steady breaths. Eyes closed, nary a fidget. Remain still. Hope he would go away.

“The governess,” he added. “You rutting bastard.”

He was speaking to himself, then. Aloud. Strangely, she felt compelled to announce her lucidity. It was as if she were eavesdropping on a private conversation, which was wholly foolish in itself. There was no reason for her to hold Rafe Sutton’s feelings in higher regard than her own. Nor was there a reason to admit she was awake, listening to all. She owed him nothing.

To be fair, perhaps she owed him a minor apology. After he had divested himself of his clothing, he had taken quite a spill, hitting his head on the narrow bedside table in the process. For a heart-shattering moment, she had feared him dead. But as she had rushed over his insensate form, he had emitted a long snore, chasing her frantic concern that she had unintentionally murdered the brother of her benevolent employer, Mr. Jasper Sutton. Wrestling him into the bed had been another matter, for he was a large man indeed.

“Miss Wren?”

The low, deep rumble of his voice sent a strange cacophony of sensation careening through her. Her wretched mind was busy dredging up thoughts of him from the previous evening when they had unexpectedly found themselves together, tending to his twin nieces. He had been…devastatingly charming. Too charming. He had disarmed her with that smile, those dimples and hazel eyes.

And he had been handsome, too, in a way she had never experienced before. He was not a dandy like Cousin Bartholomew, who was tall and elegant and prided himself on his elaborate cravats and the cut of his coats. Rafe Sutton was masculine and slightly disheveled and he wore sin as if it were a waistcoat. His blond hair was far longer than fashionable, with a curl that had made her long to run her fingers through it. The instinct had been both reckless and foolish, and she had promptly banished it.

“Miss Wren?”

This time, his query was accompanied by a gentle touch. Her shoulder, nothing more. Fortunately, she was tightly swaddled in her counterpane. She was also clad in a prim night rail which buttoned to her chin, but the extra layer of protection, keeping his skin from hers, was much appreciated even as his heat seemed to permeate the barriers, searing her.

“Curse it. You stupid, beetle-headed clod.”

He was muttering to himself again now, and a foreign bubble of laughter suddenly formed in her chest. There was something endearingly silly about this handsome rakehell—for if ever Persephone had seen a rogue, it was he—chastising himself aloud. Beetle-headed. She did not suppose she had ever heard the insult before. And now that she had begun to think about the phrase, the bubble grew larger, clawing its way up her throat before she could stifle it.

Her mirth fled her lips in a most distressing rushing of unladylike sound.

Giving her away.

Oh, Persephone.

“You’re awake.” His grim pronouncement meant she could no longer continue to lie still, ignoring his attempts at gently prodding her from sleep.

She opened her eyes to find Mr. Rafe Sutton hovering over her bedside, a coverlet wrapped around his shoulders in the fashion of a cape. Morning sunlight streamed around the edges of the curtains behind him, catching in his blond hair and giving the impression of a halo.

How foolish. There was nothing at all angelic about this man.

Or any man, for that matter.

She sat up, drawing the coverlet to her chin for modesty’s sake. “You woke me.”

That was a fib, of course. But better to prevaricate than explain she had been lying there, listening to his awkward discussion with the children. Listening to him call her name. Hoping he would simply give up and leave her alone. Or all the reasons why she had done so.

His gaze—an intriguing blend of gray, green, and brown—narrowed on her. “It’s a bleeding miracle you were able to sleep through chattering twins and a barking beast.”

Yes, it had been, but it was indecorous of him to point that out.

She frowned. “Nevertheless, I did.”

He scowled. “Slumber like the dead, you do.”

It was as if he did not believe her. And, well, he had every right to his suspicions. However, that did not mean it nettled any less. Particularly after the panic he had caused in her the night before. She knew she should not have slipped the laudanum into his drink. When he had begun staggering and slurring, she had seen the error in her rash decision. Her situation here in Mr. Sutton’s household was yet new, and she did not doubt he would dismiss her in a trice if he suspected she had given his brother enough opium to lay a horse low.

She clutched the bedclothes tighter to her throat. “It is a fault of mine, sir. One of many.”

Along with drugging him, but there was no need to make that admission aloud. She had felt guilty enough for her actions, and terrified she would lose her position, which she needed quite desperately.

“What ’appened?” he asked, the h notably missing from his speech, when he had previously spoken with an almost perfect, gentlemanly flair.

She supposed he was talking about the night before. Likely, his recollections would be rather…hazy. Best to feign ignorance.

“I have no notion of what you mean, Mr. Sutton.”

His eyes narrowed even more. “I’m Abram. What do you think I’m speaking of, Miss Wren? The goddamn weather?”

Well, at last, she was witnessing a side of him that was not charming.

She blinked. “You are Abram? I must beg your pardon, Mr. Sutton. I thought your Christian name was Rafe.”

He made a low sound in his throat, rather like a feral animal. “I’m not saying my name is Abram. It’s flash for saying I’m naked. I was trying to keep your sensibilities in mind, you being a lady and such. Are you a lady?”

He did not mean lady in the sense she feared, she told herself, though her heart was hammering wildly and her mouth had gone dry.

“I am a respectable woman, Mr. Sutton,” she said coolly. “If you are in en dishabille, the fault is yours. I was most distressed with your behavior last night.”

He paled.

She knew the swift pinprick of guilt, then feverishly tamped it down.

“I didn’t… Hell.” He raked a hand through his tousled curls, the effect rendered somewhat comical by his attempt to hold the counterpane with one hand instead of two. He nearly dropped the right side, and the most shameless part of her would not have minded if he had one whit. “What happened between us, Miss Wren? Last night?”

Nothingwas the proper answer.

Although, to be fair, that was rather concise. The truth was that he had been pleasant and charming, fretting over the welfare of his sister-in-law, Lady Octavia, who had been attacked by a madwoman and who had required stitching up by a surgeon. Thanks to the upended nature of the household, the two of them had been closeted away with Persephone’s charges, attempting to distract them from the surrounding mayhem.

But after the girls had gone to sleep in the nursery for the evening, the attention he had paid her had triggered all the fears she had tried so hard to bury after what had happened at her last situation. She had panicked. Armed with the laudanum she had been carrying with her ever since that awful night, she had struck when Rafe Sutton had been distractedly pacing the salon. But she had given him far too much. Before her scattered wits had been able to comprehend what she should do to rectify her error, he swooped down upon her, taking up his glass. He had swallowed his brandy in a mad rush, the laudanum too.

But she could not tell him that. Because she needed this position. She needed to remain where she was.

Only without Rafe Sutton’s interference and vexing presence.

“Miss Wren?” he prompted, waiting.

“You do not recall?” she returned, her mind whirling.

She needed to be certain he had no memory of the manner in which he had fallen so easily. If he were to go to his brother with concerns regarding her character…

She could not bear to think it.

“Of course I do not,” he gritted. “If I did, I’d have no need to ask.”

The sounds of other servants moving about could be heard in the hall, and her heart plummeted to her toes. It was one thing for the girls to have witnessed their uncle at her door—children could be easily bribed, she had discovered—but it was another for any of the domestics to find Mr. Rafe Sutton here in her room, alone and naked, with her.

“You must dress and go at once,” she hissed, careful to keep her voice low lest any curious ears were listening near to the door. Her years of experience as a governess had taught her to expect anything.

He was frowning at her, his displeasure evident in the crinkle of his brow. “Miss Wren, I insist—”

“You have already done enough damage,” she interrupted, fear making her throat go thick. “Dress and go before anyone else finds you here.”

He regarded her, jaw clenched, stare impenetrable. And then, without a word, he turned away and set about hunting his discarded garments from the floor. On any other occasion, she would have laughed at the sight of this big, masculine man struggling to maintain his modesty in the counterpane whilst thrusting himself into yesterday’s coat. But as the sun rose higher and the danger of discovery grew, all she could do was bite her lip and watch as he finished his hasty dressing and sent a glare over his shoulder in her direction, along with a warning.

“This is not the last you shall hear of this, Miss Wren.”

He shrugged the counterpane to the floor. Where was his cravat? She could not say.

She told herself it was his warning that sent the shiver shuddering through her and not the sight of that strong, lean form, striding from her chamber.

But then, Persephone Wren was a dissembler, and she had been one for nearly the last seven years. That was hardly new. However, in the past, it had never been herself she had been deceiving.