Lady Varney’s Risque Business
When a proper lady of the ton takes on a new client in her risqué matchmaking business, she discovers that he has one decadent demand. Spend the night with him!
Lady Kitty Varney runs a discreet business to support herself and pay off her late husband’s gambling debts. When Viscount Justin Belmont appears in her parlor, Kitty’s latest client is the very man she was forbidden to marry years ago. Kitty questions if she can find Justin a woman worthy of him…and if she can bear to help him wed any other woman.
Then Justin lists his criteria for a wife and Kitty is shocked to learn she is among the few candidates suitable. He demands each candidate spend one night with him.
Can Kitty deny herself the chance to enjoy the charms of the man she’s never forgotten? Lady Varney’s risqué business might be her saving grace—but it may well become her undoing.
Read an Excerpt
“We are here to discuss business,” Kitty insisted with a hauteur that had Justin narrowing his gaze on her.
It was not a kindly glance, either, but the fierce glare he’d worn so long ago as he climbed over the sides of the French Cyr and saved her from her French captors.
He blinked. Drew back and appraised her.
Good. At least we are now on firm footing. Two equals about to do business. Not two older people who had cared passionately for each other in their youth.
She tipped her head when he remained silent. “Please tell me what you wish.”
He set his jaw, never having cared for anyone to give him orders. “As you know, I am to inherit the Earl of Belmont’s titles and estates. He is ailing. Sadly, I might add. I have come to care for my uncle deeply in the past six years. When I first set foot in England eleven years ago, I must say I had no idea he and I would ever get on. But we did. Do. Save for one issue.”
Kitty nodded, knowing precisely the matter that divided them. Touchy subject though it was, she went on boldly, because that was her wont, because it was her business to be forthright and because she knew this man very well. Or once had. “He wants you to marry.”
Justin seemed to retreat even further into himself. His jaw firmed. His lips thinned. His large eyes turned to glittering stones. “He wishes me to marry an heiress with title, high social standing and a suitable dowry. To put a fine point on it, he wants the perfect woman.”
“The earl thinks appropriately. His titles are six hundred years old and his estates are numerous and bring in a sizeable sum each year.”
Justin snorted. “My uncle was right about you.”
Kitty felt what would come next would not be a compliment. “How so?”
“He declares there is not much you do not know about the peers of the realm, their income or their need for propriety.”
“To learn the genealogies of the famous one hundred families was a favorite pastime for a lonely little girl.”
His features softened to a genuine compassion that made her heart ache. “You were alone as a child?”
She swallowed, not wishing to remember her youth. “I do have one sister, younger by ten years. But our parents were preoccupied with society. Hence, the house was often cold and dark. But the library was a wonderful room, warm and full of enchanting tales. Not all of them were fiction.”
His mouth spread wide in a grin and her memory of how those lips felt on her own was one she told herself could not be so fresh after more than a decade. Yet, it was.
She tipped her head, unable to suppress a smile. “Please tell me about the kind of woman you wish me to seek for you.”
“Ah. Yes.” He scowled, his glittering eyes hard as glass. “First, she must be lovely.”
“Of course.” No less for such a striking man. Besides, a plain woman would be intimidated by a husband who was so damned handsome.
“Blonde?” Hair color was often listed by a man, but not usually this early in the discussion.
She shifted. That specific? “I see.”
“She must be a peer in her own right.”
Kitty knit her brows, recalling how her own barony of writ had been the lure to Henry. “Why is this important?”
“Her own blue-blood complements my lack. Since I was born on the wrong side of the blanket, a lady in deed secures my own legitimacy.”
Kitty’s mind was racing. How many single golden-haired ladies who were titled in their own right could she count? Four? Five?
“It also enhances the reputation of any of my offspring.”
“True. I had not thought of that.”
Looking innocent as a cherub, he lifted a palm. “You see my logic.”
“Certainly.” Dear god, a taskmaster. “What else might I add to her qualifications?” A huge dowry? That’s what the ton says the old Earl demands of you.
“She must be shorter than I. Talented at the piano forte. A good conversationalist.”
“Really, how interesting.” Her gaze wandered to her own French piano. She frowned and noted, “Most men would have asked that she be a wizard at cards.”
“Most bachelors,” she ventured, “want to ensure they keep their money in the family.”
“Oh, never doubt, my dear Kitty, that I have other requirements perhaps more astonishing than not caring about my future wife’s ability at the card table.”
Oh, my. This was the point at which many men told her they wanted peculiar qualities in their spouse. She hadn’t expected any oddities from Justin. Would she be disillusioned as well as surprised? And even more jealous? “Do tell me what they are.”
“I want someone versed in the art of conjugal bliss.”
Was she gaping at him? “I’m sorry. I supposed, I mean, I presumed-”
“You thought I wanted a virgin?”
“I did. Most men do.”
“Why ever not?” Was that her own shrill voice?
A grin flashed over his features. “I also want someone who has had a child.”
“A—?” Kitty blinked, clearing her impression of this man who now seemed suddenly so calculating. “Pardon me?”
“I need an heir. I need to be assured that the woman I marry can conceive and carry a child to term, birth him well and rear him. This means she must be of good constitution. After all, I will need not one child but at least two. Preferably three.”
Kitty could not believe her ears at his extraordinary list, but nodded and went on with the topic. “Raised by her, of course.”
“I want no fainting lily. No frail Bess. And no parade of nurses and governesses.”
“But surely, you need one,” she babbled, ” of each.”
“Of course. One governess. One nurse. And one loving mother.”
“I see.” Kitty began to have a warm feeling in the pit of her stomach that signalled either rage or a headache. Stress like this reminded her of verbal sparing with Henry who thankfully had gone to his Maker. The cure for that had been for her to run to her garden. Prune her roses. Trim her yews. At the moment, she could do neither, but deal with Justin and his demands.
“You are being very specific.”
“Almost too much so.”
“Why do you say that?”
She rose to her feet, the sensation of standing so quickly made her head light. Airy. Euphoria had her swaying. So unexpected was this feeling that she walked toward the fireplace and put a steadying hand to the mantel. “Let me recount your requirements.”
He nodded as he sat in his chair, looking so infernally regal and congenial that she wanted to gather the fine lapels of his frockcoat in her fists and shake him. “Proceed.”
“You want a young woman, an heiress with wealth—”
He raised a hand to make her pause. “She need not be young. Too young and she is not useful to me as a wife who can bear children.”
“Quite. Shall we say that you want a seasoned woman? Yes?”
He nodded. “Go on.”
“Blonde. Golden-haired, specifically. Shorter than you, so then she must be five feet four or five inches tall. Good at the piano, in the assembly hall and the ballroom. Versed in the bedroom. A woman who has already borne a child and who wishes to bear more. She must also enjoy the process of raising them. Anything I have missed?”
He let his gaze drift up to her cap of golden curls, then down to lock on her eyes. “That is an excellent summary.”
She braced herself for what she was now about to say. “I have made matches for men for nearly a year.”
“Ever since you began to emerge from mourning for your husband.”
She gave Justin a small smile. Realizing he knew this about her was a delight. “Yes, and I have created some very fine marriages. Though not all of my couples have yet taken vows, those five who did, are very happy.”
Justin brushed imaginary lint from his trousers. “So I have heard.”
“But these requirements you list are unusual.”
“I am a very exacting man.”
“You are. Your friends declare it. I hear your tailor does, too. Your butler.”
“I shall have to reprimand my man for engaging in gossip,” he told her but his eyes and his lips quirked in amusement.
She tipped her head, unable to resist grinning at him and learning more. “Your butler is a good friend of my cook. They talk often.”
“To you as well, it seems.”
“My sources are legion. They help me with the work I do.” She raised her brows. “You must realize to match make I need to know many facts about people.”
“A necessity of your occupation.” He winked at her, sending her back to days on his ship when she’d been so entranced by his charm.
She cleared her throat and returned to the subject of his visit. “Your list limits me severely.”
“I am aware of that.”
“There are few women who possess all the qualifications.”
He rose and came to stand before her.
So close now, she breathed his cologne. Smelled the mint on his breath. Admired the dimple in his left cheek and the facets of green and brown in his large heavy lidded eyes. “In fact, there are only three women who meet all of your requirements.”
“Ah. But wait, you have not heard them all.”
“No? Preposterous! There is a very small pool of possible candidates, Justin. To add more requirements would be burdensome—”
“But my fortune will be very large. My homes, here and in the country, are grand estates. I will be married to this woman for many decades, and I need the best companion possible.” He frowned, very determined looking. “I have the right to declare to whom I shall be joined!”
“Precisely so, my lord, but we must be prudent.”
“You be prudent! I shall be as I am!”
His virulence shocked her.
“Your fees are high. I shall have whom I want! Who is best suited to me.” He strode closer and seized her arms, his powerful body dwarfing hers. Once his might had been comforting, but now, full of fury, his size made her wince. She had been intimidated by her husband far too often and she would not be by any man ever again.
She stiffened her spine. “Tell me your other requirements.”
“She must spend twenty-four hours with me at Belmont Manor.”
“Oh, I see.” She let out a breath, relieved. “You want her to visit.”
“No, I want her in my bed.”
Kitty blinked. “I…I’m sorry. You want her—?”
“Naked. I want to learn if she likes men. Me, to be exact.”
“I see.” Women do like you, from what I hear. One mistress in particular who boasts of your prowess in the art of pleasing a woman. “Why wouldn’t she?
“I need to learn if she is a dry piece of toast. Or a willing woman who likes a man’s touch. If she’ll be a desirable partner.”
“Most women are.”
“Really? You think so?” With a sound of derision, he spun away and walked toward the window. “I have learned that women in English society tend to be naïve and foolish. Certainly the ones who have been shoved at me as appropriate are witless ninnies, reared in tiny rooms by smaller-minded governesses. I want a woman, a full blown beauty with brains.”
“I see.” Did you also think me witless? A ninny?
“Can you find one?” He peered at her with narrowed, merciless eyes.
She felt undressed from so far across the room, but she lifted her chin and carried on in a snit. “Indeed, I can, my lord. To fit your qualifications, I have two candidates.”
“Two. Damn me! So many!” he scoffed—and his expression implied he was surprised at her capabilities. “I am delighted at your resourcefulness, Lady Varney. I wish to interview each of them, naturally. At my home in Kent.”
“First, I shall inquire if each is interested and accepts your terms.”
He waved a hand. “Of course. Do it within the week. I need to know quickly. My uncle is not well and he wishes this matter of my marriage resolved before he sheds his mortal coil.”
Kitty frowned. Had she been wrong all these years to remember Justin as kind and caring? Had she varnished him with a romantic veneer of her own making?
He strolled closer. His magnetic allure nearly buckled her knees. But she stood taller, met him toe to toe, damn his eyes!
“And who are these women you have chosen for me?”
She gathered her courage. “Maribella Winter, Baroness Avon. And Suzanna Curtis, Marchioness Hamill.”
“But to be honest, there is one more. Is there not, madam?”
“A third? No, none that I—”
“What of the illustrious blonde beauty who travels in the best of Society? What of the widow who has a son by her deceased husband? What of the heiress who holds by writ the ancient title of Lady Downey?”
Kitty caught her breath at the mention of her own ancient title. “She is not available.” Not rich. “Not suitable.”
“I say she is.”
She stared at him, tempted and hating herself for it. “She is older.” Wiser than to do this.
“She will be presented to me at Belmont Manor.”
She shook her head. “No.”
“I triple my fee.”
“Triple?” she parroted like a simpleton.
“One sum of five thousand pounds for each candidate.”
She could not refuse him. Not that sum. That amount would nearly free her of Henry’s gambling debts and give her enough to buy a few new frocks for next Season. The ability to hire a governess for Hank. “Justin, fifteen thousand pounds is a startling sum. But I cannot take it. Cannot ask three women to rendezvous with you. Really, how could I? I want to, but I cannot because—”
“Kitty! Stop this!” Justin stepped toward her so quickly, she scarcely noticed that he’d moved. But his arms crushed her close. His fingers lifted her chin. His lips took hers. Once, twice. Damn him, three times. Her own arms twined around him. She whimpered and moaned into his mouth while her breasts beaded and her nether regions flooded with red hot flame. She had not felt so gloriously wanton since last she stood in his embrace.
“Oh, you’ll take it. Look at me,” he demanded. “Tell me who the third candidate is.”
She stared up at him, the devil. He had planned it this way. Devised this scheme to torture her, punish her for how she had not fought to stay with him eleven years ago. Poor man, he believed the ton. Thought she was rich. But he’d get no wife in her, only a lover. For one day and night. One risqué affair. “The last woman is me.”