THE DEVIL’S MATCH by Victoria Vane
Once burned twice shy…but when old flames come together…passion reignites
When burned once … Arriving in London as her goddaughter's chaperone, Baroness Diana Palmerston-Wriothesley wants to avoid her erstwhile lover at all costs. Once nearly consumed by passion, four years has reduced the former inferno to bitterness and ashes.
By an old flame… A world-weary master of seduction, Ludovic "The Devil" DeVere is bored with his life of debauchery. He also recognizes with self-annoyance that the marks of his discontent have only increased upon a certain person's arrival in London. When Diana makes her appearance in his den of iniquity in all of her glorious self-righteous fury, he suddenly feels alive again.
Fire is best fought with fire… When Vesta mysteriously disappears, Diana has little choice but to appeal to DeVere for help. The moment she and DeVere reunite in the devil's lair., their mutual desire reignites with undeniable ferocity. While DeVere is hell-bent to have her back for keeps, Diana is equally determined to bring him to his knees…by acquiring some sensual secrets of her own.
THE DEVIL’S MATCH
In this fourth installment of the award-winning Devil DeVere series, Diana has come to London as her goddaughter's chaperone. Wanting to avoid her erstwhile lover at all costs, she nevertheless has no choice but to appeal to DeVere for help when Vesta mysteriously disappears. Although once nearly consumed by her passion for DeVere, four years has reduced the former inferno to bitterness and ashes.
Ludovic's time abroad has only served to deepen his debauchery. He's become jaded, world-weary, and bored. He also recognizes with self-annoyance that the marks of his discontent have only increased upon a certain person's arrival in London. When Diana makes her appearance in his den of iniquity in all of her glorious self-righteous fury, he suddenly feels alive again.
While DeVere is once more hell-bent to have Diana back in his bed, she will do whatever it takes to bring him to his knees.
DeVere House, Bloomsbury, 1783
Bursting onto the terrace, Diana gasped in a great breath, only to discover DeVere had trailed after her. Although she had given him no encouragement, she still wasn't surprised by his dogged pursuit. Once he set his sights on a goal, he was ruthless in obtaining it. He would wear her down until she had no strength left to resist him. She wished she had never recrossed his path.
"Why?" She spun on him. "Why do you continue to importune me when I have made my repugnance clear?"
"Why?" he shot back. "Because I always get what I want, and I find I still want you. Indeed, the unfulfilled craving is driving me half-mad."
"Only half-mad?" she jeered. "You are completely insane if you think to ever have me again. What passed between us was a monumental mistake and one I have no intention of repeating. Why can't you accept that and just let me be?"
"Why do you continue this game, Diana?" he asked, his voice a soft rumble against her hair. He was standing close enough to engulf her in his scent, a concoction of brandy, leather, horses, and male musk that made her senses reel. "Your own body belies you," he said. "The faintest touch has you trembling with want."
"Your conceit is unbearable. I'm shivering with cold, you insufferable boor!"
"The first statement is undoubtedly true." He chuckled. "But I have grave doubts about the second."
She felt his hard thighs against her backside and his hands on her waist, slowly ascending, the heat of his touch infusing her skin through the light silk of her gown. His thumbs brushed the outsides of her breasts, making her body rack with tiny but undeniable quivers of sensation. "It's not the cold, Diana." His hot breath fanned her nape. "And you know it."
It was past time to escape. Diana spun around only to hear a familiar, feminine voice declare from inside the ballroom, "So that's where the draft is coming from!" The terrace door clicked firmly shut, followed by the sound of the tumblers turning in the lock. Realizing she was now trapped with DeVere, Diana wanted to cry out in dismay. She turned her back to him in an effort to compose herself. She fixed her gaze out over the lawn, at the fountain in its midst shimmering under the light of myriad flambeaux. "Please," she said in an unsteady voice, "I can't bear it again. I truly don't want this."
Her heart galloped when he stroked the backs of his fingers down her arms and then over her breasts. Her treacherous body betrayed her once more, her nipples instantly tingling and hardening in response to him.
"But I think you do," he said.
"No! I don't! I am not the same woman I was four years ago. I'd had a horrible shock. Several, in fact, that made me much too vulnerable to you. My life was crumbling before my eyes, and you exploited that."
"Is that what you tell yourself?" he asked. "I did no such thing, Diana. You turned to me in your need. I did not coerce you."
"You saw my weakness and took advantage of it!"
"How?" he asked "How did I take advantage of you? You sought me out, remember? You came to my bed, and I gave you what you asked for...and much more. How is that exploitation?"
"As soon as you got what you wanted, you broke it off and disappeared! You were gone for four years, Ludovic! No word. Nothing!"
"And you believe it was by my choice?" His voice sounded rough and edged with bitterness. "Have the past years not brought you any clarity?"
"You made it clear enough at the time. 'Amorous idylls are best ended before the bloom is off the rose.'" She laughed, an equally harsh sound.
He winced. "Did I say that?"
"Yes! And then you paid me off like some high-priced whore."
"It was an exceedingly generous settlement, intended to provide for your security."
"Am I supposed to feel gratitude?"
"But a lease to a house is so very mundane, Ludovic. What do you intend to offer me this time? Diamonds and rubies?"
"Don't, Diana! You are different from the rest."
"How am I to think myself any different from your countless mistresses, concubines, and whores, when you took what you wanted and offered payment in return?"
"Damn you! It wasn't like that. You know that's not how I thought of you. How I feel about you!"
"Feel?" she cried out. "What could a man like you possibly feel beyond your—"
"My what?" He brought her hand to his groin. "Say it, Diana. I love hearing vulgar words from your lovely lips."
"I refuse to gratify that." She snatched her hand away as if burned.
He laughed. "Then I'll say it for you—my cock. The part of me that oftimes governs my life. Yes, I feel a great deal there and with great frequency, but each encounter is soon forgotten. You were the exception to that. You were never just a fuck to me. Can't you understand that? For the first time, I wanted more. I wanted something else from you, Diana, but that something was denied me. And when I knew I couldn't have it, when it appeared utterly impossible, I was enraged."
"So you left."
"Yes, I left. I had several good reasons for doing so...not the least of which was to protect a certain widow's good name."
"What misery it must have been for you to be obliged to gallivant about continental brothels and gaming rooms for four years. So self-sacrificing," she jeered.
"I won't apologize to you or to anyone else for my way of life, madam. Wine, women, gaming, and horses are a lifelong habit but one with which I have become utterly bored of late. The drinking, the gaming, the whoring, it became the same day after day, just in other locales. 'Tis why I eventually went to the East to try to discover something more, something worthwhile. Ironically, the only diversion or peace I have found was among those so-called heathen Turks."
"Then why did you bother to return?"
"I almost did not, but you might say I wore out my welcome. My money only bought me limited time as they never truly accept infidels. I seriously contemplated conversion just to remain there, but I lacked the spiritual fortitude and could not in good conscience pretend to live under their religious yoke. I am many things, Diana, but not a hypocrite."
"You expect me to swallow that tripe when you have re-embraced all the depravity you just professed to have shunned?"
"Don't mock me," he said. "I bear physical evidence of my sincere attempt of redemption, but I accept that I failed. Thus, what is left for me now but to indulge my senses?"
"Your journey of self-discovery is a truly moving tale, my lord, but I fail to see what any of it has to do with me."
"Do you not?" he asked. "For I see it at last. It's rare that I have known honesty, Diana. I realized this three weeks ago, the very moment you marched into my private chambers in all your glorious, self-righteous fury."
"But you knew I would come, didn't you? It was all a ploy, just an amusing game to you. That's all I have ever been, isn't it? Merely a challenge to entertain a bored rake?"
"That may have been true in the very beginning, but I told you, you are different to me. Your fire, your passion, it represents truth. You feel deeply, Diana, and do not conceal it. When we were together, I was more alive because of you. I wanted more of that...but then certain circumstances made it impossible."
"Certain circumstances or certain people?" she asked.
"Ah, so clarity does come at last! Yes, Diana, Caroline would have destroyed you. I would not be responsible for that."
"So you hied off to God-knows-where in order to protect me?"
"Yes. Leaving my home and my brother was not my preference, but I could not have protected you otherwise."
"Yet you hardly pined for your loss of me, and you stayed away far longer than was necessary."
"I don't deny I have enjoyed the company and the favors of other women, but the majority of them—as most of the people in my life, Hew and Ned excluded—have been largely parasitic. It's mutual, of course, for I have taken what I desired in return."
"A confession that brings us full circle, my lord."
"No, Diana. There you are wrong. I never took anything from you that was not freely offered, and for the record, I reciprocated more than I have with any other. I ask nothing from you now beyond the same honesty you once gave me. I am weary of being surrounded by nothing but greed and vice."
"Because you seek it out!" she insisted. "And if anything good came to lie at your feet, you would be too blinded by hedonistic self-indulgence to see it!"
"Wrong again, my love," he murmured. "For I clearly see you."