Coming May 5th
Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. The Cynfell Brothers are the very embodiment of a sinful existence. But could the right woman change that?
Being the mistress of one of the most notorious rakes in London was never going to be easy, but Josephine believed she was strong enough. After all, she loved Dante Cynfell to distraction. He provided her with a comfortable home and all the art supplies she could ever need. After a short marriage that left her near destitute, the widow couldn’t help but fall into his arms...and his bed.
But after four years of tolerating his drunken behaviour and late night calls, Josephine has had enough. Her paintings have caught the eye of a great patron of the arts. With promises of fame and fortune ringing in her ears, she realises being a mistress simply will not satisfy her anymore. She wants true love, marriage, and respectability.
When Josephine ends their arrangement, Dante is shocked. She had a comfortable home, his adoration...hell, even his faithfulness. What more could a beautiful woman want?
Marriage? Well, that’s one thing Dante Cynfell doesn’t plan to offer any woman—not even Josephine. He’s witnessed too many miserable marriages. Why put the person you care about through such misery?
Positive he can win her back, he sets out to remind her how good they are together. One thing is for sure, Dante will not give her up easily—especially to another man. Josephine is about to learn that an envious Cynfell man is not to be trifled with.
Dante Cynfell had received many slaps across the face. Too many to count really. But none had stung quite as this one had. He put a hand to his cheek and felt the heat where her palm had connected with his skin. How did this tiny woman create such a sting? He stared at her and noted she looked just as shocked.
Josephine had never struck out at him. Ever. She turned her delicate hand over and looked at the palm. He knew she was thinking the same. If there was ever a gentler woman than Josephine, he’d never met her.
He drew in a breath and tried to clear the haze of alcohol from his head. It was well past midnight and he’d been drinking since early afternoon. What exactly had he done wrong? He hadn’t said anything foolish...at least he didn’t think so. Josephine had been asleep, dressed in some sensual slip of a gown when he had come in—practically an invitation to wake her and strip it from her. So that couldn’t have been it.
Her breasts rose and fell beneath that cherry red gown, and splotches of similar colour began to reveal themselves on her cheeks. He glanced at the candle sputtering in protest of having been lit so long and took a moment to light a few lamps. Maybe that would give her a chance to gather herself.
“Don’t turn your back on me, Dante Cynfell,” she commanded.
“We cannot very well argue in the dark, now can we?” he drawled.
He circulated the room and turned up the lamps until a decent glow revealed the true extent of the redness in her cheeks. His mistress was furious with him.
Dante came back to stand in front of her and folded his arms across his chest. “Now what exactly did I do to deserve that?”
Josephine curled the hand she had used to slap him. “I didn’t mean to do that,” she said softly, “but you startled me.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve snuck into your bed.” By a long reach.
For four years, he’d been slipping into the beautiful Josephine’s bed. She had caught his eye shortly after the death of her husband, and he’d wasted no time in wooing her. Josephine had come easily too, as women always did.
“I warned you about coming in late.” She put her hands to her hips. “I keep warning you.”
“I suppose you want me to come in at nine o’ clock and tuck you in? How exciting,” he said dryly.
“Is that all you think about? Excitement? Dante,” she released a long and heavy sigh, “I have never asked for much from you, but I had asked you to be here before it was too late. I’ve been waiting for you all evening. I had wanted to...to...”
Tears shimmered in her eyes, and tension coiled in his belly. He’d always counted himself lucky to have Josephine as a mistress. She was beautiful, kind, caring and clever. His friends and society liked her too. She never spoke of their arrangement and no one cared much about it thanks to her status as a widow. She behaved with perfect decorum making it very easy to keep her as a mistress.
And, of course, he had a warm, willing partner visit whenever he wanted. As far as he knew, she’d been quite happy with their arrangement. He provided her with warmth, food and shelter, and she gave him her body and her lovely company in return.
Never before had she cried in front of him.
He reached out and snapped his hand back when she shied away from him. She slumped onto the bed, her skirts spreading out across the decadent pale green bedding. Did she want more presents? More jewellery perhaps? Had he not made her feel treasured enough?
Dante glanced around the bedroom of her townhouse that he rented for her and scowled. She had everything. A room for her little hobby, more jewels than the queen, the latest furnishings. The whole house had been decorated to her tastes. While he wouldn’t have minded turning her bedroom into a room specifically for making love with touches of red and gold, she had gone for a pale green theme with cream painted furnishings and wallpaper with little birds on.
Birds did not equal sensuality to his mind. But never mind that. It was her choice, was his point. Everything about their arrangement had been decided by her. He simply turned up as and when he wanted her company. What more did she want from him?
“Jo-Jo, will you tell me exactly why my cheek is stinging like the devil and you look like a child who has just dropped her ice cream?”
She lifted her gaze to his. God, how those hazel eyes never failed to sear him to the core. Even now he wanted her.
“Are you saying I’m petulant?”
That was a trick. He wasn’t that daft. Anything he said would be wrong right now. Perhaps actions would be better than words. Sinking down on the bed beside her, he took her hand and lifted her fingers to his lips. He kissed one delicate finger, then the next, and the next. Her breaths quickened audibly, and he couldn’t help smile against her skin. It had always been like this between them. Even after four years, his desire for her had not run dry. As soon as he had spied her at one of the London balls, he’d needed her.
“Jo-Jo, what is wrong?” He eased closer and swept her long golden hair behind one shoulder so he could reach her neck. She smelled of roses—his favourite fragrance. He inhaled and laid his lips gently to her neck. “Jo-Jo, sweet Jo-Jo...” He kissed a trail up and down her neck before teasing her lobe. Dante couldn’t resist. Hand to her waist, he curved it around her and pulled her tight to him while hot desire burned through him.
Josephine gave into him though she refused to touch him or even turn her head toward him. She let him kiss her neck, sank ever so slightly into him. Her body responded to him as it always did. He glanced down to see nipples tight against the silk fabric. He knew she wasn’t wearing a corset from the feel of her ribs contracting against his palm, but the sight of those hard nubs begging for his touch made him inhale a sharp breath. Tiny tremors ran through her form, and she released a faint moan. He nibbled her lobe and blew into it, feeling a strong shudder from her in response.
He moved his hand up and cupped a breast. “Jo-Jo, I need you,” he murmured. “So badly.”
“I always need you. I’ll not be late again, I promise.”
She stiffened. Then her fingers curled around his wrist. He waited for her to direct his hand down but no...She thrust his hand away and tore herself from him.
Josephine stood, her luxurious cherry gown shimmering around her in falls of silk. He gritted his teeth and tried not to give into the impulse to tear the thing from her. She had never been one for games and he appreciated that about her. Was she trying to send him mad with want?
“No...” Her chin trembled. “No more lies. You always make that promise and still you are late. I spend hours in my finest clothes, waiting for you, only for you to come in and wake me up in the early hours. I cannot function like this anymore, Dante. I simply can’t do it.”
He shoved a hand through his hair. He knew she’d been cross with him the past few times he was late, but she knew well enough he was terrible at keeping track of time. And once one drink became another and another...Well, time became irrelevant.
“You never used to have a problem with it,” he said bitterly. Being scolded by his mistress didn’t much appeal right now, particularly now the warm haze of alcohol was being replaced by a pounding ache in his head and a dry tongue.
“You’re right.” She nodded and began to pace. Back and forth past him. Back and forth. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen her so agitated. She paused and eyed him. “I love you, Dante. I really do. And...” A tiny sob spilled from her lips before she straightened her shoulders. “I cannot do this anymore. I don’t have the power to change you, nor the will. You are who you are, and I do love you.”
Love. Did she have to keep saying that? He knew Josephine loved him. She said it often enough. He even appreciated it but had never quite known how to respond. Usually it was with I adore you or You are the most divine creature on earth. None of those would work right now. In fact, he was thoroughly lost. Women seldom baffled him, particularly not the honest and sweet Josephine. He half-hoped he’d drunk something awful and this was all a nightmare.
“I don’t wish to be your mistress anymore.”
The words were so quiet, he had to stare at her for several moments to let them absorb. When they did, he swore she could have knocked him over with a feather. His Josephine...ending things with him? No, it wasn’t possible.
“Yes,” she said just as softly. “I have had some wonderful times with you, but I don’t wish to be a mistress anymore. The late nights, the drunken behaviour...even the occasional spiteful remark from others.”
“What spiteful remarks? By God, if I find out...”
She waved a hand. “There will always be spiteful remarks. You are an eligible man, and I am in the way of many women hoping for a dalliance or more with you.”
He snorted. “They should be wise enough to realise that you’re not in the way. I’ll never marry.”
Josephine gave him a sad look. “I know you won’t.”
Thrusting both hands into his hair, he propped his elbows on his knees and stared at his lap. He needed a moment to absorb this. Josephine had always been there for him. He could drop by at a moment’s notice and be guaranteed a warm welcome. They talked, laughed, and made love. To him, things could not get any more perfect. In truth, he’d envisioned keeping her as his mistress forever.
And why not? Society couldn’t care two figs about what a widow got up to as long as she didn’t flash it about, and his allowance from his brother was enough to keep her in luxury. Once he had his father’s townhouse, he’d have everything a man could ever want. He certainly couldn’t imagine another woman taking her place.
So why was that not enough for her?
“Do you want more money? A bigger house?”
She pressed her lips together and shook her head.
“I’ll visit you more frequently then. I thought you liked the time to yourself to paint.”
“No, Dante.” Her tone held such a solemn note that his heart twisted.
“Then what? What do you want?”
“Everything you cannot give me.” She drew a handkerchief from the drawer of her dresser and dabbed under her eyes. “I want love, marriage...a man who won’t leave me waiting for hours on end in the vague hope he might want to see me. A man who wants more than my body.”
“More than your body? You know full well I don’t just want you for your body.”
She tilted her head. “Do I?”
“Of course you damn well do. Bloody hell, I’ve been faithful to you for four years. I’ve listened to your every word and helped you when you were sick. I thought we were friends, not just lovers.”
“Do not quote faithfulness as something to which I should owe you my thanks. I would not have agreed to this had I thought you’d be bedding other women. And yes, we are friends. I hope we can remain friends. But it’s not enough for me anymore. I-I’m unhappy.”
That word stabbed him like a knife to the gut. He’d always thought she was content with their arrangement. Josephine had always been like a light to him. Always happy, always smiling. No matter what his day had brought him, he could count on her to greet him with a smile.
“What will you do without me? You have no money.”
“I can manage.”
“I won’t see you begging on the streets.”
“I won’t have to.”
She took a step forwards and laid a hand across his arm. It was his turn to brush it away. How dare she throw everything they had away? Yes, it might not be marriage and declarations of undying love, but it was affection, devotion, and passion. How many other married couples could claim to have as much?
None, in his opinion.
He stood. This was merely some silly feminine outburst. Perhaps her courses were due and she was suffering from melancholy. He would leave her a week and return after. Then she’d be back to her usual sweet self.
“Clearly, I am not welcome tonight.” He snatched his hat from where he’d flung it aside and it had skidded across the little sewing table. After ramming it onto his head, he tore open her bedroom door and gave her one last look. “I shall return in a week and see you then.”
“No, you will not,” came her quiet response as he stormed down the stairs. A deep, angry hurt ripped at his guts like the claws of the devil. There was no way Josephine could live without him. No way.