Sutton’s Sins by Scarlett Scott
Persephone was in the small garden behind the town house, watching as her charges skipped happily about during this small break from their lessons. Their laughter bounced off the walls in a delightful echo that had her smiling. The unabashed joy Anne and Elizabeth radiated was catching.
Anne giggled and raced past Elizabeth.
Likely, Persephone ought to chastise them. To remind them they were ladies and they ought to move with grace and consideration instead of flitting like butterflies. However, her own experience with her governesses had left rather a sour taste in her mouth. The last, Wilkins, had been joyless and dour, and she had made every day a punishment rather than a gift. But then, so had Cousin Bartholomew.
Innocence was always spoiled.
Happiness was inevitably replaced with sadness.
It was her instinct to allow these sweet girls to bask in the elation of their youth and artlessness for as long as they could. She had not been so fortunate. Anne and Elizabeth were blessed with parents who loved and doted on them. Persephone had been abandoned to the dubious care of others for as long as she could recall. But not even the isolated loneliness of her childhood could compare to what had come after.
“Where are my favorite twins?”
The masculine drawl at her back had Persephone jumping and pressing a hand to her madly thumping heart. When would she cease to think it was Cousin Bartholomew each time she was startled?
Not until she was truly free of him. That was the answer.
And anyway, this intruder was not her odious cousin. Rather, it was Rafe Sutton.
He prowled into the gardens like a dangerous beast. Handsome. Charming. Smiling his rogue’s grin. Sweet heavens above. The gaze which was neither gray nor green nor brown flicked to meet hers and sent a jolt of awareness straight through her. Awareness she did not want, and which she was most certainly not meant to feel.
Her heart was skipping like Anne and Elizabeth, racing to meet their uncle.
“Miss Wren,” he greeted with a courtly bow, which would have put any gentleman to shame.
She forced herself to dip into a curtsy in return, struggling to tamp down her body’s foolish reaction to him. The reminder that he had spent an entire night in her bed, bereft of any garments, simmered beneath every passing second.
“Mr. Sutton,” she offered, pleased with herself for keeping her voice so calm.
The girls threw themselves at him, each wrapping their arms around one of his legs. “Uncle Rafe!”
Their voices were in unison. As twins, their bond was strong. The girls often spoke at the same time, or one on the other’s behalf. Persephone had never known any twins before, and she found Anne and Elizabeth utterly endearing.
She was also grateful for the distraction they caused their uncle, who turned the appealing force of his attention to them instead, allowing Persephone a moment to collect herself.
Why was he here? It had been a mere day since she had watched him slip from her chamber, clad in his rumpled trousers and coat. She had discovered his cravat protruding from beneath her bed after he had gone. She could not say why, but the sudden, shameful urge to bring the scrap of linen to her nose to catch a trace of him had overtaken her. Shaving soap and Rafe Sutton and…why, if sin possessed a scent, it would surely be the same.
She had frantically tucked it beneath her pillow, where it still remained.
He was wearing a fresh neck cloth now, this one tied expertly and plainly. No ostentatious waterfalls for him. Quite unlike Cousin Bartholomew, who dressed as excessively as he drank. The contrast between Rafe Sutton and Bartholomew could not be more apparent. Rafe was all lean, sinewy grace. He was handsome and he knew it. Bartholomew, meanwhile, was…none of those things.
“Did you come to see Miss Wren?” Anne asked her uncle then, bringing a mortified flush to Persephone’s cheeks.
Children, she had learned, were not very adept at hiding their opinions or learning when to hold their tongues. But then, neither were adults in many circumstances.
He glanced in her direction, a slow grin curving his lips. “It is always a pleasure to see Miss Wren, of course. However, I came to see your papa. I needed to discuss something with him.”
Their audience would have been business related, Persephone supposed. Her employer and his family owned a well-known gaming hell called The Sinner’s Palace. How ridiculous it was, the lump of disappointment settling in her belly. Why had the silly rambling of children filled her with a false, ludicrous sense of hope? Indeed, why would he have come here to seek her out? And furthermore, why should she want him to?
The answers swirled through her mind, damning as any accusation.
You find him handsome, Persephone. And that is dangerous. Men in general are not to be trusted, but most particularly never rogues from the East End who swagger when they walk and have a face that would make even the most hardened of ladies sigh in appreciation.
Yes, there was that. But also, it was foolish how weak she was, even after the years she had spent at the mercy of Cousin Bartholomew’s selfish whims. The realization she could be so moved by Rafe Sutton, whom she had frantically drugged with laudanum two nights before, was humbling indeed.
It was not his looks—pleasing though they were—which drew her to him. It was the way he smiled, the way he moved. It was everything about him. And that was very much a problem.
Oh, curse it.She had not been attending the conversation, and now Mr. Rafe Sutton was looking at her expectantly, as if he had asked her a question of great import. A question she had not heard since she had been far too busy musing on his irresistible male qualities.
Her face felt as if it were aflame. Thanks to her hair, it likely was. An unfortunate coloring, Cousin Bartholomew had remarked once. I never did care for redheads. They’re always spotted and pink-faced. However, I suppose you shall have to do.
“Yes, Mr. Sutton?” She forced a benign smile to her lips.
“We are in agreement, then,” he said, grinning so deeply, his dimples appeared.
Her stupid heart was beating faster again. Perhaps there was something grievously wrong with her. That was the only satisfactory explanation.
“Forgive me, sir. I do not know what you are saying we have agreed upon,” she admitted, omitting the reason.
It would hardly do to admit the man had somehow absconded with all her wits when he had left her room. But clearly, he had. Nothing else made sense. He was a thief. A handsome and a tempting one.
He winked. “That these two girls are not fast runners. Not at all. Quite slow, they are. Slower than a pair of little moles.”
He had winked at her. The audacity! And why was he here in the gardens anyway? He had come to speak to her employer, and now he was lingering in the same space where she had to be. The girls were in her care. She did not dare let them from her sight, for she had already realized they were quite…adventurous. Yes, that was a nice, proper word to describe the rather unusual exuberance and curiosity of Miss Anne and Miss Elizabeth.
“Young ladies do not run, Mr. Sutton,” she reminded him, despite her determination to avoid chastising them for the very same action before his unexpected arrival.
She sounded far too much like her own dreaded governesses.
A succession of them, in short order.
No one can govern this horrible chit, one governess had said when she left.
Cousin Bartholomew had agreed. And then he had promptly found a governess more adept at killing souls and crushing spirits than the last.
“I cannot believe it.” Rafe Sutton was shaking his head slowly, hands planted rudely on his hips.
Staring at her.
Making her feel even hotter. Surely she ought to be cold. Chilled to the bone. The air was cool today. She did not have a wrap. And yet, she felt quite overheated. As if it were a summer’s day.
“What can you not believe, Mr. Sutton?” she dared to ask, only because the twins were watching her with wide, curious eyes.
She was meant to be an example. To be polite and calm and proper in all circumstances. Increasingly difficult with this troublesome man about.
He was naked in my bed.
Cease this manner of thought at once, Persephone.
“I cannot believe that you would believe such nonsense,” he elaborated. “Of course all ladies can and do run. However, the question is whether or not Anne and Elizabeth are quick enough—”
“We are!” Elizabeth shouted, jumping twice in her exuberance.
“You see, Miss Wren?” Mr. Sutton’s eyes remained fixed upon her, much to her unease. “Anne thinks she is quite speedy.”
“Elizabeth,” Persephone and her charges corrected simultaneously.
Mr. Sutton laughed, turning his attention back to his nieces. “Forgive me.”
“We love you, Uncle Rafe!” Anne announced. “Even if you cannot tell us apart, you are one of our favoritest uncles.”
“Favorite, girls,” Persephone felt obliged to correct. “Favoritest is not a word.”
“Ought to be,” he commented. “I’m deuced proud to be a favoritest uncle.”
“We love Uncle Hart and Uncle Damian and Uncle Wolf, too,” Elizabeth said.
“There’s the way to make a cove feel special.”
“You are special!” decreed one twin.
“Wonderfully so,” agreed the other.
“If only your enthusiasm for my charms were extended to Miss Wren,” he said to the girls before casting another glance in Persephone’s direction.
She would not willingly divulge enthusiasm of any sort for his charms. To her shame, she could likely list each one. However, she had no place taking notice. This was her life now. She was a governess. She had to be a governess, at least until she no longer required a guardian to decide what she did with her funds. And even then, she shuddered to think what would happen should she emerge from hiding.
She forced herself back to the present, where a handsome, quick-to-smile scoundrel was awaiting her answer. “I am enthusiastic about a great many things, Mr. Sutton. The progress Anne and Elizabeth are making with their reading, for instance. Your dubious charms, however, are not among them.”
His lips twitched, almost as if he found amusement in her less-than-subtle reprimand. “’Tis a shame. I have many to offer.”
And she had seen more than her fair share of them.
“Mr. Sutton, this conversation is quite improper,” she told him coolly.
Although it was not done to reprimand her employer’s family member, there was something about Rafe Sutton that ruffled every last one of her feathers.
“What’s unproper?” Anne asked, sounding curious.
It would not do for the children to run to their parents with tales of the new governess telling their beloved Uncle Rafe he had been unproper. She had only just secured this position. Finding herself settled and in a good situation such as this one had been an impossible feat until now.
“Never mind that, you thimble full of trouble,” he told Anne, the easy tenderness in his voice chipping away at the block of ice that had formed around Persephone’s heart. “I still do not believe you are quick enough to run about the gardens fifteen times each before my pocket watch tells me it is half past two in the afternoon. Neither you, nor your sister.”
“We are,” the girls declared simultaneously.
Mr. Sutton sighed. “I do not think you ought to dare try.”
He spoke so smoothly that one could almost confuse him for a true gentleman. The son of a duke or earl.
Here and there, his accent slipped. When he had been deep in his cups and under the influence of the laudanum she had secreted in his glass, he had lost quite a bit of his polish, his East End origins showing.
The girls jumped up and down. “We must try! We must!
Persephone compressed her lips to keep from smiling. Curse him, he was charming. He seemed to know just what to say to prompt a response in Anne and Elizabeth.
“Off you go, then,” he said with a benevolent wave of his hand.
He did not need to offer further encouragement. The twins raced away, grasping fistfuls of their skirts and laughing. Persephone watched them go with a grudging sense of admiration for Rafe Sutton’s subtle skills with children. Perhaps she could employ the same tactic to persuade the girls to practice their needlepoint.
“That was quite clever of you,” she said, turning back to him only to find he had moved.
He was nearer now, bringing with him all the intensity of the magnetism he exuded. And his scent on the breeze, ruffling the hair at her temple, poorly trapped by her bonnet.
He was grinning as well, those dimples taunting her. “Thank you. I fancy myself reasonably clever on occasion. Not clever enough the night before last, ’owever.”
There it was, the hint of his true background slipping through like sunlight in the cracks of closed curtains. Along with the reminder of what had transpired. She had deliberately evaded his questions.
She should have known he would not have simply allowed the matter to slip away. “I am afraid I do not know what you are speaking of, sir.”
That was a lie. She had been doing rather a lot of that since she had run from Cousin Bartholomew’s odious clutches. And she expected to continue to do so until…well, for as long as necessary.
“The knot on my knowledge box, Miss Wren,” he elaborated.
Oh.He was concerned about the knock he had taken to the head?
“You injured yourself,” she supplied, turning her gaze back to the gardens, where her charges were currently running rampant.
“One!” the girls cried as they completed their first tour and continued on.
“Injured myself,” he repeated, his tone suggesting he did not believe her.
“Yes.” Remain calm, Persephone. Above all, be polite.
I gave you too much laudanum, and you pitched headlong into a table.
“You were a trifle disguised that evening,” she said calmly, still avoiding his gaze. “It is to be understood, of course, given the events of that day, poor Lady Octavia having been attacked… You need not worry. I shall not judge you or carry a tale, and I trust you will return the favor.”
Heavens, if he told her employers he had been naked in her bed, she would be gone in the blink of an eye. As damning as the loss of her position would be, the damage such a tale would inflict upon all future situations would be nearly irreparable.
“That ain’t an explanation, my dear.”
He had moved closer. His voice was nearly at her ear, the low baritone an undeniably pleasant sound. She turned toward him at last.
“Two,” called one of the girls as the sound of small feet running returned.
Thirteen more rounds? Surely Persephone would perish of mortification first.
The unwanted thought lingered as she studied Rafe Sutton’s handsome countenance for any hint he knew what she had done. “What do you recall, Mr. Sutton? Perhaps we should begin there.”
She was blustering. Delaying. But she could not bear for him to continue prodding her in this fashion. What if he remembered something? Slipping the laudanum into his brandy had been foolish and dangerous. If her employer were to learn she had drugged his brother, the consequences would prove dire, she had no doubt.
She shivered, for whilst Mr. Jasper Sutton was a benevolent man, he was also fiercely protective of his family. And if he dismissed her, where would she go? Falsifying another letter to recommend her for a future placement would be reckless, and she needed more time.
“Did you knock me on the idea pot?” he asked, stroking his jaw.
There was a slight hint of golden whiskers on that strong angle, as if he had not shaved that morning. For a reason she did not dare investigate, she found herself wondering at the texture. If she ran her fingertips over it, would it feel prickly to the touch?
“Of course I did not assault your person, Mr. Sutton,” she answered.
“Four,” announced Elizabeth, sounding a bit breathless from her exertion.
Four? Goodness, had Persephone been so caught up in Rafe Sutton that she had missed the third circumnavigation, or had Elizabeth made an error in her counting?
“Then how did I end up with an aching nob?”
“Must we discuss this?” she hissed, taking a step to her right, putting more distance between herself and his maddening presence.
But Mr. Sutton merely followed her, determined to have the answers she had no wish to give. “Yes, we must.”
* * *
Rafe studied Miss Wren closely, wondering why the devil she was being so stubborn. Could she not see that he needed answers? That a man could not wake in a woman’s bed bare-arsed naked, without a bloody inkling of what had occurred the night before, and not have questions?
“Why should it matter so much to you?” she asked, frowning at him in her stern, governess way that made him want to kiss her.
What was it about this wench that made her so comely?
“Five,” Anne declared, running by.
His attempt to distract the twins had worked marvelously. He had the opportunity to speak with Miss Wren alone. And yet, she remained as slippery as ever.
He did not want to force her answer, but she was making it impossible.
“Because it matters,” he responded, being equally evasive in his reply. “Tell me, or I will find it necessary to speak with my brother about that night.”
She went pale, the lovely flush fading from her delicate cheekbones, and he regretted his words. But it was too late to recall them.
Miss Wren glanced away. “You fell into a table as you were disrobing. That is how you struck your head, Mr. Sutton.”
What did not make sense to Rafe, and what had been troubling him ever since he had risen to find himself in her bed, was how the floating hell he had managed to get so thoroughly sotted from brandy. He had not a single memory of drinking to excess that evening. Only the brandy, then a swirling feeling, as if his head were too light for his body. The brandy had been oddly bitter…
“There was something wrong with that bloody brandy,” he grumbled. “There had to ’ave been.”
But what? And how?
For the first time, a rather sinister thought rose in his mind. Now that it had taken up residence there, he was not sure why the possibility had not occurred to him sooner.
“The brandy was drugged,” he said, making the realization aloud.
At his side, Miss Wren had stiffened. “Why should you think so?”
It was the only explanation for his complete lack of recollection. Rafe was no swill tub, though he was hardly a stranger to the drink. “Because I can’t recall a single damned moment beyond brandy and you.”
Had he kissed her that night? Not to have taken those lush lips with his would have been a sin. Rafe would have sworn kissing her was an experience he would not forget, regardless of how soused he had been.
It was difficult indeed to imagine this prim woman welcoming him into her bed. She was so bleeding icy. And despite her undeniable beauty, she was also the last sort of female he would have tumbled. He had never been stirred by ladies with precise well-bred accents and manners. Lusty, knowledgeable widows were his standard fare.
“Six!” Anne cried, her cheeks rosy, her dark hair flying wildly behind her.
The girls looked as if they were losing some of their vigor, which meant he needed to conduct this conversation with haste before his curious nieces would interrupt.
“What was my behavior like?” he asked their governess.
“It is far better for it to remain unmentioned.”
“Hmm.” He leaned nearer, realizing his mistake as he did so. Miss Wren smelled bloody delectable. Winter’s soap, unless he missed his guess, all flowers and sunshine and everything the East End was not. “Did I touch you, Miss Wren?”
Because if he had not, and she had been willing that night, by God, he was a bigger fool than he had believed.
“Not in the manner you are suggesting,” she said, keeping her gaze averted, as if watching a pair of children racing wildly about a small London garden were the most riveting of sights.
“And what manner am I suggesting?” he could not resist prodding, hoping to watch the color rise to her creamy skin once more.
Scarcely any of it was visible—not enough. He would dearly love to unwrap her himself. Pity she was the twins’ governess. She would have made a wonderful challenge.
“The lascivious manner, sir.” She turned toward him, and he noted the remarkable striations in her eyes. Flecks of gold ornamented the wide discs of her pupils. “Do not think to play your seducer’s games with me, Mr. Sutton. I have no wish for trouble.”
“But you have already found a great lot of it, have you not?” He rubbed his jaw, considering her. “All that mayhem with Lady Octavia must have left you ill at ease. And then what happened between us…”
Which remained a mystery on his part.
“Perhaps we should agree never to speak of that awful night again,” she suggested coolly.
Blast.The girls were over halfway through their paces.
“There is one thing I cannot understand, Miss Wren. Who would have drugged Jasper’s bingo, and why?”
“Bingo?” She blinked, her lashes glinting with gold in the afternoon light.
“Brandy,” he explained.
This conundrum had him so flummoxed that he had failed to suppress the cant from his speech. Or perhaps it was not the conundrum, but rather, the woman.
“Surely you had partaken before your arrival,” she said.
A sudden memory hit him, of pacing up and down the thick woolen carpets, the brandy abandoned atop a table at his back. He had turned, worried over his sister-in-law, who had been slashed by a blade, and there had been Miss Wren, hovering near his glass. She had moved swiftly, away from it.
“You,” he said, stunned.
“What of me?” she asked, her tone as calm as ever.
But he did not miss her sudden pallor.
“You are the one who drugged me, Miss Wren,” he said, knowing it was true when he spied the flash of fear in her gaze.
But he still had no notion why.
Why would this proper, elegant governess he had only met for the first time two days ago have drugged his brandy? What possible purpose had it served?
“Eleven!” Elizabeth’s triumphant call severed the moment.
Rafe discovered he had been so absorbed in his dialogue with Miss Wren that he had failed to hear the girls call out nine and ten.
“That is quite enough locomotion, Anne and Elizabeth!” The governess returned her attention to his nieces swiftly, the snap of authority ringing in her voice. “We must return to our lessons.”
“But we haven’t reached fifteen,” Anne said, pouting.
What the devil?
Miss Wren was hurrying away from him now, moving toward the garden and the girls. He followed in her wake, confusion and anger swirling and fogging up his mind. The cunning wench had drugged him. And now she was fleeing as if she were a thief who had been caught pilfering the silver. Just who was Miss Wren, anyway?
“We have not finished our discussion,” he warned grimly.
“Yes we have.” She cast a glance at him over her shoulder, and he did not miss the fear in her expression. “You are playing a dangerous game, and I want no part of it, Mr. Sutton. I need this position, and I shall not allow you to ruin it with your spurious delusions.”
Spurious delusions indeed.
The wench was dicked in the nob, and she was looking after his nieces.
He was going to have to tell Jasper about this.