|In Love With a Wicked Man
Avon Books, October 2013
|Excerpt from the novel In Love With a Wicked Man|
Nancy Wentworth perched herself on one end of the sofa and chattered happily at Edward until her sister’s return. When Kate returned some ten minutes later, she immediately flicked an assessing glance down his length.
“I’ve been thinking, Nan,” she said, “that it’s time we did a little shopping.”
“For once, sister dear, we are in total accord,” said Miss Wentworth. “Where do we go?”
“To Taunton, I think,” she said, still looking more at him than at her sister. “Anstruther says he can spare me tomorrow. There are still a few things that want ordering up for Aurélie’s visit. And Edward, there are several fine haberdashers there—not what you’re used to, of course—but you cannot live in riding clothes.”
“I could simply ride back to London in them,” he suggested.
Her eyes flashed prettily. “And go where?” she demanded. “To one of those vile London hotels? Then wander about the streets asking random strangers if they know you?”
“It could be done,” he said softly.
And the truth was, he felt well enough to go. More than well enough. And yet he held his breath, feeling a little like Hephaestus about to be cast from paradise for his imperfections.
But it was Miss Wentworth who spoke first. “Oh, Edward,” she chided, “that is quite out of the question.”
“It certainly is,” Kate agreed with asperity. “And if it comes to that—which it certainly hasn’t—then you will take the train, and take Jasper with you.”
“And thus inconvenience you even further, Kate?”
She gentled her tone. “Again, you’re the one inconvenienced, I think.”
“Yes,” said Miss Wentworth, her gaze softening. “You’ve likely left your family—or at least your Aunt Isabel, whoever she is—terrified. Give it a few more days, Edward, at least. Stay here, and meet Uncle Upshaw.”
Edward cast the girl a dark look. “I cannot imagine Lord Upshaw will wish to meet me,” he answered. “Indeed, my presence here is apt to meet with his sharp disapproval.”
“Your presence here is apt to bring him rather more quickly,” Kate agreed. “A circumstance I have used to my benefit. Our uncle knows everyone, and has a slew of solicitors at his beck and call.”
Edward bowed. “I see you ladies will not be dissuaded,” he murmured. “You must do as you see fit, then. But I believe my presence here can only cast a pall over your mother’s house party.”
On a trill of laughter, Miss Wentworth rose. “Oh, Edward, there you could not be more wrong!” she said. “No, your presence—oh, the mystery! The drama! Lord, if Aurélie knew we were harboring a handsome and mysterious man, she’d be coming all the faster!”
Kate smiled. “I fear she’s right,” she said, sliding her sewing basket back under her chair. “Off to bed, then, Nan?”
“Heavens, no! Off to make my shopping list,” said the girl, her blue eyes still sparkling with humor.
When she was gone, Kate sighed. “It must be half past ten, and I shall have letters to write before we head out tomorrow.”
Edward cut a glance at the longcase clock by the door. “Nearly eleven, I’m afraid,” he said, sketching her a little bow. “Well. Thank you, Kate, for a lovely dinner.”
Once upstairs, Edward didn’t ring for Jasper to help him undress. Instead, he whipped off his cravat and his coats, then managed to yank off his boots before going to the decanter of brandy. He had some hope that, given enough of it, he might wash away his burning lust for Kate.
After pouring a glass, he went to the window and looked out across the moonlit landscape. It was a cloudless evening, and in the bailey below, he could see Anstruther locking the inner gate behind him, securing the castle for the night. Edward hitched a hip high on the thick stone windowsill and sipped pensively at his glass.
In a matter of two or three days, he gathered, Mrs. Wentworth and her friends would arrive. He really did not want to be here. But nor did he wish to leave, either.
He was just fooling himself, he feared. This strange time out place could not go on. He had responsibilities. Duties. He had begun to feel their weight even if he could not remember their particulars.
His reverie was fractured by a light knock at the door. He crossed the room in his shirtsleeves and stocking feet, expecting the dutiful Jasper, perhaps, though he had firmly dismissed him hours ago.
But it was not Jasper who stood on his threshold.
It was Kate. Kate in her nightgown and wrapper, her hair down and her face alight.
“Edward!” she said, seizing both his hands in hers. “Think! Think what just happened! The most marvelous thing!”
“Marvelous?” He laughed, and squeezed her hands. “Vesta just descended from the heavens to knock upon my door?”
But she brushed past him almost impatiently, drawing her hands from his. “No, no, just a few minutes ago, when we were downstairs,” she said breathlessly. “Just before we came up?”
Edward turned back his mind. And then it struck him.
“My God, the clock!” he said, going at once to his night table to snatch up his gold pocket watch. “Look. It’s a quarter past eleven now.”
He lifted his gaze to hers, and swallowed hard. “Kate. The numbers—they make perfect sense!”
“Can you do arithmetic?” she asked, sketching in the air. “Imagine . . . oh, six plus twelve?”
“Eighteen,” he said. “Eighteen. A one followed by an eight. I see them even without pen and paper.”
“And else must surely follow!” Kate had caught him by the shoulders, and was dancing him around the room. “You have remembered your mother. Your arithmetic. Oh, Edward, I am so happy!” Then she slowed and looked up, a little breathless, her face alight with joy.
And then Edward did the most foolish thing; a thing which, much later, he could not possibly blame on a blow to the head.
He caught Kate hard against him—dragged her literally off her feet—and kissed her. Kissed her like he meant it, with one hand going up to cradle her perfect face, stilling her as he covered her mouth with his own.
For a mere instant, Kate held the heels of her hands against his shoulders. And then she, too, surrendered to the moment. He let her slide slowly back down his length, never taking his lips from hers. He slid a hand through the silken hair at her temple, then stroked over her shoulder and down her back, and then lower still, pulling her fully—sensuously—against him.
On a soft sound of pleasure, Kate’s hands slid down his flanks, raking him lightly with her nails.
Blood began to pound in his head as he thrust his tongue along hers and felt her breathy sound of pleasure. Need shuddered through him, then pooled red-hot in his loins. Against the softness of Kate’s belly, his shaft hardened almost abruptly, like some callow schoolboy’s.
Her delicate nostrils flared wide as she kissed him back with an innocent recklessness. Fleetingly, he wanted to urge her down on the bed, ruck up her nightgown and take her. The madness came so swift and so urgent, he had to fight it down with all the will he possessed.
He knew he needed to stop. Knew he was losing control, body and soul. Instead, he let his palm skate round the sweet swell of her hip, drawing her even harder against him, until he felt Kate’s hands pushing hard at his shoulders.
An awful mix of relief and almost crushing disappointment flooded him. He pulled his mouth from hers, his breath already rasping.
But it was not the deliverance he’d imagined.
“We forgot to shut the door,” she said breathlessly. She flew across the room, pushed it shut, then snapped the lock.
“Kate,” he choked.
She spun around, the lace hem of her nightgown teasing across her bare toes, then leaned back against the ancient door. Her face was flushed beautifully, and her gray eyes could not possibly have been described as somber.
“Don’t say a word,” she ordered. “Oh, please don’t! Edward, please don’t ruin it.”
He closed the distance, pulling her from the door and into his arms in an embrace he hoped was less carnal. “Kate,” he said again. “Oh, Kate, love, be serious.”
She set her cheek against his chest. He settled his hand on the back of her head, savoring the silky warmth of her hair. He shut his eyes and prayed for the strength to do the right thing.
But Kate was of no help whatever.
“Edward,” she whispered, “what if I am being serious?”
And she was; Edward could hear it in her voice. She was entirely willing. Willing to give herself to him. Willing to make his dark dreams come true.
It stunned him for a moment, but he quickly regained himself. He had, after all, been teasing her—and calling her his goddess. Obviously he’d taken that teasing much too far.
“My dear, we aren’t entirely sure what manner of man I am,” he whispered. “I’m certainly the sort who hasn’t any business trifling with a young lady’s affections.”
At that, she planted her hands against his chest again, and pushed herself firmly away. “I am not young,” she said, looking up into his eyes. “And I’m no longer fool enough to allow any man to trifle with me.”
“Kate, Kate,” he murmured. “How you honor me. But love, we cannot—”
“Have you any idea, Edward, the sort of life I live here?” she interjected.
He set his head to one side, and studied her a moment. “The sort of life you wish to live, I hope,” he said. “Am I wrong?”
Her lips thinned pensively as she formulated her words. “Not entirely, no,” she finally admitted. “But it is not remotely like the life I expected to lead. And it’s often lonely. There are parts of it that are too full—too crammed with expectations and problems and hard work—and then, sometimes late at night, there are pockets of this . . . this terrible, swamping emptiness.”
He cupped his hand around the turn of her face again. “Oh, Kate,” he whispered, “as tempting a notion as it is, I should rather not be the means of a lady’s self-destruction, if that, God forbid, is what you contemplate.”
Her pale coloring deepened to pink, and he realized once again how lovely she was. “I don’t know what I contemplate,” she said huskily. “I beg your pardon, Edward. I didn’t mean to put you in an awkward position.”
She started to pull away, but he could see the hurt in her eyes.
“No, no, Kate,” he said, drawing her back again. “Don’t ascribe any hidden meaning to my words. Oh, I want you, my dear. I have wanted you, I think, almost since the moment we met.”
She buried her face against his shirtfront. “When we met, I nearly killed you.”
“And still, here we are,” he said on a choked laugh. “It seems I’ve a penchant for dangerous females. But I’m far from a saint; of that I’m quite certain. Don’t waste your virtue on me, Kate, for I cannot deserve it. And you would surely regret it.”
She lifted her face to his then, her expression stricken but earnest. “Oh, I have some experience with regret,” she said very quietly.