Page 16

Author: Anne Stuart


Lord Elsmere claimed the right to take her into supper, and she went happily enough until Rohan brushed by her with the whispered admonition to watch her intake of cakes. She glared at him, but he’d already turned away, bending his attention toward the scantily clad young lady who’d been dancing with Harry Merton. Which didn’t please Melisande particularly. The girl looked as if she didn’t have a brain in her head, her dress was falling off her ample curves and she had a laugh almost as annoying as Lady Elsmere’s raucous one. It was enough to make a woman need that extra serving of cake.


It took a number, because she needed to make certain that Rohan caught her eating them, and he was barely paying her any attention. By the time he noticed even she had had more than her fill, and she put down her fork, resisting the impulse to stick out her tongue at him.


“You and Rohan should join us some weekend,” Lord Elsmere said, dropping his hand onto her knee in a friendly gesture. She wanted to squirm away from him, but she forced herself to sit still. If she seemed prudish they would hardly be likely to invite her to an orgy. “A few friends of ours get together and…”


“My dear, I’m certain Lady Carstairs has better things to do than waste her time with our harmless little gatherings,” Lady Elsmere broke in with a laugh in her arch tones, and Lord Elsmere withdrew his hand and grumbled something inaudible. “You know how young people are nowadays. They have their own friends, their own house parties. I can hardly believe they would want to tarry with our stodgy crowd.” She put her hand on Melisande’s arm, drawing her away. “Come and sit with me, dear. I know my husband, and his supper conversation is always dismal. You and I can share a comfortable coze and you can tell me more about Viscount Rohan’s prowess.”


Melisande threw a glance in Rohan’s direction. He was talking with the bluff man, no longer paying attention to the sultry young woman who was busy displaying her décolletage to the old roué on her other side, but he caught her gaze as she was forcibly borne away, and his eyes narrowed thoughtfully.


By the time the music started again Melisande was almost desperate to get away from Lady Elsmere, who seemed determined to drone on and on about the most stultifying of topics, not the off-color tales she’d been hoping for. She looked up with un-feigned pleasure when Rohan appeared before her, jumping up before he even requested a dance, and a moment later they were back on the dance floor once more.


“I need to talk to you,” she said in a whisper. If Rohan could manage to corner Lord Elsmere before they left they might leave with an invitation to their gathering, where the old lady could have a taste of Rohan’s…energy. It would serve him right. He could pleasure the old hag while Melisande could find a way to stop them.


“Later,” he murmured under his breath, swirling her gracefully around the room. “You’ve just gotten to the point where I don’t have to manhandle you to move you.”


“Now,” she shot back. “There’s a room over there. Dance me into it.” Curtains draped the doorway on the far side of the room, and the door stood ajar, the other side dark and beckoning.


He glanced at it, then back at her, and an odd expression danced in his dark green eyes. “That’s probably not a good idea…are you certain?”


“Absolutely,” she said, starting to lose patience with him.


“As you wish, my lady.” And a moment later he twirled her into the room, and the door closed behind them, locking them into the darkness.


12


Maybe not a good idea after all, Melisande thought, as Rohan’s grip tightened, and she felt her body being drawn closer to his lean, hard chest. “What are you doing?” She tried to keep the nervousness out of her voice, but it trembled anyway, and she put her hands between them, trying to push away from him. He was much stronger than she would have guessed, and his arms were around her now, holding her.


“This, my sweet, is one of the rooms the Elsmeres keep for dalliance. Once someone disappears in here they don’t emerge for an hour or more.”


“What in the world do they do for an hour?”


There was silence in the darkness. Then he spoke. “You’re a widow, Lady Carstairs, and you’ve had at least one lover. Surely even you can guess.”


She’d forgotten he somehow knew about Wilfred Hunnicut, damn him. She was the one who’d made the wretched mistake of giving in to Wilfred’s blandishments; she needed to pay the price. “But what do they do for an hour?” she persisted. “What do they do after the first ten minutes?”


There was a soft explosion of laughter from the man in the darkness, an almost enticing sound. She had no reason to feel uneasy, she reminded herself. He wasn’t hurting her, wasn’t coercing her. He was simply holding her, and in the inky black of the room she couldn’t see him. He could be anyone. He could be someone she actually wanted to be with, someone who attracted her, aroused her. If such a man existed.


“Please, my angel,” he said softly, “tell me your lovers lasted longer than ten minutes.”


They shouldn’t be talking about this. But somehow, in the dark, it no longer seemed forbidden. “Do you count the time it takes to rearrange your clothing?”


“No. It takes more than ten minutes to strip a woman completely, though I’m adept enough to do it in a little less.”


“Strip?” She was horrified. “Naked?”


“Precious, don’t you talk to your gaggle at all?”


It was just as well he couldn’t see her. Her face felt hot, and she knew it was flooded with color. “Occasionally… If I’m confused about something. It’s not as if I’m without experience in these matters.”


“It seems to me you’re confused about a great many things. Someone needs to take your education in hand.” His hands were on her arms, and they tightened just slightly as she felt her body being pulled closer to his.


“I don’t see any reason for it.” Her voice had a slight waver in it, and she cleared her throat. “I don’t intend to marry again, and I fail to see any value in having a lover. If one has to put up with being pawed one might as well be married, I suppose, and I can do very well without either.”


“You don’t like being pawed?” His voice was low and sinuous, and she could feel a strange heat curling at the base of her spine.


“Not particularly. In fact, you might release me.”


“I might. But I’m not about to,” he said softly. “What about kisses? Are they equally heinous?”


This was getting to be dangerous, and she had the sudden fear that she wasn’t going to escape this room without being kissed. Though why in the world an accomplished rake like Benedick Rohan would want to kiss her was beyond her imagining.


“Chaste kisses are perfectly all right, if there’s strong affection between partners,” she said with what she considered great fairness.


“And how do you define chaste kisses?” There was still that damned amusement in his voice. She considered trying to pull free, but she knew that loose hold on her arms could tighten instantly.


She refused to let him embarrass her. “A kiss that lasts less than five seconds is usually sufficient to express affection.”


“Five seconds? You timed it? Oh, my darling Charity!” He was laughing at her, and she moved to stomp on his foot again, but clearly he was more comfortable in the dark than she was, because he moved deftly out of her way. “Have you ever had a kiss that lasted more than five seconds?”


“I know what you’re talking about,” she replied. “Emma told me about that kind of kiss, which, I must inform you, sounds utterly disgusting. Why in the world would you kiss someone with your tongue?”


“Allow me to demonstrate.” And before she knew what he was going to do his mouth came down on hers, unerringly in the dark, and she froze.


One arm was around her waist, holding her against him. He caught her chin with the other hand, and her arms were free to bat at him, push him away, and she tried, she absolutely tried, but the feel of his mouth against hers was really quite delightful, and it lasted longer than five seconds.


“Open your mouth, vixen,” he whispered, his breath warm against her lips. “You can’t spend your entire life in ignorance.”


“Why not? I think…” Her mistake. Opening her mouth to speak gave him enough opportunity, and his open mouth closed over hers, moving it apart, and oh my God, she could feel his tongue touch her lips.


She struggled, momentarily panicked, and he lifted his head. “Don’t be such a Sabine about it, my precious. It’s only a kiss.” And he slanted his mouth over hers, his tongue pushing inside her mouth and touching her own, and she could hear her own horrified moan.


It was strange, it was vile, it was awful. It was…odd. Unfamiliar feelings were fluttering through her, and the darkness of the room felt like a cocoon wrapped around her, cradling her, and suddenly it was something she wanted. She wanted him to kiss her like that, full and deep, holding nothing back. She wanted to be kissed like she was loved, needed, like she was the most desirable woman in the world. The hands that were pushing against his shoulders stopped, then moved upward to clutch him, and when his tongue curled against hers she found herself kissing him back, moving her own small tongue in response to his.


He lifted his mouth, trailing damp kisses along the side of her jaw, and she drew a deep breath, not realizing she’d been holding it. Her body was softening, flowing against his, and he was moving her, slowly, carefully, until her back came up against a wall and she let her head sink back, closing her eyes.


“You really are indescribably luscious, my sweet Charity,” he said, his voice almost a growl against the side of her neck. His mouth caught her ear, his teeth nipping lightly just above the emerald earbob, and she let out a moan, shocking herself. She could feel his hips pressing against her, holding her against the door, and she could feel the ridge of his erection.

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