Page 17

Author: Anne Stuart


It astonished her. It was like nothing she’d ever experienced—Wilfred’s response to her had been slow to build and…and small compared to what she felt now. He couldn’t be putting that part of his body to the same use that Wilfred or Thomas had—it was too big.


She lifted on her toes, pressing against him experimentally, rubbing against him like a curious cat. She heard a strangled moan from him, and she felt a spark of satisfaction that she could make him feel the same kind of reaction he was busy getting from her.


“Bloody hell, Charity,” he whispered against her skin. And he kissed her again, as she felt his large, deft hands slide down her skirts, tugging them slowly, inexorably upward.


It was the touch of his long fingers on the bare flesh of her knee that froze her, shocked her out of the sensual web he’d managed to spin around her. She moved her hands to his chest and shoved hard. “No!” she cried, and he fell back a step, no longer touching her.


He was only a few inches away, she knew it, even in the inky darkness of the little room. He was breathing heavily, and her own heart was thudding so hard in her chest that it felt as if it might break through. She was trembling, her legs felt weak and she wanted to slap him.


“What in heaven’s name do you think you’re doing?” she managed to say. She would have loved to have sounded unaffected, but right now that was beyond her.


He let out a sigh, and she could almost picture him, those dark green eyes narrowed and assessing, his mouth curved in a slight smile. His mouth, the one that had kissed her more thoroughly than she’d ever been kissed before. His mouth, his kiss, that had felt more intimate than lying with her husband with her chemise pulled chastely up to her waist and her face turned away. She felt despoiled. She felt invaded. She felt…claimed.


He moved closer, and his forehead pressed against hers as he sighed. “That’s the point, my sweet Lady Carstairs. You don’t recognize a full-bore seduction when it’s aimed at you. You simply can’t continue to be such an innocent and live the life you do. It’s too dangerous. Some big bad wolf is going to snatch you up and devour you.”


She caught her breath. “So you being this big bad wolf—this is a charitable act on your part?”


There was a moment’s silence, but he didn’t move away. “What if I told you it was? Are you so innocent that you’d really believe it?”


She curled her hands into fists, trying to will strength back into her limbs. “I have no idea, Lord Rohan. I have no experience being debauched.”


She didn’t know if that muffled sound was laughter or exasperation. “It was your idea to come in here, my love. I thought you were ready to experience the delights of the flesh.”


“I experience any number of physical delights. Such as spring breezes blowing through my hair, or the taste of sugar cakes, or playing with a kitten, or holding a child’s hand.”


“You don’t have to tell me you like sugar cakes,” he said. “You like kisses, too.”


“I do not.”


“Do you want me to prove it again?”


“No!”


He moved away then, backing into the darkness, and she suddenly felt bereft. She could see him now, a shadow in a room of shadows, no longer in danger of touching her, thank God. She released her breath, trying to decipher the sudden pang of…regret? Disappointment? Freedom.


“I want to go back,” she said sternly, ignoring it.


“Well, my darling girl, you can’t,” he said frankly. “I told you, my reputation as a lover is at stake. You’re not leaving until there’s been enough time to shag you properly. Which I’m guessing is another forty-five minutes. So you might as well sit down and tell me whatever it was that made you drag me into here in the first place. Not that I mind. If the Elsmeres and their ilk think I’ve managed to so thoroughly debauch the Saint of King Street that she can’t spend a few hours without having me between her legs, then my credit will only rise. When we leave you’ll need to be languid, mussed and dreamy.”


“Must you be so crass?”


“Oh, my sweet Charity.”


“Stop calling me that!” Her usual good humor seemed to have eroded completely.


“Oh, my sweet Lady Carstairs? It doesn’t have quite the same ring. And Melisande sounds like a medieval martyr doomed to perish. Hasn’t anyone ever called you by a pet name?”


“No. And if they had I’d hardly give you the use of it,” she said and pushed away from the wall. He’d pulled back from that dangerous seduction that had filled the tiny room, and he was simply Lord Rohan, the man who promised to help her. Her legs still felt weak, and she crossed the room to sit on the surface near him, wondering what it was. Wondering why he had held her, kissed her and then just as suddenly stopped.


Not that she wasn’t grateful. She didn’t want his hands on her, his mouth on hers. She still wasn’t sure why he’d done it in the first place. To teach her a lesson? To prove to her just how naive she was. What a child, what an innocent, what a ridiculous creature she was.


It was a good thing they were in the dark. She suddenly felt quite confused and miserable. She had responded to his touch, his mouth, and it shocked her. Perhaps he hadn’t noticed, but Benedick Rohan was a man who noticed everything. Why had she liked it? Something that she had simply borne as the least of unpleasant intimacies was suddenly unbelievably enticing.


It wasn’t as if Sir Thomas hadn’t cared for her. And she had loved him, deeply, and been very happy when she’d been able to provide him with that physical outlet, the few times he’d felt up to it.


She’d been infatuated with Wilfred, as much as the memory now embarrassed her. She’d wanted his kisses. His chaste kisses. That hadn’t moved her nearly as much as Benedick Rohan’s shocking embrace.


“What did you want to tell me?” he said in his deep voice, and she felt it slide down her backbone like a caress.


She had to stop thinking about that. “Lord Elsmere was about to invite us to a party in Kent. At a place called Kersley Hall, I believe. I presume that is one of their estates? Lady Elsmere stopped him, but I thought if you talked with him you might get him to proffer an invitation. It would be a way in to the workings of the Heavenly Host.”


“Kersley Hall?” he echoed, and she heard the surprise in his voice. “That belonged to the Earl of Cranston, but I’m certain it burned down last winter. Why in the world would anyone want to go there?”


“Are there outbuildings? Some place for the Heavenly Host to gather?”


“I have no idea,” he said, and she could tell by the sound of his voice that he’d practically forgotten her existence. “But I intend to find out.”


He leaned back, and she could hear his sudden exhalation. And then his large hand caught hers, though how he could find it in the darkness she couldn’t begin to guess. He held it lightly, his long fingers tracing each of hers, gently caressing her palm. She wanted to yank it away from him, but for some reason she let it rest there, as the strange pleasure of his touch on her skin danced through her body. “It’s only a few hours’ ride—it should be simple enough for me to go out and investigate. If the Host meet there, then there’s bound to be signs. None of the possible members would ever tolerate anything less than comfort on a sybaritic scale. Trust me, shagging someone on hard ground is no fun.”


“And you would know.” Her voice was caustic.


“And I would know,” he agreed pleasantly. “Tomorrow promises to be a pleasant day. I’ll go then and report back to you.”


“No.”


His hand stopped its almost unconscious stroking. “You are calling a halt to our investigation? Very wise.”


“I mean I’m going with you. Two pairs of eyes are better than one, and I have nothing planned for the morrow.” She didn’t stop to think why she was throwing herself in his company again. He was dangerous, and what she needed was distance, not proximity.


But she didn’t trust him. He was necessary—he knew more about the current workings of society than she did, and she couldn’t do it without him. She would survive being around him.


He was stroking her hand again, clearly an absent gesture, and she felt the surface beneath her shift as he leaned back, her hand still clasped in his. “I’ll have my cook prepare a picnic lunch,” he said lazily. “What would you like besides sugar cakes?”


She gave full rein to her annoyance in the darkness, sticking her tongue out at him like a fractious child. She heard a low rumble of laughter, and she had the sudden thought that he’d seen her. Impossible.


“Stick out your tongue at me, my sweet,” he said in a low, charming voice, “and you might find…”


“Stop it!” she said, her temper finally frayed. Anger filled her. But she was made of sterner stuff than that. “I’m tired of your innuendos, Lord Rohan,” she said in a steadier voice.


“And you might find I treat you like the infant you’re emulating,” he continued over her protest. She had no idea whether that was what he’d originally meant to say, and she didn’t care. For the moment, just for the moment, she gave up the fight. He was too good at this. He could dance rings around her, in more ways than one. He had an answer for everything, annoying creature that he was, and she was feeling demoralized. If he hadn’t kissed her, put his hands on her, she wouldn’t be in such a mess.


But he had.


He moved suddenly, and she braced herself, but he had released her hand, and his voice was all efficiency. “Just to further your sexual education, Lady Carstairs, there is such a thing as a quick shag. Usually done up against a wall, it’s more along the lines of your experience, simply adding actual pleasure into the mix. The guests can assume that’s what we’ve done if you wish to return to the party.”


“I do.”


“But I’ll need a piece of your clothing,” he said, his voice languid. “I’m assuming you won’t relinquish your drawers, but I imagine one of your garters might do.”

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