Page 18

Author: Anne Stuart


“I beg your pardon?”


“Granted. It’s customary in the Elsmeres’ set to provide a trophy. Lord Elsmere probably fondles whatever gets left behind in the privacy of his rooms, where I doubt Lady Elsmere ever ventures. Your garter.”


“You can’t have one of my garters!” she protested, scandalized. “My stocking will fall down.”


“Even better. I’ll take one of your stockings.”


“No!” she said, but he managed to catch her ankle and pull it into his lap. She kicked at him with the other one, but he clamped his own foot down on it, immobilizing her.


“I’m getting quite tired of being kicked, Melisande,” he said in a low voice, pulling off her soft dance slipper, his hands sliding up her silk-covered leg.


But she fought back, shoving at him, and a moment later she found herself lying down, his body covering her completely, holding her there.


They had been sitting on a bed, she realized belatedly. And now she was lying on it, with a very large, very annoyed, very aroused man on top of her. She kept hitting at him, but he simply caught her wrists in one hand and hauled them over her head, while his hips pinned her, the hard ridge of desire full against her as he pushed between her legs.


“Stop fighting me,” he said, and there was amusement in his voice. “I’m not about to rape you. And you can just ignore my cock. Anytime I wrestle with a beautiful woman I get an erection—it’s simply nature taking its course.”


She froze, his matter-of-fact language shocking her. He was lying with that part of his body, his cock, pressed against her, and she could feel a strange, heated response. Heat, and dampness, and it shocked her. Simply nature taking its course, he said. It had nothing to do with her.


“I can do this by force, or you can behave yourself,” he continued. “Either way, it’s going to happen.” And for a moment she thought he meant sex. Sexual congress between them, his cock pushing inside her. And then she realized he was talking about her stocking.


His hand had slid up, under her skirt. Her garters were beautiful ones, made of pale green ribbon with pastel-colored rosettes, and she felt his hand untie one, his long fingers way too close to parts that needed to be ignored. And then he moved his hand beneath the silk stocking, pulling it down her leg, the removal of it almost a caress, and she held her breath, closing her eyes in the darkness as his hand brushed against her skin.


What was she doing? Was she totally shameless, enjoying the touch of this man, this scion of degenerates, as he stroked her leg, all the way down to her ankle, cradling her foot as he slipped the stocking off?


He was so close. So hot, so hard, and she could feel the beat of his heart against her. Her breasts felt strange, tight, tingling, and she wondered what would happen if she arched against him, as her body was telling her to do, if she raised her hips up and pushed against that hard part of him. What would he do?


He released her wrists, but she didn’t hit him. An odd stillness had crept over her limbs, and it seemed to be affecting him, as well. She could see the glitter of his eyes in the darkness, but she couldn’t see his expression.


“Lady Carstairs,” he said in a soft voice after a long moment, “I’m beginning to believe you might be a very dangerous woman.”


She swallowed, uncertain what to say. She wondered what would happen if she slid her arms around his shoulders. If she pulled him down to kiss her. What would he do?


He rolled off her, standing up in one fluid movement, and for a moment she lay still, trying to sort out her feelings. He’d put her slipper back on her one bare foot, and a moment later he’d pulled her to her feet, holding her arms for a moment until she steadied.


“Remember. Languid. Dazed.” His voice was low in her ear as a sliver of light entered the room.


“I shouldn’t have any trouble with that,” she muttered.


13


It was a good thing he needed very little sleep, Benedick Rohan thought the next morning, or he would be in very deep trouble. The previous night had been hellacious. First, he’d had to trot Sweet Charity out among the Elsmeres’ guests like a shy mare successfully covered by a prize stallion, her silk stocking draped across the door handle leading to their little rendezvous. The garter he’d pocketed himself, though he had no idea why. He also had no intention of looking into the matter too closely. He had her pretty little garter with him, and he’d be damned if he’d give it back.


They’d left as soon as they could, giving a reasonable simulation of a couple who couldn’t wait to get back in bed. At least, he did. She’d been unnaturally quiet, simply letting him lead her around. She’d been silent in the carriage as well, and he hoped she’d forgotten about her plans to join him on his ride to Kersley Hall, but as he’d accompanied her to her door, his hand hovering near her elbow, ready to touch her if he had half an excuse, she’d turned and said, “And what time shall we meet, Lord Rohan?” in a creditable approximation of her normal voice.


He hadn’t been able to sleep. All he’d done was kiss her, most thoroughly and most enjoyably, but in the end it was simply a kiss. True, he’d lain on top of her, feeling the softness of her curves, the tenderness of her breasts, the sweetness of her parted thighs. He’d felt the smooth skin of her leg, the crook of her knee, and it would have been so easy to pull that knee up, around his hips. She was no virgin, after all.


But he hadn’t. And she was still as rattled as if he’d done exactly what he’d been thinking about doing in the past few hours. The past few days. He lusted after the sober little crusader—the saint of King Street, the savior of soiled doves—impossible as it seemed. He wanted her naked beneath him, he wanted to wipe that cool, distant smile off her face and have her hot and sweaty, weeping with her release. He wanted to take her, and take her hard. And there were so many reasons why he shouldn’t. Mostly because, despite her widowed state, she wasn’t the kind of woman to bed and then discard. She was someone who played the game seriously. If she thought it a game at all.


He’d finally dragged himself out of bed when he heard the clock chiming three, taking himself in search of a brandy and something to read, when he heard a crashing in the hallway below.


He caught his robe in one hand and strode out onto the landing, about to demand who the hell was there, when his angry voice died away, and he looked at his brother trying to make his way up the stairs with the help of Richmond.


He had blood on his head. He was singing softly, a ditty of such obscenity that even Benedick was impressed. He was very drunk, but he was more than drunk. His eyes glittered, the pupils tiny pinpricks in the shadow as he looked up and saw Benedick.


“M’brother,” Brandon announced to Richmond. “Not a bad fellow, but completely conventional. Wouldn’t approve.”


Benedick had already started down the stairs, reaching them midway and taking his brother’s other arm. There was a sweet smell clinging to him, mixing with the unmistakable smell of alcohol, and he wondered what the hell his baby brother had gotten into. “Wouldn’t approve of what, old boy?” he asked easily, looking at the blood. It was dried, and there was no head wound, which was a relief. And then he looked down at Brandon’s hand, the one which had seen war and despair, that had meted out death with grim certainty. There was a deep gash in his palm, still oozing blood.


Brandon followed his gaze, oddly alert despite the whiskey he could smell on him. “Don’t look so worried,” he said in an irritable voice. “Did it myself.”


“Why?”


“None of your damned business, that’s why,” Brandon replied. He paused, looking around him, his eyes going out of focus. “I need my room,” he said abruptly.


“Are you going to be unwell, sir?” Richmond inquired anxiously. “I could bring you a basin.”


“No Rohan would cast up his accounts—we come from a long line of degenerates—” And then he’d proceeded to get violently ill all over Benedick.


Which was enough to put anyone off the idea of sleeping. They’d managed to get Brandon’s nearly unconscious form into his bedroom, and he’d left him in Richmond’s care, not bothering with instructions to clean him up and bandage the hand. Richmond had taken care of him very well over the years—he didn’t need his master telling him his business.


Fortunately the noise had already roused a number of the staff, and it didn’t take long to get a hot bath to wash off Brandon’s excesses. By the time he’d finished it was already growing light outside, and he gave up the thought of sleep entirely.


It was just as well. Lack of sleep sharpened his intellect and destroyed any semblance of courtesy. He’d doubtless be such a bear that sweet Charity would develop a total disgust of him, and look elsewhere for a confederate. He would be better off investigating Brandon’s possible connection to the Heavenly Host on his own, without having to worry about anyone else.


Not that it was in his nature to worry about anyone, with the possible exception of his siblings. And Brandon had managed to get himself into a totally disreputable state while he was nowhere near the Elsmeres or any of the other possible members he’d talked with the night before, which made the connection less likely.


Today should put an end to any speculation. He would give Lady Carstairs such a disgust of him that she would refuse to even speak to him in the future, which would be better for both of them. Because she’d kissed him back. Inexpertly, to be sure, but she’d responded, and the sweetness of her momentary, unexpected response had been…distracting. And he’d already been distracted enough from his main goal.


No, today would put an end to it. Thank God.


It was a good thing she managed very well on only a few hours of sleep, Melisande thought over her second cup of strong tea. Because last night had been distressing, indeed.


It had started with Viscount Rohan, of course. Try as she might, she couldn’t stop thinking about the feel of his body pressed against hers, between her legs, the same and yet so different from the two other men who had once lain there. Of course last night they’d both been fully clothed, so she’d been able to notice things without being in a high state of anxiety over the indignities that were about to follow. She could feel the hardness of his chest against her breasts, the heavy rhythm of his heart. The hand that had held her wrists over her head, the other hand sliding up her leg, unfastening her garter with the practiced ease of a rake.

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