Page 25

Author: Anne Stuart

Right now he would have surrendered himself to that little death quite happily, but there was a time and place for everything, and this wasn’t the place. He smoothed her skirts back down as he held her, breathing in the sweet scent of her, flowers and feminine arousal, and he wondered how his life had gotten so complicated. He’d come to London to find a wife and to have sex, and so far he’d failed at the first and not done terribly well at the second. No one seemed to interest him. Except for the enigma that was Charity Carstairs.

Just as well he’d changed his mind about Miss Pennington. That had been her brother out there in the corridor, talking with Lord Petersham, and he already had one brother entangled in the Heavenly Host. He didn’t want to rescue two.

Slowly, slowly, her trembling had stopped. Her face was still pressed against his shoulder, hiding from him, hiding from herself, but her hands had released their bruising hold on his arms and fallen back. He wondered if she’d marked him. He expected her hands would ache later on. She’d realize why and she’d remember, and she’d presumably feel angry and shamed and ridiculous. But her body would remember and warm at the thought.

Jesus, he needed to start thinking of other things—and right now—or he was going to flip her skirts back up and take her there and then. He had no doubt he could persuade her. She was still in that slightly dazed, postorgasmic trance, but before long strength would return to her limbs and she’d be ready to slap him again. He was already going to have a difficult time dealing with her after this delicious moment of intimacy. If he actually tupped her she’d probably come after him and shoot him.

He slowly released her, setting her back against the corner of the little cave. He knew what it was for, and he hoped she wouldn’t notice the restraints that lay about the place. He wanted her to think of the room fondly.

“I’ll make certain they’re gone,” he whispered against her ear.

She nodded, and closed her eyes, and he wanted to kiss her eyelids. But she was already withdrawing, and if he tried she’d probably clout him.

There was no sign of the two men, though they’d left torches burning, so presumably they were coming back. He wondered if they’d found the cave-in yet. Would they come running back here once they found it, or would they stay to investigate? Did he have time to get Melisande out of this place before they returned?

What was the worst that could happen? He could always pretend someone had told him how to get here, and he’d been enjoying Lady Carstairs. What would they do, report him for trespassing?

But it would destroy any advantage they’d gained. He’d considered trying to persuade them to let him join, but he had no idea whom to approach, and he suspected he’d be blackballed. He’d never had much of a reputation for unbridled lechery—he found he preferred one partner at a time, and that should be a willing female. Not what the Heavenly Host seemed interested in nowadays.

No, his best bet was to get Melisande out of there before they were found out, and the longer he hesitated the less likely he was to succeed.

He ducked back into the cave. She was sitting up, and she’d made an effort to tidy her hair. “Time to go,” he said, and scooped her up. “I can…”

“No, you can’t,” he interrupted her ruthlessly. “If you try to walk it will take us that much longer. Trust me.”

Her mirthless snort was answer enough.

The men left torches burning the way they’d come, and he followed the light, coming out into a large underground room that led off to an absolute rabbit’s warren of tunnels. Fortunately light only came from one, and he followed it, moving swiftly.

The sight of the steps leading upward was the best thing he’d seen in weeks. He took them two at a time, careful not to jar the woman in his arms, and then they were out in the late-afternoon sunshine again, at the far end of the ruins.

He cast a surreptitious glance down at her. Her eyes were closed, her face calm and slightly averted. So she was going to ignore what happened in the so-called “training room.” So be it. He wasn’t going to bring it up—it was up to her if she wanted to discuss it, and if she didn’t, so much the better. Women had a tendency to put too much importance on sex, and this had hardly been sex. Just a little treat for his partner in crime, to prove that she wasn’t the cold creature she thought she was. Harmless enough.

It took him a while to reach their tethered horses. The picnic was still spread out on the coverlet, and he simply wrapped it all up and dumped it in the basket, ignoring Melisande’s squeak of protest from the rock where he’d set her. Her ankle was swollen to twice its normal size, and he wondered if he’d been wrong and she’d actually broken it. It would be hard to tell beneath all the swelling—he needed to get her home so she could elevate it.

“You’ll ride in front of me and we’ll bring your horse behind us,” he said, coming for her.

“I most certainly will not. I’m perfectly capable of riding.” She didn’t meet his gaze, and it both amused and annoyed him. Then again, he didn’t want to discuss it, either, did he?

“I doubt it. It’s your right foot. How are you going to guide your horse?”

“I can manage. If you’ll help me mount.”

He sighed, reaching for her and carrying her across the clearing. He picked her up and placed her in the saddle, then vaulted onto his own horse, taking the reins in his hand. “Let’s go,” he said in a bland voice, and waited, letting her go first down the overgrown road that had first brought them there.

She made it about ten feet, then shrieked with pain as she tried to use her foot. He moved to catch up with her, all smug complacency.

There were tears in her eyes and pure irritation in her mouth. “You’re right,” she said briefly.

“I always am,” he said in a silky voice. He reached out for her, waiting to see if she’d cross the distance and come into his arms.

Clearly she thought about it for a minute. And then she held out her arms and he caught her, pulling her off her mount’s broad back and onto his. He settled her back against him, her skirt covering her legs with as much decency as he could muster.

“Don’t talk,” she said tersely. “Just ride.”

You mean you don’t want to discuss the pleasure I just gave you in the Heavenly Host’s depraved caverns? You don’t want to acknowledge that there’s a bone-shaking attraction between us, and sooner or later we’re going to do something about it, even if neither you nor I want it?

But he could give her her wish. He rode at a steady pace, trying to avoid jarring her ankle too much. She had it modestly tucked under the hem of her habit, but that was doubtless making it even more painful, and he wished there was something he could do. Teasing her would take her mind off the pain, but he suspected she’d rather have the pain.

She tried to sit in front of him without touching him, but he knew the effort must be costing her dearly, and there was a limit to how much he’d allow her to hurt herself. He hauled her back against him, clasping one arm around her waist in an unbreakable hold. “Relax,” he said in a cool voice. “I’m hardly going to molest you on the King’s highway, and you’re going to fall apart if you keep clenching your muscles like that. As soon as we come to a tavern we’ll stop and I’ll send for a carriage.”

“No,” she said. “Just take me home.”

He didn’t bother to point out that they were most likely already an on-dit, having been seen together on at least two occasions. If they arrived back in town with her unceremoniously cradled in his lap the gossips were going to go wild with conjecture. He considered whether it might hurt her silly charities. If so he’d insist they stop—he wasn’t going to be responsible for taking her raison d’être away from her, even if he thought it was a lost cause.

But people were more likely to see Charity Carstairs as human, with all humanity’s frailties, and they would be more sympathetic to her efforts. At least, he hoped so. Because truth be told, he liked riding with her bum up against him, his arms under her luscious breasts. He liked the fact that the gossips were going to link her with him, inextricably, so that she couldn’t look elsewhere.

Of course, that would affect him, as well. If the ton was certain he was having an affaire with Sweet Charity then he might have difficulty forging an alliance with an eligible young female. But society was a great deal more liberal when it came to men’s foibles, and he didn’t think a mistaken rumor would interfere with his plans.

Even if the rumor ended up being true.

He wanted her in bed. Quite badly. It could be as simple as proximity, and the erotic atmosphere of the caves. Indeed, as a man he tended to find caves automatically sexual, and it was no wonder he’d reacted, particularly when he’d been rubbing up against her in the tiny room.

Once he was free of her, back in his own house, he could turn his attention to more congenial company. Despite Melisande’s best efforts there were still a great many beautiful and willing Cyprians available, and he would have no trouble filling his bed tonight.

But he didn’t need to think about that with Lady Carstairs cradled against his cock. She’d already become too closely acquainted, first, in her sleep, when she’d unknowingly caressed him, and then later when they were hiding in the cave and he couldn’t help his response.

But he was going to think about cold rain and war and piglets and anything else that could get his mind off sex.

He took a circuitous route back to her house on King Street. The likelihood of avoiding being seen by at least one nosy person was not good, but at least they wouldn’t have to make conversation with anyone. By the time they arrived at the Dovecote it was late, and clearly her gaggle had been watching for her. To his horror, they all came flooding out her front door, some twenty strong.

He slid down from the saddle, then reached up for Melisande. “Someone take the damned horses,” he said, and carried her up the stairs, hoping one of the women knew enough about horseflesh to deal with them. The door was still open and the woman he had once known as Emma Cadbury, owner of one of the finest brothels in town, came rushing toward them, her face free of paint, her hair and clothes plain, her beautiful face creased with worry.


***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com