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Authors: Victoria Dahl

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #General

It's Always Been You

BOOK: It's Always Been You
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“Your braid is coming loose,” he murmured, tugging softly at the leather tie. Both his hands slid through her hair, meeting at her neck to work out the tangled braid.
This was wrong. So wrong. But hot shivers of sensation moved over her scalp and down her neck and all the way to her toes. Pleasure trickled down her spine and gathered in a pool deep in her belly. She thought she would melt right through his fingers when he finally worked her hair free and ran his hands slowly through the strands, smoothing out the waves with gentle pressure.
Her head fell back under his ministrations, her mouth parted just slightly on a sigh. She wanted, feared,
knew
he was going to kiss her. The softest touch of warm breath caressed her lips and then it was him, his mouth, his lips against hers. . . .
TO TEMPT A SCOTSMAN
 
A RAKE’S GUIDE TO PLEASURE
 
ONE WEEK AS LOVERS
 
A LITTLE BIT WILD
 
IT’S ALWAYS BEEN YOU
 
HIGHLAND BEAST
(with Hannah Howell and Heather Grothaus)
 
LORDS OF DESIRE
(with Virginia Henley, Sally MacKenzie, and Kristi Astor)
 
 
 
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation
It’s Always Been You
VICTORIA DAHL
ZEBRA BOOKS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
Kingston-upon-Hull, England
September 1849
 
“Thank you, Mr. York. It’s been a pleasure, sir. A pleasure.”
Aidan York smiled grimly at the florid-faced squire. The hard, hot spark in the man’s eyes couldn’t truly be described as pleasure. The emotion was closer to abject relief. The man had invested all his income in a ship, and rough seas had brought him to ruin soon after.
Aidan inclined his head. “The money will be delivered to your representative this afternoon.”
“Thank you.” The man bowed with a jerk. “Thank you, sir.”
Even as Aidan nodded, he turned away, his mind already moving on to other ventures. If he departed Hull before nightfall, he’d be back in London and on the hunt for a buyer before the ship’s repairs were even started. A thousand pounds profit within a fortnight, if he calculated correctly—and he always did. Not a bad morning’s work.
Stepping off the walk and onto the cobblestones of the street, he barely noticed the beauty of the scene that spread before him. Kingston-upon-Hull was a bustling river port—the clean streets and quaint lanes of the old town were crowded with goodwives and servants, sailors and merchants, all industriously occupied. Several faces turned up to look at the sky just as the sun broke through the clouds. Aidan did not look. There were arrangements to be made, deals to be brokered. The weather concerned him not at all, unless, of course, it affected the shipping schedule.
Outpacing the crowd swirling around him, he turned right to head toward the docks and the small office he’d let there. But his rush was interrupted when he found himself on a narrow lane that was even more crowded than the last. Unable to bear the slower pace, he bit back a growl and searched the lane, looking for an opening, a break in the crowd.
His eyes caught for a moment, moved on, then blinked as something clicked with razor sharpness in his mind. A tightness in his chest struck him, immediately familiar regardless that it had been years since he’d last felt it. Before he could think to resist the urge, he began a quick study of the people in front of him. Women, men, children. He shifted through them like cards at a table.
There
. A woman walked far ahead, her dark green skirt kicking out slightly with each step she took. The plain wool fabric of the dress revealed nothing; her hair and face were completely concealed from his gaze by a rather large, very plain hat.
Aidan frowned at the way his pulse leapt. He was being ridiculous. Pitiful. But his eyes followed with close intent, taking in the details of this stranger. The line of her shoulder, the tilt of her head.
Sneering, he cursed himself for the terrible hope that bloomed in his chest. Even if there were something familiar in her walk, it certainly was not Katie.
He swallowed hard and forced himself to look away.
He had not done this in years. Had, in fact, thought he’d left this stupid impulse well behind him. Still, his pulse stuttered and his cheeks betrayed him with a hot flush. His gaze jumped back to search her out. As if in a trance, he slowed his pace and watched the woman stop to unlock a cheerfully blue door. She left it open to the cool day and disappeared inside.
One step out of the flow of traffic, Aidan studied the building. Just a small, tidy row of shops. The sign above the door she’d entered read
HAMILTON COFFEES
.
Perhaps the woman was Mrs. Hamilton. She certainly wasn’t Katie. It never was and never would be. He’d known that long enough that it shouldn’t hurt anymore, but somehow he still felt that ache in his throat. His lips thinned at the idea of grief. Even his sorrow had finally come under his control in the past few years. He could not let it loose again.
Inhaling slowly, he focused on the heavy smell of the shipyard that hovered over the whole town. Water and tar and wood. He closed his eyes and listened for the incessantly screaming gulls. They sounded as much like money to him as any pile of clinking gold.
When he opened his eyes, he was calmer. The blue door was just a door. The shop was just a shop. At some point, the woman would appear again. She’d step outside for a breath of fresh air or to sweep dust from the walk. And she’d be a woman, not a ghost. Then he could walk away and send the past back to hell where it belonged.
He waited. Waited as carriages and carts rumbled by, blocking his view for torturous seconds, waited as a rotund woman entered that dark doorway, then left again with a small package. He waited until the pressing urge lifted, and he knew he could move on. He didn’t need to see the mysterious woman again.
She was not Katie.
Aidan turned away from the shop and walked in the other direction.
 
 
“Penrose,” Aidan grunted.
Penrose appeared in the doorway that separated the two spare rooms they’d rented for the week. “Sir?”
“The post.”
His secretary reappeared a moment later with a small stack of letters. “Shall I arrange passage back to London for this evening, sir?”
Aidan meant to say yes. He was done here. He should’ve left already.
He eyed the letter on top of the pile, recognizing his brother’s handwriting. “Give me a moment,” he said instead of offering a real answer. Penrose disappeared. He was good at that.
Fully aware that he was using the letter to procrastinate, Aidan sliced through the seal and unfolded the paper. As a tool, the note proved ineffectively short. A few pleasantries and news of his sister’s honeymoon trip. And then a warning that their mother was planning another house party. “Cousin Harry has hinted that he may marry soon, and Mother insists he will need an audience when he announces his betrothal. She seems unconcerned that Harry has yet to reveal which lady has caught his eye. One can only pray she invites the right family.”
Aidan managed a smile at that, though the idea of another trip home filled him with dread. He loved his family more than anything in the world, but they knew him too well. Whenever he was home, they watched him with wary sadness. They loved him, but they wanted the old Aidan back.
He sighed and rubbed a hand over his skull.
He wasn’t a boy anymore. He was past thirty-one, his brown hair already starting the march toward gray at his temples. You’d think they would take the hint that he’d never be that boy again.
Granted, he was no longer grief-stricken and angry. But he could not seem to rid himself of the space in his chest that left his heart knocking hollowly around.
Aidan folded the letter from his brother and halfheartedly cursed the day he’d met Katie Tremont. Given the choice, he could not say with any honesty whether he’d take back the joy of having loved her just to have peace. He probably would. A few months of tortured happiness were not worth years spent grieving, not unless one had an ambition to take up poetry.
But, at the time . . . My God, at the time he would have sworn her kiss worth risking death itself. A smile tugged at his mouth at the melodramatic thought. He’d been only twenty-one, after all, and head-over-heels in love with her.
“Christ,” he murmured as he made himself pick up the second letter. This was good news. Rumors of a warehouse fire in Calais were confirmed, but his buildings had been spared. His business would profit by the wounding of others, and that bothered him not in the least. If it had been his buildings lying in ash, his competitors would snatch up his profits with clawed hands before the timbers had cooled.
Tragedy always benefited someone in the end. Hadn’t he taken his share of the benefit from Kate’s death?
“Penrose,” he said hoarsely, ignoring the ice that crawled along his neck, “you reviewed the letter from Augustine?”
“I did. Excellent news.”
“Indeed. Renegotiate the terms with Coxhill for the brandy. Supply will be limited for the quarter at least.”
“Yes, sir.”
“And, Penrose?”
The slim young man paused, midturn, before spinning back toward Aidan.
“Find out which trains are leaving for London tonight. But . . . don’t book our passage until I return.”
Penrose didn’t even blink at the odd change of plans. “Of course, Mr. York.”
Aidan had to return to the shop. He thought he’d successfully exorcised all his love for Katie, all his grief. It had been so long ago . . . an eternity.
But now the memories were back. Memories of her easy smile, her wide brown eyes, her soft hands tentatively touching the skin of his chest, his arms . . . everywhere. These images still shone clear in his mind though they now had a faintly stale feel—as if they were not real memories, but short vignettes he’d viewed once too often since her death.
He wanted them to fade again. If he didn’t walk into that shop, didn’t disprove this, she might follow him back to London and stay with him the rest of his life. Unacceptable. His life was just as he wanted it, and he intended for it to remain unchanged. He had a house, money, work to keep him occupied, and bedmates when he wanted them. He didn’t need a long-dead love hanging about and complicating things.
Aidan retrieved his hat, angling it low over his eyes as he stepped out into the late sun. He kept his gaze straight ahead and pondered a trip to Italy in the spring. His strength lay in France, but his trips to Italy were becoming more profitable. Though lately, he’d had a good run buying disabled ships like the one he’d purchased this morning. He had money to sink into these projects, after all. Too much money, as he didn’t seem to know what to do with it.
He could buy property, and had done. But what was he to do with more land or houses? It was only him, after all. Horses were tempting, but he felt like the worst sort of owner when he found himself with horses he’d never ridden and couldn’t even recall purchasing. He cared little for fashion and less for gold and jewels.
No, he didn’t need more money, but the triumph of making a profit lured him on. Each dollar made into ten felt like a victory over . . . something.
He turned a corner, and there it was, two blocks ahead. His feet wanted to slow, but he kept his pace steady. He wouldn’t hesitate before a damned coffee shop as if it were a threat. He’d march straight in and put an end to this farce.
But before he could close the distance, a man in a wine red coat stepped over the threshold of the shop and shut the door behind him.
Aidan stopped, leaned his shoulder against the brick wall of an apothecary, and waited for the chance to put a stop to this.
BOOK: It's Always Been You
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