Authors: Sara Bennett
Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #Fiction
ina tried to run but he caught her around the waist and swung her into his arms. She gasped, and the next moment they were tangled together on the sofa, lying among the soft, colorful cushions.
“I will dress you and fetch your breakfast,” Richard said, leaning over her, his warm gray eyes smiling into hers.
Tina ran a fingertip over his lips, tracing their shape. He cupped her face, smoothing his thumb against her skin, and then he leaned into her and began to kiss her.
The passion she had felt last night, that she always felt when she was with him, instantly caught fire inside her, brighter than ever. His tongue delved into her mouth, teasing her, while his fingers slipped beneath her bodice and found the hard nub of her nipple.
“I thought that was one of the places I shouldn’t allow a gentleman to touch me,” she managed breathlessly.
“I’m not a gentleman,” he said.
“Oh, I think you are,” Tina whispered. “You are very much a gentleman despite what you want people to believe.”
“Would a gentleman do this?” he retorted, reaching down to draw up her skirts into a bundle so that his hand could find her stockinged calf and caress her knee. Tina thought of the darns in the woolen cloth, wondered whether he would notice, and then didn’t care as his fingers found the bare skin where her stocking ended.
She slid her own hands over his chest and down to his belly, finding the hard shape of him beneath the fine cloth of his trousers. Already, she was familiar with his body, wanting to touch him, explore him. And then his fingers found her moist center and he pressed deeper, and she cried out in pleasure and anticipation.
He lifted his face from the crook of her neck, which he’d been kissing, and met her eyes. His own were glittering with desire, and as her hand closed around him, he groaned deep in his throat.
“I want you,” he said, and she could tell he meant it.
His fingers slid into her heat, confident, sure, giving her pleasure. She moved with him, pretending it was his body inside hers, that they were joined together. But they weren’t, and suddenly it wasn’t enough. With an urgent whimper, she pushed him away and sat up, her hair coming loose about her, her breasts bare through the half-open bodice of her dress.
He rolled onto his back and reached for her again, settling her on top of him so that she was straddling him, her hot nakedness pressing against his hard bulge through his trousers. Despite their not being skin to skin, the pressure was exquisite, and she moved against him, hearing her voice deep in her throat, crying out with the pleasure of it.
He gripped her hips, holding her, urging her on, guiding her, until their passion reached its crescendo and tipped into ecstasy.
he first thing Richard thought, when he could think again, was:
I won’t have to break my promise. I didn’t lose control although by God it was a close thing.
His arms were full of woman, soft and glorious, and he could feel himself growing aroused again already at the memory of what they had just done. If he didn’t get up and put some distance between them . . . well, how much longer could he trust himself?
And yet he didn’t move.
She stirred, pushing her hair out of her face, and propped herself up on one slender arm to gaze down at him with sleepy green eyes. She looked utterly magnificent, and he reached up to tuck a long, tangled strand of hair behind her ear. She turned her head to lick his hand with the tip of her pink tongue and then smiled.
“Is it always like this?” she said, and made him laugh with joy. Tina was never afraid to say what she was thinking, and he hoped she’d never change.
“No,” he admitted, “it isn’t. This is . . . exceptional.”
She seemed pleased with that. Her green eyes glowed, and her lips curled into a smile that was tempting him to reach up and kiss her. He wanted to. He wanted to stay here all afternoon and make love to her over and over again. But he had work to do, Sir Henry needed him at his most alert, and when he was with Tina he found his wits too easily went wandering.
While they were wandering this time, she’d begun to unbutton his shirt, and now she slipped her fingers inside it to continue an exploration of his chest. She circled his nipples and raked her fingertips through the line of dark hair that ran down over his belly and disappeared inside his trousers. From the rapt expression on her face she was enjoying what she was finding, and he knew it would only be a matter of moments before those clever fingers were tugging at his buttons, caressing his erection until he was hard to bursting.
She bent to lick his skin. “You taste of . . .”
“Ambrosia?” he managed thickly.
She smiled. “Cigar smoke.”
Unfortunately, that was one of the drawbacks of working for Sir Henry.
“Was that you, last night, in the garden?” she murmured, returning to her work. Her finger circled his nipple and watched it go hard. “But it couldn’t have been, could it, because you were with me? Unless you ran very fast.”
He’d been so intent on enjoying her touch that he hadn’t really been listening to her, but suddenly the words penetrated his pleasure-sodden brain. “Was someone outside in the garden last night?”
She nodded. “I saw the glow of a cigar. One of the men going for a stroll, I expect. Does it matter?” She glanced at him, resting her cheek against his skin, her eyelids heavy over her green eyes. Her naked breast brushed his arm, and he reached out to cup the soft, heavy flesh in his palm. Her eyelashes fluttered, and she made a little sound, half pleasure and half longing for more.
He shook his head. The man in the garden could have been the Captain, plotting, and he’d been playing at seduction with Tina. At one time he would never have allowed anything like that to escape him, and now here he was, too weak to climb out from beneath the woman.
But not just any woman,
the voice in his head mocked him.
Tina Smythe is certainly not just any woman.
What was she doing now? He made to sit up, just as her hand closed over the hard shape tenting his trousers.
“Sshh,” she whispered, as he groaned, “let me make it better.”
She began to unbutton his trousers, slowly, so that he wanted to shout at her to hurry up. He could tell she was enjoying herself, making him suffer, so he bit his lip and said nothing, letting her have her way.
At last she finished with the buttons and with a smile slipped her hand inside the flap and found him. “Tina,” he said, “you are playing with fire.”
She held him a moment, then began to stroke him, finally encircling him with her hand and giving a gasp of admiration.
“So big,” she breathed. “I wish . . .” But whatever it was she wished for was never uttered. Instead she showed him with actions rather than words.
He moved involuntarily in her grip, his hips jerking, and this time when she straddled him he was her slave. He could feel her moist heat above him, so hot and tempting, and for a moment he almost stopped her. But then she smiled down at him, her dark hair lying over her shoulders and playing peekaboo with her breasts, and began to slowly, carefully, lower herself onto him.
It was her first time—she was a virgin—but she was determined. She was a goddess, and she wanted him, and he was only a mortal, how could he resist? Richard could see her determination in the set of her mouth and hear it in her little gasps of pleasure and pain. Miss Tina Smythe was going to have her way.
“Tina,” he warned, but he’d left it too late.
His will, always fragile where she was concerned, gave way.
She bit her lip as she felt resistance—her blasted maidenhead—but now it was his turn, and with a jerk of his hips he’d pushed through the thin membrane and lodged deep inside her. She cried out, but almost at once she was moving against him, her expression utterly rapt at the sensation created.
“I feel you . . . inside me . . .” she panted.
He guided her movements, quickening his thrusts, deeper, and then her body began to contract about him.
She cried out, her climax rippling through her, and he grasped her hips, driving up into her, and giving his own cry of pleasure. And despair.
He’d broken his promise.
Or at least he soon would.
Richard pulled her down into his arms, so that she couldn’t see his face, and held her, both of them gasping for breath. He tried to examine how he felt emotionally, and knew he should be feeling guilty. But he couldn’t feel guilt or dismay or even sadness. He was too busy feeling like the luckiest man in England.
As if to berate him for his lack of remorse, there was the rumble of thunder outside as a storm began to build.
The perfect weather had finally broken.
ina had reached her room and begun to wash and change for the evening. She’d taken a circuitous route back to the hall and was confident no one had seen her. She’d left Richard at the folly.
He’d been very quiet, as if he had something on his mind. Or perhaps, she thought with a smile, he was simply worn-out from their lovemaking. Her own body had a slight ache where he had joined with her, but she didn’t regret it for a moment. And he hadn’t protested despite his promise.
Should she feel guilty about his breaking it? Surely, if it had been important, he would have explained what it was and why he needed to keep it? Tina was inclined to think that if he really hadn’t wanted to break it, then he wouldn’t have. Or was it a bit like her “promise” to marry Horace, something that waxed and waned with the changing situation.
And now that they were physical lovers would Richard try to persuade her to marry him? Well, she wasn’t at all certain she wanted to marry him. Richard was obviously not a wealthy man—no one with money would have a job teaching seduction—so if they wed, they would both be poor. Where was the point in that?
No, much better to stay free and live life as they pleased. They could come together—she was looking forward to visits from Richard and secret trysts, rather like Lady Isabelle. That sounded far more romantic, and just now, after all she’d been through, Tina was rather keen on filling her life with romance. She didn’t think she loved Richard—she’d thought she loved Horace, but now she was sure she didn’t. What she needed was more time to come to a conclusion, and that meant more time in Richard’s arms. Oh yes, she was looking forward to that.
Tina had stripped off her clothing and was carefully dressing in another of her new gowns when Maria opened the door.
“Miss? Why didn’t you call me to help?”
Tina avoided her maid’s suspicious eyes. “I have to learn to dress myself, Maria.”
She hoped Maria might leave again, but the maid came closer, casting a narrowed glance over the pile of clothing on the floor. She picked up a hairbrush and lifted some loose strands of Tina’s dark hair, inspecting it.
“There are a great many knots in your hair, miss.”
“And it is damp. Were you out in the storm?”
Tina smiled. “Yes, I was. I ran back through the rain. It was very exciting, with the thunder crashing and the lightning flashing. I suppose that is the last of the sunshine now. Oh well.”
Even as she spoke, the wind blew a patter of water against the window, and the view of the garden and the river was now smeary with rain.
“You’ve been with him, haven’t you? Mr. Eversham.”
She thought about denying it but decided there was no point. And what did it matter what Maria thought now? Everything was about to change, and Maria would no longer be a part of her life. She felt a twinge of sadness at the thought; she and Maria had been together a long time. But, hopefully, her maid would find her own happiness with Archie.
“Yes, we met in the folly. Lady Isabelle’s folly.”
Tina had never thought Maria was a hand-wringing sort of person, but now here she was, wringing her hands. “Miss Tina, don’t you realize how dangerous this behavior is? And Mr. Eversham is not a man to be trusted.”
Tina was on the verge of dismissing this comment when something in Maria’s expression caught her attention. She took a step toward her, staring into her face. “What do you know, Maria? Has Archie told you something? Come, you’d better tell me.”
Maria shook her head, stepping backward as Tina came forward, the brush in front of her as if it might protect her.
“Is he a fortune hunter?” Tina demanded.
“No. That was what I thought, but Archie says he has a great deal of money.”
Tina took another step and almost stumbled. Richard was rich? Then why . . . ? But she put that fact aside and concentrated on Maria. If she wanted her questions answered, then she would have to force her maid—who’d suddenly developed an uncharacteristic reticence—to answer them.
“Then what is it you know? Come, Maria, you’d better tell me. I didn’t think we had any secrets.”
Maria gave her a skeptical look. “You are the one with secrets, Miss Tina.”
“Well I don’t have any now, do I? Come, Maria, please.”
Her maid wavered. “I promised Archie,” she said with a shake of her head, and then sighed and capitulated. “He works for Sir Henry.”
“No, Mr. Eversham. Well, Archie too, but Mr. Eversham is an important man to the government. He hunts out anarchists and the like, people who might wish England badly. Archie says he’s a hero, but I don’t think he would be a very safe man to fall in love with, miss. And he’s dedicated himself to his work, so he won’t be getting married or setting up house. In fact he’s made some silly sort of promise swearing to remain unattached.”
Maria eyed her mistress cautiously as Tina walked rather stiffly over to the window seat and sat down, heavily, as if her strings had been cut, and stared out of the room.
“So he isn’t really what he says he is? That charming, careless attitude . . . it’s all a lie? The work he does helping gentlemen seduce ladies . . . is that a lie, too?”
“I think it is a way of discovering people’s secrets, so he can use them to do his work.”
Tina felt herself go hot and then cold.
So he’d used her. How he must have enjoyed it when she came to him for help, believing he was what he said he was, believing
And he was still lying to her. What had he said? He’d made a promise and he couldn’t marry until it was fulfilled, so he couldn’t take her virginity.
Well that was a lie because he had taken her virginity. And anyway he was married to his work.
Not that she wanted to marry him. He could be as rich as Midas, and she wouldn’t marry him, not now, not ever. He’d lied to her, toyed with her, and she’d trusted him.
“Thank you for telling me, Maria,” she said calmly, as if her heart weren’t one big ache in her chest. “I hope Archie isn’t cross with you.”
Maria was watching her anxiously. “I should have told you before . . . before things went so far, miss. I’m sorry.”
“Well, never mind.”
“Miss”—Maria put a gentle hand on Tina’s shoulder—“you must not think this is the end of the world. Men, they are like dandelion fluff, they come and go, and there will always be more of them to blow away on the breeze.”
Tina managed a smile. “I’m sure you’re right. Now, I might just spend a moment alone before I go down to supper. Thank you, Maria, I’ll call you if I need you.”
Maria hesitated, clearly wanting to stay, and then she nodded and hurried from the room, closing the door behind her.
Tina allowed her body to slump a little, bowing her head, feeling the pain spreading from her heart to her throat and her head, where a headache was forming.
It had been a wonderful weekend, and she should remember that, remember the good things and not the bad. In years to come, it would not even matter that Richard Eversham had played her for a silly fool, and she would look back on this moment with the wisdom of age and . . .
That wasn’t what she’d planned, but the tears were already filling her eyes and spilling over her lashes to trickle down her cheeks. It seemed pointless to fight them, so she let them come and even indulged in some sobbing and wailing and pounding the cushions with clenched fists. Eventually she felt a little better and composed herself.
After a time she felt able to go downstairs. She didn’t think she’d appear at supper after all, that would be asking too much, but she might search out the library and find a good book she could bring back to her room and lose herself in.
Something to take her away from her problems and make her forget she ever knew a man called Richard Eversham.
It occurred to her that might not even be his name. If he was working for the government, he might be using a false name and actually be called something like Ogden. Or Aloysius Hogfish. She managed a weak smile, but at least that was better than more tears.
thought you’d gone!”
Branson came a few steps into the library, glancing nervously over his shoulder, before turning back to Sutton.
“What are you doing here? If
sees you . . .”
“I don’t care if he sees me,” Sutton growled. He picked up a snuffbox from a collection on a side table and tossed it into the air, catching it neatly and then slipping it into his pocket. “He’s a bastard who thinks he can treat me as he pleases, well he can’t. This started off as an equal partnership, and now he’s the one giving all the orders. Too bad. I don’t take orders.”
Branson couldn’t believe he was hearing this, but at the same time he was deriving a certain enjoyment from it. He’d also been on the receiving end of the Captain’s fury so he understood all too well the effect it had.
“Heard you took a potshot at that bastard Arlington,” Sutton added with a vicious smile. “Pity you missed.”
“I didn’t miss,” Branson retorted. “I mean, I didn’t want to kill him, just give him a scare.”
Sutton shook his head in disgust. “And he says
a fool. Who are you going to shoot at next? The wife? I hear she’s a nice piece, not averse to a bit of rough.”
“I wouldn’t harm a lady,” Branson protested huffily.
“Come on then; you’ve started now, who’s next? I’d love to see
face when you do it. Finish off the lot of them, I reckon, then we wouldn’t have the bother, would we?”
Branson had turned thoughtful. “I might take a shot at Eversham, he’s a swine. Had me in for more questions before, threatening me, shouting in my face. What gives him the right to treat me like that, eh? Yes,” he smiled sourly, “I’d like to put a bullet between his eyes.”
There was a sound over near the bookshelves, and both men froze, staring in that direction, but a moment later a gust of wind rattled the windows and a draft set the pages of an open book on a nearby table fluttering. They relaxed, and Sutton pocketed another snuffbox.
“I’m going,” he said. “His Highness wants me to return the pearls I stole. Seems that these days it goes against his moral code to steal. As I’m going to have to give them back, I needed to be reimbursed.” He patted his bulging pocket.
Branson snorted a laugh. “How are you going to get out?” he asked.
“Same way I got in, through the window.”
Sutton opened it and slipped out, vanishing into the darkness and the rain. Branson waited a moment, and then he left by the door.
ina’s heart was beating so hard she had been terrified they would hear it. She’d knelt down to pull out a book from the bottom shelf and then became immersed in its pages, sinking down onto the Turkish rug and forgetting where she was.
Until the men began speaking.
At first she’d thought Mr. Branson was speaking to another guest, but then she’d heard what they were saying. Understanding had come at once. Mr. Branson had shot Sir Henry, and now he was planning to shoot Richard. Her aching heart was momentarily forgotten—she might not
him very much anymore, but she wasn’t about to stand by and see him killed.
The book had slipped from her hands and the two men had stopped and she was certain they would find her. As she waited, trembling, she thought of her family and, yes, she did think of Richard. Would he be sorry when her body was discovered lying over a copy of
A Sultan’s Harem
But then the windows had rattled, and everything was all right again. The men had left, and the room was empty. But still she took her time. She inched her way cautiously around the bookshelves to the door. With a sigh of relief she glanced behind her, just to be sure.
He was standing outside the window, his wet hair plastered to his head, his cold pale blue eyes staring in at her. Like a nightmare. He was the most frightening person she’d ever seen, and as she stood, frozen to the spot, he began to open the window.
With a scream, Tina turned and flung herself at the door, fumbling at the knob and managing to open it and then running. She hardly noticed Branson, his face white and shocked in the shadows; all she could think of was the nightmare creature at the window. He could be behind her, and there was only one person she could think of who would save her—it didn’t even occur to her that her savior was now a cheat and a liar, and she hated him. Clinging to the banister she hurled herself up the staircase toward Sir Henry’s rooms and the safety of Richard’s arms.