Authors: With Eyes of Love
Elspeth just stood there, with her heart pounding out of her chest. Two of the other maids scurried from the hallway into the room, bobbing quickly and smiling timidly at Elspeth; then before she could so much as bolt toward the screen to head them off, they were there before it, efficiently picking it up, folding it and whisking it to the side to reveal.…
Just an open window and a cooling bathtub.
Elspeth sank back into the chair, her legs no longer able to support her. Almost in slow motion the maids mopped up the spills and moved in to lift the tub. It took the three of them to lift it, but they seemed to do so with no ill effect. Nodding briskly to Harry to follow, Bessie and the other two maids made their way out of the door, the boy following sluggishly behind. He cast a look of exasperation at Elspeth, but she shooed him away with a tight smile. One of them managed to shut the door behind her. Elspeth waited half a minute, then sprang forward, shooting the lock home. It wasn’t much of a lock, but then, no one was likely to attempt to force it, either.
She turned. The room was empty, privacy screen folded and off to the side. The window curtain was pulled aside, but it had been so while she bathed. She frowned. Had he jumped? Most unlikely. She would have heard the splat and so would everyone else. Had she dreamed him? Was she destined to be one of those spinsters who so feared ravishment that she imagined men standing over her in the bath? No, he’d been real enough; she knew that much. She made her way over to the window. Hadn’t it been closed while she bathed? While the light from the window was soothing, surely she would have noticed a chilling breeze over her in the tub. Well, it was open now, wide enough for a man to have climbed through. Holding her breath, she approached the window and peered out carefully.
“Have they gone, then?” Julian asked from just below, startling her. He sat crouched in the narrow ironwork that decorated the window. For a mad moment, Elspeth contemplated slamming the window down on him, and letting him find his way down the way he’d come. She moved forward, but heard, at the same instant he did, the unmistakable sounds of a carriage rattling down the narrow lane.
“Oh, bother! Come in then, but if you take one step toward me, I shall personally throw you back out of the window.”
He clamored quickly through. The carriage was still some distance away. With a deft twist, he pulled the window draperies closed, then turned and looked at her. It was all there—in his eyes. In a rush, it came over her—what Harry had said. Julian did love her! Harry had overheard it all. She took one step toward him, then stopped abruptly. It didn’t really matter, did it? Julian was still engaged to Caroline, and under the circumstances, there was no place for her in his life. Having him here in her bedroom, betrothed to another woman as he was, would do nothing but harm.
“You had best have a plan to remove yourself, unseen from my bedroom immediately, Mr. Thorpe,” she said, trying to keep her voice level. “There is nothing left to be said.” Why, oh why did he have to be so handsome? Why did his eyes speak to her of regret, love, yearning? She knew now, as her own eyes drank their fill, that this would be their last moment alone together, their last chance for....
Before she could finish the thought, he had crossed the short distance between them. He reached out and gathered her to his chest. She should pull away. She should slap him. She should scream. She should....
His mouth closed on hers, warm and soft, hungry and delicious. She could hardly remember how to breathe. Somewhere in the back part of her mind, a small voice, very small, indeed, was trying to remind her that this wouldn’t do, that no lady would ever permit such indecencies. His tongue ran gently over her lips and she shushed the little voice to silence. His arms were around her, pulling her closer and closer. Now his hand ran up her back, then down, down, stopping again at her waist. Almost without thinking she raised her arms and embraced him. With a ragged moan, he pulled her yet closer. Now she was sure she could not breathe, and yet, that made no difference as she allowed her lips to part.
And just as she thought she would drown in his kiss, his lips left hers abruptly, tracing softly, slowly down her cheeks, her throat. He pulled her closer still, his lips now in her hair.
“I love you so much,” he whispered. “Only you, Elspeth. Always you.”
“Julian,” she answered, her voice ragged. Her fingers unsure, she traced a line down his chest.
He moaned and grabbed her hand, pressing it against his mouth. His lips traveled down her arm, to her shoulder, lingering there. She could smell the freshness of him, clean cotton, clean hair. He moved his lips slowly to the base of her throat. Her head fell back and a moan escaped her. His hands traveled down to her hips and he pressed her to him. She gasped as she felt his hardness. Her light lawn wrapper hid nothing from him, and nothing from her. Never had she dreamed lovemaking could feel like this. His whole body quivered as he pressed his hardness against her.
His lips found hers again and she marveled that they could be so soft, and yet so hard at the same time. Gently, slowly, his tongue found hers and again she gasped as a shudder ran through her. His hand strayed from her back around, slowly, up...up, and came to rest lightly on her breast, fingers circling her nipple. The shock ran through her as she pushed against him, now unsure of what it was she so desperately sought.
“Ah, Elspeth, you are so magnificent!” he whispered in her hair. “I could love you like this forever. I need no sustenance but you.” As if to demonstrate his words, his lips devoured hers again. But now his hands moved around her again, lightly touching, rubbing her back. And his lips were soft and gentle now, not demanding and insistent as but a moment before.
Again he slid his mouth to her cheek and then to her hair. Then he pulled back, and regarded her. There was no doubt of the love that lit his eyes. His hands cupped her face with great tenderness. “Let’s sit down, my heart,” he whispered. “If I keep on like this I cannot vouch for my control.” He slipped his hands down her shoulders, her arms, then clasped her hands, as chastely as he would a child’s. He drew her gently away from the window, toward the small divan placed to one side of the room. He sat her down, then stood over her, regarding her softly.
“Will you marry me, my love?” he asked gently.
Her heart gave an impossible twist. Love him as she did, there could be no honorable marriage between them. The die was cast. He was engaged to the perfidious Caroline. She could not find her voice.
“Ah,” he said quickly, possibly mistaking her silence. “I haven’t done that right, have I? Forgive me, please. I’ve had no practice whatsoever.” Practice or no, he slid with a fluid grace to his knee and clasped her hand in his own. “Would you, Miss Quinn, do me the ultimate honor, and consent to be my wife?”
“But, Julian, how can this be?” she finally stammered in answer. “I do believe you now, and I’m sorry I ever doubted you, but you are betrothed to my cousin, however that came to be and that, I think, is that. You cannot cry off now. You’d be shunned forever.”
“Why would I care what any of these fools think, Elspeth?” he asked, simply.
She withdrew her hand and looked away. It was hard to think with him right there before her, knee bent. She could still feel the heat of him, up and down the length of her. It made thinking so difficult. “You perhaps do not care now, Julian,” she began, trying to marshal her thoughts. “But, later, it will matter. When your children are shunned for it. When your wife is branded a loose and designing woman. You might even”—her voice caught in her throat—“you might even begin to believe those lies, to feel I had trapped you and doomed you to a life of ostracism. I should hate to have you despise me. That would he worse than anything else....”
She broke off because he pulled her down. Before she could catch her balance he had steadied her astride him. Now she could indeed feel the heat, the madness of desire—her own and his.
“Then I shall compromise you past all redemption, Elspeth. And you’ll have to say yes,” he groaned, pulling her down to the floor. He covered her mouth with his own, hard, savage, demanding. His tongue probed her mouth. Hungrily, she responded, probing back with her own. He groaned and rolled over, taking her with him. Now he straddled her, and the heat and hardness of him felt so right. His hand moved from her back, caressing her shoulder, moving down till it cupped her breast through the thin lawn of her gown. Impatiently, he pushed the flimsy stuff aside. The heat of his hand sent a wave of shock through her as his fingers cupped her breast, then circled her nipple gently. Without volition, she gasped and felt herself straining against him, their bodies touching hard and insistent, there, where it mattered. His lips forsook her own and traveled down, down her cheek, to the base of her neck, coming to rest on her breast. He seized her nipple between his teeth, teasing it gently, his tongue tracing circles around it. Liquid fire coursed through her and she heard herself moan.
His hand moved down again, slowly, lingering on her soft skin. She felt him fumbling with the tie of her gown and made no move to stop him. The gown fell open. His hand moved across her belly, teasing, caressing lightly, then moved to pull at his own shirt. He tugged it free from his breeches and ripped it open. Now there was nothing between them, no fine lawn, no fancy lace, no veneer of civilization, just naked flesh, as it was meant to be.
He sat up and his eyes drank their fill. “You are so beautiful, Elspeth,” he said with a moan, sinking back down to cover her. Now they were flesh to flesh, breast to chest, and she gasped at the searing heat of him. Again his lips moved to nuzzle against her neck, but now his hand slid still lower, down, down to cup her hip. He pulled her roughly to him, and she could feel the impossible bulge pushing against her. Some instinct she did not recognize made her push back, push hard against him. She needed the pressure, craved it now in some way she could not understand. Slowly, maddeningly, his hand moved now across her belly and down. No, no, he mustn’t touch her there. The brief thought flashed through her mind and was lost in an instant as a bolt of pleasure like lightning shot through her. She gasped and reared back. Still, she could not stop herself from pushing against him, the craving relentless, insistent. She drove hard against him now, not knowing what she sought, feeling something she could not put a name to, until, at last, waves of pleasure washed over her again and again and again.
His fingers left her and she could feel him tugging at his breeches. She could not, would not stop him. Now she was lost, indeed. There was no turning back. He was mad to say he would marry her—Caroline would permit no such thing—but if Elspeth couldn’t marry him, she would marry no one. And she would carry the joy of this love to sustain her down the long, lonely years to come.
“Do you love me, Julian? Before we do this thing, tell me that you really love me,” she heard herself gasp.
He stilled. He lifted his face from where he had nuzzled her breast and gazed into her eyes. He lay on top of her, his breeches open enough that she could feel him now, soft, yet hard, hot and wonderful. Slowly he moved his hands to either side of her head, then pushed himself back from her. She could see the reluctance, feel the war he waged within himself.
“I love you more than my life, Elspeth,” he finally whispered, his voice ragged. “I love you too much to do this thing to you now, to take you this way. I will take you as my bride and not before.” He lowered his lips to hers once more, but this time he was soft with her, gentle, lingering and loving. At last he pulled back, drawing his kiss down her cheek. He sat up, and lifted his weight from her, rolling to the side.
He took a long, lingering look down the length of her. She should be mortified, she knew, to be so exposed, so naked under his gaze, but all she could think of was how she still craved the heat of his touch. With an obvious reluctance, he broke his gaze and looked into her eyes.
Heaven help her, she could not resist. Her eyes traveled now the length of him, coming to rest there where his breeches gaped open. She gasped at the sight of him, then raised her eyes in alarm to his own. He was so large! How could he possibly...?
He smiled at her, then reached down and brought the sides of the placket together. “Not now, my heart. We shall save those delightful mysteries for our wedding night.” He rolled quickly to his knees, then reached for her hands. Together, they stood. He gazed at her for a moment, then crushed her to him.
“I must be mad to turn away from you now,” he whispered fiercely, burying his face in her hair. “It’s all I can do not to throw you onto the bed and have you now, my own, forever.”
He pulled away again, and with a last, long look, pulled her dressing gown chastely together, tying the sash in place. Odd, she felt more naked now, here in her boudoir covered by her robe, than she had felt supine and utterly undone, but a moment before.
He seated her again on the couch and took a step back.
“Now, we will set about solving this sorry mess, my heart,” he said, holding both of her hands in his own. “First, I think, I owe you an apology for being so beforehand with my attentions. But I beg you to forgive me. You are so very beautiful it’s a wonder I can keep my hands from you even now. In fact….” Smiling, he traced a naughty finger down her throat, stopping just shy of her cleavage.
“Oh, Julian!” she gasped, pulling back. She could feel a hot blush spreading over her cheeks and involuntarily reached up to make sure her dressing gown was closed. “I don’t know how I could have so forgot myself...” she trailed off, at a loss as to how to explain herself further.
“I do, my love,” he said simply, seating himself next to her. “I love you, and you love me. We are made to be together. This is just as it should be, forever.” He sealed his statement with a chaste kiss on the tip of her nose.
“But now, I think, is the time for me to make my escape,” he said, looking at her with tender regret. “Shall I go down the back wall, or try to skulk unseen through the hallways?”