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Authors: Cheryl Holt

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BOOK: Dreams of Desire
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The boudoir was hers. The first battle was won. Supper—and playing hostess to John’s company—would be next. She would keep ingratiating herself until he realized he couldn’t manage without her.
“One day at a time, Barbara,” she murmured to herself. “One day at a time.”
Chapter 7
LILY tiptoed down the dark corridor, the flame from her candle flickering on the walls, making the shadows large and menacing. It was very late, everyone asleep, but in the parlor up ahead, a lamp burned. Anxious for company, she rushed toward it.
While she wasn’t usually timid, the nocturnal sounds of the old castle were disconcerting. She’d awakened with a start, convinced that someone was in her bedchamber. Not a person, specifically, but there’d been a definite
presence
, accompanied by groaning noises and a chain rattling.
Her heart pounding, she’d actually whispered, “Who is it? Who’s there?”
Of course, there’d been no answer, but she’d been spooked beyond all reason. She’d grabbed her robe and fled to the lower floors.
With no small amount of relief, she entered a cozy salon. A fire crackled in the grate, a comfortable couch positioned in front of it, but the room appeared to be empty. She took a hesitant step inside, then another.
“Is anybody here?” she tentatively murmured.
There was no reply, and she stopped, listening and hearing heavy breathing, which scared her out of her wits.
Suddenly, the door slammed with a bang, and a male voice shouted, “Boo!”
“Ah!” she shrieked, and she whipped around to find Lord Penworth lurking behind her.
He laughed and laughed until he was bent over with jollity.
“What is so funny?” she snapped.
“You. Oh, if you could have seen the look on your face. It was priceless.”
He swiped a hand across his eyes, wiping away tears of merriment as he collapsed into a chair.
Apparently he’d been sitting in the corner, drinking, and watching her as she’d sneaked in. He seemed to expect that she would stay and chat, but she wasn’t in the mood to spar.
After their kiss on Bramwell’s ship, she’d studiously avoided him. She’d liked the intimate embrace much more than she should have—so much so, in fact, that she often caught herself daydreaming about it.
She’d obsessed so frequently and in such detail that she wondered if Dubois’s potion hadn’t had a reverse effect, if it hadn’t caused
her
to grow infatuated rather than Penworth.
“Why are you walking the halls?” he asked once his amusement had eased.
“I . . . couldn’t sleep.”
“Are the ghosts keeping you up?”
She scoffed with false bravado, “There’s no such thing as ghosts.”
“Isn’t there?”
“No.”
“It’s a castle, Miss Lambert, with centuries of history. Ghosts abound. It’s what I love about the place. Just admit you’re terrified and be done with it.”
“Well . . . now that you mention it . . . I might have witnessed a sight that was a bit . . . peculiar. It unnerved me.”
“The initial encounter can be unsettling.”
“I thought I heard groaning, too.”
“Apparitions and groaning! On your first night! My goodness. You’re certainly receiving a warm welcome.”
“I didn’t care for it.”
“You’ll get used to it.”
“I doubt it.”
Her surly retort ignited another bout of hilarity, and as she stared at him, she couldn’t help noticing how mirth made him look younger, how it made him look handsome and charming and approachable.
It occurred to her that she was viewing a side of him he rarely showed to others. If she’d been more brazen, she might have tarried, might have drawn him into a conversation and inquired about his mother’s surprising arrival.
But it was late, they were alone, and he was imbibing. It was a recipe for disaster.
She headed for the door. “I’d better get back to my room,” she said.
“So soon? Aren’t you afraid the goblins might be waiting?”
“I’ll survive.”
“Won’t you feel safer by the fire?”
She peered at him, at the fire, at the sofa. She glanced down at her nightgown and robe.
“Actually, no.” She reached for the knob. “I’ll just be going.”
“I don’t think so.”
Quick as lightning, he jumped up and spun the key in the lock. Then he laid it on top of the doorsill, where she couldn’t retrieve it unless she climbed on a chair.
“Give me that key,” she fumed.
“No.”
“Give it to me!”
“No,” he maddeningly repeated.
“I can’t be in here with you.”
“You already are.”
He took a step toward her, and she took one back. He took another, and she did the same. They kept on, with him herding her across the floor as deftly as if they were waltzing at a fancy ball.
There was a gleam in his eye she’d seen before, but it had strengthened to a worrisome degree. A few knocking ghosts didn’t seem quite so frightening. Not when she was confronted by a real-life knave who wasn’t a figment of her imagination.
“Hold it right there, you bounder.” She extended her palm as if the paltry appendage could ward him off.
“You must learn something about me, Miss Lambert.”
“What is that?”
“I never do as I’m told.”
“Couldn’t you start? Just for me?”
“What fun would that be?”
He swooped in and scooped her off her feet. In an instant, she was on her back on the sofa. She’d intended to elude any advance, but he was on top of her so fast that she couldn’t. His entire body was stretched out the length of hers.
For several delicious moments, she wallowed in the pleasure of feeling his weight pressing her down, but she swiftly recalled her moral underpinnings. She had to redirect his focus so she could distract him and race out.
The key on the sill posed a problem, but she refused to ponder it. She would find a way to divert him and escape.
“Why are you sitting in here drinking all by yourself?” she asked. “Is it a habit? Should I assume it’s yet another secret vice?”
“I have no secret vices.”
“Liar.”
On being reminded that she knew about Lauretta, his cheeks flushed.
“You have the sharpest tongue,” he charged.
“Don’t I, though?”
“I never allow anyone to speak to me as you do.”
“Why is that, do you suppose?”
“I believe you’ve driven me insane with your bizarre conduct.”
“I’m a perfectly normal woman.”
“There’s no such thing.”
“You bring out the worst in me.”
“I’m sure that’s true,” he said.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“About what?”
“About your sitting here in the dark. Why are you?”
He stared and stared, then he stunned her by saying, “If you must know, I’ve been thinking about my mother.”
“Have you?” She struggled to keep her expression blank so he’d continue.
“Have you been apprised of her history?” he inquired.
“Some of it.”
“So you’re aware of how she . . . when she ...”
“Yes,” she hurriedly interjected to save him the embarrassment of explaining.
“I haven’t seen her in three decades.” He scowled, appearing somber and solemn. “If you were me, would you kick her out?”
Would she? Her own mother had died when Lily was tiny, and Lily couldn’t picture her face or remember her voice. If she could have her mother back, she wouldn’t begrudge her any foible. No matter what she might have done or how she’d acted, Lily would welcome her with open arms.
At least he
had
a mother to worry about. Lily had no one at all.
“No, I wouldn’t kick her out.”
He sighed. “I was afraid you’d say that.”
“You won’t make her leave, will you? I heard her mention that she has no money and nowhere to go.”
“I wouldn’t necessarily assume it’s the truth.”
“Why would she lie?”
“She has a penchant for drama.”
“I didn’t notice that about her,” she fibbed.
“She wouldn’t hesitate to tell a tale of woe in order to get what she wants.”
“And what would that be?”
He paused and studied her. “Miss Lambert?”
“Yes?”
“I don’t want to talk about my mother.”
“What do you want to talk about?”
“When we are alone, you’re to call me John.”
“I’d rather not.”
“I shall call you Lily.”
“I don’t give you permission.”
“I don’t care.”
The room became very quiet. An ember cracked in the grate; the clock on the mantel ticked away. Her heart thundered in her chest.
“Have you ever wished,” he said, “that you could be someone else? That you could wave a magic wand and have a different sort of life?”
“I wish it all the time.”
“So do I.”
He was so near, his beautiful mouth only an inch away. Would he kiss her? She hoped he both would and wouldn’t. Further flirtation between them was wrong and dangerous, yet she yearned for him to proceed nonetheless.
Just once—just once!—she wanted to have an adventure. She, who’d always been boring and ordinary, wanted to do something extraordinary, and she wanted to do it with him.
He dipped down and brushed his lips to hers, then he pulled away.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” she said, not meaning it.
“I know, but when I’m around you, I can’t help myself.” He grinned from ear to ear, so that he looked young again and possessed of his mother’s mischief. “Do you remember that night on board ship,” he asked, “when I kissed you?”
As if she would ever forget!
“Yes.”
“Since then, I’ve been able to concentrate on naught but you and how soon we could do it again.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“I most certainly am. Why have you been hiding from me?”
“I haven’t been!” At his dubious glare, she mumbled, “Well, maybe a little. Sometimes.”
He nodded, an imperious brow raised. “I hate to tell you, Miss Lambert, but our relationship is about to change.”
“It is?”
“Yes. You and I will fraternize privately wherever and whenever I can arrange it.”
“I don’t think that’s wise.”
“Who said anything about wise? My feelings for you—and what I want to do with you—have no bearing on intelligent behavior or rational choices.”
“What is happening then?”
“Don’t you know? It’s lust, Miss Lambert. It’s lust—pure and simple.”
He crushed his mouth to hers, sweeping her into a maelstrom of passion, the likes of which she’d never previously imagined existed.
She’d been kissed before—against her will by men she didn’t like—so she’d viewed kissing as a distasteful exercise in frustration, where she’d spent every second fighting to escape.
This was nothing like those prior experiences. It was thrilling and astonishing and exhilarating, and she couldn’t decide what to do except kiss him back.
His hands were everywhere, stroking across her hair, shoulders, and arms. Her own hands were busy, too, exploring with a reckless abandon. He seemed to relish her brazen curiosity, and the more bold she became, the more intensely he participated, as if he couldn’t get close enough to her.
He loosened the belt on her robe and shoved at the lapels so he could caress her breasts. They were covered only by the thin fabric of her nightgown. His questing fingers squeezed her nipples, tormenting them till they were taut and rigid, and the sensation was so arousing that she was glad she was lying down. If she hadn’t been, she might have swooned.
He broke away and nibbled a trail to her bosom. He nuzzled at her cleavage, the gesture sending jolts of excitement to her womb and out to her extremities. As he drew a nipple into his mouth, she squealed with surprise.
“Hush!” he teased, chuckling, “or the entire household will hear you.”
“You can’t . . . can’t ...”
“Can’t what? Can’t touch you here?” He pinched her nipple very hard. “Or here?” He pinched the other one even harder.
“It’s indecent,” she tried to claim.
“Yes, it is. That’s why it’s so enjoyable.”
He fell to her breasts again, and he suckled her nipples, going back and forth, back and forth, until she was so fraught with stimulation that she felt she might explode.
“Penworth, desist!”
“No.”
“Please?”
“I might if you call me John.”
“I won’t.”
“Then I guess I’ll have to continue, won’t I?”
He jumped in with a renewed vigor that had her writhing and moaning. He was lifting the hem of her nightgown. Her calves were bared, then her knees, and as her thighs were exposed, she panicked.
“What are you doing?”
“You don’t know?”
BOOK: Dreams of Desire
10.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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