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Authors: Cheryl Holt

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BOOK: Dreams of Desire
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She was still leaned against the bedpost, and he stepped in again, tickled by how the area around them was instantly enlivened. A thrilling intimacy was growing, and there was the most marvelous sense of expectation, as if any wonderful thing might happen.
“I want you to remain,” he insisted. “I want you in my home.”
“It will be a nightmare for me.”
“No, it won’t. I’ll protect you.”
The words sounded strange, as if they’d been spoken by another man, one who was considerate and sympathetic to the needs of others as he never was.
“Promise me you won’t leave,” he said.
She sighed. “I won’t.”
“If you sneak off in the dark, I’ll be very worried. Promise me you’ll be here in the morning. Swear it to me.”
“I swear I’ll be here.”
There were a dozen other, more personal comments he wanted to utter, but he didn’t dare, and he was alarmed by the odd sentiments that kept flaring when she was near.
He seemed to . . . to . . .
like
her more than he should, but it would be entirely inappropriate for any relationship to develop.
“You’ll be fine,” he vowed. “I’ll see to it.”
Though he knew it was wrong, he couldn’t resist reaching out and tracing a finger across her lips. Then he turned and ran as if the hounds of Hell were nipping at his heels.
Chapter 4
“I’M beggared.”
“After your shenanigans in Town last month, I’m not surprised.”
“I could use an infusion of cash.”
“I bet you could.”
Edward Middleton glared at John, and he struggled to keep his fury in check. He’d provided John with a dozen openings to cough up some money, but John was being maddeningly tight-fisted. As usual.
With John being thirty and Edward twenty-seven, Edward had dealt with John’s temperament for nearly three decades. It was pointless to quarrel with him. He was stoic and unflappable and couldn’t be swayed by emotional argument. Any request had to be posed with levity, as if the matter was unimportant.
They were sequestered in John’s library, with John seated behind his desk and wallowing in the pomp of his position like a blasted king. He looked cool and composed, while Edward had been up all night, drinking and carousing at the village tavern.
Rumpled and unshaven, his head throbbed with a hangover. He was dying to stagger over to the sideboard and pour himself a whiskey, needing to imbibe a little hair of the dog to quell his shaking hands, but it was just what John would expect him to do. Edward wouldn’t grant him the satisfaction of being right.
“I don’t suppose,” Edward casually pressed, “you could lower yourself to extend an advance. The next quarterly payment from my trust fund isn’t due for six weeks.”
“I know, but I don’t see how your fiscal difficulties are my problem.”
“Give a bloke the benefit of the doubt, would you? I’ve had a run of bad luck. It wouldn’t kill you to relinquish a few pounds. You have plenty. Why not share?”
Edward grinned, but John didn’t grin back.
“I’d rather not,” John said.
“Listen, old fellow—”
“Don’t call me
old
. I’m your brother, not your father.”
“Yes, well, you act like a decrepit penny-pincher. It’s hard to remember that we’re only three years apart in age.”
“Three years older, but a lifetime wiser.”
John’s sanctimonious attitude was beginning to grate, and even though Edward had planned to stay calm, he was in it up to his neck financially.
“Damn it all, John, must you be such a miser?”
“Yes, I must.”
“You’re so bloody smug, with your title and your properties and your overflowing bank accounts.”
“I can’t help it that I was born before you, and I can’t change the British laws of inheritance.”
“If it hadn’t been for your whore of a mother marrying Father first, I’d be earl now instead of you.”
“Yes, you would be.”
The remark about his mother, Barbara, was despicable, and Edward shouldn’t have uttered it, but true to form, John evinced no reaction. The man was carved from stone. He had nerves of steel. Nothing moved him; nothing upset him.
“How am I to carry on while you’re out of the country?” Edward inquired. “You’ll be cavorting in Scotland, and I’ll be stuck on this accursed farm without a farthing in my pocket.”
“If this tale of woe has been offered to elicit sympathy—or get me to empty my purse—it hasn’t.”
“I can’t remain here without any funds. If that’s what you have in mind, then I’ll have to tag along to Scotland with you.”
John didn’t want Edward in Scotland any more than Edward wanted to be there, but what choice did Edward have?
They’d been at John’s rural estate for several weeks, and Edward was chomping at the bit to leave, but he couldn’t return to London.
Creditors hounded him wherever he went, yet there was naught to do in Scotland but shiver in the cold and breathe the fresh air, the notion of which had him sick to his stomach.
“By all means,” John said, “come to Scotland with us. We’ll be happy to have you, and you can keep the twins entertained.”
John’s expression was unruffled, giving no hint as to his opinion over Edward’s abrupt decision to make the trip, and with Edward having thrown down the gauntlet, he felt as if he had to follow through. He’d be heading for Scotland with the rest of the family—his irritating mother nagging the entire time—when it had never been his intention to travel with them.
How was it that John barely spoke a word but won every argument?
“I’d better pack my bags,” Edward grumbled.
“Yes, you’d better. We’ll be on our way at dawn. If you oversleep, you’ll miss the carriage.”
Edward smiled tightly and sauntered out, fighting to appear relaxed and unaffected, but he was thoroughly steamed. The moment he was down the hall, he stomped off, eager to vent his rage.
It was the very devil being the second son. While his father had provided for him, Charles had known Edward’s proclivities and had tied up all his money. Edward had enough to survive, but he couldn’t withdraw the amounts necessary to live as he
deserved
. And John was the trustee—the bastard!
Edward had to plead and cajole to have the tiniest bill paid.
He loomed into the foyer, but Violet was coming down the stairs, so he reined in his temper. A classic beauty, she was blond and blue-eyed, with a serene, aristocratic face and thin, willowy figure. She seemed to float rather than walk.
She’d been groomed to marry a pompous ass like John, and she’d be the perfect, boring wife for the perfect, boring husband. She would never cause a scandal, would never exhibit an ounce of inappropriate conduct, and she’d be dry as dust in bed.
How John could shackle himself to her was a mystery, but then, John sought out the dullest people on earth and cultivated relationships with them. Violet was the obvious choice to be his fiancée. She was vapid and shy and naïve as a post, but she was also a duke’s daughter and rich as Croesus.
If Edward had been the earl, he could have wed someone like her, someone who was stupid enough to ignore his failings but attractive enough to look good on his arm at social functions. As it was, he’d be lucky to snag a poverty-stricken hag for his bride.
“Hello, my dearest, Violet,” he said, turning on the charm.
“Hello, Edward.” At using his Christian name, she blushed a fetching shade of pink.
She reached the bottom stair, and he clasped her hand, bowed over it, and kissed the back.
“How is it,” he asked, “that you’re always pretty so early in the morning?”
She giggled annoyingly. “You’re such a flatterer.”
“I simply point out the truth.”
She preened under his male scrutiny, expecting it as her due.
“I have the most wonderful news,” he murmured. He stepped in, his boots brushing the hem of her skirt, suggesting an intimacy to which he wasn’t entitled.
“What is it?”
“I’m coming to Scotland, after all.”
“Really?”
“Yes. I couldn’t bear to be away from you for two whole months.”
She shook a slender, scolding finger at him. “You shouldn’t say such things to me.”
“But you love it when I do.”
He leaned even closer, so that his leg touched hers through all the petticoats and fabric. He was taking an outrageous liberty, but he reveled in it. In his most wretched hours, when he was broke and alone, he fantasized about seducing her, about their eloping before John realized what had happened.
Edward could easily convince her. She was an adolescent fool, a prime candidate for a furtive flirtation. If Edward ended up with her fortune, and John ended up jilted, it would serve him right.
“Edward ...” she breathed, overwhelmed by his proximity.
“I can’t help myself when I’m around you.”
“You’re so wicked.”
“I’m just what you want in a husband, just what you need. Don’t deny it. John will never be man enough for you. You’re all fire and sparkle, while he’s—”
“Hush! You mustn’t speak ill of him. Not in his own home.”
“You’re correct.” He forced a pained grimace, as if torn by emotion. “Pardon me.”
He seized her hand and kissed it again, then—thank God!—footsteps sounded down the hall so he had an excuse to lurch away.

Adieu
, Violet,” he whispered.
He acted as if the words had been wrenched from his very soul, and he circled her and started up the stairs, knowing she couldn’t see him smiling as he climbed.
Like taking candy from a baby,
he mused. When it came to men, she was gullible as a nun.
He reached the landing, and he was delighted to find one of the twins beckoning him to follow her. From a distance, it was difficult to tell them apart, but he assumed it was Melanie.
Without discussion, they proceeded to the next floor where her and her sister’s adjoining bedchambers were located.
They arrived at her door, and he hesitated, aware that he shouldn’t go in, but as was typical of many decisions in his life, curiosity overrode prudence.
If he was caught, there would be hell to pay. John would brook no indecent behavior toward two orphaned girls living under his protection.
Any infraction would spur John to extract punishment, but what kind? The options were all unsettling, but Edward discounted them and forged on. He marched into her room, and as the door was shut and locked behind them, he reeled with anticipation.
What could she want? Whatever it was, it would be thrilling, the precise cure for the tedium he loathed.
“Did you need something, Melanie?”
“I’m Miranda.”
“Oh, of course you are,” he blithely agreed. “My mistake.”
“Melanie is taking a bath.”
Ho-ho!
“Is she?”
“She sent me to ask if you’d like to wash her back. Father used to all the time.”
The lucky, incestuous bastard!
“You don’t say.”
“She’s missed his . . . assistance. She thought you might like to aid her in his stead.”
“I’ve never been one to refuse a lady.” He grinned like a lunatic. “Lead on, lead on.”
Though he knew it was insane, he’d participated in their mischief in the past and was eager to do so again.
They often plied him with liquor, then engaged in ribald conversation. Once, they’d procured some opium, and he’d smoked it with them. On another occasion, they’d had him flirt with their companion. He’d lured her out for a swim in the pond in the middle of the night, but John stumbled on her—drinking and in her drawers—and he’d fired her on the spot.
Edward’s successful involvement in the companion’s removal had earned him a second evening of opiates, but that was as far as their interactions had progressed. They’d never previously proposed anything remotely sexual, but if they were inclined to take their relationship to a new level, he was happy to oblige.
Miranda escorted him to the dressing room, which was situated between the two bedchambers. The hip bath was filled to the rim. Melanie was in it, submerged in the water, her head balanced on the edge. Her dazzling silvery hair was piled in loose disarray, a few ringlets dangling down.
As he entered, she glanced over, then came up on her knees. She was wearing a black ribbon around her neck, an ivory cameo in the center, but other than that, she was naked. Water dripped off her arms and lapped at her thighs.
Holding her pose, she encouraged him to ogle her, and he definitely did.
She was thin, her skin quite pale. He could see her ribs, her flat stomach, her protruding hip bones. Her breasts were small, like a girl who had just begun to develop her woman’s body, and her privates had no hair on them, or perhaps it was such a light color that he couldn’t discern it.
She looked young and supple and nubile, and in an instant, his cock was hard as a rock.
BOOK: Dreams of Desire
4.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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