Authors: Kay Hooper; Lisa Kleypas
Tags: #Romance, #Anthologies
He took hold of her wrists and pulled them away from her body, his gaze lingering appreciatively on her round breasts before moving back to her face. “Lean down and kiss me.”
She complied without hesitation, flattening her hands on his shoulders, lightly touching her lips to his. Beneath her she felt his body respond, desire flowing hot in his loins. Her eyes widened, and she tried to move away. He rolled to his side and slid his thigh between hers.
“Again?” she asked breathlessly.
“Again.” His lips drifted over her neck in a moist, searing path. He murmured sweet beguilements in her ear, teased and fondled her until she was gasping and reaching for him hungrily. Laughing softly at her impatience, Jason slowed the pace even more, touching her as if she were as fragile as an orchid, as if more than the tenderest brush of his fingers would bruise her. He drove her past eagerness, past all reason, until all she could do was wait helplessly for him to release her from the silken prison. At last he slid into her, and she purred in exquisite relief, her green eyes half-closing.
Jason shuddered as he felt her arms closing around his back, her hips tilting to cradle his. He had never expected to find such fulfillment. All the bitterness, all the unspoken longings that had haunted him for so long, were quenched in the sweetness of her body.
The urgent rhythm of her hips pulled him into a flowing tide of pleasure, and he fought to keep his movements slow and easy. Laura muffled her moans of ecstasy against his shoulder, and Jason felt the shattering sensations sweep through him as well. He buried his face in the river of her hair, wrapped her in the shelter of his arms, held her tightly in the moments of darkness and bliss.
“Laura, dear. Laura.” Sophia’s voice called her from sleep.
She groaned, her face half-buried in the goose-down pillow. She squinted at her older sister, who stood by the bed. Sophia wore a velvet gown with an elegant knee scarf, a sash tied around the lower length of the skirt to gather it in at the knees. The curtains at the windows were tied back, letting in the white winter sunshine.
“What time is it?” Laura asked in a sleep-roughened voice.
“Eight o’clock, dear. I thought it best to wake you rather than allow you to sleep until a scandalous hour and become the subject of embarrassing speculation.”
Laura began to sit up, then gathered the sheet to her breasts with a gasp as she realized she was naked. She blushed, throwing a cautious glance at her sister. Sophia seemed unperturbed.
“Is Jason downstairs?” Laura asked timidly.
“No, the men breakfasted early and went to hunt fowl,” Sophia said.
?” Laura frowned in a befuddled way.
“The charm of the sport escapes me. I doubt they’ll find a single thing to shoot. But after observing Horace’s habits for years, I’ve come to the conclusion that men simply like to carry their guns through the woods, drink from their hunting flasks, and exchange ribald stories.”
Laura tried to smile, but a quick, anxious frown followed. “How did Jason look at breakfast?” she asked.
“No different than usual, I suppose.” Sophia’s clear brown eyes rested on her steadily. “How should he have looked?”
“I don’t know,” Laura murmured, sitting up in bed. She winced, feeling battered and sore in every part of her body.
“I’ll tell the maid to draw a hot bath for you,” Sophia said considerately. “And I’ll send up some cambric tea.”
“Thank you.” Laura continued to clutch the sheet closely, her fists winding and twisting in the soft linen. Sophia left, and Laura stared at the closed door, struggling with a mixture of emotions. “Oh, Jason,” she whispered, distressed at the prospect of seeing him this morning. In the light of day, the recollection of her behavior was mortifying—she had been shameless, foolish, and he was probably laughing secretly at her. No, she couldn’t face him now, not to save her own life!
But there was no possibility of avoiding him. Sighing miserably, she crawled out of bed. She was refreshed by a hot bath that soothed her aches and pains. After much deliberation, she decided to wear a dress of shimmering olive-green faille that brightened her eyes to emerald. The maid came to assist her with the tightening of her corset laces, and spent a long time fastening the tiny loops and buttons on the back of her dress. The skirt was pulled tightly over her figure in front and gathered behind in a modest bustle topped by a huge bow. Painstakingly Laura twisted and re-twisted her hair into a perfect coiled chignon and anchored the chestnut mass with a gold comb.
Finally there was nothing left to do. She squared her shoulders and walked downstairs. She was relieved to discover that the men had not yet returned. Some women were attending to their needlework in the parlor, while others lingered in the breakfast room. The food was being kept in crested silver warming dishes, and Laura inspected the array with a smile.
Sophia knew how to serve the proper Bostonian breakfast, the heavy old-fashioned kind. The sideboards fairly groaned under the weight of fruit, oatmeal, preserves and molasses, waffles, biscuits, toasted bread, eggs, cheese, and custard. There was a variety of meats, including chicken with cream gravy, ham, and smoked fish. An empty plate held a few crumbs of what had once been an apple pie. As far as New Englanders were concerned, there was never an inappropriate time of day to serve apple pie.
“Everything will be cleared away soon,” Sophia told her. “Come, have something to eat.”
A plate was thrust in her hands, and Laura smiled, picking up a tidbit here and there. But she was too nervous to eat, and in spite of her sister’s entreaties, she barely touched the food.
“More tea?” Sophia asked, hovering about her with maternal concern. “Chocolate?”
“No, thank you,” Laura replied absently. She stood up. “I think I’ll find something to read. Or perhaps I’ll try my hand at the piano again. I have missed playing—I’d forgotten how soothing it is. I’ll close the door so as not to disturb anyone.”
“Yes, do whatever you like,” Sophia said, regarding her with a touch of worry. “Laura, you don’t seem quite yourself this morning.”
“Don’t I?” She felt her cheeks turn pink. “I’m perfectly well.”
Sophia lowered her voice to a whisper. “Just set my fears to rest and I’ll ask nothing else: Jason treated you kindly, didn’t he?”
“Yes, he was kind,” Laura whispered back. She leaned closer as if to impart a highly personal secret, and Sophia tilted her head obligingly. “I am going to the piano now.”
Smiling wryly, Sophia waved her away.
Laura seated herself at the small rosewood piano with a sigh, her fingers running over the ivory keys as if waiting for inspiration to strike. Then they settled in a pattern she remembered from long ago, a melody that was melancholy and sweet. It suited her mood perfectly. She fumbled a few times, her touch uncertain from lack of practice. As she played, concentrating on the music, she sensed the parlor door opening. Her fingers slowed, then stilled. All she could hear was carpet-muffled footsteps, but she knew who the intruder was.
A pair of strong hands slid over her shoulders, up the sides of her neck, back down. The palms were warm, the fingertips cool. A low, vibrant voice sent a thrill down her spine. “Don’t stop.”
She pulled her hands from the keys and turned to face Jason as he sat on the small bench beside her. He had never looked so fresh and vital, his hair attractively tousled and his skin ruddy from the icy breezes outside.
For a moment they stared at each other, measuring, asking silent questions. Laura dropped her gaze, and it happened to fall on the muscled thigh pressed close to her own. She remembered that thigh wedged between hers, and embarrassment rushed over her.
“You left me this morning,” she heard herself say.
Jason leaned over her downbent head, unable to resist nuzzling the nape of her neck. “I didn’t want to wake you. You were sleeping so deeply.”
She shivered at the heat of his breath and tried to stand up, only to have him catch her firmly around the waist and pull her back down. Automatically she braced her arms against his chest. “Look at me,” he said quietly, “and tell me why you’re skittish today.”
Laura’s fingers plucked nervously at his black-and-tan brocaded vest. “You know why.”
“Yes, I know why.”
She heard the trace of amusement in his tone. Her eyes flew to his, and she saw that the midnight depths were warm with laughter. Immediately she was horror-stricken. Oh, he was laughing at her, he was jeering at the way she had behaved last night, his chaste wife who had moaned and clung to him so wantonly.
“Let go of me,” she said, pushing at him in earnest. “I know what you think, and I won’t—”
“Do you?” His arms tightened until she was pinned against his chest, and he smiled at her small scarlet face. “I think you’re adorable.” He dropped a kiss on her forehead while she struggled helplessly. “I think you need to be reminded of a few things.” His mouth joined hers, pressing her lips apart. She could not keep from responding any more than she could stop her heart from beating. As her lips clung to his, he let her hands slip free, and her arms wrapped around his neck. Their tongues touched, circled, slid together languorously.
Gradually Jason released her mouth, and she gave a protesting moan. “I think,” he said huskily, “you need to be taken back to bed.”
Laura’s eyes widened with alarm. “You would not embarrass me in front of the others that way.”
He kissed her hungrily. “They’ll understand.”
“They will not! They’re Bostonians.”
“I think I’ll carry you upstairs. Right now.” He made a move as if to lift her, and she clutched at his shoulders.
“Jason, no, you can’t…” Her voice trailed off as she saw that he was only teasing her. Her frown of worry dissolved into a scowl.
“Laura,” he murmured with a smile, “do you need proof of how much I want you?” He drew her hand to his loins, and she caught her breath at the feel of him, hard and urgent, more than ready to take her. “I never thought it was possible to want a woman so much,” he said against her ear. “And if it weren’t for your blessed modesty, I
take you upstairs…or right here…anywhere…” He sought her lips, his mouth soft and coaxing, setting fire to every nerve.
“Jason,” she whispered, leaning against him, “you would tell me if I displeased you last night, wouldn’t you?”
me…” he repeated in astonishment. “Laura, no one has ever pleased me
Where did you come by such an idiotic notion?” Suddenly his dark eyes were stern. “If that’s what you’re fretting about, we really are going upstairs.”
This time he was clearly
teasing. Alarmed, Laura tried to appease him. “No, I believe you, Jason, I do—”
“Convince me,” he challenged, and choked off her words with a sultry kiss. She twisted to fit him more closely, her fingers sliding between his vest and shirt. The pounding of his heart was as wild as her own. She was lost in a wave of sweet madness, not caring what happened next, dimly aware that she would not object if Jason pulled her to the floor and took her right there.
They were interrupted by the harsh clanging of a tin drum and a shrill, metallic blast. The sounds seemed to pierce Laura’s eardrums and sent a shock through her body. Jason let go of her with a muffled curse and nearly fell off the piano bench. Together they stared at the intruders.
A pair of giggling imps stood before them. It was Sophia’s children, Wilfred and Millicent, holding tin instruments and banging them loudly.
“Lovely children,” Jason remarked pleasantly, reaching up to rub the back of his neck, where every hair was standing up straight.
“You were kissing Aunt Laura!” Millicent cried in glee.
“So I was,” Jason agreed.
Wilfred pushed up his glasses and squinted at them. “Uncle Hale said to come play for you.”
Jason looked at Laura with a rueful grin. “Excuse me. I have two little elves to catch.”
“What will you do when you catch them?” she asked in pretend worry.
He smiled darkly. “Bury them outside in the nearest snowdrift.”
Wilfred and Millicent screamed in delighted terror and scampered from the room as Jason chased them.
“Don’t forget Hale,” Laura called after him, and laughed.
In the days that followed Laura was unable to let go of the feeling that she was in a delightful dream that would end with cruel suddenness. Each morning she awakened with a sense of worry that dissolved only when she saw Jason’s smile. It was miraculous to her that the husband she had come to dread was now the person she wanted to be with every minute.
Now that she was no longer afraid of his biting sarcasm being turned on her, she talked freely with him. He was an entertaining companion, sometimes thoughtful and quiet, sometimes roughly playful. He was a considerate lover, always sensitive to her pleasure, but with an earthiness that she found exciting.
To Laura’s surprise, Jason seemed to relish the discovery that she was not the delicate, reserved creature he had thought her. One morning he swept her away from the others and took her on a ramble through the woods, teasing and flirting as if she were a maiden he was bent on seducing. Saucily she ducked away when he would have kissed her.
“No,” she said, picking up her skirts and making her way to a fallen tree trunk. “I know what you intend, and I will not be taken advantage of in the snow.”
He followed readily. “I could make you forget the cold.”
“I don’t think so.” Primly she stepped over the tree trunk, and gave a little shriek as he made a grab for her.
“I never back down from a challenge,” he said.
Swiftly she picked up a long birch stick and turned to face him, touching it to his chest as if it were a sword. “So this is the reason you brought me out here,” she accused, “for an unseemly frolic in the middle of the woods.”
“Exactly.” With deliberate slowness he took the stick and broke it in half, tossing it aside. “And I’m going to have my way with you.”
Backing up step by step, Laura considered the possibility of compromise. “One kiss,” she offered.