Authors: Hannah Meredith
Luke searched for the words that could convince Carolyn that her assumptions were wrong. “I could never hate you, Caro. I love you—and you’re the only woman I’ve ever said that to. I want to spend my life with you, not some stolen hours. My reputation is such that society at large will wonder how you lowered yourself to take my name. My friends, however, will happily get to know you and envy me for the lucky man I’ll be.”
Luke understood her reservations, but he wanted her to see that her concerns for him were of no account. He knew he wasn’t much of a marital prize, but he would spend the rest of his life trying to make her happy. “We could have a good life, a full life. One filled with joy.”
The tears that had been shining in her luminous eyes finally overflowed into twin trails down her cheeks. Something in him snapped, and he stepped forward, gathering her into his arms. At first she felt wooden. Then she slumped against him, her head resting on his chest just above his heart. He wanted to sooth her tears. He needed her in his arms always. Couldn’t she feel that this is where she belonged? “I love you, Caro. Say you’ll marry me.”
She pushed back slightly until she could look up into his face. “And I love you, Luke. So, by definition, we are already lovers. I want you to make this a physical fact. I’m a twenty-nine-year-old widow and no one has ever made love to me. I want that person to be you—now, tonight. Don’t ask me to make decisions about the future…just love me.”
She loved him! She was warm and pliant in his arms. He was not made of stone. He lowered his mouth to hers. This was not the chaste, goodnight kiss they had previously shared. Her hands drifted up over his shoulders to grasp the nape of his neck. With the slightest touch of his tongue on her lower lip, she relaxed her mouth, allowing his tongue to enter.
He could feel her initial surprise, reminding him of her lack of experience. He should proceed more slowly to avoid frightening her. Caro’s whispered “just love me” called to him to make this experience one of exquisite delight.
He felt as if this time would be his first time. He was practiced at pleasuring women, but he’d never before truly made love. He found himself unsure for the first time since he was a boy. This would be a new experience for them both. He needed to remember to treat Caro with care.
But when she moaned low in her throat and responded to his deep kisses with untutored enthusiasm, he couldn’t stop his hands from roaming over her body. His fingers slid across the satin of her robe, down her sides until they traced the lovely swell of her buttocks. He fought the urge to grip the tempting mounds and pull her tightly against his straining arousal. Instead, he moved his hands upwards until they cupped her unfettered breasts.
She arched her back, offering more access. He ran a line of feathery kisses along her jaw and the side of her neck as his hands stroked downward, seeking the tie to her wrapper. He wanted to strip both it and her maidenly nightgown from her lush body.
He stopped when he encountered the knot. No, this shouldn’t happen here in the middle of the brightly lit drawing room. “Can we blow out all these bloody candles and go up to your room?” he asked, knowing if she were to reject him, this would be the time.
“Yes.” The word was a sigh, a promise. Then she slipped from his arms and began circling the room, extinguishing the flames. Luke joined the task until only one candle burned on a table near the door.
Caro crossed the room and picked up the remaining light. She held out her hand. “Will you come with me upstairs?”
He slipped his fingers into hers. “Wherever you lead, I’ll follow.”
She gave a soft chuckle and pulled him toward the foyer.
Caro brazenly led her lover—or soon to be lover—up the stairs. She felt wanton, free. She could not, would not, feel ashamed of desiring this exceptional man. She felt she had always existed on the fringes of life and was now about to discover the center. She had been a long time coming to this place and time, but now that she was here, she would take full advantage of the opportunity.
Her confidence and buoyant spirit lasted until they reached her bedroom and the door had clicked shut behind them. Then nervousness and uncertainty assailed her. If rumor was to be believed, Luke’s lovers were legion. What if he found her wanting? Heavens, how could he not? She had only gossip and temple carvings to guide her.
The candle in her hand weakly illuminated this, her private space. A room designed for comfort, not for beauty. She saw it as if through his eyes. The bed left in disarray from her sudden rising. The desk with its businesslike, neatly stacked papers. The chair draped with the plain workday dress she’d chosen for tomorrow. This was not a lady’s boudoir set for seduction.
This was a mistake. She should tell him to leave. She was confident that even now, at this late juncture, Luke would do as she asked.
Before she could act, Luke gently removed the candlestick she clutched in her hand and placed it on a low table. She realized she’d stood frozen in the middle of the room for what? A minute? An hour?
He softly cupped her faced in his hands and lowered his mouth to cover hers with a whisper of a kiss. “It’s all right, beloved,” he said, as if he had recognized her discomfort.
She melted into the kiss, her arms sliding around his waist. Through his fine linen dress shirt she felt muscles tighten and shift under her hands. His shirt? She pushed back in surprise. Behind Luke lay a trail of discarded clothing—jacket, waistcoat, even his shoes, left in an odd pigeon-toed configuration.
Following her glance, he shrugged and gave her a mischievous grin. “Yes, I hear the ghost of my nanny scolding, but what else could I do? You were so far ahead of me.”
She chuckled and the uncertainty that had assaulted her disappeared. This was Luke, the man she loved and who loved her in return. Here was warmth and acceptance. She had nothing to fear. She wrapped her hands around the back of his neck and pulled his smiling mouth down to hers.
His tongue dueled with hers as his fingers made quick work of the knot holding her robe together. He kissed down the side of her throat as he slid the wrapper from her shoulders to pool at her feet. His hands moved from her arms to cup her breasts, teasing the peaks with his thumbs through the thin fabric of her nightgown.
She made a surprised mewing sound. Heat crept through her, concentrating low at the junction of her thighs. Her breath came in shallow pants. She leaned into his caress.
His hands moved, and she was suddenly swung off her feet and cradled next to his chest. In four long strides, he’d gently deposited her in the middle of her rumpled bed. He effortlessly followed to lie along one side.
“Your nightgown is as prim as I imaged,” he said, nimble fingers already loosening the buttons at the neck. “Do you think we can dispense with it?”
Her first impulse was to clasp the garment to her, but the butterfly kisses he bestowed on the area of her chest he was exposing changed her mind. She wanted very much to be skin to skin with him.
“Only if you can quickly catch up.” Her voice was surprisingly husky.
She’d just finished speaking when he stood at the side of the bed and pulled his shirt over his head. Her hand, which had been reaching for the bottom of her gown, stopped in mid-motion. She’d seen his chest when he was injured. Actually, she had seen all of him. But not like this.
This was a virile man, not one who was lying injured and feverish, and this made a huge difference. The candlelight shadowed his impressive musculature and highlighted the band of hair that ran from one flat nipple to the other and then arrowed down to where he was unfastening his fall.
He leaned down, stripping off his formal breeches, small clothes, and hose in one smooth motion. Caro admired his taut buttocks and powerful thighs. Then he turned back toward her and oh my goodness! She’d thought him impressive quiescent. Aroused, he looked like the Hindu temple sculptures she’d dismissed as impossible.
Her eyes surged back up to his face in shock. He was grinning. “You seem to have gotten way behind. Let me help you.”
Then he was kneeling beside her on the bed. He gathered the bottom of her nightgown and lifted it. She shifted her rear off the bed enough for the fabric to clear, and he whisked it over her head. With a slight pressure on her shoulders, he eased her back flat. He knelt there, staring at her.
She would have felt embarrassed had his face not held a look of awe. “My God. You are the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
Caro stretched her hands toward him, needing to feel him, skin to skin. He bent and kissed her lips, her eyes, her chin, and downward until he took her one sensitized breast into his warm mouth while fondling the other. She groaned and gripped his shoulders. The earlier heat she’d felt became molten and moisture pooled between her thighs. His hand moved down her stomach until he cupped the burning part of her. Unconsciously she splayed her legs and rose into his stroking hand.
A small, conscious part of her brain recognized this as desire. Desire she’d never before known. Glorious, soul-shattering desire. “Please,” she murmured, wanting something, wanting more.
She had never imagined he’d replace his stroking hand with his mouth. Every muscle in her body tightened, her back arched, and her world shattered with a sharp cry.
He kissed his way up her body until he was lying over her, his torso supported by one of his corded arms, his arousal resting in the cradle of her legs. He entered her with one swift thrust. A quick pain and then a wondrous feeling of completion. Luke began to move and she followed his lead. The impossible tension built again, but she now knew what lay beyond the peak and strove for it. And then she was over, falling free. Crying her name, Luke joined her, collapsing to press her into the mattress.
He rolled to one side, pulling her with him until they lay tightly spooned together. He idly ran his hand up and down her side as their breathing returned to normal. “I love you,” he said, “and I’m going to spend night after night showing you how much.”
He gently kissed her temple and then to her surprise, rolled out of bed.
“What…?” She reached for him, not ready to relinquish the feeling of flesh-to-flesh.
“I have to go before your staff begins stirring.” He was already leaning over to retrieve his strewn clothing. “Lovers by necessity must be discrete. Husbands stay, but lovers always leave before the sun and gossip finds them.”
He dressed with amazing speed. All the while, she wanted to plead, “Stay! Stay!” But Luke was once again only following her dictates. This was the path she’d chosen. Tears filled her eyes, but she’d blinked them away before he returned to kiss her on the forehead, snuff the candle, and depart.
Then she let the tears come. They eventually became sobs, which finally evolved into whispered curses as pale dawn found its way around the edges of her drapes.
Changes in the Patterns for June 1825
ou found nothing?”
In frustration, Luke raked his fingers through his hair and slumped back in the threadbare chair in the sitting area of his rented rooms.
“There’s no evidence of any jewels at your brother David’s townhouse—well, except for the big diamond you’ve already seen, and you told us to leave that in place. We also checked at the house where David keeps his mistress. She has a few baubles, but they’re nothing but paste. I imagine the poor girl thinks they’re real, but my man says otherwise.” Tremaine sprawled in a matching chair, booted feet casually crossed. He looked totally relaxed. Well, why wouldn’t he be? His only motivation was curiosity, while to Luke, finding those gems meant everything.
“I’ve exhausted my ideas of where to look, “Luke said. “I guess we’re through.” Lord, he hated to say those words. The very thought that the gems were forever lost made him nauseous.
“Maybe at your father’s…”
“No. My father is a self-righteous idiot, but I’ve never known him to be anything but scrupulously honest. If he said the gems had been sold to aid other émigrés, this is what he believed.” The admission was difficult but probably true. His anger at his father for so easily believing the worst of him had colored his view of the situation. His father had often been overly stern, but he had never been unjust. If he’d had the stones, he would have handed them over to Luke, albeit grudgingly.