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Authors: Christine Merrill

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But not in nature. Even in his wildest imaginings he had not dreamed of seeing her like this. She was touching herself. She cupped her breasts, and then sat back upon the bed and spread herself wide before him, letting her fingers sink into the curls of hair between her legs before settling into a rhythm against her own body.

Tom swallowed and tried to still his breathing. She must know that he watched. There was a sly smile upon her lips as though she could imagine the effect that her play was having upon him. And then it was forgotten in a gasp as she shuddered and made a faint noise of pleasure released.

The effect was exquisite. He was hard for her, almost to the point of pain. He fingered the key in his hands for a moment, watching as she arched her neck and gave another shudder of satisfaction from her own touch.

Then he went to the door, opening it hurriedly, entering and locking it behind him again.

Chapter 2

V
ictoria smiled in triumph as a man limped into the room, for it was obvious that she had been right. He had watched. She could see it in his eyes. And it was plain that she had aroused him with her behavior.

His cheeks were flushed as though from too much wine. But it was not drunkenness. Desire, of course. She had expected that. But embarrassment? Watching and knowing that she knew. She had been told he was no stranger to houses of ill fame. But perhaps he was not usually a voyeur. He was younger than she had expected, little older than herself, but ten years younger than Charles. And though the sight of him locking the door should have scared her, his appearance did not match the dark villain she had expected. Tom Godfrey’s hair was brown, touched with gold from too much sun, and it fell in his eyes as he looked at her. He reached up and brushed it away.

“Do you fear interruption?” she asked, glancing at the locked door.

He dropped the key into his pocket. “I certainly do not wish it.” His voice was pleasant, almost defying her to enjoy the
sound of it. He approached the bed, and she resisted the urge to close her legs. Instead, she leaned back against the pillows, stretching her arms over her head and clasping her hands together. She could feel her breasts draw tight, straining against the chemise as she moved.

He shed his clothing quickly, as though there were little time to waste. And judging by the state of him, perhaps there was not. She felt an inappropriate frission of desire at the sight of him. He was a soldier, body hardened and marked by battle. There was an angry red scar high on one leg, which explained the hitch in his gait as he walked.

But he seemed healthy enough. And aroused he was almost frighteningly large.

It had been a long time since she had been with a man, she reminded herself, trying not to stare. And while she had no reason to want this particular man, her body’s reaction to his was normal, and not the least bit traitorous to her husband’s memory. As long as she did not dwell on it.

He smiled at her, and climbed on to the bed, reaching for her. As he took her into his arms, she felt the tingling friction of his bare skin against hers, and dropped her arms to circle his neck. Heat rose in her at the contact, and she fought down her guilt. What was about to happen meant nothing. She must separate physical response from more tender emotions. She would lie back and close her eyes and it would be over in no time.

And then, his lips touched hers.

She shied away from his kiss, turning her head. The man might expect no more than a lack of struggle in the actual act, but there would be no way to hide what she felt for him if they kissed.

He pulled away as well. “I’m sorry.” He glanced around the room. “Have I misunderstood? Because if you are unwill
ing…” He was hard against her leg, but very still, as though he awaited her permission to proceed.

The reaction surprised her. He was strong, and she’d been afraid he would force her cooperation if she did not give it. “I am willing,” she said softly. “But not to kiss. Not upon the lips, at least.”

He smiled. “Why ever not?”

Why indeed? “There are some things best shared between true lovers. And I wish to save some small part of me, for that.”

He seemed puzzled. And she wondered, did he need to fool himself that an encounter in such a place meant something more than it actually did? It was a sign of a romantic nature, a weakness that she had put long behind her after the hardships of even the happiest moments of the last few years. To reassure him, she said, “There are other things, very pleasant, I assure you, that I am quite willing to do.” She ran a hand down his body, slowly over the chest, and followed the trail of hair on his belly lower, until she could take him in her hand.

The act was all it took to render him incapable of further questions. The confusion on his face was replaced with a dazed smile and he closed his eyes and sighed. She had imagined a coupling almost brutal in its suddenness. But it appeared that he was content to let her be the aggressor.

It was strange and exciting to have such power. She could set the pace, and the action, and perhaps she could avoid joining with him at all.

Victoria pushed lightly upon his shoulder, rolling him onto his back. Then she knelt between his legs and slowly massaged his member, from shaft to tip and back, spreading his own moisture upon him, feeling him pulse beneath her hand, and an answering pulse in her own body.

He groaned, and covered her hand with his own. “Darling, your touch is heaven.”

A wicked thought occurred to her. And as she stroked him, her curiosity grew to insatiability. What better place to give over to such a whim than here? She bent over him. “Then what shall you think of this?” And she gave him the kiss that no man could resist, taking him gently into her mouth, surrounding him with her lips and running her tongue along the tip of him, feeling smoothness, tasting salt.

His hands clutched the sheets on either side of her head, as though he were afraid to reach for her, lest she stop. She moved her mouth over him, taking him deeper, and his back arched as muscles tightened in growing excitement. His moan stopped suddenly, his teeth closing with a snap. “Please.” The word was shaky, little more than a gasp. “Oh, yes.” He trembled. She could feel his control slipping, and it caused an answering tremor in her own body, before she reminded herself that what was happening between them had no meaning.

“We have not been introduced,” he ground out, with a desperate laugh. “My name is Tom Godfrey.”

She withdrew slightly, and purred against his skin. “Thomas.”

He groaned as though the sound of his own name was as exciting as her kiss. Then, he reached out a hand and stroked her hair. The gesture was strangely tender. “Your name. Please. I must know…”

She gave one last whirl of her tongue against him, and said, “Victoria.”

He gave an almost convulsive shudder and rolled away from her, spilling his seed into the sheet beside them.

For a moment, she felt strangely bereft. She missed the feel of him against her cheek and in her mouth, and the warmth
of his body close to his. Had she really been alone so long that even the touch of an enemy was welcome?

He was curled over with his back to her. And his shoulders were shaking with what looked to be silent laughter.

It angered her to think that he found her performance so amusing. Was she really so unskilled that her actions were laughable? She buried the feeling, and reached out a hesitant hand to his shoulder, as though from concern. “Is something the matter?”

He was definitely laughing, for his words escaped after a chuckle. “An old gun does not usually have a hair trigger.”

“Old?” At first it made no sense. Then, she realized he spoke of himself. “You are hardly thirty.”

He rolled back to her, still smiling, and touched her cheek. “That is old enough to have learned control. But you quite overcame me. I embarrassed myself like a greenling on his first trip to a brothel. Unlike some, you are too kind to comment upon it.”

Perhaps, if she had truly been a whore, she would have known the correct response to what had just happened. Should she have laughed at his joke, to put him at ease? She must do something quickly. If she wished information, she could not have him pulling on his boots and leaving her. “We could try again.”

“My thoughts exactly.” He leaned forward to kiss her.

Without thinking, she turned her head from him again, causing him to draw back.

“You are a most curious woman, Victoria.” He was staring at her as though he was the one who had come to search for truths. “I cannot decide what arouses me more, what you will do, or what you won’t.”

“That was not my intent.”

He ran a thumb from her cheek to touch her lower lip, and
then drew it slowly down to stroke her throat. “Liar. I think it is in your nature to drive men mad.” He leaned forward to kiss her throat at the spot where his thumb rested, and she felt a jolt of excitement.

“Please, do not.”

“You do not like it?”

It would do no good to lie. “Of course. But…”

He kissed her again. “It will be some few moments before I am ready again. If you will not spend it in kissing, then I must find another way to pass the time.”

Now he was ringing her throat with love bites, as though tracing the path of a necklace as his hands roamed over her breasts. His touch was hard, possessive, just as his kisses were. And it was not the only thing hardened, for she could feel his body growing eager to join with hers. She gave a weak laugh. “Dear sir, I think you are quite ready enough, now.”

“Do you?” He dipped his head to take the tip of her breast in his mouth through the cotton shift. “But I wish for you to be ready as well.”

“I do not require satisfaction.” She gasped, for his hands were between her legs, tugging at the curls there. “At least, not in that way.”

“You hurt me, darling, to make me think that it is my money that matters to you. You might not require this. But you certainly deserve it, after what you just did to me.” As his mouth slid down her body she had a fleeting fear that his actions were as much about control as hers had been.

And she could feel it slipping away as he moved closer and closer to where her body wanted him. She tried to pull away, but he wrapped his arms around her waist, holding her fast. “Please, sir, no.”

“You will not let me kiss you on the lips.” He sighed, but
did not release her. “So you must allow me to imagine what it might be like.” He dipped his tongue into her navel. “To whisper into your ear and touch it like so. To kiss my way along your cheek.” He trailed the kisses along her belly. “Until my lips find yours.” He settled himself carefully between her legs and barely touched her with his mouth. “Gently at first. Ever so gently. Just a touch.”

The shock of it was too much, and she gave another shudder. What had the abbess said, about the jealousy of others working here? If this was how he was in the habit of treating them, then she understood. His kiss was rougher now. And as he thrust his tongue into her, his fingers crept up to stroke.

Victoria put her own fingers into her mouth and bit down, trying to stop the scream of pleasure that she knew was coming. But the feel of them, the intrusion and the sharp pain of her bite along with his repeated invasion of her body tipped her over the edge into another cascade of pleasure.

Yet, his kiss did not cease. She struggled against it for a moment. But it was all too much, too good, and she was unable to think for wanting more.

Only when she was sure that she must be spent did he obey and release her, to slide his body up hers. “And now, I think you are ready, are you not?” He hovered for a moment at the entrance to her body, before beginning a slow thrust into her. He stopped. “Unless you do not wish it.”

His hesitation was almost painful, for she longed to be filled. “Please.” Later, she could regret asking him. But now she was so close to coming again that it was impossible to do other than beg for more. “Please. Oh, yes. Please.”

He pushed into her with a sudden, hard thrust and she gasped. She had not expected it to be so…

He withdrew and thrust again.

…different. The act was familiar and yet new, because her lover was different. The intense pleasure she felt was from the novelty, nothing more. Or so she told herself, as she dug her fingers into the muscles of his shoulders and moved her hips to match the strength of his thrusts, eager to feel him deep inside.

Sensing her need, he was not gentle. He raked his fingers down her back to clutch her bottom and pounded into her with a strength that demanded nothing less than her total surrender. Then he buried his face into the side of her neck, his teeth grazing her skin, and he licked hard at the muscle on her shoulder until she moaned in response.

At the sound, he rolled so that she could be on top of him and squeezed her hips to urge her on.

And she rode him, squeezing her legs together around him, tightening her muscles about him to feel how impossibly hard he was until she heard his answering groan and his body began to arch. As he lost control, he reached to the front of her, rubbing her with his thumb to bring her over the edge with him, shattering.

She collapsed on top of him, sprawling across his body, her cheek against his chest. It made her feel alive again to lie still for a moment, as passion receded and sense returned. He was taller than she had expected. His body big and solid under her, and still inside of her, undeniably male.

It felt good to be wanted. To be desired. And not to be alone.

He wrapped a hand around her waist. His grip was weak at first, little more than the weight of his own arm, as though exhausted by his own climax. Then slowly, he curled it possessively around her, the hand angling up toward her shoulders in a caress.

She could not see his face, but could tell his smile was gone by the tone of his voice. “I know who you are,” he said.

Chapter 3

V
ictoria Paget was lying in his arms, spent from lovemaking, just as he had always imagined her. It should be a dream, but now that the act was done, it was set to turn to nightmare.

Why had he asked her name? The question tortured him. He should have remained in ignorance, convinced that he was with some nameless bit of muslin. Or perhaps he should have left at the first moment of suspicion, when he’d stood outside the room.

Of course, that would have left her at the mercy of the next man to come along, and the thought of that haunted him even more. She was the object of his desire. A desire that had bordered almost on obsession in the months he had spent recuperating from his injury. He had hoped to exorcise the demon of her memory in a harmless game of pretend. A woman of experience would have him without complaint, scars and all. And the madam had assured him that in dim light, the girl she’d found would pass for the one he dreamed of.

She lay still against him, as though waiting for him to speak. “I know who you are.” There. It was out and said.

“Wh-what do you mean?” There was the barest hesitation
in her words, before her face returned to tranquility. He had startled her, but she was pretending ignorance.

It angered him that she thought she could still fool him with lies. “You are the widow of Captain Charles Paget, are you not?”

She said nothing, but glanced quickly toward the door and back. Did she fear him enough to run?

“I recognized your name,” he said, not caring about her fears. He tightened his hand on her back, still gentle, but enough to forestall an escape.

“It is a common name,” she argued, making no move to leave. “And I gave you no surname.”

“Perhaps. But it does not signify. You are Victoria Paget.”

“I did not think that you…that anyone would realize.” He could feel her budding resistance fade. Her eyes dropped, probably in shame of what she had become.

“I served under him. He spoke of you often, with much pride and affection.” And yet, she had come to this. He made no attempt to hide his disappointment. “He showed me the miniature he kept with him. I was there on the road with him, when he died. It was I who gathered his effects and returned them to you.”

“Why did you bother?” There was bitterness in her tone as well, to answer his.

“It was the least I could do. Not enough, I know. I could not save him. Nor could I help the others.” And now, he was the one who felt shame. What sort of monster was he, to offer words of condolence on a brothel bed? He rolled to the side, so their bodies could part from each other. “If it gives you comfort to know it, his death was sudden. The pain was brief. If he had time for a final thought, it was of you. But I did not want to see his possessions taken by looters. They were rightfully yours.”

“And much good they did me.” She drew even farther from him, fumbling for the sheet as though it would be possible to hide from him, after what they had done.

“What brings you here?” Had Paget left her nothing but that damned picture, that she had been driven to this on her return to London? “The abbess said you were new to this place. But that is a common lie.”

“In this case, it is true. Just this night. For money,” she said simply, as though it explained all. And it did. After all his fine talk of his stalwart wife, he’d thought the captain would know enough to set a portion aside for his widow. But some men expected to live forever and sort out the finances after the war.

He reached out and clasped her hand. “I could not save Charles. But I will save you from this, if you let me.”

“How would you do that?” She looked at him with a slanted cat’s gaze, as though weighing his intentions.

“Come away with me. Now. Tonight. You need have no fear of the mistress of this house. She will not dare to cross me. Once you are settled in my rooms, you can send for anything you wish. Or I will purchase what you need.”

God knew how. He could little afford a ladybird, should her tastes prove extravagant.

She thought for a moment, and then nodded. “I have nothing but the clothes I came with. I will dress, and then we may go.” Her lack of expression surprised him. He had expected some display of emotion, either enthusiasm or argument, or perhaps an embarrassed speech about how this was not normally her way. But she did not seem overly bothered by what had happened between them. Nor was she relieved or upset by his offer, just as she’d not been bothered by the knowledge that a stranger had watched as she’d touched herself. Perhaps she had been seeking a protector, all along.

Fool that he was, he had imagined the captain’s widow wrapping herself in grief and propriety. But the true Victoria Paget was mercenary, to an almost military degree. Her cold blood was almost as disturbing as the truth of her identity had been.

She was dressing as he waited. Strangely, the sight of her becoming clothed was more arousing than the sight of her naked had been. He wanted to peel the clothes away again, and touch her skin to assure himself that the event of the evening had truly happened. He turned his head, trying not to look at her. “You are sure you have no possessions?”

“There is nothing for me here.” Her cloak hung on a peg in the corner of the room, and he reached out for it, dropping it over her shoulders, then he escorted her from the room. As they left, she did not look back.

They rode in silence toward his flat, and he wondered if her feelings toward him would warm, given time. Would her opinion change in regard to kissing him? It did not seem so. When the carriage door was closed he had touched her chin as a prelude to turning her mouth to his. And she had looked away again.

What did it matter that she felt no tenderness for him? She had agreed to come with him, knowing what it would mean. He could have her again, soon. Tonight perhaps. And as often as he liked hereafter.

Bought and paid for.

The words echoed in Tom’s mind as the carriage stopped and he helped her from it and up the few steps to his apartment. His manservant looked up as he entered, with some small surprise that he was not alone. Tom gave the smallest shake of his head to indicate that he would explain in time, and the man went about his business as though there was nothing strange.

Then he said with some embarrassment, “I am sorry that my quarters are so small. Just the sitting room and the bedroom. My servant, Toby, sleeps by the kitchen fire. I do not have even a cot to offer you. In time, you shall have your own room. Or an apartment, if you wish it.”

How silly. Of course she would wish. What sort of idiot offered a carte blanche to a woman he could not afford to keep?

“You shall have a maid. Dresses. Anything you wish. But it is rather late. In the morning…” They were rash promises, and he had no idea how he would manage, but he would give her anything she desired, if it meant he could touch her again.

“Of course,” she said. “I understand.” And then she fell silent.

It worried him that he did not know what to say next, other than to repeat the pathetic offers he had just made. There was so much more to be said, so much that he wanted her to understand. And in turn, there was much he wanted her to answer for. But he doubted that either of them wanted to hear the truth. For now, he would let his body speak for him. He stepped forward and reached for her.

She took the slightest move away, as though his touch was unwelcome, now that she had what she wanted. And then she said, “When did you recognize me?”

The suddenness of it stunned him. Perhaps she wished to defend what was left of her honor, now that she had seen the humbleness of his quarters. It was a harsh thought, and he did not wish to believe it of her. But better not to act like a besotted fool, lest she announce that she had no wish to lie with a cripple if they would be forced to share the bed after.

He retreated to neutral hospitality, taking her cloak and leading her to a chair by the fire, then signaling his man to bring them a brandy. Once the servant had retired to the kitchen he said, “I did not know you at first. Not until you said
your name. If I had known, I would not have allowed you to do what you did.”

Liar.
He’d known in his heart exactly who she was from the moment he had laid eyes on her. But he had not been able to resist having her.

“Once I realized the truth, I could not stand by and leave you in that place, to God knows what fate. I owe it to a brother officer, to see to it that his family does not suffer. And that is why I brought you here.”

“After the fact,” she said, bluntly. And for a moment, there was a light in her eye that made him wonder if she sensed the truth of what had happened the day her husband died, and had come to him to exact punishment for it.

Or she might simply be expressing the obvious. His own guilt pricked sharp, like needles inside him. It had been so much easier to be angry and to blame her loose morals for what had happened tonight. But he had wanted her long before he had any right to, and he had taken her the first chance he’d got. Then he’d convinced himself that her desperation was a sign of unworthiness, and that his lust was somehow her fault. No wonder she was cold to him. He sighed. “What I did was unconscionable. But once things were begun, I did not know how to stop them, or how to explain myself.” He bit his tongue, and began again. “That is not true. Once we had begun, I did not wish to stop. I was selfish, and thoughtless of all but my own needs. Because of my injury, pleasure has been infrequent, and to find myself in the company of such a beautiful woman?”

He shrugged as though it were possible to minimize his attraction to her. “But that is no excuse. Although it is too late to take back what I have done, I will not trouble you further with my attentions. I only wish to know that you are safe, and
that you are not forced to debase yourself further because of misfortune.”

“Oh.” There was a crease in her forehead, as though she were puzzled. Or perhaps she was disappointed, although that hardly seemed likely. “Thank you for your kindness.” She sipped from the drink she had been offered.

He thought for a moment that she meant to explain how she had come to the state she was in. But she said nothing and he had no right to inquire. Perhaps there was something even more horrible than what she currently experienced.

Then she looked up at him from over the rim of her glass. “But I cannot accept the terms you offer. If you wish to give me your protection, then I must give you something in return. It makes no sense to pretend modesty, and refuse you companionship.” She touched the neckline of her gown.

He was mesmerized by her hands. How graceful they were. Long fingered. Supple. His body remembered how it had felt to be touched by them, and grew hard in response. And he knew that his attempt at nobility was for naught. She had offered. And he would take from her again.

It hurt him to know that what was about to happen would mean nothing to her, other than a bartering of services. She was not the woman he imagined her to be, and her husband’s shining description was little more than the fondness of long association.

He set his drink aside and reached out to take her by the wrist, drawing her to her feet and toward the door to the bedroom. And as he did so, the glass shook in her hand, and spilled a few drops of brandy onto the silken flesh above her breasts. He took the glass from her and threw it onto the hearth, listening to the crystal shatter as he pulled her into his arms, burying his face against her throat, chasing the drop of liquor
down to catch it on his tongue. When the bodice of her dress blocked him, he reached behind her and undid the fastenings, pushing it and her chemise out of the way until he could reach her breasts, taking the nipples by turn into his mouth to suckle them until the skin puckered and the tips grew hard.

He felt her fingers in his hair, a gentle, almost fearful touch holding his mouth against her body. And then she pulled her hands away, and he could feel her arms go rigid at her sides.

He lifted his head and put his arms on her shoulders, pushing gently until her back was to the wall. Then he dropped his hands to cover her, rubbing his thumbs against the sensitive tips and watching her eyes widen in response. Perhaps she was not such a dispassionate schemer after all. Was it fear he saw on her face? Or could it be desire? He gave the flesh beneath his fingers a gentle pinch, and she gasped and bit her lower lip as though she could bite back the response.

He smiled and stared at her mouth. “If you truly do not wish me to kiss you, you must stop that immediately. You are tempting me beyond endurance.”

“I did not mean to,” she whispered.

He laughed and leaned forward to catch the lobe of her ear between his teeth, nipping it as she had her own lip. “Of course you did. From the first moment. Lying on that bed, offering yourself to me. You are temptation itself.”

“No. Not that. I did not…” She gasped again as he bit harder, and wrenched the truth from her. “I did not mean to enjoy this.”

He could feel his body straining to pleasure her, just as hers strained to resist him. “Is that so?” He released her breasts and fumbled with the buttons on his trousers.

She glanced down, and then over her shoulder at the door behind them. Her mouth was a perfect O of shock. “The bedroom?”

He shook his head. “Here. Now. You do not wish to enjoy this. And I do not wish to wait.” He could see by the eager way that she lifted her skirt that his pretense at brutish behavior was as exciting to her as anything else they had tried. He touched her between her legs, spreading her with his fingers, stroking for a moment before pushing one inside of her. She was wet and ready, bracing her back against the wall, bearing down on his hand and shuddering with delight. He pulled his hand away and fitted his body to hers, pausing for just a moment before pushing slowly into that wonderful tightness.

The fear disappeared from her face. Now it shone with the light of pure bliss. And then she shut her eyes, as though she thought she could hide it from him.

He withdrew and thrust again, even slower than before, trying to ignore the dizzying rightness of being inside her. He pressed his body tight to hers, one of his hands trapped between them so that he could clutch her breast. With the other hand, he touched her face, running a thumb along her jawline to tip her face toward his. “Open your eyes.”

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