Read Pleasurably Undone! Online

Authors: Christine Merrill

Pleasurably Undone! (9 page)

BOOK: Pleasurably Undone!
11.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

He raised her body up until he slid an inch inside.
“Kjæreste.”

The endearment washed over her and she framed his face with her hands. “I want to stay with you. Even without my freedom.”

He filled her up, his hardness caressing her in a way that warmed her blood. “I want you as my bride, Aisling Ó Brannon. No longer my slave.”

His offer was completely unexpected. She couldn’t find the words, and when his mouth covered her nipple, he added, “I suppose I’ll have to convince you.”

“You could try.” The teasing words were cut off when he withdrew from inside her. She pulled at his hips, trying to bring him back. “Or you could tempt me.”

He shackled her wrists with his hands, penetrating her heat once more. Helpless, Aisling could only accept him as he thrust deeply, ravaging her body and filling her with a desperate pleasure. Her skin grew damp with sweat, her womanhood welcoming him as he claimed her for his own.

“Tharand,” she cried out as the first tremors shook her.

It wasn’t enough for him, and he took her down, forcing her to accept the wild spasms of ecstasy. “Say yes.”

She held out a little longer, weeping with the dark torment. At last he shuddered in his release, plunging within until she clenched him to her breast. She held him, her body and mind filled with such longing. For him and him alone.

“Yes,” she whispered.

 

The charred remains of Duncarrick crowned the hilltop, and Aisling’s heart ached to see it. Would Kieran and Egan be there? Had her brothers managed to break free of the slavers?

Tharand slowed his horse when they reached the entrance, his hands still resting around her waist. “Do you want me to come with you?”

“I’m afraid of what I’ll find.” She turned and kissed him, gathering strength from his arms.

Tharand captured her lips, kissing her until she lost sight of where they were. Her body melted against his, liquid with wanting him. But she forced herself to break free of his embrace. “I want to see my family again,” she admitted. “I need to know what happened to Kieran and Egan.”

“Go to them.” He dismounted and lifted her down. “And when you return, I will be waiting.”

Aisling shielded her eyes from the sun. Her warrior rested his hand upon the flanks of his stallion, and she knew with a certainty that he would never leave her. “Let us go together.”

DISROBED AND DISHONORED

Louise Allen

Author Note

“Disrobed and Dishonored” is the story of what happens when a respectable young lady with a problem meets a rakish highwayman whose solution to her dilemma is anything
but
respectable.

Jonathan’s suggestion gets Miss Sarah Tatton out of one predicament and into his bed—which is no place for a virtuous young lady. Luckily for her she knows the new Lady Standon (wife of
The Shocking Lord Standon
) and through her meets more of the Ravenhurst clan (from my series THOSE SCANDALOUS RAVENHURSTS), who throw themselves with characteristically unconventional enthusiasm into rescuing the ill-matched pair of lovers.

I hope you enjoy glimpsing two of the heroines from the Ravenhurst books. To read this family miniseries, please visit eHarlequin.com.

To the brilliant team at Richmond with thanks for all their support.

Look for Louise Allen’s
The Lord and the Wayward Lady
in June 2010
This launches the Regency Silk & Scandal miniseries

Chapter 1

July 1816, Norfolk

T
he man in the mask ran one hand down the neck of the ugly gray hunter. ‘Patience, Tolly. One more to go and then it’s oats for you and two dozen of the finest old brandy for me.’

The horse snorted, his ear flicking back to listen to his rider’s voice as Jonathan slouched into the familiar comfort of the saddle, eyes narrowed against the late-evening light. It was past eight now and no traffic had passed along the lane for half an hour. Up to then business had been brisk and last night’s wager seemed easily won. He dug a hand in his pocket and drew out the tokens he had claimed, proofs of a kiss from each of the first five women who passed down the lane on their way back from market in St. Margaret’s to the villages of Saint’s Mead and Saint’s Ford.

There was a downy feather from the empty egg bucket of the country lass who had giggled and returned his kiss with relish; a tiny corn dolly from the elderly dame driving her donkey cart back, her baskets of straw plait almost
empty, a twinkle in her eyes as she pinched his chin; a paper of pins from the thin-faced spinster who had blushed like a peony when he had respectfully saluted her papery cheek; and a promissory note for one ginger kitten (guaranteed of good mousing stock) from the farmer’s wife who had roared with laughter and tipped up her round red face with cheerful anticipation.

Jonathan pinned the corn dolly to his lapel, stuck the feather in his hat brim and wondered which of his housekeepers would most appreciate a kitten. His pleasure in the evening’s sport began to wane. He had another hour before he was due to join his friends at The Golden Lion for supper to present evidence of his success and the chances of the required fifth female happening along seemed increasingly poor.

Tolly lifted his head and pricked his ears. ‘Hoofbeats,’ Jonathan concurred. ‘One horse—likely to be a man.’ He nudged the gray through a gap in the thick hedgerow, drew the empty pistol, laid it along his thigh and waited.

 

‘Despicable, hypocritical swine,’ Sarah Tatton repeated, reining in her mare to a walk and dashing the tears out of her eyes with an impatient hand. Careering around the countryside sidesaddle in evening dress was far from comfortable now that her initial fury had simmered down, to be replaced by something approaching panic.

How could she have been so meek, so trustingly innocent? Eighteen months sitting in the country, perfecting her wifely skills in domestic management, needlework and entertaining, while Papa boasted to all and sundry of the excellent match he had made for his daughter—and what had she to show for it? Her linen cupboard was immaculate, her stillroom a marvel, she could play a sonata and hold her own in the most
trying dinner-party conversation and,
finally
, her betrothed had deigned to turn up to discuss the wedding.

Sir Jeremy Peters might be only moderately good-looking and not possess a sparkling wit, but he was, as everyone had told her during the course of her second Season,
a catch
for the daughter of a country baronet with moderate looks and a moderate dowry to match. Wealthy, well-connected—she could not hope to do better to oblige her papa.

‘Respectable?’ Sarah swore under her breath. Half an hour in his company, during which he had congratulated her on her modest gown and presented her with a hideous string of lumpy freshwater pearls, had made her heart sink; she had not remembered him as being so dull. But when she had gone upstairs to change for dinner Mary, her maid, had broken down in floods of tears as she fastened her gown.

‘I’ve got to tell you, Miss Sarah. I cannot let you marry him, not even if it means my place,’ she had wailed. What Sarah had heard took her breath away and left her sick and shaken. Sir Jeremy had assaulted Mary at the house party where he had proposed to Sarah and threatened that he would tell Sir Hugh Tatton that she had offered herself for money if she said one word of it.

So Sarah confronted her father with the fact that she had discovered her betrothed was the sort of man who would ravish defenseless young women—and Papa had dismissed the matter.

‘Nonsense,’ he blustered, slapping his newspaper down on his desk in irritation. ‘Some young trollop looking to earn herself a few shillings, I’ve no doubt. Asking for it.’

‘But no, Papa! This is a respectable girl.’ She did not dare tell him who, not with the memory of the housemaid turned off without a character when Cousin William’s visit had left her pregnant. Her father was of the old school when it came
to domestic discipline. ‘And even if it were the case that she was willing, you cannot expect me to marry a man of such loose morals.’

‘A lady ignores such matters. It is her duty to remain faithful, above reproach, and to raise her children. Her husband may seek diversion elsewhere—’

‘Diversion!’

He scowled. ‘Diversion. It means nothing and no lady of refined mind should think of such things, let alone admit to knowing of them.’

‘I cannot possibly marry Sir Jeremy,’ she announced flatly.

‘You most certainly will, my girl! I’m not letting a good match like that slip through my fingers because of some missish scruples. You marry him—or I will find out who has been filling your head with this scurrilous nonsense and see they suffer for it. Do you understand me?’

How could she find Mary a suitable new post, one where she would be safe from her father’s wrath? If she had been in London she could have gone to a good agency, given her glowing references, but here, deep in the country, such a plan would have to be conducted by letter and Papa insisted on her chaperone reading all her correspondence.

And how she was going to be able to keep a civil tongue in her head over dinner she had no idea. She had stood outside the drawing room gathering her composure to enter when she heard the men talking inside.

‘Modest virtue, that is the thing about Miss Tatton,’ Sir Jeremy was saying. ‘The assurance that one is marrying a virgin of impeccable upbringing and not one of those flighty girls who live for nothing but their beaux and their parties. How precious is a lady’s purity! I searched long and hard before I was confident I had found such a prize.’

The hypocrite valued only her
virginity
? He debauched young women and yet he could say such things to her father who would smugly accept them?

Sarah turned on her heel. ‘Tell Sir Hugh that I have a migraine and regret I will not be able to come down this evening,’ she said to the footman. The moment his back was turned she was away to the stables.

Leaving the house for an hour or so at least gave her a chance to cool her temper, but what to do now? Fear was beginning to overcome the fury as her imagination took hold, presenting her with a vivid image of what life with Sir Jeremy would be like. Her instinct was to run, but that was pointless; how would she live?

The question became academic as she rounded a corner and found herself staring down the barrel of a large horse pistol. ‘Stand and deliver.’

A highwayman? They really said that? Sarah discovered her mouth was open and shut it. The figure confronting her was straight off any broadsheet telling the shocking stories of Dick Turpin or “Hell” Hawley. A big, ugly gray horse, a tricorne hat, a cloak thrown back over his shoulders despite the heat and a black mask covering the upper half his face.

She dragged Sir Jeremy’s string of pearls over her head and held it out. He was welcome to them.

‘No, I don’t want those, sweetheart.’ His voice was amused, educated and deep; it seemed to resonate at the base of her spine. A gentleman gone to the bad?

From somewhere she found her voice. ‘What do you want, then?’

‘One kiss and a little token to show for it.’ He urged the horse up alongside her mare and she realized it was not just the horse that was big. She made herself sit still and not flinch away.

And then she found she did not want to. ‘A kiss?’ He was clean-shaven, his teeth white as he smiled in the evening light. The breeze brought her not the rank smell of unwashed robber that she had been expecting, but the clean odors of leather and citrus. ‘It is not gallant to jest! You may have the pearls and welcome.’

‘No.’ He took the pearls in an ungloved hand and dropped them back around her neck, holstered the pistol and leaned toward her, doffing his hat. ‘I do not jest.’

His hair was dark brown, overlong, waving from the pressure of the hat. His eyes were green, shadowed by the mask, and yet when he smiled she could just see the laughter lines in the corners, the humor.

‘Just one kiss?’

He nodded as she bit her lip in indecision, his mouth curving in a way that made her want to touch it. ‘If you will grant it. I do not steal from women.’

What if she should kick her heels and send the mare plunging past him? He leaned down and took the reins as though he could read her mind. Sarah stared at him, wondering why she did not scream. He really was a very strange highwayman. And she was in a very strange mood. She was conscious of her heartbeat—that was trepidation, no doubt—but what to make of the warm feeling low in her belly or the fact that her lips were dry? Sarah licked them and saw his eyes follow the movement.

‘Why have you a corn dolly in your buttonhole?’

‘A token from the donor of my second kiss. It is a fertility symbol, I believe, but don’t worry, kisses are harmless.’

An interesting definition of harmless! ‘Very well. I have nothing better to be doing this evening, after all.’ She tipped up her face, turning her cheek toward him and closing her
eyes. And then she felt his breath warm on her skin and realized he really was only going to take what she offered and some madness seized her.

She opened her eyes and moved her head and met the hooded green gaze and his mouth found hers. ‘Oh!’ As she gasped his tongue slid between her lips and his free arm went around her shoulders and he lifted her against him so she was standing in the stirrup while the kiss went on…and on…and the warm evening world spun around her and his heat and the questing invasion of his tongue filled her senses and she gripped his lapels and touched her tongue to his and thought she would faint from the intensity of it.

And then she was back in the saddle and they were looking at each other as though the earth had just shifted beneath them. He seemed to be breathing rather heavily. She rather thought that if she did not loosen her stay laces, breathing would no longer be possible.

‘Madam,’ he said at last. ‘I must thank you for giving me the most precious thing in your possession. May I ask for a token, also?’

Sarah took hold of three or four hairs that had come down from her topknot of curls, tugged them free and held them out to him. He bowed slightly and curled them with care around the corn dolly. He thought her kiss precious? A highwayman’s opinion of her kiss was certainly more acceptable than Sir Jeremy’s hypocritical valuation of her virginity.

‘Sir, that is not the most precious thing I possess.’ The words left her lips without conscious thought.

‘It is not?’ The green eyes rested on her face.

‘No. I am a virgin.’

The gray tossed its head as though its rider had clenched his hand on the reins. ‘Ma’am?’ She saw him swallow.

‘And that is something of a burden to me, just now,’ she confessed.

‘Indeed?’ He looked not shocked, but interested.

Somehow the story tumbled out. How she came to be recounting such intimate details to a complete stranger, a man—a rogue—Sarah could not fathom. Why she was not sliding from Daisy’s back in a pool of embarrassment, she had no idea, but she did not even seem to be blushing. It could only be her desperation and the utter seriousness with which he was listening to her.

‘In short,’ she concluded, ‘my father plans to marry me to a lecherous, hypocritical excuse for a gentleman for whom my only virtue appears to be my—well, my
virtue
.’

‘If you were not a virgin, he would not be interested,’ the highwayman remarked.

‘Well, I am, so there’s nothing to be done about it.’

‘You could have a frank discussion with a married lady, discover some, er…details and inform your chaperone that you have lost your virtue, describing the experience so she had no doubts,’ he suggested in a matter-of-fact manner, as though they were puzzling over some trivial problem.

‘There is no one I could talk to.’ If only her good friend Jessica was home from her honeymoon by now! She would enter into this scheme with complete frankness, but it would be another two weeks and that was too late. ‘I do not think that anything less than firsthand experience would do. I can hardly make it up. But thank you, it was a very good idea.’ She sighed, feeling the tears beginning to well up in her eyes again. She bit down hard on her lip to stop them; weeping and moaning was not going to get her out of this fix.

The gray backed away and she glanced up at its rider’s face.
Below the mask his mouth was set. He looked somewhat grim. ‘I could help you.’

‘Describe…
it
?’ she faltered, finding she could blush, after all.

‘No. I doubt I could, from a woman’s point of view. No, more practically, we—’

‘You want to take my virginity?’ Her voice emerged as a squeak. Daisy tossed her head, catching her mistress’s sudden panic.

‘No, but I could
almost
take your virginity.’

‘Almost.’ The light was beginning to fade and she was not able to make out the nuances of his expression beneath the mask. His tone was pitched somewhere between appalled and amused.

‘Almost. Just so you get the idea. Have you any knowledge of the theory, Miss, er…?’

‘Sarah,’ she said shortly. ‘No, not much. I know it hurts and I know there is the danger of becoming pregnant and I have no desire for the former experience and certainly none for the latter.’

‘I promise that neither would be the case.’

‘Are you mad?’ she inquired, more of herself than of him. He did not appear to be deranged and if he was an evil seducer, he was certainly going about it in a most original way. And she was beginning to find the preposterous, shocking suggestion positively…possible.

BOOK: Pleasurably Undone!
11.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Her Summer Cowboy by Katherine Garbera - Her Summer Cowboy
Hollywood Hills 1 by Nikki Steele
LLLDragonWings Kindle by Lizzie Lynn Lee
By the Sword by Flower, Sara
Playing for Keeps by Veronica Chambers
Miss Fortune by Lauren Weedman