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Authors: Samantha Holt

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BOOK: Rogues and Ripped Bodices
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Poor, poor man. Her heart stretched for him. How
dearly she would like to help him get over his pain. She allowed herself a
smile in spite of the headache consuming her. He might not be dashing and bold
as she had hoped but he was hurting and a little bit broken. Someone she could
fix perhaps. The idea certainly appealed.

 

Chapter
Five

Julian
cursed at the ink splot on his letter. Damnation. He couldn’t concentrate knowing
she was in his house. He hadn’t shared his house with a woman—oh his staff
didn’t count—for a while and his last wife had avoided being home with him at
all costs. His complaint to the Atlantic Telegraph Company would have to wait.
He couldn’t help but release a grin as he laid down his pen and lifted his legs
up onto the desk. If it hadn’t been for writing a letter of complaint to
Viola’s father, she never would have written back, explaining his illness and
how she was taking care of his correspondence. He couldn’t help but soften at
her charming turn of phrase and his complaints had soon been forgotten. Before
long, he’d found himself talked into what could turn out to be a profitable
business scheme.

A noise outside the library had him guiltily
shifting his feet from the table and sitting upright. His pulse thrummed in his
ears while he stared at the open doorway that was framed by shelves of books.
The tension slowly coiling into his belly was nothing new. He had been feeling
this way since Viola had arrived three days ago. Knowing
she
lay in bed,
in his house, made him feel as though he was walking on hot coals everywhere.
Frankly, he didn’t know what to do with himself.

And while he had visited with her, the moments
together had been awkward and stilted. She expected him to be something more
than he was—he knew it. She had anticipated the eloquent man from the letters.
Julian snorted and rubbed his forehead with two fingers. He wasn’t sure that
man existed anywhere other than on paper. Expressing himself in the written
word was much easier than doing it in real life.

His tense posture hadn’t been for nought. She
slipped in through the door and the pounding in his ears increased. Even in the
low light of the library, he noted she had regained a little colour. Wearing a
slim-fitting skirt in a deep plum shade with a white shirt and her hair wound
up into some complicated hairstyle, she looked quite unlike the woman he’d
found on his doorstep two days ago.

But just as devastatingly beautiful.

“There you are.”

Her familiar tone made him stiffen. He couldn’t
recall the last time someone had greeted him like that. With an almost excited
manner. Even the servants who knew him well tended to regard him with
apprehension, perhaps expecting his latest outburst. And his brothers... Damn,
those men. They came by when they needed something. A more dissolute, reckless
bunch, he’d never met. How was a man meant to relax when he had six brothers
throwing the family name to the wolves?

But of course, society didn’t mind dissolute
rakes. It was he who was the one to avoid. Heaven forbid he might attend an
event and bring his
touch of death
with him.

Julian stood and waited for Viola to approach
the desk. She paused and did a rotation, lifting her gaze up to eye the walls
stacked with books. The library at Lockwood was one of the finest in the
country and one of the few places he enjoyed spending time. The scent of
leather and old paper never failed to soothe him, even in his loneliest hours.

“You’re feeling better.” He didn’t ask. He
didn’t need to. It was clear by the sparkle in her eye and hints of pink
skimming her creamy cheeks.

“Much better, thank you.” She didn’t look at
him. Her gaze followed the lines of the carved spiral staircases and then she
tilted her head up to stare at the painted ceiling. “This is the most
incredible room.”

For a moment, Julian forgot to do anything but
eye that expanse of neck that begged to be touched by a man’s lips. No, not a
man’s lips. His lips.

A few curls escaped down her back and he flexed
a hand. It had been so long since he’d felt the soft touch of a woman’s hair
under his fingers or tasted the arch of her neck. Mabel, his last wife, had
avoided touching him at all costs and a bedding with her had been perfunctory—a
mere duty to try to get her with child.

“No wonder you spend so much time in here.”
Viola met his gaze head on.

“How do you know I spend a lot of time in here?”

“Jenny said as much.”

Damn his servants. He didn’t like the idea of
them discussing him, even if he was aware there was no preventing servants from
gossiping. What else did they talk of? His wives? How he had brought them
nothing but bad luck? Julian clenched his jaw and watched her approach his desk

Viola skimmed a hand over the mahogany surface.
She traced the curls and indents of the engraved wood and lifted her head to
smile at him. “This is where you write your letters?”

“Yes.”

“Where you used to write to me?”

“Yes.”

Those fingers paused and came away from the
wood. He’d never wanted to be a piece of furniture so badly. Would her touch be
soft and gentle or bold and brash like her? He’d never met anyone so open.
Sybil had been open and honest with him but only behind closed doors, in very
private moments. Never anywhere the servants could hear or in any of the public
rooms. In those moments, his second wife was every inch the reserved English
woman. He’d often lamented the change in her, wishing she would be the wife he
adored all the time.

Damn it, his necktie was making a fair attempt
at strangling him. Why had he even worn one? Yes, he hadn’t gone as far as
shaving for her but he’d felt some need to impress her. Why that was, he didn’t
know. Julian seldom received visitors and rarely put on a show for them.

“Have you read all these?”

Julian lifted a brow and gave the thousands upon
thousands of books a glance. “Hardly.”

“What of
Nicholas Nickleby
? Do you have a
copy of that?”

So she remembered. It seemed he wasn’t the only
one absorbing every snippet of information she told him in her letters. It
pleased him far too much.

“I have several on the upper level.” He pointed
at the narrow balcony that ran around three sides of the room.

“Will you show me them?”

He stared at her for a few moments. That
pleading look to her expression couldn’t be denied. Clearly, he was a bit of a
fool for this woman whom he hardly knew. He certainly didn’t believe that a few
letters could properly acquaint one with another person. Hell, he’d known Mabel
for eight years and he hadn’t known her properly or else he could have
prophesised that their marriage was doomed.

“This way.” He strode over to the spiral steps
on the right and waited for her to follow. The carved wooden staircase was
narrow and wound tightly. “You had better go first.” He didn’t want her falling
and that skirt certainly wasn’t made for climbing steps.

She stepped past him and began her ascent.
Julian realised his mistake instantly. If he wanted to ensure she came to no
harm, he’d have to follow closely and he had the perfect view of her rear.
Without the enhancement of a bustle or heavy skirts, he could make out the
gentle curve of it. A faint moment of amusement tickled him when he wondered
how she’d react if he leaned forward and bit into it.

She’d likely scream and slap him. Not that he
would ever do such a thing. Christ, she might have a proper fall and break her
neck. Knowing his luck that was quite likely.

Viola paused at the top and waited for him to
join her. She shuffled back on the balcony to accommodate him, but the narrow
confines meant they ended up nearly chest to chest. Her height surprised him.
He’d been suffering too much from the vestiges of the previous night’s excesses
to really notice upon their first meeting and one couldn’t judge the height of
a woman when they were lying down. Julian tried not to groan aloud. He didn’t need
to be thinking about Viola Thompson lying down. He still needed to address
getting her out of his house and finding out how long she intended to stay in
England now she was recovered.

Warmth stirred in his veins as she tilted her
chin to view him.

“You had better go first.”

Her words were breathy. They made him wonder how
she’d sound in bed. She spoke with firm clarity but would she be like that when
she had a man between her thighs? Would she release small mewling sounds perhaps
or strong demands for more?

Bloody hell, he needed to get a grip of himself.
This was a vulnerable young woman who—whether he wanted her to be or not—was
under his protection whilst under his roof.

It was the way she carried herself and how she
spoke, he decided. And his knowledge of her intelligence. It made him think she
was more mature than her years.

Julian slid past her, not unaware of how her
breasts brushed his chest. “Over here,” he said gruffly.

Hand to the wooden railing, he led her around the
corner to the rear of the room. When they stopped, she leaned over to view the
rest of the room. His heart gave a small hiccup of fear.

“Careful.”

“I can see why you spend so much time here. It’s
a wonderful room.”

Anxious to keep her away from the banister and
the drop to the floor, he motioned to his collection of Dickens’ titles. “Here
they are.”

She leaned forward and peered at the
leather-bound books. Up near the roof, the meagre light of the lamps didn’t
reach and he only kept a few lit in the library for fear of fire. The golden
lettering on the spines was only just visible. Unfortunately for him, the faint
flicker of light that had managed to reach them skimmed over her features,
making them all the more appealing. The shadows made her face interesting while
the golden glow made her skin smooth and he itched to stroke it. To him, Viola
had always been fascinating on paper, but apparently he found her just as
enthralling in person.

When she glanced back at him, she gave him a coy
smile. He’d been caught watching her. She certainly didn’t seem embarrassed by
that, however. Did she have any inkling of this attraction that was steadily
burning through his body? Did she feel the same? Had she torn open his letters
with eager anticipation and devoured each word?

He turned away and motioned to the other side of
the room. “I have some Austen titles here.”

Admiring her at a distance had been fine. It had
been safe. This, however, was not, and he didn’t like the heavy sensation
filling his chest. He’d felt like this about Sybil and look how that had ended.
He’d lost her and his child in one fell swoop.

Julian drew out
Pride and Prejudice
and
handed it to her. She stroked the cover and opened the book to flick to the
opening chapter. He watched her mouth the first few lines. He’d never seen
anything like it. The pure, utter joy she received from holding a book seemed
to transcend the minute distance between them and pull him close. When she
closed the book, he was near enough to inhale the gentle hint of vanilla
emanating from her. She reminded him of freshly baked cakes or vanilla ice
cream.

And he’d never been so hungry for a taste.

“I love this book.” Her words were soft,
distracted. She kept her gaze on his.

“I know.”

More space vanished between them. He felt as
though his lungs might collapse, as though the air had thickened.

He had no choice.

He closed the gap. His lips touched hers. Shards
of sensation bolted through him and she gasped. Sweet and breathy. That’s how
she’d be. Loud and outrageous outside of the bedroom and then she’d whisper his
name and make him come undone inside it. He knew it as sure as he knew he was
the Marquess of Lockwood.

Drag him to hell and roast him on a spit. He
didn’t care. She tasted better than ice cream. Her lips parted and her fingers
curled around his arms, digging into his jacket. A hand on the back of her
head, another to the base of her spine, Julian let his tongue slip in and he
tasted the warmth there. Taking another sample, savouring it, he withdrew and
dropped his hands from her. She released him at the same time.

He braced himself, gaze on the floor. The sting
of a palm across his face perhaps or some bitter words flung at him. When he
lifted his head, she merely beamed at him.

“I was hoping you’d do that.”

Julian nearly choked on a breath. “You were?”

She nodded and pressed her lips together, a
smile still haunting them. “Oh yes. Ever since I arrived.”

“I should not have done that.”

He wrapped his fingers around the railing behind
him as though it might give him the support not to try to kiss her again. Or
worse. Making love in a library was one of his fantasies. And he had to admit
to wondering what the enigmatic lady on the other side of the ocean looked
like, then implanting her into his fantasies. But there was a distinct
difference between that and reality. Julian Cynfell did not
do
women and
he did not take innocent ladies in libraries.

“It was only a kiss, Julian.”

She shouldn’t be speaking to him in such a way,
either. If only he didn’t like it so much.

Viola retrieved the book that had been abandoned
on the shelf and tucked it back in place before facing him once more. He felt a
fool. Intimidated by this slender woman. She ran her gaze up and down him and
her lips tilted.

BOOK: Rogues and Ripped Bodices
2.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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