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Authors: Samantha Holt

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“I need some air,” she declared suddenly.

He nodded and took her out onto the balcony.
Steps led down into the square gardens and a cool breeze washed over him.
Taking in several deep breaths, he didn’t stop until they had descended the
steps and entered the relative protection of the box trees.

“Are you well?” Julian looked her over from head
to toe and noted she appeared perfectly composed.

“I am well.” She put a hand to his arm. “And
you?”

“I’m fine,” he said tightly.

“You didn’t need to dance with me.”

“I wanted to.” To his surprise that statement
was true. “Except perhaps next time we do not do it with so many people
around.”

Viola offered him her hand and positioned
herself in his arms. Apparently he no longer knew how to use his arms as she
had to take them and place them around her.

“Whatever are you—?”

“Shhh.” She cocked her head and over the sound
of talk and laughter, the music surrounded them once more. She began to move,
urging him into a dance and he, the man who had apparently killed his three
wives, found himself dancing in the garden.

And enjoying it, for Christ’s sakes.

When the music ended, she gave a sigh that he
assumed was one of contentment and they retreated to a nearby bench. The stone
was cold to touch and he unbuttoned his jacket with the intention of giving it
to her but she motioned it away.

“I’m still warm, especially with all these
layers.” She plucked at her skirts.

He watched as she began to roll down her gloves
and draw them off. Never had the image of a woman pulling off gloves—
mere
gloves
—seemed so erotic. She flexed her fingers and he watched goose bumps
appear on her skin.

The scent of honeysuckle broke through his
imaginings and he plucked a flower from the tree behind them to offer it to her
to smell. She inhaled and went to take it from him but he couldn’t resist. He
ran it down her arm and then back up.

“Are you sure you’re not cold?”

Viola shook her head mutely.

He skimmed the flower up and down her arm once
more before placing the bloom behind her ear. He toyed with it until it was
just so and studied the picture she made. American or not, she fit in perfectly
in this English country garden with her wide blue eyes and long lashes. With
her straight nose and stubborn chin.

“Your skin is pimpled,” he murmured, forgetting
himself.

Who was he kidding? He’d been forgetting himself
all night.

“I’m not cold,” she whispered, tilting her head
up to him.

Julian drew off a glove and laid it over the top
of hers where they rested on the stone between them. It seemed significant
somehow, these two rather pointless accessories resting atop one another. He
used his finger to skim her arm again, feeling how her body responded to his
touch.

“Are you sure?” He let his finger trail up to
her shoulder and rest ever so lightly on her chin.

She nodded. “It’s not the cold causing it...”

She didn’t need to finish the sentence. It was
him. He affected her just as much as she affected him. He wanted to punch the
air in triumph. Even when his mind reminded him that he did not want to let her
get involved with him, he found himself leaning toward her. He used a hand to
cup the back of her neck and she eased forward, closing the gap and knocking
their gloves to the ground.

Her lips parted. She invited him in. He had no
choice. Julian kissed her. He kissed her like a man giving worship at church.
Here was a woman so beautiful, so wonderful that she deserved to spend the rest
of her days being worshipped.

Her lips moved with his, letting him taste her
deepest secrets. Wine sat on her tongue and the scent of honeysuckle filled his
senses. She skimmed her tongue over his and he pressed the kiss deeper. Never
had he felt so fulfilled yet so starved for more. He needed so much more.

Hand still clasping her neck, he brought up his
other to cup her breast. He wanted to curse at the God-awful corset she wore.
The one that might make her look like the most sinful creature around but
stopped him from feeling the full softness of her breasts.

She moaned into his mouth. He kissed a path down
her neck and to her collarbone. He dashed kisses over it, eager to get to his
prize. With some effort, he forced a breast up and out of its confines. She
gasped and wound her hands into his hair, and he dropped his head to take one
pebbled peak into his mouth.

Never had another’s flesh tasted so good.

“Julian.” She said his name on a whisper and
rocked into him.

He broke away to look at her, to simply imprint
her into his mind with her puffy lips and her breast scandalously escaping her
gown. The English mamas could keep their prim little innocents. He wanted this
outrageous American woman.

She murmured his name again and leaned into him
to kiss his neck. Her hands scrabbled about him, running dangerously close to
his manhood which strained for release. The idea of taking her here and now did
strike him but never settled. They were in public, she was young and
innocent—though he struggled to remember that with her bold ways. And, if the
way she fell heavily into him as she tried to nibble his ear was anything to go
by, she had drunk too much wine.

Julian clasped her hands and urged her back.

“Julian?”

Then he pulled up her bodice and picked up their
gloves. Slowly, he eased one on, then the other. Guilt jabbed him at her
stricken expression and he had to reassure her somehow. After he’d drawn on his
glove, he stroked her face and gave her a smile.

“You test my honour, Viola. Very much so. Do not
underestimate how hard it is for me not to lay you down in the grass, throw up
your skirts and take you here and now.”

The beaming smile and the wicked twinkle in her
eyes had him wondering if he had said the right thing. He suspected she might
test his strength again. And, Lord help him, he wanted to be tested. He wanted
to give in.

Chapter
Ten

Viola
found Julian in the library. It struck her how at home he seemed there. With
only the light of an oil lamp by his side and one on a small table in the
corner of the large room, darkness shrouded most of him. But the golden glow
revealed enough. A fire flickered in the hearth, illuminating the other side of
the library. The books watched over them, like birds waiting on a washing line.
The scent of leather and old paper wrapped around her and mingled with that of
the wood in the fire. She understood why he liked it here. It was almost like
being surrounded by old friends.

She noted his ink-stained fingers and how his
brow furrowed as he stared at the letter in front of him. He hadn’t seen her
come in, so lost was he in his correspondence.

“Who are you complaining to now?”

 He snapped his head up and his features softened.
“For once, no one. I am writing to one of my brothers.”

“One of your many brothers,” she added with a
grin. She had enough to contend with having three brothers. She couldn’t
imagine having six. “Which one is it? The gambler? The rake?”

“Neither. This is Gideon.”

“The youngest?”

His brows rose as if surprised she remembered.
“Indeed.”

Of course she remembered. She had read his
letters over and over again. Viola edged over to the seat currently drawn to
one side of his desk. Almost fearful of interrupting his solitude, she eased
down into the chair. He had been withdrawn since the ball. It didn’t surprise
her. Although he had been wonderful, even for her being around all those
staring people was draining.

“What can I do for you?”

“I have word of a ship leaving for America in
four days. I received a telegram today.”

“Bramley mentioned one arriving. He did not say
anything more, however.” His tone was surly, as though he should have known
everything that was happening in his house. Or perhaps...

No, he wanted her gone, surely?

It was all so very confusing. One moment he was
kissing her lips and even... well, never mind that. The next he had gone back
to be the polite host.

“I shall take the train down to London the day
after tomorrow and stop there for the night. Then I shall carry on to
Southampton which will give me time to purchase a ticket.”

“I see.” Julian lowered his pen and pushed aside
the letter. “Will I hear from you again? I mean, will you keep writing, even
though you know there will be no...” He gave her a sideways glance.

“Marriage?”

Fresh heat flowed into her cheeks. She thought
she had gotten over the embarrassment but clearly not. However the uncertainty
in his eyes quickly conquered any pity for herself. He truly wanted for her to
continue writing to him and while the thought of not seeing him again made her
chest hurt, she couldn’t imagine not reading his letters again.

“I shall continue to write, I promise.”

“Good.” He gave a satisfied nod.

“I like you better in letters anyway.”

Surprise quickly gave way to amusement and the
corners of his eyes crinkled. “Yes, I suppose the idea of marrying me quickly
lost appeal when you met me.”

“Oh, I don’t know. You still have some appeal.”
She nudged him with her elbow.

“Why ever did you wish to marry a stranger
anyway? Are there not many eligible men in New York?”

Viola let her shoulders drop a little. Tell him
the truth or keep quiet? “There are plenty, but none will have me.”

He turned to face her fully. “They must be mad.”

“Not mad, no.” She looked at her hands and
turned them over in her lap, letting her gaze fall to the third finger on her
left hand. He waited silently, much as she had two days ago. He intended to
work a confession out of her with his silence. It worked.

 “I must tell you something,” she spilled out
before she could lose her nerve. She had to tell him everything of her. Every
little sordid detail. After all he had told her, all he had done for her, she
owed him that much, surely?

A crease formed between his brows but he waited.

“I am not a virgin.”

There. The words were out there. The words that
had followed her around for so long. Ruined. Spoiled. Broken.

Julian did not move. Did not fling her out by
her hair. But his jaw worked and he waited.

“I was engaged when I was seventeen. My father
had begun to amass his fortune and it was a good connection to make. The
gentleman was twenty-five years older than me and charming. I thought myself in
love with him.” She released a small smile. “I am ruined you see? I let him
coax me into bed and a few weeks later, he broke off the engagement and went on
to marry an older woman. I suspect he didn’t really want a naive girl like me
for a wife.”

His jaw continued to work. She heard his teeth
grind even over the pop of the fire. A coil of tension wound inside her. Would
he think her foolish too? Her father and brothers had declared it her fault.
And of course, society blamed her too. Rupert had gone on to enjoy a happy
marriage and more success while she had been left behind in the shadows of shame.

“I’m ruined. No one wants me.” Her voice cracked
a little. For so long she had tried to forget the humiliation. Marrying Julian
would have given her so much. A new life, a restored reputation. Finally her
family could be proud of her.

Before any tears could spill, she leaped up from
the chair and stalked away. She had embarrassed herself in front of Julian
enough as it was. She couldn’t let him see yet more tears. Not to mention the
one thing she feared most—seeing the judgement in his gaze, the disappointment
at knowing she had given herself away so easily. That had been the one thing
letters had shielded her from. He would never have to know the full truth.

Strong fingers latched around her wrist before
she could reach the door. He whirled her around and drew her flat against him.
The air vanished from her lungs, partly from impact, partly from the sheer
shock of having his body pressed to hers.

“I want you.” His lips came down upon hers, firm
and demanding.

Viola gasped and he pressed his fingers into her
hair. She heard a few pins drop onto the wooden floor and curls fell about her
face. Thrown off balance, she staggered until her back struck the bookcase not
far from the door. She drew in another sharp breath but Julian merely used it
to push the kiss deeper. His tongue twined with hers and explored a part of her
mouth no other man had. Never before had she been kissed like this.

Panting, he drew back. “You are worth so much,”
he told her, gazing deep into her eyes and holding her captive. “Your fiancé
was an utter fool not to see it.”

He dragged up her skirts, inching them higher
and higher. Taffeta skimmed the tops of her thighs and fabric crunched. She
sucked in a breath when warm fingertips touched the sensitive skin just inside
the hem of her drawers.

“I wish you were wearing a crinoline,” he
muttered against her neck.

Viola drew in a shuddery breath while his lips
traced a path over her sensitive skin. He played his lips up and down her neck.
Up and down, up and down, sketching a trail between her ear and shoulder.

“W-why?” she asked, eyes closed. The sensations
he summoned were unlike anything she’d ever experienced. The overwhelming need
to collapse in his arms and beg him to do whatever he wished with her nearly
consumed her.

“It would not make it so easy to touch you.” He
drew back and she opened her eyes. Their gazes connected as he slipped a hand
inside the opening in her drawers. “Christ, Viola. Why do I always want to
touch you?”

She gripped the shelf behind her with both hands
and pressed her chest and hips forward, like an offering. Ready for him, open
for him. She needed his touch as much as he needed to touch her. She didn’t
need to say anything. He knew. He could read her as easily he did her letters.

A finger skimmed her folds. She shuddered.
“Again,” Viola demanded.

He repeated the movement, never looking away. In
those grey eyes, she saw so much. The man who had written those letters
perhaps. The real Julian Cynfell. Eyes dark, breaths heavy, he revealed
everything to her as he touched her so intimately.

Simmering pleasure started low down and he swept
over her again and again. He traced circles until hitting the sweet spot that
had her breaths sticking in her throat. It built slowly, slowly and the desire
to close her eyes and concentrate on the sensation struck, but his gaze held
her captive. What did he see in her eyes?

When he pressed one finger into her warmth, she
arched. Her body accepted the invasion with gratitude. Never had she needed to
be filled so badly. With one hand propped at the side of her head, Julian
leaned into her and held her in place with his chest. That finger moved with
careful patience until she was one trembling mass of desire. His thumb found
her nub again and skimmed it. She quaked from head to slippers. He slid forward
again, burying his finger deep within her, then out, still using the same
measured pace. His clever thumb ran over in similarly cautious circles.

Ecstasy unfurled slowly inside her. He only
needed to press home a few more gentle times to bring her near the edge. A
trickle of perspiration pricked down her back and her mouth moved in silent
pleas.

“Yes,” he urged. One more circle of his thumb,
one more slow thrust of his finger. “Yes.”

“Yes,” she repeated, surprised by how distant
her voice sounded.

And then, gazing into his eyes, captured by his
body, his presence, her peak blossomed. It came in a slow sweep, as tender as
his touch. It consumed every part of her. Breathless, hot and as weak as a
kitten, she flopped her head forward.

Julian touched his forehead to hers and brought
his other hand to her face to cup it. His breaths blew heavily over her face.
Why her orgasm seemed to affect him so, she did not know. When he tried to ease
away, she latched her hands around his neck.

“Don’t.”

“If I stay, I will...” He trailed off but he
didn’t need to say anything. She felt the hard ridge of his desire. Felt the
tension in his body. He wanted her.

“Do it,” she begged.

He jerked back and frowned at her. Perhaps he
was used to taking charge, or women who never sank so low as to beg. But, at
present, all she could think on was how she longed to be joined with this man.
If she could take nothing else back with her, she needed the memory of Julian
making love to her.

He shook his head.

“Julian, make love to me.” She reached down and
cupped him through his pants. He pulsed against her hand.

A harsh breath echoed around the library. Viola
gazed up at him, silently pleaded with him. She saw the crack in his restraint
through his eyes first, then in his body. Gradually, like a great wall
crumbling, his body softened into hers. She smoothed her hands over his
shoulders, soothing him. This beautiful man was hurting so badly inside. Oh,
how she ached to take away some of that pain, even just for a moment.

Using his body to lever herself away from the
bookcase, she flattened her lips to his jaw. “Take me.” She kissed his chin.
“Make me yours.” Then the corner of his mouth. “Make love to me.” Viola let her
tongue slip over the seam of his lips. “Here. Now.”

With a heavy sigh, he gave into her, taking her
mouth in a desperate kiss. His hands found her rear and held her tight against
him. Even through her skirts, she felt his arousal hard against her. She rocked
eagerly into that hardness while her body inflamed with sensation.

It was almost too much. Hands cupped her. Muscle
pressed against her. Lips and tongue teased her. So many overwhelming
sensations made her knees shake and she had to cling to him lest she melt like
candle wax on a hot day.

Her gown grew too heavy, too tight. She wanted
it off. She needed to be skin to skin with him. Hoping he might follow her
lead, she slipped her hands between them to pluck at the buttons of his
waistcoat. She couldn’t help but giggle when he released her to shuck out of his
jacket and help her. Soon he was down to his shirt. Her hands trembled with
need as she unbuttoned it. His kept up his firm kisses, laying his lips to
wherever he could reach—her mouth, her neck, her cheek, her forehead.

Julian tore off his shirt. A cufflink pinged off
the bookshelf. Viola sucked in a breath through her teeth and splayed her hands
across his smooth chest. She glanced down and noted the ripples in his abdomen
and the small trail of hair leading down into his pants. His skin was warm to the
touch and muscles bunched under her palms.

But he didn’t give her long to enjoy his body.
Before she could fully explore, he began fumbling with the neckline of her
gown, loosening it so that it gaped. With a muttered curse, he spun her around
and gripped the back of it.

In one savage moment, he rent her gown apart.
Viola released a squeal but couldn’t ignore the pulsing throb between her
thighs. He rotated her and tugged down her gown, revealing her low corset and
bare shoulders.

BOOK: Rogues and Ripped Bodices
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