Authors: Jordan Summers
“Hamish is it?”
She stammered, “I mean Laird MacDougall.”
Lazarus drew her close on the turns, allowing her body to gently brush his as he whirled her around. “We’ll see,” he said.
“I assure you, your concern is for naught.”
“Then do you have no interest either?” he asked. “Perhaps I was mistaken about that, too.”
Her eyes widened, and then she quickly looked away. “I didn’t say that.” Rose blushed to her ears. “I mean to say that I did not come here to attract interest from anyone.”
Lazarus hid his grin. “Ah, but my lady, that is impossible given your beauty. All the men would have to be blind not to notice.”
She balked. “You are too kind. Though I feel that your charm is wasted on me.”
“Charm cannot be wasted.” He spun her once more, his body grazing hers again. Lazarus heard a smothered male curse. “Tell me,” he said, “if the Highlander was by chance interested. Would you wish to attract his attention?”
Rose looked away, studying the other dancers around them as if she didn’t hear him.
Lazarus laughed. “I’ll take that as a yes.” They swayed to the music. “Perhaps,” he paused, “we can benefit each other.”
Rose’s eyes met his warily. “How so?”
He grinned and swept her down the ballroom. “I’m here for other reasons, but I do not wish to reveal my hand so soon.” His gaze strayed to Abigail. “We could use each other as a distraction, so that our true motives remain hidden.”
Her brows rose to her hairline. “What motives would those be, my lord?”
“Why love, my dear lady. Love,” he said, as if that were obvious.
Rose shook her head. “I daresay I am not looking for love. I don’t believe in it.”
Lazarus studied her, really taking the time to look at her. He’d asked her to dance on a lark, mainly to needle the vampyre. She’d seemed like the perfect foil. Yet, now he realized his mistake. There was more to Rose Carlson than he thought. She believed every word she’d spoken. Her expression hadn’t changed, but he hadn’t missed the pain that flashed in her eyes. He wondered if the vampyre had any idea. He considered telling him, then thought better of it. “Milady, we are all looking for love, even those of us who don’t know it yet,” he said, then glanced at Abigail again.
Rose stiffened in his arms. “You’d better not hurt her. I will not condone nor participate in any treachery that would bring harm to my friend.”
Lazarus met her searing gaze. “I’d never dream of requesting such a thing. Your loyalty is noted and appreciated. Now tell me about your friend.”
The vampyre’s attention never once left them, yet the lady in his arms seemed convinced that the man was indifferent to her. Lazarus knew better. He’d seen that look before. Hamish MacDougall may claim indifference, but that was not what he felt.
He met the vamps eyes and pulled Rose closer. His lips whispered the command to laugh in her ear and she did so. The vampyre’s eyes flared red in warning. Lazarus’s lips twitched. He hadn’t had this much fun in centuries.
By the time the dance ended, Lazarus knew what he wanted to know about Lady Rose Carlson and her friend, Lady Abigail McKeon. She was a widow, fairly young, and wasn’t in search of an attachment. He looked forward to changing her mind.
He returned Rose to MacDougall’s side, not that he’d had much of a choice, since the vampyre practically met them the second the musicians plucked the last strings.
“What is your purpose?” Hamish ground out the question between clenched jaws.
“I have many. Do not concern yourself, brethren. For now, I’m here for other reasons.” He glanced first at Rose, then at the lovely blonde holding court.
Hamish’s moss-colored eyes narrowed menacingly. “If ye hurt her, I’ll kill you.”
Lazarus grinned in amusement. “You can try, but I don’t think that will be necessary. What I’m after is...” He allowed his voice to trail off and arched a brow.
“Ye have heard my warning,” Hamish said.
“I have indeed, dark one,” Lazarus said. “Now hear mine. If you stand between me and what I want, you might just find yourself perched on a pillar, locked in stone, guarding chamber pots in the future.”
They eyed each other steadily, sizing up their opponent like the warriors they were, before both slowly backing away. Lazarus laughed inwardly. And here he thought he’d managed to rid himself of vampyres.
* * * * *
Rose stared at the two men, who stood toe to toe. There was something about them that struck her as ethereal. It wasn’t just their impressive height, the width of their broad shoulders, or their fierce expressions. They both seemed to glow from within, almost as if they absorbed light, then projected it out.
She shook her head at the fanciful thoughts as Lazarus glanced her way. The very devil danced within his eyes. He smiled and Rose felt the kick all the way to her toes. Poor Abigail truly didn’t stand a chance if he decided to focus all that charm on her. Rose almost envied her friend. Hamish took that moment to look at her. Then again, perhaps not. His frown deepened as Lazarus departed.
“What was that all about?” she asked innocently.
“Tis nothing, lass. Just catching up with a friend I hadn’t seen in a long while.” He squeezed her fingers.
“It didn’t look as if you two were old acquaintances. Lord Hyde gave me the distinct impression you’d never met,” she said. If their stares had gotten any harder, Rose feared there would’ve been fisticuffs or worse.
“He was mistaken,” he said absently.
“Truly? Then why was afraid I would have to intervene to break up a row?”
Hamish laughed, then smiled down at her. “I know not, my lady, but seeing you do that would almost be worth thrashing the grote...
. You’d do well to give Lord Lazarus a wide berth.”
“Now why would I want to do that?” she asked.
“He’s not what he seems,” he said.
The same could be said about her. Rose covertly watched him, waiting to see if Hamish would say more, but he didn’t.
For the rest of the evening, Hamish didn’t allow Rose out of his sight. His warmth crept over her glove-covered fingertips and along her arm, until her nipples poked like pebbles through the thin material of her gown. It wasn’t just his size that impressed her, even though he was taller than any man in attendance, it was his demeanor. One moment she’d actually thought he was going to eat her up, while the next he escorted her around the ballroom like a perfect gentleman. The cool façade had disappeared with Lazarus’s arrival.
Rose sensed the hunger flowing beneath Hamish’s civilized surface. It actually pulsed under her palm like a living, breathing creature. She fought back a delicious tremor. Perhaps, he could be her first lover.
As quickly as the thought entered her mind, Rose squashed it. She couldn’t take a lover, at least for a while. She’d only been circulating in polite society for a few hours. It wouldn’t exactly put her in anyone’s favor if she did.
She glanced at Hamish from beneath her lashes. He was an extremely handsome man in a completely untamed way. He had hair black as night and a face that could make angels exalt. Even with his striking looks he still maintained an air of feralness.
Rose allowed a tiny bit of pressure to infuse her hand. Hamish flexed under her adjusted touch without breaking from the conversation he was having with the Earl of Dorchester. He might feign indifference, but Rose now knew better. Lazarus was right.
They meandered through the crowd for several minutes. Rose gradually relaxed. Hamish seemed to know everyone in attendance and more than a few raised a brow when he approached. Rose had assumed he attended these events with regularity, but from the snippets of conversation she’d caught that hadn’t been the case.
A gong sounded and everyone filed into the banquet area. Hamish led Rose skillfully through the crowd and stepped through the archway.
Rose caught a glimpse of Abigail through the throng. Lazarus stood to her right. Rose smiled. Her friend was in for a treat with this scrumptious morsel. She almost giggled as she imagined Abigail’s response when he decided to lay siege to her defenses. Rose turned back in time to see Hamish scowl. She shook her head. Men could be such...such...delightful cretins.
* * * * *
Lazarus flirted shamelessly with Rose throughout the meal. Damn the stonehearted bastard’s hide. Anger rolled off Hamish in waves as he fought to control the urge to reach across the table and choke him with his bare hands. He needed to get Rose alone long enough to warn her.
No wonder Richard had entrusted Rose’s entry into society to Hamish. She was naïve in so many ways, especially when it came to men and their intentions. Even as Hamish considered his next move, he knew he couldn’t come right out and tell Rose the truth about Lazarus without exposing himself. He’d planned to depart right after the meal, but couldn’t now. He wasn’t about to leave Rose with a creature that fed upon passion and was rumored to have a kiss guaranteed to enslave any woman. He’d heard enough stories about grotesques to know they were
dangerous if their appetites got out of control. They could go from feeding on passion to draining a life force in the blink of an eye. The irony was not lost on him.
The thought of Lazarus feeding from Rose as she came apart in his arms left Hamish chilled to the bone. The murderous calm that enveloped him should’ve scared him enough to flee McKeon Manor and never return, but he didn’t. Couldn’t. Instead, he rode the possessive feelings surging through him, hanging on tight as they ebbed and swelled like a building tide. It took a moment for Hamish to realize how utterly foreign these feelings were to him.
The meal droned on until Hamish thought he’d crawl out of his skin. When the end was announced, he practically sprang from his seat. He pulled the chair out for Rose.
“May I have a word with you in private?”
She nodded and allowed him to escort her out of the dining hall. Hamish knew McKeon Manor well. He’d lived so long in this land that he knew all the old homes. He led Rose toward the library, masking their bodies so that if anyone glanced down the hall they’d see nothing. He wasn’t about to risk Rose’s unblemished reputation.
They reached the room at the end of the hall. Hamish turned the doorknob, then stepped aside to beckon her in. Rose hesitated for a moment, and then entered. He shut the door behind him and locked it. He didn’t want anyone to disturb them as he tried to convince her that Lazarus was dangerous. At least that’s what Hamish told himself.
Draped in green and gold, the room held welcoming warmth despite its size. A stone fireplace dwarfed one wall, while rows and rows of old tombs covered the shelves along the others. A desk lay at one end of the room mirroring chaise. Hamish guided Rose toward the chaise, so she’d be near the fire. He didn’t want her catching a chill.
“What is it you wished to discuss?” she asked.
Hamish seated her and then restlessly paced in front of the blaze. He hadn’t been prepared for the visceral punch that came from being alone in a room with Rose. His skin heated as he inhaled, catching a whiff of her enticing blood. Hamish’s gaze slid from her face to the crests of her full breasts as they shimmered like pale moons in the firelight. The vein in her neck beat out a steady tattoo. Need hit him and he felt his fangs slowly extend. This had been a mistake, no matter how well intended.
His breath caught and he cleared his suddenly dry throat. “I think it would be wise if you gave Lord Hyde a wide berth.”
Rose blinked as if she hadn’t heard him correctly. “Why would I want to do that? He seems like a perfectly pleasant gentleman.”
Hamish cursed under his breath, then stopped his pacing long enough to face her. “He’s not what he seems, lass.”
She frowned. “I do not understand. Although bold, Lord Hyde has his charms. He’s certainly given me no cause for concern.”
Hamish snorted. “Oh aye, he could charm the chemise off any woman.”
Rose laughed. “Is that what you’re concerned about? Lord Hyde charming me out of my undergarments?”
Hamish reddened. The last thing he wanted to think about was Rose without her chemise, leaving nothing but pale skin, puffy nipples, and her ripe sex exposed. He swallowed hard, willing his fangs to recede. “The man is a scoundrel. You obviously have no experience with his sort.”
Rose glanced away, her cheeks flushing a deep crimson.
He realized he must have offended her delicate sensibilities. “I apologize, my lady. I did not mean to upset you with my coarse language.”
“That’s quite all right.” Rose stood, lifting her skirt enough to stride toward the door. “I’ll consider myself duly warned.”
Hamish stepped into her path, blocking her exit.
“Is there something else?” She craned her neck to peer into his face.
He wanted to shake her and demand she stay away from Lazarus, but he didn’t. Instead, Hamish’s attention locked onto her full mouth and every muscle in his body tightened as he realized what he wanted to do, what he was about to do.
Rose watched the war of emotions flitter across Hamish’s handsome face. His lids lowered, concealing his moss-colored eyes a second before his mouth descended upon hers. Her breath caught, then she melted into his embrace. There was nothing tentative about the kiss. Hamish’s hand rose until he gripped her nape, then slanted his head and deepened the clinch.
She moaned as true desire swept through her body. Hamish ran the tip of his tongue over the seal of her lips until she opened for him. He plunged inside like a conqueror, gathering her close until her breasts pressed against his unyielding chest.
Liquid fire filled Rose, moistening the juncture between her thighs. She felt the scrape of his nails as his free hand skittered along her side until he reached her aching nipples. Hamish teased her flesh until her breasts pressed painfully against the silk material of her gown. He would kill her if he kept this up. She wanted him. Wanted him more than her next breath, but knew this had to stop. They were in Abigail’s home, not some brothel. People of good breeding did not deport themselves in this manner.