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Authors: Anita Mills

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Historical, #Regency

Secret Night (29 page)

BOOK: Secret Night
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The puppy whimpered. Easing her body from beneath Hamilton's arm, Elise turned to pick the animal up. It wriggled and snuggled beneath her chin as though it sought its mother. She held it close, stroking its soft fur absently, thinking of the man beside her, remembering the intensity of the passion between them.

She'd not meant to let him stay—that had been the rum, she supposed. No, she wasn't being truthful, and she knew it. She'd wanted him to hold her, to ease the ache of loneliness, the terrible fear she felt. But most of all she'd wanted to feel again the heat of his desire, the ecstasy his body gave her.

She was a sinful, wanton woman. She knew that also. And yet as she'd lain beneath him, panting, writhing to slake her own desire, it had seemed so right to be there. As though that were at least part of what she'd been
made for.

Somewhere, a clock broke the night silence, striking the hour of four. Startled, the puppy broke free to fall horn the bed, and it fled to seek refuge underneath. Outside, the watch called out, "'Tis four of the clock!" loudly, repeating it thrice, as though there was someone awake to hear him.

Elise turned over, peering through the darkness into Patrick's face, wondering if his head ached also. Very gingerly, she touched his forehead, then traced downward with her fingertip over his straight, even nose, his sensuous lips, and his nearly perfect chin. His breath paused momentarily, then resumed its rhythm.

"You are awake, aren't you?" she said softly.

For answer, he caught her arms and rolled her over him. She squealed in surprise and tried to pull away, but his arms held her. Very deliberately, he nuzzled her neck, then eased his body lower to afford him access to her breasts. As her hair fell like a silken curtain over him, the warm scent of lavender enveloped him.

She was going to tell him her head hurt, but as his tongue touched her nipple, it tautened, and she forgot everything but the sensation there. His lips closed around it, teasing, sucking. As she shivered from the spreading heat, his hands moved over her bare shoulders and back, his fingertips barely touching her. She arched above him, savoring the feel of his mouth on the breast, his body hardening beneath hers.

"Let me love you again ere I have to go," he whispered hotly against her bare skin. As he spoke the words, his fingers slid between them to find the wet softness there.

"Ohhh," she moaned.

Now there was no heaven nor hell, only the exquisite pleasure centered beneath his hand. As he stroked, her whole body seemed to crave what he did to her. Closing her eyes, she threw her head back, and as he tasted first one breast, then the other, she moved with abandon. And when he withdrew his hand, her cry of disappointment dissolved into a long, low moan as he guided himself inside.

She moved her hips eagerly, taking rather than giving, luxuriating in the feeling of power he gave her. Beneath her, he bucked and thrashed, straining, driving harder to stay inside as she sought almost frantically to ease the unbearable, aching need within her. Her breath came in gasps, and her whole body seemed wet with her effort. Finally, he grasped her hips, holding them while she came, and the shudders of her ecstasy carried him home.

She was still, silent now, and as the lavender-scented veil of hair lay like silk over his face, he sought to regain control of his breath. His arms came up to hold her, imprisoning her over his chest.

She lay there, her head just above his heart, listening to the beat of it, nearly too exhausted to move. One of his hands smoothed her hair where it fell over her shoulder, stroking it tenderly.

"Don't get off," he whispered. "I could stay like this forever."

His words were scarce out when the doorknob rattled, and Molly called inside, "Was ye wan tin' me ter take the dog? I thought I was hearin' the creature trying ter get out." She jiggled the knob again. "Ye got yer door locked, miss!"

Patrick put a warning finger over his lips, and Elise nodded. "It is all right," she called back. "I was but frightened—and I did not want her to wander."

"But yer Button was a-crying—I guess it must've wakened ye."

"She's all right also. Go on back to bed, and I'll take care of her. In a little while, I shall take her outside."

"Aye. I thought she was a-bringing the house down about ye," the maid muttered.

They listened as Molly padded back up the stairs to the
servants' quarters, then Elise reluctantly rolled away from Patrick. As he reached for her again, she shook her head.

"If she had any notion, I should die of mortification," she said.

"At least I locked the door."

"Yes, well—" She paused awkwardly, scarce able to meet
his gaze now. "You'd best go." As she spoke, she
pulled the sheet up to cover her nakedness.

He leaned to kiss her, murmuring wickedly, 'Td say you are a bit late for that now." Nonetheless, he sat up. "This is the part I hate, Ellie."

He had his back to her, and for that at least she was grateful. "I daresay you have had a great deal of experience leaving, haven't you?" she managed painfully.

"I suppose I've had my share," he admitted. "But for what it is worth to say it, there's been no one I'd compare to you. No one," he repeated.

"If I am supposed to feel flattered, I don't." She swallowed, trying to hide her embarrassment. "I did it for Papa, you know."

He turned around. "Now that, Ellie, is a lie," he declared flatly. "That was the first time, I'll admit that. But last night and this morning were for you, and you know it."

"And you also," she answered nearly too low for him to hear.

"And for me—I don't deny it." Rising from the bed, he lit a candle in the embers of the nearly dead fire, then searched for his clothes. "Damn," he muttered.

"What?"

"I don't think Button needs to go out." He bent over and picked up his wet sock, holding it up. Smiling wryly, he looked at her. "How does the rhyme go? Diddle, diddle, dumpling, my son John—one shoe off, one shoe on? Well, my dear, I shall make it one stocking off, one stocking on, I think."

The way he said it made her dissolve into laughter, relieving the tension between them. He regarded her sardonically for a moment, then grinned. "You are a complete wretch, Ellie."

She watched from the bed as he found the clothing he'd strewn in haste but hours earlier. As he sat on a chair to pull on the dry stocking, Button dared to peek at him from behind the safety of a bedpost.

"And you are a wretch also," he murmured. "A damned ungrateful one, if you want the truth."

As if it could understand him, the puppy retreated and came up next to Elise's side, where it attempted to jump onto the bed. Bending over, she picked the small animal up and cuddled it, rubbing her cheek against the small, wet nose. Button's tongue lapped eagerly at her face.

"I'd say by the looks of it, you are up for the morning," Patrick observed.

"I hope not."

"I expect she's hungry, don't you?" "Yes, of course."

"Then why don't you come down to see me out? While Button eats, I shall merely slip out the back door—unless you want me to walk her for you."

"How are you getting home?" she asked nervously. "1 cannot very well have our carriage put to without everyone knowing."

He appeared to consider that, then shrugged. "If my poor hackney fellow isn't still waiting, I shall just have to walk until I can hail another."

"And what if you are accosted—or worse?"

He smiled crookedly. "Would that worry you?"

"Of course it would!" she snapped, exasperated. "If anything happens to you, who is to defend my father? Besides," she added truthfully, "I should probably miss
you."

"I should hope so." He stood and tucked his shirt into
his dirty trousers, then brushed at the dried mud on the legs. As his bare foot found his shoe, he slipped it
on, then put on the other. Moving to the cheval mirror, he regarded his reflection askance before combing at his disordered hair with his fingers. Turning around, he smiled again.

"Sometime, Ellie," he said softly, "I'd like to have a
whole night with you. I'd like to wake up when it is light enough to see you."

As she flushed to the roots of her hair, she turned away, seeking the wrapper Molly had laid out for her. Pulling it on, she hastily tied it closed. When she started around to pick up the puppy, she faced Hamilton again. Before she could avert her still flaming face, he lifted her chin with his knuckle, forcing her to look into his eyes.

"God, but you are beautiful. You have no notion what you do to me—no notion at all."

She closed her eyes and swallowed. "Please, Patrick—There—
I
have said it, haven't
I?"
she managed. "I would that you just left before any of the servants come down."

"You still think God is going to get you for this, don't you?"

"Yes."

"Well, He won't. Do you think He cares what you or I do, Ellie? Do you think He cares what happens to any of us?"

"Yes."

"If He did I should be trodding the boards at Drury Lane, emoting before an appreciative audience rather than wearing a damned robe and wig to argue the finer points of law in front of a jury who cannot understand them." When she still refused to look at him, he bent his head to hers, brushing her lips. As an involuntary shiver went through her, he dropped his hand. "And if He cared one whit, Ellie, you'd be wed to Ben Rose instead of standing here with me."

"I have to think you are wrong," she whispered.

"How can you look at the misery around you and see some grand design to it?" he countered. "All right then—why
are
you standing here with me?"

"I could ask the same of you."

"Because I want you. And you?"

"I don't know. Because I am weak, I suppose—is that good enough for you? Because Papa believes that without you he will hang. Because—"

He stepped back, and his manner softened. "It will have to be, won't it?" Turning back to the rumpled bed, he picked up Button and scratched its ears. "Come on—if we leave,
I
daresay she'll follow us," he told the animal.

"We'll have to go down the back stairs," Elise decided, pulling her wrapper more tightly about her.

He took the candle and went ahead to light the way into the deserted hall. As they crept down the steps like thieves, the puppy wriggled beneath his arm. At the bottom, Elise hesitated, then reached for Button.

"You will find the back door that way," she whispered.

"Aren't you going to latch it after me?"

"Yes, but—"

"What sort of lover are you? You are supposed to cling to me and beg to know when you will see me again," he said lightly.

"Well, not being as experienced in this sort of thing as you obviously are, I
plead my ignorance. Now—will you just go?" Afraid that he meant to kiss her again, she stood on tiptoe to plant a quick, almost chaste kiss on his cheek. "Good night, Hamilton."

As he opened the door, she could feel the cold, damp air. "Lud," she muttered, "you cannot go out in that." Turning quickly, she went down the dark hall to a closet, then came back. "Here's one of Papa's greatcoats, and you cannot say it won't go around you," she declared, handing it to him.

"Ellie—"

"Thet you, miss?" one of the servants called out sleepily from above.

"Yes, but there is no need to worry, I assure you," she answered hastily. As Patrick handed her the candle and slipped outside, she barred the door. "I was but going to feed the dog, then I intend to go back to bed."

A footman, his nightcap still on his head, peered over the rail. "Thought I heard voices," he mumbled.

“I was talking to Button—to the dog, that is."

“Ye want me ter walk it fer ye?"

"No—you can sleep another two hours."

He went on back up the stairs, leaving her to find something for the animal. "You know," she told it, “you are certainly a patient little creature."

Like the rest of the downstairs, the kitchen was deserted when she passed through it on her way to the cold cellar. Opening the door, she heard rats scrambling for cover below.

"Yes, well," she declared resolutely, "they don't like light much, do they?"

Moving gingerly down the narrow steps, she descended into the depths of the cellar and crossed between the assorted sacks to the corner pit. Fastening the candle into a holder, she lifted the cover and felt beneath the damp straw for the milk jar. Pulling it out, she looked about for a cup, then went to the sacks. As she looked into one, a mouse ran out. Undaunted, she found the crockery cup inside and shook the flour from it.

"That ought to serve," she murmured as much to herself as to the pup. Setting Button down, she poured some of the milk into it. As the animal drank eagerly, she returned the jar to the cold cellar. When she turned back, Button was licking the last vestiges of milk from the cup. "Greedy, aren't you?" she said, tucking the creature back under her arm. "And I suppose you are wishful of going out also."

Its bright little eyes watched her soberly.

"All right. I expect Molly will thank me for it."

She stood shivering in the walled garden behind the house while Button explored every plant before finding one suitable. As soon as the animal finished squatting, Elise scooped it up quickly and returned inside, where she encountered one of the tweenies, a girl of probably no more than fourteen.

"What are you doing up?"

"I 'eard the door and I thought they was a-coming again," the girl explained.

"I was taking the dog outside." "But I 'eard it twiced."

"She was reluctant, so we had to go back. But I don't blame her, for it is cold outside."

Reaching to touch the dog's muzzle, the girl peered at it. "Oooh, ain't ye a wee creature," she crooned to it. "Why ye ain't big enow to be weaned, are ye?" She looked up at Elise eagerly. "If ye was a-wanting ter sleep, I'd watch o'er 'er fer ye. I'd be real careful, I would."

"Yes, well—"

The tweeny's expression was wistful. "Me mum wouldn't let me 'ave no dog. Said as she 'ad enow mouths ter feed." As she spoke, she continued to rub the
sober puppy's head and nose. "I got a mite o’bread fer 'er."

BOOK: Secret Night
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