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Authors: Cynthia Wright

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BOOK: Silver Sea
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For an instant, Nathan envisioned the lush beauty of Barbados. He could almost taste a bright papaya and feel the heat of the sugary sand between his toes. Soon he'd be sailing home, reunited with Minter and his crew, and when he arrived, he would claim the precious acres that adjoined Xavier Crowe's estate on the island's eastern shore.

Best of all, Nathan thought grimly, he would be Raveneau again, not Essex, a guard for hire.

First things first. He shrugged into a blue coat to blend in more easily with the darkness. Nathan decided to slip not only a pistol into the waistband of his breeches but a sheathed dagger as well, then he left the house through the other door, so that he might creep quietly round the side and into the garden.

Outside, the air was damp and cool, unwilling to shift into summer just yet. Nightingales were singing in a distant hedgerow, and a tawny owl called
kee-vit
as he hunted for mice in the meadows. All of Nathan's keenly sharpened instincts told him that his own prey was human.

Slowly he circled the high boxwood maze, entering from the north.

His nostrils flared at the scent of lilac. Odd. There were no lilac bushes blooming yet in this garden, as far as he could remember... but Nathan remembered then that lilac was Adrienne's scent. He'd even seen the hand-labeled crystal bottle on her bureau the morning he visited her in her chamber.

Walter Frakes-Hogg was an exceptionally tall man, but there was no sight of him.

And the footsteps, still audible, were awfully light. Nathan had a sinking feeling that gave way to yet another surge of fury. If he'd gone to all this trouble just to catch Adrienne Beauvisage in another act of defiance, then she must pay a price.

Every muscle in his body was taut as he soundlessly tracked the lilac fragrance and the intermittent sounds of Adrienne's midnight ramble. When he saw her at last, his jaw clenched. She stood in one of the maze's circles, holding a bouquet of daffodils to her cheek. Moonlight spilled over her mane of curls, her exquisite profile, and her creamy throat and bosom. Oblivious to the chilly air, or the hour, or the danger she had placed herself in, Adrienne looked peaceful.

Unseen, Nathan glowered at her. The chit would drive him to an early grave before he could complete his four-month sentence in this godforsaken dungeon—or she'd die herself as a result of mad, rebellious escapades such as this one.

Humming like a mischievous child, Adrienne turned down another boxwood-edged lane. Nathan decided quickly, and angrily, on a plan. He crept after her, watching round the corner of the hedge, and when she paused, then bent to pick another furled bloom, he sprang. In an instant he was upon her. Adrienne cried out, but it was too late. One of Nathan's arms went round her waist like an iron bar, while the other imprisoned her shoulders. His elbow pushed into her open bodice, then he let her feel the cold prick of his dagger at her throat.

"Don't try to scream," he growled hoarsely, "or I'll kill you."

"Who are you?" She strove to sound brave, but there was a throb in her voice. "What do you want?"

"Did you think I wouldn't find you here? That I'd let you go so easily?"

"W-Walter?"

"Of course! You ruined my life, and now you'll pay."

"But—it doesn't sound like you—" Wildly she wondered why he would disguise his voice, then realized it didn't matter. He was so strong! Oh, God, why hadn't she listened to Nathan? Why was she such a fool? And why was this villain determined to hurt her? It was maddening to know that he could feel the thudding of her heart against his arm. "Please, leave me alone!"

"Did you really believe I would let you go?"

Adrienne was terrified by the knife yet furious with this man for abusing her freedom. Why were so many men predators who believed that the seduction of innocent females was nothing more than a sport, like fox hunting? "You have to let me go. I had a perfect right to decline your advances." Tears crept into her voice. "I loved your little girls. It broke my heart to leave them, and it was wrong for you to put me in that position. Do you care more for your own gratification than the welfare of your daughters?"

Nathan couldn't believe that she was going to launch into moral lecture while being held at knifepoint. In husky tones, he challenged, "Will you give up your life to be right, always?"

"Perhaps."

Enraged beyond reason, he threw down the dagger and spun her around, his fingers digging into her soft upper arms. "Damn you, chit, it's me! You won't even let me teach you a lesson, when your life depends upon it, without going off on a headstrong tangent!"

Her mouth dropped open, and her eyes flashed in the shadows. "Nathan Essex! How could you do something so cruel?" She struggled in his grasp, but he only held her more tightly. "Let me go this instant! Horrid bully!"

"Do you think you can have your own way, no matter what, even when your life is at risk? Do you imagine that your will is so strong that it can overpower anyone who opposes you? Hold still and listen to me, because this is a lesson you cannot afford to dismiss." His voice was low and hot with more than anger. "I was not pretending to be Walter Frakes-Hogg in order to torture you and amuse myself at your expense. I did it to show you that you could have been killed tonight as a result of your determination to rebel against me. I spent hours watching for that man to try to sneak into the castle and reach you, and he may well have shown up and been warned off by the noise you and I have made!"

"You're obsessed with threats of danger," she said defiantly. "You create them out of thin air."

Nathan wanted badly to shake her. "Why can't you allow me to do what I've been hired for by your father? If we trap this villain, who is, I assure you, lurking no farther away than the next town, then you can run wild if you choose and I may be able to escape altogether!"

In spite of herself, Adrienne was stirred by this masculine creature. He loomed above her, wide-shouldered, raven-haired, exuding a wild strength that was magnified by the moonlight playing over his carved features. How dare he proclaim that he wanted to escape from her forever?

"You are a—a
scoundrel!
Just like nearly every other man I've met since coming to England. None of you have hearts, or
souls
—you just live according to your male pride and your need for conquest! Men thrive on truly base passions, so is it any wonder that women are revolted by them? If most women didn't need men in order to have children, and to provide financial support, they'd do just as I am, seeking independence and—"

"Will you never stop?" His eyes drilled into hers.

"I hate you," she muttered.

"A stinging retort, Miss Beau." Nathan knew he should release her and walk away, but it seemed that her infuriating speech had put a demon in him, and he was now possessed. "So, you have no use for men or our passions? You find men physically revolting?"

Adrienne stiffened, pressed her lips together, and felt her heart begin to hammer. His grip relaxed on her arms, but she couldn't move. When Nathan slowly drew her closer, until her bodice touched his hard chest, she started trembling, awash with a terrifying yearning. All at once, the place between her legs was hot, then wet.

Nathan's breath was warm on her cheek. "I don't think you're revolted now."

Feebly she tried to defend herself. "Men—men like Walter—are so base—"

"But we aren't all like Walter."

"You frightened me."

"I was afraid for your safety."

When his strong arms enfolded her in the cool night air, Adrienne knew a sense of bliss that surpassed anything she had ever felt. A sob rose in her throat. Helplessly she turned her face up for his kiss, and when his mouth found hers it was a wonder: firm and sure, working her lips, then parting them to make magic with his warm tongue. Adrienne's knees went weak as long-buried needs burst forth in waves.

"You see?" he whispered gently. "Men can be useful."

She stared at his face, entranced. He wasn't wearing his spectacles. Her hands crept upward, feeling the planes of his chest, then the unyielding strength of his shoulders, until her fingers clasped around his neck. Their bodies were pressed together full length in a way she found thrilling.

Kissing her again, Nathan dimly realized that he didn't need to keep teaching her this lesson. She understood, and now he was also beginning to understand more than he cared to. Dangerous! he warned himself, but Adrienne's incautious streak seemed to be contagious. Besides, whom was he fooling? He'd known his share of those brutish male passions she described, ever since the day he and Adrienne had first made clashing contact on Oxford Street.

Her mouth was sweet, her skin enticingly soft, and she was beautifully made, just like the other women he'd made love to, but Nathan couldn't remember experiencing this added element of complex excitement with any other woman. It was something personal between them. Baffling...

Both of them were alarmed yet unable to turn back. Adrienne ached for him to cup her breasts with his bare hands, and she nearly pulled down her own gown for him. Her eyes stung with tears of need. Hungrily they kissed, then she threw her head back, beckoning him to explore lower. His lips were burningly stimulating as they touched all her pulse points. She sank her fingers into his hair, panting. Her nipples were so hard they ached, and Nathan was hard and hurting as well.

"Dear God." He gasped, amazed at what was happening.

"Yes," she urged.

They knelt on the damp, mossy path. She wanted to rip open his shirt, to press her face to his chest to smell him and taste him, but now her sleeve was falling, and his lips grazed the first swell of her breast. "Oh!" Adrienne cried. If he were actually to touch her bare nipple with his warm, wet mouth, she might die, or come apart—

"Essex?" A gruff voice was calling from the castle's stone terrace. "Are you out there? It's me, Fred."

"Christ." Nathan rose halfway, focusing in the darkness, until he spied the ancient gardener, swaying in the light of the lantern he held with two hands. "What is it?" he yelled.

"I seen an intruder, hidin' in the bushes near me tool shed! He threatened me and ran off to his horse, but afraid I am—lookin' fer you everywhere—and Mr. Jarrow said you'd be the one to help me—"

Through the thick haze covering his brain, Nathan realized that the intruder must have been Walter Frakes-Hogg. "Adrienne, it was—"

"I know. Go to him. I'll get myself together and slip back inside shortly." In response to his sharp look of worry, she gave him an unflinching gaze. "I'm fine. I'll hurry, and I'll behave myself."

Nathan was already on his feet then, calling to the old man, running, while silently cursing himself for this perilous lapse in his own vigilance.

Meanwhile, Adrienne's heart beat fast with scrambling emotions. She waited just until Nathan and Fred had disappeared inside the castle before she hurried out of the boxwood maze and around to one of the side entrances. Just before the heavy door closed behind her, a movement in a distant grove of elm trees caught her eye. Quickly Adrienne pushed the latch that locked her safely inside.

Outside, on the other side of the trees, Walter Frakes-Hogg mounted his spotted gelding and started off in the direction of Winchester.

There was no point in waiting around so that the black-haired fellow who'd been manhandling Adrienne might have an opportunity to catch him. Frakes-Hogg had every intention of finishing his business with Adrienne Beauvisage without ever coming face to face with that hired thug.

 

 

 

Chapter 5

 

Nothing needed to be said the next morning when Adrienne and Nathan met in the servants' kitchen. Both of them realized full well what a frightening mistake had been made and how fortunate they were to have been interrupted by Fred.

"Your friend won't escape the next time," Nathan said to her in businesslike tones as they sat together eating bowls of overcooked oatmeal.

She knew that he avoided using Frakes-Hogg's name because Hortie was watching and listening, but couldn't he have chosen a less annoying word?

"I'll remind you that he is hardly a friend of mine."

"A figure of speech, Miss Beau." He stirred milk into his tea and tried not to look at Adrienne. In spite of the dark circles under her eyes, she flushed whenever she spoke to him, and her curls were pinned up in a haphazard way he found particularly fetching.

"Don't you two have work to do?" Hortie scolded as she rose. "Lord Harms arrives tomorrow evening, you know, and her ladyship will have a list of preparations."

When Lady Thomasina's abigail was out of earshot, Nathan murmured, "You don't suppose the old peahen will want to do a complete spring housecleaning by tomorrow? The staff would probably revolt."

"It would take a year, not a day, to clean this place."

"My point exactly."

Adrienne pushed her bowl away. It made her nervous to be so close to him. "I should check on Lady Thomasina. She may be too excited to stay in bed until her usual late hour."

BOOK: Silver Sea
10.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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