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Authors: Samantha Holt

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Historical, #Romance, #Victorian, #Historical Fiction, #British, #Regency, #Historical Romance

Sinful Cravings (6 page)

BOOK: Sinful Cravings
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Chapter Eight

A fire blazed in the hearth of the room. Hettie sat herself by it and draped her hair over her shoulder to do her best to dry it. The room was pleasant and reminded her a little of home. A slanted roof and small cottage window added a cosy feel to it and the linens were a floral print, similar to that favoured by her mother.

As she dried her hair, she spotted some flecks of mud she’d missed when washing and couldn’t help smiling. It had been ridiculous, being caught up in the mud and practically juggled by Jasper. She should have been embarrassed—she was a little, in truth—but the absurdity of it all had overtaken her and she couldn’t help but laugh. Then he had laughed too and looked at her in a way that even now made her stomach tighten.

He was probably right. Hettie reached over for her comb and ran it through her tangled hair, wincing as she did so. She didn’t smile or laugh enough. It had felt so good to laugh. Dealing with the orphans and her busy life in the village which often included nursing sick people and running errands and generally having no time to find something to laugh about, had left her tightly wound and unable to find amusement in things. But, for some reason, today had been different.

Hettie ought to find a way to thank Jasper. Without him, she’d be back in London or trapped in mud or walking to Edinburgh. She would thank him somehow, and she’d also prove to him—and herself—that she could smile. This journey could be her chance to discover fun once more. After all, who better to find amusement with than a rogue like Jasper? If anyone knew how to have fun it was him. Emma would remain her priority but would it hurt if she laughed a little on the way?

When her hair was about dry, she rubbed off the remaining flecks of mud, dressed and did her hair in a simple knot. It was far from an elegant hairstyle but it was practical and without the help of a maid, she wouldn’t be able to do much more. She spritzed on a little perfume—her one indulgence. While she prided herself on having little vanity, there had always been something slightly appealing about wearing a decadent scent, as though one part of her could be bold and daring.

 Hettie paused to look in a slightly tarnished mirror. She no longer looked drowned which was a fine thing, but did she look pretty? She didn’t think so. Just...normal.

Oh well.

Heading downstairs, she followed the scent of herbs and meat. She found herself in a public room where Jasper was leaning against the bar. Waiting for her?

His eyes lit when he saw her and he headed over. “Come, there is a private dining room this way.” He took her hand in a move that seemed entirely unconsidered and led her into the private room. What would people think of them? Would they thing they were engaged? Married? Lovers? All of those titles sent a trickle of excitement down into her belly for some strange reason.

The beams were low and Jasper had to duck to avoid them. In the centre of the room, a table large enough for eight was set for the two of them. Hettie was grateful they hadn’t been placed at either end and instead opposite one another. Silly, she knew, but for some reason, her dislike of this man was waning quickly. She tried to summon up memories of the lady with whom he had been riding or his collection of women’s dresses, but nothing worked to make her annoyed with him.

Especially when he was still holding her hand, the large warmth of it protective and comforting around her fingers.

He led her over to her seat and pulled out the chair for her as though they were dining at somewhere exclusive. She couldn’t help but smile at his gentlemanly manners. It was the first time he’d really behaved like anything other than an utter rogue around her. She liked it.

“What is it?” he asked as he sat.

“I’ve never seen you behave like a gentleman.”

“I am a gentleman,” he reminded her.

“In breeding, not in manners.”

“Well, I was never trying to charm you. I can be a gentleman when I choose.”

“So you’re trying to charm me now?”

A furrow appeared between his brows. “You’ve had a long day, Hettie. I have no intention of making it harder on you. I do have some manners, you know.”

“That’s not...I mean...oh...” Hettie gave up and took a long drink of wine before pouring more of the drink from the jug. The red wine was dry and a little stale but she needed it if she was going to survive this evening. This man confused her beyond all reason.

And, of course, she had hoped that maybe, just maybe, he was trying to charm her.

Never mind, the wine would quell her disappointment. She took another hefty swig.

“Be careful. Country wine can be much stronger if it’s been home-brewed.”

“I am a country girl, remember? You might think me so prim that I never touch the stuff, but I am allowed it at home and when we dine out.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

They lapsed into silence and she almost longed for him to be making comments about how ugly her dress was or something equally brash and rude. When the dinner was finally brought out, they tucked into the meat pie as if they hadn’t eaten in days.

Hettie’s stomach did indeed grumble at the sight of thick pastry and meat in gravy. The cheese and bread from earlier hadn’t done much to sustain her, and the soaking had increased her appetite. She continued to drink the wine until a nice, warm sensation flowed through her veins. Every time she lifted her glass, Jasper gave her a disapproving stare, which made her want to drink more.

So she did, until her head began to spin a little and everything seemed very amusing. A giggle slipped from her.

“What is it now?” he asked, exasperation in his voice.

“You look very...stern.” She leaned back as steaming puddings were brought out. “It makes a change.”

“Because you are the one who is normally disapproving of me?”

“Exactly.”

“You should not be drinking so much, Hettie.”

“Do I not deserve it after the time I’ve had recently?”

“As I said, you should let yourself have a little fun but that shouldn’t involve drinking all the wine in Yorkshire.”

“You know, for a rogue, you can be very dull.”

He shook his head. “Finish your dessert. You need some rest.”

Hettie did indeed finish her dessert, unable to resist the tempting smell. Jasper moved aside the jug of wine and she narrowed her gaze at him but didn’t argue. If the slight movement of the table was anything to go by, she’d had enough. When they were finished and Jasper helped her up, she found herself leaning against him as the room spun just a little.

“You will regret this tomorrow,” he told her.

“I will not.”

He led her through into the main room where the table had been pushed aside and a woman was playing a lively tune on the piano. Dancers whirled around, their movements energetic and entrancing. None could claim to be perfect dancers like those in the London ballrooms, but it appealed immensely to Hettie. It reminded her of the country dances at home, although she’d never really joined in.

She tugged on Jasper’s arm.

“I don’t think so.”

“Please,” she begged. “I want to dance.”

She caught the eye of a young man around her age who approached with a grin and offered out his hand. Pulling away from Jasper, she accepted the man’s hand and found herself whirled into the mix of dancers. From the corner of her eye, she saw Jasper’s expression darken. However, as the dance went on, a reluctant smile edged across his face. When the music came to a stop and she paused to gather her breath and thank her partner, he came to her side.

“Can I have the next dance?”

“I did not think you were interested.”

“Well, I am interested now.”

Another jig started up, one she didn’t recognise but it didn’t matter. All she needed to do was jump and turn and stomp her feet. Jasper took up the dance with as much enthusiasm as the rest of the crowd, in spite of his status. He had to be the highest ranking man in the room—quite easily if the attire of the rest of the patrons were anything to go by. She suspected few noblemen visited this simple traveller’s inn. Most of the people were locals and more like the people she spent every day attending to in her village. How astonishing he was that he could fit in so easily.

By the time they had danced two more dances, weariness ate into her bones and she wished she had a fan.

“Let us get some fresh air for a moment. The rain has stopped,” Jasper called over the music.

She nodded and followed him out, allowing him to press a hand to her lower back. It was nice, she realised, to have someone thinking of her welfare. Hettie leaned against the wall while the wine made her lids heavy and her limbs boneless. She’d almost forgotten she was mildly drunk until the fresh air had hit her.

“You’re quite the dancer, Miss Henrietta Foster.” He came to lean next to her. “I didn’t know you had it in you.”

“I do not dance often,” she admitted. “It’s not really expected of me.”

“And you always do what is expected of you,” he stated.

“Yes, I do. I’m a clergyman’s daughter. Was else am I meant to do?”

“Live for yourself. You can never please everyone. You might as well enjoy yourself.”

She drew in a long breath and peered up at the gaps between the clouds. Stars revealed themselves in the patches.

“Pleiades,” he told her.

“Pardon?”

“That is the Pleiades.” He pointed to where she’d been looking. “And that—” he motioned to another clear spot in the sky “—is the Ursa Minor. Some call it the little dipper. See, it is shaped like a ladle. There’s a larger one but we can’t see it tonight.”

Hettie peered at him with interest. “How do you know these things?”

Jasper lifted his shoulder. “It’s what I write about. Of course, what I write is a little more complex than simply the patterns in the sky, but that is where my interest began.”

Shaking her head, she fumbled for a response that wasn’t wholly insulting. “There are hidden depths to you, Jasper.”

“They are not hidden as such. It’s just no one cares to look for them and I do not care to show it off.”

She shook her head again. “Lord Jasper Cynfell being modest? Who would have thought it?”

“Well, don’t tell anyone. I would hate for my reputation to be ruined.”

Hettie released a long breath and closed her eyes. She really was struggling to keep them open now but when she closed them, the world spun a little unpleasantly. As she rested her head against the wall, the inn seemed to tilt behind her. A set of strong hands came about her and the world was upright once more.

“Let us get you to bed.”

“I’m perfectly fine,” she protested, even as she stumbled when he led her back into the inn.

Jasper helped her into her bed and tucked the blankets around her. “Get some rest, Hettie,” he said, tenderness in his voice.

“You are a very odd man,” she told him sleepily. “I do not understand you at all.” Her lids seem to have glued themselves shut as she couldn’t even open her eyes to enjoy his handsome face. “I should like to though...” she muttered before sleep claimed her.

Chapter Nine

Hettie groaned beside him and leaned against his shoulder. Jasper grinned to himself. Somehow she was damned sweet when suffering the aftereffects of too much wine. Even with dark rings under her eyes, her dress slightly crumpled as she’d clearly struggled to put it on properly and her hair mussed, she made his chest feel full.

He forced his attention to guiding the carriage down the lane which had begun to wind slowly down a slope. Blackberry bushes lined the way until they came to the bottom of the hill and a crossroads. He wouldn’t expect much entertainment from Hettie today—she’d barely said two words at breakfast—so he would amuse himself with recalling their dancing and remembering her unbidden words.

She wanted to get to know him. Him. The person beneath the gossip and affairs. Most women cared only for the pleasure he would bring in bed and the scandal of having been seen with him. It gave them something of which to talk.

Glancing up the road, he turned the carriage onto the larger road as he eyed the stone marker. There was a train station in York and a high chance of catching a train all the way into Edinburgh. If they could make it there today, they might even be in Scotland before nightfall.

Up ahead, a fallen tree lay across the road. He grimaced and carefully drew the carriage to a stop. It wasn’t a large tree so he could move it.

He hoped.

“What is wrong?” Hettie asked, lifting her head and eyeing him blearily.

“A tree across the road. I shall be but a moment.”

Jasper removed his coat and slung it over the seat. He hopped down from the carriage and strode over to the tree. Glancing around, he saw there were a few trees lining the way though none looked particularly old. This one couldn’t have been if the thickness of the trunk was anything to do with it. Perhaps this part of the country had suffered some storms recently with the inclement weather.

Pushing up his sleeves, he bent to give it an experimental lift. He grunted. Heavy but at least he could move it. He only hoped he didn’t do something ridiculous like hurt his back. Bending again, he wrapped his arms about the end of it and began to pull it to one side until it was far enough over that he could push it the rest of the way with his foot. He straightened and turned.

“Don’t move.”

He found himself staring down the barrel of a gun. Jasper peered around it to the owner, who was rather well-dressed for a man of his profession.

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” he drawled.

“Hand over your valuables and any coin.”

The man had a deep Northern accent and his face was weather-beaten. He doubted the fellow wore a hat often so it was likely the clothes were stolen. He pitied the poor chap who had been held up and divested of his clothes. Behind the highwayman, Hettie stirred. Jasper’s heart began to pound. He couldn’t let the man turn his gun on Hettie, particularly not when she was likely to do something foolish.

“I don’t have much,” Jasper said.

“You’re a rich man, I can tell. Now, unless you want me to put a bullet in you and your lady friend, I suggest you hurry up and hand over your valuables.”

Hettie moved in the cart. He tried not to scowl and draw attention to her. Jasper reached for his pocket watch as Hettie climbed stealthily down from the carriage. The desire to shout at her to get back in the cart burned in his throat but he held it back. He fumbled the pocketwatch when the highwayman made to peer over his shoulder and drew the thief’s attention back to him.

The gold watch fell to the ground. “Oh dear.”

“Pick it up,” the man demanded.

Jasper made a show of it, officially being the man to take the longest to ever pick something up off the floor. Anything to stop the man from noticing that Hettie approached. What the woman was doing, he didn’t know, but he couldn’t think of any way to prevent her from reacting.

When he rose, the man stiffened.

“Drop the gun,” Hettie said. Jasper scowled. She was right behind the man, what was she doing? “Drop it or I shall blow a hole in your spine.”

He staggered forward a little as though she’d just jabbed him with something. But Hettie didn’t have a gun...did she? “All right. Don’t shoot,” the highwayman blustered.

Slowly, the man loosened his grip on the gun. Before it dropped, Hettie snapped, “In fact, don’t drop it. Give it to my friend.”

The man cautiously twisted the gun around and handed it to Jasper, butt first. Clasping it, Jasper peered at Hettie over the man’s shoulder to try to understand what the devil she was up to.

“Keep it on him, Jasper,” she told him.

He did as he was told, keeping the gun aimed at the man’s chest. Hettie jabbed him in the back again. “Walk away and don’t look back. If you do, I’ll shoot you.”

The man shook his head in disbelief.

“If she does not, I will,” Jasper promised. “Now get moving.” He motioned with his gun.

“Do not look back,” Hettie reminded him.

The criminal began to move with shuffling steps, keeping his gaze on Jasper’s gun until he couldn’t without turning back. True to his word, he trundled off down the lane without looking back. A grin quirked on Jasper’s face.

“I doubt he expected his day to turn out quite like this.”

“I am not sure I did either.”

He finally turned his attention back to her to see her shaking hands...and what she was holding. “Your umbrella?”

She released a shaky laugh. “Well, what else was I to do?”

“Stay in the cart and let the man rob me.”

“Well, I could hardly let him do that. What if he killed you? I’d be completely stuck.”

“Hettie Foster, you are one astonishing woman.” He considered the umbrella that she’d jabbed in the man’s back. “And quite lethal with an umbrella it seems. I’m glad he didn’t think to turn around and see what you were using as a gun.”

Her skin took on a slightly ashen shade and she looked ready to collapse.

Jasper pulled her to him and led her back over to the cart. “Brave girl,” he told her. “You were wonderful.”

He had her settled in the cart and tucked under a blanket before he took her trembling body in her arms. The shock must have hit.

“I-I thought he would kill you.”

“I think it unlikely. Far easier to rob someone than kill them. But you did well. We wouldn’t have travelled far with no money.”

He smoothed his hands up and down her back, aware of her body softening into his. She burrowed her face against this neck and her shuddery breaths whispered over his skin. Tension of another sort coiled inside him like a snake ready to strike. And all he needed was one little movement from Hettie to trigger it.

She gave it to him. Her lips pressed to his neck, warm and desperate. The woman needed comfort and he wanted to give it to her. Her mouth sought his, working up his jaw to reach it. He twisted to meet her and their lips met in a hard kiss. Hettie’s fingers dug into his arms and he held her as tightly as he could. He tasted her fear and what he suspected was a little excitement. When her tongue thrust clumsily into his mouth, he had no choice but to deepen the kiss, guiding her with his own tongue until they fell into a desperate but easy rhythm.

She pressed her chest to his and he dragged a hand down to clasp her waist. In spite of her corset, he could feel the give of flesh there, imagine how warm and soft she would be beneath the layers. He released a small groan and she answered it with a whimper.

Jasper let his fingers slip far enough down to find the curve of her hip. Images of her without her tight skirts and prim shirts assaulted him. He recalled the way her curves had pressed against her shift that night on the train and pictured those hips pressed against his skin.

His arousal throbbed hard against his trousers, removing any logical thought from his mind. Hettie followed him down the river of passion, pressing her hands beneath his jacket to curve her arms around him and hold him close. He tasted every part of her mouth as they clashed again and again. He wasn’t sure he could ever get enough of her. Her mouth had some strange, drugging effect on him.

He gripped her hip tight and she moaned. Jasper slipped a hand upward, aware that one small feel of her wasn’t enough. His fingertips found the edge of her breast spilling out of her corset. When she merely moved into his touch, he moved his hand farther and cupped the swell of flesh that had molten lust pounding through him.

“Bloody hell,” he muttered before coming back down for a kiss.

He squeezed and moulded her breast while she writhed against him, pleading for more with her body. He broke the kiss long enough to unbutton her shirt and see the creamy rise of her breasts. They were so plentiful, he had no problem urging one out of her corset and undergarments so he could view one rosy nipple.

“Bloody hell,” he murmured again, drawing out the word.

He bent to kiss that enticing tip and then kissed again. When he drew it into his mouth she gasped his name in surprise.

He was willing to bet no one had ever done this to Hettie Foster. No one had touched her like he had. No one had tasted her. What a waste. And yet, that thought should have been enough to bring a cold wash of reality over him.

But it did not.

It only fired him further. Untouched, inexperienced. He wanted to touch her, to bring her pleasure, to mark himself on her so that no man ever touched her again. He did, indeed, want to ruin her. Not for society but for any other man. He wanted her to think of no one but him. Forever.

“Jasper, please,” she begged.

The haze snapped away. She wanted more. That’s what she was begging for. But they were on a cart and Hettie was an innocent. She had just acted with such bravery and courage and risked her life for him. She deserved better than this. Rogue that he was, he wasn’t inclined to taking virgins on old, battered carts.

He didn’t break away as quickly as he really wanted to. She needed a few moments to gather her senses and the last thing he wanted to do was upset her further. The last thing he
really
wanted to do was release her. But soon enough she’d realise what she had done with a man of which she thoroughly disapproved. Soon she’d regret every moment of craziness.

He wouldn’t, though.

One kiss to the corner of her mouth. Then one to her cheek. Another to her forehead as he eased up her corset and buttoned up her shirt. Disappointment flickered in her gaze but she could have no idea how hard this was for him. No idea how much he wanted to tear off her clothes and bring her to the edge. This wasn’t about the chase. It wasn’t even about the final destination.

This was about Hettie.

“We should get moving if we wish to make to the train station in time.”

She nodded slowly, shifting in her seat to face the front.

Jasper should have left it at that but he couldn’t resist slipping a hand into hers as he spurred on the horse. She curled her fingers around his and leaned against him once more. His heart gave a little flex. He shook his head to himself. What a damned fool he was.

BOOK: Sinful Cravings
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