Authors: Colleen Shannon
Tags: #Historical Romance, #Love Story, #Regency Romance, #Hellfire Club, #Bodice Ripper, #Romance
“And what would that be?” he asked with an eagerness that might have pleased her. Once.
“A happy marriage. Children. A loving husband. What respectable man will have me now?” Curiously, his face darkened. He looked angry at the mere idea, yet why should he care what happened to her when he was finished with her?
“You’ll need no ‘respectable man,”’ he growled. “This disreputable man will be all that you desire.” His eyes lowered to appraise her revealed charms. The flesh that had been flaccid a moment ago began to swell.
She couldn’t quell the instinct. She brought her legs up and clasped her arms about herself. He laughed scornfully, moved back, caught her slim ankles, and pulled her supine on the mattress.
This time he was patient. This time his passion would not be denied. It was as if her dreams inflamed him, as if the thought of her with another man, any man, made him determined to put his stamp upon her so deeply, so thoroughly, that she could never forget him.
His was a magical skill, learned at the hands of women whose survival depended upon their mastery of that art. He might have been Cellini sculpting the
Nymph of Fontainebleau,
so assiduously did he mold her end to end. She tried to resist, but even the soreness that marked his earlier passing was not distraction enough from his wicked ability.
She told him so, when his mouth was buried in her breasts, his hands gliding over the tremors she could not control. “You are wicked, wicked, please, don’t make me, too—” She broke off with a gasp when his mouth singed a trail of kisses down to the secret place she’d tried so hard to deny. He tongued and suckled, holding her weakly struggling legs apart with his strong hands. The intimacy was shocking. Her heavy eyes opened in disbelief to see that proud golden head, bent in reverence to the essence of her femininity. The incredible sight made feelings, wicked or no, more powerful than morality.
But even as she arched her neck against the pillow and gave herself over to sin, he laughed huskily, blew on the bud he’d coaxed to full bloom, and left her aching. She moaned a protest, but he’d not even allow her that. He consumed her words with his lips. This time she met his demand. The kiss was deep, hot and evocative, tasting of their combined fluids, and she consumed him as if he did in truth offer her ambrosia.
He broke the kiss to taunt, “Taste how delicious wickedness can be, my innocent temptress. Shall
I leave you be and let you suffer in your virtue?” He levered himself beside her on an elbow, but one finger teased her swollen nipples.
She’d never done anything harder, but demanding as flesh was, mind was stronger. Her voice was hoarse but steady. “Yes, leave me be.” She turned to swing her legs around and get up.
“Oh no, you don’t!” Two powerful arms wound about her waist and hauled her to her knees in the middle of the bed. “Your spirit may be willing, but my flesh is decidedly weak.” When she sent him a shocked look at his misuse of Scripture at such a moment, he merely smiled back. His grin deepened to pure mischief as he levered himself behind her and fondled the firm globes hanging ready for him. “As yours will be in a moment.”
Her struggles didn’t last long, especially when he pushed her knees apart and raked his eager manhood up and down the field lying fallow and fertile for him. Sin was everywhere—in the hands that left her breasts flushed and throbbing to knead her aching, empty belly; in the hard body that titillated her backside; in the seed-swollen flesh that rubbed a smaller, ripening kernel. And despite herself she reveled in it all, as he had promised her she would.
The long, slow slide was welcome despite the twinge of pain, despite her belief that these feelings were wrong, so wrong. He filled her to the brim and paused to let her grow accustomed to the luxury.
His hands, however, were never idle. One fondled the part of her sweet sheath his manhood could not reach, the other caressed every inch of her. By the time he began to move she was so far gone that she pushed demandingly back against him when he left her. He built her arousal to fever pitch, but never allowed her release until he, too, was ready. As he thrust deeply to bathe her womb in the stream of life, he simulta
neously thumbed her, delicately, deliciously. They reached release at the same time, her fulfillment enriched by his own.
She quivered at the glory, the wicked, lovely glory. The earth seemed to shake beneath her knees, turning topsy-turvy all the truths she’d taken for granted. Fornication was not a disgusting, animalistic act; it was a heady intimacy for both men and women to revel in. The man behind her was not evil incarnate; he was solid security, hope of happiness. This room was not the site of her ruination; it was the place of her rebirth. Katrina collapsed bonelessly beneath him, body and mind reeling, barely aware of his husky praises in her ear.
But as the throbbing dissipated, that eternal struggle between flesh and mind began anew. This time flesh appeased, reason triumphed. Yes, he’d won a measured victory, for he’d proved conclusively how enjoyable sin could be. But her sight was unclouded by passion now, and she saw that glory as it really was: tarnished. Like a miscast silver urn that decayed from the inside out, so was that passion of surface beauty, yet worthless and flawed upon closer examination. She’d not sell all she owned, indeed, the soul that made her a good Christian woman, for that one possession, no matter how tempting. Then, if he never heard her admit to enjoyment, he’d have to keep his promise and let her go.
The hope seemed feeble as Devon gently bathed her and held her. He kissed her, not with passion, but with tenderness, as if he cherished more than the superficial casing that roused him so. Emotionally and physically exhausted, she didn’t resist when he blew out the candles and climbed into bed with her.
“Sleep, little Lilith. In my arms. Where you belong.”
Perhaps because she was already drifting off, his possessive
ness did not irritate her. Whether he was a demon in a man’s skin, or a worthy wastrel, in that twilight moment she knew she did indeed belong here, in Devon’s arms. For the first time in many a moon she slept dreamlessly.
That rare peace didn’t last beyond the rising sun. She was alone when she awoke, and her conscience was merciless. The new, intimate twinges should have slowed her movements, but instead they prodded her to haste. Now, while he was gone, was her chance. Possibly her only one.
But when she looked around, she couldn’t find the two small valises that held all her worldly possessions. Her mouth tightened grimly. She picked up the clothes Devon had discarded over the back of a chair.
When she clumped down the stairs a few minutes later, Devon’s evening slippers held on her feet by kerchiefs stuffed in the toes, she didn’t see the man sitting beside the front door until he rose to face her. His expression was as impenetrable as the mountain he resembled. He stepped into her path, crossed his tree-trunk arms over his chest, and called from the side of his mouth, “Devvie lad, the little gel’s up.”
While she was still blinking in shock at hearing the Earl of Brooksto
ne addressed in such a fashion—by a servant, no less—Devon entered the doorway between the hall and salon. He stopped at the sight of her, sweeping her from head to toe with a disbelieving glance. His knee breeches hung loosely past her calves, where his stockings bagged at her ankles. His waistcoat flapped past her hips, and the coat that fit his broad shoulders like a second skin looked more like a misshapen greatcoat on her. His mouth quivered.
The glare she sent him from beneath the cocked hat lost its impact when the hat, precariously pushed back on her fore
head, wobbled at her movement. It plopped down her nose to encase the upper portion of her face. Which was just as well, for then she couldn’t see Devon’s silent laughter.
His voice, however, was rich with mirth when he said, “Faith, what a gallant lad it is. I must commend your tailor, m’boy. He’s given you a fit”—he choked when the hat she rammed backward fell sideways this time, leaving one furious eye exposed, then went on—“the like of which I’ve ne’er seen.”
“That’s enough!” she cried, stomping her foot. A loose shoe went flying. Devon leaned against the door frame, laughing too hard to stand upright.
He wheezed, “That’s . '. . my point. It is too much. . . . You need a tuck here and there, me lad.” Catching the hat she threw at him, he swept it before him in a bow. “Why thank you, sir. I’m glad you’ve decided to stay for tea.” He caught her arm and pulled her, struggling, into the salon. He pushed her back until her knees bent against the settee, forcing her to sit.
He fixed her tea as he knew she liked it—sugar, no cream—and pressed a plate of crumpets upon her. When she looked as if she might throw that at him as well, he shook his head. “No, Kat, I’m done teasing. After last night you need to eat to replace your, er, strength.”
“To give me stamina for tonight, you mean,” she snapped. But she buttered a crumpet and took a famished bite, suddenly aware she’d not eaten since lunch yesterday.
He didn’t deny it. He watched indulgently until she’d eaten two coddled eggs and a small bowlful of strawberries and cream. Replete, she put her dishes on the side table and leaned back. When Devon sat next to her, she looked up at him in time to catch his kiss full upon her mouth. His tongue delicately rimmed her lips, but even as she lifted her hands to push him away, he moved back.
He licked his lips. “Cats are inordinately fond of cream, I perceive.” He bent and whispered in her ear, “And I’m inordinately fond of Kat flavored with cream.”
He eyed her so sensuously that she had to do something to break the intensity. She picked up her bowl, poured some cream in it from the small pitcher, and set it down on the floor in front of him. “Here you are, A bowl all your own. You don’t have to make do with leftovers.”
That regal nose lifted into the air. ‘ ‘Are you implying, madam, that I have stripes or spots?’ ’
“No, but at times I’ve thought I’ve seen the beginnings of a tail.” She glanced disparagingly at the lean hips encased in casual breeches.
His nose came down to her level as he leaned into her face and purred, “You could be right. I’ve only to look at you to feel myself growing homed.” When she blushed and looked away, he smiled. “Ah, Kat, I don’t think you know what you want. Would you really have me be beast or demon instead of a man who desires you?”
“I’d have you be a man compassionate enough to release a woman who doesn’t want to be your mistress,” she whispered, her fingers clasped so tightly together that her knuckles gleamed whitely.
“It’s too late for that, my darling. No regrets on my part or pleas on yours can ever give you back that small piece of skin I broke last night. With it gone, what have you to lose? What have you to go back to?”
“Nothing you would understand, but something vital to me: the right to choose my own fate.” She looked at him, her eyes crystal cool and clear.
He gripped her shoulders in strong hands. “Then choose. Choose me. Willingly. Gladly. You know you want to.” Katrina suspected there were many women who would give all they owned to put that pleading, hungry look in Demon Devon’s eyes. She was not immune, but she still had courage enough to look away and shake her head.
“So it’s a fight to the finish, is it?” When she didn’t answer, he sighed and let her go. “Very well, my dear. I’ve never known a woman with such a strong will. This should be an interesting contest.”
He rose and offered her his hand. When she took it, he pulled her up and over to a small pile of bandboxes behind the door. “Now, as to your attire . . .’’He trailed off and opened the top box to shake out an exquisite blue silk gown trimmed in silver roses. “These adornments will suit you better than mine.”
Her head reared up as if he’d offered her the worst insult. “I’ll not dress as your whore. Where do you plan to take me—the cyprians’ ball?’ ’
He flung the dress back in the box and dragged her across the room to the long mirror opposite the door. He stood behind her and forced her to face her own image. “There, look at yourself and tell me—which is the more ridiculous? My arrogance or your pretension?”
She glared at him until he took her skull between his big hands and forced her chin down. Reluctantly, she looked at her reflection. Her mouth fell open. The long fall of golden hair, a perfect foil to the severely masculine garments, highlighted her absurdity.
“Very well, Kat, I’ll lend you my clothes if you please, but wouldn’t you rather look the beautiful woman you are? I assure you I purchased the gowns just for you. They’re not some other woman’s castoffs.”
“Indeed? And how were they made up so quickly?” She was surprised when he flushed and turned away.
“Money in the right hands can do wonders. They worked the night through,” he said lightly, sitting down to pour himself another cup of tea.
Why did she get the feeling he was lying? And why would he lie about such an inconsequential matter? Was it possible he cared more for her than he would admit? She kicked off his other shoe and strolled over to him, knelt, and put her hands on his knees. Her heart raced with the gamble she was taking, but she had to try.
He froze with the cup halfway to his mouth when she said softly, ‘ ‘Devon, tell me truly . . . this house, the gowns . . . did you buy them just for me?”
Arrested brown eyes stared into her pleading blue ones. Carefully, he set his cup down and put his hands over hers. “And if I told you yes? That I value you highly, and would give you even more, if you’d let me? That I find your mind as stimulating as your body?” He grinned, a singularly masculine grin. “Almost.” He grew serious again. “If all this is true, would I earn more than your scorn at last?”