Authors: Lily Maxton
Tags: #historical romance, #England, #regency romance, #Entangled Scandalous, #Regency Era, #regency, #opposites attract, #London, #bet
Then came the lightest kiss against the sensitive flesh between her legs. She jerked. Her hands tightened. But then the contact was gone. Her heart pounded, and she was ready to call his name when she felt his lips on her again—another light kiss, but longer this time.
A strange noise drew from her throat, a sort of mewling. She might have been embarrassed by it, but he kissed her there again, intimately, and this time he let his tongue slide along the folds and press against her entrance.
One of her hands unclenched from the towel and reached for him. She ran her fingers through thick, silky hair.
When he licked her and drew away again, she grasped his hair and pulled him back against her—none too gently.
His laugh vibrated against her over-warm skin, and she moaned at the powerful sensation.
He stroked her with his fingertips. Then he eased one finger inside her as he flicked his tongue over a spot that sent pleasure tingling all the way to the tips of her breasts.
,” she said on a startled breath. A second finger joined the first, pushing slowly, stretching her tight against him. He pressed in, pulled back—all the while sucking and licking that yearning, wanting bit of flesh, until the different sensations melded together into one blinding burst of need.
She moved her hips, seeking more contact, seeking
. His fingers quickened their pace. His tongue matched it.
And at one final flick, she broke apart, convulsing around him, mewling and gasping and Lord knew what else. Her back arched off the ground as instinct took over, and she strained to ride the glorious paroxysm he’d released with his touch. When it was over, she fell, shaking and astounded, back to earth.
Sometime later—though she couldn’t say how long—her dress was back in place covering everything it was meant to cover. Her breathing was loud in her ears, but slowing. She felt sated to the point of weakness, and she thought it would be nice if she could fall asleep to the sound of the ocean lapping the shore.
Thornhill wrapped his arms around her, gently pulling her up against his chest. “You make the most delightful sounds, especially at the end,” he murmured against her temple.
Her eyes flew open. Her cheeks felt hot. “I don’t think it’s very gentlemanly to comment on that.”
His chuckle reverberated through her body. “I don’t think anything I just did was very gentlemanly.”
“It was very nice, though,” she said after a brief hesitation, almost shyly. She had never felt shy in her life, and she didn’t think she liked it. “I’ll be able to read the tales of our favorite courtesan with a new appreciation,” she continued, more confident.
“Indeed,” he said.
She lifted her chin and met his gaze. “What about page one hundred and two?” she asked unflinchingly.
He stilled. Then he drew back and gazed down at her. A huff of rueful laughter escaped him. “Not now.”
“My control isn’t what it should be. And I wouldn’t like to ruin you after I’ve agreed not to ask for your hand in marriage.”
Irrational disappointment swept her. “Are you certain?”
He lifted his eyebrows. “You want to be ruined?”
“Would anyone have to find out?” she whispered.
His arms tightened, then released. He pushed himself up, away from her. “We should return.” He held his hand out.
She regarded him without moving, testing him. Half of her hoped he would relent, and the other half was terrified he would. But he didn’t. He just held her gaze for a long, tense moment. And finally she placed her hand in his, marveling at how strong it seemed when it wrapped around her own delicate fingers, and he pulled her to her feet.
They walked toward town together. But she glanced back once. The spot where they’d lain was mussed and the sand dipped as if it had been kicked around, but other than that small detail, there was no evidence they’d even been there, nor of what they’d done.
She caught Michael watching her as she looked at that disheveled bit of sand, so she turned her face forward and quickened her pace. A tightness clutched at her lungs. Though she was clothed, she felt more naked than she had before. His intelligent eyes saw too much, read too much in her face—and she was afraid he saw things she wasn’t even entirely aware of herself.
She could breathe easily only when she was once again ensconced in her parents’ town house, safe from Michael…and safe from the vulnerability he had awakened within her.
The drawing room Anne found herself in the next night had been cleared of all unnecessary furniture and lined with rows of chairs in preparation for the evening’s entertainment. And though it was a large drawing room, it was overheated by the sheer number of people crammed within its striped, papered walls.
She sat next to her two sisters in a row near the back, listening to a young woman play the harp like she’d been born to it.
But Anne was having difficulty concentrating on the beautiful music. Her mind refused to move past a moonlit shore and a half-naked man doing wondrous things to her with his mouth.
She waved her fan a little more vigorously. The tall sash windows were open to let in the sea-soaked air. Every so often the pale-green curtains would flutter, but she and her sisters were seated too far away for it to make a difference.
Her mind wandered even further. Could sexual ventures be a pastime? If so, she would be tempted to add it to her list of favorite activities, even above dancing.
She closed her eyes, trying to relive the sensations Michael had drawn out with his skilled touch. It wasn’t quite the same, but she did feel a stirring of desire. Her lips parted slightly as she remembered his kiss. She tilted her head and trailed the edge of her fan against her throat—the same path he’d followed with his mouth.
Someone sat down in the chair next to her—she heard its wooden legs creak.
She paused in mid-caress.
“I would give a hundred pounds to know what you’re thinking about,” a low voice said, right next to her ear.
Shock jolted her, and the fan fell from her suddenly limp fingers. She opened her eyes slowly.
Thornhill’s profile came into view. His lips were quirked in a half grin.
Well, two could play at this game.
“I was thinking about you,” she whispered in her most seductive voice. “The way you touched me.”
His head turned toward her. The primal look he sent her was enough to freeze her in place, to make the blood rush from her brain to a lower part of her anatomy.
He shifted—his thigh pressed against hers, a wonderful, torturous heat. He leaned down. “I believe you dropped something,” he said casually.
As he straightened with her fan, he took the opportunity to let his fingers brush her ankle beneath her dress, then slide up her calf. He stroked the back of her knee gently before withdrawing. The moment was over so quickly she might have thought she imagined it—except her whole leg tingled warmly in response to his touch. He held out the fan, a feminine contraption of flower-painted silk and lace that looked fragile in his hand. She grabbed it ungratefully, frustrated that she’d been bested in their exchange.
“Do you enjoy music, Miss Middleton?” he asked, as though he hadn’t just been teasing her outrageously.
She strove to keep her voice steady. She didn’t want the man to think he could unravel her so easily. “Yes, but I’m not the best musician. I don’t have the patience for it.”
“Impatient? I wouldn’t have guessed,” he said, his tone light.
She recalled the way she’d yanked on his hair when he’d pulled away from her on the beach. “I’ve never thought patience was one of the more important virtues.”
“Ah. That’s unfortunate.”
“I thought we could explore, but it would have to wait until the intermission, at least.”
She startled in her seat, her mouth opening. When she found the poise to respond, all she said was, “One hundred and two?”
It was his turn to stare at her wide-eyed. She rather enjoyed shocking him, particularly when he’d set out to shock her first. He would have to learn she wasn’t one to back down from a challenge.
“Perhaps,” he answered vaguely. And then he smiled. “You confound all my expectations, Miss Middleton. You delight me.”
There was something in his voice, something soft and almost tender, something that set warning bells off in her mind and caused the skin on the back of her neck to prickle. “Quiet, Lord Thornhill. We are supposed to be appreciating the music
He grinned, but somehow even
looked tender. “Downstairs” was his only reply.
She tore her gaze away from him and fixed it on the harpist. And tried with every ounce of will she possessed to focus on the sweet chords of the instrument…instead of the bewildering man beside her.
But couldn’t quite manage it.
“What were the two of you whispering about?” Olivia asked when the sisters left their seats during the break, gathering by one of the windows to escape the stifling heat. “You and Lord Thornhill.”
Michael had left the room a few minutes before. She would have to find a way to follow him.
“We were commenting on the music.” Anne said neutrally.
“Thornhill seems very interested in you,” Elizabeth noted.
Anne swished her fan open and shut, then open again. “Just a friendly interest, I’m quite sure.”
Her sister’s blue eyes bored into hers. “I wouldn’t be too certain.”
“I would,” Anne snapped. “A man who was once in love with my sister isn’t very high on my list of suitors.”
Elizabeth blinked. “That was a year ago,” she pointed out.
“Yes, but we know how men fall all over you. I’ve no doubt he’s still smitten.” Anne nearly winced when the words left her mouth. Lord, she sounded like a shrew. Worse, she sounded jealous.
“I don’t think his feelings were strong enough to linger this long,” Elizabeth said mildly. “And men don’t fall all over me. Don’t be ridiculous.”
Olivia looked back and forth between the two of them.
“I’m not being ridiculous,” Anne said vehemently.
Her older sister’s expression softened. “Do you like him?”
“Oh, what’s not to like?” Anne answered bitterly. “Aside from his proposal to you.”
“He can’t change his mind?”
“No! He can’t!” she said, though she knew it sounded childish. “I need to use the retiring room.” And she stalked away, leaving her sisters staring after her with nearly identical bemused expressions, which she pointedly ignored.
She decided to find Thornhill, but she wasn’t certain if it was a good idea anymore. Her chat with Elizabeth had put her in a sour mood.
Then again, she’d felt amazingly relaxed after what they’d done last night. It might make her feel better—if she could simply ignore…what? Her envy? Her irrational anger? The insidious wish that Thornhill had never proposed to Elizabeth, nor even ever wanted her?
Anne slipped out of the drawing room and down the staircase. She hovered in the corridor on the ground floor until she saw candlelight seep from the crack under one of the doors. Pushing the door open revealed a simple morning room, and Thornhill sitting at a table. He was spinning his pocket watch on the satinwood tabletop—the object gleamed golden in the shifting light from candles on the mantel.
She didn’t make a sound, and he hadn’t noticed her slipping into the room or shutting the door quietly behind her, but after a second his face lifted. He said her name, so quietly it was nearly inaudible. She couldn’t tell if it was a statement or a question. The movement of the watch halted and it disappeared back into the hidden pocket on the inside of his trousers.
Then he frowned. “Is something amiss?”
She felt vulnerable under his perusal—a bird startled from the bush to the treacherous open sky. She walked toward him and, in a bold move, sat on his lap and wrapped her arms around his neck.
Her forwardness had the intended affect—he forgot all about his question. He pushed a tendril of hair behind her ear, and she shivered as his fingertip caught the inner shell.
His lips brushed hers. “You taste sweet,” he murmured.
“I like sugar in my tea.”
“I like it, too.”
He lowered his head again and she tilted hers to meet him, and then there was no more talking, only the friction and heat of skin on skin. His hands curved around her hips, holding her in place with an inexorable grip. But it was unnecessary—there was no chance of her leaving, not when she’d come to life in his arms, molding around him as if he were the answer to every dream she’d ever had.
When his kisses moved from her mouth to her throat, she arched backward to give him better access. She moaned when his tongue flicked out to taste the hollow at her collarbone, and again when his lips fastened on her nipple and he sucked it to a hard peak through her thin muslin gown.
And this time she wasn’t embarrassed—he liked the sounds she made.
Her hands wandered over his chest. She was a bit put out by all the clothing he wore. She wanted to feel his heat under her palms as she had before. She moved downward and pulled at the fastenings of his trousers, trying to open the flap.
She heard a gasp. Her fingers stilled.
It took her a moment to realize it hadn’t come from her own throat, and yet it had been decidedly feminine. She frowned, twisting, and nearly fell off Michael’s lap when she saw that the door was open.
Empty. But open.
“Michael,” she whispered in alarm.
“What?” he asked, bewildered, his eyes heavy-lidded.
She motioned to the door.
“Damnation.” He shot to his feet with her weight gathered in his arms.
“Let me down,” she ordered, pushing at his chest.
He set her on the floor. “Did you see who—?”
“No,” she shook her head, pulling away from him when he tried to steady her. She leaned against the table instead. She was surprised to find that her knees were wobbly. “I heard a noise. When I looked the intruder was gone.”
“My God,” he said on an exhale.
“What shall we do?” Her voice shook, though she’d been doing a good job of keeping it steady until then.
“We’ll go back to the drawing room separately and hope that whoever saw us keeps their mouth shut. I think that’s our only course of action.”
“Yes,” she said, taking her hand away from the table and forcing her spine to straighten. She was not going to fall to pieces like a woman suffering from the vapors—she had no patience for that sort of behavior. “I’ll go in first,” she said firmly.
“Are you sure?”
“Anne, whatever happens—”
“Nothing is going to happen,” she said, low and vehement. A spark of anger flared to life within her. And it was directed at him, even though nothing that had happened was his fault—she’d been more than willing. But she needed someone to blame. Other than herself.
She took a deep breath. At least she hadn’t managed to unfasten his trousers and set to work exploring the act from page one hundred and two. That would have been quite an eyeful for their trespasser.
She managed a tight smile. “Most likely they didn’t even recognize us.”
Those words echoed hollowly in Anne’s mind as she made her way back to the drawing room on wooden legs. She stepped just inside the doorway. The next musician was warming up at the front of the room, but the performance hadn’t yet begun. There were still people walking about and talking.
Her eyes swept the space. She saw Olivia and Elizabeth, deep in conversation by the window. It wasn’t her sisters, then. They were in the same place she’d left them.
But then her eyes halted on a familiar figure. The girl’s cheeks had flared a bright red to match her flaming mane, and she was flinging her arms about in exaggerated gestures as she spoke to an older woman.
. Miss Richards.
Anne hadn’t even realized Thornhill’s little admirer was in attendance.
Her heart sank straight through her stomach. But she reminded herself that appearing agitated didn’t mean the troublesome debutante was the one who’d seen them. She could be agitated for any number of reasons.
Miss Richards began looking around the drawing room, her eyes flitting nervously back and forth. When they stopped on Anne, the young woman started as if she’d seen some ghastly apparition.
And then, as though she were a fearful—or simply vindictive—peasant condemning a witch, Miss Richards raised her arm and pointed a dainty, accusing finger straight at Anne.
The other woman, a matron wearing a dark, conservative dress, followed that finger with an expression of horrified glee. She wore the strangest smile—very nearly satisfied, as though it was her God-given duty to oust Anne for the decadent creature she was.
. At a musical soiree, she thought with a queer, terrified amusement.
How close to the mark Michael had been. But once the wry mirth had swept through her, dread made her limbs feel leaden. She slumped against the wall, anything but amused.