Authors: Christina Brooke
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical romance, #Regency
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To Vikki, Ben and Yas, with buckets of love
I’d like to thank my editor, Monique Patterson, for her unflagging energy and expertise—and for the amazing cupcake visuals! My gratitude also to Alexandra Sehulster and everyone at St. Martin’s Press who plays a part in publishing the novels I write.
To my fabulous agent, Helen Breitwieser, thank you for believing in me and my writing and for your friendship, advice and enthusiastic support.
To Anna Campbell, Denise Rossetti, and Victoria Steele, I’m so lucky to have you as friends and colleagues. Thank you for always being there for advice, hugs, and the occasional tough love. And to my dear and talented friends on the Romance Bandits blog, your friendship and support are past price.
Many thanks also to Kim and Gil Castillo for everything you do to make my life easier.
One of the best things about writing is meeting terrific people from all over the world and all different walks of life, united by their love of a great story. I’m incredibly fortunate in my readers—a discerning bunch, obviously!—and I thank each and every one of you for stepping into my Regency world.
Last but by no means least, to Jamie, Allister, Adrian, Ian, Cheryl, Robin, and George, who have to suffer through deadline madness right along with me, I love you. Thank you for always being there for me.
The young man who strode into her bedchamber that night was as darkly beautiful as sin itself, tall and elegantly proportioned, with an arrogant cast of countenance inherited from his patrician forebears. His hair held the obsidian luster of a panther’s coat, worn a trifle longer than was the current fashion. His eyes, set beneath sleek, flyaway brows, were so deep and brilliant a blue as to appear unnatural in the chancy light.
Barely suppressed fury tautened his large frame. A flicker of panic passed through her. This situation was not of her making. He must know that. Would he punish her for it anyway?
From what she’d heard and seen of this young nobleman, she suspected that if she showed fear, he would despise her. She didn’t want to begin that way.
“Oh, thank goodness you’re here,” she said in a rush. “I thought I’d expire of nervousness waiting for you.” She was pleased to note her voice didn’t tremble.
Some of the ferocity seemed to leave him. He bowed. “My apologies. Remiss of me to keep a lady waiting.”
She burned to make a witty reply, but just then he stepped into the full glow of the candlelight and she could not find her voice. Shadows outlined the chiseled planes of cheekbones and jaw. Dark locks tumbled over his brow. He was, without a doubt, the handsomest man she’d seen in her life.
Instinct had told her to snuff the candles to avoid the embarrassment of exposing her body when they … when he did what he’d come here to do. But then she’d imagined his unfamiliar touch in the blanketing darkness, having him over and around her and inside her while she was helpless to see him or to read his intent.
She’d decided to keep one branch of candles lit. After more thought, she’d placed it some distance from the bed.
Then had come the dilemma of what to do with herself while she awaited him. She’d tried draping her lanky form languidly on the chaise longue by the window. Too calculated, and she was very much not the draping-languidly sort.
Perched on a little chair by the fire plying her needle seemed too tame, and really, why even try to act as if she were not on tenterhooks waiting for his arrival? Besides, she was all fingers and thumbs. She’d be a danger to herself with a needle.
In the end, she’d decided it would be foolish to dissimulate. She waited here for him to bed her, and that was that.
Now her heart thundered in her chest as those deep eyes scrutinized her. The churning in her belly wouldn’t subside, no matter how she sought to calm herself. As he stripped the coat from his broad frame and moved toward her, she struggled not to blurt out that it was all a dreadful mistake.
What if she did the wrong thing? She shifted a little. “It—it is my first … That is to say, I have not done this before.”
“I had assumed that was the case,” he said. Was she mistaken, or did his tone hold a tinge of amusement?
Long fingers were rapidly undoing his waistcoat buttons, but here, they paused. “Are you afraid? Don’t be. I won’t hurt you more than I can help.”
That was all very well for him to say. Nurse had warned her that a woman’s first time was excruciating. The old retainer had done her best to ready her mistress for this night.
She lifted her chin. “I’m not afraid.” Her voice gave a betraying waver.
“How old are you?” he said, his gaze raking her as if he could see through her coverings to the form beneath.
The question was so unexpected, she stumbled over the answer. “S-seventeen.”
He was one-and-twenty and had been “on the town,” as the phrase was, since he’d left Eton.
She’d heard about him, of course. Who hadn’t? Stories of wickedness, of scandalous romantic entanglements with married ladies. He’d already fought two duels with jealous husbands and won.
He’d go on to have many other women when he was done with her. She could not imagine one of them refusing him. The thought made her bite her lip hard.
He reached out and touched the back of one finger to her cheek. “If you don’t want to do this, I will leave.”
His tone was not kind; it was indifferent. But the gesture, the feel of his touch, made something inside her warm, just a little.
to,” she said.
If she did not, her father would do things to her that were worse than anything this young man might contemplate. Besides, he was her one chance to get away from this house, a man powerful enough to protect her from her father. His rank and breeding would have told her that, even if the cut of his jaw, the cold fire in his eyes, had not.
Suddenly anxious that he might have second thoughts, that he would leave her and call the whole thing off, she made herself throw back the covers and sit up. She held out a hand to him and tried to keep it from shaking.
He regarded her silently. Then his eyes seemed to darken and he grasped her hand, curling his strong fingers around it. She was surprised at the heat of his skin. It was such a contrast with his cool demeanor.
Without even taking off his boots, he set one knee on the bed. “Neither of us desired this,” he murmured, moving over her, making the mattress sink beneath his weight. His breath brushed her cheek. “After tonight, you won’t ever have to see me again.”
His words were a death knell to her hopes. “But I thought—”
She broke off with a stifled exclamation as his hands touched her body, preparing her. He was assured and unhesitating, and he didn’t kiss her; for that she tried to be grateful. Kissing seemed like too personal a caress for this kind of act. This was a transaction, and he wasn’t going to pretend otherwise.
She shouldn’t wish it to be otherwise. And yet she did. Oh,
she wished …
But wishing was futile. If it weren’t for the circumstances that trapped them into this, the Marquis of Steyne wouldn’t have looked twice at such an ungainly beanpole as she.
He applied himself to her with a singular lack of emotion, but she reacted to his expert stroking and caressing anyway. Her blood, so shivery before, seemed to heat and glow and flare beneath his touch. Liquid warmth pooled low in her belly as his fingers eased inside her. Such an intimate touch from a virtual stranger, and yet her body didn’t seem to know the difference.
He was skilled and gentle and quite impersonal, and she was half bewildered, half chagrined at her own involuntary response. Slick with moisture from her arousal, his thumb pressed and rubbed a place that fired a yearning deep within her, even as it radiated pleasure to the very tips of her toes.
She closed her eyes and remained determinedly silent, choking back sighs of delight, unwilling to give him the satisfaction of knowing what she felt—if satisfaction he’d take. He probably didn’t care that much.
But the rush of bliss made her cry out, made her quake and shudder beneath his hands. And when he freed his rigid flesh from his breeches and entered her with swift, tearing ruthlessness, she craved what he did to her even through the sharp bite of pain.
As her trembles ebbed and new, unfamiliar sensations overtook them, she opened her eyes. He had not removed his shirt or his breeches. Her night rail still covered most of her body.
Yet when he thrust inside her, he seemed possessed of something other than detachment for the first time. In the candlelight, his features were hard, his eyes closed, the sooty lashes fanning thickly against his skin.
A flush stained his high cheekbones as he drove into her harder and faster and a wildness grew inside her, an urge to respond in kind instead of lying there, passive, like a doll.
She curled her fingers into the bedding to stop herself touching him. She wanted to put her arms around him, thrust her fingers through his hair. Slide her hands down his back and feel his muscles flex and contract as he moved. But that, too, would betray a longing too humiliating to reveal.
On a sharp exhale, he wrenched himself away. Hot liquid spilled on her thigh.
When his body relaxed down to cover hers completely, his inky locks brushed her face. She was surprised that his hair felt even softer than it looked. Breathing labored, he buried his face in her shoulder.
As if disconnected from her volition, her hand came up to stroke the back of his silky dark head. She felt his body suffer another series of convulsions, felt his lips briefly brush her throat. That last was so incongruous, it might have been inadvertent, or perhaps a figment of her imagination. Nevertheless, a hot tingle darted down her spine.
Soon enough, he drew away. It seemed to her at the instant his body lost contact with hers that they might never have joined together in that strange ecstasy of mating.
Chilled to her bones, she yanked her night rail down.
He rose from the bed and adjusted his breeches, then crossed to the washstand. Returning with a flannel, he said, “This will be cold.”
She flinched when he pressed the icy damp cloth to her thigh. He apologized and tended to her with embarrassing thoroughness.
She saw blood on the sheet. So. Evidence. Her father would require it.
Disposing of the cloth, he said, “I did my best to make sure you would not become pregnant. If you are with child, you must send me word immediately.”
She nodded, swallowing hard against voicing a protest, a plea. He was going to leave her. He would not take her away with him. He might look like a prince from a fairy tale but there the resemblance ended.
As he silently put on his waistcoat and coat, she wondered why he’d gone through with this. He’d been forced into it; he must have been. But by what means could anyone compel this magnificent, strong, wicked young aristocrat to do aught he didn’t please?