Goddess of the hunt, p.16
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       Goddess of the Hunt, p.16

         Part #1 of The Wanton Dairymaid Trilogy series by Tessa Dare
 
Page 16

 

  He stared blankly down a row of trees, his breath heaving in his chest. How did he do it? How, indeed. However it was that he managed to go through life and just, as Lucy so kindly put it, notcare —Jeremy couldn’t seem to remember. He’d utterly forgotten. Damn.

  “I never thought I’d envy you,” she said. “Never in a million years. You’re so composed, so serious. So cold. ”

  His hands balled into fists. How dare she? How dare she burst into his room and kiss him and dive into a river and invade his dreams and make him go shopping and throw herself headlong into danger and lean back against a pear tree in a dress the exact color of her hair kissed by fading sunlight? How dare she make him forget? Damn it all. Damn her for making him care.

  “I want to go cold,” she said. “All these feelings—they’re like flames inside me. I’m tired of getting burnt. I don’t want them anymore. I want to put out the fire and just go cold. I never imagined I’d envy you, but today …” Her voice wavered. “Today, I do. ”

  He barely heard what she was saying, but he couldn’t turn away. Her green eyes were clouded with hurt, threatening to burst into a storm of tears. Don’t cry , he willed her silently. “Don’t cry,” he said aloud.

  She bit her lip and blinked hard. “I don’t cry. ”

  But even as she spoke, her chin began to quiver. And somewhere deep and low inside him, panic began to build. He’d been here too many times before—watching a woman shed tears for a man he could never replace. Look away , he told himself. Better yet, just leave . He wasn’t a boy any longer; he didn’t have to suffer this scene again. But he couldn’t look away, and he couldn’t leave. He was down and defenseless, and she was so damned beautiful, reclined against that tree. If she cried … He couldn’t let her cry.

  “Stop being so dramatic, Lucy. ” She winced. Jeremy squared his shoulders. He tried again. “You’re making a fool of yourself. ”

  It worked. In an instant the sorrow in her eyes gave over to fury. She straightened her spine and took two paces toward him. Jeremy breathed a small sigh of relief. He knew how to deal with an angry Lucy.

  “Did I call you cold?” she asked. “You’re worse than cold; you’re cruel. And what’s more, you’re afraid. I’ll be a fool, again and again, but I would never be like you. Not for a thousand Tobys. ”

  “Afraid? Me? You’re the one who’s hiding from the truth. ”

  “Hiding from the—” Fury made her grow an inch. “I don’t hide. From anything. ”

  He snorted. “You don’t hide. You didn’t hide when you let the cows into the oatfield, then? You didn’t hide when you lost Henry’s signet in the coal grate?”

  “This is completely different. I was a girl then. I’m not a girl any longer. ”

  “You’re still hiding, Lucy. Hiding behind silks and jewels and sidesaddles and outrageous behavior. All because you’re afraid. You’re afraid to drop these ridiculous games and simply tell Toby how you feel. ”

  “I was on my way to do that on the night you arrived,” she said. “Somebody stopped me. ”

  “You weren’t on your way to tell him the truth. You were on your way to trick him into marrying you. ”

  Lucy’s mouth fell open, but she said nothing. Jeremy took another step toward her. He knew he ought to turn away, but his feet wouldn’t move in any other direction. He’d stopped the tears. The danger had passed. But it wasn’t enough. There were things she needed to know. If she wanted to call him cold and cruel, then he would acquaint her with the cold, cruel truth.

  “I’ll tell you why you haven’t told him,” he said, inching closer to her, backing her up against the trunk of the tree. “Because you know—deep down, Lucy, youknow —he doesn’t feel the same. He doesn’t love you. And if you had an honest conversation with him, you would have to face that fact. So long as you keep up your games and your schemes, you can imagine he cares for you. That’s why you won’t tell him the truth. You’re afraid. ”

  “You’re wrong,” she seethed. “Wrong in every possible way. I’m not afraid. I’m in love. You wouldn’t know love if it struck you in the face. And I’m mightily tempted to strike you, just to prove the point. ”

  Jeremy leaned closer, bracing his arm against the tree behind her, caging her between the tree and his body. “Go ahead,” he taunted, offering her his cheek. “Strike me. It won’t work. ”

  He lowered his voice to a secret. “You know why it won’t work? Because you’re not in love with him, either. You’re afraid of that truth, too. You don’t love Toby. ” She opened her mouth to reply, but he cut her short. “Oh, youwant him—like a girl wants a sweet or a shiny new toy. But you said it yourself, Lucy. You’re not a girl any longer. ”

  Her eyes widened. The daylight was fading, mellowing to an amber glow. The air was heavy with the scent of pears. Her face was scant inches beneath his; her lips, scant inches beneath his. Lucy’s cheeks flushed red beneath the gold. She tilted her face to his, and her eyelids fluttered closed. An invitation he knew well.

  He tucked a curl behind her ear—so she could hear him and believe every word. “If you really loved Toby,” he said, “you wouldn’t be standing here under a tree, waiting for another man to kiss you. ”

  Her eyes flew open, but she didn’t pull away.

  “I’m right, Lucy,” he whispered hoarsely. “You know I’m right. ”

  She placed her gloved hand flat against his chest. Jeremy waited for her to push him away. She would have to push him away, because there was no part of him that wanted to be anywhere else. Every inch of his body was acutely aware of hers—so near, so warm, so ripe. Her hair, tumbling over her shoulders in glossy chestnut waves. Her breasts, rising and falling against his chest with every breath. Her lips, deep red and slightly parted, inviting his kiss. Her hand splayed over his heart, the touch electric even through layers of linen and leather and wool.

  She would have to push him away.

  Instead, she curled her fingers around his lapel. And pulled him in.

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  Lucy wanted him to plunder her.

  Even though he was wrong, in every possible way. The wrong man, in the wrong place, and just wrong, all wrong. Even though it was wicked, and she knew she was acting the farthest thing from an angel or a dream.

  She wanted to be a goddess—someone’sgoddess. And here he was, worshipping her with his gaze if not his words. And when she touched him, she had the power in her fingertips to make him tremble. She wanted to be kissed. She wanted to bewanted . She wanted those strong, full lips to stop spouting wrongheaded nonsense and start kissing her instead.

  She pulled him against her and watched his sky-blue eyes darken to the deepest indigo, then close in a sweep of ebony lashes. His warm male scent embraced her, the clean aromas of leather and pine blending with musk. He bent his head by slow degrees, until his brow rested against hers. They traded the same breath back and forth. And when his lips finally bridged the last bit of distance between them, it felt like the end of a kiss rather than the beginning.

  Lucy closed her eyes. She let the world contract to the unbearable softness brushing against her lips and the feel of rough wool clutched in her hand. She wouldn’t remember anything before that moment, and she wouldn’t think about the future. She wouldn’t think about what he’d said. She wouldn’t think—she would only feel. She would shut everything out and let only him in. The taste of him and the warmth of his mouth.

  His mouth, claiming hers in a tender kiss. His lips, ranging over hers in a series of slow, teasing tastes. His tongue, sweeping into her mouth again and again in a gentle, rhythmic dance. She pressed her body against his solid chest, burrowing closer, nestling into his strength and warmth. He groaned against her mouth and tore his lips from hers.

  Lucy kept her eyes shut tight. She didn’t need to see him. She couldfeel him looking down at her, the heat of his gaze wandering over her closed eyes, her f
lushed ears, the hollow of her throat where her quickened pulse beat. She kept her eyes shut tight and her lips slightly parted, and she waited. Because she knew he would come back.

  He did. And this time, there was no gentle dance, no teasing or tenderness. He pressed himself against her, pushing her against the trunk of the tree until the ridges of bark bit into the flesh of her back. His lips claimed hers in a scorching embrace. He thrust his tongue into her mouth again and again and again, stealing her breath, stealing her very presence of mind. He cupped her face in one hand and angled it back, taking more of her, and she clung to his lapel as if the scrap of fabric were her only tether to the earth.

  This wasn’t Jeremy Trescott. This wasn’t any man she knew. He was some wild, dangerous, plundering stranger, and she was a wanton, pagan goddess being ravaged under a pear tree. He broke away from her mouth, kissing a trail of fire along her jaw. He groaned her name against her ear, and it sounded foreign, forgotten—two random syllables sliding over her skin like a pair of hot, seeking lips. She didn’t know who she was. Who he was. Didn’t care. The world had contracted to the warmth of a kiss and a clutch of rough wool, and there was no one else.

  But there was.

  There was someone else.

  Someone—orsomeones —treading over dry leaves, drawing nearer, talking to one another. Lucy exhaled in a sharp hiss. Jeremy froze, his face buried in her neck, his lips pressed against the soft place under her ear.

  “They must have come this way,” a voice was saying. “That’s Jem’s horse. ”

  Toby.

  “Perhaps we shouldn’t follow them,” Sophia replied. “Perhaps they wish to be alone. ” Her voice took on a coy inflection. “Lovers sometimes do. ”

  Toby chuckled. “Not these lovers. ”

  They must be only a few rows away. In a matter of paces, they would turn their heads and discover Lucy and Jeremy, clinging to one another, molded to the bark of the tree like lichens. Lucy released her grip on Jeremy’s coat and pushed against his chest.

  He didn’t budge.

  “Get off,”she whispered.

  He didn’t move, just covered her body with his own and pinned her to the tree. “No. ”

  “They’re coming. ” Desperation tweaked her voice. “They’ll see. ”

  “Let them see,” he whispered roughly. “You wanted this game. You wanted besotted. You wanted him jealous. Let them see. ”

  Lucy squirmed against him, to no avail. His bulk trapped her. She heard footsteps approaching. She shut her eyes, held her breath, and buried her face in Jeremy’s coat.

  The footsteps stopped. Lucy did not move. She did not breathe. The silence stretched to an eternity. Then, finally, the footsteps resumed. They hastened, grew fainter.

  She heard Sophia’s laugh fading into the tree-lined avenues. “Notthose lovers, hmm?”

  Lucy shoved against Jeremy’s chest again, and this time he fell back. His face was blank. The expression in his eyes was, as usual, unreadable.

  “You were right. ” She jerked the fabric of her riding habit back into place. He eyed her warily as she wound her hair into a simple knot. “You were right about one thing. ” She backed away from him. “We’re through playing games. I’m going to tell Toby the truth. ”

  “So—do I tell him the truth?”

  Toby leaned over the billiard table and lined up his shot. A swoop of golden-brown hair fell over his brow, and he flicked it out of his way with a quick jerk of his head.

  “Tell whom the truth?” Jeremy asked. “About what?”

  “Henry. ” Toby pistoned his arm. The cue ball hit its mark with a sharp crack, and the red ball caromed off the far bank and into a side pocket. “Do I tell him what I saw this afternoon in the orchard?” He stood up and leaned on his cue, regarding Jeremy with a cool gaze. “For all he teases Lucy, he’d not want her trifled with. She is his sister, you know. Or had you forgotten?”
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