Goddess of the hunt, p.21
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       Goddess of the Hunt, p.21

         Part #1 of The Wanton Dairymaid Trilogy series by Tessa Dare
 
Page 21

 

  Lucy knew precisely why Sophia had suggested this amusement. She wanted to find a dark, hidden corner of the house and then corner Toby. Sophia wanted her moment of passion.

  But what did Toby want? More to the point,whom did Toby want? Lucy had felt his gaze on her in the drawing room. She had caught him staring more than once, and the look on his face was wholly unfamiliar. Wholly unfamiliar, and therefore wholly unreadable. She fought the temptation to leave her hiding place and go seek him out. If he knew her at all, he would know she’d be here. If he wanted to find her, he would. And if he didn’t … he didn’t.

  She heard heavy footsteps approaching. Slowing. Stopping in front of the wardrobe.

  Both doors of the wardrobe swung open, scattering the darkness.

  “Lucy, come out of there. ” Jeremy loomed over her, his dark silhouette filling the ebony frame.

  “Go away,” she squeaked, raising her hand to her eyes and blinking against the flood of harsh light. “Find your own hiding place. There’s a lovely cupboard under the stairs where they keep the mops. Go drip there. ”

  “I know what you’re up to, Lucy,” he said, his voice a dark warning. “I thought the time for games was over. ”

  He came into focus as her eyes adjusted to the light. Black hair hung over his brow in thick, damp locks, making a stark contrast with the pale blue of his eyes. He’d changed into a dry shirt—hastily, it would seem, and without the assistance of his valet. The starched linen hung open at the collar, exposing wisps of dark hair curling around the notch at the base of his throat, and the hard ridge of his collarbone running toward either shoulder. His cuffs were unfastened, upturned, and her gaze followed the corded muscles of his forearm nearly up to the elbow.

  Her eyes shot back up to his face. “I didn’t suggest the game, now did I? That would be Marianne and Sophia’s idea. Go harass one of them. ” She pushed at his chest with both hands. She might as well have pushed against a boulder.

  But boulders weren’t warm. And boulders didn’t smell like rain and leather and pine. And boulders didn’t send jolts of electricity humming through her body, tingling all the way down to the tips of her toes and even the spaces between.

  Lucy felt something swift and sudden growing inside her, curling in the pit of her belly. Then the sound of voices down the corridor gave it a name. Panic . Panic it must have been, and no other earthly emotion—because only blind, unthinking desperation could have possessed her to do what she did next.

  Her hands, still flat against Jeremy’s immutable chest, gathered into fists. She pulled on his shirt, hauling him into the wardrobe with her, then let go with one hand to pull the ebony doors shut. The temperature inside the space instantly increased.

  She backed him into a corner of the wardrobe, still clutching his shirt in one hand. With the other, she jabbed a finger in the center of his chest, just an inch below that indecent, gaping collar and the nest of dark curls it framed.

  “Yousaid I should stop playing games. You said I should tell Toby the truth about how I feel. So here I am, waiting for my chance to do exactly that, and nowyou are ruining everything. ” Her hand balled into a fist, and she beat on his chest. “You. Are. Ruining. Everything. ”

  She looked up at his face. A shard of light pierced the latticework to illuminate his eyes. A sunbeam glancing off ice. “Everything,” she repeated, beating on his chest with both fists this time. He didn’t flinch. He didn’t even blink, damn him.

  Exasperating man. Lucy was tired of his stony composure. She was tired in general, and muddled with heat and this wicked tingling, and her head felt thick and heavy. She couldn’t think. Couldn’t havebeen thinking clearly at all, for she let her head fall against his chest, the crown of her head resting against that warm patch of skin and hair.

  Still he had no answer, spoken or otherwise. They stood there in the wardrobe, cloaked in dark and quiet, for moments that dragged into minutes. The silence chafed on Lucy’s sanity. For one thing, in the absence of speech, there was too much else to hear. His breathing—a slow, husky resonance that teased her ears as his chest rose and fell against her. Her heart—thumping against her ribs so loudly she was sure he heard it, too. The ceaseless hum of electric excitement coursing through her body.

  On another count, the silence became increasingly unbearable because of what Lucy didn’t hear. Footsteps in the corridor. Ebony doors creaking open. Toby’s voice. She shuddered to think of being found in this position, but she began to question whether she’d even be found at all.

  “How did you know I’d be hiding here?” Her voice was a whisper, but it echoed through the darkness they shared.

  She felt him shrug. “You’ve always hidden here. Whenever Henry was on a tear to thrash you. When that mangy hound died. Was it Farthing?”

  “Sixpence. ”

  “Oh. ”

  Lucy felt something square and hard settle against the top of her head. His chin, she realized.

  “He didn’t remember,” she whispered into his chest. “Why didn’t he remember? You did. ”

  He brought his hands to her shoulders, sending twin bolts of sensation straight to her center, squeezing out all the breath from her lungs. “Perhaps he just didn’t come looking for you. ”

  “You did. ”

  She felt his body tense. He hooked his thumbs under the edges of her cap sleeves and pulled her back to face him. Her hands slid off his chest and fell to her sides, still clenched in fists. “I came looking for you, yes. To stop you from doing something foolish. ” His cool glare ignited Lucy’s pride.

  “Foolish? We’re playing a nursery game. It’s foolish by nature. ”

  “Something … compromising. ”

  “Such as being found in a wardrobe with a half-dressed man? Or discovered in an amorous clinch under a tree? Well, thank you for appointing yourself guardian of my reputation. ”

  “Damn it, Lucy. You pulled me in here. You—”

  She cut him off. “Why did you carry me?”

  “What?”

  “The other day, when I fell in the river. Why did you pick me up and carry me back? Why not Toby? Why not Henry or Felix?”

  “I wish I knew,” he said, his voice rough. “I should have made you walk, you little minx. Obviously I wasn’t thinking. ”

  “Were you thinking yesterday? When you followed me into the orchard?”

  “Apparently not. I haven’t been thinking clearly all week. ” His thumbs pressed into the flesh of her arms. “I’ve run myself ragged trying to look after a scheming chit with an eye toward complete ruination. ”

  “Don’t pretend to be vexed with me. You’re only vexed with yourself. ”

  “Explain to me,” he said through gritted teeth, “why I should be vexed with myself. ”

  A saucy lilt crept into her voice. “Because you like yourself better when you’re not thinking. And it’s driving you absolutely mad. ”

  He moved toward her, his face crossing into shadow. “If anyone’s driving me mad, it’s—”

  She shushed him by putting her fingers to his lips. “I’ll tell you a secret,” she whispered, slowly tracing the shape of his mouth with her fingertips. “I like you better when you’re not thinking, too. ” His lips parted, and she let her thumb slide into the corner of his mouth.

  Lucy didn’t know what was coming over her. She told herself it was the rush of power, this palpable power she had over him. It felt infinitely preferable to confusion or heartache. Or perhaps she kept chipping away at his glacial composure because she craved what seeped through the cracks. Hints of a different man altogether—someone dark, fierce, thrilling. That sense of danger that rose from deep inside him, and the excitement of teasing it to the surface. The taste of it in his kiss.

  No, thought Lucy. It was only habit. She’d spent eight years mastering the art of provoking Jeremy Trescott. It was a game, a sport. It had nothing to do with
emotion or sentiment or, God forbid, love. Nothing at all.

  There was a pause. A brief moment of silence and heat. Lucy inhaled, drawing a slow, thick breath of leather-scented steam. Sweat beaded on the back of her neck.

  Jeremy swore under his breath. He slid his hands from her shoulders down to her back and crushed her against him. Her breasts flattened and ached against his hard chest. His thigh wedged between her legs. Soft muslin shifted over muscled strength, kindling a burning ache between her thighs.

  “What are you doing?” She squirmed against him, and the tiny movement sparked an inferno of sensation. “Oh,” she said weakly. She already knew the answer. The answer that fell from his lips the moment before his lips fell on hers.

  “Not thinking. ”

  CHAPTER TEN

  Jeremy was through thinking. Ever since he’d been pulled into this cursed wardrobe, his mind had been racing in a dozen directions at once.

  He’d tried to remember who he was. He was Jeremy Allen Dumont Trescott, the sixth Earl of Kendall. He was a gentleman and a peer of the realm. He was a man of nine-and-twenty, not a randy youth. He was a man who would never want for anything—not wealth, property, influence. But he was kissing this woman as though his life depended on it, devouring her mouth with a desperate hunger.

  He’d tried to remember whoshe was. She was Lucy Waltham, Henry’s sister. She was a gangly hoyden, an impertinent chit, a perpetual thorn in his side. She was nineteen years old, and she was not even out. And she was kissing him back with an innocent passion that made his knees buckle and his head spin.

  He’d tried to remember where they were. They were in Henry’s home, where he was a guest. They were in a wardrobe in the middle of the corridor, where anyone might—in fact someoneshould —come by at any moment and fling open the wardrobe doors and expose his perfidy to the world. And they were drifting into the corner of the wardrobe, tongues tangling and bodies melding as one.

  And when all other efforts at rational thought failed, Jeremy tried to remember Latin. Basio, basias, basiat ,basiat, basiamus … I kiss. You kiss. He kisses. She kisses. We kiss.

  That’s when Jeremy gave up on thinking. He couldn’t remember the conjugation for “they kiss,” and he didn’t bloody well care. The wardrobe was only big enough for two, and for this moment, the wardrobe was the world. I, you, he, she … we . No one else.

  She tasted wild and sweet, like pears and honey and the fresh air after rain. He stumbled backward, pulling her with him into the dark corner of the wardrobe. His hands roved over her back as he ravished her mouth. Tiny ridges teased his fingertips. Laces .

  The very thought was wicked and depraved.

  Good thing he was not thinking.

  He tore his lips from hers, slowly kissing his way down her throat as his hands wandered down the length of her back. His fingers lingered over each taunting eyelet of her dress, and his lips savored every delicious inch of her neck. She threw her head back and wove her hands into his hair. His fingers found the knot of lacing at the base of her spine and teased it apart while he teased the hollow of her throat with his tongue. He wrapped the end of the lace around his finger and slowly pulled as he ran his tongue up the length of her neck.

  She sighed with pleasure, and the dress sighed loose from her body, and Jeremy thought he would be completely undone.

  He brought his hands to her shoulders and pulled her away slightly. Her hands fell back to her sides. Shadow cloaked her face and body, but thin shafts of light filtered through the latticework to gild her silhouette. A single curl of hair glowed russet against her brow. A petal of light floated over her cheek. A thin ribbon of gold undulated over her shoulder as her chest rose and fell with each breath.

  Beautiful.

  The word echoed through his mind, filled his breath, danced on his lips. But he didn’t dare speak it aloud. So long as the silence held, this moment would as well. His hand went to that golden ribbon of light rippling over her shoulder. He traced it with his fingertips, watching the light move over his bronzed skin and the green fabric of her sleeve. Then he slowly ran one finger up the ridge of her shoulder, toward her neck, and hooked it under the edge of gaping muslin.
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