Goddess of the hunt, p.38
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       Goddess of the Hunt, p.38

         Part #1 of The Wanton Dairymaid Trilogy series by Tessa Dare
 
Page 38

 

  No, she was definitely more angry with herself. Because she couldn’t help but lean against him. Closing her eyes, she melted into his strength, breathing in his masculine scent and cursing her body for the traitor it was. Each rolling equine stride stoked her desire, and when the horse’s sudden change in gait caused her to slip, he gathered her to him roughly. Now wedged firmly between his thighs, Lucy could not mistake the hard ridge of his arousal pressing against her bottom.

  Well. Evidentlythat part of him found her sufficiently feminine.

  She wiggled against him and heard his breath catch in his chest. Heat swirled through her body. One word, one touch—even a suggestive glance thrown over her shoulder, and Lucy knew she could take the reins in this struggle, alter their destination entirely. And it was powerfully tempting to just give in, to satisfy the hot, liquid wanting that coursed through her veins.

  But it would be a hollow victory. She’d learned that much, at least. Because beneath her wanting lay a deep, uncharted reservoir of emotion—and beneath his, only regret. Perhaps a deep, abiding wish for his wife to take up embroidery, or order new wallpaper. Lucy felt the futility of it keenly, and still the temptation grew. She yearned to feel his body stretched out over hers and imagine, if only for a few minutes, that the connection went deeper than skin against skin. This wanting began to feel perilously like a need.

  She sat up, pulling away from him. She squeezed her eyes shut and searched within her until she found the blade-sharp edge of her anger, and she clenched her fists around it tight. He’d taken her from her home, her family, her circle of comfort. All she had left was her independence, and she’d be damned if she’d surrender that. She hadn’t pledged to abandon all pride on their wedding day, and neither did she recall any vows regarding needlework. He might be able to restrict her movements, but he couldn’t change her, just by keeping her indoors.

  No, Lucy smiled to herself. She could wreak plenty of havoc from within four stone walls.

  When they reunited for dinner that night, Lucy watched Jeremy’s face. He scanned the platters of food covering the table. Roast venison, duck confit, sauced vegetables, braised lamb, sautéed trout. Exactly the same dishes served the night before, down to the small saucer of clotted cream.

  “Lucy, didn’t the housekeeper consult you about the dinner menu?”

  “She did. ”

  “And didn’t you have any suggestions? Any different dishes to request?”

  “No,” Lucy said, sitting down. “I couldn’t possibly imagine a finer meal than we had last night. So when the housekeeper asked me what dishes I’d prefer, I just asked for all the same things again. ” And she intended to order the same the next day, and the day after that, and every day in the foreseeable future. That would teach him to demand she plan menus. Tomorrow, she would see about embroidery.

  “Allthe same dishes?” A strange look crossed his face. More apprehension, she thought, than displeasure. “Including dessert?”

  “Oh, especially dessert. ” The footman snapped open a napkin and draped it over her lap. Lucy smiled. “Shall we begin?”

  She meant to kill him. Jeremy felt certain of it.

  His wife intended to eviscerate him daily by flirting with bodily injury right before his eyes. Then by evening, she meant to devour his self-control, one dainty bite at a time. And she would do it with a smile.

  If he survived a month of this marriage, it would be a miracle.

  She took a slow, seductive sip of soup, and Jeremy felt a hunger growing inside him that was anything but gustatory. With each subsequent course, it only grew. Each little sigh and moan of delight that fell from Lucy’s lips slid straight down the table and landed in his lap. By the time they reached the dessert course—at the conclusion of which, Lucy extended her moist, pink tongue to lick the last bit of chocolate from her spoon—he thought he would spill in his breeches.

  When she announced her desire to retire early, he was relieved. Every hour spent in her company was beginning to feel like torment. She was less accessible and more tempting now than before they married. Before they married, he hadn’t known what he was missing. He’d had a fair idea, of course. But now that he truly knew—now that the contours of her body were etched on his memory and the scent of her skin infused in his blood—every minute he spent in her presence was a minute he longed to spend inside her.

  He could wait for her, he told himself. Really, he had no choice. After their row this morning, he’d half-expected to find her writing a letter to Henry that afternoon. But no, she seemed resolved to stay. So far. He would do well to acquire a talent for patience, it seemed, along with a taste for lobster bisque. But the waiting was torment. Pure, sweet, agonizing torment.

  And they’d only been married three days.

  CHAPTER TWENTY

  The torment was only beginning.

  After nearly a week of cold shoulders and lobster bisque and the inexplicable proliferation of needles jutting out from every chair and settee, Jeremy awoke one morning to a loud thunk.

  Followed by a scream.

  Scrambling from bed, he grabbed his dressing gown and shrugged into it as he crossed the bedroom and antechamber in quick strides. He threw open the door of the sitting room and was greeted by another piercing shriek.

  He blinked. Bright sunlight flooded the room, blinding him. It was several moments before his eyes adjusted sufficiently to discern the tableau before him. The source of the shrieking was the chambermaid, who stood wringing her hands in the center of the room. By the window, Lucy lay on the floor, tangled in yards of pewter-gray velvet that had recently served as drapery.

  “What the devil is going on here?”

  The chambermaid put her hands to her mouth and wailed into them. Jeremy brushed past her and strode to his wife. “Lucy, are you injured? Are you daft? Are you mad?” She brushed her hair out of her face and glared up at him. Her eyes affected him the same way the sunlight had, a minute earlier.

  She was blindingly beautiful.

  Jeremy’s curse died in his throat. He’d scarcely seen his wife all week—she’d kept steadfastly to her chambers ever since that first morning, save her nightly performance at dinner. And it was the first time since their wedding that he’d seen her hair unbound, tumbling around her shoulders in those riotous chestnut waves. The first time he’d seen her ears flush pink, as only passion or anger could make them do. And that fiery challenge in her eyes—it was a spark to dry tinder. Desire singed the hairs on his chest as it blazed a path to his groin.

  He recovered his breath and held out a hand to her. “What in God’s name are you doing?”

  “I’m changing the drapes,” she said, ignoring his hand. She began to disentangle herself from the swaths of heavy fabric. “You did say I should redecorate. ”

  “Yes, but now? Before breakfast?”

  “How can one enjoy breakfast in this … thistomb?” She unwrapped a corded tassel from about her wrist. “It’s still the Dark Ages in here. ”

  “You needn’t eat breakfast here at all,” Jeremy said. “There is a breakfast room, if you’d ever care to venture out of your suite and locate it. ”

  She ignored him and yanked on a length of unyielding gray swag. When it refused to give, he saw that the fabric was caught beneath an overturned chair. He righted the chair and held it up in his hands. “You were standing on a chair?” He tossed the chair aside, and it landed with a clatter. The chambermaid shrieked again. “You were standing on a chair and pulling the draperies down byhand?”

  No answer. Lucy had untangled herself from the voluminous velvet, and now she set to straightening her dressing gown around her seated form. She wore that same crimson robe that plagued him in his dreams. She looked up at him briefly, and then away in an instant.

  He stood over her, lowering his voice to a growl. “If you wish the draperies to be taken down, you will ask the servants to do it. Y
ou will not stand on the damned chair and fall and break your neck. ”

  “I haven’t broken my neck. I haven’t broken anything. ”

  “Then why are you still on the floor?”

  She closed her eyes briefly, and then looked up at the ceiling. “Imay have twisted my ankle. ”

  Swearing softly, Jeremy crouched down and hiked the layers of dressing gown and shift to her knees. Her left ankle looked red and slightly swollen. “Damn it, Lucy. ”

  “It’s nothing,” she said. “If you’ll just help me up, I need to go …”

  With another muttered oath, he swept her up in his arms and began carrying her toward her bedchamber. “You are not going anywhere. ”

  “Jeremy! What are you doing? Put me down this instant, you …” She squirmed in his grasp, wriggling against him. He tightened his grip around her thigh. “You addle-brained brute!”

  The chambermaid resumed her wailing, and Jeremy shot her The Look. “Send for the doctor,” he said evenly.

  Lucy beat on his shoulder with her fist. “Jeremy, no! Put me down. I am perfectly fine, damn you. ”

  He ignored her and spoke to the maid. “Now. ” She scurried from the room, taking her irritating whimpers with her. He carried Lucy through her anteroom and into her bedchamber, depositing her on the edge of her bed.

  “That was wholly unnecessary. ” She jerked the coverlet over her legs. “I don’t need a doctor. ” Her eyes flared with fury, and her chest lifted with each quick, shallow breath. Jeremy braced himself on his hands as he leaned over her semi-reclined body, boxing her between his arms. He could smell the sweet scent of her hair, like pears and honey. He could taste the venom on her pouting, dusky red lips.

  And he could hear her scathing words echo in his ears. I don’t need a doctor . She didn’t need a doctor, she said. She didn’t need pin money or a new wardrobe or soup in any color other than red. And she most assuredly—he suffered the reminder daily—didn’t need hishelp . He was getting damned tired of hearing what Lucy didn’t need from him.

  “I will tell you what you need. ” He bit off the words, his own breath heaving in his chest. “You need to stay right here, in this bed. You need to see the doctor. You need to stop performing physical labors that servants should do. And you need to start keeping yourself healthy and whole for more than two days at a crack. ”

  “But—”

  “And—” He leaned closer, until they were nose to nose. Until he could feel the angry heat of her body. “You need to learn some propriety. When we are alone, you may call me whatever vile names you wish. But in company or in front of the servants, youwill address me as ‘my lord. ’”

  She gasped with outrage. Jeremy straightened, turned on his heel, and walked back to his own chambers, slamming the door behind him. Just in the nick of time. If she opened her mouth to object once more, this addle-brained brute would need to kiss her speechless.

  Lucy winced as brusque hands prodded her ankle.

  “Soyou’re the doctor?”

  “Of course not. ” The young woman perched on the edge of the bed looked up sharply. Wide-set brown eyes regarded her with silent ridicule. “My father is the doctor. I assist him by seeing to minor cases when he is occupied treating people who aretruly injured. As is the case this morning. A man lost half his hand in the mill. ” She sniffed, and the freckles scattered across her nose bunched together. “I suppose,” she said, flexing Lucy’s foot back and forth, “you think he should have come to attend you anyway, you being the Lady of the Manor. ”

  “Not at all,” Lucy answered, taken aback by her obvious hostility. “I told my husband that I did not need to see a doctor. He would not listen to reason. ”

  With the back of her hand, the young woman swept back a wisp of amber hair. “Men seldom do. ”
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