Goddess of the hunt, p.18
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       Goddess of the Hunt, p.18

         Part #1 of The Wanton Dairymaid Trilogy series by Tessa Dare
Page 18


  “Gave you a swift kick in the shins, did she?” Toby chuckled. “Or perhaps a few feet higher? Good for Lucy. Good for you, too, I suppose. Lucy’s had her taste of romance. I’ll propose to Sophia soon. You’re off the hook. ”

  Off the hook. Toby was right. He ought to feel relieved. No more ribbing from his friends. No more “besotted suitor” nonsense. Lucy said it herself. We’re through playing games .

  “And I must admit, I’m relieved as well,” said Toby. “I wasn’t at all looking forward to discussing that scene with Henry. ”

  “Discussing what scene with Henry?” Henry strolled into the room and crossed immediately to the brandy. Toby looked to Jeremy, eyebrows raised.

  Jeremy gave Toby a slight shake of the head. The game was over. There was nothing to be gained from upsetting Henry over a few kisses. Jeremy leaned over the table and focused his gaze on the ivory cue ball. “He’s talking about your Aunt Matilda,” he said. “You’ve got to put a stop to her wandering, Henry. Toby woke up last night to find her standing over his bed in her shift. ”

  Toby turned away from the table and coughed violently into his sleeve. Jeremy held his shot.

  “Really?” Henry asked.

  His outburst subdued, Toby turned back with a solemn face. He shuddered dramatically. “Gave me nightmares. ”

  Henry laughed. “I suppose you’d better bolt your door tonight, man. ”

  “Better yet,” said Jeremy, “you should station a footman in the corridor. Be certain she stays put. ” He plunged his arm forward, his thoughts focused on an entirely differentshe . His cue ball banked off the far side of the table, then banked again to the left; glanced off the red object ball, sinking it into a corner; then connected with Toby’s cue ball and chased it spiraling into a side pocket.

  Henry gave a low whistle of appreciation. “Well played,” he said, sipping his drink. “And a footman it is. ”


  “Oh, well done!” Sophia gasped, breaking into applause.

  “There’s nothing to it,” Lucy said, fitting another arrow to her bow. It was highly satisfying to finally have the better of Miss Hathaway in some acceptable, ladylike occupation. Sophia might hold the advantage in painting, embroidery, cards, and writing letters, but Lucy had her bested when it came to archery. There weren’t many people Lucy couldn’t best at archery. Come to think of it, there weren’t any that she knew.

  Lucy raised the bow to her shoulder and drew back the string. “If you want to hit the target, it’s as simple as that—wanting it. Some people will go on and on about proper technique. They will analyze the line of your arm, the way you hold the bow, the length of time you take to release. Absolute rot, all of it. I simply look at the center of the target, and Iwant it. I focus and I wait and I want it. I wait until the rest of the world falls away, and all that’s left are my arrow and the target and the wanting. ” Her gaze narrowed, and her speech slowed. “And when I want them to collide so desperately that I can feel the arrow want it, too …then , I release. ” She let go the string and watched the arrow zing home.

  Sophia applauded again. “Magnificent! Shall we have another go?”

  “If you like. I’ll just retrieve the arrows. ”

  “I’ll walk with you. ” Sophia linked her arm in Lucy’s, and Lucy regarded her warily. The two set out across the green toward the target—a fat punchinello, its clownish colors playing against a curtain of dark forest.

  “I’m terribly envious of you, you know,” Sophia said as they walked. The morning was gray and cloudy, and traces of the previous night’s frost still lingered on the ground. Damp sucked at Lucy’s toes through her boots.

  “It’s only archery,” she replied.

  “Oh, no,” Sophia giggled. “You’re brilliant with a bow, to be sure. But it isn’t that skill I envy. ”

  “Then what?”

  Sophia lowered her voice to a whisper, although there was no one to hear. “Yesterday. In the orchard. We saw you. ”

  “Oh. That. ”

  “Was it terribly thrilling? How did it feel? How did hetaste? Did he touch you… all over?”

  Lucy gaped at her companion. She thought surely Miss Hathaway must be teasing—but no. Sophia’s expression was all honest, eager inquiry. She wasn’t even blushing.

  She briefly considered answering the questions frankly. It was powerfully tempting. She had been furious with Jeremy the day before, when he insisted they be seen. Now she reviled him thoroughly—because he’d been right. Toby would finally look at her not as a girl, but as a woman. And Lucy could finally discuss the churning tempest of sensation a kiss could unleash with some one … even if that someone was the enemy.

  Was it terribly thrilling?Yes, devil take it. Devil takehim . Yes.

  How did it feel?Wicked and wonderful. Like a swarm of bees humming under her skin, tickling the nape of her neck and the backs of her knees. A few straggling stings pricked her memory even now.

  How did he taste?Like hot rolls straight from the oven, washed down with whiskey.

  Did he touch you all over?No. But Lord, had she wanted him to.

  Lucy considered it a great tragedy that she had let nearly twenty years of her life go by without kissing anyone. She was greatly impatient to try it with the man she actually loved. It had been tempting the previous night to set her original plan in motion, but she wouldn’t give Jeremy the satisfaction. She could win Toby’s heart without trickery or temptation. She needed only the opportunity, a few minutes alone with him. And, evidently, she needed to find that opportunity before Sophia found hers.

  “If only I were so fortunate,” Sophia was saying. “I’ve been waiting and waiting for a passionate moment, but Sir Toby is a model of propriety. ” She said this with such obvious distaste, Lucy thought she might as well have said,Sir Toby has the pox .

  “You haven’t let him kiss you?” she asked, almost afraid of the answer.

  “I would have,” Sophia replied with annoyance, “but he hasn’t even tried. ”

  Lucy felt a little thrill burn down her neck, and she squeezed it between her shoulder blades, standing taller as a result. Toby couldn’t possibly be in love with Sophia. He hadn’t even tried to kiss her. Why, she and Jeremy felt nearly nothing for each other save animosity, and they had shared five kisses now. Each one better than the last.

  “Sometimes he looks as though he might,” Sophia continued. “His eyes go all glassy, and he stares at my lips. ” She screwed her features into a cross-eyed mask, and Lucy laughed despite herself. “But then—nothing. He clears his throat, gives his neck a little quirk, and then changes the topic of conversation entirely. To geometry, of all things!”

  “Geometry?” Lucy was baffled. What Toby knew about mathematics could fit on the head of his stickpin. She tried to imagine him holding an actual conversation on the topic. She failed utterly.

  “Absurd, isn’t it? He’ll have to kiss me someday. I suppose he is waiting for our betrothal. ”

  The hot little thrill between her shoulder blades turned to ice. “Do you expect him to propose soon?”

  “Any day now, Kitty says. ”

  “You don’t sound overly excited about the idea. ”

  They reached the painted bull’s-eye, and Lucy began plucking arrows from the straw-filled target. She closed her hand around a shaft that had landed dead center. She froze. But of course. How had she not thought of it before? All this time she had been trying to prevent Toby and Sophia’s engagement, she had been aiming at the wrong target. Even if Toby was determined to propose marriage to Miss Hathaway, it did not necessarily follow that Sophia was wedded to the notion of accepting him. She turned to Sophia. “You don’t want to marry him, do you?”

  Sophia shrugged. “Oh, I expect I do. At least, everyone else expects me to. Kitty goes on and on about what a splendid couple we make. Sir Tobyis very handsome, and most affable. We conve
rse on all manner of subjects and never disagree. And there is the title. When we marry, I shall be Lady Aldridge—that will satisfy. ”

  “Will it?”

  Sophia bit her lip and stared off toward the horizon. “Oh, Lucy, I fear it won’t. Sir Toby admires me, I know. But I don’t wish to be merely admired. ” She looked back at Lucy, eyes lit with mischief. “I want to be desired. I want true passion. I want what you have with Lord Kendall. ”

  Lucy choked back a laugh. Whatever Sophia’s fantasy of “true passion” looked like, it could not possibly resemble the truth of matters between her and Jeremy. But the truth of matters was beside the point. If her apparent happiness with Jeremy would lead Sophia to seek happiness with a man other than Toby—Lucy would effuse romantic bliss. “Should you like to hear about true passion, then?” she asked, turning to walk back across the green.

  Sophia clutched her arm tightly. “Oh, yes! Tell me everything. What do you feel when he draws near? Does your heart start to flutter madly? Do you feel as though you might swoon?”

  “The farthest thing from it,” Lucy replied truthfully. “Swooning would be the wrong thing entirely. When a man kisses you, you want to be awake. That’s how you feel when a passionate man draws near. Awake , every inch of you. Awake, and …” She searched her mind for an appropriately lurid word. “Tingling,” she finished in a whisper.

  “Tingling?” Sophia’s ivory cheeks blushed bright pink.

  “Tingling. All over . Every forgotten little corner of your body tingles like mad. Even the spaces between your toes. ”

  “Just from being close to him?”

  Lucy nodded.

  “And then?” Sophia said. “When he touches you, what then?”

  Lucy considered. “Lightning,” she said. “All the tingles rush together in one bracing shock. And the shock travels straight to the center of your chest and squeezes out all your breath. And just for the tiniest moment, you fear that you won’t remember how to breathe, ever again. ”

  Sophia shivered against her arm, and Lucy smiled. My, but what great sport it was to corrupt the angelic Miss Hathaway.

  “And then?” Sophia asked, breathless.

  “Then—if you’re lucky—he kisses you, and you forget breathing altogether. ”

  They reached the end of the green, and Sophia fitted an arrow to her bow. “Go on,” she urged, pulling on the string.

  “And then,” Lucy said slowly, “it’s quite like drawing back a bow. You feel everything in you pulling tight, and there’s a, a …wanting building somewhere deep inside. The whole world starts to fall away. ” She curled her hand into a fist, closing her fingers tight over the memory of a rough wool lapel. “Until there’s just you and him and …”

  “And the wanting,” Sophia finished, releasing an arrow that landed just left of center. “Yes,” she sighed, “that’s exactly how it felt for me. ”

  Lucy jerked her mind back into the present. “But I thought you said Toby hadn’t kissed you!”

  “He hasn’t. ” Sophia fitted another arrow to her bow, her eyebrow arching to match her bowstring. “That doesn’t mean I’ve never been kissed. ”

  “But—” Lucy sputtered. “By whom?”

  “Prepare yourself for something truly shocking. ” She narrowed her gaze at the target. “Last year, my …”

  “Don’t!” Lucy clapped her hand on Sophia’s arm. The bow went slack.

  “Well, it isn’tthat shocking,” Sophia said, disappointed. “I daresay you’ll be able to sleep at night after the telling. ”

  “No, not that. ” Lucy scanned the woods behind the target, her gaze roving through the backdrop of brown and green. There it was again. A flash of deep blue where none belonged. “It’s Aunt Matilda. She’s gone wandering again. ”
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