Goddess of the hunt, p.30
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       Goddess of the Hunt, p.30

         Part #1 of The Wanton Dairymaid Trilogy series by Tessa Dare
Page 30


  “Honor. ” She straightened. “So you’re just being noble, then. ”

  “Yes. Or, no. ” Jeremy set a glass on the table and filled it with whiskey. He corked the decanter and reached for the glass. Suddenly Lucy was there at his shoulder. “I’ve been acting rather ignoble, is the heart of the matter. And I’m sorry that you have to pay for it. But it’s the only way. ”

  She frowned, taking the glass from his hand and sipping thoughtfully. “But surely it isn’t. What almost happened in the wardrobe … what nearly happened in Henry’s study … No one knows, but the two of us. ”

  “There’s what happened in the orchard. Toby and Sophia saw that. They could tell Henry. ”

  “And you think Henry will care?”

  “Whether he cares or not doesn’t matter. Heshould care. Weshould marry. It’s the proper thing to do. ”

  She looked unconvinced. “I’ve never been one to do the proper thing. ”

  Jeremy set out another glass and uncorked the decanter again, willing his hand to remain steady as the amber-brown liquid swirled slowly into the glass. “If you must know, there is another reason I’m marrying you. One that has nothing to do with duty or honor. ”

  “And what would that be?”

  He fixed her with a steady look. “What almost happened in the wardrobe … What nearly happened in Henry’s study …” He paused. “I want it to happen. ”

  A fierce blush spread from her neck to the tips of her ears. She took a rather large swallow of whiskey. “You …” She sipped again. “Youwant me. ”

  “Yes. ”

  Her gaze slanted away, then came back to his. “You wantme. ”

  “Yes,” Jeremy repeated impatiently. “How many times do you want to hear it?” Not too many more, he hoped. Just speaking the word, watching her blush … Raw lust powered through his body, stiffened in his groin. As though his verbal admission were a call to arms.

  Something changed in Lucy’s eyes. Her gaze sharpened, focusing on his with an unnerving intensity. She set her whiskey down, and glass met polished wood with the resounding crack of a decision. Her hand went to his where he still gripped the decanter.

  “I don’t want tohear it,” she said, her voice as warm and insidious as smoke. Her fingers skimmed over his wrist, the touch warm and soft, almost too light to be real. Like the sweetest of dreams. She curled her fingers over his forearm and pulled gently until he released the decanter. “I want to feel it. ”

  She took his hand in both of hers. “Have you noticed,” she asked coyly, turning his hand over, “that we are forever being interrupted at the most inopportune moments?” She began tracing lazy circles on his palm. Jeremy’s groin throbbed with each swirl of her thumb.

  “Lucy, no. ” The words came out strangled, hoarse. He cleared his throat and willed authority into his voice. “We can’t. We shouldn’t. ”

  “Why shouldn’t we? As you said, we’re to be wed in eleven hours. ” An impish grin spread across her face, bracketed by saucy dimples. “And then I’ll never have my chance to be a brazen seductress. What a shame that would be. I read a book and everything. ”

  She raised his hand to her lips and kissed the tip of each finger, one by one. When she reached his thumb, her tongue darted out from between her lips and flickered across the tip.

  Jeremy groaned. What the hell kind of book had she been reading? “Lucy,” he said darkly. He meant it to sound as a warning, but instead it came out more like a plea. He wrenched his hand from her grasp and laid it on her shoulder. “I am trying to behave in an honorable fashion. We are not married yet. We are in your brother’s house. I won’t do this to him. I won’t do this to you. ”

  “Even if I’m asking you to?” Her green eyes glimmered up at him. Emotion swelled uncomfortably in his chest. “We’re about to be married. Maybe duty is reason enough for you. But it isn’t enough for me. ”

  Fear clawed at his heart. Jeremy tightened his grip on her shoulder. She wasn’t getting away from him now. “It isn’t only duty. I told you as much. ”

  “You did. And I heard it. But right now …” She put her hands on his chest, and he winced with pleasure. “I want to feel it. ”

  “You want to feel it,” he repeated slowly.

  “Yes. ”

  He slid his hands to her waist and crushed her to him. Her lips parted in a gasp, and he covered them with his own. He devoured her mouth, thrusting deep with his tongue. Deep, to taste through the sharp bite of whiskey. Deeper, to drink in the sweetness beneath. He was so damned hungry for her. Ravenous. Starving. He felt like a man who hadn’t eaten in days.

  “There,” he said gruffly, holding her tight against the hard ridge of his erection. “Can you feel that?’

  She nodded.

  “Good. ” He released her waist. His hands fell to his sides. “Now go. ”

  She shook her head. Her face was flushed; her eyes, smoky. She picked up one of his hands. “Now feel me,” she said, dragging his hand over the swell of her breast.

  Jeremy knew he shouldn’t. But devil take him, he couldn’t help it. His fingers moved of their own accord, kneading her breast gently through the thick plush of her dressing gown. The feel of soft velvet sliding over the softer flesh beneath had him teetering on the brink of madness.

  He had to stop this, he told himself. They would marry tomorrow. He could wait one more night. He was going to do this the right way, in the proper order. Wed, then bed. Some base, primitive Beast in him might have started this business, but he was resolved that the Gentleman in him would finish it. Lucy deserved no less.

  But still his fingers roved over the velvet-cloaked swell of flesh. Her sharp gasp told him he’d found her nipple. He stroked it again, teasing the flat circle of flesh into a straining peak. Teasing the frayed remnants of his sanity.

  Jeremy shut his eyes, searching for the shreds of his restraint. Damn it, nothing did this to him. Especially not a woman. Self-discipline, strength of will, resolve—they weren’t just empty words to him. They were a way of life. They were how he’d survived while his father lived and how he’d succeeded after his death. They marked him apart from his wastrel peers who gambled away fortunes in the hells and brothels of London. They made him a sought-after lover amongst women who didn’t want love. They made him who he was.

  But she made him forget. She made him forget himself completely. And the longer he stood there—massaging her sumptuous flesh with his palm, rolling her nipple under his thumb, listening to her breathy sighs—the harder it became to remember. If there was one single reason why he shouldn’t haul her to the bed that instant, Jeremy couldn’t recall it.

  Then suddenly she stepped away. Just in time. He regained a tenuous hold on the remnants of his willpower. He felt the urge to reach out and pull her back, but he checked it. Barely.

  She was staring up at him with heavy-lidded eyes. Her lips were swollen and dusky red. She rotated her neck in sensuous motion, tossing her hair back over her shoulders. Her hands went to the belt of her dressing gown. She loosened the knot.

  Oh, God. He knew all too well what was under that robe. That high-necked virginal nightgown with its dozens of buttons. He’d wanted to rip that shift off her even that night. He’d dreamt of doing so more than once.

  He ought to object. Words stuck in his throat. He stared, mesmerized, as she untied her belt. Then crimson velvet rained down like hellfire, and Jeremy knew he was damned, damned, damned. No high-necked virginal nightgown. No nightgown at all.

  Just Lucy.

  Every part of him longed to go to her, but his feet were bolted to the floor. His jaw worked, but he couldn’t speak. If there was any sound in the room besides the wild pounding of his pulse, he couldn’t hear it. She had him utterly bewitched. She’d rendered him immobile, deaf, and dumb.

  But he was mercifully not struck blind.

  He’d devoted an inordinate amount of time i
n the past two days to picturing Lucy naked. He had amassed a fair amount of evidence to inform this mental image. He knew how she felt pressed up against him. He’d touched almost every part of her, albeit in the dark. But nothing had prepared him for the glorious sight ofall of her.

  Her body was like no other woman’s he’d seen. And he’d seen his share of unclothed women. But be they ladies or courtesans or women of the stage, compared to Lucy, they all shared an almost indolent softness. A fragility that somehow rang false. Lucy was rounded in places and sleek in others. Firelight delineated the sculpted tone of her shoulders and arms. Her breasts were round and firm; her belly tight and flat. Supple, sweetly curving hips flared into firm, muscular thighs. She was softness and strength. Power and mercy.

  A goddess.

  And then she held out her arms and called to him. And he heard her. Even through the thick haze of desire, he heard her—because she spoke straight to his heart. His feet were in motion before he’d drawn breath. In a moment, he had her swept up in his arms. A second after that, they were tumbling onto the bed. And as he lowered her onto the soft nest of pillows, she whispered it again. The word he’d been longing to hear from her lips for so long it felt like forever. The one simple call he was powerless to deny.

  “Jeremy. ”


  Lucy fell backward onto the bed, the heavy weight of a man on her chest and a ponderous burden thrown off her shoulders.

  Thank God that had worked, she thought. There were no cards left in her hand afterthat . Was there some way to feel more naked than naked? If so, she had felt it. For a long, terrible moment, she’d begun to doubt he’d respond at all.

  But respond he finally did, and in quite thrilling fashion. Now his lips and his tongue were responding all over her. And something hot and hard was making demands of its own against her thigh.

  He was everywhere at once. One hand kneading her breast, the other cupping her bottom; his mouth doing indescribable things to the soft hollow beneath her ear. He wedged his thigh between her legs, and she gasped at the sensation of smooth buckskin and hard muscle pressed against her delicate flesh. He ground against her. Sweet, aching pleasure spread up through her belly and down to her curling toes.

  “Jeremy. ” His name fell from her lips again and again as he rained hot kisses over her neck. It was important for her to say it aloud, for the same reason she’d come to his room, placed his hand on her breast, brazenly dropped her robe. So he would know—soshe would know—that she wasn’t a passive player in this turn of events. No one could force her to slip a thimble on her finger, much less a betrothal ring. Lucy may not have had a proposal, but she did have a choice.

  And she chosehim .

  “Oh, Jeremy,” she sighed against his ear. He was rolling her nipple under his thumb and dragging his teeth over her earlobe, and her whole body began to hum with wanting.

  She ran her hands down his back, savoring the feel of solid muscle beneath soft linen. Then she fisted her hands in the fabric and tugged it up, wild to get closer to him. Desperate to feel the smooth heat of his skin against hers. She had worked his shirt almost up to his shoulders when he suddenly pulled away. He sat back on his heels, straddling her leg.

  Lucy’s hands fell to her chest, covering her breasts. She watched as he gathered his shirt, yanked it over his head, and cast it aside.

  She let her gaze wander over him. Slowly. Greedily. Possessively. He was hers. All hers, tonight and thereafter. Every muscled ridge of his shoulders and chest. The dark, curling hair that tapered down to his navel, then trailed lower still. And the fascinating, pulsing prominence in the front of his breeches. Lucy was greatly tempted to stare. With some effort, she pulled her gaze back up to his face, framed with black, ruffled hair and anchored by clear blue eyes, now dark with desire.
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