Goddess of the hunt, p.5
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       Goddess of the Hunt, p.5
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         Part #1 of The Wanton Dairymaid Trilogy series by Tessa Dare
Page 5


  Jeremy gave her hand a brief squeeze before releasing it. He stepped toward the boy, pulling himself up to his formidable full height. Even in a tattered shirt and worn breeches, he still looked every bit the lord. Albert’s eyes flashed with fear and anger.

  Jeremy addressed the gamekeeper. “Release him,” he ordered, in a tone that would brook no argument. The gamekeeper complied.

  “There’s been a mistake,” Jeremy continued. “I meant to speak with you today, Tomkins, but it seems the youth’s enthusiasm has preempted my announcement. Andrews hired the boy as an apprentice gamekeeper. I believe we’ve discussed your need for additional help. The boy here will take over the traps. ”

  Tomkins looked as though he would object, but Jeremy silenced him with a look. He turned his gaze on the boy. “You weren’t to start yet,” he said sternly. “You were to wait until Mr. Andrews introduced you to Mr. Tomkins properly. I gather you simply couldn’t wait?”

  Albert looked to Lucy, bewilderment in his eyes. She swallowed the anxious lump in her throat and nodded encouragingly, silently willing him to accept this chance. Yes, my lord . She mouthed the words to him, adding the most persuasive look she could muster. Silence reigned for a long moment, and Lucy watched pride and confusion and hunger battling in Albert’s countenance.

  Finally, the boy looked back up at Jeremy. “Yes, my lord. ”

  Jeremy gave him a slight nod. “You are dismissed, then. Tomkins will acquaint you with your duties tomorrow. ”

  Albert looked back at Lucy, and she grinned her approval. She ducked her head and made a small motion with her hands.

  The boy caught on. He was a quick one, after all. He bowed stiffly in Jeremy’s direction. “Yes, my lord. ” He repeated the gesture in Lucy’s direction, with a bit more feeling. “My lady. ” Lucy’s heart swelled. With a small parting smile, Albert fled the room eagerly. The gamekeeper moved to follow.

  “Tomkins,” Jeremy called.

  The gamekeeper halted.

  Jeremy tilted his head toward Henry. “My guest, Mr. Waltham, has just arrived. He has expressed a desire to see your kennels. ” He turned to Henry. “Tomkins has a new breed of harrier you’ll be interested to see. And when you’ve finished, we’ll join you for breakfast. ”

  Henry stood impassive.

  Jeremy crossed back to Lucy. He took her hand from where it dangled at her side, kissed it tenderly, and tucked it into the crook of his elbow. “Believe it, Henry. ”

  Henry looked from his friend to his sister, shook himself, and shrugged. “No one tells me anything. All right, then. ” He turned to the gamekeeper. “What’s this about harriers?”

  Jeremy did not wait for the men to make their exit. He steered Lucy toward the staircase, leading her up the steps at a determined pace. The moment they turned the corner of the landing and the entrance hall disappeared from view, he hefted her into his arms without a word. He mounted the remaining stairs two at a time—an exertion that ought to have winded a man, but Lucy was the one becoming breathless.

  He carried her into their sitting room, kicked the door shut, and then leaned against it, taking her mouth in a thorough kiss. Lucy threaded her fingers into his hair and kissed him back hungrily, suckling his tongue until she pulled a deep moan from his chest. He broke away, shifting her weight in his arms.

  “I’ve waited weeks to have my wife in my bed,” he said, sweeping her into his bedchamber. “And I’ll be damned if I’ll wait a minute longer. ” He dropped her into the center of the enormous mahogany bed and then straightened to peel off his shirt. He sat on the edge of the bed and tugged off his boots before setting to work on the fastenings of his breeches. Lucy rolled onto her side, looking on with unabashed enjoyment as he wrestled out of his remaining clothes.

  He noted her amusement. “You could be doing the same, you know. ”

  “What, and miss the show?” He pulled his smallclothes down over his hips and kicked them onto the floor. Lucy sighed. She reached out to trace the muscled slope of his thigh. “You are a beautiful man. ”

  She cast off Jeremy’s coat and what remained of the red silk dressing gown, tossing them onto the floor. She crept toward him on her knees to where he sat on the edge of the bed, sidling up behind him and brushing her breasts over his back. He pressed back against her, molding her body around his. He felt strong and warm. Her hands skimmed over his powerful arms and snaked around to caress his chest. Settling her chin on his shoulder, she brushed a kiss against his ear. “Thank you,” she murmured. “For Albert. ”

  He snorted. “Don’t thank me for his sake. That was for you. I’d send the little reprobate off to jail without a thought. ”

  Lucy ran her tongue across the nape of his neck and up to his other ear. “No, you wouldn’t. ”

  “I would, if you asked it. ” Turning, he slid out of her embrace and knelt on the floor before her. She sat back on her heels. Situated like this, they were the same height. They looked one another directly in the eye.

  He braced his hands on either side of her, caging her with his body. “I told you last night that I can’t live without you. ”

  She nodded. “I remember. ” God, how could she forget?

  “That was a lie. ”

  Lucy blinked. That hadn’t been exactly what she was expecting to hear.

  His hands went to her shoulders. “Ican live without you, and that’s the hell of it. For close to thirty years I’ve done it. And if you leave me, I’m certain I’ll continue a miserable existence for thirty more. So it’s not that Ican’t live without you. It’s that Iwon’t . Whatever it takes to keep you here with me, I’ll do it. If I have to make stablehands of every last miscreant in the county, I will. Because …” He hesitated.

  She swallowed the lump rising in her throat. “Because …?”

  He slid his hands up to cup her face. Not gently, but with the full force of passion. His darkened gaze searched hers. “Lucy, I …” He brushed a thumb over her lips. “I don’t even know how to say it. The words don’t seem like enough. ”

  “They aren’t enough. But they’re a start. ”

  His grip tightened, bracing her so there was nowhere to look but at him. Nothing to see but his eyes, and nothing to hear but his voice. “I love you. ”

  She reeled. The words—just the words, spoken rough and fierce—unleashed that terrible flood within her. That powerful, all-consuming surge of emotion she now understood to be love. Lucy trembled with it, felt it welling up within her and threatening to overflow. She shut her eyes tight. She wouldnot cry. He needed her to be strong.

  Jeremy gave her head a little shake, and she opened her eyes again. “I love you,” he repeated, his voice husky with emotion. “Now and always. More than my own life. More than anything. ”

  Oh, dear. There it went. A big, round drop of love spilling over her eyelashes and trickling down her cheek.

  He pressed his lips to her face, kissing it away.

  Another tear fell, streaming down the other cheek. Lucy pressed both hands to her face, desperate to stop them. She couldn’t drive him away again, not now.

  He pulled her hands down and grasped them tightly in his. “Please don’t hide from me. ”

  “Please don’t leave. ” She choked back a sob. “I’m not a hysterical female, truly I’m not. I’m just”—sniff—“just—”

  “I know,” he said, smiling gently. “I’m a bit overwhelmed myself. But I’m not going anywhere. We are not going anywhere. This is our home. It’s where we belong. We’re going to fill it with children, and light, and laughter. But Lucy,”—he reached up to brush a thumb over her lips—“your tears belong here, too. You’re safe with me. ”

  Oh, and now there was no stopping them. Tears fell from her eyes like a hot summer rain, streaking down both cheeks, sliding down the edge of her nose, running into the corners of her mouth. And he kissed them away, murmuring sweet words of love and he
art-swelling oaths and her name. Over and over again, her name—so she knew the words were for her. So she believed it.

  “Lucy. ” He pressed his lips to her trembling eyelids. “I love you. ”

  Somehow her hands found their way to his cheeks, and she pulled him away slightly, bracing her forehead against his. “I love you, too. ” She sniffed. “Oh, but I’ve been such a fool. ” Smiling, she wiped her eyes with the back of one hand. “The drapes, the dinner, that tarty negligee. I didn’t know how to be the wife you wanted. You said men want an angel, or a dream. But Jeremy—I’m just not an angel. ”

  He chuckled, sweeping a curl behind her ear. “No, you’re not. And thank heaven for that. I shouldn’t like you to be a dream, either. I’d live in fear of waking up. ” He cupped her chin in his hand, and his expression grew serious. “Lucy, youare the wife I want, just as you are. I’m sorry I ever gave you reason to doubt it. I was just so afraid of seeing you hurt … of hurting you myself …”

  “I understand now. ” She bit her lip. “But you needn’t have worried. I—”

  “You won’t break, I know. And do I love you for it. ” He dropped a gentle kiss on her lips. “But let me love your softness, too. Your strength and your tenderness. Lucy, you’re so much more than an angel or a dream. What you are is a goddess. My goddess. And you have me completely at your mercy. ”

  Smiling, Lucy wound her arms around his neck and pulled him onto the bed. “I believe I like the sound of that. ”


  Christmas came a bit early to Waltham Manor.

  Lucy sat on the drawing-room carpet with her nieces and nephew, presiding over the merriment as they unwrapped a prodigious number of gifts. She looked up to catch Jeremy watching her from his armchair with a very familiar expression. She felt herself flush. That Look of his never failed to stir her blood.

  She rose to her feet casually, shaking the wrinkles from her skirts, and paused to look out the window before crossing to her husband. Leaning over his chair, she brushed her lips against his ear and whispered, “Meet me in the wardrobe later?”

  Jeremy choked on his whiskey. “What, again?” He put an arm about her waist and pulled her into his lap. “What’s wrong with the bed?” he whispered into her neck. “I have a rather sentimental attachment to that bed. ”

  She took the drink from his hand. “Yes,” she murmured from behind the glass, “but we have a bed at home. We don’t have the wardrobe. And we’ll be leaving tomorrow morning for Toby and Sophia’s wedding. After that, we’ll be in Town—you’ve got the whole session of Parliament ahead. ” She wriggled her bottom against his lap, eliciting a soft growl. “Who knows when we’ll have another chance?”

  He ran his hand down her back and hooked a finger under her laces. “There’s always next autumn. ”

  A smile tickled the corner of her lips. “I don’t think we’ll be visiting next autumn. ”

  “Why not?”

  “Papa!” Tildy and young Henry ran to their father where he stood in the entryway, leaving poor little Beth to crawl alone on the carpet. The children swarmed over their father, climbing his legs like tree trunks and foraging in his pockets for sweets. He sank to his hands and knees on the carpet, dutifully admiring the shiny playthings and stooping to kiss Beth’s pudgy cheek.

  “That will be you someday,” Lucy whispered to her husband.

  Jeremy’s arm tightened around her waist. “I hope so. ”

  “Hope all you wish. I, however, have no talent for hoping. I know, I believe, I expect. ” She set the glass down on the side table and twined both arms around his neck. “As I believe I once told you—to your great amusement—Iknow how mating is accomplished. Ibelieve it’s been”—she looked up at the ceiling, calculating—“three-and-forty days since I last had my courses. And therefore I am—or rather, we are—expecting. ”
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