A Lady by Midnight / Page 23

Page 23


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He looked her in the eye. “I want no part of that life. It’s time for you to release me.”


Her lovely hazel eyes softened and her gaze fell to his lips.


“I just can’t,” she said. “I’m not letting you go.”


Chapter Thirteen


Kiss me, Kate willed silently.


Please. I’ve just laid my heart at your feet. Kiss me now, or I’ll die of disappointment.


She knew he was tempted. He stared at her mouth so intently, she could taste the softness and strength and heat of his lips. Her own jaw softened in response. She could see it so clearly, in her mind’s eye. Just how that kiss would go. She would be yielding and open, inviting him in. The boldness of his possession would shock and excite her. She would cling to him, and his big hands would roam every bit of her body. Their kiss would be frenzied at first, and then slow, sweet.


“Thorne.”


She caught his gaze. His pupils were so dilated, his eyes were almost entirely black. Even so, that thin orbit of blue was so intense, so piercing—she felt it inside her.


A sudden realization gave her a thrill. In her imagination, they were kissing. In his mind, they were doing something much more intimate. More animal, with far fewer clothes.


The thought enflamed her. Inexperienced as she was, she knew enough to sense her feminine power in the situation. He might say no to family and comfort and connection. But could he truly refuse this?


She leaned forward until her cheek met his. Just a simple press of skin to skin, and it was like nothing she’d ever felt.


“Is it . . .” She forced herself to ask, “Is it always like this? With your other women?”


He shook his head slowly. The scrape of his whiskers against her jaw—oh, it made her wild. But it wasn’t enough.


“No?” she prompted. She had to hear him say it. She had to hear him say something. His voice could stroke her, so very deep.


At last he gave her what she craved. “No.”


That dark, thrilling syllable whispered hot against her ear and sank into her very bones.


“Well?” she asked, breathily. “Shouldn’t we do something about it?


He groaned and shuddered, and she suspected he was mentally thumbing through a whole catalog of things he would like to do about it. Some sort of lovemaking drill book with all possible positions and maneuvers clearly defined. The precise contents would be a mystery to her—but she was ready and willing to learn.


Shameless, she tugged on his neck and pulled him forward until she could kiss his ear.


He sighed. “I can’t give you what you need.”


“Oh, I think you can.” She caught his earlobe in her teeth and worried it.


With a husky groan, he gave in. He dipped his head, and his strong lips brushed her pulse.


“You don’t see yourself,” he said. “When you’re around the Gramercys, it’s like a flame comes to life inside you.” He marched a column of kisses down her neck. “You don’t light up for me.”


She pressed her body to his. “I burn for you, Thorne. I’ve never felt this way. I never knew I wanted to feel this way.”


She pulled at his neckcloth, unknotting the fabric and tugging it free. She pressed a kiss to the dark notch at the base of his throat, then nuzzled there, inhaling the arousing musk of his skin. His raspy breathing gave her hope.


She was getting to him. Delving through the layers, uncovering the man beneath.


All those buttons of his coat must come next. She worked the top one loose with trembling fingers.


“You called me scared,” she said, “and I am frightened. But not the way you think. I’m terrified that I’ll part ways with you, and I’ll live my whole life without feeling this again.”


She chanced a look at him then, pleading with her eyes. Begging him to give in to her, to take control of this . . . just do something, before she was forced to rip open her bodice and say something truly embarrassing like, Make me a woman.


“It’s only desire you’re feeling.” His brow was heavy, disapproving. “Curiosity. If I give in to it, you’ll despise me afterward.”


“I could never despise you.”


“Yes, you could. You spent a full year doing just that.”


She cursed under her breath. He would have to point that out. “I was a fool. I didn’t know you. I didn’t know my own heart.”


His gaze sharpened. “What makes you think you know it now?”


“I don’t know,” she said honestly. “I don’t know. But this afternoon, Lark Gramercy came to me and offered everything I ever thought I wanted. A family. A home. Security, friendship, society. More wealth than I’d ever dreamed. And at that moment, I knew in my heart it still wouldn’t be enough. Either I’m the most greedy, ungrateful woman in England, or I’m . . .”


God, could it be true?


Her heart told her it must be. Nothing else made sense.


“Thorne, I think I’m falling in love with you.”


“Katie.” He took her face in his hands. Roughly, and with a possessive power that thrilled her. A brooding divot formed between his eyebrows. “Katie, you’re so—”


She wondered what delightfully misanthropic word he would choose this time. Wrongheaded? Foolish? Stubborn?


Kissable, apparently.


He gave up on words and claimed her mouth instead, kissing her with more passion and fire than she would have ever dared to hope. One of his hands slid down her back, coasting over silk and sweeping hot sensation all the way to the base of her spine. But he didn’t stop there. His touch dipped farther. He spread his fingers to cup her backside, then lifted and squeezed, pulling her pelvis flush against his. Pleasure sparkled through her veins. She moaned into his kiss and clutched his neck so hard, her fingernails would surely leave marks. He didn’t seem to mind.


He kissed her deeply, pushing her jaw wide and swallowing her desperate gasps of pleasure. She writhed against him, pressing close to feel the abundant evidence of his lust for her. The solid ridge of his arousal pulsed against her belly. She wanted to feel that heat where it belonged—against her sex. As they kissed, she twined one leg around his booted calf, grasping his shoulders to work herself higher . . . closer . . .


Drat.


Badger pulled them back from the brink of paradise. Some yards away, the puppy started barking like a creature possessed.


“Ignore the dog,” she murmured, tugging Thorne back to the kiss. Catching and sipping at his bottom lip. “He’s perfectly fine.”


“He’s fine,” he echoed. “It’s just another rat.”


“Yes.”


Yes.


His hand swept over her curves, lingering for a brief, delicious squeeze of her backside before dipping to caress her thigh. He gathered a large fistful of her skirt and tugged, drawing her body just as tight and close as she craved and exposing her ankles to the cooling afternoon air.


With one hand, he delved under her skirts and petticoats, encircling her thigh in his grip. The feel of his work-roughed palm against her stockinged leg inflamed her. And her desire only mounted as he swept his touch higher still. Over her ribbon garter, up the sensitive slope of her bare inner thigh, and . . .


There.


It amazed her, how easily he claimed her most intimate, untouched places, and how little timidity she felt. His fingertips traced the cleft of her sex, slipping easily over her aroused flesh.


“So wet,” he murmured.


The words shocked her. She wanted to hear more.


He stilled, resting his temple against hers. His breath stirred her hair as he traced her intimate flesh in slow, tantalizing strokes.


“For me?” he whispered. The vulnerable rasp in his voice undid her.


She kissed his jaw. “For you. Only you.”


He rewarded her boldness. Deftly parting her folds, he slipped one broad, callused fingertip inside.


A startled cry of joy escaped her.


“Hush,” he soothed. “Hush. I won’t take too much. Only let me ease you this once.” He nibbled lightly at her ear and neck, stroking deeper. “You’ll feel better afterward, see matters clearer. It will be enough.”


Enough? What foolishness. She’d never known such an exquisite blend of sensual relief and desperate hunger for more. He claimed her lips in a kiss, and their moans mingled as he cupped her sex in his clever, wicked hand. His tongue and his finger thrust in unison, moving deeper by gentle yet steady degrees. She gripped his shoulders, rocked by wave after wave of devious pleasure.


Yes. Oh, yes. She wanted this. Him inside her. The two of them, joined in every way. And it would never be enough. She would always crave more.


More.


His hand stilled.


Kate panted for breath. Was something wrong?


Apparently so. He withdrew his touch completely, letting her skirts fall loose to the ground, and Kate’s muddled senses finally gathered why.


It was Badger again. More barking. More dashing about. More ruining everything.


Drat, drat, drat.


With a muttered curse, Thorne turned to follow the dog with his eyes. “He’s got his sights on something.”


“Only a rat, surely.”


“Perhaps.”


The dog disappeared around a corner of the castle ruins, growling and snarling as he went.


“But perhaps not.” Thorne released her with a sigh of obvious regret. “It’s not like him to behave that way.”


That was it, then. The moment was gone.


Thorne strode off in pursuit. Resigned to it, Kate picked up her skirts and followed after both dog and man.


They rounded the corner of a crumbling sandstone wall.


Badger had his quarry cornered in a shadowy niche. The puppy stood at attention, growling at whatever it was he’d captured.


“I don’t see any rat,” Kate said, drawing nearer. “Perhaps it’s only a tiny vole?” She moved closer to investigate.


Thorne caught her by the arm, holding her back. “Don’t.”


Kate froze. When uttered in that tone, it wasn’t a command she could refuse.


Then she saw the reason for his sudden change in demeanor. It wasn’t a rat or a vole Badger had cornered, but a snake. A long, thick adder curling in on itself and weaving figure eights in the matted grass—less than a yard from her slippers. A thin tendril of tongue flickered out, and the snake’s hiss crawled down her spine.


The puppy—brave, foolish thing—stood his ground at her feet, still snarling and preparing to pounce.


She could see very easily what would happen. The snake was backed into a corner, and the creature no doubt knew—in whatever way snakes knew these things—its only chance of escape was to strike.


“Oh. He’ll be bitten.” Kate struggled against Thorne’s grip. “Badger, no. Come away from that horrid thing.”


She attempted to reach for him, but Thorne held her back.


“Shush,” he said firmly. “I’ll see to him. Just don’t move.”


He released her arm. Kate clenched her fists at her sides to keep still. Her fingernails bit into her palms.


Thorne planted his boots in the grassy turf. Then, moving with excruciating slowness, he stretched his right arm as he leaned forward, spreading his fingers wide. As he leaned, the full length of his hard thigh pressed against the back of her leg. She could feel the leashed power in his every small motion.


Just a little farther. A few inches more and he’d be able to snatch the puppy by the scruff, deliver him up and away.


Oh, hurry, she pleaded inwardly, even though she knew sudden movements would be disaster.


Thorne ceased moving altogether. His outstretched right arm went ramrod straight, and she could feel the energy tensing in his muscles. It made the hairs on her arm lift. Like quiet thunder rumbling through a cloud.


Then came the lightning strike.


With a powerful lunge forward, he reached out—


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