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Just like heaven, p.26
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       Just Like Heaven, p.26

           Julia Quinn
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  “Honoria,” he said, because he could at least say her name. And maybe she’d hear what he felt in his voice.

  “I . . . I . . .” She touched his cheek, her eyes moving searchingly across his face. Her lips were parted, just enough so that he could see the pink tip of her tongue darting out to moisten them.

  And then he couldn’t bear it. He had to kiss her again. He needed to hold her, to feel her body pressed against his. If she’d said no, if she’d shaken her head or made any indication that she didn’t want this, he would have turned and walked out of the room.

  But she didn’t. She just stared at him, her eyes wide and full of wonder, and so he pulled her forward, wrapped his arms around her, and kissed her again, this time allowing himself to let go of the last thread of restraint he’d been holding so tightly.

  He pulled her against him, reveling in the curves and hollows of her body. She let out a little moan—of pleasure? of desire?—and it set the flame within him ablaze.

  “Honoria,” he moaned, his hands moving frantically along her back, down to the delicious curve of her bottom. He squeezed, and then he pressed, forcing the gentle softness of her belly against his arousal. She let out a little gasp of surprise at the contact, but he didn’t have it in him to pull away and explain. She was an innocent, he knew that, and she probably had no idea what it meant when his body reacted like this.

  He should go more slowly, guide her through this, but he couldn’t. There were limits to a man’s control, and he had passed his the moment she’d reached out and touched his cheek.

  She was soft and pliant in his embrace, her untutored mouth eagerly returning his kisses, and he swept her up into his arms, carrying her swiftly to the bed. He laid her down with as much tenderness as he could manage, and then, still fully clothed, he came down atop her, nearly exploding at the sensation of her body beneath his.

  Her gown had those little puffed sleeves that ladies seemed to prefer, and Marcus soon found that they settled against her skin rather loosely when she was lying down. His fingers found the edge and slid underneath, baring one of her milky shoulders.

  With a ragged breath he drew back and looked down at her. “Honoria,” he said, and if he hadn’t been wound so tightly, he might have laughed. Her name was the only sound he seemed to be able to make.

  Maybe it was the only word that mattered.

  She looked up at him, her lips full and swollen with intimacy. She was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen, her eyes glowing with desire, her chest rising and falling with each quickening breath.

  “Honoria,” he said again, and this time it was a question, or maybe a plea. He sat up to pull off his coat and shirt. He needed the feel of the air on his skin; he needed the feel of her on his skin. When his clothing hit the floor, she reached up and touched him, laying one soft hand on his chest. She whispered his name, and he was undone.

  Honoria wasn’t sure when she’d made her decision to give herself to him. Maybe it was when he had said her name, and she’d reached out and touched his cheek. Or maybe it was when he’d looked at her, his eyes hot and hungry, and said, “I burn for you.”

  But she had a feeling it was the moment he’d burst into the room. Right then, something within her had known that this would happen, that if he did anything to indicate that he loved her, or even just that he wanted her, she would be lost. She’d been sitting on her bed, trying to figure out how the evening had gone so inexplicably awry, and then all of a sudden he was there, as if she’d conjured him.

  They had argued, and if anyone had been there to ask, she would have insisted that her only aim had been to boot him from the room and bar the door, but deep within, something inside of her was beginning to kindle and glow. They were in her room. She was on her bed. And the intimacy of the moment was overwhelming.

  And so when he closed the distance between them and said, “I burn for you,” she could no more deny her desire than she could her own breath. When he laid her back upon the bed, she could only think that this was where she belonged, and he belonged there with her.

  He was hers. It was as simple as that.

  He pulled off his shirt, baring his firmly muscled chest. She’d seen it before, of course, but not like this. Not with him looming over her, his eyes full of a primitive need to claim her.

  And she wanted that. Oh, how she wanted it. If he was hers, then she would gladly be his. Forever.

  She reached out and touched him, marveling in the heat of his body. She could feel his heart leap within him, and she heard herself whisper his name. He was so handsome, so serious, and so . . . good.

  He was good. He was a good man, with a good heart. And dear God, whatever it was he was doing with his lips at the base of her neck . . . he was very good at that, too.

  She’d kicked off her slippers before he’d even arrived in her room, and with her stockinged feet, she ran her toes along his—

  She burst out laughing.

  Marcus drew back. His eyes were questioning but also very, very amused.

  “Your boots,” she sputtered.

  He went still, then turned his head slowly toward his feet. And then: “Damn it.”

  She started laughing even harder.

  “It’s not funny,” he muttered. “It’s . . .”

  She somehow held her breath.

  “. . . funny,” he admitted.

  She started laughing so hard the entire bed was shaking. “Can you get them off?” she gasped.

  He gave her a supercilious look and pushed himself to a sitting position at the edge of the bed.

  After taking a few breaths, she managed to say, “Under no circumstances am I taking a knife to you to remove them.”

  His reply was a loud thunk as his right boot hit the floor. And then: “No knife will be necessary.”

  She tried for a serious expression. “I am very pleased to hear it.”

  He dropped his other boot and turned back to her with a heavy-lidded stare that made her insides melt. “So am I,” he murmured, stretching out alongside her. “So am I.”

  His fingers found the small row of buttons at the back of her gown, and the blush-colored silk seemed to melt away, falling from her body like a whisper. Honoria’s hands came instinctively to cover her breasts. He didn’t argue, he didn’t try to pull them away. Instead he just kissed her again, his mouth hot and passionate against hers. And with every deepening moment, she grew more relaxed in his arms until suddenly she realized it wasn’t her hand at her breast, it was his.

  And she loved it.

  She hadn’t realized that her body—any part of her body—could feel so sensitive, so needy. “Marcus!” she gasped, her back arching in shock as his fingers found the rosy tip.

  “You are so beautiful,” he breathed, and she felt beautiful. When he looked at her, when he touched her, she felt like the most beautiful woman ever created.

  His mouth replaced his fingers, and she let out a quiet moan of surprise, her legs stretching straight and hard as she dug her fingers into his hair. She had to grab something. She had to. Otherwise she would quite simply fall off the face of the earth. Or float away. Or just disappear, exploding from the heat and energy coursing within her.

  Her body felt so foreign, so completely unlike anything she’d ever imagined. And at the same time, it all felt so natural. Her hands seemed to know exactly where to go, and her hips knew how to move, and when his lips moved down her belly, trailing along after the edge of her dress that he was so assiduously peeling from her skin, she knew that it was right, and it was good, and she didn’t just want it, she wanted more. And straightaway, please.

  His hands grasped her thighs and gently prodded them open, and she melted into position, moaning, “Yes,” and, “Please,” and, “Marcus!”

  And then he kissed her. This she had not expected, and she thought she might die from the pleasure. When he parted her, she had held her breath, preparing herself for his intimate invasion. But instead he worshipped her with
his mouth, his tongue, his lips, until she was a writhing, panting, incoherent bundle of need.

  “Please, Marcus,” she begged, and she wished she knew exactly what she was begging for. But whatever it was, she knew he could give it to her. He would know how to quench the exquisite ache within her. He could send her to heaven, and he could bring her back down to earth so she could spend a lifetime in his arms.

  He pulled away from her for a moment, and she nearly cried from the loss of his touch. He was practically tearing off his breeches, and when he returned, they were matched up lengthwise, his face near hers, his hand in hers, and his hips settling urgently between her legs.

  Her lips parted as she tried to breathe evenly. When she looked at him, his eyes were on her face, and all he said was, “Take me.”

  The tip of him pressed against her, then opened her, and she understood. It was so difficult, because all she wanted was to clench every muscle in her body, but somehow she made herself relax enough so that with each stroke, he entered her more deeply, until with a gasp of surprise she realized that he was fully sheathed within her.

  He shuddered with pleasure, and he began to move in a new rhythm, sliding back and forth within her. She started saying things, she didn’t know what. Maybe she was begging him, or pleading, or trying to make some sort of deal so that he would see this through, and bring her with him, and make it end, and make it never stop, and—

  Something happened.

  Every speck of her being pulled together into a tight little ball and then shot apart, like one of those firecrackers she’d seen set off over Vauxhall. Marcus, too, cried out and surged forward one last time, spilling himself within her, before collapsing completely.

  For several minutes, Honoria could do nothing but lie there, marveling in the warmth of his body next to hers. Marcus had pulled a soft blanket over them, and together they had made their own little heaven. His hand was on hers, their fingers entwined, and she could not imagine a more peaceful, lovely moment.

  It would be hers. This. For the rest of her life. He had not mentioned marriage, but this didn’t concern her. This was Marcus. He would never abandon a woman after a moment like this. And he was probably just waiting for the right way to propose. He liked to do things properly, her Marcus.

  Her Marcus.

  She liked the way that sounded.

  Of course, she thought with a gleam in her eye, he had not been the least bit proper this evening. So maybe . . .

  “What are you thinking about?” he asked.

  “Nothing,” she lied. “Why do you ask?”

  He shifted position so that he could lean on his elbow and look down upon her. “You have a terrifying look on your face.”

  “Terrifying?”

  “Devious,” he amended.

  “I’m not sure which I prefer.”

  He chuckled, a low, hearty rumble that echoed from his body to hers. Then his face sobered. “We will have to be getting back.”

  “I know,” she said with a sigh. “We will be missed.”

  “I won’t, but you will.”

  “I can always tell my mother that I took ill. I’ll say I caught whatever it was that afflicted Sarah. Which is to say, nothing, but nobody knows that but Sarah.” She pressed her mouth together in a peevish line. “And me. And Iris. And probably Miss Wynter, too. Still.”

  He laughed again, then leaned down and kissed her lightly on the nose. “If I could, I would stay here forever.”

  She smiled as the warmth of his words slid through her like a kiss. “I was just thinking that this is just like heaven.”

  He was silent for a moment, and then, so softly she wasn’t sure she heard him correctly, he whispered, “Heaven couldn’t possibly compare.”

  Chapter Twenty-two

  Luckily for Honoria, her hair had not been dressed in an elaborate style. What with the extra rehearsals that afternoon, there hadn’t been time for it. So it was not difficult for her to replicate the coiffure.

  Marcus’s cravat was another story. No matter what they did, they could not restore its crisp, intricate knot.

  “You will never be able to let your valet go,” Honoria told him after her third attempt at it. “In fact, you might need to increase his wages.”

  “I already told Lady Danbury he stabbed me,” Marcus murmured.

  Honoria covered her mouth. “I am trying not to smile,” she said, “because it’s not funny.”

  “And yet it is.”

  She held out as long as she could. “It is.”

  He grinned down at her, and he looked so happy, so carefree. It made Honoria’s heart sing. How strange and yet how splendid that her happiness could be so dependent on the happiness of another.

  “Let me try,” he said, and he took the ends and positioned himself in front of her mirror.

  She watched him for about two seconds before declaring, “You’re going to have to go home.”

  His eyes did not leave the reflection of his neckcloth in the mirror. “I haven’t even got past the first knot.”

  “And you’re not going to.”

  He gave her a supercilious look, brow quirked and all.

  “You’re never going to get it right,” she pronounced. “I must say, between this and your boots, I am revising my opinion on the impracticalities of couture, male versus female.”

  “Really?”

  Her gaze dropped to his boots, polished to a perfect shine. “No one has ever had to take a knife to my footwear.”

  “I wear nothing that buttons up the back,” he countered.

  “True, but I may choose a dress that buttons in the front, whereas you cannot go out and about without a neckcloth.”

  “I can at Fensmore,” he muttered, his fingers still trying to work with the increasingly wrinkled cloth.

  “But we’re not at Fensmore,” she reminded him with a grin.

  “I surrender,” he said, yanking the cravat off entirely. He stuffed it into his pocket, shaking his head as he said, “It’s for the best, really. Even if I did get this blasted thing tied right, it would make no sense for me to return to the musicale. I’m sure everyone thinks I’ve gone home.” He paused, then added, “If they’ve thought of me at all.”

  As there were several unmarried young ladies in attendance, and perhaps more to the point, several mothers of unmarried young ladies, Honoria was fairly certain that his absence had been noted.

  But still, his plan was a good one, and together they sneaked down the back stairs. Honoria’s plan was to cut through several rooms to the rehearsal space near the musicale, while Marcus was going to slip outside through the servants’ entrance. At the spot where they needed to part ways, Marcus looked down at her, gently touching her cheek with his hand.

  She smiled. She had far too much happiness bursting within her to keep it inside.

  “I will call upon you tomorrow,” he said.

  She nodded. And then, because she could not stop herself, she whispered, “Kiss me good-bye?”

  He needed no further urging, and he leaned down, taking her face in his hands as he captured her mouth in a passionate kiss. Honoria felt herself burning, then melting, then quite positively evaporating. She almost laughed with joy, and she rose to her tiptoes, trying to get closer and then—

  He was gone.

  There was a terrible cry, and Marcus went flying across the small space of the hallway, slamming against the opposite wall.

  Honoria let out a shriek and ran forward. An intruder had got into the house, and he had Marcus by the throat. She didn’t even have time to be terrified. Without thinking, she hurled herself at the intruder, jumping onto his back. “Let go,” she ground out, trying to grab his arm to stop him from punching Marcus again.

  “For the love of God,” the man snapped. “Get off me, Bug.”

  Bug?

  She went slack. “Daniel?”

  “Who the bloody hell else would it be?”

  Honoria could think of quite a few answers to
that, considering that he’d been out of the country for over three years. Never mind that he’d written that he planned to return; he hadn’t seen fit to tell anyone when.

  “Daniel,” she said again, and she jumped off his back. She took a step away and just stared at him. He looked older, which of course he was, but he looked older in more than just years. Maybe more tired, maybe more world-weary. Or maybe it was just his recent travels. He was still dusty and windblown; anyone would look tired and world-weary after the long journey from Italy to London.

  “You’re back,” she said stupidly.

  “Indeed,” he said sharply, “and what the devil is going on?”

  “I—”

  Daniel put up a hand. “Stay out of it, Honoria.”

  Hadn’t he just asked her a question?

  “Dear God, Daniel,” Marcus said, coming to his feet. He was wobbling a bit, rubbing the back of his head where it had connected with the wall. “Next time, consider telling us—”

  “You bastard,” Daniel hissed, and he slammed his fist into Marcus’s cheek.

  “Daniel!” Honoria shrieked. She jumped again onto his back, or rather she tried to; he shook her off like—

  Well, like a bug, annoying as that was.

  She tried to scramble back to her feet in time to stop him again, but Daniel had always been agile, and right now he was furious. Before she could even get herself upright, he’d punched Marcus again.

  “I don’t want to fight you, Daniel,” Marcus said, wiping blood from his chin with his sleeve.

  “What the hell were you doing with my sister?”

  “You’re—”

  Euf!

  “—insane,” Marcus grunted, his voice seemingly swallowed up by the force of Daniel’s fist in his belly.

  “I asked you to watch over her,” Daniel ground out, punctuating each word with a vicious blow to Marcus’s midsection. “To watch. Over. Her.”

  “Daniel, stop!” Honoria pleaded.

  “She’s my sister,” Daniel spat.

  “I know,” Marcus growled back. He appeared to be regaining his equilibrium, and he drew back his arm and slammed his fist into Daniel’s jaw. “And you—”

 
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