Daring in a blue dress, p.15
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       Daring In a Blue Dress, p.15

           Katie MacAlister
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  He didn’t last long after that, giving his own hoarse cry, his hips giving a couple more thrusts before he collapsed down on me, his body heavy and damp with perspiration.

  I relished every bit of him as I let my hands stroke down his sides and back.

  “I’m sorry,” he murmured into my shoulder.

  “For what? The orgasm of my lifetime?”

  “I’m heavy. I should move. I think my muscles are gone, however, because I don’t feel like I can.”

  “You’re fine,” I said, giving his shoulder a little nibble. I was vaguely surprised to see that my love bite earlier had left a mark, and reminded myself to be less aggressive in the future. “Alden, I’m sorry. I bit you too hard. You’ve got a hell of a hickey.”

  With a groan, he rolled off me, and onto his back, where he lay splayed out like a man well loved. “I don’t particularly care what marks you left on me.”

  “You might if Fenice or Vandal sees it. They might think we have something going on other than just this.”

  “Do you care what they think?”

  “No, not really. I mean, it’s not going to affect my job, so the itches we scratch in private aren’t any of their business.”


  I bit my lip, the pleasant buzz of orgasmic afterglow fading, leaving me feeling . . . I wasn’t sure what I was feeling, exactly. Kind of let down. “Then there’s Lisa. She’ll know what we’re up to as soon as she sees that hickey.”

  He opened one eye and turned his head toward me so he could pin me back. “You’re not really jealous, are you?”

  “No. But I don’t want to come between you and a potential girlfriend just because we started something before she got here.”

  “You’re not doing anything of the sort,” he said, closing his eye again. “And I don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks.”

  “Good. Then we’re in agreement.” But even as I spoke the words, I wondered if that was true.

  Don’t be ridiculous, I told my inner doubt. You knew going into this that it was just a little fling. You need to find a more permanent job, and he clearly needs someone who can spend her life with him. You can’t have it both ways. Either you accept the relationship for what it is—a pleasant diversion that may have the side effect of giving Alden a bit more confidence with women—or you stop it now. What’s it going to be?

  I got up and went into the bathroom to tidy up, not liking the path my thoughts were taking.

  Chapter 10

  Our pleasant interlude seemed like it lasted days, but at long last we realized that it was still early evening, and we were hungry.

  “We could go out for dinner,” I told Alden after we got dressed again. “Go to that pub you mentioned yesterday.”

  “We could, but I’d feel bad about leaving Lisa at the mercy of Vandal.”

  “Oh, I meant that we’d take her, too,” I lied, feeling immediately guilty that I hadn’t even thought about what Lisa was going to do for dinner. Here I’d been selfishly thinking of having Alden to myself, and he was being a considerate and thoughtful host.

  He rubbed his face, his whiskers rasping in a way that sent a shiver down my arms. “We could do that if you like.”

  “Sure.” I slapped a cheerful smile on my face. “Do you think we should invite Fenice and Vandal, too?”

  “Why?” he asked, narrowing his eyes on me. “You don’t . . . er . . . you’re not . . .” He made an oddly abrupt gesture.

  “You pick the weirdest times to get tongue-tied,” I told him, leaning in to kiss him. “Here you’ve been chatting away without so much as a twinge, even while doing the most intimate things two people can do, and whammo! One mention of Vandal and you’re Mr. Hesitant. Do I need to ask you if you’re jealous?”

  “No,” he said quickly, straightening his shoulders. “Of course not.”

  “OK, then,” I said, and opened the door of his bedroom. “We’ll ask Fenice and Vandal to come with us.”

  “Fine,” he said, following me as I headed downstairs. Silence accompanied us until we were just outside the kitchen, from which voices could be heard. I put my hand on Alden’s arm and stopped him. “Alden, I feel kind of odd.”

  “Odd how?” His brow wrinkled. “Sick? Or sore from . . .” He waggled his eyebrows, but stopped when a thought obviously struck him. “I wasn’t too rough on you, was I? I know I got a bit carried away at the end, but I assumed you’d tell me if I did something you didn’t like, or that hurt you—”

  “No, nothing like that,” I said with a reassuring smile, and a little bite on his chin. “That was fabulous. Especially you being enthusiastic. I meant that I feel like I’m using you, somehow. It’s like you have this magic button, and I press it, and hey nonny-nonny, you can talk. Do you . . . does it irritate you when I do that?”

  “Press my magic button?” His lips twitched. “Far from it.”

  I smacked his arm. “You know what I mean. When I kiss you to distract you from feeling weird. Is that abusing you? Should I stop? It’s almost like I’m taking the choice away from you, and I don’t want you thinking that’s what I’m doing.”

  He looked thoughtful for a few minutes. “I don’t feel used. And I don’t think you’re taking my choice from me—if I didn’t want to talk to you, I wouldn’t, no matter what you did.”

  “Does it help you when I refocus your anxiety away from the situation?” I asked, still worried that I wasn’t doing him any good by bypassing his social awkwardness.

  “I think it does,” he said, still thoughtful. “It’s not so much that you’re refocusing, but reminding me that I’m getting caught up in frustration when I don’t need to be.”

  “Oh, good,” I said, relaxing. “I really do want to help you, you know.”

  “I know,” he said, and gave my butt a little squeeze. “And I appreciate it. You’re the only woman other than my mother with whom I’ve felt this comfortable.”

  “That’s slightly creepy considering what we were just doing upstairs, but I’m going to ignore that, and take it for the compliment I’m sure you meant it to be.”

  “Good,” he said, and opened the door for me. “Because that’s how I meant it.”

  “That’s how you meant what, darling?” drawled Lisa, now perched on one of the kitchen stools while she picked at a clump of grapes.

  Alden stopped, and looked mildly appalled.

  I smiled, and went over to the counter next to which Lisa sat. “Alden was just talking about his mom. Fenice, we were thinking about going to the pub for dinner. Would you and Vandal like to join us? And you, too, of course, Lisa.”

  “Pub?” Fenice, who was flipping through a well-worn vegetarian cookbook, looked up eagerly. “Sure, so long as they have something I can eat. And Patrick is probably already there. He said something about needing a pint after the classes today.”

  “Thank you for such a thoughtful invitation,” Lisa drawled, her words as pointed as she could make them. “But I’m having supper with Lady Sybilla.”

  “Really?” I cast a quick glance at Alden. I had assumed her cover story was just that: a story. “You know her?”

  “Actually, we just met.” Lisa stood and stretched, making sure to aim her boobs at Alden as she did so. “Adams, her companion, suggested I help Lady Sybilla. And as I’m working for her, I thought it would be best to accept her dinner invitation. I’m sure we’ll also talk about her memoirs.”

  “That memoir sounds like an excellent idea,” Alden said, wholly to my surprise. “I’m sure Lady Sybilla will benefit from having a project with which to focus rather than what I’m doing to the house. If you could convince her to move out to the gatekeeper’s lodge, I’d be grateful.”

  “Really?” Lisa drawled. “And how do you plan on thanking me if I do get her moved?”

  Alden looked like a deer caught in headli

  “I’ll pop upstairs and change my clothes if we’re going to the pub,” Fenice said, casting me a significant glance as she scooted past me. “Be down in a couple of minutes.”

  Lisa watched her leave with an amused smile, turning back to us to say to Alden, “Alone at last.”

  “Seriously?” I asked, shaking my head at her blatant flirting. I wanted to tell her to back the hell off, but decided that I wasn’t going to play the jealous other woman. If Alden wanted her, then he could have her . . . but he couldn’t have me at the same time. “OK, you know what? Clearly you want to be alone with Alden to flirt with him, so I’ll just go wait out back by the car for when you two are done and ready to go to the pub.”

  “I’ll come with you,” Alden said quickly, halting me at the door to say to Lisa, “I know you came here to . . . you came because . . . but that’s not needed. Mercy is here, you see.” He waved a hand at me. “I’m sorry you traveled all the way to Cornwall, but you see how it is.”

  “No,” Lisa said, oiling her way over to us. “How is it, Alden?”

  He stiffened, and gestured toward me again. “Mercy is here now.”

  “I’m sorry, darlin’, you’re not making much sense. I see that sweet Mercy is here, bless her heart, but what is that to do with us?” She smiled a long, slow smile.

  I said nothing. Alden was clearly in a panic, but I felt it was important that he make a decision without me pressuring him either way. “I’m happy to have you at Bestwood,” he finally said, his voice very stilted. “Especially since you are helping Lady Sybilla. But that is as far as it goes.”

  His fingers tightened around my arm, not painfully so, but enough to have me flexing my arm. Instantly, his grip loosened.

  “I see.” Lisa’s smile faded, and an odd calculating expression took over. “Well, that’s put me in my place, hasn’t it? I wish I’d known about this before I came out to Cornwall. Naturally, I won’t stay where I’m not welcome.”

  Alden looked at a loss as to how to deal with that sort of emotional blackmail. I took pity on him, since he’d made it clear to Lisa where his preference lay.

  “Oh, for god’s sake,” I said, taking Alden by the hand, and opening the door. “He said he was happy for you to be here and help Lady Sybilla. So stop making a play for him, and go be a secretary. Come on, Alden. I’m starving after a day of teaching people.”

  “Thank you,” Alden said a couple of minutes later when we were crunching our way across the gravel drive to where he kept his car. “I couldn’t get the words out to tell her that I wasn’t interested in her in a sexual way. It’s hard enough to talk to women, but to tell them that . . .” He gave a little shiver. “It’s beyond me.”

  “I’d say we are going to have to work on your ability to reject women, but I don’t think that’s in my best interest,” I said with a tight smile.

  He shot me a look. “You don’t need to worry about that.”

  “Aw. Thank you.” I let my smile get warmer.

  “After all, I can talk to you. If I wanted to dump you, I’d be able to tell you that.”

  “Hey!” I whapped him on the arm, but luckily for him, Fenice trotted up to us at that moment, so I couldn’t chastise him any further.

  Three hours later we were back in his bedroom, with me on the bed sorting through a collection of Lady Sybilla’s papers that I’d snagged from the library before Adams had locked them up, and Alden at his small desk with a laptop, working on a spreadsheet that he told me was his renovation budget. I felt a pleasing sense of domesticity in our situation, and allowed myself to wonder for a few minutes what it would be like to have the relationship go on beyond the three weeks I’d be at Bestwood.

  What would it be like to live with Alden permanently? To remain in England, at the side of a man who periodically got tongue-tied and frustrated with his inability to express his emotions? To spend my nights with him, snuggled up against him, feeling oddly safe and secure?

  I sighed, and he looked up. “Problem?”

  “Hmm?” I shuffled the papers, pulling out the small household journal that I’d been deciphering the night before. “No, just trying to read the spidery handwriting in this journal. I will say this for the Georgians—they had beautiful handwriting, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to read. Especially as this journal appears to have been kept by not just the housekeeper and butler, but someone else who evidently wasn’t quite as literate.”

  “Ah,” he said, looking back at his computer and a stack of receipts. “Anything interesting about the history of the house in it?”

  “So far, not a lot.” I flipped through the journal. “Most of it is inventory of linens and candles and other household items—that’s the part written by the housekeeper. Then there’s a tally of wine and spirits, which I assume is the butler. It’s the part in the third hand that appears to be the most interesting. This right here is an example.” I tapped on a page, and to my pleasure, Alden got up and came over to sit next to me, his head angled close to mine to see the book.

  “Good lord. How can you read that?” he asked, getting a glimpse of the handwriting.

  “Two years of a history degree looking at primary sources,” I told him.

  The corners of his mouth crooked up. “You did that, too?”

  “Too?” I felt my brows pull together in puzzlement. “You studied history as well?”

  “European history. And English, and Latin. And I started law, but decided it wasn’t for me.”

  I stared at him in wonder. “You’re . . . you’re a perpetual student like me?”

  “If you mean do I have three degrees, and would be getting a fourth except my eldest brother cut my allowance so that I had to get work to support myself—not that I’m saying he was wrong, because he was paying for all of us, and I have a lot of brothers and sisters—if you mean that, then, yes, I’m a perpetual student like you.”

  “And they say opposites attract,” I said, grinning at him. “I don’t have any degrees, but I started on a whole lot of them. I usually get a year or two into it, and then decide it’s not for me after all. And I was cut off, too! My dad told me that if I didn’t have a degree by the time I was thirty, he was done paying my tuitions. And I didn’t, so he stopped, and that’s when I started taking jobs to pay my way. Which worked for a few years, but lately universities are telling me that I have to stick to one program and graduate, because I have over three hundred credits, and they’re tired of me being a dilettante. Can you believe it? The last place actually used the word ‘dilettante.’”

  “That’s unfair,” Alden said, frowning. “You should be encouraged if you wish to educate yourself.”

  “Right? That’s what I say. I mean, I get that they want people to graduate and all, but what’s wrong with trying two or three or twelve programs before you settle on one?”

  “Nothing whatsoever,” he agreed. “If you were my daughter, I would continue to support you, no matter how old you were.”

  “If I was your daughter, we’d have a lot more to worry about than tuition,” I said with a giggle.

  “Point taken. What does this say? It looks like ‘freeloader.’”

  “‘Free-trader,’ I think.” I squinted at the spot on the journal-cum-ledger where Alden was pointing. “I gather it means that whoever was the lord of the manor at the time was indulging in smuggled booze. Let’s see. . . . I think it says, ‘The Man o’ War yesterday seized the free-trader Lopez and his vessel filled with wines by Accident and Folly of the people who in five row Boats were endeavoring to run ninety-one Casks of Wine. Will see to it that they will be set up a Trifle with far less than Duties so Lopez can make his voyage good.’ Hmm. You know, that ‘will see to it’ bit makes it sound like the guy writing this was a local magistrate or something, which would mean he was the owner of Bestwood.”

  “Interesting. I knew there had b
een smugglers in the area, of course, but had no idea they operated here.”

  “Well, you do sit on a cliff looking over the water.”

  “True.” He looked thoughtful, rubbing his forefinger over his chin in a way that completely distracted me. “I wonder if there are any of the old smuggling tunnels under the house. We’ll have to ask Lady Sybilla what she knows about it.”

  “Definitely, although why would you care about tunnels?”

  His eyebrows rose. “It adds value to the house if I can tell a potential buyer that there are historical tunnels underneath.”

  “Are you thinking of selling the hall once you have it fixed up?” I felt sad at the idea. I was starting to feel a certain kinship for the old place.

  “That’s the plan.” He rubbed his chin a little more until I took the book away from him, causing him to look up in surprise.

  I pushed him backward until he was lying on the bed with his feet on the floor, then straddled his lap, leaning forward to prop myself up on my elbows. My breasts were exactly at his mouth level. “A girl can only stand so much manly stubble flaunting. Kiss me.”

  He kissed the exposed part of my breasts. “I am happy to oblige, although I regret my stubble has taunted you to the point where you can’t stand it any longer. What can I do to show the depths of my regret?”

  “I think some intense, jungle-hot, slightly sweaty sex is in order.”

  “That sounds reasonable.” He pulled my T-shirt up and off, cupping his hands over my bra-covered breasts. “But you have to let me indulge myself with you this time.”

  “The way I feel right now, I don’t need any foreplay,” I said, squirming around on his legs. I was speaking the absolute truth, too. The nearness of him, coupled with the way his finger had rubbed his sexy, sexy chin, had flipped my libido into high gear. “I really want to touch you, Alden. And taste you. And rub myself on you. And . . . oh, hell, let’s just do it.”

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