Daring in a blue dress, p.8
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       Daring In a Blue Dress, p.8

           Katie MacAlister
 

  “You must be the new Lord Baskerville,” Vandal said, stopping in front of Alden. “I’m Vandal. My sister, Fenice, tells me you have said some harsh things to her about our medieval training camp.”

  “I’m not Lord Baskerville. There is no Lord Baskerville. The previous owner was a baronet, and thus was Sir James Baskerville. Nor did I say harsh things to anyone, unless you consider the things I muttered under my breath as rude, and I was careful that no one should overhear those.”

  I smiled at Alden. He’d evidently been running his hands through his hair again, because it stood on end in a distractingly cute manner. My entire body was happy to see him again, but I told it to cool its jets—Alden had a girlfriend coming to visit him.

  “We have a contract with Lady Sybilla,” Vandal continued. “It’s perfectly legal. I had my solicitor go over it in order to get the insurance we needed for the event. So whatever you think you’re going to do to intimidate us won’t work. We have the right to be here running our classes for three weeks, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

  I frowned at Vandal. He was being awfully aggressive toward Alden when the poor man hadn’t done anything other than inquire about the bales of hay.

  “Is that so?” Alden asked, clearly getting irate.

  “Now, now,” Fenice said, a worried look on her face. “There’s no need for anyone to get upset. I told you that we’d worked things out with the new owner, Patrick.”

  “Yes, Patrick,” Alden said with emphasis on the name. I gave him a point for that, since it was obvious that Vandal preferred his character name. “We have worked things out, so I don’t need you getting in my face.”

  Vandal puffed up like he was going to explode. Fenice grabbed one of his arms, and tugged backward on it, saying something about needing to finish the sorting before it got too dark to see.

  Ever the peacemaker, I moved in front of Vandal and smiled at Alden. “Hey, maybe you could show me where the kitchen is? Fenice says that although you are kindly letting us stay in the house, we need to cook for ourselves, and I’m famished. I thought I’d whip up an omelet or something easy like that. Would you like to join us?”

  “I don’t like omelets,” Alden said stiffly, leaving me unsure if he was suddenly feeling awkward again, or if he was still ruffled by Vandal’s aggression.

  “Oddly enough, neither do I,” I said, taking his arm and turning him so we could stroll to the house. “But I bet we could find something to make that everyone would like.”

  “I was going to eat at a pub—,” he protested, but came along willingly enough.

  “Bah. What you need after your day is a home-cooked meal. Something that’ll give you the oomph to get up tomorrow morning and start renovating. Which way?”

  We’d reached the doors to the library where I had set up the temporary table as my desk.

  “To the left,” he said, moving ahead of me.

  It would take a stronger woman than me to not eyeball his behind as he marched over to a door and held it open for me.

  “I know what you’re doing, you know,” he said as I exited the library.

  “Walking? I’ve been doing it for about thirty-three years now, so I feel like I have a pretty good handle on it.”

  Naturally, at that moment, I tripped over something invisible, probably an atom of oxygen. Alden’s arm shot out to grab me and keep me from careening into the wall.

  “You were saying?”

  I made a face at him. “I’m also fairly clumsy, but I prefer to ignore that facet of my life and focus on the times when I move with lithe, swanlike grace. Would you like to see me do the Queen Elizabeth wave? I have it down pat, and it’s one of my most elegant moves.”

  “Perhaps later, when you’re taking the air in your carriage.” He slid me a look as we walked down a darkly paneled hallway, shadowed squares and rectangles marking where paintings once graced the walls. The air of abandonment hung heavily over this section of the house, making me speak in a hushed tone.

  “By the way, in case you didn’t notice, you’ve been bantering with me a good five minutes. So see? It does get easier with time.”

  “No, it doesn’t,” he disagreed as he strode onward down the long, dark, empty hallway.

  “You certainly aren’t looking uncomfortable to be talking to me,” I pointed out, almost trotting to keep up with him. “Which is good! I’m not complaining or anything, I’m just saying that you’re clearly feeling much more comfy with me.”

  “I’m angry, that’s all. My discomfort speaking to women has always been lessened by strong emotions, and right now, I’m angry at that Patrick fellow for thinking he can dictate to me. In my own garden!”

  “Interesting,” I said, mulling over this latest insight into Alden’s character. “Change-of-subject time lest you go back out and get into a fight with Vandal. What are you going to do to the house first? As far as renovation goes.”

  “I’m not sure. The roof needs repair, but it’s such a big job, I’ll need help with it. I thought of starting with the bedrooms first, but now since some of them will be occupied, I guess I’ll start on the ground floor and work through the rooms there.”

  “I’m sorry we’re occupying your bedrooms, but you know, there’s something to be said with starting work on the lowest common denominator, and that’s the stuff on the ground floor.”

  “How do you figure that?”

  I gave a one-shouldered shrug. “Well . . . you don’t have to climb any stairs to get there.”

  He said nothing, but I could feel him thinking rude things. I couldn’t entirely blame him since I’d been speaking nonsense, but there was something inside me that wanted to keep him talking.

  Maybe it was his pretty eyes.

  Or the way he frowned. He had a sexy frown.

  Most likely, though, it was a sense of neediness about him that made me feel protective. One of the personality classes I’d taken had revealed that I had highly empathetic tendencies, making me a sucker for homeless dogs, lost kids, and evidently men with crippling social anxieties.

  We turned down a small side passage that was cast into deep shadows despite the long fingers of the setting sun creeping in through the small, high window.

  “Damn,” he muttered. “Wrong turn.”

  “It is kind of like a maze in here, isn’t it?” I said conversationally as he retraced his steps, then made a left where we’d previously gone right. “Kinda gloomy inside, in a gothically spooky way. I could see one of those atmospheric horror video games being filmed here. I half expect an ax-wielding deranged clown to leap out of a doorway.”

  “Everything was sold at auction before I bought the house,” Alden said. “Including the ax-wielding clowns.”

  I laughed, delighted that he could make a joke, and was about to point out to him the fact that his attempt at humor signified his growing confidence, but at that moment he made a happy little noise when he opened a door and we emerged into a kitchen that could have been at home in Downton Abbey.

  Dominating the room was a turquoise blue enamel range that was approximately as big as a medium-sized sedan, whitewashed glass-fronted cupboards, and vast expanses of counter that were mostly empty. There was also a huge table in the center of the room, around which were scattered five chairs, and one three-legged stool.

  “The kitchen,” he said, gesturing toward the blue monstrosity that lurked in the shadows.

  “You’re not going to leave, are you?” I asked when it became obvious he was about to do just that.

  “I told you I was going to the pub.”

  “I know, but if I make something for dinner, wouldn’t you rather eat with us?” I flapped a hand helplessly toward the antiquated kitchen appliances. “Assuming, that is, this stuff still works, which I figure it must, because Lady Sybilla has to get food from somewhere, and she doesn’t l
ook like the sort of person who pops off to the pub to get a bite to eat.”

  Alden made a vague gesture, and opened his mouth a couple of times, but didn’t actually say anything. He did look extremely uncomfortable, however.

  “Uh-oh. Someone stopped being angry,” I told him. I bit my lip for a minute while I considered what to do. Obviously, I could leave the poor man be, and let him go off to the pub, where he’d probably spend a perfectly contented evening not talking to pushy Canadian-American women who had a few semesters of psychology classes under their belt.

  But where was the fun in that?

  “Would you rather I kissed your cheek again, or should I say something outrageously un-PC so that you get irate at me?”

  He stared at me, his brows pulling together in a puzzled frown.

  “No, scratch that last one. All I can think of that’s outrageously un-PC is kittens clubbing baby seals, and that just is impossible to conceive of. OK, cheek kiss it is.”

  I laid one hand on his arm and leaned in, about to plant a kiss on his slightly stubbly cheek, when his head turned, and my lips brushed his.

  I froze, horribly embarrassed, thinking for a moment that I must have miscalculated my aim, and instead of giving him a platonic (if distracting) smooch, I gave him one straight on the kisser.

  “Oh,” I said, freezing, which of course meant my mouth didn’t move one smidgen from his mouth. “I’m sorry, I was aiming for your cheek. Oh, man, now my lips are touching yours again. Sorry about that, too. And, uh, for that. Crap, the more I talk, the more I touch you. I should move, shouldn’t I?”

  “Yes,” he said, then leaned forward just a smidgen, a tiny little bit, and that was all it seemed to take. One minute I was standing there babbling into his mouth, and the next, it was full-frontal snogging, with my hands tangled in his hair, his arms tight around my back, and all our front parts smooshed together in that time-honored erotic dance that proves so very well the differences between the male and female bodies.

  His tongue teased my lips, and without even thinking about whether I should be enjoying kissing a man I’d just met so much, I dabbed at his tongue in a welcoming gesture that urged his tongue to feel right at home in my mouth.

  And he did. He tasted, he teased, he tormented my mouth in ways that sent delicious waves of pleasure rolling through me, all of which made me wiggle my hips against him in a wholly shameless way, which I couldn’t for the life of me seem to stop.

  He made a groaning noise deep in his chest, one that seemed to light little fires throughout my body, and just as I was seriously thinking about releasing his hair and sliding my hands under his shirt, the door behind him opened, whacking Alden on the back.

  “—am just going to help Mercy with dinner, and then—oh!”

  Fenice stopped in the doorway, gawking.

  Immediately, Alden and I parted, with him blushing and moving to the side a couple of steps, and me stammering, “Uh . . . hi. I was just . . . uh . . . I was just . . .”

  “It’s pretty obvious what you were just doing,” Fenice said with a tight little smile. Behind her, Vandal gave her a shove, and pushed his way into the room behind her.

  “What were they doing?” he asked with a frown as he looked around the kitchen. “Where’s the food? I thought you were going to make an omelet.”

  I cleared my throat, not meeting Alden’s eyes as I said with as much composure as I could manage, “I was just distracting Alden from the argument in the garden. There is no omelet. Alden doesn’t care for it, so I thought we could do something else. I’m not sure what food you guys have in stock, though. Come to think of it, I don’t even see a fridge here. Surely you must have a refrigerator?”

  I asked the last question of Alden, who, although his color was high, appeared to have taken our little wander down the pathways of smuttiness with aplomb. “There is. It’s in the pantry. In there.” He nodded toward a narrow door at the far end of the kitchen.

  Fenice bustled forward. “We have bacon and sausages—my meat-eating brother demanded that. I’m a vegetarian, so I’ll make the omelet if no one else wants to. You all can do bangers and mash if you like.”

  “I try to limit the amount of red meat I eat, but I think this qualifies as a time when I can go full-banger,” I said, heading into the pantry to rummage amongst the goods.

  To my mild surprise, Alden followed, saying once we were in the small room, “Erm . . . about that kiss—”

  Once again the door opened and bumped against his back. Fenice clicked her tongue in dismay, edged around Alden, and said with a bit of acid, “Are you two going at it again? I thought you just met.”

  “We did just meet,” I said at the same time that Alden sputtered, “We were not going at it.”

  “Indeed. Well, if you can keep your hands off each other long enough for me to get some eggs and veggies, then you can have all the privacy you need to do . . .” She waved a hand around vaguely. “Whatever it is you do.”

  “We don’t do anything,” I protested. “I told you, I was just distracting him from the argument.”

  “Right. You did say that.” She gathered up a bowl of eggs, a couple of colorful peppers, and a small red onion. “It’s none of my business, regardless.”

  I sighed heavily when she left, turning my gaze back to Alden. I handed him two of the packages of sausage, and a head of garlic. “Great. Now she thinks we have a thing going on.”

  He blinked at me.

  “We don’t,” I told him. “I was just distracting you. You know, so you wouldn’t feel awkward around me.”

  He stiffened up a bit, and dropped the garlic, and when we both bent down to pick it up, we smacked our foreheads together.

  “Ow!” I said, stepping back while rubbing my head.

  “Bloody hell,” he said at the same time, dropping first one package of sausage, then the other.

  I edged forward carefully, holding out my hands as I bent down. “And this has now turned into a scene from a Three Stooges movie. No, don’t get them—I will. You just stand there and I’ll hand them up, OK?”

  “I’m sorry,” he said as I handed him the items before turning back to the ancient refrigerator to get some salad makings. “I’m a clumsy oaf . . . when things get . . . it’s . . .”

  “Hard, I know.” I closed the fridge and turned back to smile at him. “Want me to pretend I’m Vandal so you can be mad and articulate again?”

  “I’d rather you kissed me again,” he said, and then looked both appalled and surprised by that.

  I couldn’t help it; I laughed out loud. “I suppose that makes sense—if it’s a strong emotion that helps you over the hurdle of feeling awkward in situations, then why not lust rather than anger? Although . . . I feel obligated to point out that we don’t have a thing going on. I mean, you have this woman coming to see you, and we did just meet, and although I’m a pretty good judge of people, I have never had a relationship with a guy I just met.”

  “Nor have I,” he said hastily, an odd look of embarrassment mixed with stiffness crossing his face. “I didn’t mean I wanted to start something with you. I simply thought the kiss was a preferable experience to being angered by Vandal.”

  “Well, there I agree with you,” I said, then leaned forward and brushed my mouth ever so lightly against his. “Kiss accomplished. Now you can be as erudite as you like.”

  “That wasn’t a kiss,” he said, a little simmer of heat in his eyes distracting me from my better intentions.

  I knew I should walk out of there. I knew it, and yet my mouth said, “Oh? Did you have something else in mind?”

  “Yes.” He stepped forward one step. Without being aware of it, I moved the remaining distance until our mouths were almost touching. Our bodies certainly were, the cold of the food pressed against my upper stomach doing nothing to detract from the wonderful feeling of his body
, all hard lines and heat.

  “Like what?” I teased, doing a little shimmy against him, ignoring the slight tickle of arugula where it poked out of its bag and rested between my breasts.

  He didn’t answer, not with words, anyway. His mouth was just as hot and sweet and wonderful as I remembered, and the second his lips met mine, I knew that I was dangerously close to throwing all caution to the wind and pouncing on him.

  He kissed with not just his mouth, but his whole body, his arms and chest and legs pressed against me, leaving me wanting to feel his embrace without the irritation of clothing. I wiggled against him again, causing him to moan into my mouth. With the salad items squashed between our chests, I clutched his shoulders, pulling him closer to me.

  And just when I was thinking very seriously about proposing we put dinner on hold for a bit while we romped upstairs into the nearest furnished bedroom, he pulled his mouth from mine and said, “You’re squashing my sausage.”

  I wiggled again, enjoying greatly the way his eyes momentarily crossed. “Sorry about that. I didn’t mean to hurt . . . oh. You meant actual sausage, not your . . . er . . .”

  He had backed up and held out, with a rueful glance, two packages of now flattened sausage. I touched one of the squashed sausages with a finger. “Well, that’s just . . .”

  “Awkward?” he offered.

  I glanced quickly at him, but he was smiling, his eyes now warm and simmering with the heat generated by our kiss. “Only if we tell Vandal how it is his dinner came to be flat instead of round.”

  “I won’t tell if you don’t,” he said with a jaunty wink, and turned to go back to the kitchen.

  I sighed to myself as I watched him go, reminding myself that he was not available. Oh, sure, he might not mind kissing me, but he was clearly waiting for someone else to arrive. I didn’t like that thought at all, not just because of the obvious, but because it meant Alden had no qualms kissing one woman while waiting for another.

  “Right,” I told myself as I plucked a piece of red lettuce from my cleavage. “Arm’s length, that’s the key. Just keep him at arm’s length and all will be well.”

 
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