The regency romances, p.72
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       The Regency Romances, p.72

           Laura Kinsale
 

  If he did not return it, Folie thought, she could not bear for him to know that it still endured in her heart. If he wanted her as she wanted him, then he would come tonight; he must come tonight, because any delicacy of feeling would be like the wings of a moth beating against a fire—burned away in a moment.

  But he did not come. Folie sat watching the door until the candle burned so low that her eyes hurt.

  At last she ceased attempting to keep them open. She could not quite give up. She had never been one to give up. She tried to stay awake even with her eyes shut...but finally dejection sank her deep into the bed and distant dreams.

  Robert lay on his back, wide awake. Since moving into Cambourne House, he had avoided sleeping in the bedchamber Folie had used—he had not needed to ask anyone which one it was; he simply knew it, emptied of her belongings or not.

  She had taken possession of it again now, of course. She was sleeping directly below him. He wanted to get up and pace, but he thought that the floor would creak and give him away.

  He turned over, punching his pillow. God damn him, that he had drunk a hundred cups of coffee and then let himself kiss her—if he ever got to sleep again in his lifetime he would be lucky.

  It was his wedding night. Not that it signified anything. The one thing he would not do was put himself again in the position of beggar. The last thing he would do was let her know that she held any power over him.

  He sat up suddenly, hearing Phillippa somewhere, laughing at him. But there was only silence in the room when he listened. The sound was a carriage or a wagon rolling past, the resonant turn of the axle echoing in the street like a low chuckle.

  Robert lay back on the pillow, his arms behind his head. No—it would be the other way around this time. This time he would be the one who enticed and withheld, who promised and never gave, who kept the secret cards.

  He hoped she was lying awake. Tossing and turning. Bewildered and hurt. Robert turned over, throwing his pillow onto the floor. Why the devil had he kissed her?

  But then he thought, of course that was the way to seduce her. Kiss her and caress her and make everything a promise.

  She had seemed to like it well enough. He had a confused memory of lying with her at Solinger—or was it at Dingley’s? Memory or reality—everything from that time was jumbled in his mind, so that he could not know if her heated response was truth or mere fancy. But that kiss on the floor in the breakfast room today—that he remembered. She had reached up her hand and touched his hair.

  Well, he would make her want him.

  Phillippa had wanted him at first. At least—looking back, he was not certain that she ever had in truth. But first she had given him a deep drink of her, enough to make him want to drown. He’d had a consummate teacher when it came to arousing and then frustrating desire. If he had learned his lessons well, then he would go to Folie now and begin to weave her bondage, using her own will against her.

  Robert sat up on the edge of the bed. He lay down again. From where he was, he could see the black shape of his closed door.

  With an irritated grunt, he reached down and retrieved the pillow, dropping it over his face. He counted as far as forty-seven before he threw it off again.

  He stood up at last. He had nothing on—in the heat of Delhi, living among natives at the palace at Shajahanabad, he had grown accustomed to sleeping without nightclothes or a cap, and now they seemed to choke him. He found his shirt, a shapeless pile of white linen tossed over a chair, and pulled it over him.

  Quietly he let himself out of the room, on a cold mission to seduce his wife.

  Folie had a pleasing dream. She walked through the Indian bazaars in her blue shawl, among incense burners and elephants adorned with pearls and gold, but she was not alone this time. One elephant moved its great, slow ears and turned to lead her. “This way,” someone murmured. “This is the way home.”

  “Who are you?” she asked.

  “Sweetheart,” the elephant said, and smiled like a child.

  It turned into a little boy in blue velvet. He took her hand, pulling her through the gauzy, narrow streets. A man reached out to catch her as she ran—for an instant she was afraid, but then he drew her into his arms, and she knew that it was Robert.

  “I’m home,” she said to him. “The elephant brought me home.”

  “Sweetheart,” he murmured, holding her back against him, leaning over her, kissing her neck. As she rolled toward him, he bent and kissed her breast. She felt a surge of desire, a wash of shyness, but this was a dream, and she gave herself up to it. His hand slipped downward, lining her hips and legs as he kissed and sucked at her nipple.

  Folie gave a sharp sigh. She did not know what woke her; she hardly knew when—only that the dream turned into warm darkness, the warmth into a solid touch, the pleasure into a hot, mounting urge. She did not question it, but gave herself to the reality as easily as the dream. She felt his teeth close on her nipple and the soft cotton of her gown; she caught her breath and panted. She did not need respect and polite kisses—she needed this, she wanted this.

  He knew all about her. Each nip and pull of his mouth on her breast made her whimper. “Robert,” she moaned, biting her lip and pressing her legs together, moving her body like a mermaid swimming.

  He answered with a low wolfish sound, his hand on her hip, pulling her back to him. He pushed his hard man’s part against her, as if he would invade between her legs from behind, straining the gown tight to her bottom. She had left all modesty in the dream—he had only to touch her to transform shame to something delicious between them. When she arched her back, he ran his hand up the curve and made it beautiful. He cupped her breast and gathered her body against him, biting her throat and squeezing her nipple, creating pain and sharp pleasure at once.

  “Let me see you,” he whispered through his teeth. “Let me see you.”

  Suddenly he rose above her on his knees. Folie lay looking up at him, lost in dreamy amazement. He was a dim outline of light and shadow looming over her—his white linen shirt gaping open; his chest dark, and his throat and his face—a column of darkness; his shoulders shaped in white.

  “Take off your gown,” he said.

  Folie swallowed against a wave of heat that washed up her body; heat from his words alone, spoken with a low demand. She had not thought she could be so wanton— and yet without hesitation, she sat up, knowing the light was enough for him to see her as she could see him. She drew up her legs and her gown, sitting straight and proud before him as she crossed her arms and lifted the gown over her head.

  He caught it away from her and tossed it off the bed. As Folie’s hair fell down her back, he ran his hands along her arms and lifted her hands. He spread them out, gazing at her naked breasts. Then he put his palms at her waist and slid them upward, marking the shape of her body and breasts. He made a faint moan, as if it hurt him to look.

  “My God, you are beautiful,” he said.

  “So are you,” she said simply.

  He gave a soft laugh. “Folly. I want to touch you all over. I want to touch every inch of you.”

  “Yes,” she said. “Yes.”

  He leaned forward, kissing her gently at the corner of her mouth. The very tenderness of it made her want to be crushed against him. Their breath mingled. She felt the light roughness of his cheek, smelled the scent of him, the familiar beloved scent of him, only this time warmed with reality, with flesh and blood.

  “Lie down,” he said, and when she obeyed him, he leaned over and began to caress her feet. He stroked her ankle, drawing his finger slowly under the arch of her foot and up the back of her heel. Her skin prickled with a luscious sensation all over her body. He bent and kissed her knee, cupping his hands about her thigh and sliding them up to the place between her legs, just touching it with his finger, stroking and then leaving it. Folie whimpered.

  “Mmmm?” he murmured wickedly. “What is it?”

  She lifted her knee, hoping he would stroke
her again there. He drew his thumb up the inside of her thigh and rolled it across the place, sending fire through her body to her fingertips. She made a faint urgent sound.

  “Tell me,” he said.

  “Robert—” she said plaintively.

  “Say it.”

  “Oh, Robert,” she whispered, arching anxiously.

  “Say it,” he repeated, moving his fingers up close to the place and then away—not quite there, and then away.

  She slid her legs apart. “Please. Please.”

  “Tell me what you want.”

  Folie could feel all her skin turning hot with desire and embarrassment. “I don’t know.”

  He made a low growl. “Oh, yes you do.” He leaned over and kissed her belly, drawing his tongue downward.

  “What?” she said, frantically kneading his hair. “What?”

  She felt his mouth moving softly on her curly hair, teasing and tickling, then a touch into the depth, to the wet place that made her gasp with pleasure. She lifted her breasts, pushing them outward, pushing her body up to his mouth.

  He lifted his head. “Tell me what you want.”

  “Kiss me,” she panted.

  “Where?”

  “There, there.”

  He slid his hand under her buttock and gave her a light squeeze. “You have to say it for me, sweet Folly. I’ll make you say it.”

  “Say what? I don’t know. I don’t know.”

  He kissed the inside of her thigh, chuckling. “Ah.” He slid his thumb about on a moistness that was new and strange to her. “Here, where you’re all wet for me. You don’t know what this is?”

  She made a wordless small sound, shaking her head.

  “What a naive widow!” he said, his voice amused.

  “Well, I have only been married once, Robert!” she exclaimed in agitation. “And he never did this to me!”

  “Good,” he said strongly. He leaned over her on both hands and kissed her hard on the mouth. He licked her upper lip with his tongue, then ran it along the outside of her mouth. He pushed his fingers inside her body as he kissed her. The sensation made her open, spreading her legs as he rolled his thumb in a deep searching circle, a pressure that brought soft moans from her throat. “Did he do this to you?”

  “No,” she whispered.

  She could see his teeth when he smiled down at her in the darkness. “You like it?”

  “Oh, yes,” she whimpered.

  “This is your sweet pussy,” he said, “this pretty dark hair, this soft pink skin, the place I go inside you.”

  Folie nodded.

  He put his mouth next to her ear. “Say it,” he whispered.

  Her eyes widened. It was an ordinary word, but suddenly it seemed the most impossible sound in the universe to repeat. Her body burned. “I can’t,” she said helplessly.

  “Oh, Folly,” he said low in his throat. “Then I’ll have to leave.”

  “No,” she said. “Don’t go.”

  “Say my name.”

  “Robert,” she whispered.

  He caressed the corner of her mouth with his tongue. “Say, ‘Robert, please.’ “

  “Robert...Robert...please.”

  He made that deep delicious circle inside her with his thumb. Her body arched in ecstasy. “Say, ‘Robert, please kiss my pussy.’ “

  “Robert!” she wailed softly.

  He drew away a little, as if he might leave her. She knew it was a deliberate torment, to make her do what he said, but she could not even make her tongue shape the words.

  “Ah, Folly, what a wicked disobedient wife you are already,” he murmured. “Say it.”

  “Robert,” she said breathlessly. “Robert...kiss...my pussy.”

  “ ‘Please.’ “

  “Robert,” she moaned, “you are horrid!”

  “I’ve not even begun being horrid,” he said, biting her earlobe. “Say it all, like a good girl.”

  “Robert please...” she gasped. “Please...kiss-my-pussy.” She hurried so quickly over the worst part that the words slurred together.

  “Mmmmm.’’ He kissed the skin at the base of her throat. While Folie clutched the bed sheets, he shaped her hips between his hands and trailed kisses down her breasts and her belly. He licked the place he had made her give a name to, kissed and ran his tongue over it until she was shuddering.

  A great urge came upon her to arch up beneath him, wildfire running through her body. She took in gulps of air and could not seem to let them out of her lungs—his hands held her still but she wanted to move and move, and every tiny thrust of her hips to his tongue made the sensation intensify. She was shivering in hysterical delight, with no control over her own limbs, when he suddenly sat back.

  “Tell me what you want,” he ordered.

  “Please kiss my—” Her voice cracked. “Robert, please kiss my pussy, please, please.”

  He was silent. For a long moment he did not move, and then he put his arm about her bent knee and pressed his cheek against her leg very hard. He let her go.

  “No,” he said. “Later. Later, perhaps.”

  His words were so unexpected, so at odds with everything, that she hardly even understood what he meant. But then he stood up. He found her gown on the floor and laid it beside her on the bed.

  “Put on your gown and go to sleep,” he said. Without another word, he left her.

  Robert walked into his room. He went to the window that overlooked the back garden, opened the curtains, and raised the sash. He stood with the chill air flowing under his shirt and over his skin.

  His body was raging. He put his hands to his hair and sank to his knees, his head tilted back, his mouth open in a silent howl of need.

  TWENTY-TWO

  If there been a housekeeper, Folie would have rung for breakfast in her room. If she could have arranged it, she would not have left her bedchamber for at least a decade or two. She remembered every single moment of the night before, clearly and with hot mortification.

  But there was no answer to her tug on the bell pull. She was not surprised—Lander could not run a household properly if it consisted of one room and a sty, she thought bitterly. All very well to have a Bow Street Runner on hand, but a decent servant would be more welcome at the moment.

  She dressed, perforce in her country clothes that did not require a maid’s assistance, and took a deep breath at the top of the stairs. She descended with a queenly tread, as if she always went downstairs like royalty. It was the only thing to do in these moments of pure agony, act as if all were quite well, or perhaps even superb.

  Voices emanated from the breakfast room, along with the scent of coffee and ham. She found Robert and Lander seated at the table, chortling more like boyhood chums than acting like a gentleman and his butler, while “Dr. Joyce” performed some apparently comical act with his plate at the sideboard. Folie assumed it was meant to be a comedy by the audience reaction—the moment she appeared, everyone fell silent, so she could not know for sure.

  The men stood up hastily. She had the distinct impression of schoolboys caught out in some silly mischief, which naturally placed her by default into the role of repressive mistress. She had no intention of accepting it. Instead of making any stuffy comment on their guilty looks—though several occurred to her—she took the opposite tack, falling into a deep curtsy.

  “I am very sorry to be late,” she said contritely. “Please forgive me, I had so little sleep last night!”

  To her consternation, both Lander and the doctor looked toward Robert at this. If they had looked puckish a moment before, they appeared downright abominable now, smirking like demons. Folie realized her error. Worse, she remembered what Robert had done to keep her awake, with vivid and agitating clarity. She blushed to her eyebrows.

  “There was no hurry,” Robert said lazily. His complacent tone made her want to strangle him. “You should sleep as late as you like.”

  “Well, one must eat eventually,” she said with a small shrug, turnin
g to the sideboard, where a breakfast suitable to six farmers and a few blacksmith’s boys was laid out. “I see that you are not going hungry, in spite of no suitable cats.”

  “Madam,” said the doctor, sweeping a bow, “I’ve been informed that your performance in regard to the subject of cats was inspired. My compliments.”

  She made a slight curtsy to him.

  “I believe that we can make excellent use of your talent for a quick rejoinder. I propose, gentlemen, that Mrs. Cambourne be made a central figure in our little scheme.”

  Robert frowned. “I don’t think so. It’s too dangerous to have her going in and out of the house. We’ll stay with the plans we’ve already made.”

  Folie lifted her eyebrows. But she said nothing, only took a small sausage and a piece of cold toast, and sat down. Lander poured her tea from the pot.

  “As you prefer, of course,” the doctor said. “But allow me to mention that flexibility is a virtue in these matters, as we saw demonstrated nicely yesterday. I believe that in a day or two we will find that, through the medium of those lovely ladies who attended your wedding, much progress has been made in bringing your person and talents to the attention of society. There is nothing like a bizarre marriage to attract gossip—far from bewailing it, we must thank Mrs. Cambourne for precipitating the episode. I daresay she has saved us a good fortnight’s work.”

  “I am so glad to be of use,” Folie said.

  He remained solemn, but in the momentary glance that he gave her, she could have sworn that she detected a wink. Folie softened a little toward Dr. Joyce.

  “So we ought to go ahead at Lord Morier’s dinner tonight?” Lander asked.

 
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