The regency romances, p.89
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       The Regency Romances, p.89

           Laura Kinsale

  Roddy lifted her face, looking steadily into his eyes. “I know it.”

  He turned his head, staring into the shadows with a baffled grimace. “I’m half afraid to find out.” He looked back at her, and the grimace deepened to a sneer. “Behold, the libertine—unmanned by the chance that his wife’s a virgin. I suppose if you’re pure, I shall have to abandon my chivalric fantasy of saving a lady in distress.” He shook his head. “And even if you’re telling me the truth, no one else will believe it. Any child of ours who arrives in the next ninemonth will be labeled a bastard.”

  Roddy stiffened. She whispered, “No,” but the word was weak with her sudden realization that his prediction was all too accurate.

  “Oh, yes,” he said. He brushed a wisp of gold back from her cheek. “What did you expect, little one? That the world would be any more trusting than your own husband? I was willing—” He paused, and looked hard at her. “I still am willing, if all this pretty innocence is some ill-advised play at gammoning me, to recognize any child you carry as my own. I’ll kill the man who calls me a liar, but no one will be so stupid as to say it to my face. My delightful reputation as an executioner protects you that far, but it won’t bridle loose tongues behind our backs.”

  The calm way he stated his violent promise made her fingers tighten nervously together. She said stumblingly, “Perhaps I won’t—perhaps we won’t—”

  “Have a child so soon?” He raised one dark brow, and murmured, “Perhaps not.” His hand slid down her back, where the unbuttoned gown still parted beneath his touch. Roddy felt his body tauten as he bent to nuzzle her hair. “But I plan to give the matter some attention.”

  She held her breath as his lips moved softly, bringing a melting heat to life in her loins. Slowly, tentatively, she allowed her weight to rest against him. It felt so good; so very good to stand there pressed against his solid, living warmth. She did not want him to go away. Not now.

  “I suppose I must seem very strange, to want to marry you,” she whispered.

  “Very,” he said.

  “Don’t all the ladies find you irresistible?” She was only half teasing.

  He stroked her hair, pressing her closer to him. “They’ve generally stopped short of the ultimate sacrifice.”

  Roddy refrained from asking him if he had forgotten all those hapless gentlemen’s daughters. The more she knew him, the more she questioned their existence. They were rumors. Silly, vicious, stupid rumors, made up by idle minds in malice. He could not have hurt anyone, this man who smiled and touched her with such aching gentleness.

  She drew a circle with the flat of her palm on his shoulder. “My lord,” she said hesitantly. “Shall you ring for the servants?”

  It was surrender, that shy suggestion, and his slow smile said he knew it. He reached out without letting her go and pulled the bellrope beside the mantel.

  When the domestics arrived a moment later to remove the dishes, Roddy was seated demurely in a chair, and Faelan stood with one shoulder against the mantel, gazing down into the flames as if a particularly fascinating scene lay illuminated there. The stout maid fumbled with the dishes, preoccupied with hefting her heavy tray and estimating how late the innkeeper might want her in the kitchen. Before she left, the door opened again, to admit the innkeeper himself, bearing a cut-crystal spirit decanter and one glass on a silver salver. Without lifting his eyes to either of his guests, he arranged the tray on the table and shepherded the maid out ahead of him.

  The fire sent red highlights through the amber liquid as Faelan poured for himself. Roddy watched, curious and edgy. Between four grown brothers and her gift, she thought she should have known more of these things, of what was to happen next, but in truth all she had gleaned from the pantry was a confused blur of excitement and hungry, uncivilized pleasure. Such currents—such enticing, alarming power: when she looked at Faelan she wanted to submit, and when she looked away she did not.

  His movements were insanely slow as he replaced the stopper and lifted the glass. Over the rim, he looked at her, and Roddy’s throat went dry.

  The glass sparked in the light as he set it down. “Come here,” he said. His voice was hypnotic. Roddy felt the pull of it, the sensuality that hung tantalizing around him like a fog. She obeyed without thought, without conscious effort: one moment sitting primly in the chair, and the next standing before him like a captive pawn.

  He smiled, a lazy glitter, and touched her lower lip with his forefinger. Her tongue moved instinctively to catch the drop of liquid he left there, and encountered the burning sweet taste of sherry. He bent to her, followed the trace of her tongue with his, invading a little and withdrawing. As she stood with her lips parted, he anointed them again with sherry, outlining their shape with the tip of his finger and then the warm sweep of his tongue. He drew a tiny circle of sherry on the soft skin below her ear, and Roddy found it increasingly hard to breathe as he followed the droplet with flickering kisses.

  She moved restlessly when he straightened, glancing up to find that he had lifted the glass of sherry again. He did not sip at it. Instead he grasped her hand and guided the tip of her finger into the cool liquid. Roddy caught the hint instantly, but she stood still, not quite able to translate thought into action.

  He waited, holding the glass steadily under her hand. Roddy cast down her eyes and then raised them. Looking straight ahead, she was on a level with the open collar of his shirt. She stared at him a long time, seeing his even breath and the beat of his pulse. Slowly she lifted her hand and touched the shadowed hollow at the base of his throat. When her finger came away, a clear drop hung there, begging to be collected. She leaned forward, and scooped up the liquid with the tip of her tongue. He tasted of salt and sherry. She felt again for the glass and repeated the process, this time lingering a little to explore the flavor.

  His deep moan vibrated beneath her tongue. He raised his free hand and rested it on her hips. “Roddy,” he murmured. “Help me undress.”

  The third drop of sherry she’d transferred had begun a provocative trickle downward toward his chest. It disappeared beneath his shirt. Someone’s fingers—hers, her own—began to work at the buttons, opening them, one by one, following the errant drop lower. His skin was smooth and dark and warm in the shadows. She fumbled with the more difficult frogging on his waistcoat, pushed that and the shirt aside to find the drop of sherry vanished in a light curling fleece of black hair.

  From there, everything seemed to move under some strange force, a will outside herself, that wanted more, that wanted to see the firelight on the curve of his skin, to touch the hidden contours. She eased the robe and shirt off his shoulders, arms upraised and reaching…how tall he was, how much larger than she. Beneath her hands he was hard and soft, a contradiction that cried out for exploration. On tiptoe, she spread her palms across the broad, bared skin of his shoulders, and looked up into his eyes as he stood immobile under her touch.

  He was smiling, his devil’s smile. Her own lips curled upward, fierce with new pleasure. So this was what it was, and she had been afraid.

  No longer. The shirt and robe dropped to the floor, and he stood in front of her with his body outlined in flames: beautiful, beautiful, like the tiger she’d seen once, a wild thing that patiently suffered her touch. He let her look, let her gaze and her hands drift over him, and when she stroked certain places his eyes closed, and his throat rumbled softly with that animal sound.

  She leaned over and kissed the base of his neck, tasting the lingering sting of sherry. His hand slid around her as she moved, from her hip to her buttocks, his fingers spread to press her into the unfamiliar male shape of him. He sought her mouth, not gently, forcing her body to curve and bend for him, until the loose mass of her hair brushed softly on the small of her own bare back. The taffeta gown was half fallen down, trailing off her shoulders. He let her go suddenly, moving back, and the gown dropped to her waist, held up only by his arm around her hips. There was nothing underneath, but she
stood as still as he had, protected from the chill of the room by the hot flush his steady gaze brought to her breasts and throat and face.

  Would he think her pretty? She looked up into his face, hopeful and scared. Too small, too awkward and coltish—little girl, he called her, and she burned with the shame of not being good enough. She was afraid her difference showed somehow, that he would recognize it and turn away in disgust.

  And that, suddenly, was a thing she could not bear.

  “Roddy.” His voice was a low melody. “You’re lovely, little girl.”

  Her lowered eyes flashed up, the way other people’s did when she read their true hearts and let it slip. He touched the tip of her nose with his finger, leaving a drop of sherry to hang perilously. “Don’t ever grow up, sweet child. Play with me.”

  The drop was dangling, a funny tickle. She reached out her tongue and tried, unsuccessfully, to catch it.

  He laughed. He swept her up, carried her with gown dragging to the bed, bounced her into the thick down, and kissed away the drop on her nose. His body came beside her, sinking down the bed so that she rolled against him, her feet all tangled up and bound by the gown.

  With one quick twist he reached down and freed her, sliding his hands up the naked length of her legs. She drew in a startled breath at that intimate touch, but he was laughing still, silently, his eyes crinkled in a way that made him look much younger. Roddy squealed and giggled breathlessly as he found her ticklish places. She jerked away, but he rolled over and held her down, ruthless, nipping and nibbling until she wriggled beneath him and tried to retaliate. It was like a romp from the old days with her brothers, when they had tumbled together in the grass and each vied to outwit the other. In this contest, Roddy was sadly outgunned, but she struggled gamely for the upper hand.

  Then his movements changed, slowed, and he returned to the places he had teased with a different intent. Roddy lay quiet, breathing hard, her muscles relaxed from the merry tussle. The close contact was a pleasant sensation, the weight of his leg across hers warm and right. When his hand slid downward, stroking the tender skin of her inner thigh, she closed her eyes and arched a little toward the delightful touch.

  His fingers skimmed up and down, and up and down, and then passed lightly over the soft down between her legs. She drew in her breath as he stroked that secret place. A throbbing grew there, a need that she could not quite define. She wanted to move, to somehow encourage him, and she pressed up blindly beneath his hand. He bent his head over her breast, still sliding his fingers rhythmically down and up across the place that had grown tender and damp and so responsive that when his mouth closed over her nipple her whole body jerked with the leap of sensation.

  She tilted her head back into the pillow, giving up to the sweet, hot pleasure that sang through her limbs. Her hands moved aimlessly, seeking in ignorance until they followed the path of black hair downward to the band of his breeches. When she touched him there he groaned and shifted himself hard against her hip. She reached out, reasoning that if his hands on her could give such ecstasy, then she could do the same for him. She fumbled, meaning to unbutton buttons, but he trapped her hand against the pliable doeskin and pushed her fingers away.

  “Patience, little love,” he said hoarsely, bringing her hand up to kiss her knuckles. “I don’t want to hurt you too much.”

  Roddy blinked, having forgotten all about that part. Her body tensed, and he gathered her close.

  “Only this first time,” he said. He stroked her arm and kissed her shoulder. “Only this once. I promise.”

  She looked up into his eyes, and thought that if he’d promised to bring her the moon on a platter of silver stars, she would have believed him. “I don’t care if you hurt me,” she whispered.

  His thick lashes lowered at that, his fingers digging into her skin as he lifted her and bent to suckle and tug at her breast. She ran her hands down his muscled arms, spread her fingers across his chest, and then moved them persistently downward again, into the heat where his body half covered hers. He made another sound, a short, impatient growl of defeat, and this time his hand lingered when he brushed hers away, tearing at buttons and ridding himself of the soft barrier that contained him.

  He shifted above her, seeming much larger suddenly, a smooth slide of hard body between her parted legs. She began to be afraid again, trembled with a little scared-excited shiver of anticipation. On his elbows, he leaned over her and kissed her, forcing her lips wide, holding his weight back so that all she felt was the unfamiliar thrust of maleness against the heat between her thighs.

  She arched in unthinking response, pulling at him with her hands on his hips, rubbing her body against him with moves that sent sweet agony up and down her limbs. It didn’t hurt; it was wonderful; she couldn’t stop, though she heard him breathing ragged protest.

  He moved suddenly, pulling away from her hands, and then his weight came down on her as he reached to find the place he had stroked and drive himself swiftly into it.

  She did hurt, then. A little. It was surprise and pleasure and pain, and a flinching back she could not help, because she had expected much worse. His entry met no barriers that she could feel, no stab of tearing membrane as she’d imagined, but only a faint burning stretch that turned quickly to a hotter fire as her body awoke and accepted his gladly. She relaxed, opening to him, feeling foolish and glad at the same time to know her timid fears had proved groundless.

  But he did not move. She lay still beneath him, not sure of what would happen next, half afraid that it was over while this excitement still sang in her blood. Tentatively, she reached up and curled one hand in his hair in wordless question.

  He lifted his head, and the expression on his face made her throat tighten. “My lord—” she whispered in dismay, unable to understand the sudden dark fury in his eyes. “My lord—” The question came out an anxious croak. “Have I displeased you?”

  Without answering, he pressed into her as he watched her face. Slow and hard, and that did hurt, so that she bit her lips and tried to hide it, for fear that it was her flinching which had angered him. “My lord,” she said desperately. “’Tis not so much pain. I only thought—I was a little afraid, because I thought it would be more. It hardly hurts at all, my lord. Truly.”

  He just looked at her, and she’d never felt so helpless in her life, pinned and possessed by this man who defeated even her gift. She could not conceive what he might be thinking behind those eyes, and worse, his body in hers made her hardly care. She arched her hips and shivered with eagerness even as he frightened her.

  He answered her movement with a harder pressure. She saw the anger waver in his eyes, the intent go hot and unfocused. He gripped her shoulders and drew away and rammed again, filling her with short, deep thrusts. She whimpered under the pleasure-pain, closed her eyes and threw her head back, felt his breath harsh on her throat as he kissed her.

  “Damn you,” he rasped. “Damn you for a liar. Or an innocent babe.”

  Roddy did not understand. Her mind would not focus on words. The sentences made only a jumble of sound as he buried his face in her hair. She saw nothing but his shoulder, a glaze of sweat and firelight that moved as he did, with his weight and his drive that dragged her upward on sensation. “God help me,” he groaned in her ear. “It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter now.”

  Nothing mattered to Roddy now. Nothing but him. Her breath was gone and her body was exploding. She clutched at him, at his arms and his back and his hips, frantic for something she could not name. She made a sound—a long, low, inhuman moan that rose from deep within her throat as he met her seeking. Her legs spread and her body rose, arching and straining to his surging thrust, until she cried out in fright and pleasure as the tremors racked her limbs.

  Then she was in his arms, sobbing for air, cradled and kissed and covered with his scent and her own in mingled warmth. She collapsed back into the curve of his arm, limp and stunned and absurdly sleepy.

She raised her lashes to find him looking steadily down at her. There was cool speculation in his blue eyes, and for one terrible moment she thought he was still angry. Then his gaze drifted down to where her breasts still heaved quickly as she worked for air. He watched. After a long moment, she saw the taut line of his mouth relax.

  “Good,” he said, with his devil-smile. “You liked that.”

  Roddy tried to stop panting. She swallowed and took a deeper breath. His grin was infectious. She tilted her chin up and giggled.

  Yes. Oh, yes. I liked it.

  And she liked it still when he lay on his side, his arm around her, curving her body close into his. She liked the feel of his chest rising and falling against her back. She liked his hand moving over her skin, its rhythmic stroke a drowsy beat that seemed to guide her into sleep. His low voice barely reached her through the haze when he asked in a soft and oddly intent voice, “Do you ride your horses astride, little girl?”

  It seemed a funny question, not at all what she would have thought he might want to know. “Only to…race,” she mumbled, struggling to hold herself out of sleepy mists. “Don’t tell…” She yawned, slurring the words. “Don’t…tell m’mother.”

  “No.” He pulled her a little closer into the warmth of his body. His breath stirred her hair as he added softly, “I wouldn’t tell.”

  She relaxed against him. “Faelan,” she whispered, half conscious and drifting. “Faelan. I love you.”

  His hand paused, but she was already sliding down the dark hill. In the fuzzy edge between sleep and waking, she dreamed that his mind was open to her, and thoughts echoed through and around and between them both.

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