To seduce an earl, p.21
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       To Seduce an Earl, p.21

           Lori Brighton
 

  His words pierced her very heart. Shocked her into silence.

  Without another word, without a kiss, or touch, he turned and left her there.

  Chapter 15

  There was no hope left.

  It was better that he acknowledge his bleak reality. He knew Grace cared about him in some way. Of course he cared about her, more than he’d cared about anyone in a long, long while. But what could possibly happen between a whore and a lady? Nothing.

  Life would be much simpler if he accepted his fate.

  Alex pushed away from the wing back chair where he’d been resting. The same wing back chair he’d sat in every day since starting work at Lady Lavender’s. The same wing backed chair where he’d sat with Grace and realized there was more to the woman than he’d first thought.

  He picked up his jacket and slipped his arms through the sleeves. His motions were rehearsed, almost unconscious. There was no feeling attached them. Elegantly dressed, he stared at himself in the gilded mirror hanging on the wall near his bed.

  No longer in London, he felt a world away from Grace.

  He felt sick. His stomach roiled and for the first time in years he felt as if he’d lose his breakfast. He swiped at the back of his forehead, sweat dampening his hand.

  He wished it were influenza.

  Hell, he wished it were some wasting disease in which death was sure to come.

  But no. He wasn’t so lucky. He knew what made him ill.

  Grace.

  The woman who had kept him from sleep for three days now. The woman who had tortured his nights with dreams of her lush body. The woman he couldn’t seem to cease thinking about.

  Grace.

  How could he continue without her? How could he touch another woman when the mere thought left him cold and ill? Alex paced to the windows and stared out on those lavender fields that surrounded the estate. Even in the spring when the plants were mere seedlings, he could still smell their scent.

  Completely landlocked. Those fields traveled on forever. He missed his grandfather’s cottage on the coast where they used to visit as a child. A place of warm summers and innocence. A place where anything was possible. He owned that cottage. It had been left to him years ago when he was still a lad. Dare he reclaim his rightful possession? He turned and paced to the hearth where a fire burned that was supposed to be cheerful and bright, but instead seemed spiteful.

  No doubt the cottage had fallen into disrepair. Or perhaps his family used it even still when on holiday. Or mayhap they had sold it in order to survive. It would have been easy enough for them to forge his signature. He pushed aside thoughts of the small estate. He didn’t dare think about the client who was to arrive at any moment. He would perform his duty, pretend, as he was so good at pretending. He would not think about Grace.

  Grace. He closed his eyes and rested his fisted hands on the mantel. Grace, who questioned his rationale, who made him think, who made him believe in a better life. Grace, who made him feel like a human, like a man.

  Oh God, he couldn’t do this. He couldn’t make love to another woman while thinking about Grace. While picturing her sweet lips, while remembering her taste. The door opened. Alex blanched and spun around to face his demise.

  Wavers stood in the doorway, his silence condemning.

  Breath held, Alex waited for his client to appear. Wavers stepped aside and a woman wearing a brilliant blue dress swept into the room like she’d been here before. A regular then? Yes, for even though her face was covered by black netting, there was something familiar in the way she moved. Alex weaved on his feet, feeling lightheaded, panicked. He couldn’t pretend with a regular, she would know.

  “Good…” He’d meant to say good evening, but she turned toward him and in that moment he recognized the flare of those hips, the dip of that waist, that regal bearing. “Good God.”

  Gracie. Grace was his client? Euphoria swept through him, but he didn’t dare show his excitement until Wavers left them alone. His hands fisted on his thighs as he resisted the urge to rush toward her. She paused in the middle of the room and even though he couldn’t see her face, he knew she looked at him, could feel the excitement roll off her body like a cool, refreshing breeze. She, too, was holding back.

  The moment Wavers shut the door Grace’s shoulders relaxed. She lifted her netting, those familiar features flushed with emotion.

  “How?” he asked, stepping toward her.

  “I sold a necklace of no importance.” She waved her hand through the air, dismissing the comment. But couldn’t she understand how important her actions were? She’d sold her jewelry merely so she could be with him. The realization warmed his very being. Made him realize that perhaps people were good, that life wasn’t a terrible jest.

  “Grace, I—”

  “I need help with these letters.”

  She shoved forward a packet of envelopes tied with a red ribbon that he’d been too excited to notice before. The package hit his chest with a thump.

  His euphoria wavered. Confused, he grasped the bundle and looked blankly at the cream-colored papers. “Wh…what?”

  “Letters,” she said in a breathless whisper, her excitement almost tangible. “I need you to translate them.”

  Realization sank heavily into his gut. She was a treasure hunter, it’s what she lived for. Apparently the one thing that thrilled her like nothing else. He would never have met her otherwise. “You’re not here for…a lesson?”

  She laughed. Actually laughed, and the knowledge that she didn’t ache for him as he did her, turned his blood cold.

  “Don’t be silly. This is better, so much better!” She started pacing in front of him, a dizzying whirl of excitement. “Alex, these letters hold the clues to a treasure supposedly lost during the war, but they’re in Russian. I purchased them from a collector five years ago. If we—”

  “Get out.”

  Grace froze, jerking her head toward him. “W…what?”

  He tossed the letters to her and she fumbled to catch them. “The appointment is for women who want to be pleasured. If you’re not here to fuck, leave.”

  She swallowed hard, her eyes going wide with shock, and for a moment he actually believed he’d hurt her feelings. “You don’t mean that.”

  As if she cared what he said to her. “I do. Now go.” He forced himself to turn his back to her and made his way to the fireplace. His entire body trembled, his mind warring with his soul. She didn’t want him. She’d never wanted him. He was a mere diversion. How could she want him? He was nothing more than a whore. But he’d be damned if he’d crumble in front of her.

  “Alex—”

  “Leave!” His voice came out harsher than he’d intended, but he couldn’t take it back. Not now. Everything Lady Lavender had said was right. No one would want him. He belonged here.

  His harsh tone did not frighten her. In fact, he could hear the rustle of her skirts as she came closer. Damn her! Why wouldn’t she leave him in peace? “But, Alex, I—”

  He spun around so quickly, his face so furious, she actually took a step back. Her fear gave him perverse pleasure. “I want you gone now, and don’t ever return.”

  He brushed by her and made his way to the door, his steps hurried. She needed to leave, now, before he said too much, before he relented and begged her to care. “I’m fucking tired of these games. Do you understand? Tired of them.”

  “Alex,” she started toward him, taking off her bonnet and tossing it to a chair as if she meant to stay. “You don’t understand.”

  He turned, forcing himself to look at her, truly look at her. His gaze was hard, his emotions cold. “I understand completely. Perhaps I am forced to allow Lady Lavender to use me, but I will not allow you to do the same.”

  “But Alex.” She reached out, resting her delicate hand on his forearm. Her touch burned all the way to his soul. He started to shrug her off when she continued, “it’s for us.”

  He froze, staring down into her hazel eyes, tr
ying to understand the truth of it all.

  She blushed and released her hold. “That is… for you and me.” She seemed flustered. He didn’t understand why. He didn’t understand her words. He knew something had changed, that perhaps he had been wrong, yet he couldn’t quite understand how.

  “If you… if we find this treasure, I’ll be free of my stepbrother.” She pressed the letters to her bosom with one hand and the other she rested on his chest, directly over his heart. “I know it’s unlikely we will, but if we do… Alex, you’ll be free. We’ll both be free and we can—”

  “Free?”

  She nodded, her sable brows drawing together. “I just…I assumed…you do this for the money, but if you had the money you wouldn’t…”

  Her voice became an odd buzz that murmured through his brain. He was barely aware of what she said. Possibility surged within him, a warmth that flooded his soul. She wanted him to help her find a ridiculous treasure so they could both be free, but free to do what?

  “And after?” he demanded, interrupting her ramble.

  “After?” She shook her head, obviously confused.

  Deep down he feared her answer, but he had to know the truth. “Will you still speak with me, Grace?” He stepped closer, needing to be near. “Can we still…see each other?”

  Pink flooded her high cheekbones. She understood his hidden question. “I don’t see why not,” she whispered, looking up at him with such trusting eyes that his heart melted.

  Alex swallowed hard. “You won’t worry… being attached to someone like me?”

  The left corner of her mouth quirked into a completely adorable, completely wry smile. “I’ve never cared much what others thought.”

  A surge of emotion swept through his body; emotions he didn’t understand, had never felt before… compassion, honor, adoration…so much more, so many feelings he couldn’t identify.

  She frowned, a tiny crease forming between her brows. “There are things we do that perhaps we shouldn’t, but, blast it all, Alex, I like you and…”

  He gripped her upper arms.

  Grace let out a startled gasp. Before she could protest he jerked her forward and crushed his lips to hers. She didn’t fight, but sank into him as if she belonged there, in his arms. Nothing had ever felt so natural, so right, so wonderful.

  He wouldn’t think about how inevitably their relationship would end. He wouldn’t think about tomorrow. He would only think of the here and now. It was a quick kiss, a possessive kiss and all too soon he was pulling back.

  “Tell me you care about me,” he whispered.

  She cupped the sides of his face, her eyes sparkling with unshed tears. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.”

  It was all he needed to hear. He scooped her up into his arms, cradling her against his chest. She didn’t protest, merely snuggled closer to him. They had this moment together, however brief it might be, and he would show her how much her words meant.

  He was at the bed in two steps. Gently, he placed her on the mattress, his body following. “You’re so lovely, Grace. Do you realize that?”

  She didn’t respond, she was too busy working the buttons of his jacket. Her fingers were fumbling, her hands trembling. She was determined and she wanted him. But she didn’t merely want him, she liked him.

  He smiled down at her, his gaze memorizing every detail of her face as his fingers moved to her bodice. He wanted to see her, all of her. Even as he fought the urge to tear the clothing from her, he knew going further would change things between them. They would both end up heartbroken. The selfish being in him didn’t care.

  He was quicker at undressing and her bodice fell away, revealing the lovely swell of her breasts, spilling over her corset and shift.

  “So very beautiful,” he whispered, pressing a kiss to her neck.

  Grace shivered and slipped the jacket from his shoulders, tossing the garment aside. “You’re ridiculous, you know that?”

  His hands moved to her corset, his heavy breath stirring the loose tendrils around her face. “Why is that?”

  “Because I’m quite on the shelf. You’re the only man who has told me I’m beautiful.”

  “Most men are idiots.” The corset fell open. “Believe me, Grace, a man would have to be blind not to see your beauty. Most men are merely intimidated by a woman with a brain.”

  She grinned, unbuttoning his shirt. “And you’re not intimidated by anything?”

  His fingers paused at the laces of her shift as her words struck him like a punch to the gut. He couldn’t respond; what to say? True, when you had nothing to live for, very few things intimidated a man. But now… now that he had Gracie everything worried him, for he had so much to lose. Alex swallowed hard and focused on her face, the pert nose with the ever so light splattering of freckles. The bow shape of her pink lips. The sparkle of her eyes.

  “I find everything about you adorable,” he said, not answering her question.

  Still smiling, she pushed the shirt off his shoulders and moved her hands down his chest, her fingers splaying through the crisp line of hair that trailed to his trousers. The smile on her face wavered, her look turning pensive. “You do like me, truly. It’s not a ruse?”

  Alex groaned, cupping the sides of her face and lowering his head until he was only a breath away from her mouth. “You have no idea how much I like you.”

  He kissed her again, a soft, lingering kiss as his hands moved down her waist, bunching her skirts to her hips. Through the thick layers of crinoline and petticoats, over the smooth, silk stockings, to… touch...

  Holy Hell! Alex jerked his head upright. “Grace?”

  She flushed, lowering her hands to his waistband and her gaze to his chest. “Someone told me that bloomers merely got in the way. So, I decided to test his theory and forgo my undergarments for the day.”

  Alex laughed, truly amused and more than thrilled. “Do you know I’ve laughed more with you than I have laughed in the past fifteen years?”

  “With me or at me?” she muttered, frowning.

  “With you,” he whispered, lowering his lips to the bridge of her nose. “Always with you.” His right hand slid up her silky leg, teasing the curls at the junction of her thighs.

  “Please, Alex, let me touch you as well.”

  He paused, surprised. Usually women were more interested in being touched than touching him and for years, he’d liked that he had the upper hand; he was in control...in the bedroom at least.

  “Please,” she whispered. When her hands went to his waistband, blood rushed to his cock, urging him to agree. He wanted her too badly to protest. Wanted to feel her hands on his throbbing erection. To taste her sweet lips. To know she wanted him as much as he wanted her.

  She pushed his trousers down his hips. His cock sprung forward, hard, heavy, pressing eagerly into her warm hands. Grace’s eyes widened, a sharp intake of breath showing her surprise. For a moment, she merely held him. Hell, just when he thought he’d die of anticipation, she tentatively moved her hands down his shaft.

  Alex groaned as pain and pleasure combined. He fell to his back. The ache that settled in his groin was almost unbearable. He didn’t dare move for fear of frightening her away, but hell, there was only so much a man could take. Grace pushed her skirts high and straddled his thighs.

  Her warm hands gripped his cock once more. “I want to give you pleasure, Alex.”

  Such a declaration from such sweet lips. How could he resist? Alex stared into her face, attempted to memorize every detail. From the gold tipped lashes, so long they produced shadows on her upper cheeks. To the way her lips quirked at the corners as if she knew some humorous secret.

  And she was giving him pleasure, merely by being here. If he could respond, he would tell her so. She moved her fingers up to the head of his cock, cupping the bulb. Fire burned a path through his body ending straight at his groin. As she played with his erection, Alex gripped her smooth thighs, wanting desperately to pleasure her as much
as she was pleasuring him.

  “You don’t know what you do to me,” he said.

  Embolden by his words, she ran her hand down his cock, tentatively cupping him. Alex didn’t want to experience the raw emotions she stirred within him. Emotions that made him feel vulnerable and helpless. But controlling his emotions around Grace was like trying to control the weather, impossible.

  He found the inside of her thighs and brushed his knuckles against those soft curls shielding her folds. Grace gasped, jerking at the touch. Her face was flushed, her eyes half closed. When he slipped his finger into her wet sheath, wanting desperately to pleasure her as much as she was pleasuring him, she trembled almost violently.

  Anticipation whispered over his skin. How he wanted their clothing gone; how he wanted to touch her skin to skin; to feel her sleek body sliding up his. Alex found that nub hidden in her curls and gently rubbed his thumb over the sensitive spot.

  Grace practically purred, arching her back and tightening her hold. Her warm scent covered him in a gentle kiss, vanilla and spring. He breathed deep that scent as he slid two fingers into her sheath.

  She wiggled above him, taking his fingers deeper into her body. She was so very tight, so very hot, so very wet. He knew no other man had caressed her like this. She was his. Branded by his touch. By his kiss. By his affections.

  Her face was flushed, her hair coming loose, falling in sable waves down around her shoulders. She was a woman who knew the ultimate pleasure.

  “How I dream about you at night,” he whispered.

  Grace moaned, a purely sexual sound that sent a shock of need through is body.

  “How I dream about tasting you. Having you completely.”

  She was panting as she cupped the head of his shaft with both her hands, holding it like a treasured possession. Alex lifted his hips. He felt mad with need, with want of this woman. While she caressed his cock, he slipped his fingers into her tight sheath, in and out.

  “Oh, Alex,” she whispered.

  Her entire body tightened around him. As she came on a wave of pleasure that softened her features and made her positively glow, he could no longer hold back. Grace cried out with pleasure, releasing her hold on his erection, at the same time Alex came upon the sheets with a throbbing intensity that momentarily blinded him.

 

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