A week to be wicked, p.12
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       A Week to Be Wicked, p.12

         Part #2 of Spindle Cove series by Tessa Dare
Page 12


  Her lashes worked furiously as she refolded her precious letter. “That’s quite enough. ”

  No, it wasn’t enough. Not nearly. Colin knew she didn’t respect him. But now that he was seized with lust for her, she ought to at least reciprocate with a grudging-yet-helpless infatuation. So much would only be polite. But no, she’d been pining all along for another man. When they’d kissed, had she been practicing for this geologist toad?

  She said, “There’s no need to mock me. There’s no call to be cruel. Sir Alisdair Kent is a colleague, nothing more. ”

  “He holds you dear, that letter says. Not just dear. ‘So very dear. ’ ”

  “He doesn’t even—” She made a fist and drew a slow breath. When she spoke again, she’d tempered her voice. “He is a brilliant geologist. And any admiration he feels for me is strictly based on my work. He believes the creature that left this footprint will be recorded as a new species. I’ll even get to name it. ”

  “Name it?” Colin eyed the plaster cast. “Why go to Scotland for that? We can name it right here. I suggest ‘Frank. ’ ”

  “Not name it that way. I’ll be the one to give the species a scientific name. Besides, this lizard was female. ”

  He cocked his head and stared at the print. “It’s a footprint. How on earth do you know?”

  “I just know. I feel it. ” With her fingertips, she reverently traced the three-toed shape. “The creature who left this mark—she was definitely not a ‘Frank. ’ ”

  “Francine, then. ”

  She exhaled forcefully. “I know this is all a joke to you. But it won’t be to my colleagues. ” She replaced the rolls of fabric around the plaster, packing it tight. “Whatever this creature was, she was real. She lived and breathed, and she left this mark. And now, untold eons later . . . she just might change the way we understand the world. ”

  She shut and locked the trunk, propping one foot atop the baggage to tighten the leather straps. Her trim, stockinged ankle was revealed to his view. So pale and sweetly curved. He didn’t know which he found more appealing—the erotic glimpse of her ankle, or the determined set of her brow.

  “Come. Give it here. ” Colin reached to help with the buckles.

  At his urging, she ceased wrestling with the straps and surrendered the task to him. In the transfer, the back of his hand brushed her calf. A jolt of desire rocked him in his boots. Lord. This was precisely why he couldn’t agree to this wild scheme.

  He finished fastening the buckles and stood tall, clapping dust from his gloved hands. “He’s probably ancient, you know. Or warty. ”


  “This Sir Alisdair fellow. ”

  Her cheeks blushed crimson.

  “I’m just saying, he’s likely older than Francine. And less attractive. ”

  “I don’t care! I don’t care if he’s ancient and warty and leprous and hunchbacked. He would still be learned, intelligent. Respected and respectful. He would still be a better man than you. You know it, and you’re envious. You’re being cruel to me to soothe your pride. ” She looked him up and down with a contemptuous glare. “And you’re going to catch flies in your mouth, if you don’t shut it. ”

  For once, Colin found himself without words. The best he could do was take her advice and hoist his dropped jaw.

  An air of determination settled on her. The curves of her face became decisive angles. “That’s it. I’m going to Edinburgh, with or without you. ”

  “What? You mean to travel almost five hundred miles alone? No. I can’t let you do that. I . . . I forbid you. ”

  It was Colin’s first attempt at forbidding anyone to do anything, and it worked about as well as he’d expected it to. Which was to say, not at all.

  She sniffed. “Stay here and marry Diana if you must, but I won’t be a party to it. I can’t simply stand by and watch. ”

  “God, is that all that’s worrying you?” He put his hands on her shoulders to make sure she was paying attention. “I won’t marry Diana. I never had any plan to marry Diana. I’ve been trying to tell you as much for days. ”

  She stared at him. “Truly?”

  “Truly. ”

  The distant rumble of hoofbeats and carriage wheels shook the ground. As they stared at each other, it gathered strength.

  “That’ll be the coach,” she said.

  Colin glanced down the road. Yes, here it came. The moment of decision.

  “Come now,” he said. “Let me help you take your things back to the rooming house. ”

  She shook her head. “No. ”


  “No. I can’t go back. I just can’t. I left a note, saying we’ve eloped. By now, they’re probably awake and reading it. I can’t be the girl who cried ‘elopement. ’ The pathetic thing who gathered all her hopes and packed three trunks, and went out to stand at the road at dawn only to slink back home defeated and hopeless. My mother would . . . ” She drew a deep breath, stood tall, and lifted her chin. “I just can’t be that girl anymore. I won’t. ”

  As he watched her, Colin was visited by the strangest feeling, unfurling warm and buttery inside him. It was a sense of privilege and mute wonder, as though he’d witnessed one of those small, everyday miracles of spring. Like a licked-clean foal taking its first steps on wobbly legs. Or a new butterfly pushing scrunched, damp wings from a chrysalis.

  Before his eyes, she’d transformed into a new creature. Still a bit awkward and uncertain, but undaunted. And well on her way to being beautiful.

  Colin scratched his neck. He wished there were someone nearby he could turn to and say, Would you look at that?

  “You truly want this,” he said. “It means that much to you. ”

  “Yes. ” Her eyes were clear and unblinking.

  “If we embark on this journey, there’s no going back. ”

  “I know. ”

  “And you comprehend all the implications. Everything you’ll put at risk. Hell, everything you’ll outright sacrifice, the moment you leave with me?”

  She nodded. “I’m exchanging my acceptance in fashionable society for standing within the Royal Geological Society. I understand this perfectly, and I think it a rather good trade. You told me to think of myself, Colin. Well, I’m doing just that. ”

  Turning from him, she popped up on her toes and waved her arms, signaling the coachman. “Stop! Stop, please!”

  He stood by and watched her desperate gesticulations, absurdly enchanted by them. Good for you, pet. Good for you.

  As the carriage rolled to a halt, she reached for her smallest trunk. She looked to him, smiling. “Last chance. Are you coming or aren’t you?”

  Chapter Seven

  The road to London was dusty, rutted, bumpy, and miserable.

  And Minerva rejoiced in every passing mile.

  That was to say, she rejoiced quietly, and without moving so much as a muscle. She hadn’t any space to move at all.

  Inside the coach, they were packed four to a seat. Two more passengers shared space with the driver. Minerva was almost afraid to count how many people rode atop the carriage. From her view through the carriage window, their legs hung down like stalactites. Beyond them, she caught the occasional glimpse of Colin, riding on horseback alongside the coach. She envied him the fresh air and freedom of movement.

  But all in all, she was thrilled. The agonized decisions and frantic preparations were behind her, and now she could simply bask in the exhilaration of having done it. After spending all of her girlhood fervently wishing she could run away from home—she’d actually done it. And this wasn’t a childish dash into the forest with a hastily packed picnic basket and petulant note reading simply, “Adieu. ” This journey had serious, professional significance. It was practically a business trip.

  This morning, she’d taken her life into her own hands.

  But she was glad she wasn’t making the j
ourney alone.

  When they stopped to rest or change horses, Colin excelled at playing the attentive, would-be bridegroom. He stayed by her side and looked out for her in small ways, such as procuring their refreshments or keeping a watchful eye on her trunks. He made a point of touching her often. Subtly laying a hand to her elbow, handing her into the coach.

  She knew the touches weren’t for her pleasure or his, but for the benefit of those around them. Those small physical cues made a point. Every time he touched her, he said without words, This woman is under my protection.

  And every time he sent that message, she felt a little thrill.

  Minerva was especially grateful for the protection when they arrived in London late that afternoon and reached the coaching inn. She was so road weary, she could scarcely stand. Colin dealt with the innkeeper, registering the two of them under a fictitious name without so much as a blink. He made certain all her trunks came upstairs, ordered a simple dinner, and even sent an errand boy to procure his traveling necessities—a few clean shirts, a razor, and so forth—rather than do his own shopping and leave Minerva alone.

  In fact, he made her feel so safe and comfortable, they were halfway through their meal of roast beef and boiled carrots when Minerva felt suddenly struck—smacked in the face—by reality. She was in a small bedchamber, with a single bed. Alone with a man who was not her relation, nor her husband.

  She put down her fork. She chased her last bite of food with a healthy swallow of wine. She took a slow look around at the room.

  This was it. This was ruination in the making. Roast beef and boiled carrots and ugly, peeling wallpaper.

  “You’re very quiet,” she said. “You haven’t even teased me all day. ”

  He looked up from his plate. “That’s because I’m waiting for you, Morgana. ”

  She set her teeth. Really, she couldn’t even be bothered to correct him anymore. “Waiting for me to do what?”

  “Come to your senses. ” He gestured about the room. “Call this all off. Demand I take you straight back home. ”

  “Oh. Well, that’s not going to happen. ”

  “You’re not having any second thoughts?”

  She shook her head. “None. ”

  He poured them both more wine. “It doesn’t make you at all anxious, to share this room with me tonight and know what it will mean for you tomorrow?”

  “No,” she lied.

  Even though he’d been nothing but solicitous and protective since they’d left Spindle Cove, she couldn’t help but feel anxious in his presence. He was so handsome, so blatant, so . . . so very male. His personality seemed to take up the entire room.

  And heavens, she’d agreed to share a bed with him. If his idea of “sharing a bed” entailed more than simply lying next to each other, she didn’t know what she would do. Fear and curiosity battled within her, as she remembered his skillful, arousing kisses in the cave.

  “If I can’t dissuade you . . . ” he said.

  She closed her eyes. “You can’t. ”

  He exhaled expansively. “Then in the morning, I’ll see about finding space in a coach headed north. We should try to sleep as early as possible. ”

  She gulped.

  While he finished eating, Minerva decided to seek a familiar refuge. Excusing herself from the small dining table, she went to her trunks and opened the smallest—the one that held all her books. She pulled out her journal. If she’d be presenting at the symposium in a week or so, she needed to organize all her most recent findings and add them to the paper.

  Taking a pencil and clenching it between her teeth, she shut the trunk and brought the journal back to the table. She moved her empty dishes of food aside and adjusted her spectacles, settling in to work.

  She flipped open the journal to the last filled page. What she saw there horrified her.
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