A week to be wicked, p.14
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       A Week to Be Wicked, p.14
 

         Part #2 of Spindle Cove series by Tessa Dare
Page 14

 

  Colin felt like carving a hashmark in the bedpost. Surely this marked a new level of achievement in his amatory career. Never before had he charmed the frock off a woman with talk of mathematics. Never before would he have thought to try.

  Loosening his own cravat, he said, “As a matter of fact, I did not earn high marks in maths. I could have done. But I made certain not to. ”

  “Why?”

  “Are you joking? Because no one likes boys who excel in maths. Priggish little bores, always hunched over their slates. They all have four eyes and no friends. ”

  He winced, realizing instantly what he’d said. But it was already too late.

  She froze, arms bent in the act of undoing her gown. All amusement fled her expression. She sniffed and stared at the corner.

  Damn it, he was always hurting her.

  “Min, I didn’t mean . . . ”

  “Turn around,” she said, waving him off. “It’s late, and I’m fatigued. Spare me the apologies and turn around while I undress. I’ll tell you when my four priggish eyes are safely beneath the disgusting sea snail. ”

  He did as she asked, turning away. While he worked his cuffs loose, he tried to close his ears to the rustle of fabric. It didn’t work. He couldn’t stop his imagination from running wild, painting image after image of her stepping free of her gown, freeing the laces of her stays. He heard a rush of breath, and a thrill raced down his spine as he recognized it as that deep, arousing sigh a woman gave when her breasts were unbound at the end of the day.

  Blood rushed to his groin, and he strangled a sigh of his own. He was a man, he told himself. There was an unclothed woman in the room. His physical reaction couldn’t be helped. It was simple biology. Birds felt it. Bees felt it. Even primeval sea snails felt it.

  He heard soft splashes from the washstand, as she dragged a wet cloth over her every lush, naked curve. Really, she was just torturing him now. He probably deserved it.

  At long last, he heard the bed creak. “You may turn now. ”

  He turned, fully assuming he’d find her huddled under the covers, facing the wall. Instead, she lay on her side, looking directly at him.

  “I’m going to disrobe,” he said. “Didn’t you want to turn away?”

  “I don’t think so, no. ” She propped her head on her hand. “I’ve never seen a man naked. Not a real one, not up close. Call it indulging my scientific curiosity. ” Her gaze sharpened. “Or call it an apology, if you prefer. ”

  Oh, she was a clever one indeed. So, he was to pay for all his teasing and unthinking insults with naked humiliation. Even Colin had to admit, the penalty was just.

  “I’d be more than happy to let you survey my physical perfection in its entirety. But only if I get to see you, too. ” To her shocked silence, he replied, “It’s only fair. Tit for tat. ”

  “How is that fair? You’ve seen countless tits. ”

  Damn, the way she said that word. So plainly, without any hint of missishness. Just when he’d regained control of himself, she had him instantly, throbbingly aroused.

  “I don’t know why you’d need a peep at mine,” she went on. “And since you’ve proudly waved your . . . tat . . . before half the women in England, I find it odd that you’d claim modesty now. ”

  “It’s true,” he said evenly, “that I’ve been blessed to view a great many bosoms in my life. But every pair is different, and I haven’t seen yours. ”

  She shrank in the bed linens, curling into that embroidered shell. “They’re nothing out of the ordinary, I’m sure. ”

  “I’ll be the judge of that. ”

  Her chin lifted. “Very well. Here is my best offer. Half of my nakedness, for all of yours. ”

  He pretended to think on it. “It’s a bargain. ”

  Sitting up in bed, she unbuttoned the front of her chemise. Then she drew the sleeves down each shoulder, carefully shielding her breasts with her folded legs. Her forearms were toasted by the sun, but her shoulders were pale, swannish curves of loveliness.

  Once she’d bared herself to the waist, she hunched behind that wall of knees and issued a challenge. “You first. ”

  He pulled his shirt over his head and cast it aside. Then he undid his buttons and dropped his breeches without ceremony.

  Well, not entirely without ceremony. There was a certain amount of fanfare. His rapidly growing erection all but trumpeted for attention, jutting out from its nest of dark hair. Waving in an embarrassing, adolescent way.

  “Now you,” he said.

  True to her word, she lowered her knees and revealed her bare torso.

  They took each other in.

  She was right, he told himself. Her breasts were nothing out of the ordinary. To begin with, there were two of them. The usual number. They were round and just on the plump side of average, capped with prominent nipples. The room was too dark to discern those puckered nubs’ precise shade, but he wasn’t choosy. Pink, berry, tawny, brown . . . they all tasted the same in the dark.

  No, her breasts, while attractive, were not empirically more or less enticing than most bosoms he’d seen. But what quite stole his breath away was the entirety of her. The picture she made, sitting there half-nude in a rumpled nest of fresh white sheets. Her dark hair tumbling about her shoulders, and those spectacles perched—fetchingly askew—at the tip of her nose. Those lush, plum-colored lips oh-so-slightly parted.

  She looked like a memory, interrupted. A torrid dream. Or a glimpse of the future, perhaps.

  Stop. Don’t think such things.

  “Surely it’s not always like that?” she asked, leaning forward and peering intently.

  “Like what?”

  “So . . . big. And active. ”

  His straining cock gave another eager leap. Like a poorly trained hound.

  “Did you do that on purpose?” she asked, sounding amazed.

  Oh, the devious things Colin suddenly longed to do on purpose. With purpose. For the explicit purpose of steaming those spectacles and making her mewl with unfettered delight.

  “I’m not going to seduce you,” he said.

  After a moment’s delay, she gave her head a brisk little shake. Her gaze wandered back up to his face. With a single fingertip, she pushed her spectacles up on her nose. “Excuse me, what?”

  “I’m not going to seduce you,” he repeated. “Not tonight, or at all. I just thought I should say that. ”

  She stared at him.

  “I mean what I said, that first night at the castle. About not ruining innocent girls. You see, I have rules. ”

  “You have rules. For the women you seduce?”

  “No, no. For myself. ”

  “So there’s an . . . an etiquette to raking. Some seducer’s code of honor. Is this what you’re telling me?”

  “In a way. You see, your average fellow who merely sets out to bed the girls he fancies . . . well, he wouldn’t need rules, perhaps. But when a man ventures forth with the quite serious goal of never spending a single night alone . . . a set of guidelines just evolves. Believe it or not, I do have some principles. ”

  “And these rules are . . . ?”

  “They start with basic good manners, of course. Saying please and thank you, and adhering to the dictum, Ladies first. I’m not particular about locations, but I do have some prohibitions on ropes and scarves. ”

  Her jaw dropped. “Ropes and—”

  “I have no qualms about tying, but I won’t be tied. Beyond that . . . ” He ticked off the limits on his fingers. “No virgins. No prostitutes. No women in dire financial straits. No sisters of former lovers. No mothers of former lov—”

  “Mothers?” she squawked.

  He shrugged. There was a rather amusing story behind that one.

  He said, “Listen, it’s not important that you hear all the rules. The point is that I have some. As I’ve already explained, seducing you wo
uld break them. So it’s not going to happen. And I thought it best to broach the topic now, while I’m standing here naked. Because if I brought it up at any other time, you might take offense and assume I’m just not attracted to you. ” He indicated his full, turgid, ridiculously optimistic erection. “As you can plainly observe, that’s not the case. ”

  She went silent for several moments. Observing.

  “You were right,” she told his cock. “We do have the oddest conversations. ”

  He rubbed his face with both hands and released a slow, deep breath. “It’s not too late to save your reputation, you know. I could take you to Bram and Susanna’s town house right now, and you could roll up those sheets and save them. You know, for a man who might be able to fully appreciate . . . the work you put into them. The significance. They’re part of your trousseau. They should be special. ”

  If they stayed alone in this room—an unmarried gentlewoman and a known rake—it made no difference what they actually did on these embroidered sheets tonight. Even if the linens remained unsullied by their sweat or his seed or her virgin’s blood, they were ruined. When she returned from this adventure unmarried, she would be ruined. Unmarriageable, in good society.

  She rolled onto her back and looked up at the ceiling. “It’s done now, isn’t it?”

  He pushed aside the surge of guilt, reminding himself this entire trip was her idea, and she knew full well the consequences. She’d literally made her bed, and now she was lying in it. Colin was going to share it with her. That was the bargain.

  “I always sleep atop the bedclothes,” he said, sitting down on the mattress edge. “So as long as you stay under them . . . ”

  “There’ll be something between us. ”

  Something. Yes. Something with the thickness of a birch leaf.

  As he stared up at the ceiling, the memory of her breasts seemed to hang up there in the dark. Like two round, peachy moons mounted from the rafters, tempting him to touch. To taste. Colin knew better than to stretch a hand toward the mirage, but his gullible cock strained and arced, ever hopeful.

  He shut his eyes and tried to turn his mind to the least arousing things possible. Spiders with hairy legs. Those bumpy, long-necked gourds that made him think of poxy genitalia. Mashed peas. The dust-and-beeswax smell of impossibly old people.

  Then an entirely different image bloomed in his mind. One that made him laugh out loud.

  “What’s the matter?” She sounded sleepy. He envied her that.

  “Nothing,” he said. “I’m just picturing your mother’s reaction right now. ”

  Chapter Eight

  “Where is that Minerva?” Laying aside her deck of cards, Mrs. Highwood snapped her fingers at one of the Bull and Blossom’s serving girls. “You, there. What is your name again?”

  “I’m Pauline, ma’am. ”

  “Pauline, then. Do dash over to the rooming house and tell my wayward daughter I wish her to join us here at once. At once! Tell her to put aside that scribbling. She’s already missed tea, and dinner. She will take her lesson with Miss Taylor, and then she will serve as our fourth at whist. She will be an obedient daughter, or I will no longer claim her. I will wash my hands of her entirely. ”

  With a curtsy, Pauline turned to do as she was bid.

  Seated beside Charlotte at the pianoforte, Kate Taylor smiled to herself. Of all the hollow threats. She doubted Minerva would feel a single snowflake’s chill of sorrow, should Mrs. Highwood resign her relentless campaign of feminine improvements and give her middle daughter up entirely.

  Kate felt a great deal of sympathy for the harangued Misses Highwood—at times, more sympathy than envy, which was saying something. Kate had no family at all, save the circle of female friendship here in Spindle Cove. No home, save for the Queen’s Ruby. She was an orphan, raised on the kindness of anonymous benefactors and educated at Margate School for Girls.
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