A week to be wicked, p.26
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       A Week to Be Wicked, p.26
 

         Part #2 of Spindle Cove series by Tessa Dare
Page 26

 

  Damn it.

  He rose to his feet and took one of the trunk handles in his hand. “We need to be moving. The young one I clobbered won’t give chase. He’ll be too busy running for his own life. But once his associates realize I’m missing . . .

  “Oh dear. ” She lifted her side of the trunk. “They might be after us. ”

  Chapter Seventeen

  They walked on and on through those woods, carrying Francine between them. By the position of the afternoon sun at their backs, Minerva knew they were traveling north. They hadn’t crossed any large bodies of water, so she assumed they were still on British soil. Beyond that, she could not have said. She wasn’t sure Colin knew, either.

  Goodness, had it really been just that morning when she’d plunked herself on the side of the road and declared she could not walk another step? Colin had insisted she had the strength in her, and it annoyed her to admit he’d been right. She’d walked miles and miles farther now, with nothing to eat since last night’s dinner.

  Putting one boot before the other required all her powers of concentration. Hunger dogged her every step, gnawing at her from the inside.

  “I’ll be damned. ” Colin stopped in his tracks. “And here I thought I hated the country. ”

  Minerva looked up. They’d entered a clearing. A wide, green meadow in the middle of the forest. The entire space was carpeted with bluebells. Thousands upon thousands of sweetly curving green stalks, their tips heavy with sprays of blue-violet blossoms. The sunlight shone from above and slanted through the trees, catching the blooms at different angles. The whole scene sparkled.

  It was magical.

  Colin said, “Even I, jaded as I am, have to admit that’s bloody lovely. ”

  Minerva was so famished, all she could think to reply was, “Do you suppose they’re edible?”

  He laughed. She smiled. And just like that, their mood lightened. The highwaymen were behind them. They were healthy and whole, and they still had Francine. Her stomach might be empty, but a sense of hope swelled within her breast.

  Perhaps all was not lost.

  As they strode through the meadow, she had the eerie sensation of walking atop waves. Except this was a sea of petals, not saltwater. Her toe caught on a fallen branch, and she stumbled a bit.

  “Are you all right?” Colin asked.

  She nodded. “I was just distracted. Wondering how much loam is in this soil. ”

  “What?”

  He set down his side of the trunk. Minerva did the same.

  “You know,” she said. “Loam. A mix of clay and sand. In order for the soil to support this many bluebells, it would—”

  “You’re standing in the middle of this”—he spread his arms wide to indicate Nature’s splendor—“and you’re thinking about loam in the soil? You spend far too much time staring at the ground. ”

  Rounding the trunk, Colin plucked her off her feet. With gentle strength, he tumbled her into the bluebells. She lay flat on her back, breathless and dizzy from the sudden inversion. From the sudden nearness of him.

  He lay down next to her. “There. Have a rest. Look up at the sky for a change. ”

  Minerva stared up from the uneven ground. Her heartbeat drummed in her ears, and a crushed green scent engulfed her senses. The grasses and bluebells towered over her, swaying in the gentle breeze and dripping loveliness. Above everything, the sky hovered brilliant and blue. Nearly cloudless, save for a few wispy, changing puffs of white that were apparently too proud to mimic rabbits or dragons or sailing ships.

  “What am I supposed to be seeing?” she asked.

  “I don’t know. What do people see when they gaze at the sky? Inspiration? Beauty?” She heard him sigh. “Truth be told, this view always intimidated me. The sky’s so vast. I can’t help but feel it has expectations of me. Ones I’m already failing. ” He was silent for a long moment. “It reminds me of your eyes. ”

  She dug her elbow into his side. “My eyes are brown. And my back’s growing damp. This is definitely very loam-rich soil. I just needed to look at the sky to realize it. ”

  With a chuckle, he rolled over and pinned her with one leg. “Do you know, you are the most surprising woman. ”

  Her breath caught. “You have a way of surprising me, too. Not always pleasantly. ”

  “If surprises were always pleasant, there wouldn’t be much surprise in them. ”

  “I suppose that’s true. ”

  He brushed a few wisps of hair from her face, then removed her spectacles and laid them atop the trunk.

  Minerva’s pulse pounded as he slowly lowered his head and kissed . . . the tip of her nose.

  She blinked up at him, trying hard to focus and read his expression. Was it teasing or affectionate? She couldn’t tell. “Why did you do that?”

  “Because you weren’t expecting it. Which kind of surprise was it? Pleasant or otherwise?”

  “I’m not sure. ”

  “Then I’ll try again. ”

  He bent his head and kissed her temple. Then her chin, her jaw, the place between her eyebrows.

  His tongue flicked over her ear.

  Slid down her neck.

  Dipped into the warm, sensitive valley between her breasts.

  She gasped. “Colin. ”

  He clutched a fistful of her skirt and brought her pelvis flush with his.

  “Min,” he groaned against her neck. “I know it’s mad, but I need this right now. Right here, in the midst of all this beauty. I need to feel you hot and alive beneath me. ”

  As he leaned in to kiss her mouth, she put a hand to his chest. “I don’t think this is a good idea. ”

  His hand swept over her body. “Last night wasn’t good?”

  Shadowy memories of that frantic, wicked, grinding pleasure assailed her. She grew damp between the legs, and it had nothing to do with the loamy soil.

  “It was very good. But it was confusing. ”

  “This doesn’t have to be complicated. ” He cupped her breast and thumbed her nipple to a stiff, aching peak. “It’s physical. Instinctual. Releasing tension in a mutually pleasurable way. ”

  He seeded kisses along her neck, and tendrils of desire unfurled from each one. Still . . .

  “I’m not . . . ” She gasped at another greedy kiss. “I’m not sure I’m comfortable being the instrument of your release. ”

  “You make it sound so one-sided. I promise, you’ll enjoy it, too. ”

  She didn’t doubt that. His hand found its way under her neckline, and he slipped his fingers beneath the fabric to curl around her breast. With practiced skill, he eased the soft globe up and free.

  “God,” he breathed, circling her bared nipple with his fingertip. “You’re so soft. So warm and soft and sweet. ”

  He took her nipple in his mouth. He moaned, drawing lightly on the tip with delicious suction, then swirling his tongue around the peak.

  Minerva reeled with the exquisite sensations. The way he was touching her, kissing her, licking and suckling her . . . it felt so good. The pleasure was so sharp, it made her ache deep inside. It was impossible to feel this and not crave more.

  But Colin wasn’t the only one with principles. He wasn’t the only one who could make rules. She just couldn’t take any more “lessons” or pretending. She only wanted this if it was real.

  His leg snaked between hers. “You have so much fire in you, Min. A natural talent for passion. ”

  A talent for passion? Her?

  “Even if that were true,” she said, “look where indulging it has landed me. ” Thrown off one carriage, robbed on the next. Lost in the woods. Hungry, almost penniless.

  “It’s landed you here. In the most beautiful afternoon to ever grace the English countryside. Sprawled on a lush carpet of bluebells, staring up at a heartbreakingly blue sky. ”

  “With you. ”

  “Wi
th me. ”

  They were silent for a time. Then she sensed his demeanor make a sudden shift. The muscles of his chest tensed beneath her touch. His tone changed.

  “I see,” he said, withdrawing his fingers from her bosom. “So that’s the problem. Not the setting, not the notion of pleasure. It’s me. You think you’re here with the wrong man. ”

  “Colin—”

  He rolled away from her. “You’d rather be sharing all this with someone else. Someone like Sir Alisdair Kent. Talking of loam and soil composition, and denying the part of yourself that screamed my name last night. ”

  Blushing, she tucked her breast back into her bodice and fumbled for her spectacles. “There’s no need to be cruel. ”

  “I’m not being cruel. ” He pushed to his feet, brushing off his dirt- and grass-streaked breeches. “I just feel sorry for you, is all. I’ve been trying to break you out of that shell, teach you how to enjoy life. But now I can see you don’t want it. You’re going to die curled up in that hard, brittle cage you’ve constructed. I hope Sir Alisdair doesn’t mind cramped quarters. ”

  “So now I should apologize? For wanting something more than carnal ‘lessons’ on your charity? After all, that’s the best an awkward bluestocking like me could hope for. Is that it?” Minerva struggled to her feet. “At least Sir Alisdair would remember my name. ”

  “Perhaps. ” He closed the distance between them, standing so near his chest grazed her breasts. “But could he kiss you so hard, you forget it?”

  For a hot, confusing moment, his breath mingled with hers.

  But before she could think of any possible retort, he retreated. He picked up the trunk and shouldered it.

  “Come along,” he said irritably. “By this time, we must be nearly there. ”

  “Nearly there? Nearly where?”

  Minerva lagged behind him, trying to understand his irrational anger. And here common wisdom would argue that women were the sex with changeable moods.

  They walked on for perhaps a quarter hour more, and then they emerged from the woods at the edge of a crest.

  In the distance, down the slope, sat an immense stone manor house, bordered by gardens and outbuildings.

  “Good heavens,” she breathed. “What is that place?”

  “Winterset Grange,” he answered. “I knew we had to be close. A good friend of mine resides there. We need a place to stay the night. To lie low, in case those highwaymen are still sniffing about. ”

  “And we’re going to just appear on your friend’s doorstep? Uninvited, out of nowhere?” She waved a hand between them. “Looking as we do?”

  “Oh, no one will blink. Guests are always coming and going from Winterset Grange. Whenever the duke’s in residence, it’s one never-ending bacchanal. ”

  Minerva stared at him. “The duke? We’re going to be guests of a duke?”

  “He’s not a royal duke,” he said, as if this should be some comfort. “Hal’s an amiable fellow, you’ll see. He’s patron of a popular gambling circle called the Shilling Club. I’m a member. He’d never begrudge my lack of an invitation, so long as I show up with money to lose at his card table. ”

  “But you haven’t any money to lose at his card table. We have precisely one sovereign to our names. ”

  “Details, details. ”

  They started down the grassy slope. The vast, sprawling manor house seemed to inflate as they approached. As if some mischievous boy were behind the thing, huffing air into it like a scraped pig’s bladder. It was just grotesquely large, its windows deep-set and hooded, like leering eyes.

  She didn’t like this. Not one bit.

  As they neared the drive, Colin pulled her into the gardens, behind a windbreak of cypress trees. After dipping a handkerchief into a trickling fountain, he swabbed his face and neck clean, then retied his cravat. He brushed the dust from the front of his coat and gave a brisk, jaunty toss of his head that instantly tamed his hair.
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