A week to be wicked, p.38
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       A Week to Be Wicked, p.38

         Part #2 of Spindle Cove series by Tessa Dare
 
Page 38

 

  He took his erection in hand, tilted her hips to just the right angle, and eased inside.

  She was tender from the night before. But he was gentle, holding her curled in his arms and loving her in slow, deliberate strokes. The sweet warmth between them grew and spread. She relaxed her body, undulating with his thrusts so that they moved as one.

  He palmed her breast and pinched her nipple. Then his touch drifted down her body.

  Yes. Lower. Touch me there.

  He knew what she craved. He caught her pearl with his fingertips and worked her in tight, feverish circles until she shuddered and cried out with the exquisite pleasure. As her climax receded, he withdrew, finishing with a few hard, desperate thrusts between her thighs. As he came, she savored his low growl.

  “Good morning. ” She felt his smile against her nape.

  “Is it?”

  His tone changed. “Don’t you think so? Are you wishing we hadn’t—”

  “No. ” Screwing up her courage, she twisted to face him. “I have no regrets. None. But I want assure you, just in case it needs saying . . . I don’t have any expectations. ”

  Only hopes. Wistful, foolish hopes.

  He blinked. “You don’t have any expectations. ”

  Surely he must understand what she meant. “What we shared was wonderful. But I don’t want you to worry that I’m expecting something more. ”

  “Well,” he said dryly. “How very generous of you. ”

  “Aren’t you relieved?” She didn’t understand the annoyance in his voice.

  He rolled onto his back, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “Minerva, I can’t decide which of us you’re insulting more. After last night, you should have expectations. ”

  “Expectations of what?” She swallowed hard.

  “Of me. ”

  “I thought you were the one who argued against having any expectations at all. Isn’t that your grand life philosophy? You said expectations lead to disappointments. That if you expect nothing, you’re always surprised. ”

  He gave a bark of laughter. “In that case . . . ”

  He turned to her. His hazel eyes sparked with intensity.

  “Surprise. ” He kissed the tip of her nose. “You’re marrying me. ”

  Chapter Twenty-four

  Well, Colin thought. He’d certainly managed to surprise her.

  Whether the surprise fell into the “pleasant” or “unpleasant” category, he wasn’t sure. The latter, he suspected.

  She didn’t move a muscle. But behind her spectacles, her eyelashes worked like twin ebony fans. “Marry? You?”

  He tried not to take offense. “I must say, Minerva. That’s not exactly the breathless, overjoyed acceptance a man might wish to hear. ”

  “That wasn’t exactly the ardent, heartfelt proposal that might warrant one. In fact, I’m not sure it counts as a proposal at all. ”

  “Fair enough, I suppose. ” He lightened his tone. “You have a temporary reprieve. Right now, out of bed with you. We have to make haste if we’re going to reach York tonight. ”

  “Wait, wait. ” As he sat up, she grabbed his arm. “I’m so confused. Is this like one of those silly duels gentlemen arrange for show? You fire off a haphazard proposal at dawn, it sails straight over my head, and somehow honor is satisfied?”

  “No, it’s not like that at all. I’m serious. I mean to marry you. ”

  “But I thought you’d sworn off marriage. ”

  He shrugged. “I seem to recall you saying something similar. ”

  “Exactly. Colin, I do appreciate the gesture. ” She bit her lip. “I think. But I won’t marry you simply because you’re feeling a sudden twinge of conscience. We both knew from the outset I’d be ruined. ”

  “In appearance, yes. But this is actuality. ”

  “In actuality, I don’t feel ruined at all. ” She gave him a sheepish half smile. “Only a bit tender in places. Did last night feel like some grave mistake to you?”

  He touched her cheek. “God, no. The furthest thing from it. ”

  He let his gaze wander her sweet, lovely face. After the night they’d shared, something in his soul finally felt put right.

  “Then what’s this truly about? What on earth can you be thinking?”

  She struggled to sit up. The bedsheets slipped to her hips, revealing her bare torso.

  Colin’s breath left his body. Damn if she didn’t look just exactly the way she had that first night. Her spectacles slipped to the end of her nose, her unbound hair tumbling about her shoulders, her bared breasts tempting him with their touchable perfection.

  A low groan rattled loose from his chest.

  “I’m thinking,” he said, “that last night was inevitable, and I should have known as much the day we left Spindle Cove. I’m thinking that what I ought to do, as a gentleman, is call an immediate halt to this journey and make swift arrangements for a proper wedding. ” He stayed her objection with a touch to her lips. “I’m thinking what I’d like to do is push you back on that bed, bar the door, and spend the next week learning your body from the inside out. But mostly, Min . . . ”

  He pushed her spectacles back up her nose, so that she could focus on his face.

  “I’m thinking that I made you two promises. To get you to your symposium, and to do so without seducing you. I’ve broken one of those. But I damn well mean to make good on the other. ” He rose from the bed and offered her a hand. “So I’m thinking this conversation will have to wait. We have no time to waste. ”

  With a bewildered shake of her head, she took his hand. “All right. ”

  Taking a leather bucket from the shepherd’s hut, Colin fetched water from a nearby stream. While Minerva performed her ablutions inside the dwelling, he doused himself in the frigid water—shirt and all.

  His shirt needed washing, and he needed a bracing, icy bath to punish his lustful loins into submission. He’d taken her virtue last night. Then he’d taken her again this morning. He’d broken all his own rules, forsaken what few remaining principles he held. No matter what objections she raised or how many of his own stupid words she threw back at him, his conscience insisted there was only one course of action.

  He must marry her.

  But he had to get her to that symposium first.

  She didn’t want to marry him simply because he’d ruined her, and Colin didn’t want that either. No, he wanted her to marry him because he’d helped her triumph. He would prove to her—to himself—that he could be good for her.

  As he submerged himself in the cold water, an insidious, shadowy doubt swirled through his thoughts.

  The road to Edinburgh is paved with good intentions.

  He forced the doubt away, rising to the surface and pushing the water from his face. This time was different. Today, everything was different. For God’s sake, he hated the country—and yet, here he was in the middle of a pasture, making his way to a shepherd’s hut, absurdly wishing he could lease it as a summer home.

  When he returned to the hut, soaked and shivering, Minerva gave him a baleful look through her spectacles. “You’ll catch cold. ”

  He shrugged, wringing out his shirttails. “The sun will dry it soon enough. First order of business when we reach York”—he yanked his breeches up and fastened them under his dripping shirt—”is fresh clothes. ”

  “Are you sure it’s even possible to make the symposium?” She counted the days on her fingers. “Only three more nights between now and then. ”

  “We will make it. We’ll reach York tonight. From there, with our replenished funds, it’s a new journey. We’ll take just a few hours to eat and shop and hire a post-chaise, and then we’ll be off. ”

  “But you’ll be miserable. Post-chaises are so small and cramped. Not to mention expensive. We won’t have enough funds to rent you horses past York. ”

  “They’re the fastest way. If w
e travel straight through, we’ll make Edinburgh just in time. ”

  “Travel straight through? We won’t stop for nights?” Her eyes filled with concern.

  He shook his head. “There won’t be time. ”

  “But Colin—”

  “And we haven’t time to debate it, either. ” He picked up one side of Francine’s trunk. “Let’s be on our way. ”

  Money made everything easier. They found a proper breakfast, a ride to the next coaching town, and from there, Colin rented a horse to ride alongside her coach. His last horse of the journey.

  They reached York in late afternoon. He sought out the largest and best of the coaching inns. Holding Minerva close at his side, he approached the innkeeper.

  “What can I do for you, sir?” the distracted innkeeper asked.

  “We’ll need a good dinner. A few hours’ use of a room, just to rest and change. And then I’ll need to inquire about hiring a post-chaise to take us north. ”

  “How far north are you traveling?” the innkeeper asked.

  “Edinburgh. We mean to travel straight through. ”

  “Is that so?” The man eyed them with suspicion, his rheumy eyes ranging over their bedraggled attire.

  “I’ll pay in advance,” Colin offered.

  “Oh, indeed. That you most certainly will. ” The innkeeper cocked one eyebrow and rubbed the top of his head. He named a figure, and Colin counted out the money.

  He leaned forward and addressed the man in low tones. “Listen, perhaps you can help me with something else. My lady here’s been parted from her baggage. Before we continue, I need to find her a new gown. Something pretty. ”

  The innkeeper eyed Minerva. “My missus can find her something, I warrant. ”

  “The finest quality this will buy. ” To the amount he’d paid for the post-chaise, Colin added several sovereigns.

  Minerva gasped. “Colin, don’t. We can’t afford it. ”

  “It’s not negotiable. You must have it. ”

  “But . . . ”

  The innkeeper laughed. “Come now, miss. Surely he don’t have to draw you a picture. Elopement or no, a man wants his bride dressed proper. ”

  “But . . . ” Minerva called after him as he shuffled off, disappearing through a doorway. “Sir, we’re not eloping. ”

  “Of course you aren’t,” he called back. “None of you young lovers are. ”

  She turned to Colin.

  He shrugged. “There’s no use arguing. Do you think he’ll believe we’re headed for a geology symposium?”

  “It’s strange,” she said, as they sat down at a table to order their dinner. “We have had uncommonly good luck today. Reasonably fine weather, except for that short rain. No loss of money or belongings. No fisticuffs. No highwaymen. I keep looking over my shoulder, expecting to see those kidnappers chasing after Prince Ampersand. ”

  “Oh, don’t worry about them. We will have left those highwaymen far behind. Believe me, that group wasn’t sufficiently organized or industrious to follow us beyond their own county. ” He rubbed his jaw. “But I have to admit, I wouldn’t be at all shocked to see someone else catch up to us. ”

  “Who?”

  “Bram. Or Thorne, or both. When my cousin heard of this, I can’t imagine his reaction was favorable. He knew I had no plan of marrying, as of two days before we left. And if Susanna expressed any doubts as to your willingness . . . I wouldn’t put it past him to decide you needed rescuing. ”

  The serving girl brought them two glasses of claret. Colin ordered them a hearty meal of beefsteak, fish stew, sauced vegetables, and apple tart. His stomach growled with hunger.

  “But I left a note,” Minerva said, once the serving girl had gone. “I told my sister we’d eloped. ”
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