A week to be wicked, p.45
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       A Week to Be Wicked, p.45

         Part #2 of Spindle Cove series by Tessa Dare
 
Page 45

 

  Without warning, her body bowed and tensed. She clung to him as the crisis hit, crying out against his ear. Her intimate muscles tightened, sending pulsing waves of friction down his cock.

  This time, he didn’t hold back. Couldn’t, even if he tried. He rode the crest of her pleasure, thrusting frenzied as her climax pulled him straight into his own.

  When he came inside her, the sheer blinding joy of it was like nothing he’d ever known. It took him outside himself. Sent him spinning into a strange, dark place. He was lost there, for a moment, stranded in bliss. But soon, her soothing caress led him back.

  She would always lead him back from the darkness.

  How could she not? She held his heart.

  “Minerva. ” Spent and trembling, he buried his face in her neck. “I need to ask you something. ”

  “You do?”

  “Yes. This is a very important question. One I’ve never posed to any woman before. I want you to think carefully about your answer. ”

  She nodded.

  “After all this madness is over, and I see you safely back home . . . do you think you could see fit to . . . ” He swallowed hard and lifted his gaze to hers. “To let me court you?”

  Her lips fell apart. “Court me. You . . . you want to court me?”

  “Yes. Very much so. More than anything. ”

  “Colin, you do realize you’re currently inside me. ”

  “I’m exquisitely aware of that, yes. ”

  Her fingers sifted through the hair at his temples. “Then the horse is through the gate, isn’t it? Don’t you think formal courting would be an unnecessary bother at this point?”

  “Not a bother at all. ” He kissed the confused twist from her lips. “And I think it’s necessary indeed. You deserve to be courted, Min. Flowers, picnics, walks in the park, and all the rest of it. And if I do say it myself, I have a suspicion I’ll be rather brilliant at courting, once I apply myself. ”

  “I’m very sure you will be, but—”

  “The season will be in full swing soon. ” He gently withdrew from her, then set her back on her toes. “I’ll convince your mother to send you to London, so I can lavish attention on you in front of the entire ton. ”

  “How on earth would we manage that, after we’ve returned unwed from this scandalous journey? Even with your cousin’s help, the gossip will be vicious. ”

  He tsked. “Even if there is some scandal and we’re denied vouchers at fusty old Almacks, what of it? We’ll be welcome any number of other places. Balls, opera, the theater, Vauxhall. We’ll be the talk of London. ”

  “Yes, I can imagine. They’ll all be wondering what that awkward little bluestocking slipped in your wine to make you go so addled. ”

  “No. Don’t speak that way. ” He propped a finger under her chin. “I hate it when you speak ill of yourself, Min. I’d visit bodily harm on anyone who dared insult you, but I don’t know how to guard you from yourself. So kindly do me a favor, and just . . . don’t. All right?”

  “All right. ”

  Her bottom lip trembled. He traced it fondly. “Spoiling you will bring me so much pleasure. I’ll make you feel like a queen. I’ll do everything I can to win you. ”

  “But Colin, don’t you realize . . . ” Affection warmed her brown eyes. “There’s no need to win me. I’ve told you, I’m yours. ”

  He scooped her into his arms and carried her back to the fire, setting her on the carpet. Her chemise was rumpled and torn, so he retrieved his shirt and helped her into it. He fit it over her head, lifting her dark, lovely hair through the collar and arranging the locks about her face. His shirt looked well on her, the open collar offering a saucy glimpse of her unbound breasts. Her eyes shone, and a pretty blush kissed her cheeks.

  God, he loved the look of her well tumbled. His heart and his loins argued he should marry her at once and keep her here, so he could start enjoying this sight every day. Every night.

  But for once, he was going to let his brain make the decisions. When he acted on impulse, even his best intentions went bad. A hasty marriage, tempting as it sounded, simply wasn’t the right way.

  He pulled on his discarded trousers and sat cross-legged with her, before the fire.

  “You’re so young,” he began.

  “I’m only five years younger than you. When my mother married, she was seventeen and my father was forty-three. ”

  “You’re young,” he insisted. “And this week has been tumultuous, to put it mildly. I want to give you some time, back in the normal world, to make sure of your feelings. ”

  “I am sure of my feelings. ”

  “You deserve to be courted. You deserve to know you have choices before you go committing your life to anyone—least of all a blighter like me. You deserve a look at Sir Alisdair Kent. He might not be so warty after all. ”

  She touched his face. “I love you, Colin. Nothing’s going to change that. ”

  “Dear, sweet girl. ” He gathered her in his arms and held her imprudently tight.

  I love you. Nothing’s going to change that.

  Oh, how he wanted to take that bold, unequivocal statement and grasp it as truth. Carve it in stone, tattoo it on his flesh, spell it out in little mosaic tiles embedded in this very floor. The Gospel According to Minerva, never to be doubted. But he’d learned too much—from her, from life—and he knew well how little she’d seen of the world. His jaded soul craved assurance. At least a few months’ worth of it.

  Of all people, she ought to understand the value of a scientific test.

  “If what you say is true . . . ” He pulled back to look her in those dark, beautiful eyes. “Then there’s no harm in waiting, is there?” He caressed her cheek, trying to coax a smile. “I’m no stranger to impulsive decisions. They don’t turn out well. When I marry you, I want everyone to know—and that includes the two of us—that it’s not a rash, impetuous whim. I want to wait until after my birthday, so there’ll be no suspicion that gaining control of my fortune had something to do with it, either. ”

  “After your birthday? You’re suggesting we live separately, for months?”

  He nodded. “I suppose so, yes. ”

  “What about the nights, Colin? How do you plan to get through all those nights?” She swallowed hard. “I don’t think I could stand it if . . . ”

  He hushed her with a kiss. “The wedding vows must wait. But I swear to you here and now, Minerva”—he took her hand and pressed it to his heart—“so long as I live, I won’t pass a night in any other woman’s arms. I can’t pretend waiting for you will be pleasant, but I’ll muddle through. It’ll be a great deal easier to stand the darkness if you’re the warm, lovely beacon of light at the end of it. ”

  She looked disappointed, and he hated himself for that. But of all the things he’d ever done in his life, he needed to take care and do this right. If that meant moving at the pace of a sea snail, so be it.

  “Don’t worry,” he said. “This is ideal, you’ll see. We do everything backward. It’s just how we are. We began with an elopement. After that, we made love. Next, we’ll progress to courting. When we’re old and silver-haired, perhaps we’ll finally get around to flirtation. We’ll make fond eyes at each other over our mugs of gruel. We’ll be the envy of couples half our age. ”

  She smiled. “Oh, Colin. If they could see me right now, I’d be the envy of every woman in England. ”

  “A few in Scotland, too. You forget, I was raised very near the border. ”

  He made the comment lightly, but its import sent a shiver of excitement through his bones.

  Scotland.

  The change in Colin was immediate. Minerva watched the expression on his face shift from warm affection to cold determination, in an instant.

  She dragged a coy, sensual touch down his chest, hoping to change it back.

  It didn’t work.

  He push
ed to his feet, offering her a hand. “Come, now. Quickly. ”

  “What? Why?”

  “I’ll explain on the way upstairs. We’ve no time to lose. ”

  Bewildered, she accepted his hand. He helped her up, then gathered all their discarded clothes. “By now your rooms will be prepared. They’ll have fetched your trunks from the road. I’ll see you to your suite, then send a maid to help you bathe and dress. ”

  “In the middle of the night?”

  He glanced out the open window. “Dawn will be coming on soon. ”

  He put a hand to the small of her back and gathered her close, leading her out of the room and to a grand, sweeping staircase. As they rushed up the steps, Minerva tried not to think too hard about the fact that she was tiptoeing barefoot through one of England’s grandest, most historic estates in nothing but Colin’s lawn shirt. Scandal personified.

  But then . . . someday she would be this house’s mistress. Perhaps. Assuming the courtship went smoothly.

  Lord, she was so confused.

  “And while I’m bathing and dressing, where will you be?”

  “I’ll be doing likewise,” he said. “Bathing, dressing. And then seeing to the horses. ”

  “Horses?”

  “Yes. We’ll need to leave as soon as possible. ” He stopped. “Which door was it . . . ? Aha. Here’s your suite. ”

  He led her into an exquisite sitting room decorated in ivory and sage green. Minerva could barely spare a glance to admire the carved moldings, or to emit a sigh of pleasure, as her travel-weary toes sank into the plush carpet pile.

  “Colin, we just arrived here. We’ve barely slept in days. Can’t we at least rest before we go dashing off again? This is the most beautiful room I’ve ever seen. ”

  “You look beautiful in it. ” Leaving her standing in the center of the carpet, he made a circle of the room. First, he pulled back the drapes. A silver glimmer of dawn filtered through the floor-to-ceiling windows. “Your dressing room’s here,” he said, indicating an open door. “And the bedchamber’s through that. I hope you’ll have more time to explore it the next time we come through. ” He passed closed doors, pointing. “Bath. Closet. ”

  She closed her eyes, then opened them again. “Colin. Where on earth do you mean to take me?”

  “To Scotland. To the symposium. ”

  “But . . . it’s too late. The symposium is today. ”

  “I know. That’s why we must hurry. We’ll arrive late. It can’t be helped. ”

  “How would we even arrive at all? No more coaches, Colin. We can’t. ” She knew how miserable he’d been in the post-chaise last night. She wouldn’t put him through that again, ever.

  “I have a plan,” he said. “You’ll see. ”

  “But Francine—”

  “Still exists. Plaster cast or no plaster cast. Her footprint exists. She left her mark on the world. ” He approached and took her hands in his. “And so will you, Min. Perhaps you won’t be assured the prize without the evidence in hand. But you’ll be there, and you’ll make your impression. ”

  She didn’t know what to say.

  A maid appeared in the bathing-room doorway. She cleared her throat and bobbed in a curtsy. “My lady, your bath is prepared. ”

  Colin dismissed the servant with a nod.

  He squeezed Minerva’s hands. “We’ve come this far. We’re not giving up now. This is the story of our future—the one we’re going to tell our friends and dinner guests and children and grandchildren—and the story doesn’t end with defeat. It ends in triumph. Your triumph. ”

  He lifted her hands to his lips. Kissed one, then the other.
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