A week to be wicked, p.7
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       A Week to Be Wicked, p.7
 

         Part #2 of Spindle Cove series by Tessa Dare
Page 7

 

  “Why—?” Her hands pressed flat against her belly. For a moment, she looked everywhere but at him. Then she lowered her voice and asked, “Whyever would you do that?”

  “What do you mean?” he asked, chuckling. “You kissed me. ”

  “Yes, but why would you do . . . ” Her face twisted. “The rest of it. ”

  Colin paused. “Because . . . that’s the way a grown man kisses a woman?”

  She stared at him.

  For God’s sake, she couldn’t be that naïve.

  “I know you can’t have had much experience, but surely someone’s explained the natural way of things between the sexes?” He held out his hands in an attitude of illustration and cleared his throat. “It’s like this, you see. When a man cares for a woman very, very much . . . ”

  She buffeted his shoulder with her fist, once. Then barely restrained herself from a second blow. “That’s not what I mean, and you know it. ” She lowered her voice and slid a glance toward the group of girls, who were now disappearing into the rooming house, still absorbed in their own conversation. “Why would you do that with me? A simple kiss was enough. What could you be thinking?”

  “What indeed. ” He pushed a hand through his hair, more than a little offended at her accusatory tone. “I’m male. You rubbed your . . . femaleness all over me. I didn’t think. I reacted. ”

  “You reacted. ”

  “Yes. ”

  “To . . . ” She shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “To me. ”

  “It is a natural response. Aren’t you a scientist? Then you should understand. Any red-blooded man would react to such stimulus. ”

  She stepped back. She dipped her chin and peered at him over her spectacles. “So you find me stimulating. ”

  “That’s not what I—” He bit off the rest of that sentence. The only way to end a nonsensical conversation was to simply cease talking.

  Colin drew a deep breath and squared his shoulders. He closed his eyes briefly. And then he opened them and looked at her. Really looked at her, as though for the first time. He saw thick, dark hair a man could gather by the fistful. Prim spectacles, perched on a gently sloped nose. Behind the lenses, wide-set eyes—dark and intelligent. And that mouth. That ripe, pouting, sensual mouth.

  He let his gaze drift down her form. There was a wicked thrill to knowing lushness smoldered beneath that modest sprigged muslin gown. To having felt her shape, scouting and charting her body with all the nerve endings of his own.

  Their bodies had met. More than that. They’d grown acquainted.

  Nothing more would come from it, of course. Colin had rules for himself, and as for her . . . she didn’t even like him, or pretend to. But she showed up in the middle of the night, hatching schemes that skirted the line between academic logic and reckless adventure. She started kisses she had no notion how to continue.

  Taken all together, she was simply . . .

  A surprise. A fresh, bracing gust of the unexpected, for good or ill.

  “Perhaps,” he said cautiously, “I do find you stimulating. ”

  Suspicion narrowed her gaze. “I don’t know that I should take that as a compliment. ”

  “Take it how you will. ”

  She stared in the direction of the Queen’s Ruby. The group of girls had disappeared. “Drat. I’m not sure anyone even noticed the kiss. ”

  “I noticed it. ” He rubbed his mouth with the side of his hand. The taste of ripe plums still lingered on his lips. He found himself unaccountably thirsty.

  “So when do we leave?” she asked.

  “Leave for where?”

  “Scotland, of course. ”

  “Scotland?” He laughed, surprised. “I’m not taking you to Scotland. ”

  “But . . . ” She blinked furiously. “But just now, inside. You said you chose me. ”

  “To dance with. I chose you as my dancing partner. ”

  “Yes. Precisely. You chose to dance with me, in front of all those people. To pull me outside and hold me improperly close. To kiss me, in the middle of the lane. Why would you do all that if you didn’t mean to elope?”

  “For the last time, you kissed me. As for the rest . . . I regretted that scene last night in my quarters. I felt I owed you some apology. ”

  “Oh. Oh no. ” She pressed a hand to her chest. “You’re telling me it was a pity dance? A pity kiss?”

  “No, no. ” He sighed. “Not entirely. I just thought you deserved to feel appreciated and admired. In front of everyone. ”

  “And now, for a second time in as many nights, you’re revealing that it was all deceit. So I can feel rejected and humiliated. In front of everyone. ” Red rimmed her eyes. “You can’t be doing this to me again. ”

  Oh, for the love of tits. How did this happen to him? He had the best of intentions, and then somehow . . .

  Your good intentions have the impact of mortar shells.

  “That’s it,” she said, balling her hands in fists. “I’m not letting you out of it this time. I insist that you take me to Scotland. I demand you ruin me. As a point of honor. ”

  The bell on the tavern door jingled. They jumped back from each other a pace.

  The party had outgrown the tavern, it seemed. Merrymakers spilled out from the Bull and Blossom, taking to the green.

  Sniffing, Minerva crossed her arms over her chest.

  “Listen,” he said low. “Is there some time and place we can talk? Someplace that’s not my quarters at midnight. ”

  After a pause, she straightened her spectacles. “Meet me at the head of the beach path tomorrow morning, just before dawn. ”

  “Before dawn?”

  “Too early for you?”

  “Oh no,” he replied. “I’m a very early riser. ”

  “You’re late,” she said, the next morning. The first rays of dawn glinted off her spectacles. “I’ve been waiting. ”

  “Good morning to you too, Marianna. ” Colin rubbed his bleary eyes, then his unshaven jaw. “I had to bid my cousin farewell. ”

  His gaze slid over her frock—a murky, shapeless abomination of gray fabric, buttoned to the hollow of her throat.

  “What on earth are you wearing? Did you take orders in a convent since we spoke last? Little Sisters of the Drab and Homely?”

  “I thought about it,” she said dryly. “It probably would have been the wise course of action. But no. This is my bathing costume. ” She raked him with a look. “I don’t suppose you have one. ”

  He laughed. “I don’t suppose I do. ”

  “You’ll just have to strip partway, I suppose. Come along, then. ”

  He followed her down the rocky path to the cove, bemused but undeniably intrigued. “If I’d known disrobing would be involved, I would have been more punctual. ”

  “Quickly, now. We must hurry, or the fishermen will see us. ”

  They reached the beach. The air whipping off the sea had a bracing, sobering effect, clearing some of the cobwebs from his brain. The world began to take on crisper edges.

  He stopped at the water’s edge. The sea lapped at his boots. He took a long moment to inhale deeply, then surveyed the boulder-studded cove in the misty dawn. He’d never appreciated this view before, at this hour of morning.

  It looked timeless. Almost mystical.

  Seawater splashed him in the face.

  “Wake up,” she said, removing her spectacles and placing them into a small oilcloth pouch looped over her wrist. She strode past him into the gentle waves. “Time’s wasting. ”

  He watched, incredulous, as the stark raving mad girl sank into the water. Knee-deep. Then waist-deep. Then all the way to her neck.

  “Come out of there,” he said, sounding distressingly like a nursemaid, even to his own ears. “This instant. ”

  “Why?”

  “Because it’s April. And freezing. ” And because I
m suddenly curious to see you wet, without the mud. I didn’t have a chance to appreciate the view the other night.

  Her shoulders lifted in a shrug. “It’s not so bad, once you grow used to it. ”

  For God’s sake, look at the girl. Teeth chattering, lips turning blue. Beneath that horrid garment, her nipples were probably freezing to little icicles. And she seriously expected him to join her? Him, and all his precious, highly-susceptible-to-extreme-temperatures bits?

  “Listen, Madeline. There’s been some misunderstanding. I’m not here for a swim. We need to talk. ”

  “And I need to show you an inlet, around those rocks. There’s no other way to get there but to swim. We’ll talk when we arrive. ” She cocked her head. “You’re not frightened, are you?”

  Frightened. Ha. What was that he heard, splashing into the water? Must have been a gauntlet.

  “No. ”

  Colin pried off his boots. He laid aside his coat. Then he rolled up his trouser legs, cuffing them at the knees, and likewise turned up his sleeves to the elbow.

  He girded his loins.

  “Very well. Here I come. ” He winced, plowing into the frigid depths. When the waterline reached his navel, he swore aloud. “This is true valor, I hope you know. Legends have sprung from less. All Lancelot did was paddle about in a balmy lake. ”

  She smiled. “Lancelot was a knight. You’re a viscount. The bar is higher. ”

  He gave a raspy chuckle, breathless from the cold. “Why is it,” he asked, nearing her, “that you only display that delightfully wicked sense of humor when you’re chilled and wet through?”

  “I . . . ” Her eyelashes fluttered so fast and so hard, she might have been trying to take flight with them. “I don’t know. ”

  Even though she was submerged in icy water, she blushed crimson. All her invisible barriers went back up, instantly. So odd. Most women of his acquaintance relied on physical beauty and charm to mask their less-pleasant traits. This girl did the opposite, hiding everything interesting about herself behind a prim, plain façade.

  What other surprises was she concealing?

  “Let’s keep moving,” she said. “Follow me. ”

  Swimming in easy, unhurried strokes, she led him around an archipelago of boulders, into a small inlet bounded by steep cliffs.

  Colin craned his neck, looking up at the rocky bluffs. And he knew, right then, that so long as he lived, he would never understand what made a man—or woman—look at a stone wall and think, I believe I’d enjoy attending a symposium on these.

  “So, what are we looking at?”

  “Not up there,” she said. “Down here. ”

  “Down where?” He looked around him. He saw nothing but water.

  “There’s a cave. The entrance is hidden at high tide. I’ll show you. Hold my arm. ”

  She extended her arm, and he clasped it above the elbow. She clasped his arm in similar fashion.

  She said, “Now take a deep breath. ”

  “Wait. What are we—”

  He never took that deep breath she’d suggested. Down she went, before he had any chance. Colin found himself being dragged by his arm, completely submerged beneath the water’s surface. She propelled them forward, kicking her feet like little fins.

  They’d entered some sort of tunnel, it seemed.

  He felt rock scrape against his back. He kicked, and bashed rock with his foot. He reached up, where the water’s surface ought to be.

  Rock there, too. He was trapped.

  He opened his eyes underwater. All was dark. Nothing to see. Murky as pitch. Walled in by stone. No air. No air, only water.

  He tried to swim back. She pulled him forward. Then they stopped altogether, trapped in that narrow passage of rock. His lungs burned. His limbs tingled. His ears filled with the roar of water and the frantic pounding of his heart, trapped and thrashing against his ribs.
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