Liberty for Paul, Scandalous Sisters Series, Wicked Wednesday

Wicked Wednesday!

Back by popular demand…or perhaps because of a threatening email…today I’m posting the follow up from last week.

 

To back up…

Rounding the screen, Paul swiftly walked to the end of the tub and leaned down to retrieve his clothes.

“Looking for something?”

Paul’s hands instinctively flew to his privates and his head snapped up so fast he was left with a dizzy feeling—or maybe the dizzy feeling was caused by the sight in front of him, he wasn’t sure.

Not three feet away, standing by the fireplace was his nemesis, Liberty Banks; and she was holding his clothes—directly over the roaring fire.

They weren’t actually on fire. Yet. He considered that fortunate, indeed. “Would you kindly give me back my clothes?” Paul asked irritably, glancing down at his hands to make sure he was covered properly. She might have the illusion that he owed her the privilege of viewing his body because he’d seen hers. Unfortunately for her, he wasn’t in the mood to become a source of virgin entertainment.

Liberty laughed. “You don’t need to cover up. I already saw your…” She trailed off and sent a pointed look to where his hands were doing their best to shield at least part of his body from her view. She smiled up at him with a crooked smile. Her dull brown hair was coming loose from the hideous bun she always wore on the top of her head and a lock was falling into her face, partially covering one of her hazel eyes.

“Nonetheless,” he said stiffly, twisting his body to offer more protection from her gaze. “Your game is up. And unless you want to see it again, you’ll give me my clothes back.”

“Are you threatening me, Mr. Grimes?” Liberty asked archly, lowering her hand an inch and bringing his clothes that much closer to the flames. “It seems to me that I hold all the cards, or clothes, as the case may be.”

“Indeed.” Did she want to see him naked? A chill ran down his spine. There was only one way to find out. Turning back to face her, he said, “Well, if you’ve already seen it, and you’re still holding my clothes, then I guess you didn’t get a good enough look. Do you want another peek?” He took delight as her eyes widened when he moved one of his hands away, still leaving him somewhat covered.

Under normal circumstances, he’d never be so bold as to issue such a challenge or follow through with it, but his irritation with her, coupled with his strong desire to have his clothes back and be on his way, was impacting his brain and turning him into someone he didn’t recognize.

Outstretching his free hand, Paul asked, “May I please have my clothes back now, or do I need to remove my other hand and get them myself?”

“Why should I give you your clothes back?”

“Because now we’re even,” Paul snapped.

“We’re not even,” she responded sharply, her gaze at his waist, absorbing what was exposed to her curious eyes.

“No? Would you like to bathe me, is that it?” he countered, slowly reaching for the clothes she held hostage above the fire.

“No,” she snapped, her eyes flying to his. She took the small bundle of his clothes and brought them to her chest, wrapping both arms around them and clutching them tightly to her chest.

“All right; then give me back my clothes.” He reached out farther, attempting to grab them from her arms, but she was holding them with all her might and he knew that in order for him to get them back, he’d have to use both hands.

Liberty smiled at him again. If he weren’t so infuriated with her at the moment, he’d almost think she looked pretty. Of course nobody else, including Liberty, he’d bet, actually thought she was. She had plain brown hair combined with hazel eyes and a long nose. Her mouth was wide with slightly crooked teeth and she was nearly as thin as a scarecrow. Her looks would be considered plain at best, not pretty or ugly really, just plain. But when she smiled, it lit up her face and transformed it in a way that he found rather attractive. The trouble was, she barely ever smiled, and never specifically at him—until just now.

“You’ll get your clothes back when I’m satisfied I’ll never have to clap eyes on you again,” Liberty said tartly, still smiling.

“I agree,” Paul said heartily, more than happy to oblige her. “Give me my clothes and I’ll be gone in less than ten minutes.”
Liberty shook her head. “No, that’s not good enough. I need insurance. I need to know you’ll not be coming back into this house, or my presence, ever again.”

“And taking my clothes is going to accomplish that?” Paul could feel his irritation growing again. Why didn’t she just give them back to him already?

“Don’t worry, you’ll get them back—eventually,” Liberty said, scooting along the wall away from the fireplace and to the shadowed corner.

“Listen here,” Paul hissed. “If you think that you’re going to continue to hold my clothes while I stand here naked, you’re greatly mistaken. I’ll get my clothes back one way or the other; and if you don’t give them back of your own accord, you’ll wish you had.”

“How so?” she queried from the dark corner.

Paul slowly walked closer to her. He could hear the rustle of fabric and knew she was about to do something with his clothes. He just didn’t know what. “I’m not keeping myself covered because of my own modesty.”

“I’ve already told you that you could move your hands, I already saw your thing,” she said nonchalantly, a ripping noise following her words.

Paul didn’t believe her the first time she’d told him she’d seen his tool, and he certainly didn’t believe it when he moved his first hand and her eyes were drawn to his waist like a moth to a flame. But he’d had enough, and if he had to wrestle her to the ground naked in order to get his clothes back, so be it. Removing his other hand from his privates, he raced to the corner, bent on grabbing his clothes from her evil clutches.

Liberty squealed and ran in the opposite direction, causing him to nearly collide with the wall. Throwing caution—and pride—to the wind, Paul ran after her. He chased her around the furniture, going over the bed, around the wardrobe, behind the screen, around the tub, to the vanity, and back to the tub, knocking over the screen with a loud crash as they zipped by. Paul reached out and stopped her by taking hold of the loosened ribbon on the back of her gown.

“I’ve got you now,” he breathed in her ear, after he’d tugged her back to rest against his chest.

“No, you don’t,” she said, moving in such a way that made the ribbon he held slide through the loops, freeing her from his hold. She immediately scurried to resume her former position by the fireplace.

Paul looked down at his hand where the ribbon that had once been a bow on the back of her gown now lay across his palm in a wrinkled mess. Looking back up, he saw Liberty over by the fireplace with her gown in complete disarray. Most of the buttons going down the front were undone, showing the tops of her breasts and about three inches of her corset. There was a tear in her gown along the stitching of her sleeve and the skirts were crumpled beyond repair. Her hair, for the most part, had fallen down and looked to be in an awful tangle. There was no way she could look like that after briefly running around the room, could she?

Throwing the ribbon down to the floor in disgust, Paul stared at her. She had a blank expression on her face and her gaze was leveled on his waist. But he didn’t even care. He was beyond caring. “See something you like?” he teased, hoping to distract her, so he could grab his clothes.

Her face turned crimson and she pulled her eyes up to his face, not quite meeting his eyes. “Actually, no, I didn’t. I think I would’ve liked what I saw much better if that scar,” she pointed to a jagged scar he had on his left hip that ran from his hipbone to half an inch from another part of his anatomy, “went just a little farther over.”

“You’re a bloodthirsty one, aren’t you,” Paul said easily. Leave it to her to want him emasculated, as if this whole situation weren’t bad enough already.

“I’m not bloodthirsty,” she said hotly. “It’s just a shame, that’s all.”

“A shame I was not unmanned?” he asked in disbelief. “I think that part of my anatomy has suffered at your hands enough already, thank you.” What had he ever done to her to make her harbor this hatred for him?

“How did it happen?” she asked quietly, ignoring his remark.

Paul was in awe. Her voice had been so quiet it was hard to be certain, but he could have sworn her tone had held a hint of sympathy. “When I was twelve, my brother Sam and I found my uncle’s old fencing rapiers. Never having had a fencing lesson, we started wildly swinging them around at each other. Neither of us realized the protective tip wasn’t securely attached to Sam’s until, in one undisciplined swing, Sam’s tip flew off and his rapier cut me.” Paul saw her wince and added ruefully, “Although you’ve expressed disappointment that his rapier did not travel farther, I’m rather glad it stopped where it did.”

“I’m sorry for my earlier remark, it was most unkind of me,” Liberty said softly, still looking at his scar.

“It’s all right,” he assured her. Compared to all the other things she’d said or done, that was nothing. “May I have my clothes now?”

His words pulled Liberty out of her trance. Looking down at the clothes in her arms and her own gown, she bit her lip before she looked up and met his eyes again. “I…I…”

It didn’t matter what she was going to say or do next, because just then the door to his bedchamber swung open and was followed by a shriek of surprise.

Though Paul had his back to the door, he deduced who it was; and for further confirmation, he knew with certainty he’d guessed correctly when Liberty turned as white as chalk.

 

Liberty for Paul

Wicked Wednesday

Wicked Wednesday ~ Liberty Style!

It’s Wednesday!  And that means Wicked Wednesdays have returned, and who better to start with than Liberty!

Paul rubbed his fingers over his face. Pulling his hands back, he stared at his fingers. They had more wrinkles than a ninety-year-old woman. It was definitely time to get out of the tub.

Standing up, he twisted his body and reached for the towel he knew was on the stool behind him. But instead of landing on a fluffy towel, his hand was met with the hard wooden surface of the stool. Fully turning his body around to better see the offending piece of furniture, Paul discovered the stool did not hold a towel at all. All he saw on top of the wooden seat were his wire rimmed spectacles.

Stepping out of the tub, he put on his spectacles and looked under and on both sides of the stool. There was not a towel in sight. He frowned. He remembered specifically asking the maid for a towel and taking it from her when she came back. Then he’d gone behind the screen and placed it on the stool before disrobing. Where had it gone?

Paul sighed. It wasn’t a problem; he’d just stand there a few minutes to let the air dry his body, then he’d put on his clean clothes.

When his skin felt dry enough to drag his clothes over it, Paul stepped out from behind the screen and walked over to where he’d laid his clothes out on the bed.

Reaching the bed, Paul groaned with deep irritation. Had the maid accidentally taken his clean clothes? He’d heard her come in during the middle of his bath and assumed she was trying to please her employer by being efficient. Not used to a lot of servants, he hadn’t questioned her activities. It did make sense if she’d taken the wrong clothes, since they were the only clothes on this side of the screen. The clothes he’d worn earlier were in a pile on the other side of the screen. Shaking his head, Paul padded over to the corner to dig out different clothes from his trunk.

Leaning over at the waist, he slowly opened his trunk. With one hand holding up the lid, he bent over and extended his fingers to snatch up whatever clothes were on top. Not being bent over far enough to reach anything, he bent farther and farther until his bare arse was straight up in the air and his fingers collided with the hard bottom of his empty trunk.

Straightening himself up and abruptly letting go of the lid, causing it to crash down on the box with an echoing thud, Paul grabbed a match off the bottom of the wall sconce that was directly above his trunk and lit the lamp. Surely his mind was playing tricks on him, or perhaps his vision—even with spectacles—was so bad he’d been reaching beside the chest. Those were the only explanations he was willing to entertain for his recent discovery.

Lamp lit and glowing, Paul yanked open the lid of his trunk with more force than necessary only to reveal what he already knew: there was nothing inside.
Slamming down the lid, Paul made a noise of irritation. This was the work of one person: Liberty. He’d been told the family was out visiting the earl and countess, but that didn’t mean she hadn’t given orders to the maid before she left. Now it made sense why the maid came in while he was bathing. And why his towel had gone missing.

Angrily, Paul stalked across the room. No matter how much John tried to convince him otherwise, he wasn’t staying. Having his clothes stolen was not his idea of an enjoyable visit. And this was only the first night. Who knew what other treats she had planned for him! He’d just have to put on the clothes he’d worn earlier, even if they were wrinkled and slightly wet from the snow. He knew these clothes were still in the room. He’d taken them off and thrown them in a heap at the far end of the tub. The maid hadn’t come behind the screen. Well, she’d had to in order to grab his towel from behind his back; but she hadn’t gone to the end of his tub and collected his dirty clothes.

Rounding the screen, Paul swiftly walked to the end of the tub and leaned down to retrieve his clothes.

“Looking for something?”

Liberty for Paul

 

Behind the Scenes, Bob, Characters, funny, I'm human too, Just for Fun, Liberty for Paul, Scandalous Sisters Series, things that make me laugh, Wicked Wednesday

Antique stores–not just for antiques anymore!

I live about 15-20 minutes away from a quaint older town that still has a historic downtown which consists of a main street with massive turn-of-the-century buildings that contain some items as old (or older) than the buildings.

The buildings are old. The floors creak and groan when you walk on them. Some (okay, almost all) of the stores have a…er…aroma when you walk in that seems to get stronger when you pass by specific areas.

I love it!

But what makes these stores interesting is that they’re not antiques all owned by the store owner, but rather the store is divided into sections or booths and it’s like an indoor, year-round flea market. And, what’s also neat is it’s not just limited to antiques. Sure, I’ve found some totally awesome antiques in some of these shops: vintage typewriter, candlestick phone, wall-mounted crank telephone (with guts), ice tongs, cotton scale, 50s style milk bottles–and the carrying crate; I’ve also found plenty of new items that are either made to look vintage or they’re just plain modern, but obviously people (including me…) are buying them or they wouldn’t be putting them in these booths any longer. Some of these include: bath salts, candles, salsa, custom made signs, CDs, tapes, records, DVDs, VHS tapes, greeting cards either handmade or a package of unwanted store-bought cards, soap, fancy mirrors, miscellaneous silver pieces, crayons, mis-matched plates, etc. You name it, it’s in there somewhere. I once half-jokingly told my husband Bob that it’s like some of these people are having a garage sale without the garage or the need to actually bother with running the drawer themselves. If/when it sells, it sells and if it doesn’t, they just go collect it all when they’re ready to stop renting space.

It’s truly a wonder (and I bet you all have at least one of these little treasure troves near you).

About once a month, I go troll through the row of stores. Yesterday was my January “run”. Some months I just go and look and try to keep my jaw hinged. Other times I buy something in each store. I don’t plan it that way, but it happens. I go in. Something calls my name and I have to take it home. I actually save up each month for these trips.

Yesterday only one thing called to me, and oh, did it scream! Now, it’s probably not what anyone else I know would have walked out with, but it had my name written all over it and shows you that I, too, can be just as scandalous as any of the Banks sisters…specifically Liberty. 😉

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So of course, I had to hang it above the door to my laundry room although I doubt anyone will…

IMG_3198

 

(Oh, hey, look as an added bonus, this falls on a Wicked Wednesday!)

Banks Brothers' Brides Series, His Brother's Bride, Wicked Wednesday

Wicked Wednesday ~ His Brother’s Bride

A little background on this: Henry is intent to find Laura a new husband so he can clear Elijah’s name and he’s not stuck with her–though he’s becoming undeniably attracted to her, which isn’t so great since she’s letting him believe she thinks he’s Elijah. A blow to the male ego, to be sure. To find her a new beau, he’s taken her to a local assembly where they’re pretending to be French so that nobody recognizes him. The problem? She doesn’t know French outside of a few sentences which she’s been spouting without knowing what they mean. She might not know, but the men did and when one takes a moment to inform Henry of what his “daughter” is saying, Henry does the only thing he can think to do:

Every drop of blood that had been roaring in Henry’s ears was now in his toes.

Due to the lack of blood flowing to his brain, he took a momentary leave of his senses—something he’d prided himself on never once doing during his nine years as a spy—walked straight over to where Laura was dancing with that cad, wrapped his arm around her and carried her from the floor.

Put me down!” Laura demanded of the madman who’d inhabited Henry’s body and carried her from the middle of the floor. She let out a slight shriek when he tightened his hold.

He ignored her demands and the curious stares from the onlookers as he carried her straight from the ballroom to a little room off to the side, where he promptly did as she asked and put her down—on the soft surface of a plush settee.

What was that about?” she asked, crossing her arms. She knew it was foolish to ask. He’d never tell her. While a gentleman could demand a lady’s motives and use physical force, if necessary, to get her to expose them, a woman could make similar demands until her throat was raw and still wouldn’t have an answer.

Parlez-vous du français?”

She bit her lip. “Oui.”

Comment faire vous vous sentez de moi”

She swallowed, hard. Then she lifted her chin. “Viens ici que je te saute.

Vraiment?”

Oui,” she said without hesitation.

Henry sneered, “Madam, do you have any idea what you just said to me?”

She pulled her lower lip between her teeth but didn’t say anything.

I didn’t think so,” he said thickly, sinking to the haunches to close the gap between them. He lifted his hands to cup her face. “Perhaps you’d like for me to show you?”

Laura moistened her lips with the tip of her tongue. Was he about to kiss her? The very idea was laughable. He had no genuine interest in her, for if he did, he wouldn’t have kept finding her dance partners.

I’m not in need of any demonstration,” she said in a broken whisper.

His eyes held a gleam she’d never seen before and she shivered.

As if he didn’t hear her weak protest, he brought his lips to hers.

His lips were surprisingly soft, she noted.

Just as quickly, he jerked away as if he’d been burned and muttered a mild curse. He stood, removed his hat and raked his hand through his hair.

That’s what I was saying?” she asked, dumbfounded. She mindlessly lifted her fingertips to her lips that were still tingling from the three seconds they’d been pressed against Henry’s. “I was asking for a kiss?”

No.” His voice was sharp. He cleared his throat. “What you were asking for might involve a kiss, but only as a mere afterthought.”

She furrowed her brow. “I don’t understand.”

You were suggesting the two of you go away together so you could allow him to sample your wares.”

Her eyes grew wide. “I said all of that?”

He scowled. “No. What you said was far more vulgar—including you asking to sample his wares. I was merely phrasing it nicely.”

Oh, dear.” She had the strangest urge to laugh. The faces of the twenty or so different dance partners she’d said that to flooded her mind. That’s why they’d been smiling and it had taken a firm reminder that her “father” was waiting for her return. Good grief! A burble of laughter welled up inside of her and she was no longer able to control it.

You think it’s humorous?” Henry’s face was expressionless, save his clenched jaw.

Well, yes,” she said with a giggle.

And what if one of them had tried to fulfill your demand?”

My demand?”

To come close so you can initiate intimacies with him.”

She laughed even harder, her body convulsing with it. The idea that she’d ever initiate intimacies with anyone was more comical than a man wearing a purple suit of clothes, white cream on his face, and a hat with bells while standing on stilts, juggling and singing about his longing for a wife.

I don’t know why you find this so funny, madam; but those words whispered to the wrong man could lead you into more trouble than you can imagine.”

Like you,” she suggested between peals of laughter.

Yes.”

She sobered instantly, their eyes locking. His were still dark and intense. She swallowed her unease. She’d been uncomfortable in his presence before, but never like she was now. “I hope you know when I said that, that I wasn’t issuing an invitation. I was just…”

Spouting nonsense?”

She nodded. That was exactly what she was doing. Robbie had said those words to her, or other ladies within her earshot, on more than one occasion, but she never knew what it meant.

I know you did not know what you were saying. But still, you’d better be careful who you say that to; and if you ever say it in my presence again, you’d best be ready to fulfill that promise.”

A shiver skated down her spine at the roughness in his voice. Would he try to kiss her again? Did she want him to?

I do believe it’s time for us to take our leave from here.”

And where shall we go?” She hadn’t meant to ask it, but now that she had…

Home.”

Home. What a foreign word. “I presume you mean your home,” she murmured, standing.

He lowered his lashes as if he didn’t know how to respond, not that she’d expected him to. It was the truth. Where they’d been staying was his home, not hers. She hadn’t had a home in many years, only places of residence.

Laura walked over to the door and waited for Henry to join her. Something was odd about him. He was unusually quiet and stiff, yes stiff. His movements weren’t as graceful as they usually were, and he appeared a bit…distracted.

Would you like to wait here while I have the carriage sent?”

No. I’ll go with you.”

Very well.” He opened the door for her and then escorted her down the hall.

Is something amiss?” she asked when she could no longer stand the silence between them.

No.”

She frowned. “I hope you don’t intend to blame me for giving away your identity because of my blatant lack of knowing French.”

He flashed a half smile at her and with a thick French accent said, “I wasn’t aware my identity was revealed, madame.”

Then why are you upset? What have I done?”

He froze, his eyes searching hers. “Nothing.”

It’s not nothing. What has made you turn so cold? One minute, your lips are on mine, and the next, you’ve become a monosyllabic statue.”

I wasn’t aware statues could talk, in one syllable or five.”

They can’t,” she burst out. “You know exactly what I mean. You—you—” She closed her mouth with a snap. He knew what she meant; he was being obtuse on purpose.

What do you want from me, Laura?” He peeled off his mustache and leaned in closer. “Do you want me to kiss you again?”

Heat flooded her, but she couldn’t deny it. Kissing him was different than anything she’d ever known; not that she could tell him that. His male pride would soar and he’d never see any reason to be kind to her again.

Hmm?” he asked, closing the space between them.

She could practically feel his lips against hers, though they were still a hair’s breadth away.

Then, they were on hers again, sending the same delicious sensations through her body. Soft and gentle, his lips moved over hers. Henry’s hands came up to cup her face, holding her to him. She didn’t mind and wanted desperately to wrap her arms around his neck to keep him there, but fear held her back.

He parted his lips and drew her bottom lip in between his and gently raked his teeth over it. She gasped. He repeated the gesture, this time running his tongue over her lip just afterwards. “Henry,” she said on a sigh.

He froze.

She froze.

He pulled back from her, his eyes still dark with desire but also narrowed on her. In them, she saw the question his lips had yet to speak.

A chill ran over her. What would he say when he learned that she’d known all along?

Laura.”

She squeezed the fan in her hand; both of his hands still holding her face. “Yes?”

What did you just say?”

Were she a sarcastic sort, she’d have repeated the word yes; but she knew what he’d meant, and she also knew it would not be in her best interest to trifle with him. “I said, Henry. Your name. If you’d rather I didn’t, I could call you Mr. Ban—”

The rest of her sentence was cut off when his lips took hers again. This time, his kiss was different, more passionate. He parted his lips against hers and ran the tip of his tongue along the seam of her lips. She gasped his name, and devilish man that he was, he took advantage of her surprise to push his tongue into her mouth.

A small measure of panic built in her chest, momentarily dampening her enjoyment of his kiss. Would he gag her or slobber on her?

Her thought was banished in an instant as Henry slowly brushed the inside of her left cheek, then her right, taking time to taste her. She instinctively moved closer to him. His kiss was so different than any she’d ever experienced before, and for as wanton and unladylike as it was, she craved more and wasn’t ready for him to stop.

But he did.

Panting, he pulled back. “Let’s go.”

Go? Go where?” she asked, blinking in confusion.

He showed no sign of being annoyed or irritated with her inane question; instead, he reached for her hand, laced their fingers together, opened the front door and said, “To Scotland.”

Banks Brothers' Brides Series, His Jilted Bride, Wicked Wednesday

Wicked Wednesday ~ His Jilted Bride

Today’s post is “wicked” in a different sort of way. Elijah plays a wicked trick on Amelia which then leads to another activity that I wouldn’t be so vulgar as to post here!

A little set up, earlier that morning Amelia asks Elijah to be a dear and get rid of Mr. Henry Hirsute, his pet tarantula. Of course Elijah doesn’t wish to comply and they reach a compromise that Mr. Henry Hirsute will move from their bedroom to the parlor area and now Amelia and Elijah have just returned from a day out…

The picnic was wonderful with the tall shade tree, the cool water covering them to their ankles, the gentle breeze, the delicious food, and most importantly the company. Three days ago, she’d have never imagined they could be both friends and lovers. But last night had certainly changed her opinion of that. Her skin grew warm just thinking about it. Perhaps when they got inside, he’d hold up his earlier promise of ‘later’.

Or perhaps not.

Elijah, why isn’t the glass on Mr. Henry Hirsute’s cage?” she nearly shrieked, on the verge of hysterics as she entered the little cabin where they were staying.

I didn’t know it wasn’t.” Elijah stepped around her and went to the cage. “Damn,” he muttered.

Damn? Damn what? What are you damning, Elijah?”

He shot her his best smile. “It would appear Mr. Henry Hirsute has decided to go on another travel adventure.”

Amelia shrieked. She didn’t give a hang if that made her a ninny. There was a fuzzy spider on the loose, and it could be anywhere! Screaming like a madwoman, she ran through the cabin to jump on the bed, stepping only on her tiptoes as she went. She wasn’t going to put her whole foot on the floor until Mr. Henry Hirsute was back in his prison cell.

You think being on the bed will keep you safe?”

Amelia shivered. “It won’t?”

Elijah shrugged lazily. “I don’t see why it would. He can crawl up just as easily as he can crawl across a flat surface.”

Amelia jumped to her feet. “Elijah, I swear if I see that filthy scoundrel, I’ll kill him.”

Elijah chuckled and peered behind the bureau then under the wardrobe. “Must you call him a scoundrel? It’s not as if he’s the greatest debaucher in all of England.”

No,” she said with a sniff. “He’s worse.”

Shaking his head, Elijah lifted the overhanging bedsheets and searched underneath them for his errant pet.

Why did you have to keep him?” Amelia asked again.

Elijah frowned. “I couldn’t let him die, could I?”

No, but you could have at least let his namesake adopt him.”

You’re in a rather humorous mood today, aren’t you?” He lifted one of the bed pillows and looked underneath.

Amelia’s skin crawled. If that dratted menace had shed even one hair in this bed, she’d be taking up residence in the main house. “Why can’t you give him to Henry?”

Elijah heaved the loudest sigh she’d ever heard. “I don’t think that’s wise. What with how upset he was when Mr. Fuzzinelli died.”

And just who was Mr. Fuzzinelli,” she asked though she doubted she really wanted to know.

Elijah placed his hands around her ankles, searing her skin straight through her stockings. “A distant relative of Mr. Henry Hirsute’s.”

Enough said.” She darted her gaze around the room to see if she spotted the soon-to-be dead visitor. “Why did you name him after your brother, anyway?” she asked, hoping conversation would distract her enough to calm her nerves.

I thought to name him Harry Hirsute, but that seemed too redundant because hirsute already means hairy, So naming him Harry Hirsute seemed to put too much pressure on him to keep his hair. What if he were to start losing it?” He shook his head, his eyes wide as if he were feigning some sort of great outrage. “Besides, Harry by itself is just too popular of a name.”

Yes, because everyone names their pet tarantula Harry,” she said on the verge of hysteria again. She hadn’t spotted the vile creature anywhere which left two options: one, it was in the common room, or two, it was hiding and waiting to make its grand reappearance later—most likely at a time when Elijah wouldn’t be present. “Elijah, I’m telling you now, if I see Mr. Henry Hirsute and he’s not in his box, his new name will be Mr. Elijah Expired.”

All right, but that means you have to come down here and help me look.”

Just then, something touched her calf and she squealed like the little ninny Elijah and Henry used to claim her to be. “Something touched me! Mr. Elijah Expired just crawled on my calf!”

Hmm, I guess I’ll have to look into that for you,” Elijah said cool as can be, slowly lifting her skirt. He handed her the fabric to hold and slowly skimmed his hands up her calves, his eyes never leaving hers.

Were the circumstances any different, she’d melt into a boneless heap at his touch. He slowly rolled down the top of her stocking, then leaned forward and placed a kiss just behind her knee. “Elijah, now isn’t the time,” she choked. “Mr. Elijah Expired touched me. You have to find him now.”

Yes, Mr. Elijah touched you,” he agreed, caressing her calves. “Mr. Elijah Banks, that is. Your friend Mr. Henry Hirsute has been safely curled up in the bottom of his box this whole time. I must not have shut the glass all the way, but he never got out.”

All the muscles in her body relaxed. “Why didn’t you tell me that sooner?”

I’d planned to.” He moved his hands up to rub her thighs, inching ever closer to where she ached to have him most. “But when I saw you stand up on the bed like this, I decided not to miss the chance to do this.” Just then, two of his strong fingers pressed against the sensitive flesh between her legs in the most delicious way.

She released her hold on her skirt and her hands flew to his shoulders for balance as his probing fingers continued their exploration, now adding a third to the fray. Her knees buckled and his strong hands moved to catch her.

Lie down.”

Banks Brothers' Brides Series, His Yankee Bride, Wicked Wednesday

Wicked Wednesday ~ His Yankee Bride

As we all already know, Carolina has NO shame. Sorry, but it’s true and we all know it. There’s no sense in denying it. As a setup for this scene, Carolina has gone to look for John with a picnic hamper in tow. Except she can’t find him. Why? Because he’s trying to avoid her. So in a resignation that she’s not going to get to have lunch with him she goes to her favorite secluded spot by the pond to eat–and just as she approaches, she see’s something: a shirtless man swimming in the water!

John’s skin prickled with awareness. Someone was out there watching him.

He sank lower in the water until all that could be seen was his head.

“Who’s there?” he shouted.

Nothing.

He kicked his feet and moved to the middle of the pond to get a better view of the trees that encircled the pond. A soft sound of twigs breaking under someone’s foot stole his attention.

“Show yourself.”

His command went unheeded and he continued to scan the thicket of trees.

Mrs. Ellis seemed to have a severe distaste for him, but surely even she wouldn’t be so coarse as to approach him while he was bathing.

A flash of pink caught his eye.

He groaned. “Come on out, Carolina,” he called.

He thought she might ignore his request and was quite relieved when she stepped out from behind her hiding spot in the trees and walked toward the pond.

“What are you doing?” he demanded.

She shrugged. “I came over here to have a picnic and…”

If he was one who placed wagers, he’d guess she’d been looking for him so he could be her picnic companion. “Well, if you’ve satisfied your curiosity, I’d appreciate it if you’d find something else to amuse yourself with this afternoon.” He sorely hoped she’d take his meaning and leave. There were only two possible outcomes if someone were to find them like this. One was marriage, the other was death. One of those—he wouldn’t say which—was slightly more preferable than the other. But only slightly.

“There’s another pond, one far more private, just over that way.” She pointed to the left; her eyes still trained on where he was treading water in the middle of the pond. Had she no shame? He already knew she lacked the manners all the other females of his acquaintance possessed, but did she have to stand there and stare at him?

“Thank you. I’ll keep that in mind.”

She took a seat on the plush green grass that lined the edge of the pond. “Would you like to come out and have lunch with me? I’m sure Bethel packed enough for both of us.”

He’d just bet she had. “No, I think I’d like to swim a little longer.”

“Oh, well, that’s all right. You keep swimming. I’m famished. I have to eat.”

“Is there nowhere else you can picnic?” Perhaps somewhere that wasn’t within a stone’s throw of a naked man in a pond?

“No.” She opened the picnic hamper and began removing some of the items. “I rather like it here.”

She wouldn’t like it if he stepped out of the water. Actually, she probably would. He suppressed that thought immediately. “Carolina, do you think your stomach can manage not to eat itself for just a moment, so you may leave while I get out of the water?”

Carolina seemed not to hear him and continued to pull items out of the basket. “You need not worry. I’ve seen a man’s chest before.”

“Perhaps so, but have you seen a man’s pego?” The words were out before he could think to stop himself from saying them.

“Pardon me, what?”

In for a penny, in for a pound, he supposed. “A man’s pego, rudder, snake, rod, bauble, tallywag, member. Have you seen one before?”

Her cheeks turned bright red, as he’d hoped they would. “N-no.”

“Very well, and if you plan to keep it that way, then you’d better leave, so I can get out of the water and put my clothes back on.”

Carolina’s eyes shot to where his clothes were in a pile by the shore, but she made no move to get up. “How about if I turn around? Then, when you’re dressed, we can have lunch together.”

John wanted to groan. “Does anything scandalize you?”

“No.” She tucked a long, curly tendril of hair behind her ear. “At least not where you’re concerned.”

“Why the devil not?” he burst out.

She brought her hands to her lap and looked at him. “Because I know you’re only saying those things to put me off. But I have news for you, John Banks. It’s not working.”

“And I have news for you, Carolina Ellis. Your news isn’t news at all. Furthermore, if I didn’t think it was possible for your brother or someone else to happen upon us at any moment, I wouldn’t hesitate to get out of this water.”

“Then go ahead.”

“No,” he bit off. “I’d rather not get married with the barrel of your father’s gun pressing into my back.”

“Ah, so you do wish to marry me.”

He ground his teeth. “I never said that.”

She shook her head and sighed. “I don’t understand why you’re being so stubborn.”

“And I don’t understand why you think I want to offer you marriage.”

Carolina’s face fell. “I already told you. It’s the way you look at me.”

“Yes, well, perhaps I think you’re beautiful. But that’s as far as my attraction for you goes.” He tore his eyes away and coughed, silently praying she didn’t challenge the validity of his words.

Silence filled the air between them and he dared not venture a look in her direction. “Are you practicing your near honesty now?” she asked airily, emphasizing the word near.

He ground his teeth. “No. That was a perfectly honest statement.”

“All of it?”

“Yes,” he bit off.

“Say what you wish.” She gestured to the food she’d laid out. “Wouldn’t you like to join me? I’m sure you’re hungry after working so hard this morning.”

“No, I’m quite content, thank you. I had a large bowl of slop before I came out here. I should be able to tread water for at least another four hours before requiring anything else.”

“Suit yourself,” she called back, taking a bite of a roasted chicken leg. “You do realize if you tread water for four hours straight, you’ll likely get a blistering sunburn?”

It wouldn’t take that long. He’d been so hot the last few days he’d taken his shirt off several times before feeling his skin burn and remembering to put it back on. That’s actually why he came to the pond: to soothe the blisters he already had. Unfortunately, they might only get worse if he didn’t get out of the sun soon. “Then perhaps, if you don’t wish such a fate as blistered skin upon your darling, you should leave so he may dress.”

Carolina nearly lost her grip on her chicken leg. “Now, I’m certainly not leaving.”

“Why, so you might torture me longer?”

“No, because you just admitted to being my darling.”

“You know that wasn’t what I meant.” He brought his cupped hand up to the surface of the water and moved it in a sweeping semi-circle, creating a large spray of water. “Why are you here?”

“To enjoy a picnic.”

“And it’s just a coincidence you decided to have your picnic forty feet from a naked man?”

“Actually, it is. I didn’t know you were here when I came to the pond.”

A few minutes went by with John treading water and Carolina happily eating her lunch.

“Why are you really here, Carolina,” he burst out at last.

“I told you. I came to the pond to have a picnic.”

Banks Brothers' Brides Series, His Contract Bride, Wicked Wednesday

Wicked Wednesday ~ His Contract Bride

For as naughty as Edward is in his son’s book–Her Sudden Groom–he hasn’t quite developed his full sense of impropriety in his own. Don’t get me wrong, he has his moments, but that’s not what I’m going to post. Instead, I think I’m going to post what just might be one of his most tortured moments…

After their guests were gone, she excused herself to go wait in her room. Today was Wednesday, the night Edward normally sought entry to her room.

Ever the observant lady’s maid, Georgie helped her into the appropriate nightgown and left Regina alone to wait for her husband. Would he come? She dismissed the thought immediately. Of course he would. He wasn’t the one who’d had his heart broken today. He wasn’t in love with her, nor had he ever been. For him, nothing had changed today. There was no reason for him not to come.

Just as the clock struck eleven came the soft knock at the adjacent door and with it fear’s icy grip settled around Regina’s heart. What if now that she knew the truth, he’d cease the charade and would no longer be the gentle lover he’d been in the past; but instead be aggressive and demanding? Her blood turned to ice in an instant.

He’d never seemed the sort who’d purposely hurt her for doing something to his disliking, but now that all was exposed…

She sucked in a sharp breath and opened the connecting door.

Regina.”

Y-yes?”

The room was as dark as it always was when he came to visit and all she could see of him was the outline of his form and the side of his face. Without a word of warning, his hands settled on her arms just above the elbows like they always did when he came to visit her at night.

But this time, it felt different when his hands touched her.

Before, they’d felt warm and loving, and now they just felt hard and cold, devoid of any real sense of love and affection―similar to the way her father tried to be affectionate when circumstances dictated.

She jerked at the thought. “Forgive me,” she murmured as his fingers tightened a fraction on her upper arm, helping her keep her balance. The firmness of his grasp was different, too. He’d never held her so tight. Was he angry with her for jerking at his touch? Her lower lip quivered on its own accord and she dug her teeth into its tender flesh to hold it steady.

Regina,” Edward whispered, leaning his head closer. His lips landed awkwardly against hers. He pulled back. “Is something the matter?”

N-no.” She forced her teeth to relinquish her lip and cleared her throat. “No. Perhaps we should…” She took a hard swallow. “The bed,” she whispered.

All right.”

Regina twisted out of his grasp and padded across the room to her bed. There was a sense of safety, albeit a small one, in being in her bed where she could dig her fingers into the sheets and hold on until it was over, as her aunt had instructed. For now that she was about to share intimacies with a man who didn’t love her, her aunt’s advice just might be helpful.

Nervous, she tripped slightly when her foot got caught in the length of that billowing nightgown she was now thankful for and clumsily climbed into her bed, tangling the fabric around her feet.

Instinctively, she kicked her leg to work out the heavy tangle and set herself free.

Are you all right?” Edward asked.

She stilled. Did he sense her discomfort? She nearly sighed. Only a fool wouldn’t be able to see how overwrought she was. “I’m all right,” she lied. She licked her lips and waited for him.

Slowly, he approached the bed and shed his dressing gown. Though it was dark with only the low glow of the moon offering any amount of light, Regina lowered her lashes, unable to force herself to look at him. During his previous visits, she’d let all of her shame vanish and would watch him remove his robe, hoping to catch a glimpse of him. But not now. Now it seemed inappropriate somehow. Indecent.

The mattress dipped under his weight as he joined her. His hand found her hip and she jumped, startled.

Forgive me,” she whispered.

He moved his hand from her hip to the side of her stomach then let it drift down to her side again. “There’s nothing to forgive,” he murmured against her ear.

Regina fisted her hands into the counterpane. She could do this. All the other ladies in England did this and so could she. It was Edward. She’d shared intimacies with him many times before; it was no different this time.

But, yes, it was. This time there was no illusion of deceit that he loved her. Her hands clenched tighter. This time his touch wasn’t the same. He was touching her in all the same places and with the same movements, but for some reason, they didn’t excite her body as they had in the past. Instead, they felt practiced as if everything he’d done all along had been insincere. And perhaps everything had been, to keep up the pretense that he had married her for love.

Her heart slammed in her chest and her body jerked on its own accord. Whether because of her unnerving thoughts or Edward’s unnerving touch, she’d never know.

Regina,” he said, brushing his lips across her cheek.

Only yesterday, the gesture would have melted her on the spot, but not tonight. Instead of relaxing against him or moving her face to grant him better access to her cheek, she squeezed her eyes shut and said a silent prayer that he’d be done soon.

Tears filled her eyes. Everything her aunt said had come true. As much as she’d never believed herself capable of finding Edward’s touch repulsive, that is exactly what it was. And because of what? Because he didn’t love her. That wasn’t anything new. She squeezed her eyes shut tighter to hold in the tears. Nobody in her life had ever loved her. Not her father, nor her brother, and now not even her husband.

Edward’s lips moved dangerously close to hers, eliciting an uncontrollable tremble.

Immediately, Edward’s hand stilled and his face pulled away from hers. “Is something the matter?”

No.”

At her hip, one of his fingers idly tapped. “Have I done something you dislike?”

No.” It wasn’t really a lie. It wasn’t necessarily his kisses and caresses that she hadn’t liked, but the fact that he’d lied to her. And she didn’t even dislike that. She loathed it. “Pray continue.”

His finger stopped its tapping and he heaved a deep sigh. Dropping his head into the pillow, he pulled Regina against his warm body.

What was he doing? Sure, he’d held her many times before—but only after they’d finished being intimate, never before.

She peeked at his face through her eyelashes. His eyes were shut. Did he intend to fall asleep without…without…?

The following minutes stretched into what felt like hours, and finally, deep breathing and soft snoring filled the air.

~*~*~

Obviously, this scene came after Regina learned the truth of their marriage, but what’s most important about this scene was that it was here that Edward realized just how deeply hurt Regina was by it all.

[Oh, and did you notice that their “day” was on Wednesday…just like Wicked Wednesday…. I can honestly tell you that by the end of the book, it wouldn’t have mattered what night of the week it was for these two, formality disintegrated in the flames of their passion. But I did find it humorous today when I went to post this that their ‘day’ happened to be Wicked Wednesday–I’m sure that was definitely an Edward thing.]

Secrets of a Viscount, Wicked Wednesday

Wicked Wednesday ~ Secrets of a Viscount

This scene will be short, but is very wicked, indeed! It was one of my favorites to write.

A little set up:

Isabelle, or Belle as the hero calls her, has worn a dress that Sebastian thinks has a bodice a tad too low. Since he’s not only still secretly her husband but is also trying to be her friend and help her find a suitable replacement for him as a husband, he tells her that he thinks her bodice reveals too much. But when it becomes apparent to him that she doesn’t seem to think it’s as indecent or distracting as he finds it, he tries to tell her again and she starts to run off. And that’s where we pick up…

 

“Belle, I said to stop.”

She walked on.

He wrapped his arm around her waist, picked her up, and then carried her into the library and straight to a settee where he put her down with less grace than she might have preferred.

Just as he suspected, that didn’t deter her and she immediately began pushing to her feet. “How dare you!”

“How dare I?” he repeated in the same tone she’d used, jabbing a finger toward his chest. “You’re the one making a public display of yourself.”

“By finding something humorous? I think not.” She twisted her lips. “Now, you’re dragging me from the card room like some highhanded husband who’d just found his wife having an affair will make me a mockery for certain.”

He crossed his arms. “I wasn’t acting as a highhanded husband—”

“No, because you willingly gave that role away without a second thought many years ago.”

Her words stole the wind right from his lungs. “I was trying to protect you.”

“Protect me? From what?”

He gestured toward her low-cut bodice. “Yourself.”

She stared at him a moment, then he’d swear she pushed her chest out further as she stepped toward him and let her shawl fall to the floor. “While I cannot begin to comprehend why you have such an interest in my body—” she reached for the long end of the gold chorded bow on the front of her bodice and began to slowly pull the string— “I should like to remind you that as neither my father, nor my husband, you have no say over who I might share my body with.” She gave the chord one final tug and the knot slipped loose, allowing the center of her bodice to fall open about an inch.

Sebastian’s mouth ran dry.

“I believe you might recall having seen me without my clothes once, but perhaps you’ve neglected to notice that my body isn’t the same as it was back then…”

No, he hadn’t neglected to notice. He was noticing right now and it was making him break out in a cold sweat as his blood raced through his veins. But nothing short of a miracle could make him take his eyes away from where she’d pulled her bodice open just a fraction more, offering him only a slight, almost teasing, glance at the valley between the rounded globes of her breasts.

“As the only one who has control of my body—” she continued, reaching for his hand— “I can share with whoever I want.” She brought his hand to her warm skin and like a seductress he’d have never thought her to be, she slowly moved his hand in a way that dragged his fingertips across the plane of her chest, with each sweep she made, moving them just that much closer to her breasts.

“You’re playing a very dangerous game,” he practically growled at her; his fingers itched to take advantage, but he couldn’t. Not yet. Her game was too intriguing for him to stop playing it.

“Am I?”

“Yes.” This time he did move to take advantage of what she was offering him and pressed the pads of his fingers into the softness of the side of her breast where she’d last stopped his hand. His erection nearly doubled in size where it was pressed against the softness of her stomach.

Something flickered in her eyes, but before he could name it, it was gone. Then suddenly, so was his hand from her body as she squeezed his wrist and thrust his hand away. “You are the biggest hypocrite. You’re not interested in protecting me from the unwanted attentions of men who might see me. You’re only interested in protecting yourself. How tragic it would be that the lofty Lord Belgrave desired the young lady whom he’d once spurned and condemned to a life of shame? I do hope you enjoyed this because it is the last time you’ll ever be afforded such liberties from me.”

“And why did you afford them to me at all?” he asked around the blood thundering through his ears.

“To see that my theory was correct,” she spat as she retied her bodice. “And it was.”

He scoffed and reached forward to turn her chin up so she’d have to see his eyes. “You don’t know anything about what you think you do.”

“No?” Challenge flashed in her eyes. “I know plenty. The very idea that someone else might be allowed to enjoy my body rankles you. I didn’t know why before—” she shot a triumphant glance down below his waist where only a moment ago a large erection has tented his trousers— “but now I do.”

“Any man would react that way,” he said with a snarl.

“Not one who didn’t hold any interest,” she retorted. She cocked her head to the side. “What I wonder, is why you have any interest at all when we both know you shouldn’t.”

No, he shouldn’t. Shame washed over him. “You’re right. I should not have reacted that way. I beg your forgiveness.”

She sliced a hand through the air. “I don’t want your apologies. I want you to admit the truth.”

“Which is?”

“That your interest in me is beyond that of a friend.”

He pressed his lips together. “No.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s not true. I only care for you as a friend.”

She arched her brow at him.

“As I told you before, any gentleman would have responded that way.” He forced a shrug. “Breasts are breasts, Belle. Any man presented with a pair and given the freedom to touch them would do so. It doesn’t matter whose they are.”

“Liar.”

Sebastian bristled. “Not at all. Go play that trick on any of the gentleman here tonight, they’d all have the same reaction. Even Giles.”

Her face turned scarlet. “You haven’t changed a bit.”

“Were you hoping I had?” he teased, giving himself pause. Did she have an interest in him? He dismissed the idea immediately. There wasn’t a single reason for her to like him and she’d made sure he was well aware of that.

“Yes, I had,” she said, inclining her chin. “I’d hoped we’d be friends. But instead all you’ve done is given me a shabby list of potential husbands and acted like the highhanded lord you are. If not desire, then I am at a loss for your reasons for being so highhanded with me. Nonetheless, I shan’t abide you or your pompous attitude a day longer.” Then, without another word, or bothering to pick up her shawl, she spun and walked from the room.

Sebastian should go after her. He knew that, but for some reason he couldn’t as part of her words kept tumbling over and over in his mind: why was he being so protective of her? In all fairness to Belle, Lady Mary’s bodice was even lower than hers had been and he hadn’t once been distracted by what she’d revealed. He fell into a nearby chair and covered his face with his hands. Breasts weren’t just breasts. Every set did not hold as much appeal as any other. At least not for him. He groaned. He did desire her.

Groom Series, Her Imperfect Groom, Wicked Wednesday

Wicked Wednesday ~ Her Imperfect Groom

I don’t know about any of you, but I had to laugh a little at the idea of Sir Wallace being involved in anything wicked.

Alas, this was as wicked as he gets. He tricks Edwina, then both of them lower their guard and get into an extremely compromising situation…and then… Well, why sum it up. Here’s the scene!

Outside his room, she stood in silence. Should she knock? She shrugged. She’d be better served not to knock, that way he couldn’t refuse her.

She closed her hand over the knob and threw the door open.

A startled yelp greeted her. Wallace grabbed a pillow from his bed and used it to cover his bared private area. His movements had been jerky and unstable, presumably from being bedridden for so long.

Standing stock-still, she couldn’t command her eyes to leave his naked body if she’d wanted to. His shoulders were broad, as was his hair-covered chest. His stomach was smooth and flat, with a hint of a line of rippled muscles. A line of dark hair divided his abdomen in two then disappeared behind the pillow he held onto. A heated blush stole over her and she jerked her eyes away before they could greedily drink anymore of him in. “I need your help.”

Can’t it wait until tomorrow?” he asked, color rising in his cheeks.

She shook her head. Tomorrow Mother or Caroline would be with her if she came to see him, she couldn’t ask him to read her the letter then. “No.”

His dark gaze penetrated her and he shifted his pillow to better cover himself. “What’s your game?”

My game?”

Why are you here?”

Edwina held up the folded missive she’d carried down with her. “I need to know what it says.”

Wallace’s face flushed crimson and he twisted his lips. The hand he used to hold the pillow in front of him flexed, causing the muscles in his arms to grow and the tendons in his neck to show. “Why?”

Because I need to know,” she whispered. Oh, how she’d longed to know what that missive said. But she didn’t dare ask Caroline to read it to her. Caroline would have, of course, but Edwina wanted Wallace to be the one with her when she finally knew what those words were. Even if Wallace held her in disdain and had nearly died because of her actions, he would be the biggest comfort for her. She was sure of it.

The contents of that letter are unimportant,” he said in a hoarse whisper.

Stung, Edwina instinctively gripped the parchment tighter. “They’re of great importance to me.”

He lowered his gaze. “I’m afraid the meaning of that letter isn’t quite the same any longer.” His words weren’t quite even.

Edwina’s heart hammered in her chest. “What have I done that has made you treat me so cruelly? I didn’t make you fight in that duel. You chose to do that without hearing my side of things.”

He reached his free hand out. “Just give me the letter and go back to your bed.”

No.” She brought the letter closer to her chest.

He twisted his lips. “How did you get it anyway?”

She knit her brows. “My mother gave it to me.”

Well, she shouldn’t have,” he muttered, frowning.

It does have my name on it,” she said sardonically, then pointed the exterior of the missive toward him. “I may not be able to read anything else, but I do recognize my own name when I see it.” That was true enough. When she was originally given the letter, she didn’t recognize the letters as spelling her name, but after those few afternoons spent with Wallace, she was able to recognize the majority of the letters. A lump clogged her throat. Where was the sweet gentleman who was determined to be patient with her as he taught her to read? Apparently that duel had turned his heart to stone. There was no other reason for why he was acting this way.

Fine,” he clipped. He reached for the letter again.

She pulled it away. “I don’t know if I want you to read it to me now. Perhaps I misjudged you.” She turned to the door.

Where are you going?” he asked, his voice so close, she swore he was standing directly behind her.

She peeked her head around to see him. He was directly behind her. “Since you’ve decided to be beastly to me, I’ve decided I shall just ask Caroline to read it to me.”

No, you won’t,” he growled, reaching around her, trying to take the letter from her firm grasp.

Keeping her head turned so she could see his face, she pressed it flat against her chest. Truly, what did he think was in this letter that would lead him to act this way? “Sir Wallace, I—”

He cut her off with a quick kiss and a shiver ran down her spine. “I’ve asked you not to call me that,” he whispered.

Edwina’s lips tingled from their kiss. “But that was before the duel.”

He didn’t deny or confirm her inane charge or the impact that duel had had on their relationship. Instead, he bent his head forward and pressed his lips to hers again. Soft and gentle, his lips moved over hers. She matched his movements, exerting pressure when he did, and moving her lips to let his mold around hers. His kiss was exquisite. Her body relaxed and she brought her hand up to rest against his smooth cheek.

Abruptly, his lips left hers and he took a step back, his arm—and her note—leaving their former position. Shaking the note, he said, “You may go now.”

Rage and hurt washed over her. She spun around to face him. “What a dirty trick to play, Sir Wallace.”

I apologize. Now, would you please take your leave?”

I will not.” She put her left hand on her hip and held her right hand out to him. “My letter, if you please.”

He didn’t make any move to hand it back to her.

She took a step toward him.

He took a giant step closer to the roaring fire.

Panic built up in her chest. He wouldn’t throw it in the fire, would he? It certainly appeared that was his intention.

His left hand was still clutching that pillow in front of himself and his right hand was extending the letter in the direction of the flames.

Emotion clogged her throat. “Don’t!” She half-cried, half-croaked, tears pricking her eyes and terror freezing her in place. “That’s all I have left of my father, please don’t throw it into the flames.”

Father?” Wallace echoed. He brought the note in front of his face and his eyes widened. “Please forgive me, Edwina. I didn’t realize.”

Didn’t realize what?” she snapped, plucking the note from his loose grip.

Whose note that was,” he said, not meeting her eyes.

Edwina ran her fingers over the faded black letters scrolled on the outside of the paper. She’d spent the last four years holding onto this note, and had come tonight to ask Wallace to read it to her, but now she wasn’t certain she could trust him to be sympathetic and compassionate. Her thumb froze midway across the lettering. “And whose note did you think it was?”

He nodded his head once in the direction of his coat.

She forced a smile. Of course. He was still carrying around that blasted letter he’d written for Lady Chatterfield. In the days he was still unconscious and she was helping to take care of him following his duel, she’d been tempted to burn it herself. But why did he want to burn it? He’d already shown it to her once. Why was he so embarrassed about it now?

She shook her head. No matter. “Wallace, I don’t know all the details of your relationship with Lady Chatterfield, but I’d never betray your trust in me by stealing your correspondence or asking someone else to read it to me. Your feelings for her are none of my concern.” She swallowed the emotion that was quickly building a choking-thickness in her throat. Then she frowned. His note to Lady Chatterfield didn’t have her name on the outside. Had he thought the note was from another suitor and was just trying to pretend it was the one he’d written? She nearly laughed at the absurdity. Now would be an excellent time to clear up his misunderstanding about Major Minor.

Wallace, can we talk about Major Minor for a moment?”

I don’t think that’s necessary. I am sure that your family will approve of the match should he ask for your hand.”

Edwina’s heart sank. His words had made it quite clear he had no romantic interest in her. There was no reason to waste time explaining anything if he didn’t care for her. She’d just let him think what he would. At least he thought her charming enough to have a suitor. She shoved aside her melancholy thoughts. “Now that you know the letter is not from the gentleman you thought it was from, will you please read it to me?”

Of course.” He cleared his throat. “Would you mind excusing yourself for a moment while I cover up, please?”

She frowned. “You might lock me out.”

He chuckled. “Always skeptical, aren’t you? And rightfully so. All right, since you won’t leave like a proper young lady should, why don’t you just turn around?”

She obeyed. “You know, this wouldn’t be a problem if you’d remained dressed.”

Or if you’d stayed in your own room,” he parried.

Edwina’s heart leapt. That was the fun, familiar tone she remembered so well. “Are you dressed?”

No, but I’m in bed,” he said.

She turned around and walked over to where he was lying beneath the covers and was holding his hand out, ready to accept her letter.

Reluctantly, she gave it to him then climbed onto the bed.

What are you doing?” he demanded, stopping her with his hands.

She froze. “I want to see it, too.”

Then bring the chair over. There’s no reason for you to make yourself comfortable in my bed.”

Her cheeks heated. “There’s no need to be so condescending. I just wanted to see the words as you read them.”

He groaned and released her. “All right. But you’re not getting under the covers.” He patted the top of the coverlet. “Just sit right here and don’t move around a lot.”

Yes, sir,” she said with a salute before climbing up onto his soft bed.

Beside her, he carefully unfolded the note then smoothed the wrinkles he’d created when he’d taken it from her earlier. She nestled in closer to his warm body. He scowled at her. “Did you know that you are the most improper young lady I’ve ever met?”

And all this time I thought I was the oddest young lady you’d ever met,” she teased.

Indeed.” He shifted. “Are you ready?”

She gave her head a slight nod, too overcome with emotion to speak.

‘Dear Edwina, As you know, I don’t make apologies, and as the final hours of my life draw to a close, I feel no conviction to break from my pattern card. But I do ask that you not be angry with Alex or your mother for not sending for you sooner. It was at my request that you stay at school. Of course I told them my reasons were to protect you, but really it was to protect me. See, after having three witlings for sons, I was finally blessed with the greatest gift a father could receive: you. While I share my academic interests with Alex, and love to travel like Elijah and Henry, it is you who understands me best.

‘Don’t let your life slip through your hands, gel. You have much to offer, and despite the trials you might face along the way, I know in my heart things will work out for you better than either of us could dream. Be strong, my gel. Life hasn’t dealt you an easy hand, but it is a winning hand. Just be patient.

‘All my love, Papa.’”

Hot tears spilled from the corners of Edwina’s eyes and her heart squeezed painfully. She missed him so much. More tears fell. They were like steady currents now. Wallace’s strong arms wrapped around her and brought her to rest against his chest.

Shh,” he crooned. His right hand caressed her back and he used his left thumb to dry the tears on her right cheek. He bent his head and pressed a kiss on the top of her head.

Quiet sobs wracked her body and she buried her face into the dark mat of crisp hair that covered his chest.

Wallace gently rocked her back and forth. “It’s all right to cry, Edwina.”

I know,” she choked out against his body. Unfortunately, she didn’t know if she wanted to cry more because of her father’s passing or because the man she loved but couldn’t have was holding her and being so gentle with her.

Minutes or maybe hours slipped by as silence engulfed the two of them. Wallace’s steady heartbeat and rhythmic breathing calmed her as much as his touch. Every so often, she’d feel his soft lips brush across the top of her hairline or his fingers tighten their hold on her just a fraction before letting up. She took a deep breath. Wallace’s embrace was the safest haven imaginable. In his arms, she felt secure—like nothing bad could ever happen to her. But of course that wasn’t to be her fate. She steeled her spine and pushed away. There was no use in becoming more attached to him than she already was.

I should probably go back up to my room,” she announced; then froze. Was it possible that the low glow filling the room was created by sun rising and shining through the window and not from the fireplace?

Wallace’s arms didn’t release her right away. Nor did his lips leave where they were pressed against her temple.

Wallace,” she whispered.

Hmm?”

I’d better go before my maid finds I’m not in my room.”

Wordlessly, he brushed one more chaste kiss across her temple then relaxed his hold.

Edwina scooted toward the edge of the bed and put her feet on the floor, stopping instantly when a heavy hand knocked on the door, followed by Alex’s voice. “Sir Wallace, I need to speak to you.”

Groom Series, Her Secondhand Groom, Wicked Wednesday

Wicked Wednesday ~ Her Secondhand Groom

It’s a new year and since it’s Wednesday, that means we need a new dosage of Wicked Wednesday!

The one I picked today wasn’t overly wicked, more humorous in the way that children can oftentimes embarrass the daylights out of us. Mine included.

To set the scene: Juliet, the young lady who Patrick has wed to give his daughters a mother and governess all rolled into one (hence his coined term, “motherness”) is teaching the girls to paint when Patrick happens upon them and asks them each show him their pictures.

 

He turned his head to look at his middle daughter. “Yes?”

What color clothes do you want?”

Pardon?” he asked, his jaw tightening. The last time she’d asked that question, he woke up the next morning to find all of his cravats covered with colored ink.

Helena gestured to her canvas. “Your clothes, what color do you want them?”

That’s me?” he asked, immediately coughing to cover the hitch in his voice. He looked back at the painting and cocked his head to the right. Then to the left. Then squinted. How was that supposed to represent him? When Juliet first showed it to him, he thought it looked like a very well-fed, but horribly disproportioned starfish. Now that he’d studied it a bit better, he’d amended his opinion. It didn’t look so much like a starfish, but perhaps more like an angry bear. Yes, a hairy, angry bear standing on his hind legs with his arms up in the air. “Helena, why did you paint Papa with such an unhappy look on his face?”

I didn’t,” she said, blinking her innocent eyes at him. “That’s how you always look.”

A peal of infectious laughter rent the air, and a tight coil formed in Patrick’s stomach. He glanced at Juliet. She wasn’t even looking at him. Her eyes were fixed on her canvas instead. He reached forward to pluck it from the portable easel she was using. “Papa,” Kate said, shoving her indecipherable painting in front of him. “What do you think of my painting of Juliet?”

Patrick dropped his hand from the edge of Juliet’s canvas, and his eyes bored into the image in the middle of Kate’s. That was not a picture of Juliet. It couldn’t be. The hairy, angry, ravenous bear was a closer resemblance to him than Kate’s…uh…he couldn’t even describe what it looked like, was to looking anything like Juliet. It was just a few uneven lines and several blobs as far as he could tell. “It’s lovely,” he murmured, turning his head away before she could ask anything else.

Kate tapped him vigorously on the shoulder with the bottom edge of the canvas. “Do you think I captured her figger right?”

Her what?” he spewed, snapping his head around to look at her.

Shrugging, Kate said, “Her figger.”

Patrick blinked at his little girl, speechless.

Kate, I believe the word you mean to use is figure,” Juliet said, her voice terribly uneven.

Patrick swallowed and chanced a glance up at Juliet. Though her eyes didn’t have the light in them he’d seen earlier, there was no denying she was on the verge of laughter. “Poppet,” he said thickly, turning his attention back to Kate. “Your picture is quite splendid.”

Thank you, Papa,” Kate said, beaming.

He patted the top of her head. “You’re welcome, poppet.” He turned his attention back to the mirthful Juliet. “Can I see y―”

Papa, do you think I made her fluffies right?”

Pardon?” Patrick choked, gasping for air. Her fluffies?

Papa, your eyes are bigger than the wolf’s in the story Juliet told us,” Kate commented, her voice full of wonder and her eyes just as big as he imagined his looked.

Patrick beat his chest with his fist. “Sorry,” he muttered when he felt composed enough to talk. “I was merely shocked.”

Shocked?” Juliet queried, the light pink tint on her cheeks the only telling sign of her discomfort with the conversation.

He nodded. “Yes. I had no idea my little girl knew what fluffies were.”

Juliet opened her mouth to respond but was cut off by more misguided innocence from Kate. “They’re the fluffy things Juliet keeps hidden in her dress here and here,” she said proudly, tapping her chest to indicate just where these fluffy objects were located.

Patrick blinked. “That’s quite enough, Katie love. Why don’t you go paint some flowers or something. I need to have a word alone with Juliet.”

Excuse me for a moment, girls,” Juliet murmured, wiping her fingers on a damp handkerchief. “Finish your paintings so when I’m done we can have tea.”

Would you care to explain what you’ve been teaching my girls?” Patrick asked as soon as they were out of earshot of the girls.

Juliet blinked at him. “We’re painting. I’m sorry if the portraits they have painted were not what you would have liked for them to paint. I wanted them to become familiar with using paints before asking them to focus on painting―”

That’s not what I’m talking about, and you know it,” he broke in. “Why is Kate openly talking about breasts?”

Though Juliet’s face turned crimson, she inclined her chin. “She’s not. She’s talking about fluffies.”

He penetrated her with his stare. “And what do you think fluffies are?”

There’s no need to be condescending, Lord Presumptuous.” She twisted her lips and looked out over the gardens before turning her attention back to him. “She’s only five. She’s just being a little girl.”

I wasn’t aware little girls had interest in breasts,” he retorted. He knew for certain boys did. He remembered that part of his boyhood very well. But girls? No. They probably didn’t even notice their existence until they started developing. A knot formed in his stomach. Just when did they start developing? Kate was too young, but what about Celia? His blood froze in his veins. Not Celia. She was too young still. She couldn’t be maturing that way yet. Could she?

You’re not even listening to me,” came Juliet’s voice, penetrating his thoughts.

I’m sorry,” he said, swallowing. “What was it you said?”

She frowned. “It’s normal that she’s curious.”

Patrick stared at her. What was she talking about? “Pardon?”

Juliet sighed. “I don’t understand why you’re having such a hard time understanding this. She’s a little girl.”

I understand that.”

Then what seems to be your problem?” Juliet burst out, throwing her hands into the air. “Is the problem that she momentarily forgot her manners and mentioned a topic considered improper in mixed company? Or is it the fact she knows anything about them in the first place?”

The second one. I think Kate’s too young to know of such things.”

Juliet removed her spectacles and rubbed the bridge of her nose, her brows knitting together. “She’s not too young at all. But if it’ll make you feel better, next time she asks such a question I’ll direct her to come speak to you.”

He ground his teeth. “No, you’re their―” He broke off. His mouth couldn’t form the word mother. She wasn’t their mother. Abigail was their mother. He swallowed hard. “Juliet, part of your role here is to help guide the girls into womanhood, I’ll not get in the way of that. I just feel Kate is too young for those discussions. Please wait until she’s a little older and better able to understand. That’s all I’m asking.”

You’re impossible,” she muttered, taking a step away from him.

He reached for her, then pulled her up against him. “No, I’m not. It’s not too much to ask that my girls get to stay innocent a little while longer, is it?”

No, I don’t think that’s too much to ask. But I will not lie to them, either,” she said sternly.

He loosened his hold on her. “I’m not asking you to.”

Yes, you are.” She took a step back. “Not in so many words, but that’s exactly what you’re asking me to do.”

How so?”

In your plea that they get to remain innocent, you’re indirectly asking me to evade their questions and omit facts.”

Then answer Celia’s questions, I never asked you not to do that.”

Celia?” Juliet echoed.

He nodded, unable to meet her eyes. “If she has questions about how her body is changing, please answer them for her. Heaven knows I wouldn’t know what to say to her, but I’m asking you to answer her questions privately. Kate’s too young to know about fluffies.”

Celia wasn’t the one asking questions,” Juliet said, her tone softer than he’d ever heard it before. “She’s too young to be developing, but when she does, she’ll have all the knowledge she needs.”

Then who the blazes was asking questions?” he demanded hotly.

Kate.”

Why?” he burst out, unable to hide his irritation at the whole situation. “There is absolutely no reason a young girl of five should have taken notice of such a thing, nor found it interesting enough to inquire about. Would you care to explain what you’ve done to stir this curiosity?”

Her grey eyes which were filled with a softness he’d never seen before transformed into cold steel in a second. “Loved her, you jackanapes! Something she’s never experienced at the hands of that nursemaid-turned-governess you hired for them. How you can stand there and accuse me of doing something improper, I’ll never understand.” She swallowed, her face reddening a fraction. “All I’ve done is held her and hugged her and rocked her. I may not be as buxom as other women, but there’s enough there that it caught her attention. When she asked why there was a difference between my chest and yours, I told her. I can see now I might have misunderstood her question. I thought she was inquiring about the physical differences, but now I realize she might have been asking why my chest contains a beating heart and yours doesn’t.”

Patrick stood paralyzed in her wake. His mouth unable to speak. His body unable to move. His brain unable to think. The only thing that seemed to function was the part of his body that Juliet didn’t think existed: his heart, which, though it was beating normally, ached in a way it never had before.