She coughed a few more times until the agony in her throat and lungs finally began to subside. When she could speak again, she held out her glass. “Take it, please. I’ve had enough.”
His eyes twinkled, but he made no comment as he accepted her glass. Raising his own snifter to his lips, he downed the contents in a single swallow.
She stared, first in amazement, then in admiration, when he showed no signs of ill effect.
Pendragon moved away, disappearing from sight. A faint click of glass sounded behind her, and she assumed he must be refilling his drink. Moments later, though, his hands settled on her shoulders. She jumped, quivering as he placed his lips against the sensitive skin of her neck.
“Oh!” she gasped. Fighting her reaction, she tried not to tremble as he skimmed his mouth over her nape, and again when he started dropping delicate touches along her jaw, her cheek, and finally across to her ear.
“You smell delightful,” he murmured. “What is it?”
“Oh, it…it’s just a touch of rose water. I always dab a little on before I get dressed.”
Mercy, she cringed, realizing what she’d said and the images her admission must be creating.
“I like it.” His words came out low and husky, almost a growl.
Before she had time to fashion a reply, he nuzzled her earlobe, then caught the nub of flesh between his teeth. He bit, just hard enough to sting. Shock and pleasure winged straight to her toes. Then he was kissing her behind her ear, drawing his tongue in a long, wet line along its edge. Opening his mouth, he fanned his breath over the spot in a way that made her skin tingle and flush. Her eyes fell closed, her knees abruptly weak.
Adrift, she didn’t at first notice when his hands left her shoulders and began unfastening the column of tiny buttons that ranged down the back of her dress. By the midway point, though, she awakened from her haze, his movements a brazen reminder of his ultimate purpose.
She waited until the buttons were undone, then stepped away, clutching the sagging bodice to her breasts. Turning, she stared at her shoes, unable to meet his gaze.
“I’ll make myself ready,” she murmured as she backed toward the bedroom.
He quirked a brow as if surprised. “As you wish.”
Using one hand to keep her bodice up, she closed the double doors behind her.
The room was warm, another healthy fire burning in the grate. Despite the comfortable temperature, she shivered, nerves churning viciously in her belly. Oddly, it reminded her of the way she’d felt on her wedding night so many years before. Only this time the man on the other side of the bedroom door wasn’t her husband, it wasn’t night, and she was a great deal more anxious now than she had been then.
Of course, she’d been far too naive on her wedding night to know what was to come next. At least it wouldn’t hurt, she reassured herself. Unless he was rough. But Pendragon had been gentle so far, and there was no reason to suspect he would change. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so very dreadful. She’d simply lie there like always, and let him do as he wished until it was over.
Basil had never taken more than fifteen minutes at most. Hopefully Rafe Pendragon would be quick about it as well. She’d told her coachman to return for her at four and wait in front of the millinery shop on Bond Street, where she was supposed to be shopping. It was a quarter of two now; she knew she had plenty of time.
Fearing Pendragon must be growing impatient, she hurriedly doffed her dress and hung it neatly inside the armoire. Struggling with the laces of her stays, she tugged and pulled until she loosened them enough to remove her corset, leaving her stripped down to a single silk petticoat and her chemise.
He hadn’t provided her with a nightgown, and she refused to go without any sort of clothing at all. She prayed it didn’t mean Pendragon expected her to appear naked in front of him. Not even Basil had demanded such an intimacy of her—not once in the entire five years of their marriage.
She left on her stockings to keep her feet warm, her hair pinned into a snug knot that she hoped wouldn’t get too terribly mussed since she wouldn’t have the assistance of her lady’s maid, Daisy, to tidy her up for her journey home.
Finally, knowing she was as ready as she was ever going to be, she folded back the heavy satin coverlet on the bed and climbed beneath the sheets. Tucking the cool linen tight under her chin, she tried not to feel utterly ridiculous lying there during the middle of the day in her unmentionables.
With her heart pounding like a drum in her chest, she called out. “You may come in now.”
Half-sick with anxiety, she watched the doorknob turn.
WHATEVER RAFE HAD been expecting, it wasn’t what he found awaiting him on the other side of the door.
For a second he thought she’d disappeared, climbed out a window and dropped down into the snow-covered garden below. Then he noticed her face peeking out from behind the sheet and blanket she’d drawn tight over herself like a shield.
She looked unsettlingly childlike, her dark, melting eyes wide and unsure. If he didn’t know better, he would think she was an innocent rather than a widow of mature years. But she was a widow, he reminded himself. She understood full well the ramifications of their liaison, knew all the intimate dealings that went on between a man and a woman.
They would have a satisfying affair, he mused, one he would take care to see they both enjoyed. Unlike some men, he wasn’t the sort who thought solely of satisfying his own pleasure and nothing more. Sex, he’d discovered, merely improved when the woman took delight in the act, when she experienced as much physical gratification as did her lover. There was nothing better than watching a woman lose herself to pure carnal delight, hearing her throaty sighs and breathless cries of pleasure as she came in his arms.
He planned to hear Julianna Hawthorne sighing and crying for him often. Very often.
Loosening his cravat, he drew the cloth from around his neck and tossed it onto a nearby chair. While he’d been waiting for her out in the sitting room, he’d removed his jacket and waistcoat and kicked off his shoes. For now, he decided, he would leave on the rest of his clothing—shirt, pantaloons, and stockings. If all went well, he hoped to persuade Julianna to assist him in removing the last of his garments.
He stiffened in painful arousal at the idea, his pantaloons suddenly too snug as he imagined her tiny hands roving over his naked flesh, cupping him, caressing him. It had been a while since he’d kept a mistress. As a breed he found such women a nuisance, not worth the trouble and expense required to see to their myriad pleas and demands, at least not after the first few weeks.
But Julianna was unlike any woman he’d ever known. True, she might be selling herself to him, but she was no courtesan. There wasn’t a coarse, crude bone in her body; her every movement and gesture was one of gentle grace and elegant refinement.
He didn’t understand why, but his hunger for her went bone deep, leaving him glad he would have her in his bed for six months. More than enough time, he decided, to extinguish even the fiercest of flames.
Strolling forward, he watched her track his progress with her dark, velvety gaze. Her eyes snapped closed, though, the moment he reached the bed.
What is she about? he wondered. Is she really, truly as nervous as she appears? And what, if anything, is she wearing under those sheets?
Julianna held herself motionless, her body board-stiff as she tried her best not to tremble. But her efforts proved useless, a faint quiver traveling through her the instant his weight depressed the mattress. She swallowed as he scooted close, vitally aware of his long body stretched out at her side.
He was staring. She could feel his eyes—those cool, clear green eyes—moving over her with bold intent. She could feel the warmth of his body as well. Sense his male strength. Smell the light, pleasant scent of the bayberry soap he used, and something more, something earthy and masculine that could only be his own.
Gently, but firmly, he tugged at the sheet and blanket. Julianna bit her lower lip as he pulled the bedclothes slowly from her grasp and folded them back to expose her body.
Her cheeks warmed as she waited. Waited for him to touch her. Waited for him to kiss her, maybe once or twice if she pleased him. Then he would squeeze her breasts, push up her chemise, climb between her legs, and enter her.
Instead he did nothing.
Didn’t so much as run a fingertip over her cheek. Didn’t even lean close enough to let her hear him breathe.
What is he doing? Is he just lying there, watching me?
Goose bumps broke out over her limbs, nerves rippling just below the surface of her skin. She tried to keep her eyes shut, but finally could stand it no more.
Her lids popped open, her gaze flying immediately to meet his own. Lying on his side with his head propped against one hand, he studied her, an expression of patient curiosity on his chiseled face.
“What are you doing?” she demanded, flummoxed to discover him in such a pose.
Up went one dark brow. “Observing you. I wanted to see exactly how long you’d lie there with your eyes squeezed shut.”