ARC Scandalous Ladies of London: The Countess
JASPER WAITED, WATCHING her.
The countess looked back to the doors through which her daughter disappeared, clearly requiring assurance that they were truly alone.
“She is gone. You may speak freely,” he prompted, eager to hear what she had to say.
She was outraged. It vibrated off her body. Those luscious breasts quivered in her bodice, the creamy swells brimming above the neckline, drawing his gaze and making his mouth water. She was eager to vent her spleen on him, and for some reason he was eager, too. He wanted her angry, he wanted hot emotion from her.
He did not care for that frigid creature she had been at dinner, speaking little, the fire in her eyes banked. If he had not already interacted with her at Madame Klara’s séance, he would not be able to reconcile those two women as one and the same.
He wanted to see that woman again, the one he had met previously . . . and he would do whatever it took to draw her out of the shell where she hid.
“Have you no voice?” he prodded, stepping closer, circling her, pausing at her rigid back and letting his voice drift over her ear, rustling the fine burnished brown tendrils at her temple. “Or do you need your husband’s permission to speak? Even when you’re not in his company?”
He stopped directly in front of her.
Her eyes flashed, and he knew he’d struck a nerve. Good. “You cannot want to do this,” she announced, and her indig-nant voice gratified him.
The word conjured up all manner of thoughts and images . . . desires that had nothing to do with Lady Cordelia Chatham and everything to do with Lady Gertrude Chatham.
He angled his head and asked mildly, “I cannot want to pursue your daughter? Or I cannot want to join your house party in the country? Please be specific.”
Her hands clenched into fists at her sides. “Both. I speak of both, sir.”
He nodded slowly. “I see. Well, I have decided I want both. I will do both.” He watched her face change varying shades of red as she digested that.
He was enjoying himself more than he should. He should not relish the fact that he provoked her. And yet he somehow sus-pected she needed this. She needed to be woken from her stupor of docility, shaken from her tedious and well-behaved life.
Her nostrils flared with her sharp inhales. Oh, she was in a fine temper. He could not help thinking she should direct some of this temper at her husband. The prig deserved her wrath. Then he quickly changed his mind at that thought. He would prefer she kept this fire between them alone and remained the frigid shell around that bastard. Chatham did not deserve to see her like this.
She shook her head. “It is of no account. My daughter will not have you.” She smiled lightly, smug in this knowledge. “No mat- ter what you say. No matter what my husband says. She has more sense—”
“It is done,” he interrupted.
She stopped hard and blinked at that. “What do you mean?” “She has agreed.”
The color suddenly bled from her face, along with her earlier smugness. “I do not understand.”
Oh. But she did. Or she at least had a general idea of his mean- ing. She simply did not like it.
“Cordelia has agreed to my suit.”
She shook her head fiercely, her warm brown eyes widening. “I know my daughter. She did not even want to dine with you this evening. She would not have agreed to your suit—”
“She did.” He shrugged. “What can I say? I must have charmed her.”
The countess’s mouth hung open at that. “You lie.”
He stood taller, squaring his shoulders as though offended. “I assure you I do not.”
She stared at him for a long moment, and in that time he read the precise instant she accepted he spoke the truth. Her shoul- ders slumped. “I don’t understand this.”
“I am sure you can if you try. If you recall, I have my . . . appeal.”
The color returned to her cheeks in a flash. She indeed remem- bered. Which was all he wanted. He wanted her to remember. He wanted her to remember and to surrender herself to the feelings she would deny between them.
“What did you do to her?”
He held up his hands defensively. “Nothing.”
She eyed him distrustfully. “You intend to do this,” she whis-pered roughly, “despite . . .” Her voice faded.
“Despite what happened between us . . .” She waved a hand in the space between them.
He tsked. “But nothing happened between us.” His gaze flick- ered over her, fastening on her mouth. “You declined my offer for a night together.” He pronounced this last bit succinctly, tasting the words as he would like to thoroughly taste her. “Remember?” She nodded jerkily.
He continued. “I suppose it’s for the best now as I am court- ing your daughter. It would be perverse . . . to have the daugh- ter when I already had the mother.” He ended those outrageous words with a casual shrug.
She stabbed a finger toward him. “You shall not put a hand on Delia.”
“The choice is hers. Perhaps she will be more accommodating than you. We shall see. Anything can happen at a house party.” “You wretch!” She surged forward, coming at him clumsily, her hands lifted like claws ready to tear him apart. If eyes could kill, hers would be slicing him into a million little pieces. A fierce dragon, ready to protect her young, and he was ready for her, for this. It had been his goal, after all, to rouse the little mouse, to set the Cold Countess on fire. He would take this dragon all day, every day.
He caught her wrists. She fell against him as she struggled to break her hands free. Her body instantly recoiled, arching away from him as though burned. She writhed, valiantly resisting con- tact with him, even using her feet.
Her slippers kicked at his shins, likely hurting her toes more than him. He backed her against the exterior wall of the house, away from the vantage of the windows.
“Oof.” She glared up at him, ivy springing all around her head, snagging in her hair. “Release me.”
“So you can attack me again?” He tsked.
“You deserve it!”
“So unladylike. What would your daughter think?” Her chest heaved with fierce breath, and his gaze dropped to her impressive cleavage.
“Let her see,” she hissed. “Then perhaps she will understand. Perhaps then she will see you for the unconscionable rake you are.” “You do not mean that.”
Her chin jutted out. “I do.”
“Oh, the unconscionable-rake part, yes. But you don’t want her to see this.” He pinned her hands to either side of her head, holding on to her wrists as he flattened himself against her, let- ting her breasts plump against his chest in a way that made his stomach muscles tighten and the blood rush to his cock. She released a breathy little gasp that fanned his lips. He swallowed and resisted closing the small gap between their faces and taking that tasty mouth in a kiss. “This would scandalize her. You would scandalize her.”
“Me?” Her eyes grew round and luminous, glowing embers in the night. Despite the horror in her voice, a fair share of fasci- nation gleamed there. Fascination and curiosity and hunger for more of what he was offering her.
“Yes. You.” His nose brushed her cheek, inhaling her sweet scent. “She would not even recognize you this way. All fire and wanton woman—”
Growling, she turned her face and attempted to bite him, her teeth snapping the air near his nose.
He didn’t think. There was no restraint left in him. He re- acted, turning his face in a blinding fast move. His mouth cap- tured hers, seizing her lips, snapping teeth and all.
He kissed her hard, pushing them both deeper into the ivy covering the wall of the house.
He kissed her as he had longed to do since he first met her. He kissed her as though he were a starving man and this was the last woman he would ever kiss, the last meal he would ever taste, the last drink he would ever swallow.
He kissed her as though this would be their last and only kiss . . . because he knew that was in all likelihood the truth.