The Darkness in the Marquess of Dane by Eliza Lloyd Copyright 2015 All rights reserved
Table of Contents Copyright Page Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Please Note Historical Contemporary Romantic Suspense Contemporary
Chapter One In London, depravity had a name. The Marquess of Dane. No one really knew Dane on a social level—poser un lapin, as they said of Dane’s subsequent rejections to embrace the bosom of the beau monde—but his rank was too lofty not to include him on invitation lists to the best of society’s entertainments. Dane, however, did not attend balls, did not care how his cravat was tied, did not care whether he shaved twice a day and did not care if he ruined one of the simpering, monotonous maidens the ton nobles liked to parade about during the
Season as if there were gold between their legs. He hadn’t actually ruined one. He thought the act might cause him to die of boredom. And if there was one thing Dane hated, it was boredom. “The teeth, pet. Watch the teeth.” He ought to get out of bed. The clock on the mantel had just chimed two, but the young girl, Pearl by name, had the most luscious red lips and they were currently wrapped around the tip of his cock. He thought he could be persuaded to enjoy the mindless pleasure of another release before he climbed from the comfort of his plush mattress and away from the limbs of the three wenches draped over and beside him.
Dane enjoyed pleasure and he pursued it with vigor unmatched by the so-called rogues and rakes of the ton. By comparison, those neophytes were schoolboys in knee breeches, behaving as if they had invented wickedness. Dane had perfected it. He wallowed in badness, drenched himself in depravity and lived for the moment he could shock an unsuspecting moralist into believing he was the last fallen angel. His darkness was complete. There were the simple pleasures— flavorful cigars, full-bodied wines, high stakes and enthusiastic whores. The other pleasures—the dark, unexplainable pleasures—were what set Dane apart from normal society. The
best pleasure was sexual and the best sexual pleasure involved pain, both the giving and the receiving. After all, he was a generous lover when there was need, as long as the physical gratification was on his terms. Scorn he earned. He was notoriously unkind to the woman of the ton—those who thought they could dally with the wicked Dane were rebuffed and embarrassed. Not a month went by when he was not propositioned for a night of dark and unbridled passion. He thought the term whore was very often misapplied. Dane’s house of ill repute was located in Cheapside—the finest, most expensive and most private brothel in
London. Whores never bored him. They could be deceitful, but not about the things that mattered to Dane, and they were dishonest, but about trivial things like gold pieces and hair combs. He hadn’t bothered to name his whorehouse. Word had spread faster than his whores’ legs. During daylight hours, the aristocracy pretended no such place existed. What nobleman would dare own such an abomination or besmirch the character of a title passed down from Henry VIII himself? One of Dane’s grandfatherly descendants was fat old Henry’s bastard. He supposed he came by his wickedness naturally.
But at night, those self-serving pompous asses were five deep, waiting for a chance to swive one of his experienced girls. He’d take their money, but there was no way in hell he’d adhere to their rules or pretend he wanted anything to do with their world. The nondescript, converted townhome was where he spent much of his time unless he entertained. That he did at the warehouse located at Twenty Acres dock. It was a private place where Dane conducted his normal business along with a fourth floor expanse where he participated in special titillations that required privacy and dedication—an experimental workshop of sorts. Only his most trusted whores
amused him there. And usually for several days at a time. He no longer rated a mention in the gossipy rags hawked on the street corners of London. He preferred to exist in his own world, not the fake one that pretended honor and nobility were the end all and be all, when in fact there was no honor or nobility anywhere to be had. He reached across Jasmine and plucked up the cheroot burning in the ceramic tray. She mewled like a kitten and curled closer to him, her arm wrapped around his chest and her lush breasts pressed against his skin. He puffed, pulling in an aromatic lungful, and exhaled as Pearl slid her
tongue along the flanged edge of his erection. He moaned at the tactile warmth. This was where he wanted to die. In his bed with his whores, along with a rich smoke and a good Scottish whiskey. He was to meet Rawlins this afternoon. A dreary task that would barely keep his mind occupied, but it was a forced discipline, one that made his existence possible. Hedonism wasn’t as easily enjoyed without money. He inhaled another puff then stubbed the cigar into the tray before reclining on his back again. “Wake up, girls. It’s time for someone to fuck me properly.” He
slapped his hand across Penelope’s well-rounded ass. She groaned, opened her eyes and smiled warmly before stretching. Jasmine was thick through the middle with udder-like breasts but was very enthusiastic when put to task—and she knew how to handle a whip. And she could take cock. All of him. Any time. He’d had some of his most debauched pleasures in her arms. Pearl’s lips were her best attribute, but she was nearly boyish in her straight shape, with childish lumps for nubbins. Dane was easily aroused in the right circumstances and he enjoyed dressing her in frocks and spanking her when she
was a naughty girl, which she was at the drop of a gold coin. Another day, perhaps. He just wanted to mindlessly shag for a few minutes before he had to engage his brain. At his command, Pearl glanced at him, her hair brushing over her cheek, the tip of his cock between her lips. “You know what I want,” he said to her. His cock slid from her mouth and Pearl left the bed in search of the toys he preferred to augment his experience. He rolled to his knees. “Up,” he said to Jasmine. There was a tangle of limbs as she rolled in front of Dane, going on all fours and spreading her legs wide. There was never a need for foreplay.
His whores were always ready for him and willing to fake their response in a way that could make any man believe he was king of the world—part of Dane’s self-deception. It was all a show to create the illusion of reality. He glanced down at Jasmine’s abundant ass. Between her legs, the luscious lips of her cunny were plump and dusky rose. He stuffed his shaft, generous by any measure, into the soft, warm depths of a willing quim. He sighed, happy with this uncomplicated pleasure. He planted his hands on her ass and thrust in and out of her a few times before burying his cock deeply.
Penelope knelt beside him. Her hands caressed and smoothed over his skin, while she used her mouth and tongue to lick his neck and ear. Finally when he turned his face toward hers, she kissed him with open-mouthed abandon. Her breasts rubbed along his bare arm. He left one hand on Jasmine’s ass, kneading the fleshy cheek and stroking his thumb along the deep crevasse of her ass. With his other hand, he grabbed a handful of Penelope’s breast. Jasmine started a slow rocking that rubbed the length of his erection. Pearl returned to the bed. He felt the gentle tilt of the mattress and then smelled the scent of rose oil when Pearl
loosened the stopper. His ass clenched in anticipation and his cock hardened further at the thought of penetration, causing a tighter fit and better arousal. He spread his legs, which made Jasmine spread hers. Pearl slid the glass phallus along the crack of his ass. A spike of pleasure tensed his body. Her fingers searched along the valley and spread one cheek outward. The cool glass touched his bottom. He released Penelope and Jasmine, his hands landing on the mattress while his body fitted around Jasmine’s. He was vaguely aware of Penelope’s hands stroking over his back. Jasmine’s cunny clenched against his cock.
Pearl had done this for him before. She thrust into him and then pulled back just as quickly. He gasped at the intrusion and his balls tightened dangerously. He clenched his teeth in a moment of attempted control. “Slow,” he barked. More than once, he had ejaculated the moment the phallus slid into him. For all of his experience, the right kind of stimulation sometimes made it impossible to control his reaction. His rapid breathing didn’t bode well for a leisurely arousal. Pearl obeyed, stopping for a moment. His vision cleared. He thrust more fully into Jasmine, and Pearl matched his movement.
The girls moaned, effectively convincing him they were intent on his pleasure, as he paid them to be. Another reason to avoid the inexperienced—he had to do more of the work. Damn, he loved his whores. Penelope’s fingers slid across his chest and found the hard nub of one of his nipples. She pinched and then twisted. Pearl reached under his arm and grabbed his other nipple. The light pain dulled the last of his thoughts, until all that was left was unrivaled sexual decadence. He could lose himself, banish thoughts of the past and dread of the future.
He thrust in slow, even movements in an attempt to experience every nuanced delight. The buildup wasn’t going to last long. He was too far gone to prevent the escalating start of ejaculation. Already his balls lifted. Jasmine squeezed his cock. The burn in his ass consumed him. Pearl dragged the leather end of a short riding crop across his back. His breath ratcheted in anticipation of the first round of pain. The pain that would facilitate his release. When she drew back the lash, Dane groaned as anticipation captured him. The sharp sting went deep, burning across his thigh. The pain compounded
as it landed over another welt he’d received earlier this morning. Torrents of semen spilled from his cock. He cried out—the painful ecstasy too much to contain. Pearl used the crop against his leg again, the thwack sharper and more hurtful than the first. A second burst of semen had him whimpering like a child. His hips jerked. He groaned, throaty and long. The pulsing spasms caused his world to dim, obliterating the real pain, until he could barely hold himself over Jasmine. In a moment of awareness, he cursed himself for leaving seed behind. He usually tried to keep his mind when it
involved the potential for bastards, but sometimes his body’s demands were immediate and uncontrollable. Whores did not need the added burden of a babe, though some were intent on carrying a nobleman’s child, in spite of the certainty it would never be recognized. He moved away and lay facedown on the bed, arms outstretched, still reeling from the sensations that pulsed through his body. One of the whores caressed his back before slapping his ass with a hard thwack. His lids lowered in sleepy contemplation of triumph. He would rather fuck and sleep than reflect on what he wanted.
Because he didn’t really know. ***** Rawlins waited for Dane in the library of the family home on Hanover Square, where he spent as little time as possible. His steward had refused, as much as a hired man could refuse, to conduct business at the whorehouse. “Lord Dane,” he said. “Rawlins, I may dismiss you if you continue to disobey me.” Dane found titles to be the most pretentious use of words imaginable, possibly because he was never meant to be a marquess. Rawlins cleared his throat, and said, “Dane. Good morning.” Rawlins stood,
leather case in hand, while he carried several bound journals under his free arm, which portended work. And thought. “That’s better.” Dane poured drinks while Rawlins unburdened himself and then shuffled through the mounds of paper that had accumulated through the post, and which Rawlins would dutifully open and sort so Dane did not have to. He lowered a glass of whiskey in front of Rawlins and then found the chair behind the massive desk for which Dane had no use other than to prop his feet upon—and the occasional skirt tossing, when one of his downstairs maids gazed at him coyly while pretending to clean the room.
There had been no skirt tossing since Rawlins had entered his life. Not only did he manage Dane’s affairs, he managed all of the respectable people around him. The orderliness made Dane believe, at times, that the beau monde and his former life were safe, yet nothing could persuade Dane it would be anything more than a pretense. He was only interested in business in so much as it provided the means to continue his debauched lifestyle. True, there was a certain amount of pleasure in expanding his fortune, and there were definite elements of chance he found appealing. However, the tedium of farm reports year after year and the endless monotony of waiting for a ship to come
into port had all of the appeal of watching grass grow. It was easier to pay someone to deal with the minutia of accumulating money while he handled the spending of it. “There are several invitations—” “No.” “But Lord Dane,” he said. “Dane. How long have you worked for me, Rawlins?” “Fourteen months, sir.” “Oh, it feels so much longer. Continue to call me Lord Dane and I will be forced to hire someone who can remember that small position requirement. And you’ve asked me every week about the balls I have told you I do not wish to attend.” Rawlins was his
fourth man of affairs in the last six years. When Dane had interviewed him for the position, he had made it clear Rawlins would be required to mix with the less desirable of society, would likely be ostracized and would eventually find Dane in some awkward position that would be embarrassing to behold. Rawlins was also paid an exorbitant amount of money—not only for his competence but also to keep quiet and avert his gaze. “But the Duchess of—” “No.” “I’ll send your regrets.” “Do you actually word it that way? ‘Lord Dane sends his regrets.’ And do you think they believe you?”
“I wouldn’t know, sir.” “Hand me the invitations.” Dane beckoned with his fingers and Rawlins smiled. “They are alphabetized, sir,” Rawlins said as he passed the invitations across the desk, confident, as if he had finally influenced Dane’s behavior for the better. Dane dropped them in the waste bin. “Now they aren’t.” “What should I tell—” “Nothing. Now let us move on to weightier matters. Has there been any news on the Hespereth or the Angelus?” Dane leaned back in his chair and stared out the window while Rawlins expounded.
“Neither is due until the end of the month.” The ships were bringing silks and spices from the Orient and India— lucrative if the ships arrived safely. “And the new shipments?” “Montgomery’s line would provide the best return for your money.” “To hell with him. Not one ounce of my gold is going to that Scottish dog.” Dorian Montgomery had stolen something Dane had wanted very badly —the most exquisite courtesan in London, the infamous Westminster Whore. He had been chuffed for several months since the incident. He still couldn’t imagine Montgomery had actually outbid him for the whore’s
services. He would never know since Montgomery had absconded to Italy with the unique Isabelle St. Hillaire. Montgomery had at least married the girl —Dane wasn’t one to spend a princely sum upon a woman and then think it necessary to shackle himself for a lifetime! There was the small matter of his dark reputation, even though he had gone out of his way to impress the wench. And what the hell had Dane needed a courtesan for when he had a house full of whores... “And what of spring planting?” “The farms at Longford were flooded in the last storm. Several of the farmers will have to replant. I advised
those affected that you would assist with the necessary funds until harvest.” “I will do no such thing.” Rawlins handed over a thick leather ledger, which Dane accepted and propped in his lap. He flipped through a few pages until he reached the last page with numbers and glanced through the final sums. He managed a quick assessment of the accounting while continuing his conversation with Rawlins. “But how will they manage?” “Rawlins, I must keep my reputation intact. I thought I made this most clear to you when you were hired.” “They have no money. I just assumed —”
“No one receives money from Lord Dane. It isn’t done. However, you will find the Longford Benevolent Fund is flooded with cash and is willing to make a donation to those in need.” Dane slapped the book shut and dropped it to the desk. “But you subsidize the Longford Benevolent Fund.” “The community subsidizes the fund. Send them to the vicar, Rawlins.” “Of course, sir.” “Were there any lives lost?” “None. Eldridge Nance lost most of his sheep herd.” “And Widow Evans?” “Her daughter finally persuaded her to let the farmstead and move in with
their family.” “Good. One less to worry about.” They spent another hour reviewing accounts until Dane mentioned his next investment opportunity. “I wish to start a gaming house. I want you to look into it and let me know what you find out next week.” “Of course. You wish to purchase an existing business or establish a new one?” “I don’t know. I only just thought of it a few minutes ago. But within the month, two at most, I want to be operational. I’m losing money just talking to you about it.” “A month?”
“Money, Rawlins. You can make that happen. Something special, though. I don’t want one of those smoke-filled back rooms that cater only to men. I’m thinking of a three-story establishment with a floor for women only.” Dane leaned his head against the cushiony back of the chair and shifted slightly to relieve the strain against his abraded thigh. “And I want it full of men to entertain them. Not gamblers, mind you. Entertainers.” If some of the women who propositioned Dane had an assortment of willing men to choose from, Dane’s house of ill repute would need wall-towall beds. “What sort of entertainers?”
“Use your imagination.” Dane was almost amused by Rawlins’ lack of inspiration. Perhaps it was his naiveté, though he had no illusions about Dane’s businesses and personal predilections after working for him these past fourteen months. Rawlins still acted surprised by Dane’s behavior. “I don’t understand.” “Never mind. I’ll take care of it, just find me a building.” He glanced at Rawlins. “Have you ever been to a hell?” “No, I would never waste my money in such a foolish pursuit.” “Then we are going tonight. You need to see the world as it is, Rawlins, and I’m the man to show you. It’s the
only way this is going to work out between us.” “That’s not necessary. My wife will be expecting me.” “A wife, and four little hooligans that turn your home into an asylum, isn’t that correct? Gad.” Dane rolled his eyes at the disturbing prospect of a house full of banshees. Rawlins nodded. “You must find it tedious,” Dane said, to which Rawlins prudently kept quiet. Perhaps Dane had gotten lucky with Rawlins—he was the only man who had applied for the position, stick up his ass or not. “No wonder you work such long hours for me.” “It is the pay, sir.”
A servant rapped on the door and then entered carrying a round silver slaver. “Your pardon. A visitor to see you, Lord Dane.” Dane plucked up the card and then threw it down just as quickly. “I’m not available.” “She said she would wait.” “Then she’ll wait until hell freezes over. I’m not available.” The footman shifted and then, head down, said, “She’s been here each of the last four days, waiting for you.” “I am unmoved. Rawlins, take care of the matter, will you?” Rawlins sprang from his chair, bowed properly and retrieved the card from the slaver before departing from the room.
Another thing money bought— freedom from bother. Dane sipped at his drink, recalling his vision for a gambling den. Why hadn’t he thought of it sooner? He could imagine the money women would ante up once they found a new distraction that catered to their whimsy. One only had to find what others needed—and were willing to pay for—in order to make a fortune. A few minutes later, Rawlins returned. “I think we will need to purchase two buildings side by side. I’d like to have suitable accommodations for those high stakes gamblers who are looking for more than a quick hand. After I fuck
them at the gambling table, they’ll want to purchase fuckable entertainment to assuage their losses, don’t you think?” Rawlins cleared his throat and Dane turned to see that Rawlins had disobeyed. In the worst way. “Lord Dane,” he said. “Miss Christina Turnbow.” Dane did not bother standing. “Go away,” he said. He threw her a scathing glance, the one he reserved for the aristocracy, such as she. “Dane,” she said. “I wish to speak with you privately.” With that timid but direct request, Dane shot out of his chair and slammed his glass against the desktop. He strode directly toward the impudent intruder.
She had the good sense to take a step back. A dark net hung from her hat and covered her face to her dainty chin. Any woman coming to his home with illicit intentions would dress in such a fashion. Only he wasn’t interested. “I don’t know you. I don’t wish to know you. Now be so good as to depart before I pick you up and carry you out of my home. Hanover Square will be afire with gossip.” “You do that. That will give me the time to explain what I need.” Her voice was annoyingly soft. He was more annoyed that he tried to listen. She turned to Rawlins and had the temerity to say, “Mr. Rawlins, would
you be so kind as to excuse us?” The door closed with a soft latch. Dane took steps toward the door and reached for the knob. “I would prefer your household servants did not know what I’m going to say.” “They already know. Are you mad? You must be. To come here, unescorted. To my home,” he bellowed. “My name is Christina Turnbow.” As if he hadn’t heard the first time. “Is that supposed to mean something to me?” “No, you don’t know me.” “Nor do I wish to. You shouldn’t be here.” Lord, what was wrong with the women of the ton that they would
brazenly walk into the home of a man with a reputation such as his? Had this young thing no sense whatsoever? “Nevertheless—” He waved with his hand. “Shoo, Miss Turnbow. For your sake, I’m attempting to be polite.” She smiled indulgently, as a relative would do when they found humor in your badness but couldn’t laugh for fear of encouragement. He spared a quick glance, taking in her light blue day dress that shrouded her nunnishly. Covered as she was, there was little to attract a man of his distinct tastes. She lifted the veil. He glanced at her eyes. The color of blue was intriguingly mesmerizing and
her lashes thick and dark. At the center of his chest, he felt the distinct pressure of heartburn. It was as if an apparition stared back at him. A memory of such poignancy washed over him that, for a moment, he remembered the young man he had been. For a moment. Until he allowed the irritation to goad him into misbehavior. He slid a hand through his unkempt hair. A cheap Irish whiskey would have burned the lurking memory back into oblivion where it belonged. And still the walking memory stood there all prim and proper. Punishment came in all forms—the ones he inflicted on himself, the ones he imagined and the
odd, unforeseen snares that threatened to shred his carefully crafted world. Judging her accurately was difficult. A cumbersome hat distracted from her features, the pelisse she wore covered anything of interest. “How kind. You are concerned for my reputation. If that is your apprehension, you need not worry.”’ “Your reputation,” Dane said. “Why the hell would I care about that?” “Do you mind if I sit?” “Yes, I mind.” Again her enigmatic smile told him nothing except that she might be laughing at him. She took a seat on one of the small settees, facing each other near the fireplace.
He propped one hand on his waist. “Is this going to take more than a few minutes?” “I don’t think so. Well, that is, unless you agree to my proposal, and then it might take longer. Please sit down, Dane. It’s not as if I am here to disrupt your world.” Dane was annoyed. A chit of a girl boldly striding into his home to make requests of him? Of course she was disrupting his world. She was foolish, desperate or conniving. If he were to judge by her appearance, he would guess all three. “What is it you want? Don’t keep me waiting.” When she took in a deep lungful of air, he noticed.
She was afraid. One hand gripped her reticule; the other, hidden by the small purse, was shaking. Her chest heaved in quick up and down draws. Somehow her expression remained composed and her voice confident. Now he was interested. Instead of filling his glass a second time, he took a seat beside her, placing his body near hers, allowing his presence and reputation to intimidate. He leaned closer, inhaling her light perfume. “Tell me, Miss Turnbow, what is it that was so hell-fired important you risked limb and reputation to enter the home of an unmarried man with my blackened reputation?”
“You’re a business man with diverse interests and tastes. I wish to sell you something that no longer has value to me.” “Perhaps it will have no value to me either.” He tried to imagine what circumstance had caused her to embark on such a quest. And why had she come to him? “I wish to sell you my virginity.” ***** For Christina, hope had a name. The Marquess of Dane. He attempted to use his fearsome and wicked reputation to scare her. Little did he know, she had a greater fear.
In the past three months, Christina had learned that most things are not as they seem. She supposed that included herself. Her almost-betrothed—that man who claimed his undying love and then smugly rejected her—was a detestable villain underneath his flawlessly tied cravat. Even Papa’s reputation was based on a lie. She allowed that he was grief stricken after Mama died, but that was no excuse to ruin his children’s future in the eyes of the ton. And the Marquess of Dane, sitting so close to her, was yet another man who wasn’t what he seemed. His dark handsomeness belied the iniquitous soul beneath.
Only Dane was different from the others in that he did not bother to hide what he was. Which is why she had come to him. Noblewomen—single women especially—had little of value with which to barter or trade. She had one thing. Did this make her the world’s most innocent and inexperienced courtesan? Was aligning herself with Dane, offering herself bodily in exchange for cash, a sure way to solve her family’s woes? Or was this only the beginning of her troubles rather than the end? But she had persuaded herself there were some occasions that required sacrifice for the greater good. Four
siblings—not including Grace, who was married and settled—counted as the greater good in Christina’s mind, even if one of those was her oldest brother John, the new Earl of Compton. He had inherited a mountain of debt from their father and if word spread amongst the ton, they would be ruined. John and her other brother, Mark, had tried to keep the secret from her, but as today’s actions proved, she was not willing to sit idly by while ruin crept ever closer. When John’s melancholia had caused him to attempt suicide, Christina knew she had to act. It was her duty to help. She had not lied to Dane about her circumstance—she just failed to divulge
the entire story. He was as formidable and sinister as was rumored. She had allowed her imagination to paint the details, only to see her vision come to life—the dark, overlong hair, the fierce looking whiskers, the inch-long cut upon his chin. And the eyes that seemed dull and lifeless, as if he’d live two lifetimes full of misery. She had dared the journey alone. No respectable female would think of such a thing let alone participate in such a disreputable quest. Dane’s reputation was that of a debaucher, not a murderer. It seemed insincere to worry about her
supposed character when she was about to hand over her honor to him. “And I suppose you have a set of perfectly logical reasons why this is a good idea?” “I do, but you don’t seem like a man who wishes to hear them. Nevertheless, I would share with you the main reason.” His presence was overbearingly male, flawed as he might be on the inside. Christina had the distinct impression he had been molded and chiseled by the hand of God but that he had denied his Maker. “The answer is no, Miss Turnbow.” She had approached two other opportunists with the same offer. They had both told her no too because they
could not afford her price, though they had made even more scandalous suggestions as to what she might do for them. However, both had recommended that she discuss the matter with the Marquess of Dane, an enigmatic character gossiped about in quiet tones as if the devil would appear at the mention of his name. She had not imagined it would be so difficult to shed her virginity, and guiltily she flushed, because that wasn’t the problem. Perhaps it was the demand for money that had made for the additional complexity and embarrassment. She did not have the skills of a courtesan, but she had the driving passion to get what she wanted.
“Then perhaps you need to understand my reasoning in making such an offer.” “As you seem intent on telling me, would it do any good to decline yet again?” “I was under the impression you were a man who enjoyed such proclivities.” He reached for her hand and cupped it between his. He smiled wolfishly, which only increased the quivering of her fingers in his warm palm. Dane turned her hand and pressed his lips to her palm. The distinct swipe of his tongue shocked her to her toes. She bit at her lips and had to look away.
Christina wasn’t exactly an innocent, but neither was she a woman of the world. Exemplary virtue could be ruined in a moment, but the temptations leading up to that moment usually provided a woman more knowledge of wickedness than she should possess. She had been warned. “Girl, you have no inkling of the proclivities a man like me enjoys.” He gripped her hand tighter and she attempted to withdraw, but he held fast. Her heart leapt in her chest. She believed she had conquered her fear, in spite of the telltale signs of alarm. She was wrong. “I was given to believe that dispatching with one’s virginity required
little effort.” Somehow she got the words out though her insides quivered. “Go home, Miss Turnbow. You’ll regret your decision in the morning and for the rest of your life.” Dane freed her hand and pulled away from her, walking toward the liquor stand where he poured a fresh drink. “I’m doing you a great kindness, only heaven knows why.” “You can’t just send me away. Aren’t you at least curious?” “Curious? I’ve swived untold numbers of women. What makes you think you could tempt me?” Christina wasn’t as shocked by his statement as that of him turning her down. She had mistakenly believed he
was indiscriminant and willing for anything. “I don’t know. I thought perhaps—” Christina’s world crumbled a little beneath her feet. Obtaining money from Dane for what she offered had seemed like a real possibility when she had knocked on his door. He was harder than she had imagined. She had supposed there was some reason for his depraved and solitary life. She had thought to touch him, to appeal to some shred of his compassion, but her mistake was that she didn’t have the time to know him. How naïve. How desperate.
Of course, Dane would never understand the tumultuous decision she had made. “You are right. I should go.” She stood and brushed at her dress. “As a matter of curiosity, Miss Turnbow, for how much were you willing to sell yourself?” Dane still stood across the room, dressed in black with a waistcoat that was open revealing the gleaming white shirt beneath. “Five thousand pounds.” His brows shot upward. “Do you have something between your legs of which I’m unaware? I believe God used the same cast for all women.”
There was no politeness in his words. Each statement and look was meant to debase and humiliate her. To drive her away. “You are as everyone led me to believe, Lord Dane.” He strolled toward her, drink in hand. She clutched at her reticule. The confidence she possessed when she’d walked into the room had diminished into nothingness. Only desperation kept her legs firmly under her. “That is a ridiculous sum, you realize? You are asking five thousand, which means you were prepared to negotiate. My guess is that you need around two thousand and you are hoping for twenty-five hundred. So what has
Miss Turnbow got herself into? A gambling debt?” “No.” “You are someone’s daughter. Turnbow? Another name I’ve obviously forgotten. You can get double that selling yourself on the marriage market.” He swirled his drink as he contemplated her. “Why come to me?” “Do you want to know or is it your way of mocking me?” There was a short moment of relief that he had no immediate recollection of her family name. “What’s a little mocking between friends? Miss Turnbow, you’ve offered to sell yourself and suddenly you are shy of telling me why?”
Christina had been prepared to tell him the whole truth when she thought it might aid in her quest. “Three months ago, I was about to enter into an engagement. I was caught in a public embarrassment with my soonto-be betrothed, and because there was no formal offer, he spurned me. Now I am ostracized. So you see, my virginity has no value. “I’m twenty-two, Lord Dane. I wish to start a life for myself independent of my family.” “So there is really no guarantee you are a virgin?” “That is what the ton thinks. I guess there is no reason you wouldn’t think that as well.”
“Do not compare me to those scavengers.” He turned away from her, stalking across the room, toward his desk. Learning anything about the Marquess of Dane had been difficult. Those in polite company never spoke of him to an innocent, and since she was now ruined, no one would speak to her at all. She had asked her brother, since he had an interest in the success of her scheme. What he knew wouldn’t fill a thimble, but a thimbleful of hope was better than nothing. Dane stood at his desk, taking in her appearance with another risqué glance. He opened a small humidor and selected
a cigar, running it under his nose as he smelled the scent. “So, let us sum up the matter. You are asking for too much money. There is a possibility you are not a virgin. And the most problematic for a man like me, I have no idea what I would be purchasing.” Dane made her proposal sound ridiculous when he recounted their conversation in such a way. “I can assure you, I am a virgin.” “So you say. I have a different proposal, Miss Turnbow. I get to see what I am purchasing, I get to experience what I am purchasing and then I will tell you what I will pay for the unique experience you are offering.”
“I can’t accept that.” “I can’t pay you five thousand dollars for the unknown. I guess we are at an impasse.” “How do I know you would pay me at all?” “I am many things, but I am not a liar. A rich man could only keep a courtesan if he paid and paid well.” “I won’t be your courtesan. Only...this offer is only for one thing.” He raised a brow but said nothing. She swallowed past the lump in her throat. “When you say you wish to see me, what exactly do you mean?” He smiled broadly and gave her a thorough examination, stopping and staring boldly at her breasts.
“Oh, that. I want you naked. And remember, a courtesan would demonstrate her wares with enthusiasm.”
Chapter Two Dane wasn’t ready to have Miss Turnbow walk out of the room, and that she still stood there contemplating his command gave him reason to hope. Indecision warred in his head. Lust could be slaked upon any willing body. He did not need Miss Turnbow. Nor did he need ghosts of the past. That she was clearly good ton should have repelled him. He could not patiently tutor a virgin and he doubted Miss Turnbow meant for him to spend any amount of time at the task. Men who were aroused by bloody hymen and hysterical tears had obviously not
experienced any real depth of pleasure in their sexual pursuits. Dispatching virginity was for other virgins to toddle through. “Well, Miss Turnbow. I believe you have a decision to make.” She hung her head for a moment before glancing at him. “You are right, Lord Dane. I have made a mistake coming here.” He’d pushed too far, but still she made no move to leave the room. “I shall locate someone else who might assist me,” she said. “You came to me. I would imagine I was your last, or possibly, your only hope.”
He stepped around his desk and lowered himself into his chair. Setting his drink aside, he clipped the end of his cigar and leaned toward the lamp, puffing as he brought the rolled tobacco to a glowing red tip. Miss Turnbow gazed at him while he opened a side drawer. Inside was a metal moneybox containing a small amount of petty cash. Enough to run the household for a month or enough to keep him competitive in an all-night card game. He grabbed a handful of bills and set them on his desk. He puffed at his cigar before setting it in the ashtray. “A small advance might be appropriate.” He counted out five hundred pounds and slid them to the
edge of his desk. “To show that I negotiate in good faith.” The moment she lifted her chin, he knew he was going to get his wish. Christina Turnbow bore a striking resemblance to Clara, his wife. Had he believed in spirits, he might have imagined Clara had returned to haunt him for his failures. However, there was one distinct difference. Miss Turnbow apparently had a spine forged of iron. Leaning back, he waited and watched while Miss Turnbow thought and then yielded fully to his suggestion. She stepped toward him, her skirts swishing.
He had no difficulty imaging the dampness already pooling between her thighs. In spite of her virginity, she was a woman on the verge of spreading her legs for the first bloke to pay the price. Her body had to be responding to the stimulation of thought and deed. She reached for the bills and then quickly stuffed them into her reticule. “You do not get to touch me until we have reached an agreement.” “Fair enough.” He relaxed into the chair, taking all of her in. She was dressed to impress. His mind wondered to her logic. Ruination alone wasn’t reason enough to divest oneself of their most prized possession, even if there was doubt about her state of innocence.
Why was she really doing this? “Is there not a more private area where I might disrobe? Perhaps a screen where I may—” “You are safe here. No one will enter. Besides, I wish to watch while you undress.” She glanced at the closed door before she walked the few steps to the settee and lowered her purse. His view was of her shoulder and side. She removed her pelisse and tossed it over the back of the couch. Her delicate hands fumbled with the pins in her hat. The paleness of her complexion had taken on a pinkish hue, especially about her cheeks.
After she removed her hat, she took a deep steadying breath before she worked at the buttons down the front of her dress. Her hair was piled loosely, swept up, with tendrils hanging about her ears and forehead and along her shapely neck. It was auburn colored, like Clara’s. In and around his groin, the sweet buildup of arousal fueled his desire to see her hurry along. The impulse to shag her was stronger than he had ever felt for such a woman. He had never desired to bed haughty aristocrats. The few times he had, the pleasure had been quick and the intimacy cheap.
He had a long list of reasons to avoid women who acted solely out of duty. His whores fucked him as a matter of survival. Why was there not some happy median? A truly passionate woman who gave freely, who didn’t know how to pretend? Why would a wife who cared for her husband not go to any length to ensure a courtesan’s passion was the last thing a man sought during marriage? Bah. There was no such woman with perfect motivation and passion. His life was one of extremes, and no arrogant, disdainful noble’s daughter was ever going to submit to Dane willingly, whereas his whores would get down on their hands and knees to
pleasure him. But the idea of seeing this one bend to his will had a certain lascivious appeal that went beyond his normal debaucheries. Her fear had an unusual effect on him, not dissimilar to pain, he would wager. One night. That’s all he had or wanted. He had to make the most of it and battling through her hymen wasn’t part of his plan. Her brazen confidence hid a naïve girl—one he could induce to wield a lash, with the right amount of persuasion. He plucked up the cigar and inhaled. Through lowered lids, he watched and enjoyed. Miss Turnbow reached behind her. She loosened a tie that appeared to
secure her skirts. They billowed, floating softly to the floor and pooling at her feet. The matching jacket top came off as she hunched her shoulders and then tugged briefly at one sleeve. She allowed that to settle on the floor with her skirts. What he could see of her breasts intrigued him. He eagerly savored the moment of their complete unveiling. The corset was laced tight, but there was no difficulty in the removal. She sucked in a deep breath, grabbed the two pieces, and the hooks were slipped apart with ease. She closed her eyes for a moment. Dane wondered at the fortitude it took to
disrobe in front of a stranger. Five hundred pounds was a hefty impetus. “Miss Turnbow, face me, please.” The white chemise had a plain cut with no lacy edges or pearly strings. When she turned, he saw the single ribbon shaped into a bow between her breasts. Generous would be the word to describe the heaving orbs beneath the thin batiste of her opaque chemise. He was disappointed that he could not see the dusky hue of her nipples, though they poked up most provocatively. “Have you ever been naked in front of a man before?” “Yes.” Her voiced quivered. “My papa, when I was two.”
He chuckled. She only bit at her lips, probably unaware of her humor. Would she remember a word of their conversation once she was free of him? Her fingers twisted into the material at her sides. Each movement was a reminder of Clara’s innocence. The temptation to touch Miss Turnbow, to slide his fingers over her face, to caress her lips, was remarkably strong. With Clara, the soft innocence of youth had been wrapped into an undying love—just not for him. Best he remain firmly seated so that he could gauge all of Miss Turnbow’s attributes and keep himself from sadistically taking what was so clearly being offered. Pushing her over the desk,
exposing her lush ass and thrusting into her with brute force was easily within his realm of dereliction. On another day, he might have done exactly that without feeling an ounce of remorse afterward. And why shouldn’t he? It was what they asked for. He thought of her request in the most base of terms. Take my virginity. There were no connotations, no rules. Why should he not breach her maidenhead, enjoy her temporary apprehension and lose himself for a few moments? Her pain and fear would be a new experience. She would get what she came for—the loss of her virginity and the receipt of her money.
So it came down to him and how he would obtain the most pleasure from the purchase, did it not? “How does it make you feel? To know you are going to be naked in front of me for the first time?” He wondered if there was a certain pain for her in doing thusly. Did it hurt for her to breathe? Was she aroused and afraid? “I feel lightheaded,” she said, while pressing her hand to her chest, “and it hurts here.” Strange, so did he. Her demure acquiescence was so much like Clara’s behavior that, for a moment, he could have believed Clara had uttered the words.
“Now then. Let us see that for which you wish to bargain.” He held his breath waiting for her to disrobe completely. As the chemise inched upward over her legs, exposing more of her stockings, Dane’s gaze hungrily followed the progress. Her undergarments came into view and then her bare stomach, revealing unblemished and pale skin. When her breasts came into sight, Dane felt the rush of pleasure spike through his cock. Behind the desk, he eased one hand downward and rubbed his hand along the tight, hard length of his erection. He marveled at the compelling attraction, even feeling a bit of giddiness
in the pit of his stomach. New experiences always excited him. He was beyond the point of telling her no, but he had other plans for her that did not involve her hymen. And might be worth more than five thousand pounds to him. The moment seemed frozen—her arms over her head, her breasts lifted high. And so mouth-wateringly perfect he could practically feel the saliva drip from his chin. He reached for his cigar. He directed the hazy smoke upward as she finished disrobing. Finally, her fingers tugged at the drawstring of her white unmentionables.
They sagged over her hips. She slid them lower until they drifted around her feet. She bent to remove her stockings. Her breasts dangled temptingly— ripe fruit, perfect for the palm of his hand. “No. Leave them,” he said, feeling his voice crack with want. Clara’s form and features had never been so clear, not since her death. He had been young then, as innocent as Clara and as green. The excitement no less breathtaking. He was not used to denying himself, which accounted for his unusual craving to have her on his desk. He felt a quick release coming on. Those usually happened when Pearl or Jasmine
wielded the whip across his back or buttocks, not when he was about to frig himself while viewing a naked woman. She didn’t hunch or attempt to cover either her breasts or the thatch of hair covering her mons. His gaze raked her form, up then down, taking in every inch of her bareness. The smooth expanse of her waist and the curve of her hip begged to be touched. “Turn around,” he ordered. She untangled her feet from her dress, stepped away and then turned her back toward him. He arched, sliding his hand into his breeches and grabbing his cock. He squeezed and then stroked hard, sweeping his thumb over the sensitive cap of his erection.
The sound of his harsh breathing obscured everything else. Were she one of his whores, there were myriad possibilities for enhancing his pleasure. He could envision Miss Turnbow kneeling between his legs. He could imagine stalking quietly behind her, bending her over the settee and swiving her from behind. The possibilities. And all she wanted was to shed her virginity. It was the last thing he wanted, yet the reoccurring vision of plowing her sacred fields was foremost in his mind. He wasn’t interested in her offering, for the offering’s sake, but it was certainly in line with his pleasureseeking ambitions.
Scaring her away, reinforcing his wicked reputation—that was what he ought to do. What he would do was accommodate her request, tailoring it to meet his interests. Sending her away unscathed would be worse for his reputation than a declaration of impotence. Just as he had never been able to tell Clara no, he would not tell Miss Turnbow no. He went to work at the falls of his breeches and peeled back the material, freeing his cock and pushing away his linens. His erection pulsed long and hard against his stomach. He wasn’t far from climax. “Miss Turnbow.”
He waited for her to face him again. Her gaze went right to the sight of his exposed member as he’d expected. He started a slow up-and-down stroke. “Are you prepared for this?” Shocking virgins was a new sport and something to add to his repertoire of badness. Voyeurism wasn’t particularly arousing to him, but he did enjoy watching Miss Turnbow watch him. She was surprisingly inspirational. Her nostrils flared and she sucked in a breath of air. He would swear she was ready to take every inch of him with nary a sound of denial. His hand worked slowly at his cock. Her gaze never strayed, but her lips had parted slightly. Arousal made her look
more beautiful. The depths of her blue translucent gaze ghostly and sensual. Imagining her giving in to his commands, holding the short crop and striking a singular blow across his body, took his breath away. Dane reached for a linen handkerchief. His cock hardened perceptibly in his hand before he ejaculated, groaning in release and luxuriating in the warmth that spurted over his hands and fingers. His hips jerked a few times as he spent the last of his seed, the cloth catching the ejaculate. When he’d cleaned himself, tucked away his shrinking manhood and refastened his breeches, he glanced
toward Miss Turnbow. Her head hung, one arm crossed her body and gripped her other arm, covering her breasts modestly. “I will give you twenty-five hundred pounds for one whole day, Miss Turnbow. To do with as I will, and you will obey.” She looked pained when she answered. “No one is to know of this,” she said in her soft way, agreement implicit in her words. “I want you tomorrow evening. I will send a carriage for you.” “Have my money, Dane.” *****
Dane paced across the polished floor and the interspersed Japanese carpets that adorned his clandestine room on the top floor of his warehouse. Arousal was a way of life for him and the last twentyfour hours had been a constant ebb and flow of physical sensation, but he deprived himself of any form of relief or release. He had not even seen one of his whores. The denial provided its own sort of painful pleasure. The bank of windows that faced the Thames would have been stunning had he enjoyed such rustic simplicities as sunsets, stars and moon. The conversion from usual storage space to magnificent, if a bit unusual, pleasure rooms had taken pockets of money and several
months to perfect. The oriental details served his need for the exotic and unfamiliar, heightening the thrill of his never-ending pursuit. He’d had boilers installed to ensure hot water on most days. A large bed was the centerpiece of the room, with four posts and overhead canopy. The sheer curtains that fell gracefully from the upper wooden beams gave the illusion of privacy when, in fact, the entire room was designed for unadulterated pleasure. For Miss Turnbow, he had few demands. Perhaps she would be displeased that he did not want what she had offered. He chastised himself for glancing out the window again. Miss Turnbow would
not be here for another hour. The carriage that would bring her to his door hadn’t even left the dock yet. Hirado stood near the door, head bowed, his robes draped down his body in a loose flow and sweeping over the floor while his hands were covered to the fingertips. He had found Hirado in Limehouse, the Chinese district, the only survivor of his family after a cholera epidemic, though Hirado was Japanese. “Is everything ready?” Dane asked. “All ready.” Hirado carried the last of the jute cords and proceed to a side table, where he stacked them in even piles, winding them in faultless circular coils to be
used later. “The woman is beautiful?” he asked as he wound. How did Dane answer that? He hadn’t seen past Clara’s visage. When he was nineteen, he had thought Clara was the most beautiful woman he’d known. She was a vicar’s daughter, completely unsuitable for a potential marquess, so his father had said. At the time, Dane had been blissfully unaware that catastrophe could propel him into a position that had never appealed to him. “She is beautiful. Very beautiful,” he said, trying to remember her visage without the overlay of Clara’s delicate and compelling beauty.
And he was foolish. The tender notion that he might end his torment at the hands of Miss Turnbow’s lash was proof of it. After nearly fifteen years, he knew the torment did not end, it only spiraled progressively downward. “And the food has been prepared? Just as I asked?” “Meats, fruits, cheese. All as you like.” “Good.” He strolled around the room again, his hands behind his back. Between two Buddhist statues hung the shackles he would use later. The whips were laid out on a long bureau—various crops, whips and implements that were very effective at delivering pain. He ran a
finger across the soft braided leather of an Italian whip. Which would she choose? Would she choose? Would his proposal frighten her? Or would she see it as a fair exchange for retaining her virginity? The sheer bed curtains were adorned with silk embroidery, nihon shishu, depicting scenes of long-legged cranes and water lilies. He would watch her while she lay in the bed sleeping. If she could. Finally, he departed the loft to see that the carriage was on its way to fetch Miss Turnbow. She had given him an address that implied only moderate wealth. Once again, he attempted to fathom her reasoning.
He had checked his timepiece for the fifth time when, at last, the carriage arrived. The docks were dangerous at night. He had four guards regularly posted, or rather Rawlins did. Dane had just given the order. The beginning of a new sexual adventure always cheered him. The day had seemed endless, but knowing she was moments from departing the carriage, he felt as if he hadn’t seen her in a year. He’d jumped from the third step to the floor as he hurried to greet her. The unmarked carriage and four, along with two drivers and two footmen, came to a stop. The footmen jumped
down, but Dane was there to open the door. “Miss Turnbow. Welcome.” “Dane,” she said. She reached out from the darkness and he took her hand, assisting her from the carriage. The first thing he noticed was the soft flowery perfume wafting from the interior of the carriage. She wore a light cape in deference to the chill of the night air. The hood shrouded her face. He was anxious to see if his memory of her, and of Clara, was still as vividly similar as he had thought yesterday. They walked up the several flights of stairs, one of the footmen following while carrying a small valise.
“And did you enjoy your day?” he asked. “Dane? Is it all so easy for you? This practiced seduction?” “I like a direct woman. And to answer your question, yes. But I think you knew that.” “From all I have heard and now seen, I had hoped there was some humanity left.” “We are not talking about humanity. We are talking about sexual exploration, of which, I am most adventurous. When money changes hands, it is all business.” “Do you do this often?” Again, the direct questioning. Again, he could not immediately gauge her nervousness, though after last night, he
could not imagine she felt anything but. Dane ignored her question. His reputation was no better than the last story told about him. “Have you eaten?” “I’m not hungry, Dane. I would prefer we dispatch with the unpleasantries.” They reached the third floor landing. He waved the footman on. “About that. I have something much more suited to your special...skills.” “I have no skills,” she said. He brushed his fingers along her chin and then swept back the hood of her cape. “You promised,” she whispered. He had had no thought of kissing her, but
here, standing in the aura of one lighted wall lamp, her lips appeared irresistible. He leaned in and pressed his lips to hers, something a virgin would like, something that would make her swoon. Nothing that meant anything. When he pulled away, she opened her eyes slowly. Her hand lay against his chest. He could not remember the last time he had had a moment even remotely quixotic. There was less of Clara than he remembered. He did not remember Clara’s taste. “Please don’t do that. You know why I’m here.” “Did you think I was just going to bed you and send you on your way?
Sexual intercourse is an art, Miss Turnbow. An art that requires patience and tutoring.” The deception would become clear to her as the evening progressed. On the fourth floor landing, Dane opened the door for her and she preceded him into the room. The stark bareness of the warehouse gave one pause when entering into the sumptuous and unexpected extravagance of the upper floor. Hirado bowed as they walked in. “Most beautiful indeed,” he said. “May I?” Dane nodded and Hirado assisted with the removal of her cape. A footman quietly placed her valise at the far side of the room and then he disappeared.
“Hirado. Miss Christina Turnbow.” “Good evening,” she said, glancing at Dane for some reassurance. “Hirado is one of my...valets. He will not get in the way, I assure you.” Her dark blue gown was demure, but unimportant, since his mind was already imprinted with visions of her nakedness. A vision well worth his five hundred pounds. Near the fireplace, Hirado had furnished a round table with two place settings. Honeyed duck, small potatoes, peas and asparagus were already on the table, covered by glass warmers. Two bottles of wine cooled near his chair. Hirado would start the meal with a lobster bisque. Dessert involved a
selection of ices and several chocolates purchased from a Swiss importer. All leading up to the culmination delivered at the hands of his would-be Clara. “Shall we?” he said. He held his arm for her and she placed her hand on his sleeve. “What do you think, Miss Turnbow? Is it what you expected?” “I suppose you should call me by my first name given the intimacy of the evening.” “Christina,” he said. He led her to her chair, all the while she glanced about the room. “The décor is Japanese, as is Hirado. He assisted with the design of the room.”
“It’s beautiful and intricate,” she said as she stopped to view a cylindrical vase positioned on a lone pedestal. Clara was visible again, in the subtle way Christina ran her fingertips over the refined workmanship. She stared at the vase for a moment and then asked, “Dane, I would wish for this to be over quickly. There is little to be gained by wooing me first. If that is what you are doing.” And then just as quickly, Miss Turnbow was facing him. Her direct stare so unlike Clara’s ladylike shyness. Dane turned away and strolled to his dinner chair, sitting first and with illmannered agitation. Hirado held Christina’s chair and she settled in.
“We will dine and then I will explain what is to happen during our time together.” “It is a myth that women do not know what happens during intercourse. I comprehend quite well what is about to happen.” “You are interesting, Miss Turnbow. A conundrum. I see a woman who fears what is to happen and yet you speak as if you have experience.” “I have brothers.” “And your parents approve of this sort of open education for a daughter?” “They are dead, but they would not have me ignorant.” Christina plucked a linen napkin from the table and spread it
over her lap. “If you insist that I dine with you, I will.” “When one considers you will be earning two hundred pounds over the next hour for enjoying some of the best cuisine in London, I would think more enthusiasm would be in order.” “One would think. And under other circumstances I might muster the courage to smile. I am not your courtesan, Dane. As you said, this is business.” “Other circumstances? Such as a public dishonor with a former beau?” “Stealing a kiss with a man I believed would be my husband is hardly a crime.” “And yet here you are paying for it.”
Hirado said nothing, but moved to her side and dipped a ladle of soup into her glazed bowl. Again, Dane noticed the nervousness. Her skirt shook. He could imagine her leg bouncing beneath the layers of her dress. The gown was pleated across the shoulders and chest and displayed her neck beautifully, but it was her hair that complemented her best. She wore it as if she were appearing before the Queen. “You will like it,” Hirado said. “Thank you.” Christina clasped her spoon. “You live an interesting life, Dane.” He waited while his portion was served, contemplating the woman across the table.
“How did you find me? I have a hard time believing your brothers sent you to me for a deflowering. Much as I will do an admirable job.” “I was told you thought only in such base terms. You seemed a natural choice. This soup is delicious.” He nodded. Hirado smiled broadly behind her. “Enlighten me,” Dane said. “When one is desperate, one does desperate things.” “You do not strike me as desperate. You strike me as calculating. No woman of the ton so easily gives up that which she has protected for twenty-two years.” “It isn’t easy. It took me some weeks to come to this decision.”
“I’ve never been anyone’s last and best hope. I rather like it.” Dane plucked up one of the wine bottles, a particularly good year he had been sampling from the south of France, and filled their glasses. “You have money and no morals. If you choose to paint it in the light of nobility, I can’t stop you.” “Tell me, if I were some Jack from Vauxhall who could afford you, would you be doing this? Or is it palpable because of my title and because you think that will afford you some generosity when the time comes for shagging?” “Yes, I suppose that is what you do with all of your women, as opposed to cherishing them.”
“You sound like an old fishwife, nagging for compliments.” “You’ve forgotten already. I have respectable brothers. They know how to treat a woman.” He chuckled. “What would they say to you now, sitting here in my little corner of the world?” Miss Turnbow finally had nothing to say. Dane kept losing sight of Clara amidst Miss Turnbow’s direct statements and keen humor. The duck was succulent, the vegetables buttery and lightly salted. Dane was pleased. Miss Turnbow ate a portion of everything, but finished nothing.
Her silence lingered. “Do not fret, Miss Turnbow, you have chosen well.” He sipped at his drink while she chased a potato across her plate. “Have I? That is yet to be seen.” She flashed a somnolent look in his direction. Perhaps if she were staying longer than a day, he might enjoy such a woman. Tutoring her in the pleasures of the body while enjoying her sharp mind and nononsense approach to problem solving. Then again, she might turn that mind toward attempting to solve the puzzling Marquess of Dane and he did not wish to be examined too closely. By anyone.
His darkness was incomprehensible. Poking around in the gloom would only cause torment. When the table was cleared and the chocolates and ices placed before her, Dane watched as her eyebrows peaked. She bit at her lips as she leaned forward, her hand hovering over one and then another of the succulent sweets. “I don’t know which one to pick,” she admitted. “The darker ones are more bitter,” he said. “The plump ones have raspberry jam inside.” He leaned toward the tray and plucked up a round one. “But I’d recommend this one.” He held it for her suggestively, near her mouth, tempting her with the offering.
Whatever decisions Christina had made about tonight, she had made them with determination. She opened her mouth—her lips, teeth and tongue brushing against his fingers as she accepted the treat. He ran his finger over her lower lip before he settled back in the chair and reached for his wine. After a few bites, she put her hand to her lips. “Oh, it’s a cherry.” “Do you like it?” She nodded, then licked at her lips. “Delicious.” “Help yourself to more.” “I shouldn’t.” She eyed the tray of sweets but resisted. Hirado walked around the room and put out several of the candles, dimming
the spacious room. Christina noticed. She clasped her hands and held them in her lap all frivolity gone, as the moment approached. “Are you missing some grand dame’s ball this evening?” Dane enjoyed the interlude. A glass of wine—the right wine—along with the company of a beautiful woman should never be rushed. The gradual shift from casual to sexual, the slow peaking of interest, the foreplay —all of it was important to Dane. As much as the incendiary, selfish fucking to which it led. Tonight was a different kind of seduction, one which would lead to the dark punishments he deserved. “Invitations are rare these days. I’m sure you understand why.”
“So you’ve no plans to marry, to put this sad event behind you?” “Some tired old man with bad teeth would happen along eventually. I would rather be alone.” “My guess is that you are not trying hard enough. It is a convenient excuse to say you were dishonored, but there are plenty of men who want what you have. What you could give them for many years to come, should you choose.” “The ton is very unforgiving, Lord Dane.” He couldn’t help but agree, yet he found it hard to believe this beauty would not be forgiven anything. Firsthand experience had only led to his rebellious determination to never do
anything the ton expected—and to bask in its unforgiveness. Did Christina deserve better? Or was her place alone in the dark too?
Chapter Three If she had a passion, it was for her family. Dane could not know the depth of her real fear. All that she wanted to accomplish for her family was within Dane’s power to give or take. Her virginity was a small matter compared to their security. The loss of her reputation was only the catalyst that brought her to this place and time. She understood the physicality of losing her virginity, and of that, she was not afraid. Appearing before Dane as a trembling milksop was intolerable. If she were prepared to sell what she had guarded for a lifetime, she believed she
had to do so from a position of confidence. All that she had imagined about Dane was admittedly true, yet she was still a virgin after spending an hour with him. She had hoped to dispense with the embarrassment and pain quickly, but Dane had demanded twenty-four hours. She examined her fear more fully and realized it was not Dane who caused the rapid beating within her chest. His intelligence was obvious. She had pictured him more uncouth and perverse. His clothes were well made, though he was casual in the wearing of them. He was clean, but unshaven. The scar and his reputation was the only thing sinister about him.
He leaned back in his chair, seemingly intent on enjoying every drop of his wine while she fidgeted. “Would you like me to change?” “If you wish. There is a gown on the bed I want you to wear.” The heavy clog in her throat dropped to her stomach. Would she be doing this had she not been so dishonored? Would she be doing this if there were any other way to save her family from complete ruin? Once she had started down this path, she knew there was no turning back. The clock could not be rewound nor her reputation restored. Her brother Mark had understood and agreed with her proposal. For the family. And he had
promised to make it all up to her somehow. Mark knew the truth. Guilt hadn’t snared him yet, but it would. She had steeled herself for every eventuality. Perhaps she was misguided, but she wanted Dane to believe in her façade of confidence. She wanted him to believe she did not care. Christina pretended that rising from the table and strolling to the bedside was the most natural act in the world. Again, there was no screen. Dane would not be denied even the smallest of pleasures and she would not be given a bit of privacy. Hirado had disappeared, though, when Dane had uttered a few foreign words.
The white gown was folded neatly. Christina picked it up and shook it out. It was simple with solid stitching, but the material was thin. And very demure. She held it to her nose and the faint cloying smell of age and storage permeated the garment. Why would he want her to wear this? Or anything at all? When Dane’s hands touched her waist, she gasped. “I want you to wear it.” Dane’s nose was pressed into her hair, his hands sliding over her body. The first tug of the lacings at the back of her dress caused a sharp well of anxiety. Until now, she’d had a distinct sense of displacement, as if she wasn’t
really here and losing her maidenhead wasn’t about to happen. Christina had never heard much about Dane, and a marquess no less, before she had approached her brother about her implausible plan to save them. Even then, he had not mentioned Dane until she had heard his name spoken in a darkened room some weeks ago. Dane whispered unintelligible words into her hair. His hands cupped her breasts before searching upward and peeling her dress away from her shoulders. There didn’t seem to be enough air in the room. Christina gasped, open-mouthed. It would be over soon. His hands worked quickly, while Christina felt powerless to do anything
but let him. Three months ago, she had been aroused and unthinking while Thomas had seduced her. Now, she felt much the same thing and hated herself for exhibiting her weaknesses. Dane’s touch should have repelled her, but each caress broke through her resistance. Fighting him was unwarranted at this point; only her quick intake of breath revealed her unwillingness to give herself freely. Calm logic had prevailed in making this decision in spite of the emotional toll. Rational thoughts no longer existed under the assault of his experienced hands. In slow degrees, he undressed her. She stood in her chemise. He knelt in
front of her, removing her shoe, his hands skimming up her leg and loosening the tie binding her stocking. He peeled it down slowly, each touch of his fingers against the inside her leg causing dizzying shock through her body. She braced her hand against his shoulder while he stripped her other leg. He glanced up at her and she knew what was next. His hands skimmed upward, taking the light chemise with it. When his hands reached her bare breasts, he stood. He worked the chemise upward, her arms waxy and weak as she lifted them over her head. Dane threw the garment aside, and his hands returned to caress her skin.
His eyes were closed as his fingers traced the lines of her body. Even his breath caressed her sensually, prickling her skin. “Forgive me,” he whispered. Or she thought she heard. He stepped away from her and briskly said, “Put this on.” Christina hurried to obey, thankful that the end was near. She had never imagined anything so terrifying as losing her virginity to such a wicked man. Though the fear of losing everything had put this small inconvenience into proper perspective. Losing her virginity happened only once. Losing her respect in the eyes of the ton could happen over and over
again. And that was what she must prevent, if not for her, than the rest of the family. Once she was covered again, the wicked Dane reappeared. “Miss Turnbow, do you remember our agreement?” She nodded, uncertain whether she could actually utter the words that had committed her to full participation in his debaucheries. In truth he could not only take her virginity, but he could have her several times between now and tomorrow night. Her brother had assured her that it was unlikely. Maybe it was his attempt to relieve her fears. Dane turned away, stripped off his jacket and tossed it aside. When Hirado
moved suddenly from the side of the room, hidden by the folds of his gown, she gasped. He had watched her undress. Hirado scampered to help his master. Christina stood in the middle of the floor, gripped by fear and embarrassment. She pressed her hands to her face, attempting to cool the flaming emotion. Hirado loosened Dane’s simple cravat and then helped with the jacket sleeves before Dane tugged the long tails of his linen shirt and stripped it from his body. Mesmerized, Christina stared at the sight of his bare skin and broad shoulders. Her gaze followed the impression of his spine downward
where the slight round of his bottom appeared for a moment. Still standing, he toed at one boot and Hirado quickly had them off. When he bent to remove his trousers, Christina glanced downward, not wanting to see any more, but his bare feet were still visible. Chains rattled against the wall. Fear twined through her body, but still she could not look. Hirado bowed before her. “Most sorry, miss. Please?” He gripped her elbow. Christina had to look up then. She gasped. Dane faced the wall, chained to it, his hands and arms high over his head. Naked. He was naked, his buttocks flexed, his legs long and hard.
“No. Dane? What are you doing?” Frozen, Christina could not fathom Dane’s actions. Tears pooled at the corner of her eyes. Nothing had prepared her for such a shocking turn. She jerked her arm from Hirado’s and wanted to run from the room. The sight of Dane— Was he mad? Dane glanced over his shoulder at her. He appeared rational. He was the same dark, unfathomable creature he had always been. She was foolish to believe she could bargain with him and not come out changed. “Miss Turnbow, this is what I hired you to do.” “I don’t understand.”
Hirado touched her again. “You choose, miss.” He waved his hands toward the side table. The array of whips lay before her. Had she been so bedazzled with her surroundings? So fearful of Dane that she had not noticed the display? Hirado explained the uses for the whips. Christina’s stomach turned. She pressed her hand to her chest. “I can’t,” she said. She could never hit someone with a whip. Never. “Do you not think I deserve to be punished?” Dane asked. “Would you not like to take your anger out for all that I’ve done wrong?” “Don’t ask this of me.” “You’ve already agreed.”
“Not to this.” Dane said something in Japanese. Hirado picked up a whip that looked like a long riding crop. He presented it to Christina. “If you wish to be paid, Miss Turnbow, you will strike me with that whip.” Dane might be chained and immobile, but his voice commanded obedience. The pounding in her chest had expanded to her ears. She glanced at her hand. It trembled yet she held the whip firmly in her grasp. “How will you feel about me when all of London knows that you serviced me?” he asked.
Goading her wouldn’t work. She shook her head, denying the possibility of his words. “They will remember your dishonor. You will never be part of polite society again. No one will have you. They will call you one of Dane’s whores.” Dane was all things bad. Christina recognized that now. She had taken her situation seriously, but she had underestimated Dane. When she’d heard about him, her first thought was denial. No one chooses such a life. There had to be some underlying reason for his withdrawal from society and his complete disregard for convention. “You will be remembered as the noble’s daughter who spread her legs for
Dane.” Christina’s vision blurred. The clog in her chest made it difficult to breath, but her mind raced. It was true. Dane was a dreadful man, undeserving of any kindness or compassion. Who knows what other outrages he had committed? What crimes? “Do you know how many virgins I’ve shagged this year, not counting you? How many men I’ve ruined at the gaming tables?” Christina burned. Tears mingled with fury. She had only to raise the lash and strike him as he wished. What if he was one of those responsible for—? “How many—“
She struck him. She swung, as hard as her woman’s arm and her anger would support. Dane’s surprised gasp gave her a moment of satisfaction. Again, she lashed out. He laughed at her efforts. What if he was the one who had ruined her father? Did he not deserve the worst sort of punishment for all that he had done, if not to her father, then to someone’s? The anger she felt eclipsed any emotion she had ever experienced. More than the embarrassment of her scandal. More than the fear and sadness of losing their place in society because of their indebtedness. More. So much more.
Over and over, she struck at him. He jerked against the bindings, groaning with each burning slash, no longer laughing. The shackles at his wrist sounded against the wall. Her arm weakened with each passing stroke until she could no longer lift the whip. Dane gasped for breath. She stood behind him, the whip at her side, the tip touching the floor. She wiped at the cascade of tears on her face and blinked until she could clearly see what she had done. What had she done? Fiery red lacerations marked across his back, his buttocks, his thighs. She loosed the whip, dropping soundlessly on the floor beside her.
Dane turned away from the wall and faced her. The chains twisted overhead, clanging loudly. His expression was tight, but he managed a one-sided smile. “You are not done, Miss Turnbow. I have need of your hands.” When she saw his manhood hard and long between his legs, she clenched her eyes. A word to describe his depravity did not exist, not in her limited world. Another dribble of tears trailed down her face. “I’ve purchased you, Christina. Now come closer.” Her feet moved in small steps toward him. He hadn’t purchased her, she had sold herself. She had betrayed her upbringing, she’d been disloyal to
her convictions and now she’d hurt another human being. “You know what I want. Touch me.” Instinctively, she knew. Christina forced her fingers to act, wrapping one hand around the warm length. Dane gasped again, the sound different—dark and sensual. Christina’s body heated, already flaming from her anger, but now blazing from the turbulent emotions Dane stirred. “That’s right,” he said. “Slow.” Christina stared at the center of his chest. His skin glistened with sweat; dark hair covered his chest and trailed downward toward where her hand worked him. His body swayed toward her, held in place by the overhead
shackles and whatever force drove his need, as she stroked up and then down. Beneath her hands, his body tensed and his hips thrust, sending the firm erection through her grip. When he groaned loudly, she felt the warm cascade of frothy semen as it spilled over her hand. He withdrew, freeing her, but she stood motionless. He turned his face into his arm. His breathing was harsh, his chest still heaving. Dane spoke a few words in Japanese and Hirado appeared once again. He approached her and bowed quickly. She still stared at the ejaculate on her hand while Hirado took a white linen towel,
lightly dampened, and wiped away the mess. She knew very little about Dane. She raised her eyes to stare at him and realized she viewed a man who had nothing in his soul. There was nothing to know. ***** Dane stared at Christina as Hirado led her to the bed. She curled up in the middle, not bothering with the covers. The pain still hummed through his body. The pleasure was diminishing, though he knew neither of them would last, sending him in search of more pleasure and more pain.
His release at the hands of Miss Turnbow satisfied him in so many ways. Once he had angered and mocked her, she had reacted. For a moment, he was worried that he had underestimated her ability to complete his request. He’d skirted the fine line between nothingness and fulfillment while he urged her to act. Hirado moved quickly, stepping onto a square stepstool to free Dane’s hands from the shackles. Lowering his hands, Dane stretched feeling the subtle pains of strained muscle and the sharp pain of lashes. He did not believe she had drawn blood, but the raw skin needed soothing. Any relief would have to wait until morning.
The only concession he made was to accept the wet towel and wipe at the sticky dampness of semen that coated his cock. He and Hirado spoke quietly in Japanese. Miss Turnbow had not moved. He did not need theatrics or emotions for the next few hours. He hoped she was exhausted enough to sleep until morning. Dane knelt on a thick mat between the statues and placed his hands behind his back. Hirado disappeared into the darkness but returned with the jute ropes, which he placed on either side of Dane. Dane closed his eyes, attempting to steady the pounding of his heart. The pain was about to be compounded, both physically and emotionally, as his
bakushi wrapped the ropes in progressively more restrictive binds. He emptied his mind of thought and endured only the prickling sensation of the jute against his skin. Hirado tied the rope at Dane’s wrists. The weave of the rope worked over and around his skin. Twining and turning, Hirado wound through each of Dane’s fingers and his thumbs were encased together. There was no denying the beauty of the shibari. Unless one was willing to submit to certain aspects of the binding, not all elements could be enjoyed the same. The jute rubbing over the upbraided skin would be intolerable by morning unless he remained perfectly still. Hirado worked silently. Dane allowed
himself a guilt-relieving glance at Christina, still unmoving on the bed. When he was like this, humiliated and subjugated to the whim of the shibari master, he would allow his mind to think about the truth of his life, and in those moments, it did not overwhelm him. The rope was fitted around his chest. Four layers of rope, perfectly laid against each other and tight against his skin. Shards of jute poked into the sensitive flesh. Wherever the rope crossed, Hirado wrapped and turned the rope rather than tie it with knots. Glancing down at his chest, Dane could see the beginnings of the pattern taking shape. Always intricate, always
tight, always painful in a way that made Dane believe he was finally being rewarded his just punishment. Hirado bound the rope across Dane’s forearms. Skillfully, Hirado tightened the jute, bringing the rope over Dane’s shoulder, across the nipples on his pectorals and then down. The action forced Dane’s crossed arms higher up his back. Drawn between his legs, missing his cock and testicles, the ropes were then wound around his upper thighs. All of Dane’s being focused on the trail of the rope as it wound sensually and painfully, wrapping him tighter in its controlling embrace.
The web formed a labyrinth over his body. Pressure made it more difficult to breath. He worked to keep himself calm. Slow and steady. He glanced toward the bed again, convinced she was sleeping. Clara. The woman who should have been in that bed. He did this for her, accepting punishment for the mistakes of youth that had caused unrelieved torment. No matter the pain or pleasure, the torment thrived. He attempted to kill it, yet it continued to grow and fester. The final ties around his ankles pulled upward between his legs. Hirado wove the finishing touches as the rope looped around his upper thighs, through the crevasse of his ass, his waist, and
somehow, gently around his cock, causing a slow exhilarating constriction. When he was done, Hirado disappeared into his small room. He never questioned Dane’s proclivities. Never spoke of the whores or the nights in drunken dissipation. Within a few minutes, the complete concentration of time and place turned trance-like. The cleansing exhalation of his breath and the rhythmic cadence of his pulse were the only things Dane felt. A mild euphoria took hold and walked him through the dark hours of the night. The chimes of the mantel clock ringing at four in the morning should not have thrust him back into reality until he
realized the chime was accompanied by a startled gasp. Pain shot through every nerve in his body at the abrupt awareness. This was always how his shibari ended—racking pain from the lashing and the ropes grating against the skin, the forced stillness and the harsh tingling as circulation became awareness instead of background. He groaned lightly. The woman in his bed rolled, the mattress squeaking. He couldn’t help but notice the flash of bare leg, nearly indiscernible in the light of one candle. She rushed from the bed and knelt beside him, grabbing the rope. “Oh, what have you done to yourself?’
Dane groaned at the harsh tug. He was not prepared for the sudden yank and the grating of jute over skin. “Please, Clara, don’t.” “I’m Christina. Miss Turnbow. Tell me how to get these off.” She jerked again. “Don’t! Please don’t,’’ he said, forcing back the irritation in his voice. Of course it was Christina Turnbow. Not one of his whores. Not Hirado. Still she yanked, her delicate fingers trying to grip the thick rope in places that were not meant to be loosed, only removed as delicately as the rope had been applied. If he could have reached her shoulders, he would have given her a
good shake. As it was, she was about to knock him over. “Christina! Stop!” He got through to her. Instead of touching the ropes, her warm hands cupped his face. There were tears streaming down her cheeks. “Why do you do these things to yourself? No one deserves this...this punishment. No one, not even you. “Tell me how to free you from this?” she asked, nearly making him believe she cared. Her touch lingered, the heat seeping down his spine. Her thumb brushed against the stubble on his face, tracing the age-old scar.
“Christina, you can’t, not without hurting me.” “What can I do?” “Walk to that door, on the far side of the room, and knock. Hirado will answer. He’ll know what to do.” Christina hurried away, the faint odor of Clara’s gown trailing behind, but mostly the scent of this new woman, which he would not be able to get out of this senses for days. Hirado hurried from the room, his shuffle hindered by the length of his kimono. Dane noticed that she stood on the outer edge of the candle light, watching as Hirado removed the bindings. He hoped for rapid progress. It was at this point that the metamorphosis from
cocoon to freedom was most acute. The relief was immense, drenching every nerve in his body with, not pleasure, but nearly perfect contentment. The sleep that always followed was deep and with dreams he didn’t remember. ***** Christina’s heart pumped wildly, even as she stood on the periphery of the circular glow of light. Her gaze was on Dane, especially the marks the ropes left behind. Around his chest, four furrows. His upper arms, his thighs, and elsewhere. When the last rope was loosed, he arched. His hands and arms
moved slowly and gracefully away from his body, before one hand braced against the floor as he attempted to stand. She was amazed that such a strong man could appear so weak. Hirado slid one hand behind his back while Dane got to his feet. That Dane was naked seemed of no consequence. Christina glanced shyly at him. In the dimness, her cheeks heated as she remembered the soft subtlety of his erection. Strange things like this did not happen to women like Christina. Her station, her upbringing—nothing had prepared her for such diverse, dark intimacies.
How she had reacted to it all, as if she were watching instead of being a participant, shocked her, but what was clear to her was the coldness of it all. Dane had barely wanted her, only using her as an instrument for some goal that was unclear to her. To be in his presence and remain a virgin was no less surprising. Whatever his quest, she was certain he had not found his Xanadu. Once on his feet, Dane seemed more sure of himself. “Ale,” he commanded, and Hirado skirted away to do his master’s bidding. “Are you hurt?” she whispered as Dane drew closer to her.
“Yes, it hurts, but you did not hurt me, Miss Turnbow.” He shuffled by, naked, and reached the edged of the bed before settling slowly. Hirado was there with a tankard, which Dane downed in a few quick gulps. He snapped his fingers, and like a magician’s trick, Hirado produced the chamber pot, in which Dane relieved himself. Christina had turned away when she’d realized his vulgar intent, but she could hear the sound of urination and could do nothing to prevent the fierce burn of embarrassment that scalded her from head to toe. When the sound ceased, she dared to glance over her shoulder. Dane had
thrown back the bed covers and lay on his stomach, facing away from her. He used no pillow and did not bother to cover his nakedness. One arm was raised and crooked near his face, the other lay at his side. She could not help but stare. The reddened wounds were fiery and swollen, puffing away from his skin. Crisscrossing those marks, the tight rope bindings had made counter indentions, scoring the skin in an odd pattern that had a certain complex distinctiveness. “Extinguish the light.” She didn’t question his command, but when she blew at the small flame, the room was plunged into darkness. Hirado had removed himself with the
waste and now she stood alone unsure of what to do. “Whatever you decide to do for the next few hours, don’t wake me. And don’t think about leaving this room until then.” She’d agreed to twenty-four hours. Where was she going to go in the middle of the night? At Twenty Acres? Dane might be depraved and immoral, but he was still safer than what would happen outside the warehouse door. Darkness closed about her. She could hear Dane’s even breathing, but she did not think he slept. “Shouldn’t you have your wounds cleansed?” She spoke softly, but the sound reverberated around the room.
“Are you afraid my wounds will be fatal? I assure you, they are not. There is space on the bed, unless you are no longer tired. Or take the settee. But just so you know, I do not want to have a conversation in the middle of the night.” “Oh.” The bed was large and her vision had adjusted enough that she could see the dim luminosity of the linen sheets. Faintly, Dane’s sprawled body was outlined on the bed. She tiptoed around the corner, reached for the bed coverings and pulled them back slowly. Dane didn’t acknowledge her. She slipped into the bed, on her side, facing him and as close
to the edge of the bed as she could comfortably lie. Her fingers itched to touch his skin, to trace the indented paths around his arm. But if she did that, she might accidently brush against the raw wounds she’d inflicted. “Why do you do that?” she could not help but ask. Dane was an enigma, but she thought he was not really upset with her for speaking. He had displayed no real fits of anger with her. “Which part? The whips or having a woman’s hands on my cock to bring me fulfillment?” “You are rich, titled. How can such a man be so unhappy?”
“Will you sleep if I answer the question?” “I want to understand.” Christina waited for several long minutes and then realized he slept. The gentle intake of his breath assured her of one thing—that in some respects he was like most men. He ate. He bled. He slept. But also he enjoyed hurting himself. She knew of men who enjoyed hurting others, but to her, the pain Dane inflicted upon his person spoke of sorrow and unhappiness more than corruption. But she’d been wrong about Thomas. Her judgment wasn’t necessarily reliable— which made her smile for the first time.
Resting on Dane’s bed was the height of bad judgment. None of Dane’s harsh traits were visible in the nearly dark room. Sleeping there, Christina beside him, there was a certain normalcy that seemed out of character for both of them. She would be the first to admit that she was naïve. Believing no one could be as bad as Dane was probably a mistake, but she couldn’t help thinking he had some unexplainable need. She reached out to him. Her finger soothed along his upper arms, where the rope had bitten into the bulge of his muscle. The four indentations were textured. His arm was warm.
What had happened to him that he secluded himself? Dane’s strange magnetism and dark melancholia distressed her because she knew there was nothing anyone could do to make him happy. ***** Cool wet drizzled over Dane’s back, waking him from a deep sleep, but leaving him happily in a state of dreamy euphoria. The dampness quenched some of the fiery stripes that burned a swath across his body. He kept his eyes closed while he listened to the sound of tinkling water and then the gentle brush against his skin.
“Hirado,” he whispered. “No. Can I get you something?” The siren’s voice. Not Clara’s. “What time is it?” “After three.” He cracked one eyelid. “Did I give you permission to change?” “I’ll be going soon. The gown was drafty and a lady isn’t seen in her bed clothes at such an hour.” “A lady? With me?” He found humor in her silly ton etiquette. “Do you have something for your back? A salve, perhaps?” “It’s fine.” “An infection might set in if you don’t care for it properly.” She continued to dab at the lash marks, rinse
and dutifully soothe his wounds. Her touch was light. “Gawd, are you this fussy first thing every morning?” he asked. “I’m quite cheery first thing in the morning. I do, however, get cranky when I’m made to sit alone and watch the immobile form of a naked stranger for hours on end.” Dane rolled slowly to his side. Christina drew her hand away. Her gaze shuttered. “So you are anxious to be on your way?” he asked. She wore the same dress. Her hair was brushed back into a plain bun with two tendrils hanging near her ears. Strange that she wore no jewelry, but
then not so strange—she did not need the ornamentation. “I agreed to a day. And the day is almost over.” Dane exhaled, even that simple movement stirring the soreness and pain. “Mr. Hirado brought food for you. If you are hungry,” she said. “Starving.” He swung his feet off the bed and pushed up into a sitting position. Christina sat upright with her hands in her lap, the washcloth wadded in her grip. He glanced at her slim neck and then ran his finger along the soft curve. “But starving for what?” “Lord Dane, you don’t want me.” She was tense and unmoving. “I want what I’ve paid for.”
“Have you not had enough? Your back?” She gestured lamely and glanced up, daring to stare into his eyes for a moment. “Concern? I’m touched.” He continued to stroke, the warmth of her breath caressed his hand. “I am completely refortified, thanks to your gentle ministrations. And the benefits of a long night’s sleep.” “Dane.” “We have hours and I have you.” He slipped his hand to her neck and pulled her closer. Her hand braced against his bare chest. “This is a mistake.” He laughed. She was full of surprises, silly and misguided as they
were. “Miss Turnbow, by my reckoning, we have hours to enjoy each other’s company. And creative sport that I am, I’m sure I’ll think of something with which to entertain you.” Dane stood and walked across the room to the table. He plucked a few grapes from the tray of fruit. “Have you eaten, Miss Turnbow?” “Never with someone who is unclothed.” “Fetch my robe then, would you?” Christina did her impersonation of indignant propriety before reaching for a satin robe that lay at the end of the bed. She draped it over her arm, her fingers smoothing over the material as she strolled toward him.
He extended his arm and she gently slid the silk over his skin. He didn’t bother tying the robe. He sat down, defying etiquette and leaving her standing. He swept the robe over his lap. Her hands were clasped in front of her. “There is plenty to eat. Do sit.” “Who is Clara?” she asked. “When you bargained with me, what exactly did you think you were negotiating? The right to interfere in my life?” The scent of the fresh bread and the warm ham suited the charms of his current companion. She had that milkand-honey purity that tended to repel him in his day-to-day life. “You said her name.”
“When I couldn’t think of yours.” The homemade Longford cheese was robust in flavor—a particular favorite of his when he enjoyed fresh grapes. One of those things he did miss about home and of which his cooks seemed to always be without. “Do you need her forgiveness?” “I’m sure I’ve bedded a dozen Claras in my lifetime. Is it a surprise when I uttered that name or any other in the throes of passion?” “I once had a doll named Clara. One of my brothers broke her ceramic arm and I refused to play with her after that. I always felt bad about it, leaving her wrapped in paper and stuffed in a box in my closet.”
“How droll. I would imagine you had a collie named Lady and you went to church every Sunday too.” She approached and took her seat. “I only mention Clara because even though I was only seven years old when I put her away, I always remembered her name. “She must have been someone special to you,” she finished before reaching for a slice of bread. “Christina, I accepted your offer because I wanted to be humored. Your nose poking into my business does not humor me. The wet place between your legs does. Oh, go on, say it. I’m vulgar and cruel. Is it a surprise?” “I was forewarned.”
“And yet you came.” Dane nibbled at some of the other food, not bothering with the silver cutlery. He licked his fingers. “Come here.” Christina blinked a few times before she walked toward him. Dane set his hands to her waist and forced her close between his legs. The robe slid open on either side of his thighs. He fumbled with the first button of her dress and worked upward, between her breasts, until he could push open the two halves. Heaving breasts were a beautiful sight. Miss Christina Turnbow was a little too smug in thinking she was going to get away from him mostly unscathed. He did have a reputation to uphold.
“Is this your best chemise?” he asked, toying with the bow between her breasts. She had not bothered with her corset, having forgone her lady’s maid while making this illicit sojourn. “No, it’s just the most comfortable.” “Has anyone ever told you what a practical woman you are, Miss Turnbow? Fortunately, practical doesn’t have to mean boring.” Quickly, he gripped the edges and ripped the flimsy cotton to her bellybutton. She gasped, glancing at his hands. Her searching gaze, and possibly her breathing, stopped. She clenched her teeth. His cock had jumped to life, happy
to renew its acquaintance with Miss Turnbow. With a quick movement of thighs and hands, he had her sitting in his lap, her legs straddling him and her skirts bunched awkwardly. Her naked breasts were level with his mouth. Whatever her struggle, it was all internal. She did not fight against him, which was surprising for an innocent. Beneath his hands and fingers, her skin burned. He cupped her breasts, filling his hands with the lush fullness. “Did your brothers tell you about this too?” She attempted to speak, but only a husky moan sounded from her throat. Her eyelids drifted lower, her gaze glazing
as he tormented her with slow, deep kneading. One of her delicate hands gripped his shoulder. The nails bit deep at the edge of one of the lacerations. He tongued her nipple, lapping at the hard, elongated pebble. She moaned again. Dane had the rare pleasure of smiling against her nipple. He sucked, pulling the delicious nub and breast into his mouth. “Mm. Mm. Mm.” The happy sounds were always a mild aphrodisiac to Dane. Women who expressed their appreciation for his efforts always pleased him. Dane did not allow the pressure to slack. He’d never brought a woman to
climax before with just breast play and thought he might enjoy the challenge. Aside from his erection, he kept his head. Losing himself while entertaining a novice was almost humorous. She had started to squirm in his arms. Her legs squeezed against his, her hips gyrated as she tried to find relief for her unknown ache. Her squeals were cresting into high-pitched whines. He laved her other breast, swiping up and then twirling his tongue around the ruby tip. Of course, he could reach between her legs and satisfy her quick enough, but Dane was never after the obvious or the easiest. When he released her breasts, he watched as she rocked against him, now
rubbing at the end of his cock. Both of her hands braced against his shoulders. Her head was thrown back and her eyes were closed. Miss Turnbow was a fiery morsel. He rubbed his face between the valley of her breasts, turned his mouth to take her in again and planted his hands at her hips to direct her efforts toward fulfillment. When she climaxed, she arched, giving him more of her breast. Her throaty scream was proof enough that she’d found release. She felt like warm honey in his arms. Familiarity with all things sexual did not change the satisfaction of pleasuring a beautiful
woman. Ah, one of life’s small joys. Few as they were. Christina breathed deeply, her head still thrown back. “I’m not so reprehensible after all.” And not so easily satisfied. Hunger was so much more than nutrition, and when all the sustenance he needed was sitting in his lap, he couldn’t help himself. The balance between complete corruption and the fine art of sensual decadence had to do with his ability to deny himself when it meant the result would be multiples time more pleasurable. As it would be for Miss Turnbow. He scooped her up and carried her to the bed, placing her in the midst of an
array of fluffy pillows. Warm silk did not feel so luxurious as the replete angel in his arms. One of her legs hung over the side of the bed. The sight of her beautiful breasts was nearly enough to cause an ejaculation. When he lowered her to the bed, he thought of the ways he could have her without taking the one thing she had believed she was selling. He caught a glimpse of how he would take her virginity. Her hands would be tied behind her back, her bottom pinkened from his hand or from a riding crop and she would be on her knees, face down, when he plunged into her undefiled cunt.
But for now, he would deliver exquisite pleasure—all the pleasure she could accept—so that she would agree to come back. And he could inflict more of his dark passions on the inexperienced maiden who dared think she could soften his heart or understand what drove him to such depths in an attempt to drown his guilt and sorrow. This girl, this ruined, nearly-on-theshelf Clara doppelganger, wasn’t good for him. He’d already bent his most sacred rule not to get involved with...with anyone. That he was imagining another week with her couldn’t be justified. He had plenty of whores who could fuck him senseless
and a few who could thrash him into unconsciousness. None gave him a few minutes of peace just by their expression. And none that gave him... His hope should be that she told him to go to hell.
Chapter Four Christina’s vision blurred as Dane’s dark shadow loomed over her. What had he done to her? Beneath his hands and mouth, she had ignited into a living flame. Even now, she burned in her belly and between her legs. Her short-waisted jacket lay open and her chemise was in tatters. She heaved, drawing what she thought might be her last breath. Her breasts and nipples were exposed, but Dane seemed intent on brushing her skirts aside. She did not have the strength to cover herself. Dane went to his knees between her legs, reached high and tugged at her
underclothes, removing them quickly. He brushed the skirts up over her waist and a wash of cool air hit her lower body. Instinctively, she clutched her legs together only to feel Dane’s body and the silky robe he wore. When his hands touched her inner thighs, she arched. Christina stared up at the bed canopy. Her chest burned as if a flame shot up from between her legs. She burst as his lips touched her skin and trailed upward. Intercourse, as it had been described to her, had seemed an awkward, crude endeavor. No one had told her she would want to die. Or that dying would feel so much better than what she imagined heaven would be like.
She dared not look at him. Her breath came hard as his tongue searched higher up her thigh. When his fingers slid along the wet skin between her legs, intense throbbing pounded from her core right to her nipples. His hot tongue moved in slow swipes where a tongue should not be— the shock only exceeded by the pleasure. Yes, she was dying. When he stopped and began a trail of gentle kisses down her thigh, she opened her eyes and glanced down at him. She cooled quickly, and thinking wasn’t as difficult. “You have beautiful thighs, Christina.”
Her breathing sounded loud to her own ears, but it wasn’t loud enough to drown out his words. “Among other things.” Is this how a courtesan experienced passion? Subject to the whims of her provider? Payment for services rendered. What few times she had contemplated such a liaison, she had never thought that the courtesan would get something in addition to payment. No one had ever mentioned pleasure. No married woman of her acquaintance had ever hinted at such passion. Perhaps there was a need to keep it a secret. What young person wouldn’t go in search of such delights, had they known?
His fingers skated along the crease at her hipbone, the sensation uncomfortable. She squirmed under his caress, her body answering every touch as if he knew all of her secrets. Or all of womankind’s. He searched between her legs again, his tongue doing devastating and thrilling and heart stopping things. Each trace caused an irrational need to thrust against his mouth. The sweet throbbing escalated. She mewled with each touch against her pulsing nub. Somewhere she had lost herself and Dane had taken possession. Christina wanted to stay in this place forever, in Dane’s mysterious world, trapped by his spell. A crest of sharp
need sent her soaring, beyond her world, where secrets were revealed and magic existed. As much as she wanted to believe she was there alone, she knew Dane was still between her legs, licking and keeping her trapped for long, delicious moments. When she fell, Dane’s hands were there smoothing over her skin while the gentle throbbing had turned into hard beats that slowed, easing her into her little death. Exposed and vulnerable and weak, she wanted more than anything for Dane to bring her back to life. Dane shifted, crawling further up the bed and straddling her. He lifted her arms over her head. “Don’t move,” he said.
She was sure she couldn’t do anything except observe his keen interest in her up thrust breasts. There was a surprising satisfaction knowing she could hold his interest, regardless of his experience and her lack of it. His robe was open and his muscular thighs sank into the pile of her skirts. The view of his erection was immediate and startling as it lay against her chest between her breasts. His lids were lowered, his nostrils flared. He cupped her breasts, encompassing his hard length between them. She lowered her hands, against his wishes, but she had to touch him. Beneath her fingers, his thighs were hard, the prickling sensation of his skin a
vivid reminder that Dane was all male and so much more man than was suitable for a woman like her. Instead of watching what he did there, thrusting between her breasts, she stared at his expression. Dane was in some distant place too. She wondered where he escaped with his shadowed endeavors. And why he wanted to disappear into his pain and pleasure. Warm semen spilled over her chest. He groaned, his head thrown back. He cocked his head and stared at her before using his hand to rub the white, sticky mess over and between her breasts. “Is deflowering all that you expected?”
She turned away from his mocking gaze. Dane rolled to his side beside her, slowing as he came to rest on his back. “I’m not afraid of you,” she said. “Is that what you think this is about? That I’m trying to scare you? I have better things to do with my time.” She sat up in the bed and peered over her shoulder. “I think that you have nothing better to do than intimidate anyone who dares show you a kindness.” “You aren’t old enough to know that no one is kind without an ulterior motive. And, in case you’ve forgotten, I’m paying you. Neither kindness nor fear has anything to do with our time together. Unless I wish it.”
He swung his feet off the bed. “Dress yourself, Miss Turnbow. I’ll send for the carriage.” So he wasn’t going to accept the price for which they had bargained. She couldn’t read anything into his decision. Should she be insulted that he did not want her? Or should she be thankful his reasons for entering into their Faustian bargain were to remain unclear and unfulfilled? If he was inviting her to leave, she wouldn’t hesitate. She ignored the torn undergarments but buttoned her short jacket. Her cape would cover a multitude of outward sins. Her conscience would have to deal with everything else.
Dane stood at the table, his robe still disarranged and too revealing. He had collected a metal box that now sat before him with the lid thrown back. “Your money,” he said, glancing at her as she approached. He threw the money on the table one bill at a time, giving her time to count. When he stopped at two thousand five hundred, she said, “But you’ve already given me five hundred.” “Humor me.” She reached for the money, feeling a moment of uncertainty now that Dane’s sexual excesses officially tainted her. Tarnished, that was what she was. He started a second stack that grew to five thousand pounds, the pile of
money in a small mound on the table. “Another week, Miss Turnbow. What do you say?” ***** Mark stood at the library door, drink in hand, when Christina came in the front door of their townhouse. Looking at her brother was more difficult than she imagined it might be— after the events of last night. “You look like you could use a drink,” he said. She did not bother to remove her cape, instead brushing past him and walking to the sideboard. She had never been interested in hard alcohol,
preferring sweet drinks like ratafia or lemonade. Drunkenness to the point of forgetfulness seemed a good idea for the first time in her life. It would dull her memory temporarily, but she thought she’d earned a few hours to disconnect from her new reality, that of a fallen woman. She poured the brandy into her glass and lifted it with shaking fingers. Mark reached around her and took the glass. “Christina.” She turned into his chest and his arms went around her. There were no racking sobs, but the trickle of tears came. The pent up pressure crumbled beneath her brother’s support.
“I got the money,” she said. Before she left, Dane had stood at his table, counting out the bills as if they were ha’pennies. And then, when he’d counted out another five thousand, she’d almost gotten sick. His offer was untenable and no one would ever have to know about the new offer or the twenty-four hours she had agreed to spend with him. “Am I the worst brother in Christendom, allowing you to do this wretched thing?” “I had to help, Mark.” “I know.” “And you will be happy to know I am still a virgin.” Mark took her by the shoulders at held her at arm’s length. “Dane? He
didn’t touch you?” She sucked in a breath and she felt the crush of anxiety at the realization of what she had done. “I didn’t say that. He is...very different.” She reached for the brandy. Mark didn’t stop her this time. Once she swallowed, the golden elixir trailed down her throat, leaving behind a scorching reminder that she was not a practiced drinker. She coughed and set the glass aside. “Do you want to talk about it?” “I don’t even know where to begin.” “I will make this up to you some day. I don’t know how, but I promise I will.” “Just help John make this right. Use this money wisely so that when I do have
to give up my virginity, it is to a man who will appreciate my worth.” The next morning came quickly. Her dark dreams were filled with Dane, mostly the sounds of the whipping and his groaning beneath the lash. She tried to forget that he had invited her back for a week of debauched pleasures. As each bill had landed on the table, she screamed a clear denial in her head. There was no denying she was tempted by the additional funds—what person wouldn’t be, especially after facing such an immediate calamity? The funds could help her family, launching the youngest two girls and finding them husbands. Her sisters would not be governesses for the ton’s elite. Nor
would they have to sell themselves in any manner or to anyone. Ever. It was easy to be superior when Dane had handed over the hope of their salvation. Only to herself could she admit her moral failing and how it could jeopardize any chance her sisters might have the life they deserved. She would suffer whatever ignominy was due her and she would move away if necessary, but her sisters would enjoy the privilege of rank and money until she drew her last breath. When she pushed into the library again, John sat in his portable chair smoking. Mark leaned against the hearth, one of his booted feet striking against the
cobbled ledge. Neither of them looked at her when she came in. She strolled directly to her older brother, John, and kneeled in front of him. “We are saved, John. Look. Two thousand five hundred pounds, just as my friend promised.” She had placed the money in her favorite reticule and slept with it underneath her pillow. Five hundred would be for Mark. If his marriage offer was turned down, he had indicated his reluctant desire to invest in a business. Away from London, of course. They weren’t the first nobles to be in such an untenable position, and they would adapt.
“What does it matter? Loans have to be paid back,” John answered. He stubbed his cigar into a glass tray on the table beside him. The chair creaked as he rearranged his legs. He had been thrown from a horse at the age of thirteen. The paralysis had been accompanied by acute melancholia. Their financial situation had nearly destroyed him and might yet. John was not an affluent member of society. Mark would have been much better suited for the role as head of the earldom. He fought daily against his strong nature and attempted to remain subordinate to John because of his condition. “It doesn’t have to be repaid. It is a gift and I have all that we need.”
Christina glanced between her two brothers. Mark caught her gaze and raised a questioning brow. John leaned back in the creaky padded chair. “Why did Father have to die and leave behind such a mess?” It was rhetorical, of course. The mess had only been discovered after Father’s death. Debts, mostly gambling markers, had spilled out of his desk drawer after John had begun the review of the household accounts. John had confided in Mark. Mark had told Christina. The burden of responsibility was John’s, of course. The burden of doing something to help had fallen to their shoulders. She and Mark were the
ones to sacrifice for the rest of the family. She understood Mark’s pain clearly. He was to be engaged to Susannah Deerfield, a merchant’s daughter with a very nice dowry. Her family had been vacillating, hoping for an earl instead of an heir, and delayed any agreement to marry into their family. Christina had inadvertently jeopardized the engagement with her scandal. Word of Father’s debts would have all but ended Mark’s chances with the heiress, though in Christina’s mind, if the girl had loved her brother, it would not be an issue. Such were the complications of marriage in England.
The Deerfields were marrying into the family on a hope, but for wealthy cits, any connection to a title was desirable. And, in his debilitating condition, it was unlikely John would ever marry. If the news of their indebtedness spread, who knows what kind of alliances they would be required to make. Christina could not bear to think of her lovely sisters with crusty old men hoping their third wife would be beautiful, young and nubile. It had seemed better to sacrifice herself. Dane might be reprehensible, but he had the necessary requirements— wealth, discretion and willingness.
Only Mark would ever know of her sacrifice, but it had to be done. She had two younger sisters still to marry off. Thankfully, Grace was already settled and living in Somerset, when the Season wasn’t in session. “Only twenty-five hundred pounds? My God, it’s not nearly enough,” John said. Christina leaned back on her haunches. Mark took a step toward them. “What do you mean?” Mark demanded. “You said two to three thousand.” “John?” Christina said. She touched his unmoving leg. “It has to be enough. You said so.”
“All told, there are nearly seven thousand in markers and another two in household expenditures—wine, furnishings—that sort of thing. It’s hopeless.” “No! Not after all I’ve done,” Christina said. “John, you can’t be serious. Nine thousand?” “All accumulated in the last two years.” Mark ran his hand through his hair. John sat staring out the window. “No. You said, you both said, no more than—“ “I found more. In every nook and cranny of this room, his bedchamber, his books. I can’t get away from them.”
“No,” she said. She shook her head in an attempt to make it all go away. Christina berated herself for giving into Dane. It was all for nothing. If she couldn’t save her family, what was the point in submitting to the profligate marquess? Mark stepped in. Strong and determined, and the man who should have been the earl, and very well would be one day, but now they needed leadership and John couldn’t provided it. “We’ll have enough to pay the immediate bills. We’ll pay any marker that is not owed to the richest nobles. They can wait. Just as they make everyone else.”
“That is dishonorable and there won’t be enough,” John said. Mark had a clear head and better vision for the future, but she knew he was torn between his family and his prospects. “We’ll make it work.” Dazed, Christina got to her feet and sat in a nearby chair while Mark and John fussed at each other for no reason. “Exactly, John. How much exactly?” “It’s in the drawer,” John said. Mark walked to the desk and began riffling through the drawers and papers until he drew out a leather-bound folio. “You are not to blame, John,” Christina said. “This is Father’s mistake, not yours.”
“I’m responsible.” Mark grew quiet while he read. His brows drew together as he studied each paper. John sat and smoked for a while before he finally called for help and was pushed from the room. “What are we going to do?” Christina asked. “I’ll think of something.” Mark and John had already sold the only unentailed property. Farming income at their estates had been dismal the past few years. Not that she was blaming Papa, but he had been interested in nothing except gambling, apparently. “John isn’t handling this well,” she said.
“I think it’s safe to say none of us are.” “Meg and Diane can’t know. They mustn’t find out or they’ll attempt to sacrifice themselves.” “As you have?” “I had nothing to lose.” Christina remembered the hoard of money Dane had piled on the table in front of her. A week. An entire week of enduring his strange pleasures. If she did this, how would she explain her absence? And did she tell Mark? Did she collude with him again and heap more guilt upon his conscience or did she accept Dane’s terms and live with her regret forever? Or would her regret be because she had not accepted?
Maybe Dane’s offer had expired. His moods seemed fickle, but a man with pride could be unpredictable. “I guess I could always turn to thievery. Rob a few carriages after dark.” Christina smiled for lack of anything to say. “Aren’t we a pair?” Mark walked to the sideboard and poured a drink. It was becoming clearer why men drank so often. Dane had said he liked being her last and best hope. Could he deliver miracles too? Or was accepting his proposal more like selling her soul? *****
A fog blanketed the Thames all day. Dane sat in his chair staring out the bank of windows, sampling several different drinks in the hopes of forgetting Clara. He only wore his trousers, dressing a chore. The picture frame he had tossed to the middle of the table, the small painting of Clara faced downward. Smoke wafted upward from the cheroot he held between his fingers. English days such as this played to his dark moods. They provided no inspiration other than to bring alive the ghosts of the past. There was a reason he didn’t get involved and that reason had been
clearer to him prior to taking his first drink. The worst part of the past was that he didn’t know what was true. Foxed or not, he could never make sense of it. Time might have dulled his memory, but one thing remained clear. Three people had died. Maybe four, if his wife’s words were true. Hirado’s muffled steps brought Dane some awareness. “Mr. Rawlins sent a message. Urgent, he says.” Hirado shifted his hand and plucked a small white envelope from his sleeve. “Who now?” he asked as he accepted the troublesome missive. A womanly scent portended trouble. If the
fire had been lit, he would have tossed the note into the flames. He tore it open. Dane, if your offer is still available, tomorrow night is acceptable. His heart leapt at the prospect of another week drenching himself in sexual exploration with a new woman. This had nothing to do with Clara or the winsome Christina Turnbow. She had ignited this probing examination of history. She could close this current gloomy episode that now engulfed him. “Hirado, fetch me a pen and paper. Plain.” He would return the same courtesy and keep his note anonymous. He jotted a quick response and sent Hirado on his
way to Rawlins, who would see it delivered properly, rather than have it carried by a river rat from Twenty Acres dock. Once he was alone again, Dane thought of the dark years behind him. He could go weeks now without drowning in the reenactment of those fateful days. And then there were other days. If he did not follow through with his proposal to Miss Turnbow, the dark waves would consume him again and it might be weeks before he could function. Anyone who knew him considered his lifestyle reprehensible. His way of life was the only thing that kept him from a permanent room at Bedlam.
Another twenty-four hours until he could see her again. How would she explain her absence to her brothers this time? A smile tugged at his mouth as he thought of her uninformed declaration. Brothers did not share with sisters information regarding a man’s true desires and experiences during intercourse. If they had, she might be shocked to her prim little toes. He reached for the aged and undersized portrait, carefully preserved after all these years. Clara’s sad, serious countenance stared back. Giddy was the only intense emotion he could still remember from those days of young love. Such an ordinary word that. He had been a mere boy and his
emotions matched his immature sentiments. Why did Miss Turnbow evoke memories of Clara? Perhaps it was his inebriated state, but he could not see the resemblance now. Clara’s image was lifeless and pale, whereas Miss Turnbow—Christina—shined. Radiance danced in her eyes and in the pinkness of her cheeks. And there was a hint of curiosity, naughtiness. And she was joining him in his debaucheries for money, just as his whores, which made her just like all of his women, in spite of her slight similarity to Clara. He’d always thought paid business arrangements were the best when it came
to fair exchanges of sex rather than the ton’s ideal. He paid for immediate and enthusiastic sexual gratification—not the deceit, false emotion and perpetual blackmail that existed inside marriage. He tossed the portrait aside. Miss Turnbow would keep the demons at bay over the next week while he immersed himself in debauching an innocent. He ignored the possibility that her presence in his life would be as disruptive as Clara’s death. ***** What to do about her virginity? Dane contemplated the question upon his rise
from bed the next afternoon, and admittedly felt a bit cheered at the prospect of entertaining Miss Turnbow. He daydreamed a bit longer about the first foray into her undefiled sheath, allowing an uncharacteristic exuberance to buoy his mood. There was no question that the week’s activities would involve multiple acts of penetration. His two-day wait for her caused an immediate reaction in his body as he thought of the varied positions in which he would have her. By the end of the week, she would thoroughly hate him. And it was for the best.
By the end of the week, she would also have experienced the end of a lash. For what he was paying, she would accede to his demands, albeit reluctantly. Even his most seasoned whores got starry-eyed at times when he showed them extra attention or when he rewarded them with funds for their generous entertainment. A woman like Christina would be all the more susceptible to any kindness. She had already proven she could not resist a man’s subtle manipulation, if the story of her dishonor where true. He would fuck her improperly. He would be the infamous Marquess of Dane when he did so.
He leaned back in his chair while Hirado applied the sharp edge of the blade to the side of his face. He had not shaved in four days. That he did so now had nothing to do with Miss Turnbow’s imminent arrival. He dressed in tight tan breeches, a white linen shirt and his favorite boots. He would be undressing soon enough. When he heard the carriage, he sent Hirado below to escort Miss Turnbow. Idealizing their encounter was good for neither of them. The strong beat of his heart was an attestation of his sexual need. Any woman entering his chamber would have caused the same stir of physical sensation—that of his cock hard
and uncomfortably trapped within his clothes. She entered, swooping back the hood of a red cape. Her hair was undone and over her shoulder, bound only by a matching red ribbon. “Dane,” she said. She curtsied with a long slow drop. Hirado offered to take her cape. He noticed that instead of her single valise, she had brought two. “You changed your mind,” he said. “Why?” He glanced at her figure, bound up in a perfect, if not simplistic, gown. “Is knowing a condition of payment?” He shrugged. “My offer seemed distasteful to you. I was surprised, to say the least.” Her gaze followed Hirado as
her two bags were carted across the room to a small bureau, and then she turned a watchful stare upon him. “My reasons are my own. I will have lost nothing that hasn’t already been taken from me.” She plucked at the tips of her fingers to remove her gloves. “Except your virginity.” “Except that,” she conceded. There was no food on the table, no clear plan other than taking from her that which she offered. “Then let us not waste a moment of time.” Dane strolled toward her. Her eyes grew wide, but she didn’t move, not even to step back. She’d acceded to a front buttoned frock of serviceable
design, he supposed in deference to her lack of lady’s maid—not just that it was easily accessible to a man who wanted to see her breasts. The delicious choice of ravishing her quickly or seducing her slowly was a new variation on an age-old story. At least he would not be the clumsy bumpkin who did not know what to do with an available and attractive wench. Once the buttons were free, he peeled the gown from her shoulders. Christina stared past him, over his shoulder, and did not acknowledge his actions. She had yet to grasp his intentions. He was going to take her now and without any tender considerations.
He cupped her breasts, lush beneath the thin material of her chemise. She licked at her lips and her mouth opened in a desperate effort to breathe. He enjoyed that about novices—they did not know what to expect so they could not lie about what they felt. Heat poured from her skin. His erection strained, demanding satisfaction. Quick, it would be. There was no reason to leave the mistaken impression that he was a bit kind or concerned with the loss of her honor. He was not responsible, rather the man who had dishonored her to begin with.
Sliding his hands down her side, he encircled her waist and walked backward until she was braced against a wooden side table. He hoisted her up, her cunny on a level just slightly higher than his groin. “Look at me,” he said. Her shimmery gaze found his. There was certain amount of fear staring back at him. He wanted to tell her there would be pain. He wanted her to know that when he shoved his cock into her, he would go deep and that he would enjoy her body for a very long time. Pain would be the payment he would receive from this first penetration—it would be hard and shocking and not even a portion of what this Clara deserved.
He leaned forward, sniffing at her skin and behind her ear. He searched for some hint of her scent but only drew in the clean smell of soap. He pressed his lips to the soft skin, tracing down her neck. He lapped at the taste and heard her soft moan tickle in his ear. He wrapped one hand around her neck and with his free hand worked at his breeches, freeing his cock. He ached to pierce her body and felt a pang of jealousy that he could not experience the pain with her. His mouth found hers. Openmouthed, he had to have her, to taste of her anxiety and to absorb every nuanced reaction to the unknown. Her tongue met his, tentative and searching. Sweet warm
honey washed over his senses and the buds of his mouth. Stepping closer and pressing her back against the wall, he searched beneath her skirts, hiking up the silken material and exposing her legs. Beneath his fingers, he traced the smoothness of her skin. He remembered the sight of her pale legs as he had kissed up the inside her thigh, and would do so again. Until she melted. Until she begged for yet another touch from his mouth. Dainty, thin small clothes covered the private area between her legs. His cock could find cunny in the dark and already his erection bobbed and strained, wanting to burrow into her sweet, wet heat. He eased the garments
downward while her hands gripped his arms. A bed would be so much more civilized, but he wasn’t looking for comfort and security. He wanted Christina on the edge, feeling his dark need as it consumed her. Reaffirming his illicit nature, enhancing his uncaring reputation. He swiped one hand between her legs. Her head lolled back against the wall, her eyes slammed shut. Pleasant and welcome moisture coated his fingertips. Dane marveled at the swiftness of her arousal. Less than ten minutes since she’d walked in the door, and she was already lubricated enough to allow his
deep entry with ease. Not that she would like the thickness of his cock penetrating so fully and with so little mercy. His own arousal pounded in his groin. Two days of thinking about nothing but Christina’s undefiled quim had a profound effect on his control. He eased her forward slightly and caught the scent of her. All woman. His breeches slid down his legs, his small clothes catching at his knees while his linen shirt tickled at the back of his legs. The silkiness of her gown cooled his thighs and heated his groin. The tip of his cock eased between the swollen lips that hooded her sheath. He used one hand to rub the head of his
cock through the dampness, coating his skin and preparing his entry. He savored the moment, thinking of her gasping cry. Imaging the tight, tight pressure of a fresh virgin. He let his cock nest into the opening and canted his hips slightly before he thrust into her. Hard. Demanding. Deep. Without a thought for gentleness or pleasure. She screamed, her nails digging into his shirt and biting his skin. She was small and deliriously tight. He slid, coming to rest deep in her, the root of his cock the only visible sign of his erection. He shifted slightly retreating an inch or so and then slammed into her a second time.
Christina gasped and Dane felt her pain as she tensed under his unfeeling assault. His own breathing felt erratic. Christina’s sweet cunny had taken all of him. He leaned in, pressing all of his weight against her, keeping her legs spread and his cock buried in the glorious sweet heat. He continued to bite and nibble at her skin. The warmth of her body spread over his. The dress, her clothing, had to go. Now that he had breached her maidenhead, there was little to stop him from enjoying her completely. And naked was always better than being fettered by yards of silks and restrictive stays.
He pulled away slightly and reached for the edges of his shirt. With a quick yank, he had the garment over his head. He nudged one of her hands, encouraging her to touch him. Her fingers traced lightly down his side and came to rest at his hip. Tearing into her clothes, he ripped at seams and pulled at ties, each sound of rending made him smile just a bit more diabolically. Yet, Miss Turnbow remained still, her hand contacting his skin, her thumb tracing a slow path. Her face was turned away and her eyes were closed. The sight of her sleek, long neck inspired him and below her ear, he could see the
throbbing of her veins in a steady, elevated rhythm. She was beautiful. The porcelain of her skin, so fragile looking on other woman, made Christina appear serene and content in spite of his rough and base treatment. In spite of the fact she had just shed her virginity and bled over his cock. He had remained fully imbedded and they were as naked as they were going to get unless he pulled from her body. He had remained unmoving long enough, not that he was making allowances for her likely pain. While he sucked on her neck, her hand trailed slowly up his back, the only acknowledgement that she was willing
to give him. Her touch was gentle and slow until he realized she searched for the raised abrasions of the lash she had plied to his skin. He positioned his hands beneath her thighs. Withdrawal was deliberate and pleasure inducing. Christina moaned softly, her fingers digging slowly into his flesh while her legs gripped his body. When he slid in with another deep thrust, she arched into him, her breasts coming into full contact with his chest. Tight little points bored into his skin. She licked at her lips. Dane wanted those lips and he turned his attention to the soft flesh. When his mouth opened over hers, she responded with surprising fervor. Her tongue met and tangled with
his. Their labored breathing became one —when she breathed out, he breathed in. He had no intention to ejaculate, not when he planned to use her again. But his balls tightened dangerously. His hips canted with rhythmic force. Christina squirmed against him. Tiny pulses beat the length of his cock. Christina’s soft mouth kissed at the corner of his and caressed across his skin—caresses that were neither virginal nor whorish, but some mix of honest affection and loving fondness. He turned his face away as if he’d been burned. He did not want tender touches from a woman who meant nothing to him. He shoved his hand into her hair at the back of her neck and
tugged, exposing her neck and keeping her submissive to his desires. She stared at him, her gaze gentle and full of pitiable compassion while he pounded into her to remind her who he was and why she was here. With each stab into her, she moaned, but she did not encourage him to stop.
Chapter Five Dane had her trapped in his demanding embrace, not that Christina could have made any requests for more tender treatment. In spite of the quick, sharp assault on her body, she had only wanted to provide some acknowledgement that she did not hate his touch. She had known she would not. While Dane’s reputation was frighteningly dark, the man was magnetically attractive. Three months ago, she had enjoyed the secret titillations and physical thrills Thomas had aroused in her. Curiosity was still alive in her veins. Dane’s touch was made for a woman’s body to enjoy.
Much to her shame, she had spent hours of the last two days dreaming about what he had done. Her touch had ignited some simmering anger to jump to life in Dane. Between her legs, his erection pounded in and out of her, slamming her against the wall with each thrust. The initial pain had been sharp and quick. Now it was only slightly uncomfortable but curiously salacious. Christina hadn’t yet worked up the courage to glance down, but her body burned, the throbbing insistent and growing. It had felt right and natural to respond to him, but he didn’t seem to want return affection only blind acquiescence.
Payment was coming from Dane. She could allow him his perceptions of dominance, but it didn’t stop her body from responding of its own accord. Nor her mind from wondering why he was so unpredictable. She wrapped her hand around his wrist, his hand entwined in her hair. Rapidly beating tattoos confirmed his excitement. She slid her other hand over his shoulder. Beneath her palm, his skin was hot and lightly damp. His eyes were closed. His jaw clenched. His muscles grew tense and strained under her fingertips. When his hands went to her breasts and pinched her nipples, she arched. The pounding between her legs obliterated thoughts of
Dane. She moaned at the pleasurable tightness that seemed to crawl up her spine. She strained, searching for the pleasure she had already experienced with him. Dane groaned loudly, entering her fully. He released inside her, leaving her unfulfilled and warily reminded that she played with fire in more ways than one. When he withdrew, Christina glanced at the piercing lance of his manhood, engorged and purple. He had indeed drawn blood. Her cheeks heated. She reached for her shredded garments and attempted to cover her body with what remained of her skirt.
He ignored her. Instead he bent over, grabbed at the heel of his boots and tossed them aside. He swiftly removed his remaining garments, leaving them scattered on the floor, and naked, walked to the other side of the room where he poured a drink. Her gaze followed his movements. She was no artist, but she knew beauty when it was sculpted to manly perfection. Christina placed one hand on the table and slid downward until her shod foot touched the floor. The shredded dress came with her, except that which she held in her hand, keeping her covered until she could find something suitable to wear.
Dampness coated the skin between her legs. She was about to use her torn chemise to swipe at the blood and ejaculate when he said, “Get on the bed.” “Might I—” “Do as I say, Miss Turnbow, when I say it.” Less the half hour she had just spent under his uncaring tutelage, she still had seven days in which to endure his sexual whims. Pain seemed to excite Dane, both the giving and receiving. Seven years wouldn’t be enough time for her to understand his dark indulgence, but she knew that she would do her best to avoid those kinds of games.
Pain wasn’t the same as love. For her, she knew it never would be. She plucked up her torn chemise and hurried toward the bed. For a man like Dane, darkness did not necessarily mean sleep. At the end of the bed, where the tall bedpost obscured her view of him, she wiped between her legs to clean up the mess her virginity and his semen had left behind. Washing would have been her preference, but Dane seemed uninterested in her comfort. She toed at her shoes and then sat on the bed to remove her stockings. When she was safely covered by the warm spread, she waited for Dane. A dull ache pounded in her lower body. Deep penetration with his full
cock and her inexperienced body—a poor combination for a first-time encounter. “Why did you come back?” He stood on his side of the bed, holding his drink. She rolled to look at him more fully. Studying his serious features wouldn’t give her any answers about him. “My needs haven’t changed.” “Tell me exactly why.” “His name was Thomas Griffin. You probably know his family.” He clucked his tongue. “Not that story. The real reason.” “It is the real reason.” “Yet there is something you’re not telling me and I don’t like dishonesty. Come, Miss Turnbow, what do you have
to be shy about? I know more about you than most men and you can be assured I do not care what your reason is only that I know what it is.” “A few weeks after my disgrace, my father died. He had been ill and, no, he was not told of my fall. However, after his death, it came to light that our family was deeply in debt. We are near ruin, Dane, and I had one of the few family assets that wasn’t entailed.” Dane smiled for a moment before he sipped at his drink, apparently ruminating. “Now that you know, does that relieve some of your guilt?” “Guilt? Hardly an emotion I would feel, much as I enjoy this new-found
pleasure of debauching virgins.” Christina said no more while he paced. Dane did not need to know that John Turnbow was ill equipped to deal with the family estate, that he was emotionally unstable and that Christina would have never pursued this course without knowing Mark’s hand would safely guide the rest of the family through this catastrophe. Not John. He would be a figurehead only. “What do you expect of me?” she asked. Christina wondered if the man had any hopes in life whatsoever. He took what she offered, nothing more. “It’s a little late for that kind of a question.”
He was right. She had expected to lose her virginity and so she had. But their bargain for a week’s worth of entertainment now loomed with little more than nervous conversation and her wild imagination, which seemed intent on filling in the hours with more of what Dane had already delivered. She reached for the lone candle at the bedside. “Leave it. I didn’t say I had no expectations.” She shivered, the smoky heat of his voice promising to bring to light the very things she had imagined. And more. Now that the deed was done, she couldn’t protest. There was only the intriguing possibility of being naughty.
She could pretend shyness, when they both knew she was not...only inexperienced. Or she could learn what Dane could teach her in a week. She did not like the idea of Dane’s kind of pain. His swift, nearly brutal entry confirmed his predilections, even though he must have known pain was intrinsically tied to deflowering. Would it be possible to enjoy him without partaking fully of his idea of pleasure? When Dane crawled into the bed, she tensed until his hand settled on her shoulder. He brushed his hand down her arm and swept the blanket away. His sinister shadow fell over her and a cool shiver caressed her skin.
With an expertise born in countless women’s beds, Dane slid behind her. Heat from his body covered her more completely then the recently shed blanket. At the small of her back, his erection was hard and hot. He stroked his hand along the round turn of her hip and then used his hand to move her leg, opening her. Her heart beat faster with each touch of his hand. He held her and positioned himself behind her, his cock sliding between her legs and then penetrating her in one smooth thrust. There wasn’t the sharp pain as before, only an achy fullness. Christina closed her eyes.
Behind her, he slid in and out of her with slow undulating force. His hands skated over her skin with shameful familiarity, as if he were entitled to and owned her body. His fingers seemed to linger at her breasts and her lower stomach. Her skin quivered, feeling both hot and cold at once. When his hand slid through the hair between her legs, a new well of embarrassment warmed her face and she nearly gasped for air. Lingering, he circled the swollen nub. Christina wanted to respond to him —the feeling seemed natural, yet he remained hidden and untouchable behind her. All she could do was grab his hand to ensure that he continued to touch her there.
No thoughts remained, only the gentle chanting of his name that resounded in the dark recesses of her mind: “Dane. Dane.” The extraordinary sensation spread in slow waves, burning, as if she were about to burst into flames. Between her legs, her nub throbbed and she felt the first hard contraction of her sheath over Dane’s erection. Her being existed in only one place —where Dane joined her body. She squeezed and then ascended to a plane of pure bliss, trapped in a prolonged trance with no desire to leave—ever. When she tumbled back to earth again, Dane was still hard inside her and
her sheath contracted wildly against his manhood. Dane acted then, rolling her to her stomach and pinning her with one hand braced against her shoulders. He pounded into her with deep, hard thrusts. With his final loud groan, he buried himself deep. His hips jerked between her legs before he stopped moving. When he lay over her, she did not feel his weight, only the warmth and closeness she would have expected of longtime lovers. Christina had no expectations of Dane and knew that an intelligent woman would never have feelings for such a man, but she couldn’t deny that the
sexual act wrought some indescribable closeness. Yet it lacked any sort of fulfillment or contentment. Perhaps because it was an illicit affair with a wicked man. Perhaps because he was paying her. Perhaps because it couldn’t be real no matter what passion he stirred in her body. Christina couldn’t say how many times Dane had woken her to have his pleasure. During the night, he had not spoken a word, nor did he take her face to face. The closest they came to intimacy was when he pressed his face into her mussed hair. He’d kept only one candle burning which had made the
shadow of Dane seem all the more elusive. He had been tender and rough, testing the limits of her ability to take pain. Each time he’d mounted her in varying fashions, while she still slept. He brought her to awareness then to frenzied heights of pleasure. Only when his teeth sank into her skin too harshly or he pinched at her breasts or bottom with bruising intent did she struggle against him. Each time he seemed to take longer to find his pleasure, while she responded with immediate, frenzied and strong climaxes, until she didn’t care what he did to her.
As she lay in the bed alone, the sun filtered through a hazy London sky, indicating it was late in the morning. She tried to roll. Every muscle in her body ached. Especially her lower stomach and between her legs, but it was inside pain. The kind that required warmth and sleep. A hipbath would be nice. She glanced toward the end of the bed, looking for her robe, but it wasn’t there. She hadn’t touched her valises since arriving and they weren’t where they had been placed last night. The room was very strange, she thought—wide open with a complete lack of privacy. And the wall, where he indulged in his proclivities. She glanced away,
remembering all to well what he really enjoyed. At the creak of a door, she glanced over her shoulder to see Hirado carrying two buckets. When he saw she was awake, he bowed. “Good morning, miss. I will make you a bath. Would you like?” “Oh, yes. Thank you.” Strange that she did not react more strongly to a man in the room while she was still naked and only covered by a sheet that smelled of lavender. Did deflowering also cause her to lose her modesty? Hirado slipped through a set of sheer, blood red curtains and poured water into a massive copper tub. A tub! Soaking in a hot bath sounded like her
version of heaven, especially given the soreness of her body. Christina smiled at the knowledge she would get to enjoy this guilty pleasure. Since Father had died and the majority of their servants had been dismissed, she had only enjoyed the use of the hipbath. Dane couldn’t know how much she was going to enjoy herself and she hoped he wouldn’t be back anytime soon to interrupt. Sitting up was difficult, but she made herself since a full bath was proper motivation. The crisp white sheet was already loosened from its moors and she wrapped it around her before setting her feet to the floor.
Without Dane around, she could examine his life at leisure. The room had seemed barer and more devoid of life when she was here a few days ago—a lifetime ago. Then she had been a bit more shy about what was to come. Now that it was over, and she had lived to tell the story, she was more curious about him than fearful of his vaunted reputation. Hirado seemed more than a servant, and certainly not just a valet. A British valet would have insisted on turning Dane out in the most extravagant wear, fashion befitting a marquess. So far, she had seen little aristocratic pride in the cut of his clothes or the turn of his cravat, but it was there—the subtle
haughtiness at which he issued commands, the conceited looks. The whips still graced the side table, the chains still hung between the two statues. There were more plants than she remembered. A scent, smoky and elusive, blanketed the room. Dane smelled lightly of it too. While the room was one big chamber, it was cordoned into small areas by plants or groupings of furniture and a six-fold lacquered screen decorated with a Chinese garden scene —though she didn’t really know the difference between Chinese and Japanese. From where she stood, she could see the flowers, trees and exotic birds in relief against the darker wood.
Dane had definitely added a few furnishings. The copper tub was in an alcove that she had not noticed on her first trip. The heavy blood red brocade curtains had been pulled back to reveal the lighter, sheer ones. She stood near the narrow, but high arched opening. Hirado waved his hand. “Come, miss.” A heavenly scent of lilac and sandalwood filled her nose. Tendrils of steam wafted upwards from the water. She couldn’t resist such a temptation. Hirado stepped behind her and took the ends of the sheet. She wouldn’t be naked in front of him, exactly, but it was unnerving to be naked in the same room
with a strange man, even though the sheet had hid most of her. But with Dane’s reputation, she could understand why Hirado displayed no embarrassment. This was probably not a rare occurrence, maybe it was even a modest one. That made her smile. She placed one hand on the rim of the tub and stepped in, lowering her body slowly into the warm, bubbly water. She didn’t bother about her hair. Dane had plucked the pins from the mass sometime during the night. The ends would dry soon enough. She could find her brush and attempt some semblance of order once she banished last’s night’s leavings from her body and mind. “Warm enough?” he asked.
“Thank you. Yes.” She sank to her neck. For this, she would thank Dane, if he bothered to talk with her. “I’ll get more water. I’ll be back.” Hirado bowed and disappeared as if by magic. She relaxed into the warmth, letting it soothe the aches and wash away Dane’s scent and the sticky mess he’d left behind—and not just between her legs. He was everywhere. A stack of small towels and several milled soaps were within reach. She smelled each one and then leaned back, ignoring them for now. In the end, she had told her brother of Dane’s offer and her intent to accept. She had concocted an alibi for the family
—that she was visiting a friend in Surrey. Mark had said nothing, only clenched his jaw to avoid saying what he really thought. She had concluded with her plan to take care of John for the rest of his life. They would leave for the country after the Season ended. John did not need the pressure or demands of London and the earldom. “It’s for the best. I’m already ruined to everyone who matters,” she’d finished. Mark had put one arm around her shoulder and kissed her forehead. “No, not to everyone. And you can take comfort in the fact your actions are no worse than your brother’s, because I’m not going to advise you any differently.”
“Mark, I would do this whether you say yea or nay, so say nothing. Please.” Sanguine Mark had always behaved as if he hadn’t a care in the world. The last three months had taken a toll on the three of them, John especially. Hirado strolled into the room with another bucket of steaming water and slowly poured it into the end of the tub near her toes. She curled up, drawing her feet and legs closer and wrapped her hands around her knees. “All better?” he said when the bucket was empty. “Very nice. Hirado, where is Lord Dane?” “Oh, he’s at the whorehouse. Women trouble. Whores are always trouble.
Dane knows how to fix. He’ll be back soon, but I will take care of you now.” Christina wanted to pretend she wasn’t shocked. “Whores?” “Many whores. Loud women, miss. You won’t ever go there.” “Uh, no. I wouldn’t dream of it.” He reached for a bar of soap. “Nice smell. Do you like it?” He rubbed it against a cloth and then placed his hip against the tub. “Lean forward, please.” “I can do it.” “No, no. It is my duty. Lord Dane was very specific. Take care of Miss Turnbow. I take care.” His free hand touched her bare shoulder and gently nudged her forward.
Christina grudgingly let him rub the cloth across her back. Her hands were still snuggly wrapped around her knees. She lowered her head and closed her eyes. She might find humor in this, if she weren’t the one sitting naked in a bathtub with an Oriental man washing her. A bubble of laughter built up quickly followed by a rush of tears. How desperate was she? Accepting money for her body? Was her behavior with Thomas a harbinger? Was it an indication that underneath her polished ton exterior and manners she was inherently bad? Like Dane? She could blame circumstances— Thomas had compromised her, tempting
her to ruin. Father had gambled away their future. But hadn’t she made the choice to be familiar with Thomas and to proposition Dane for money? She sat up and held out her hand. “I’ll finish.” He smiled knowingly as if he could understand her dilemma. She didn’t understand it herself. How had she weighed the welfare of her family against her honor? “I want to be alone, Hirado.” He bowed and disappeared in that mysterious, silent way of his. She scrubbed, attempting to wash away her thoughts and her actions. When there was nothing left to scrub, she
leaned back and closed her eyes, intent on enjoying the soak until the water grew cool. Later, Hirado appeared with a large towel, intuitively knowing her needs. He held it wide, his gaze slightly averted. Christina gripped the edge of the tub, stood and stepped onto the plush carpet. He wrapped the fire-warmed towel around her and she grabbed the edges to secure it under her arms. He placed a second towel over her shoulders, bundling her securely. When he folded his arms into the overlarge sleeves of his garment, he left the alcove. Christina followed, expecting to see her clothes laid out on the bed. The bed was made but her
clothes were nowhere to be seen. She followed Hirado across the room toward the fireplace. A low fire burned in the stone hearth, taking the chill from the room. A flat but overstuffed chaise was situated diagonally, catching the warmth the fire generated. Hirado patted the covered couch. “Please. Lay here.” She raised a brow, Hirado only smiled broadly. “Anma. It is very good.” Christina gripped the towel tighter, but obeyed his instruction. What did she expect? Since she had met Dane, nothing had been normal. “Flat. On your stomach,” Hirado said, gesturing with his hand. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Touch only. There will be no more hurting.” What was she to do? Stand in the middle of the room with only large bath towels to cover her? “Where are my clothes? I should dress.” Hirado behaved as if he did not understand. “Lord Dane said—” “Dane isn’t here.” Dane’s presence meant only one thing for her, but he could better manage his servant than she could. “Anma is very, very good.” He bowed slightly, humbly waiting for her affirmation. His hands were tucked inside his sleeves again. “You said that.”
Change was shockingly easy to adapt to when one felt there was no other choice. And when she measured the steps she had taken this far, a few more to Hirado’s chaise seemed insignificant by comparison. Once she lowered herself, keeping a tight grip on her towel, she faced the low burning fire and gazed at the snapping, mesmerizing flame. She listened as Hirado rubbed his hands together, followed closely by the scent of oil, some exotic-smelling flowery fragrance she couldn’t identify. When his fingers touched her shoulders, they were warm and elicited no feelings of alarm, only a soothing tranquility as he rubbed and caressed her
skin. Not a lover’s touch, but one that was caring and nurturing. Within minutes, drowsiness overcame her and she drifted in a pleasant, hazy place between sleep and wake. She barely felt when Hirado lifted the towel away. Or when his hands worked magic across her shoulders and back, over her buttocks and down her legs. She barely reacted when his hands soothed around her waist and underneath her body. The soft place low on her belly was normally sensitive and ticklish, but his hands were like magic, working away the achiness caused by Dane’s aggressive use of her body. And in whatever dream world she was in, elusive Dane was there—out of
reach and unknowable. Her nature demanded that she help him, but that was difficult when she did not know what events kept him lost in his solitude. Even with the intimacy of intercourse, he’d kept face-to-face contact to a minimum. His few kisses were physical but not familiar or warm. Yet, she did not mind kissing him. His experienced embrace provided pleasure without regard to a love. How did men do that? How could they not feel an attachment? Thomas had pursued her with vigor and she had withstood until his pleading had eroded her will. Not that it was all his fault. Some part of her must have wanted the affection or she would have
remained resolute. Thomas had walked away without feeling a bit of remorse while she’d been moved. Dane might have had his fill of her last night and had been perfectly willing to walk away from her today. How did he not feel some small connection after such a demonstrative display of sensual abandon? She could say with a certainty that each man had taken something from her in the process. Thomas, for whom she had had a great affection, had crushed her self-respect and broken off a piece of her heart. She consoled herself with the idea that they were not married and she had not really been ruined. Dane had that honor.
How did Dane so casually take something that was precious, with nary a word after the fact? A force disturbed her deep thinking, but she didn’t move, feeling displaced, as only waking in a strange environ can produce. She stretched a bit, realizing that her foot was cold and uncovered. She turned her head, resting her cheek on the back of her hand and opened her eyes. Dane sat across from her, his legs outstretched, and perfectly still as he watched her. She didn’t know why, but she smiled at him. Her gaze bore into his hooded one and she felt the joy of having been reunited with a long-lost friend.
Losing one’s virginity produced no lasting harm after all. ***** Dane kept his emotions shuttered. Dazzling smiles and kind words had had their place in his life once upon a time. His attraction to Christina was singular —he liked his women laid out and naked and prepared for bedding. Anything else beyond the need for pleasure only brought the kind of pain he so assiduously avoided. Hirado had left a towel draped across her ass after the anma session. A piece of sheer silk might have been better. Or he might have hired a painter,
had her draped in luxurious materials which accented the curves and arches of her body and immortalized her on canvas. Instead of doing that which came naturally, he remained passive, taking in the sight of her naked perfection. He had never seen a woman so unblemished. His fantasies had produced women with magnificent breasts and long legs. And here was Christina. Her breasts fitted to his palms as if they were made for his hands. Her lips smooth and the color of a certain rose he grew at home. Dane pushed to his feet before he started writing odes. He tugged at the simple knot of his cravat and tossed the wrinkled linen
across Christina’s back. He shrugged his shoulders and then discarded his jacket. A swift, not so gentle reminder that he was Lord Dane and she a mere plaything seemed to be in order. The gaze of an infatuated female no longer moved him. Hirado had disappeared in that ghostly way of his or Dane would have had him collect the items needed for a proper lesson. The French letters were in his bedside drawer, the containers of oil with stoppers tossed in there too. Plucking them up, he chastised himself for being so casual with sexual intercourse. He played a fool’s game— one day he would be caught.
At Christina’s side again, he tossed the towel aside, though she still lay as if serenely blissfully to his intentions. Whatever his games, Christina had adapted quickly and said nothing to dissuade him—not that she had an inkling of what he was about to do to her body. In took no time to bind Christina’s hands behind her back and discard his boots and trousers. She only gasped when he made the final tight knot at her wrists. Wisely, she had closed her eyes. When had he gotten hard for her? As he sat there watching her rest? Or as the thought about fucking her brutishly so that he did not have to endure her caring smiles?
Dane sheathed himself with the illfitting condom, tying it securely at the root of his cock, and then slathered the skin in oil. He could have ordered her to her knees, but she would have struggled with her hands bound as they were. He reached for her middle and hoisted her into position. Now, there was tension in her body. Kneeling behind her, he spread her ass cheeks. A frisson of anxiety moved through her body and she squirmed under his forceful hands. He watched approvingly as she struggled against her bonds. A hard rush of pleasure shot through his cods. His thumbs breached her first, prodding at the tight flesh of her anus.
She moaned, expressing fear and uncomfortable pain. Christina puckered against the intrusion. He worked her for a few moments, preparing her for his cock. Did she suspect that he was actually going to penetrate her ass? Or would his first hard entry be the surprise of a lifetime? He would wager a year’s worth of income her brothers had not warned her of this. He canted his hips, bringing his cock into contact with her ass. He thought he heard the muffled sound of his name. He leaned into her, adding force to his entry. He kept his breathing steady. The first tight barrier was breached,
fitting and gripping over the flanged head of his cock. Christina gasped. A glance at her expression warmed Dane’s wicked heart. Her mouth was open and she licked at her lips. Gratifying mewls of pleasure, or perhaps pain, emanated from her and reached his ears, the sweet song for which he lived. He pushed into her, his hand bracing against the chaise as he mounted her fully. There was no need to hurry. While excited, he was nowhere near fulfillment —the resulting benefit of several ejaculations during the night. The rhythm was easy as he thrust and rolled his hips. The clenching muscles of her buttocks made withdrawal pleasurable, the tight
squeeze when he pushed in taking his breath away. Dane grabbed a handful of her hair at the nape of her neck and settled his other hand on her stomach. As he leaned back on his haunches, he brought her upright and on the downward, impaled her fully, her legs trapped between his. Another awkward, fearful sound escaped her mouth. With his hand in her hair, he forcefully guided her, making her ride the hard length of his cock. Whatever her sexual delirium, it did not take long before she was riding with abandon. He loosed her hair and leaned back, gazing at the sight of her ass gliding upward and his covered cock
coming into view before she slid downward without inhibition. She couldn’t use her hands to lift her body free—only the strength of her thighs kept her pumping over him. Well versed in the sounds of arousal, Dane patiently waited as she rode herself to climax. The pleasing little mewls turned to gasps and moans. Dane finally reached between her legs and toyed with the hard, swollen nub and turned the key. He also cupped one of her breasts and kneaded gently until an orgasm had her keening and then wailing as she convulsed over him, becoming a dead weight in his arms as he leaned her forward on the chaise. Ensuring a
woman’s pleasure wasn’t his primary goal in life, but the sucking spasms contracting over his cock was always a superb way to ejaculate. Other than the sexual act itself, Dane was most taken with the visual stimulus of a woman’s nakedness. Christina bent forward in subjection, and with her hands still tied behind her back, could arouse him on the coldest day. Her ass was perfect. He swiped his hand over the round bottom, the skin snowy white and flawless. The strong urge to punish Christina was not born of the desire for pain, but of his desire to ease the stirring embers of memory that she threatened to bring to
full flame. With a slow tug, he slipped from her tight body. He pulled off the condom as he got to his feet. Christina moved slowly, the ties around her wrist preventing her from making any sudden movements, lest she roll to the floor. The cravat came undone quickly enough, freeing her to glance at him with undeserving and unwanted compassion. Dane moved away to find a drink. “You can’t make me hate you, Dane.” “Can’t I?”
Chapter Six Christina was amazed that the world had continued on, in spite of her interlude with the Marquess of Dane. Each day, he had disappeared for a few hours without a word, leaving her in a solitary world with nothing but her thoughts of Dane. Hirado attempted to explain the absence by saying each time, “Very important business.” During the week, she had gotten to observe a completely different life than what she was accustomed. Along the Thames, the most glorious looking shipping vessels passed, some with high sails, others with masts rolled up, looking like naked trees in winter. Skiffs
and barges bounced on the water, waiting to be hired. And below, the scurry of men, like ants, moving goods off ships and into warehouses. More amazing, shocking really, was that her world involved pleasuring Dane in ways that would never be discussed in polite company. He had no problem saying exactly what he wanted, and if in her ignorance she didn’t know, he showed her with scandalous bluntness. Her vocabulary had also expanded. This morning, he lounged across from her at the breakfast table, more than a little disheveled. He had only shaved once since she had arrived. His shirt was unbuttoned to mid-chest and his sleeves where folded back. There was
not an ounce of ton polish in his behavior. Each time he glanced her way, she was reminded of her state of undress. The sheer robe hid nothing. It was the only garment he had allowed her to wear. The only thing she had seen from her valise was her bristle brush and her tooth powder. Dane had effectively cut her off from her world and she found it was an practical means to obtain what he wanted. She had gravitated toward him as if he were the only ship in the ocean, bending to his will in all ways but one—she had refused to use the whips on him a second time. Six days of intimate pleasure should have been the basis for a deep
friendship, but Dane remained elusive and distant. Christina marveled at Dane’s complete lack of communication other than the carnal kind, which seemed to occupy him, and her, several times a day. The time he spent next to her afterward infused her with a sense of wellbeing and comfort, but she had to be careful because her attempts to draw closer were met with physical and emotional withdrawal. So whenever they were abed, she had lain still. Where they touched, she burned. But had she caressed the skin of his arm or pressed her lips to the indention at his neck, he would have rebuffed her without uttering a word.
He kept her close, but with no intimacies outside intercourse. And for every non-committal grunt to her questions, he had twenty that he asked of her. “This beau who ruined you, what was his name again?” She ignored him for the moment, confused by the food set before her. The breakfast Hirado had laid out was an exotic feast of radishes, which she recognized, along with a side of square rolled eggs. When she glanced at Dane, he said, “Tamagoyaki. You’ll like it.” She could identify chopped green onions, some sort of pickle along with a fish dish. Everything else looked as if it
belonged anywhere but her breakfast plate. “A slice of bread would suit, if you have it.” “Bread? When Hirado is a brilliant cook? You need to live a little, Christina.” “I had haggis once. Since then I prefer the bland comfort of English cooking.” He laughed lightly, but didn’t instruct Hirado to do her bidding. “About this beau? Was he insincere when he proposed marriage?” Christina lifted her fork and bit at her lip. She supposed she could try the food. “He never actually proposed, only implied that such would be the case.”
She wrinkled her nose before flaking off a bit of the egg concoction. “Why didn’t one of your vaunted brothers take him to task? I’ve always found that a good thrashing can restore one’s sense rather quickly. And his name?” “Thomas Griffin.” “Griffin? A second son, no doubt. They are usually lacking in character.” “And what of you? You’ve not mentioned if you have brothers.” “I had a brother. I am my father’s second son.” Christina smiled at him from across the small table, but was a bit perplexed at his sudden frown and dark look.
“My oldest brother was paralyzed when he was thirteen—a horseriding accident. Since then he has been...unable to deal well with controversy or difficulty,” she said. “Meaning he blamed you for putting yourself in harm’s way.” Dane scoffed. “Typical aristocracy.” “Dane, must you always find the worst in people? My brother is a good person in spite of his difficult circumstance.” “The worst? Hardly, madam. I but point out the duplicitous flaws in hypocritical people. Take Hirado here. Impoverished, his family dead. Did he take to crime? Did he lose his honor? No, he worked hard. When he decides to
leave me, he will return to Japan a rich man. A very rich man.” “Money isn’t everything.” “That, Miss Turnbow, is a very dishonest statement, coming from you.” Dane planted his elbows on the table. “I was under the impression you knew exactly why you were here.” She had the grace to blush. “So you’ve discovered I am just like everyone else in society?” Dane had made no pretense of despising the ton, yet he seemed to tolerate her. “At least, let us be honest with each other. If you had had enough money, your swain would still be calling on you, even if he knew you had shagged the Marquess of Dane.”
“I do not deserve your cruelty. My need was real.” “And you could find no other way to procure a few pounds? And by the way, I’m not being cruel, only truthul.” “Eight thousand pounds may be nothing to a man like you.” He had turned the tables quickly and now she felt the need to defend her decision. He wagged his brow, dismissing her claim. “Your brothers could have sold themselves. Many families would have paid a fortune to marry an earl or into an earl’s family. It’s done every day.” “There were greater considerations than just my brothers’ willingness to marry. They could not marry just anyone.”
“While you could just shag anyone.” She set her fork aside, her appetite destroyed by Japanese cuisine and Dane’s dogged accusations. Underlying his words, there was a coolness to his actions. A look that belied some irritation he had not yet expressed. “What is it you want me to say? That I was wrong? That there was a better way?” “Sadly, I don’t know what I want you to say.” He threw his napkin aside, proof that he was as irritated as she, though she didn’t understand why any of their conversation should bother him. She was the one who had willingly sold herself. Dane left the table and strolled toward the fireplace where he sat in one of the
straight back chairs, brooding over some slight. He stared at the chessboard that had been set between their chairs the evening prior. Their game had been halted midplay when Dane, aggravated over a poor move he had made and on which she had capitalized, had thrown her to the floor and brought her to a shrieking release. When Dane did not want to talk, he did not talk. It did no good to sigh or sulk and it had only taken a few days to realize he followed his own set of rules, completely devoid of the standards to which she had grown accustomed and to which he mocked with impunity. Her natural inclination was conversation, but
his ominous silences were impenetrable. And completely baffling. “Hirado,” he said with a loud voice. Hirado appeared in front of Dane before he could draw a breath for his next utterance. Christina picked at her food until she heard Dane order, “Fetch Miss Turnbow’s clothes. We are going out this morning.” Dane smiled, whatever decision he had made seeming to lighten his mood. She nearly jumped from her chair. “Oh, no, Dane. I mustn’t be seen.” “You will be fully clothed. And I insist on your company.” “No. Our bargain was for—”
“Anything I wished, as I recall, though you’ve been most uncooperative. I shall have to chastise you later for that infraction.” Dane was strolling across the floor toward her as he spoke. She glanced up. He ran his finger down the curve of her nose. “Perhaps I’ll buy you some pretty bauble while we are out.” His cheer had been restored quick enough but his jovial declaration left her breathless. Panic had a way of making her feel faint—much like the first time her brother had told her they were ruined. For her, the docks were a perfect place to carry out an illicit liaison. Or the country. Or Scotland. She had no desire to see or be seen. “No. I am without a proper escort. It
isn’t done.” He choked back a laugh. “It’s a little late for that. Do you think I am going to parade you along the Serpentine? We are merely going to inspect a property I wish to purchase. The grand dames of Almack’s won’t be there to scrutinize your dance steps.” “You know it’s not the same thing. Please don’t ask it of me.” Hirado interrupted as he walked into the room again, carrying one of the day dresses she had packed in her valise. The garment was pressed and draped over his arms as he laid it careful over the bed. He had hooked the heel of her shoes with his fingers and he lowered them to the floor.
She understood now why gentlemen of the ton were so obsessed with their valets. Hirado seemed one step ahead of Dane’s commands. “Too late, I’m afraid,” he said. Hirado appeared again, carrying a box, which roused her curiosity since it was placed next to her dress. “Oh, Dane,” she said, making her way toward the bed. It did no good to tie the belt around her waist, nothing was hidden. She grabbed the edges of the robe and overlapped them, affording some protection. “This was supposed to be simple and discreet.” “Simple? You chose the wrong man if that is what you expected.”
She lifted the lid to find a lacy white chemise and a silken corset. “Oh, Dane,” she said a second time. “This is unnecessary. You are already providing compensation.” “It is just a gift, Christina.” Dane was no novice at dressing a woman, but got lost in the touching more than in the dressing. She slipped into the chemise, breathing a sigh of relief to be clothed once again, though with each tug of her stays, she lost some of the sensual freedom that had made their encounter so...beguiling. While she finished with her buttonfront dress, Dane removed his shirt and accepted Hirado’s assistance with a freshly ironed one. The cravat was tied
in a simple knot. All the same, the Marquess of Dane cut a handsome figure even with the roguish appeal of an unshaven face. Today would be her last day with him. As much as she wished to put this episode behind her, she knew the disturbing yet pleasing memories would linger. Once she waved goodbye tonight, she did not want to see Dane again—for a host of reasons. Her decision to leave London with John would be for the best. Especially after this week. She was nothing special to Dane, but the tug of attraction was there, growing inside her—in her heart when she saw him hurt and when she saw him happy.
And in her stomach when he walked into the room after being gone just a few hours. That she was one of a long line of women would be a sticking point—a wound to her pride that she could never overcome. His sexual focus was on her for the time being, but Dane implied there had been, and would be, others. Better to remain unmarried than in an association where she was anything less than uniquely cherished. Tugging at her heart was the sympathy he aroused. If she gave into her overwhelming desire to help him, where would it lead? Sexual largesse aside, he was intelligent and attractive, but Christina lived with a brother who had similar dark spells. However, Dane
seemed intent on punishing himself, while John enjoyed lashing out at the world. Love was a strong word. It was a fearful word when one did not really comprehend the intricacies that defined another being. And it was dreadful when one thought they could love someone who might never be understood. Christina did not want to waste her love. Moreover, she did not want to succumb to a man who would forget her when she was gone, while she might pine a lifetime for him. *****
Rawlins had located a property with excellent prospects for the gambling den. Christina might provide an interesting prospective since the female clientele would be of the noble class—older women, perhaps, dissatisfied with their marriages and seeking new diversions and loaded with their husbands’ money. Dane was never surprised by the ton’s willingness to believe lies—all proper and self-righteous, but oh so willing to keep their dirty secrets. Christina remained quiet, seated with her hands folded in her lap. Now, her secrets were another matter. Whatever she felt, she kept to herself, which was strange for a woman or at least for the women he knew. He had had
women sobbing for him in less time than he had spent with Christina. Granted, they were whores whose expectations were easy to raise. Clara’s past behavior cast an ugly shadow over Christina. Clara too had hidden her true feelings well. That she had married him, when it was his brother she loved, had been carefully masked until the end. The awful end. Opium had helped the first few years until he realized it was going to kill him, but the dark clouds still drove him into despairing ennui at times. The last six days were eased by Christina’s presence, for it could be nothing else that allowed him a full night’s sleep and had diminished his
driving desires which bordered on despair. “Did you have no clue your father was in debt?” Dane’s habit of turning over every rock served him well as the marquess. He should have been as diligent when he was a young man on the verge of marriage. She didn’t answer, posing her own question instead. “Why do you insist upon being beaten until you bleed?” Dane couldn’t help the lopsided grin that resulted from her question. “I would not expect you to understand my need.” Her refusal to meet his demands was both surprising and confusing. He would have guessed a woman in her position would happily
punish the man who had taken so much from her. “Then do not expect me to ruminate on my father’s financial decisions.” “I’ve upset you by requiring you to attend me.” “I can’t be seen, Dane. I have a life, such as it is, to which I wish to return.” “Meaning this interlude never happened.” “That’s the way it must be.” “Perhaps I will see you at a ball some evening?” “You don’t attend balls. And lately, I don’t much either. That’s what happens when one is of little consequence.” “And what if we did meet?” he asked. Christina said nothing. “Ah, I see.
You will ignore me. Pretend you don’t know me. I suppose that is easy enough in a large crowd. But could you?” “To the world at large, we have not been properly introduced, and with your reputation, I don’t expect to either. Would you find it humorous to publicly embarrass me?” “I would do nothing that provides a venue for unwarranted gossip. That is why my life is my own.” The carriage came to a slow stop. She glanced out the window and her eyes widened. “Why didn’t you tell me where we were going? I know people in this area.” “It’s still early. No one is out of bed yet,” he said.
She clenched her jaw, a streak of stubbornness very appealing in a woman a man wanted to discipline. He got the impression she was single-minded. When the decision was made, there was no turning back, hence his difficulty persuading her to use his whips. “I will carry you in. What will the neighbors say then?” “That would cause unwarranted gossip.” “Touché, Miss Turnbow. I stand corrected. Come now, my carriage is unmarked. The gawkers will see nothing but a couple interested in letting a building.” Christina relented, reached for his outstretched hand and he had her
whisked into the building in no time. Inside, Rawlins waited. Dane didn’t introduce Christina, which was typical of his ways. Nor would she have wanted her name associated with Dane. Though it was all nonsense since Rawlins already knew who he was shagging and they had already met informally. Rawlins chatted as he walked around the room, arms waving, as he described this marbled floor and that motif. The house was partially furnished —large, heavy furniture, tables and rugs, but nothing of a personal nature. No pictures. No bric-a-brac. No books. “Does it have the prerequisites, Rawlins?” he asked.
“Of course. It adjoins the building next door at both the second and third floors. The property had been let for the previous two years. The current owners —” “I don’t need to know.” Rawlins pushed back his glasses and shoved the leather binder under his arm. “Will that be all?” “You can wait for us here. I wish to see the rest of the house.” Rawlins bowed crisply before turning away from them. Christina wandered around the rooms, touching the fireplace mantel, pushing back curtains and generally casting her glance about as if she could
learn the secrets hidden in the scuff marks, dust and coloring. As they tread up the winding staircase, Christina asked. “Will this be your new whorehouse?” “A gambling den.” “You’ve made a strange world for yourself, Dane.” “Have I?” He followed her as she strolled from room to room as they explored the house, waiting for her to comment further. But she didn’t. On the top floor, they entered a small, cozy garret containing a simple bed and small nightstand and opposite it, an escritoire covered with a light layer of dust. She strolled to the tall windows
and glanced out. When she pushed back the curtains, he saw that the windows were actually doors that led to a small balcony with a wrought iron parapet. “Oh,” was all she said. Dane couldn’t help himself. He liked that she did not want to be with him. He liked that she did not pretend what she did not feel. He liked that she did not fall at his feet for all of the wrong reasons. He liked that when she looked at him, she saw him. Her small waist was a temptation. Further down, her ass blossomed into round perfection. Upward and her breasts beckoned.
Their time was fast coming to an end and he was not one to waste an opportunity. Besides, he had paid for the goods. Was it not his right to take as much as he wanted? He could not credit her presence to holding off the worst of his dark spells, only that she had kept him entertained throughout. When she left, he would bury himself in whores and gaming and any other debauchery that would keep the demons at bay. But for now. For now, he had her. Perhaps no other man would, were her true indiscretions known. The sunlight shown against her skin, illuminating her face until she fairly
glowed. “If I lived here, I would like this room. You see how the sun makes the walls appear golden? It’s very peaceful, so far above the streets,” she said. “A strange choice. Hot in the summer. Cold in the winter. And there are much grander rooms below,” he said. She was thinking of the warmth of the sun while he was thinking of the warmth of her body. One of those eternal differences between men and women. “But it would be all mine. There were six in my family. I was always tripping over someone.” He slid his hand over her waist, a suggestion she would understand at this point in their short affair. For the first
time, she glanced at him in horror and twisted away. “Dane, we are in a public place. I can’t.” “You can’t?” Outside his palatially decorated warehouse, she wanted nothing to do with him and her refusal sent a spear of anger through his carefully controlled demeanor. “You’ve said yourself you were already ruined. What difference does another man make? Whether here or some grand dame’s ball?” “I’m not one of your whores.” “With me, you are what I say you are.” “I have done all that you have asked of me, Dane. You can oblige me in this
small request.” “Not all. You have not yet earned your pay.” Her watery gaze bored into his. With a few steps, she was in front of him. “I’ve more than earned my wages, but you seem intent on making me fulfill someone else’s obligation to you.” How dare Miss Turnbow imply she knew him or anything about why he accepted her needed arrangement? Miss Turnbow proposed the pact, he but agreed to the undeniably tempting offer. Clara had nothing to do with this interlude. Thoughts of his dead wife normally propelled him head first into prolonged melancholia. He shook his head denying her existence—denying
that Miss Turnbow could know why he sought oblivion in pain and pleasure. There was nothing Miss Turnbow had that a thousand other women did not also possess. No, she had nothing to do with his past or his future. Miss Turnbow needed to be sent on her way before she tromped through his perfectly disreputable paradise. Or she unlocked the door to the past. “And if I wish to negotiate further with you?” “My week is over tonight, Dane. There is nothing else I need from you. I can wait downstairs with Mr. Rawlins, if you wish.” “I could have you here if I wanted.”
“What would you be trying to prove to me, if you did so? That you could overpower me and force me to your will? I concede then, Lord Dane. Have me.” She spread her hands wide. Dane was going to have her anyway. The defiant challenge only added to his desire to dominate her. He stepped toward her and her eyes widened, daring him. He wasn’t going to back down. If there was a debt owed, it was Miss Turnbow’s. He had paid for pleasure and he damned well would have it. “Not here, Dane,” she said softly, retreating. But he was too far gone to heed her plea.
He fumbled at the placket of his trousers and took a step toward her. “Lift your skirts,” he demanded. She tilted her chin in defiance. “It will go better for you, if you remember the terms of our agreement.” “So I’m supposed to say ‘yes, lord’ to make you feel better about what you want to do?” “What I want is for you to say no and I’ll enjoy it that much more when I do the deed.” “Then I can only answer yes. Have your way, Dane. I won’t fight you.” “Say no,” he commanded. “You won’t draw me into your darkness and there is no pain I wouldn’t suffer for the people I love.”
He reached out quickly, gripping her wrist and pulling her toward the writing desk. She emitted a small gasp of alarm, but did not utter a word of discouragement—as she was the one who had proposed such a liaison. With brutal efficiency, he had her turned and primed, laying over the desk with her hands holding fast to the edges. She had not closed her eyes but stared blankly across the room. The voluminous skirts were easily pushed up and out of the way. Pale and fine, her ass was bare and mighty tempting. His heart pounded, demanding he take all of the liberties for which he had paid. Only an innocent like her could take the force of his anger and
provide any sort of relief. He wanted to deny that her resemblance to Clara had anything to do with the surge of blood lust beating through his veins. Open palmed, he slapped his hand against her bottom. Christina whimpered and bit at her lips, her lids squeezed tightly shut. His handprint showed red against her skin. Clara hadn’t been innocent, no matter her upbringing as a vicar’s daughter. He slapped Christina again and yet again, but she said nothing. The only sound was the involuntary whimper when the pain flooded over her skin. And his loud groan as the rush of arousal built in his groin
Dane’s aching cock was hard, the skin stretched. Already he felt his testes tightening ready for the release of his seed when he thrust into her warm and waiting sheath. With his hands, he spread the rounded globes of her ass. The deep cleft opened and the bud of her anus beckoned, but he wanted to feel the welcome slickness of her arousal as he penetrated deep within her womanly depths. When the head of his cock touched her wet, swollen skin, a rush of semen spurt, nearly knocking him from his feet. He forced his body into obedience. He wasn’t ready to release yet. He blew a steadying breath and slid into her. The
sucking pull wrapped his cock in heavenly bliss. Buried deep, he dared a glance downward to see the luscious sight of woman, taking what he had to give. He canted his hips and started hard, even thrusting. The sight of his cock moving in and out of her, growing wet with her juices, nearly caused him to roar in gratification. He held her hips firmly, while the table creaked against the abuse of weight and movement. In spite of the countless women before her, the sight of Christina, aroused and humming, wanting her own release, did disastrous things to his control. He—masterful, practiced, at
ease—was undisciplined as he thrust harder and faster. The pulsing contractions that milked at this cock had him seeing double. Christina’s body tensed. Her sheath contracted like a spring trap. He gasped with her before losing himself in the throes of climax, spilling hot torrents of come and living in the rush of each pleasurable jolt. Once he could breathe again, he withdrew, enjoying one last glance of her ass as her skirts drifted lower. Christina Turnbow was fine, an appealing balance of innocence and sensuality. Giving her up now was not going to be easy. But give her up he would, and without a word of complaint.
She had all of the attributes one associated with stability, commitment and, ultimately, boredom. If he hadn’t paid Christina for the acts he enjoyed, he knew she would never tolerate his particular tastes. No decent woman would. ***** Christina ignored Dane as he sat across from her in the carriage. Once he’d had his way, he had walked out of the room while she had taken time to set herself to rights. She had wanted to knock the smirk from his face. Even now her bottom burned where he had slapped her. He had known that she had willingly
succumbed to the intense pleasure and no self-righteous denial would matter. Propriety was all well and good, but when illicit encounters with Dane had her whimpering and moaning as if she wanted everything that he did to her... When this was over, she would be hard pressed not to think of him again. But that is exactly what she would do. Instead of being curious about his past and the events which shaped his life, she should be thankful he had remained withdrawn and secretive. The temptation to coax Dane from his dark corner was futile. Only he could determine his future. Encouragement from her would only make him more
determined to prove himself wicked and unrepentant. Maybe depravity had an unyielding hold on him. Maybe he really did revel in his transgressions—but she wanted to believe there was some redeeming value in his dark heart. Dane rapped on the roof of the carriage and it rolled to a stop on Bond Street. Christina peered out the window to see the shops for clothiers and jewelers. There was a time when she enjoyed strolling along the street and splurging on a few unnecessaries. He exited the carriage without a word to her and slammed the door shut behind him. She wouldn’t have gone with him even if he had asked. There
were too many dangers stepping out so she leaned back and closed her eyes. While her role of courtesan was short lived, she wondered how many other women like her had been forced into such a position. She should be thankful she was not required to perform such a daily drudgery in order to eat and in situations much less appealing than Dane’s fantasy world. At least she still had family and a roof over her head. More importantly, her sisters would never know a day of sorrow over what Father had done. When Dane finally opened the carriage door and stepped in, he wore a smile unfitting of the situation. He had
been angry with her when he had taken her so abruptly. And she’d said nothing. She swayed when the carriage rocked into motion. Dane grabbed the leather strap overhead. Once the carriage was underway, he reached into an inner jacket pocket, still smiling like a jackanapes. “For you,” he said, handing her a slim velvet case. Christina clenched her fingers in the folds of her skirt. “What is it?” It was difficult to trust Dane completely. “I would have never believed a woman existed who did not have an immediate curiosity about a velvet box. What? You can’t imagine what it might
be? Expensive? Pretty? Come know, Miss Turnbow, you can’t take a guess?” “Whatever it is, I don’t need it.” “Ah, so you do know. Open it.” He wagged the box at her again and she slowly reached for it, only to have him yank it back. “That’s not funny.” He grinned, one side of his mouth turned upward. He snapped the case open and displayed it for her, not taking his gaze from her face. “What do you think? I thought about sapphires, but I think your eyes need contrast, so I went with emeralds.” “Dane, you needn’t have gone to such trouble.”
“Trouble? For me? It was as simple as saying, ‘I’ll take that one’.” “I can’t accept it. Beautiful as it is,” she said, conceding that the bracelet was very pretty and, as he said, expensive. Dane held the bauble for her inspection. Two rows of very fine emeralds, clasped in gold, shone brightly, casting sparkles inside the carriage. Dane provided everything—from the ecstatic moments of release to the charming gestures of affection—but why? “Now you are wasting your breath and trying my patience.” Instead of taking the bracelet, she reached across the carriage and placed her hand on his knee. “Don’t make this
more than a business arrangement. I bargained for my family’s name, Dane. Please don’t make me feel less of a woman because I did so.” He gripped her wrist and turned her hand slowly. There was no use resisting him, she hadn’t been able to do so the entire week. The cool metal encircled her wrist. Dane fastened the clasp. He turned her hand and rubbed his thumb over her palm. Little frissions of pleasure surged down her arm. Dane might be perplexing but he was not unloveable, not to her woman’s heart. “Someone once told me that women were the single greatest mystery. I never believed before.”
Chapter Seven Her week with Dane would be over in a few hours. Troublesome thoughts, which she attributed to her feelings of sympathy, had lodged deep in her mind as she attempted to clarify her strange attachment. Heady love wasn’t fluttering in her breast. Disdain wasn’t demanding a voice in her denouncement of his activities. She had had a dog once, found abandoned and beaten, on her father’s estate. In the end, she had loved that dog and had wept deeply when it had died many years later. But when she had found the animal, it growled and barked,
even though it could barely stand from its miserable condition. The afternoon was long as she waited for Dane to make an appearance, though Hirado was solicitous, ensuring that she had a book to read, that her afternoon tea was piping hot, and then, just as she imagined she would depart, he prepared a bath for her. She could not convince Hirado her agreement with Dane was over and she could leave. A frivolous and time-consuming cleanse might be welcome in her own home. Not here, though. Not when Dane might return. Not when he posed a threat to her being. Christina sensed she had agitated Dane by her refusal to accept the
bracelet, since he had disappeared below stairs to attend to his business as soon as they had returned to the warehouse. She had removed the handsome piece and left it on the table where it was plainly visible. There was no reason to accept the gift—she had been paid. Wearing the bracelet would remind her of Dane, of their time together, of his ability to give her pleasure and yet fill her mind with confusion. More importantly, she would remember that she had sold herself and that he was rewarding his courtesan. What would she say about the gift, for surely it would be noticed? She couldn’t explain it to her family. In
reality, she would never be able to wear the tempting bauble. However, emeralds could be sold, and an awful temptation to keep it sprouted in her normally disciplined mind. Dane had a way of making simple things complicated. He evoked sympathy, even though he believed he was an island. She couldn’t change her nature and her nature had always been to help those who hurt, much like the fabled mouse who freed the lion. Imagining she was the mouse in the story made her smile, though it was clear Dane was the fierce creature in need of help. He was the mystery.
Finally, the sound of his heavy footsteps marked his return. She turned away from the windows, smiling, wondering if the fierce lion or wounded dog would appear. He was dressed casually—tan trousers tucked in brown leather boots and a white linen shirt partially opened at the neck. A slash of dirt marred his shirt on the left side and his disheveled hair looked as if it had not been combed in a week. In short, Dane looked as if he had been laboring on the docks. His gaze sought hers as he walked into the room, noting her tonnish attire. “You did not wish to bathe?” “I had hoped my carriage would be ready. I’m expected at home.”
Dane began to remove his clothing as he walked across the room, ignored her for the moment and plopped down on the bed. When he sat down, he tugged at his boots and then stood once again to shuck his trousers and shirt. “Are you sure you don’t want to bathe with me?” “I’m sure.” “Have your clothes off when I’m done,” he ordered before he walked to the bathing alcove. She had worn her dress all afternoon. She could think of no logical reason to change since she would go directly home and find her bed, where she could ruminate—alone—about all that had happened this past week.
And she only had to get through the next few minutes to make sure that happened. Instead of patiently waiting, she followed Dane. He’d just settled in the water and a small bubbly wave plunged over the edge. He held up his hand to stay whatever comments he did not wish for her to say. “Before you say no, I should remind you that we are in Twenty Acres and that walking from here to your front door would be near impossible. I doubt you would get to the end of the pier before some Abbess would take you in to her fold and allow ten men to use you before the night is over. If you were lucky. So
don’t kick up a fuss that I want you to stay.” “My seven days are over.” “I’m making it eight. I’ll take you home in the morning. Perhaps.” “Was that the reason for your gift? Was it a bribe to ensure my cooperation?” “You forget that I’ve been with you night and day, Miss Turnbow. It only takes my cock stuffed inside you to ensure your cooperation.” He lathered the soap and used his hand to scrub over his skin. “You’re not going anywhere tonight, Christina.” Sharp words could hurt as much or more than the lash she had used on him. She wasn’t going to succomb to his
darkness. To do so, would only ensure he continuted down this path until...the end. His end. Dane’s reputation was well earned. Maybe this last night, and Dane’s true nature, would ease any lingering feelings of warmth she had for him. Distance would be most beneficial to ease her intemperate emotions. In truth, her attachment was inexplicable, for there was nothing to desire of the man, outward appearance aside. He had none of the refined sensibilities she would have expected from a peer. He was demanding and uncaring. She was foolish indeed to imagine pulling him to her chest and
soothing her fingers through his hair. Lulling him into a peaceul state. She had only added to her sins. With Thomas, emotions had led to physical closeness. With Dane, intimacy had led to emotion. Would she ever get it right? The bauble was nothing more than a bribe, she saw that now. She should have seen through his gesture, but he’d effectively caught her in his dark, private world. He glanced over his shoulder. “Wear the bracelet. Nothing else. And do hurry, I’m almost done here.” What was she to do? Stand behind him and admire his bare, wet back and then meekly surrender to him when it was time? She needed to provide Dane
with a parting gift of her own. Something he would remember, and not just that he enjoyed her in the bed, but that she was worthy of more than what had transpired here. If not for Dane, than for her own self-respect. Christina knew she was a woman worthy of esteem and affection. She would not leave without reaffirming those ideals even if Dane didn’t want her to care. Once she had undressed down to her shift and corset, she sat to remove her shoes and stockings. Dane emerged from the bath rubbing a towel over his body and then flinging it over his shoulder. He strolled toward her. She stood rather than face his groin at eye level— completely disturbing and probably his
intent. The sight of his manhood was still a curious oddity to her. The intimacies of which they partook had nothing to do with familiarity. “Allow me,” he said. He hooked his fingers, slipping the eyelets down the front and removed her corset. He tossed it on the chair before helping her from the lightweight chemise. When she was naked with him, she felt small and fragile. Instead of touching, he walked around her and found the bracelet on the table where she had left it earlier. Her arm was limp as he lifted it and clasped the bracelet around her wrist once again. Dane examined her and his close scrutiny stirred a heated response that
swept up her body and reddened her face. Her embarrassment did nothing to prevent him from touching her. He placed one heavy hand on her shoulder. Only his thumb swept over his skin in slow, tender strokes. “Why do you not stay another week?” he asked. “I would be generous.” He’d tempered his voice, almost sounding sincere and kind. “It’s impossible, Dane. What I’ve done...what you are asking me to continue doing. No.” “How can it matter now?” “You may not see the distinction, but if I accepted your offer now, I’d be doing it for the money. Before it was for my family.” She gazed at him. His
features remained impassive, unbelieving. “I knew you wouldn’t understand.” To herself, she could admit that staying another week with him would also be about him. Perhaps with more time, she could know him better, but nothing good would come of such an arrangement. Her name could not be further tarnished with him, but the longer she played this game, the more likely she would be exposed to the ton, and again, her family could not bear the brunt of such a transgression. Only his jaw tightened with her negative response, much as it had in the
carriage ride this morning. She had a habit of displeasing him. With his free hand, he flung the towel aside. He pulled her close. Her breasts, already hard and sensitive, were crushed into his skin. Her nipples chafed against the coarse body hair. She was amazed how easy it was to abandon herself in his dark world. Where nothing existed except basking in the forbid pursuits of pleasure. His large hand encompassed her throat and slowly tilted her face upward. A strange light shone in his eyes and his gaze was filled with a burning intensity that shot through her chest and downward.
Kisses had been few and restrained, but he leaned toward her anyhow. What he gave her was not what she had experienced thus far with him. The first hot touch of his lips sent intense yearning through her body, making her long for closer contact, to wrap her arms about him and to caress him. To give back some of what he made her feel. Along with something more. Something she believed he’d never had. But was she the woman to give it to him? When his mouth opened over hers, forcing her to accept his tongue and the wet heat that consumed her, she could not catch her breath. His large hands cupped her face and held her, willing
prisoner. He ravaged and teased, impressing her with his consummate skill, bending her to his command and desire. Beneath her fingertips, the contours of his arm were smooth and hard. Dane didn’t bat her hands away as if she were a pest so she explored further, caressing upward along his shoulder and then slipping her fingers through his tousled hair. She relaxed in his embrace, tasting fully of him for the first time since they had met. The sound she heard was her own moan, throaty and deep in her chest. Dane coaxed her along, exciting her sexually and steering her until her knees bumped into the back of the bed. He
unintentionally aroused her emotions— his kisses had a purpose, but she felt something piercing her heart with each intake of breath. “On your knees, Christina.” The disappointment was profound as she obeyed him. There was a kernel of hope that he might want her rather than her body, but kneeling while he plunged into her from behind was nothing more than an animalist taking. He could do that with any woman. He braced his hands at her hips. He brushed his erection between her legs, bathing in the moisture that he seemed to draw from her with ease. The slow push into her caused her to sigh with contentment and her back arched in
feline satisfaction. Whatever his intent, she was in agreement. He set a perfect rhythm, thrusting deep and withdrawing to the brink. She could do nothing— trapped in the subservient position and ruled by his unwillingness to allow her tender caresses. Christina closed her eyes and pulled a deep breath. It hadn’t taken Dane long to show her the path to fulfillment. Now, she could help. Her body reacted and began to contract and milk at the length of his cock. Christina was aware that he responded, holding deep within her while she squeezed, and then easing out, only to push back inside to feel the pleasing tightness grip him again.
Dane’s enjoyment was in the sound of each guttural groan—his reaction surprisingly satisfying for her. And sad. A part of her knew she would never get to bask in this kind of unadulterated pleasure again. Dane’s brand of gratification involved blind pursuit of physical recreation. It was like racing in a curricle—the horses given free rein, the wind blowing through her hair and laughter bubbling up in her soul. The real danger would have been to jump, so she had to hold fast until the ride came to its natural end. The pleasingly uncomfortable sensation of climax spread with insidious tentacles. She forced all thought away, wanting only one thing,
dwelling in the cresting wave that gripped her body. The strong surge caused her to cry out, her body arching and tensing, before the first gripping pulse clenched and beat against Dane’s invading manhood. He unleashed inside her, his gratification audible. He pounded against her body, his groin and thighs slapping against her backside. When he grew quiet except for the harsh sound of his breathing, she melted onto the bed, stomach-down. His cock slipped from her body in a gentle release. Dane relaxed over her body, nearly encasing her in his warmth but not so much that he crushed her. Christina
closed her eyes, wanting to remember this last closeness whether or not Dane realized she relished his touch. When he rolled to his side, one of his arms remained draped over her back and his hand settled low on her hip. A wave of sadness swept over her and tears prickled her eyes. When she left, Dane would be alone again. ***** “There is much yet to do on our last night together,” he whispered into her hair. His hand stroked up her back, causing a shiver to pass through her body. He pushed from the bed, flinging
the covers over her naked bottom and legs, and then called to Hirado to attend him. “Come, Christina. You’re about to earn your bracelet.” He gave her a dark look. Christina knew what he wanted and felt a surge of disappointment that their last night together would end with such a harsh display. As he walked toward the far wall where the chains hung, Hirado entered the room, not daring a glance in her direction and, with a servant’s knowledge, proceeded to chain Dane to the wall. Christina sat up on the bed, twining the sheet under her arms to cover her breasts.
“I’ve told you, Dane, that I will not do it.” Dane seemed unconcerned with her refusal. He was stretched long and lean against the wall. “You are not leaving until you do.” Hirado’s feet slip-slapped against the floor, disappearing behind the only other door in the room. “Why, Dane? Why do you insist upon punishment? What have you done to deserve such hurt?” “It gives me pleasure. Perhaps someday you will allow me to show you how it feels.” “Never.” She did not believe him. Whatever weight he carried, whatever wickedness
he thought he had committed, the pain from the lash was about chastisement, not joy. “If I agree, do you agree not to call out no matter what I do? Under any circumstance?” She did not want Hirado to interfere. What could Dane do to her, chained to the wall as he was? Other than command Hirado to release him, Dane really was all hers to do with as she pleased. And it did not please her to hurt him. What would provide the most satisfaction was to touch him the way she had wanted to touch him during their many joinings, when he only wanted pleasure and she had wanted intimacy. “Your arm will give out before you hear a word from me.”
“Do you swear?” “I swear.” She padded toward him, sheet in tow. The whips were still in perfect order and she reached for a short crop with a flat leather end. The chains rattled as Dane gripped them tight, preparing for the first stinging blow. Both hands were needed so she allowed the sheet to slide from her body. She supposed he would cry foul if she did not hit him at all. Once. She would do it once. Butterflies danced in her stomach at the thought. She bit at her lip and stepped behind him, running the leather whip over his skin. Dane’s muscles rippled with tension. “What are you thinking?” she asked.
He glanced at her over his shoulder. “Do you really want to know?” There was a mocking tone in his voice, one that dared her to do her worst. She was going to oblige him, as much as her smaller frame and more delicate strength would allow. She couldn’t gauge how much it would hurt him, but she would do her worst with what she had. Christina gripped the handle of the whip and drew back to strike him. The whip snapped, cracking hard against his rock hard and rounded buttocks. He hissed, drawing in a deep breath and jerking against the chains. A moment later, he laughed but he didn’t utter a word.
The taunting laugh was meant to provoke her. Instead, she dropped the whip and stepped behind him. She placed her hands at his waist. The first sensation was of incredible heat. Dane twisted and pulled at the chains. “You swore,” she said gently. He rattled the chains defiantly but said nothing. She ground her breasts against his back; her hands slid over his belly and up his chest. Hard and muscled, Dane was pleasing to her in every physical way. He was nothing like thin, foppish Thomas, but then she’d never seen Thomas in attire other than the most fashionable breeches and jackets.
When she touched her lips to Dane’s back, she doubted she’d ever have another thought of Thomas Griffin unless it was followed by the sentiment “someone she used to know.” For a moment, she held Dane in a loving embrace, pressing her cheek against him, inhaling his scent. A deep, unnamed yearning filled her—for something she could not have, and if she could, would only cause a lifetime of heartache. “I like your body, Dane,” she said softly, while stroking downward over his sculpted belly. “Do all your women?” she asked, curious yet profoundly jealous of the legions who had come before.
Her hands traveled slowly over his skin, each inch of it giving her some new delight. Dane squirmed as her fingers gently traced the muscled area on each side of his stomach—two upward slashes—or downward as if they showed the way toward his manhood. She couldn’t get enough of him. Her hands wandered up and then back down again. She wanted to touch all of him, yet explore each feature thoroughly. Slowly. She placed her hands on his broad shoulders and stood to her tiptoes before placing a kiss at the very back of his neck. Dane’s inhalation was soft. Beneath her lips and then her tongue, she felt the sudden prickling of goose flesh.
Tracing down his spine, kissing and licking, she enjoyed his subtle responses —the rattle of chains betraying each reaction. When she reached the base of his spine, she knelt. With one finger, she traced the red outline where she had hurt Dane with the flat of the whip. She pressed light kisses against the abrasion, feeling sad that he needed this and trying to offer him some ease. She doubted he interpreted her act as compassionate or caring. She leaned back on her haunches and reached for the two rounded globes of his bottom. They were larger than her hands, but they still seemed to fit. She traced her thumb along the crevasse and
then leaned forward, using her tongue to follow the same path. Dane gasped, clenched and then exhaled. A throaty groan followed. Perhaps he had held back a few choice words. “Did you say something, Lord Dane?” she asked. She traced the path a second time, lingering. Dane’s body jerked and bucked in an attempt to get away from her. She pushed up to her knees and pressed her breasts against his ass. Reaching around, she soothed up his thighs and finally touched the hard length of his erection. She’d known he would be firm. She didn’t grip him, instead
holding him loosely in her palm while she touched and stroked. The tip of his penis was wet. There was enough room between Dane and the wall for her to squeeze through. She got to her feet, ducked under his arm and pressed into him front to front—a position Dane seemed to avoid. He did not stop her. Her hands cupped his bottom and she held him tight, all the while pressing her breasts and mons into his body and feeling the long, hard length of his shaft burning against the softness of her skin. She stared at him for a moment, but he did not look at her. His eyes were closed and his jaw clenched as if he were in the throes of some unnamed
pain. His chest expanded with each drawn breath. She caressed over the muscles of his chest. “Do you not enjoy it when you are touched?” she asked. She didn’t mean to tease him with her questions—she truly wanted to know why, but of course, he wouldn’t answer, having sworn to keep silent. Again, she searched his body. His arms were too high overhead for her to reach much past his elbows, but she found she had a difficult time getting past the distraction of his chest and stomach. Beneath her palm, she could feel his heart pounding a hard, steady rhythm. And he was warm. The kind of warmth one wanted to wrap themselves
in on a winter day or a cool, rainy night. Sleeping next to a man had been a surprising discovery for her. Being in Dane’s arms had made the longing acute and she hated that their interlude was nothing more than a means to an end for her and a new diversion for him, when it could have been so much more. Christina kissed downward again. With her back against the wall, she eased into a comfortable position in front of him. He accommodated her, sensing what she was going to do and probably knowing this was where her exploration would lead. She parted her lips and took Dane’s manhood deep into her mouth. He groaned. Her mouth was full of him, her
lips snug against his tight skin about halfway down. He shuddered, his cock surging infinitesimally further into her mouth. She dug her nails into the hard flesh of his ass cheeks, holding him while she used her mouth the only way she knew how. For all of the sexual intimacies with which they had partaken, she didn’t know if she pleased Dane in any way that was better or more entertaining than had his other whores. Should she feel the fool that she wanted him to remember her with more than a passing thought? The gentle in-and-out slide had Dane tense beneath her hands. He hummed with each intake. Christina gripped the
root of his cock and used her tongue to lavish the smooth head with slow laps around and around until she thought she heard Dane call on God. He sucked air between his teeth. Christina recognized the sound of his impending release. She pushed up, letting his erection slide between her breasts. Dane rocked into her, spilling, the warm ejaculate coating her chest and dribbling downward in sticky rivulets. Between her legs, the sweet pounding of arousal had built, but not to release. Christina pressed her lips to his stomach a final time before she moved away from Dane. He was still as death, hanging there in his chains.
She padded across the cool floor and found the water in the bath still tepid. She sponged the milky semen from her body before finding the discarded sheet. “There is a spare key in the middle drawer,” he said. His voice was raspy and low, as if he had been yelling rather than moaning with satisfaction. Dane was still not looking at her. The key lay in a small slot, just where Dane said it would be. Christina plucked it up and then scooted a chair toward him so she could reach the locking mechanism. She freed one arm and then placed the key in his hand before hopping to the floor, sweeping the sheet around her and heading for the bed.
Before she was settled, Dane walked away, rubbing at one of his wrists. He reached for his trousers and slipped them on. His shirt he left unbuttoned. At the sideboard, he poured a glass of alcohol. She’d noticed he enjoyed whiskey. Instead of returning to the bed, he stood staring out the fourth-story windows into the dark of London’s night. There would still be many lamplights burning in the windows below. A sliver of moon cast a serene pall over the city. Dane drank slowly. Drowsiness overcame her. She had suspected Dane would still use her, but if so, he would need to wake her first. Just as her eyes shut again, Dane stood over her.
“Hirado will give you your money in the morning and a carriage will be ready at your convenience.” She did not see Dane for the rest of the night and he was not there to send her off. Hirado had laid out a morning dress for her, prepared a traditional English breakfast and left a leather wallet with the money inside. The bracelet was in its box near her breakfast plate. Dane had effectively concluded their business. Christina had to blink back the tears as she walked with Hirado down the four-story flight of stairs. Yes, she had sold herself for a high price, but Dane had gotten off too cheaply.
***** Mark knocked on her door within ten minutes of her return home. She had inconvenienced the one male servant they had remaining by requesting a bath. He had already labored to bring the copper tub into her room. It looked pathetically small compared to the one Dane possessed. When she opened the door, he brushed past her and then turned to face her. “My God, I was worried.” “Dane does things his way. Everything is fine. Truly.” Before the last word was out of her mouth, another well of tears sprang up.
He touched one hand to his forehead. “What happened?” “Nothing. I’m just thankful it’s over.” She swept away before Mark could embrace her. Practical matters would keep her focused. She did not want to be caught up in an emotional outburst because she did not understand her sentiments let alone try to explain them. “Here’s all the money. I know you will do what is right. And this,” she said, handing him the velvet-lined box. “Sell this.” Mark accepted her offerings. He could not help but open the box. His brows shot up. “Don’t say anything.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to keep this?” “Why would I want to be reminded of this nightmare?” “Somehow I don’t get the impression it was such an ordeal.” She whirled to face him. “How could you say such a thing?” “I’m sorry, Christina. That was male and insufferable. Forgive me.” She ignored him but walked away, settling in a chair near the low burning fire. “Has John asked any questions? Or the girls?” “No. Not a suspicion has been raised, but you’ll be glad to know that several markers have been paid and are now ashes.”
“Good. Maybe things can get back to normal around here. And you? Has there been any word from—” He held up his hand. “You’ve only been gone a week, Christina. Nothing has changed.” “And yet everything has. Oh, Mark, did I do the right thing?” “The wrong thing for the right reason. Come, let’s not dwell on what could have been.” He clucked her chin, just as he had the night of her come out. “Will you be down to break the fast or would you prefer a tray?” “A tray, I think. I want to bathe and then sleep for a bit.” “We could ride later on.”
“No, I think I’ll spend some time with John.” “He’ll be glad you are home.” In fact, John was glad. She fabricated answers to his questions based on previous visits to her friend’s home. Instead of walking with her sisters, she read to John in the library. The words were a blur and she didn’t put her usual animation into the reading. John sat in his chair, staring out the window toward the garden. Her mind drifted back to Dane. Where had he gone last night? Would she ever see him again? Would there ever be another woman so foolish in all of history? “What did you say?” John asked
She closed the book. “Nothing important. John, why don’t we retire to the country at the end of the Season rather than stay in London?” “My doctor is here.” “But we don’t belong here. I can’t ask Mark to go, and the girls enjoy the socializing. They don’t need me. Grace will be available to escort them around the ton.” “Maybe a year away would do us both some good.” She smiled and gripped his arm. “Thank you. I knew you would understand.” So now the answer was clear. Once she arrived in the country, she would not leave, and she would never have to see
Dane again. She would find some country baron or landed squire to marry and live a modest life, dutifully content with a choice born of practicality. Christina did not believe in love at first sight, but she did believe in love that lasted a lifetime.
Chapter Eight “Rawlins,” Dane yelled. Rawlins burst into the library, his hands full of papers, which only meant work for Dane. He was not interested in work or money or the future of the marquessate. “Yes, my lord.” “Rawlins, where would a lady of no consequence spend an evening?” “At home, sir?” Rawlins looked befuddled, his usual state in matters that involved Dane’s personal life. Rawlins pushed up his glasses and proceeded to dump three ledgers and several loose stacks of paper on Dane’s desk, nearly knocking his feet off in the process.
“Wrong. She attends some bland musicale or attends a ball held by some cloying woman of little consequence in hopes of making a name for herself. Find that woman of little consequence and you will find the woman I am looking for.” “And who would that be, Dane? I wasn’t aware you fraternized with respectable London women.” “I don’t.” Dane almost said that Christina wasn’t respectable, but then remembered servants gossiped regardless of how well they were paid. “But since I pay you for your knowledge, I would imagine you might make yourself useful and find out what I need.”
“But we have estate matters to review.” “Unless there will be complete crop failure this fall, I don’t think there is anything that can’t wait another day.” Dane grudgingly removed his feet from his desk and reached for the ink pot. He scrawled the name for which he wanted more bodhi—every miniscule piece of information Rawlins could find. Christina Turnbow. She would not be invited to those exclusive balls held for pure and undefiled maidens. Nor would she have a voucher for Almacks. Nor would the Turnbows have had the money to furnish her or her sisters with a wardrobe suitable for such an event.
Though Christina, in her bare skin, needed little in the way of accoutrements to enhance her beauty. When he had stared down at her the last night they were together, he had nearly gone mad for wanting her. While the note dried and Rawlins muttered about affairs with which Dane quickly grew bored, Dane flicked through the stack of notepapers on his desk. He had had a busy week. Rawlins peered at the name. “Are you certain this is a wise idea?” “No, but to my knowledge a ball never killed anyone.” Other than the first night when he had gone to the whorehouse to find surcease, even Pearl had not been able to entice
him away from the deadening effects of the bottle. She had tried, sliding her hand down his bare chest. When her fingers slipped into his trousers, he’d gripped her wrist and with a word, dismissed her. Pearl was not the woman he wanted. An unfortunate development, but his drunkenness had produced an idea. His idea was a bad one, as ideas went. He sat back again, one leg on the desk. “Have you heard anything about the purchase of my townhomes?” “There is a note here somewhere. Yes, here it is.” Rawlins tore the letter open. “Yes, Lord Yarborough writes that you can go to hell. Sir.”
“It was a good offer.” “I think there is some hubbub in the neighborhood and Lord Yarborough is affronted his home might be turned into a gambling hell.” “Money calms the savage beast.” “I believe Congreve said it was music, not money,” Rawlins said. “Would Yarborough be satisfied if I took him to a concert? I think not. Offer another two thousand pounds. He’s a horse man, isn’t he?” “I believe so.” “Offer him breeding rights from Saladin. And tell him the offer expires in two days.” Rawlins returned shortly after lunch and handed Dane the information he
wanted. Yarborough had agreed to sell and Miss Christina Turnbow and her sisters had accepted an invitation to Baroness Klee’s small evening party. If memory served, she was an Angerstein —a Russian émigré and a cit. The crowd would not be too hostile to the daughter of an earl, even if the scuttle of her dishonor still abound. He could imagine Baroness Klee would be thrilled to have a marquess attend. “And do I have an invitation to this illustrious event?” Rawlins handed over an embossed note card. “I’ve already sent your acceptance.” Damn. He would have to shave.
***** Baroness Klee was a young and vibrant socialite who wished for greater things, and which Christina believed the Baroness would attain, if she held enough parties. She was not afraid to invite the ton’s cits—whoever had and made money was more than welcome. The trouble was getting the elite of the aristocracy to accept her invitations. Time enough had passed since the scandal. Invitations had continued to trickle in, only not from those exalted persons who might make an earl’s daughter the talk of the town. Christina no longer cared. If Thomas was the
standard for gentlemanly behavior, better to marry a farmer. The Season would be over in less than a month. She couldn’t stay home without having to explain her melancholia. Grace and her husband had agreed to accompany Christina and her sisters. Mark had politely declined, saying he had another engagement. “Christina, did you see Mr. Worthington? He is divine,” Diane said. “And has investments in the railroad,” Meg whispered. “Tolerable, but I suppose his money does add a certain sheen to his country upbringing,” Diane said. “That is too unkind. What if Grace heard you?” Grace had married a mister,
a wealthy landowner who showered her with affection, so all was forgiven. “There is an earl in your future, at the very least,” Christina said. A commotion stirred at the entranceway as another late guest arrived. “Lucian Conover, Marquess of Dane,” the majordomo announced. A chill passed through Christina and her heart skipped a beat. She did not take her gaze from her sister, who had turned to look at the new arrival. From the corner of her eye, she could see the crowd part for him as he strolled into the room along with the Baron and Baroness Klee.
“The Marquess of Dane?” her sister asked, whispering close to Christina. “He’s coming this way and—he’s beautiful. Oh, Christina, you need to look now.” How could he? How could he? “Are you well? You’ve grown pale. Do you need to sit?” Her sister rubbed Christina’s arm, but she might have been soothing an ice statue. “It’s the heat,” she said stupidly. Or maybe she didn’t say a word. She clenched her eyes, hoping the painful reality of his presence was some colossal prank. She turned her back to him. The conversation sounded like the humming of a thousand bees. Her sister’s
attention had turned back to the marquess. Dread pooled in her stomach. Dane might as well have used his whips on her. She could not forgive him for this egregious breach of trust. There had been an implied agreement they would never meet. She covered her mouth. “Oh, you missed him.” She dared glance over her shoulder. “Luc! Luc, what on earth are you doing here?” Margaret Dryer reached her hands to Dane and kissed him on both cheeks. She entwined her arm in his and led him away. When he glanced back, his gaze bore into Christina’s, eliminating any doubt
about why he was at Baroness Klee’s ball. He had come to see her. ***** Dane had sighted Christina as soon as he’d entered the ballroom. Bad ideas abounded when Christina Turnbow was involved—one that even Rawlins’ intellect and efficiency could not correct. A woman? A ballroom? A shave? Had he descended into hell? He gazed at Christina, quickly assessing that she was well and appearing more lovely with the week’s passing. She was displeased. Pale and shaking, she had turned away at the
announcement of his presence. Did she believe he would single her out? Or announce their illicit affair to the public? Much would be settled, and quickly, if he took her in his arms. If he didn’t proposition her tonight, much would remain unsettled for him. He had decided she would be his courtesan, in fact. He would buy her a private home in the country and they would spend hours, weeks and months exploring the range of physical pleasures that could come from the pursuit of single-minded hedonism. Margaret’s appearance took him off guard. Fifteen years melted away, returning him to the day he had last seen her. He had heard she’d remarried. He’d
cared for his sister-in-law. They’d endured a great tragedy together. “Luc,” she said again, wrapping him in her embrace. “Come. You must meet my husband and then we’ll talk.” Dane felt something like a trapped animal. The cloying pressure of the past squeezed like a tight band about his chest. “You look well, Margaret.” The trap tightened as she introduced him to anyone they happened upon as they strolled around the room. The only bright spot was a woman named Grace Huntley, who could only have been Christina’s sister. “You were a Turnbow,” he said matter-of-factly and was inordinately pleased that it was so.
Margaret whisked him away before he might learn anything useful. It never ceased to amaze Dane how polite and false society was. Some of the women who made their curtsy nearly toppled over, their obeisance all part of the charade. What person, man or woman, should bow to a murderer and a degenerate, regardless of their title? When he, as the second son of a nobleman, had brought his wife to ton, there had been nothing but contempt for her lesser station. He hadn’t realized why they had rejected her...the gossip hadn’t reached him until much later. He imagined Christina now had the same experience, but here she was mingling with a crowd who would
accept her because of her relationship to an earl. It was all rather disgusting to Dane, but the polite manners and dictated etiquette was deeply ingrained. When Margaret could not locate her husband, she steered Dane away from the crowd and into a private room where she closed the door. She turned to him. “You could not have surprised me more,” she said. “Fifteen seasons and I’ve not seen you once until tonight.” She cupped her hands to his face. “You were my family. Why did you never return home?” Margaret had acquired that homey plumpness that comes from having children. She had always been a happy woman, even through the two months of
marriage to his brother. She was once the marchioness, now a baroness. She didn’t seem dissatisifed with the change. He gently removed her hands, but she didn’t loosen her grip. It was enough that Christina used the ruse of kindness to upset his world. He did not want Margaret’s emotions to pour out on him when that part of his life required so much dedicated forgetfulness. “I’ve been busy. You look well, Mags. I’m glad to see you’ve put the past behind you.” “What were we to do? Pine over a tragedy that we had no hand in? But Albert is a lovely man. I hope you get to meet him. Tell me, how have you been?” “I’ve managed.”
“But you haven’t remarried. Did Clara’s death hurt so very much?” She rubbed her hand over her chest. “Oh, dear me. I can’t believe we are talking about this after all these years.” She flounced down on the settee, her skirts taking up a wide swath. “Even now, I feel such a burden.” “I know you loved my brother. I never said I was sorry.” “I was in the room, Luc. What he did to us was despicable. What he did to Clara.” The gun had gone off accidently. Dane had no clear recollection of his intentions other than he was going to confront Peter. His death was both the beginning and the ending of the tragedy.
“Tell me about this man you married,” he said. Margaret beamed brightly and proceeded to expound on life with her Albert and three children. She’d always been easy to talk with, and still was, in spite of their tragic family tie. While the conversation was safe, his thoughts were not. “Would you come to dinner, if you were invited? We were close once. Please say you’ll come.” “I can’t. You must understand why.” “So it will be another fifteen years before we get to converse again?” She brushed her hand over his arm. “Dane, let it go. Their deaths. Your father’s death—you weren’t to blame.”
“Someone is to blame. Come along. I would hate to tarnish your name by keeping you secreted away in Baroness Klee’s library for much longer.” “Twice married matron that I am, I don’t think that’s possible. Though, a good skirt-tossing never hurt anyone.” Dane smiled. At the door, he faced her. “Mags, can you tell me...” He was stirring a hornet’s nest, but it was one of the few questions that had remained shrouded in mystery. “About that day?” “No. Did Peter ever tell you...did he ever tell you if the child was his? Or mine?” Margaret frowned. Her hand sought his again and she squeezed
compassionately. “I thought you knew.” Clara had only told him that he would never be the man Peter was and that he would never touch her again. There was an eerie truth to both statements. He inferred from her actions and sentiments that the child was his brother’s. Whatever Margaret said he would accept with complete equanimity. There would be time later for regrets and recriminations. “Peter told me the babe was yours.” ***** He’d shaved for nothing.
Christina was gone when he and Margaret returned to the ballroom. There was no way to circumspectly inquire as to her status either, but one didn’t stop dancing after a single turn about the floor. Dane did not like being the center of attention, but it was apparent he was the highest ranking noble in attendance and therefore garnered more consideration than he would have liked. Margaret forced him into a dance, which meant he also had to dance with the hostess. Neither dance was a waltz, which he had not bothered to learn since its introduction. Consequently, the steps were memorable and uncomplicated. Boredom came in such bright colors.
Miss Turnbow’s disappearance forced his hand, turning his bad idea into a despicable one, but formidable reputations weren’t made by handing candy to children and flying kites in the park. He was able to slink away from the ball after the second dance and another slew of introductions, including Margaret’s husband. Decent chap, it seemed. And Margaret deserved such a man after her short marriage to Dane’s brother. The carriage ride to Hanover Square was over before he’d even begun to delve into the misery of the past. Absorbing the truth, molding it and fitting it into his prescribed, ordered
beliefs about all that had happened, would require dedicated time with an aged scotch, a quiet room and a low fire —all abundant at home but not at the whorehouse where he’d stayed since Christina’s refusal. He and Clara might have been happy, but her open rejection by the ton had sent them to Longford again—and her back into Peter’s arms. If they had stayed away, maybe none of it would have happened. And he wouldn’t have returned to Longford had he known then what he knew now. Such a silly, naive boy he had been. A pawn to cover Peter’s sin. But Clara was no less guilty.
She had made him believe, but that didn’t change the fact she had always been in love with Peter. Although love didn’t cause one to hang oneself from the barn rafters, not when carrying a child. That was pure, selfish bitchery. He should have guessed the child was his. Would she have killed herself where she carrying Peter’s child? He might have been dropped into hell that one week in September. The most beautiful September in his memory. A long, drawn-out summer and a glorious harvest. Crisp autumn air and bright sunshine! They had returned home after the agonizing Season and in plenty of time for the harvest festival. In time
for Peter and Clara to reignite whatever illicit passions brewed between them. Two days later, he was cast into the pit. First with Peter’s death, then Clara and the baby. Then his father. Dane had been most despondent about the child. Margaret’s words still hadn’t sunk in. It had always troubled him that the babe may not have been his, but the child might have been the next heir either way. Dane had always believed he would never have known the truth and maybe Mags told him what he wanted to hear. He amended that thought. Truth had a way of seeping out by slow and painful degrees, even if that truth was delivered fifteen years later by the
one other person so profoundly affected by Peter’s perfidy. John Coachman pounded on the roof of the carriage, evidently tired of waiting for Dane to exit. There was no footman to greet him. He rarely stayed at the townhome anymore and did not expect to expend monies for a service he needed two nights a year. The past still gripped him as much as any addiction, but a newer, simpler peace enveloped him—of course, it might have been the scotch—the peace that comes with certain knowledge. Had a son been born, he might now be sitting across from Dane, sharing a drink or, more likely, finishing exams before returning home for the summer.
And a girl? Ah, Dane did not think he was meant to father girls. What would one do when a precious girl was hurt in this world? It was a wonder more fathers were not transported. Dane poured a drink, adeptly able to corner his thoughts into private places that seeped out only when his wits and body were not delving into the pursuit of all-consuming pleasure and mindnumbing pain. Toward future distraction, he would much rather think about the pursuit of Christina Turnbow. He had to wonder how she had deceived him, as all women eventually did. Was it the fact she had the innocent ability to make him
feel unlost for the all too few moments they were together? No, no. Being lost had to do with downing enough alcohol. The next morning, Dane behaved as if he were a marquess. He dressed with meticulous care before he breakfasted and then plucked up the notes on his library desk. He and Rawlins had had little trouble discovering what he sought. He tucked them into his jacket and headed out the door, deciding to ride to his destination. The manse was well kept, with no sign of deterioration. He didn’t suppose any earl was really that poor. Then again, the weight in his pocket might indicate otherwise. Christina was
foolish to believe that, single-handedly, she could save her family. At the door, he had to wait long minutes for it to be opened. The harried servant flung the door wide. When he glanced at Dane, he closed his mouth and straightened his back. Bowing, he said, “My lord.” He handed over his card. “I wish to speak with the earl.” The servant cleared his throat. “This way, Lord Dane.” Dane followed along. He couldn’t help the glance upward or the quick look to see if Christina was about. The absence of servants was a notable indication of their present financial
situation, even the room in which he was requested to sit was sparsely furnished. Dane cocked his head at the sound of the squeaking. The same servant threw open the door and Dane watched as the servant pushed a man into the room, the flimsy chair wheels screeching in protest. “Welcome to my home, Lord Dane.” He inched closer, turning the wheels with gloved hands. The servant pulled the door shut behind him as he left. “To my recollection, we’ve never met. I’m John Turnbow.” Had Christina mentioned the Earl of Compton was chair-bound? “Compton.” Dane’s nod was courteous but certainly not deferential.
“Might I offer you a drink?” “No, I’m here purely on a business matter.” “What is it I can do for you?” The earl was thin, his legs together and to the side, with a blanket thrown over his lap. The chair he sat in was a unique contraption that obviously kept the earl mobile. He wheeled closer to Dane and then parked the chair in a spot that seemed reserved for him. Both topics of conversation were delicate. Did he mention Christina first or the substantial amount of debt that was now owed to him? Christina could have aided him last night; now it would be embarrassing at best. Her anger could be used in ways
beneficial to him. Whipping by her hand was a double pleasure—innocence combined with anger had led to a most spectacular ejaculation, even by his practiced standards. When he thought of their last night together, even now the tightening in his chest made it difficult to breath. He had wanted only to get away from her before he burst into flames. “It is a sensitive matter, Lord Compton. There are certain debts accrued by your father.” Compton smiled casually. “Of course. We have been settling Father’s estate and several of his markers have trickled in. It will be settled immediately.”
Having intimate knowledge of the situation, Dane shouldn’t have been surprised by Compton’s easy acceptance of additional debt. He doubted, however, anyone in the household had the faintest idea as to the extent of the sums owed. Even Dane had been surprised at the final count. When Rawlins had summed the total a few days ago, Dane was certain Christina would be ensconced in his warehouse over the next month or two, even with her naively exorbitant demands. Dane reached into his jacket pocket as the door to the room was opened. “I was told we had a guest.”
“Yes, Mark. Come in. Have you met the Marquess of Dane? Dane, my brother, Mark Turnbow.” “I haven’t had the pleasure,” Mark said. His bow polite but wary. When Mark glanced up at Dane, he recognized the clear certainty. This brother knew the whole truth. Dane stared back, communicating his understanding. So the earl did not know. “Dane here was just coming to collect on a few of Father’s markers.” “I’m sure it can’t be more than a couple of hundred, since most of his debts are paid,” Mark said. He stared hard at Dane, daring him to contradict. The flex of Mark’s jaw and the tight fist at his side, all but dared Dane to make
the mistake of playing his hand in front of the earl. “As you say, two hundred pounds. I hadn’t wanted to inconvenience you so soon after your father’s death.” He reached into his wallet and withdrew a marker that had been given to a Robert Flynn, for which Dane had paid half its value. In spite of the efforts to quell rumors, there were enough doubts about Compton’s ability to pay his father’s debts that Dane had been able to bargain well. Dane handed the note to the earl. “I’ll have this taken care of immediately.” The younger brother made no offer to assist the earl. Dane presumed pride
was the culprit. Compton rolled from the room, but left the door open. Dane was about to glance at his timepiece when Mark stepped toward him, grabbed the lapels of his jacket and slammed him into the wall next to the fireplace mantel, rattling the glass vase that sat atop it. “You bloody bastard, if you ever come into my house again, I will kill you.” “Then you have the ability to pay for the twelve thousand pounds of markers your father littered about town in the past two years?” There was no need to fight. Dane knew he had the upper hand. “Damn you to hell.” Turnbow released him. “What do you want?”
“I’m here. What do you think I want?” “Christina? She will never agree.” “I think she will. Why don’t we ask her?” The squeak of wheels sounded again. “I’ll send a carriage for her tomorrow evening. In exchange for—” “So you can blackmail her again at some future date?” “Every marker I have will be hers. Christina and I will decide the terms. I only need her to say yes.” The earl’s return caused Mark to stalk away. “Ah, here we are,” the earl said. “As promised.” Dane accepted the money without comment. He placated his niggling conscience by telling himself
Christina was the one who had opened these floodgates, not he. “I’ll see Lord Dane to the door,” Mark said. “Yes, I must be going.” Dane nodded to the earl, before uttering a hasty, “Good day.” At the bottom of the sandstone steps, Dane faced the formidable brother. “I would have an answer by tomorrow.” “What do you gain by this, Dane? Are you so lacking in entertainments that you must ruin the life of an innocent girl?” Dane planted one foot in the stirrup and swung a leg over the saddle. “I am not the one who ruined her reputation.”
“Let her go. I promise I will pay those debts. Somehow.” “Mr. Turnbow, there are only a few choices here. Christina agrees to my proposal or you won’t be marrying that pretty little cit you have on a string.” He leaned forward, patting the side of his horse’s neck. “I am confused why you think this is all wrong, now that the deed has been done. Your sister seemed very enthusiastic about her...opportunity to save her family.” “If there is a hell, I hope they hold the gate open for you.” *****
“What did Dane want?” Christina stood at the balcony looking down as her brother returned to the house. She wasn’t sure what had stirred her, but she’d arrived in the hallway just as Dane was leaving. She couldn’t call out to him, just as she couldn’t speak with him last night. Mark nodded toward the open door, indicating they were not alone. Instead, he took the steps two at a time, where she met him at the top of the stairs. “Not here,” he said, clutching her hand and directing her toward her bedroom and nearly pushing her inside. When she’d heard Dane’s name last night, she’d known he was about to turn her world upside down. And for whatever demented reason, he was
bringing her family into the sordid scandal. She had believed Dane’s reclusiveness meant that her secret— their secret—was safe. His appearance in society would set tongues wagging for months. And there would be those clever few who would ask why. She could never be seen with him. Never. Mark paced, rubbing the back of his neck. “We’ve underestimated him, Christina.” “We had no choice. I thought I was doing the right thing for us.” She’d deluded herself into believing she could leave it all behind, but that was going to be impossible if Dane was determined to make trouble. “I should have told you,
he was at Baroness Klee’s ball last night. I think he’s trying to embarrass me.” “Nothing so simple.” “Then what?” “I guess you can call it blackmail.” “By exposing me?” “No, he’s searched the town for Father’s markers and bought them from rubes who were only too happy to get a fraction of their value.” “I thought we had paid them all.” Christina’s knees nearly gave way. She collapsed into the chair behind her. “What I did...was to pay those debts.” “Apparently there were more. He said twelve thousand pounds’ worth. I don’t know if that’s what he paid for the
markers or if that’s the actual value but I believe him. He didn’t seem like a man who made demands that didn’t have teeth.” “He knows we can’t pay.” Mark laughed harshly. “Still the innocent, Christina? He’s doing this for one reason.” “To ruin me?” “He wants you. He doesn’t care about Father’s debts or our family. It was a means to an end.” “It doesn’t make sense. I’m nothing to him. No one is. He’s cold, unfeeling, dark. He could buy me one hundred times over. He felt nothing for me.” “He’s a man. You made him feel all he wanted to feel. And he wants more.”
***** Christina had always believed she was in control of her destiny. It was a myth, of course. Her father had dictated much of her life. At some point in her future, her imaginary husband and children would control great portions of her time. Dane wielded his brand of control without remorse or guilt. Heat, mostly from her anger, suffused her face. If she were honest with herself, she would admit her irritation was from Dane’s heavy handedness. The carriage rolled to a stop. The dank smell of the wharf and the detritus of humanity warned that she had arrived at the docks.
When the door opened, Dane, in all of his dark majesty, greeted her. “Whatever your plans, I won’t stay here with you. We must go someplace else,” she said. “Anywhere you wish. What did you have in mind? My house at Hanover Square?” “Not in London.” “We will leave in the morning.” “We leave tonight or not at all.” “This isn’t a proper carriage for traveling any distance.” She was losing ground, but she was determined. This place was not good for Dane and she did not like to see him torture himself, even if at the moment, she thought he deserved a good lashing
or better yet, a sharp slap across his face to remove the triumphant smirk. “We might make it to the outskirts of the town and then find a fellow traveler at one of the coaching inns who might recognize you.” He reached a hand toward her. “I promise we will leave in the morning, once I’ve made proper arrangements.” She didn’t reach for him. His outline in the carriage doorway made him look sinister and overbearing. “Why are you doing this?” “Wouldn’t this be better explained over a glass of sherry?” “Everything they say about you is true. You are despicable.”
Dane laughed. Then he sighed. “Come, Miss Turnbow, before we are set upon by footpads. This isn’t the place to have an intimate conversation.” “I gave up my honor to you. Am I now to be shamed in front of the entire town?” “That wasn’t my intent. I only wished to speak with you.” “I told you the truth and now you are using it against me.” Why did she tell him about the family problems? He only needed to know about Thomas’s dishonor. That was all. “What would you have done if another had purchased those markers? Would you have gone to him to settle the
debts? I didn’t think so. I did you and your family a kindness.” In the dark, Christina heard the hardness in his voice. It should not have surprised her that he didn’t think anything amiss regarding his behavior. “Hirado has prepared an exceptional dinner for us. Duck and asparagus are on the menu, I believe.” “We leave in the morning,” she said, wanting additional assurance. “We make an agreement for what is to be between us and then we leave.” The horses drawing the carriage snorted at being asked to wait so long and their harnesses jingled. She scooted up on the seat and reached for his hand, his face clearly lit by the few streetlights
near the warehouse when he turned to help. Her heart shouldn’t race so. She had intimate knowledge of him and the particular manner in which he satisfied his desires. But returning to him, when she had been determined to set it from her mind and to never think of him again, made all of her nerves and physical responses jump with anticipation. She was angry, but not. How could she justify wanting to see him, let alone pretend to the indignation that should have welled in her breast? None of what she should have felt was there, only the harsh tripping that reminded her Dane had done incredible things to her body and had burrowed
under her skin to take residence in her heart. “I can’t hurt you, Dane. It is not in me.” Never on purpose. Never willingly.
Chapter Nine “Where are we going?” Christina asked. “You still haven’t told me.” “You’ll know when we arrive.” They raced along the Great North Road in one of Dane’s well-sprung carriages and they had already departed the outskirts of London. Once he had gotten her out of the carriage last night, they had dined on a sumptuous meal and he had gone to extra lengths to charm her throughout the evening. The bottle of sherry they had finished had helped his cause considerably. As did his promise to leave London early.
Other than her insistence that the affair be carried out at a different locale, she had not displayed the histrionics so common in young, immature women. Or manipulative ones. Perhaps it was one of the reasons he could tolerate time alone with her. By the time he had gotten her out of her dress and small clothes, he was ready to burst. Eight days of fidelity was an excessively brutal amount of time to ponder the qualities of a woman’s body without partaking of its innumerable joys. The trouble was only a particular woman moved him. Even Pearl, with her pouting lips, had failed to inspire, though she had tried.
He could not imagine this state would last. Once his infatuation was put to rest, all would be well in his world and he could return to London, fuck his whores without a care and build his grand new gaming hell. Touching him seemed to make her happy. Her gentle caresses had caused his body pain—his cock sprang to life in a display of brutish demand. Trapped inside his trousers, he had been close to throwing her to the bed and pouncing. The exquisite delirium of thrusting into her wet heat held all the glory of arriving in heaven and being welcomed. His endurance only lasted until her body convulsed in sharp spasms, milking him and crushing his control. He’d slept the
night through, and when he’d opened his eyes, Christina was already dressed and standing at the windows, watching the dock activity below her. As he’d promised they would leave, he didn’t believe she would be amenable to another bedding until they were lost in the English countryside. And now, sitting across from her, daydreaming of last night’s victory, his cock was hard and wanting. Twenty-one days was their agreement. He had waited until she was replete with earthly pleasure before he broached the subject. She had rejected the full month he had requested, had not counteroffered, but had accepted his second proposal. And since he was in a
mood to be charming and agreeable, he’d also handed over the markers prior to their departure. If there was a woman who would honor a vow, he thought that woman was Christina Turnbow. Because of her family. She had smiled sincerely and uttered some nonsense about how she could never repay him. Of course, she could. In full. The inconvenience of traveling was diminished by Christina’s happy countenance and the superb cushions in his carriage. The further from London the carriage drew, the more animated she became. “I had hoped we would travel westward. I so love Somerset in the
spring.” “Where we are going is also lovely.” “You must tell me or I will burst. I’ve never been good at not knowing. My brother says I can be quite a pest about it.” “Your brother Mark?” Her smiled dimmed at bit. “No, John.” “You told me about the accident.” “Yes. It was a wonder he didn’t die. Though I think at times he wishes he had.” “He still suffers?” “Yes. Some of it pain, some of it pride, but much of it despair, I think. That sounds so unkind. I believe he could have adapted better.”
“So it would be insensitive of me to suppose that he is a bit jealous of his younger brother?” Her brows shot upward and then her teeth bit at her lip. “You may be right. John would be grieved if any of us thought so. But, really, how can he not be? Mark is fit and adoringly handsome.” “And strong enough to make the decisions.” “I would not have you think badly of him. Father engineered this disaster, not John.” “Why is Mark helping you clean up the mess?” “I’m closest to Mark. But John...” Her brows winged again. “This would
kill John. It is why he must never know of my actions.” Dane had opted to ride in the carriage when he could have just as easily saddled a horse and rode alongside. Inside a closed carriage, with the two of them ensconced all day, had its own appeal. “Does this not bother you?” “Ignoring our situation would have not made it better. And I feel certain when I look back on this time, I will judge that I have acted rightly, or as rightly as I could under the circumstances.” “And it was only your father’s debt that brought you back?” To me. The words teased at his conscience. He had
a mind to squash them since their appeal was rooted in the memories of the boy he had been. She glanced at him quickly and then away. “Of course.” Dane leaned forward, bracing his elbows on his knees. She rested one of her hands on her leg. Around her wrist, she wore a single-stranded silver bracelet. He traced along her middle finger, getting her attention. Her chest heaved as she gulped in a deep breath. He studied her face for a moment. She had the beauty of youth. Perfect skin, lustrous hair. Twenty years from now, he believed she would be every bit as beautiful. “Lift your skirts,” he said.
Christina resisted him in subtle ways that admittedly made seducing her that much more exciting. First, there was the hesitation, as if she wished him to go to hell. Then the glance that spoke both determination to disobey and confusion about why he would demand this of her. She had no idea of her appeal. Griffin probably lived in a perpetual state of lust around her. Dane doubted it had been her fiancé’s decision to put her aside. He’d bet a year’s worth of brothel income the family had found out about the state of the Turnbow’s finances. But alas, neither of them would ever know. Dane resisted the smile that tugged at his mouth. Lust he knew. And in spite of
her slight resistance, he saw desire etched in her expression. She ruched her skirts, inched the material slowly upward and revealed the shapeliness of her legs. He cupped the back of her calves and slid his hands upward until he touched the underside of her knees. She gasped. Her skirts lay in bunches in her lap. When his hands slid further up her thighs, she closed her eyes. Her head lolled backward and she took in several deep breaths. He wanted several things at once but knew the carriage wouldn’t accommodate all of his immediate needs.
He went to his knees, the floorboard hard. He spread her legs, found her undergarments and tugged them downward. Once they were off, he fitted her legs around his waist. The scent of her arousal was strong in the confines of the carriage. With no particular aim, he slid his fingers between her legs. Wet heat bathed him as he gently searched the silken folds of her body. His cock ached, ready for swift entry and an explosive release. Dane leaned forward, pressing his covered manhood against the carriage seat. The gentle pressure was enough to keep him from ripping open the falls of his trousers and shagging her with mindless desperation.
She squirmed and moaned at his touch. In his experience, he’d found woman to be very vain during the act of sexual intercourse. Climax or not, they had always wanted to appear beautiful during the process. Another of those deceptions that were so off-putting to him and which made whores so much more appealing. Christina had her eyes clenched tightly shut. The grimace on her face had all the appearance of pain, yet she said nothing to stop him or direct him or fool him. He circled the swollen nub and wished that it was his mouth giving her pleasure. Her limbs tensed. One of her small hands gripped his arm. Familiar with
true release, he stroked evenly until she arched and cried out. She did not let him take his hand away, so he soothed her wet skin until she opened her eyes. “Oh, good. My turn,” he said. Dane jerked at his trousers and quickly pulled out his hard shaft. He scooped her closer, bringing her bottom to the edge of the carriage seat before he slipped his cock between her legs and thrust into the angelic paradise. He could not see his cock lunging in and out of her body, so he watched her breasts, bouncing with the sway of the carriage and rocking with each powerful shove of his thrusting hips. Dane fought for control—his punishment for behaving was the need
for immediate release instead of slow arousal. He did not owe fidelity to this woman and he was not sure why he had given up his habitual love of vices while he plotted to have her again. When he felt the last of his restraint disappear, he pushed deep into her. Christina’s body contracted hard, constricting over the length of his cock and drenching him in acute pleasure as a hot rush of semen poured from him. Each racing plume caused Dane to groan in near agony. Only Christina’s fingers entwined in his hair and caressing his scalp gently brought him back to reality. His face was buried in her bosom and he still breathed
hard as if he were racing the coach instead of comfortably inside it. “More,” she whispered, then kissed the top of his head. He hadn’t heard her wrong. More was Dane’s specialty, and he prided himself on delivering. He braced his hands on the cushion behind him. When he was seated, he reached for Christina, her skirts spilling over his legs as he hauled her into his lap. She straddled him. Dane pushed the flounces of her dress out of the way and then gripped her hips. Bracing her hands against his shoulders, she started a slow undulation, reviving his soft manhood as she rubbed her warm wet flesh over his
and needing no help from Dane to bring about a serviceable erection. Dane watched her movements, enjoying that she seemed lost in her task. He swept one hand over her chest, slipping his hand inside the tight bodice and plucking at the bountiful breast. When she was exposed, he sucked on her tight nipple. With the right attention, his cock quickly rose to the occasion. Christina found the more she was looking for, sliding down his hard length and taking him deep. Leaning back, he let her work that special magic. She found a slow rhythm that had Dane trapped. Few lovers took the time to ensure their partner’s satisfaction, and he was as guilty as any,
but when Dane allowed it, Christina seemed intent on bringing him not just physical pleasure but deep satisfaction and fulfillment. He was not sure how long they rocked against one another with slow, thorough loving, but when they had found release, she stayed in his arms with her face buried against his neck. Each puff of her breath against his skin caused an anxious well to build in his chest. He stared out the window, not wanting to touch her and not willing to break the contact. Why had he chosen Longford of all the places to take Christina? Logical considerations such as its short distance from London or the assurance that they would be alone
should not have taken precedence over the emotional significance of the past. Bonds were difficult things to sever. With each turn of the carriage wheel, he felt the past sneaking up, tightening its familiar noose. Even the comfort of a woman in his arms did little to ease the pain of loss. ***** The carriage, pulled by a handsome quartet of horses, barreled through the countryside. Christina’s anxiety about being seen with Dane had diminished as they escaped from London. The coaching inn at which they had stayed last night was comfortable and quiet. Dane
discreetly arranged separate rooms but had not knocked on her door last night, instead arranging for the innkeeper to bring her a tray of light food. Wisely, she had packed a few novels to entertain her on the trip. Dane had been sullen all morning, staring out the window and conversing only in monosyllables. He had not joined her for lunch. He had checked his timepiece several times during the last hour and glanced out the window as the sun set behind a thick bank of oak trees. The carriage slowed. Dane took a deep breath and said, “We are here.” “Where’s here?”
“The marquessate’s principal seat, Longford, named after the nearby town. Founded in 1697.” That wasn’t what she wanted to know, but noticeably, he lacked in describing the place as home. Another telling fact about his past. She scooted closer to the window and saw the imposing structure, a building of grand proportions shown golden as the sun hit the facade and caused the windows to sparkle like diamonds. The carriage did not slow as it rolled past the house. She caught a glimpse of a large fountain centered at the front of the home and surround by a driveway covered in crushed shells and
small pebbles. It was easy to forget that Dane was a marquess. “We are not staying here?” “No. There is a dower house that will much better suit our needs. I sent word ahead. Everything should be prepared.” “Are you happy to be home?” “My home is in London.” Just as with her brother John, she had no idea how to help Dane. Whatever his demons, they chased him wherever he went. Was this from where he knew his Clara? “But you grew up here?” “Again, your curiosity.” “What is wrong with wanting to know more about you?”
“I didn’t say it was wrong. For a woman like you, it is...unhealthy.” “You want to be disliked.” She almost said unloved. Dane did everything he could to keep her at distance. Intercourse was not an emotional experience for him, therefore he could keep himself isolated. Christina wasn’t made that way. Each time they joined, she left a piece of her soul behind. She didn’t think that made her weak, but Dane was not a safe person. He couldn’t be counted upon to have any regard for her tender feelings, even if those feelings were growing each day. Even if it was foolish. Did he recognize her affection? Did it disgust him? Or humor him?
She had lied to Dane about returning because of her father’s debts. It made her reason for returning palpable. She required the blight on her family name be cleared. Dane required sexual intercourse. The implied agreement suited everyone’s need to pretend. For her, the unspoken reason had to do with the illusion that their togetherness meant something. Dane ignored her statement. The carriage finally rolled to a stop. A liveried footman opened the door for them. He assisted her from the carriage while Dane stood aside. Christina gazed about the clearing. The dower house was stone, rectangular in shape with vines twining up one side of the house. The
mullioned windows were perfectly symmetrical across the front of the house with a door squarely in the middle. A picturesque country home. How could Dane not wish to be here? Especially when the weather was this glorious and the trees were leafy green. She could not wait until morning to explore the surrounds. Perhaps there was a lake nearby. She had not been to the country since before her mother died. She breathed in the fresh air. Dane appeared not to notice any of the beauty around him. In fact, he looked positively miserable. “Will there be food, Lord Dane? I am famished.” She placed her hand on his arm and he appeared to acquiesce to
her unspoken need. She wasn’t hungry, but a distraction might restore some of Dane’s humor. Once inside the single large room at the front of the home, Dane walked toward a sideboard that contained a decanter with crystal glasses placed on a silver tray. He bent low, threw the doors wide and searched through several bottles before he found what he wanted. The coachman and one of the servants unloaded the carriage—a trunk and two valises for her while Dane had traveled with a small trunk only. Dane ignored them as he relaxed on one of the couches near the far wall, facing a garden that was barely visible in the waning light. She heard the clatter of
movement as the traveling gear was moved to an upstairs room. She didn’t want to lie to herself about why she was here. For the next three weeks, she was Dane’s courtesan. Their time together would involve further exploration. She had learned from him. Now might be an opportunity to show him she was worth the having. Insights into Dane were few. She knew that she couldn’t make him be happy, but she might find out why he drenched himself in self-pity. In that regard, he was just like her brother John. Dane’s darkness seemed selfimposed. He had to be the one to shed his sorrows.
But maybe she could help. She approached Dane. He sat with his head leaned back and his eyes closed. He held his drink loosely. “Why don’t we go upstairs? It’s been a long day,” she said. He gazed up at her, squinting as though he tried to guess why she was offering. She plucked the crystal glass from his fingers. There had been no playful fondling in the carriage today. No hint that Dane desired her. She was determined to get his thoughts to events more to their mutual enjoyment. She took his hand—an intimate and intimidating gesture with Dane—and led him toward the stairs.
For the first time since she’d known him, he let her do the leading. At the top of the staircase, she saw another servant hauling water up a back way. The coachman was just leaving but grabbed his hat as they passed, and bowed. “My lord. My lady.” Their room had an open door and light radiated into the hallway, guiding her steps. The house was cozy. She thought the windows were going to make the expanse lovely during the daylight hours. There were paintings on the wall —several pastorals, a few portraits with sconces between each picture. One of the servants was setting towels near the bath while another dropped a log on the slow-burning fire.
She didn’t see it, but Dane must have made a gesture, as both of them left hurriedly. She placed his drink next to the towels. A quick glance around the room told her that they had been expected. A meal was set out on a small table in the corner and a metal candleholder held three flames. “Let me help you,” she said. He wore a casual scarf around his neck that only had two knots. She slipped them and then tugged it way, revealing a spray of dark hair. She stepped behind him, his gaze following her. His jacket came next. Dane shrugged his shoulders as she stripped it from his body. His shirt was tight across his shoulders. She set her
hand against the crisp linen and caressed over his shoulder as she stepped in front of him again. One by one, she released the buttons on his shirt, each revealing more of his masculine beauty. Aware of only the sound of their breathing, Christina pressed her lips to the middle of his chest then stood to her toes and did the same to his mouth. He responded with subtle pressure— confirmation to her that she held his interest. She tugged the shirt free and left it hanging open. “Sit here. Let me get your boots.” Dane obliged, taking a seat on the tub while he braced his hands at the edges. Once his boots were off, she
stepped between his legs and wrapped her arms about his neck. She savored those times when he had kissed her and he seemed willing to let her do as she wished now. Each time she pressed her mouth to his, she lingered a bit longer. Tentatively, she used her tongue along his lips. He matched her attempts at seduction, but his hands cupped her bottom and brought her firmly against his chest. He opened his mouth over hers. She tasted his drink and smelled his skin. She pushed back his shirt and caressed the warmth of his body. Resisting him was all but impossible, especially since she had been determined to distract him.
“Let me help you with your bath,” she said. He chuckled lightly. “It’s for you. Unless you are going to share it with me.” She reached for the fastenings of his trousers. “Not tonight.” Dane stood when the last of his clothing could be removed. Finally he was naked, so she directed him toward the tub. Instead, he pulled her into his arms again and resumed the kisses, which he seemed to be enjoying. He had resisted her tender ministrations up until now. “The water’s getting cold,” she said. “That shouldn’t be a problem since you are keeping me hot. I’ll only get in if
you promise that when I get out, your clothes will be off. I hate being naked alone.” “I promise.” Dane stepped into the tub and disappeared under the water. As he came up, he ran his hands through his hair, brushing back the slickened strands. Water streamed over his skin and the candlelight made him appear as a bronzed god. He reached for his drink and took a quick gulp before grabbing a soap bar. Christina sat on a bench at the end of the tub, where his feet were propped. Several small towels were neatly arranged. She wet one, soaped it briskly and then gripped one of his feet.
He soaped his hands, but his fiery gaze burned through her. He used his other foot to touch her bodice. She glanced down to see that she was near spilling out. “I’d rather you show me what you have in here,” he said. Success wasn’t difficult with Dane. His mood had changed quickly enough with the prospect of bedding her. When his hands disappeared beneath the soapy water, Christina flushed as she watched his hands move slowly over his body. Clearly, he meant for her to see where his hands stroked and rather than watch as an addlepated innocent, she should boldly participate. “Would you like me to wash you?”
“I thought you’d never ask.” He pulled one hand from the water and handed her the soap. Christina went to her knees at the side of the tub, accepted the soap and sudsed her hands. His shuttered gazed gave away nothing, but she knew him well enough to know that he anticipated and enjoyed every gesture. She had always been strong but she’d never considered herself brazen. “I’d never thought of my value as a personal valet.” “With the proper training, perhaps.” “I’m a quick study.” She lowered her hand into the water, the sleeve of her gown getting drenched as she did so. She smoothed her hand down his belly until
she came in to contact with his thick manhood—hard and silky. She heard his slight intake of breath and felt the tense wave that moved through him. He leaned his head back, his gaze still peering at her through hooded lids. With each stroke, he moaned, the sound low and deep in his throat. Christina’s body responded to him. Even now, she could feel achy need building between her legs. Her excitement made her bolder and it helped that neither of them could see where she explored, only that she could do it. She searched lower, cupping and squeezing the testes below his erection.
“Oh, Christina. Do be careful. If you want any of that inside your body, you’ll need to stop soon.” She thought he sounded a little breathless, but his words didn’t stop her as she stroked along his thickness again. “Shit,” he said, before grabbing her hand and nearly jumping to his feet. Water splashed on her and out of the tub. “On the bed.” He didn’t bother with a towel. Before Christina could get to her feet, he had grabbed her upper arm and practically dragged her to the bed. His hands went to her waist and with a slight lift had her off her feet and bouncing on the mattress. He shoved his hands under her skirt, searched for her
undergarments, and with a single yank, had pulled them to her knees before he tossed them aside. He knocked her shoes off just as quickly. He batted the skirts away. The wetness from his body and the cool air on her legs made her shiver. She lifted and spread her legs, digging her heels into the mattress. “You do learn quickly.” He stabbed at her twice, the second time finding entrance. He slid deeply, all the while staring at her. Christina moaned at the thick, welcome intrusion. She clutched her knees around him and gripped his bare shoulders. She couldn’t name the pain or the joy that swelled through her, but for a
moment, she felt her chest would burst open, if she could not take a normal breath. His weight seemed to crush her. The hot and cold of his body made her feverish. Could it be this would all go away? Was it foolish to wish all of this would have never happened? She peered at him surreptitiously. His eyes were finally closed, a slight smile played about his lips, but each stroke was smooth and deep, as if he intended to perform for long hours into the night. He clutched her, sliding his hand down her thigh and wrapping her leg about his waist. He went to his knees, his strong hand sliding under her buttock
and lifting her slightly, finding a new depth with his next surge. The gentle throbbing drew her toward the dark bliss that Dane so artfully provided. He chose that moment to open his eyes and stare deeply into hers, smiling as he did so but, she thought, very lost in his own pleasure. A drop of water from his wet hair plopped on her forehead. He didn’t see her, but she saw him for the first time. Oh, God. Oh, God. Not Dane. She turned her head aside and felt the bloom of tears. Dane plunged deep and held himself over her. Inside, she felt the warmth of his climax, though hers had been lost in
the heat of the moment and in the heart of an unwanted truth. She was going to love him. Maybe she already did. One pleasurable joining at a time, he was unwittingly binding her to him—not the binding of a formal agreement where two parties exchanged money, or even the kind of binds that Dane seemed to enjoy. No, this invisible shackle was more insidious since it was only her emotions that were involved. Sadness engulfed her because she already knew the end of the story. And maybe it was sad, because that wasn’t his intent, she knew. After a few moments, Dane lifted his weight and rolled to her side. “The
water will still be warm.” “Yes.” She pushed her skirts over her legs and scooted to the edge of the bed. Dane sat up beside her. His hand went around her waist and he pressed his lips to her neck. Christina had a strong urge to escape from his embrace. He must have sensed something because his hand tightened. His gaze searched her face for a moment. She dared to look at him and attempted to smile, but she saw his brows lower in dangerous contemplation. She was glad he said nothing, only removed his arm and leaned back in the bed. She had not wanted to lie to him. She had not wanted to love him.
Dane knew women were mercurial. Operating a whorehouse provided him ample opportunities to experience women at their very worst. Until tonight, Christina had been as steady as the proverbial rock. She had initiated their loving, had been as hot as he, only she did not find release. Ordinarily, her lack of response would not have bothered him. He had not asked what was wrong since he did not want to hear nothing. Or worse, that she might utter a lie. That wasn’t to say her silence bothered him now. Christina had disrobed and stepped into the bath. He could not help but watch. Once she was submerged to her
neck and nearly invisible except for the poof of her upswept hair, he turned his mind to food. A jug of Longford ale was on the table so he poured them both a glass. He sauntered to the tub and set it beside her. “Are you hungry?” She sat up, accepting the drink and sipping at the red liquid. He reached for a dry towel and wrapped it about his waist. “What’s on the menu?” “Nothing Japanese.” He earned a smile. “All of Longford’s best. You are going to love the farm cheese. The best I’ve ever had.” “Let me finish up and I’ll join you.”
When he returned to the table, he busied himself with eating while keeping a close eye on the goings-on in the bathtub. He caught glimpses of her bare legs, her shoulders, her arms. He was licking his fingers when she finally stood and reached for a towel. A dying man might be revived quickly drinking from the runnels of water streaking down her body. There was something undeniably delectable about a naked woman. A wet naked woman all the more. Everything his eyes saw spoke directly to his cock. He would pleasure her this time or he wasn’t Lord Dane. Whatever moment she had of displeasure or tiredness, Dane was
refreshed and ready. As he walked toward her, he dropped the towel. She clutched hers to her chest and gazed at him with an apprehensive expression. “But I’m hungry.” “Don’t worry. I’ll fill you.” Dane was diligent in his pursuit and had her on the bed in a moment. He started between her legs, using his mouth to bring her to a quick, shrieking climax. As he worked upward, he played with the small button between her legs while he sucked on her beautiful nubbins. The thrashing and moaning only made him harder. When she groaned and arched beneath him the second time, Dane was
ready to pound into her. He used his leg to push her wide and penetrated in one deep thrust. Tight, wet flesh gripped him and sent him rushing toward his own release. With a few thrusts, he felt the gentle contractions that portended her third climax and he was more than ready to join her. He covered her mouth with his own, plunging his tongue into her honeyed warmth and she met him, tangling her own with his. He felt everything. Her nipples boring into his chest, the smoothness of her skin being abraded by the coarse hairs on his chest and legs, her heartbeat beneath his fingertips as he stroked the
skin of her neck. And in his mouth, her gentle hum as pleasure throbbed through both of them. His impending release was beyond his control. He surged once. His balls tightened. Christina moaned beneath him. Her sheath contracted, clamping down on his cock with merciless unconcern for the health and future of his manhood. They tore their mouths apart, each gasping for air as the pulse of ejaculation pierced through him while her contractions continued, milking him dry. He rolled to his back, laying there for long minutes while he tried to remember where he was and wondering
if he might have passed from one life to the next. Christina had curled toward him, her knees touched his thigh, her hair in disarray, but she had already fallen asleep There was nothing he need do until Rawlins arrived except enjoy the incomparable Christina and never allow her to leave his bed. He would enjoy her body for twenty days more. And at the end of his time with her, he could be sure she would never forget it. He wondered how long he could keep her in a state of arousal and how long his cock would hold up in the attempt. By morning, she was slick with
his semen and the foreplay required nothing more than a nudge before she opened her legs for him.
Chapter Ten “Would you care to go riding with me?” he asked once they were both dressed and sitting at a breakfast table at two in the afternoon. The servants arranged all as Dane had requested and kept out of sight so that Christina was not distressed. She flushed. “You do ride, don’t you?” “Yes,” she finally stammered after swallowing a bite of her toast and jam. He leaned forward to kiss her. “And a lovely rider you are, even bareback,” he said, drawing another deeper blush. “I’ll have some horses brought around. We’ll use saddles this afternoon.”
Dane wanted one of the young geldings. For Christina, he had them saddle a reliable mare until he knew how well she held her seat. Mostly, he wanted to do something with Christina. The past interfered too easily here at Longford, but Christina had a unique ability to keep his mind occupied. He hadn’t bothered with a jacket. Those few times he was at Longford, he preferred to be a country gentleman over a city marquess, but mostly, he just wanted to forget this place existed. “How often do you come home?” she asked as they trotted out of the courtyard. “Once a year. When I have to.” “Do you have family here?”
“Not here.” Dane clucked and kicked the horse lightly. The bay gelding responded with ease. He glanced over his shoulder to see that Christina was riding near his horse’s flank. She’d brought a bonnet but it was tied by its ribbons and hung down her back, swinging gaily. Christina smiled too as she rode low, attempting to overtake his horse. Dane took her along the roads and paths of the estate that provided the best views. As they wound along the path near the lake, Christina said, “We should bring a picnic one day this week. It’s lovely here.”
“There’s a pavilion on the other side. Tomorrow, if the weather holds?” he suggested. The clouds were thick, but white and puffy, not the kind that foretold bad weather. Christina spent much of the day asking questions. Most were mere commentary about the weather and the estate or her family. She approached him with gentle nudging, he noticed, not coming out right to ask those questions that burned in her mind. Telling her of his past seemed like a mistake, so he avoided or evaded when possible. There was no reason to involve her in his life more than necessary. At the end of their time
together, he wanted no commitments or entanglements. They dismounted and led their horses for a while. “Dane, there is something I wished to ask you. Well, I want your promise, really.” “And what is that?” She was biting at her lip, her indecision obvious. She twined the leather reins between her fingers. “At Baroness Klee’s ball, you were there to see me.” “You know I was.” “When we return to London, do you promise not to seek me out? I know that you don’t attend balls, and I would feel less alarm at a chance meeting.”
“I can’t promise that, Christina.” He wasn’t sure why he couldn’t—he had no intention of participating in the routine bore of ton festivities. “Much could change in my life. Someday I might marry and attendance at balls may be necessary. I would not purposefully seek you out.” “But you did at Baroness Klee’s.” “I wished to speak with you. And what better way?” “But you had to find out what ball I was attending. I can’t have you doing that again. Servants talk. You know my fear, Dane. I have sisters who need to marry well. Any further misbehavior on my part could ruin their chances for a successful marriage.”
“Not that your father’s indiscretions had anything to do with it.” “Your word is what I need.” Such a trite request should have gone unnoticed, but Dane’s pride reared its head. She would not dictate to him. “It is as I’ve said. I can’t make that promise. For any number of reasons.” She brushed one hand over his arm and gazed into his eyes. “I know that you will heed my words, regardless of your inability to confirm them.” Dane frowned and plucked the reins from her hands before tying off the horses. “Come with me,” he said. He clutched her hand and led her along a well-worn path toward the folly. The
gentle breeze and the light splash of water against the rocks should have soothed him, but Longford brought out his ghosts. Here, they tended to appear in the light of day, reminding him that he had had a good life here. Once. Before Clara. Before Peter and Clara’s deception. How he had ever thought Christina looked like Clara amazed him now. Clara did not like the outdoors, or animals, or earthy things—such as sexual congress. Christina seemed to travel alongside him without complaint, enduring his darkness and moods, waiting patiently and cheerfully until he emerged from the dark troughs.
Inside the airy folly, Dane sat on one of the rock benches and tugged at Christina’s hand until she nearly spilled into his lap. Her arm wound around his neck, their faces nearly touching at the end of their noses. He pressed his lips to hers, enjoying the soft breathiness and the warmth with which she accepted him. Her fingers grazed over his neck and his ear, finally slipping into his hair. He wrapped his hands around her waist. With one strong pull, he had positioned her hip against his cock. He caressed her round ass cheek. Each tender kiss made Christina sigh. Did she know that she melted in his arms when he kissed her thusly? Did she
know that he could give her or deny her heart’s desire with any of his touches? Or did she think that any man could do this for her? He pulled back. Her eyes cracked open slowly and she looked dreamily at his face. “Did you kiss your betrothed in such a manner?” he asked. “Who? Thomas?” “Was there another?” “No! I mean, no, I didn’t kiss Thomas this way.” “Then how? Show me how you kissed him.” “Dane.” “Now.”
She licked at her lips and closed her eyes. Dane waited, but she did nothing. “Well?” Her eyelids popped open. “You have to kiss me.” “You didn’t kiss him?” “This is embarrassing.” She wrested herself from his lap, but he hauled her back. “Do it again.” She huffed and then posed again. “Was it something like this?” He lightly touched her lips then pulled away, waiting for her to respond. “Yes, much like that.” “You’ve learned a few things since then. I don’t mind, if that is why you’ve turned such a bright red.” “You are impossible.”
Dane lowered one leg and turned her in his lap, bunching her skirts so that she could straddle him. She braced her hands against his shoulders. He kept his hands under her skirts, soothing his fingers along the warmth of her thighs. “What will you do when you go back to London?” “The Season is nearly over. The family will retire to the country for a few months. Perhaps we will spend a week or two with my sister and her husband.” “Doing what?” “What we always do.” “You would not rather spend a month on the continent? There is more to do in
Paris and Madrid and Vienna than there is on a country estate.” “Well, my sisters are too young for such an adventure,” she said. “I was imagining you would travel with me and forget your trip, gossiping with your neighbors and playing charades.” Her expression changed from one of confusion to one that was carefully masked. “We have an agreement. Only three weeks.” “That is the thing about business arrangements. New arrangements can be made that are mutually attractive to both parties.” “There are other markers?” Her words were sharp as steel.
“No. But there are other things we can bargain for.” “Contrary to all that has happened up until now, I am not for sale.” “There must be something you want.” “What I want is to continue riding.” “You are sitting in my lap. Does it look like I wish to mount the horses?” He worked at the falls of his trousers until he freed his erection. Christina had obligingly worn a set of slitted undergarments. He cupped her ass and lifted her on to his shaft, guiding her downward. Her lids drifted shut. A breathy “oh” escaped her mouth as he seated her fully. His own raspy breathing betrayed his need.
She was deliciously wet. The heat of her body radiated outward. “Oh, Dane,” she said. Her whispered plea was better than the coarse demands of his whores. He would not mind hearing more of her sweet endearments. She buried her face in his neck, while allowing him to do all the work. His hands were braced at her hips and he guided her in slow undulations until she began using her thighs. The tight, gentle slide caused a deep moan to well in his chest. Her fingers speared into his hair, forcing his head back. Christina grew fierce. Rocking faster and faster, she panted and moaned over
him. She lost any restraint that would indicate she was a lady and forgot that they were perilously balanced on the rock bench. Still and steady, he retained his control only by keeping them seated on the beach. He gripped the edge of it tightly with one hand; the other he kept on her ass. His cock was full and long. She rode him hard, taking him deeper, it seemed, with each downward drive. She cupped his face and proceeded to ravish his mouth. The tension burst in a loud exaltation. He trapped her cries with his mouth, plunging his tongue deep, tasting her passion and holding back his
ejaculation a moment longer until she softened in his arms. He wrapped his hands about her waist, buried his face into her heaving breasts and came—warm jets of semen spilling into her and frissons of pleasure shuddering through him. He would have enjoyed rolling her onto her back into the soft comfort of a bed. The singing birds and the rustle of the horse’s bridle brought them back to reality. He soothed his hands up her back. She remained limp and unmoving against him, the only discernible movement was the gentle up and down of her chest as she breathed. When she stirred, she gazed into his eyes, taking his measure and seeing more
than he would wish. Whores did not look for meaning in purchased relationships. From the start, Christina had looked at him as if she could pluck all of his secrets free from the moors of the past, where he had them tightly tethered. Whatever words she wished to say were lost on the wind and his quick glance away. “You might want to stand before we both fall,” he suggested. She brushed her fingers through his hair, each swipe of her fingers as gentle as a mother’s caress. When she cupped his face, he felt it again—the gentle tug of emotion she tried to stir in him. She kissed him lightly. Once. And then again. “Do I make you happy?”
“Anyone I’m having intercourse with makes me happy.” His words had just enough bite to keep her at a distance. Her smile turned stony and the light in her eyes disappeared. She braced her hands against his shoulders and set a tentative foot to the rock-covered floor. Young girls were notoriously fickle in their attachments. He had no intention to hurt Christina because of some perceived affection. For him, it was a business arrangement. He stood, hoisting and fastening his trousers. Christina had her back to him, standing next to her horse and looking out at the serene lake. “Why did you buy up my father’s markers?” she asked.
Dane could quip answers to any question, except that one. ***** Days and nights blurred together. Dane had no compunction about taking her, in any manner and place where he felt the urge. He stirred beside her and she knew that within a few moments he would be awake. Of all the times he bedded her, he was most faithful to his routine in the morning, after they had been lying next to each other through the night. He did not allow her to wear clothing, nor did he. Throughout the night, as the room cooled and a gentle breeze blew through the
open window, their limbs tangled as they sought each other for warmth. It was a solitary feeling, how without thought they ended up entwined at the end of sleep. Christina did not believe she had ever liked something so much. She would forget about the sexual part of their relationship. She would force it from her mind once she returned to London. But not this. This closeness, this familiarity stirred up emotions and sentiments that had already dug deep into her heart. Dane moaned beside her. His hand moved with a sureness that belied his state of repose. He cupped her breast. A sweet, aching tightness caused her
nipples to swell and she arched a little as he kneaded. Already she was wet—a condition that did not surprise her. In the morning, his manhood was beautiful. His skin was stretched tight over what she thought was a longer, harder erection than he sported at other times of the day. She yearned for the time when he would push slowly into her, filling her. She pushed her bottom closer to him, coming into contact with his body. His erection pressed into her back. He moaned again and his hand slipped lower. “Dane,” she whispered. She wanted him now. “Hmm.”
“Dane, wake up.” His breathing changed and she smiled when he moved with purpose. He was propped on his side, looking down at her. “You greedy girl. A man can’t get his sleep around here,” he said, his voicy raspy with sleep. Her smiled broadened. Dane pushed at her shoulder, turning her to her stomach. She hugged her pillow as he lay on top of her—his weight all encompassing but not heavy. He smelled of sleep and a light sweat. He fumbled at the nightstand, knocking over the lone candlestick. He swore. He found the bottle of scented oil for which he was searching. He’d only
used oil one other time. Her bottom tensed as she realized he prepared to enter her from behind. Using his knees, he spread her legs wide. A light spasm clenched her sheath and she bit at her lips. He drizzled the oil on her, though she imagined it was his cock he attempted to coat. He stretched over her again as he set the bottle aside. His hips thrust gently, his erection sliding between her slickened buttocks. When he canted his hips, she felt the first prod, followed by his hand spreading her. He pushed again. She was tight and tense, but Dane was relentless as he bore into her—the pressure giving way for a moment as he
breached her, and then the unpleasant fullness. She freed the breath she had been holding. “Relax. It will be better in a minute.” He didn’t move other than to press kisses to the side of her face while his free hand slid underneath her body and between her thighs. He played between her legs, rubbing the swollen nub, soothing across the sensitive folds and dipping his fingers into her wet sheath. Christina closed her eyes, allowing Dane his pleasure, knowing that he would see her fulfilled. No matter the awkwardness, in the end she would be replete with sexual satisfaction. He was diligent about his technique.
It left a hollow feeling in her. She would always wonder if he recognized with whom he did these things or if it was more of an instinct with him—a body that provided relief for his driving need. He began slow thrusting, while his fingers worked her. He knew how to manipulate her body into responding. He was a master. Even the slow titillations had her breathing heavily and her hips undulating in time with his plunge and retreat. She wanted more than just his body —she wanted him. Turning her face, she met his mouth. When they kissed, she found some of the closeness she wanted with Dane. Each
time she imagined a better understanding of him, he found a way to reject her or discourage her or push her away. He coaxed her along, arousing her in slow degrees, until she forgot about the missing emotions because the physical was so all-encompassing. Sweet pleasure blossomed, sweeping her upward and just as quickly back down as her body convulsed with sharp spasms. He pressed his hand hard against her mons. After a few moments, Dane moved quickly, freeing himself and going back on his haunches. He flipped her to her back and hooked his hands at her knees, lifting her bottom and forcing her legs over his shoulders.
He used both hands to spread her rounded cheeks and pushed back into her. This time is was easy and she moaned as he slid deep. Dane watched with a glazed look. Her breasts were bouncing with each thrust and he glanced down to see his cock driving in and out of her. “Touch your breasts,” he demanded. She lifted one hand, allowing her fingers to graze the rounded flesh and circle the distended nipple. She would rather have had Dane’s mouth there. “And here,” he said. He moved both hands around her thighs and spread the lips between her legs. Dane did not see her. He saw a vessel for sex.
She did as he commanded. She stroked the nub much as Dane had done, but she did not feel the all-consuming pleasure. Dane, however, enjoyed it very much. He roared and pumped into her fiercely before he went deep and tensed. “Yes,” he said. “Yes. Yes.” He pumped a few more times before exhaling and opening his eyes. He withdrew, bringing Christina a different rush of pleasure. Dane planted his hands at her knees and spread her wide before his mouth disappeared between her legs, lifting her as he lapped at her. Devoured was too mild a word. Christina gasped. He sucked on her and
finally thrust his tongue inside her sheath. The explosive climax caused Christina to scream as her knees clutched at Dane’s shoulder. She lay there panting—lost and trying to put the pieces of her world back together. Dane jumped from the bed and threw his arms wide. “It’s going to be a marvelous day.” He stalked to the sideboard where a pitcher of water was stored. He threw several towels on the floor, stepped onto them and poured the pitcher over his head, rubbing his hand through his hair and then soaking his cock while he cleaned himself.
“Come on, Christina. Out of bed. We’ll break the fast and then go riding. I have a great place I want to show you.” ***** The horse ride was long but well worth it. The trail led to the far side of the estate where there were several hills and outcroppings. Dane led her to the highest point on the estate. Below was a sheer drop-off with sharp jagged rocks protruding upward. Dane had played here as a boy. “It’s spectacular,” Christina said. Even with her bonnet on, she still held a hand above her eyes to block the sun. “Is that the house over there?”
“Yes.” He pointed west. “And there you can see the church steeple at Longford.” “There it is. I see it!” She faced him, her smile more dazzlingly than the sun. “Oh, I wish we would have thought to bring a picnic lunch. You make me forget everything. This is perfect.” Dane was sorry he hadn’t thought of it either. They had only a few days remaining together and he didn’t want to waste a moment of that time. Aside from days of riding, they were often in bed where Dane got to sample all of her wares. Even those seductions that were foreign to her were accepted with benign enthusiasm until she reached the climactic passion that inevitably
resulted, followed by a few inventive ideas of her own. But never the lash. They enjoyed quiet lunches, a couple afternoons reading on a blanket under the apple trees in the orchard and a naked swim at the lake, which had led to a lusty, wet interlude on the grass near the water and a few bug bites on his ass. While he never looked forward to coming to Longford, he was very unenthusiastic about returning to London. He could not remember a time when he had been at Longford and had not been plagued with thoughts of death. He’d thought he’d lost his mind that week. Today, he had never felt more like himself. In the past fifteen years, he had
never felt more alive. “Show me more,” she said. “Where does that trail lead?” “Into a marshy grasslands and several small hunting meadows. And there is a stream that wends off onto my neighbors land.” “I must see it all, Dane.” The horses were sure-footed as they went down the hillside and once they broke into the open, the horses were champing at the bit to take a run. “Ready?” he asked. “I think the loser should get something this time.” “I’m sure I can think of something. Win or lose, I think neither of us will be too unhappy.” He winked at her.
Dane clucked and his horse reared before shooting through the meadow. Christina was right behind him. About halfway to the forested area on the other side, a group of riders appeared and headed toward them. Dane and Christina pulled up. He saw right away that it was his neighbor, one of his sons and several young bucks with connections—all noblemen’s brats. “Christina, ride on ahead and wait for me in the trees.” Her face had gone pale. It was obvious that she had recognized the potential threat to her identity as well. She said nothing, only tapped her riding crop against the horses flank and galloped away.
Harold Hollingsworth, Earl of Lancaster, pulled up beside him. “Lord Dane, we didn’t know you were home.” “Hunting?” Dane asked. There were pheasants hanging off one young man’s saddlehorn, along with rabbits. “I would have sent word.” “You are more than welcome, as I’ve always said.” “Who’s the fancy ladybird, Dane?” Lancaster’s whelp, Roger, asked without thought to whether his life had any value. Dane glared at him. “I believe that is my business.” He faced Lancaster. “I’ll be leaving in a few days. If you can refrain during that time, I would appreciate it.” “Certainly,” said Lancaster.
“With a piece like that, I’d be tempted to stay in the country too, Dane. Where do you find them?” Dane’s sharp retort would only arouse Roger’s curiosity, so he said, “Stop by the whorehouse, Roger, and bring plenty of money.” The spoiled whelps laughed. Lancaster just wheeled his horse away and the others followed, though he saw the glances they cast toward the place where Christina had ridden into the woods. He waited until they had passed into the glen from which they had come. On the ride home, he and Christina were silent. Dane found he was particularly annoyed by the assumption Christina was his whore—an assumption
he had not and could not explain. He could not assure her that they had not recognized her, which no doubt attributed to her silence. Defending her to the group would have only aroused suspicion and the question, “Who was she?” When they rode up, Rawlins stood at the front of the house, hat in hand. “Rawlins, what brings you here so soon?” Dane asked as he dismounted. He walked around to Christina and clasped her waist before setting her to her feet. He tipped a finger under chin and stared at her for a moment. He couldn’t say that all would be well, but he smiled at her nonetheless.
Rawlins cleared his throat. “Lord Dane. Miss Turnbow. I have some urgent news.” “What is it?” Rawlins pulled a note from his worsted jacket. “It’s for Miss Turnbow. I came as fast as I could. It was delivered to Hanover Square by your brother, Mark.” Christina stepped toward the messenger, plucking at her gloves. She reached for the missive and tore at the seal, biting at her lip. Dane waited while she read. When she faced him, she had gone pale as a sheet. “It’s my brother, John. There’s been an accident. I need to go home.”
“May I?” Dane asked. Christina didn’t resist when he took it from her hand. He questioned Rawlins instead. “What did Mr. Turnbow say when he delivered it?” “Only that it was urgent.” “He didn’t say anything about Lord Compton’s condition or what precipitated the accident?” “No, he seemed very calm indeed.” “There. Imperative, perhaps, but somewhat less than an emergency.” “I need to leave, Dane. Today,” she said. Dane was very close to uttering a reminder she had entered into a business arrangement with him. He bit back the words. “Rawlins, see to Miss
Turnbow’s comfort while I make the arrangements.” He mounted his horse and led hers, trotting toward the stables and away from Christina. He did not think he could watch as she hurried to pack and then left without a word. Even though he was still owed three days. He could not look back at her. He would let Rawlins escort her back to her brother’s house. Dane’s pride demanded that she stay. He was even suspicious about the veracity of the note. Perhaps her brother had thought enough time had passed and it was time to bring his sister home. He could just refuse. She could leave tomorrow.
At the stables, he dismounted, leaving both horses to the stablehand’s care. And he didn’t know where to turn. He could not just let her ride away in one of his carriages. He glanced at the mansion. He had not set foot in the house since he was nineteen, but suddenly it seemed a better option than seeing Christina’s imploring expression. He did not do things out of kindess. He would not. The house drew him. A well of anger and fear—about the past, about the present—clawed at him. He wanted to relive that day. He wanted to change things.
The house was faultlessly clean. He had servants whose only job was to keep the home maintained. He did not allow dust covers over the furniture. The cupboards were stocked with liquor and the beds were made. And remade. No one greeted him at the front door. He wasn’t sure if any of the current servants even knew who he was or had ever seen him. Most had gone away after the tragedy. His boot heels clicked along the marble floor, echoing with loneliness and longing. He walked directly toward the pain—the library. Where he’d accidently shot his brother. Where he’d started the chain of events that led to Clara’s suicide and his father’s heart failure. On days when he
was thinking clearly, he remembered that Clara and Peter were lovers. That their relationship had destroyed two marriages. And many more lives. But most days he blamed himself. He’d been the foolish young romantic who’d heard nothing but doeeyed promises and believed that when Clara spread her legs, she was thinking of him. Dane poured a drink and then carried the glass and the bottle to one of the chairs facing the large glass doors that led to a vine- and flower-covered terrace. The memories came faster than he could drink them back. He might have dozed. His drinking glass slipped from his hand and crashed
to the floor. He didn’t bother calling for a servant. The sun was setting and the room had grown dark. Dane couldn’t pry himself from the chair. Any action on his part meant that Christina would leave him that much sooner. Unless she was already gone. He heard the light slip-slap of feet and the gentle knock at the door. He didn’t answer. “Luc?” She had not once called him by his name. “Rawlins made arrangements for a carriage since you were...indisposed. We can leave now.” “I’m not going.”
“You want to stay here?” He sensed her presence drawing closer. His heart felt like it was going to burst from his chest. “No, we are all staying here. I did not give permission for anyone to prepare a coach. I said I would make arrangements.” She soothed her hand over his shoulder. “I’m sorry. I must. I would not forgive you, Dane, if something happened to my brother and I wasn’t there. I wouldn’t forgive myself.” “What’s one more sin?” “Come with us.” Dane jumped from the chair. Christina took a step back, but he
reached her and grabbed her arms. “You are not leaving.” “I’m leaving.” He shook her, but she still gazed at him as if she hadn’t heard a word he’d said. Dane backed her up against the desk, laid her over it and drew up her skirts. He stepped between her legs and tore at his trousers. “You made a bargain.” “Why did you buy my father’s markers, Dane? Why?” His cock was hard as iron, fueled by his anger and his determination to wring every bit of pleasure from Christina before she left. He wanted to ram his manhood into her tight, wet sheath and pound in and
out until his climax burst from him in a storm of rage and anguish and pleasure. He wanted so much from her, but he would not ask it. He would ask for nothing and he would not watch when she rode away. Just as quickly, he pulled away from her. “Go, damn it. Go. And don’t come to me the next time you need your debts settled.” Christina pushed at her skirts and sat up on the desk. Her gaze, pitying and prying, tore right through him. “Goodbye, Lucian.”
Chapter Eleven Her brother John was buried by the time she reached home. He had died seven hours after Mark delivered the note to Dane’s home on Hanover Square. She would not have made it back regardless of any delays Dane might have purposefully caused her. She had been wrong to blame him—it was not his fault that he’d been drawn into their family dilemma. Clearly, Dane had been angry at her for leaving, but he must have understood why. “He didn’t find out, did he, Mark? Am I to blame?” Christina asked that night, when they were alone.
“No, of course not. It was everything. And nothing. We would have gotten out of this mess. You made that possible, but you know John was weak.” “And he would have never gotten out of his chair.” “Some men don’t cope well with tragedy. Others bury it with drinking and whoring and God knows what other vices, but you mustn’t blame yourself. I cannot fault him for being distressed about his situation, but there must have been a better alternative. I’m sorry to say that about my brother.” Christina understood exactly. The truth wasn’t easy to hear and the two of them had born the weight of the family’s secrets.
“What will we do from here?” “I’ve enough cash to get us back on our feet. I will have to wait a few years to marry, as will the girls, but all will be well.” “Mark, would you think me a coward if I wanted to go away?” “To the country?” “No, further, I think. I was considering going to Scotland to stay with Aunt Beatrice. I just need to do that. For many reasons.” She felt the tears bloom in her eyes and a small trickle seeped down the side of her face. The real reason she was leaving was simple enough. She could nearly hide her dishonor. She could not hide a growing stomach.
“No, you are not the coward. I am. I let you do this rather than face the ton. I‘ve said it before, but I do promise, Christina, someday I will make this right for you.” He gripped her hands and kissed her forehead. “I’ll send a note to Beatrice in the morning. When do you want to leave?” Aunt Bea would open her home and her arms to a wayward niece. Bea had her own set of difficulties when she was younger. There would be disappointment, but not condemnation. “In a day or two. That would be best.” *****
Christina was welcomed wholeheartedly, but her first order of business was to tell Aunt Beatrice the truth, which she did in the privacy of her boudoir that evening. She wasn’t so naive that she didn’t understand there was the possibility of a child, she had just believed she would have had a least one stroke of luck through all of this. How would Dane have reacted had she realized the truth before she left him? Common sense would have prevailed, especially with a man like Dane. She would not have told him even if she had known then. “You must have wondered about the suddenness of my trip.”
“Well, with John dying, I just assumed—” “I’m going to have a baby,” she said. “Oh! Oh dear.” Her round-faced aunt patted her hand. “Oh dear.” Christina said nothing more while the fire crackled and her aunt considered the implications. Even distant family could be affected by such an indiscretion. When her aunt reached for Christina’s hand, there was a squeeze of acceptance and a tight smile. “I thought that once the baby comes, you’d help me find a good home for the child. Is that a terrible thing? I don’t know. I know I feel terrible just saying it.” Christina had denied the possibility
for the length of the trip, and now in her exhausted state, she could not stop the flood of tears that coursed down her face. “Oh dear, no. The child would be loved and it would have a mother and a father.” “Thank you, Auntie Bea. Thank you for understanding.” It was still early in the pregnancy and there was always the possibility that she would not come to term, but she could not wish that, regardless of the fact she was unmarried. She was thankful her aunt had not offered too quickly to find her a surrogate father. Just the thought of another man after she had been with
Dane left her cold. She recognized there was a certain cruelty in not telling Dane the truth. Perhaps it was a common event for him. Mark’s first letter brought good news. He was to be married to his heiress after all. A title, it seemed, made all the difference in the world to a nobility-loving social climber. It might take some time before Christina could accept that Mark’s soon-to-be wife hadn’t loved him enough. It was definitely for the best that she had departed London. Dane’s proximity might have been an insurmountable temptation. Scandal grew cold eventually. Passion, however, festered
and boiled with no opportunity for relief. Aside from a few weeks of morning sickness, she had never felt so good. Her aunt kept her busy and Christina felt obligated to carry her ever-increasing weight so that she did not become a burden. During the spring, she had a bout of melancholia as her due date drew near. Would the baby be healthy? Would she have a successful delivery? Would she ever feel the comfort of a man’s arms the way she had felt with Dane? Not a morning went by that she did not remember with fondness how the warmth of his body spread through her, stirring her soul.
There was no purpose in loving a man like Dane. It only led to heartache. No, there was no purpose but it didn’t stop one from loving anyhow. When the day came, she woke with a backache. Aunt Beatrice gave her a knowing look and hovered the rest of the day, certain labor had started. After her water broke, Christina labored through the rest of the night. A midwife assured her she was doing fine, and finally, at three o’clock in the morning, Christina delivered a healthy baby girl. She’d told herself she shouldn’t see the child, but as soon as the baby was cleaned and wrapped in a soft blanket, Christina held out her hands and tucked
her red, puckered daughter tenderly to her breast. “Christina, dear, why don’t you let me take the baby?” her aunt questioned gently. “In the morning. The morning is soon enough.” When morning came, Christina was sitting up in bed, nursing Lucy. “She’s mine, Auntie Bea, I can’t just give her up. I won’t.” Beatrice just smiled and ran her fingers lightly over Lucy’s head. “She looks just like her papa,” Christina said. Lucy had Dane’s dark hair and someday she was going to have his strong nose. Christina hoped her little girl didn’t mind. She couldn’t tell
about the eyes, but Lucy’s perfect little brows were shaped like hers. Christina cradled Lucy. “Auntie Bea, how did I think I would ever be able to live without her?” ***** Winter in Tibet was a long, drawn out affair made marginally acceptable by the fact Dane did not have to shave. He was ready for the pass to open. Hirado was returning to Japan, as was the original plan when they had left England. Dane was bound for home. Months ago, when Dane had returned to London in pursuit of Christina, he’d been met with emptiness. Her brother
had died. Rawlins had discovered she had left London, but no amount of discreet inquiry revealed where she had gone. The vague answer, “She’s gone to the country,” was the most information he had received. Dane had ordered Rawlins to determine if she was in fact at the Turnbow’s remaining country estate. She was not. Rawlins had abjectly apologized for his rare failure. And Hirado had begged, most piteously, to request permission to return home, as if Dane had the power to deny him. Honor ran deep in Hirado, and as he told Dane of his plans, an idea occurred to him. There was nothing for
him in London. He would accompany Hirado to parts unknown. One adventure was over. He should begin another. The excitement of a new journey had worn off after several weeks and by the time they reached India, Dane was restless and lonely. He refused to think of the cause. He refused to say her name. Hirado had suggested they winter in Tibet. The constrictive, monkish life had, at first, felt oppressive. Sitting in a quiet room with the soft chanting agitated him, tearing at him as if he wanted to peel off his own skin. When the first snowfall came, sealing them in for the winter, Dane’s restiveness turned to calm. And
somewhere in those long months, Dane found peace. Or maybe he allowed himself to have peace. One guru, Naropa, had taken an interest in Dane. “The greatest happiness consists in having tranquility of mind.” He found that tranquility came from denying himself. When his body obeyed, his mind and spirit followed. Dane sat with Hirado for several days when neither of them spoke a word. One afternoon, Hirado broke the silence. “When we discover that the truth is already in us, we are all at once our original selves.” “Do you miss home?” Dane asked. He had been thinking, deeply, about his childhood. Peter could make anyone
laugh. He missed that. He missed his father’s hacking cough when he woke in the morning. He missed the turkey dinner they had had every Christmas day and a little sister he no longer remembered clearly. And Christina. There was something in her that had connected with his heart and soul. The physicality of their relationship was well worth long months of contemplation, but what he remembered most were those times when she had tried to reach him. She’d believed she’d failed, but in reality, she had cracked open his hardened shell and let in a little light. “She waits for you. The light of the day always waits for you. You only have
to open your eyes after a long sleep.” When the day came to depart, they traveled until they came to a fork in the road. “Be safe, Hirado.” Dane bowed to him. “And you, my friend.” Dane reached Jerusalem some weeks later, boarding a boat at Jaffa for the final leg home. He could not help but think of Jonah, coughed up on its shores a changed man. Dane stood on the port side of the boat as the rigging was loosened and the sails caught the wind, whipping them and inducing a forlorn sound that tore at him. He’d born all of the weight of their deaths. And he had never mourned them.
He had never cried over his loss—a brother, a wife, a father, a child. He blinked back the sudden and unmanly burst that blurred his eyes, but not before he felt one tear course down his cheek. He sought out his cabin and counted the days until he would be home. ***** “Dane, I must tender my resignation. I cannot work under—” “I’m selling the whorehouse.” “—such conditions. You’re selling the brothel?” Rawlins had demanded Dane’s immediate attention upon his return. The man looked positively disheveled. “Nonetheless, I cannot
continue working under such duress. This folder alone contains correspondence I have not had the time, and frankly the inclination, to answer.” Dane reached out for the leather binder. “Is it alphabetized?” “I didn’t have time to do anything but shove pieces of paper in willy-nilly.” He flipped it open and glanced through the notices and invites and jumble that accumulated when one was a marquess. He opened the folder and emptied its contents into the waste bin. “Once it is known I am home, we will get a new set of...whatever that was.” Rawlins merely raised his brows, a sure sign Dane’s departure had been hell on him.
“After we go over the books,” Rawlins continued, while Dane opened the top drawer of his desk and drew out what cash he had remaining in the house. “I will—“ Dane started counting out bills in front of Rawlins. “What are you doing, Lord Dane?” “Your recompense. You’ve done an excellent job while I was away. If you feel the need to resign, I will accept it, but you have my gratitude for a job well done.” “But we haven’t gone over the books.” Dane was still piling bills. Rawlins seemed less ferocious. “Are they in order?” “Well. Yes.”
“Then we have gone over the books.” Dane finished counting and pushed the stack of money toward his man. “Would tomorrow be soon enough to finish up, Rawlins?” “Certainly.” He hesitated before he reached for the bills then carefully folded them and stuffed the money into his jacket. “Good day.” Rawlins was near the door when Dane asked, “Have you heard any news regarding Miss Turnbow?” “No, I’m sorry, Lord Dane. I did ask of several people.” Of course, Dane would need to see the new Earl of Compton. Mark
Turnbow might be less than pleased to see him though. Tomorrow Dane would hire a new valet. Tonight he intended to make an appearance in ton. It was time he rejoined society, albeit in small steps. The Season was already over, but he was certain he could find a good game of cards at White’s. ***** Dane was not feeling particularly lucky, but he had turned several tricks during each hand of loo and a modest sum was building in front of him. One never forgot the language of the ton and he found he was able to converse on each
topic of conversation with little effort. Responses such as “Is that Fletcher’s heir?” or “Was he the one wounded at Waterloo?” made it seem as if Dane had never left. There were several on dits that required him to remain passive, for those petty announcements were part of the reason he had been so famously opposed to the snobbish mentality of ton nobles. The secretive men were no different than the gossipy women. Lewis Forbish threw his cards to the table. “Gentlemen, fortune is not my friend this night.” Dane swept up the cards and prepared to deal another hand. “Is this seat taken?”
Mark Turnbow stood at the end of the table. Forbish brushed past him. “I hope you have better luck than I, Compton.” The new player sat at the table and greeted the others, finally coming to him. “Dane. What a surprise.” A snappish rejoinder was on Dane’s tongue, namely he wanted to ask what the hell Compton was doing at the gaming table after all his sister had done to rescue their family. “Do you need an advance, Compton?” It was the best dig he could verbalize without embarrassing the family. “No, I came prepared.” He pulled out a wad of bills, along with some
pocket change. Evidently, Compton hadn’t any real intention of serious play. “Cash or markers?” “I guess that depends on how steep the play is.” His fingers flew over the cards as he dealt each player a hand. Compton took the first trick and the play was evenly distributed, leaving no player feeling as if they were down on their luck. They played for two hours before a general agreement rose that the game was at an end. Compton remained at the table, gazing at Dane, the communication clear. “Another hand,” Dane said quietly. Compton nodded, and waved toward one of the servants and requested
another drink. “Can you also bring a paper and quill? You will take my marker, won’t you?” “A Turnbow marker is always good, in my opinion.” “Hester, stay and deal for us,” Compton requested. They switched to vingt-un and the stakes grew proportionately. If Compton’s father was such a sloppy player, it was no wonder the family had been in such debt. “I heard you were in town,” Compton said. “So you decided to find me?” “Why would I do such a thing as that?”
Yes, why would he? Mark Compton knew the truth about his sister and her interlude with the despicable Lord Dane. “I was sorry to hear about your brother.” Mark Turnbow still wore the black band signifying mourning. “Yes, we had a particularly difficult year, but all that is behind us. One of my sisters recently married.” Dane’s gaze shot to Compton’s. Married? Was it Christina? “And your sister, is she well?” “Which one?” “The one recently married.” “She is. And very happy. We were concerned she might not find a husband right away what with all of our recent
troubles.” Compton scooped up his cards. Dane felt a moment of paralyzing anxiety, but then calmed himself. If Christina was happy, there should be no sorrow or anger on his part. Even though there was. Compton lost a large pot but continued playing with his limited funds. The next card fell. Dane shoved the contents of his cache to the middle of the table. “I’m all in, Compton.” “I trust you mean that.” Compton glanced at his cards once again then set them aside. He dipped the quill and prepared his marker. He blew on it once and then tossed it to the center of the table.
“Twenty-one,” Dane said as he turned his cards. Compton threw his cards to the table and stood. Dane leaned back, unconcerned about the money pooled in the center. He should ask about her— whatever Compton’s answer, it would be more than he knew. Wasn’t Christina the reason he’d been tormented these past months? And the reason he’d returned to London? “Well, quite a game,” Hester said. “Gentleman, if you’ll excuse me.” Compton stared at Dane without giving away his thoughts. “Is your marker good? You gave it up easily,” Dane said when they were alone.
“There you are wrong, Dane. I gave it up with great difficulty.” The porter brought Compton’s hat. He nodded, said good evening and was out the door. Dane pushed from the table and walked to Compton’s chair, reaching for his cards. Twenty-one. The marker was upside down in the pile. He plucked it up and read. It was an address in Scotland. ***** The house was a modest structure that appeared well maintained. Green vines covered the front and several welltended flowerbeds held neat rows of blue, yellow and orange flowers, which
Dane could not name but seemed to him would have made an excellent bouquet if he had thought of such a thing. The iron knocker was fashioned into a bull’s head, and as he rapped on the door, he imagined the farmer who might appear and what his reaction would be when the Marquess of Dane requested to see Christina. Was she a servant? A companion? The woman of the house? A wife? No. Compton had wanted him to know Christina was here, yet he was tormented with just the idea she might be married to someone else. Dane still hadn’t figured the motives which governed Compton’s decision. Compton had studied him. He’d made the decision
to reveal Christina’s whereabouts after all these months. Christina didn’t know he was coming. He had left the next morning with surprisingly little indecision. Rawlins had fumed, of course, but was too loyal to think of abandoning Dane’s estates and ledgers while the marquess was in Scotland. He heard a squalling babe before the door squeaked open. A round-faced matron held the fiendishly loud creature to her chest in an attempt to quiet it. She examined him with a quick once-over, noting his garb and likely, the carriage bearing his crest. “My lord.” She bobbed a quick curtsey. “Do come in.”
“Your pardon,” he said as he swept off his hat. “I am here to see Miss Christina Turnbow. I was given to believe she lived here.” “Why, yes. Please come in and have a seat.” Dane glanced in the direction in which she swept her hand. The manse was a cozy abode not fit for the daughter of an earl but clean and intimate. He walked to the far side of the room and gazed out the window, feeling like one of the London snobs he had so abhorred. The squalling only intensified, adding to his discomfort. He did not want to think of Christina living here or paid to care for someone’s brat. But this was the hard
truth of what happened to women when men like him ruined them. “Auntie Bea, did you see the carriage—” Dane turned at the sound of her voice. She was dressed in sprig muslin gown, with a white apron over the top. Her hands were burdened with a large bundle of flowers similar to those he had spied when the carriage came to a stop. Her hair was swept up in a loose bun that seemed to be a convenience rather than a hairstyle. Tendrils hugged her neck where a light sheen of sweat covered her skin. “Miss Turnbow.” He bowed. Her beauty dazzled him, from her sun-kissed face to her rosy cheeks and
red lips. She glanced at him to the crying child. She bit at her lip, unwilling or unable to say anything. “Luc,” she whispered. “You are undoubtedly surprised to find me on your doorstep.” “Dane, please.” She faced her aunt. “Give me a minute.” The babe seemed to quiet once her handler was moving across the floor, but the lull was only temporary, lessened only by the distance. When they were alone in the room, Christina turned toward a round table where a large, empty vase waited to receive the newly picked flowers. She did not bother trimming and cutting, but
stuffed them in the vase and poured water until the pitcher was empty. When there was nothing left to do, she placed her fingertips against the table and stared downward. He could see her chest heaving. “You shouldn’t have come.” “And yet, I am here with no immediate plans to leave.” “You promised we would not have to see each other.” “Moving to Scotland was a rather extreme effort to see that did not happen.” He threw his hat on a chair and stepped toward her. “Your brother gave me a message for you. At least, I think it is for you. And I think he wanted me to deliver it.”
The piece of paper was crumpled, but he handed it over to her. Her fingers brushed his when she accepted the note. She spread it open. In Mark’s handwriting, she saw the address for Aunt Beatrice’s home and a note underneath that said Promise kept. She couldn’t face Dane as the tears sprang from her eyes. Mark had promised that he would make up for her sacrifice. How could he have known Dane was the only thing that could right her world? How could he not? He knew the depth of her pain. And suspected her feelings. Dane’s hands gripped her shoulders and his body fitted into her from behind.
“Oh, darling Christina. Please don’t. I came too far to see you cry.” “You will break my heart, Dane. Again.” “No.” He turned her and took her in his arms. He cradled her face against his chest and ran one hand along her neck. “Never intentionally. Never when I’m not there to unbreak it.” “I can’t make you happy.” “No, but you make me whole. I will find my own happiness, but it starts with you. I won’t love anyone as I love you. I regret that I could not tell you sooner, that I did not know sooner. I would have made you so unhappy by bringing you into my world, as I was. But I’ve found
me. You reminded me of who I was and could be again.” Christina wanted to hear his words over and over again, as if in the hearing she would begin to believe. He cupped her face and pressed his lips to hers. “What is it? Have I made you afraid to trust me?” He kissed her again. “I’m doing all the talking here, Christina. Please tell me something.” “Why are you here?” “Because you are here and I can’t be where you are not. We can be married this afternoon.” “Married?” “You will marry me, of course.” “Because you came all this way?”
He smiled then. His touch grew soft, his thumbs brushing over her skin “You are angry with me. Because I should have come sooner. Because I should have realized that you were in love with me and I foolishly ignored those sentiments.” Of all the things Christina wanted and dreamed, this was as close as she had come to it. “Change isn’t easy. I know that. Of all people, I know that. I can’t say all of the darkness is gone, but I can say that you have seen me at my darkest and you loved me anyhow. For me, it is easy to love you. That’s not why I’m here. It is because I trust you. I trust you with my dark secrets. I trust you never to
disregard my feelings for you. I trust you to be the constant light I need. Please say you will marry me.” She could only nod. She had Lucy to think of. She had her own heart to consider. That it was about to burst from her chest was confirmation enough that Dane held the key to her contentment. The squalling had reached new piercing heights. Christina knew she would only settle down for one thing. “I have to get Lucy. She’s hungry.” She patted Dane’s chest, just to make sure he was real. “Wait for me.” He grabbed her arm and brought her around again for another sound kiss. “Forever.”
Christina hurried from the room and plucked Lucy from Auntie Bea’s capable but insufficient hands. “He’s Lucy’s father?” Aunt Bea asked. “Yes.” “Then say it straight, girl. A man has the right to know what is his.” “I will.” Christina unbuttoned her dress and Lucy latched on, mercifully bringing peace to the strained household. Bea threw a blanket over Christina’s shoulder. Dane wanted the truth. The truth was he had given her a daughter she loved beyond her own life. “Go on with you. There is nothing like proof to make a believer out of a
man.” Christina patted Lucy’s bottom as she settled comfortably. Feeding Lucy was always a very pleasant, relaxing interlude, but then she’d never had to do it in front of a man, especially not one of Dane’s imposing stature. That he was Lucy’s father mattered little. Dane was sitting in one of the chairs when she returned to the room. He jumped to his feet and attempted a smile. “Noisy thing, isn’t it?” “I’m used to it.” Christina sat in the rocking chair. Dane took his place again but didn’t seem to know where to look.
Trying to find the right words caused her to squirm. The baby noises and the sucking of teat were plain to an everyday person. She wasn’t sure Dane understood, but he was noticeably uncomfortable. “Dane, would you like to meet your daughter?” Their gazes met, but Dane didn’t budge. “She’s very beautiful and she has your hair. She sleeps all night now and the only time she’s cranky is when she’s hungry, which seems very often these days. Come look at her. “I tell her every day about her papa. That I love him and that he would be with us if he could. And that sometimes
the love one feels for a few weeks must be enough to last a lifetime.” Dane’s gaze still held hers. She could see the pool of tears in his eyes as she had in hers. “She wants to know you.” He got to his feet in a slow motion, his footsteps barely audible. He came to her side and knelt. Christina lowered the blanket. Lucy’s fist lay against Christina’s breast while milk dribbled from the side of her little mouth, taking in more than she could swallow. Dane moved his finger to Lucy’s fat, red cheek. “Look at me, little girl. Look at your papa.” She broke the suction against the nipple, tensed with a big,
unhappy stretch and then squealed until she found the teat again. His thumb caressed against Christina’s breast. “How can you forgive me?” His voice was nearly a whisper. “There is nothing to forgive. She is the light of my world. Let her be yours too.” “We will marry tomorrow.” “Dane.” “In Edinburgh or at some small hamlet where no one knows us and I can bribe the anvil priest to say we were married a year ago.” She couldn’t argue with him. The practical reasons were numerous. Love, however, was never practical. Aside
from Lucy, she couldn’t think of one other thing she wanted more than she wanted Dane. Auntie Bea had disappeared and left them alone in the house. Lucy finished feeding and Dane followed Christina up the stairs to her small room, where Lucy’s crib was set up next to the bed. Once Lucy was down and drowsily contemplating sleep, Dane hooked his arm around Christina’s waist and lowered her into the soft, downy bed. “Quiet,” Christina said. “So I must bed my wife and not make a sound while doing it?” “Here? Now? That’s not like you, Dane.” She smiled. His heart felt near bursting.
“Yes, here. Yes, now. I haven’t bedded a woman since you left me at Longford. I promise this won’t take long.” He hoisted her skirts and threw one leg over hers. “This is new,” he said, leering at her breasts, her gown still open from Lucy’s feeding. He ran his tongue over the very distended nipple before he sucked it into his mouth. Christina arched under the sharp intensity, a man at her breasts entirely different than a baby. She’d forgotten Dane’s ability to make her weak and wanting. He fumbled at his trousers until she felt the hot heat of his manhood against her thigh. He kissed, weaving a trail along the tops of her breasts and
searching below her ear. He moved suddenly and pushed into her in one quick thrust, her wetness allowing him smooth access. There was no sound and they stared into each other’s eyes. She gripped his bottom with one hand and moved with him as he rode her with quicker and deeper strokes. She thought she was unprepared, but his mouth sucked at her breasts again, arousing her and reminding her of all their passion. She sighed as she climaxed and Dane moaned in her ear, chanting that he loved her. She pressed her hand to her heart. “Does it hurt?” Dane asked.
“No. I only know that, if what I feel is gone, I would die.” “Then I will make you feel every day.” A quick caress of his face brought their gazes together again. “Something’s changed.” “Everything has changed,” he said. “Everything?” Her brows arched at the question, her mind wondering to the delicious, passionate places he had often taken her. “Well, not that,” he said. Their kiss turned into hunger that could only be satisfied by the joining of their bodies and would only be interrupted an hour later by the squalls of a baby. When Christina would have gone to her
daughter, Dane held her in place and walked to Lucy’s crib. Awkwardly he picked her up and brought her to the bed. “This one will need her own room and a nurse. She will have everything money can buy except unlimited access to her mother. That is reserved for me.” She cupped his face, forcing him to look at her. “Will you let me love you, Dane?” she asked. He traced his fingers over her brow and settled his hand on her neck. He stared into her eyes. “I need you to.” Dane pressed his lips to hers and for the first time in years, felt peace. They married the next day, and by the end of the summer, wound their way to
Longford where they spent the winter. When the new Season began in London that year, Dane accepted an invitation to the first ball and waltzed with his wife. In London, love had a name. The Marquess and Marchioness of Dane.
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Other works by Eliza Lloyd
Historical Wicked Affairs Series Wicked Desires, Book One Wicked Temptation, Book Two Wicked Lord, Book Three Wicked Secrets, Book Four Wicked Indiscretions, Book Five Wicked Siren, Book Six Birds of Paradise Series Another Lover The Darkness in the Marquess of Dane Mad Duchesses (complete series) One Last Night From Now On Age of Innocence The Day After
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The All-Seeing Eye The Trouble With Scots A Sleight of Hand (TBA)
Contemporary Romantic Suspense Cold Play series Best Served Cold On Thin Ice Play It Cool
Contemporary Far From Home series Lessons in Mountain Climbing Lessons in Fly Fishing Lessons in Horse Whispering (TBA)