Hunters Trail (Scarlett Bernard #3) The First Lie (The Lying Game #0.5)

I could spend an hour at the gym, then go down and help Linus. Itd be better for him if I got in my daily training anyway. If someone was coming after him, I needed to be strong and sharp enough to fight them off.

Victoria took delightful to be a euphemism for something else altogether, and quickly left the room. She didnt want to be subject to Roberts double-entendres. Even worse, she was terrified that he was beginning to wear her down. She hated to think what she might do if he tried to kiss her again. Shed probably kiss him back. What a nightmare. She scooted into her room, where her ruined dress was laying on her bed. The saltwater had left it stiff, and she had to beat and stretch the material until it was pliable enough for her to put it on. She left the blue nightgown on as a chemise; her own itched like the devil and had a piece of seaweed tangled up in the strap. When she finally stepped in front of the mirror, she couldnt suppress a loud groan. She looked a fright. Her hair was beyond hope. There was no way she would be able to style it properly without washing the salt away, and her cursory inspection of the cottage hadnt unearthed any soap. Her dress was unbearably wrinkled, torn in four places that she could see—no, make that five, she realized as she inspected her hem. Still, it covered her up better than what shed been wearing before. And if she wasnt precisely looking her best for Robert—well, the man had up and abducted her. It served him right. Robert, plain-spoken man that he was, made no attempt to gloss over the fact that her appearance was not up to her usual standards. You look as if youve been attacked by dogs, he said when they crossed paths in the hall. He had also gotten dressed, but unlike Victoria he looked immaculate. She supposed that he kept a change of clothing here at the cottage so he wouldnt have to pack for trips like these. She rolled her eyes and said, Flattery will get you nowhere, and then continued past him down the stairs. He followed her into the kitchen with a cheerful expression. Is that so? Then what is the path to your heart? I happily accept any and all advice. Victoria didnt even miss a beat before she said, Food. Food? Really? That is all it will take to impress you? It was difficult to remain grumpy when he was being so jovial, but she tried her best. It would certainly be a start. Then, as if to punctuate her sentence, her stomach let out a loud roar. Robert grimaced. I feel much the same way myself, he said, patting his midsection. He looked down at his belly. It looked flat, but it felt concave. Last night hed been too cold to attempt to seduce Victoria; this morning he was too damned hungry. He moved his gaze back to her face. She was looking at him expectantly, as if shed been saying something to him and he hadnt been listening. Er, were you speaking to me? he asked. She scowled and repeated, I cant possibly go out looking like this. He blinked, still chuckling to himself over the image of himself and Victoria—finally making love and then passing out from hunger in the middle of the act. Robert, she said impatiently, will you or wont you go to town? We need food, and I need something to wear. Very well, he said, somehow grumbling and smiling at the same time. Ill go. But I must demand payment. Are you mad? she exclaimed, her voice rising halfway to a shriek. First you abduct me, completely ignoring my wishes, then I nearly drown trying to save you, and now you have the nerve to tell me that I must pay to eat? One side of his mouth lifted into a lazy smile. Just a kiss, he said. Then, before she had a chance to react, he pulled her against him and kissed her soundly. He had meant it to be a teasing kiss, a nothing-but-fun sort of kiss, but the minute his lips touched hers, he was captured by a hunger that far eclipsed anything his stomach had felt all morning. She was perfect in his arms, small and soft and warm and everything hed ever dreamed a woman could be. He touched his tongue to hers, marveling at the soft head of it. She was yielding to him—no, she had already yielded, and now she was returning his affections. Robert felt that kiss in his very soul. Youll love me again, he whispered. And then he rested his chin on her head and just held her close. Sometimes that was enough. Sometimes just feeling her in his arms was all he needed. His body didnt race with desire, his loins didnt harden and throb. He just needed to hold her. The stayed that way for a full minute. Then he pulled away and saw the wary confusion on her face. Before she could say something he didnt want to hear, he gave her a jaunty grin and said, Your hair smells like seaweed. That earned him a whack on the side of his head with an empty sugar sack shed been holding. Robert only laughed, thankful that she hadnt been carrying a rolling pin. About an hour after Robert left to go shopping, Victoria realized that they had both overlooked an important point. MacDougal had taken the carriage back to London. As far as she knew, there wasnt even a mount for Robert to ride into town. She hadnt inspected the property very carefully the day before, but she certainly hadnt seen any building in which one could stable a horse. Victoria wasnt particularly perturbed that Robert would have to walk into town. It was a perfectly lovely day outside, with no sign of yesterdays storm, and the exercise would probably do him good. But she did wonder how he would be able to carry his purchases home. They were both famished—he would need to buy a lot of food. And, of course, she needed a new dress or two. With a shake of her head she decided not to worry about it. Robert was nothing if not resourceful, and he loved to plan. She couldnt imagine that he wouldnt figure out how to solve this little dilemma. She wandered aimlessly about the house, giving it a closer inspection than shed been able to the day before. The cottage was charming, and she didnt understand how Robert could bear to live anywhere else. She supposed he was used to grander lodgings. Victoria let out a regretful sigh. A cottage such as this was all she would ever want. Neat, tidy, homey, with a beautiful view of the water. How could anyone want anything else?Aware that she was growing maudlin, Victoria snapped herself back to attention and continued her inspection. She knew she was invading Roberts privacy by rifling through his drawers and cabinets, but she didnt feel particularly guilty about it. He had abducted her, after all. She had a few rights as the victim in this little scenario. And, much as she didnt enjoy admitting it to herself, she knew that she was looking for pieces of herself. Had Robert saved memories of their courtship, mementos of their love? It was unrealistic to think that he would have moved them to this cottage even if he had, but she couldnt stop herself from looking. She was falling in love with him again. He was wearing her down, just as he said he would. She wondered if there was any way to reverse the tide. She certainly didnt want to love him. She headed back up to his bedroom and opened the door to what she assumed was his dressing room. In the corner was a tub, and in the tub—could it be? She looked a little more closely. Sure enough, stuck to the bottom of the tub was a half-melted bar of soap that someone—probably Robert—had forgotten to clean up. Victoria had never in her life been so thankful for someone elses lack of housekeeping skills. The last time she had tried to run her hand through her hair, it had gotten stuck there. Being able to wash the salt out was about the closest thing to heaven she could imagine. Robert would surely be gone for several hours. She would have plenty of time to enjoy a hot bath. With a grunt of exertion, Victoria pulled the tub out of the dressing room and into Roberts room, where sunlight streamed through the windows. Then, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable at the thought of bathing in his private chamber, she pulled the tub down the hall to her room. She tried to pry the soap from the metal, but it felt as if it had been bonded. She decided to leave it. The hot water would probably loosen it up. It took nearly half an hour and several trips up and down the stairs, but eventually Victoria had the tub full of steaming water. Just the sight of it had her shivering with anticipation. She stripped out of her clothing as fast as could be and stepped into the bathwater. It was hot enough to sting her skin, but it was wet and it was clean and it felt like heaven. Victoria sighed contentedly as she slowly lowered herself into the metal tub. She watched as the white patches of salt that clung to her skin dissolved in the hot water, then she dunked under the surface to wet her hair. After quite a while of happy soaking, she used her left foot to nudge against the soap still stuck to the bottom. It wouldnt move. Oh, come now, she muttered. Youve had a good twenty minutes. It occurred to her that she was talking to a bar of soap, but after what shed been through in the past forty-eight hours, she thought she had a right to act a bit oddly if she pleased. She switched to her right foot and pushed harder. Surely the thing would have loosened by now. Move! she ordered, jamming her heel up against the side of it. It was slick and slippery, and all that happened was that her foot slid right over the top. Oh, blast, she muttered, sitting up. She was going to have to use her hands to pry it loose. She dug her fingernails in and pulled. Then she got a better idea and twisted. Finally she felt the soap begin to move, and after a few more seconds of twisting and yanking, she had at least some of the bar in her hands. Aha! she yelled, feeling triumphant even if her enemy was only a silly old bar of soap. I win. I win. I win. Victoria! She froze. Victoria, to whom are you speaking? Robert. How on earth could he have traveled to town and back in such a short time? Not to mention do all of his shopping. Hed only been gone an hour. Or was it two? Just to myself! she yelled back, stalling. Dear Lord, he was back, and she hadnt even washed her hair yet. Drat. She really wanted to wash her hair. Roberts footsteps sounded on the stairs. Dont you even want to know what I bought? There was nothing for it. She would have to come clean. Wincing at her mental pun, Victoria fairly screamed, Dont come in here! The footsteps halted. Victoria, is everything all right? Yes, Im…Im just… After a long beat, Robert said from just behind the door, Do you have any plans to complete that sentence? Im taking a bath. More silence, then, I see. Victoria gulped. I would rather you didnt. Didnt what? See. Me, that is. He let out a loud groan that Victoria heard right through the door and clear across the room. It was impossible not to think about him thinking about her in the tub, and— Do you need a towel? Victoria exhaled, more than thrilled that hed interrupted her thoughts, which were taking her in a most dangerous direction. No, she replied. I have one here. How unfortunate, he muttered. I found it with the bed linens, she said, mostly because she felt as if she had to say something. Do you need soap? It was stuck to the tub. Do you need food? I brought back a half dozen pasties. Victorias stomach rumbled, but she said, Ill have one later, if you dont mind. Do you need anything? He sounded almost desperate. No, not really, although— Although what? he said, very quickly. What do you need? Id be happy to bring it to you. Ecstatic. Anything to make you more comfortable.

Vampire Moon (Vampire for Hire #2)

Did you happen to buy me a new dress? Im going to need something to change into. I suppose I could put this one back on, but its terribly itchy with the salt. She heard him say, Just one moment. Dont move. Dont go anywhere. As if I had anywhere to go like this, she said to herself, looking down at her naked body. A moment later she heard Robert running up the hall. Im back! he said. I have your dress. I hope it fits. Anything would be an improvement over— Victoria gasped as she saw the doorknob turning. What are you doing? she shrieked. Mercifully the doorknob froze in place. She supposed even Robert knew when he was going too far. Bringing you your dress, he said. But there was a hint of a question in his voice. Just open the door a few inches and drop it in, she instructed. A moment of silence, and then: I dont get to come inside? No! Oh. He sounded like a disappointed schoolboy. Robert, surely you didnt think I would allow you to come in here while I am bathing. I was hoping… His words trailed off into a big heartfelt sigh. Just drop the dress inside. He did as she asked. Now close the door. Would you like me to drop a pasty inside, too? Victoria judged the distance between the tub and the door. She would have to get out of the bath in order to get the food. Not an appealing concept, but then again her stomach was roaring at the thought of a meat pasty. Could you scoot it across the floor? she asked. Wont it get dirty? I dont care. And she didnt. Thats how hungry she was. Very well. His hand came into sight, about an inch above the floor. In which direction? I beg your pardon? In which direction should I push the pasty? I wouldnt want to send it out of your reach. Victoria thought that what should have been a very simple task was turning into a most complicated endeavor, and she wondered if hed found some insidious peephole. Maybe he was stalling as he watched her. Maybe he could see her naked body. Maybe— Victoria? Then she thought of the scientific precision with which he approached everything he did. The crazy man probably did want to know which way to scoot the pasty. Im at about one oclock, she said, lifting her left hand from the tub and shaking it dry. Roberts hand twisted slightly to the right, and he sent the pasty careening across the wood floor. It came to a halt when it smacked into the side of the metal tub. Bulls eye! Victoria called out. You can close the door now. Nothing. I said you can close the door now! she said, her voice a little more stern. Another heartfelt sigh, and then the door shut. Ill just wait in the kitchen, he said, his voice small. Victoria would have answered him, but her mouth was full. Robert lowered himself onto a stool and let his head drop dejectedly onto the wooden kitchen table. First hed been cold. Then hed been hungry. But now—well, to be frank, now his body was in perfect working order, and Victoria was naked in a tub, and he was— He groaned. He was not comfortable. He busied himself in the kitchen, putting away some of the food hed brought home. He wasnt accustomed to the chore, but he rarely brought many servants with him to the Ramsgate cottage, so he was a bit more at home here than he would have been at Castleford or in London. Besides, there wasnt much to unpack; hed made arrangements for the shopowners to deliver most of his purchases. Hed only brought with him what was ready-made and could be eaten immediately. Robert finished his chores by popping two rolls into the bread box, and he settled back down onto the stool, trying very hard not to imagine what Victoria was doing right then. He wasnt successful, and he started feeling so warm he had to open a window. Keep your mind off her, he muttered. No need to think about Victoria. There are millions of people on this planet, and shes just one of them. And there are a number of planets, too. Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars… Robert ran out of planets in short order and, desperate to keep his mind on anything but Victoria, started in on the Linnaean system of taxonomy. Kingdom, phylum, then… He paused. Was that a footstep hed heard? No, he must have imagined it. He sighed, then resumed.…class, order, family, and then… and then… Damn it, what came next? He started pounding the table with his fist in an attempt to jog his memory. Damn, damn, damn, he said, punctuating each pound. He was well aware that he getting a bit too upset over his inability to remember a simple scientific term, but the task had taken on almost desperate proportions. Victoria was upstairs in the tub, and— Genus! he fairly yelled out. Genus and then species! I beg your pardon? He whipped his head around. Victoria was standing in the doorway, her hair still damp. The dress hed bought her was a hair too long and dragged on the floor, but other than that it fit her quite well. He cleared his throat. You look— He had to clear his throat again. You look fetching. Thank you very much, she said automatically. But what were you yelling about? Nothing. I could have sworn you were saying something about the genius of the three seas.He stared at her, certain that his loins had sapped some of the energy from his brain, because he truly had no idea what she was talking about. What does that mean? he asked. I dont know. Why did you say it? I didnt say it. I said, genus and species. Oh. She paused. That would explain everything, I suppose, if I knew what it meant. It means… He looked up. She had an expectant and slightly amused expression on her face. Its a scientific term. I see, she said slowly. And was there any reason you were shouting it at the top of your lungs? Yes, he said, focusing on her mouth. Yes, there was. Was there? He took a step toward her, and then another. Yes. You see, I was trying to keep my mind off something. She nervously wetted her lips and blushed. Oh, I see. He moved ever closer. But it didnt work. Not even a little bit? she squeaked. He shook his head, so close to her now that his nose nearly brushed hers. I still want you. He shrugged apologetically. I cant help it. She did nothing but stare at him. Robert decided that was better than an outright rejection and moved his hand to the small of her back. I searched the door for a peephole, he said. She didnt look surprised when she whispered, Did you find one? He shook his head. No. But I have a very good imagination. Not—he leaned forward and brushed the lightest of kisses onto her mouth— as good as the real thing, Im afraid, but it was enough to lead to my current state of extreme and prolonged discomfort. Discomfort? she echoed, her eyes growing wide and unfocused. Mmm-hmm. He kissed her again, another light touch intended to arouse, not invade. Again she made no move to pull away. Roberts hopes soared, as did his arousal. But he held his desire in check, sensing that she needed to be seduced by words as well as actions. He touched her cheek as he whispered, May I kiss you? She looked startled that hed asked. You just did. He smiled lazily. Technically I suppose that this—he brushed another of those feather light kisses across her mouth— qualifies as a kiss. But what I want to do to you is so different it seems a crime against words to call them the same thing. Wh-what do you mean? Her curiosity thrilled him. I think you know, he said, smiling. But just to refresh your memory… He slanted his mouth against hers and kissed her deeply, nibbling on her lips and exploring her with his tongue. That is more along the lines of what I intended. He could sense her being swept away on the tide of his passion. Her pulse was racing and her breath was coming faster and faster. Beneath his hand he could feel her skin burning through the thin fabric of her dress. Her head fell back as he kissed her neck, trailing hot fire along the line of her throat. She was melting. He could feel it. His hands moved down and curved around her backside, pulling her firmly against him. There was no denying his arousal, and when she didnt move immediately away, he took it as a sign of acquiescence. Come upstairs with me, he whispered in her ear. Come and let me love you now. She didnt quite freeze in his arms, but she did go uncommonly still. Victoria? His whisper had grown harsh. Dont ask me to do this, she said, turning her face away. He cursed under his breath. How long are you going to make me wait? She didnt say anything. His grip on her tightened. How long? Youre not being fair to me. You know I cant simply…Its just not right. He let go of her so abruptly that she stumbled. Nothing has ever been more right, Victoria. You just dont want to see it. He looked at her for one last hungry moment, feeling too angry and rejected to care about her anguished expression. Then he turned on his heel and left the room. Chapter 19 Victoria had closed her eyes against his bitterness, but she couldnt close her ears. His angry footsteps pounded through the house, ending with the loud slam of his bedroom door. She leaned against the kitchen wall. What was she so afraid of? She could no longer deny that she cared for Robert. Nothing had the power to lift her heart like one of his smiles. But letting him make love to her was so permanent. She would have to let go of that little piece of anger shed been holding inside for so many years. At some point that anger had become a part of who she was, and nothing terrified her more than losing her sense of herself. That was all shed been able to hold on to when she was a governess. I am Victoria Lyndon, she would tell herself after a particularly trying day. No one can ever take that from me. Victoria covered her face with her hands and exhaled. Her eyes were still closed, but all she could see was Roberts warm expression. She could hear his voice in her mind, and he kept saying, over and over, I love you. And then she breathed in. Her hands smelled like him, like sandalwood and leather. It was overwhelming. I need to get out of here, she muttered, then crossed the room to the door leading to the cottages back garden. Once outside, she took a deep breath of the fresh air. She knelt in the grass and touched the flowers. Mama, she whispered. Are you listening? Lightning didnt crash through the sky, but a sixth sense told her to turn around, and when she did she saw Robert in the window of his room. He was perched on his windowsill with his back to her. His posture looked desolate and bleak.She was hurting him. She was clutching onto her anger because it was all she could depend on, but all she was doing was hurting the one person she— The flower in her hand snapped in two. Had she been about to say loved? Victoria felt herself rising to her feet as if lifted by some invisible force. There was something else in her heart now. She wasnt sure it was love, but it was something gentle and good, and it had pushed the anger aside. She felt freer than she had in years. She looked back up to the window. Roberts head was in his hands. This wasnt right. She couldnt keep hurting him this way. He was a good man. A bit domineering at times, she thought with a wobbly smile, but a good man. Victoria reentered the house and quietly made her way to her room. She sat motionless on her bed for a full minute. Could she really do this? She closed her eyes and nodded. Then, taking a deep breath, she moved her shaking hands to the fastenings of her dress. She slipped into the blue nightgown, sliding her hands down its silky length. She felt transformed. And she finally admitted to herself what she had known all along—she wanted Robert. She wanted him, and she wanted to know that he wanted her. The question of love was still too scary for her to confront, even in her own mind, but her desire was strong and impossible to deny. With a steadiness of purpose she hadnt felt in some time, Victoria walked to his chamber door and turned the knob. Hed locked it. Her mouth fell open. She tried the knob again, just to be sure. It was definitely locked. She nearly fell to the ground in frustration. She had made one of the most momentous decisions in her life, and he had gone and locked the damn door. Victoria had half a mind to turn around and head back to her own room, where she could sulk alone. He would never know what he had missed, the blasted man. But then she realized that she would never know, either. And she wanted to feel loved again. She raised her hand and knocked on the door. Roberts head shot up in surprise. He thought hed heard the doorknob rattle, but hed assumed that it was merely the creaking of an old building. Not in his wildest dreams did he imagine that Victoria would come to him of her own volition. But then he heard something different. A knock. What could she possibly want? He crossed the room in swift, long strides and pulled open the door. What do you— He sucked in his breath. He didnt know what hed been expecting, but it certainly wasnt this. Victoria had donned the seductive gown hed given her, and this time she wasnt covering herself up with a quilt. The blue silk clung to her every curve, the neckline plunged to reveal her delicate cleavage, and one of her legs was visible though along slit in the side. Roberts body went instantly taut. Somehow he managed to utter her name. It wasnt easy; his mouth had gone dry as death. She stood before him, her bearing proud but her hands shaking. Ive made a decision, she said in a low voice. He inclined his head, not trusting himself to speak. I want you, she said. If youll still have me. Robert froze, so unable to believe what he was hearing that he couldnt move. Her face fell. Im sorry, she said, misinterpreting his inaction. How ill-bred of me. Please forget I— The rest of her sentence was lost as Robert crushed her to him, his hands roving wildly up and down the length of her body. Robert wanted to devour her—he wanted to wrap himself around her and never let go. So all encompassing was his reaction that he was afraid hed frightened her with his passion. With a ragged breath he pulled himself a few inches away from her. She looked up at him with huge, questioning blue eyes. He managed a shaky smile. Ill still have you, he said. For a second she didnt react. Then she laughed. The sound was almost musical, and it did more for his soul than the Church of England ever had. He took her face in his hands with reverent gentleness. I love you, Torie, he said. I will always love you. She didnt say anything for a long moment. Finally she stood on her tiptoes and brushed a feathery kiss across his lips. I cant talk of always yet, she whispered. Please dont— He understood, and he saved her from having to finish her sentence by claiming her mouth once again in a fiercely possessive kiss. He didnt mind that she wasnt yet ready for always. Soon she would be. He would prove to her that their love was a forever emotion. He would do it with his hands and lips and words. His hands slid up the length of her body, the silk of her gown bunching under his fingers. He could feel her every curve through the thin material. Im going to show you what love is, he whispered. He leaned down and pressed his lips against the soft skin of her breast. Im going to love you here. He moved his lips to her neck. And here. His hands squeezed her buttocks. And here. She moaned in reaction, a hoarse, sensual sound that came from deep within her throat. Robert suddenly doubted his ability to remain standing. He swooped her into his arms and carried her to the bed. As he laid her down, he said, Im going to love you everywhere. Victoria sucked in her breath. His eyes were burning into her, and she felt terribly exposed, as if he could see into her very soul. Then he came down beside her, and she was lost in the heat of his body and the passion of the moment. He was hard and strong, hot and overwhelming. Her senses were swimming. I want to touch you, she whispered, barely able to believe her own boldness. He grasped her hand and guided it to his chest. His skin burned, and she could feel his heart pounding under her fingers. Feel me, he murmured. Feel what you do to me.

Changeling (Otherworld/Sisters of the Moon #2)

Overcome by curiosity, Victoria sat up, tucking her legs underneath her. She saw the question in Roberts eyes, smiled, and murmured a soft Shhh. She let her fingers slide down to the taut skin of his abdomen, mesmerized by the way his muscles leaped at her touch. She sensed that he was exerting incredible control. It was an awesomely powerful feeling to know that she could make him like this, his breathing hard and ragged, his every muscle straining and tense. Victoria felt daring. She felt wild and reckless. She wanted the whole world, and she wanted it that afternoon. She swayed forward, teasing him with her nearness, then pulled back, feeling giddy and off-balance. Her hand dipped lower until it brushed against the waistband of his breeches. Robert gasped, and his hand flew to cover hers. Not yet, he said hoarsely. I cant control— Not yet. Victoria lifted her hand. Tell me what to do, she said. Whatever you want. He stared at her, quite unable to utter a word. She swayed toward him. Anything you want, she whispered. Anything. I want to feel your hands on me again, he finally managed to say. Both of them. She reached out, but then stopped when her hand was an inch away from his shoulder. Here? He nodded, sucking in his breath when her hand slid from his shoulder to his upper arm. She wrapped her hand around his biceps. Youre very strong. You make me strong, he said. Everything in me that is good—you make me that way. With you, I become more than I am. He shrugged helplessly. Im not making sense. I dont how to explain it. I dont know the words. Tears filled Victorias eyes, and emotions she didnt want to feel pressed against her heart. She moved her hand to the back of his neck. Kiss me. He did. Oh, how he did! He was soft at first, teasing her mercilessly, leaving her body straining for more. And then, just when Victoria was certain she couldnt withstand another second of his sensual torture, his arms snaked around her back and bound her to him in a steely grip. He grew wild, his movements uncontrolled. He pushed the silk of her gown up until it was bunched around her midriff. He separated her legs with one of his powerful thighs, and Victoria could feel the fabric of his breeches rubbing against her womanhood. It was so overwhelming that she was certain she would have fallen over if he hadnt been holding her so close to his body. I want you, he groaned. Lord, how I want you. Please, she begged. He continued to push the silky gown up until it slid over her head and landed in a forgotten heap on the floor next to the bed. Victoria was struck by a sudden shyness, and she looked away, unable to watch him watching her. She felt his fingers touch her chin, and with gentle pressure he turned her head until she faced him again. I love you, he said, his voice low but fervent. She didnt say anything. Youll tell me soon enough, he said, drawing her into his arms and lowering her down. Im not worried. I can wait. For you I can wait forever. Victoria wasnt sure how he did it, but within seconds she no longer felt his breeches between them. It was just skin against skin, and she felt so exquisitely close to him. God, youre beautiful, Robert said, lifting himself up on his arms to gaze down at her. She touched his cheek. So are you. Beautiful? he said, his voice tinged with a smile. She nodded. I used to dream about you, you know. All those years. You did? Victoria inhaled sharply as his hand closed around her breast and gave it a loving squeeze. I couldnt stop, she admitted. And then I realized I didnt want to stop. Robert made a ragged sound in the bottom of his throat. I dreamed about you, too. But it was never like this, never this good. He lowered his head until his lips were scant inches from her breast. I couldnt taste you in my dreams. Her hips bucked off the bed as his mouth closed around her nipple, loving her with tantalizing thoroughness. Without realizing what she was about, her fingers sank themselves into his thick hair. Oh, Robert, she moaned. He whispered something against her breast. She couldnt make out the words, then realized it didnt matter. His tongue traced patterns on her skin, his breath devilishly ticklish and seductive. He dragged his mouth along her neck, murmuring, I want more, Torie. I want it all. He nudged her legs apart, and she could feel him settling against her. He was hard and hot, intimidating and oddly comforting at the same time. His hands were underneath her, squeezing her backside, pulling her closer to him. I want to go slowly, he whispered. I want it to be perfect. Victoria heard the ragged emotion in his voice and knew instantly what it had cost him to utter those words. She reached up and smoothed her thumbs along his eyebrows. It cant help but be perfect, she whispered. No matter what you do. Robert stared down at her, his body shaking with need and near to bursting with love. He couldnt believe how unreservedly she was accepting him into her embrace. She was honest and open and everything he had ever wanted, not just in a woman but out of life. Hell, she was his life. And he didnt care who knew it. He felt like shouting it to the rafters, right then, right before he finally made her his own. I love this woman, he wanted to yell. I love her! He positioned himself at the edge of her womanhood. This may hurt a little, he said.She touched his cheek. You wont hurt me. I dont want to, but I— He couldnt finish the sentence. Hed pushed forward into her—just an inch, but it felt so perfect that he lost the power of speech. Oh, my, Victoria breathed. Robert just grunted. It was all he could manage. Intelligent speech was clearly beyond his capabilities. He forced himself to hold still, waiting to feel her muscles relax around him before sinking himself deeper into her. It was damned near impossible to hold himself back; every nerve in his body was screaming for release. It took clenched teeth, clenched muscles, clenched everything to keep his passion in check, but he did it. All because he loved her. It was an awesome feeling, that. Finally he moved that last inch and let out a shudder of complete and total pleasure. It was the sweetest of embraces. He was overcome by the most intense desire in his life, yet at the same time he had never felt more protected and content. We are one now, he whispered, brushing a sweaty strand of hair from her forehead. You and I. We are one person. Victoria nodded and took a deep breath. She felt very strange. Strange, and somehow complete at the same time. Robert was inside her; she could scarcely fathom that. It was the oddest and yet the most natural feeling she had ever experienced. She felt as if she would surely burst if he moved even a quarter of an inch, and yet she was hungry for something more. Did I hurt you? he whispered. She shook her head. Its so…odd He let out a little laugh. It will get better. I promise. Oh, it isnt bad, she said, trying to reassure him. Please dont think— He chuckled again as he pressed a gentle finger to her lips. Shhh. Just let me show you. He replaced his fingers with his mouth, distracting her so she wouldnt notice when he started to move within her. She noticed. The first brush of exquisite friction made her cry out, and before she knew it she had wrapped her legs around his. Oh, Victoria, he moaned. But it was a very happy moan. He moved forward again, then pulled back, slowly creating a rhythm as beautiful as it was primitive. Victoria moved with him, instinct carrying her along where experience could not. Something began to build within her—a mounting pressure. She didnt know if it was pain or if it was pleasure, and at that moment she didnt particularly care which. All she knew was that she was on a road to somewhere, and if she didnt get there soon, she would surely explode. And then she reached her destination and she exploded anyway, and then, for the first time in her life, she knew what it meant to be totally at peace with the world. Roberts movements grew frenzied and then he, too, shouted his release and collapsed on top of her. Several minutes passed before either was able to speak. Robert rolled to his side, pulling Victoria along with him. He kissed her gently on the lips. Did I hurt you? She shook her head. Was I too heavy? No. I liked feeling your weight. She blushed, feeling very risqué. Why did you lock the door? Hmm? The door. It was locked. He turned and looked at her, his blue eyes warm and thoughtful. Habit, I suppose. Ive always locked my door. I certainly didnt intend to keep you out. His lips spread into a lazy, contented smile. I rather enjoy your company. She giggled. Yes, I believe youve demonstrated that. His face grew serious. There wont be any more locked doors between us. Barriers have no place in our relationship, be they doors or lies or misunderstandings. Victoria swallowed, feeling too emotional to speak. All she did was nod. Robert slid a leg over her, drawing her close. You wont leave, will you? I know its the middle of the day, but we can take a nap. Yes, she said softly. Then she curled up in his arms, closed her eyes, and drifted off into peaceful sleep. Chapter 20 When Victoria woke from her nap an hour later, Roberts beaming face was only a few inches from her own. He was propped up on his elbow, and she suspected that hed spent the entire nap time watching her. Today, he announced with great cheer, is a superb day to be married. Victoria was certain shed misheard him. I beg your pardon? Married. Man and wife. You and me? No, actually I think that the hedgehogs out in the garden need to be joined in holy matrimony. They have been living in sin for years. I can no longer stand for it. Robert, Victoria said, giggling despite herself. And all those little illegitimate hedgehogs. Think of the stigma. Their parents have been breeding like rabbits. Or like hedgehogs, as the case may be. Robert, this is a serious matter. The levity left his eyes, and they burned hot and intense into hers. I have never been more serious. Victoria was silent for a moment while she chose her words. Dont you think today is a bit sudden? Marriage is a very serious matter. We must give it sufficient thought. I have been thinking of little else for the better part of a month. Victoria sat up, pulling the sheet along with her to cover her nakedness. But I have not. Im not ready to make this kind of decision just yet. His face hardened. You might have thought of that before you knocked on my door this afternoon. I wasnt thinking beyond—

Beyond what? he asked, his voice sharp. Id hurt your feelings, she whispered. And I wanted to— He was out of the bed and on his feet in under a second. He planted his hands on his hips and stared down at her furiously, oblivious to the fact that he wasnt wearing a stitch of clothing. You made love to me out of pity? he spat. No! She, however, was not oblivious to the fact that he was naked, and so her denial was directed to his knees. Look at me! he ordered, his anger making his voice terribly harsh. She raised her eyes a few inches, then lowered them again. Would you please put on some clothing? Its a little for modesty, he bit out, but he pulled his breeches off the floor and put them on. I didnt do this out of pity, she said, finally raising her eyes to his face, even though shed much rather look at the ceiling or the walls or even at the chamber pot in the corner. I did it simply because I wanted to do it, and I wasnt thinking much beyond today. I find it difficult to believe that you, a person who craves stability and permanence, would embark on a short-term affair. I wasnt thinking of it as such. Then how were you thinking of it? Victoria looked into his eyes, saw the vulnerability he was trying to hide beneath his anger, and realized just how important her answer was to him. I wasnt thinking with my head, she said softly. I was thinking with my heart. I looked up at your window, and you looked so sad— As you have so kindly pointed out, he said bitterly. Victoria fell silent for a moment to let him speak. Then she continued with, It wasnt just for you. It was for myself as well. I suppose I just wanted to feel loved. Hope flared in his eyes. You are loved, he said fervently, reaching forward to take her hands in his. And you can feel that way every day of the rest of your life if youd only let yourself. Marry me, Victoria. Marry me and make me the happiest man in the world. Marry me and give yourself peace and contentment. And, he added, his voice dropping to a husky whisper, love. For surely there has never been a woman loved more deeply and truly than I do you. Victoria fought against the tears that were pricking her eyes, but his words were too powerful, and she felt her cheeks grow salty and wet. Robert, she began, not at all certain what she was trying to say, for so very long I have— You might be with child, he cut in. Have you considered that? I had not, she admitted with a convulsive swallow. But I— Marry me, he repeated, tightening his grip on her hands. You know it is the right thing to do. Why did you have to say that? she said. You know I hate it when you try to tell me what I want. Robert let out an exasperated breath. That wasnt what I meant, and you know it. I know, its only that… Its only what? he said softly. What is holding you back, Torie? She looked away, feeling rather stupid. I dont know. Marriage is so permanent. What if I make a mistake? If its a mistake then youve already made it, he said with a glance toward the bed. But it isnt a mistake. Marriage wont always be easy, but life without you— He ran his hand through his hair, his face showing his inability to put his thoughts into words. Life without you would be impossible. I dont know how else to say it. Victoria chewed on her lower lip, aware that she was coming to feel the same way. For all that hed put her through during this past month, she couldnt quite imagine life without his lopsided smiles, the twinkle in his eyes, or the way his hair never quite looked as if hed brushed it properly. She looked up at him, her eyes locking with his. I have a few reservations, she began. You wouldnt be human if you didnt, he said reassuringly. But I can see that there are several reasons why marriage might be a good idea. She spoke slowly, working her words out in her head as she spoke. She shot a quick glance at Robert, half expecting him to yank her into another crushing embrace. But he remained still, clearly understanding that she needed to speak her mind. First of all, Victoria said, as you pointed out, there is the matter of a child. It was very irresponsible of me not to consider it, but I didnt and there is nothing for it now. I suppose I could simply wait a few weeks and see— I wouldnt recommend that particular course of action, Robert said quickly. She bit back a smile. No, I dont imagine youre going to let me go back to London, and I dont imagine that if I stay here— I cant keep my hands off you, he said with an unapologetic shrug. I freely admit it. And I wont try to lie and say that I do not—she blushed— enjoy your attentions. You know that I always have, even seven years ago. He smiled knowingly. But there are other reasons why we should or should not marry. Should. She blinked. I beg your pardon? We should marry. Not should not. Victoria was finding it hard not to laugh. When he was eager for something, Robert was more adorable than a puppy. I do worry that you will not let me make my own decisions, she warned.

I shall try to abide by your wishes, he said, his expression solemn. If I become an overbearing ass, I give you leave to whack me over the head with your reticule. Her eyes narrowed. May I have that in writing? Certainly. He crossed the room to his writing table, opened a drawer, and whipped out a quill, a piece of paper, and a bottle of ink. Victoria stared at him openmouthed as he scribbled a sentence, then signed the bottom with a flourish. He walked back to her, handed her the paper, and said, There you are. Victoria looked down and read, If I become an overbearing ass, I give my beloved wife, Victoria Mary Lyndon Kemble— She looked up. Kemble? It will be Kemble. Today, if I have any say. He pointed to a scrawl at the top of the note. I postdated the note, however, for next week. Youll be a Kemble by then. Victoria forebore to comment on his amazing confidence and continued reading. Lets see…Victoria Mary Lyndon, ahem, Kemble…leave to whack me over the head with whatever object she chooses. She glanced up questioningly. Any object? Robert shrugged. If I become a really overbearing ass, you might want to hit me with something sturdier than your reticule. Her shoulders shook as she turned back to the note. Signed, Robert Phillip Arthur Kemble, Earl of Macclesfield. Im not a scholar of the law, but I think it is legal. Victorias face broke into a watery smile. With an impatient hand she brushed her tears away. This is why Im going to marry you, she said, holding the slip of paper in the air. Because I have told you that you may hit me at your discretion? No, she said, sniffling loudly, because I dont know what will happen to me if I dont have you to tease me. Ive grown too serious, Robert. I wasnt always this way. I know, he said gently. For seven years I wasnt allowed to laugh. I forgot how. Ill remind you. She nodded. I think I need you, Robert. I think I do. He sat on the end of the bed and gathered her into a tender embrace. I know I need you, darling Torie. I know I do. After several moments of enjoying the warmth of his arms, Victoria pulled just far enough away to ask, Were you serious about getting married today? Absolutely. But thats impossible. We have to post banns. He smiled wickedly. I procured a special license. You did? She gaped at him. When? Over a week ago. A bit prematurely certain of yourself, dont you think? It all worked out in the end, didnt it? Victoria tried to adopt a suspicious expression, but she couldnt do anything about the laughter in her eyes. I think, my lord, that some might deem you an overbearing ass for this type of behavior. An overbearing ass, or a really overbearing ass? I should like to know, as the welfare of my skull depends upon it. Victoria melted into a pool of giggles. Do you know, Robert, but I think that I might actually like being married to you. Does that mean you forgive me for abducting you? Not just yet. Really? Yes, I shall have to withhold forgiveness until I have milked the situation for all it is worth. This time it was Roberts turn to explode with laughter. While he was catching his breath, Victoria poked him in the shoulder and said, We cannot marry today in any case. And why is that? It is well past noon. A proper marriage must take place in the morning. A silly rule. My father always abided by it, she said. I know, for I was always forced to pound away at the organ at every wedding at which he officiated. I didnt know we had an organ at our village vicarage. We didnt. This was in Leeds. And I believe youre changing the subject. No, he said, nuzzling her neck. Merely a temporary digression. As for morning weddings, I believe that the early hour is required only for conventional marriages. With a special license we can do whatever we please. I suppose I should be thankful that I am cleaving unto a man who is so supremely organized. Robert let out a happy sigh. I shall take my compliments in any form you wish. Do you really want to get married this evening? I can think of nothing else as appealing. Weve no playing cards, and I have already read most of the books in the library. She swatted him with a pillow. I am serious. It took only a second for him to pin her down onto her back, his weight flattening her bare breasts, his eyes gleaming into hers. So am I, he said. She caught her breath, then smiled. I believe you. Besides, if I do not marry you tonight, I shall have to ravish you again. Is that so? Indeed. But you are a good churchgoing woman, daughter of a vicar no less, so I know that you will want to keep your premarriage ravishments to a minimum. His expression turned suddenly serious. I always swore that when I made love to you, it would be as man and wife. She grinned and touched his cheek. Well, we ruined that vow. Once, I suppose, is not so very great a sin, he said, turning his attention to her earlobe. But I should like to get my ring on your finger before I am overcome with lust again.Can you talk to robins?

Sssssh, she says. And I see he is back. She smiles again, not at me. If I move and he flies off, Ill catch it; if I stay, I annoy her. What to do?She draws and I crane my head to see. It is pretty good. Im surprised. Stuff shes done in class is average.

The Undead Next Door (Love at Stake #4)

Eventually he tips his head to one side and flies away. She shuts her book.Listen, you. Dont tell anyone I was talking to a robin, understand? Or youll regret it.

I shrug. Why would I, and whod care if I did? I turn to start back the way I came, but something needles inside, and I find myself turning back. It is just her, and me; no crowd about on her side, and Im bugged.What is your problem with me? Ive never done anything to you.

Dont you know? Are you really that stupid, Spy-head?I can feel my fists clenching but force them to relax, and breathe deep. Glance at my Levo: 4.8; so okay at the moment.

No one is here to help you if you blow up. She laughs.Whyd you call me that?

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