Deliciously Debauched by the Rake(6)

By: Ann Lethbridge



The two of them disappeared from the room so fast Elizabeth could feel a swirl of air pass her cheek.

She rose to her feet. “What are you doing here?”

John grinned at her. “Throwing my hat into the ring, so to speak.”

Dreadful canting talk. But she knew exactly what he meant. He was taking up the challenge. He looked lovely. Smiling. Handsome. Her heart lifted so high it was only now she realized how low it had sunk.

“No.”

“No?” he asked in a low, seductive murmur.

He took her hand in his, kissed the back of it, his breath hot against her skin through the lace of her mitten, reminding her of all the passion they had shared.

“I told you,” she said, struggling against the longing in her heart, in her very soul, to have him stay. “It is over between us.”

“Us,” he said musingly. “There never was an us.”

Was this some kind of horrid joke? Some sort of revenge? She would not have expected it of him. “We lived together for almost five years, remember?”

“You lived with Lord Radthorn for five years. A young nobleman of means who wrote up a contract. A cold arrangement for money. I am his distant cousin. You and I never met before.”

“I have no idea what you are talking about.” She spun away from him. Turned her back. Her heart pounded with fear. Her voice shook. The calmness with which she’d faced him only a few days before seemed beyond her grasp. “Please go.”

The lack of sound behind her had her turning back. To her shock, he held a yellow bloom in his hand. He held it out to her.

Frantic, she curled her lip. “You know I only like red roses.”

“I know nothing about you,” he murmured

“John, please.” The anguish in her voice shocked her.

“George.” The rose remained steady, while his lips curved in an encouraging smile. “You can’t despise yellow entirely, my lady, if you kept them by you.”

Unable to resist the appeal in his eyes, she reached for the bloom. He captured her hand in his the moment she clasped the stem. He stepped closer, only the blossom standing between them. He touched the petals to his lips and then pressed the flower gently to hers. It was a heady sensation to be kissed by a rose. On a shuddering breath she stepped away. He dropped her hand and she immediately felt the loss.

She moved to the window, looking out into the quiet street. “Why are you here? What is this game you are playing?”

“No game. I understand you found your last lover lacking. I am here to see if I can improve upon his performance.”

Startled, she turned to stare at him. The sight of him, his physical presence, was pure temptation and torture. The warmth in his gaze a tug at her heart. “I—No. This is nonsense.”

He watched her gravely. “Am I so unworthy, you will not give me a chance?”

Was that hurt she heard in his voice? Possibly. She could imagine she’d hurt his pride. But she did have one last arrow left in her quiver. She drew herself up straight. “You have an obligation to your family to marry. To produce the next heir, whatever name you go by.”

At that he laughed, and his eyes gleamed wickedly. “Are you saying that any relationship we might have is an impediment to my being married?”

Trust John to see right to the heart of the matter. But how could she tell him it would break her heart? “No,” she said stiffly, hoping he would not see the lie in her eyes. “No impediment.”

He stepped close and this time when he took her hand, she offered no resistance. His gaze holding hers, he kissed her hand. “Then you find me unattractive.”

“No,” she whispered. “Never that.”

“Then why do you hesitate?” he murmured. “Give me leave to call on you. It is all I ask.”

“All?”

“To begin with.”

“John—”

“John is driving in the park with some empty-headed debutante in fulfilment of his duties. I am all yours.”

Moisture burned in her throat and behind her eyes. Her heart would no longer hold out against him. But for all her surrender, she must have his agreement to the boundaries of this madness. A way to protect her heart. “For the nonce, then,” she said with a careless flick of her fingers. “Until I make my final choice.”

He flashed a small smile. A little too triumphant for her liking. “For the nonce it is.” He drew her over to the sofa and gestured she should sit. She sank into the soft upholstery. He lounged beside her, his big, strong body clearly at ease.

“Would you like some refreshment?” she asked. “Some wine. Brandy? You will have to tell me what it is George prefers.”

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