Skirting the yard, Rip led her to the old stables. “Turn around,” he murmured.
A silk scarf untangled in his fingers and then he wrapped it across her eyes, effectively blindfolding her. The silk whispered over her skin. Esme sucked in a sharp breath as he knotted it behind her head. “John?”
“Always,” she admitted, letting him take her hand again. He led her forward and Esme hesitantly followed.
“There’s a step,” he murmured, trying to help her.
Esme’s boots slipped on the edge and she stumbled. In the next second he’d swung her up into his arms.
“I agree,” she replied, resting her fingertips against his chest. His heartbeat clipped along at a good pace. Strange. As though he was nervous.
The door clicked shut and Rip shoved the latch into place. Locking them in. Even through the sudden fall of darkness, Esme could sense light flickering. Perhaps candles.
“John, what are you up to?”
“You can take the blindfold off now,” he said simply.
Esme tugged it free as he put her down, her eyes widening as she took in the room. It was transformed. All of the stored furniture was gone, replaced by a handful of tasteful carved pieces and a gold damask curtain that draped across half of the room, teasingly beckoning at something beyond. Hundreds of small candles had been placed in old jars until she felt like she stood in the centre of a chandelier. They tracked over every available surface and a path of them led toward the curtain.
“What—What does it all mean?” she whispered, turning in circles and examining the room. It looked almost like a sitting room, with the old fireplace cleaned out and a pair of embroidered sofas sitting on a rug.
“Thought we needed a place to ourselves,” Rip said, one hand resting on the low-hanging beam overhead. He watched her carefully, as though trying to scrutinise her expression. “Yet it’s close to the house – nice and safe. Just--” And here he stumbled, hints of red creeping up his cheekbones as his eyes dropped. “If you wanted. Thought the pair of us…”
The words trailed off.
“I love it,” she said, still turning in small circles. She loved the Warren with all its hectic noise and laughter, but she had never had a place of her own. Somewhere just for them.
“You do?” He let out a relieved breath and followed her as she headed toward the curtain.
“What are you hiding behind here?” She yanked it back and stared at the enormous white cast-iron bed, with its pristine pink-and-white quilt and the mound of fluffy pillows. Candles trailed over the polished secretariat and the enormous copper bath in the corner. A new spigot gleamed in the wall. Hot water, just for her.
“’onoria ‘elped me pick all the cushions and fripperies,” Rip admitted.
“How the devil did you manage all of this without me knowing?” She took a step forward, trailing her fingers over the soft quilt. It was beautiful. Perfect. Candlelight blurred as happy tears flooded her eyes.
“Remember those times Lena took you shoppin’ the last few weeks?” At her incredulous look, he laughed. “Blade and Will ‘elped me with the ‘eavy stuff. Tin Man too. Only when you weren’t ‘ere though.”
The shopping trips. Traipsing through milliner’s as Lena prattled on, searching for the precise shade of cotton that she wanted for a dress. Cotton that never seemed quite the right colour.
“I can’t believe you were all plotting against me,” she said, spinning around again. The silk scarf dangled from her fingers. Esme glanced down, a soft smile dawning on her lips. “How could I ever thank you?”
Again his cheeks coloured. “You don’t ‘ave to thank me,” he said gruffly. “I like makin’ you smile.”
Esme slid onto the edge of the bed, her velvet skirts whispering over the quilt. She patted the bed beside her. “Perhaps a kiss, to start with?”
Rip knelt on the bed, his hands clasping hers as he tumbled her onto her back. Esme stared up at him, candlelight warming his skin. “I won’t say no,” he teased and leaned down to brush his lips against hers.
Aching sweet and just as tender. But it wasn’t tender she wanted, not now. Her nails dug into the back of his hands as her fingers clenched, her thighs parting to welcome his weight atop her.
Rip drew back, breathing harshly. The obsidian glitter of his eyes reflected back a hundred candles. Esme slipped free of his grip, her arms sliding around his heavily muscled neck. Yanking his head down, she kissed him hard, stealing his breath, her tongue darting over his. His hips gave a teasing little flex, driving her into the feather-soft mattress.
Esme turned her face, kissing his cheek and nuzzling his ear. Her sharp little teeth worried at the fleshy lobe and he gasped, his hips thrusting hard, a sound almost of anguish stealing across his lips.
“You like that?” she whispered, licking the imprint of her teeth.
“Like it?” he shuddered. “I love it.”
Esme put a hand to his shoulder and shoved. “Roll over.”
He complied, landing flat on his back with her straddling him. The irony of seeing her fierce giant lying amid acres of fluffy white-and-pink cotton made her smile. Running her hands up under his coat, she slipped it over his shoulders, effectively trapping him.
“And now you’re all mine,” she whispered, leaning forward and untying the red scarf at his throat. Her nimble fingers darted over the buttons of his shirt and as each inch of tempting golden skin was revealed she licked it, swirling her tongue around his nipples and worrying them between her teeth.
“Esme.” His hand slid through her hair, destroying her chignon. Not to push her away or pull her closer, but simply to hold her. As if he couldn’t quite decide what to do.
She kissed his throat and then whispered into his ear, “I love you. All of you. Every wickedly delicious inch.”
Rip’s arms curled around her and he held her close, his body stiff, as if he couldn’t quite believe the words. Esme seized the chance to slide her hand between them, her fingers darting under his waistband.
He sucked in a breath between his teeth. “Esme, I don’t--”
“Shush,” she whispered, her fingers closing over the silky-soft feel of him. So thick and firm. Throbbing beneath her touch. Wanting her so much that a slippery pearl of his seed gleamed wetly at his tip. She ran her thumb over it, again and again and Rip threw his head back with a groan.
“I’ll stop if you can’t control it,” she whispered, “just let me please you.”
His hand slid through her hair, trembling. Then he nodded.
Esme’s tugged her fingers free and reached for the length of silk. “Hold onto the bed,” she said. “I’m going to tie you up.”
“Won’t ‘old me.” Rough voice. Wicked eyes.
“I know. It’s a reminder. So if you feel yourself approaching the edge, you might be able to pull yourself back.” She ran the length of silk through her hands, her smile widening. “I think I quite like telling you what to do.”
“Do you?” His expression promised retribution.
Rip stared at her, then slowly reached back, the muscle in his biceps flexing and thin veins trailing up his arm. Esme leaned forward and swiftly tied his wrist to the bed. Then she used the other end to tie his mech hand down.
Slowly her hands crept to the buttons on her jacket. Rip watched with an intensity that made her shiver as she stripped herself out of her jacket and shirt.
The skirt took longer and required her to stand. Each layer slowly made a pool on the bed as she wiggled out of her under-skirt, camisole and bustle. Esme felt wicked as she slowly undressed, letting her hair out of its braids to tumble in loose waves down her back.
“Christ.” Rip’s eyes ate her up, his fingers curling into fists. “You’re so beautiful.”
And she felt it too, the way he looked at her. Wild and free and entirely sensual. Nobody’s housekeeper or friend, but a lover, his gaze caressing her, as liquid as any touch.
“More,” he whispered and her hands went to the hard metal busk of her corset.
She tugged it free until she wore only her shift and drawers. Then they too pooled around her ankles until she stood above him on the bed, her skin gleaming palely in the candlelight. She had a woman’s body, lush and full, her belly slightly rounded from sampling each dish she prepared. And he loved it. She saw his gaze lock on her breasts as she ran her hands up and over them, cupping their plump weight.
Breathing hard, Rip strained against the silk.
Esme straddled him, the dusky tips of her nipples begging for his mouth. Rip licked one, the muscles in his neck straining. His teeth rasped over her, the hard pressure of his erection thrusting against her thigh. Esme moaned and worked her hands lower, tugging at his buttons until his cock jutted free. It spilled into her hands eagerly and Esme clenched her fingers, working his enormous length.
She loved watching him writhe beneath her, his eyes shut and his mouth parted as she wrung each gasp from him. Kneeling lower, she kissed his stomach, tugging his pants down over his hips. His boots hit the floor with a thud, then she stripped him of his pants and slid between his thighs. Rip watched her curiously and Esme flashed him a wicked smile.
Leaning down she took his erection in hand. “However can I thank you?”
“Esme,” he growled in warning as she pumped her hand over him.
“Perhaps you’d like me to kiss you.” Leaning down she pressed her lips against the smooth skin over his hips. “Here?”
Her only answer was the sound of his harsh breathing.
“Or perhaps here?” she asked, trailing her tongue across the groove of his hip and against the base of his balls. “No?” Looking up, she smiled at his dazed expression. “Where do you want me to kiss you?”
“You… know where…”
“My cock,” he growled.
“John,” she whispered in a shocked tone. “What a wicked man you are.”
“Aye, I don’t think I’m the only one who’s wicked--”
The scalding heat of her mouth on him stole his breath, and his words. Esme took as much of him as she could, her tongue tracing lazy circles around the head of him.
“Christ, Esme.” He shuddered, his erection thrusting past her lips. “Christ, you’re the devil, woman.”
She worked him wetly, loving every moment of it. Watching him lose control, tugging unconsciously on his bonds. Desperate for her. Gasping. Cursing her.
She couldn’t stop herself. She wanted more, wanted to feel him between her thighs. Sliding her hands up over his chest, she straddled him again.
“Esme.” He threw his head back, spine arching and she was lost, aching so much she couldn’t stop herself from rubbing her own secret wetness over him.
Rip hissed under his breath as the tip of his cock parted her. One hand tore free from the silk, then the other, hands clenching in the smooth flesh of her bottom. Thrusting her down until he buried himself to the hilt inside her.
Esme threw her head back and cried out. “Yes.” Fingers curling into the hard muscle of his shoulder blades as he sat up. The action drove her down further until she was so full, too full of him.
His cool lips on her breast, teeth grazing, licking, suckling at her until she wanted to scream. She could barely move but he urged her on, hands kneading her bottom. Each glide of her hips ground her against him, the base of his shaft riding over the delicate flesh between her thighs until she shuddered. So close to breaking apart, to shattering completely.
“More,” he growled.
But she could hardly move, she was trembling so much. “I can’t--” Teeth sinking into her lip, she cried out as he rasped over her again.
Then she was tumbling onto her hands and knees as he spilled out of her and came to his knees behind her. Hands firming on her hips, he drove into her until Esme cried out in pleasure, her fingers curling in the quilt. So deep. As if he sought to bury his seed in her body.
A fist curled in her hair, dragging her up gently. She curved back against his body, her hips arching obscenely as he ran his mech hand over her stomach and up, cupping her breasts. The angle softened the impact of his thrusts. Then his other hand slid down, parting her curls and dipping wetly between her thighs.
“John,” she whispered, sensation streaking through her. She pressed closer, wanting to feel every inch, his hard thigh muscles against the back of hers and fingers stroking her with cool possession. Knowing exactly where to touch, exactly what made her body tighten, liquid fire igniting in her veins.