Too Wicked to Tame

Page 10


Portia studied Mina’s profile for a long moment, realizing they were not so different. Both were struggling against the strictures foisted upon them, searching for their own happiness, their own kind of freedom.
Feeling a sudden kinship with the girl, Portia grasped her hand and gave it an encouraging squeeze. “Perhaps I can convince your grandmother to invite some neighbors over for tea while I’m here.”
Mina shook her head. “Oh, Heath wouldn’t allow—”
“I’m a guest here, am I not? Lady Moreton would merely be humoring the requests of her guest.”
“You don’t know my brother,” Mina grumbled, her bottom lip jutting forth. “If he catches wind of it—”
“Then we will simply see that he does not hear of it until it is too late.” Portia smoothly cut in.
“Trust me. I know all about circumventing authority.” How else could she have avoided matrimony for these many years?
Mina’s eyes sparkled. “From the moment you appeared I knew things would change.”
“Indeed?” Portia asked, smiling wryly. Collapsing in a dead faint did not signify as the most auspicious of beginnings. “If my arrival strikes you as thrilling, then you are quite right. Your life is exceedingly dull. We must see what we can do to add some excitement.”
Mina released her knees and clapped her hands. “Oh, you brilliant creature. My prayers were answered the moment you arrived.”
Portia smiled grimly. What was the earl thinking, cloistering his sister from the world so that she went into histrionics over a simple tea? He was a tyrant. Clear and simple. No better than her father. Her mother had been unable to wear a gown if it did not meet her father’s approval.
Everything from clothes to the company she kept had fallen under his inflexible purview.
“Portia,” Mina dragged out her name, casting her a sly look from beneath her lashes. “Have you ever…kissed a gentleman?”
Portia blinked, taken aback and wondering at the random question.
As though sensing her bewilderment, Mina rushed to explain, her expression solemn and tense,
“I only ask because you mentioned excitement.”
Excitement? Kissing? Mina equated the two?
Portia pulled back, exasperated. It was the same everywhere. Country or Town—nothing differed. Women looked to men to supply life’s excitement. Eligible gentlemen never roused anything remotely close to excitement within her. Portia winced, realizing she could not make such a claim any longer. Not since her path crossed the earl. But then, he couldn’t be considered eligible, could he? Or even a gentleman for that matter.
Portia opened her mouth, ready to gently reprimand Mina on her unseemly questions, but then snapped her jaw shut. Mina had been denied quite enough in life. Chastised. Corrected. Bullied.
She deserved forthright conversation at the least.
“Yes,” Portia began, knowing she was about to dash Mina’s romantic notions. “Or to be more accurate, I was the recipient of a kiss.”
Mina leaned in, her face brightening. “Was he handsome?”
“His name was Roger Cleary. He was sixteen. The vicar’s son, and determined not to live up to his father’s lofty standards.” Portia laughed briefly, remembering that winter’s day after church in Nottinghamshire. “I was fifteen and didn’t see it coming.”
“What was it like?”
“It was,” she paused, searching for the appropriate words to describe being hauled behind the refectory and subjected to a thick-tongued kiss that tasted vaguely of sardines. “Messy.”
Mina’s face fell. “Oh. And there have been no others since?”
Portia shook her head, not bothering to explain that she saw to it that no man took such liberties again. When gentlemen looked at her, they did not see a woman they wanted to drag off to some darkened alcove and kiss. She had done her utmost to see they never did. The risk of finding herself shackled in matrimony presented too great a threat. Heath had been the only one to look at her with interest—the only man to make her toes curl and her body tingle and burn in the most shocking, intimate places.
“With the right man,” she hedged, “I’m sure kissing is a lovely experience.”
Mina pulled a face. “I’ll never meet the right man. Not buried out here. Heath and Constance will see to that.”
“Mina,” she began, uncertain if she should say what she felt compelled to, what the fire in her soul demanded. “This is your life. You have choices. No one can make you do anything you don’t want to. Not even your brother and sister.”
Mina angled her head and studied her curiously. “You truly believe that, don’t you?”
“I’m twenty-two and unwed.” Portia hesitated a moment before confiding, “That’s no coincidence, I assure you. My life plans don’t involve marriage.”
Mina shook her head. “I’m not as strong as you.”
Portia smiled. “You’ve mettle, Mina. Why don’t you tell your brother what it is you truly want?”
Mina snorted. “He knows—”
“You must keep telling him until he hears you. Practice if need be.” She waved a hand at Mina.
“Pretend I’m Heath. Go on.”
Mina exhaled, sat up straighter. “I want to go to parties,” she announced as if she were tossing down an ultimatum to Heath himself. “To meet people my age. To dance.” At Portia’s encouraging nod she continued, her voice gaining volume, color blooming in her apple cheeks,
“I want romance—and a husband.” She fisted her hands at her sides and jammed her eyes shut in deep anguish. “And for one moment I want to live my life free of a stupid curse, to pretend that my father wasn’t a madman, that my brother is not…that I am not.”
Portia cringed at the pain in the girl’s voice and asked solemnly, “Can you tell him all that?”
Shaking her head as if suddenly weary, Mina opened her eyes and looked searchingly at Portia.
“Does it make me selfish to want things I have no right wanting?”
“No,” Portia replied, her voice gentle. “I’d say that makes you fairly normal. You want what every woman wants.”
Except you, a voice whispered. Portia desired freedom. Pure and simple. Autonomy. The very things a wife never found within the bounds of matrimony.
“Well, if it’s so natural, then why can’t they understand me wanting these things?”
Portia sighed, unable to answer. She couldn’t say whether or not the Moretons should bar themselves from marriage—from procreating. Was it guaranteed their offspring would inherit this affliction? Could the risk be so great?
“I don’t know,” she offered, wincing at such an ineffectual reply.
“I want love, a husband, children.” Mina pulled her slight shoulders back. “You’re right, Portia.
My brother doesn’t rule me, nor does fear of a disease that may or may not strike. I’ll show him.”
With that said, she rose, pressed a quick kiss to Portia’s cheek and headed for the door, calling over her shoulder, “Thank you for the advice.”
Portia sat up, reached out and grasped air. “Mina, wait. I simply said you should talk…to…your brother…”
But she was gone, the door clicking shut behind her.
Portia fell back on her pillow, an uncomfortable knot forming in her chest. Perhaps she had overstepped herself this time in dispensing advice.
Chapter 9
Heath closed his eyes and settled his mouth over Della’s. Moments ticked by as he waited for the familiar haze of lust to steal over him, to thicken his blood and consume him, to block out the rest of the world and free his mind from everything that had driven him from the comfort of his library and across the moors in the dead of night.
Della sighed against his lips, her hands running expertly over his shoulders and down his back.
In the dark night of his mind, however, a face appeared—a minx with flashing blue eyes full of bright indignation.
His eyes flew open, and he tore himself from Della’s soft embrace as if he had been submerged in icy water.
“Heath,” she purred in a voice that usually succeeded in making his blood simmer. Usually.
Except not to night.
Scowling, he looked down at her face, concentrating on the pert nose and full lips, willing the image of Portia as he had seen her to night to flee his mind—clad in that damned virginal nightgown with its frayed hem, her ink dark hair sliding like a pelt over her shoulders. He took one long, steadying blink, but she still dwelled in his thoughts, residing in his head, in his blood—the last place she belonged.
Della pursed her lips and slid her hand down his chest and lower still, until that plump palm of hers rubbed the length of him in hard, rhythmic stokes. Such a move would typically have him flinging her on her back, yanking up her skirts and taking his fill. But Portia had ruined that.
Damned chit. Now he couldn’t even enjoy Della—the one woman he had enjoyed without worry.
Three marriages and no offspring to account for left little room for doubt—Della could not conceive a child. A more perfect mistress he could not have found—someone safe, incapable of passing on the Moreton madness. And someone he did not love.
He had dallied with other women—but always stopped before the final intimacy. The risk was too great. With Della, his passions could flow free. So why not to night?
More determined than ever, he trailed his tongue over the wildly thrumming pulse point at her neck, intent on satisfying her, intent on raising a reaction in himself, to free himself of Portia’s hold. “Just…distracted,” he muttered.
Della gripped a fistful of his hair and guided him to her br**sts. “Well, don’t be.”
Easier said than done. Even as he turned his attention to Della’s bountiful br**sts, that dulcet, vexing voice replayed itself in his head. I have no intention of leaving Moreton Hall until I’m well and ready. With a groan of aggravation, Heath fell back on the bed. With an arm flung over his forehead, he stared up at the ceiling grimly.
“Heath?” Della leaned over him, her brown eyes wide with concern. “What’s wrong?”
He turned his gaze on her, noting with dispassion the fetching tumble of copper waves—
frustrating, when he had only ever looked on her with desire.
A deep sigh welled up within him. He had no future. A fact that he had come to terms with long ago. He had accepted his lot in life. It couldn’t be changed. Why waste his time lusting for a girl he could never have?
Pulling her nightgown to her hips, Della straddled him. He frowned. The sight of those plump thighs did nothing to tempt him. For the last eight years, those thighs had been enough. Della had been enough. More than enough. Annoying how to night she couldn’t make him forget what waited, lurking in his blood to claim him. Nor could he forget a certain pair of blue eyes and the willowy figure that enticed him as Della’s generous curves no longer could. No matter how hard he tried, he could not forget the woman who slept beneath his roof, the bespectacled chit who invaded his library, his home, his blood.
Patting the generous thighs straddling him, he muttered, “Appears I’m not in the mood for company to night.”
Frowning, Della rolled off him and pushed her gown over her legs. “I see,” she said coolly. “My mistake.”
Clearly, she did not understand. Hell, neither did he. They had a good arrangement. One based on mutual need—sex. After three husbands, Della may have sworn off marriage but not the carnal needs of her body.
He expelled a deep breath as he stood. Reaching for his shirt, he knew he owed her an explanation. He had been the one, after all, to wake her in the middle of the night for a little bed play.
Her gaze searched his. “What’s amiss?”