Too Wicked to Tame

Page 17


She kissed him back, matching the thrusts and parries of his tongue, her small hands clutching his shoulders. He tangled his fingers through her hair, luxuriating in the silken tresses.
He couldn’t stop. Couldn’t get enough of her, couldn’t prevent his hands from roaming every inch of her. Down again they slid, skimming the slim line of her spine to cup a deliciously full bottom. He groaned and massaged the tight cheeks, bringing her burning sex against him.
A desperate, wild need to rid them both of their clothes seized them. But the restraint and discipline that had ruled him through his life obediently reared its head, and he withdrew, removing his leg from between hers. Then his hands. Then his mouth.
Glassy blue eyes gazed up at him. She raised her hand to touch her lips, moist and bruised.
“Enough,” he managed to get out, the tremble in his voice betraying him, exposing her mind-weakening affect on him. He had set out to prove she was not immune to him and had only succeeded in torturing himself. His painfully hard erection attested to that.
She nodded, her dark hair falling wildly about her, mussed from his hands. He stepped back, the sight of her still far too tempting. The taste of her still far too fresh on his lips.
“Good night,” he murmured. “I’ll leave you to your books.”
Even as he departed, frustrated and aching with desire, it comforted him to know that his library wasn’t all that she enjoyed here. Despite her claims. Whether she cared to admit it or not, she wanted him. As much as he wanted her. Yet he’d be damned if he let her dig her claws into him any deeper.
Chapter 14
“Good morning, Lady Moreton, Mina,” Portia greeted, her face burning at the memory of last night’s debacle in the library—and the countess’s hand in it.
Averting her face, she turned and surveyed the surfeit of food on the sideboard. After selecting a large honeyed roll, she seated herself, still avoiding Lady Moreton’s gaze, afraid that one look and all would be revealed. Surely anyone could see that she had been kissed senseless last night?
She hadn’t slept a wink, too busy reliving that kiss. Her lips still tingled. Her head still reeled.
A footman stepped forth to pour her tea.
“Thank you,” she murmured, her eyes scanning the table, mildly surprised to find Constance absent. Constance’s glowers over breakfast had become quite routine.
A plate sat at the head of the table. Piled high with food, it loomed rather conspicuously.
Mina followed her gaze. “Heath,” she explained, over the rim of her cup. “He stepped out for a moment.”
A frission of alarm rushed down her spine and she eyed her roll, wondering how quickly she could consume it without making a spectacle. Heath never breakfasted with them. Could this have anything to do with last night? It couldn’t possibly mean he wanted to see her again. He had practically run from the library last night.
“Drat,” Lady Moreton exclaimed. “This won’t do, won’t do at all.”
“Is something amiss, my lady?” Portia asked, stirring her tea.
Lady Moreton chewed her bottom lip as she studied a sheet of parchment next to her plate. “I’m devising to night’s menu, and I can’t remember if we have any Haute-Brion left in the cellar.”
Mina frowned. “But Heath—”
“Mina,” Lady Moreton quickly cut in, her voice sharp as a whip, “don’t speak with your mouth full.”
Mina snapped her mouth shut and chewed slowly, blinking from her grandmother to Portia.
“We’re having turbot with lobster sauce for dinner and I wanted to honor your visit with a claret I’ve been saving,” Lady Moreton paused, pinching the air. “The Haute-Brion is perfection.” She looked directly at Portia, her gaze keen. “I certainly couldn’t trust one of the servants to fetch something so dear.”
“I see,” Portia murmured, wondering why Mrs. Crosby couldn’t be trusted with such a task. It fell within her duties.
“Indeed not.”
Portia fidgeted beneath the weight of Lady Moreton’s pointed stare. A stare that clearly conveyed that Portia should somehow rectify the matter.
After a long moment of silence, Lady Moreton added, her stare no less intense, “I simply cannot abide fish without the proper claret.”
Setting her napkin aside, Portia asked uncertainly, “Would you like me to fetch it from the cellar?”
“Would you?” Lady Moreton asked as if she had not been angling for such an offer. “That would be splendid.”
Mina made a choking sound that she quickly muffled, pressing her napkin to her lips.
Portia rose to her feet. “Which way to the cellar?”
“Through the kitchens,” Lady Moreton directed, “and do be careful with the bottle. I believe we only have one left.”
Exiting the dining room, Portia hurried into the kitchen, her nose following the warm, yeasty fragrance of rising bread. All activity and chatter ceased the moment she entered the stifling room. Several pairs of eyes fastened on her.
“Er, the cellar, please?” she asked in the sudden silence.
“Through that door, my lady,” a harried-looking woman volunteered, no doubt the cook from her stained and spattered apron.
“Thank you.” Everyone parted a path for her as she approached the narrow oak door. Her hand closed around the latch. The iron hinges creaked as she pulled it open.
Cool, stale air assailed her. Trailing one hand against the stone wall to her left, she descended into the gloom, feeling as though she were perhaps tumbling into a dungeon of old. A soft, flickering glow of light dwelled far below, reassuring her that she was not sinking into a chasm of total blackness.
A loud slam sounded from above, reverberating through the stale air, startling her into nearly losing her step. She swung her gaze back to the top of the stairs.
“Who’s there?” a voice called from below. A deep, familiar voice that had invaded her dreams only last night.
For a moment, she hovered there, biting her lip as she considered fleeing back up the steps, away from that voice, away from the man that stirred impossible longings deep inside her. But that would be cowardly.
She would simply locate the claret she had come to fetch and be gone. She would prove to him that they could be alone together, that they could behave sensibly, above such base emotion as lust. This time she was prepared, resistance sheathing her heart like a suit of armor.
Squaring her shoulders, she took the final steps that brought her to the cellar floor. Chin high, she faced him, expecting his immediate rebuke. No doubt he would think her presence here another attempt to stalk him.
Surprise flickered in his eyes. He stood beside a tall rack of wine, one of several lining the cavernous cellar. He held a dust-covered bottle in one hand.
“What are you doing down here?” he demanded.
“Your grandmother sent me to fetch—”
“Claret,” he finished for her, returning the bottle to its home among the others with a violent shove.
“How…” she began, then stopped, the cold hand of realization stealing over her.
“That’s why I’m here. Fetching the Haute-Brion for her.” His lips thinned into a grim line.
She closed her eyes in one long, mortified blink. “She did it again,” she whispered.
And this time Mina had been involved. Portia’s supposed friend. She must have known Heath had left to fetch wine but held her tongue anyway.
“Damn fool,” he muttered.
“Me?” she demanded, heat washing over her face as he swept past her and stormed up the stairs, each pounding step making her flinch.
“Bloody hell,” fell from above a moment later, followed by the hard pound of boots back down the steps.
He halted in front of her, legs braced apart, his broad chest heaving with barely checked fury.
She watched him warily, resisting the urge to shrink back.
“Locked,” he growled, his storm eyes burning with accusation as they raked her.
“Don’t look at me as though I had some part in this.” She pressed a hand to her stomach in an effort to stave off the sudden queasiness. “You can’t think I wanted to be stuck down here with—”
“Damned convenient for you to decide to visit the cellar when I happened to be here.”
“Your grandmother asked me to fetch wine for dinner.”
“And it’s commonplace to send a guest on a servant’s errand?” he sneered.
“She sent you, didn’t she?”
“Because she wouldn’t cease on the subject until I offered.” “Precisely.” She shook her head, frustration bubbling deep inside her. “I confess I thought it odd, but what was I to do? Refuse the dear lady when—”
“Dear lady,” he snorted. “That dear lady just locked us down here.”
Portia glanced back up the shadowed steps uneasily. She squinted, trying to make out the door at the top of the stairs. “Surely one of the servants will come along and—”
“Risk losing their employment?”
“Your grandmother would not be so callous. Furthermore, are you not their employer?”
“Yes, but Grandmother could make their life very unpleasant if they thwarted her will.” A shadow of a smile shaded his lips. “She’s quite good at that. And in case you haven’t noticed, her current agenda is for us to wed, so I suggest you tread carefully about her and read more into her seemingly innocent suggestions.” His eyes narrowed and he mocked, “Especially since you have no wish to marry.”
A maddening sense of déjà vu swept over her. “How many times must I say it? I truly have no designs on you.” She groaned in exasperation. “You act as though you fear I’ll ravish you.”
“On the contrary.” His eyes slid over her in a way that made her belly tighten and twist. “Just know that if word leaks out of this—or any other rendezvous Grandmother orchestrates—I won’t marry you. No matter how many tongues wag. Perhaps you should forget your little fantasy of escape. It could end badly for you.”
Little fantasy. As if a chance to escape, a chance to experience a small taste of freedom, amounted to nothing.
Her fists curled at her sides. Could he not understand? He knew what it felt like to be badgered at every turn, to live in the shadow of another’s expectations. To never mea sure up.
The glow from the solitary candle lent shadows to the hollows of his face, making him look menacing, sinister—far too handsome.
Portia swallowed and looked around the cellar, trying to overlook the canopy of cobwebs hanging from the beams above. How long would they be stuck down here? To one side of them racks of wine, all perfectly aligned, stretched into forever, disappearing into the hushed shadows.
On the other side, enormous vats undulated like dark waves into the depths of the cellar.
She shivered and briskly rubbed her arms, trying not to imagine what kind of vermin lurked beyond the candle’s glowing sphere. “How long will she keep us down here?”
“If she had her way?” He paused and gave her a wry look. “Until you’re with child.”
Shocked at his outrageous words, and horrified at the lurid images that popped unbidden into her head, she dropped her gaze to her hands, turning them over and examining her cuticles. After a moment she looked up to find his gaze, steady and relentless as ever, fixed on her.
His lips twisted into a semblance of a smile. “We haven’t any food,” he reminded and glanced at the rack of wine nearest to him. “But I suppose we won’t perish of thirst.” He tapped one bottle.
“Perhaps we should drink the Haute-Brion?”
A laugh bubbled in her throat. “A fine claret, I’m told.”
“Would serve the old harridan right.”