Too Wicked to Tame

Page 4


Naturally, I’ll pay you for your ser vices—”
“‘Course, Miss.” The blacksmith turned and called to someone inside the barn. A young man garbed in a matching leather apron joined them. “My son and I will ride out and fetch them for you.”
Portia sighed, feeling some of the tension ease out of her shoulders and neck. “Thank you.”
The blacksmith gestured across the yard. “I’ll find you at the inn, then?”
“Yes,” she answered, already visualizing the dry taproom where she could wait and warm herself.
With a nod for the blacksmith, the man at her side took her arm and led her—cautiously, with care for her ankle—to the inn.
Once inside the nearly empty taproom, he settled her at one of the tables, the one nearest the large, crackling fireplace. Her belly rumbled at the tantalizing smells drifting from the kitchen.
She mentally counted the coins in her reticule and debated whether she could afford a hot meal.
Grandmother had given her only what she deemed necessary for a journey to Yorkshire and back. Recovery and repair of a carriage had not been part of the calculation.
A few figures sat huddled over their tankards, waiting out the storm. One man lifted his head to shout in greeting, “Heath!”
Heath? Well, she had a name now. Whether she wished to or not, she would forever remember her darkly handsome rescuer by name.
“Clive,” Heath greeted.
Clive snatched a knife from the scarred wood tabletop. His thick fist waved it at Heath encouragingly. “Give us a show, eh?”
Heath shook his head. “Another time.”
She looked at Heath, a frown pulling her lips. He must have felt her stare. His gaze slid to hers and he shrugged. “It’s just a game I played as a lad.”
Portia arched an eyebrow at him, curious to see what kind of “show” the locals regarded so highly.
“C’mon,” Clive bellowed.
Sighing, Heath strode across the room and plucked the knife from Clive’s fist. She watched as he straddled the bench, splayed his large hand flat on the table, and proceeded to stab between each finger in a frenzied blur of movement. She jerked at each thud of the knife in the wood table, certain that he would cut his hand at any moment. Her shocked gaze lifted to his face, to the bored expression there.
What kind of boyhood had he led?
Finally, he stopped, and she remembered to breathe again. He rose and sent the knife slicing cleanly through the air. It landed square in the center of a faded and smoke-mottled painting above the hearth.
Clive chortled and slapped the table in approval.
“Do you have a death wish?” she demanded upon his return to their table. “Reckless riding, reckless”—she waved a hand at the table where he had conducted his perilous demonstration, groping for the appropriate words and arriving at—”knife play!”
He replied with aggravating equanimity, even as something furtive gleamed in his gaze, ” ‘The worst evil of all is to leave the ranks of the living before one dies.’ ”
She shook her head, frustrated—mystified—at the man before her who quoted Seneca.
“Ain’t nothing,” Clive called out. “You should see him climb Skidmoor with his bare hands. In winter, too.”
“Skidmoor,” she echoed.
“It’s just a hill,” Heath explained.
“A hill?” Clive guffawed, shaking his head. “Right. More like a mountain.”
He climbed mountains in the dead of winter?
“Heath,” a serving girl squealed from across the taproom.
Portia eyed the woman’s scandalously low bodice and instinctively drew her cloak tighter about her shoulders as if she could hide her lack of similar attributes.
“Mary, you’re looking well.” Heath grinned in a way that made him look suddenly young, boyish. Not nearly so intimidating as the stranger from the road.
Mary sashayed across the room, rolling her h*ps in what Portia felt certain to be a practiced walk.
“Better now that you’re here,” she purred.
With no thought or regard to her presence, he grinned wickedly at the serving girl, his teeth a flash of white in his sun-browned face. How his skin managed to brown in this sunless country baffled her. No doubt further evidence that he was more devil than man.
The curvy serving girl lowered herself into his lap, tossed her plump arms around his neck and then, for all the world to see, planted an open-mouthed kiss on him.
Portia looked away, embarrassment stinging her cheeks. She studied her hands in her lap, ran her thumbs nervously over the backs, over the cold, puckered gooseflesh of her exposed wrists.
Unable to suppress her morbid curiosity, she sucked in a breath and lifted her eyes to observe the unseemly display.
Her gaze collided with his storm-gray eyes.
He watched her—Portia.
Heat flooded her face to be caught staring, as if she were interested, as if she cared who he kissed. His ravenous wolf’s stare never wavered from her face. Amusement gleamed in the gray depths as he kissed the female atop his lap.
She wrenched her gaze away and twisted her fingers in her lap until they ached.
Do not watch. Do not watch. Do not grant him the satisfaction of knowing he fascinates you.
Unable to stop herself, she snuck another look, compelled, beckoned by the magnetic pull of his taunting gaze. His eyes gleamed wickedly, ensnaring her, whispering her name. She gawked as he trailed a hand over Mary’s plait, watched as his long, tapered fingers unraveled the rope of hair, twining the tendrils in his elegant, blunt-tipped fingers.
Her stomach clenched and knotted. Something hot and unfamiliar ignited in her blood as she watched him kiss the woman with slow thoroughness, all the while devouring her with his eyes.
Was she such a wanton? Her quickening pulse seemed answer enough. Blood rushed to her ears, blocking out the steady patting of rain on the thatched roof, the hiss and pop of the fire in the hearth, the sound of her own excited breath. She moistened her lips with a flick of her tongue and his gray eyes darkened, twin beads of jet as they followed the movement, scanning her face, then dropping to the rise and fall of her chest beneath her soaked clothes.
She lifted her chin and tried to convey her contempt, her absolute disgust at their vulgar display—that she was a lady unmoved in the presence of such wickedness. Yet her breath betrayed her, falling fast and hard from her lips. Her cheeks felt aflame and she worried that color flooded her face.
“Mary,” bellowed a man, presumably the establishment’s proprietor. “Stop molesting the customers and get in the kitchen, girl.”
Mary ended the kiss, a cat’s satisfied smile on her face—as if she had just feasted on a bowl of cream. Wiping her lips with the back of her hand, she sent one last glance Heath’s way before departing.
Heath rose to his feet, eyes glittering like embers as he looked down at her. Her eyes dropped to his mouth, moist from the kiss of another woman. Her pulse leapt and she looked away, her gaze flitting about the room like a bird looking for a place to land. His boots slid over the dirt-packed floor, scraping to a stop in front of her. She trained her gaze on those soiled boots, not daring to look up at that face, his dark good looks, the heated gaze that for some reason made her squeeze her thighs together beneath her skirts.
He bent, his cheek nearly brushing hers. She jerked and pulled her shoulders back. She stared at him in alarm, feeling like prey trapped in his fixed stare.
A slow smile curved his lips. Then his head dipped. His cheek grazed hers, the stubble on his hard jaw scratchy, sparking a fire in her blood. She bit her lip to stop from crying out, determined that he not see how he affected her. The male musk of him filled her nostrils. Rain, wind, the scent of the moors—of gorse growing wild on rocky hills.
“Did you like that?” he breathed into her ear, his voice sliding over her skin like velvet, igniting a lick of heat low in her belly. “Care to try it?”
She drew a shuddering breath and shook her head fiercely. The image of her on his lap, his hand on her, flashed through her head, scandalizing her, horrifying her. Thrilling her.
He placed her lips next to his ear and she ceased to breathe. Gathering her composure tightly about her, she replied in her starchiest tone, “I’d rather kiss a pig.” She pulled back several inches to measure the effect of her words.
His lips curved in a lopsided grin.
Scowling, she added, “But then, that’s what you are, sir. A rutting pig.”
He chuckled, the sound deep and dangerous, spiraling through her body like warm sherry.
“Jealous?” His hot breath fanned against her sensitive ear, making her stomach somersault. He cupped the side of her face, his work-roughened palm firm against her cheek. With a forcefulness that stole her breath, he forced her face closer, his fingers sliding and curling around her nape.
Lips, surprisingly gentle, brushed the swirls of her ear as he talked. “You know, I imagined I was kissing your mouth, imagined your tongue tangling with mine.”
Ignoring the leap of her pulse, she snapped, “Words that no doubt seduced many a dim-witted maid.”
“Not so many,” he murmured, his thumb sliding over the curve of her cheek, the line of her jaw, stopping at her mouth. “You’d be surprised.”
His feverish gaze fixed on her lips. As if testing its fullness, he stroked her bottom lip. Heat pooled low in her belly and her legs trembled. Somehow she found the strength to bring her hands up to his chest. Ignoring the breadth and firmness beneath the soaked fabric of his shirt, she shoved with all her might.
He didn’t budge. She could have been shoving at a boulder.
“Move,” she commanded.
He stared down at her for a long moment.
“Move,” she repeated, her jaw aching with tension.
“Of course.” He stepped back, hands aloft, a crooked smile on his lips.
She surged off the bench, every instinct demanding escape. Even if it meant heading back into the storm. Better than suffering the storm that raged here, between them. A hairsbreadth separated them, and from the heat in his eyes, he had no intention of granting her the space she desired.
“I know what you are,” she hissed.
That crooked smile deepened. “Do tell.”
“You’re a wicked man. A bounder, a—” she stopped, swallowed and continued in a more even tone. “You think to toy with me as though I were some besotted girl happy for the reward of your attentions.”
Still wearing that wicked grin, he ran a burning trail down her cheek with the tip of his finger.
“An hour alone with me and I think I could turn you into a besotted girl happy for my attentions.”
“You’re disgusting,” she spat, fighting the full-body tremble his words produced.
The brute was uncivilized, an absolute primitive. No man had ever spoken to her so coarsely, so vulgarly. Is this how a man addressed a woman he desired? The thought made her feel both hot and cold, both frightened and titillated.
Heath straightened, and with one final soul-blistering look moved off to talk to the innkeeper.
Portia stripped off her soiled gloves and held shaking hands out to the fire, trying to slow her racing heart. Still, she couldn’t stop from watching him beneath lowered lids. At the sound of his heavy tread, she looked up.
“They’re preparing a room for you,” his voice rumbled through the air, warming her as the fire seemed unable to do. “I explained your circumstances to the innkeeper. He’ll send up your maid and things when they arrive.”
Her heart jumped, panicked at the expense of a room. The few coins in her reticule wouldn’t cover both lodging and the fees due the blacksmith. Annoyance flashed through her. Who was he to make arrangements on her behalf?
“No.” The single word fell hard from her mouth. “That’s not necessary. I need to move on this evening—”