Lady Rosabella's Ruse
Author:Ann Lethbridge

Chapter Eight




‘Here we are.’ She looked up to find Stanford with his arms full of red velvet cushions. ‘I remembered seeing these in the library. More comfortable than sitting on the floor.’

He spread them around until they looked like a bed.

Feeling a little foolish, she sat on one edge. He was right, it was more comfortable. She hugged her arms around her knees, careful to keep her feet well covered, and gazed into the fire, while he settled himself beside her.

The lamp wavered and went out. Now all they had was the glow from the fire to see by. There might be some remnants of candles in the library, she recalled, but they wouldn’t last long. And why would they need more light? There was nothing to do.

It was a bit like being in a cave; with the ladder-back chairs draped in clothes behind them and the stone chimney breast with its fire in front, she could almost imagine them spending the night on the side of a mountain, isolated from the world, living in their cave with no one to bother them.

Startled by her odd thoughts, she blinked and broke the flame’s hold on her vision.

‘This is cosy,’ he said dreamily, as if he, too, were caught in another world. ‘Too bad I don’t have a deck of cards.’

‘It is too dark to play cards.’

He grunted. ‘Then what shall we do to pass the time while we dry?’

She shrugged.

‘I know. You can tell me all about yourself.’

‘Nothing to tell,’ she said, suddenly wary.

‘Where did you grow up?’

‘Here. I told you that.’

‘And when you left?’

‘I went to school. I told you that, too.’

‘What about Mr Travenor? How did you meet him?’

Blankly, she stared at him.

‘Your husband,’ he said with a frown.

Good heavens, she’d almost forgotten her invented husband. She struggled to remember the tale she had told Lady Keswick when she applied for the position of companion last month. She’d read that the elderly woman had bought the house next to Gorham Place in The Times. Then she’d seen her advertisement for a companion.

‘I’m sorry.’ His deep voice held compassion. ‘If it is too painful for you to talk about him, please don’t think you must. I should not have asked.’

She looked away, unable to look him in the eyes and tell untruths. ‘I do prefer not to talk about him.’ That at least was a half-truth. Who would want to talk about a man who existed only in her imagination? In her mind she’d created the perfect husband, honourable, faithful, the image of her father. Only the image now seemed tarnished.

Father had changed. The man she recalled with such fondness would never have married another woman, never have sent his beloved girls to a school far away in the north, and never have not visited them.

For years, she had waited for him to visit.

She could not put the two men together. The laughing man who had spun her around and who had put her on her first pony—

Stanford muttered something under his breath.

She turned her head. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘I said I’m an idiot. My callous question upset you.’

‘Oh,’ she said. ‘I wasn’t thinking about Mr Travenor. I was remembering growing up in this house.’

‘More sad memories?’

‘Not at all. They were the best times of my life. My father was kind, my mother adored him. He spoiled his girls, as he called us. We were happy here.’

‘You were lucky, then.’

‘Yes. There was always lots of laughter in this house. And singing.’ She bit the inside of her lip. It was wrong to be ashamed of Mama. She’d been a beautiful woman and had a truly exceptional voice. She deserved her daughters’ pride. ‘My mother was an opera singer before she met my father. She sang on the stage in Venice. My father fell in love with her the first time he saw her.’

Stanford straightened. ‘Good lord, and he married her?’

She smiled. ‘Much to his father’s annoyance. As my mother told it, Grandfather tried to have their marriage annulled because it was celebrated in a Roman Catholic church. My father simply obtained a special licence and married her again.’

She sighed. ‘They didn’t care what people thought. They were happy here, together.’

‘But she died.’

She nodded. ‘She died giving birth to a son. Father was devastated. I think he blamed himself.’

‘You inherited your mother’s voice.’

She chuckled softly. ‘Mother was thrilled. I can remember performing in the drawing room for the few friends who stuck by Father after his marriage. Mother loved to sing and we would all take part in productions. Rinaldo was her favourite, for she got to play the man. My voice is very much like hers. I have sometimes thought I might like to go on the stage. Quite shocking, I know.’

‘With that voice, and…’ he hesitated ‘…and your face and figure, you would take London by storm, though it is hardly a respectable profession.’

‘I would make lots of money.’

‘Is that what you want?’

‘I’m not sure I am good enough. My voice isn’t trained. I would need to take lessons.’ It would all take far too long.

She really needed to think of something else. It was not what her parents had wanted for her, but then they hadn’t expected her to end up in debt.

If Mama had lived, or Papa had abided by his promise to see them well cared for, then the idea of becoming an opera singer would never have entered her head.

‘Did your husband leave you nothing?’

‘He earned very little as a curate.’

A silence descended. She glanced at his brooding expression as he stared into the fire. He seemed to have withdrawn into himself. Perhaps he also saw the past in the flames.

‘Where did you grow up?’ she asked.

‘Not far from here, actually,’ he said, lifting his head to look at her. Hot hunger lit his eyes and sent a frisson of awareness through her body. A longing to be consumed by the fires. Desire. She had no illusions. His powers of seduction were legendary and she had already learned she had no armour against him. Partly because she liked him more than she should. Much more.

He blinked and his eyes cooled, leaving only a smile. The sweet boyish one that pulled at her heart and left her in disarray. It was like a glimpse behind a mask at the real man. Or perhaps it was yet another mask, the one designed for seduction. She wished she knew for certain which, but since she did not, she must remain wary.

‘I grew up not far from Brighton,’ he said.

‘Do you have brothers or sisters?’

His face took on a cynical expression. ‘One younger brother.’ His lashes swept down, hiding his eyes. ‘Half-brother, in truth.’

‘Your father married again?’

‘I would that were the case,’ he said rather mysteriously. ‘My brother did well for himself as a shipowner. Recently he married a duke’s daughter and went to America. They are expecting their first child. My mother is in alt.’ He sounded bitter.

‘You aren’t pleased at your brother’s good fortune?’

He drew himself upright. ‘I am delighted for Kit. He’s a good man. He deserves all that is good and more.’

‘But you don’t?’ She didn’t know what made her ask that question, except for the emphasis on the word he. When his gaze shot to capture hers she truly wished she hadn’t opened her mouth, because the evidence was there in his eyes. A bleakness she’d never noticed before. It chilled her.

‘Do you think you can read minds?’ he mocked. ‘See into other people’s souls?’

She recoiled. Clearly she’d trod where angels feared to go. ‘I beg your pardon. I did not mean anything. Idle chatter.’

‘It seems neither of us is good at small talk.’ His tone had gentled and his brows went up quizzically.

No sense in taking umbrage under the circumstances. They were caught here, together. She should try to get along with him. She smiled. ‘In truth, I can’t say I have had a great deal of practice.’

He chuckled softly ‘You are a surprising woman, Mrs Travenor. Or may I call you Rose?’ He glanced down at himself. ‘It is hard to retain formality when sitting wrapped in nothing but a sheet beside a fire with a beautiful woman. My name is Garth, by the way.’ The seductive note softened his voice. A hot shiver ran down her spine to land low in her belly. The rake had returned. Now she must truly be on her guard.

‘Sheet or no, I expect you to be a gentleman.’

He inclined his head, but amusement played about his lips. ‘I promise nothing will happen that you do not want.’

Want. She was full of wants and all of them confusing. Another hot shiver. She had no way of dealing with him. No quick repartee or double-edged sally. Why had he come here? All he wanted to do was flirt. Or worse. Meanwhile her life teetered on the brink of disaster.

Panic rose in her throat. She’d have to go north. Present herself to the bailiffs. Prison. Meg and Sam would have to find work as governesses, lady companions, teachers. Meg would be fine. She was strong and would manage. Sam was just so sickly.

Perhaps if she wrote to Grandfather again and—

‘I did want to thank you for talking to Lady Smythe this afternoon.’ The sound of his voice made her jump. ‘Did she say why she left London?’

Lady Smythe. She closed her eyes, pictured the tearful woman on the beach. ‘I think she plans to go home.’

He let go a long sigh. ‘Thank God.’ He shifted, angling towards her. ‘Now I can focus all my attention on you.’

His smile caused an ache deep in her chest. ‘I’d really prefer you didn’t.’

‘You are a very beautiful woman, Rose.’

She couldn’t resist that voice or that smile. Yet she should. ‘And your intentions are less than honourable.’ She could hear the smile in her voice.

‘I make no pretence about my intentions.’ His voice had dropped to a low seductive murmur. ‘We would deal well together, you and I.’

Her body hummed in response. With all the worries pressing in on her, somehow, in this moment, he made her feel good. Far better about herself than anyone had ever made her feel for years. What would it be like to have such a man in her life? To share her burdens?

Stanford—no, Garth—wasn’t offering marriage, or permanence or love. Although he hadn’t said the words, she had no illusions. He was offering a carte blanche. The kind of relationship Grandfather would have happily accepted between her mother and father. It was the marriage he’d found objectionable.

How would he feel if he discovered his eldest granddaughter had gone down that road? He probably wouldn’t care. Or he’d see it as proof he was right all along about her mother.

It was not the relationship she’d dreamed of for herself. She’d wanted a home, and children, and, most of all, love. The true love she’d seen in her parents’ eyes.

True love was a luxury when you and your sisters were facing debtors’ prison.

She really couldn’t see any other option. And he really seemed to like her. Almost as much as she liked him, though she hadn’t dare admit it.





Something had changed. Garth sensed it across his skin. The heat in the room had gone up as if the fire had doubled in size. Instead of Rose backing away as he’d half expected, she was looking at him the way a cat looked at a plump mouse who had wandered across its path.

Why would he be surprised? She was female, wasn’t she? Worse yet, why the hell was he disappointed? He didn’t harbour naïve notions about any of them. Especially not this one after all he’d learned about her.

He glanced down to discover her feet still primly tucked beneath the hem of her gown.

Prim. Even now, when desire perfumed the air, she was as prim as a nun. Was his hopeful imagination playing tricks?

As if sensing his question, her toes emerged, followed by the rest of her feet. Narrow feet, with high arches and long slender toes, except for the small one on her right foot. That one curled over. A tiny blemish on what were the prettiest feet he’d ever seen. And her ankles were nice, too, well turned and slender.

She brushed one against the other shyly.

His body hardened.

He dragged his gaze back to her face. Her gaze was fixed on his face. She licked her lips, making them moist.

Gently, so as not to scare her, he raised his fingertips to her chin and angled her face for easier access to those sweetly curved lips.

She swallowed and closed her eyes.

‘Not scared, are you, sweeting?’ he whispered against her mouth.

‘No,’ she whispered back, but her voice shook on the word.

A kiss or two wouldn’t hurt. Although if the last kiss was anything to go by, he would have trouble stopping once he started. There was something about this woman that called to his most primal self. And it wasn’t just the sight of her bare feet.

Indeed, they were the icing on an already delicious cake. A cake he should not be tasting if she was unwilling.

She leaned closer, making her desires known. Her mouth brushed his lips. Her tongue licked where her lips had touched.

He caught her nape and pressed his mouth to hers. She turned into him, little sounds of approval coming from deep in her throat, her hands caressing his shoulders and arms.

She tasted sweet. Like honey or sugar and something far more exotic.

He breathed deep, inhaling her perfume. Jasmine.

Why was he questioning this? They were both adults, free to make their own decisions. And he’d been looking for this from the moment he had seen her. He would woo her, seduce her and show her a few things her curate husband wouldn’t have known.

He deepened the kiss. Slowly she sank back against the cushions, her body soft and warm beneath him, her hands wandering his bare back in an erotically delicate, yet feverish, exploration.

He experienced a moment of shock as he realised just how much he wanted this woman. Not just carnally, which went without saying, but on some spiritual level, as if closeness with her could somehow beat back the darkness in his life.

A sigh of pleasure as his hand encompassed her breast through her gown drove the annoyingly awkward thought from his mind. His fingers tingled at the wild flutter of her heart beneath the soft flesh, and the rapid rise and fall of her chest with each breath. The desire to please shocked him, but since he wanted her, then he would ensure she wanted him with equal fervour. He would ply all his years of experience to drive this woman mad with longing until she begged for completion.

Slowly, gently, he lifted his lips from hers, lingering only to taste her lips lightly, then brought himself up on his elbows, one each side of her head. He gazed down into her lovely face gilded by firelight. Beautiful did not begin to describe the finely moulded bones beneath the warm-toned skin. There was haughtiness in the high cheekbones and the straight nose. Passion in the full lips reddened and pouting from his kisses. Untapped passion.

Her large dark eyes gazed back at him, heavy lidded and smoky. Lust clawed at his belly at the banked fires he saw in her steady even gaze.

He had the feeling that when those embers burst into flame, they would consume him.

He drew a deep unsteady breath and cradled her face in his hands. ‘You are lovely,’ he whispered.

She smiled her sultry smile and her even white teeth contrasted with the red of her lips. He rubbed his thumb across the fullness of her lower lip. She licked it.

His body clenched with pleasure.

With fingers that shook with the desire gripping his body, he traced the line of cheekbone and jaw. He brushed the back of his hand across the soft hollow of her cheek, pulled her hair free of its pins and speared his fingers in the luxurious black wings of hair at her temples. Soft and thick tresses haloed her face. The face of a temptress.

His body hardened to rock.

He shook his head at her. ‘Who are you?’

Her eyes widened. Her lovely throat moved as she swallowed. ‘Just a woman,’ she said, her throaty voice rough.

‘An unexpected gift,’ he said and bent to plunder her mouth with his tongue.

The soft noise of pleasure from her throat urged him on. He slanted his head for better access to the hot recess of her mouth, and trailed one hand down her length, caressing the deep indent of her waist and the soft swell of her hip. Lovely womanly curves filled his palm and painted a picture of her beautiful body in his mind. He stroked her tongue and she tasted his with an eager enthusiasm that almost unmanned him.

He took a deep steadying breath and bunched the fabric of her skirts, drawing them up to her hips. She gave a little gasp of surprise.

He lifted his head and glanced down at her, questioning.

In that moment, he could have sworn she looked nervous, yet when she smiled and grabbed his shoulders, he decided it was a trick of the light. That her gasp was pleasure, not surprise.

He palmed the long slender thigh, kneading and stroking in turn, slowly pressing his knee between hers.

She shifted beneath him, parting her thighs, welcoming him into the cradle of her hips. Accommodating him as if he belonged there. It felt so damned good. He nuzzled at her neck, blew in her ear, heard her whimpers of ecstasy within every bone and nerve in his body.

The urge to press into her heat plunged him into hot unthinking darkness. Only by force of will did he retain the strength to take it slowly, because he had another driving need: to ensure her climax. Anything less would be unacceptable.

He pressed kisses to the swells of her bosom above her gown, licking at the valley between them.

Her hips undulated against his shaft, sending blood, hot and thick, coursing through him. He pulled at the ribbon at the top of her bodice, untied the bow and pulled the bodice down, revealing the top of a practical linen shift and her stays. He traced the edge of the shift with a fingertip, dipping beneath the fabric to brush a tightly budded nipple.

She drew in a hiss of breath

‘You like that?’ he murmured.

She nodded, her teeth worrying her bottom lip as if she found it too hard to speak.

‘You will like it better, if we remove your gown.’

A look of doubt crossed her face.

He wanted to curse. Had the curate-husband never pleasured her naked? No wonder she seemed almost innocent in her responses. The man had probably never bothered to do more than bring himself release without seeing to hers. Well, she wouldn’t be the only widow he’d introduced to sensual delight.

‘I promise you will be more than satisfied,’ he whispered wickedly in her ear. She shivered.

He smiled.





Rosa had learned some things about the physical relations between a man and a woman since becoming Lady Keswick’s companion. The married ladies in the company had been forthright in their discussions of bedsport among themselves. And in their acknowledgement of enjoyment.

If the thrills invading every part of her body were part of the experience, then she now knew whereof they spoke. Garth’s kisses on her lips were wonderful, but now as he kissed the rise of her breast with his hot mouth, the heat in her blood and the pulses of sweet longing inside her resulted in the most delicious sensations deep inside her body.

She could hardly think while her body felt as if it was on fire. A fire only he could quench.

It wasn’t wrong, this delight of the flesh. Her parents had clearly enjoyed their physical intimacy from the way they’d touched when thinking they were unobserved, and they had always shared a bed. But they’d been married.

They’d loved each other.

Not that love was a necessary component to passion. A married woman was entitled to take her pleasure where she willed as long as she was discreet, according to the women visiting Lady Keswick. Indeed, it seemed almost a point of pride with them.

A single woman would be ruined by such behaviour. Shunned.

Her heart gave a little squeeze for what would never be. Marriage. Family. Love. But very few people found love. Perhaps her sisters wouldn’t reject her when they learned she had done this for their sake, to give them the chance of love, or at least a chance for a happy marriage.

He raised his head from tormenting her breast to look into her face. She keenly felt the loss of his mouth on her sensitised flesh.

He smoothed the hair back from her temples. ‘Are you all right?’

Had he somehow sensed her roiling thoughts? Her inner fears?

He had a beautiful face. Sinister, yes. Even his smile was dark and dangerous, and the angles of his face were so hard they might have been cut with a blade. And yet he could be gentle, too, and fun. She smiled at him. ‘I’m fine.’

‘Only fine?’ he growled, the smile on the lips belying the roughness in his voice. ‘Then I am not at my best tonight.’

A chuckle rose in her throat; daring took hold of her tongue. ‘Then you must try harder.’

His shoulders shook a little, and then he laughed deep in his chest. The rumble set up a pleasant vibration along her skin. ‘Then we must be rid of this gown, my dear sweet Rose.’

Oh, how neatly he turned things to his advantage. A charming rogue. A practised seducer. A rake.

Which was all to her advantage, for no honourable man would let her use her body to buy her way out of her misfortune. Not if he knew her true identity.

Don’t think of that now. The truth would not help her. She must manage with what she had.

She reached up and ran her hands across the breadth of his shoulders, smoothed the gilded flesh of arms sculpted as fine as any statue and sensually warm to the touch. She laughed. ‘Then you need to rise, sir.’

‘I, you saucy wench, am already well risen.’ He tickled her chin, pressed a kiss to her mouth and stood up.

The sheet dropped to the floor. And there he was, outlined by the glow from the fire in all his male glory.

Open-mouthed, she stared at his large male part jutting up from the dark curls at his loins.

She knew what it was, and where it was supposed to go, but she had never expected it to be quite so substantial, or so stiff. Now the terms ‘riding the pike’ and ‘mounting the pole’ that the women had used as they discussed their adventures made more sense. The only male parts she had seen on statues were, though fascinating to her maidenly eyes, tiny wormlike appendages. They were nothing like this.

Nervously, her gaze shot up to his face. His expression was smug. ‘Do I please you, sweet Rose?’

She swallowed. ‘Yes.’ Oh, dear, that sounded just a little more tentative than she had intended.

He tilted his head on one side and then silently reached out a hand. ‘Come, let us have you out of that gown.’ He easily pulled her to her feet and spun her around.

One hand came around her waist and pulled her back against him. She could feel his member hard against her buttocks. The heat of his body permeated through her gown. His other hand swept her hair from her neck and his lips nuzzled at her nape. She arched her back at the pleasurable sensation.

‘So sensual,’ he mumbled against her skin. ‘I want to eat you all up.’

The words and the lick of his tongue across her nape sent shivers rampaging across her skin. Lovely shivers that penetrated her bones and reached deep inside her core.

He drew her closer, rocking against her, with a soft groan. His hand left her hair and slid down to squeeze and knead her bottom, and the hand at her waist moved up to cup her breast in a hot caress, as the rocking of his hips continued. ‘So soft,’ he murmured.

It felt lovely, but it was only a prelude to what was to come. And she must not remain passive or he would soon find her dull, as the friendly Mrs De Lacy had remarked during one of their discussions. Lady Smythe had turned a bright red, but had nodded as if she agreed.

She reached up and back to run her fingers through his hair. The movement brought her buttocks in closer contact to his groin and her breasts higher. His hand brushed back and forth across their peaks, making them tingle and ache.

He nipped her nape and stepped back. ‘Witch. You’ll have me finished before we start.’

His fingers attacked the fastenings of her gown while she mulled on his words.

Had he not liked her touching him? He hadn’t sounded annoyed, but simply rueful, perhaps amused. She frowned. Was she doing something wrong?

The tugging at her back ceased. His large warm hands slipped over her shoulders and down her arms, pushing the sleeves free of her hands, sliding the fabric over her hips, until with nothing to keep it in place it fell to her feet with a whisper.

She let go her breath in a little huff. Her heart banged against her ribs in warning. She clenched her hands against the urge to run.

‘Easy,’ he breathed, kissing each of her shoulder blades in turn. His hands ran down her arms and clasped her hands, teasing her fingers open, while his mouth kissed the top of her shoulder. Fingers interlaced with his, she relaxed back against his broad warm chest.

‘You’ve nothing to fear,’ he murmured in softly. ‘Only the best of little deaths, I promise.’

Her panic subsided, gentled by his touch and the dark seduction of his voice. She took a deep breath and leaned into him, feeling his strength all down her back. A man like him had the power to protect the weak, or break them. She did not trust him to use his power well, but did she fear him? Not at this moment. For at this moment, she had something he wanted.

She gently freed her fingers and moved her hands backwards, explored the naked flesh of his flanks, so narrow and firm, and the rough-haired muscle of his thighs. More lean strength beneath warm skin.

His hips jerked against her bottom. He muttered something that sounded like a curse, then, ‘Too many clothes.’

He gently pushed her forwards. ‘Let me at these laces, girl,’ he said softly. ‘I would have you skin to skin.’

Her stomach clenched at the sensual whisper and the image it provoked.

His hands made short work of the ties of her stays. They, too, fell to the floor. Slowly, almost reverently, he drew her chemise up her body. She lifted her arms and he pulled it over her head and off. He spun her around to face him, his gaze raking her body, taking in her breasts and waist and the triangle of glossy black curls between her thighs, before travelling back to her face.

Did he approve of what he saw? Or would he see the low-class foreignness in her blood as something to scorn or mock as her grandfather had avowed when offering her the horridest of old men as a husband?

There was an expression on his face, something in his eyes, but she couldn’t read it.

She dropped her gaze, fearing what she might see. What he would say.

‘Gorgeous,’ he whispered. ‘Truly lovely. I never thought the beauty of your body would outmatch a most delicious pair of feet.’

She looked up quickly and saw nothing mocking in his face. Indeed, there was a kind of wondering awe. The amazement in his eyes was unquestionably sincere.

She managed a tremulous smile, even as the heat of embarrassment at his outrageous praise flooded her body.

‘Ah, the Madonna-face again,’ he said. ‘It drives me mad for you and you know it, don’t you?’

She shook her head, not at all sure what he meant. ‘It is the only face I have,’ she whispered.

‘Then I must kiss it.’ He cupped her jaw in both palms and kissed her lips. She opened her mouth to welcome him in, parted her thighs to the pressure of his. Felt him groan. It seemed he was not the only one with power.

Then thoughts refused to form as pleasure at her core roused her to new heights of longing.

Slowly he lowered her to the cushions in front of the hearth; the velvet felt soft against her naked skin, a contrast to the brush of rough hair against her inner thigh, the hardness of his member at her hip and the firm squeeze of his hand at her breast.

Her skin became one vast plain of sensation, tingles and searing heat, heartbeats thundering in her ears and throughout her body. The kiss stole her vision of everything but the feel of his lips, his tongue, his strong male body and the need they inspired deep within.

Slowly, lingeringly, he ended the magical wooing of his mouth on hers with butterfly kisses on the tip of her nose, each eyelid, the point of her chin, while her hands explored the expanse of his shoulders, the narrow span of his waist, the rise of his buttocks. A lean body, steel covered by hot silk, so different from hers.

He slid downwards, his weight on one hand, while the other played with her breast. Delicious little arrows of pleasure speared downwards. She raised her head to see what he did. Together they watched as he rolled her dark brown nipple between thumb and finger, tugging lightly.

‘Ah,’ she cried at the lancing ache. A darting glance, gleaming with wickedness, met her gaze and then he bent his head, his hot wet tongue and teeth replacing his fingers. The sensation brought her hips up off the cushions.

‘Oh,’ she cried, stunned at the force of the pleasure, the sweet aching pain of it, and the shocking desire for more.

She didn’t have to ask, he seemed to know, and the pleasure grew each time his mouth found some new way to drive her to utter distraction.

Yet no matter how high she soared, how tight her insides clenched, what she wanted seemed just beyond her reach and centred deep inside. She raised her hips, pressing against his thigh, and while the increased pressure offered a measure of satisfaction, it only added to the torture of what was happening inside her body.

When he started to go lower with his kisses, she moaned a protest.

He chuckled softly and she struck his shoulder with her fist, a demand, but for what she didn’t quite know, even as the words came into her mind. Le petit mort. The little death. That was it. She wanted to die. To end the torture.

He half rolled on his side and cupped between her legs, pressing and moving his hand in a small circle. The tension only got worse. A thrill screamed through her blood, even as his fingers parted the folds of her most intimate place.

A breath hissed between his teeth. ‘So small and so hot,’ he muttered. He pulled away.

‘What—’

‘Hush. This will take but a moment.’

Even as the words were leaving his mouth he was lifting her hips with one hand cupped beneath her bottom and pushing another cushion beneath her.

She frowned at him, and he smiled. ‘Never tried it? You’ll like it, believe me.’

She gazed up at him and nodded. She had to trust him, for she had no practical knowledge. Would he be able to tell?

Would there be blood and pain as some said, or only a moment of discomfort? Since this was the most natural, if wicked, act between a man and a woman, she had to believe the latter.

She widened her legs at the push of his knee as he hung above her, her hips tilted high, like an offering. He glanced down, his eyes heavy and his expression darker and wilder than she had ever seen him as he focused on the wickedly delicious sensations caused by his hand between her thighs. Once more she felt him open her to him, and when she glanced down, she saw it was not his hand this time, but his shaft, his rod, as the other woman had laughingly called it, pressed against her opening.

She tensed, glancing up at his face. His eyes were closed, pleasure already softening the stern line of his jaw.

He thrust forwards.