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Authors: Kasey Michaels

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BOOK: Beware of Virtuous Women
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Jack picked up the tray and put the entire thing on the floor, figuring that if Eleanor wasn't clumsy again, at least she wouldn't get cake crumbs all over everything. "I suppose this is all my fault? Because I'm such an annoying man."

Eleanor couldn't take much more of this, this
looking
at her, so she got to her feet and put some distance between them. "I wanted to tell you about my uncle. I'd wanted to tell you yesterday, was just about to, but then there was the fire, and then... well, you know what happened then."

"I have some vague recollection, yes," Jack said, knowing he shouldn't be enjoying himself quite so much. But Eleanor Becket flustered? This was probably something he wouldn't see often.

"If I might continue?" Eleanor said, beginning to pace. "And then you were gone, and I read the note, and I knew you were coming back, but I didn't know when, or what I would say to you because now that we'd.. .and you'd left without a
word,
so what was I to say, how was I to act? Was I supposed to
say
something, act differently, pretend it never happened, look at you—"

Jack stopped her simply by stepping in front of her and putting his hands on her upper arms. "Eleanor, enough. I thought I'd appreciate seeing you flustered, but I don't, not when I'm responsible, at any rate. It's all right, really. We've already discussed the note. We'll talk more about what you finally told me, what you've still to tell me if you decide to trust me."

"It's not that I don't trust you—"

"Shh.
I said, we'll revisit all of that later. Right now, I think we need to discuss what happened between us last night."

Eleanor felt panic gripping her again. "Oh, I knew it, I just knew we'd have to do that," she said, letting out her breath on a sigh. "Do we
have
to?"

"If you 're going to go back to jumping ten feet in the air every time I come near you, yes, we do. We made love, Eleanor, you for the first time. We didn't do anything wrong, not unless you're sorry about what we did."

"No," she said slowly, looking up at him with those huge brown eyes that held powers she didn't comprehend, or else she'd use them on him more, totally destroying him. "Are you?"

He shook his head, smiled down at her. "I am a little worried about Jacko, though," he said, at last giving in to the impulse to run his fingers into her short cap of hair. "You may not remember, but the man was very clear about the thing. Harm so much as a single hair on your head, and he'd tie my guts in a bow around my neck, or at least I think those were the words. I've harmed considerably more than a single hair on your head."

Eleanor stepped back, raised her hands to her newly cropped hair. And then she did what he'd hoped she'd do. She smiled. "I would have to say that you're in fairly deep trouble, Mr. Eastwood."

"Happily, even you Beckets can't kill a man twice, because I don't even want to think of the punishment Jacko would come up with if he knew I'd taken you to my bed."

They were back to that. They could discuss her uncle, they could discuss the fire in her bedchamber. They could discuss the Great Fire, the Lord Mayor and her uncle yet again. But always, always the conversation came back to
that.

"Why did you do it?" Eleanor asked him, because the question had been driving her nearly insane all day.

He was going to have to become accustomed to her directness. "Why?" he repeated, momentarily nonplussed. "What sort of question is that?"

"The wrong one, obviously," Eleanor said, straightening her spine. "But we've known each other for over two years, and in all of that time you've never—"

"We've
known
each other only a few days, Eleanor," he interrupted quietly. "I've been an idiot for two years."

"That's., .that's very pretty," Eleanor said, lowering her eyes, which was a pity, because he really enjoyed looking into those eyes that seemed to mirror her remarkable soul. "Thank you."

"Yes. You're welcome," Jack said, trying hard not to let his amusement enter his tone of voice. "Eleanor, are you ever going to let me make love to you again?"

Well, that did it. She was looking at him now.

"Isn't...isn't that why we're here?"

He lightly rubbed at her upper arms. "I'd like to think so, yes. I'd like to think that you've been thinking about me all day, the way I've been thinking about you. I'd like to touch you, kiss you, feel you move beneath—"

Eleanor didn't know how it happened, but somehow she was standing on tiptoe on her good leg, her hands braced on Jack's shoulders, her mouth pressed against his. Her body pressed against his.

Jack's mouth softened in a smile, and something inside Eleanor prompted her to relax her own rather tightly compressed lips. The instant memory of how Jack had taken her mouth last night,
possessed
her mouth with his, threatened to send her reeling, wonderfully off balance.

But she had nothing to fear, because Jack was already scooping her up in his arms and carrying her to the bed.
He's very good at this
her mind registered vaguely as the satin coverlet made its way to the floor, to be followed rather swiftly by their clothing, even as he somehow made certain that her modesty was preserved by the soft, silken sheets.

Not that she'd opened her eyes above once, at which time she'd glimpsed more of Jack's body than she'd seen in the dark of last night. Much more.

Last night she'd been comfortably sleepy when he'd come to her, warmed by the brandy he'd given her, hidden by the dark that concealed them both. Dreamlike. The night had been dreamlike.

But not today.

And yet, when he touched her, when she felt his strong hand close around her breast, it was not the dream that she remembered, but only the
now
that was so much more real.

Jack was amazed at the way he seemed able to gauge Eleanor's every mood, simply from the way her body responded to his touch. Nervous. Curious. Bashful. Yielding. And, as he coaxed her with his hands and mouth, slowly blossoming, flowering. Yearning. Wanting.

He kissed her mouth, her breasts, her soft belly. Taking his time, giving her time, delighting in her every hesitant response. She was perfection under his hands, and he needed to prove that to her, give her the confidence to completely give herself over to him.

He kissed her hip, trailed his lips down the length of her thigh, stroked the tender skin behind her knee with his tongue. He could feel the strength in her slim calf, remembered the taut knot the muscle had become the night he'd rubbed away her cramp.

Half sitting, and careful to keep his gaze on Eleanor's face, he bent her leg and lifted it until he could touch his mouth to her ankle.

"Don't..." Eleanor breathed quietly, suddenly not thinking of her nakedness exposed to him, but only of the scars, the awkward way her crushed and broken bones had fused together as they'd healed.

Jack lowered his eyes to look at her ankle, felt a shaft of real pain as he imagined the agony the six-year-old Eleanor must have gone through, the pain she carried with her now. He saw the near-brand on the skin just above her ankle; almost round, as if a large iron bolt had burned into her flesh.

What in bloody hell had done that?

He kissed the scar, and Eleanor expelled her breath in a soft cry as she watched him, then held her arms up to him, silently begging for him to come to her, hold her.

Jack knew he'd dared what to Eleanor must feel like the ultimate intimacy, so that he didn't push, didn't question. Instead, he reassured. Bending to her once more, rousing her slowly with long, increasingly intimate kisses, gliding his hands over her body until her tentative response became more daring, until her eagerness nearly matched his.

Eleanor gloried to the ripple of muscle she could feel as she pressed her palms against Jack's back, and when he at last levered himself over her, into her, the rush of pleasure caused tears to sting behind her eyes.

She held him, held on to him tightly, her untutored body responding to his every move until at last she didn't have to think, but only react. Even initiate.

She felt an unexpected rush of power mixed with her building passion. Power, control. And then, most glorious of all, the giving up of that control at the divine instant there was nothing else in the world except Jack and the moment....

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

 

If Eleanor was to have only one night in her life, one memory, she knew which she'd choose.

They'd dined in absolute splendor and blessed solitude, then gone back upstairs, Eleanor feeling rather giddy from the small amount of wine she'd drunk—or with anticipation, which was more likely—Jack scooping her high into his arms at the top of the stairs and carrying her back to the bedchamber.

He spread a blanket in front of the fire and told her silly stories about Cluny, poor fellow, and actually peeled and hand-fed her luscious green grapes. She admitted that she'd always wanted to be more daring, like Morgan, and he'd told her he would have to choke her sister within a fortnight if he were to be put in Ethan's boots, and that he liked Eleanor just fine the way she was. Which, he said, was perfect.

And then they'd made love. Long, pleasing, won-drously satisfying love. She learned him. He learned her. There was nothing and no one in the world except the two of them.

A night out of time, a perfect treasure of a memory, to be held close to her like a secret she stored in her heart but would always be able to take out, look at, remember.

But morning always comes, and dawns aren't always peaceful.

"It would work, Jack," Eleanor insisted, not for the first time. This time her words seemed to have chased Jack from the bed, and she watched as he angrily jammed his arms into his banyan.

He turned about, to glare at her. "And if it doesn't? What then, Eleanor?"

"You'll be there. You and Cluny both. You wouldn't let anything happen."

Jack's smile was bitter. "Now you're thinking like our friend Chelfham. One plan, with no thought of failure to complicate matters. Things go wrong, Eleanor. This isn't like one of your damn books. Things go
wrong."

He might as well have slapped her. "Yes, Jack," she said, levering herself out of the opposite side of the bed, her bare feet slipping to the floor. "I do understand that things can go wrong. More than you might know. If you have another idea, Jack, we'll consider it. But we need this over, we need this done. We don't have time to return to Becket Hall, confer with Papa and the others. Every day we delay is dangerous."

"Is that some quote I don't recognize? Some old general scribbling his own version of events after the fact? The winners write the histories, Eleanor, and the histories are always crammed full of victories. Never the defeats."

Eleanor searched out her slippers and dressing gown, hoping Jack didn't notice how her hands were shaking. "He wants me gone, Jack. He wants, if we're right, to have me out of London, where he can attack the coach, be rid of his problem. Be rid of me. We
believe
that, correct?"

Jack fought to get his temper under control. "We
suppose
it, Eleanor, but don't
know
it. Not for certain. The whole thing could be just as he said—that his pernicious bitch of a wife doesn't want to look at you."

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