Authors: Heather Boyd
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #Regency, #Historical Romance
She stopped when she saw the room. He’d already stoked the fire so it burned hot. He’d lit candles everywhere so there were no shadows to hide within. It was important to him that there were no misunderstandings between them tonight or any night. It was time to lay his cards on the table and see what his chances were. He locked the door behind them and drew her to the fire.
Meredith’s whiskey-colored eyes glowed as she looked up at him, firelight reflected in their depths. “Hardly proper,” she admonished.
“You’ve had over a month of proper. Do you want to continue with that nonsense?” He brushed his fingers against her nape, brushing the short-cropped hair aside gently. He didn’t mind it so much anymore. The unique look suited her character very much. Prim or not, she tempted him a thousand times a day. Keeping his passions hidden had been a strain, but he hoped after tonight he wouldn’t need to anymore.
“No,” she whispered.
With that one word, she flung herself into his arms, burrowing against his chest as if she craved him. Constantine held her close, caressing her and remembering he’d wanted her from the moment they’d met. Had he fallen for her from that very first glimpse? He thought it might have been the case.
Meredith rose up on her toes, her mouth seeking his. Happy to oblige, Constantine kissed her as he’d wanted to all these weeks. Everything he’d wanted was still there. Meredith tasted the same as Calista. Her passions were just as alluring. The trick would be getting her to agree to a permanent arrangement between them.
He eased away slowly, reluctant but sure. Talking first, pleasure later. “I was hoping you’d missed me,” he told her. “Missed kissing and touching like this.”
She fiddled with his cravat. “Grayling, has anyone ever told you that there are times when actions speak louder than words? You could have had me any number of times, but you didn’t. What stopped you speaking up before tonight?”
“Our bargain.” He pressed a kiss to her hair. “I told you I would honor it and leave you in peace. I thought I could be satisfied to see you and not touch.”
Her brow rose. “Difficult?”
“As you would not believe. Or maybe you would, as you’re here in my bedchamber now.”
She stroked his chest and then peered at him from beneath her lashes. “It has proven rather arduous to be virtuous. Perhaps harder than anything I’ve ever done.”
“Then we are in agreement. We belong together.”
Meredith eased back. “I never said that. What I did say was that attraction does not go away simply because one wills it. I don’t belong to you.”
“But I belong to you,” he said quietly. “Quite frankly, I think you ruined me for anyone else.”
“Don’t say that. You don’t know me.”
“I know enough. For now.”
She broke away. “You only know what I’ve told you.”
Constantine watched her steadily. “Have you lied to me about more than your name?”
He saw her throat move as she swallowed. “No. But I’ve withheld the truth.”
“Why can you not trust me? I would never harm you. I would take care of you if I could.”
“I’ve always taken care of myself. Living on my own terms has served me well.”
Unable to remain apart, Constantine crossed the room to stand before her. Her jaw was set defiantly, her eyes narrowed. He slipped his finger beneath her chin and lifted her face to his. “I don’t want to change you. You’ve no idea how much I admire you, wretched lies and all.” He smiled when he said the last. Her lack of name was the least of his concerns. “But I would like to take care of you. To keep you with me always so I know how you fare.”
“I thought you brought me here for your daughters.”
“And I did.” He caressed her cheek. “They have blossomed in your care.”
She squinted up at him. “Why do you want me around? I’ll bring nothing but trouble.”
“On the contrary, you bring excitement, and passion, and uncertainty, and contentment. You are a thousand contradictions all at once. No day is ever the same.”
She swallowed again. The pause unnerved him, but then her hands rose to her neckline and she unbuttoned the front of her gown, revealing the top of her unmentionables beneath. “Is this the excitement you crave?”
“Yes, and more.”
When the gown was loose enough, she peeled off the bodice and slid the material over her hips. She toyed with the string of her corset while observing him. “What about this, Gray? Is it in the way?”
“Constantine,” he corrected. “Use my name, and yes you damn well know I prefer you naked.”
A teasing smile flittered across her face. “So impatient.”
“You’re a fine one to talk. I wanted a conversation before we ended up in bed together.”
She smiled again as the corset fell. “Talk is overrated, Constantine. Are you going to simply stand there and deprive me of my view? I haven’t seen a naked man in two months. If you’re not careful I’ll go in search of someone else.”
Her taunt was made to infuriate him, but Constantine didn’t care, he hauled her against his chest and lifted her from the floor. “Do it and he’s a dead man. You’re mine, whether you like it or not. The sooner you become accustomed to the feeling, the better it will go. Or would you rather I found another woman to make love to? I could bring her home to the Hall and make love to her right in front of you while you’re supposed to be tending the children.”
Her legs locked tight around his waist. “Don’t you dare.”
He waited, hoping to hear her utter the words that
belonged to her as well, but she wouldn’t. However, she did wrap her arms around his neck and tangle her fingers in his hair rather possessively.
Constantine skimmed his lips across hers softly. “I’m yours. I’ve always been yours.”
A soft smile played around her mouth and she leaned close. He waited for her to kiss him, but her lips stopped a whisper from his. Her breath danced across his skin and then her tongue darted out to lick his upper lip. He withheld a groan as she did it again, the effect on his body immediate. When she brushed her lips softly against his, he closed his eyes and let her have her way.
Meredith teased him with her tongue and her kisses burned his skin. She slithered down to her feet, got her hands beneath his waistcoat, and unfastened his trousers. Constantine opened his eyes. Celibacy had clearly not agreed with Meredith any more than it had with him. He removed his waistcoat and shirt and shoved his trousers down to his ankles. “Is this what you want?”
She offered a saucy wink and fell back onto the bed, kicking her slim legs up into the air, teasing him with a glimpse of heaven. Constantine pushed his trousers away and covered her with his body, letting the weight of his erection lay against her skin.
Her breath hissed from her lips. “I missed you.”
Constantine’s heart began to pound. “And I’ve missed you. My best fantasies cannot compare with having you in my bed.”
She smiled and rubbed her lithe body against him, ran her hands over his flanks, and then looped her arms about his neck. She met his gaze. Her whiskey-brown eyes were alight with desire. “Where is it?”
Constantine frowned, not understanding her question. “I’m sorry?”
“Your little velvet pouch. Hurry, Constantine. I need you inside me.”
Lust battled with his conscience. If he did not use it and got a child on her, he would worry. But he wanted her in his life, to be his wife, to bear his sons. But he was utterly afraid she would run if he told her that so soon. He drew back and cupped her cheek.
“What’s wrong? Have you misplaced it?”
“No. I’m just not sure I should use it.” He pressed his head to hers. “Damn, you decide.”
Her fingers played over a spot on his upper arm. “If you fear I’m diseased, then you should wear it. Many gentlemen prefer it with women in my profession.”
Constantine’s stomach lurched. He caught her face between his hands. She hadn’t understood. “That’s not why I wear it,” he whispered.
Her brow creased. “Then why?”
What had he done? Had he made her feel cheap and dirty? He kissed her passionately and blurted out, “Rothwell claims they can prevent a woman from conceiving a child. That’s the only reason I have one. I didn’t want to ruin another woman’s life.”
Her eyes widened and then she hugged him tightly. “I told you I was quite capable of looking after myself. Especially in those matters. Do you see that I don’t have any children of my own?”
Constantine felt a little foolish. He buried his face in her neck and inhaled.
Meredith held his head in place. “I knew what to do even before my fall. My mother was a very practical-minded woman. There was no chance I would conceive unless I wanted to.”
If he’d known, considered the matter properly, he might never have tortured himself and denied them both greater pleasures. Before he reconsidered, Constantine positioned himself and entered her in a single, slow thrust. The difference took his breath away and Meredith’s too, for her nails dug into his back and she moaned. He began to move, slowly at first and then with gathering force. He levered up onto his arms to watch the play of emotions on her face.
God, she was beautiful, and wicked. He groaned as she tweaked his nipple. “Don’t do that, sweetheart,” he complained.
The minx battered her eyelashes at him. “But Constantine, you said you were mine, so that means I can do anything I like with you.”
He grinned. “Are you claiming me, then?”
“Oh yes.” She ran her hands over his chest possessively. “There’s so much more we can do together if we cease being proper.”
Constantine lowered himself, keeping his weight on his forearms as Meredith undulated beneath him.
“Don’t stop,” she warned. “I’ve only a few hours before the children might need me back in the nursery and I want you at least several times more.”
“I may be incapable of letting you go.” He kissed her again. “Have been since the day we met.”
He rolled onto his back, taking Meredith with him so she was on top. She shifted position till she was comfortable and then smiled down gleefully. “Now you cannot say no to me.”
“Believe me sweetheart, I’ve no intention of ever doing that.”
CHRISTMAS DAY LEFT no time for contemplation of the events of last night. Meredith might have been a fool to lapse back into old habits, but being alone with Constantine had proved too great a temptation. The things that man could do with his mouth and his hands were beyond description. She’d succumbed to his warmth without a second thought. Only now was she wondering how great a mistake she’d made.
The other things he wanted from her were not so easy to give or agree to. She coveted nothing and offered nothing but her passion. Wouldn’t that be enough? Couldn’t that endless well of desire satisfy his hungers if she could meet with him from time to time? But Constantine wanted more. A great deal more than she could give. He was clear that he wanted her in his bed every night, but that would lead to problems. The other servants were already suspicious. Her time here was limited.
Meredith circled the room restlessly. Not bored, but not knowing where to stand. The children were playing with their new dolls and did not require her attention for the moment. She was free to drink punch and eat minced tarts and mingle with the other servants. Yet the other servants had grown distant in the weeks since she had injured her head while playing with Willow. Conversations had come to an abrupt halt when she entered the servants’ hall more times than she could count. On most days, the excuse of the children needing her provided the perfect alibi to stay away from everyone. Only Mrs. Smith, Nurse, and Cunningham seemed inclined to draw her out for conversation. If they discovered she’d spent half the night in Constantine’s bedchamber, she would be further ostracized and left out.
The housekeeper smiled invitingly when their eyes met and Meredith forced herself to join them. Mrs. Smith leaned close to whisper, “So, how long do you think before he goes for the marriage mart?”
Meredith blinked. “Excuse me?”
Mrs. Smith looked about them. “His Lordship’s cleared out his lady’s old bedchamber yesterday. I expect he’ll go up to London for the coming season for a wife.”
Meredith forced her hands not to clench. “Is that so? I never heard mention of it till now.”
“Hmm, not surprising being as you are so diligent with your duties to the wee poppets. Just yesterday His Lordship sent for Cunningham and myself and requested we store his late wife’s possessions away till the girls have grown old enough to choose their favorites. I hope His Lordship picks someone worthy of him. He’s much too handsome to be alone so young.”
Meredith’s pulse raced. She studied Constantine. He’d never said a word about making such a drastic change to his life. Or had he tried last night and Meredith had misunderstood his intent? She’d thought his mention of bringing a wife home to Stanton Harold Hall was to tease her into revealing how much she wouldn’t like that. Why resume their affair if he planned to take a wife soon? Although her mouth tasted of ashes, she forced herself to speak. “I imagine he would choose wisely.”