Authors: Heather Boyd
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #Regency, #Historical Romance
“Modest to a fault.” He laughed and gestured to a nearby chair. “Would you care to sit?”
Meredith beamed at his gallantry and took a place on the settee closest to the fire. At this time of year, she could never manage to ignore the chill of the night. Besides, the settee would allow for greater intimacies to spring up between them. An innocent touch, the seemingly random brush of her limb against his as she appeared engaged in his conversation while planning the next part of his seduction. This would be so easy and she would have her prize come morning.
Grayling seated himself in a spindly wooden chair across from her, spoiling her plans for a direct, hands-on seduction. He sat back, one leg crossed over the other, the fabric of his breeches straining to reveal well-muscled thighs. Her mouth watered. Her body pulsed. The polished boot attached to his upper leg swung back and forth in a hypnotizing dance that kept her attention fixed on his large body.
She blinked and dragged her gaze back to his sparkling green eyes, which were again filled with amusement at her expense. She did her best to keep her irritation hidden. Grayling’s seemingly innocent smile was utterly fraudulent. He’d sat apart just to upset her plans for unfettered success. She’d have to be much cleverer in her methods if she was going to have her way with him. And wicked it would be.
Meredith thrilled at the challenge of a reluctant bed partner. In her line of work, men rarely played hard to get. Most were always willing and eager to get to the end without fighting for the best of the moments before. She hadn’t met a man equal to the challenge in a very long time. Tonight might even be fun.
Determined to intrigue him, even from a distance, Meredith eased back in the chair, leveling him with an amused smile. She widened her knees slightly, just enough that he’d notice the movement of her gown pulling tight across them. As she hoped, his gaze dipped to the light gown covering her thighs. He couldn’t see anything now, but he would surely remember the way the fire had revealed the outline of her body as he’d spied on her and Linnie talking earlier through the crack in the door. “Tell me of yourself, my lord. Do you enjoy the hunt?”
His eyes rose slowly, sparkling with mirth. “Very much. I keep hounds and host a gathering every year on my estate.”
That hadn’t been what she’d alluded to with her comment, but if he wanted to play the part of a reluctant lover then the least she could do was humor him. She’d learned to be always obliging to those she wanted something from. Grayling was her guarantee of further riches. “Is the event very well attended?”
His legs unfolded and he set both feet out before him. His eyes lost their merriment as he crossed his arms over his chest. “Everyone who is invited finds their way to Stanton Harold Hall. Getting them to leave is another matter entirely.”
Curious about his change of posture, a defense if ever she saw one, Meredith’s fingers rose to toy with the neckline of her gown. The slow movement drew his attention but did nothing to soften his pose. “I imagine you to be such an agreeable host, so willing to see to their every whim and need, no matter the inconvenience, that your guests cannot bear to be parted from your company.”
His expression grew skeptical. “They come for the food, the wine, and to gawk.”
“People always covet what other people have.” Meredith saw no harm in it and frequently admired the pretty gems other ladies wore with no ill effect. But she’d never met someone who was vocal about their dislike of being looked upon. Given his looks, Grayling should be used to such attention. In fact, Meredith could not tear her eyes away from his person for any length of time. When she’d spotted him in the drawing room with Solange draped all over his lap, she’d been unaccountably aggrieved. As if Solange deserved such a man.
She let her hand still, fingertips resting lightly on the skin of her upper chest, and slowly drew a line down toward her bodice. “Is your home very beautiful?”
She dipped her fingers beneath the fine cloth and drew them back and forward, teasing her fingertips with the soft sensations. Grayling’s eyes tracked her every movement.
She smiled at his blunt confession. The absence of boasting was intriguing. Most men she met couldn’t wait to embellish on the wonders of their lives. The size of their estate, the esteem of their connections. Grayling told her nothing about his life beyond cursory detail. Meredith found that utterly fascinating.
She slid her hand lower until it would appear to her companion that she was about to cup her own breast. His eyes narrowed, focusing on her intent. She laughed softly at his response. Meredith was tempted to show him just how bold she could be, but she wanted to leave some surprises for later. “Come now, surely a place named Stanton Harold Hall has something to recommend it? Even if you take such beauty for granted.”
His eyes grew shuttered, his gaze fell to the floor between them. Silence thickened but then raucous laughter just outside the door jerked his head up and around.
Solange and her replacement companion, the lanky and exuberant Mr. White, burst into the room. That they were kissing quite passionately without noticing they were barging into an occupied room set her teeth on edge. A vase was almost knocked over in their exertions, a chair pushed aside in their haste to disrobe. The occupants of the house might be among the lowest in society, but other people did not always enjoy viewing the more earthy aspects of their trade. When she glanced at Grayling, she saw his jaw had clenched at the intrusion. He wasn’t one for public displays then.
Solange deserved a good paddling for her interruption. Meredith had to content herself with glaring instead.
“Oh, I’m sorry Calista! I didn’t know you had a visitor.” Solange glanced between Meredith and Lord Grayling and then giggled behind her hand. “I see I wasn’t interrupting anything important. May I offer my company, my lord? Wouldn’t you prefer someone still in the first bloom of youth?”
Mr. White appeared shocked to be so quickly cast aside in favor of another. Linnie would be furious if he never came back to the House. Meredith had to act quickly to ensure the young man was not slighted. Mr. White had a reputation for vigor that many women in the House rather enjoyed, save Solange. Meredith had a better partner in mind for him.
She rose to her feet, stretching to the limit of her five feet two inches, and stepped forward until she stood beside Grayling’s chair. And how dare Solange hint that she was too old? It wasn’t only youth and easy agreement that men wanted. Some men liked more of a challenge than Solange presented. She’d lift her skirts for the vicar if he so much as smiled in her direction. Solange would pay for the interruption tomorrow morning, bright and early. A good ten strikes of Linnie’s paddle could go a long way to restoring the pecking order in the house. Calista was the house’s diamond, the one every man longed for. Solange was lower but with aspirations she couldn’t hope to attain. The stupid little fool had yet to learn her place. “Go back the way you came and find another room for Mr. White. If you lack the imagination to entertain him, then I’ll send Mallory to him. She was saying just the other day she wished for a long ride.”
Although Mr. White blushed, he didn’t deny Meredith’s suggestion appealed to him.
Grayling turned away from the interruption and lifted his face to Meredith’s as he brushed his left hand across her bottom lightly, proving he wasn’t the least bit interested in the discussion. The sensation just about took Meredith’s breath away. Every nerve in her body was aflame. One touch and she’d turned to butter on a hot day. She fought to remember what she was doing while fully aware her reaction to Grayling was a new experience.
Meredith took a deep breath, fighting the urge to press her rear into his hand, and glared until Solange realized she should leave. The twit nudged her companion until he cleared the doorway. “Excuse us, Calista.”
The doors banged shut with a thump. Meredith glanced at her companion, surprised to find her hand resting on Grayling’s shoulder. She stroked the broad expanse, feeling the subtle shift in his body toward hers. Warmth poured off him in waves. She grinned at him as he brushed lightly over the crest of her bottom, pleased that he would be hers eventually. Proximity obviously produced a similar arousing effect on him. His breeches were positively straining at the seams.
Any tentative doubts about the night ahead vanished. If Grayling was going to keep a distance in the beginning, then so be it. His touch gave her all the assurance she needed to accept the slower pace of his seduction. He would come closer eventually and then she would win. All she needed to do was find the right inducement.
The challenge to please them both had begun. The winner would take all.
THE HAND RESTING on his shoulder had more effect than Constantine dared let on. Calista set his senses on fire. He’d never reacted to a woman like this before. Not even to his wife, whom he’d treasured as the love of his life. Augusta had been a gentle soul. A refuge from the troubles of life and the perfect companion to his nights. They had married by arrangement, but prolonged intimacy had made them true partners. Augusta had been the one to encourage him to explore his darker passions in their marriage bed as the years of wedded bliss increased.
But Augusta had never made him feel as unbalanced as this. His reaction to the woman grinning down upon him triumphantly was nothing like what he’d expected. He worked to bury his lust. “I have an excellent cook and my housekeeper dotes on all my guests.” He continued as if the interruption had never occurred. He needed time to restore his equilibrium and commonplace conversation would give him that.
Her fingers slipped from his shoulder as she turned, but then her other hand rose to replace it. “Who acts as your hostess?”
Her fingers crept into his hair, just above his cravat, and gooseflesh chased down his spine and legs. He swallowed quickly. “A very good friend. She has a talent for making everyone feel at home and wanted. I’d be rather lost without her, honestly.”
“She sounds perfect.” The whore’s touch slipped from his hair as she glided across the room. Calista stopped before the fire, staring down into the flames. The flickering firelight revealed the slight parting of her slim legs. “Why are you in a brothel rather than with this paragon?”
Constantine shifted in his chair to accommodate his expanding dimensions and pondered what to say of Lady Farnsworth’s place in his life. A truer friend he’d never met. Arabella, his late wife’s good friend and confidant, was a beautiful widow who lived on a property bordering his. But she didn’t view Constantine as a potential husband or even a lover. When his wife had died unexpectedly two years ago, Arabella had smoothly stepped in and propped him up with a light touch and astonishing disregard for potential gossip. They’d never even so much as kissed in greeting, but she came to his house several times each week to jolly him from his bad mood and to cheer his daughters. “It’s complicated.”
“Relationships between men and women often are but rarely need to be.” Calista spun slowly around and the flickering firelight behind her outlined her tempting curves to perfection, and the impact to his lust grew. To his considerable discomfort, their game, a dance of a few light touches so far, had the power to arouse him very easily.
She thrust her hands behind her, toward the flames to warm them, most likely. He’d never met a woman with such cold hands. But the pose also forced her breasts into prominence, revealing nipples swollen to hard points. Unable to maintain a distance, Constantine rose and crossed the room to stand before her, keeping a short space of air between them. The heat from the blazing fire battered his face. He blinked slowly until he grew used to the warmth and then studied the small woman in greater detail. Her eyes were alight with anticipation. She desired him too.
He’d chosen well. He couldn’t wait to get a bed at her back. “Shall we retire for the night?”
Her eyes glinted brightly. “As you wish, my lord.”
The compliant tone was completely false. He doubted Calista was finished turning his world upside down this evening, but he’d prove he was more than willing to keep up. In fact, he might just take the game further than he’d originally intended. What would she do if he held off his release, fought the inevitable end to pleasure as long as he possibly could?
He didn’t like his chances but he was definitely determined to try, just to keep her on edge.
Calista smiled, far too pleased with herself, and gestured toward the door. “Please, follow me.”
Bemused, he trailed behind her like an obedient puppy to the door, opened it, and then strolled after her as her shorter stride practically ran for the staircase. He kept his gaze fixed on her dark, curled hair, then noted the smooth, unblemished skin of her nape, the firm shoulders beneath, and the determined strut to her walk.
His state of arousal ebbed a little and he breathed a sigh of relief. However, when she looked over her shoulder to ensure he followed up the stairs, his length thickened beyond his power to recall it. Damn those eyes. She’d made him as lusty as an adolescent youth.
After a few steps along an upper hall, Mrs. Cohen appeared. Her glance flickered over him briefly. “The end room for His Lordship.”