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Authors: Anna Campbell

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BOOK: My Reckless Surrender
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She hoped to heaven he wouldn't toss her out before she
had the chance to become used to him. Back in Marsham, she'd told herself she'd play the perfect lover, biddable, cooperative, responsive. In the throes of passion, it was impossible to hide her real self. How deluded she'd been to imagine she'd keep some distance from the man who took her. The intimacy of sex inevitably meant intimacy of other, unwelcome kinds.

The tension drained from his long body, and his rueful smile made her heart lurch with reluctant warmth. “You're such a goddess in my arms, I forget your inexperience.”

Astonishment had her recoiling against the carved headboard. The sheet slipped unconsidered from her bare breasts. “You…”

Words deserted her. A goddess? Her? He couldn't mean it. He was a man practiced at wooing. His arsenal must include quivers full of sweet compliments.

Even as she chastised herself for believing he meant what he said, her eyes searched his dark face. His gaze was steady and glowed with unconstrained admiration.

His attention dropped to her breasts, and interest sparked in the green eyes. She blushed again and hitched the sheet up, even though she knew her behavior was ridiculous. He'd already seen all of her. Touched all of her.

Ashcroft laughed at her continued silence. “Now I really have shocked you.”

“No.” She blinked, trying to understand this new world, where women like Diana Carrick were called goddesses. A world where superb examples of masculinity like Tarquin Vale considered her irresistible. “Yes.”

He distracted her with his flattery. She clutched the sheet tighter and almost wailed her frustration. A frustration not only with him but with herself and her wayward responses. And the fact that she couldn't stanch the pricks of a guilty conscience, no matter how she struggled to ignore them. “Surely it can't be enjoyable to pull out at the…ultimate moment.”

The fugitive lightness faded. “I won't inflict my bastards upon the world.”

She extended a hand toward him palm upward. Because beneath the denial, she read a longing that made her heart cramp. He burned to spill his seed inside her. She should have seen that from the first time, when he'd withdrawn with almost painful violence.

Her task was clear, distasteful as it was. She must break down his will.

Which, against all expectations, was prodigious.

Lord Burnley, the world, the respectable Mrs. Carrick from Marsham, all had underestimated this man.

She cringed at how she twisted her words to mislead. “I promise on my soul there will be no unwanted children because of what happens between us, Ashcroft.”

He took her hand, moving closer to the bed. Her other hand automatically rested on his hip. Had she won the battle? She didn't know, and she couldn't ask. If she pushed the issue further, he'd become suspicious.

What if he never gave in? Where did that leave her?

“What's this?” she asked absently, stroking the small dark patch she'd noticed earlier. Up close the mark formed a familiar shape. She traced it with her fingers.

He looked down and shrugged. “A birthmark.”

“It's like a tree.” With her index finger, knowing she teased him, she followed the almost perfect circle of the foliage, the short, thick trunk below.

“Why are you smiling?”

She looked up. The idea that she knew this intimate secret about him seemed special. Which was absurd. He'd had so many lovers. All must have seen this brand on his hard hip.

He'd run a hundred miles if he knew she nursed such sentimental notions about him. Nonsensical, untenable, dangerous notions. Instead, she let her smile widen. Her eyes focused on the part of him she found enormously interesting.

Enormously.

“I'm looking forward to what happens next.”

“Saucy wench,” he murmured, leaning forward and landing a swift kiss on her lips. As he drew away, she licked her lips, relishing the flavor.

Bringing his hand to her face, she kissed his palm. He tasted salty, delicious. With a shock, she realized the musky flavor of his skin must be her, lingering from when he'd touched her center.

Instinct was her only guide. Very deliberately, she licked between his fingers and thrilled to hear his breathing change. Very slowly she took his long middle finger between her lips and sucked.

“Diana…” he groaned, and shifted closer.

She could smell his skin. Fresh sweat, sex, some essence she'd recognize in a crowded room as Ashcroft's. The scent was heady, seductive.

Her confidence edged higher at his immediate response to her tentative attempts to please. She slid the hand resting on his hip around to cup the heavy sac between his legs.

“Good God…” He held himself quiveringly still as she sucked harder on his finger and stroked him from base to tip. He was hard as steel, hot as fire. Like satin over living oak.

Very gently she circled the head. A drop of pearly liquid oozed out to lubricate her finger's tantalizing journey.

He pushed his hips forward, demanding more. His eyes blazed like fiery emeralds in a face pale with strain. A muscle jerked in one lean cheek, and his jaw set hard as granite.

Carefully, she ran her hand up then down the heavy length. He groaned and grabbed her hand, demonstrating the movement. She quickly caught the rhythm that incited him to madness.

His eyes closed and his nostrils flared wide. His unabashed need sent hot shivers through her to coalesce into molten desire. The urge to replace her hand with her mouth became overpowering. How odd to be so eager to taste him when the thought had once repulsed her.

Groaning he grabbed her hand, pulling it away. His chest heaved as he fought for breath. With shaking urgency, he pushed her onto the mattress, following her down. His mouth opened over hers in a devouring kiss. She countered his passion with passion of her own, drowning in crimson darkness.

He slid between her legs, and she tightened her thighs around his narrow hips, anchoring him. He tilted her toward him. Breathlessly, she waited for him to plunge inside. He paused and stroked his hardness along her cleft until she shook and gasped with need.

She became the aggressor in the endless kiss. Silently insisting he stop teasing. “Do it. Do it now,” she moaned, hardly aware of what she said.

“Oh, yes.” With a long, low growl deep in his throat, he surged inside her.

She was so wet and ready, all she felt was a ravishing fullness. She drew a long, juddering breath and crossed her ankles behind his buttocks, changing the angle of penetration. Fresh sensations made her moan with delight.

He shifted in and out, wild and relentless as a stormy sea. She opened her eyes to see him rising above her. The image burned into her brain. His face was stark with ferocious passion. His lips drew back from his teeth as if he was in pain. The tendons of his neck were distended, and sweat dampened his skin.

He looked like a man crossing the extreme edges of control.

She closed her eyes and arched as he thrust hard. Over and over he plunged into her, lost to his hunger.

Flames filled her vision, dazzling and golden. It was like falling headfirst into the sun. She twisted as lightning battered her from every direction. Vaguely, through her shuddering crisis, she heard him release a deep, heartrending groan.

Liquid heat flooded her womb.

B
lind to everything but his volcanic release, Ashcroft pumped into the woman beneath him.

The act's unprecedented freedom fractured all restraint. He unleashed himself as if he dived into a deep blue ocean. Helpless to resist, he closed his eyes and let the waves wash him far out toward the horizon, where he saw only brilliant light and sky.

On the last of the breakers, he coasted into shore to find himself beached in a large, luxurious bed in a darkening room. He lay spread-eagled across Diana. His face was buried in a soft mass of golden hair, which smelled gloriously of apples.

He stayed where he was, utterly exhausted, utterly replete for the first time in his life.

He felt her breathe, softly, unevenly. The scent of her satisfaction filled his senses. Her arms wound tightly around his back, her bent legs framed his hips. Call him every kind of fool, but he read tenderness in her soft caresses.

Hell. Hell. Hell. He hadn't pulled out.

The reality of what he'd done seeped through his torpor like a trickle of ice water. Dear God, let her not be pregnant. Let this bliss not lead them to disaster.

Too late to do anything about that. And for all his turmoil now, nothing could make him repent those heedless, blazing moments in her arms.

He'd meant to withdraw as he always did. But somewhere in the wild heights, his body had taken over. He'd never lost control with a woman before. With every moment in her presence, Diana launched him into new levels of experience. Ironic to think this virtuous widow opened whole worlds of sensual pleasure to a jaded rake.

He'd desperately wanted to spill himself inside her. And, heaven forgive him, he had. Heedlessly. Endlessly. Powerfully. He'd flooded her with his essence, claiming her as his with a primitive fervor he'd never imagined he'd feel with a lover.

He should regret what he'd done. But he was such a barbarian that, deep in his heart, he couldn't.

The sensation of filling her had been extraordinary. At the peak, no barrier had existed between them. Male and female united to create a whole. Tarquin and Diana. Together.

He'd never felt as close to another lover as he felt to this woman stretched naked beneath him.

Naked and crushed.

“I'm flattening you.” Even muffled in her silky hair, he heard the betraying huskiness of his voice.

He couldn't shake the impression that what had just happened marked him for life. That it would linger in his memory like few other encounters. That Diana would leave her brand on his soul, a brand countless future encounters wouldn't erase, no matter how he'd wish they would.

How long since sex had impinged on his emotions? What they'd done this afternoon bypassed his defenses. He'd spent his life resisting vulnerability. Yet even after such a short time with her, he knew this sweet, passionate woman would devastate him with her departure.

Just let heaven be merciful and spare them a bastard as the result of today's rapture.

“I…” She had to clear her throat before she managed a whole sentence. “I don't mind.”

He roused himself enough to mention what had just happened. “I didn't withdraw.”

With an unsteady hand, she brushed his unruly hair back from his forehead. “I know.”

The fool woman didn't sound perturbed. He closed his eyes, reveling in her touch, trying to summon horror adequate to the occasion. He could have created an unwanted child. He'd sworn he never would.

Yet any consequences of his carelessness seemed far away, unreal. What was real was the beautiful woman who lay under him. The woman whose face was glowing and gentle in the aftermath of that astounding communion.

“The Gypsy remedy is safe, I promise you,” she said softly. “Don't worry, Ashcroft. And…” She released a sigh that seemed a soft echo of ecstasy. “And what we just did was…wonderful.”

Yes.
Wonderful.
And worthy of a thousand other superlatives as well. Too good to spoil with stewing over something that mightn't ever happen.

He let himself drift. His body still joined hers. Heat and intimacy enfolded him, made him feel he existed inside a magical golden cocoon, where grim reality couldn't impinge.

Oh, that conclusion definitely resulted from too much good sex.

He angled up on his elbows to stare at Diana. She looked well loved. As she should after what they'd done. Her thick blond hair tangled around her face, and her lips were cherry red from his kisses. He noticed a graze on her neck where he'd kissed her too hard.

Savage he was, he was pleased that she wore his mark.

Hell, he couldn't feel possessive. He was never possessive. Yet the idea of anyone else touching Diana made him seethe with denial.

She shifted, and he felt a surge of arousal. He was such a beast, he was ready for her again.

She still floated in postcoital languor, but when she moved, she'd be sore. He was a large man, and he'd used her relentlessly.

He could wait before he had her again.

At least until he'd fed her and given her a glass of wine. Except it meant withdrawing from her and shattering this strangely comfortable silence.

The room was shadowy with twilight. Last week, he'd made plans to meet his cronies at the opera tonight. He wasn't going anywhere. All the music he needed was right here. “I hope the champagne's cold.”

With a satisfied sigh, he pulled away and turned onto his back, staring up at the ceiling, while his mind sifted the various delights of the afternoon.

The mattress dipped as she slid up in the bed, her breasts jiggling deliciously. They truly were magnificent. White and firm and voluptuous. He hadn't paid them nearly enough attention. Something to remedy next time. His cock stirred in agreement.

“I…I have to go,” she said unsteadily.

Ashcroft's uncharacteristically amiable mood evaporated. Sharply, he turned his head and stared at her, trying to read her expression.

She looked uncomfortable. More than at any other time during the whole passionate afternoon. His curiosity awoke. And his wariness. She met his eyes, then glanced quickly away to where her fingers plucked at the crushed white sheets.

He couldn't mistake her nervousness. And she looked guilty.

Why?

“Must you?” he asked neutrally even as his brain picked and fretted at the barriers she erected.

She nodded with a jerkiness that indicated she lied. “Yes. Yes, I must.”

“Don't go.” He reached to still her fidgeting. “We'll have supper. Conversation. And I promised you a bath.”

He didn't mention how the evening would end. She knew as well as he that they'd make love again. Probably several times. He was insatiable. He'd never wanted a woman so much.

Her hands trembled, and the gaze she directed at him was dark with misery. Good God, she looked on the verge of tears. What had happened here?

Suspicion slithered like a snake through his gut and warned him he should never have fallen for her lures. But it was too late to break away. If she promised destruction, it was destruction laced with a pleasure as addicting and deadly as opium.

“No, I…I must go.” She shook her head and lowered her eyes. A wave of golden hair slid across one bare shoulder and dipped over the sheet she clutched with incongruous modesty.

Except he knew at heart she was a modest woman. Her wildness resulted from passion. Which made her surrender all the more gratifying. He was barbarian enough to relish the contrast between her essential reticence and her overpowering desire.

She quickly glanced at him then away. “I…I wish you'd put some clothes on.”

How did she hope to pass herself as a worldly woman when her color revealed her feelings so immediately? He made no move to obey. Her attention drifted to his nakedness, and he hid a smug smile. She wanted him. She might try to create a distance between them, but she failed miserably.

He sat up and slipped a hand behind her head, the warm softness of her hair tickling his fingers. “Stay.”

“Ashcroft, not now…” she faltered although she made no attempt to evade him.

Her words might deny him but her body definitely said
yes. He dropped kisses on the corners of her mouth. Her lips parted in silent invitation.

He slid his other hand down and, after a soft tug, pulled the sheet from her hold. With one finger, he circled her hardening nipple.

He lowered his head to kiss her properly. His lips glanced across hers, he caught a hint of heat and moisture before she wrenched away.

Another jarring warning clanged in his brain. Why was she so devilish skittish?

In a flurry of movement that offered a breathtaking glimpse of full breasts and long, slender legs, she rolled off the bed. To his regret, she dragged the sheet with her. She wrapped the white linen around herself and raised her chin with a defiance he recognized.

“I must go, Ashcroft. It's been…” She paused and swallowed. Her traitorous color rose again. Her voice was thick as she continued. “It's been a revelation.”

He liked the word. He liked it very much indeed. He also liked that he clearly wasn't the only person swept away in turbulent emotional currents. “I'll see you tomorrow.”

“I'll send you a message.”

He frowned as he rose from the bed. Reticence was all very well. Her answer hinted at delay before he touched her. “Don't make me wait. I want you again. Good God, I want you now.”

That almost sounded like a plea. Hell, he didn't need to importune female companionship. He spent his life tripping over women slavering for his attentions.

Except none of those women was Diana.

Until he'd worked off his inconvenient obsession, no other bedmate would do.

Her eyes flickered to his cock, then up again. His rebellious flesh hardened. Just so simple an act, and he needed her under him. “Believe me, I want…I want to do this again.”

“Good,” he snapped. He fought back the craven urge to beg her to stay, never to leave. Instead, he turned on his heel and stalked toward the door leading into the bathroom. “Just don't wait too long.”

 

Diana returned to Chelsea in a daze. Like a coward, she'd avoided Lord Ashcroft when she fled Lord Peregrine's mansion. No angry naked man appeared on the landing to demand what she thought she was doing, sneaking away like a criminal.

She wondered if he sulked because she refused his invitation to stay. But after the last intense hours, she knew whatever lay between them garnered a stronger reaction than pique.

She felt shabby creeping off without a farewell. Shabby and used, like a prostitute slinking away from an uncongenial client.

Except it was she who'd used Lord Ashcroft.

And the client was far from uncongenial.

Which was why she was so frantic to escape before her teetering world crashed in and destroyed her. Lying didn't come naturally to her. Lying to a man who carried her to heaven in his arms became more impossible with every second.

She was utterly ruined. Any pretension to virtue fled. She'd given herself to a man who wasn't her husband. Worse, she'd thoroughly reveled in the act. Her body ached in places she'd forgotten. Even at the height of their passion, William hadn't taken her with such urgency.

She needed time to herself, time to remind herself why she did what she did.

Fate had presented her with the chance to become mistress of Cranston Abbey. A chance to achieve every dream she'd ever had, dreams she'd never dared have.

But even the Abbey faded into insignificance when she
recalled the dazzling hours of pleasure in Ashcroft's arms. The man she'd prepared to despise proved more fascinating with every moment.

Like a thief, she crept home through the back garden. She had become used to entering houses by hidden entrances. Deception fed upon itself and infected everything she touched.

She knew Laura would be waiting with questions and endless disapproval. Laura had never wanted Diana to participate in this scheme. She'd always insisted that the price was too high, whatever the rewards.

After today, Diana wondered if her friend's misgivings were prescience.

Diana Carrick wasn't made for secrets and lies. She couldn't offer her body without enlisting her emotions. She couldn't trample a good man's rights without feeling like the lowest creature born.

As a conspirator, she was a rank failure.

“It's all a lie,” she muttered, pushing the door open.

“Talking to yourself now?” Laura asked from the shadows near the entrance.

Diana gasped and pulled back. She hadn't noticed her friend although she was visible in the light from inside the house. “What are you doing out here?” she asked sharply.

Laura stepped into the empty back hall. “Lord Burnley wants to see you.”

Diana frowned, following her. “He's in London?”

“No. In Surrey.”

“It's so late.”

“You know his lordship. When he wants something, he doesn't wait.” Laura stepped back as Diana passed her. The shock on her face was vivid. “You look…”

Diana's color rose, and she crossed trembling arms over her breasts. Although nothing hid her lack of corset or that her gown was barely fastened.

As she had for so many years, she took refuge in practicalities. “I can't go down to Marsham like this. Who did Burnley send?”

“Fredericks.”

The most superior of the footmen. Unfailingly loyal and obedient. A brawny thug who did Burnley's dirty work. “How long has he been here?”

Laura, thank goodness, took the hint and didn't pursue the subject of Diana's disheveled appearance. “An hour. Maybe more.”

“Where is he now?” Diana removed her bonnet, and her hair tumbled around her face, another silent testimony to how she'd spent her afternoon.

“Downstairs in the kitchen. I sent him for supper.”

Diana picked up her creased skirts and hurried toward the back staircase. “I'll change.”

BOOK: My Reckless Surrender
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