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Authors: Anna Campbell

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BOOK: My Reckless Surrender
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Fortunately, the unfashionable time of year meant only fifty or so Vale leeches and toadies were present. If his new second cousin Josephine had arrived a month later, the crowd would have been considerably larger. His purse appreciated the baby's timing. As head of the family, he'd been inveigled into paying for the celebration.

“Ashcroft, are you listening?” his aunt snapped. “You owe your uncle and me more respect after all we did for you.”

Ashcroft bared his teeth. “Any obligation was repaid years ago, Aunt. And if you wish me to contribute to Charlotte's season, you should accept discretion is the better part of valor.”

She looked angry but chastened. He'd silenced her for the moment, if not forever. The problem was he couldn't ignore his obligation to his father's relations. Although there had never been the slightest pretense of love for him, his family had taken him in when he was a child.

Of course, the income from the Ashcroft estates sweetened his relatives' duty. They'd treated their hounds and horses with more affection, but nonetheless, they'd given him a home, food, clothing, an education.

Since he'd reached adulthood, he'd juggled his responsibilities with the undoubted fact that his relations conspired to suck every penny they could from him. Most of the time, he struck a balance that suited him if not their endless avarice.

Perhaps his unhappy, displaced childhood was what gave him impetus to champion the poor and dispossessed. He'd
never been hungry or homeless, but he profoundly understood deprivation.

He strolled toward the open windows. The heat was still oppressive. The champagne in his glass was flat and lukewarm although of much better quality than the swill he'd drunk at the ball last night. Just before he saw Diana, and his night took fire.

Worryingly, his thoughts constantly turned to the mysterious temptress and her contradictory behavior. A drive to be with one woman over another hadn't bothered him for years. Which was exactly how he liked it.

Diana shattered his barriers.

Since last night, she'd haunted him. He was still far from sure pursuing her was wise, but desire gripped him, and not even the gravest suspicions of her motives could keep him away.

She'd only offered the merest glimpse of the heights they could climb together. He wanted to scale those mountain peaks and lose himself in wild passion. Because whatever else was false about her, her passion was real.

Dear God, the prospect of her shuddering her release while he was actually inside her made him break into a sweat. A sweat that had nothing to do with the sultry weather.

As the buzz of conversation rose, and Josephine gave a loud wail—probably the only honest expression of feeling here—he lost himself in pleasurable contemplation of his plans for his new lover.

 

Beside the Serpentine's dark green water, Ashcroft sat in a closed carriage and wondered if the enigmatic Diana had destroyed his sanity during their short association. Here he was, waiting for the woman. He never waited for a woman.

For the tenth time in half an hour, he checked his engraved gold pocket watch. The hands hadn't moved much since last time he looked.

Ten to three.

He'd arrived before two, knowing he was ridiculously, mortifyingly early, knowing she wouldn't be here.

His rational self loathed these games, this mystery. He didn't trust Diana. There were too many questions and not enough answers.

His rational self loathed the way he behaved in her vicinity. He was unaccustomed to playing the supplicant when it came to sex. He was unaccustomed to feeling out of control, however much he relished the delicious pull of desire.

But it was always a desire he could walk away from.

Could he walk away from Diana? He didn't know. That was the hell of it.

Self-preservation insisted he leave right now. Unfortunately, his cock didn't care about self-preservation. His cock just wanted to bury itself between those slender thighs.

He checked his watch again.

Blast it. Only three minutes had passed.

If he had half a brain, he'd tell his coachman to return to Ashcroft House. If he had half a brain, he'd call on one of the many willing women he knew and work off the painful frustration Madam Diana had left behind last night.

God knew why he didn't.

Except he'd caught her taste and scent, and no substitute would do. He couldn't say he enjoyed the sensation. Life was so much simpler when any dish on the menu could appease his hunger.

Back in his formative years as the Birchgroves' unwelcome ward, he'd learned wanting things was the sure route to misery. Better just to take what the world offered, then move on swiftly before the flavor cloyed.

Would the mysterious Diana cloy? Surely, inevitably she would.

He checked his watch. Just before three. Even if she meant to honor the appointment, he suspected she'd delay. She'd want to torment him.

He'd quickly discerned a layer of hostility in her reaction
that should repel but somehow proved part of her fascination. She'd treated him like a whore when she presented herself at his house. Last night, she'd been too carried away to allow her disdain free rein, but it was still present.

That was the most worrying aspect of all. Her derision for his character cut him to the quick. He was the Earl of Ashcroft, careless, notorious, infinitely seductive. He had no illusions about what he was and what he'd done in his unruly life. Where women were concerned, he was a scoundrel through and through. His only genuine virtue was honesty, with himself and his paramours.

Yet he wanted Diana to stare into his eyes with the same melting expression she'd revealed when he'd wrapped his coat around her in the alley.

As if his chivalry caught her unawares, curse her.

Growling softly with frustration, he stretched his cramped legs until his heels bumped the back of the carriage. It was bloody hot. Thick air lay over London like a steamy blanket.

Tobias, his coachman, knocked twice on the roof. It was the signal they'd arranged if a woman approached.

His wayward heart beat a rapid tattoo as he opened the door and stepped out. He tried to tell himself the relief tightening his chest was merely anticipation of passion. Automatically he swept his hat off in a bow. “Madam.”

“My lord.” Diana didn't curtsy, and she was veiled again.

The park was empty, a far cry from how crowded it would become later when the fashionable hour began. Nobody was there to see him take Diana's hand and usher her into the carriage. He realized he'd never seen her naked hands. She always wore gloves.

Always? They'd only met twice before this.

He slammed the door and closed the curtains so dimness surrounded them. Gently he drew her down to sit next to him. Her hip brushed his, and the contact blasted him with heat.

As quickly as that, his cock rose hard and ready.

“Take off your bonnet,” he demanded harshly.

Wordlessly, she obeyed. Her hands were steady as she lifted the gauzy draperies, untied her bonnet, and laid it on the facing seat.

She raised a troubled gray gaze to his. Marks of sleeplessness stood out beneath her eyes. She clearly shared his disquiet about their attraction. Although God knew why. She'd asked for this.

The air was baking, weighted with unspoken feeling and building lust. Delicate color lined her cheekbones, and her tongue flickered out to moisten her lips. Arousal jolted him, made a mockery of his attempts to maintain the upper hand.

Without shifting his stare from her face, he reached up and knocked sharply on the ceiling. His driver had orders to cover the park until Ashcroft indicated otherwise. The carriage rolled into motion, and Diana lurched as she briefly lost balance. He caught a drift of her scent. Something floral and under it all that damnably evocative perfume of apples.

“Sit across my lap,” he snapped. His hunger reached such a level, he lost capacity for sweet persuasion.

Silence extended. Silence marked by the clop of horses' hooves and the creaking of the carriage. Silence vibrating with a thousand possibilities.

She licked her lips again. Slowly this time. He bit back a groan. Her gaze dropped to the bulge in the front of his trousers.

When she looked up, the gray depths held curiosity and desire. And, inevitably, secrets.

Without shifting her attention, she rose onto her knees, hitched up her skirts and straddled him.

A
s she spread her thighs across Ashcroft's lap, Diana forced air into her starving lungs. She felt like she hadn't breathed since she'd entered the stuffy carriage. She drowned in Lord Ashcroft's evocative scent. Her heart slammed against her chest as if it wanted to break free.

The carriage jolted again, and she grabbed Ashcroft's powerful shoulders. He vibrated with urgency. She knew he wanted her. The impressive erection straining toward her was indication enough, even if she didn't read his drawn, unfixing concentration as desire.

The time had arrived.

If she proceeded, she set Lord Burnley's scheme into motion. It would be too late to retreat. She sold herself for worldly reward. Her honor would be irretrievably lost.

If she balked, she'd miss this incredible chance to change her life. Her talents would remain forever unfulfilled. She'd have to deal with Burnley's anger and her own knowledge that at the crucial juncture, her courage had failed.

She steeled herself to go on.

She'd created this moment. She couldn't shirk from seizing it. The opportunity to place her imprint on Cranston Abbey was worth it.

Right now she was grateful Ashcroft didn't treat her with consideration. Tenderness would break her. Meaningless copulation was all she wanted. Nothing to hint at last night's fleeting, unwelcome intimacy.

The exchange was clear in her mind.

He wanted her body. She wanted his seed. A fair exchange, surely? This unemotional encounter saved her from despising herself as a complete hypocrite.

If heaven had mercy, she wouldn't enjoy what happened. She didn't want pleasure, even as the memory stirred of last night's stunning climax. With unnecessary violence, she ripped her gloves off before returning her hands to his shoulders.

He leaned forward to kiss her.

Dear God, no. None of those bewitching kisses. That was how she'd run into trouble before, letting him gull her into believing more happened than a joining of bodies.

Abruptly she turned. His lips glanced across her cheek.

Even that much contact exploded heat through her, but she battled her arousal. Her hands fisted in the fine black material of his coat. Although whether she pushed him away or pulled him closer, she couldn't say.

For one broken instant, she recalled the last time she'd accepted a man into her body. It had been with love and sweetness and trust. A thousand miles distant from what she did now.

Remembering William while she poised to take another man was the ultimate heresy.

Ashcroft sucked in a hissing breath. “Damn you, Diana, I want to kiss you,” he snarled, and grabbed her face, forcing her to meet his blazing green eyes. He was pale under his tan, and a muscle flickered in his cheek. His dark, intense face reflected her own conflicted emotions.

She'd arrived intending to play the seductress. But now, when finally there was no escape, that particular masquerade became impossible.

Instead, she was just Diana Carrick, vulnerable and lost in this new world ambition forced her to enter.

She'd never lied with her body before. She hated to lie now.

Some lies were beyond her. “No,” she said in a cracked whisper. “No kissing the first time.”

Suspicion struggled with hunger in the glittering jade gaze. She'd adjusted to the carriage's rocking, so she easily kept her balance while she reached down. She gasped to feel his hard length. He jerked as her fingers made glancing contact. Desire glazed his eyes, erased the brief wariness.

Urgently, his hands stroked up her legs, lifting her skirts. She shivered with response as his palms skimmed fragile silk stockings, up to garters, to bare skin above.

“Sweet Christ, Diana,” he breathed in satisfaction.

He'd just discovered she wore no drawers. His hands framed her hips.

At last, her fumbling fingers found the trick of undoing his trousers. A couple of hurried movements, and he sprang free against her thigh. His hands slid around to grip her buttocks.

“Now,” she groaned.

His hold tightened. “You're not ready.”

“I'm ready.”

To her shame, it was true. Just those few rough touches and hot moisture bloomed between her thighs. In spite of her resolution to remain uninvolved, her heart raced with excitement as much as trepidation.

His fingers slipped to her center, stroked, spiked pleasure. “By God, you are.”

She grabbed his hand. She didn't want him satisfying her with his hands. She wanted his body in hers. And not, heaven forgive her, so she stole his seed.

No, she just wanted him.

The wild release in his arms last night should have warned her she was helpless against him. She brought his hand to her mouth and bit down hard on the heel of his palm. He shuddered beneath her as she lowered herself.

She felt the smooth pressure of the head of his penis, blunt and larger than William's. She waited for him to surge up and take control, but he seemed content to leave her in charge. Only the tight skin of his face indicated what his restraint cost.

Her thigh muscles strained with discomfort. She spread her legs more widely and pressed down.

Her body hadn't known a man in eight years. She hadn't expected that to cause difficulties. In truth, she'd never thought of the practical details of becoming Lord Ashcroft's lover.

Now practical details became paramount. Time crawled by, every second extending into an eon. Ashcroft's eyes stared into hers with a ferocity that only stoked her arousal. Their ragged breathing filled the creaking coach. His hands were bruisingly tight as he supported her above him.

She shifted to ease the discomfort and he closed his eyes as though she tortured him. He was so tense, she thought he might shatter. The slide of his penis against her thigh clenched her belly, sent rushing moisture to bathe the head.

All this should make it easier to take him. It didn't.

She pressed down again and felt herself stretch over his thickness. She sobbed for breath. Could a man be too big for a woman? Surely that was anatomically impossible.

“Diana, you're driving me mad,” he gritted out.

He used one hand to guide himself inside. She cried out at the painful stretching, and her hands formed claws on his shoulders. If he were naked, she'd have drawn blood.

Gingerly, she sank lower, feeling the burn. She found no pleasure in what they did. This was like being impaled.

“Relax your muscles,” he said roughly, surging up and making her whimper as she accommodated the thrust.

His fingers stroked between her legs. Electric reaction jolted through her. Her muscles clamped around him, the sensation excruciating. Moisture flowed even as her passage closed against further incursions.

Squeezing her eyes shut, she prayed for strength. Her mind
told her she'd accommodate him. Her body contradicted that idea.

She drew a jagged breath. She couldn't bear the waiting, whatever pain lay in store. She pulled his hand from between her thighs and plunged down.

As she took him full length, she screamed. He was so big, she felt he invaded her right to the womb. Blind, trembling, fighting the urge to cry, she buried her face in his shoulder.

“Diana, Diana,” he murmured, brushing her hair back from her damp face with one shaking hand. “It's all right.”

She didn't want his tenderness, but she couldn't summon the will to reject it. She panted, praying for the agony to fade. Perhaps in the years since William had died, she'd become malformed. Sex had never hurt like this.

His fingers, tormenting against the sticky skin of her face, slid around the back of her head. “Don't cry.”

“I'm not crying,” she said thickly before she realized tears streaked her cheeks.

He kissed the side of her face. Sweet kisses from a different universe to that pulsing presence between her legs. His big, lean body vibrated with tension, and she guessed what effort he exerted to maintain the stillness.

Gradually, the pain receded and her mind scraped into rusty function. Lord Ashcroft became more than just the bearer of a greedy and hurtful masculinity.

What must he make of this?

He couldn't mistake her discomfort, her lack of enjoyment. She'd enticed him into taking her, then derived no pleasure from the act.

Yet desire still lurked beneath her clumsiness. The admission that, at the end, she wanted Lord Ashcroft was the cruelest cut of all.

Again, she had cause to be grateful for his patience and consideration. Again, she had cause to resent his care. She didn't want to think of him as anything more than a body that invaded hers.

She knew how aroused he'd been. Still was. Yet he gave her time to adjust to his size. He didn't thrust and seek his own pleasure. He kissed her as if he extended comfort. As if he understood the devastation that blighted her soul.

Inevitably, the rain of kisses ended at her lips. She tried to evade him, but he held her captive.

The kiss was gentle, brief, undemanding. Her lips tingled from that tantalizing touch. He skated another kiss across her nose and on her chin. Before she could stop herself, she tilted her face.

“You said you didn't want kisses,” he whispered, tracing lines of kisses along her neck.

She made a disgruntled sound. Her interior muscles loosened a fraction, settling him deeper. This time, thank heavens, there was no pain.

“I don't,” she whispered back.

“Well, that's good.” The undercurrent of laughter in his voice bubbled through her blood like champagne.

When his mouth met hers, passion flared. For the first time since the disaster of taking him, she forgot herself and surrendered to feeling. His tongue flickered to tease hers. Last night, he'd tasted of wine and decadence. Today, he tasted of desire and heat.

Delicious.

She shifted to pursue that tormenting, skillful mouth. As she moved, he slid more fully inside her and she felt the first twinge of pleasure. She released a soft, surprised murmur.

He laughed again and kissed her, ravishing her mouth. His hands shifted to her waist and he lifted her slowly so she felt the glide of his body. Her passage clenched to hold him. Friction buzzed through her like lightning.

“No,” she whimpered. She didn't do this for pleasure. This was nothing more than a union of bodies. Nothing more.

He bit down on the side of her neck, even while he poised at her entrance. “Do you want me to stop?”

She shivered under the nip. “Don't stop.” Terrifying as it
was to admit, his presence made her feel complete, his absence made her feel empty and alone.

He answered with a smooth thrust of his hips. She braced for pain. Instead, after a brief teasing resistance, she took him. Hot pleasure streaked through her, burning away the last hesitation. Her body opened as if it had waited for his possession forever.

A dark flush marked his high, slanted cheekbones. The green gaze was fierce as it roved her features.

Every second, the selfish lover she expected, wanted for her own selfish reasons, moved further out of reach. Instead, here was a man who took care with her, who let her find her own path to paradise with his help.

She closed her eyes, refusing the unwelcome revelations. Immediately in the velvet darkness, sensation cloaked her.

The rasp of Ashcroft's breath as he leaned forward to bury his face in her shoulder. The heat of his embrace, even through her clothing. The sharp, evocative scent of his arousal. Sweat. Healthy male. Soap.

Before she could stop herself, she tightened her arms around him. She trembled too. She'd forgotten how a strong man's vulnerability in the throes of passion twisted her heart.

She rose, relishing the slide of his flesh. With an ease completely beyond her a few seconds ago, she lowered. She settled into a glorious rhythm, working in concert with the carriage's gentle sway.

It was like last night except the crescendo was slower, more powerful. It built every second. Never quite taking her over the edge. Pitching her higher and higher.

Ashcroft's hands shifted, and she found herself on her back against the cushions. She sank onto the velvet and gripped his shoulders as she fought to catch her breath.

She opened dazed eyes. Ashcroft crouched over her, filling her vision. His black hair was ruffled and damp, and a single lock fell over his high forehead. He was breathtakingly beautiful.

Ruthlessly, he dragged her hips up so his hardness probed higher. A long moan escaped her, and she arched to maintain the exquisite pressure. She sighed with regret when he withdrew, only to bask in pleasure when he thrust again.

The wool of his trousers created soft friction against her thighs. Her fingers dug into the fine weave of his coat as if they meant to tear through to his skin.

Everything, the rocking carriage, Ashcroft's whispered encouragement, her misgivings about how this physical possession invaded her emotions, receded. All she knew was a headlong drive toward completion. Her starved senses craved release.

He kept going, long, slow strokes that tormented as much as assuaged. A continuous low keening rang in her ears. Eventually, she realized the sound emerged from her throat.

Ashcroft's superhuman control faded. His breathing became choppy. His shoulders turned as unrelenting as rock under her hands. His thrusts became wilder, harder, deeper.

Her mighty climax peaked on a blast of heat. Every muscle in her body caught fire. Burning darkness possessed her, rushed in searing rivulets through her veins, compressed her heart. Her world turned to raging scarlet flame.

Her interior passage clenched, clutching him hard as she quivered in blazing delight. This was beyond anything she'd ever felt before. Anything she'd ever imagined.

She still trembled with shocked reaction when Ashcroft began to move again. Without breaking rhythm, his shaking hands shoved up her skirts to reveal her belly under her short stays.

A few swift caresses before he wrenched free of her body. He released a massive, choked groan. He tensed, then jerked uncontrollably.

BOOK: My Reckless Surrender
8.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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