Authors: Anna Campbell
She'd play the old game to its end with Lord Erith then retreat to private life. Olivia Raines, queen of courtesans, would be no more.
But freedom must wait until pride was satisfied. Right now, she had to control a rampant and very large male.
. Her favorite word. Lord Erith's too, she'd wager.
“You'd like me to lie here while you do what you wish?” Sarcasm tinged her question. “It's a waste when you've paid a fortune for my skills. But I live to serve, my lord.”
“I applaud your conscientiousness in making sure I get value for money.”
His face was alight with reckless amusement as he bent to kiss the base of her throat where her pulse bucked and kicked like a maddened horse. His gesture delivered the message that he knew how nervous she was beneath her hard-won and completely artificial sangfroid.
He raised his head, his eyes still sparkling with laughter. “Are you always this cold-blooded with your lovers? Analyzing your actions, their actions, who has the upper hand?”
No, she wasn't. Usually her lovers were so dazzled at the prospect of bedding the legendary Olivia Raines that she merely expressed her slightest wish and it was done.
Lord Erith undoubtedly wanted her. But he was nowhere near dazzled, curse him. He went on without waiting for an answer. “Kissing you becomes more appealing by the minute.”
Beneath her appearance of indifference, she suppressed a shudder. Nothing he'd done to her tonight compared to suffering his mouth on hers yesterday. “You can kiss me. Just not on the lips.”
“Very generous.” He rolled to the side and stood up. “Come here.”
She sucked in her first full breath since he'd caught her up in his arms. “More orders?”
“Of course.” He took her hand. She waited for him to haul her to her feet, but he drew her up very gently. When she reached for his neckcloth, he lifted a hand to still her busy fingers. “I want to undress you.”
“We've only got until July,” she said with asperity. “Perhaps you should begin.”
“Your impatience is flattering.”
His long narrow mouth curved in a full smile, carving deep grooves in his tanned cheeks. He was a handsome man when he was somber. Smiling, he was breathtaking. Her wayward heart abandoned its wild gallop for one lost moment and ceased beating altogether.
He raised his hand. She waited, with a breathless tension she was ashamed to admit, for him to paw at her bodice. Instead, he carefully slid a pin from her hair. One long tendril of shiny brown uncoiled to snake across the top of her bosom, revealed under the low neckline of her gown.
He lifted the lock and rubbed it between his fingers. “Pretty.”
Fleetingly she was a child again, watching her father test wool shorn from his tenants' sheep. Sad nostalgia stifled the barbed retort that rose in her throat.
Slowly he pulled out another pin. Another tendril fell. And another. And another. Until the elaborate confection her maid had tortured her hair into was only a memory.
Lord Erith stroked the thick brown mass, smoothing tangles, straightening kinks. His eyes shone with fascination. He brought a handful of hair to his face.
“It smells like flowers.” He dropped her hair and buried his face in the curve of her neck, where he'd bitten, then kissed her. “
smell like flowers.”
“It's the bouquets.”
“No, it's not.”
His hands dropped to the hooks that ran up the back of her gown. In spite of all her experience, the dedicated attention he paid to undressing her had its own allure. With practiced ease he undid her gown and slid it off her shoulders. The room was warm with the candles and the fire in the grate. Still she shivered as air glanced over the bare skin of arms and shoulders.
Carefully, he drew her sleeves down over her hands so the bodice fell to her waist. She stood in her light corset and shift. Perhaps because tonight she didn't control the encounter, her near nakedness before a stranger gave her a frisson of discomfort. She raised her chin and swallowed to moisten a throat dry with nerves.
Her corset was delicately embroidered with ivy leaves and tulips. His attention fell to where her breasts mounded above the lace edging. His breathing wasn't as steady as it had been. When he raised his eyes, the gray was soft and deep like endless sea fog. Brittle excitement glowed like banked embers behind that gaze. The slightest spark would ignite his desire into an inferno.
“Turn around,” he said gruffly. Definitely, his restraint wore thin.
Without a word, she presented her back and stretched to push aside her hair so he could unlace her corset. It sagged and she shrugged it away. She faced him, clad in her transparent shift. The silk was so fine that her light brown nipples were clearly visible. Her breasts were small but round. Even though she was over thirty, they'd hardly sagged. She wasn't ashamed of her body. It was as lean and spare as it had been in girlhood.
She wondered if Lord Erith preferred a fuller figure. Then wondered why she wondered. Current fashions didn't conceal her shape. He couldn't expect to discover a generous bosom under her clothing.
Her brief and uncharacteristic insecurity vanished as a
delighted smile crossed his face, making him look much younger. “Perfect,” he said softly.
She lifted the hem of her shift, but again he reached out to stay her. “Let me.”
She stood like a puppet, raising her arms as he pulled the shift over her head. Was he this careful with all his lovers? Even she, inured to any man's touch, found this slow unveiling piquant. One would almost imagine he cared about the woman he bedded as more than just a willing body.
A pity he wasted his concentrated attention on a woman who couldn't appreciate it.
Still, she didn't resist when he placed his hands on her bare shoulders and gently but firmly pushed her back onto the bed so she lay spread before him. He slid her shoes and stockings off then surveyed her with deceptively sleepy eyes. She wasn't fooled. He was about as sleepy as a starving leopard stalking a herd of antelope.
He shucked off his coat and flung it across the carved chair that backed against the elegant lemon and navy striped wallpaper. Then those deft hands lifted to his neckcloth. A few economical movements and he stood barefoot and bare-chested.
He was built like a wrestler. No, like a lithe young boxer, for all that he must be nearly forty. This was a man in the prime of life. His chest was heavy with muscle. Hair covered his pectorals then narrowed to disappear into his waistband. His shoulders were straight and wide, and his arms bulged with power.
He straddled her, his heat an enveloping blanket. The air felt thick as soup, heavy with the spice of his arousal and the sweetness of the flowers. Every breath clogged her lungs. As she braced for his possession, her fists clenched.
Still he delayed. He brushed his fingers along her body. Discovering the straight line of her shoulders. Tracing the hard collarbone. He shaped her flanks, running his hands
down her ribs to the curve of her waist. Testing the gentle flare of hips, the firmness of thighs.
She shifted restlessly at last. This slow seduction disturbed her. Why didn't he touch her breasts, her sex? Why didn't he just push her legs apart and take her?
He cupped her breasts. The nipples had contracted into hard points, and he bent to kiss one whorled tip. His mouth was hot on her flesh, hotter when he took her into his mouth. Erith shifted his attention to her other breast, nuzzling and suckling as if she were some delicious piece of exotic fruit.
For a long time she lay unmoving beneath his ministrations. The sensation of his lips on her skin wasn't unpleasant. She'd certainly known men less skilled.
He drew away and stood, his hands going to his trousers. He removed the last of his clothing with another of those adept movements.
She should have been prepared for his nakedness. But even so experienced a courtesan as she felt the breath catch in her throat at the sight of Lord Erith wearing nothing but his skin.
He was superb in his masculinity.
There was nothing of the boy in him. Nothing unformed or undeveloped. Just confidence and virility and strength. Most men seemed diminished once they shed their clothing. Like snails without their shells. Lord Erith was only more vital. Slowly, her scrutiny traveled from his large feet, over his long powerful legs, to where his penis jutted, thick and large, from its nest of black curls.
The inevitable moment was upon her. When a man crushed her down on a bed and forced his swollen member inside her. The odd stasis that held her quiescent shattered. Her heart began to race and her muscles tightened with automatic resistance.
She'd had no chance to don the impenetrable mental armor of Olivia Raines, queen of the demimonde. She'd had no chance to convince Erith that no matter how he tried, he'd
never possess her completely. Her ultimate unattainability always cowed her lovers into allowing her sway.
But tonight, with Lord Erith, everything was different.
Why? Why? Why?
She resisted pulling the sheet up. Modesty was a luxury she hadn't enjoyed since she was fourteen. Real and unwelcome emotion vibrated through her and left her vulnerable.
Then she realized he no longer constrained her. At least she could make her most essential preparation for a lover. A preparation she usually took in private before she summoned her keeper. She rolled away and reached for a small ceramic pot on the bedside cabinet.
A powerful hand came down and circled her wrist. “What are you doing?”
“It'sâ¦it's an unguent that increases pleasure.” She cursed the faint stammer. Good God! No man made her stutter. You'd think she hiked her skirts for her first customer.
“We won't need it.” He angled her stiff body so she faced him. Naked, large, powerful, he knelt over her, leaving her nowhere to hide.
“The cream helps prevent conception,” she said flatly. It wasn't true but it made a convincing argument.
Or should have.
“I'll withdraw,” he said implacably. The gray eyes were burningly intense as they studied her. “I want to feel you and you alone the first time I fuck you.”
She felt the blood drain from her cheeks. At his strong language and at the determination behind it. “My lord, I claim a certain freedom in my liaisons.”
“So you've told me,” he said with a trace of weariness.
“Sorry if I'm boring you,” she snapped.
His lips took on a sardonic twist. “I expect you'll be interesting enough in a few moments.”
She grabbed for the unguent but he was too quick, snatching it out of reach. “No, Olivia.”
“You have no right to say that to me!”
“I claim the right.” With an abrupt movement, he pitched the little jar against the wall, where it shattered, splattering her precious ointment across the wallpaper. A pungent herbal reek overpowered the perfume of the flowers.
“Lord Erithâ¦” She was more shocked than angry.
“I claim you,” he said, as though she hadn't spoken. As though he hadn't just acted like a barbarian. “Are you ready, Olivia?”
After his performance with the ceramic pot, she hadn't expected such consideration. Hiding her reluctance under an impassive facade, she slipped down to lie outstretched.
“Yes.” Although she lied.
God give her strength and greater acting skills than she'd ever called upon before. She stared up at Lord Erith's saturnine face and lifted her arms in silent invitation.
rith stared down at a woman desirable beyond the dreams of earthly men. And wondered why, through his boiling need, instinct screamed to be suspicious. Very suspicious.
But God help him, he was only human. The clarion call of hunger smothered any doubt.
As he knelt between her legs, his heart thundered and sweat chilled his burning skin. He bent to nibble and lick the side of her neck, breathing deep so her sweet essence penetrated his lungs. Her warm fragrance was more intoxicating than wine.
She moaned, a soft breathy sound of need.
He trailed his hand across her thigh to the bronze curls on her mons. His palm moved in delicate circles while he took her pert, perfect breast in his mouth. A shaft of pleasure pierced him. She tasted like honey on his tongue. As he drew hard on the puckered crest, she released a smothered cry and hooked her hands around his shoulders. He slid his hand lower to test the slick evidence of desire.
She was dry.
Shocked disbelief juddered through him. His hand stilled at the junction of her thighs. He wrenched his head up and stared into her face.
The face of a woman ripped by talons of desire.
What the hell was going on?
Her head tilted back, her eyes fluttered closed, her lips parted in ecstasy. Her chest heaved as she fought for air. She moaned again. A rich, female, passionate sound. Her long slender legs framed his hips. She lay willing and open to his invasion.
“Take me,” she pleaded in a guttural voice, her hands kneading his shoulders.
She wanted him. Everything she did told him she wanted him.
Was he going mad? Carefully he stroked her sex again.
Not a trace of feminine dew.
Another moan. She pressed herself into his hand in a paroxysm of need.
His fingers clenched as confusion rocked his mind. Damn it, what part of her was a lie?
She was a goddess in his arms, everything he wanted. But what did she want? She wasn't ready, whatever passion she pretended.
He fought the overwhelming impulse to plunge into her, although the delay nearly blew the top of his head off. He'd rushed her into this, his ravenous craving setting the pace. Did she need more preparation? He found the small fleshy protuberance and gently stimulated it.
“Yes, oh, yes,” she hissed, grinding herself against his fingers in rapture.
Except rapture would make her moist and hot. Carefully, because dry as she was he could cause her discomfort, he pushed one finger into her. She surged up and bit him on the shoulder. The sharp nip of her teeth shot a blast of reaction through to his balls. He jerked and almost lost control.
All the time, his finger rasped in her dry passage.
Hell, he couldn't be mistaken. Damn it all to Hades and back. This woman showed no physical signs of sexual response. Although she did a marvelous job of counterfeiting passion.
“Stop it,” he snarled, snatching his hand from her. She twisted as if she'd die unless he took her in the next second. The dishonesty of it all suddenly disgusted him. He ripped himself away and knelt over her, furious and naked and, Devil take her, nearly blind with unsatisfied lust. “I said stop it!”
As abruptly as if he'd tossed a bucket of icy water over her, the writhing siren vanished. When she opened her eyes, the topaz stare was clear and unglazed with passion.
Of course it was. That elaborate performance hadn't been real.
What was real, unfortunately, was the excruciating ache in his nuts and a cock as hard and hot as an iron brand. He set his jaw and struggled to hold onto what few shreds of control he retained.
He'd never had a lover who hadn't responded. It stung his vanity that Olivia was as cold in his arms as a tin automaton. And filled him with a regret that was the strongest emotion a woman had roused in years.
“What's wrong?” She drew herself up against the head-board and curled her legs under her. She looked annoyed and not at all frustrated. He, on the other hand, harbored enough frustration to fill an ocean.
He collapsed on his back and ground his teeth as he strove to master his need. He didn't touch her. If he touched her, he thought he'd explode. He wanted her with ferocious ardor. And he wanted her now. Hell, hunger was a raging fire that threatened to immolate him to a pile of smoking ash.
Lord save him, he'd have to stay hungry.
“You don't have to pretend,” he said with difficulty, staring upward through unseeing eyes. His heart battered at his chest as if it fought to escape. His hands clenched and unclenched at his sides in time with each rasping breath.
“Pretend?” She sounded bewildered, lost. As though his behavior made no sense.
“Christ Jesus, Olivia!”
She stifled a gasp and flinched back against the bed head. Good God, he didn't intend to frighten her. He fisted his hands so hard, his arms ached. He sucked in a deep breath to beat back his unraveling temper.
So she could be in no doubt of his meaning, he turned to look at her and spoke slowly and clearly. “I'm awake to your game. You don't have to lie anymore.”
The blood seeped from her face, leaving her pale as milk. The pretty little mole beside her mouth stood out like a black dot painted on a white canvas. “If I give you pleasure, that covers our contract.”
Bitterness frayed his voice. “I paid for a lover, Olivia. Not a skilled actress with no real interest in the role.”
He hadn't meant to be cruel but she winced nonetheless. Her chin lifted in quick resentment. “Surely I'm not the first woman who doesn't melt into the great Earl of Erith's arms,” she said acidly.
“You're the first woman I've slept with who keeps a jar of ointment by the bed to ease a man's passage.” He ignored her dismayed gasp and continued ruthlessly, “That's what the unguent is for, isn't it? It supplies the moisture your body doesn't.”
As swiftly as a snake uncoiling, she straightened and dived for the edge of the mattress. He grabbed her arm, rolling so he loomed over her. “I haven't finished.”
She arched her eyebrows and her damnably knowledgeable eyes dropped to where his staff rose so emphatically. “I can see that.”
“Do you like women? Is that the problem?”
A scornful laugh escaped her. “It's simpler than that. I don't like you.”
Her bluntness didn't anger him, just made him insatiably curious. Perhaps she didn't like him, but something told him
the difficulty was more serious than antipathy for an uncongenial keeper. “Are you frigid?”
He felt her tiny start. “Does your conceit know no bounds?”
“I'm trying to understand.”
“You're making this too complicated. Now, release me, if you please. I'll dress and return to Perry's.”
“Don't go, Olivia,” he said softly. “The game has just started.”
Under his fingers, she trembled. Anger? Or fear? Her voice was brittle with sarcasm. “You haven't had your money's worth? My apologies. All isn't lost. At least some other woman you purchase can move into the house.”
“I don't want another woman,” he said calmly, disregarding her jibes. “I want you.”
“Well, I don't want you.”
“The arrogance of the upper-class English male never fails to amaze me.” She surveyed him with cold eyes. When she spoke, her voice was steady, almost prosaic. “You can have me before I go if you like.”
His mind shattered into a thousand shards of excitement. All moisture evaporated from his mouth.
She was his for the taking.
“No, Olivia.” His response was husky with sorrow. “I'm a large man and you're not ready. I'll hurt you.”
She shrugged. He began to recognize it as a characteristic gesture. A slight hardness entered her face and her voice was expressionless. For a moment he'd touched the real woman inside the ravishing shell. Now she looked like the self-possessed courtesan he'd met in Montjoy's salon. “Then we'll have to see what else we can do for you.”
She shook free but only because he let her go. He could tell that for the moment she wasn't going anywhere.
Departure would look too much like defeat, and if he'd learned anything about her, it was that his mistress had a
pride to equal his own. He guessed at the effort and style and sheer courage she'd needed over the years to create the legend of irresistible, invincible Olivia Raines. She wouldn't sacrifice that hard-won reputation easily, no matter how much she wanted to flee his bed.
“Lie back,” she said coolly.
He obeyed without question. His eyes didn't waver from her as he stretched out, itchy with a tormenting mixture of curiosity and lust. Breathlessly, he waited to see what she'd do next.
What she did next made his heart slam to a screaming halt.
She crawled between his legs and reached out. He jerked as her cool hand circled his burning flesh. His vision faded, every drop of blood in his body drained to his throbbing genitals.
She began a rhythmic stroking, tightening and releasing the pressure until he closed his eyes and saw exploding stars. She played his flesh like a great musician played an instrument. Racing scale passages. Thundering chords. Wild cadenzas. Thrilling trills. The world shrank to pure sensation. A choked groan emerged from his throat and he flung his head back. If she stopped touching him, he honestly thought he'd die.
Something silky and warm brushed his groin. A cloud of hair. The added sensation flung him closer to release. He barely stopped himself spurting into her hand. He opened dazed eyes to watch her tawny head lower with teasing hesitation.
A smile lifted the corner of her mouth. Mocking. Provoking. Triumphant. As though she knew that in this she had the advantage.
Of course she did. He wanted her and couldn't hide it.
Her expression became almost gloating as she leaned the final few inches. Then she paused. Every scraping breath he snatched seemed to catch in his lungs forever.
Knowing each second's delay lasted a cruel hour. And each prolonged second drove him closer to insanity.
The gorgeous witch.
She bent so close, her breath glanced across the tip. His hungry, tumescent flesh yearned toward her lips.
She smiled again and inched back with deliberate slowness.
Oh, yes, she meant to torture him.
Her hand continued to squeeze and stroke, building his need to ragged desperation. Every touch blasted through him like a direct hit from a cannonade. But her hand alone was no longer enough.
Still she remained out of reach.
Dear God, Olivia, take me soon or I'll lose my damned mind.
“Hell,” he grated, struggling against the urge to grab her head and press her down. Some last shred of intuition told him he'd never force her. That she intended his pleasure. But she also intended his torment.
And what measure of either pleasure or torment he experienced was completely in her power.
“No, not hell, my lord,” she murmured, the words a taunting whisper across his searing heat. “Heaven.”
Her head lowered the last fraction of an inch. If she teased him now, he'd lose himself. She'd driven him to the brink and he trembled as though in the grip of a fever.
She encircled the head of his cock with her lush, full-lipped mouth.
He closed his eyes and ceded himself to her seduction. It didn't matter anymore that she did this to prove a point.
Her hand and mouth set up a rapturous counterpoint. The breath jammed in his throat and his heart threatened to burst. “Olivia, you're killing me.”
Blindly, he tangled his hands in her thick hair. The slippery silkiness perfectly complemented the hot, wet suction. He fell into velvety darkness where there was only her damnably skillful mouth and the soft sounds emerging from her throat.
His hands fisted in the tangled mane as she increased the pressure. He'd imagined her mouth on him like this since the first moment he saw her. But the actuality of those lips sucking him was beyond anything he'd ever known. He jerked toward her, wanting more.
Her fingers stilled. With a blazing slide, she moved upward. Surely she wasn't leaving him like this, shaking and frantic.
God, God, God. He couldn't endure itâ¦
Cool air brushed unbearably over his swollen, oversensitized flesh. A deep groan forced its way out of a throat too tight for words.
Delicately, she licked the head. He shuddered at the calculated flick of her tongue. He was so close to coming. So closeâ¦
“Take me in your mouth.” He didn't recognize the guttural voice as his.
She licked across the tip again. He surged up, fisting his hands in the sheets so he didn't grab her and make her do what he wanted. He couldn't risk stopping her now. It would destroy him.
“Take me, Olivia,” he begged, and didn't care that his pride was dust. He only cared that she pushed this pleasure to its limit before she finished.
One last teasing foray with her tongue. Then abruptly she relented and surrounded him again with her sublime dark heat. He lost his last connection to any reality but her mouth and his blazing need.
With a broken cry he bowed up and gave himself to her.
For a long time he knew nothing but fiery release. She had him so desperate, so heavy, so ready, he flooded her mouth in an endless river.
On and on and on. Forever.
By the time he finished, he felt wrung out, empty, exhausted. She'd leeched away his last drop of vitality. Only a husk remained. He'd never had such a climax from a woman using her mouth.
He'd never had such a climax.
Inch by tormenting inch, she slid her lips off him, making him feel every clinging moment of withdrawal.
He sank back onto the mattress, gasping for air. Each tattered breath seemed more than his exhausted body could manage. His brain had ceased to function. There was only animal satiation.