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Authors: Anna Campbell

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BOOK: Tempt the Devil
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Then abruptly he rolled to the side.

“Christ,”
he gritted out, spending himself in mighty spasms upon the sheets.

L
ord Erith sprawled at Olivia's side without speaking, his head buried in the pillow. She couldn't see his face but his black hair was limp with perspiration and the bare skin of his back glistened. His huge spread-eagled body vibrated tension.

Their ragged breathing was the only sound in the room. The atmosphere sparked with violent emotion. The air was sharp with sex and sweat.

A leaden weight settled in her belly. She'd never felt like this before. Edgy. Uncomfortable. Distressed. Regretful. Angry but without any target for her anger. Brimful of warring reactions that jostled to find outlet.
Dissatisfied.
Which was ridiculous, as satisfaction with a lover had never been a possibility.

She was tired and sad and absurdly heartsick. With no good reason. She should be rejoicing in her ascendancy over the arrogant Lord Erith.

Except she hadn't really won. He'd resisted all her sen
sual arts. At the last minute he'd wrenched back control. He hadn't taken her.

Just when she believed he couldn't withstand her, he stole a pyrrhic victory that left both of them lost in this cruel darkness. He found no relief in what had happened. She read no joy, no gloating, no triumph in the trembling, prone body next to hers.

She closed her eyes, but that just made her memory of the incendiary, devastating moment more vivid. His face had been tortured, and his harsh curse as he'd flung away had made her heart contract with despair. Something about the cheap, bitter encounter left her feeling used and alone in a way she hadn't experienced since her first keeper.

She heard the bedclothes rustle as he turned to observe her. “Is this what you wanted?” The grim question chimed exactly with the sour tenor of her thoughts.

“No.” She opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling, willing the few acrid tears to evaporate. She needed her armor back in place before she met that probing gray gaze.

Another fraught silence. A log disintegrated in the grate, the sound as startling as a bullet fired from a gun. She drew a shuddering breath, raised herself against the pillows and at last looked at him.

“Why? Why, Erith?” The familiar name slipped out before she could stop it.

Even after what they'd been through tonight, he was too acute to miss it. “You've never called me that before.”

“I shouldn't call you that now.”

“My God, woman, you're lying naked beside me. Call me Erith. Call me Julian, if you like. I'd certainly like it. I don't expect my mistress to pull her forelock and curtsy before she services me.”

“You don't expect your mistress to service you at all,” she said acidly. “Or not this one. For pity's sake, why not just use me as you will? This noble act is insane.”

His jaw set in a stubborn expression. “There can be more between us.”

“No, there can't. I am the woman you pay to share your bed. You are the man I accepted as a client.”

“Last night, you hung on every word I spoke.”

Something that felt perilously like yearning pierced her. For a short space she'd forgotten she was cold, remote Olivia Raines with her available body and her clever hands and her willing mouth. For a short space she'd felt like he spread the whole world at her feet for her delectation.

Dangerous, dangerous illusion.

She wanted to snap at him that last night hadn't meant anything. But as she studied him, she noticed he looked weary, almost defeated. For once, he looked like a man approaching early middle age. Deep lines marked his eyes and dragged at the corners of his mouth. The crackling energy she'd believed unquenchable was absent.

Before she thought, she raised a hand and touched his stubbled cheek. The involuntary gesture conveyed more tenderness than anything else between them in this long, harrowing night.

“I'm sorry I'm not what you want,” she said softly and with a genuine sorrow that would have surprised her two days ago.

Some of the bleakness fled his expression and one edge of his mouth kicked upward in a brief smile. He pressed his cheek into her hand and closed his eyes. “I never said that.”

In spite of everything, she smiled back. She shouldn't touch him like this, but it was strangely sweet. She left her hand where it was. “Apart from the obvious.”

He opened his eyes and looked direct into hers. “Which is very obvious. Devil take you, I've never had anyone affect me the way you do. When I'm with you, I hardly know who I am. When I'm away from you, I can't think of anything else. And believe me, there are things I should be thinking about.”

She couldn't doubt his sincerity. The difficult confession—and she knew he spoke the words as reluctantly as she heard
them—was probably the purest compliment any man had paid her.

She frowned and withdrew her hand. Her palm tingled with the warmth of his skin. “If you took me, you might find I'm less of an obsession.”

He grimaced with a wry amusement she found charming, much as she wished she didn't. Passion was a weapon he used against her with no effect. Humor left her defenseless as a newly hatched chick facing a hungry fox.

“I've never met a woman who nags me to have sex with her as much as you do. Especially when she doesn't enjoy it.” He rolled onto his back and pushed up into a sitting position. His voice deepened into sincerity. “I'm sorry, Olivia.”

She didn't bother hiding her own sadness. “I'm sorry too.”

He leaned over her slowly. For a moment she lay still and quiescent, waiting for him to touch her breast or her face or even her sex. It took a few fatal seconds to realize he meant to kiss her. By the time she flinched away, his mouth was almost on hers. His lips landed clumsily on her cheek.

“Don't,” she whispered.

“Oh, Olivia. You're so frightened,” he whispered back, and glanced a tiny kiss across each of her fluttering eyelids before he stood up. “Come, my beautiful mistress. Supper awaits.”

He extended his hand and smiled. Fleetingly, something in Olivia's heart opened like a flower to the sun. Then she remembered what she was and what she'd done, and the flower shriveled into a parched brown husk.

 

Early the next morning, Erith rode toward York Street with a smile hovering around his lips. His gray thoroughbred danced along the cobbles, and the sharp, cheerful sound of hooves striking the road echoed his eager expectation.

Odd to be so blithe when he'd received even less satisfaction last night than he had the previous one. Those humiliat
ing moments when he'd spilled himself onto the sheets had been wretched and angry.

But when he left Olivia, he was convinced he'd coax a genuine response from her. Odd that amidst all the regret and frustration and anguish, he'd found hope.

Last night he had glimpsed something beyond the gorgeous shell that protected Olivia Raines. He'd seen painful emotion. He'd seen vulnerability. Sweetest of all, he'd seen tenderness. The moment when she touched his cheek still rang pure as a silver bell in his heart.

His pride was obdurately engaged in the quest to discover the woman under the courtesan. No matter how Olivia lured him to abandon his intent, he wasn't going to surrender.

No lover had given her pleasure. Until him.

The glory of that prize made any hardship on the way worthwhile.

Today he intended to spend the day with her, stay into the night. His daughter was busy with fittings for her trousseau, and the troublesome females who plagued him at home danced attendance.

And tonight he would achieve splendid victory. Tonight, Olivia would cede him the sweet passion she'd never ceded to another.

He knew she had passion locked within her. He could smell it the way he could smell the morning air with its sour tang of coal dust and the river. He'd never been wrong about a woman, and he wasn't wrong about Olivia Raines. She was the essence of desire. It would be a crime against the world if she never discovered that for herself.

With every street closer to the house, his optimism rose. His horse whinnied and curveted as if to express Erith's extreme satisfaction with his world on this bright morning.

He'd come direct from a long canter in Hyde Park. He'd woken early. Ridiculous, given how little sleep he'd managed. He'd stayed late at Olivia's.
Talking.

When was the last time he'd lost sleep through conversa
tion with a woman? Probably the early days of his marriage. Certainly not since then.

He turned the corner near the house and jerked to a sudden halt. Shock kept him rigid in the saddle.

A fancy rig waited in front of the house. Four magnificent black horses that wouldn't disgrace his own stable stood in harness. Wooden panels obscured any arms on the closed carriage, and the coachman wore a smart and completely unmarked livery.

In one appalling instant, Erith's self-satisfaction evaporated. The day darkened even though the sun shone as brilliantly as it had a few seconds ago.

The jade had promised complete fidelity for the span of their liaison. She certainly hadn't said anything about choosing another lover last night.

Good God, he'd only left her a couple of hours ago.

He drew his mount into the shadow of the nearest building and watched, hoping something, anything, would prove his sickening suspicions false.

Why would she take another lover? She couldn't satisfy the one she had. Then he thought of her clever mouth on his straining cock and his heart slammed against his chest.

Oh, yes, she could satisfy a man. Especially a man not too fussy about his partner's enjoyment.

Most men.

The house's shiny black door opened and Olivia emerged, wearing a dress he hadn't bought her. He'd had enormous pleasure selecting her wardrobe from the best modiste in London. The modiste, incidentally, who currently measured his daughter for her wedding gown.

He'd found a primitive satisfaction in knowing this strong, independent woman wore only what he'd paid for, from underclothing out. But this dashing bottle green traveling ensemble, while infernally becoming, was unfamiliar.

He expected to see a parade of servants bearing baggage. If she abandoned him, he imagined she'd want her belong
ings. But nobody followed, not even a maid to offer a semblance of propriety.

Acrid fury stewing in his belly, Erith watched her step into the carriage and the footman close the door.

He tried to tell himself her outing could be innocent. A call on a female friend or a shopping expedition. If one discounted the presence of that incriminating, unmarked carriage. If one discounted his every screaming instinct.

The coachman flicked the reins and the vehicle rolled away. Erith's hands tightened, making his horse snort and dance in protest.

“Sorry, boy,” he whispered, and leaned forward to pat the gelding's glossy gray neck. The horse quieted even as Erith's hand formed a hard fist against the gleaming hide.

Damn it, he should let her go. He should return to Erith House and send her a contemptuous note informing her their arrangement ended. She could keep whatever spoils she'd gained so far, but she'd never glean another penny from his pocket. He'd been a dupe but he was a dupe no longer.

He wished her unknown lover joy; she'd prove as faithless to him.

Let the jade rot. He didn't care. There were plenty more fish in the sea. Fish that were less trouble to catch and tasted just as sweet.

Confound the faithless slut.

He'd never chased a woman in his life. He had no intention of starting now.

He was the Earl of Erith. Good women, bad women, young women, old women vied to catch his eye. Dear God, he could hardly take a step outside his front door without tripping over strumpets fighting for the right to wriggle into his bed.

Her new lover was welcome to Olivia Raines. Let her…

“Oh, Devil take it,” he muttered. He dug his heels into his horse's sides and pursued the elegant carriage as it disappeared around the corner.

 

With some difficulty, Erith trailed the coach through the heavy traffic. He'd assumed she went somewhere in town, so was surprised when she took the Dover road out of London.

Clearly, the lovers meant to enjoy a bucolic interlude amidst the apple blossoms and bluebells. Erith gritted his teeth against another blinding wave of rage.

Damn her, how had she fooled him? From the beginning he'd thought her an honest whore. Those steady sherry-colored eyes hadn't seemed to lie.

Yet lie they had.

Did she respond to her lover?

Did she offer him the bone-deep passion that Erith sensed in her but was yet to uncover?

Did she?

Strangely, in spite of the fortune he'd spent and the way she'd deceived him with false promises of fidelity, that was what settled in his gut with the weight of a huge stone. That she gave some other fellow, some
luck
y fellow, what she'd never given Erith.

With every mile, Olivia's treason ate deeper into the disturbingly fragile fabric of his sangfroid. He loathed feeling like this. Needy. Lost. Angry.

After his wife died, he'd banished such chaotic, difficult emotions. He'd thought himself forever immune from their onslaught. Mixed with his fury was dismayed surprise that he was clearly as much a dunderhead as any other man caught in a woman's coils.

How the hell had she whipped him into this state?

They'd headed far enough out of London for him to wonder if they would travel all the way to Dover—perhaps she was running away to the Continent—when the carriage turned down a dusty track marked with a faded signpost.

Erith didn't know this part of the country. His family properties were in Oxfordshire or the North. So when he read
WOOD END
on the signpost, it meant nothing.

As the roads emptied, he'd pulled back from his quarry. He didn't want his perfidious mistress to know he followed. Now he spurred his horse after the conveyance, noting the dust that covered its shiny black. He supposed he looked similarly travel-worn. What did it matter? He didn't intend to impress her with his sartorial splendor.

BOOK: Tempt the Devil
6.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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