Say You Love Me Page 8

Kelsey had no idea how to make Derek think she wanted him. But caressing him was a simple enough matter-if she could get her mind off what she was experiencing and onto what she ought to be doing. She brought her hand up to his own cheek, spread her fingers up into his hair. Soft and cool compared with the heat from his mouth ...

His mouth. It was working magic on hers, keeping her from concentrating on what she was doing. She was gripping his hair without realizing it. Her other hand was digging into his back, pulling at him, as if she could get him any closer to her, as close as he already was. And it was getting so hot she was feeling faint.

And then his mouth left hers abruptly. Kelsey thought she heard a groan, but whether from her or him she wasn't the least bit sure.

But before she could come out of her daze and get her eyes open, she heard him say in a strained tone, "Very well, I can see this wasn't such a good idea after all."

She hadn't quite grasped his meaning. He was setting her back on the seat across from him, his hands leaving her rather quickly, so she assumed her sitting on him had something to do with it. She couldn't bring herself to look at him as she struggled to regain her composure and combat the blush that she just knew was staining her cheeks.

When she did finally glance up, he didn't look too composed himself. He was loosening his cravat and fidgeting on his seat as if nails had suddenly poked through the velvet upholstery under him.

And then he met her gray eyes and must have detected her confusion. He made an effort to explain, "When I make love to you, Kelsey, it will be in a decent bed, not bouncing around in discomfort in a carriage." "Were we about to make love?" "Yes, we most definitely were,"

“I see." But she didn't see at all. They were still fully clothed. May had been rather derisive when she had explained that some men still made love to their wives in the dark and without removing any of their nightclothes, but with a mistress, they would most definitely get na**d. Kelsey supposed that she would just have to take Derek's vvord for it that, in their case, they had been about to make love. But she hoped all the advice and warnings she had received would make sense to her once she did make love. Right then it was all just very confusing.

THEY STOPPED AT A RUSTIC INN IN NEWBURY FOR LUNCH. Derek had frequented the establishment many times since the property in Bridgewater had been turned over to him, enough to know the place was cleaner than most and the food excellent. More important, it offered a private diing room for those who didn't want to rub elbows with the locals; the room was expensive enough that only the gentry could afford its use. And not knowing Kelsey's habits yet, he preferred not to find out that she ate like a pig with the entire establishment watching.

Her table manners proved impeccable, however. He'd never have to worry about being embarrassed on that count, if and when they dined with others of his acquaintance. And he saw no reason to keep her exclusively hidden once he moved her to London. There were, after all 'many places one could take one's mistress without worry of running into gently reared females who would be affronted by the presence of someone of Kelsey's class and profession.

He had studied her for quite a while in the carriage while she pretended not to notice. She could have been a duke's daughter, sitting there so rigidly proper, with such decorum, her clothes not the most expensive, yet still fit for any lady to travel in.

Those clothes had surprised him when she'd come downstairs. He hadn't expected her to look so unlike a mistress, even if it was early in the morning. He was going to have to buy her some that were more appropriate, if that was the best she could come up with from that valise of hers. it was bloody well disconcerting, listening to her fine speech, too. Her diction was better than that of half the ton, who, like himself, tended to butcher a sentence down to the briefest thought.

Bu It Kelsey by daylight was a revelation, much prettier than the night before, when she had been so stiff and wideeyed in her nervousness. Her complexion was flawless cream, making her blushes all the more telling. Her brows were thin and arched just enough to highlight her ovalshaped eyes, which were made even more prominent by some very thick black lashes outlining them. High cheekbones complimented a slim nose and delicate chin.

Her black hair held a natural curl, so there was very little that needed to be done to it to make it quite stylish. She wore it now in a braid that wrapped about her head, the flyaway bangs and soft curls at her ears very becoming. And those eyes, softest gray they were, and so telling when they filled with innocence, or rancor, or simple confusion. He had to wonder how much of what he saw in them was actually true and how much was artful contrivance.

He was finding her fascinating, no doubt about that. He had had the devil's own time falling asleep the night before because of her, for thinking about her being under the same roof, while she had slept like a baby. And that had annoyed hin' too. She hadn't laid awake, expecting a visit from him, because she hadn't realized she was in the house of the man who'd bought her. She'd thought that man was Jeremy, Derek still didn't know what to make of his reaction to that. He barely knew the girl. Just because he owned her was no reason to be experiencing jealousy of any sort--at least not this soon. And over Jeremy?

Granted, his scamp of a cousin had made no bones about wanting her for himself. And she had owned up to how handsome she'd found him. Of course, had she said otherwise, he would have known she was lying. All women found Jeremy exceptionally handsome. And it had rankled, indeed, when she'd tried to convince him that she preferred him. He knew she was lying through her teeth.

But he would come to grips with that. After all, he had no desire for her to fall in love with him and start thinking about babies and homemaking. That was hardly what a man wanted from his mistress. And he couldn't deny now that he did indeed want her, after what had happened earlier.

Her lack of finesse combined with her passion was a strange mixture that had sent his own desire soaring nearly out of control. He still found it hard to believe how much he'd wanted her right there in the carriage, and how long it had taken to get the urge to ravish her under control.

Lust. A right and proper feeling to have for one's mistress, he had to allow, so he wasn't displeased. She might prefer Jeremy and wish that she'd ended up with him instead, but where Derek was concerned, her response had been more than satisfying.

Still thinking about it as they finished their meal, Derek remarked, although more to himself, "I'm tempted to rent a room here, damn me if I'm not. But I have a feeling it will take several hours to make love to you the first time, and that would have us arriving too late in Bridgewater to get you settled ... Why do you blush?" "'I'm not used to such talk."'

He chuckled, finding her continued pretense of innocence rather amusing. He was curious to know how she hoped to carry the pretense beyond the first time they came together. But he'd find that out tonight, wouldn't he? And that was a very pleasant thought. "Don't worry about it, m'dear. You'll get used to it soon enough." "I hope so," she replied. "Or I am sure to need cooler clothing-that is to say, this constant blushing keeps me rather warm."

He burst out laughing. "And here I'd hoped I would be doing that." "There, you see?" she said with yet another blush, and brought her hand up to fan against her cheeks. "It might as well be summer, with as warm as I'm keeping." "I expect by summer we'll be hard-pressed to get a blush out of you," he replied somewhat dryly, though he knew it made no difference, if she could blush on command as she was doing now. But he had no desire to end her pretense, amusing as it was. "Shall we be off then, before I change my mind about letting a room?"

To give her credit, she didn't shoot out of her chair and run for the door, but it was close, and very apparent that it was close, that she was fighting the urge to do just that. Derek shook his head as he followed her out. Strange girl. If she were to be taken at face value, he would be truly confounded. But he'd been with enough sophisticated women to know that it was all part of the game, these little contrivances, done to amuse their gentlemen, not to deceive or give false impressions.

There was perhaps an hour left of daylight when they finally reached the little tenants cottage on Derek's property. It had one room combining a kitchen area on one wall, with a dining table in the middle, and on the other side of the room, a small area that could be construed as the parlor because it contained a large stuffed chair. There was a single bedroom off the back with a tiny water closet, replete with a round barrel bath rather than a tub. No modernizations here.

The cottage was sparsely furnished and quite dirty at the moment, attesting to a long vacancy. There were a few rusted cooking pots hanging on the wall by the sink, a small table with two chairs for eating, the one large stuffed chair with a dust blanket covering it, and the bedroom containing only a bed, no wardrobe, no bedding. But the cottage was sturdily made, no drafts sneaking in through cracked or rotting boards. All it really needed was a good cleaning and a few necessities to make it quite cozy.

After a sigh over the condition of the place, Derek fetched an armload of firewood from a shed that was out back and got a fire going. Dusting his hands off after he'd finished, he turned to Kelsey expectantly. "I need to check in at the house," he told her, "to let them know I've arrived. I'd as soon it not become common knowledge who you are and why you're here, so the less people who see you, the better. I've never kept a woman here before, you understand, and having it known will raise brows among my staff and get back to m'father, which I'd rather not happen. But I'll have bedding and other essentials sent down to you, and return shortly m'self. You'll be all right here alone for a little while?" "Certainly," Kelsey replied.

He gave her a bright smile, apparently pleased that she wasn't going to complain about the accommodations. "Splendid. And perhaps dinner in town when I return? They have several excellent eating establishments as I recall, and it's only about a mile from here." He said that as he approached her, where she was sitting at the table, and he bent a brief kiss. "I'm looking forward to tonight, M'dear. I hope you are as well.”

The blush was quick to come, but he didn't stay to notice. Kelsey sighed as the door closed behind him. Tonight? No, she wasn't looking forward to it in the least. And to keep her mind from dwelling on it, she set about doing what she could in the way of cleaning after a bit of exploring turned up two crates in the shed out back, one filled with broken dishes, the other with a bucket and rags.

She made use of the rags, dusting the few pieces of furniture and wiping down the windows and the few empty kitchen cupboards. But there wasn't much else she could do without some strong soap and a broom. So she was soon back to waiting for Derek's return and the arrival of the things she needed to make the cottage habitable.

It was soon dark, however, and the strain of the day was fast catching up to her. Kelsey had been much more comfortable sitting on his lap for that short while in the carriage than sitting across from him the rest of the day, knowing he was watching her, wondering what he was thinking. That had been quite tiring indeed. So she was asleep in the stuffed chair with only a single blanket and the fire for warmth before anyone came by.

KELSEY HAD NO IDEA WHAT TO THINK WHEN SHE AWOKE the next morning to find the cottage just as it had been the previous night. Apparently Derek hadn't returned, or if he had, he hadn't bothered to wake her. Obviously he hadn't stayed, because he wasn't there now. Neither were the essentials he'd promised would be delivered.

She fretted about it for several hours, wondering what could have happened to change his plans. Nothing occurred to her. And all she could do was wait. He'd made it clear, before he left her the night before, that he didn't want her appearing on his doorstep, so she couldn't even go looking for him to find out what had happened.

At least the basket that Mrs. Hershal had had prepared for her, and that she'd never gotten around to opening yesterday, had been brought into the cottage. She was ravenous. Upon examining the basket, she found a plate of assorted pastries wrapped in a towel and a jar of jam with a knife for spreading it.

The four pastries, stale now, would have served her well enough for her missed breakfast yesterday. Today, however, having missed her dinner last night as well, they didn't keep tier belly quiet for more than a few hours, making her wish that she'd slept longer, rather than waking with the first daylight that slipped through the curtainless windows.

Toward noon, she was too worried to heed Derek's warning about not raising eyebrows with her presence. Whatever he'd meant to send to her no longer mattered; it was food that concerned her the most now, and her lack of means for obtaining any. He'd left her no money and no transportation. if he didn't show up soon, she was going to be in serious trouble, the very kind she'd sold herself to avoid.

But, of course, he would show up. She had no doubt of that. It was just a matter of when. But he'd undoubtedly forgotten that there was no food in the cottage, and when he still hadn't made an appearance by that afternoon, her hunger prompted her to ignore his warning about showing up on his doorstep. There was no help for it. She had to make an effort to find him.

The moment she opened the front door she found his letter instead. It had been tucked into the edge of the door and fluttered to the ground when she opened it. Of course, she didn't know it was from him until she broke the seal and read it.

Dear Kelsey,

My father's messenger pounced on me as soon as I walked in my house. I've been summoned to Haverston with all due haste, which means I should have been there yesterday. I don't dare waste another moment, which is why I'm sending this note rather than myself.

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