That Perfect Someone Page 24

“Were you crying?” he asked suspiciously.

“No,” she quickly denied. “I was washing my face when I heard all the racket you were making out there and thought to lock my door.”

She turned around. He wasn"t smirking in doubt, he was actually blushing. He didn"t look as if he"d just suffered a horrible ordeal this last week. His long black hair looked clean and was neatly queued back. He was wearing a flowing white shirt tucked into black britches that were tucked into knee-high boots. The boots were scuffed, he"d probably worn them all week, but the clothes were fresh. The bruises on his face had healed, leaving him so damned handsome she found herself staring almost hypnotically at him, and even that infuriated her.

“I believe I owe you an apology,” he said.

She snapped, “D"you think?”

“Don"t go sounding like Malory,” he warned.

She drew in her breath sharply. This was the attitude of an apologetic man? “Just get out!

You couldn"t bear the sight of me? I feel the same way about you. There"s the door.” He didn"t budge. He looked perplexed when he said, “Gabby mentioned that you went to see my father and that"s how you found out about this. But why did you go there? When? I could have sworn I saw you heading back to London that day you came to the inn.”

“I did go home. But I felt I had to make one last attempt to end the contract amicably, so I returned to Willow Woods. It was a futile effort. In the guise of concern, your father clearly laid out what would happen to my family if I didn"t prepare for my wedding. I thought he was bluffing about having seen you and was trying to convince me that you"d be a willing groom.

He finally told me why you"d be willing and what he had set in motion to assure it.” Richard winced. “I"m sorry you had to talk to that tyrant for any reason. I"m also sorry I lashed out at you. Thank you for organizing my rescue. You do have your moments when you can be a sweetheart.” He grinned. “Do you accept my apology?” She was still too upset to be gracious. She was amazed she had even answered his other question without screaming at him. But this one?

“Are you kidding me?! You"d have to apologize a thousand times to assuage all the hurt you"ve caused me.”

“Must you always exaggerate? I never hurt you, I made you angry. There"s a big difference.”

“Do you know how many things I missed out on growing up because of you! No boys ever flirted with me because I was already spoken for. I didn"t get to have an exciting come-out while all my friends were planning theirs. Why? Because I was already engaged! I should have married three years ago. Now, the ton calls me an old maid!” She"d made each of those things sound like an accusation, which turned him quite stiff.

“You would rather I had stuck around so we could have married and ended up killing each other?” he asked her incredulously.

“We wouldn"t have done that, you ass.”

“You swore you would—”

She cut in, “I say things in anger that I don"t mean. Don"t you?”

“I"m not talking premeditated murder. I"m talking about the violence of the moment. You know bloody well you never had control of that.”

“Doesn"t matter. I don"t have it in me to kill anyone, even you. So no matter how furious you make me, it would never come to that.”

“Like hell. You bit off my ear! Did you forget about that?” She snorted. “Now who"s exaggerating?”

“You tried, Jewels. You always went for blood.”

She blushed over that reminder. “You were too strong. I had no other way to fight you.”

“You didn"t have to fight me at all!” he said in exasperation.

“You hurt my feelings,” she said in a small voice, her lip beginning to quiver, her eyes turning glassy again. “You always did. I wasn"t quick enough back then with a sharp comeback to pay you back in kind.”

“Good God, are you crying?”

She swung around instantly. “Get out.”

He didn"t. She heard him move toward her, not away. He came so close she could actually smell him behind her—then felt his hands on her shoulders. It was too much for her fragile emotions. She turned around to pound her fists against his chest. He wrapped his arms around her to prevent it, but oddly enough she found his touch comforting. He was actually trying to soothe her? It just made her cry all the harder, great racking sobs that wet his shirt and wouldn"t stop. It had been so long since she"d had a shoulder to cry on. Actually, she"d cried on her father"s shoulder a number of times, missing him so much, but he hadn"t been awake to notice, and remembering that brought on even more tears.

“Don"t,” Richard said softly, trying to wipe her cheek with his fingers.

“Don"t,” he said again, smoothing a hand over her head now, but all that did was dislodge her hairpins so half her coiffure tumbled down her back. He threaded his fingers through her hair now, dislodging the rest of the hairpins.

“Please, don"t,” he said, and kissed her brow. Twice. And so tenderly.

His soothing tone was working wonders. She wondered why he"d want to comfort her.

Guilt? Or was he finding comfort as well from his own ordeal? He was a man. He probably wouldn"t allow himself the luxury of tears, but she found herself hugging him—just in case he needed it.

His soothing touch was also working wonders, though in a different way. One hand in her hair, the other moving up and down her back with just the slightest pressure. He wasn"t actually holding her there against him now, but she didn"t even consider moving away. She wasn"t feeling any angry passion at the moment that could explode into something else. But that something else was happening anyway.

He tried to wipe her cheek again, with his. She tilted her head a little and it worked, and suddenly he was kissing her. This could just be his way of comforting, too, but that"s not what it was for her.

Her tears dried up. The escalating warmth running through her veins might have helped.

That kiss was so gentle, but it was still churning her insides with exciting flutters. This was—

romantic, a careful introduction to the more sensual side of life. It"s what should have happened when she was eighteen and married—him. She blanked out that thought. She wasn"t going to let their past intrude just now.

The kiss got a little more intimate, his tongue asserting dominance to explore her mouth.

Even the taste of him was thrilling her senses. She hugged him more tightly. He cupped her face in the palms of his hands, his fingers spreading to the back of her neck, sending shivers down her spine.

But then he suddenly broke the kiss and looked down at her. His green eyes were hot and questioning. Her eyes remained lambent. Was he giving her a chance to stop what was happening between them? But it was only a brief chance. The next kiss was much more provocative and all the more thrilling for the decision that had just been mutually, if silently, made.

He began unbuttoning her blouse. She pulled his shirt from his pants. They were both moving slowly to keep from breaking that kiss. There was no hurry—yet. Desire was growing stronger, but it was just as exciting to savor it. Her skirt came undone and drifted down her hips. His hand slipped under the back of her drawers to squeeze a plump cheek before he pressed her against his loins.

Oh, God, nothing about that was sensually lazy! She immediately wrapped her arms tightly about his neck with a moan. He lifted her higher and curved one of her legs about his hips, so she did the same with the other. He walked her to the bed like that, with her limbs holding fast to him, and laid her down carefully at the edge. He didn"t follow her down. He stood there at the edge and yanked off his shirt and unfastened his pants. She was mesmerized by him. He really had matured into a strapping young man, with thick muscles, limbs tautly corded with them, such long legs, lean hips. And his hair, oh, my, that extremely long, raven black hair that gave him such a wild, primitive look when it flowed loose as it did now.

But the look in his eyes, when she finally caught them again, held her fast. Not the heated passion. That was there, but something else was as well, need, a deep longing, as if this were something he"d waited for forever. Was she imagining it? She could have said that of herself, but him? Yet she was spellbound by the longing in his eyes. It struck just the right chord in her to make her hold out her arms to him.

With a groan he whisked off her drawers and leaned forward to slide his hands up under her chemise. The flimsy strings holding it together easily widened with both his hands stretching it as he learned the feel of her breasts, and they came completely undone by the time he bent farther to capture one of her br**sts in his mouth.

She held him fast with her arms, with her legs. The sensations he was stirring seemed to spiral straight down to her core. It frazzled her senses. She couldn"t be still. She was pushing at him, squirming, demanding—something. Then she had it, so quickly, that hard, thick pressure at her loins sliding forward, penetrating directly where it was needed. It was such a welcome relief that he knew how to fix what was wrong with her that she barely felt the brief pain before he filled her fully.

How amazing! Such a glorious feeling, to have him so deeply inside her. She was held breathless with anticipation. But he didn"t move! At least his loins remained perfectly still, pinning her there to the bed, while his mouth touched and explored hers again. She didn"t know why she felt so desperate and needy, but she kissed him back furiously because of it, wildly, tempestuously, about to burst with suppressed passion screaming for release.

He finally broke that kiss with another groan, reared back, and then thrust into her. He didn"t have to do another thing. Oh, God, the pleasure that burst forth was beyond anything she could have imagined. It gushed, spread clear to her toes. Each slow thrust dazzled her even more, had her holding fast to him for that glorious ride.

It ended all too quickly. She was only vaguely disappointed that those amazing sensations couldn"t have lasted much longer. But he threw back his head, stiffened, actually looked as if he were in pain, then let out the breath he"d been holding in an exultant cry before he dropped his head to her shoulder, panting. After one tender kiss on her neck, she felt his entire body rest against hers.

The tenderness that welled in her was astounding.

Chapter Thirty-one

THE BLOOM HAD WORN off, but it had lingered long enough for Julia to know that she didn"t want to fight with Richard anymore—at least not today. They were still lying on the bed, lengthwise now. When he"d raised himself off her, he"d immediately picked her up, positioning her on her side with her head on a pillow, then joined her again, curling into her backside. He"d kissed her shoulder and put an arm around her to pretty much keep her there.

At least he hadn"t immediately deserted her when she"d still been feeling a unique sort of bond with him. That would have hurt. While they were still fully touching, at least their bodies were, neither of them had moved for the longest time.

She finally began to think he"d fallen asleep, cuddled against her, which might be a good thing. She wasn"t sure what to say to him now, after what they"d done. She was afraid the subject she was there to discuss was going to utterly end this fragile truce. Actually, she didn"t even know if this could be considered a truce. She might be feeling exceptionally mellow, but she had no idea how this unexpected occurrence was going to affect him. He"d been angry after kissing her at the inn, blaming her for what shouldn"t have happened. This went so far beyond that there was no comparison.

She finally knew what lovemaking was all about, and it had been wonderful. But she didn"t deceive herself into thinking she couldn"t experience that excitement again with someone she could love. Not only Richard could stir those desires in her. She might be strongly attracted to him, even liked him—sometimes. He could have been that perfect someone for her if only they had met under different circumstances and they didn"t have the ugly history of the marriage contract between them. Instead he was her perfect nemesis! Until she got rid of him, she wouldn"t find that one man who was out there somewhere, waiting for her to come along.

She ought to get up and dress. The windowless cabin wasn"t cold, but it still wasn"t warm enough to be lying there na**d and uncovered. Yet she wasn"t chilled at all, not with Richard sharing the heat of his body. Besides, she couldn"t quite bring herself to break contact with him.

She sighed. Why was she even enjoying just lying there with him?

He must have heard the sound she made because he finally spoke to her. His tone was merely conversational, yet the subject was so far from anything she could have imagined, she was floored.

“You scare me, Jewels. I"ve never experienced this before with a woman. You kiss my shoulder, you could as likely sink your teeth into it. I kiss your mouth, you could try to take my lip off. I take my life in hand, getting close to you. No, don"t be insulted.” He laughed as her whole body stiffened. “I"m not saying this is a bad thing. It"s actually oddly exciting.” The laugh made her hold her tongue. She turned onto her back so she could glance at him.

Yes, it was even in his eyes, sparkling laughter, and he was still grinning with it. Gabrielle knew and counted this man as a friend. This wasn"t the man Julia knew. She had no way to tell, no reference to draw on, to know if he was joking, so she didn"t try for a witty reply, in case he was serious.

But, apparently, he was in a speculating mood, or merely a roguish one, because he went on,

“It"s too bad we were too young for this back then. I guarantee a harsh word would never have passed between us.”

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