|An Excerpt From |
KISS ME QUICK
"Now I've got you!" he cried triumphantly, his hands gripping her arms.
The brim of her blue bonnet tilted, revealing a ruched lining of silver, and the face of Lady Diana Westover.
As he bit back a curse, she made a surprisingly graceful little curtsy and damn if she didn't look completely at ease and barely out of breath.
"I beg your pardon, Lord Adderley," she said in her melodious voice. "I didn't expect to find you here."
Edmond forced himself to ignore her subtle perfume, which was like the sweet, cool breeze in the summer, full of the scent of wild flowers.
"Obviously, I didn't expect to run into you, either, Lady Diana," he said, bowing stiffly. "Or have you run into me. What are you doing here?"
"I got separated from my aunts. I believe they're in here somewhere." She cocked her head as she regarded him with that discomfiting intensity. "Did you get lost in here, too?"
The answer to that was none of her business. "Were you spying on me?"
"Where? Here? Of course not," she said, her voice having the same genial friendliness that Brix's usually did. "I accidentally bumped into you."
"I didn't mean here in the labyrinth. I meant in the grotto."
Her expression was innocence itself. "Why ever would I do that?"
"I'm sure you were. I recognize your gown."
She glanced down at her dress that reminded him of bluebells. "Suppose that were true, my lord -- and I'm not saying it is -- why do you think I would spy on you?"
He struggled to keep a lid on the exasperation that threatened to boil into anger. "How the devil should I know what your motives are?"
"Really, my lord, such language is hardly becoming to a gentleman addressing a lady."
"Don't try to change the subject. You were spying on us."
Her delicately arched brows rose quizzically. "Us?"
He bite back another curse and changed tactics. "Perhaps it was envy that compelled you."
She smiled again with that same affability, as if they were two old friends conversing casually in the Pump Room or her aunts' drawing room. "I don't envy anyone except Mrs. Radcliffe."
Another unexpected -- and fascinating -- answer. "The writer?"
Her brows shot up even more. "You know of her?"
He crossed his arms over his chest. "Unlike the false reports spread about me by certain parties, I am not a complete ignoramus. I am well aware of her work."
Lady Diana smiled again and he realized what a charming smile it was -- open and honest and pleasant. "Since you know Mrs. Radcliffe's works, I will admit that I do find you a very interesting man."
He'd received many compliments in his life, but nothing had ever made him feel quite as this one did, as if he really was interesting, and for more than his looks.
The last of his anger drifted away as he began to wonder why she didn't desire him. Then he told himself it didn't matter how she felt about him.
"However you came to be here, you shouldn't be wandering about the labyrinth or the gardens without an escort," he warned. "It can be dangerous."
"I didn't mean to be. I told you, I got lost and perhaps if young men wouldn't stand stock-still blocking the path just around a corner, it wouldn't be so dangerous."
A little annoyed by her pert answer, he took a step toward her and gave her a wolfish grin. "That's not the sort of danger I meant."
Lady Diana tilted her head again, reminding him of an inquisitive squirrel. "Oh, do you mean there are other lascivious young men prowling about, and that as a momentarily unescorted female, I may fall prey to their unconstrained lust?"
Other...? Edmond's anger flared. "If anyone was prowling about, it wasn't me."
She didn't seem at all nonplused by either his anger or his answer. "However misplaced your concern, I assure you I can defend myself if I must."
He barked a laugh. "Your waspish tongue may not be enough."
"No?" she inquired, still annoyingly calm.
Before he could say anything more, her gloved fingers suddenly shot out straight into the base of his throat above his collar bone and below his cravat.
"Damn!" he gasped, his breathing labored from the sharp blow as he stumbled backward.
She smiled that charmingly friendly smile again. "You see, my lord, a young woman raised in the country is not necessarily a babe in the woods. I am well prepared against men who wish to do me harm."
"I don't wish to do you harm," he panted as he regained his balance. His curiosity got the better of his wounded pride. "Where did you learn to do that?"
"My father's groom spent time with the guerrillas in Spain fighting the French. He had many interesting skills."
"I'll wager he did. And he showed you all of them, did he?" he asked with an exaggerated leer.
He still couldn't get a rise out of her.
"I daresay it is difficult for you to appreciate that a man and a woman can have any sort of relationship other than a carnal one," she said calmly. "But Benton was fifty years old, my lord, and married, so all he taught me was how to defend myself."
"I can and I do have relationships with women that aren't carnal," he retorted.
"Really? I must confess I'm surprised. However, I believe you should follow your own advice and leave the labyrinth."
"I'll go when I decide."
"Have it your own way, my lord. But I recall our conversation before, when we spoke of whether or not women would be more virtuous than men if given the same opportunities. You may remember I have my doubts that women would be. Therefore, you may not want to risk being discovered in your present weakened condition by some other young woman who may be overwhelmed with admiration for your broad shoulders and handsome face. You might not be able to fend her off should she decide to have her lascivious way with you."
The idea of Lady Diana having her lascivious way with him was a surprisingly appealing notion.
He ran his gaze over her body. She was long of limb, slender of hip. Her small, rounded breasts would probably fit perfectly in his cupped palm.
She'd responded to his words with no false coyness, no fraudulent maidenly modesty. She'd been bold, frank, even brazen. He could well imagine she would be the same in bed, making love with eager joy and unabashed delight, a notion that aroused him even more.
A vibrant image burst into his head, of this bright-eyed young woman naked beneath him, her eyes shining not with curiosity but with desire, her body undulating as he pressed his lips to hers.
Her long legs would wrap about him, pulling him closer as he thrust inside her. He could almost hear her whispers, soft moans and cries of delight as he pleasured her. And by God, how he would!
He eased toward her, closing the space between them. As she stared at him, her lips parted and her breathing grew rapid. Her expression changed, to something that was not calm composure.
Nor was it fear.
It was something he was sure he recognized, for he was feeling it himself.
"Perhaps I wouldn't fend you off, Lady Diana," he whispered, his voice hoarse with suppressed desire, the force of it overwhelming his urge to intimidate her. "Would you care to try?"
She laughed. She actually laughed in his face.
"I amuse you, do I?" he asked, a hint of real warning in his voice as he moved closer yet, trapping her body against the labyrinth.
"Because I know you can't be serious, my lord," she answered, apparently unaware of how truly tempting she was. "I'm no beauty, and have little to recommend me to your sex. As I said, I find you interesting, but my interest is purely platonic, as I'm sure yours is for me if you are at all sincere."
Platonic? He'd show her platonic.
He slid his hands up her slender arms. "You're wrong, Lady Diana. I find you very attractive."
Lady Diana met his gaze with that brazen, yet strangely innocent, boldness he was coming to expect. "Do you plan to kiss me, my lord?"
His fingertips skimmed her soft cheek. "I was certainly contemplating it."
She closed her eyes and stood perfectly still, her whole body rigid.
"What are you doing?"
She opened one eye. "Why, I am waiting to be kissed. It's sure to be a novel experience."