Daphne felt something wild and wicked take hold. “Let's walk in the garden,” she said softly.
The desperation in Simon's voice told her everything she needed to know. He wanted her. He desired her. He was mad for her.
Daphne felt as if her heart was singing the aria from The Magic Flute, somersaulting wildly as it tripped past high C.
And she thought—what if she kissed him? What if she pulled him into the garden and tilted her head up and felt his lips touch hers? Would he realize how much she loved him? How much he could grow to love her? And maybe—just maybe he'd realize how happy she made him.
Then maybe he'd stop talking about how determined he was to avoid marriage.
“I'm going for a walk in the garden,” she announced. “You may come if you wish.”
As she walked away—slowly, so that he might catch up with her—she heard him mutter a heartfelt curse, then she heard his footsteps shortening the distance between them.
“Daphne, this is insanity,” Simon said, but the hoarseness in his voice told her he was trying harder to convince himself of that than he was her.
She said nothing, just slipped farther into the depths of the garden.
“For the love of God, woman, will you listen to me?” His hand closed hard around her wrist, whirling her around. “I promised your brother,” he said wildly. “I made a vow.”
She smiled the smile of a woman who knows she is wanted. “Then leave.”
“You know I can't. I can't leave you out in the garden unprotected. Someone could try to take advantage of you.”
Daphne gave her shoulders a dainty little shrug and tried to wiggle her hand free of his grasp.
But his fingers only tightened.
And so, although she knew it was not his intention, she let herself be drawn to him, slowly moving closer until they were but a foot apart.
Simon's breathing grew shallow. “Don't do this, Daphne.”
She tried to say something witty; she tried to say something seductive. But her bravado failed her at the last moment. She'd never been kissed before, and now that she had all but invited him to be the first, she didn't know what to do.
His fingers loosened slightly around her wrist, but then they tugged, pulling her along with him as he stepped behind a tall, elaborately carved hedge.
He whispered her name, touched her cheek.
Her eyes widened, lips parted.
And in the end, it was inevitable.
Many a woman has been ruined by a single kiss.
LADY WHISTLEDOWN'S SOCIETY PAPERS, 14 MAY 1813
Simon wasn't sure at what moment he knew he was going to kiss her. It was probably something he never knew, just something he felt.
Up until that very last minute he'd been able to convince himself that he was only pulling her behind the hedge to scold her, upbraid her for careless behaviour that would only land both of them in serious trouble.
But then something had happened—or maybe it had been happening all along, and he'd just been trying too hard not to notice it. Her eyes changed; they almost glowed. And she opened her mouth—just the tiniest bit, barely enough for a breath, but it was enough that he couldn't take his eyes off of her.
His hand snaked up her arm, over the pale satin fabric of her glove, across bare skin, and then finally past the wispy silk of her sleeve. It stole around to her back, pulling her closer, squeezing out the distance between them. He wanted her closer. He wanted her around him, atop him, beneath him. He wanted her so much it terrified him.
He molded her to him, his arms wrapping around her like a vise. He could feel the length of her now, every last inch. She was considerably shorter than he was, so her breasts flattened against the bottom of his ribs, and his thigh—
He shuddered with desire.
His thigh wedged between her legs, his firm muscles feeling the heat that was pouring from her skin.
Simon groaned, a primitive sound that mixed need with frustration. He wasn't going to be able to have her this night—he wasn't able to have her ever, and he needed to make this touch last him a lifetime.
The silk of her dress was soft and flimsy beneath his fingers, and as his hands roved along her back, he could feel every elegant line of her.
And then somehow—to his dying day he would never know how—he stepped away from her. Just an inch, but it was enough for the cool night air to slide between their bodies.
“No!” she cried out, and he wondered if she had any idea the invitation she made with that simple word.
His hands cupped her cheeks, holding her steady so that he might drink in the sight of her. It was too dark to see the exact colors that made her unforgettable face, but Simon knew that her lips were soft and pink, with just a tinge of peach at the corners. He knew that her eyes were made up of dozens of shades of brown, with that one enchanting circle of green constantly daring him to take a closer look, to see if it was really there or just a figment of his imagination.
But the rest—how she would feel, how she would taste—he could only imagine.
And Lord, how he'd been imagining it. Despite his composed demeanor, despite all of his promises to Anthony, he burned for her. When he saw her across a crowed room, his skin grew hot, and when he saw her in his dreams, he went up in flames.
Now—now that he had her in his arms, her breath fast and uneven with desire, her eyes glazed with need she couldn't possibly comprehend—now he thought he might explode.
And so kissing her became a matter of self-preservation. It was simple. If he did not kiss her now, if he did not consume her, he would die. It sounded melodramatic, but at the moment he would have sworn it to be true. The hand of desire twisting around his gut would burst into flame and take him along with it.