“Oh, I shouldn’t think for another day or so.” Mrs. Wren’s brow knit in thought. “Perhaps even a week? Surely by the fortnight.”
Felicity felt her smile congeal into a grimace. Good God, was the woman senile? “Quite. Well, I have to go. Errands, you know.”
She could tell by Mrs. Wren’s faltering smile that her parting was less than genteel, but Felicity didn’t have the time right now. She climbed into her carriage, banged on the ceiling, then groaned as the carriage pulled away. Why had Chilly been so indiscreet? And which of her servants had gossiped? When she got her hands on the traitor, she would make sure they wouldn’t work again in this county. Only this morning the squire had become irate at the breakfast table. He’d demanded to know who had been sneaking from her rooms the week before. It had quite put her off her coddled eggs.
If only Chilly had climbed through the window instead of using the servant’s entrance. But no, he’d insisted that the stone on the window ledge would tear his stockings. Silly, vain man. And as if Reginald’s suspicions about Chilly weren’t enough, he’d commented only yesterday on Cynthia’s red hair. It seemed red hair hadn’t appeared in the Clearwater family in living memory. If ever.
Well, of course not, you stupid man, Felicity had wanted to scream. Her red hair doesn’t come from your family. Instead, she’d made some vague references to her grandmother’s auburn locks and hastily turned the conversation to hounds, a subject that always enthralled her spouse.
Felicity ran her fingers over her own perfect coiffure. Why was the squire finally looking at his daughters now after all this time? If that letter turned up on top of his suspicions about Chilly, her standing would take a considerable fall. She shuddered. Banishment to a shoddy little farmhouse was possible. Even divorce, that most awful of fates, might happen to her. Inconceivable. Not to Felicity Clearwater.
She had to find Anna and get that letter.
ANNA ROLLED OVER and punched the heavy down pillow for what seemed like the hundredth time. Impossible to sleep while waiting to be swooped down on by a circling earl.
She hadn’t been surprised early this morning when Fanny, her chaperone by default, had been relegated to a following carriage. That had left Anna to drive alone with Edward in the phaeton to London. She’d been sure to position Jock between them on the phaeton’s seat and had been almost disappointed when Edward hadn’t seemed to notice. They’d driven all day and arrived at Edward’s London town house after dark. Apparently they’d woken the staff. The butler, Dreary, had opened the door in nightshirt and cap. Still, the yawning maids had lit fires and found a cold meal for them.
Then Edward had wished her a polite good night and bid the housekeeper show her to a room. Since the servant’s carriage with Fanny hadn’t yet appeared, Anna had the bedroom to herself. In her room was a small connecting door, and she had grave suspicions about it. The bedroom was far too grand to be simply a guest room. He couldn’t have put her in the countess’s suite, could he? He wouldn’t dare.
She sighed. Actually, he would.
The clock on the mantel had already chimed the one o’clock hour. Surely if Edward was coming to her, he would have done so before now? Not that it would do him any good to try her doors. She’d locked both.
Steady, masculine footsteps thumped up the stairs.
She stilled like a hare overshadowed by a bird of prey. She looked at the hall door. The footsteps drew near, the tread slowing as it reached her door. They stopped.
All of her being focused on the doorknob.
There was a pause, and then the footsteps resumed. A door farther down the hall opened and shut. Anna flopped back on her pillows. Naturally, she was relieved at this turn of events. Very, very relieved. Wouldn’t any proper lady be relieved to find that she wasn’t going to be ravished by a demon earl?
She was debating how a proper lady would present herself at a demon earl’s bedroom for ravishment when the lock on the connecting door snicked open. Edward sauntered in, holding a key and two glasses.
“I thought you might like to share my brandy?” He gestured with the glasses.
“I, um…” Anna paused to clear her throat. “I don’t care for brandy.”
He held the glasses up for a moment longer before lowering them. “No? Well—”
“But you are welcome to drink it here.” Anna’s words collided with Edward’s.
He stared at her silently.
“With me, I mean.” She could feel her cheeks heating.
Edward turned his back, and for a ghastly moment, Anna thought he would leave after all. But he put the glasses down on a table, faced her again, and began removing his cravat. “Actually, I didn’t come for a nightcap.”
Her breath caught.
He tossed the cravat on a chair and pulled his shirt off over his head. Her eyes immediately fixed on his bare chest.
He looked at her. “No comment? I think this may be a first.”
He sat on the bed to pull off first his boots and then his stockings. The bed sagged with his weight. He stood and dropped his hands to the buttons on his buckskins.
She stopped breathing.
Edward smiled wickedly and slowly flicked open the buttons. He hooked his thumbs in the waistband and shucked both pants and drawers with one movement. Then he straightened, and his smile faded. “If you’re going to say no, do it now.” He sounded just a bit uncertain.
Anna took her time looking him over. From hooded ebony eyes to broad muscular shoulders and lean belly to thickening manhood and weighty balls to corded thighs and hairy calves and finally to large, bony feet. The light had been dim at Aphrodite’s Grotto, and she wanted to save this picture of him should she never see it again. He was beautiful standing there, offering himself to her in the candle’s glow. She found her throat was too thick to speak, so she simply held out her arms.
Edward closed his eyes for a second. Had he really thought she would send him away? Then he walked soundlessly to the bed. He halted beside her. Bowing his head with unexpected elegance, he raised one hand to pull the ribbon from his queue. Black silk flowed around his scarred shoulders. He climbed in the bed and crouched over her, his hair tickling the sides of her face. He lowered his head to brush soft kisses over her cheeks, her nose, and her eyes. She tried to lift her lips to his, but he evaded her. Until she grew impatient.
She needed his mouth so much. “Kiss me.” She drove her fingers into his mane and drew his face down to hers.
He opened his lips over hers, taking her breath into himself, and it felt like a benediction. This was so right. She knew that now. This passion between them was the most perfect thing in the world.
She squirmed, trying to get closer to him, but his hands and knees on either side of her body weighed down the sheet covering her. She was trapped. He ravished her mouth at his pleasure. He took his time, roughly, then softly, and then roughly once more until she felt her want melt within her.
Suddenly he reared back on his knees. There was a fine sheen of sweat on his chest, and seed dewed the tip of his penis. She moaned low in her throat at the sight. He was so magnificent, so beautiful, and at this instant in time, he was all hers.
He flicked his gaze at her face, then downward as he pulled the sheet from her breasts. She wore only her shift. He drew the thin garment tight across her bosom and examined the result. She could feel her nipples stiffening against the fabric. Tight and yearning. Waiting for his touch. He leaned down, placed his wet mouth over a nipple, and sucked at it through the shift. The sensation was so sharp she bucked. He moved to the other nipple and suckled that one as well until the tips of her breasts were draped in wet, transparent fabric. He drew back and blew on first one, and then the other nipple, making her gasp and struggle.
“Stop playing. For pity’s sake, touch me.” She didn’t recognize her own voice, it was so husky.
“As you wish.”
He grasped the neckline of the shift and with one motion, tore open the flimsy material. Her bare breasts tumbled into the chilly night air. For a second, Anna was shy. She wore no concealing mask tonight. This was her real self making love to Edward. She had no pretense to hide behind; he could see her face, her emotions. Then he swooped once again and captured her nipple in his mouth. The heated sucking after the coolness of the wet fabric almost sent her over the edge. At the same time, he burrowed long fingers in her maiden hair.
She stilled, breathlessly waiting, as he delicately sought and then found what he searched for. He began an insidious circling with his thumb. Oh, God, it felt so good. He knew exactly how to touch her. She mewled, her hips instinctively following his hand. He thrust his finger deep inside her, and she shuddered in the sudden storm of her climax.
His breath whispered over her closed eyelids. “Look at me.”
She turned her head to the sound of his growl, her eyes still closed in bliss.
“Anna, look at me.”
She opened her eyes.
Edward loomed over her, his face flushed, his nostrils flared. “I am putting myself in you now.”
She could feel his erection nudging at her wet opening. The head began squeezing in, and her eyelids dropped in reaction.
“Anna, sweet Anna, look at me,” Edward crooned.
He was halfway in now, and she struggled to keep her eyes focused. He bent his head and licked the tip of her nose.
Her eyes widened.
And he drove all the way home.
She moaned and arched against him. So right. So perfect. He filled her as if they were both made for this. As if they were made for each other. She curved her thighs around his hips, cradling him with her pelvis, and looked into his face. His eyes were closed, his face stark with want. A strand of inky hair had plastered itself against his jaw.
He opened his eyes then and speared her with their black intensity. “I am in you, and you are holding me. There is no going back from this moment.”
She cried out at his words, and the breath within her chest seemed to tremble. His hips rocked. She wrapped her arms around him and held on as the slide of his penis shoving in and out of her drove all thought from her mind. He quickened his pace and groaned. His eyes were locked with hers; as if he was trying to communicate something unutterable. She touched the side of his face with one hand.
His big body seemed to break apart. He jerked against her hard. She began coming in waves, a joy so exquisite flooded her that she couldn’t contain it. She moaned her rapture. He threw back his head at the same time and bared his teeth in a shout of pleasure. Warmth flooded her womb, her heart, and her very soul.
His heavy body lay on hers, and she felt his heartbeat. Anna sighed. Then he lethargically rolled off her. She curled into a ball on her side, her limbs pleasantly achy. The last thing she felt before surrendering to oblivion was Edward’s hands on her stomach, pulling her back against his warmth.
In the fifth year of her search, late on a rainy night, Aurea stumbled through a grim, dark wood. She wore thin rags that only just covered her body; her feet were bare and blistered, and she was lost and weary. A single crust of bread was the only food she had. In the gloom, she spied a flickering light. A tiny shack stood all alone in a clearing. At her knock, a toothless crone, bent nearly double by age, appeared at the door and beckoned her inside.
“Ah, dearie,” the old woman croaked. “ ’Tis a cold, wet night to be alone. Come share my fire, do. But I fear I’ve no victuals to offer you; my table is bare. Oh, but what I wouldn’t give for something to eat!”
Hearing this, Aurea took pity on the crone. She reached into her pocket and offered the old woman her last bit of bread….
—from The Raven Prince
A high, womanish scream jolted Edward from sleep the next morning. He lurched up, shocked, and stared toward the source of the awful noise. Davis, his gray locks straggling about his grizzled face, stared back in abject horror. Beside Edward, a feminine voice made a sleepy protest. Christ! He quickly threw the sheets over Anna.