She closed her eyes and thought what it would be like to be Edward’s wife. They would ride about his estates in the mornings, then argue politics and people over supper. He’d drag her to arcane lectures like the present one. And they would share the same bed. Every night.
She sighed. Heaven.
Edward let out an explosive snort. “No, no, no! Even a lunatic knows you cannot follow rye with turnips!”
Anna opened her eyes. “If you dislike the man so very much, why attend his presentation?”
“Dislike Lillipin?” He looked genuinely surprised. “He’s a fine fellow. Simply backward in his thinking is all.”
A wave of applause—and catcalls—signified the end of the lecture. Edward seized her hand in a possessive grip and started shouldering toward the door.
A voice hailed them from the left. “De Raaf! Drawn back to London by the lure of mangel-wurzels?”
Edward stopped, forcing Anna to halt as well. She peered over his shoulder at an exceedingly elegant gentleman in red heels.
“Iddesleigh, I hadn’t hoped to see you here.” Edward shifted so she couldn’t see the man’s face.
Anna tried leaning to the right but was blocked by a massive shoulder.
“And how could I miss Lillipin’s impassioned rhetoric on the subject of swedes?” A hand draped in lace waved gracefully in the air. “I’ve even left my prize roses in bud to attend. By the by, how are the roses you procured from me when last you were in the capital? I never knew you were interested in ornamentals.”
“Edward purchased my roses from you?” Anna pushed around him in her eagerness.
Icy gray eyes narrowed. “Well, well, what have we here?”
Edward cleared his throat. “Iddesleigh, may I present Mrs. Anna Wren, my secretary. Mrs. Wren, this is Viscount Iddesleigh.”
She dropped into a curtsy as the viscount bowed and produced a lorgnette. The gray eyes that examined her through the lenses were much sharper than the style of speech and mode of dress had led her to imagine.
“Your secretary?” the viscount drawled. “Fas-cin-ating. And, as I remember, you hauled me out of bed at six in the morning to select those roses.” He slowly smiled at Edward.
Anna backtracked. “Lord Swartingham was very generous in letting me have a few of the roses he’d purchased for the Abbey garden,” she fibbed. “They’re doing quite well, I assure you, my lord. In fact, all of the roses have branched out, and a few are developing buds.”
The viscount’s icy eyes returned to hers, and a corner of his mouth twitched. “And the wren defends the raven.” He swept another, even more flamboyant bow, and murmured to Edward, “I congratulate you, my friend,” before sauntering away into the crowd.
Edward’s hand tightened briefly on her shoulder, then he grabbed her elbow once more and tugged her toward the door. A dam of bodies blocked the entrance. Several philosophical discussions were being carried on all at once, some by the same people.
A young man paused to watch the arguments with a look of contempt on his face. He wore a ridiculously small tricorn perched atop a yellow-powdered wig with an extravagantly curled tail. Anna had never seen a macaroni, but she’d studied the cartoons depicting them in the newspapers. The young man glanced at Anna as they neared the entrance. His eyes widened and then shifted to Edward. He leaned over and was muttering to another man when they made the sidewalk. The carriage was waiting around the block on a less-crowded street. As they turned the corner, Anna glanced back.
The macaroni stared after her.
A shiver ran down her spine before she turned away.
CHILLY WATCHED THE COUNTRY widow round the corner on the arm of one of the richest men in England. The Earl of Swartingham. No wonder Felicity had held back the name of the widow’s lover. The potential for profit was enormous. And he had a perpetual need of blunt. Quite a bit of it, in fact. The accoutrements of a fashionable London gentleman didn’t come cheaply.
His eyes narrowed as he estimated how much he could demand for the first payment. Felicity had the right idea there. In her latest letter, she’d implored him to contact Anna Wren on her behalf. As Lord Swartingham’s mistress, Mrs. Wren must have loads of jewelry and other valuable gifts that she could turn to money. Obviously, Felicity planned to blackmail Mrs. Wren without letting him in on the scheme.
He sneered. Now that he knew the setup, he could cut Felicity out altogether. She’d never been properly appreciative of his bed skills anyway.
“Chilton. Come to hear my lecture?” His elder brother, Sir Lazarus Lillipin, looked nervous.
As well he should, since Chilly had originally tracked down his brother to ask for another loan. Of course, now that he knew about Anna Wren, he wouldn’t need his brother’s money. On the other hand, that tailor had been quite uppity in his last communication. A little extra blunt never hurt.
“Hello, Lazarus.” He linked arms with his elder brother and began making his pitch.
“Hmm?” Edward furiously scribbled at his desk. He’d discarded his coat and waistcoat long ago, and his shirt cuffs were ink stained.
The candles were guttering. Anna suspected that Dreary had snuck off to bed after sending in their supper on a tray. The fact that the butler hadn’t bothered to lay the dining room table for the meal spoke volumes about his experience with his master after an Agrarian Club lecture. Edward had been writing rebuttals to Sir Lazarus’s ever since they’d returned.
Standing, she strolled over to where Edward worked and began playing with the gauze scarf tucked into the neckline of her dress. “It’s quite late.”
“Really?” He didn’t look up.
She propped a hip on the desk and leaned over his elbow. “I’m so fatigued.”
The scarf came loose over one breast. Edward’s hand stilled. His head swiveled to watch her fingers at her bosom, only inches from his face.
Her ring finger wandered to her cleavage and dipped between her breasts. “Don’t you think it’s time for bed?”
In. Out. In. Out…
Edward surged to his feet, nearly knocking her over. He caught her and tossed her high in his arms.
Anna clutched him about the neck as she tilted. “Edward!”
“Darling?” He strode out the study door.
“If you think, after that little display”—he took the stairs two at a time—“that I’d waste time worrying about the servants, you don’t know me.”
They gained the upper hall. Edward bypassed her room and stopped at his own.
“The door,” he prompted.
She turned the doorknob, and Edward pushed it open with his shoulder. Inside his bedroom, she glimpsed two heavy tables covered in books and papers. More books were stacked haphazardly on chairs and the floor.
He crossed to set her by his huge bed. Without a word, he turned her and began to unhook her dress. She caught her breath, suddenly shy. This was the first time she’d initiated their play when he knew it was her. He didn’t seem repelled by her boldness, however. Far from it. She was very aware of the blunt fingertips brushing her spine through the layers of clothes. The dress sagged about her shoulders, and Edward pulled it down as she stepped out of it. He slowly untied her petticoats one by one and unlaced her stays. She faced him in only her chemise and stockings. His eyes were heavy lidded and intense, his gaze serious as he rubbed one thumb over the shoulder strap of her chemise.
“Beautiful,” he whispered.
He bent and brushed a kiss over her shoulder as the strap fell. She shivered, whether at his touch or the look in his eyes, she didn’t know. She could no longer pretend that this was only a physical act between them, and he must sense her emotion. She felt exposed.
His lips slid along her sensitive skin and he nipped. He moved to the other shoulder and that strap fell as well. Gently, he inched the front of the chemise down, exposing her breasts. Her nipples were already tight. He spread his hands over both mounds, his palms warm and possessive. He seemed to examine the contrast between his dark hands framing her white skin. High on his cheekbones color flamed. Anna imagined her pale pink nipples peeking between his callused fingers, and her head fell back as if weighted.
He lifted her breasts and squeezed.
She pushed herself into his hands. She could feel his gaze on her face, and then he stripped the chemise from her and lifted her to the bed. She watched as he swiftly removed his clothes and he lowered himself beside her. His hand smoothed across her naked belly. She raised her arms to draw him to her, but he gently caught her wrists and placed them by her head. Then he slid down her body until his head was level with her belly. His hands were on her inner thighs, and he pressed her legs apart.
“There’s something I’ve always wanted to do with a woman.” His voice was black velvet.
What did he mean? Shocked, she resisted. Surely he didn’t want to look there? It had been different this morning when she’d been half asleep. Now she was fully awake.
“It’s not something a man can do with a whore,” he said.
Oh, Lord, could she do this? Expose herself so intimately? She craned her neck to look at his face.
His gaze was implacable. He wanted this. “Let me. Please.”
Blushing, she lay back, surrendering to him and his needs. She let her knees fall open, feeling almost as if she were offering a gift of love to him. He looked down as her legs widened, then widened more until he was kneeling between her outstretched thighs, her most private places exposed. She squeezed her eyes shut, unable to watch him examine her.
He didn’t do anything more, and finally she couldn’t bear the waiting any longer. She opened her eyes. He was staring at her body, at her woman’s place, and his nostrils flared, and his mouth curled in a look so possessive it was almost frightening.
Anna felt her opening contract in reaction. Liquid seeped from within her. “I need you,” she whispered.
Then he truly shocked her. He swooped down and swiped right across her wetness with his tongue.
He looked up at her face and slowly licked his lips. “I want to taste and tongue and suck you until you’ve forgotten your name.” He smiled carnally. “Until I’ve forgotten mine as well.”
She arched and gasped at just his words, but his hands were on her hips now, holding her down. His tongue searched through the folds of her femininity, each rasp going straight to her center. He found her clitoris and licked.
And she lost her mind. A long, low moan broke from her lips, and she twisted the pillow on either side of her head with her fists. Her hips bucked. But he wasn’t going to be kept from his objective. He relentlessly tongued the nub until she saw stars and shamelessly shoved her pelvis into his face.
Then he drew her clitoris between his lips and sucked gently.
“Edward!” His name keened from her as a wave of warmth flooded her body, rolling all the way to her toes.
He was up and over her, his penis invading her, before she had time to open her eyes. She shuddered and clasped him as he pounded against oversensitive flesh. And she felt the wave rising again, carrying her endlessly on its crest. Her thighs quivered helplessly open, and she ground her pelvis up against his hardness. He responded by hooking his arms beneath her knees and pushing her legs toward her shoulders. She was as open as possible, exposed and held down as he loved her. As she took all he had to give.
“God!” It burst from his lips, more a guttural than a word. His great body was shaking helplessly, and he stiffened against her.
Her vision fractured into tiny rainbows as he drove his hard flesh into her softness again and again and again. She gasped. She never wanted this moment to end, they were linked right now, in body and in soul.