Copyright © 2013 Jess Michaels
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Ava wasn’t sure what Rothcastle thought of her, if he was drawn in by the façade of toughness she was currently pretending. But inside, she shook like the final leaf on a dying tree.
This man was…utterly intimidating, not only because he was her enemy or her captor, but because he had an air about him that screamed dark and dangerous. Not to mention, he filled the entire room, he sucked out the air around them, he crowded into her even when he was nowhere near her.
But still, she refused to show him his effect on her. Or at least, she tried not to show him.
He tilted his head to examine her closer and suddenly his expression changed slightly. He no longer had rage on his countenance, but something else just as powerful existed in his stare.
She had seen a flash of it before, in the carriage after her kidnapping, but had dismissed it as ridiculous. Now it was far clearer. He was…
He was attracted to her.
She might be an innocent, and even a wallflower, but she had been pursued enough as a young woman and seen enough other women pursued to know when a man liked her, even wanted her on some level. And the Duke of Rothcastle, her family’s greatest, most terrifying enemy, had desire in his eyes when he looked at her.
It wasn’t an attraction that was entirely unreturned. The first time she saw him, over eight years ago, was at a large garden party in London. She’d only been fifteen, not yet out, and she had looked across the croquet field to find a young man watching her. His bright blue eyes had been so beautiful that she had felt a sudden and strange urge to go to him.
In fact, she might have even moved to do so…until Portia told her it was Rothcastle. At twenty-three, he had already been duke for six years. Why she hadn’t recognized him, she didn’t know, except that she had been kept out of company most of her life. And thanks to her brother and father’s tirades, in her mind she always saw Rothcastle as a monster, not a handsome, stern young man with stunning eyes.
But that was a very long time ago. And the desire he might feel for her now was nothing but a means for her to help her brother, or at the very least escape this pretty prison. She could not be so foolish as to feel a fluttering in her belly when he looked at her like that.
“Well?” she asked and her voice sounded funny, for she had not spoken for what seemed like an eternity.
“Terms,” he said, his own voice rough as his gaze flitted up and down the length of her body. Now his desire turned darker, and her knees went slightly jelly and difficult to stand on. “Yes. I believe we might be able to come to terms.”
The tone of his voice did not give her any joy, but she lifted her chin and refused to shiver. “Such as?”
“Because he hides like a coward in your estate in London, I cannot reach your brother to force him to repay the debt as I would see fit,” he all but growled. She opened her mouth to argue that point, but he held up a hand to silence her. “But you could repay it on his behalf.”
She could hardly breathe. “H-How?”
He looked her up and down a second time, predatory and feral. “With your body.”
She blinked. That erased any doubt that he wanted her, although no gentleman spoke this way to a lady. To an innocent. Though she was an innocent who had heard things and read things. She wouldn’t count herself as a shrinking flower by any means.
“My body,” she repeated, letting the words roll from her tongue slowly. “I suppose you mean my innocence?”
He flushed and hesitated before he spoke again. It was almost as if he was battling with gentlemanly instincts she assumed he did not have to dare entertain such a shocking request—nay, demand.
“Yes,” he finally said, his voice gravel. “Your innocence. And more.”
Ava wanted to respond. Her sense of propriety told her to refuse his insulting request, to lash out at his shocking lack of decorum.
Another part of her, though, a deeper and darker part of her, had questions. She just didn’t know how to phrase them since she could not fully picture this man taking her innocence, taking more, as he put it. And yet the stirrings in her body as she tried were anything but unpleasant.
“I have shocked you,” he said with a faint smile. “Which is to be expected. It has been a long day, and I am certain you long for a bath and bed as much as I do. I will have a tray sent up to you with supper later. And we will discuss our ‘terms’, as you put it, tomorrow at far greater length.”
Ava swallowed, still trying to find something else to say. Except she could find no words, and Lord Rothcastle was moving on her. He stepped closer, closer, until he filled her entire scope of vision.
“But you must have something to think about, some point of reference while you consider my offer,” he murmured, low and utterly seductive. “So…”
He slipped a finger beneath her chin and tilted her face toward his. She could hardly breathe, she couldn’t think as his mouth descended and suddenly his lips were on hers.
The pressure was gentle at first, compensating for her shocked stillness in response. But as she relaxed, her eyelids fluttering shut and her hands coming up to touch his forearms almost against her will, the kiss changed. He slid his hand into her hair and angled her face differently. His tongue slid out to dart along the crease of her lips, and she found herself parting them to allow him the access he asked for.
He delved inside and tasted her. Her world exploded around her into sparkling rainbow fragments. In that moment, as he explored her mouth with his warm, rough tongue, her knees went weak, her body seemed to melt and strong, powerful sensations of pleasure unlike anything she had ever known or felt ripped through her body.
A moan echoed on the air and she realized, quite to her shame, that the needy, wanton sound had escaped from her unruly body. And the moan only seemed to spurn Rothcastle on further. He tugged her closer, gentleness replaced by wild, animal intensity. She was crushed to him, her body molding to his as the kiss deepened, deepened. She was lost in it, and she feared he might be too.
She had no idea where it would have gone. She never knew, for there was a rap at the door that brought reality spiraling back. He all but shoved her aside, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand before he turned and called out, “Enter.”
The uncomfortable butler from the foyer pressed inside. He spared Ava a quick glance and then inclined his head. “Lady Ava’s rooms are ready, as is her bath, Your Grace. Yours has also been drawn.”
Rothcastle…Christian, for now she could not help but think of him by his given name…turned toward her and his face was hard again. No sensuality remained. “I hope I have given you something to think about, my lady. Please follow Sanders. We will speak tomorrow.”
He walked away, out the door and past his servant. Ava stared at the place where he had stood and all but made love to her with his mouth. Then she somehow gathered her composure and made her way to the waiting Sanders. But as she followed him up the stairs, she was keenly aware that her body was different now. The Duke of Rothcastle had awakened something in her with his searing kiss.