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Grey couldn’t keep his eyes off her. Philadelphian women were the cream of the Republic, but damn if this one didn’t exceed all previous definitions. Curling wisps of hair escaped from her indigo bonnet and trailed down her graceful neck. He’d never seen hair that colour—like champagne shimmering in the moonlight.
She looked up, giving him his first full sight of her face. Sky blue eyes, full of aching, longing…and something else. Abject sadness. Haunting.
Something caught in his chest. Something reminiscent of pleurisy. Well, it wasn’t surprising. Philadelphia air was notoriously insalubrious and the day was oppressively damp. He blinked, glancing away. Was he losing his wits? Haunting eyes? What romantic nonsense. If he didn’t know better, he’d think he was getting a fever.
He glanced at his pocket watch. God, time was crawling. He’d arranged this series of lectures to entice potential investors, and last week in Boston had been most profitable. However, today, Mason’s Bookstore was packed with adolescent boys who sat with their mouths agape listening to local captains recount tales of privateering glory. His own speech on how and why to invest in a voyage had been met with yawns and bobbing heads. What a waste of an afternoon.
Shifting in his seat, he sensed her gaze. Lingering. Burning him. Against his will, he turned back to her. Those eyes seemed to reach across the room, directly into him, to touch his emptiness.
What a fanciful notion. His wits must be addled.
She didn’t drop her gaze, as a modest woman might. Instead, she appraised him, boldly weighing and measuring. A hint of her tongue flirted along the seam of her pink lips. Her eyes smouldered as if she’d read his every erotic longing and fantasy in his face.
He shifted again, trying to adjust for the heated blood rushing into his cock. The corners of her mouth turned up and humour glinted in her eyes. Clearly, she found his interest amusing. She found him amusing.
By God, then, I’ll have her beneath me, writhing and begging me to fuck her.
Damned if he wouldn’t.
The fervour of his thoughts shocked him back to his senses. People were talking and laughing and moving around. The lecture was over. He got up to leave, but he found himself standing at the windows, transfixed by the rain sheeting down.
“My goodness.” The breathy, feminine voice hit him low in his gut and he didn’t have to look to know who’d spoken. Something primal pounded through his blood. An urge to turn, grasp her by the back of her hair and kiss her with such brute force she would run.
Shaken, he took several long, deep breaths before he trusted himself enough to turn to her. He looked down to where her head barely met his shoulder and suddenly he was drowning in those azure eyes.
“It’s so hard, isn’t it?” she said in breathy, bedchamber tones.
“Pardon me, Madam?”
“The rain. It’s coming down so hard today. Buckets and buckets full.” Her voice sounded sincere but her eyes glimmered with mirth.
“Yes, it is.” He kept his tone cool, polite.
She stood so close his arm almost touched her breast. So close her tangy, sweet gardenia-like scent became intoxicating.
“Pardon me, Madam, but do you have some question about investing in a privateer venture?”
“Oh, no, they answered all my questions in the lecture.”
“But how could they have? You came in after the part about investing.”
“I didn’t really have any particular questions—I come to all the lectures here.” She glanced at the chalk board on the opposite wall, where the names of the lecturers were posted. “You are Mr Asahel de Grijs Sexton of New York?”
“At your service.”
“Your middle name means grey…like your eyes. Correct?”
“Yes. It’s Dutch.” It had been his mother’s maiden name.
“And you’re here to invest in privateering voyages for the expected war?” She took hold of the curtain’s thick, gold, braided cord.
“I own some ships and take on investors. I also invest in other voyages. It’s a numbers game, for safety.”
She gave a soft sigh… No, it was more like a moan. A lush, bedroom sound that made his lower belly tighten.
“Well, I was wondering…” She caressed her fingers up and down the braided cord in a way that could only be described as suggestive. Sinfully so. Right here in the book store.
A tide of lust like he had never felt before swept through his blood and stiffened his cock.
“I—I was wondering…” She trailed her fingers one last time before she dropped the cord. A half-smile curved her lips.
“Yes, Madam?” The steadiness of his voice amazed him.
“Could you—” She drew her lashes down as she spread her lips in a slow, sensual smile. “Would you be so kind as to give me a ride in your carriage?”
Her inflection left no doubt what kind of ride she meant.
What true gentleman could disappoint a lady? He offered her his arm. “Come, then.”
She raised fine, pale-gold brows. “I cannot be seen leaving here in your company.”
“Drive around the block and wait there. I shall come along presently.”
“It’s raining like the flood. You cannot walk in that.”
“Do you think I shall melt?” Her deep and throaty laugh resonated deep in his balls.
“I think a gentleman doesn’t expect a lady to walk in the rain.”
She laughed again. “Oh, but I am not a lady.”
“Don’t talk like that.” His harsh tone puzzled him. Where had it come from?
“Did my fine silk gown fool you?” She plucked her coarse woollen skirt. Her fingerless nankeen gloves revealed digits reddened as though they habitually spent hours soaked in lye. The sharp contrast with her refined loveliness made his throat burn and he swallowed tightly.
She sighed. He glanced up. Her eyes were sad again and her emotion seemed to touch him in places he’d forgotten had existed. Damn, she was beautiful. How many times had he repeated that today? God, he was making a jackass of himself. But what did she really want from him? She was bold, yes, but she lacked the hardened look of a girl on the town. Maybe poverty had forced her into temporary whoring.
“You need money?” The hoarse terseness of his whisper surprised him.
“I don’t want your money.” She turned her gaze to him. Bold, blue and full of unmistakable longing. “I only want a ride.”
* * * *
Alone with her in the carriage, Grey took her hand and caressed it. Her fingers grated roughly against his. The burning sensation returned to his throat, making him cough. Her eyes were full of that earlier sadness. And longing. Compassion and sympathy flooded him, rendering him incapable of thinking clearly. Making him aware of his own sadness, the emptiness that had been with him so long he’d forgotten it was even there. It was getting to be unnerving. As if there was a cord attached to his innards that she could yank at will.
What the devil was he getting into here?
He kept his life orderly. Free of emotional entanglements and excess. He certainly never spent time indulging his more maudlin emotions. And yet, right now, the combination of sympathy and sexuality was overpowering. Irresistibly seductive.
Maybe he was turning sick. Maybe he was lying in bed right now, delirious with fever.
He squeezed her hand. “What is your name?”
He exhaled her name, cupping her face and rubbing his thumbs over the hollows beneath her cheekbones. The sensation was pure luxury, the texture of her skin like satin cream.
She closed her eyes, lifted her face. Barely aware he moved still closer, he felt her soft mouth under his with a sense of shock. She moaned and opened her mouth, all hot, wet and spicy-sweet, like mulled cider against his tongue.
He moved his hands down her back against the coarse wool of her bodice, pulling her closer. The folds of his cravat rustled, crisply crushing. She cried out. Damn—his cravat pin. He leaned away, stripped his coat off, plucked out the offending pin and came back to her. She laughed and tugged at his cravat until it came loose. Her grip tight on the two loose ends, she pulled him close to her face and held him in place. Her taste was so intoxicating. He ravished her mouth without mercy. She returned his strokes measure for measure until they were forced to stop and pant for breath. Fuck, she was so intense. So willing and wanton and womanly. Her fire consumed him. Part of him—the gentlemanly part—watched appalled as he hooked his fingers around the damp hem of her coarse woollen skirt and pushed it up in one swift motion, baring her to the waist. She gasped, then laughed again.
Her legs, milky white, long and lovely, parted to reveal the pale gold and pink shell of her cunt. He glided his fingertips over her inner thigh. Damn, she had amazing skin. The equal of any lady’s he’d touched. He slid his hand higher, into her apex. She pressed up to meet his fingers, writhing and drenching him with her honey.
He slipped two fingers inside the irresistible, liquid heat. She clenched tight and his cock twitched with impatience. God, he had to be inside her. Now.
She reached for the fall of his pantaloons but he shoved her hands away and wrenched his buttons open. He pressed her back into the plush velvet cushion, then positioned himself for entry. Her hips arched and she sheathed his length in one swift, slick slide. Her sharp cry pierced his ears and he brought his lips down swiftly on hers. She gripped his shoulders fiercely as he moved deep, fast, hard. Her hips met his, thrust for thrust. Her legs gripped his waist to propel him deeper, until the head of his cock banged against the mouth of her womb. At her appreciative cry he continued, fucking her with a brutal abandon.
The smell of their sweat and sex filled the closed, humid carriage. This was what a fuck should be. Always.
Her wet heat convulsed around his hardness, the waves of her pleasure long-lasting and violent. He must withdraw. Now. He tore his mouth away from hers as something between a groan and a sob forced its way past his lips. His whole body shuddered as he withdrew, releasing his seed on her thigh in furious jets.
He touched his forehead to hers. “Dear God.”
* * * *
Beth sat in the farthest corner of the carriage and cast a sideways glance at her dark-haired stranger. The angular cut of his cheekbones and strong, imperious jaw gave him an air of granite-hewn arrogance.
His pale grey eyes cut into her. Hidden behind her worldly-woman smile, her heart fluttered. As if she’d just experienced her first true kiss. As if she’d been truly touched for the first time.
The horses’ hooves. The rain beating on the roof. The distant thunder. The rustle of her skirts as she drew her legs up underneath her. All of them sounded unnaturally loud.
She felt raw, exposed, bleeding.
And she had no one else to blame but herself.
She’d gone to the lecture to meet him. He was an excellent conquest. Blue-blooded, obscenely wealthy, the owner of Sexton Shipping, politically connected and powerful. Once, when she’d been too young to know better, she’d allowed herself to be seduced by a wealthy gentleman. He had promised eternal love, then abandoned her. A bitter lesson but one she’d learnt well. Now she was the seducer. She was very particular, choosing the handsomest and wealthiest of men. To know she could tempt any man of her choosing, even dressed in her shabby clothes, added a perverse thrill, made her dizzy with power. Conquest and control often proved a headier thrill than love.
Then, too, there was the erotic pleasure. She’d always been weak to her sensual drives. Her mother’s wild blood, some would say.
But today it had not been only Sexton’s wealth or handsomeness that had drawn her. It had been the way his frosty eyes had cut into her, stripping her bare of all her secrets. And how they had warmed to silver, shining with such empathy. It was as if he knew her, as if he could see all her faults, all her weak longings and petty spites. Even the tears she shed at midnight, silently into her pillow. And he didn’t judge her for any of it. After that moment of rare soul-to-soul connection, she had to know him. And that had been the problem.
Of course, he had succumbed. Men always did. But today had been different. Her need to experience him gave him a power over her that made her throat go dry and her palms slick. It was time to part ways. She always cut the strings after one encounter. Always left them wanting. It made the conquest all the sweeter.
She flicked the curtain open and gazed out, trying to determine their location. There was nothing to see but the water and grey, rainy sky. She turned back to the gentleman. “Asahel—”
“Grey.” His voice, deep and strong, reverberated in her stomach.
“Grey, I am desperately late getting home.” He reached back and tapped the carriage wall. “You are not so very late. This normally takes longer.” He paused and grinned. “A lot longer.”
“I think it was more than adequate.”
His touch was gentle on her face. “I want to see you again.”
Her eyes caressed his broad-shouldered, powerful yet elegant form. Longing tingled through her, so ardent that fear followed close on its heels. Her heart began to pound. She should never have started this.
“You want to see me?” She laughed with affected lightness. “In the parlour, with my sister in attendance? Shall we have tea and biscuits, or do you prefer wine and cakes?”
His eyes darkened and the tanned skin tightened over his cheekbones. “You want bluntness? All right. I want to fuck you again.”
“It is very hard for me to get away.”
“You must.” He moved closer, a lock of coal-black hair falling over his brow as he took her hand and pulled it to his lap. His erection felt huge and throbbing beneath the nankeen cloth. Again. Already. She closed her eyes and gripped him as tightly as the fabric would allow, her cunt clenching at the recollection of the mind-drugging effect of his lovemaking. A woman could become a slave to this sort of passion.
“I shall be staying at City Tavern. All month.”
His eyes sparkled, making her stomach bottom out.
He described small circles on her palm. “You must come and see me, and soon, too. You must promise—cross your heart.” He traced an X across her left breast.
She arched up and put her lips upon his. As she kissed him in a long, leisurely fashion, her hand slid up to his chest to feel his heart racing beneath. And why shouldn’t it? She was very good at goodbyes.
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