Authors: Leda Swann
Tags: #Fiction, #Erotica, #General, #Romance, #Historical
Caroline Clemens pasted a smile on her face as she…
Dominic Savage leaned against the door frame, watching her.
Dominic watched her walk away from him, her hips swaying.
It was nigh on noon by the time they reached…
Caroline was suddenly, horribly aware of the picture she must…
The following morning Caroline sat at the breakfast table with…
“To us,” she chorused, taking a large sip. As the…
As soon as the men were all assembled in the…
Dominic clasped Caroline tightly against him as they walked through…
Caroline sighed happily as they walked arm in arm along…
Dominic hailed the cab and settled into it for a…
Caroline Clemens pasted a smile on her face as she gazed belligerently over the assembled company.
Her insides cramped with fear, but she did not let her discomfort show on her face. At any sign of weakness, the pack would race in for the kill. They did not deserve the satisfaction of watching her crumble. She would outface all the malicious gossip from those old spinsters who had always envied her, and all the false condolences from pretend friends who had come to crow over her misfortune.
Heaven help her, but tonight she could even bear the unfeigned sympathy of the handful of people who genuinely loved her.
She cast her eyes over the sea of color in front of her, looking for the red and gold jacket of Captain Bellamy. He, at least, loved her well. The small matter of her family’s bankruptcy would not matter to him a whit. Only last week, when the rumors of her family’s financial troubles were starting to make the rounds, he had sworn to her that he would love her even if she were a pauper.
The Captain’s earnestness had made her smile at the time, but she clung wistfully to the memory now. Last week she had known only that she could not afford the new pair of kid gloves she needed, even though her old ones were worn and stained. Tonight she knew the whole nasty truth. Her entire family was ruined. Utterly and irretrievably ruined.
At the end of the month their house in Mayfair and all their household effects would go under the hammer. Her father’s untimely death had made absolutely sure that nothing would be left for them to live on. Nothing.
Were it not for her impending marriage to Captain Bellamy, she and her younger sisters and brother would be facing the workhouse. She shuddered. There was no point in dwelling on the horrors of the workhouse—the rough clothes, the hard labor, the poor food that scarcely kept body and soul together, and the disease that carried you off in the end if starvation and exhaustion didn’t claim you first. The Captain would save her from that. He would save all of them.
As she scanned the crowd looking for her savior, her gaze was arrested by that of another man. He was a stranger to her, which in itself was enough to catch her attention. Few strangers successfully braved the close-knit society of London merchant bankers to which her family belonged. Though they took carefully calculated risks in their business dealings, when it came to making acquaintances for their wives and daughters, they eliminated any chance of risk. Only the most impeccably respectable personages were ever allowed to visit or to mingle with them in their infrequent evening soirees.
Caroline allowed herself a wry smile. No doubt those same impeccable personages were now watching avidly from the sidelines, salivating at the thought of ripping her to shreds.
The stranger caught her smile and evidently thought it was meant for him. He raised his eyebrows at her in a friendly if somewhat surprised acknowledgment and returned her smile with one of his own.
Caroline caught her breath at the sight. His smile transformed his face from that of an eminently respectable personage into an enticement to sin. Devilry danced in his eyes, promising delights that she had never dreamed of. His face, tanned a deep brown by the sun, no longer looked weather-beaten and oddly out of place in an English autumn, but somehow full of dangerously alluring mystery.
He stepped forward as if to claim the right to make her acquaintance. Though his figure was stolidly dressed in a dark suit similar to those worn by nearly every other man in the room, underneath the drab clothes he moved sinuously, gracefully, with the barely controlled energy of a panther. He radiated an energy too powerful to stop, wrapped in a gorgeous pelt that begged to be touched despite the obvious danger.
What caught her most about him, though, were his eyes. They hypnotized her; she could not look away. With deliberate focus he held her gaze with his, not allowing her any chance to move away as he came toward her.
“We have met before?” His voice was warm and deep, and it enveloped her in its richness. Though his diction was perfect, his accent was unusually soft and burred, and it fell on her ears like a caress.
She shook her head, still unable to look away from the deep brown of his eyes. “I do not believe so,” she replied, her mouth so dry it was difficult to speak.
“Then allow me to introduce myself.”
She inclined her head slightly. His presence acted like a powerful drug on her. Even if she had wanted to refuse his acquaintance, she was unable to deny him anything. His inexplicable power over her was too strong to resist.
He bowed low over her hand. “Dominic Savage at your service.”
Her tongue sneaked out to lick her bottom lip as he bowed over her hand. He caught the movement and his smile grew fractionally wider.
“Caroline. C-Caroline Clemens,” she replied, giving him her full name without a thought. His effect on her senses demanded such a familiarity.
His eyes narrowed. “You are related to Isaac Clemens, then? The Clemens who recently—”
Anger clutched at her soul at the look of distaste that flashed over his face, though she could not break the spell he cast over her. “Yes, I am,” she broke in coldly, knowing what he was about to say. Her father’s misfortunes would have been whispered into his ear by any number of gossips by now, but she had not thought anyone could be so ill-mannered as to mention it to her face.
The sudden veiling of his eyes finally allowed her to break away from his gaze. Moving her head almost imperceptibly to the side, she removed herself from any danger of being caught in the grip of his inescapable stare. Whatever strange power he wielded over her, she would not be tricked by it a second time. She would never dare to look directly into his face again.
Ah, there was the Captain in the far corner, talking animatedly to Kitty Earnshaw, his bright red jacket standing out from the crowd of black and white. The sight of him was like a breath of fresh country air on a mind clouded with heavily spiced and perfumed incense. She could think clearly once more.
“If you will excuse me,” she said regally to Mr. Savage, inclining her head in polite dismissal. Now that he had learned her name and recognized her as a pariah within this circle of successful bankers and businessmen, no doubt he would be glad to see the back of her. He would not choose to further the acquaintance he had made on a whim.
Neither did she choose to associate with someone so clearly ill-bred. Judged on his manners alone, he was no better than his name—a savage by both name and by nature.
“I’d rather not.”
She blinked, arrested in the middle of gliding away. “I beg your pardon? Is there something wrong?”
“I’d rather not excuse you just yet. I was hoping to talk to you.”
She risked a sidelong glance at him. His look of distaste was gone, replaced by a curious interest. “What do you want to say to me?”
“You are a beautiful woman and I am a stranger here in London. Is it any wonder that I should like to pass a pleasant evening talking to you?”
Nothing could have marked him out as a stranger more clearly than his overfriendly attitude toward a bankrupt’s daughter. “Even though you know who I am?” Did he not know that the taint of her family’s misfortune spoiled everything it touched?
“Especially then.” He placed her hand in the crook of his arm. “Come, talk with me. Entertain me on this dull evening.”
The touch of his arm under her gloved hand sent rivers of fire through her body. “I fear I am a dull companion tonight.” She had to go talk to the Captain, not waste her precious evening with a strange man who made her bones melt.
“Let me entertain you, then.” His voice was a caress, the low tones making her intimate parts prickle with awareness. “I have been away from England far too long and I am starved of the company of Englishwomen.”
She was in no mood to pander to the curiosity of a stranger, or to provide him with the entertainment he was seeking. Besides, the effect he had on her was too unsettling. “I doubt you would have anything to say that I would wish to hear,” she said in her most repressive tone.
Her coldness just made him grin at her. “Should you not listen to me first before you judge?”
“I do not have to listen to the Devil to know that he lies.” She tried to move away but he held her hand in his so she could not escape.
“Touché.” His sudden burst of laughter caught her by surprise. “Though I do not think it very polite of you to liken me to such an old reprobate. All I wanted was to tell you what a beautiful woman you are, how your eyes shine as green as emeralds, and your skin gleams soft in the gaslight.”
No honest man would pay her such extravagant compliments. “If the cap fits…” Her words trailed off into an insulting silence, and she took advantage of the moment to look around surreptitiously for the Captain.
was an honest man and would never tell her that her eyes were as green as emeralds, or clasp her hand to his in an improper fashion.
There he was, still closeted in the corner with Kitty. Unusually, he had not yet noticed her presence among the guests and rushed to her side.
“Who are you looking for so assiduously?” Mr. Savage inquired. “Has your lover misplaced himself?” He followed the line of her gaze. “Ah, the handsome Captain in his regimentals is worshipping at another shrine? Is that what is making you so abrupt?”
“He is not—I mean, I am not—oh, forget I ever spoke,” she snapped.
“He’s no great loss—up to his ears in debt and hanging out for a rich wife, by all accounts. A woman like yourself could do far better.”
His rudeness was matched only by his arrogance and ignorance. “You, for example?” she asked, raising her eyebrows at him in a gesture of disbelief.
“Naturally. I would be happy to stand in the Captain’s place.” He reached out and stroked her cheek lightly with the tips of his fingers. “He will use his aristocratic connections to snare his wealthy wife and will have no time left over for you. You will sleep alone in your bed every night waiting for him to come to you, to stroke your fine white skin and to love your beautiful body.”
The touch of his hand on her face shocked her with its intimacy, yet she could not draw away.
“I would not leave you alone in your bed for a single night if you were mine. I would run my fingers through your hair and caress your soft skin, delving into your most secret places. Not an inch of you would be a secret to me, or remain unexplored by my hands, my mouth, my tongue. Every part of you would be open to me, wet and wild with wanting me. And I would keep you that way every night.”
His fingers, rough and callused from heavy work, were cool against her cheek. She clamped her legs together to stop them from trembling, unable to summon the necessary words to correct his misapprehension. The Captain was not her lover, but her affianced husband. She would be the wife he would lay beside at night, the woman he would turn to and take gently in his arms—
She stopped her thoughts in their tracks. Her lack of experience meant that not even her imagination could take her any further.
“You deserve a better man than the Captain to warm your bed at night. You deserve a man who is generous in all ways, with his money and his time and his affection. You need a man who cares for your pleasure more than he cares for his own to keep you satisfied.” His eyes bored into hers, robbing her of the power to speak. “Is the Captain a man like that? Does he see to your pleasure, or does he rut on top of you like a beast, caring only for himself, prizing you only as a vessel in which to spend his seed?”
His fingertips were on her neck now, raising goose bumps wherever they touched her. She could not shake them away, though whether it was a failure of her will or her body, she could not say. All she knew was that she was caught in his net again, unable to move.
“Does he kiss your white breasts and suckle on your nipples until they tighten into hard nubs under him?” His breath was hot on her neck and his questions the merest whisper of sound in her ear. “Does he stroke your soft pussy with his fingers and watch you writhe in an agony of wanting? Does he caress you with his tongue until you scream with pleasure under him? Then when you are molten with desire, does he fuck you hard and fast like I would fuck you, thrusting my cock into your cunt over and over again until you explode with a woman’s pleasure?”
His last, most shocking words finally broke her free of his spell. “The Captain is a finer man than twenty of you together,” she spat at him, drawing back from his touch as if it stung her. “You are a filthy lecher and you disgust me.” How lowly he must think of her to whisper such words in her ear. He had to be the worst sort of scoundrel to proposition her so baldly in such respectable company.
To her surprise, he gave a bark of laughter. “You are priceless. You look as sweet and mild as a kitten, but under that veneer of softness you are all teeth and claws. Tell me, are all Englishwomen such spitfires when a man whispers words of love into their ears?”
Words of love? She snorted. Mr. Savage did not know what real love was. Love was tender respect and gentle gallantry, not whispered suggestions of lust and deviancy. “I am hardly in a position to judge the temper of Englishwomen. I do not make a practice of insulting them.” She inclined her head in the barest nod and jerked her arm away from him. “Now, if you will excuse me, the Captain will be waiting for me.” And she walked steadily away without stopping for an answer.
The sound of a chuckle followed her. “It was my pleasure meeting you, sweet Caroline. Just remember me when the Captain casts you aside. I will be waiting for you.”
Worshipping at another shrine? Out to snare a wealthy wife? Planning to cast her aside? Mr. Savage’s casual judgment had aimed a shaft of fear straight at her breast.
Would the Captain abandon her now, just when she needed him most? Even though they were contracted in a solemn and binding vow? She did not like to think so. Indeed, she did not
to think so, for if he failed her, she and all her family were lost.