Home » , , , , , , , » The Duke's Mistress (Regency Unlaced 1) by Carole Mortimer

The Duke's Mistress (Regency Unlaced 1) by Carole Mortimer

The hatred churned and roiled inside her as she sat in the shabby hackney coach, watching as Blackmoor’s handsome black town carriage drew to a stop in front of a house a short distance away, in Berkeley Square.
The Duke's Mistress (Regency Unlaced 1)
The Duke's Mistress (Regency Unlaced 1) by Carole Mortimer
She felt so much hatred, it now consumed her every waking moment, and many of her sleeping ones too. Her nights had become full of dreams in which she took her revenge on Blackmoor. It consumed her now too, as she watched Blackmoor step down from his carriage before straightening to his full and impressive height. He replaced his hat upon his head before turning to glance about him with those cold and merciless gray eyes. Almost as if he sensed someone watching him. Someone. He would never suspect that someone was her. Oh no, the high and mighty Blackmoor had no idea she was even in England’s capital. How could he when she had ensured the man he had sent to spy on her all these years was no longer alive to tell him? She laughed inwardly at the knowledge Blackmoor had no idea she had been in London for over a week now. There was also an irony in knowing she had paid for her passage to England with the money she had stolen from the man who worked for Blackmoor. A man who had also deserved to die. It was years since she had been in London, but little had changed in society since she was last here. There had always been gentlemen then looking for a woman with whom they could be unfaithful to their long-suffering wives, and there were now too. In her case, it was an elderly gentleman who believed the two of them had met by accident at one of the museums. Men were so gullible. Especially the older ones. Always so quick to believe anything when confronted with a woman’s tears. Shilton had certainly believed her false name and her story of a hero husband killed in the war against Napoleon and the hardships of widowhood she had suffered since his death. So much so it had not taken much persuasion for him to provide her with a modest house to live in, with a maid, a footman, and a cook to care for her needs. All he required in exchange was the occasional use of her body. She tapped on the roof of the cab and then leaned forward to speak to the driver of the cab through the black widow’s veil that obscured her face. “The name of the house across the square?” “That be Latham House, m’lady.” Ah, the home of the Earl of Latham and his family. The future in-laws of the child. Amelia. So named in honor of her paternal grandmother. The hatred twisted inside her again at the memory of the now-deceased Dowager Duchess of Blackmoor. The old harridan had never approved of her. None of them had. And now the Remington family must all be made to pay for that condescension. Julian Remington, the Duke of Blackmoor, most especially must be made to suffer as she was now suffering. Chapter 2 Latham House, Berkeley Square, London. Thea desired a lover. Not wanted one. Nor needed one. But she most certainly desired and ached for one. A young widow living within the household of her widowed brother—as a family, they did seem to have the most appalling misfortune when it came to the longevity of their spouses—she had become so bored of late with the tedious round of activities being mistress of the house entailed. Especially so on afternoons such as this one, when she was called upon to play hostess to the stultifying company of the dozen or so ladies attending her regular Wednesday at home. Here they all sat in the blue salon of the Earl of Latham’s London home, drinking tea and twittering on about her nephew George’s wedding next month to Amelia Remington, the beautiful daughter of the widowed Duke of Blackmoor. Along with the current dress and bonnet fashions, and the latest scandalous gossip circulating amongst the ton. Afternoons, Thea had begun to think, could be far more pleasurably spent in the arms of a lover. The ladies’ voices faded from her conscious thought and hearing as her lids fluttered closed, her breathing becoming soft and tremulous as she allowed her thoughts to drift off to her imaginary lover. He would be young and handsome, of course. And virile. Oh yes, most of all he must be virile, and versed in all the ways there were to make love to a woman that would give her the most satisfaction, as well as himself. Her late husband, Lord Henry Fitzroy, had been twenty-five years her senior, but even so, he had possessed very little in the way of experience or interest in exploring the possibilities when it came to lovemaking. A short and rotund gentleman, and pleasantly kind of nature, he had failed to inspire flights of romantic fancy in his young bride. In Thea’s imagination, her lover would be physically demanding and tireless, perhaps even a little merciless as he teased and tormented her by holding her pleasure at bay until he was ready to allow her release. After which he would take her to those heights time and time again, until she was too weak, too physically satiated to do anything more than groan and cry out weakly at the intensity of that constant and unrelenting physical onslaught. She had accepted long ago that she was not, nor would she ever be, a great beauty. Her hair was too red and her figure too slender. Her one saving grace during her two Seasons on the marriage mart had been that she was the daughter, and now the sister, of an earl. When Henry offered for her during that second season, her father had considered it a more than suitable match for her. She had been fond of and comfortable with Henry during their four years of marriage, but what she had really longed for was excitement in her lover, even a touch of danger. It was after one of those perfunctory couplings with Henry that Thea had first explored her own aching and needy body, and discovered how much she liked for her nipples to be tweaked and pulled, and occasionally pinched. Further exploration, encouraged by the heat which had gathered between her thighs, had revealed she was very slick and wet there from excitement. That there was also an erect and sensitive nubbin hidden there beneath a hood of flesh. A nubbin that grew even more erect the longer she touched and stroked it, almost like a small cock. It throbbed and pulsed like a small cock too when her stroking grew harder and faster, until she gasped in surprise as unimagined pleasure exploded between her thighs and throughout her whole body, that release also producing an abundance of fluid that gushed from the opening to her sheath. It had taken several nights for Thea to learn of all the pleasures to be found in her own body. Enjoyable explorations during which she had discovered there was a knot of nerves inside her sheath which, once stimulated by her stroking fingers, also caused her to burst into that combustion of breathtaking pleasure. For some inexplicable reason, the thoughts of a man pleasuring her in that way, of his large cock thrusting between her silky thighs, had become more and more frequent of late. Thoughts that so often excited and thrilled her. As they did now. Thea drew in a gasping breath as she quickly opened her eyes and gave an anxious glance about the salon to see if any of the ladies present were observing her as she sat there on the edge of her seat, almost on the point of orgasm. Thankfully, they were all too engrossed in their own gossip to have noticed her distraction or the reason for it. Dear Lord, she must be more in need of a lover than she had imagined if she was allowing herself to become aroused by her thoughts amongst such genteel company, and in the middle of the afternoon. It was all so futile too, an impossibility to think that someone as plain and proper as she would ever find such a physically adept and powerful lover— “His Grace, the Duke of Blackmoor, my lady.” Such a shocked silence instantly fell upon all the visiting ladies that Cross, the Latham family butler, might just as well have announced one of the downstairs maids was running naked in the garden, as the arrival of Julian Rupert Sylvester Remington, the 7th Duke of Blackmoor. The stunned silence was only compounded as the duke now strode into the salon. His cold gray gaze moved swiftly and disdainfully over the assembled ladies before finally coming to rest upon a still-seated Thea. “I wish to speak with you in private.” No polite greeting, no compliments of the day, just a statement of fact. Thea clasped her gloved hands together in front of her as she rose slowly to her feet, as disconcerted by the duke’s arrival as the rest of the ladies present. “I believe my brother is in his study.” As Blackmoor was shortly to become father-in-law to her nephew George, she could only suppose he had called in order to discuss the alliance. Although she believed the marriage contract had been signed some weeks ago. “If I had wished to speak with your brother, then I would have asked for him,” the duke informed her impatiently. “If you would excuse us, ladies?” He looked pointedly towards where the stoic Cross still stood in the doorway. The duke’s voice was so deep and commanding, it was enough to send shivers of apprehension down Thea’s spine. At least she believed them to be shivers of apprehension; they bore a startling resemblance to the quivers of pleasure that consumed her during those fantasies involving her imaginary lover. Perhaps because Julian Remington, as well as being one of the most arrogant and domineering of gentlemen, also happened to be one of the most strikingly handsome. Indeed, as her gaze drifted down to assess the bulge at the front of the duke’s pantaloons, she realized with a flash of alarm that it was he she had been thinking of just now when she imagined having a large and thrusting cock inside her. Aged seven and thirty, the duke stood several inches over six feet tall, with muscular shoulders and a wide chest that surely must task the abilities of his tailor. He also had a flat abdomen, lean hips, and long legs. As usual, he was dressed in his somber black. Thea had always wondered, but never dared to ask, if he wore the color out of love and respect for his long-dead wife. Whatever the reason, he wore an impeccable black superfine today, his linen snowy white, waistcoat a deep gray, with paler gray pantaloons above black and highly polished Hessians. His black hair, as was the fashion, was in a slightly overlong style that curled about his ears and nape. Chilling gray eyes viewed the world with disdain. His nose was aristocratic between high cheekbones, his mouth full and sculpted above a square and determined jaw. Impossible to believe that this arrogantly disdainful gentleman had been born the spare rather than the heir to the dukedom. Unfortunately, his older brother, Robert, a contemporary of Thea’s brother Daniel, had died unexpectedly at the age of four and twenty, necessitating that his younger brother become the duke in his stead. A further shock to the ton had been the marriage of Julian Remington just a week after assuming the title. Although that hasty marriage was explained when a daughter was born into the marriage a mere six months later, only for the new duchess to then succumb to a fever and die when Amelia was still a baby. Thea knew nothing of these events, of course, still being in the nursery herself at the time. The death of the duke’s wife had raised the hopes of all the marriage-minded mamas in Society. Hopes that had been raised in vain, because Julian Remington still remained a widower when Thea had her first Season. Nor had he ever shown the slightest inclination to remarry in the years since. Even though he had long been considered the most handsome and eligible gentleman in all of England. Whispered rumors also hinted that his prowess in the bedchamber was just as unrivaled. Thea now questioned whether or not these rumors were not responsible for the increase of late in the wildness of her sexual longings. If that was the case, then she would be forced to continue fantasizing in vain. For not only was Julian Remington far beyond the reach of a woman as plain as she, he was also the most arrogant, the most condescending, and certainly the most infuriatingly disdainful gentleman it had ever been her misfortune to become acquainted with. He was also so powerful, socially and politically, that many in society, both men and women, openly feared him. A point proven by the way in which all the other ladies in the room had risen quickly to their feet and now murmured their hasty good-byes and thank-yous to Thea before making an undignified scramble towards the doorway in their haste to escape. Thea’s auburn brows rose as Cross closed the door behind himself and the last flustered lady before presumably showing them all the front door. “One day you really must tell me how you do that,” she murmured with admiration. Julian wondered if his ears were deceiving him, or if the always-proper Lady Dorothea Fitzroy really had just complimented him on his rudeness to her female guests. If she had, then it would be the first time she had shown even a hint of approval for anything he did or said. He observed Lady Dorothea now from beneath hooded lids. Something he had found himself doing more than once during the weeks since his daughter, Amelia, became betrothed to this lady’s nephew. Perhaps because he sensed hidden depths beneath that calm exterior? Dark and sensual depths that called to deep and primitive needs of his own. Desires which did not necessitate she be a great beauty. Which was perhaps as well, because she was not. Of mid height and middling looks, and with a figure too slender, Lady Dorothea’s only claim to beauty must surely be that fiery-red hair arranged so fashionably about her undistinguished features. Well, undistinguished apart from the deep-green eyes currently regarding him with cool query. The latter possibly because he had not, as yet, made the polite greeting of a gentleman caller? Julian crossed the room with his usual impatience before taking and bending over the gloved hand she held out to him. His nostrils flared as his senses were instantly assaulted with the scent of a woman’s musk. That tantalizing perfume produced between a woman’s thighs when she was aroused. In Lady Dorothea, it was a flowery and potently spicy musk. A perfume so powerful, his cock instantly began to engorge with interest. Julian straightened slowly as he assessed the lady’s countenance. Unless he was mistaken, there was a feverish glitter to those green eyes, and a becoming flush to her normally pale cheeks. As further proof of her arousal? His gaze lowered to the swell of her breasts as they quickly rose and fell beneath the rounded neckline of her pale green gown. Was that the outline of engorged nipples he could see pressing against the material? Julian breathed in that delicious scent again. Not just of musk but also of heat, implying the juncture of the lady’s thighs was currently very slick and very wet with her juices. But for whom? Lady Dorothea had been surrounded by a gaggle of gossiping women when he arrived, but he had certainly never heard any rumors of her being of that inclination. Which was not to say she was not, of course. Gossip rarely reached his ears, and if it did, it held little or no interest for him. Could another explanation for the perfume of Lady Dorothea’s arousal be that she had only recently left the arms of her lover and not had time to bathe before the arrival of her afternoon guests? A possibility that, for some inexplicable reason, displeased him immensely. She really did smell edible. An addictive scent that continued to make his cock throb. No doubt she would taste as sinfully delicious— “Your Grace?” His jaw tightened as he realized he was still holding Lady Dorothea’s gloved hand. No doubt also the reason for her current expression of confusion. He released her hand immediately before stepping back so that musky scent was no longer invading and clouding his senses. “My daughter informed me at luncheon today that, as the father of the bride, I am expected to dance the second dance at the wedding next month with you.” Thea was pleased for her nephew in having made such an illustrious match as a duke’s daughter, and Amelia was certainly a darling girl. But the duke, having given his approval to the match, and duly made the announcement in the appropriate newspapers, had then chosen to remain aloof from any and all of the wedding arrangements. Not that Thea’s brother Daniel had been of any more assistance, both those gentlemen seeming to feel they had fulfilled their part of the bargain by drawing up the marriage contract and bestowing their blessing upon the union. The wedding itself offered no interest to either gentleman. As Amelia had no mother or other close female relative to help her, it had fallen on Thea to offer her own assistance. Which she had been only too pleased to do. She did not, however, consider the inconvenience of one dance to be too much of an imposition upon the father of the bride. “Your point being?” His mouth thinned. “I do not dance, madam.” Now that Thea thought on it, she could never remember having seen Julian Remington stand up for even one dance at any of the balls and soirees to which they had both been invited over the years, and which he had rarely attended. Even at the betrothal celebrations last month, he had stood apart from his guests filling the ballroom at Blackmoor House. None had the temerity or nerve to approach him either. In truth, Blackmoor was not a man easily approached. He gave a whole new meaning to the word austere. His severity was exacerbated by his somber clothing, those dark colors making his face appear paler and haughtier, and the gray of his eyes more icily merciless— There was that word again. Merciless. This time in reference to Julian Remington. Could this man and the necessity that Thea spend more time in his company since the announcement of George’s betrothal be the reason for her own increased sexual longings? Her spine straightened at the thought. “You do not dance, or you cannot, Your Grace?” Irritation darkened his countenance. “I fail to see the significance of the question, let alone the answer.” If Julian were completely honest with himself, the flow of blood to his increasingly hard cock was making it difficult for him to think at all. To recall why it was he had felt such an urgent need to come to Latham House this afternoon. Perhaps as a diversion from the problem which had plagued him for the past few weeks? Plague being an apt description when it came to Jennifer Brown. For reasons known only to him, he had made a point of knowing exactly where Jennifer was for the past fifteen years. He currently, and for several weeks now, had no idea where she was or what she was doing. A situation he found extremely disturbing, given that Amelia’s wedding was due to take place next month. He prayed that Jennifer would do nothing to hinder or ruin that happy event. Consequently, this dance with Lady Dorothea Fitzroy was the least of his concerns. And yet here he was. Because something about her intrigued him. Drew him to her, in some inexplicable way. Lady Dorothea made no effort to hide her exasperation with his unyielding attitude. “It is tradition.” He raised mocking brows. “When have I ever given the impression I give a damn about tradition?” Never, Thea acknowledged with rising impatience. This gentleman was most certainly a law unto himself, and powerful enough not to ever have to explain any of his actions. Or lack of them. “If it is any consolation, Your Grace, I have no wish to dance with you either.” Those dark brows rose even higher, as if this was the last thing Blackmoor had expected her to say. Thea had already been forced to listen in silence to the twittering of her guests, both this afternoon and at every social gathering since the announcement of her nephew’s betrothal, as to the good fortune of the Latham family in soon being connected in marriage to the Duke of Blackmoor. She had smiled sweetly through all these compliments while offering no comment on the subject herself. Undoubtedly, the dukedom of Blackmoor was an illustrious one, having been bestowed upon the Remington family by Queen Elizabeth the First. Thea could well understand that queen’s favoritism if that first Duke of Blackmoor had been anywhere near as handsome as this one. It was said, after all, that Elizabeth had an eye for a handsome gentleman. Handsome or not, Julian Remington’s distance from the wedding arrangements, and now his refusal to do this one small thing towards the social success of his daughter’s nuptials, was positively the last straw as far as Thea was concerned. “What are you about?” Blackmoor protested as Thea now took a firm hold of his arm and attempted to pull him towards the door of the salon. Being so much larger than she, he had not moved by so much as an inch. “Surely you are not in fear of accompanying a mere woman, Your Grace?” She eyed him challengingly. He scowled darkly. “I believe if—when you know me better, you will realize I fear nothing and no one.” Thea felt another shiver of apprehension run the length of her spine at the underlying threat she heard in that when you know me better. Which she would, of course, when next month this man’s family and her own would be forever and inextricably linked by marriage. “Come with me, if you please.” She gave another tug on his arm, and this time, he reluctantly complied. The expression of haughtiness on his face told Thea that he was only doing so in order to humor the deranged woman he currently considered her to be. The two of them passed the stoic-faced Cross in the hallway before ascending the wide staircase. At the top of the stairs, Thea turned sharply to the right to walk along the gallery before throwing open the double doors leading into the Latham ballroom. It was a room Thea had always particularly liked and spent hours in as a child, admiring the beautiful mirrored walls and gold filigree work surrounding them, as well as the beautiful frescoes of nymphs and cherubs painted on the domed ceiling overhead. She continued walking until she reached the middle of the mellow wood dance floor, at which time she turned to face the duke and placed one of her gloved hands upon a muscular shoulder, and, grasping hold of his other hand, she began to hum the melody of a waltz. Blackmoor appeared livid as he glared down at her, eyes pale and glittering and his cheeks flushed. It was undoubtedly the most emotion Thea had ever seen on that habitually disdainful face. “I do not—” He got no further in his protest as Thea, unconcerned and still humming, tugged him into the dance. It took her but a few seconds to realize she had seriously misjudged him. Not only could Blackmoor dance, but he did so with the same deftness and depth of purpose with which he did everything else. Light on his feet, he now guided her about the ballroom with his fingers tightly gripping her own and his other hand pressed against her lower spine. Perhaps a little too low to be socially acceptable? Thea realized she was no longer dancing in order to prove a point but because she was enjoying herself. More so than she had with any other gentleman she had ever danced with. Most certainly Henry had never twirled her round the dance floor so expertly. Was it not said that the way a man danced was indicative of the way in which he made love? Implying Blackmoor would make love with the same deftness and depth of purpose? She had to stop thinking of this man in that way. She must stop, or she really would become as deranged as the duke already believed her to be. She was slightly breathless when they came to an abrupt halt, her eyes wide as she stared up at Blackmoor. A lock of black hair had fallen onto his forehead, giving him a slightly rakish appearance so at odds with his usual hauteur. Those gray eyes now looked down at her with warm appraisal, and there was the lightest of flushes to the hardness of his cheeks, no doubt also from their exertions on the dance floor. She had intended teaching this impossible duke how to dance if he could not do so, and instead she had discovered that being with him like this excited her more than she had known was possible. What air there was in the room now seemed to be charged with— With what? Sexual tension? Awareness? Whatever it was, Thea’s breasts once again felt full and aching, the tips sensitive as they rubbed against the soft material of her chemise. Her cheeks became unbearably hot as she realized that stillness of air was becoming saturated with the aroma of the arousal now slicking her thighs and dampening her drawers. A musky scent that Julian Remington surely could not help but also be aware of. Chapter 3 “What, or should I say who, were you thinking about when I arrived earlier?” Thea felt stricken as she stared at him. “I have no idea what you mean.” “No?” He could not know of her wild flights of fantasy earlier. Her arousal. Could he? “How old are you?” “A gentleman does not enquire as to a lady’s age.” She attempted to step away from Blackmoor, only to have him grasp one of her wrists within his long and elegant fingers. A hold Julian maintained despite her gentle tugging. “I ceased being a gentleman in regard to you some minutes ago. When you forced me to dance, in fact,” he added harshly. She gave an inelegant snort. “I do not believe you could ever truly be forced into doing something you did not wish to do.” “True.” He gave an acknowledging inclination of his head. “Why do you never dance in public?” Why? Because dancing required Julian make conversation with a woman. That he become her captive audience for the duration of that dance. There was no woman in or out of society with whom he wished to spend even that amount of time in conversation. Bedding a woman was one thing, actually having to talk with her something else entirely. Although he did not seem to be having any problem conversing with Thea Fitzroy. Or she with him. “Why did you really bring me here?” His voice lowered to intimacy. Color warmed her cheeks. “I— I thought I could teach you to dance if you could not do so.” His jaw hardened, eyes narrowing. “You will find I can forgive some things, but lying is not one of them.” Thea’s mouth felt unaccountably dry at the steel in his tone. “I have no idea what— You are holding me too tightly, Your Grace.” His fingers slackened just enough so that they were no longer painful. “I demand and expect honesty.” “And may I expect the same honesty from you?” “Always.” She felt a delicious shiver of pleasure down the length of her spine at the promise she now heard in his voice. Promise of what, she was unsure. “Then why, if you are so set against it, having first allowed me to bring you up here to the ballroom, did you then let me lead you into the dance?” “You are sure you wish for my complete honesty in this matter?” No, Thea was no longer sure of anything in regard to this man. He seemed less haughty here in the privacy of the empty ballroom, and his conversation had certainly taken on a more familiar tone than it ought to have done. Than polite society allowed. “Always.” Her chin rose as she repeated his own reply back at him. He raised one dark eyebrow. “I came to the ballroom with you because I was curious as to your motivation. I allowed the dance because, having breathed in the delicious aroma of your arousal downstairs, the closeness of our bodies as we danced enabled me to indulge in more of it.” Thea now felt the color drain from her cheeks as she realized that Blackmoor did know of her fantasies earlier because he had smelled her arousal. “Who were you thinking about?” You, came the true and honest answer. She had been thinking of this man. Fantasizing about him. Imagining him doing those—those things to and with her. She swallowed. “No one in particular.” His head tilted to one side as he studied her closely. “Are you sure?” “Yes,” she hissed. He nodded acceptance of her answer. “Your pulse is racing.” He stepped closer to her, his height and size instantly intimidating. “Did our dance together cause you more excitement?” He breathed in deeply. “Ah, so it did.” He gave a hard smile of satisfaction. Had Thea ever been so embarrassed? So utterly humiliated? So utterly caught out in my shameful response to this man’s proximity. “You did not tell me your age, Thea,” the duke pressed. She felt unable to look away from that compelling and devilish—satanic?—face. “I am…five and twenty.” “A little young for my tastes, but that cannot be helped. Do you currently have a lover?” Julian probed huskily. “Whether I do or I do not is none of your concern!” Her eyes flashed her resentment at the nature of his questions. “I am making it so.” She drew in an exasperated breath. “This really is beyond all politeness.” “If you expect politeness from me, Thea, then you will always be disappointed,” he drawled. “Only my family is allowed to call me Thea.” Her usual air of unflustered serenity was in danger of completely deserting her at this man’s familiarity. “I will become a part of your family once my daughter marries your nephew.” “Hardly,” she scoffed. She was right, of course; Julian had little time for the family he did have, let alone the in-laws he was shortly to acquire. Except for Amelia, of course. His love for his daughter was unimpeachable. And his one weakness. A weakness he had long ago taken such pains to ensure could never be used against either him or Amelia. Damn it, he refused to think of Jennifer now, when Thea Fitzroy, with her surprising sensuality and responsive body, was proving to be more than an adequate diversion from such disturbing thoughts. As he had known that she would be? Julian could barely claim to have even noticed her existence until the betrothal ball the previous month. An evening when she had proven to be a more than adequate hostess of the celebration. She had been wearing a pale mauve gown that evening, its pastel shade a perfect foil for the rich red of her hair and her smooth ivory complexion. Julian had found himself watching her beneath lowered lids that evening. As she smiled warmly at his guests. As she danced lightly about the ballroom, first with her brother and then with several of the single gentlemen present. As she laughed huskily, a blush to her cheeks, in response to something one of those gentlemen had said to her. A compliment, perhaps, or something flirtatious. Whatever the cause, Julian had only just stopped himself from visibly scowling his displeasure. At the same time as he promised himself he would one day be the cause of those blushes. “Perhaps I am willing to make an exception in your case.” He caressed the inside of her wrist with the soft pad of his thumb and instantly felt the leaping of her pulse. Thea Fitzroy might try to verbally deny the sexual connection between the two of them, but the responses of her body did not lie. “Now answer me as to whether or not you currently have a lover?” he repeated briskly. She breathed audibly. “I do not.” “But you would like one.” It was a statement not a question. “Your Grace—” “Remy.” “Remy?” She frowned her puzzlement. “So quick to obey. I like that.” Julian gave a hard smile of satisfaction. “I was questioning the name,” she snapped. “Not agreeing to call you by it.” “Oh, but you will,” he assured her softly. “Before we are through with each other, you will call me many other names too.” “Such as presumptuous? Dictatorial? Deluded?” She tilted her head back in challenge. “Such as lover.” She gasped. “You are arrogance personified!” He laughed softly. “I should spank your bottom for that.” He chuckled again as she gave another gasp, this time of outrage. “But I believe I will save that for another day. When we are less likely to be interrupted.” His eyes narrowed. “I do not like to play games, Thea. Not with the truth, at least,” he added firmly. “I have admitted I desire you, and you desire me— Do not attempt to deny it, because I can smell how your musk has deepened in the last few minutes as we danced and are now talking so intimately together.” “I do not even like you—” “I do not recall asking that you like me.” His hand tightened about her wrist as he now turned her so that her back was pressed against his front, his arm across her waist holding her in front of him as she faced forwards. Dozens of their reflections in the mirrored walls stared back at Thea. He so tall and dominating, and she held a prisoner against his muscular chest. Her face became flushed with awareness of the long length of his arousal pressing against the cheeks of her bottom. “Liking is far too insipid an emotion for what I want from you.” The warmth of the duke’s breath now caressed the fevered flesh of her bared throat. “I wish for you to feel only desire when we are together. A frenzy of it, in fact. The sort of desire that must be satisfied, no matter whom we are with or where we are. Such as now,” he added softly. Thea felt powerless to stop him as his gaze held hers in the mirror and he slowly began to lift up the skirt of her gown. Slowly revealing her ankles, knees, and then her thighs, his hand a soft caress against the bared flesh visible between her stockings and drawers. “Are you wet?” He didn’t wait for her to answer before his hand cupped between her thighs. “So you are. Deliciously so,” he murmured his approval as his fingers now deftly parted the slit in her drawers to reveal her red-gold curls. Thea found it impossible to look away from the dozens of reflections of the two of them as Blackmoor’s fingers now delved inside that slit in her drawers, parting her red-gold curls before dipping into the flow of her juices. “You are so wet and open for me, Thea,” he murmured his approval. “And your little nubbin is as fully aroused as my cock.” He slowly stroked his hardness along the crease separating the cheeks of her bottom. She gasped as his fingers first squeezed and then began to lightly stroke her exposed and swollen nubbin, her mesmerized gaze watching the deftness of his fingers in the mirrors, each stroke causing her to arch longingly into the caress as her traitorous body begged for more. “Patience, Thea,” he taunted softly. “First we will establish some rules between us.” She blinked. “R-rules?” He nodded. “You will call me Blackmoor when we are in the company of others. Julian when you are in the throes of orgasm.” He gave her clitoris a pinch, causing Thea to buck and groan. “Remy when you are asking me to fuck you.” She gasped. “I will not— Oh, please…!” Thea’s legs almost buckled beneath her as those caressing fingers rubbed deliciously against her throbbing nubbin. “Please, Remy,” Blackmoor pressed. “I cannot—” “What you cannot do, Thea, is continue to be so formal when I have my fingers inside you.” Two of his slickened fingers now pushed inside her channel, unerringly finding that sensitive knot of nerves it had taken her nights of exploration to discover inside herself. Her nubbin became a painful throb as he slowly thrust and stroked those fingers inside her, continuing to hold her balanced on the edge of release. “Say ‘please fuck me harder, Remy,’” he prompted throatily. “Remy.” Her plea was a gasping sob, her throat arched as her head fell back against his shoulder. “Oh, please, Remy!” “Say all of it, Thea,” he rasped. “Now.” “I cannot— No!” she cried out as his fingers slid out from inside her before he removed his hand completely, releasing her before stepping back and allowing her gown to once again fall to her ankles. Thea could have screamed with disappointment, with the grasping emptiness between her thighs. She turned to face him. “Why have you stopped?” He shrugged those wide shoulders. “You failed to obey me.” To Thea’s shame, tears now stung her eyes. “Because I cannot say such words.” He looked down the long length of his nose at her, once again every inch the cold and disdainful Duke of Blackmoor. “You can and you will do so, if you wish the two of us to continue along this path.” There was something so commanding in his tone. So uncompromising. “I— But you cannot leave me like this.” Those humiliating tears now balanced on her lashes, her body an agonizing throb. “Oh, but I can, Thea,” he assured her with satisfaction. A satisfaction she could see he refused—would not allow her, until she did as he instructed. Could she do that? Could she say those shameful words he now demanded of her? “Tell me, Thea, is it that the word fuck shocks or excites you?” he prompted softly. Her cheeks burned, her lashes lowered as she looked down at the floor. “It shocks me, of course.” “Why do I not believe you?” he drawled. “Because you enjoy scandalizing me?” She glared at him, gloved hands clenched into fists at her sides. “Because you are every inch the cold unfeeling devil society says that you are?” Thea’s feelings of humiliation were such they had pushed her well beyond any feelings of caution. She no longer cared about any awkwardness this encounter might cause her to feel in future. Her actions today, in allowing this man to touch her so intimately, had already put her well beyond any such concerns. She would get through the wedding next month somehow, and then thankfully, the next forced meeting between the two of them would not be until the christening of any children born into Amelia and George’s marriage. She might even be able to claim a sick headache for them and so avoid there being any more meetings at all between herself and Blackmoor— “You would do well not listen to any gossip concerning me, Thea.” His voice was hard and clipped. “What people do not know, they will make up. Now say you are sorry, and let us continue with our conversation.” She blinked. “But I am not sorry.” Society did call Blackmoor a cold, unfeeling devil. Along with many other things. Arrogant. Disdainful. Heartless monster. Today she had learned firsthand that he deserved every last one of those accusations. He sighed. “Continue in this stubborn vein and I will not allow you to come tomorrow evening either.” Her head snapped up. “Tomorrow evening…?” “You are attending the Harringtons’ masked ball as chaperone to Amelia and George, are you not?” “Yes…” He nodded. “I had not intended going myself, but today has changed my mind. I will overlook your…disobedience of just now and put it down to a widow’s skittishness on your part, if you present yourself to me at the ball tomorrow evening without your drawers.” Thea knew she should tell him to go to the devil, where he almost certainly belonged. That she should scorn and dismiss him. That she should— “What are you doing?” she gasped as he lifted his hand to his mouth and began a slow and leisurely licking of his fingers. The same two fingers which minutes ago had been inside her. Which must now taste and smell of her. “Delicious,” Blackmoor murmured softly, pale gaze holding hers captive as he lowered his hand but continued to lick the taste of those juices from his lips. “I am already looking forward to the time I am able to gorge myself on your pussy.” Gorge himself on…? Could he possibly mean to put his mouth on her down there? “Ah, I see from the shocked curiosity in your expression that you have not experienced that particular delight as yet,” he murmured mockingly. “I take it Fitzroy was not an adventurous lover?” “You will leave my husband out of this!” “By all means,” Blackmoor drawled. “None of your lovers since his death have satisfied you in that way either?” “There have been no other lovers,” she denied heatedly. His brows rose. “Can you possibly be saying that you have not taken even one lover since Fitzroy’s death two years ago?” Her cheeks burned with embarrassment at his obvious surprise at her celibacy. “I was in mourning for the first year, and since then there has been no opportunity or—or—” She refused to admit to this arrogant man that she had not been approached by so much as a single gentleman intent on becoming her lover during the past two years. It was too humiliating. “But you cannot have gone completely without release all this time, have surely pleasured yourself?” Thea began to tremble, not just because of the intimacy of the question, but because Blackmoor was once again standing far too close to her, his presence and the lemon-and-sandalwood smell of his cologne at once overwhelming. “I do not… It is not…” “You have.” He nodded knowingly. “I did not say that.” The wings of color had become a permanent fixture in her cheeks. “You did not have to,” he assured softly. “You will not touch yourself today or tonight, Thea.” His voice hardened. “No matter how much you might wish to do so. If you obey me in this, and also leave off your drawers tomorrow evening,” he continued as Thea would have spoken, “then I promise I will fulfill all your fantasies, no matter how debauched.” Thea had every intention of going to her bedchamber and relieving herself of this throbbing arousal as soon as Blackmoor had departed. He would never know— “I will know, Thea.” She looked up at him quickly, seeing by the hard glitter of his gaze that he did know exactly what her thoughts had been. “I will know, Thea,” he repeated coldly. “I have allowed you a certain indulgence today because you are not yet accustomed to thinking of me as your lover. But if you lie to me again, or disobey me, then I will never touch you again.” Thea’s knees were now shaking so much they were in danger of no longer supporting her. Because she wanted Blackmoor to touch her again. Because she ached for his touch, the pleasure he promised. He had already given her a pleasure so much more intense, exciting, more thrilling than any she had experienced during her marriage or while caressing herself alone in her bed at night. She gave a shake of her head. “I am neither fashionable nor beautiful.” She knew Blackmoor’s wife was reputed to have been both those things. As had the women he had bedded during the seventeen years since his wife died. “Nor am I voluptuous.” Again, as his dead wife and those other women had been. “Truly, I am none of the things a gentleman such as you requires in his bed.” That hard gray gaze observed her from head to toe for fully a minute before he answered her. “Your looks are…different. But intriguingly so. The size of your breasts is more than adequate. More importantly, you are exceedingly responsive to my touch. What else does a man require in a woman?” Vivaciousness? Sensuality? Perhaps even the art of scintillating conversation? Thea possessed none of those things. Blackmoor reached out and tweaked one of her swollen nipples, giving a hard grin of satisfaction when she failed to suppress a groan of aching pleasure. “Tomorrow evening, I will take these out and play with them properly.” He tweaked the other nipple. “Then I shall suckle and bite—” “Please stop!” Thea protested weakly. She was once again on the edge of release, just from listening to this man talk of these intimate things. “Perhaps you would prefer we talk of the things I shall ask of you?” he continued conversationally. “Have you ever sucked a man’s cock, Thea?” Her gaze instinctively moved to that telling—and very large—bulge in his pantaloons. Would he really expect her to take his member into her mouth and suck it? “Yes, I shall expect you to do that, and sooner rather than later,” he answered her thoughts. “You see, your mouth is as hot and wet as your pussy, and once my cock is inside, thrusting in and gliding out, then it, and consequently I, shall have no interest in differentiating between the two.” Did he mean that he… That he would… That his cock would… “I see we have many hours of pleasurable exploration together ahead of us,” Blackmoor drawled. “What mask and gown will you be wearing tomorrow evening?” “Sorry?” Thea’s thoughts were still lost in the intimacies he had been describing to her. Intimacies she had never so much as dreamed of. “I deplore the wearing of masks and the powdering of hair in order to disguise one’s appearance,” he dismissed harshly. “But I appreciate you will most likely be doing so at the Harringtons’ ball tomorrow evening?” And he, obviously, would not be able to tell which lady she was without that information. Because she was so unremarkable in both her looks and bearing. And this man, Julian Rupert Sylvester Remington, was remarkable in every way, from the top of his glossy dark head to his highly polished boots. “You will answer me now, Thea.” She gave a pained frown. “Why are you doing this, Blackmoor?” He raised dark brows. “Do you wish for another demonstration already?” Of his desire for her? Or her unmistakable desire for him? Was Blackmoor playing with her for his own amusement? Secure in the knowledge she would not expose him to her brother at the risk of also exposing how shocking her own behavior had been today? She gave a shake of her head. “I am wearing a silver mask with an emerald gown.” Blackmoor gave a nod of approval. “Until tomorrow evening.” He picked up her hand to brush it against his lips. “I will see myself out.” He gave her a formal bow before leaving her standing alone in the middle of the empty ballroom. What was that old adage? Be careful what you wish for. Just a short time ago, Thea had wished for a lover. She had never, in her wildest fantasies, imagined that lover could or ever would be the haughtily unattainable Duke of Blackmoor. Chapter 4 Julian ignored the stares and the gossiping behind ladies’ fans as he stood unmasked and deliberately unapproachable in the Harringtons’ overcrowded ballroom the following evening. He had questioned his own sanity many times in the past twenty-four hours in regard to his behavior towards Thea Fitzroy. More than questioned it as he pondered on what it was about her he found so sexually arousing he would willingly put himself through the torture of attending a ton ball in order to see and be with her again. He had dismissed his last mistress over a year ago, bored with her and the arrangement. None of the women he had bedded since had taken his fancy enough for him even to consider making her his permanent mistress. Until yesterday. Yesterday, Thea Fitzroy’s arousal had made him hard, and he had remained in varying degrees of that state all the hours since. He had several times thought of relieving the problem himself, but as he had instructed Thea not to do so, he thought it only fair that he practiced the same control. Anticipation, as the clergy were fond of saying, being good for the soul. And fucking, Julian acknowledged wryly. A good fucking would be very good for his body right now, if not his soul. In truth, he had been half expecting Thea’s brother to come knocking on his door since yesterday to express his outrage at Julian’s behavior towards his young and widowed sister. The fact that Latham had come nowhere near had increased Julian’s respect for the lady. He wondered if Thea would also comply with the instructions he had given her. Not to touch herself, Not to wear drawers this evening. The lengthy wait for her arrival was certainly doing nothing to improve his temper. Or the fact that he was once again as hard as bloody stone beneath his pantaloons. Where the fuck was she? He had left the house earlier to go to his club and pass an hour or two in the company of friends before attending the ball, but he knew his daughter expected Thea and her nephew to call for her shortly before nine o’clock, and it was now almost ten. Perhaps they had been involved in a carriage accident— Julian’s attention sharpened, his eyes narrowing as he took in the appearance of the party now arriving in the ballroom. He easily recognized his daughter in the cream silk gown he had purchased for her to wear this evening. George Somersby he also recognized, as the younger man paid close attention to Amelia. It was the woman who accompanied them, wearing a gold mask and a shockingly red silk gown, who held Julian’s complete and rapt attention. As with the other female guests, for the sake of disguise her hair was powdered, the off-the-shoulder design of her gown revealing a scandalous amount of bared flesh, the low neckline only just stopping short of revealing her nipples. Her lips—the only feature visible beneath the gold mask—were a red and tempting pout. A woman who was unmistakably Thea Fitzroy. Wearing a gold mask and red gown, and not the silver mask and emerald-colored gown she had told him she would be wearing. In defiance of him? Julian instantly felt the need to lay her facedown over his knee, the red gown thrown up to her waist, her drawers—if she had dared to disobey him completely—pulled down to her knees as he paddled her ass for attempting to deceive him. For also daring to show so much of herself to all the other men in the room, most of whom were transfixed by the arrival of the mysterious and beautifully sensuous woman in red. Mine, Julian growled inwardly as he strode purposefully across the ballroom towards her. Thea had been unsure she would ever find occasion to wear the scandalous red silk gown which Amelia persuaded her into purchasing several weeks ago as the two women shopped together for the young girl’s wedding clothes. Considering the sensation her appearance seemed to have now caused in the Harringtons’ ballroom, Thea knew she had been right to feel that uncertainty concerning its being suitable wear for a young widow. Her only consolation was none of the guests were announced at a masked ball, and the anonymity afforded by her golden mask meant that hopefully not too many people would realize that the woman in red was in fact the prim and proper widow Lady Dorothea Fitzroy. Although the unmasked man currently powering himself single-mindedly across the crowded ballroom towards her seemed to be in no doubt as to her identity, despite the fact she was not wearing the mask or gown he had been told to expect. The ice in Blackmoor’s eyes stripped even that revealing red gown from her body, at the same time as it issued a warning that she was to be punished for attempting to deceive him. A delicious thrill traveled the length of Thea’s spine in anticipation of that punishment. Dear God, what is wrong with me? Was she so very bored with her life at present, so in need of that excitement and adventure, she was even willing to deliberately goad Blackmoor into some wicked action? “Papa!” Amelia’s pleasure in seeing her father here was the complete opposite of Thea’s own feelings. “Amelia. Somersby.” The duke nodded curtly to the young couple. “I have come to steal Lady Dorothea away for our promised waltz together.” Having made the abrupt announcement, he took a firm hold of Thea’s arm and led her onto the dance floor. Leaving Amelia and George agape, along with the rest of the Harringtons’ guests, as the Duke of Blackmoor publicly took to the dance floor for the first time in seventeen years. “It is usually polite to ask a lady if she wishes to dance.” Thea seethed at being the focus of so much attention as the duke held one of her hands tightly within the grip of his, his other hand pressed firmly against the dip of her spine. “You forfeited any politeness from me the moment you decided to deceive me in regard to your appearance this evening,” he bit out between clenched teeth. “A lady is allowed to change her mind about the gown she chooses to wear,” she challenged. “Not when that lady has informed her lover otherwise.” Thea had managed to convince herself that the intimacies of yesterday had been a figment of her imagination. A fever of the brain, perhaps, brought on, no doubt, by her increasing need for sexual release. Because she could not believe the cold and haughty Julian Remington could really have said and done all those things to her yesterday in the Latham ballroom. His conversation now said the opposite. That it was all true. Every last word and caress. “You are not my lover.” Was it Thea’s imagination, or was Blackmoor deliberately waltzing the two of them across the floor, in between the other dancing couples, and in the direction of the open doors leading out onto the terrace? “Are you wearing drawers?” He was taking them both towards those open doors. “Did you touch yourself last night too?” Thea panicked at the thought of going outside on the terrace alone with this coldly angry man when he must be able to see the answer to his question in her guilty expression. Because she had not obeyed his instruction and had pleasured herself last night. Something she was sure Blackmoor was aware of as his mouth thinned in his displeasure. Julian’s arm tightened about Thea’s waist as he sensed she was about to foil his intention of taking her outside. “You do not want to make a scene,” he warned softly. “Think of the embarrassment to Amelia and George,” he added as he danced them both out the doors onto the candlelit terrace. “You are the one who will have caused a scandal by bringing me outside alone to the terrace.” She pulled roughly out of his arms to glare at him through the slits of her mask. “Far better we are out here together than that I bare and spank your backside in front of everyone,” he murmured without heat. “You would not dare!” she hissed. Julian chuckled at her vehemence, his anger disappearing as quickly as it had arisen. He could not remember enjoying a woman’s company as much as he did this one. Certainly, laughter had not been a part of his previous liaisons. Perhaps he was being too strict with her? Expecting too much too soon? After all, he knew from their conversation yesterday that taking a lover was all new to her. They would both need time to…adjust to each other’s needs. Yes, perhaps he was being a trifle harsh, and the spanking could wait for another misdemeanor. Which, taking into account her surprisingly rebellious nature, were sure to be many. “Did you obey me at least in regard to not wearing drawers?” he prompted huskily. She eyed him uncertainly, warily, much like one of his skittish mares did when being coaxed into being covered by the stallion. “I…” She moistened her lips. “This silk gown is rather warm, the cut rather low, and so I—so I decided I would forego wearing any undergarments.” Her gaze no longer quite met his. Julian decided her lack of undergarments proved she had not intended to be completely defiant. He knew this woman to be passionate and responsive beneath her veneer of respectability. A veritable feast to be savored and explored at his leisure. As he wished her to explore him. Talking of which… He clasped one of her gloved hands within his to walk down the steps into the moonlit garden. Thea had little choice but to accompany the duke when he had such a tight grasp of her hand. “Where are we going?” “Somewhere private.” “What are you going to do to me?” “Punish you, of course.” He spoke so dispassionately. So dismissively. Almost as if he were discussing the weather instead of—instead of— Of what? What form would his punishment take? Did he intend spanking her, as he had just threatened? Or perhaps he would arouse her and play with her, as he had yesterday, before once again denying her release. Blackmoor gave her a sideways glance. “I trust I have more…imagination than to repeat myself so soon in our relationship.” Thea’s cheeks warmed at his having correctly read her thoughts. She also knew, whatever form this punishment was to take, she should not be looking forward to it quite so much as she was. Perhaps she had even hoped her defiance might lead to this? Her anticipation and excitement grew as they continued down the garden towards where she could see a rose arbor, the addition of more lighted candles there obviously an encouragement to the Harringtons’ guests to explore, even seek out this seclusion. “Blackmoor—” “Julian,” he invited huskily as he turned to face her once they had stepped into the privacy of the rose arbor. What had he said to her yesterday? She would call him Blackmoor when they were in company, Julian when in the throes of her release, and Remy when she was begging him to fuck her. She looked about the seclusion of the arbor, lit by the candles, the air perfumed with the scent of the many roses. “Remove your mask, if you please.” Her gaze skittered back to the austereness of Blackmoor’s expression. A coldly handsome face which had no need of a mask when he hid his thoughts and emotions so well without one. “Why?” He bared his straight white teeth in a hard smile. “Because I asked so nicely?” He had asked, Thea acknowledged, rather than issuing one of those orders he seemed so fond of barking out and expecting to be obeyed. One of her hands moved slowly up to the fastening of her mask, pulling and unfastening the bow before allowing the mask to fall into her waiting hand. She instantly felt naked without the cover that hid it was the respectable Lady Dorothea Fitzroy wearing this revealing red gown. “Thank you.” Blackmoor gently took the mask from her hand and placed it on the wooden bench behind him before shrugging out of his jacket and laying it at his feet. “Now kneel between my legs and unfasten my pantaloons.” He sat to lean back against the bench seat, legs splayed wide. Her eyes widened in alarm. “Why?” He gave a wicked smile. “Oh, I think you know exactly why, Thea. You see, unlike you, I did not pleasure myself last night.” His expression was reproving. “An oversight I am now asking you to rectify.” He wanted her to… He expected her to… No, he asked. What he asked was that she kneel between his legs, unfasten his pantaloons, and… And what? Thea felt sure that it involved his cock and her mouth, but other than that, she had no idea how to do as he asked. “My groans of pleasure will guide you,” he encouraged softly at her hesitation. Groans of pleasure? I am to be allowed to see and hear, to be responsible for Blackmoor’s pleasure? She moistened her lips with the tip of her tongue. “What if some of the other guests should venture outside?” “They will not.” No, they probably would not, Thea acknowledged ruefully. He was, after all, Julian Remington, the Duke of Blackmoor. A man none in society would dare to challenge. Or spy on. She no longer hesitated as she dropped slowly onto her knees, his jacket cushioning her from the hard ground beneath. Although she did give a self-conscious squeak as Blackmoor reached out a hand to push the already low bodice of her gown down even farther, allowing her breasts to spill free. “Looking at them adds to my pleasure,” he assured her gruffly as she raised self-conscious hands to cover herself. “You have such pretty breasts, Thea. Such succulent nipples,” he complimented. “I will very much enjoy playing with them shortly.” Her cheeks burned as she slowly allowed her hands to drop away from her breasts, her fingers shaking slightly as they moved to unfastening his pantaloons and the excitement rose within her. Indeed, this did not feel like a punishment at all. “Very good.” Blackmoor watched between his long dark lashes as Thea became transfixed once she had folded his pantaloons back from his body and revealed his bare cock jutting upwards from a thatch of dark curls. “As you can see, I did not feel the need to bother with undergarments this evening either.” As I can see! Dear God, were all men’s cocks this magnificent? Were they all so long and thick when they were aroused? With those thick and throbbing veins running the length of them? A purple head protruding like a mushroom from the top, the slit wet with a viscous fluid that made her mouth water with a need to taste it? She had never seen Henry’s cock because he had always come to her bed in darkness, never removing his nightshirt or her nightgown either. But she was sure that the member he had thrust inside her on those occasions had been nowhere near as long and thick around as this one. Indeed, she was not sure a cock this size would fit inside her— “Lick it,” Blackmoor encouraged throatily as one of his hands fisted around his cock and held it up and towards her temptingly. “Lick and taste it as if it were a particularly delicious cream cake you wish to savor and enjoy before taking into your mouth.” Thea was particularly fond of cream cakes. Most especially those long delicate pastries with cream inside and chocolate on top. She licked her lips at the thought. And immediately saw more of that fluid bubbling from the slit at the top of that mushroom head. In response to her having licked her lips? She licked them again, with the same result. “Yes, you are responsible for that,” Julian confirmed as Thea looked up at him uncertainly. “Lick your lips again. Slowly,” he encouraged, giving a low groan as she did so and his cock instantly responded. “Now lick my cock in the same way,” he invited softly. His previous mistresses had all been experienced in the ways of pleasing a man as well as themselves. Deliberately so. Julian wanted the physical release, not emotional closeness. Thea Fitzroy’s obvious inexperience seemed to arouse him when all the practiced machinations of an experienced courtesan had long since lost their appeal. It was a puzzle to Julian why this should be so, but for the moment, he was more than willing to enjoy— Oh dear God! Thea had not shyly licked the top of his cock as he had expected, nor had she explored or touched his balls, nor curled her fingers about his length. Instead, she had taken his cock fully into the heat of her mouth, and she was now sucking and laving it with her tongue as if it were a particularly edible sweetmeat. Or that delicious cream cake he had suggested. Sweet lord, what she was doing with her hot little mouth was sinful. Absolutely sinful. Sucking and licking as if she was too impatient to wait for his ejaculation and would simply suction his cum up from his balls. “Fuck,” Julian groaned, no longer reclining back against the bench seat but leaning forward to place his hands either side of her face to hold her in place as his pleasure raged out of control and he began to thrust into the heat of her mouth in earnest. Deep urgent thrusts that she took to the back of her throat and then deeper still as he lost all sense of control. Dear God, he was coming…! The heat of his cum shot the length of his cock with the force of a volcano erupting, the hot lava pouring into her mouth in a never-ending flood that she quickly swallowed down before greedily going back for more. And, surprisingly, there was more. He groaned as his cock, not completely softened from his first ejaculation, grew hard as stone a second time beneath Thea’s ministrations and just seconds later, he came a second time. “Thea, you have to stop.” His voice was hoarse from his low shouts of pleasure, his throat dry for the same reason. He could not— “Oh dear God, do not stop yet. Not yet,” he encouraged with an agonized groan as he began to come again, his release an ecstasy bordering on pain because he had nothing left inside him to release. Thea looked up at Julian Remington anxiously as he half lay, half sat slouched against the back of the bench, eyes closed, his face pale, the only sound that of the harsh rasp of his breathing. “Did I do something wrong?” “Something wrong?” He roused himself enough to open his eyes. “I do not think— No, I am incapable of so much as a single thought,” he acknowledged self-derisively, pulling up to a sitting position before leaning forward to take Thea’s hands and assist her in rising to her feet and then sitting down beside him. She straightened her gown as he refastened his pantaloons, hoping that the rest of her appearance had not fared as badly as her rumpled gown. “You sucked my cock perfectly.” “I did?” She eyed him anxiously. “Oh yes.” He gave a tired laugh as he straightened from collecting his jacket. “I do not think I have ever experienced anything quite like it before.” Thea’s blush was now one of pleasure. “I pleased you, then?” “You pleased me so much, you almost gave me a heart seizure,” he acknowledged wryly. “And you say you have never done anything like that before?” “Never. But I have imagined it often since you mentioned it yesterday,” she admitted ruefully. Julian thought he had never met anyone quite like Thea Fitzroy before. On the outside, she looked so prim and proper—well, usually. Tonight, in this red silk gown, she appeared more siren than prim—and on the inside, a woman of such sensual longings, she felt no hesitation in putting them into practice when the opportunity presented itself. In future, Julian intended presenting himself as much as possible. “Come home with me tonight?” Her eyes widened. “Go with you to Blackmoor House?” He raised one eyebrow. “Do you know of any other establishment in London that I call home?” “Well…no. But do you not have a—a discreet house somewhere? A place where you meet with your mistresses?” “Plural?” His brows rose even higher. “Is that one of your fantasies, Thea? To share me with another woman?” “Absolutely not.” Thea shuddered at the thought. Then she stilled, as she realized how deeply the thought of Julian with other women disturbed and distressed her. She did not want to share this man with anyone else. Indeed, the thought of his being with any woman but her, of allowing some other woman the intimacies they had just shared, made her feel positively ill. Which was not the point of a lover at all. In her imaginings, a lover was someone who fulfilled sexual needs while leaving the heart unscathed. Someone with whom she might flirt and enjoy fulfilling all her carnal longings for several hours a week, and then forget about while she acted and behaved in society as the oh so proper Lady Dorothea Fitzroy. If that were so, then she would have been wise not to choose Blackmoor as her first lover. He was far too much of a presence, too demanding, too everything, to ever allow himself to be forgotten. Even for a moment. Except she had not chosen Blackmoor. He had chosen her. And his personality was such that Thea had been swept along in the tide of his arrogant demands. “I believe I should tell you that I have absolutely no interest in watching you perform with another woman,” he now rasped harshly. Thea stood abruptly to glare down at him. “How can you even suggest such a disgusting thing?” She gave another delicate shudder. “I was merely stating a personal preference—” “This, the two of us, was a mistake,” she insisted firmly. Julian stood as he realized she seemed poised for flight. “I strongly disagree.” “I have allowed you liberties, taken liberties that have led you to believe me no better than the whores you obviously usually associate with—” “I do not associate with whores!” “The demimonde, then,” she dismissed impatiently. “No matter what you may have assumed to the contrary, I am neither, and I will not tolerate being treated as such.” He scowled his displeasure. “I meant no disrespect—” “Whether you meant to do so or not, that is the result,” she continued determinedly. “I believe it best if we both consider this association as being over.” Before Julian had the chance to protest, to apologize again for having offended her, Thea had grabbed up her mask and turned on her heel to rush out of the arbor and down the garden path towards the house, as if the devil himself were at her heels. He being the devil, Julian acknowledged self-disgustedly. Chapter 5 So. It seemed that Blackmoor’s visit to Latham House two days ago had not been to the earl at all, but to his young and widowed sister. Lady Dorothea Fitzroy. A woman, Shilton had informed Jennifer, in possession of little beauty or womanly charm. And yet yesterday evening, at the Harringtons’ masked ball, Blackmoor had apparently first danced with the lady before then scandalously disappearing alone with her into the garden for over half an hour. The couple had returned separately, Lady Dorothea looking flustered and disheveled, Blackmoor less so. Which did not surprise Jennifer in the slightest; it seemed that nothing succeeded in ruffling or disturbing that arrogant bastard. Although he had, apparently, looked less than pleased when he left the ball just minutes later, after witnessing Lady Dorothea dancing with another gentleman. A brief liaison or the start of an affair? Or something more? Jennifer knew from personal experience that Blackmoor was incapable of loving any woman. A liaison or an affair, then. Either was a chink in Blackmoor’s armor, considering the connection that would soon exist between the two families. She very much doubted the Earl of Latham would approve of Blackmoor bedding his widowed sister. At last, a weakness she might be able to exploit. Slowly. Pleasurably. As she twisted the knife of revenge in Blackmoor’s cold, dark heart. Chapter 6 “We have arrived together so that we may all hear the delicious details of last night directly from you!” Thea had barely managed to hide her dismay when her three closest friends arrived at Latham House just minutes ago. She could not turn them away of course, and instead instructed Cross to show them up to the private parlor. The delicious details they had come to hear had to be concerning her disappearance into the garden with Blackmoor the previous evening. The four ladies had become fast friends during their first Season together, and they had remained so ever since, during happy or unhappy marriages. One of them was determined to suffer through neither and, with the help of a legacy left to her by her grandmother, had remained single. A daring and unfashionable decision on Sally’s part, and one which Thea had always secretly admired. Even so, she knew that none of these ladies wanted to hear how she had played with fire the previous evening and had her fingers well and truly burned. So much for wanting a lover. It was not the wanting of a lover which was at fault, Thea reminded herself for what had to be the dozenth time since last night. It was the identity of that lover which had proven to be the problem. It should have been someone like nice Lord Sheridon McKinley, whom she had danced with several times yesterday evening, and who had showed her such a marked interest. Or Sir James Dalton. He had flirted with her outrageously, and then taken the opportunity to pinch her bottom when the two of them stood up after taking supper together. Both of those gentlemen were young, handsome, flirtatious fun, and between them reputed to have bedded half the married ladies in society. The other half being too old for their tastes, no doubt. Julian Remington was too serious, too overpowering, too demanding. Just too Julian Rupert Sylvester Remington, the haughty and arrogant Duke of Blackmoor. Then why had Thea been unable to stop thinking about him since last night? Just as she had been unable to banish the memory of touching him so intimately. The excitement of holding and stroking his cock. The thrill of having that cock in her mouth, and the empowering feeling of his responses to her as he bucked and thrust, completely at her mercy. Not once but several times. Any more than she had been able to banish the expression of cold disdain on the duke’s face when he finally came back in from the garden several minutes after her and seen her dancing with Lord McKinley. Or her own dismay when, just minutes later, Blackmoor had made his excuses to the Harringtons, and left the ball without so much as giving another glance in her direction. To now have her three closest friends all agog for details of that disastrous encounter seemed beyond cruel. As for how she was ever to face Blackmoor again… “Oh, do tell all, Thea,” Lady Rachel Shaw, an outrageous flirt, encouraged eagerly. “Blackmoor, of all men!” She gave a delicious shiver of anticipation. “You do not have to tell us a single thing if you do not want to, Thea dear,” Mrs. Felicity Randall, the most retiring of them, assured her gently. “Speak for yourself, Felicity,” Lady Sally Derwent, the single lady of the quartet, drawled mockingly. “Personally, I want to know of every kiss and caress. In lurid detail!” Every kiss… Strangely, Blackmoor had not kissed her on the lips either yesterday afternoon or last night. Why hadn’t he? Did he not want to kiss her? That seemed rather odd when he had discussed putting his mouth on a much more intimate part of her body. She had thought of that a surprising amount of times too since leaving Blackmoor so abruptly last night. “She’s blushing,” Rachel pounced. “Oh, do stop tormenting us with your silence, Thea, and tell all!” Julian, having accepted the invitation to eat luncheon at his club with several of his friends, men with whom he had remained close since his university days, now found himself bombarded with questions concerning his uncharacteristic behavior with Lady Dorothea the previous night. “A gentleman does not discuss a lady.” He gave the other three men a quelling glance down the length of his aristocratic nose. “Oh ho, that means there is something to discuss!” “Not surprising with Lady Dorothea wearing that red gown.” “She looked almost beautiful,” Nicholas Sefton murmured speculatively. “She is beautiful,” Julian heard himself growl, and as quickly regretted the outburst. “In an insipid sort of way,” he added with bored dismissal as three pairs of eyes gazed at him knowingly. “Not fooling us for a moment, old chap,” Nick drawled mockingly. “Not considering the amount of time you spent outside in the garden with her.” “While the ton gossiped and speculated as to what the two of you might possibly be doing out there alone together,” Whitney added pointedly. Julian scowled at this knowledge. It had never been his intention to cause Thea Fitzroy any embarrassment or awkwardness by his interest in her. Then perhaps I should not have all but dragged her outside into the garden with me for all the ton to witness. It was the fault of that damned red gown she had almost been wearing. And Thea’s defiance in wearing it after telling him she would be wearing a mask and gown of another color completely. His body had been a pleasurable ache when he woke this morning, as a reminder of how he had reacted to that defiance last night. He had never before responded so strongly to having a woman’s hands and mouth on him. Not once, but several times in quick succession. No wonder every muscle in his body ached this morning. An ache he wished to suffer again at Thea’s earliest convenience. There is little or no chance of that happening when she left me so abruptly, and then proceeded to flirt and dance with that scoundrel McKinley the moment she returned to the ballroom. Well, she had better not have done more than dance with him— What the hell? Was he jealous of McKinley, of all people? Absolutely not. Although, McKinley was fun, according to Amelia’s prattling over breakfast this morning. His daughter had seemed completely unaware of Julian’s scowl as she then proceeded to tell him that Lady Dorothea had been quite the belle of the ball yesterday evening, that young fox Dalton having escorted her into supper, before McKinley again claimed her for a dance. Thea was his, damn it. And he intended ensuring she had no further doubts on the subject. “Uh-oh, I know what that expression means,” Brooke remarked with amusement as Julian stood abruptly. “I have a feeling Lady Dorothea is about to learn what it means too,” Nick drawled. “Probably won’t be able to walk for a week when Blackmoor’s finished with her.” Whitney chuckled. “From a smacked ass, do you think, or something even more enjoyable?” Brooke speculated. “Go to hell, the lot of you.” Julian scowled down at each of his friends in turn. “I will countenance no more of this conversation in regard to Lady Dorothea,” he warned before turning on his heel and striding purposefully towards the door of the club. And Thea Fitzroy. “His Grace, the Duke of Blackmoor is dem—requesting,” Cross hastily substituted, “that he see you, my lady.” Thea, once her three friends had finally departed, had taken the opportunity to lie down on the chaise in her private parlor. A damp cloth now covered her forehead and eyes in an effort to try to alleviate the blinding headache she had been left with following the strain of fending off the other ladies’ more personal questions regarding Blackmoor. How dare he now come here again, the second time in three days, when Thea had made it clear to him last night she hoped never to be alone with him ever again? Because the arrogant Julian Remington dares do anything he pleases. Thea made no effort to stir herself or remove the dampened cloth from her eyes. “Tell him I am indisposed, Cross.” “Tell me yourself.” Thea sat up so abruptly, it made her head spin as she turned to glare across the room that, until now, had been her own private sanctuary, but was now forever ruined by the presence of Julian Remington standing so tall and overpoweringly arrogant in the doorway. “That will be all, Cross.” His steely gaze remained fixed on Thea as he dismissed the butler. Thea wholeheartedly sympathized with the expression of questioning dismay on the butler’s face as to whether or not he should obey the duke or wait for Thea to give him instruction. The elderly man had been with the Latham family since before Thea was born, and she had never before known anything to unsettle Cross’s calm demeanor. It seemed the Duke of Blackmoor had succeeded where all else had failed. The kindest thing by far would be to take pity on the butler’s dilemma. “You may leave us, Cross.” She gave him a reassuring smile, that smile fading as soon as she was alone with Julian Remington. “It is usually polite to wait for an invitation before invading the privacy of a person’s home, even more so a lady’s private parlor,” she informed him icily as she stood to pick up the wet cloth that had fallen to the floor when she sat up so suddenly. She also felt at far too much of a disadvantage being seated while Blackmoor stood. Julian stepped fully into the room and quietly closed the door behind him before turning back to look at Thea Fitzroy between narrowed lids. A woman who bore little resemblance to the siren in the red silk gown the previous evening and who had made love to him so thoroughly in the rose arbor. Her hair was unpowdered today, and she wore a modestly styled gown of sky blue. Her eyes appeared a deeper green in the pallor of her face. Julian frowned at the latter. “Are you genuinely unwell?” She raised an auburn brow. “Would you leave if I were to say yes?” He gave the matter some thought before answering with the honesty he had promised her. “No.” “As I thought.” She dropped the damp cloth onto a table beside the chaise. “What do you want, Blackmoor?” She met his gaze challengingly. Magnificent, Julian acknowledged inwardly. Thea Fitzroy might not be dressed as the siren today, but she still possessed that sexual allure which made him want to lay her back down on the chaise before he paid homage to her totally responsive body. Something he had failed to do last night. A serious and selfish oversight on his part. And perhaps one of the reasons she had flirted with two other gentlemen after the two of them parted so badly? The idea she might have received that satisfaction from either one of those men—or both?—twisted a painful and angry knot in his gut. His eyes narrowed. “What is wrong with you?” She shrugged. “A headache, nothing more.” Perhaps caused from her late night? Amelia had not arrived home until well after one o’clock this morning. Or from the pent-up frustration from being roused to a state of desire which was not followed by the necessary release? Julian had meant to punish Thea last night by taking his own satisfaction. For wearing the red dress for other men to look at and admire, and for pleasuring herself contrary to his instruction. But not to the point of making her feel ill. He crossed the room to stand in front of her, not quite touching her but close enough that he could feel the heat of her body and smell that delicious scent that was so totally Thea. The wariness in her expression at his proximity caused his chest to tighten along with his gut. His hand moved to touch the pallor of one of her cheeks. “I came to apologize to you again for my behavior last night.” His chest tightened even more as her eyes widened in surprise. “You were right. It was disrespectful of me to talk to you so crudely. I—I sincerely apologize, and if you will allow me the opportunity to make recompense, I give you my word I will endeavor to ensure it does not happen again.” Thea would be lying if she did not admit to being thoroughly taken aback at having Blackmoor apologize to her. Blackmoor. A man all of society knew never apologized for or regretted any of his actions. And yet he was now apologizing to her. Most sincerely, if she read the look of regret in his expression correctly, along with the gentleness with which he still touched the warmth of her cheek. Both of which had the effect of dissipating the feelings of anger, and the turmoil of self-recrimination she had been suffering under since parting from Blackmoor so abruptly the night before. The tension left the stiffness of her shoulders. “Perhaps I also overreacted…” He gave the ghost of a smile. “We both know you did not.” She eyed him curiously. “Why did you behave that way?” He drew in a ragged breath. “Past experiences have long colored my words and actions, I am afraid. The thought of sharing you, with anyone, is totally abhorrent to me.” Thea had no idea what those past experiences might be. A past mistress who had played him false, perhaps? Or something closer to home? “I have assured you that will not happen.” “Still?” He looked at her searchingly. It took her several seconds to realize what he meant. “I did not go straight from being with you last night to the arms of another, if that is what you are asking.” He gave a wince. “Dalton and McKinley are…well known for their charm.” “Unlike you?” she teased, becoming easier again in Blackmoor’s company now that she knew he regretted his words of last night. “Charm is not something I am known for, no,” he acknowledged heavily as his hand dropped back to his side. But he was known for being many other things. Most of all for being a man of his word. “What sort of recompense for your bad behavior did you have in mind…?” She watched the strong column of his throat move as he swallowed before answering huskily. “You forgive me?” “As long as you promise it will not happen again.” “I promised I will endeavor to try not to let it happen again. I cannot make a promise I do not know if I can keep. I have…a temper,” he acknowledged, “which means that I sometimes speak before thinking. Most especially so when other…emotions are involved.” Such as desire. Thea knew Blackmoor would never love her, but she felt absolutely no doubt that he still desired her. He would not have come here to apologize otherwise. Would have cut his losses and forgotten their brief intimacy, and thanked the Lord for allowing him to do so. “Then I forgive you…Remy,” she added the last deliberately as she looked up at him beneath lowered lashes. His gaze immediately warmed in response to her use of that name, a flush appearing on his cheeks. “Do you still have the red gown?” “Of course.” Although she very much doubted she would ever find occasion to wear it again. “It is in my bedchamber.” Thrown into a corner of the room. Exactly where she had hurled it so angrily the night before after returning from the ball. “Then go and get it.” Her insides melted as her body instantly responded to the command in his tone. “You wish me to wear the red gown?” She had decided last night that she should never wear that scandalous concoction ever again. He gave an enigmatic grin. “I wish for you to go and get it and bring it back here.” Thea had no idea why Blackmoor wanted her to do such a thing, or what he intended doing with the red gown. No idea at all. Nor did she care. “I will be but two minutes.” She hurried from the parlor to do as he bid her. The heaviness which had been plaguing her since the two of them parted so badly the evening before had now lifted. Her headache was completely gone. So also was the despondency of mood which had caused the headache in the first place. Because Blackmoor was here. A man who could claim her with a mere command. A man she could also claim, with her hands and with her mouth. She hurried her steps towards her bedchamber and the red silk gown. Chapter 7 Blackmoor had used the brief time of her absence to remove his jacket, waistcoat, and necktie. The top of his shirt was also unfastened, revealing a dusting of the dark curls that no doubt covered the whole of his muscular chest. Several more dark curls fell boyishly onto his brow, making him appear younger and less austere. He crossed the room to lock the door behind her before taking the gown and proceeding to arrange it over the chaise, quirking a dark and teasing brow as he turned and saw Thea watching him intently. “It is my intention to make love to you as you lie naked on this red silk.” Her cheeks colored almost as vibrant a red as that gown. Blackmoor—Remy, wished her to remove all her clothes? To be naked, here, in her brother’s home? He straightened. “As you have previously suggested, and with your agreement, I will arrange to purchase a house where the two of us can enjoy and pleasure each other as we decide. For now, out of necessity, here in your parlor is what we have.” Blackmoor was going to purchase a house where the two of them might meet in complete privacy? Where they might enjoy each other as they wished? Would that then make her Blackmoor’s mistress? A thrill of excitement rushed through Thea at thoughts of that. Just days ago, she had ached for a lover, and along had come Julian Remington, the Duke of Blackmoor, to offer to fulfill every wicked sexual need and fantasy. Last night, after the two of them argued, Thea had convinced herself she had aimed too high with her choice of lover. That Blackmoor had realized that his choice of her, as his lover, had been a mistake. Now, with him standing in front of her looking so—so spectacularly and rakishly male wearing just his unfastened shirt and pantaloons, Thea knew she had only been fooling herself with such remonstrations. That it was this man she had fantasized about for weeks. That she wanted Blackmoor above all other men. For however long, and for whatever purpose, he wished to have her. These past few days, she had also discovered something about herself she would never have suspected. Such as she enjoyed having Blackmoor command her. She enjoyed commanding him. She enjoyed both those things so much, the folds between her thighs were already plump and weeping in anticipation of more of his lovemaking. “Thea?” She roused herself from her thoughts to give him a dazzling smile. “I think a house where the two of us might meet in private sounds like an excellent idea.” Julian had no idea he had been holding his breath as he watched the emotions flickering across Thea Fitzroy’s expressive face, until that breath now left him in a relieved sigh. He had thought perhaps he had once again gone too far with the suggestion of buying a house where the two of them might meet in private. That he had overstepped a line that might send her fleeing from him again. Thea’s smile and her answer dispelled every last one of those doubts. Except for one. “Would you rather we wait to be together again until I have secured the house…?” Although if he had his way—and he would—the property would be in his possession by this evening, and certainly no later than tomorrow. He wished to be alone with Thea as soon as was possible, in a place where the two of them might be comfortable enough to indulge every sexual fantasy together. He looked forward to fulfilling every single one of Thea’s. And to having her fulfill his own too. “No, I do not wish to wait,” she assured him breathlessly as she turned her back towards him. “If you could help me with removing my gown…?” Julian was more than happy to oblige and unfasten the row of tiny buttons which ran the length of her spine, at the same time as he could not resist tasting the softness of the skin at her nape, her shoulders, and the slender length of her spine once he was able to push the material of her gown aside and allow it to fall to the floor. He slipped the straps of her chemise down her arms and allowed that to fall on top of her gown at her ankles. Her shoulders were soft and creamy, her back a perfect arch, her bottom—oh Lord, the things he would like to do to that deliciously plump bottom! His breath again caught in his throat as he looked at Thea wearing only white stockings secured at her thighs with pink-rosebud-adorned white garters. She gave him a shy glance over her shoulder. “I seem to have forgotten to wear my drawers again.” In the hope, perhaps, that Julian might visit her again today and finish what they had started yesterday evening? He did not intend to disappoint her. He dropped to his knees behind her as he indulged his own desire to kiss and lick the soft globes of her bottom, knowing it pleased her too as the scent of her increasing arousal became an aphrodisiac to his already aroused senses. He slipped one of his hands between her thighs, dampening his fingers in the juices slicking those plump lips before seeking out the hard little nubbin above. “Part your legs and bend slightly forward,” he instructed, placing his hands on her hips to steady her as she did as he asked, baring the red and swollen lips between her thighs to his avid gaze. “Oh!” Thea almost stumbled and fell as she felt the rasp of Blackmoor’s tongue against her most private parts. “Oh,” she gasped again as that tongue continued to lap and rasp the entrance to her now copiously weeping channel. She felt so exposed. So wickedly, thrillingly exposed. To Julian’s gaze. To his hands. To that wicked, wicked tongue. “You taste as delicious as I knew you would,” he assured gruffly as his fingers moved to once again stroke her nubbin and he continued to tongue her swollen entrance before thrusting inside— “Remy?” Her cry was a cross between a protest and curiosity as to what he could possibly be doing— Oh dear God…! This could not be right. It was too intimate, too much, too everything as her body began to quake and melt at the intensity of the orgasm now surging through her body. “Remy!” she cried out again as her knees buckled beneath her and she began to fall. Blackmoor caught her before that happened, and then swung her up into his arms to carry her over to the chaise, laying her down on the red silk gown and then sitting down beside her to begin removing the pins from her hair. “Bloody hell,” he muttered as those red tresses tumbled down onto her shoulders and over her breasts almost to her waist. “Good God, it is sacrilege to ever hide such beauty.” No one but Thea’s maid had ever seen her like this, completely naked after her bath, with her hair loose and wild. She knew she ought to be self-conscious but instead could only feel warmed by the admiration she could see in the heat of Julian’s gaze. “You look as delectable lying on this red silk as I imagined you would. And these.” His hands cupped her breasts. “These are perfection, Thea.” “They really are not too small…?” “Perfect,” he insisted gruffly as his head lowered and he nuzzled and licked one erect nipple, gently sucking it into the heat of his mouth before lavishing that same attention on its twin. Thea’s back arched as she gave herself up to the pleasure of that rhythmic suckling. Soft and then hard, and once again creating that aching pleasure between her thighs. Her hands moved up to become entangled in the dark thickness of the hair at his nape as she held him to her. His hair was so soft and silky to touch, making her wonder if the hair on his chest felt equally so. She moistened her lips before speaking. “I… Would you remove your shirt so that I might look at you too?” He lifted his head, eyes dark. “If that would make you happy.” He nodded. “Today is about what pleases you.” She swallowed. “Then it would please me very much to be able to see and touch you too.” Blackmoor did not hesitate as he sat up to pull the shirt bottom from his pantaloons, before tugging the garment up and over his head and then discarding it completely. Thea’s breath caught in her throat as she looked at him bared to the waist. His skin was so much darker than her own. His shoulders were very wide, as evidence that he enjoyed physical exercise? His chest and abdomen were hard and rippling with muscle, and that dusting of dark hair did indeed cover his chest before veeing down to disappear beneath the waistband of his pantaloons. His nipples nestled amongst those dark curls, a deep bronze in color and as round as pennies. She licked her lips at the sight of them, wondering…wondering… “Yes, I believe they might be just as sensitive as your own.” Julian’s voice was gruff as he confirmed the question Thea had wished to ask but felt too shy to do so. Which was ridiculous when she was lying here naked, apart from her stockings and the light covering of her loosened hair. Her gaze darted up to Blackmoor’s and then quickly back to his nipples. “You believe…?” “I find that I like the idea,” he acknowledged softly. “And no one else has ever before thought to touch me there.” That knowledge thrilled her, when she knew this man must have had dozens of lovers to her one. Bold, experienced women who had never thought to pleasure him in the way she now wished to. His nipples looked so very touchable, kissable, edible— “You may do with me whatever pleases you,” Blackmoor invited. Thea tentatively lifted her hands to rest them on his shoulders. His skin felt like silk against her fingertips, muscles flexing beneath that silk. Her curiosity to touch and explore banished the last vestiges of her shyness as she began to lightly caress that hard flesh, encouraged by Julian’s low groans as her nails raked lightly over those bronzed nubbins. She became bolder still as they stiffened, hardened, beneath her touch, eagerly accepting his silent invitation as he leaned towards her at the same time as his hand curved about the back of her neck and drew her towards him. He drew in a sharp, hissing breath as her mouth closed over that hard nubbin and she began to suckle and lave with her tongue in the same manner he had suckled her just minutes ago. The pleasure, the unfamiliar sensation of having Thea’s mouth on him, licking and suckling his nipples, went straight to Julian’s groin. His cock swelled and hardened, becoming a painful throb as she turned her attention to his other nipple, her mouth becoming bolder, more demanding, as he groaned his pleasure aloud. Ye gods, he was going to come in his drawers like a callow youth if he allowed her to touch him this way for too much longer. And he was nowhere near finished tasting and pleasuring her. “I cannot take any more, Thea,” he warned as he gently pulled back and released himself from those demanding lips. Full and swollen lips that became a pout of disappointment as she lay back on the chaise and gazed up at him through her lashes. “I was enjoying myself.” His smile was self-derisive. “And I was enjoying myself far too much. See?” He took her hand and placed it over the visible swell in his pantaloons. “Would you like me to…?” “I would like nothing better.” His cock throbbed at the mere idea of having those lips about him once more. “But I am nowhere near finished pleasuring you as yet,” he added gently. Her eyes widened. “There is more?” “So much more.” His expression softened indulgently at her ignorance regarding sexual pleasure. Not that she was so very different from most, if not all, the young women in society, even after they were married. Many men still believed that a wife was for procreation and a mistress was for pleasure. No wonder Thea had decided she would prefer to be the latter. His thumb moved caressingly against her throat. “You never did tell me what—or should I say whom—you were thinking of when I called that first afternoon?” Color warmed her cheeks. “I was so bored, and the company so stultifying, that I—I allowed my thoughts to drift to…other things.” “What other things? And with whom?” Julian watched her face as his fingertips moved in a slow and leisurely caress across her bared breasts, the slender dip of her waist, the trembling of the flatness of her abdomen, and then lower still to the juncture of her thighs and the dampness of her red-gold curls. She had tasted so delicious earlier, and he wanted to taste her again. “Tell me, Thea,” he encouraged as he parted those curls and began to stroke her little swollen nubbin. “I—ooh,” she groaned weakly even as her legs parted and her hips arched and undulated into that caress. “I was fantasizing of things such as this,” she admitted shyly. “With whom?” She moistened her lips with the pink tip of her tongue. “I believe I was thinking of…of you.” “Me?” His brows rose. Her cheeks suffused with color. “I have lately begun to…to dream. Such explicit dreams. Such pleasurable dreams.” Her blush deepened. “And I do believe those dreams began at about the time George and Amelia became betrothed, so I can only surmise… Ooh,” she moaned low in her throat as Julian began to swirl and stroke her nubbin harder and faster. “Can only surmise…?” he prompted firmly. Her lids fluttered closed. “I can only think that you are the cause— Ooh, please…!” She arched up into his stroking fingers. “I am so close, so very close. Please,” she all but sobbed as he continued those long slow strokes. “Please, Remy,” he reminded. Her eyes opened wide. “Are you going to…going to—” “Fuck you?” he finished softly. She swallowed, obviously still not completely comfortable with that word. “Yes.” “Not today. At least, not with my cock,” he added as her eyes darkened with disappointment. Julian was pleased beyond measure that Thea had so freely acknowledged it was him she had been wanting and thinking about these past few weeks. More, that she admitted to having fantasized and dreamed of the two of them being together like this. “Part your legs for me, Thea. That’s it. Perfect,” he approved as she allowed her legs to drop to the sides and fall wide enough apart for him to be able to see all of her. Her clitoris was red and swollen as it protruded from amongst those soft red-gold curls. The lips of her channel were slick with her juices. He could even see the little puckered rosette of her bottom. That, he decided, could wait for another day. He did not wish to go too far too fast in their intimacy, had time, now that Thea had agreed to the two of them continuing to meet at a house of his choosing, to be able to lead her slowly into deeper, more adventurous intimacies. Thea’s quest for carnal knowledge was such that he believed in future there would even be intimacies between the two of them that he had not explored before either. He gave one last, lingering, and regretful glance at that virgin pink rosette before slowly bending to lower his head between her thighs, and he turned his attention to laving her clitoris with his tongue, lapping up the delicious nectar as it poured from her so profusely. Thea was totally lost in the pleasure of having Remy’s mouth on her. Of gazing down at his magnificent bare shoulders between her parted thighs, that dark lock of hair having once again fallen across his brow. He did not look in the least boyish now as he plundered and claimed her with his lips, teeth, and tongue, at the same time as his hands cupped and caressed her breasts, stroking and pulling on her nipples, sometimes to the edge of pain. A pain that only seemed to increase the sharpness of her release. She lost count of the number of times the pleasure claimed and took her soaring into the heavens, Remy taking her there time after time, until she became so sensitized, the slightest touch of his tongue sent her into another climax. “Please, no more!” she finally gasped. His answer was to pull sharply on her nipples, his tongue thrusting inside her once more, hard and piercing as it imitated a small cock to stroke along those now raw and sensitive nerve endings inside her. “Please, Remy!” She sat up slightly, nails digging into his flesh as she grasped his shoulders. “Remy, please…” she gasped as his fingers entered her and the pleasure claimed her once again. His lips were slick with her juices as he looked up at her with dark gray eyes. “You will meet with me tomorrow?” His fingers inside her continued their torturous stroking. “Yes.” She would promise him anything, if he would only allow her time to catch her breath. “I have your word?” His fingers pressed harder against that tight knot of nerve endings. “Yes. Yes!” she confirmed again desperately as the soft pad of his thumb swirled and pressed her nubbin. “Remy.” “Remy,” she repeated obediently. “One last time, Thea,” he demanded, face flushed, eyes glittering as he looked down at the clitoris he had now bared with the fingers of his other hand. “Come for me now, Thea,” he commanded, demanded, even as he lowered his head and flicked his tongue against that exposed and reddened nubbin. Thea came, more intensely than any of the times she had come before. And knew she belonged to this man now. That he owned her, body and soul. Chapter 8 Jennifer stood outside the shop watching as Lady Dorothea Fitzroy talked inside with the shopkeeper, apparently about the merits of one pair of lace gloves over another. Trivial fashion preferences that had once filled her own head and time too. Blackmoor’s interest in Dorothea Fitzroy was now the only thing she thought of. Except she could not imagine what he saw in such a woman. Lady Dorothea had no figure to speak of, and to describe her as pretty would be doing her a kindness. Perhaps this woman had other…attributes which had attracted Blackmoor to her? He had certainly spent several hours at Latham House the previous afternoon, and there had been a look about him when he finally left and lithely ascended the steps to his waiting carriage. A satisfied glitter in his eyes and a fullness to those chiseled and slightly curving lips, as if they had been put to good use during those hours. The why of his preference had no meaning to Jennifer. Only that it existed. The weakness she had long been looking for. She pretended an interest in the contents displayed in the window as Lady Dorothea finally departed the shop, her maid following behind, laden down with all the parcels the other woman had purchased during the afternoon. “I intend going to my dressmaker now, Mary, so you may return to Latham House with my parcels,” she instructed her maid. “Oh, but—” “I shall be perfectly happy to walk home on such a glorious afternoon.” Lady Dorothea briskly cut off the young maid’s protest as she signaled for the Latham coach to approach. “Perhaps you could unpack all my parcels upon your return? My purple gown will need to be pressed for this evening too.” She all but pushed the young maid into the carriage and then stood on the pavement, watching until it had disappeared out of sight. Alerting Jennifer with the strangeness of her actions. A lady did not travel unescorted in London. She certainly did not walk through these busy streets alone. And Lady Dorothea obviously did not intend doing either of those things either, her eyes bright, a flush to her cheeks as she moved to the edge of the pavement in search of a cab for hire. Because she was going to meet her lover, not visit her dressmaker? How delicious. How utterly, utterly delicious it was to think of what Blackmoor’s thoughts might be as he waited for the mistress who did not arrive. Jennifer felt no hesitation, no remorse as she stepped up behind Lady Dorothea Fitzroy and pushed her in front of the approaching cab. Chapter 9 Julian paced the confines of the sitting room of the small furnished town house he had purchased just this morning, a scowl on his brow as he realized it was now an hour over the time he and Thea had agreed they would meet here. He had sent his valet to deliver a note to her discreetly at Latham House earlier today, cautiously writing only the address and time, and no signature. Just on the off chance the note fell into the hands of her brother or nephew. Thea would be able to claim the note came from one of her friends if that were to happen. His valet had returned a short time later with that same note, a simple “yes” written beneath his own writings. Julian had arrived early for their liaison in restless anticipation of continuing where the two of them had left off their lovemaking yesterday. Thea had not arrived at the appointed time. Or since. Because, after careful consideration, she had changed her mind about continuing with their affair? She claimed it was a lady’s prerogative to change her mind, and perhaps, despite Julian’s efforts at restraint yesterday, he had after all frightened her with the intensity of his lovemaking? His hands clenched into fists at his sides at thoughts of that being the case. Thea Fitzroy was a continual surprise to him. She was more responsive, and more open with those responses, than any other woman Julian had ever known. To a degree that his normally unshakeable control evaporated like mist every time he was with her. He craved Thea’s responses. Hungered for them. For everything she had to give him. So much so that he found himself pushing her to her limits, time and time again. He could spend hours just watching her as she climaxed beneath the caress of his hands and mouth. Enjoyed touching and pinching her breasts, the way her nipples became elongated and swollen from those ministrations. The swell of that ruby-red nubbin peeping out from amongst her red-gold curls. The arch of her hips as he thrust his fingers rhythmically into her tight channel, his thumb pressing against and stroking her nubbin as it throbbed and pulsed like a small cock as she came. Damn it, his cock was once again a throbbing ache as he thought about the delights to be found in those visible responses of Thea’s body. As for those breathy groans and whimpering cries she gave as she came…! Fuck! He had to have frightened her off with his insatiable demands. His commands, as he controlled and ordered her pleasure. He had thought she welcomed those commands, her responses even more intense during the times he controlled her, but perhaps he had been mistaken? For the first time in many years, Julian had no idea how to proceed. Did he go to Latham House again, demand she give him an explanation for her behavior in not so much as letting him know she had changed her mind and would not be joining him after all? Or did he leave it a few days, giving her time to think again, after which she would perhaps be the one to seek him out? Julian entered Blackmoor House several hours later with most of the contents of a decanter of brandy inside him, having spent those hours at his club in brooding contemplation of Thea Fitzroy’s behavior. The more brandy he drank, the angrier he became as he considered all the delicious ways in which he would punish Thea when next he saw her for having reduced him to this state. He now gave a pained wince as he found his daughter in the hallway in great agitation as she issued instructions to his butler. Instructions which ceased the moment Amelia saw Julian and instead launched herself into his arms, the flow of her tears instantly dampening the lapels of his jacket. “Thank goodness you are here, Papa!” She sobbed all the harder as she clung to him. It took a few seconds for Julian to clear the effect of the brandy from his head enough to be able to answer her. “What on earth is wrong, Amelia?” “George has sent me a note explaining why we cannot meet this evening after all and… Oh, it is too awful, Papa!” She trembled against him. Julian’s mood was such at present he would take great delight in punching young Somersby on the nose if the younger man had cold feet and had decided he could not marry Amelia after all. His daughter’s upset certainly seemed serious enough for that to be the case. “Brandy in the library, if you please, Bradford.” He could not imbibe any more himself this evening, but Amelia certainly seemed in need of some form of fortification. She pulled out of his arms. “We do not have time for brandy just now, Papa. I must go to George. To Lady Thea—” “What the deuce does George’s aunt have to do with your upset?” Julian scowled his displeasure. Having spent the past two hours looking at the bottom of a brandy decanter, to the detriment of his now aching head, he did not welcome so much as hearing mention of her name. Nor, he hoped, had she allowed the awkwardness of the situation that now existed between the two of them to color her judgment concerning the marriage soon to take place between her nephew and his daughter. It would be most unfair of Thea to have involved anyone else in their affair. Or end of it, he reminded himself sourly. Amelia gave him an impatient glare, her temper more than a match for his own, even if her blonde locks and blue eyes were all her mother’s. “Lady Thea is the problem, Papa.” “What has she done?” His nostrils flared as his own temper rose. He really had not thought Thea to be so small, or so petty-minded, as to endanger the happiness of the young couple in order to spite him. “She did not do anything. It is all the fault of the stupid man driving the carriage—” “What stupid man? Really, Amelia, you are making no sense whatsoever.” Julian’s head was aching in earnest now. He also did not appreciate having this conversation out here in the hallway and in front of his butler. Bradford had been with him for years, was stoic in his loyalty to the Remington family, but even he must have his limits. The expression on the elderly man’s face said that Amelia’s near state of hysteria might be one of those occasions; all the household staff had been slavishly devoted to Amelia since the time of her birth, none of them able to bear to see her in the least discomposed or distressed. “Calm yourself, Amelia,” Julian instructed firmly. “We will go into the drawing room, where you can explain yourself in a ladylike manner,” he added as his daughter seemed about to continue arguing. “Please have the carriage brought round anyway, Bradford,” she told the butler before following Julian into the drawing room. He closed the door firmly behind them. “You cannot go chasing all over London in search of your erstwhile fiancé—” “I am not chasing all over— George is not my erstwhile anything!” His daughter stared at him incredulously. “What on earth would make you think such a thing? Are you foxed, Papa?” Amelia looked at him searchingly, her nose wrinkling as she sniffed the air in search of the smell of alcohol. “You are!” Her eyes widened accusingly. Immediately making Julian feel as if he were the child rather than the parent. Not a feeling he relished in the slightest. Thea Fitzroy deserved to have her bottom spanked for the depths she had reduced him to today. For the depths he had allowed her to reduce him to today, he corrected impatiently. He eyed his daughter coolly. “Perhaps if you were to explain yourself properly instead of these histrionics, I might better understand the problem?” She gave a shake of her head. “Lady Thea was struck down by a carriage this afternoon and—” “What?” Julian was so taken aback by this explanation that he had no time to hide his reaction. Or a desire to do so. “Is she hurt?” he demanded as he reached out to grasp the tops of Amelia’s arms. “Is she—is she dead?” Oh dear God, no… The things he had thought when Thea failed to arrive at the house earlier today. The accusations he had leveled at her inside his head as he sat at his club drinking brandy in order to “drown his sorrows.” Adding to those accusations just now when he had thought she had said or done something to end Amelia and George’s engagement. None of it true. She had not abandoned him or their affair. Instead, she had been struck down—injured? killed?—by a carriage. On her way to meet him? Julian knew with certainty that was the case. Thea did not even have the energy to groan as consciousness slowly returned to her. And along with it the pain. Her body hurt. Her head throbbed. To such a degree Thea did not dare brave to look at even the flicker of candlelight she could detect through the thin membrane of her eyelids. Her heart hurt too. Because she knew without a doubt that her nonappearance this afternoon would lead Julian to think she had changed her mind about continuing their affair. What had he thought of her when she did not arrive? What did he think of her now? She had no idea what had happened. One moment she had been standing on the pavement, excitedly flagging down a cab, her heart aflutter with the anticipation of seeing Julian again, and the next she had lost her balance and was falling into the path of an oncoming carriage. She had no time to scream as she fell beneath the horses’ hooves and was struck several times, one of those blows to her head, which was when everything had gone black. She appeared now to be lying on something flat and soft and covered in crisp sheets. Her own bed at Latham House? The flickering candle seemed to imply it was nighttime. Hours after she should have met Julian at the house where they were to continue their affair. Tears pricked her eyes and escaped her lashes, burning as they trickled down to her temples and dampened her hair. “She is awake at last!” a familiar voice cried out in excitement. “Thea? Does it hurt? Where does it hurt?” One of her hands was lifted from the sheet and raised to rest against the warmth of a cheek. “Oh, please, Thea, will you not open your eyes and speak to me?” Amelia. Dear Amelia, to whom she had become so close during these weeks of arranging the wedding together. Did that mean Julian knew of Thea’s plight too? Did he care that she had been hurt? And even if he did, what could he do about it? Their relationship was clandestine, secret. Even if he cared to do so, he could not come to her— “At least give Lady Dorothea the opportunity to reply to one of your questions before you bombard her with another, Amelia,” a second voice—a voice Thea had last heard issuing her instruction, commanding that she come for him—remarked gruffly. Julian! It hurt to open her eyelids, hurt even more to turn her head, and her disappointment was extreme when the only person she could see in her bedchamber—she was indeed safely ensconced in her own bedchamber at Latham house—was Amelia. The younger woman was standing beside the bed, clutching Thea’s hand in her own, as she gazed down at her with an expression of happy relief. Thea had to have imagined Julian being here. She had wanted to see him so badly, to explain why she had not gone to him this afternoon as she had said she would, that she had to have conjured him up in her mind. Of course he was not here. There was no possible way, no explanation he could possibly give, for wanting to be in the bedchamber of the young widow whose only known connection to him was his daughter was to marry her nephew. “There is a maid waiting outside the door, Amelia. Perhaps you should go and ask her for a jug of cold water for Lady Dorothea. I am sure she must be thirsty.” Julian spoke to his daughter gruffly as he stepped out of the shadows at the back of the bedchamber, having eyes only for Thea as she lay so white and still beneath the bedclothes, her long red hair loose and flowing over the pillows beneath her. Her face seemed to become even paler as she turned in the direction of his voice, her eyes unfocused, and the darkest green he had ever seen them. From a concussion? Latham had told him earlier that the doctor believed Thea had no broken bones, but that a concussion was a possibility. That the vicious kick Thea had received to the side of her head from a horse’s hoof might even result in brain damage. Julian could not even bear to think of such an outspoken and brave young woman as Thea becoming a drooling idiot who did not even know who she was, let alone anyone else. “Amelia?” he prompted again when his daughter made no move to do as he suggested. “Oh. Of course.” She reluctantly released Thea’s hand to cross the bedchamber and step out into the hallway to talk to the maid Latham had earlier instructed should be positioned there in case his sister had need of anything. Julian immediately took advantage of his daughter’s absence to quickly cross the room and take Thea’s hand into his own. Her eyes widened. “You are real…” “You recognize me?” She frowned at the question. “Of course I recognize you.” Julian’s breath left him in a sigh of relief. “I had feared— We had all feared—” He gave a shake of his head. “You stumbled while out shopping and were trampled upon by the horses of a passing carriage.” “I was on my way to you.” Her fingers tightened about his hand. “I do not know what happened but—but please believe I was on my way to be with you.” “Shh,” he soothed as he sat down in the chair beside the bed his daughter had recently occupied, leaning forward to bring their faces closer together. “Now that you are awake, I will not be able to stay long. Your brother only consented to it at all because Amelia insisted on staying with you and I offered to keep her company for a while.” And damned frustrating he had found it too, to almost have to plead with Latham to allow him to stay with the woman he— He what? Something had shifted inside Julian earlier, when he believed Thea to be dead. The effects of the brandy he had consumed had evaporated completely, and he had felt a melting, and then a painful shattering of the barrier he had long kept about his emotions. He had grieved at the thought of never seeing Thea again. Of never being with her again. Of never seeing those beautiful green eyes light up with mischief when she teased him, or with indignation when he teased her. Or the way they darkened with desire when he made love to her. He had felt her loss even more deeply than the intensity of emotions that consumed him during their lovemaking. He had trembled in reaction when Amelia informed him that Thea was injured but not dead. Quite what all those emotions meant, he had no idea. For the moment, he would settle for being relieved to have Thea alive and awake and pleased to see him. He squeezed her fingers with his. “We shall be together again once you are well enough.” Now that he knew Thea had not abandoned him, he could temper his impatience. Her eyes were once again awash with tears. “I do not know what happened. I was excited, yes, distracted, looking forward to being with you again, but I… I remember now! Someone jostled me from behind.” She became agitated. “You must have thought I had let you down. That I was a coward who says one thing and does another—” “Shh,” he soothed again. “I could never think that of you. You are one of the bravest women I know,” he assured her. “You have to be to have taken me on and survived the experience,” he added teasingly. Inwardly, Julian did not feel like teasing at all. Thea’s comment, of someone jostling her from behind, had set a jingle of alarm bells ringing inside his head. It was not uncommon for the streets of London to become crowded. Nor was it unusual for accidents to happen within those busy streets. On its own, the accident was upsetting but not worrisome. Except… The man Julian always had keeping an eye on Jennifer had not sent in his weekly report for several weeks now, meaning that Julian had no idea where or what Jennifer had been doing for those same weeks. Again, on its own it was not too much reason for concern. Jennifer had resided in Italy for many years, and the delivery of mail between the two countries could not always be of a regular nature. But the approach of Amelia’s wedding, Thea’s accident, the feeling that she had been jostled from behind, coupled with the lack of reports from his man in Italy, were now cause for great concern. “Remy?” A smile curved his lips as he realized, by the glow in Thea’s eyes, that she had used that name deliberately to draw his attention back to her and away from the thoughts that were making him frown. “Not here,” he drawled huskily. “And certainly not now,” he warned as the closing of the bedchamber door heralded the return of his daughter. He gave Thea’s fingers one last reassuring squeeze before releasing them and standing to step away from the bed as Amelia returned to Thea’s side with the jug of water. Tomorrow, or even tonight when Julian returned to Blackmoor House, he would travel to Italy himself to see why he had not heard from his man in Rome. If Jennifer had broken their agreement…! The thought of her being anywhere near Thea or Amelia was enough to send a chill piercing through Julian’s heart. Chapter 10 Thea’s thoughts churned back and forth in rhythm with her pacing of the confines of her private parlor. It had been ten days since her accident, and she was heartily tired of being fussed over and cosseted. Nor had she been allowed any visitors apart from her brother, Daniel, her nephew George, and Amelia. Or allowed to leave the house in order to visit her closest friends, although they had all sent letters and flowers to wish her a speedy recovery. To add to her misery, Julian had disappeared on business the day after her accident, and discreet enquiries to Amelia had revealed his daughter had no idea where he had gone or when he would be returning. Except that it would obviously be before the wedding next month. Thea had not seen or heard from Julian again before his departure. Although her brother had given her several curious glances whenever the duke happened to be mentioned in conversation. But if Julian’s presence in her bedchamber that night had led Daniel to suspect there was more to their relationship than he had previously thought, he had not questioned her openly about it. For which Thea was grateful. She and Daniel had remained close as brother and sister, despite the fifteen years’ difference in their ages and their respective marriages, and she would not like to have to lie to him. To tell him the truth was also out of the question. Especially as Thea was no longer sure what that truth was. Surely if Julian had cared for her at all, he would not have just gone away on business without so much as a letter or a visit to tell her he was going and when he would be back. His concern the night of her accident had seemed genuine enough, but perhaps it was just the concern of one person for another, in regard for Amelia’s future aunt by marriage, rather than that of a lover? He could certainly be in no hurry to resume their relationship if he had just disappeared on business without sending so much as a word to her of his going. No matter where Thea’s thoughts went, they always came back to that fact. Julian was gone, and she had no idea where he was or when he would return. Or if he would still want her when he did. She was no fool, had no illusions about their affair, fully expected that Julian would cut her out of his life once he’d had enough of her. He was not a man known for his sentimentality in regard to attachments. The opposite, in fact. He did not become attached in the first place. Whereas Thea… There had been no time for anything as she tumbled in front of the horses and carriage. Only one name had screamed inside her head as she felt the painful trampling of the horses’ hooves. Julian. In such a very short time, he had become the pivotal part of her life around which everything else revolved. Where she went. What she thought. Who she spent time with, as well as what she wore and did. All centered on Julian. Whether that meant she was falling in love with him, Thea had no idea. He was a man who was so much larger than life. So overpowering a presence. So commanding that when she was with him—even when she wasn’t—there was no room or time for thought of anyone but Julian and the overwhelming pleasure of their lovemaking. Was that love? Or sexual infatuation? It ultimately made no difference which of those two things it was, when just to think of him now made her chest hurt and her body ache to be with him again. Obviously, Julian did not feel the same way about her. Julian was unaware of his surroundings as he sat, booted feet up on the desk in his study at Blackmoor House, the contents of the dinner tray Bradford had insisted on bringing him remaining untouched as it sat on the table near the door. A single lit candle left most of the room in shadows as Julian gazed bleakly down into the bottom of his almost empty brandy glass. Something he seemed to be doing far too much of late. His hasty visit to Rome had proved frustrating and unsuccessful. The man who had sent him weekly reports for so long was nowhere to be found. Neither was Jennifer. Julian did learn, however, that the man Jennifer had been living with in Rome all these years had recently and suddenly died of influenza. The death of Jennifer’s companion, followed by the coincidence of the disappearance of both Jennifer and the man watching her, and then Thea’s accident four weeks ago was all too much for Julian to be able to dismiss or ignore. God, how he ached to see and be with Thea again! But he dared not. If Jennifer had somehow managed to leave Rome without his knowledge, then there was every possibility she was now in London, seeking ways in which she might hurt him. Julian had several men discreetly searching London for Jennifer. But until she was found and Julian was able to once more control her, his relationship with Thea Fitzroy must be at an end. For her own sake. He had been fighting his need for Thea since returning to London two days ago. Fought it while the hunger for her gnawed at his insides. He knew that this evening she had accompanied Amelia and George to yet another pre-wedding ball, and it had taken all his considerable self-control not to go to the ball himself, just for the opportunity of seeing Thea again. Because he knew seeing her again would not be enough. That he would wish to be with her again too. That he needed the succor, the pleasure only Thea could provide, both with her company and her body. Spending the evening at his club was also out of the question, when he would more than likely find several of his friends there and no doubt be forced to suffer yet more of their teasing and cajoling in regard to the interest he had previously shown in Dorothea Fitzroy. So instead of leaving the house this evening, Julian had retired to his study and turned once again to the solace of the brandy decanter— Every muscle and sinew in Julian’s body tensed, became instantly alert, as he heard first the sound of a bell ringing somewhere in the house, followed by Bradford unlocking and opening the front door, and then the low murmur of voices. Who on earth could be calling on him at almost midnight? Jennifer was the instant response. Julian had his suspicions as to what might have happened to his man in Rome, knew exactly what Jennifer was capable of. Just as he knew that even now she could be thrusting a knife into Bradford’s heart in her determination to get to him. He rose quickly to his feet and was halfway across the room when the door was suddenly flung open, and a woman stood silhouetted in the doorway. His heart ceased beating for several seconds as he stared at her in disbelief. “I believe it is usual for a gentleman”—Thea Fitzroy put special emphasis on that word as she stepped into the study and slammed the door behind her—“to at least do a lady the courtesy of informing her their affair is at an end, rather than leaving her to surmise that to be the case when he chooses to simply disappear off the face of the earth!” She glared her displeasure at him, chin tilted in defiant challenge. An obviously completely recovered Thea, apart from a slight discoloration of bruising at her temple, where she had received the worst of her injuries. She was also, he realized belatedly, once again wearing that scandalous red silk gown. His mouth thinned. “Did you wear that gown in public this evening?” Blackmoor’s response to Thea’s accusation was so unexpected that for several moments, she was struck dumb. She had learned from Amelia earlier this evening that Amelia’s father had been back in London for the past two days—without so much as a word to Thea—and Thea had been so incensed at the news that she had taken it upon herself to visit him, as he would not do her the courtesy of calling upon her. How dare he return to London and simply ignore her! This evening being the first occasion upon which she had been allowed to leave the house since her accident, her brother Daniel had readily accepted her excuse of tiredness when she asked him to chaperone Amelia and George for the rest of the evening so that she could leave early. Her brother had assumed she would be going straight back to Latham House, of course, and Thea had not corrected that assumption before leaving the ball and instructing the coach driver to take her to Blackmoor House instead. If Julian would not come to her, then she would demand answers from him. “Well?” he barked. Thea glared all the harder. “Don’t you dare take that dictatorial tone with me, you—you arrogant, unfeeling bastard!” She spat out the worst word she knew. Julian’s condemnation was just too much, when the only reason she had requested her maid clean and press the daring red gown, in order that she might wear it this evening, had been in anticipation she might see Julian again. In the hope the gown might have the same effect on him as it had the last time she’d worn it. A pathetic hope. Caring for Julian Remington had reduced her to behaving like one of those women she so abhorred, yearning and chasing after a man and doing anything she could to attract his attention. Well, not anymore. In future, she would please herself, and at the moment, it pleased her to tell this man exactly what she thought of him. “You will answer me, Thea—” “I will do no such thing.” She stepped farther into the dimly lit room, head thrown back, and she could only hope her eyes were glittering her defiance. “If I choose to wear this gown in public or privately, that is my affair. If I choose to take a lover, a dozen lovers, that is also my affair—Blackmoor!” she barely had time to scream his name before she suddenly found herself unceremoniously bent over the front of his desk, held there by one of Blackmoor’s hands placed firmly in the small of her back as he threw up the skirts of her gown, and no doubt discovered her lack of undergarments, before administering a painful smack to her bare bottom. “You will never—” He spanked her again. “—again wear this gown in public.” And again. “Nor will you go without drawers anywhere—” Then another. “—unless I am by your side!” And another. “Nor shall you take any lover—” And yet another. “—but me!” The sixth smack was harder than the rest and stung Thea’s already sensitized and throbbing flesh. “Do you understand me, Thea?” God, her bottom felt so hot and stinging, and she was so wet between her thighs. Because Julian had spanked her? How shameful was that? How utterly, utterly— “I will not ask again,” he warned through what sounded like gritted teeth. Delicious. So wickedly delicious, Thea did not want it to stop. “Very well.” There was the rustle of clothing behind her. “It seems that you are in need of further demonstration as to whom you should obey!” Having Julian push her feet apart, and then to feel him step in between her parted legs, the material of his pantaloons against her burning flesh telling her he was still fully dressed, was the only warning Thea had before he placed one of his hands on her hip to hold her in place as the other positioned the moist head of his cock against her channel. He thrust fiercely as he entered her to the hilt. “Sweet fucking hell!” he groaned behind her, both hands on her hips now as he held her in place in front of him. Thea would not have expressed her joy at this pleasurable invasion with quite those words, but she had to acknowledge that it aptly described the rapture she was currently feeling from having Julian’s cock buried so deeply inside her, she felt impaled. Claimed. Whatever his reasons for staying away from her since his return to London, it was most certainly not because of a lack of desire on his part. “You will promise me all those things before I am finished with you,” he warned harshly. His cock, as he began to thrust fiercely in and out of her hot and weeping channel, was every inch as long and wide around as she remembered. It impaled her, filling her completely as she was thrust forward against the desk with every claiming stroke, and caused her to stretch her arms across its width as her fingers curled about the desk’s edge for greater purchase. “Mine,” he growled as those thrusts became harder and faster still. “Say it, Thea. Mine!” He pummeled into her wildly. “Yours,” she complied breathlessly, pushing back against him when she felt her release approaching. “Again, damn it. Say it again!” His fingers bit into the flesh of her hips and he thrust harder. “Yours,” Thea groaned as the pleasure reached a crescendo and then exploded inside her. “I am yours and no one else’s,” she sobbed, her greedy channel continuing to grasp and clasp at his thrusting cock. “Only yours, Remy!” It was as if the sound of that name on her lips added tinder to the wildness that drove him, his fingers digging into, bruising her hips when he began to thrust into her more fiercely still. The room became filled with the sound of flesh slapping against flesh and the scent of their mutual arousal as Julian pounded into her harder, and then harder still. Thea’s second climax was even fiercer than the first, a shock wave of pleasure that consumed her with the force and burning heat of a forest fire. “Fuck!” Julian groaned hoarsely when he felt Thea’s channel squeeze and stroke his cock in rhythm with her orgasm. “Dear God, I am about to— Thea…!” He only just pulled out in time, erratically continuing to thrust the length of his throbbing cock along the crease of her bottom, gasping when he felt his seed burst and pulse in a wild spray over the base of her spine and lower back. He managed to place his hands either side of her on the desk and take most of his weight on his arms before he fell forward weakly. Which was when sanity returned to him and he realized exactly what he had just done. Where he had done it. Worst of all, whom he had done it to. Thea had come here tonight to upbraid him for his shabbiness in ignoring her existence these past four weeks, and he had first spanked her and then fucked her over the top of his desk. And now he had to send her away again, cast her off as if she meant nothing more to him than the fierce fucking the two of them had just shared. For Thea’s own sake, Julian knew he had no other choice but to push her away. He peeled himself away from the stickiness covering her bottom and thighs. His stickiness, from the prodigious amount of cum he had produced at the pleasure of at last being inside her. Staking a claim he had no right to. “Do not move,” he instructed. After straightening his own soiled clothes, he crossed the room to shake out and then use the water jug to dampen the napkin from the untouched dinner tray before returning to Thea. He gently cleaned and dried her bottom and lower back before throwing down the back of her crushed gown so that he no longer had to look at that bared and delectable flesh. His cock, rebellious as ever, stirred once more inside his pantaloons, ready to go again if he would let it. “You should not have come here.” Julian stepped back. Thea slowly straightened from bending over the desk to turn and face him, her cheeks flushed, eyes fever bright. A brightness that dimmed, the color draining from her cheeks, as she saw the harshness of his expression. Julian hardened his heart against her obvious distress. “A lady would not have forced her way into my home as you have just done. She would also have known when to accept that an affair is over.” He looked down the length of his nose at her. All the color had leeched from her cheeks, her eyes pained green pools. “I… But… You were obviously not—not disappointed to see me.” Julian’s nostrils flared at the smell of sex that still permeated the room. How could it be otherwise when, despite his efforts, his cum was all over both of them? “What man would say no to what you so obviously offered? You deliberately used the name Remy as further encouragement,” he reminded her coldly as she would have spoken. Possibly to protest. She looked at him in bewilderment for several seconds. Long seconds, when Julian had to fight within himself not to get down on his knees and beg her forgiveness for deliberately hurting her, as well as himself. To reassure her that what they had just shared had been more, so much more, than anything he had known with any other woman. Instead, he watched the light die completely out of Thea’s eyes as she straightened her shoulders and stood at her full height, chin raised proudly high. “I apologize. It will not happen again.” He gave a haughty nod. “Now, if you will excuse me. I wish to go upstairs to my bedchamber to bathe and change out of this soiled clothing.” His nose wrinkled with distaste. Thea gave him one last pained glance before turning on her heel and fleeing from the room. Julian only allowed himself to breathe again once he heard the slamming of the front door as she left the house completely. There was nothing, absolutely nothing he could do about the pain in his chest as a result of knowing that Thea must now hate him with every fiber of her being. Chapter 11 The past four weeks had been frustrating ones for Jennifer. Dorothea Fitzroy, having unfortunately survived the carriage accident without serious injury, had also remained within the safety of Latham House ever since. Blackmoor had also disappeared for almost a month, and even the tediousness of seducing one of his footmen had not revealed to Jennifer where the duke had gone. Instead, there had been long and tedious weeks of simply waiting. But finally, finally, Dorothea Fitzroy had left the house earlier this evening, and with Blackmoor also back in London, Jennifer had not been the least surprised when the other woman left the entertainments early before traveling to Blackmoor House to see and be with him again. Only for the other woman to leave just minutes later. Jennifer once again sat in the shadows of her cab and watched as Dorothea Fitzroy dashed down the steps from the house before climbing into her waiting carriage, moonlight revealing the track of tears cascading down the paleness of her cheeks. The stupid little fool had obviously cast herself upon Blackmoor’s mercy and been cruelly rejected. Jennifer could have warned the younger woman of how it would be once Blackmoor tired of her. Blackmoor had never cared for anyone apart from Amelia. The child. A child who was a child no longer but was instead about to be married. Jennifer had given Blackmoor her word long ago never to speak to or harm Amelia in any way. But with Dorothea Fitzroy so obviously removed as a possible means of retribution against Blackmoor, what other choice did she have? Chapter 12 “The Duke of Blackmoor wishes to speak with you, my lord.” Thea’s eyes fluttered closed in response to Cross’s announcement of Daniel’s visitor. Blackmoor was here. Now. The two of them had parted so badly following that wild coupling in the duke’s study four nights ago— Parted badly? Julian’s dismissal of her had been devastating. Cruel. And final. But with only days to go now until George and Amelia’s wedding, it was to be expected that Julian would call upon Daniel to ensure all the arrangements had been made for the smooth running of the happy event. Unfortunately, Thea’s own unhappiness was currently such that the last thing she wished to do was sit and discuss her nephew’s wedding, which had already taken up so much of her time for so many weeks. Any more than she wished to see or be in the same room as Blackmoor. It had been relatively easy to convince Daniel, after having left the ball so early that evening four nights ago, that she had suffered a relapse in health from going back into society too quickly after her accident. That reason had allowed her to be excused from all social engagements these past four days. She had refused all visitors too, could not bear the thought of even attempting to put on a brave face in front of her friends, in regard to her unhappiness at Blackmoor’s callous treatment of her. She and Daniel had been enjoying afternoon tea together, but she now stood. “I believe I will leave you two gentlemen to talk in private, Daniel—” “Your presence is also required for this conversation.” Blackmoor, with his usual arrogance, had not waited in the hallway for Cross to show him into the drawing room. Thea’s hand shook slightly, the cup rattling in the saucer she was holding as she turned away to replace them both on the tea tray, giving herself time to gather her defenses together before she at last dared a glance across the drawing room to where Blackmoor stood in the doorway. Her traitorous heart leapt in her chest just at the sight of him. As a warning, perhaps, that despite the cruel way he had dismissed her from his life, she was not yet over her feelings for him. Her heart, Thea had discovered these past few days, took absolutely no heed of the dictates of the head. If it did, then she would no longer care what Blackmoor did or said. She would be able to look at him again without feeling as if her heart were breaking. On closer inspection, his appearance seemed rather harsher and more austere than usual, that impression added to by his usual somber clothing. There was also a bleakness to the gray of his eyes, rather than just their usual coldness. Lines had etched themselves beside his nose and unsmiling mouth. His face seemed thinner, sharper, the skin stretched tautly over his high cheekbones, as if he might have shed some weight these past few days too. No doubt the strain of the impending wedding was finally taking its toll on even Blackmoor. Thea’s gaze remained fixed on his perfectly shaven chin as she answered him. “It is kind of you to include me, Your Grace. But I am sure the two of you do not require the presence of a lady to conduct your conversation.” She used the word deliberately, as a reminder to herself, as well as Blackmoor, that when they last spoke, he had accused her of lacking the decorum necessary to be called a lady. “On the contrary, this particular lady’s presence is very necessary,” Blackmoor bit out abruptly. Thea’s wide-eyed gaze rose sharply to meet his. Surely Blackmoor did not intend to tell Daniel of the wantonness of her behavior just days ago? It was cruel enough that he had dismissed her so scathingly. He surely had no need to involve her brother in the details of their brief and ill-favored affair. She frowned as she realized those gray eyes did not seem to be so icily cutting as they had appeared a few seconds ago. Indeed, on closer inspection, Blackmoor’s austere demeanor seemed to owe less to arrogance and was more an expression of preoccupation and anxiety. But anxiety over what? Thea had spent no time at all with Amelia these past four days, needing that complete break from Blackmoor and anyone or anything that reminded her of him. To give her time to lick and heal in private the wounds she’d suffered from their last encounter. She did so hope that Amelia had not spent those same days fretting and worrying as to whether or not she was doing the right thing in marrying George. Not only would it cause a scandal in society to call off the wedding at this late date, but her nephew would be heartbroken if Amelia had decided she could not marry him after all. “Another cup and fresh tea, if you please, Cross,” she instructed briskly. “I do not have time for—” “If you please, Cross,” Thea repeated firmly over the duke’s refusal, waiting until the butler had left the room before speaking again. “You will have tea and some cake to eat before commencing your conversation,” she told Blackmoor firmly. He looked as though he were about to continue arguing, but her brother spoke up. “I should do as I was told, if I were you, Blackmoor,” Daniel drawled. “I know from past experience that once my sister gets that look on her face, there is no point in arguing further. She will have her way, no matter what you or I have to say on the matter.” Julian was so weary, in body as well as spirit, he did not believe he had the strength at present to even attempt to gainsay Thea on any course of action. Even if the thought of ingesting anything, food or drink, made him feel ill. Besides which, he might need the fortification for what he was about to do. The days—and nights—since he’d last seen Thea had been…unbearable. Jennifer was nowhere to be found in London, despite his own efforts and those of the men he had employed to find her. He had also been suffering a heavy burden of self-recrimination for the harshness he had shown towards Thea in his study that night. Had he needed to be quite that cruel? Quite that cold and cutting? She looks so achingly beautiful today. Pale, perhaps a little thinner, but to Julian’s hungry gaze, Thea had never looked more beautiful than she did in the russet gown she wore today. A color that perfectly complemented the red of her hair and her creamy complexion. It was all he could do not to cross the room, take her in his arms, and crush her slender body to his. To once again feel the warmth of her against him. To lose himself in her unique perfume. To kiss and caress her before burying his cock inside her and never have to leave. All of those were actions the proud expression on her face warned him against even attempting to accomplish. Julian sat down abruptly in a chair on the opposite side of the room from Thea as the butler returned with the third cup and fresh tea. Julian accepted the tea and plate of cake she prepared for him. He even managed to take a sip of the hot brew as the butler quietly departed the room again. Thea’s tension grew the longer Blackmoor remained silent. What was so urgent that he insisted on speaking to Daniel about it today? If Blackmoor had come here to expose her to her brother, then she would never forgive him— He stood abruptly, as indication he did not intend to delay the conversation any longer. “I have…several things I need to impart to you, Latham.” Daniel merely looked puzzled at the other man’s intensity. “Amelia is perhaps suffering pre-wedding nerves…?” “Not at all.” Blackmoor gave a hard smile. “My daughter knows her own mind and rarely, if ever, changes it.” Like her father, Thea added silently, even as her own tension grew. Because if Blackmoor had not come here to talk about Amelia… “That is something of a relief.” Her brother nodded. “George would be inconsolable if she were to change her mind about marrying him.” The duke nodded. “The reason I am here does not concern the two of them directly but indirectly. At least, I believe it does.” He frowned. “You may feel differently after our conversation.” “Proceed if you please, Blackmoor,” Daniel invited with curiosity. The duke began to pace the drawing room, a sure sign, to Thea that Blackmoor was deeply disturbed. Surely he could not be considering canceling the wedding because George’s aunt had proven to be less of a lady than she appeared to be? “I have thought on this at length,” he finally sighed. “In fact, I have been able to think of little else these past four days— Did you burn yourself?” Blackmoor frowned his concern as Thea dropped her cup into her lap. Thank goodness it contained only a little tea, and what there was had cooled to tepidness. “No, I am not burned,” she dismissed as she distractedly mopped up the liquid from her gown with a napkin while sending Blackmoor a frowning, pleading glance. She accepted she had behaved wantonly in his presence, very much so, but that was between the two of them and should not reflect upon Daniel or George and his impending nuptials to Amelia. It was a testament, Julian realized heavily, to how badly he had treated Thea that the expression of pleading he could now see on her face revealed she believed he had come here today with the intention of informing her brother of their brief relationship. An affair of such short duration, Julian was not even sure it merited being called such. So brief, and yet it had affected him so profoundly he could not stop thinking about Thea. Wanting to be with her. The last thing he ever wanted to do was to hurt Thea any more than he already had. “My conversation concerns something that happened eighteen years ago.” Julian watched for Thea’s reaction, her expression at first blank, quickly followed by relief, and finally puzzlement. Understandably so. Eighteen years ago, Thea had still been in the nursery, with all her life still before her. He doubted she would even have known of the existence of the Duke of Blackmoor then. He gave the ghost of a smile. “Latham will perhaps remember those events.” He looked at the older man. “I believe you and my older brother were friends?” “We were at school together,” the other man confirmed. “I remember you came to stay with us in Worcestershire one summer.” Julian nodded. “His death would have been as much of a shock to you as it was to our family.” “It was a tragedy, yes.” Latham concurred. Julian gave a bitter laugh. “I have another name for it. But I am jumping ahead of myself,” he continued briskly as brother and sister looked at him questioningly. “Although I was only nineteen, I assumed the dukedom after Robert’s death, along with the onerous responsibilities that went with it.” Latham shrugged. “It is our lot in life, I am afraid. You may have been very young, but you were still the spare,” he attempted to cajole. “You may rest assured that my father had ensured both his sons had all the necessary training to become duke after his demise.” He acknowledged. “The responsibility that caused me the most…difficulty had nothing to do with my duties as duke. Just days after Robert’s death, a young lady came to see me at Blackmoor House. She…imparted to me the knowledge that she was expecting Robert’s child, and that the two of them would have been married if not for his sudden demise.” Thea was unable to suppress her shocked gasp. Seconds ago, she had been afraid of what Julian Remington intended telling her brother, but she could never, not in a million years, have guessed that it was going to be something as shocking as this. “Her family was only on the fringe of society and totally without funds, but in the circumstances, I felt I had no choice but to marry her myself,” Blackmoor continued bleakly. “She was expecting Robert’s heir. A girl, as it turned out, but still Robert’s child.” Thea’s head was spinning with all that Blackmoor had just said. His brother’s unexpected death. The young and pregnant woman. How he had felt duty bound to marry the girl himself. All these years, everyone, including Thea, had believed Julian Remington had married in such haste after his brother died because Julian had impregnated a young woman. Just as they had believed him to be mourning the wife he loved all these years, when all along it had been a marriage of— Of what? The fact he had married this woman because he felt it his duty to do so did not preclude him having fallen in love with her himself once married to her. Or that he loved her still. “Amelia?” her brother questioned softly. “Yes,” Blackmoor confirmed. “Why are you telling me this now?” Daniel frowned. “Did you think it would make a difference to how we feel about her? That we would no longer wish for George to marry her? Because if so, you should know that I feel highly insulted you would ever think that I, that any of us, are so damned shallow of nature as to blame Amelia for something she had absolutely no control over.” A nerve pulsed in the duke’s tightly clenched jaw. “I am gratified to hear it—” “I repeat, I am insulted you could ever think otherwise—” “Daniel.” Thea quietly interrupted her brother’s indignant tirade even as her gaze remained fixed on Julian. His expression was no longer bleak but agonized. “I do not believe His Grace has finished talking.” Blackmoor shot her a grateful glance. “Lady Dorothea is quite correct, Latham, I am nowhere near finished. Of course Amelia is not to blame for any of this. She is an innocent. She is also my daughter, and I love her dearly,” he added in a tone that brooked no dispute to the claim. “Her mother is another matter, however,” he continued grimly. “As I have said, she was pregnant with Amelia when the marriage took place. It was a difficult pregnancy, requiring that our marriage not be… Jennifer and I did not have a real marriage but one of convenience.” “Just for the length of the pregnancy?” Daniel prompted. “For the duration of the marriage,” the other man corrected stiffly. Thea bit down painfully on her lip to prevent her second gasp from being audible. Not only had Julian not loved his wife, but the two of them had never consummated their marriage? “I did not love her when I married her or after,” he continued bleakly. “I tolerated her because I believed she was the woman Robert loved and was the mother of his child. In the end, I came to hate her.” “Oh, I say, old chap—” “She was the bitch from hell who confessed to killing my brother!” Gray eyes glittered with the force of Blackmoor’s emotions. Thea stared at him. She was beyond shocked now. “She killed your brother…?” “Yes,” he confirmed through gritted teeth. “I had discovered that she was meeting another man in secret, a footman employed in her parents’ home.” His top lip curled back with distaste. “When I confronted her with that knowledge, she confessed all, seemed relieved to do so. She did not just confess to killing Robert, she boasted of it. And I—I could do nothing, nothing.” His hands were clenched at his sides. “Because of Amelia,” Daniel guessed. “Yes.” Blackmoor sighed. “She knew that if I accused her to the authorities that Amelia would also be dragged into the scandal that ensued. Apparently, Robert had refused even to contemplate marrying her, because he could not be sure, and neither could she, as to whether or not Amelia was his child. In fact, any marriage between the two of them would have been null and void anyway, because the man she was secretly meeting was already her husband.” Thea’s breath caught in her throat. “But if that is so, then surely it meant she was also married to someone else when the two of you married?” “Yes.” “Then the two of you were not married at all?” “No.” This was all too much for Thea to comprehend. Julian married but not married. Being Amelia’s father but not Amelia’s father. It did, however, go a long way towards explaining the comment he had once made regarding past events having long colored his words and actions. And the aversion he had expressed to sharing any woman’s affections. Or hearing her lies. “Robert had already found out about the other man and was threatening to expose her for the blackmailer she was,” Blackmoor continued unemotionally. “She killed him for it.” “But I thought—” Daniel sat forward abruptly. “I had assumed you meant his heart seizure was due to the stress. This woman actually confessed to killing Robert? Her own self?” “Yes.” Blackmoor nodded. Thea swallowed. “How?” “She put poison in his wine. The doctor who attended mistook the symptoms for a heart seizure,” he added with disgust. Daniel stood abruptly to cross to the tray of drinks on the sideboard, pouring a good measure into three glasses before carrying two of them over and handing one to first Thea and then to Julian. “They say that confession is good for the soul, Blackmoor, but I am not sure for whom!” He took a large swallow of his brandy. “Amelia knows none of this, I presume?” “No.” Daniel scowled. “She never needs to know either.” “And therein lies my present dilemma,” Julian told the other man grimly. “We will never tell her,” Thea assured him with an edge of indignation in her voice. His expression softened slightly. “I did not for a moment think that either of you would.” She gave a perplexed frown. “Then what is your dilemma?” Julian’s mouth thinned. “Jennifer admitted to me that she and her real husband had planned this together all along. Her seduction of Robert, the pregnancy, the fake marriage, and the blackmail. Which she now practiced on me. In exchange for her agreement to leave and have no further contact with Amelia or myself, Jennifer demanded a large sum of money so that she and her husband could live abroad, far away from the condemnation of society. The money was their goal all along,” he added bitterly. “They planned it all. This woman’s pregnancy, and Robert’s death when he refused to comply?” Thea could not imagine such ruthlessness as must exist to execute such a cold-blooded plan. “Yes,” he confirmed tersely. “They had no money, and Jennifer’s parents would have cast her off completely if they had ever known she was married to one of their footmen. The plan was to ensnare Robert, and when that failed, they killed him and turned their attentions to me…” He gave a shake of his head. “I was a fool ever to be taken in by such a tale as she spun me.” “You were nineteen years old, grieving for the brother you loved, and newly come into the onerous title of duke,” Daniel excused gently. “That is no excuse.” He gave a disgusted shake of his head. “Of course it is,” Thea snapped her impatience with these self-recriminations. “You had no reason to doubt this woman’s claim.” “It is kind of you to say so—” “It is the truth,” she insisted, knowing how much it must hurt and humiliate the proud and haughty Julian Remington to admit to falling afoul of such trickery. “There is still more,” he revealed evenly. “Amelia was only a baby of one year old, and I adored her. She was, and still is, my Achilles’ heel,” he accepted ruefully. “Something Jennifer was only too aware of. She played upon the fact that the existence of her previous marriage meant I had no claim to Amelia. She offered to leave the babe with me if I would agree to all she asked.” “She just abandoned her own daughter?” Thea could not imagine any woman ever doing such a thing. “She sold her daughter,” Blackmoor corrected harshly. “I insisted on having a legal contract drawn up—” “Thank God,” Daniel muttered in the background. “I was young and naïve, but not completely stupid,” Julian acknowledged with hard self-derision. “I was to be allowed to keep Amelia, and in exchange, I would not have Jennifer arrested for murdering Robert. I would also give her the large sum of money to set up her own home in Italy with her real husband, James Brown, after which neither I nor Amelia would ever see or hear from either of the Browns again.” “And did you?” Daniel probed. Blackmoor’s jaw tightened. “Until recently, Jennifer has complied with our agreement.” “Recently…?” Thea echoed, her eyes wide. He nodded. “It is my belief that Jennifer may have returned to London.” Thea gasped. “She is not dead…?” “She is not dead,” Julian confirmed grimly. Chapter 13 Thea could see from her brother’s expression that he was as stunned by what he had heard as she was. Not only had Julian Remington never been married to the woman who had been publicly known as his duchess for over a year, but he was not Amelia’s father. Also, Amelia’s mother was responsible for killing Julian’s brother. And she is not dead, as everyone believes, but still very much alive. “I am presuming you have decided to tell us all this because Mrs. Brown has now reneged on that last promise?” Daniel prompted softly. Thea gave Blackmoor a sharp glance. “Is this woman out to make mischief before Amelia’s wedding?” “I doubt Jennifer knows the meaning of the word mischief,” he dismissed scornfully. “She is, however, vicious and obviously capable of committing murder. I have also discovered her real husband died some weeks ago of influenza, and I fear his death may have unhinged her completely.” His mouth tightened. “I have had someone in Italy watching her all these years, but he disappeared some weeks ago.” Daniel frowned. “Do you suspect foul play?” “As I have learned only too well, where Jennifer is concerned, it is always wise to think the worst.” Blackmoor sighed. “It is certainly true that none of my enquiries for the man proved to be successful. I did, however, discover that Jennifer has left Italy. It is now my belief she is in London somewhere, but so far neither I nor the men I employed to do so have been able to find where she is staying.” “Has she contacted you, or has something untoward happened to make you think she is here?” Daniel looked puzzled. Thea’s breath stilled as Blackmoor gazed at her between narrowed lids. The only thing untoward which had happened in recent weeks had been her accident, when she stumbled and fell in front of the horses and carriage. Stumbled…or was pushed? Thea thought back to that day. The crowded street. The jostling from behind her. The push that sent me stumbling from the pavement and into the path of the horses and carriage. Oh dear God… If that push had indeed been deliberate, then Jennifer Brown had to be aware of Thea’s relationship with Blackmoor. And the only way for the other woman to have known about that was if she had followed Thea, that day, and for several days before it. Was this the reason for Blackmoor’s sudden disappearance after her accident? Because, suspecting the worst, he had traveled to Italy himself to make his enquiries? Was it possible that Jennifer really was here in London? That her husband’s death had unhinged her and caused her to turn her anger on the man whom her confused and grief-stricken mind now probably held responsible for all the ills in her life? Grief did strange things to people, and Jennifer appeared to be a woman of strong and not always logical emotions. Thea knew with startling clarity this was exactly what Blackmoor feared had happened. Meaning he was now in the difficult position of maintaining discretion, for her sake, or telling her brother exactly the reason for his suspicion Jennifer Brown was now in London. She straightened her shoulders before rising to her feet. “Daniel—” “This is not necessary, Thea,” Blackmoor told her huskily. “I believe it is.” She returned his gaze before turning back to her brother. “Blackmoor and I have…formed an acquaintance of late,” she informed him. “I believe he may now suspect that my accident was not an accident at all.” “An acquaintance…?” Daniel repeated as he frowned first at her and then narrowed his gaze at Blackmoor. “We have been lovers,” Julian revealed briskly. Thea’s cheeks blazed with color as her brother’s eyes widened in shock. Because Daniel could not believe his sister capable of such behavior? Or because he could not imagine her and Blackmoor together? No doubt a little of both, she accepted. They were an unlikely pairing, she so plain and prim, Blackmoor so aristocratically handsome he could have any woman he wished, in or out of society. “Well.” Daniel visibly collected himself. “I… This is—” “Let us not allow that to cloud the issue, Latham.” Julian’s voice was terse. “It is of no significance, in any case, since Thea and I are no longer lovers.” His disparaging tone came as a slap in the face to Thea. A timely reminder that Blackmoor was finished with her, once and for all. Much as Julian appreciated Thea’s sacrifice in confessing all to her brother, he also hated the way her cheeks now paled at his dismissal of their relationship. Because it was a deliberate dismissal. His way of protecting her from what he suspected to be Jennifer’s vengeful feelings towards him. The husband she loved was dead, her life was once again in ruins, and she no longer had any reason to hold back in regard to the hatred she had developed for Julian. What better way to punish him than to deprive him of the woman he— The woman he what? Julian had deliberately not looked too deeply into his feelings for Thea these past few days. He would not do so now either. “With only days before the wedding, I believed it important that you know the truth, Latham. So that you can be vigilant in your protection of…your family.” He did not so much as glance in Thea’s direction as he continued. “I would also deem it a favor to me if you do not reproach Thea in any way in regard to our brief…liaison. It was entirely and singularly my fault that it happened.” The other man raised dark brows. “Are you saying you forced my sister into accepting your attentions?” “I—” “No!” Thea protested vehemently over his reply. “There was no force involved on either side, Daniel,” she stated. “It was nothing more than a brief and mutual attraction that has now run its course.” “Nothing more than a brief and mutual attraction…” It had been a damned sight more than that to Julian. Much more. Just being in the same room with Thea was enough to make his heart race and his cock rise to attention, the latter a response he dare not act upon again while Jennifer stalked the shadows intent on harming those he cared about. Even if Thea were to allow him to do so. Which he knew she would not. He had been coldly and deliberately cruel to her after they made love in his study. Dismissed her as if she were nothing more to him than a cheap whore he had brought home for the evening. One he had now tired of. Her dislike of him now was the price he had to pay for protecting her from further harm at Jennifer’s hands. Damn it, he would protect her, if it was the last thing he did. And if Jennifer had her way, it might be exactly that… “I must say, Thea, you do not have the look of the radiant aunt of the groom,” Lady Sally Derwent remarked with her usual forthright manner. Perhaps Thea did not look radiant because she was not. These past two days, since Blackmoor’s visit to Latham House in order to confess all to her brother as well as to her, had taken a terrible toll on her already frayed nerves. As requested, Daniel had not questioned or reproached her for her affair with Blackmoor once the other man had departed that day. But that did not mean those questions had not been in her brother’s eyes every time he looked at her since. She had also been summoned to Blackmoor House yesterday, Amelia having sent a note requesting her presence, due to a last-minute panic concerning the veil. Thank goodness Blackmoor had been away from home at the time. Perhaps still searching for the woman who had been his wife and yet not? Whatever the reason for his absence, it in no way detracted from Thea’s inner turmoil in returning to the scene of her utter humiliation. It had also dawned on her that the dance she had to take with Blackmoor at the wedding, and which had been his original reason for calling upon her that day six weeks ago, now loomed ominously in her very near future. Was Blackmoor dreading it as much as she was? Of course he was. How could it be otherwise, when he now despised both her and the desire that had burned so brightly between them and then been as quickly extinguished? On his part, at least. “Perhaps she is not completely recovered from her accident?” Mrs. Felicity Randall put in kindly, the three ladies having once again decided to call upon Thea together. “You should have heeded our advice and taken Blackmoor as your lover,” Lady Rachel Shaw put in dryly. “There is nothing like a lover for putting color in your cheeks and a sparkle in your eyes.” “And you would know because…?” Sally eyed her knowingly. “I would know.” Rachel gave an acknowledging inclination of her head but added nothing further to the statement. “What on earth happened with Blackmoor?” She turned her attention back to Thea. “I felt sure there was a relationship developing there.” Thea gave what she hoped was a dismissive laugh. “Blackmoor and I? Please! As if!” “Protesting too much, do you think?” Rachel prompted Sally conversationally. “Perhaps,” the other woman drawled. “Thea, dear—” “His Grace, the Duke of Blackmoor, my lady,” Cross announced with resignation at the same time as Blackmoor, his appearance as dark and somber as ever, stepped into Thea’s private parlor. Really, had this arrogant duke abandoned all manners where she was concerned? Damningly so, when she had just finished telling her friends there had not been, nor was there now, any relationship between herself and Blackmoor. Her three friends, all made of sterner stuff than the dozen or so ladies Blackmoor had last routed from her home, instead gazed at him with varying degrees of curiosity and speculation. “Ladies.” He gave an acknowledging nod of their presence. Instead, it was left to Thea to slowly rise to her feet and give each of her friends a pointed glance to signify it was time they departed. Sally merely raised mocking brows. Rachel was too busy ogling the duke to notice anything else. Only Felicity gathered up her parasol and bonnet in preparation for leaving. “Come along, ladies, I still have time to go to the milliners before returning home. Now,” she added, showing a rarely seen steeliness, when Rachel seemed set to argue. “Thea dear.” She turned to kiss her warmly on the cheek. “Your Grace.” She curtseyed to Blackmoor, her hand tucked into the crook of Sally’s arm as she pulled the other woman from the room. “Thea.” Rachel followed them out slowly. “Your Grace.” She still only had eyes for Blackmoor as she sidled past him. “That was extremely rude of you.” Thea frowned her displeasure as Blackmoor closed the door almost before Rachel’s daintily booted foot had crossed the threshold. He eyed her impatiently. “I needed to speak with you alone.” As if that was excuse for any amount of rudeness on his part. “Those three ladies are my closest friends.” “Then I will apologize to them when next we meet.” Blackmoor put his hat and cane down on a chair before crossing the room to stand in front of her. “As I have come here today to apologize to you,” he added huskily. Thea took a step away before moving to stand with her back to the window, totally unnerved by his close proximity. “Apologize to me for what?” she prompted coolly. Julian knew he deserved Thea’s unyielding attitude. Indeed, he had deliberately caused, and then nurtured it. He just hadn’t considered how unhappy it would make him feel to have Thea look at him with such scorn. To still be able to feel that scorn when they were apart, even though he lived several miles away. He gave a shake of his head. “I placed you in a difficult position when I called the other day. I realized afterwards I should have taken steps to warn you of the content of the conversation before speaking with your brother.” She gave a shrug of her shoulders, very pale and regal in a peach gown . “An apology is unnecessary when such behavior is what one knows to expect from the Duke of Blackmoor. At least one can never claim to be disappointed in your unremitting arrogance,” she added dismissively. Julian gave a pained wince, knowing he wholly deserved her condemnation. “Nevertheless, I still offer you my apology. I trust there have been no repercussions from Latham in regards to the…personal revelations I made about the two of us that day?” “Why should there be? My brother is an honorable gentleman, and he gave you his word.” She had no need to say that she didn’t consider him to be in the least honorable or a gentleman, her utter disgust obvious in her tone as well as the haughty angle of her head as she looked down her nose at him. Julian wanted nothing more than to erase that disgusted look. As he longed to remove the pins from Thea’s hair, and allow those red tresses to fall about her shoulders and cascade down her back almost to her waist. To bury his face in the gentle curve of her throat and breathe her in. To hold her in his arms and kiss her. Nothing more. Just to kiss her and hold her. His hands clenched at his sides as he stopped himself from doing any of those things. “I have also come to ask a favor of you. Yes, I realize I am the last person who should ever dare ask you for anything ever again,” he acknowledged as she raised her auburn brows. “This is not for me, Thea, but for Amelia.” “Go on.” Julian sighed as her gaze became even chillier. “Amelia has informed me that you are all to attend the Wiltons’ masked ball this evening”—damn these infernal masked balls the ton seemed to enjoy so much!—“and we still have not located my—Mrs. Brown. A mask can hide any number of sins, as well as a person’s true identity.” His mouth had thinned at having almost calling Jennifer his wife, something Thea now knew the other woman had never been. As she now knew the whole sordid story of his “marriage” to Jennifer, the circumstances of Amelia’s birth, and his “wife’s” supposed death. All of them, apart from Amelia, things Julian would much rather forget had ever taken place. Maybe Latham was right, and if he had been older, more worldly-wise, he would have seen through Jennifer’s ruse, and so never have allowed himself to be manipulated in the way he had. At the time, he had still been suffering from the loss of his beloved older brother, and Jennifer’s news she was carrying his brother’s child had seemed like a godsend. A small piece of Robert returned to him. It had only been later, following Amelia’s birth, when Jennifer began to spend hours, and then nights away from Blackmoor House, that he had begun to suspect Jennifer was seeing another man. When he confronted her with that suspicion, she had laughed and told him the truth. How Julian had stopped himself from strangling her that day, he would never know. Perhaps it was the thought of Amelia being left without either of the people she believed to be her parents. Whatever the reason, Julian had changed that day and become the controlling and controlled man he was today. The man everyone knew as the cold and arrogant Duke of Blackmoor. Except that coldness and arrogance no longer applied when it came to his feelings towards Thea Fitzroy. Thea made him burn. Made him yearn, long for things he could never have. No respectable lady would ever want to be associated with a man whose past she now knew to be as complicated and sordid as his was. And above all else, Thea was a lady. Beautiful and compassionate too, her concern always for the benefit of others rather than herself. He was counting on that unselfish concern now. “Tonight is the last chance for Jennifer to cause harm before the wedding tomorrow. As such, I do not believe it is a good idea for any of you to attend the ball this evening.” Thea eyed him curiously. “Surely you do not think she will dare to attend the ball herself?” “I know better than to underestimate her.” “But she would need an invitation.” Julian gave a weary sigh. “I have no doubts she will find a way to be there this evening if that is where she wishes to be.” Thea could see why Blackmoor was making his request they not attend the ball. She could even sympathize with it. But she had made a pact with herself since the end of their disastrous affair. Had considered the events in her life so far and decided she had been seriously wanting in expressing her own preferences and needs. That she had allowed things to happen in her life rather than make those choices for herself. She had married Henry because her father had decided she would. Once widowed, she had moved back to Latham House to live with her brother and George, because Daniel was now the earl and it was what he thought best for her. Her father and Daniel had both been wrong in those choices, and in future, Thea wished to decide for herself what was or was not best for her. One of the things she intended doing after the wedding tomorrow was to look for a house and servants of her own. Henry had left her quite wealthy, and once removed to her own home, she could live her life as she saw fit and not as her male relatives decided for her. She also intended to pursue her decision to take a lover. Taking on a man like Blackmoor had been aiming too high for her first venture, but there was no reason to think she would make that same mistake a second time. She had liked, enjoyed their sexual encounters. She liked sex. And she wished to enjoy it again. Even if, at the moment, the thought of being intimately involved with any other man but Julian Remington caused her stomach to churn in revolt. She would recover from the feelings she had for him. She was determined to do so. She must do so, for her own sake. She straightened. “It is your prerogative to persuade Amelia not to go out this evening, but I have every intention of attending the Wiltons’ ball.” Julian frowned his frustration with her answer. “To spite me?” Her eyes glittered angrily. “Believe it or not, my actions are not, and never have been, dictated by the Duke of Blackmoor! Now, I should like you to leave my private parlor and never come back.” Had he just described himself as being the controlling and controlled Duke of Blackmoor? Ha. Thea had the power to rip away that control with one defiant tilt of her head. She sighed heavily. “I did not have the chance, the opportunity to say the other day…” she spoke quietly. “I am…sorry, for the way in which you suffered in the past—” “It was my own fault for being so stupid.” “You were very young—” “I do not need your pity!” Julian rasped. “Then what do you want from me?” A frown creased her creamy brow. “I want… Damn it, I want…” He did. He wanted Thea so badly, he had used the conversation about the Wilton ball as an excuse to see and be with her again. Oh, he considered the threat of Jennifer to be a real one, but he could have sent a note to that effect to Latham. He had no need to call on Thea personally. Except he wanted… He had caressed every inch of Thea’s body, had tasted her intimately too, but he had realized these past few days that he had never kissed her on the lips. Perhaps because he feared to do so? Because, despite those other intimacies they had shared, it had helped to keep Thea emotionally at arm’s length if he treated her with the same impersonality as every other woman he had bedded these past sixteen years. Kissing her on the lips would have changed that. Lips that he could not stop staring at. Puffy, slightly parted lips, he had enjoyed watching about the girth of his cock as her cheeks hollowed, and she sucked, and her tongue stroked him to climax, but lips he had never felt pressed against his own. Thea’s eyes widened in alarm as Blackmoor stalked slowly and purposefully towards her. “What are you doing…?” She took a step back, only to find herself with her back pressed against the drapes in the window. “Blackmoor—” “Julian,” he encouraged throatily, his hands feeling cool as they now cupped her heated cheeks. “You will call me Julian when you are in the throes of orgasm.” She gave a shake of her head. “I will not allow you to—” “A kiss is all I am asking for, Thea,” he assured her gruffly. “Just a single kiss before you send me on my way.” A kiss. The two of them had shared many things these past few weeks, but never that. But, oh, how she wanted it. How she hungered for Julian’s kiss. She remained still within the confines of his hands against her cheeks, his gaze holding hers as he slowly lowered his head. Thea’s knees almost buckled beneath her at the first touch of his lips against her own. Lips she had expected to be cold and hard, because he could be so cold and hard, and instead they were soft and warm as they gently explored and coaxed hers into the kiss. Her gloved hands moved up to clutch at his waist in order to steady herself as the sweetness of the kiss went on and on, until it seemed it drew the very heart from her body and into his keeping forevermore. I am in love with Julian Remington, the Duke of Blackmoor. The realization was so startling, so heartbreaking, that Thea pulled sharply away, blinking back the tears she refused to cry in front of him. “Please go now.” “I—” “Please.” He had to leave, before Thea broke down completely and started to cry at the utter futility of having fallen in love with him. His hands dropped back to his sides, his expression once again that of the haughty Duke of Blackmoor. “And the ball this evening?” She straightened her shoulders. “I have told you I have every intention of attending.” Then so, Julian decided with frustration, would he. Chapter 14 How good it felt to be in society once again, after all those years spent in Italy. Banished. Dead, as far as her family and society were concerned. But no longer. It had not been an easy task persuading Shilton into bringing her to the Wiltons’ masked ball with him this evening, but the promise to suck his cock sometime during the evening, a service his wife did not provide, had soon persuaded him into accepting the risk of discovery by having his wife and mistress at the same ball together. In the end, Shilton had seemed excited at the prospect. No one from either the Blackmoor or Latham families had arrived as yet, but Jennifer had no doubts they soon would. And once they did… A catlike smile curved her lips as she envisaged the shock on Blackmoor’s face. He could do no more than stand by and watch as his world crumbled in front of his eyes. Chapter 15 Thea easily recognized Blackmoor, despite the black mask that covered half his face. There was no mistaking that slightly curling and overlong dark hair, as well as the width of shoulders in the black superfine, as Julian stood on the other side of the Wiltons’ ballroom conversing with several of his friends. How could she not recognize the man with whom she now knew herself to be in love? She had finally allowed herself to cry those heartbroken tears once Julian had left her earlier today. Had cried until there were no more tears left inside her and she became filled with a calm acceptance that she could not choose whom her heart loved; it just did. At least she now knew what it was like to love someone, wholeheartedly and completely. Also futilely, but that was not Julian’s fault. He had never misled her in regard to their relationship, had told her from the beginning that he was only interested in claiming her body and not her heart. After their conversation this afternoon, she had half expected that she would see him here this evening. Out of his concern for Amelia, if nothing else. Anticipating his presence, Thea had considered wearing the red silk gown again as an act of rebellion for his high-handed ways. Then decided against it and instead worn a gown of a pale coffee color. She had already worn the red gown twice in the past few weeks. Also, if Jennifer Brown was to be at the ball tonight, as Julian suspected, then Thea wished to remain as inconspicuous as possible so that she might also aid Amelia, if it became necessary. Was it really possible the other woman could be behind one of these masks? Julian said not to underestimate Mrs. Brown, but even so, Thea could not believe the other woman would be so reckless as to attack Julian or Amelia in public. The woman who had poisoned her lover because he refused to marry her and had then calmly tricked his younger brother into that same bogus marriage? The same woman who had abandoned the child she knew to be hers, even if she had no idea who the father was, in exchange for money and safe passage to Italy? The woman who may have pushed Thea beneath a carriage in hopes of causing her serious if not fatal harm? Julian was right. A woman capable of doing those things would have no qualms about attending the Wilton ball. But for what purpose? To physically harm Julian? Or, as he believed, Amelia? Thea quickly looked about the ballroom for the young girl, finally locating Amelia on the dance floor with George. A quick glance across at Julian revealed he was also watching the young couple. For the same reason? Thea’s heart ached as she saw how strained Blackmoor was about his unsmiling mouth and jaw. It seemed so unfair that he should have to suffer this further torment after all Jennifer Brown had already done to him and his family. She wished— “Do not show alarm or surprise,” she was warned pleasantly by someone standing behind her, at the same time as something cold and hard was pressed into the small of Thea’s back. A gun? Was it possible that the person now standing behind her was Mrs. Brown, and that she had a gun digging into Thea’s back? In the middle of the Wiltons’ ballroom, where anyone might see? Except they wouldn’t, Thea realized with a sinking heart as she glanced frantically around the room. A masked ball, where no one could know for sure the identity of another, was always a good excuse for people to laugh and talk too loudly without fear of social condemnation. As many of the guests in the crowded ballroom were currently doing. Her brother had gone off earlier to play cards in one of the other reception rooms. Her nephew and Amelia had eyes only for each other. Julian—Julian was still watching the young couple through narrowed lids. There was just Thea. And the vengeful Jennifer Brown. Thea forced down her feelings of panic and made herself speak calmly. “What is it you want, Mrs. Brown?” “Ah, I see Blackmoor has confessed all to you.” The other woman laughed softly. “A pretty tale, is it not?” “It is an ugly tale,” Thea spoke firmly. “But it’s yours and yours alone. Julian—Blackmoor did, and continues to do, nothing wrong.” “He killed my husband.” “It is my understanding James Brown died in Italy of influenza.” “Because we had no money left to pay for a doctor!” “I am sure Blackmoor was more than generous in his settlement to you and cannot be blamed if you and your husband had spent it all.” “He deprived me of my child.” “You sold your child,” Thea corrected. Thea had no experience of dealing with the sort of deranged mind she considered Mrs. Brown’s to be, but she suspected it was not a good idea to be antagonizing her in this way. Except she could not stand here and listen, as Mrs. Brown maligned the man she had treated so abominably that his heart was now hardened to the point where he found it impossible to love anyone but his daughter. For that alone— “My God, you are in love with him!” the other woman exclaimed scornfully. Thea stiffened. “I am going to turn around now. I dislike intensely having to talk to someone whom I cannot see.” She turned slowly so as not to alarm the other woman into squeezing the trigger, if that was indeed a gun pressing into her spine. It was. A small pistol, mainly hidden beneath the ruff at the end of the other woman’s sleeve. Enough so that no one else appeared to have noticed it. Jennifer herself was a slender woman several inches shorter than Thea. Very petite in a blue silk gown the exact color of the eyes visible through the white mask she wore. Her blonde hair was drawn up onto her crown, with several loose curls at her temples and nape. Her face, what Thea could see of it below the mask, was beautiful, her neck slender and delicate. The other woman looked like Amelia, not a murderess— And how should I know what a murderess looks like? Was she becoming hysterical, Thea wondered? This was certainly a stressful situation, nor was it rational to be having conversations with herself. Especially when the woman Thea had just decided did not have the look of a murderess was in fact pointing that small pistol directly at her heart. “How brave you are,” the other woman taunted. “But then, you would have to be to have become involved with Blackmoor.” She gave an unpleasant laugh. “I have heard he has become as cold as ice and as unfeeling as stone. I wonder how cold and unfeeling he will be once I have disposed of you,” she added conversationally. Thea forced a pitying expression. “I hope you are not under the misapprehension he cares for me?” She shook her head. “If so, I am sorry to disillusion you, madam.” Those blue eyes narrowed behind the mask. “The two of you have been meeting secretly.” “Not recently. Or had you not noticed?” “He came to see you just this afternoon.” It made Thea feel nauseated to know that this woman had been watching her and Blackmoor so closely. “To discuss last-minute details of the wedding, nothing more.” “You’re lying.” “I am afraid not.” She grimaced. “You seem to know so much about Blackmoor, I’m surprised you did not learn his…interest in any woman is only ever fleeting.” “You are different.” “I assure you I am not. We had a…pleasant interlude together, but now it’s over.” Jennifer’s face twisted with rage at the unmistakable sincerity in Thea’s tone. “You’re lying!” “No—” “Enough!” The other woman pushed the pistol painfully into Thea’s ribs. “Whether you and Blackmoor are still involved is irrelevant. You are aunt to the young man Amelia is to marry. Your death at the hands of Amelia’s mother, the woman Blackmoor has told everyone is dead, will cause a scandal he and his family will never recover from.” “And is that what you want?” Thea frowned. “To ruin Amelia’s life as well as Blackmoor’s?” Blue eyes glittered behind the mask. “Even as a baby, she preferred him to me.” Perhaps because Julian had always loved Amelia unconditionally, whereas her mother… “You would also be made to pay for your crimes, for both the death of Robert Remington and my own.” “You cannot kill someone who is already dead,” she scoffed harshly. Thea frowned. “It is sad that you have lost your husband, the man you loved, but you are young yet—” “I am dying,” Mrs. Brown said flatly. Thea looked more closely at the other woman, noticing for the first time that she was excessively and unfashionably thin beneath the blue gown, her skin as white as the mask she wore. There was also a slight trembling to the hand holding the pistol. “I have consumption,” the other woman told her offhandedly, “and likely to be dead before any court of law could find me guilty of killing Robert or you.” Thea realized how wrong she and Blackmoor had been about this woman’s motivation. Mrs. Brown was not only suffering from a sense of helplessness and a deranged need for revenge, but there was also a death sentence hanging over her own head. She really did have nothing more to lose. Thea gave another quick glance about the ballroom. Amelia and George were no longer dancing but talking with a group of their friends. Safe. Blackmoor was— She could no longer see Julian! He was not standing where he had been earlier, nor could she see him on the dance floor—as was to be expected when he did not dance. Except he had danced. With her. Only the once. But it had been in public, and had caused a sensation amongst the ton. Would he have done that with a woman he crudely claimed he only wanted to fuck? Thea was sure she was far from the first woman in society Julian had been sexually involved with these past sixteen years. And yet he had not danced publicly with any of them. He disappeared for weeks after I was involved in the carriage accident. But only after he was satisfied she had suffered no lasting harm, and because he had suspected Jennifer Brown might be involved in her accident. Something he had gone to Rome to confirm for himself. He was cruel to me that night in his study. But only after taking her with a savagery that bordered on desperation. Was it possible he had been deliberately cruel afterwards? As a way of pushing her away? As a way of protecting her? He kissed me earlier today with such gentleness and longing. Oh God, could she have been so stupid? Have allowed herself to be so blinded by her own hurt and wounded pride, she had not seen what Blackmoor was doing? And now this madwoman thought she was going to kill her before she had the chance to talk to Julian again, to ask him for the truth. Whatever that truth might be. Better I know the truth than die wondering. An irony, considering her present circumstances. “At least let us take this to one of the other rooms,” she suggested with a calm she was far from feeling. “After all, it will not matter where you kill me, only that you do so. I am sure there will be a fire and refreshments in the Wiltons’ library.” “For the convenience of those lovers wishing for privacy?” Jennifer said knowingly. “I know the ways of the ton, Lady Dorothea. My family was only on the fringes of society, but we were still invited to some of the balls and dances. Of course, Blackmoor will come looking for you once he realizes you are missing from the room.” Those blue eyes gleamed malevolently. “At which time, I will take great pleasure in making him beg, on his knees if possible, before I shoot you in front of his eyes.” She gave a wave of the pistol to indicate Thea should lead the way out of the room. Thea’s palms were damp inside her gloves, her heart racing wildly as she led the way out of the ballroom and down a hallway to where she knew the Wilton library to be. There was no doubt in her mind that Mrs. Brown did not intend to kill only her, but also Julian. She could not allow that to happen to the man she loved. She turned to face the other woman again once they had entered the library. As she had expected, a fire glowed warmly in the hearth, and several candles were alight about the room. “I have told you, I meant nothing more to Blackmoor than a few hours of pleasure. Any more than he means anything to me—” “I am sure you do not have to tell Mrs. Brown all our secrets, Thea,” drawled a coldly familiar voice. Julian. Julian had arrived at the Wiltons’ ball half expecting to see Thea wearing that scandalous red gown again. If only to annoy and defy him. He would have relished that defiance. Would have relished her. Instead, this evening, she once again appeared every inch the prim and proper Lady Dorothea Fitzroy, in a modest gown of a pale coffee color. Her only show of rebellion was in her choice of the gold mask, and no doubt only Julian would recognize it as being such. When, he wondered, had his every thought and consideration become so attuned to what Thea was doing and why she was doing it? Perhaps that first time he danced with her, in the ballroom at Latham House? When he had touched her so intimately afterwards and known he had to have her? He had no answer to those questions, only knew that his blood had run cold when he’d looked across the ballroom and seen her in conversation with another woman. A woman who looked far too familiar in a gown of sky blue. Jennifer had always been partial to wearing gowns of that particular color, and the woman’s hair was the same golden blonde as Amelia’s. While he had been brooding about Thea, wanting to hold her, to touch her again, to make love to her again—to get down on his knees and beg her forgiveness, if necessary, for the way he had behaved and spoken to her—Jennifer had managed to secure and hold Thea’s attention. It was so much worse than that, he realized once he was within feet of the two women and saw the pistol Jennifer held against Thea’s spine as the two women left the ballroom. Julian had followed them, his worst nightmare having come true as the two women entered the library together. This was exactly what he had feared after the incident with the carriage; Jennifer had turned all her vitriol, all her twisted thoughts of revenge, onto him through Thea. Because she believed he cared for Thea. Despite Thea having just assured the other woman that she does not care for me. How could he have expected it to be otherwise after the way he had behaved towards her? He did not look at Thea now but at Jennifer as he closed the library door behind him before stepping in between the two women. Jennifer’s pistol now pointed at him. “This is between you and me and should not involve a third person.” The woman he had once called his wife now eyed him scornfully. “Lady Dorothea does not believe you care for her, Blackmoor.” A dagger—no, a sharp stiletto blade pierced the heart everyone, including Thea, believed to be incapable of feeling any emotion. “Perhaps because I do not?” He arched coolly dismissive brows. Jennifer gave a disgusted shake of her head. “You always were an unfeeling bastard.” He smiled without humor. “It takes one to know one, my dear.” He glanced at Thea. “Allow Lady Dorothea to leave now, and the two of us shall settle this once and for all.” “Julian—” “Please stay out of something that is none of your affair, Lady Dorothea.” Thea flinched at the icy dismissal of Julian’s tone and expression as he barely glanced at her. As if she was of no significance at all. Because that was how he truly felt? Or because he wished Jennifer Brown to believe it was how he felt. Either way, Thea had no intention of leaving him alone with a madwoman. Moreover, a madwoman who not only felt she had nothing to live for now that her husband was dead, but who also knew she herself was dying. Thea stepped forward and deliberately put her arm through the crook of Blackmoor’s before linking her hands together to stop him as he would have pulled away from her. “Perhaps it would be more convenient if Mrs. Brown were to make an appointment to visit you at home tomorrow?” The pistol wavered in the other woman’s hand. She stared at Thea incredulously before her top lip turned back scornfully. “You stupid little fool—” “Mrs. Brown is ill, Julian,” she continued conversationally. “This evening has already been something of a strain for her. Perhaps it might be best if we both escort her outside to her carriage?” His mouth thinned at this last suggestion. “I shall accompany Mrs. Brown outside. You will remain here with Amelia and George.” Jennifer turned to glare up at him. “I have no intention of allowing either of you to take me anywhere—” Thea had been waiting for the moment the other woman’s attention turned away from her. She had realized from Mrs. Brown’s thinness and the shaking of her hand that the other woman was weak from her illness. She now took advantage of Jennifer’s distraction to release Julian’s arm and quickly grasp the wrist of the hand holding the pistol before twisting it behind the other woman’s back, that pressure forcing her to release the pistol. “What—” “Hold her,” Thea ordered a stunned Blackmoor as she quickly bent to pick up the pistol. She placed it upon a side table before turning in time to see Jennifer Brown falling unconscious into Julian’s arms. He turned to glare at Thea as he placed the other woman on a couch. “How could you have been so utterly reckless—” “We do not have time for your condemnations now, Julian,” she dismissed briskly. “It has only been a few minutes, so perhaps no one has yet noticed our absence. But we must get Mrs. Brown out of this house as quickly as possible, before she can attempt to do further harm.” Julian knew she was right. He was just furious, so utterly incensed, at the risk she had just taken. If Jennifer had failed to drop the pistol, then she might have turned it on Thea and pulled the trigger. “If you ever—ever do anything so reckless again as to challenge an armed woman, I will spank your bottom so hard, you will not sit down for a week! No—a month!” “Your threats do not frighten me, Blackmoor.” His eyes narrowed. “It is not a threat but a promise.” She quirked a brow. “How exciting.” “Thea—” “Julian,” she drawled. He breathed in noisily through his nose. “You should not have taken such a risk.” She sobered completely as she answered him. “All of life is a risk. It is just a question of whether or not you are brave enough to accept the challenge.” Julian had the feeling they were no longer talking about the threat of Jennifer’s pistol. “How ill is she?” He glanced down at the unconscious woman. “She is dying of consumption.” “Good God…” “Yes,” Thea agreed flatly. “Does she have any family of her own?” He shook his head. “Her mother died years ago, and her father is in very poor health. Seeing his daughter resurrected only to watch her die again… No,” he decided firmly. “Will you tell Amelia?” “Good God, no!” “I think that is a wise decision.” He nodded. “You must return to the ball now. I will see that she is secured and well taken care of until…until the end.” “I know you will.” Thea reached out to place her hand on his arm. “None of this is your fault.” Fault or not, Julian had almost seen Thea shot and killed before his eyes this evening. He doubted that his heart, or he, could have survived the loss. Chapter 16 “It was a beautiful wedding,” Thea prompted conversationally the next day as she and Blackmoor carried out their duty dance together following the wedding breakfast. It was the first opportunity she had found to speak to him alone, Blackmoor having taken taciturnity to new heights during the wedding service and then the meal afterwards. At least when it came to her. Uncharacteristically, he seemed to be capable of politeness and smiles when it came to the other wedding guests, those scowls and the silence being reserved for her alone. Was he still angry with her because of what he had deemed to be her reckless behavior the previous evening? If so, she had no patience with it. “Could you at least give me an answer, Blackmoor?” He glanced down the length of his nose at her. “You made a statement, not asked a question.” “I am making it a question!” “Then yes, it was a beautiful wedding,” he drawled dismissively. “Is that it?” she spoke with exasperation after several more seconds of silence. “You have nothing else to add?” He raised arrogant brows. “Not that I can think of, no.” Thea fumed inwardly. “You have dealt with Mrs. Brown?” His jaw tightened. “She is in a private sanatorium. The doctor says she has weeks to live at most.” As Thea had feared the previous evening once she had observed the other woman closely. “I am sorry you have had this added heartache to deal with.” “You are sorry?” He looked down at her incredulously. “What on earth do you have to be sorry about?” She shrugged. “You believed her to be your wife at one time, and she is still Amelia’s mother, no matter what she has done.” “She might have killed you last night!” Julian would never forget the cold dread of fear he had felt at seeing that pistol pointed at Thea’s heart. She nodded. “It was her intention to shoot me first and you immediately afterwards.” “If she had killed you, I would have offered to reload her pistol for her.” Julian spoke without thinking and at once regretted it as Thea gazed up at him with narrowed eyes. “I— What do you mean by that?” She had come to an abrupt halt in the middle of the dance floor. “Explain yourself,” she demanded. “People are staring,” he admonished softly. The wedding guests began to stop what they were doing to watch the two of them standing unmoving in the middle of the dance floor in the Blackmoor ballroom. “Let them stare. Let the whole world stare,” she added recklessly. “I am not moving from this spot until you have explained yourself.” She looked incredibly beautiful at that moment. Indeed, Julian wondered how he could ever have thought her plain. Her eyes were sparkling with rebellion, there was a flush in her cheeks, and her head was thrown back, that glorious red hair seeming to crackle with challenge. “Thea…” “Do not take that condescending tone with me,” she warned him softly. “I assure you I am immune to it.” Of all the things he could have done, Julian found himself chuckling. He had promised himself he would keep his distance from Thea during the wedding celebrations today, and that afterwards he would continue to keep his distance. He had caused her enough heartache. She had said she did not care for me. Whether she did or did not apparently made no difference to how Julian felt about her. How he had felt about her for some weeks now. He had never known a moment’s boredom in Thea’s company. Her spirit and determination were more than a match for his own. He had not so much as glanced at another woman—he saw no other women—since the moment he made love to Thea in the Latham ballroom. She made him laugh, at himself as much as anything else. She did not fear him in the slightest, as so many others did. She looked like an angel and made love like a siren, tempting him, captivating him, until he could think of no one and nothing else but possessing her. “I am in love with you.” Julian realized incredulously. Words he had never thought he would say to any woman. Words he realized Thea could not, did not, want to hear. “I apologize—” “Do not even think of taking back those words,” Thea warned him fiercely as she took him by the hand and led him off the dance floor. “Carry on playing,” she instructed, as even the musicians began to falter, so captivated were they by the scene taking place in front of them. “Amelia, ensure your guests are entertained.” She smiled brightly at the wide-eyed younger woman. “I am taking your father somewhere private where he can make love to me.” “Thea!” “Help Amelia and George to entertain their guests, Daniel.” She ignored her brother’s scandalized expression as she pulled Blackmoor across the ballroom and out into the hallway. “Thea—” “I am in love with you too, Julian.” Julian was so shocked by the quietly spoken declaration, he could only stare at her. “Incredible, is it not?” Thea teased. “You are unbelievably arrogant. Dictatorial. High-handed—” “You forgot presumptuous and deluded,” he felt in a daze as he reminded her of their conversation in the Latham ballroom a month ago. “I believe you also described me as being arrogance personified.” “Do not effect that drawl with me, Julian Remington, because I now see it for the shield it is to your real emotions.” He gave a shake of his head. “I was cruel to you.” “To protect me. To push me away so that woman would think you were done with me, and she could no longer use me to hurt you. That is the truth of it, is it not, Julian?” “Yes…” “I should be angry with you for being so high-handed.” “You should?” “Of course.” She sighed her impatience. “You have spent far too many years making decisions you consider to be right for both yourself and other people. Well, I will have no more of it, Julian. Do you hear? In future, you will share these worries with me, so that we might make decisions together.” “You told Jennifer you did not care for me…” “For the same reason you said those cruel things to me. I was endeavoring to protect you.” “You said I did not care for you.” “Because that is what I believed. What you wanted me to believe.” Her expression softened. “We are in love with each other, Julian. Is that not a wonderful thing?” Her eyes glowed with the emotion. It was wonderful. Unbelievable still to a man who had never known the love of any woman outside those of his family. Who had never allowed himself to feel love for any woman outside of his family. He loved now. He loved Thea so much and so deeply, it terrified him. She made a tutting sound. “I can see that I will have to show you how much I love you. The location of your bedchamber, if you please?” He began to chuckle. “We cannot disappear to my bedchamber in the middle of Amelia and George’s wedding!” “Why not?” She returned his grin unabashedly. “I am so looking forward to having my bottom spanked again. To having you show me so many other pleasures I know nothing about— Julian?” she squeaked as he swept her up into his arms to carry her up the stairs and along a hallway until they reached his bedchamber. He kicked the door closed behind them before allowing Thea to slide down the length of his body until her feet once more touched the floor. “How I love you, Thea,” he groaned as he kissed her on the lips and held her so tightly against him, he could feel the rapid beat of her heart. “So very much,” he vowed huskily when he at last raised his head to look at her. “And I am deeply sorry for not sharing my worries with you. For pushing you away so cruelly. Please believe I only did it to protect you.” “Of course I believe you.” One of her hands moved to caress the side of his face. “I love you, my darling Julian.” “Enough to marry me?” Now it was Thea’s turn to feel shock. “I… You are the Duke of Blackmoor. You cannot possibly marry someone like me.” “I can marry whom I damn well please,” he assured her with all his haughty arrogance. “And what do you mean, someone like you? Someone who is funny and kind? Strong-willed and determined. Passionate and wild?” he added teasingly. “I am also plain, a widow, and—” “You are beautiful, and the woman I have grown to admire and love more than life itself,” he assured her forcefully. Thea gazed into his eyes, seeing that love shining brightly in the steadiness of his gaze and the tender curve of his lips. “I thought an affair—” “It is not good enough for how I feel about you,” he cut in firmly. “It is not good enough for you. I want us to belong to each other completely, Thea. To have children together. To grow old together.” A month ago, Thea had imagined becoming a mistress. She had become a duke’s mistress, however briefly. Julian was now offering her so much more than that. He wanted her as his duchess. Was giving her not only his love but himself. All that he was. All that they could be. He was giving her joy beyond measure. “Oh yes, Julian! Yes, I will marry you, have your babies, and grow old with you!” she cried joyfully as she was gathered into his arms to be kissed and caressed. Nothing else existed but each other, the joy of their lovemaking, and the anticipation of the long and happy life they would live. Together.


Post a Comment

Read free eBooks, English Fiction, English Erotic Story

Delicious Digg Facebook Favorites More Stumbleupon Twitter