Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(21) by Lorraine Heath
With a crude curse to emphasize the differences in their stations, he tore his mouth from hers and backed even farther into the shadows.
“Christ, Eleanor, I would think after that blistering kiss we could dispense with formalities.”
“Not with you. Finish watching the fireworks. I’ll join you momentarily.” Once this horrendous ache left him in peace.
“I can see them from here.”
“Eleanor,” he ground out, hoping the impatience in his voice would be enough to drive her away.
His name whispered so sensuously and with such longing was nearly his undoing. She was too innocent to understand the torment she could so effortlessly inflict on him. What in God’s name was he doing with her?
He felt her tentative touch on his cheek, was aware of the slight trembling in her fingers. Covering her hand with his, he turned his face into her palm and pressed a kiss to its heart. Regret flooded him. Regret over his past. Regret over his true reason for being with her. Regret that he could so easily set his orders aside and seduce her nearer with no thought to how she’d feel afterward when she realized he was there because of duty. Christ! He was no better than Rockberry.
Swindler had no doubt that Rockberry had used her sister to his own ends. He was guilty of the same. Even as he had the thought, he prayed some noble cause guided him. Prevention, protection. He’d gone to work for Scotland Yard because he wanted to save people as he’d never been able to save his father.
The tension left his body, the ache dissipated. He drew her into the circle of his arms, guiding her so she faced away from him. Where moments ago he’d longed to see her hair released from its confines, now he welcomed her bared nape by pressing a light kiss there before whispering near her ear, “You do tempt me, Eleanor.”
“I thought you were a scoundrel.”
“One with a conscience it seems.”
“And if I don’t want you to have a conscience?”
“Then we are either headed toward heaven or doomed to hell.”
As the carriage traveled swiftly through the streets, she didn’t want this magical night to end. Leaning against James, her head on his shoulder, was scandalous, and yet she seemed unable to help herself. She wanted his arm around her, but she knew that was far too much. It was enough that he held her gloved hand in his.
Whenever she’d imagined a kiss, it had never involved a man boldly sweeping his tongue through her mouth, exploring every inch of it as though he owned it. With James’s kiss, the heat had swirled in her belly and rolled outward until even the tips of her fingers and toes burned. Oh, he was very skilled at seduction—her James Swindler. Yet as he caused pleasure to build within her, it was as though he revealed things about himself as well. He was strong, confident, accustomed to having his way—yet he acquired what he wanted not by force, but by persuasion. She thought she could have easily disappeared into the shadows behind the trees with him, never to return and never to regret it.
The kiss had shaken her to the core. Judging by his reaction, it had done the same to him. Had Rockberry done this with Elisabeth? Had he charmed her, kissed her, pushed her away, only to lure her back in?
She didn’t want Rockberry to intrude on her thoughts tonight, not when they were so filled with James. She wished she’d come to London for another purpose entirely, wished she’d been the first daughter sent, wished she and James had crossed paths a year ago when she wasn’t consumed with grief and the need for retribution. It was horrible to hate someone as she did Rockberry. It tainted even the most glorious moments, made her feel as though she didn’t deserve them because her sister had never experienced them.
“What are you thinking?” he asked quietly.
Once again she was amazed how he always seemed to know when to speak and when to remain silent.
“How different I was before Elisabeth died. How I wish you’d known me then.”
“I like you very much now.”
“Tragedy changes us, not always for the better, I think.”
“It can give purpose to our life.”
She peered up at him. “Is that what it did for you?”
“After my father died, yes.”
“You became a thief. Hardly an ambition for which to be commended.”
“I sought to survive, any way that I could. We do what we must.”
Would he understand if she explained to him what she must do? “You must have been very grateful when Lord Claybourne took you into his home.”
“Not at first.” James gave a low chuckle, a rasp that settled on the night air and lingered to tease her senses, to make her smile. “He insisted we be clean, bathe every week, rather than once a year. I thought for certain that we were done for, that we’d all take ill and die. But we didn’t. He bought us clothes that fit. He hired tutors. I was terrified of him, so I didn’t dare disobey.”
“Did he beat you?”
“No,” he said succinctly. “Never raised a hand to any of us except possibly his grandson. I never quite understood why he took in the rest of us. Maybe because of his love for his grandson. We were his friends. Perhaps he didn’t want him to be alone in his new surroundings.”
“How old were you?”
“Ten. The youngest of the lot.”
“Then, earlier, when I said I wanted to see where you grew up, I suppose I misspoke. It wasn’t the rookeries. It was Lord Claybourne’s.”
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