Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(52) by Lorraine Heath
He fought to clear his mind of everything except the journal. Each page painted a portrait of a young girl growing into womanhood with dreams of love, family, happiness. There was an innocence in her descriptions, a joy for life, and excitement awaiting each day. Elisabeth Watkins had been purity. Sweetness.
She’d been very much like Emma.
Long after the ladies went to bed and the house had grown quiet except for the storm raging outside, Swindler indulged in another bath for himself. It wasn’t unusual for him to bathe several times a week. He had a childhood in the rookeries to constantly wash off. He thought of Eleanor’s hands. Some things, no matter how often or how hard you scrubbed, were always there, just below the surface waiting to come forth. Following the ritual he’d begun the night before, he grabbed a lamp and checked the house before climbing the stairs to the bedchamber.
He knew Emma was there the moment he opened the door, before he’d stepped fully inside and the lamp illuminated the room. He’d detected the presence of roses as though the petals were unfurling, not a lingering scent, but full and strong. His stomach tightened with the heady fragrance filling his nostrils.
Turning in its direction, he found her standing by the window, dressed in a night rail, her pale hair loose, inviting his fingers to comb through it. He imagined if there were no storm, she’d be limned by moonlight, but the wind and rain continued to thrash about.
“How long do these storms usually last?” he asked quietly.
“We can never predict the storms. Shut the door.”
If he were a gentleman, he’d have shut it with himself on the other side. Instead, he pulled it closed, the snick of it blocking out the rest of the world reverberating through the room like a bullet fired from a pistol. With two steps he placed the lamp on the table beside the bed. With four more he’d joined her at the window and was cradling her cheek. “Emma.”
“How do you know I’m not Eleanor?” she whispered.
“Because it’s not Eleanor who holds my heart.”
He heard her small gasp, saw her eyes widen as they filled with tears.
“Damn you, Emma, for not trusting me in London.”
Anger and frustration drove him to pull her into his arms and slash his mouth across hers. Something stronger than affection, something he didn’t want to truly acknowledge or give name to, forced him to gentle his plunder of her mouth. She’d taken possession of his heart slowly, with smiles and laughter and a touch of innocence such as he’d never experienced. He’d known then that she was unlike any other woman of his acquaintance. She’d intrigued him. Even if he hadn’t been ordered to follow her, he’d have followed her—to the ends of the earth if need be. He could claim all he wanted that he’d searched tirelessly for her in order to bring her to justice, but the truth was that he’d been obsessed with finding her because he was obsessed with her.
After she’d been in his apartment, it had suddenly become incredibly lonely without her presence there. After she’d become part of his days and nights, his life had hardly seemed worth living without her in it.
Greedily he trailed his mouth over her chin and along her neck until he reached the sweet shell of her ear. “Leave now unless you want to end up in my bed.”
His voice was harsh, his breathing ragged, his body straining beyond endurance to claim her again, to fill her, to be surrounded by her.
“It’s my bed,” she said shakily, and he heard the same raw need in her voice that quivered through his.
Laughing, when he’d never expected to laugh again, released some of the tension in him as he dipped down and lifted her into his arms. “Then allow me to take you to your bed.”
As she stroked her fingers over his bare shoulders, as his mouth returned to hers, as his long strides took her to the bed, Emma felt joy spiral through her when she’d never expected to feel joy again. She’d waited until Eleanor drifted off to sleep before slipping from the bed and coming to this room. She’d been waiting nervously for his arrival. A dozen times she considered returning to Eleanor’s bed, but if her life was to be cut short or if it was to take her on a journey to the far side of the world where she’d never again be in James’s company, then she wanted this time with him, and so she’d waited in anticipation.
And she’d not been disappointed when he walked through the door bare-chested and masculine, larger than life, bold and confident. He was everything she wasn’t. Never doubting what he wanted. Never questioning his actions. She’d seen it in the graceful way he moved through the room, the heated awareness in his eyes as he’d neared. Her heart had nearly burst with overwhelming gratitude when he rasped her name as though he understood how much she needed to hear her name on his lips at that precise moment. Every moment spent with him in London had been bittersweet, his whispering her sister’s name painful to hear. Her deception adding to her misery. In London she’d been masquerading as Eleanor.
Here, for the first time, no shadows of deception eased between them. It was her name that he whispered. Now within her bedchamber, honesty reigned. He was hers and she was his, completely and absolutely. Regardless of what heartache tomorrow or the day following might bring, tonight would be as uncomplicated and as breathtaking as either of them could make it. Without removing his mouth from hers, he lowered her feet to the patterned rug beside her bed. She thought she should step away, should remove her gown, but she seemed unable to stop running her hands over his bare chest, shoulders, and arms. His muscles quivered with anticipation. She did that to him, had power over him. She watched his face as his gaze followed the movements of his fingers as they quickly worked to release one button after another on her gown, the material parting of its own accord. Meanwhile, beneath her fingers, she felt his muscles growing taut, could feel as well as hear his breathing becoming more ragged. His hands slid inside her gown, bracketing her ribs, his thumbs enticingly skimming the underside of her breasts. Stepping forward, he placed his open mouth on her throat where her pulse fluttered wildly. She relished the heat of his tongue swirling over her flesh as he nudged the material aside until he reached her breast and closed his mouth over it. Rising up on her toes, wrapping her arms around him, she pressed her lower body toward his while arching her back, lost in the sensations he managed to bring to the fore with seemingly so little effort. He slowly moved his mouth across the valley between her breasts before giving the same attentions to the other. His low, throaty growl of satisfaction echoed between them, and she moaned in response, before straightening. He lifted his head and his eyes captured hers. With only the low flame in the lamp to provide light, the green was lost but not the intense desire glittering within their depths. She skimmed her hands down his chest, felt the muscles of his stomach quivering in anticipation as her fingers glided over them until she reached his trousers. His eyes darkened and the muscles in his face tensed. Ever so slowly, tormenting them both, she freed one button. She watched his eyes slam closed, the muscles of his throat work as he swallowed. When he opened his eyes, she could see the strain trying his patience.
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