The Last Wicked Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 5)(5) by Lorraine Heath
“Do you really think that’s necessary?”
“I won’t know until I have a look. And I’ll send word ’round to Inspector Swindler of Scotland Yard. I’m not an expert on safes. They weren’t my purview when I lived on the streets, but he should be able to examine yours in order to determine if someone without a key managed to break into it.”
“I forgot you were once a thief. I’ve only heard bits of rumors about your past. Was it horrid?”
“Not all of it.” He cradled her face between his hands. A mistake. Her skin was so smooth, like the finest of silk. At her throat, he could feel her pulse thrumming against his fingers. “I want you to promise that you will come see me tomorrow.”
“Yes, all right. Is it still the place where you took me all those years ago?”
He couldn’t help himself. He skimmed his thumbs over her cheeks. “Yes. I can send a carriage round for you.”
“No, I remember where it is. I can find it. What time?”
Tracing the outer line of her lips, he heard her soft intake of breath. “Whatever time works best for you.”
She simply nodded, her gaze fastened on him. Considering what he knew of her past, he was surprised that she didn’t run screaming back to the residence.
“I don’t want you to be afraid, Winnie.” He cursed himself for the ease with which her name rolled off his tongue.
“I’m not when I’m with you.”
You should be, he thought. God help her, but she should be. Whatever reservoir of control he possessed dissipated.
With a harsh curse echoing between them, he lowered his mouth to hers. Her lips were as plump and soft as he’d always imagined, parting slightly, hesitantly, inviting him to take further liberties. And he was scoundrel enough to accept the invitation.
She moaned as he swept his tongue through her sweet mouth. She tasted of champagne, and he wondered if she were at ease with him because she’d had a few glasses too many. Then his wondering turned to wonder as her tongue explored his mouth with equal fervor. The advantage to being with a widow. She wasn’t innocent. God, he knew she was far from that. She clutched the lapels of his jacket. Closing his arms around her, he brought her in closer to him, until her body was pressed against his. He could feel her curves, her dips and swells. He cursed the clothes separating them.
Her nails scraped his scalp just before her fingers trailed along his jaw. Sighing, she wound her arms around his neck, bringing herself in even nearer.
For three years now, he had dreamed of this moment, fantasized about it, envisioned it, but had never dared believe he would ever possess it. He didn’t want to give it up, didn’t want to stop. He delved deeper, unleashing the hunger he’d held in check—for her, only for her.
She deserved someone far better than he, someone who didn’t lie, who didn’t hold secrets, who could sit with her before a fire and never fear being honest. But with her, he would always have to watch his words, always take care in what he revealed. She had said she wasn’t afraid of him, but he knew that if she understood exactly what he was capable of doing she would be terrified. She wouldn’t trust him. He doubted that she would like him; she most certainly would not love him.
Even kissing her had the possibility of leading to disaster—and he wasn’t the only one whose life might be ruined. He should pull back now. And he would.
After one more moment.
One more moment of her sighs and moans. One more moment of her lush body writhing against his. One more moment of her arms entwined tightly around him as though she would never let go.
He wanted to undo fastenings. He wanted to lift her into his arms and carry her to her bedchamber. He wanted to do all the things he shouldn’t. But indulgences came with a price, and he couldn’t in all good conscience ask her to pay it.
With a groan of frustration, he drew back. Releasing quick, short breaths, she stared up at him with expectation. Better to disappoint her now than to risk destroying her. Being too long in his company would not be wise for either of them.
“Goodnight, Duchess.” Pivoting abruptly on his heel, he strode toward the back gate that would lead him into the mews. For a few moments, he had experienced heaven, and he knew without doubt that he would spend the remaining hours of his night languishing in the depths of hell.
As Winnie strolled back into the ballroom, she wondered if anyone would notice that her eyes were just a tad brighter, her lips a bit swollen, her skin slightly flushed. Without looking in a mirror, she knew all that was true because she felt as though she had changed in the space of a few moments, had morphed into someone with a spring in her step, a lightness in her soul that she had never experienced before.
Avendale had kissed her, but without tenderness or gentleness. Even as passion had begun to take hold and William had deepened the kiss, it wasn’t about possession or control, but rather giving, sharing, enjoying—completely and absolutely. While she had initially been taken aback by his hunger, had experienced a few seconds of panic, his tenacity, his honest desire had enticed her to react in kind, to know that he meant her no harm. He caused her heart to accelerate, her skin to warm, her nerves to tingle, her toes to curl. In a few breathless moments he had shown her that it could be pleasant to have a man’s attentions.
He had kissed her tonight and she would see him on the morrow. She could scarcely wait. It didn’t matter that he had left abruptly or that he had not used an endearment as they parted ways. What mattered was that she knew he desired her. What mattered was that he didn’t frighten her.
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