The Last Wicked Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 5)(20) by Lorraine Heath
Sliding from the bench, he sat with his back to it and extended a hand to her. “Come here, sit with your back to me. Just move carefully so you don’t tip us over.”
The boat wobbled as she very slowly eased down and turned so she was nestled between his legs, her back pressed to his chest. He slid his arms around her, holding her near, and the heat of his body seeped through the layers of her clothes to create marvelous radiating warmth.
“Watch the sky,” he said in a low voice near her ear.
Leaning against him, tilting her head back slightly, she was acutely aware of his cheek resting against hers. Above the trees lining the banks, the sky was deep orange and pink with dark blue swirling through it. The clouds seemed luminescent.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sunrise,” she whispered with reverence.
“It’s my understanding that most ladies stay abed until late morning.”
“It does seem to be our habit. Oh, it’s beautiful, isn’t it? Magnificent.”
They gazed in silence for several long moments. She relished his nearness, his holding her. She’d never been held simply for the pleasure of being held. There was comfort in it, an easing of loneliness without words. It was so peaceful. She was glad that William had stopped. Her soul needed these moments.
“It rather fills me with wonder,” she told him. “It’s a lovely way to begin the day. Have you always enjoyed the sunrise?”
“When I was on my own, before I crossed paths with Feagan, I was a mudlark.”
While she had only seen them from afar, she knew the term was applied to children who scrounged through the muddy banks of the Thames searching for washed up items to sell. It seemed a rather bleak existence. But she heard no play for sympathy in his voice. He spoke of his past as though it were truly in his past, as though it no longer had any influence on his life, and she wondered how he had achieved that end. She suspected that Avendale and his treatment of her would always manage to have some hold over her.
“I would go out while it was still dark,” he continued, “hoping to beat the other children to the prize collections for the day. The sky would begin to lighten, the fog would dissipate, and the sun would start to make its presence known. I would look up and think, ‘How can there be such beauty up there, when everything down here is so gray?’ It gave me hope that I would find something better someday.”
“I have no right to complain when I deal with the sick and infirmed, and am constantly reminded that I have a good deal for which to be thankful.” He nuzzled her neck. “But sometimes, I do find myself wishing for more.”
Turning her slightly, he took her mouth, his tongue delving deeply, his hand cradling the back of her head, his arm bracing her spine as he leaned her over. Even knowing that he held her secure, that he wouldn’t let her fall, she clutched at his shirt, knotting her fingers around the cloth. In the distance, she was aware of the day beginning for many, the rattle of carriage wheels, the yells of those doing business out in the open, yet she gave no thought to the fact that someone might see her in this precarious position. She should mind that he brazenly kissed her out here where all the world could see, but no one she knew would be about. Ladies and most gents were still abed. They missed the sunrise, they missed the peace and quiet of the morning starting anew.
They missed the passion that ignited so quickly and fiercely between her and William.
She wondered if he brought her here because he’d known where things might end up if he kissed her in her bedchamber, in her bed. Nothing beyond a kiss would happen in this small boat that rocked on the Thames, nothing would happen in the open where curious eyes could take note of improper behavior.
Even with her pelisse wrapped around her, she’d been quite cool earlier, but now she was burning with a fever that raged only for him, for his touch, his nearness. His kiss seemed to encompass more than her lips. She felt it through her entire quivering body. Lovely warmth, and flaming passion. His mouth was greedily devouring hers, but she had no desire for him to stop. She was coming to life, her nerve endings rejoicing with the sensations he so easily awakened.
Resting her palm against his jaw, she took delight in the bristles. He hadn’t taken the time to tidy up before bringing her out here, and it added an additional element of improperness to what they were doing. She, who had strived so hard to do everything that was proper, was suddenly being carried along on a stream of wickedness.
Dragging his mouth from hers, he dipped it into the curve of her neck, and she thought surely he would leave a mark that everyone would see. She could hardly bring herself to care.
“Winnie,” he rasped, his breathing as harsh and heavy as hers.
What else he might have said was lost as the soft slap of oars on water had them both drawing back. With a quick salute a man rowed by them. No one she recognized, so it was unlikely that her reputation would be torn to tatters.
With care, William eased her upright. In his eyes, she saw desire smoldering. It was a heady rush to realize how much he wanted her. Even more astonishing to her was the realization that she desperately yearned for him, that she didn’t fear what might pass between them, but rather found herself anticipating it.
Quite suddenly, without warning, the hairs on the back of her neck began to prickle, and she had the overwhelming sense of being watched, of someone discerning the direction of her thoughts. Jerking her head around, she scoured the banks.
“What is it?” he asked.
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