Thursday, May 28, 2009
A Hint of Wicked by Jennifer Haymore
READ AN EXCERPT
The patterned red silk of Sophie’s dressing robe whispered over her skin, light and cool after the warm, heavy brocade she had worn to the party. She’d gone to check on the children, and finding them fast asleep, had kissed them goodnight, returned to her dressing room, and called her maid to undress her. Now she sat, finally alone at her table, drawing the pins from her coiffure one by one, watching in the oval-shaped gilded mirror as the tendrils of honey-brown hair fell away from her tight chignon.
She paused in mid-action as a sudden memory assailed her. Garrett standing behind her, removing her hairpins in the same methodical order, using his fingers to fan her hair over her shoulders. He watched her in the mirror with that stormy look in his blue eyes. The look that reminded her of crashing ocean waves in a storm. The look that said he wanted her.
Sophie curled her toes into the lush ivory strands of the carpet. Dropping the final hairpin on the glossy surface of the mahogany table, she clutched its edge and stared into the mirror, taking deep breaths to regain her composure.
The unbidden memories came less frequently now. She supposed that was natural after so many years.
She didn’t want to forget Garrett. At times, she welcomed the memories, coveted them. But not tonight. Tonight she wished only to think of Tristan, of his long, lean body, his disarming smile, his caresses. The way he’d slid into the mud today to hold her body against his, tight and comforting. The sheer desperation in his expression before he’d realized she was all right.
As if her thoughts summoned him, the door separating her dressing room from their bedchamber swung open. Swiping the back of her hand over her damp eyes, Sophie reached for her hairbrush. She watched in the mirror as Tristan closed the distance between them, sharp as ever in his snug gray trousers and embroidered waistcoat, the gold thread matching the color of his cravat. He’d untied the cravat, and it hung loose about his neck.
“That didn’t take long,” she murmured, smiling at him.
“I came as quickly as I could, love.” He grinned at her, revealing straight white teeth and the single dimple that always had the ability to melt her heart. “Got rid of Billingsly. Even tales of his Egyptian travels can’t entice me when I know you’re in our bedchamber…” a hint of wickedness quirked his lips and sparkled in his eyes in an expression he reserved for her alone, “…waiting.”
As she dragged the brush through her hair, Tristan rested his hands on her shoulders. Long-fingered and elegant, with blunt, clean fingernails, his hands weren’t the only part of him that hinted at his position in society. His face was aristocratic, with clean lines, sharp angles and shrewd, dark eyes. But his refined mannerisms and famed control proved he was of the higher orders. Though he may not have coveted Garrett’s legacy, he suited his new role as the Duke of Callahan.
“How’s your leg?”
She forced a smile. A nasty bruise had bloomed on her leg, but she was thankful. It could have been so much worse. “It’s all right. I scarcely feel it anymore.”
His smile faded as they locked gazes in the mirror. “Ah, Soph…” His voice trailed off, and he must have seen the residual grief in her expression, because the pain in his eyes suddenly reflected her own.
He squeezed her shoulders. “I miss him too, love. Every day.”
Tilting her head to glance up at him, she smiled sadly. Tristan was the one person in the world who understood her loss. He too had lost a spouse. Nancy had died giving birth to their son two years after Waterloo. Though Sophie knew he’d loved her, Tristan rarely spoke of Nancy.
Yet the loss of Garrett was different. Garrett had been gone longer, but he remained a solid presence in their lives—perhaps because they had retained hope for so long.
Tristan was patient with her melancholy. Most men would have despised her for continuing to love a dead man. Most men would have been jealous of her unwillingness to let go of her affection for him. But not Tristan. He knew how much she had loved Garrett, and he never tried to take that away from her.
“It’s just—nights like tonight—” Struggling to order her thoughts, she shrugged helplessly.
She never intended to make Tristan feel inferior, because he wasn’t. He was simply different. When she fell in love with Tristan, it seemed her heart swelled to twice its previous capacity to make room for him.
Still, more than anything, she feared hurting Tristan by clinging so desperately to her feelings for Garrett. If she lost him as she had lost Garrett… The thought was intolerable. If that happened, she wouldn’t be able to endure it.
“I know,” he murmured, as if reading her mind. His lips brushed against her hair. “I understand. I do.”
He rose to his full height. “Don’t be sorry, Soph.”
She set the brush on the table and stood, twining her arms around his neck. The linen of his cravat brushed against her skin as she pressed her cheek to his solid chest. He smelled like exotic spice, like the eastern countries he was so fond of. “I adore you,” she said. “You mean everything to me.”
His fingers sifted through her hair as he tilted her head to face him. He laughed, but the sound was ragged. “I can’t force you to forget him, Sophie. Hell, I can’t forget him. You know how strongly I cared for him. He was more than a brother to me.”
“Yes.” She tightened her arms around him. “Thank you.”
He nuzzled his face in her hair, his breath hot against her scalp. “We’ve come far, wouldn’t you say?”
Sophie nodded. “Yes.”
They’d come much farther than she ever would have imagined. Their wedding night had been difficult. She’d been shy and awkward, and she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was betraying Garrett’s memory. It was the first time for her since the day Garrett left with his regiment to fight at Waterloo.
But Garrett was gone. Tristan was her husband now, and in the past months, he’d earned her complete trust. In his arms, she’d exposed everything to him, from her life’s desires to her deepest and darkest fantasies. They shared a level of openness and communication she’d never thought to have with anyone.
“There was no need to rush up,” she said in order to change the subject, her voice muffled against his chest. “I would not have begrudged you talking with Mr. Billingsly. I know how you crave news of Egypt.”
“Not as much as I used to. I find myself perfectly content wherever you and the children are. Egypt seems more of a youthful fancy these days.”
His admission stole the breath from her lungs. Tristan was an adventurer, a traveler. His wanderlust had always been a mystery to her. She felt most comfortable at home, either here in Mayfair or at Callahan House in the north. While she’d waited patiently for Garrett’s infrequent trips home, Tristan had explored half the globe. China, India, Madagascar. Jamaica, Ireland, Italy, and America. When he married Nancy, he didn’t stop. Nancy always said good-naturedly that it was a miracle he’d managed to get her with child, he was gone so often.
He’d never visited Egypt, though. When they were children, an Egyptian adventure had been his dream.
She rubbed her cheek against his chest and sighed. “Perhaps I have domesticated you after all.”
A soft murmur of contentment was his only response. His body pressed against her in all the right places, hinting at the pleasure he could give, making her long for his firm touch. She slipped her hands from his neck to his shoulders. Muscles rippled beneath her fingertips, and keeping her fingers light, she skimmed lower, down his back to curve over his behind.
He stroked the slippery fabric of her robe and pulled her tight against him so his erection prodded her belly. When he spoke, his voice was husky in her ear. “Billingsly’s travels couldn’t hold my attention tonight. I kept thinking of you alone up here. Everything pales beside the promise of having you, love. Seeing you, touching you…taking you…”
The way he talked to her, the way he felt against her…there was nothing like it in the world. The blood ran heavy and slow through Sophie’s veins, warming her, making her muscles languid. Her breaths came in shallow little pants. As hard as pebbles, her nipples pushed against the silk of her dressing gown. She sensed the change inside her body as it heated and opened, eager for his invasion.
Sophie reached between them and untied the belt on her robe. The silk slipped off her shoulders and pooled on the floor, leaving her bare. Cool air brushed over her sensitive skin, raising gooseflesh on her legs and arms.
She ran her lips along his jaw, speaking softly. “Make love to me, Tristan.”
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