A Private Collection
Daisy Wellfleet needs a husband if she means to keep control of her grandfather’s hotel. Lawrence Bailey, wounded in a mine explosion, needs somewhere to recuperate. For a marriage of convenience he sounds entirely suitable.
But the man who shows up, three days late, is not what she expected from his letters. He’s too healthy, too handsome, and generally just too much of everything. Now Daisy can only wish Lawrence Bailey would stop distracting her, before she falls in love— the last thing a fiercely independent woman needs.
And Lawrence Bailey has a secret. He’s just not himself. He’s not Lawrence Bailey at all, but Luke Blackwood. If only he could untangle everything, start at the beginning again. If only she’d let him get a word in edgeways, because falling in love is the last thing a sensible, solitary man needs.
Quickly, she looked down at her dish again, licking her spoon clean. Had he just moved his chair closer or was it her imagination? She wouldn’t have minded if he had. His nearness made her skin come alive with anticipation. It was almost as if she was on the verge of a fever. Perhaps she’d had too much to drink tonight and the champagne bubbles put her over the edge, but everything they said suddenly seemed so much more significant, every gesture he made toward her more deeply felt. Or was it his dangerous dessert that put her in this mood?
A man capable of making a swoon-worthy dessert like this was surely capable of any naughty trick. She slowly licked the bowl of her spoon.
Guy wouldn’t know his way around a kitchen, but then he’d never needed to know and never would. There were always people standing by to do things for him. She supposed in many ways she was simply another of his minions. Certainly the way he talked to her tonight, that was how he viewed her.
Lawrence Bailey, on the other hand, was a survivor who knew how to take care of himself. He relied on no one else. Knowing all about survival, she’d felt that kindred spark the moment they met. His attempts to seem sickly and weak had failed miserably because she’d seen through him. I need you, he’d said to her. But he didn’t need her at all. He wanted her. That was different.
And she wanted him.
“Kiss me,” she said suddenly, dropping her spoon, pushing her chair back across the flagged stone floor.
Startled, he looked at her, his glass paused halfway to his lips.
She stood, finished off her champagne with one unladylike gulp, set her flute down, and repeated, “Kiss me. What are you waiting for, man? Christmas? An embroidered invitation?”
He was on his feet before the last word was completely out of her mouth. Her arms went around his broad shoulders and she gave herself to the kiss as if she needed it to sustain her life. His tongue tangled with hers and the table groaned as it moved across the flagged stone. The candles trembled just as she did and dimly she was aware of her empty glass tipping as her hip knocked into it.
Lawrence caught it in one hand. “If I keep kissing you like this, you know what will happen?”
She nodded mutely, grabbed the collar of his robe and pulled him close again, her head falling back, the pins loosening, hair falling free.
* * * *
So she liked chocolate. Lucky guess. He hadn’t quite anticipated this effect, however, and doubted it could all be contributed to the pudding. Her evening with Guy Westerfield must not have gone well. He dare not think it was anything he’d said to her earlier in the conservatory. He was only surprised his saucy questions hadn’t earned him a slapped face.
Lifting her onto the table, he pressed another kiss to her mouth, his hands quickly discarding hairpins, tangling his fingers in all those luxurious copper curls. He’d dreamed of this since he first saw her in his father’s painting with her hair long and loose about her naked body. He wanted to devour her as she’d devoured that dessert, licking her bowl clean. But he wasn’t accustomed to women making the demands. Luke Blackwood was always in control. He’d have to get a firmer grip of the situation before it got out of hand. He reminded himself that he was supposed to tell her the truth tonight. The chocolate dessert and the champagne were meant to smooth the way for a confession.
It wasn’t working out that way.
Tongue plunging deep, he moved her back across the table while her fingers hung on to his collar. It couldn’t have been very comfortable lying on the rough wood, but she made no complaint. Her eyes were hot, a few shades darker than usual, her bronze lashes half-lowered. He felt every excitable breath she took, her splendid breasts almost popping out of the flimsy gown. Lowering his head, he nibbled her ear, the side of her neck, and then the warm curve of her bosom until she purred like a playful kitten, arching under him, her hands fumbling for the belt of his robe. He grabbed her questing hands and stood straight, looking down at her. He ought to tell her the truth before they were both in over their heads.
Instead he asked, “Do you want some more chocolate, Daisy?”
She blinked. “Ummmm.”
He transferred both her wrists to his left hand and pulled them up over her head, holding them to the table. With his right hand he reached for the dish of sweet dessert he’d left uneaten. “Are you sure? You shouldn’t over-indulge.”
“I want some more,” she purred. “Please.”
Swallowing a chuckle, he dug his forefinger into the creamy, whipped pudding and brought it to her lips. She almost bit his finger off at the knuckle.
“Now say ‘thank you, sir’.”
His finger still in her mouth, she turned her head to look at the dish.
“You want more? Greedy aren’t you?” He reclaimed his finger and it made a slight pop as it slid free of her pouting lips. “I suppose I can let you have a little more of mine.”
“Yes, please.” She sounded breathless and he felt her pulse racing where he held her wrists in his firm grip. Unable to resist temptation, he bent his head to lick her heaving breasts, trailing his tongue across her warm flesh and into the deep cleavage between. With his free hand, he slid her skirts and frothy petticoats up over her knees and she parted her legs.
“How much more do you want?” he murmured huskily into her skin, breathing in her light, sweet scent until it flooded his veins.