Christopher gritted his teeth and maintained a stony silence.
Pulling what looked like a biscuit from the pocket of her dress, Beatrix offered it to Albert, who bounded over to her and took the treat eagerly. Leading the dog to the door, she gestured for him to cross the threshold. “Go on to the kitchen,” she said in an encouraging tone. “Mrs. Clocker is going to feed you.” Albert was gone in a flash.
Closing and locking the door, Beatrix approached Christopher. She looked fresh and feminine in a lavender dress, her hair neatly swept up with combs. One could not fathom a different picture from the outlandish girl in breeches.
“I could have killed you,” he said savagely.
“I could have hurt you.”
“You didn’t do that, either.”
“God, Beatrix.” Christopher went to sit heavily at a hearthside chair, glass in hand.
She followed him in a rustle of lavender silk. “I’m not Beatrix, actually. I’m her much nicer twin. She said you could have me from now on.” Her gaze flickered to the Armagnac. “You promised not to drink spirits.”
“We’re not married yet.” Christopher knew he should have been ashamed of the sneering echo of her own earlier words, but the temptation was too much to resist.
Beatrix didn’t flinch. “I’m sorry about that. It’s no fun, caring about my welfare. I’m reckless. I overestimate my abilities.” She lowered to the floor at his feet, resting her arms on his knees. Her earnest blue eyes, starred with heavy dark lashes, stared contritely into his. “I shouldn’t have spoken to you as I did earlier. For my family, arguing is a sport—we forget that some people tend to take it personally.” One of her fingertips drew an intricate little pattern on his thigh. “But I have redeeming qualities,” she continued. “I never mind dog hair, for example. And I can pick up small objects with my toes, which is a surprisingly useful talent.”
Christopher’s numbness started melting like spring ice. And it had nothing to do with the Armagnac. It was all Beatrix.
God, he adored her.
But the more he thawed, the more volatile he felt. Need surged beneath the thin veneer of self-control. Too much need.
Setting the unfinished liquor on the carpeted floor, Christopher drew Beatrix between his knees. He bent forward to press his lips to her forehead. He could smell the tantalizing sweetness of her skin. Settling back in the chair, he studied her. She looked angelic and guileless, as if sugar wouldn’t melt in her mouth. Little rogue, he thought with tender amusement. He stroked one of her slender hands, which was resting on his thigh. Taking a deep breath, he let it out slowly.
“So your middle name is Heloise,” he said.
“Yes, after the medieval French nun. My father loved her writings. In fact, it occurs to me . . . Héloïse was renowned for the love letters she exchanged with Abélard.” Beatrix’s expression brightened. “I’ve rather lived up to my namesake, haven’t I?”
“Since Abélard was eventually castrated by Héloïse’s family, I’m not especially fond of the comparison.”
Beatrix grinned. “You have nothing to worry about.” As she stared at him, her smile faded. “Am I forgiven?” she asked.
“For endangering yourself? . . . Never. You’re too precious to me.” Christopher took up her hand and kissed it. “Beatrix, you are beautiful in that dress, and I love your company more than anything in the world. But I have to take you home.”
Beatrix didn’t move. “Not until this is resolved.”
“No, there’s still a wall between us. I can feel it.”
Christopher shook his head. “I’m just . . . distracted.” He reached for her elbows. “Let me help you up.”
She resisted. “Something’s not right. You’re so far away.”
“I’m right here.”
There were no words to describe this infernal sense of detachment. He didn’t know why it appeared or what would make it go away. He only knew that if he waited long enough, it would disappear of its own accord. At least, it had before. Perhaps one day it would appear and never leave him. Christ.
Staring at him, Beatrix clamped her hands lightly on his thighs. Instead of standing, she hitched her body higher against him.
Her mouth came to his, gently inquiring. He felt a little shock, a sudden pitch of his heart as if it had remembered to start beating again. Beatrix’s lips were soft and hot, teasing in the way he had taught her. He felt lust come raging up, dangerously fast. Her weight was on him, her breasts, the mass of her skirts compressed between his thighs. He surrendered for a moment, fusing his mouth to hers and kissing her the way he wanted to take her, deep and hard. Beatrix immediately went pliant, submissive, in a way that drove him mad, and she knew it.
He wanted everything of her, wanted to subject her to every craving and impulse, and she was too innocent for any of it. Tearing his mouth from hers, Christopher held her at arms’ length.
Her eyes were wide and wondering.
To his relief, she levered away from him and stood.
And then she began to unfasten her bodice.
“What are you doing?” he asked hoarsely.
“Don’t worry, the door is locked.”
“That isn’t what I—Beatrix—” By the time he had lurched to his feet, her bodice had listed open. A thick, primitive drumbeat started in his ears. “Beatrix, I’m not in the mood for virginal experimentation.”
She gave him a purely ingenuous look. “Neither am I.”
“You’re not safe with me.” He reached for the neckline of her bodice and yanked it together. While he fumbled to fasten it, Beatrix hiked up the side of her dress. A tug and a wriggle, and her petticoat dropped to the floor.
“I can undress faster than you can dress me,” she informed him.
Christopher clenched his teeth as he saw her push her dress below her hips. “Damn you, I can’t do this. Not now.” He was perspiring, every muscle hard. His voice shook with the force of suppressed need. “I’m going to lose control.” He wouldn’t be able to stop himself from hurting her. For their first time, he would have to approach her with absolute restraint, give himself release beforehand to take the edge from his lust . . . but at the moment, he would fall on her like a ravening animal.
“I understand.” Beatrix pulled the combs from her hair, tossed them into the pile of discarded lavender silk, and shook out the gleaming sable locks. And she gave him a look that caused every hair on his body to lift. “I know you think that I don’t understand, but I do. And I need this as much as you do.” Slowly she unhooked her corset and dropped it to the floor.
Dear God. How long it had been since a woman had undressed for him. Christopher couldn’t move or speak, just stood there aroused and starving and mindless, his eyes eating up the sight of her.
As she saw the way he watched her, she disrobed even more deliberately, drawing the chemise over her head. Her br**sts were high and gently curved, the tips rose colored. They bounced delicately as she bent to remove her drawers.
She stood to face him.
Despite her audacity, Beatrix was nervous, an uneven blush covering her from head to toe. But she watched him closely, taking in his reactions.
She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, slim and lithe, her legs sheathed in pale pink stockings and white garters. She devastated him. The sable locks of her hair draped over her body, hanging down to her waist. The little triangle between her thighs looked like rich fur, an erotic contrast to her porcelain skin.
He felt weak and brutal at the same time, desire pumping through him. Nothing mattered except getting inside her . . . he had to have her or die. He didn’t understand why she had deliberately pushed him over the edge, why she wasn’t frightened. A rough sound was torn from his throat. Although he made no conscious decision to move, somehow he had crossed the space between them and seized her. He let his splayed fingers travel over her back, down to the curve of her bottom. Pulling her high and tight against him, he found her mouth, kissing her, almost savaging her.
She yielded completely, offering her body, her mouth, in any way he chose. As his mouth possessed hers, he reached farther between her thighs, forcing them to part. He found the tender pleats of her sex. Parting the softness, he massaged until he found wetness, and slid two fingers into the supple heat of her. Gasping against his mouth, she strained higher on her toes. He held her like that, tightly impaled on his fingers as he kissed her.
“Let me feel you,” she said breathlessly, her hands working at his clothes. “Please . . . yes . . .”
Christopher fought with his waistcoat and shirt, sending buttons scattering in his haste. When his upper half was bared, he enfolded her in his arms. They both groaned and went still, absorbing the feel of it, their skin pressed together, her br**sts softly abraded by the hair on his chest.
Half dragging, half carrying her to the settee, he lowered her to the cushioned upholstery. She landed in a slow sprawl, her head and shoulders propped against one corner, one foot coming to the floor. He was there before she could close her legs.
Running his hands along the stockings, he discovered they were made of silk. He had never seen pink stockings before, only black or white. He loved them. He stroked along her legs, kissed her knees through the silk, untied the garters and licked the red marks they had left against her skin. Beatrix was quiet. Trembling. As he let his lips stray near the inside of her thigh, she squirmed helplessly. That wanton little movement of her h*ps maddened him, made him frantic.
He unrolled her stockings and stripped them away. Drugged with arousal, he glanced along her body up to her passion-drowsed face, her half-closed eyes, her dark cascading hair. He pushed her thighs open with his hands. Breathing in the erotic perfume of her body, he ran his tongue through the soft triangle.
“Christopher,” he heard her beg, and her hands pressed urgently against his head. She was shocked, her face deeply flushed as she realized what he was going to do.
“You started this,” he said thickly. “Now I’m going to finish it.”
Without giving her a chance to protest, he bent over her again. He kissed his way into the soft, secret hollow, spreading her with his tongue. She moaned and drew up tightly, her knees bending and her spine curving as if she wanted to gather her entire body around him. He pushed her back, pressed her wide, and took what he wanted.
The entire world was nothing but delicate shivering flesh, the taste of a woman, his woman, her intimate elixir more powerful than wine, opium, exotic spices. She moaned at the tender traction of his tongue. Her responses became his, her every sound tugging at his groin, her desperate quivers sinking into him with darts of fire. He focused on the most sensitive part of her, tracing slowly, bewitched by the wet silk. He began to flick steadily, taunting her, driving her without mercy. She went still, tensing as the feeling came rolling up to her, and he knew that nothing existed for her except the pleasure he was giving her. He made her take it, and take it, until her sharp breathing turned into repeated cries. The cl**ax was stronger, deeper, than anything he had given her before . . . he heard it, felt it, tasted it.
When the last spasm had left her, he pulled her farther beneath him, his mouth going to her breasts. She slid her arms around his neck. Her body was sated and ready for him, her legs spreading easily as he settled between them. Reaching for the fastenings of his trousers, he fumbled and tore at them, freeing himself.
He had no control left, his entire body an ache of need. He had no words, no way to beg please don’t try to stop me, I can’t, I have to have you. He had no strength to resist any longer. Looking down at her, he said her name, his voice hoarse and questioning.
Beatrix made little crooning sounds and caressed his back. “Don’t stop,” she whispered. “I want you, I love you . . .” She pulled him closer, arching in welcome as he took her with blunt, insistent pressure.
He’d never had a virgin before, had always assumed it would be a quick, easy breaching. But she was tight everywhere, untried muscles clenching to keep him out. He pushed into the innocent resistance, forcing his way deeper, and she gasped and clung to him. He worked inside her, shaking with the effort to be gentle when every instinct screamed to thrust hard into the luscious heat. And then somehow her muscles accepted the futility of trying to close against him, and she relaxed. Her head rested on his supportive arm, her face turning against the hard curve of his bicep. He began to thrust with a groan of relief, knowing nothing except the blinding pleasure of being inside her, being caressed by her. The rapture was severe, absolute as death, delivering him.
He made no effort to prolong it. The peak came fast, slamming into him with a power that took his breath, and then he tumbled into a violent, shuddering release, the spasms piercing. He came endlessly, cradling her in his arms, hunching over her as if he could protect her, even as he lunged into her with ravenous strokes.
She was shaking in the aftermath, thrills of reaction running through her from head to toe. He held her, trying to comfort her, pulling her head against his chest. His eyes were blurred and hot, and he blotted them against a velvet cushion.
It took a while for him to realize that the trembling came not from her, but him.
Minutes passed in sated calmness. Beatrix rested quietly in Christopher’s embrace, offering no protest even though his grip was too tight. Gradually she was able to divide the sensation into its parts . . . the heat and weight of his body, the scent of perspiration, the slick of rich moisture where they were still joined. She was sore, but at the same time it was a pleasant feeling, that sense of low, warm fullness.
Slowly Christopher’s urgent hold began to loosen. One hand came up to play with her hair. His mouth turned to the tender skin of her neck while his free hand traversed her back and side. A tremor passed through his frame, a slow ripple of relief. He slid an arm behind her back, arched her upward, and his lips went to her breast. She drew in an unsteady breath at the wet pull of his mouth.
He moved, turning them both so she lay atop him. His invasion had slid free, and she felt it against her stomach, an intimate brand. Lifting her head, she looked down into his face, into those silvery eyes, slightly dilated. She relished the feel of him, a great warm creature beneath her. She had the sense of having tamed him, although it was a valid question as to whether it had really been the other way around.
She pressed her lips to his shoulder. His skin was even smoother than hers, tightly stretched satin over the hard swell of muscle. Finding the bayonet scar, she touched her tongue to the unevenly mended skin.