Home > The Secret Life of Lady Lucinda (Summersby #3)(15)

The Secret Life of Lady Lucinda (Summersby #3)(15)
Author: Sophie Barnes

“Nothing would give us greater pleasure,” Stanton told her with a broad smile. “We’re all quite keen on getting to know you a bit better.”

“The thing is,” Galensbury added, “that none of us ever expected Summersby to get hitched so quickly. You must be a very special woman to have managed such an extraordinary feat.”

“Shall we return to the house, my lady?” Fairfield asked as he offered her his arm. “I dare say I could use a glass of lemonade.”

“Me too,” Reinhardt said, offering his arm as well so that she found herself pinned between the two attentive gentlemen.

Starting on their way, with Galensbury and Stanton following behind, they passed William and the ladies. Again, the debutantes erupted in a fit of annoying giggles. Lucy, however, responded to William’s glare with the sweetest, most innocent smile she could manage. If he had no desire to shower her with attention, then she would simply have to seek the company of his friends until, she hoped, he’d become sufficiently jealous.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

William was in a foul mood as they walked back toward the house, mostly due to his own stupidity, he was forced to acknowledge with an even greater sense of annoyance. Why had he been so brusque with Lucy? He’d been hoping to improve upon their relationship, to make an attempt at developing true friendship, yet with one critical remark he’d as good as put himself back a thousand paces. He’d seen it in her face, seen the pain and the anger that had flickered in her eyes. For a moment he’d expected her to burst into tears and run off, but by some miracle that he couldn’t possibly begin to comprehend, she’d drawn from some inner strength he hadn’t even known she possessed. It had been astonishing to watch.

And then, with his friends she’d been the perfect hostess, all grace and smiles, though he imagined she’d done so while battling the urge to pummel him. He’d seen her scowl.

He knew he’d overreacted, but after seeing her last night in her nightgown, an overwhelming sense of possessiveness had come over him. He didn’t want any other man to admire the creamy white skin of her bosom or to as much as consider what her bosom might look like without the restraint of her gown. He knew how it looked, and he wanted it, and her, for himself.

Watching her now as she walked ahead of him, his friends clearly hanging on her every word, he felt his stomach tighten. He couldn’t ignore the feeling that crashed over him with overwhelming force, for it was as real as the ground he was walking upon: envy. William steeled himself, shook his head, and frowned. How could he possibly be jealous of the smile she was presently favoring Charles with? He watched through stormy eyes as she turned her head in Galensbury’s direction and laughed in response to something he’d said. The knot in his stomach tightened as, with a heavy blow, he realized that he’d give anything if she would only laugh or smile like that with him. Last night it had happened, but then he’d gone and ruined it like the idiot he was.

“You can still win her, you know.”

Startled, William’s head snapped around to find his aunt keeping pace with him. She gave him a smug little smile and nodded toward Lucy. “You’re married to her, William. Would it be so terrible if you tried to romance her a little? If I were you, I’d snatch her away from your rakish friends before one of them beats you to it. From what I understand, they’re quite the womanizers—Fairfield included.”

With concern whipping through him, William gave her a curt nod. “Duly noted. Thank you.” Then, picking up his pace, he hurried forward until he was directly behind Lucy. He caught her by the elbow, effectively yanking her to a halt. “If you don’t mind, there’s a pressing matter that I wish to discuss with my wife,” he said, ignoring Lucy’s startled and very annoyed expression as he addressed his friends. “We’ll meet you back at the house in roughly half an hour. Andrew, would you please see to it that tea is served on the terrace? Or lemonade for those who require something more refreshing?”

“Yes, of course,” Andrew replied, seemingly a bit taken aback by William’s sudden haste.

Lucy, on the other hand, wasn’t afforded the opportunity to utter a single word of protest before William practically made her fly across the neatly trimmed lawn, hauling her along at a pace that many might have considered quite dangerous. He didn’t care; all he knew was that he had to put a solid end to the rift between them. Somehow, they had to make it work or they would both face the very real possibility of a miserable marriage.

Not until they had passed out of sight of the others and were safely hidden away by the hedges that separated the lawn from the rose garden did William slow his pace. Looking sideways he saw that Lucy’s breath was coming hard while a frosty glare had become visible in her bright green eyes. He hazarded a smile, but rather than return it as he had hoped, her frown merely deepened. “What on earth is wrong with you?” she fumed.

His own expression sobered in response to her harsh tone. “Like I said, there’s a pressing matter that I wish to discuss with you.”

She stopped and turned to face him, her hands on her h*ps and her chin jutting out in anger. “What?” Her tone was terse. “What could possibly be so important that you felt the need to humiliate me twice in the course of one morning?”

For a long moment, William just stood there, staring down at her. She was right to be angry with him for so publicly humiliating her. He now feared that she might not welcome his advances.

Focusing on the larger picture, he forced his misgivings aside and closed the distance between them with a single step, his gray-blue eyes locking onto hers. “Merely this,” he muttered, so low that it was but a rough whisper in the air. And then he claimed her, his hands reaching around her waist, locking her in a tight embrace and pulling her close as his mouth bore down upon hers. She didn’t attempt to escape—didn’t even flinch. Her only response was a gasp the moment he lowered his head and she realized his intent.

And then his lips were upon hers. She was just as soft as he remembered, but more accepting and, if possible, more willing. A thrill of excitement seeped through him, quickening his heartbeat. He wanted to be gentle with her—allow her the chance to adjust to the unexpectedness of the kiss—but heaven help him, he wanted her, and being denied the pleasures she offered had begun to drive him mad with desire.

Still, he wanted her to come to him of her own free will and not by force. Slowly and methodically he hoped to awaken her inner passion, offering her only the occasional taste of what he would give her, until she’d find herself consumed by lust. It was a task he’d never faced before. The women he’d known had always been more than eager to share his bed, but then again, they’d all had ample experience. Lucy was different in that regard—thankfully so, he decided—and as a result, she would require a far lengthier attempt at seduction on his part.

He ran his tongue along her lower lip, hot and beseeching. Her lips gradually parted of their own accord, allowing him entrance. With the skill of a man who’d kissed countless women before, his tongue swept over Lucy’s, coaxing her into a sensual dance that meant to mimic his own wicked desires. Oh, the things he longed to do to her—his imagination knew no bounds as far as his carnal urges were concerned.

His mind was swiftly returned to the present when he felt her hands splayed widely across his back, exploring his contours with nimble fingers, fingers that he could quite easily imagine doing other far more sinful things. Heaven help him if he wasn’t aroused to the point of unbearable pain, and he briefly wondered if she might have guessed what the hardness was that strained against her. She couldn’t possibly know, innocent that she was. But the soft murmurs of pleasure escaping her lips as he pressed soft kisses along the length of her neck were a sure indication that he was succeeding in his task, a task to uncover the wanton that he very much suspected to be residing beneath her otherwise ladylike façade.

Warm and inviting beneath his touch, his fingers felt the silky softness of her hair, the quickening of her heart beneath her br**sts. Her br**sts . . . God how he longed to bare them, to strip away the fabric of her gown and sear them with kisses. His groin tightened at the thought, and he found himself wondering if he would be able to stick to his plan and not merely toss her to the ground at the first available opportunity, like right now, for instance.

With more willpower than he’d ever imagined he possessed, he forced himself to take control of his own needs. His plan made sense, but in order for it to work, he would have to stop himself before he ripped her bodice down the middle and devoured her in broad daylight. The last thing she needed was for him to cause another embarrassing moment.

Disengaging himself and pushing her gently away, he eased back a little, enough to take a good look at her face. Her cheeks were flushed, her lips swollen, and her eyelids heavy over eyes that gazed back at him with longing. In short, she looked like a starved woman who’d just happened upon a bountiful feast. Her breathing was heavy with greed.

There was no doubt in William’s mind. His wife desired him, and if she said otherwise he would know that she was lying. This sort of blatant need—the sort that seeped from every pore—could not be conjured as a form of pretense, least of all by a virgin.

Satisfied and pleased beyond compare, he dipped his head to kiss the rise of her br**sts, felt her breath catch and her body tremble. “What fools we’ve been,” he murmured, nudging the top of her sleeve a little to free her shoulder. He kissed her again. “We’ve wasted a whole week with our stubbornness.”

A sigh of pleasure was the only response she made. Blood roared through his veins. Once again he felt the overwhelming need to have her now, this very instant. Glancing sideways, he spotted one of the many benches adorning the garden, considered it momentarily, and finally dismissed the idea, marveling at his restraint as, for the hundredth time in the span of five minutes, he pulled on the reins and forced his baser instincts under control.

Stepping back, he saw the stunned look of confusion in her eyes and immediately took her hand in his, lifting it to his lips and kissing it. “Forgive me. It was not my intention to get so carried away.” Nudging her sleeve back to its proper position, he offered her his arm. “Would you please walk with me for a while?”

A dreamy look of detachment settled like a veil upon her face. She nodded slowly, clearly dazed and astounded by what had just happened between them, perhaps even (he hoped) a little disappointed and frustrated by how abruptly it had all ended. With measured steps, they made their way along a path that, skirting the perimeter of the property, would eventually lead them back to the house.

“Was it a mistake?” she suddenly asked so softly that he barely heard her.

“What?”

She paused for a moment as if trying to find the right words. “What we just . . . I mean . . .” She looked embarrassed—could not quite seem to get the necessary words out.

William instantly understood. “No.” He drew her closer. “You mustn’t think that. Never think that. Damn it, Lucy, couldn’t you tell that I was enjoying it? Rest assured that I did, very much.”

 

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