Beatrice opened her chamber door to find him waiting with an impatient look. After slipping inside and bolting the door behind him, he kissed her with a helpless need that left her breathless. If he didn’t want her, he had missed his calling on the stage.
“Long day,” he said when they came up for air. “Not unpleasant, but long. I missed you.”
She fought the smile that revealed her feelings too clearly. “Did you?”
“You know I did.” His arms came around her fully and he buried his face in her hair. Beatrice felt him breathing in her scent and felt glad she’d asked her maid to add a few drops of lavender oil to her bath, hours ago now. “You smell like heaven.”
She was new enough to the business of having a lover that her cheeks heated. Since he’d won her already, he didn’t need to ply her with sweet words. Turning her cheek against the soft lawn of his nightshirt, she could only appreciate his finesse.
“What would a man like you know about heaven?” The words were meant in a coquettish manner, but she’d never mastered the inflection. Instead they sounded vaguely accusing, the last thing she wanted. She didn’t wish to argue with him on their first night together, not when it would set the tone for what came after.
“Not much,” he said quietly. “Just the time I spend with you.”
As always, he humbled her with his candor. She was not used to men who spoke their minds. She had lived her life in the company of people who thought honesty ought to be avoided, truth best cloaked in inconsequential words.
She inhaled sharply and then let her breath out in an aching sigh. “You are too good to be true.”
Things that appeared so usually were. But Beatrice could not bring herself to break things off between them for fear of consequences or future pain. She wanted to live as she had so rarely done — in the moment.
A haunted look crept across his face. “Hardly.”
Tonight she wouldn’t think about his secrets, or the fact that this affair was likely doomed to end badly. Beatrice wanted him in her bed. Wanted to see his face beside hers on the pillow, and know she could keep him until the first fingers of dawn stole over the windowsill. Then he would need to creep back to his own bed, a necessity that would likely chafe his pride.
How long could he bear to live like this? How long before she awoke to find him gone? None of her doubt showed in her smile as she tugged on his hand.
“Come to bed,” she said. “I would feel you close ere I sleep.”
His fingers wound around hers, warm and fast. “Only that?”
The implication shamed her. She found it hard to speak through a suddenly clotted throat, for she did not want to be yet another of his society ladies who made him feel like a thing to be used. And surely she should feel ashamed of the lambent heat that stirred like a gentle iron taken to a dying fire.
She wanted him; she could not deny that. And yet she did not like to admit it.
Instead she climbed up onto the bed and then pulled the bed curtains.
“If you wish,” she managed to say as she climbed beneath the light coverlet.
The window beyond stood slightly ajar, permitting the assorted scents of a spring night to filter through. In the shaded dark, he seemed more sensual ghost than man, a dream lover come to steal her good sense and possibly her soul as well. Not for the first time, Beatrice thought he was truly too beautiful to be real.
He lay down beside her in her husband’s place, though James had never shared this bed, never slept at Granville House. Because he did not immediately touch her, she knew something was wrong. Ren had seemed pleased to greet her at the door, so she must have erred in some fashion.
“I am your servant,” he said at last. “Does it matter what I wish?”
So that was bothering him again. His pride chafed at taking his living from her coffers, even if it provided the only solution to their mutual desire.
“Yes. If you don’t want to…” Her voice faltered. “Be with me. Tonight or any other, then return to your quarters. I do not command you to…service me, as if you were a horse I put to pasture with a mare.” Beatrice hesitated, and then the next words slipped out beyond volition. “I thought you wanted me.”
Stupid, she was so stupid. Now that he had a position in her household, teaching her daughter — what in the world possessed her to do such a thing, putting Mattie at risk for such an infatuation — he would break things off. It made perfect sense. Since her daughter had taken such a liking to him, she could hardly fire him, but she could warn the butler to watch their new tutor very closely–
“I do,” he breathed then. “So much it scares the hell out of me. Because now, for the first time in years, I have something to lose. I want to make love to you like they do in fairy tales, Triss. And I’m afraid I don’t know how.” He barked out a laugh that was somehow devoid of humor. “Absurd, isn’t it? I’ve been with so many women, but I don’t know think I know anything at all about being with someone like you.”
The knot eased out of her chest. Dear God, she might be falling in love with him. Each word he spoke nudged her a little closer to the brink, and it felt like dying, so much dread and uncertainty tethered to the tenuous hope that beyond the pain might lie something beautiful and bright.
“Just kiss me,” she whispered. “We have years to sort the rest out.”
Then he rolled toward her with a muffled moan, arms reaching for her. His heat seared through the thin fabric of their nightclothes. She wanted to learn the lines of his face as a woman who never saw so clearly with her eyes, wanted to trace his features with a potter’s fingers. There was such artistry in his making, even if he had no hand in it.
His mouth took hers in quiet demand, not fierce, but knowing. He nuzzled, nibbled, and toyed with her lips until she gasped. She’d never known such wickedly lovely kisses existed, sweet and sinful, the way he tasted her.
Beatrice couldn’t resist touching her tongue to his, an unintentional tease. He made a sound in his throat and rolled, drawing her on top of him.
You like? It seems even more bittersweet because they do not, in fact, have years. They have merely days.