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Lord Ravensbrook convinc e frumpy spinster, Prudence Mayville that marriage is the best and most honorable option? A night of passion and mistaken identity has consequences . . . Frumpy Lady Prudence Mayville has harbored a tenure for the devilishly dashing L ord Ravensbrook since her days in the schoolroom. So when the sotted earl mistakes h er room for his and her for his mistress, Prudence finds it impossible to resist a chanc e to experience his passionate lovemaking. When Kolton, Lord Ravensbrook awakens naked in the wrong room and realizes what had occurred, he does the honorable thing and asks for Prudence’s hand in marriage. Ko lton is stunned when she turns him down flat. Why on earth would a compromised spinster refuse the most eligible bachelor of the season? Humbled, Kolton tries to overcome her objections, but will he be successful in persuading Prudence? Persuading Prudence by Liz Cole Breathless Press Calgary, Alberta www.breathlesspress.com This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Persuading Prudence Copyright© 2011 Liz Cole ISBN: 978-1-926930-36-7 Cover Artist: Victoria Miller Editor: Denise Lewis All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronical ly or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews. Breathless Press www.breathlesspress.com
Bath, England, 1834 “But, Amanda, we cannot let you travel all that way alone,” Lady Prudence Mayville i nsisted, attempting to persuade her best friend, and third cousin by marriage, not to leave. Amanda Bradley, Viscountess Broadshire, sighed dramatically. “Honestly, Pru, I am a married woman of seven years. I have Amy to accompany me.” She waved a hand in the direction of her burly lady’s maid. “I see no reason that you and Kolton should cut your trip short because I must leav e.” Staying the rest of the week, not to mention the additional two day ride back to London, alone with Amanda’s oldest brother, the Earl of Ravensbrook, was something Prudence would rea lly rather avoid. “You know very well that Kolton only came to escort us to one or two events. He wo uldn’t mind leaving earlier than planned in the least,” Prudence argued. Amanda rolled her eyes. “That is not true. He mentioned only yesterday that our tr ip had proved to be quite a nice diversion from the bustle of London. I am sure a few more days woul dn’t bother him at all.” Prudence frowned. Perhaps Amanda was right. He had appeared to be content to esc ort the two of them on their various sojourns about Bath in the last few weeks, and had only ve ntured out a handful of nights to pursue his own interests. Be that as it may, Prudence would rather not have to spend nearly a week in his company without Amanda as a buffer. She couldn’t possibly go that length of time without making a ninny of herself like an adolescent girl with her first crush. Having essentially grown up in the Stanvil le household since the age of six, Prudence was no more immune to the current earl’s allure than the rest of the female population. To put it simply, Kolton Stanville was an Adonis. Prudence had yet to meet a woman who was unaffected by his strength of presence. The man fairly dripped charm and sensuality. The truly amazing thing however, was that, for the most part, he achieved this feat without effort. But Lord help the woman he did make an effort to charm with the mischievous sparkle in those chocolate-brown eyes and that brilliant, heart-stopping smile of his—young o r old, she never stood a chance. Not that Prudence had to worry about the earl having an interest in a do wdy spinster like herself. At the grand age of six-and-twenty, Prudence had given up all thoughts of marriage anyway. This, however, was not the point. “That doesn’t change the fact that you shouldn’t travel back to London without an esco rt.” “Oh don’t be silly, Pru. As I said, I’ll have Amy; and I will take one of the footmen with me. You worry far too much. You wouldn’t want to leave Kolton to his own devices, now would you? Who knows what sort of scandalous behavior he might partake of if he doesn’t have you to watch over?” Prudence gave an unladylike snort. “Kolton is four-and-thirty and more than capabl e of taking care of himself. Besides, if I do not accompany you, I would be left to ride unchaperone
d with Kolton, and that would be most improper.” Amanda burst into a fit of giggles. “Pru, you have lived with the Stanvilles for t wenty years!” she reminded Prudence when she regained her composure. “We grew up together, for pity’s sake. You are part of the family. No one would think twice about you and Kolton traveling together.” Prudence heaved an inward sigh. Apparently there would be no way of convincing A manda that Prudence should abandon their stay in Bath and accompany her back to London. It was ridiculous really, there were only three days left before they were due to return to London anyhow, but she gave it one last attempt. “But poor little Cecil! I am sure that after all the pain and stress he has gone t hrough, breaking his arm and all, he would appreciate having an extra shoulder to cry on.” “Yes, my poor little dear.” Amanda sighed. “I am worried about him. Six years old and already a broken bone. His father didn’t start such recklessness until he was at least ten. I can o nly hope this teaches the little devil that monkeys are meant to swing from trees and such is not the case with l ittle boys. But he doesn’t need to learn injury breeds special attention, or he will be banging himself up more than he normally does.” “But, Amanda—” “No, no. Now I mean it, Pru. I would feel simply dreadful if you left with me. You have been looking forward to this excursion for the last six months, and I won’t have you miss one d ay of it—do you understand? Not one day.” Without another word Amanda turned to her maid and motio ned for the woman to grab her travel bag. Prudence rushed to give her cousin a quick hug and kiss goodbye before accompany ing her down to the hotel lobby to see her off. Sleep eluded Prudence. The late summer weather had turned beastly hot. Even with both windows open, the equally hot breeze did little to ease her discomfort, which did not bo de well for the two day trip back to London the next day. Prudence rolled over and sat up with an irritated huff. She was tempted to remov e her sweaty nightgown and toss it aside. Why shouldn’t she? Prudence thought rebelliously. It was a scandalous idea, but who would know? Amy wasn’t around to wake her up in the morning, why not indulge herself? Deciding to be wicked for once, Prudence removed the offending garment and tosse d it to the floor, feeling deliciously wanton. She draped the light bed sheet over her nakedness an d settled down to sleep. A loud crash startled Prudence from a deep sleep. She lay still, a bit disorient ed. Was someone in her room? Her heart raced as a range of colorful curses echoed across the room. She turned
he would have to realize his mi stake when he went in search of his nightshirt. there had been no need to lock her door since they had the entire four-bedroom suite to themselves. she discovered as he turne d and removed his trousers.toward the sound and muffled a shocked gasp. Kolton showed no sign of recognizing his err or. Prudence lay quietly. s he realized that her nightgown was too far away to snatch discretely and throw over her head. What was he doing in her room? “Bloody nush—nushun—pain in the arsh. she was afforded with a breathtaking vie w of his tight buttocks and strong thighs. Prudence bit back a startled cry. snapping Prudence back to awareness. but so did his body. Not on ly did his face possess strong chiseled features. His arms were heavily muscled. He would be understandably shocked and she would b e mortified. and shirt joined the coat Prudence bit her lip as she took in the magnificent picture he presented. In horror. her heart hammering in her chest. tables. She quickly shimmied ov er to the other side of the bed as close to the edge as she could get as the mattress dipped and . He was hopping unsteadily on one foot and grumbling as he held the other protectively in his hand. As they dropped to the floor. His broad shoulders tapered down to a trim waist. as was his chest. his back too. surely. But what if he brought it closer? He would no do ubt realize she lay scandalously disrobed in bed. the object of her heated dreams. If he was far enough in his cups. that much was obvious. The covers rustled. He shrugged out of his coat and tossed it over a nearby chair.” He had been drinking. so the likelihood of him realizing his mistake right away was slim. But. his form lit only by the weak illumination of a single candle. A man stood in front of the closed door to her room. She was pret ty sure she was completely concealed in shadow. To her surprise and embarrassm ent. He turned and blew out the candle. Indecision ate at her an d she sent a desperate prayer heavenward that he would discover his mistake and leave. but Kolton. vest. Should she say something? She opened her mouth to advise him of his error when s he remembered she lay naked in bed with only a thin sheet protecting her modesty. Unfortunately. Perhaps he would realize that he was in the wrong room without her having to say anything and go in search of his own? None of his things were here. h e could have easily miscalculated and entered her room by mistake. Until now. all the rooms in the suite were similar in design and furnishings. as the cloc k on the bedside table continued to tick away the seconds. that he’d forgone the use of a nightshirt. With alarming spe ed—especially given his inebriated condition—his cravat. Prudence felt a twinge of disappointment at not having the opportunity to see the rest of him wh ile at the same time realizing to her dismay. What was she to d o? Prudence sent up a silent prayer of thanks that candle wasn’t bright. It was not jus t any man.
arousal licking her insides. only to be silenced by his mouth pressing down upon hers.he slid under the covers with a deep sigh of satisfaction. . Now what would she do? The bed was large. Chapter Two Prudence waited for what seemed like hours before Kolton began to snore softly. She had to stop him. Kolton. He groaned. relaxing only ma rginally when his snoring soon continued. almost afraid to breathe. As she fought to breat he. “Mmm. but he grunted something intelligible and pulled her against him. and especially not b y Kolton. Again. coalescing in a tight knot in her lower abdomen. Her mind blanked to all but the feel of his naked flesh pressing against hers an d his breath-stealing kiss. You smell good. Prudence felt as if the wind had been knocked out of her. his hard. Perhaps he thought she was his mistress. The only thing she could think to do was lay as still as possible a nd hope to slip out unnoticed as soon as he fell asleep. If that were the case. much less with such fervor. She responded. but not so big as to keep him from dis covering her if he rolled over. Prudence froze. Kolton’s hand slid up and cupped her breast. Her body instantly responded. lean len gth pressing down on her. His mouth devoured hers and his tongue pushed insistently at her lips until they parted al lowing him to plunge between them. She tried to wriggle out of his g rasp. He stirred.” he mumbled sleepily and ran his tongue up the side of her nec k. mimicking the movements of his lips and tangled her tongue with his. Her nipples hardened embarrassingly further at t he feel his smooth chest rubbing against them. Prudence had never been kissed. she lifted the covers and prepared to climb out of bed. Wrapping his arms around her. “No. Prudence panicked. sending shockwaves of warmth rippling through her body . wait—” she whispered urgently. she attempted to slide out of bed. stopping to nibble at her ear. he would realize who she was—and she was pret ty sure he didn’t at the moment. He mumbled something in hi s sleep and rolled over. he slid his hands down her back and gr abbed her bottom. s he didn’t want him to realize his mistake and face the horrible embarrassment that would result. but he tightened his hold and snuggled his face into the crook of her neck. her back to his front. Cautiously. which hardened immediately at his touch. flinging his arm across her waist. But if she did. Her pulse rac ed impossibly faster. her breathing coming in soft pants. She drew a sharp breath as his thumb stroked her nippl e. She remained unmoving. Prudence gasped when he rolled her over and climbed atop her.
that feels good. Why not accept what he was offering and have something special to look back on when she was old and alone? Yes. Open for me. P ressure build inside her. making the ache at her center grow to a throbbing burn.” He flexed his hips and she felt him th rob inside her. Prudence drew a sharp breath. Tortured whimpers e scaped her and her arms slid up his back to clench his shoulders. “Stop. I need a moment to get used to your size. positioning himself between her thighs. luv? Ready for me to thrust my cock into your tight little cu nny?” he whispered in her ear as one hand reached around and pushed between her thighs. I’ll make it better..” He captured her lips and thrust into her.” he growled as he increased his pace. “Yes. He chuckled. her heart soared and she could barely catch her breath. her chances of experiencing lovemaking were practically non-existent. Prudence knew she cou ldn’t admit he was indeed hurting her. The tight k . Soon. for both of us. “Oh. Kolton. and as it did. “Do you feel how hard you make me? Yes. “Are you wet for me. His groan of pleasure drowned out her brief cry of pain. sweetheart. his body pressed to hers.” he crooned. so much better. yes. She pulled back. “Ahh. luv. He slid his cock against her moist lips. She w rapped her arms around his waist and parted her legs at the gentle nudge of his knee between the m. How many nights had she lain awake dreaming of him doing thi s very thing. whispering naughty things while stroking her body? He had no id ea he was making love to her—Prudence—and not some nameless women he had brought home for the night. That. Not to mention it was Kolton who was making love to her. pushin g at his shoulders.” “Glad to hear it. luv. she decided. Make the aching stop. She needed to stop him—stop what was happening. you know how to drive a man crazy. Stop. She moved with him. such an admission would be as good as announcing her virgini ty.” she impro vised. make it stop. luv? Am I hurting you?” Though Prudence had no experience with lovemaking. an opportunity like this would never come her way again. “come for me.” she begged.He pulled her tight against him and ground his hips against her. stop. her body shattered into a million pieces. Come for me now!” As if obeying his command. She thought quickly. she had heard the whispers of other ladies discussing the act when they were unaware of her presence. “You are good for a man’s vanity.. “Mmm. stop!” “What is it. Kolton. She groaned and moved her hips experimentally in slow circles as he continued hi s steady thrusts. “I-It’s just that you are so big.” he whispered. and feel so good.” He slid slowly in and out of her. “Oh. Come. my. The pain had eased. God. with unremarkable looks further lessening her chances of ever leading a man to seek her out. their coupling turned frenzied. but at six-andtwenty. “Mmm. Partial truth might get her out of this situation. matching his rhythm. I want you to milk me dry. You smell delicious.” he hissed. a new kind of pleasure took over.
He had won mor e than he had lost at cards—which was a surprise. “Ah. Chapter Three Prudence lay wide awake. the fact . she could tell him she was too embarrassed to say anything when h e stumbled into her room and had slipped away to another chamber to sleep when he snuffed out the light.. His thrusting grew slow and deep and Prudence felt the wetness increase between her legs as he filled her with his seed. Oh. she packed th e last of her things into her valise for their return trip that day. A minute later he withdrew and flopped down next to her with a satisfied sigh. Quietly and quickly. How was she going to keep this from tu rning into a royal mess? As carefully as possible—and successfully this time—Prudence slid out of bed.. he threw back his head. and most likely onl y. I’m going to come!” he choked and began pumping wildly into her. and read for an hour before going down to breakfast. Yes. considering he was deeper in his cups than he would no rmally allow—and had been smart enough to quit while he still had a sizeable amount of coin to hi s benefit. *** Kolton awoke with a headache. sending her to an even higher level of ecstasy. that was a good plan. a nd within moments was asleep again.not in her lower belly burst apart and contractions of pleasure clutched her womb.or. It served him right. However. She buried her head in the crook of his neck and screamed his name. She wanted to remember every moment and store it away for times in her marriagel ess future when she could pull out the memory and live it again and again in her mind. But the viscount could ta lk a rabid dog into giving up a bone when he wanted to get his way. Feeling much better now that she had formulated a plausible story. As dawn approached. God. Giving a hoarse shout. He had been drunk—but had he been drunk enough not to remember? She could pretend it never happened. her thoughts changed. checking every few moments to make sure Kolton didn’t awaken. she washed away the stickiness between her legs in the semi darkness and dressed . checking to make sure she had ev erything. before she left the room. He lay for a moment going over the previous night’s events. The pain in his head wasn’t so bad considering the amount of drink in which he’d ind ulged the night before. foray into lovemaking. reliving every detail of her first. he never sho uld have let Travers talk him into drinking and cards on his last night in Bath. She placed her bag with the trunks packed the night before. he told himself.
After that one exposure to the marriage mart. She’d told his stepmother just that when the poor woman trie d to convince Pru to have a second season. anything could have happened to him in that state. though he had escorted her to balls and functions regularly during her one and o nly season. He needed to relieve his bladde r in the worst way. When he was done filling the chamber pot. It was easy for society’s eligible bachelors to skip over her in favor of one of the prettier maidens looking for husbands. He did agree with his stepmother about one thing. was destined to remain on the shelf. . Kolton threw back the covers and got out of bed. poured some water into the washbasin. Pru was amiable and conducted herself with quiet poise. he noticed dried blood on his member. He stretched and took mental inventory of his body. . But. She wore drab colors. He didn’t norm ally spend time with her. At least Pru would make a decent companion for the ride home.he didn’t remember returning to his room or getting into bed bothered him a bit. H e rarely imbibed to that degree. She would pr obably read most of the ride and share pleasant. but she never took them off just the same. dresses that made her look dowdy and chubby. it s eemed. W here was his shaving kit? Rupert would not have packed it before Kolton was finished dressing. His life was fine just the way it was at the moment. Kolton thought lazily . Pru. but at least he didn’t have to deal with Amanda’s constant chatter and not so subtle hints about changing his unmarried state. nor would he miss her other favorite topics of convers ation: fashion and the latest bits of juicy gossip. It was probably time to get up and ready himself to leave. how did that exp lain the blood? It obviously wasn’t his . Other than the pounding in h is head and the taste of a dry woolen sock in his mouth. he was relieved to be l ucky on that score. if there was no injury. He wasn’t looking forward to the long ride home to his house in London. non-irritating. woken in a strange woman’s bed and ended up with the pox—no. She didn’t run off a t the mouth like most women. His va . and quickly cle aned himself off. he felt relaxed and surprisingly well rested. He wasn’t opposed to marriage at this point in his life per se. she’d refused to waste her time being a wallflower when she could be enjoying a good book. He could have been se t upon by footpads. he definitely would not miss Amanda’s tendency to go on and on about the blis sful state of matrimony and parenthood. He quickly finished washing and threw on his trousers from the evening before. Bloody hell! What happened last night? He moved to the washstand. conversation with him. he just hadn’t found a woman he felt an overwhelming desire to wed. Pru didn’t even try to make an i mpression. and pulled her hair ba ck tightly in a severe chignon at the back of her head. And those spectacles! It wasn’t as if she needed them for anything other than reading. He was relieved to find no injury. Yes.
He squeezed his lids tighter tog ether then opened them. The bed was made. Was he going mad? He closed his eyes. Kolton did not feel up to dragging th e source of Rupert’s disapproval from him. and more than a little irritated by this point. it wouldn’t be much trouble to retrieve it from his traveling bag. She wasn’t there but. “I will have my morni ng coffee then you may proceed. his clothes laid out. could he have really bedded Prudence? The evidence was there. Rupert taking the position a s Kolton’s valet when they were both barely men. upon further investigation. Kolton immediately s topped pacing. They had grown up together at Kolton’s family estate. Just the same. When he tried to remember the previous night. he’d found blood on the mattress. Nothing had changed. Bloody hell! *** Kolton was pacing his room when Rupert arrived with coffee. Warily. Because of their long friendship. Pru’s door was open. praying that when he opened them there would be a logical ex planation for everything. my lord?” the man asked crisply. Kolton retu rned to his bedroom and froze mid stomp. But rarely had Kolt on been presented with Rupert’s displeasure and today. Her valise was there. and his shaving kit was where he usually kept it on the washstand. Kolton retrieved the shirt he’d worn the evening before and tossed it on as he lef t his room. he opened one eye. “Yes.let was nothing if not predictable in his routine. he’d awake ned in her bed with blood on his member and.. sat. Good god. but his was not. If he could find it. still sounding a bit stiff. . Completely confused. As he expected them to be. and gratefully accepted a cup from his valet. “Shall I shave you this morning. Yes. Where was Rupert? He stalked back out into the main room and looked around. Rupert’s unusually c urt tone momentarily caught Kolton’s attention. both his and Pru’s trunks were packed and ready by the door. Kolton didn’t mind Ru pert’s tendency to speak his mind on occasion when the other man deemed it necessary. His bag was nowhere to be found. he could only make out fuzzy flashes of a woman’s moans and a supple body beneath him.” he answered distractedly. He looked inside. his valise sat open on the bed. Damn! Had the universe decided to pick today to play nasty with him? Perhaps it was by the door to the suite along with the trunks. and slammed it shut.. Rupert.” the valet replied. that will be fine. of all days. This was totally ridiculous.” “Very good sir.
she had stayed with the family for a few weeks. He had never thought of Pru in such an unseemly manner. more likely to be found with her nose in a book than di scussing fashion or sharing gossip. his stepmother. dreams of the future—he didn’t eve n know her favorite color. to have taken her virginity in such a way. she had tri ed to stop him. talented. Had she tried to stop him? He hadn’t forced her had he? The thought made him nauseous. the lovely. then again. reserved and unassuming. A few months later. Helena. he hadn’t recognized her. He had always put her in the ‘sister’ category as far as women went. made him realize she . He realized he’d never taken the time to know her as a person. He must have thought she was Helena. But. She had alw ays just been Pru. now. stop! .. so had he. She had come home only for holidays and to attend his father’s funeral. He’d never for ced a woman. She had been only six when her parents died and she came t o live with her second cousin. he hadn’t realized he was with Prude nce. he wouldn’t have associate d the luscious body he recalled with its slim waist. if his tangled memories were correct. she’d looked much as she did now—frumpy. and widowed Lady When ton whom he was bedding back in London. wait . No. firm breasts. No.had he even known it was Prudence he was bedding? He fought to recall more of their encounter. He knew nothing of her interests. did she know he thought she was another woman? How utterly demeaning fo r her. She had grown into a quiet. he had spent little ti me with the shy youngster in the few short weeks after she arrived and he had gone off to school. . And.. there was no mistaking the wonderfully inviting curv es he recalled beneath him with the shapely. the truth was painfully clear. he would have halted at once if he’d suspected it was her in bed with him. . . He vaguely recalled hearing those words. God. and sadly. No. And thoroughly disgraceful of him. Inst ead. She had looked nothing like the pretty young woman he’d imagined she would grow into. Prudence always seemed to melt into the background. Kolton. and softly rounded hips with t he somewhat plump and nondescript Prudence he knew either. People had overlooked Pru in favor of prettier.No. more vivacious young women. Eight years her senior. Oh. On that occasion. possibly without her consen t. Victoria. When Pru finished school and returned home for her come out. she’d left London to attend the same prestigious girls’ sch ool that Amanda had attended. . Why had he done it? He had been drinking. But. but he rem embered noticing the unusual blue-green color of her eyes and thinking that she would grow into a lovely young woman some day. gangly girl when he’d returned from Oxford. They repeated over and over in his head . yet slender. but Kolton remembered little of that pai nful time. as if preferring to study th e world instead of being part of it. full.
. my lord. Rupert. Kolton straightened and looked down his nose at his insolent employee. This situation has me more than a bit ra ttled. I kn ow my place. “Lady Prudence. my lord. Neither did I. he distinctly re called being aroused by her moans of pleasure. wiping off the blade with exaggerated care before continuing his chore. “In utter truth.changed her circum stances. Rupert had him prepared and lathered in no time.” Rupert confessed without remorse. especially a sweet creature such as Lady Prudence. “Pardon?” Did he actually just squeak? He cleared his throat. that I never thought I would see the day when you would take a dvantage of a young lady.” Kolton wiped the last traces of soap from his face and flopped back down in his chair with a heavy sigh.” “I should say so. what were you thinking. Although. my lord.” The steam went out of Kolton. Rupert had an uncanny knack of finding things out—whether one wanted him to or not. “Neither did I. “So. Placing his cup on the table next to his chair. I should have known the re was an ulterior motive behind your offer of a shave when you know I usually see to the task myse lf. closing his eyes with a weary sigh. that sounded better.” came Rupert’s tart reply. Rupert?” T here. he did vaguely remember giving her some pleasure. sir. and pinched the bridge of his nose between his forefinger and thumb. slapping away the hand holding the razor to his throat. He sagged back in the chair.” Kolton grumbled. shall we say?” “Changed her circumstances? Get that bloody thing away from me before you succeed in decapitating me.deserved much more than an apology from him. “What was that.” “Had an overwhelming desire to be close to you with a sharp instrument this mornin g. “It means. but not how it cam e about. do not presume to be impertinent with me. “I’m sorry.” “Wouldn’t dream of it.” “I don’t understand. bedding her?” Rupert asked indignantly.. “What? ‘No less than I deserve’? Stop mumbling man and come straight out with it. “What are your intentions toward her now that you have. Kolton motioned that he was read y for his shave. my lord. what do you intend to do about Lady Prudence?” Rupert asked casually a s he placed the razor against Kolton’s throat and slowly began his first upward sweep of the blade .” Kolton cursed under his breath. now that he thought about their encounter. Rupert.” “So. my lord. and hopefully not as guilty as he felt. “And what does that mean?” Kolton snapped angrily as he snatched the razor from the unrepentant valet’s hand and proceeded to finish the job himself. “If nothing else. I can pretty much assume I know what happened.” Rupert repeated. He didn’t question how the man knew what had happened. “I need not explain myself to you. I have no idea how this happened. his own orgasm brought on by her cry of completion. are you saying you didn’t mean to bed her?” The look on hi s valet’s face . Kolton barely kept himself from jumping out of his seat and getting his throat s lit in the process. much more aloof. As a matter of fact.
How had she not notice him approach? He looked none the worse for wear she noted. Rupert. but I was too far gone from drink last night.” “No.” “I hope you didn’t share your sentiments with the lady. No.” “Well then. “As horrid as it sounds. satiny voice that trickled over her nerve endings like war m honey. Pru?” Startled by the deep. If she was going to brazen her way through this and sti ck to her plan. reacting in such a way with a woman you have just bedded is about the worst—” “No. “Are you trying to say it was some sort of accident? ‘Sorry m’lady.” “Bloody. hopefully. hell! Pardon me.” Kolton sighed. If he had any concerns about what had happened between them last night. damn it. curious as to how he ended up in her room this morning. my lord? Have you eaten?” The earl studied her curiously for a moment. I know.clearly indicated he found that bit of information incredible. that was precisely my choice of words this morning when I realized wh at must have—did— happen last night. Prudence glanced up to find the object of her thoughts standing directly in front of her. I didn’t mean to bed her! It’s no bloody excuse .’” he quipped. Well.. “that brings us back to my origina l question. She had worked out a good plan. my lord. It surprised her a little.. What do you intend to do?” “The only thing I can do. she couldn’t give herself away so easily. and I believe I mistook Pru’s room for mine. He didn’t.” Rupert said helping him into his coat. unable to recall the details. “she was gone when I woke this morning. “Ready to leave.” Kolton interrupted.” Chapter Four Prudence finished her breakfast and attempted to appear absorbed in the book she had open in front of her. her gaze finding no sign of ill effect from the evening before as it flitted over his face. and he would no doubt notice and wonder at it.” “And Lady Prudence for a common trollop?” Rupert added unhelpfully. an almost imperceptible frown wrink ling his brow before it disappeared.” She smiled pleasantly at him. consideri ng his night of drinking and. “This is no joke.. she was prepared to pu . No. “Marry her. When she sa w no sign of him. but was. no. “And you. and his expression was once again one of polite interest. If a nything. Rupert. that is about the truth of the matter. She was not going to think about last night! She would surely blush furiousl y. and understandably. other activities. she glanced surr eptitiously around the lobby as she waited for Kolton to arrive and they could be underway. I mean. I’m afraid.. As she began reading the same page for the fourth time. He may assume the worst. it just slipped. he was most likely. “Quite ready. she turned her attention back to her book. I have no idea h ow she feels or what she thinks of what happened. my lord.? She pushed the thought away. Oh no! Did he remember? If he did.
” he said clapping his hands together and giving a robust sigh. “Well. Pru picked up her book. commented on the weather. “Actually. “Once I re alized you had perhaps imbibed more than you should. she settled into her seat and began to read as if she hadn’t a care in the world.” He stated when he could stand to wait no longer. I simply slipped out and spent the rest of the night in Amanda’s. Prudence repeated silently to he rself: last night never happened. but no harm was done. Stick to the plan. As he took her hand and helped her to her feet. as I sa id. As they walked from the building. So really. Prudence. “We should be on our way then. Excusing herself to re ad for a bit. “Pru. *** Pru was behaving as if nothing was out of the ordinary. the thoughtful expression returning for a moment.” Kolton lifted a brow and narrowed his eyes. I dined in my room. “Really. perhaps you don’t recall. You have been so quiet. Kolton. “You have been reading the same page for a good thirty minutes.. Stretching out his legs in front of him and crossing his ankles.” Though his expression and stance were nonchalant. yes.” she added with a small frown. how the heat of the last few d ays had finally passed.” he replied. no harm was done. She carefully kept her expression neutral as he helped her into the vehicle. She couldn’t stop the flush that flew to her cheeks at t he warmth of his hand. you know. When a lull came in conversation. Kolt on sat back in his seat. and everything will be fine. rather than make an issue and direct you b ack to your own room. bringing back with startl ing clarity the memory of how the same hand had caressed her so intimately only a few short hours before. and their hope that this respite would prove to make their trip back to London c omfortable. However.” Her shoulders sagged and she sighed deeply. and it took Kolton compl etely off guard. “Oh! I thought you had fallen asleep. we need to discuss what happened last night. Oh. especially in the state you were in .Last night never happened. the litany did little to dampen t he heat growing inside her at the light touch of her gloved hand in his. I completely understa nd why you would be disturbed at mistaking my room for yours. “Really? No harm done? How do you come to that conclusion?” “Well.” she replied with a po or attempt at merriment. and steered her toward the waiting coach. Prudence fought to keep from showing any sign of how nervous she truly was.. It seeped through the layers of clothing separating them. he considered h ow to proceed.t them to rest. They shared some small talk.” She . he placed his hand possessively on her lower b ack. my dear. something in his eyes gave Prudence the unsettling impression t hat he was not as lighthearted as he seemed.
my lord?” “What I am suggesting. But I will make it right. n-nothing happened. “F-Future? I exp ect nothing from you. Kolton was interested to see what excuse she would come up with. perhaps she thought he would not be a ma n and step up to his responsibilities? Well. after all. “P ru. The mask of indignation melted away and she slumped in her seat.” he said rubbing his chin. she hadn’t considered explaining away the evide nce of the loss of her maidenhead. Apparently. “Pru. But it does not explain—” he paused for dramatic effect as he looked her st raight in the eye. I know what happened. and i t was not your woman’s flow left on the sheets.” She looked. and an outraged gasp to boot. We will marry right away and—” . If it had not been for the fact I found your virgin’s blood on my memb er as well. leave off. Yes. he looked into her eyes.” he said gently. then her cheeks flamed. But since I did. and sounded. leaning forward and taking her hand between his own.” Yes. and met his eyes with a startled look. I believe we should stop th is nonsense and discuss the future. being drunk was how he got there. “I apologize profusely for leaving you there with the bed i n such a state.finished her story with a smile. Kolton frowned.” He thought the added bit of squirmi ng uncomfortably in her seat was a nice touch. he would set her straight in the matter. Pru. or have you neglected to consider that you might be carrying my child?” Pru inhaled sharply. Was the idea of a future as h is wife so off-putting she would be upset at the prospect? Or. yes. “I see. her hand flew from between his and rested on her stomach. We can forget the whole thing and go on as if last night never occurred. last night. what really happened. your story might have been plausible. if that was what she imagined. “—the blood I found on the sheets. Reclaiming her hand. “There are some things that are simply not suitable for discussion in mixed company. you little prevaricator.” “Oh. “Well.” Her face grew cherry red at his frank words. that is a perfectly good explanation for how I came to be in your bed this morning. “forgettin g may not be an option.” This got her attention. “Mmm. “Just what. and it is not. is that the blood was from the bre aching of your maidenhead. exactly. As far as I am concerned. yes. “Kolton!” she admonished in a believably embarrassed tone.” he remarked dryly. but as to the rest? Not bloody likely. I cannot find the words to express how deeply I regret my behavior. “I see you haven’t. She straightened suddenly. It is. a quick look of triumph flashed in her eyes before she lowered them to her clasped hands and voiced the only logical excuse she could use. when she concocted her fool story. Jus t as he expected. are you suggesting.” “Well. Being inebriated is no exc use for what I did to you. her eyes growing round an d glassy. Do you also have an explanation for that?” She blinked a couple of times. panicked. I surely should have spoken up and made you leave the room. how you got there.
” she replied dryly then blushed furiously. as you have requested. How intriguing. “Well. We will make the arrangements and be married right away. “Well then. Pru was understandably confus ed and upset. and I will not m arry you. barely suppressing an amused smile. And I am not trying to bully you now. “I am not pregnant. tapping her chin thoughtfully with one slender finger . and therefore offer little challen ge for you. Though. Or should I assume this proposal stems from some suspiciously sudden. Not marry him? He was an earl! And one . his Prudence had a feisty side. So. She shook her head. would you would be proposing right now? Come now. I am only trying to be reasonable. I haven’t had the urge to propose to any woman up ‘til now.” “If I am to be honest.” “Correct me if I am mistaken.” he rejoined.” “Reasonable?” she huffed. She was simply reacting out of worry for her future. no. but I fail to see why you would turn down my offer. Pru.” Pru paled. I am certainly not in the habit of bullying women. we marry in all haste. I will obtain a special lice nse upon our return. but you don’t really wish to marry me. no. an impressive fortune. The situation they now found themselves in was entirely unexpe cted. Somewhere in the c . I wouldn’t be proposing marr iage to you.“No. “If the events of last night had never transpired. he might add. “If I were expecting. my lord. if that were possible. her lips compressing in a thin line. newfound affection for me? No .” she said sitting back. I could retire to France before I begin to increase noticeably. and powerful friends! Was she daft? He’d been fighting off titleseeking. Kolton. he reminded himself. then.” he said confidently.” “Pardon? Did you just say ‘no’?” “That is exactly what I said. or forces as you suggest. “I’m sorry. Or can you provide tangible proof that what I found on the sheets was due to you r woman’s time?” Pru’s color deepened. motioning with his hand in an exasperat ed gesture.” “That is most likely because every woman outside your family is more than willing to toss up her skirts at the tiniest bit of encouragement from you. I have no assurance you have not conceived. “You are being high handed and giving me no choice in the ma tter!” “What other choice is there. “I wil l not be forced—indeed bullied—into marriage!” Kolton’s brows drew together in confusion. You wouldn’t be. Pru?” he asked. “Bullied? Whereas it is true the situatio n necessitates. but her face grew militant. how she found refusing to marry hi m comforting was beyond his comprehension.” she stated calmly. “the matter is settled. do you . and I will not take the chance of a child o f mine being born a bastard. be honest. “the situation i s what it is.” she raised a staying hand when he opened his mouth to answer. In truth. money hungry women. and marriage minded mammas for years—and she says no when he finally breaks down and proposes? Kolton successfully swallowed an indignant retort.” Kolton fell back in his seat incredulous. with a high social standing. “Be that as it may.
perhaps—where no one knows me and I can claim to be newly widowed. “That you. She straightened her shoulders and glared at him. I don’t like to lie in fact. of you to suggest otherwise. However. or fair. before she passed in childbirth.um.” sh e continued. my lord. Kolton stared at her a moment. Kolton.” she said.” she sighed in a martyred fashion.” “I do not want to marry you simply because we. caught up in contemplation. After all.well.” That remark made her bristle. And to marry without proof that I am is ridiculous. Not whe n the truth is far easier to remember.” he pointed out.” He hadn’t thought about that. which I do not believe I am. her eyes brightening as she warmed to the idea.. “In as long as I have known you. he didn’t recall being disappointed. “W hile I appreciate.ountryside—a small cottage. turning her attention from the passing scenery back to him. his jaw sagging a bit. From what little he remembered of the previous evening. Could he stay faithful? He’d never imagined marrying a woman he couldn’t remain fait hful to. I think we could get on quite well together. I must mak e it clear that I do not normally take it upon myself to lie. “I suppose we could if I were willing. I—” “No. lie. But he hadn’t considered the marriage bed when he started on this course. to accept your mistresses. I believe the situation in which we now find ourselves calls for some prevarication. “Our marrying would not be as bad as you seem to believe.. “This is beyond ridiculous. I would never have suspected it.” “Suspected what?” she asked distractedly. turning her head to stare out the window. he was determined to marry her. Kolton.” “Yes. I give y ou credit for possessing such a quick mind. it is not reasonable. but for reasons even he could n’t understand. Should he make a promise he was not absolutely positive at this po int he could keep? “Pru. you know. I will not sit back and pretend the child is not mine.” She finished her story with a note of satisfa ction ringing in her voice. of all people. Nor would I have suspected how easy it seems to be for you to voice it. not to men tion plausible. He realized how little he actually knew about the in ner workings of her mind.” Her argument was logical in its own distorted way. “There are just too many reasons why I cannot accept your more than generous proposal. And. b ut I will not change my mind on this..” .” “Some prevarication? The only kernel of truth in your entire story is that you wil l travel to France.. “I can send letters back claiming to h ave befriended a young lady in an ‘unfavorable’ position. I might not e ven be with child. She wanted more than a paper marriage. that is. dear Prudence. would be capable of concocting such a speedy. Her pride was understandably engage d now. he owed Pru that much after what he had done to her. the young woman begged me to raise her child and I agreed. I’m sorry. though it unsettles me a bit. Pru. my dear. I can say that. and thank you for realizing there is more occupying my head than air.
and cheese. but she wanted a marriage based on more than duty. She had witnessed firsthand what that type o f marriage could be like. she thought suspiciously.” He knocked on the ceiling of the coach. my lord. He’d finally dropped the subject. and she wanted none of it. We still have a long ride ahead of us and there is no use squabbling the rest of the day away. I have been told I possess a fairly cheer ful nature. What was taking him so long? She was just about to go in search of him when the door opened and Kolton entere d with a bundle under his arm. but Prudence chose to stay behind and think without the earl’s commanding presence to distract her. It could have been any woman in his bed last night and he wouldn’t have known the difference.Chapter Five Prudence stood firm with her decision. He wasn’t. Prudence sat in the carriage for some time after the fresh horses were ready. His lighthearted expression didn’t change. Kolton exited the carriage. She awoke when they stop ped to change horses. and nothing Kolton said changed her mind. as a matter of fact. studying his face. Prudence knew it was likely impossible for he r at this point. attracted to her. His silence and broodi ng expression confirmed as much. but I am done butting heads with you. He didn’t really want to marry her. “I procured lunch. would he? A nd that was the whole of the problem. “I am not one prone to staying disgruntled for long. my lord. bread.. As the minutes lengthened to more than a half hour. I have decided to put the matter aside for now. What would marriage to Kolton be like? She had no prospects. and the conveyance rocked as they starte d off. surely.” she added. if truth be told.” . she became restless. You seem in brighter spirits.” For a man who was not about to get his way. after all. only cold me ats. tr ying to think of arguments that might make him see reason. a bottle of wine. but I think it will be satisfying enough until we stop for dinner. No. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad. he was just being a gentleman and owning up to his responsibility.” “Yes. “It is simple fare. “Thank you. He was taking an unusually long time to return. she concluded. you do. But you are also a man who rarely accepts defeat either. “That may be true. But. He’d been sotted for goodness sake! She couldn’t m arry a man who only wanted to do the right thing. and two glasses. Prudence settled back to rest. Ignoring his dark scowl. if she wasn’t with child he wouldn’t be pressing the issue. but she was sure he hadn’t given up the fight. Kolton was looking entirely too plea sed with himself..” he announced with charming smile.
” he replied casually. Cold fingers of unease crept up her spine.” he said with confidence. “I-It is lovely. “Do you like it?” he asked brightly. the only logical conclusio n one could draw was that Kolton didn’t plan to compromise at all. my lord. and Prudence wa s happy for the chance to get out and stretch her legs. The area surrounding the cottage wasn’t elaborately landscaped. Pe rfectly suited. “I have taken care of that little problem already. it also worried her as to what. She wasn’t going to change her mind. exactl y. nestle d in the woods as it was. Opening the door. That being the case. He couldn’t have. he had in mind to accomplish this great feat.” She crossed her arms over chest.Prudence agreed. feeling smug. none that she knew of. “B-But won’t we be missed?” The fact they would be. but then again. made her feel a little more self a ssured. She looked around as the earl handed her down. Prudence looked about curiously.” she replied sarcastically. sending a lump of foreboding to settle in the pit o f Prudence’s stomach as he led her to the door. “is one of my hunting cabins. she thought confidently before she recalled their lengthy stop e arlier and his improved disposition. *** It was getting dark by the time the carriage stopped for dinner. “Would your efficiency be the reason you took so long returning when we stopped for lun ch?” With a casual air. No blatant display of wealth. The interior of the cottage reflected the same comfortable simplicity. but attempt to change her mind altogether . “Yes. but a large cottage she didn’t recognize situated in a small clearing in the woods. in fact. such an ostentatious display would have taken away from its homey simplicity. there we re no half measures. Th ey had not stopped at an Inn. I sent word ahead letting the family know that since you were enjoying your stay so much. Though his confidence in his ability to sway her rankled Prudence. confusion tugging at her brow.” Prudence turned from the doorway of what she assumed served as both study and li . motioning toward the two story stone building i n front of them. I decided to postpone our departure for a few more days. “Everyone at home is expecting us tomorrow and will surely become concerned when w e don’t return. At least. It’s secluded and quiet. So she was more than happy t o let the matter rest than continue to argue with the stubborn man. he ushered her into the entryway. as she had expected. “Have you now.” Agreement? How could they agree when their arguments were polar opposites? How w ould they possibly compromise on how to proceed—they would marry or they would not. to the task of giving us privacy in which to come to an agreement concerning our presen t situation. but why are we here?” “This. but tastefully furnished y et with an air of understated elegance.
I made sure the wom an be appraised of the fact I had arranged for the cabin to be available for newlywed friends of mine w ho required privacy. you seem to have thought of everything. “We will be serving ourselves. H e wondered. as Rupert insisted on making sure all the rooms were cleaned and aired. “Personally .” he said ignoring her rancor and motioning toward the st airs. with a bit of apprehension and. a small amount of anticipation. Now. Did he actually believe he would change her mind by kidnapping her an d browbeating her for who knew how many days? If he did. It boded w ell for their future together—and they would have one. my lady.” “I have addressed that issue as well.” she noted dryly. gritting her teeth . just his tactics. “But what of the staff? Surely they will find it odd that we are residing here without chaper one. Rupert has undoubtedly prepared your room and laid o ut a change of clothes for you. After you freshen up.” he said conversationally.” She didn’t try to hide her ch urlish tone. “Since I do not keep a regular staff on the premises. I believe he thinks serving dinner beneath him. he had a surprise in store for him.” she replied. if that is acceptable to you?” “I have no objection to eating informally. pulled out a chair. I arranged for a local woman to collect our laundry and leave our meals for us in the kitchen each morning. Then I will see you shortly. Ever the snob is Rupert.brary and raised a superlative brow. my lord. “I try to be thorough. my lord. I thought we might eat informally. “I had our things sent on ahead and unpacked.” His attempt at humor earned a small. Pleased by this. he contin ued on in the same vein.” “Well.” Of course he had. and seated her at the table. he had not changed his mind. It is at the end of the hall on the left. Kolton was encouraged by how easy and relaxed he felt in Pru’s company. “Good. reluctant smile. Since it is just the two of us. He sipped a glass of wine while he waited for Prudence to make an appearance. feel fr ee to join me in the kitchen. offering her some hot turtle soup. surprisingly. To get there. how she would react when he put his plan into motion. And. but the loose cut and lack of adornments did little else to enhance her appearance.” *** Kolton sat comfortably in the small kitchen as though men of his status did so e very day of the week. Kolton sto od respectfully. it is the last door straigh t ahead. seething at his insolence. She entered the room in a simple gown of rich aqua blue that complemented her co loring. “It seems I am not the only one who is quick at fabrication. you take this hall to the end and turn right. . succeeding in coaxing a laugh or two out of her before the meal was done a nd Prudence excused herself and headed up to bed.
“You cannot seriously think that I believe you would do such a thing. I did not bid you leave to enter. taking the ‘if’ out of the equation. “it seems my only recourse is to take the decision entirely out of your hand s. however. by swiving you until you are enceinte. pulling her robe closed defensively over her breasts. “Why are you in my room. Placing the key in the p ocket of his robe. confusion eclipsing her annoyance.” . “Your r oom?” “Yes. as you have refused my repeated offers of marriage. my lord?” she asked warily.” “But-but. may I ask. dragging his ey es back to her face. she had not finished preparing for bed – or at least he hoped not. “Well. propped on her nose. He liked Pru. “ She crossed her arms and glared at him.” he said. “I intend to do it the old fashion ed way. “I believe it’s a tactic normally employed by women determined to force men to the altar. Although. The lamp on the bedside table caressed her features with its warm glow. do you plan to do that?” Regaining her composure.” he said. but he’d do his best to persuade her to be more receptive.then why were my things been put here?” “I have come to a decision. one brow raised threaten ingly. Kolton. is us ually persuasive in matters such as these.Chapter Six Kolton knocked briefly before he entered the bedchamber and closed the door behi nd him.” He turned and locked the door. drawing his attention to the generously rounded mounds.” he replied. she tightened the sas h of her robe. Would his body cooperate? “And what might this decision be. Apparent ly. he took a calming breath before turning back to her. but he’d never seriously considered bedding her before.. tapping a finger to his chin with an air of con templation. her eyes rounding. wearing a surprised express ion. The way I see it. When had she developed such delectable figure? And why hide it under such unflat tering gowns? What else he might discover about Lady Prudence Mayville if he dug deep enough? Kolton smiled confidently as he approached her. Pru was standing next to the bed in her night rail and robe. “And how. and quite enjoyable—and unerringly effective in most cases. It is a tried and true method. Did she sleep t hat way? He wouldn’t put it past her at this point. inadvertently revealing her tiny waist and lushly rounded hips. She inhaled sharply. watching h er reaction intently. You couldn’t possibly entertain the notion I would agree to such a suggesti on..” she demanded in an irritated tone. She didn’t appear pleased to see him.” Why had he not noticed how nicely shaped and full her breasts were until now? “What?” she sputtered angrily her hands flying to her hips. crossing her arms unde r her breasts. Her hair was still pulled b ack in its usual severe style and the spectacles he had begun to despise. “I have no need of permission to enter my own room. her mouth forming a small ‘o’. my room. my dear.
I do not intend to start with you. but that is exactly what I plan to accomplish with this ‘farce’. wait. “but. “Please..” she snif fed disgustedly.” Pru blushed furiously and lowered her eyes. my lord. and is as close as you will ever get to me agreeing to such a farce. Kolton snapped his jaw shut. The thought shocked him. . my lord. molding her reluctant body to his.” “Yes. clasping her hands to her heart as if overwhelmed w ith joy. stop! . “Well. ignore any desire I may have to wed a man who seeks to marry me—not out of duty but—because he simply wants me for his wife. but did not argue the truth of his s tatement. Kolton shoved aside the hazy memory of her whispered words the night before and concentrated on the night ahead of him. causing his member to rise enthusiastically. Kolton..” He released her wrist and drew her into his arms. she is adorable in her indignation. Sex with this dowdy spinster wouldn’t involve convincing his cock he wanted her.” she concluded lifting a brow insolently while tapping her foot as she stood glaring at him. “You cannot b e serious. his voice ca lm and soft as he studied her face closely. correct me if I am wrong. “What did you think?” she continued. “Beginni ng tonight. her outrageous performance catching him completely off guard. barely able to contain his laughter. “Believe what you will. Oh. “That was quite the performance. you pompous. She dropped her besotted facade and crossed her arms over her chest.Kolton didn’t consider himself a vain man. to which he was profoundly relieved. “I cannot believe you would stoop to such vile behavior!” No. “Well?” he urged to solidify his point. but the fact that she showed not even t he tiniest spark of interest pricked his pride a bit.” He closed the space between them and grabbed her wrist. ‘adorable’ was never a word he would have previously used t o describe Prudence. my dear. .’” She ended her speech with a coquettish flutter of her lashe s. he would certainly never grow bored. stop. Even with that hideous hairstyle and those dreadful spectacles. yes. how foolish I have been! Please.” “You would force me?” Her voice raised a notch as she attempted to tug free of his g rasp. was any indication. as you so sweetly put it.” he replied. dearest Pru. make passionate love to me. A slight shake of her h ead was his answer.Stop. Her breasts were generously full and firm as they pressed against his chest. “Why. if the unexpected spear of arousal that pierc ed him.” he said scratching the back of his head. speechless. “That being the case. to my knowledge. He gaped at her. her ocean blue eyes shooting sparks of indignation. “‘You honor me with your intentions. Who would have guessed Prudence had such a quixotic sense of humor? What else would he discover about her in the next fifty years? If this was any indication. Pru raised her head. I have never had to force any woman into my bed. bloody .’” she cooed in a breathless voice. “That I would fall at your feet in gratitude? ‘Oh. Please.
Her waist was tiny and her hips generously shaped. Look at yourself. Pru. Pru. And look at this wave that falls over your forehead. softening the otherwise severe features the rest of the world was allowed to see.” He turned her to face the full-length mirror standing in the corner. “I do not give false compliments. my breasts and hips are too l arge. Taking t he back of her head in his hand.” he said tucking a lock behind her ear. She balled her hands i nto fists and beat at his shoulders.” he stated. nor do I need to do so. swallowing her moan of pleasure. Her nose was pert and strait above perfectly shaped full lips. “My hair is too dark. “You do not have to try to seduce me wi th words. “My God. released from its constricted style. and framed by incre dibly long. her lips parting.” Prudence snorted indelicately. False compliments do nothing to gain my favor. What is ‘breathtaking’ about that might I inquire?” It was Kolton’s turn to snort. When he broke their kiss and looked down at her. the deep blue-green of her eyes changed to a lighter shade that was more of an o cean green. He was pleased to find he had not imagined her lush curves. He stood behind her and looked at her in the mirror . promptly bringing her tirade to an end. It is a crime to have kept this hidden all this time. “and these gorgeous curling ones that shine like still water on a bright. She blinked a couple of times. which wer e moist from his kisses. “It is more than obvious they were not needed to gain my acquie scence. It sprang free of its tight confines. Her body tensed and her expression soured. a becoming blush wash . Her eyes were a darker shade of sea blue than he remembered. As Kolton explored the sweetness of her mouth. “Your hair is glorious.” Kolton frowned. Reaching up. he held her in place while he ravaged her lips. as if awakening from deep slumber. gathering a section and draping it over her shoulder. you’re breathtaking!” How had he never noticed the woman behind the hideous spectacles and the unflatt ering hairstyle? Kolton was ashamed to admit he’d never once tried. he removed her spectacles and tossed them aside then proceeded to r emove the pins from her hair. Kolton was stunned by the visio n of beauty he held in his arms. and framed her passion flushed face becomingly. He cupped her nicely rounded bottom and pulled her against his erection. “The color only e nhances your flawless ivory skin. tumbled in ebony waves down her back. which soon ceased altogether as she began t o respond. He ignored her struggles. he let his hands wander over her body. and gently gui ded her to stand in front of it. summer’s day. falling down her back to se ttle at her waist.” she stated coldly. her hands unclenching and sliding around his neck. and I am short. Her hair.ass—” He captured her mouth with his. As she came ou t of her lustful daze. “You’re beautiful.” Prudence met his eyes in the mirror and looked away shyly. allowing him to deepe n the kiss. my lord. dark lashes.
“Really.” he said in a husky voice as he slid his arms around her.” “Good. “I would not want you any taller.” he whispered against her ear as he ran his hands ov er her body while he studied her nakedness in the mirror.” She was ready to abandon her resistance. Have I ever lied to you?” “Well. grabbing the front of her robe before it could slither t o the floor. pet. you have succeeded in making me feel beau tiful. you have a perfect hourglass figure. “they are perfect. you’re just right. untying the sash of her robe and sliding it off her shoulders. my dear. your hips.” he said. and pulling the material together over her breasts. but still looked doubtful.” “Hair like this never goes out of fashion. Pru. not to my knowledge. no. he thought with satisfaction.” “Trust me.” He chuckled softly at her shocked expression. Her eyelids drooped. “Now. no man with anything in working order between their legs would even think to complain about such a thing . He was met with no resistance when he slid the gown and robe off her shoulders and down her arms. “Making love to you ceased being a me ans to an end the moment I took your luscious body in my arms. slowly bringing his hands up to cup her breasts. no. Pru. if nothing else. Kolton. and coupled with your small wai st. I don’t want to marry you out of obligation. The color of her passion. “your breasts are indeed larger than most. No. “I don’t want to have intimate relations wit h you as a means to an end.” she objected. ignoring her gasp of shock. He massaged her stomach just above her nether curls with one hand.” she ad ded with a defiant lift of her chin. But I am still short.” Prudence sighed. And as to your figure. But dark hair is not at all in fashion. “I-I have always liked my hair. pressing h is stiff arousal against her bottom and nibbling at her neck.” he said conversationally as he slid his hands down her sides. letting the material drop to pool on the floor at her feet. bru shing away her attempt to stop him. emphasizing the topic of conversation. her eyes glazing over with passion as he slowly caressed he r. I must confess.ing over her features. . and I don’t want that from you eit her. “Mmm. while the other went to the ties holding the fro nt of her nightgown closed and tugged them loose. sweetheart. He could tell by the way her body tremb led and the unconscious tilt of her head granting him better access to her neck. and he noticed the color of her eyes had again deepened to that mysterious aqua color. I believe we were about to make love. “Now.” “Really?” She seemed to want to believe him.” he slid his arms around her waist. “Well.” he insisted a s she began to protest. “You are the perfect height. paus ing at her waist. but I assure you. So I would have to say no.” “No.” he assured her. resting his chin atop her head. you’re perfect. “They are in perfect proportion with your breasts. She turned toward him.
“Yes. and pressi ng her bare skin against his.” she begged breathlessly. Kolton. “Yes! Oh yes. She wrapped her arms around him.” he murmured as he cupped the firm mounds and lowered his head to take o ne of their pebbled peeks between his lips.” she hissed. slipping it off his shoulders. “No. A wave of pure lust surged through him and drove all the blood in his body to his throb bing arousal. relieved that he did not have to worry about scaring her with his passion. .” he groaned.” He took her mouth hungrily then moved to her breasts. you smell good. When she parted her legs and slid one up his thigh to wrap around his flank. “Kolton.” He took her mouth again with his. “I want to taste you before I ride between your legs. Though he did not intend to mi suse her. now. running his fingers through her drenched curls. he gave her sl it one long lick. “Shh. not yet. “Oh. I want you inside me. Kolton. Drawing at it strongly. Spicy apple assailed his senses. “Bloody hell. Kolton groaned. reminding him of crisp October nights spent sipping hot-spi ced cider. He complied. she was no frightened virgin. and slipped one digit between her plump folds.” he groaned. begging without words for him to take mo re. and moved down her body. Without taking his lips from hers. love. He slid one hand down between her legs. “Beautiful. I want you. A sudden rush of moist desire drench his cock as he slid it against her and turn ed his attention to her other breast. She sucked on his tongue and undulated her hips. we can discuss it later. Lifting her to his mouth. Prudence cried out and arched her back.” he replied. wet passage. He wrapped his arms around her and took her mouth in a possessive kiss. he gave a deep-throated growl of approval and thrust his tongue into her mouth in parody of how he inten ded to thrust his throbbing cock deep in her tight. The evidence of her passion made him impatient to sample the bount y offered between her thighs. moving against her and sliding his erection between her sli ck folds. “God. swallowing her moan of defeat. he picked her up and carried her to the bed w here he laid her down and settled his length atop her. he draped them over his shoulders and slid his hands under her. Pru. I don’t want to marry because-” He placed a finger to her lips. opening his mouth wide and taking in as much of her breast as possible.” she gasped and lifted her hips.She surprised him by untying his robe. Kolton. trying t o force his finger into her. burying his face in hair and breathing deeply of he r scent. responding enthusiastically to his kiss. grinding her hot core against h is rigid staff.” he said abruptly. Later. she knew what was to come. Widening her thighs. “No. he flicked the nipple with his tongue and teased its mate with the thumb of his other hand. Prudence pulled back. please.
Her body tensed and she threw back her head. Something inside him sn apped and he lost complete control. he played havoc with her arouse d flesh. you’re so tight!” he hissed. He threw back his head and shouted her name as his balls drew tight and his orga sm hit with blinding intensity. her breasts jiggling enticingly with the rapid rise and fall if her chest.Oh. His balls ached and his cock throbbed. “Kolton! Oh. He wouldn’t have been surprised if his balls imploded. He rocked his hips against the mattress in an impossible attempt to ease its frustration. reminding him it was being horribly negle cted. Gripping her hips. He rose above her and st abbed his rigid staff to the hilt inside her. pulling almost completely out and plung ing deeply into her again. burying her face against his shoulder and sinking her teeth int o his skin. Kolton. “Yes!” he snarled. sweet Lord. p lunging his tongue deep into her honeyed depths. “Kolton! What are you do—. Kolton felt like the most powerful man in England—if not the world—as he watched her race toward orgasm. God. Her body was bathed in a soft glow of moisture as she gasped a great lun gful of air. so strong was hi . letting lose a hoarse shout of release. She screamed his name. “Harder!” she cried. Kolton shifted immediately. don’t stop. alternating between lapping at her with the flat of his tongue and fluttering it over clit w hile pausing now and again to drink her juices and slide his tongue deep inside her as she writhed and moaned.” she cried digging her heels into the mattress and thrusti ng her hips madly against him as her inner muscles contracted almost painfully around him. Pain and pleasure mixed. s queezing his cock tighter than he thought humanly possible. “Ah. clutching the bed linens at her sides in a death grip. abandoning his carnal kiss. ripping from him a feral growl. Her body convulsed. All conscious thought evaporated. He lifted his eyes to study her face as he flicked his tongue over her sensitize d nub.. tossing her head back and forth on the pillow. he sucked her clit into his mouth and drew at it strongly while brushing i t lightly with his teeth and fluttering his tongue over the hardened nub. her passionate crie s of pleasure inflaming him impossibly further. his sole focus centered upon slamming his cock into her as hard and fast as possible. Her muscles gripped him harder as another orgasm tore through her body.. her nails digging into the flesh of his rhythmically clenching buttocks as she gripped the m and pulled him against her. bloody hell. and he buried his face in her hair as he fought to hold back his release an d prolong the feeling. His eyes teared with the intensity of overwhel ming pleasure that seized him. Her reaction was immediate.Her hips jerked. The blood rushing in his ears deafened him to all but the soun d of their bodies slapping a fast. Eage r now to drive her to her peak. Don’t stop!” Kolton chuckled softly and claimed her nether lips much like he had her mouth. The bed creaked and moaned as he pummeled her without mercy. wet rhythm.
s release. If it weren’t for the pleasant ache between her legs and the feel of his hard body against hers. a naked Earl of Ravensbrook was collapsed atop her. probably made it sound like there was hope for a life to which she was never destined to have. And she’d never felt more satisfied. his seed slowly trickling out of her to the bed sheets ben eath them. Did that make her a harlot? No. his che ek pressed to hers. Raising her head from where it rested against his shoulder. he probably never would. She couldn’t fall in love with him any more than she could ma rry him. she decided. pulling her down to meet each of his forward thrusts. His member was still inside her. had she enjoyed it.could he? He’d never looked at her in any way she woul d ever describe as desirable. what did it mean? Was he as passionate as he’d been with her with every woman he was intimate with? He hadn’t reacted as strongly with her the first time but. So why wasn’t he relieved when she turned down his proposal? Why did he insist on trapping himsel . He gripped her shoulders from behind. not some other woman. She doubted their first time in Bath had created a child. At this very moment. Kolton couldn’t really want her like that. Chapter Seven She was a shameless hussy. Relaxed while he slumbered. He didn’t love her.. . She didn’t understand why Kolton was pursuing her like he was. Prudence was unprepared for the warmth of affection that filled her chest. his breathing startlingly harsh and hot as it burst from between his lips and fa nned her neck. he stroked her hair tenderly and Prudence wondered if she was dreaming. she had not encouraged him to make love to her—just the opposite.. more like a young boy than a carefree man of the world. He had truly wanted her this time. She m oved away from him and lay on her back. in fact. she sometimes thought he didn’t notice her much at all. Prudence gazed at his face. He mumbled something about crushing her and rolled to his side pulling her with him. Kolton’s light snoring indicated that he had fallen asleep. A tad? Dragging her off to the w ilderness to seduce her into accepting his proposal was more than a tad in her opinion. Prudence had to admit that she liked being the center of Kolton’s attention very m uch – even if he could be a tad overbearing. he looked vulnerable. she would say that what had just happened was part of some elaborate fantasy her mind had dreamt up. As she snuggled against his side. So. dri ving himself harder into her as his seed shot from his cock in forceful streams deep into her welcoming passa ge. In fact. then again. . he’d be en muddled with drink. No. He was s ober and in full possession of his faculties. But she had enjoyed it. a stray lock fa lling over his forehead adding a bit of mischief to his appearance. To do so would bring her nothing but heartache. She snickered to herself. His hair was mussed. God.
alas. but that was about all she could make out with the heavy drapes blocking the morning light. “You really don’t realize how be autiful you are. if it were only that easy. my lady. “Yes. “Hello there. th e pleasure. stemmed from the night before and the one and only wantonly reckless act she had ever committed – t ossing caution.” said the deep masculine voice belonging to owner of those wickedly handsome eyes.f in a loveless marriage when she had given him a perfectly good plan of escape? And why did the fact tha t he was so determined to marry her make her heart flutter despite knowing marriage between them could be disastrous? Her eyelids grew heavy as she pondered the situation. I might reconsider. his lips parted in one of his well practiced. From what she could tell. it sounds cliché. A lamp burned soft ly beside the bed in a room that in no way resembled her bedroom in London.” His eyes rounded in mock horror and he placed a hand over his heart. my sleeping beauty. Did you know you look like an angel when you sleep?” Prudence pulled a face and he chuckled. in which case. Pru?” Prudence gave an unladylike snort. it is not. his eyes twinkled. “If that were truly the case.” s he stated flatly. I would not have remained a wallflower my entire season and the seven years since. her voice still raspy from sleep. but it is true. Kolton propped himself on his elbow next to her. “Ah. Naked? Since when did she loll about in the grass. Oooh! He didn’t play fair. grey-ha ired granny to possess. but. Prudence lay in a lush. much less unclothed? Prudence lifted her lids and attempted to focus her bleary eyes to study her surroundings. and I wouldn’t believe you in any case. “No. It would be too easy for you if I did. It is almost impossible to believe you are the same passionate creature I held in my arms but a few hours ago. “Kolton?” she whispered. As sleep wove its silky we b around her. love. “You wound me . aside and deciding to sleep naked in her bed. that is. one thought drifted through her mind: all that had occurred tonight.” He waggled his brows at her. it’s working. Unless. I agree. Why do you insist that I am attracti ve when we both know I am not?” . and I will not even try. Warm breath caressed her neck and she turned her head to stare into a set of ric h brown eyes framed by the kind of dark.” His face took on a more serious. “Yes. green field. heart melting smiles. A hot breeze tickled her neck and brushed l ightly over her naked body. my dear Pru. thick lashes most women would sell their sweet old. and her nightgown.” “You are trying to seduce me with words again to sweet-talk me into marrying you. the ro om was much bigger. the passion. dissecting expression. do you.
“Hmph. It makes me cur ious to know why. She turned to him and wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed her body to his. brushing her bottom lip with the pad of his thumb. He tilted hi s head and deepened the kiss while pressing his stiff erection against her belly.“And why do you insist on hiding your beauty behind drab dresses. After all. “Your dresses only serve to make you appear fat. Well. Satisfying their curiosity always brings them back . but she didn’t want to dig deeper into the implications of the thought. m’dear. “Can you deny I want you?” he demanded softly. and spectacles?” “I don’t hide. brushing a stray lock of hair behind her ear. Could you?” *** The woman was going to drive him to an early grave! “No. “I w ant you. and cats have nine lives. “Damn it. just common sense. it would be difficult to deny you obviously want sex. “I will start with showing you how desirable you are. my lord?” she challenged.” He lowered his head and claimed her lips with his.” . as she seemed to do every t ime he kissed her.” she stated dryly. whether intentional or not. No. or to hide from.” she grumbled. “Well.” he amended rolling his eyes skyward. Kolton slid his arms around her and pulled her tightly against him. she melted into a puddle of liquid desire the moment his lips touched hers. More pretty words. I couldn’t. believe you should stop. flashing another devastating smile. “I have nothing to hide. and if I do not wear my spectacles I can never remember where I left t hem last. that curiosity is known to have killed the cat. Pru.” Well it was mostly true. “I see it is going to be my job to convince you of the truth.” “Yes. Do you think I could be this hard with so little effort if I were not attracted to you?” Prudence looked at him and blinked. my hai rstyle is easy to care for.” he continued. “I might be able to force some kind of response if I really worked at it. your serviceable hairstyle makes your features look harsh.” he ground out. “No. “I don’t know. Prudence wanted to push him away – she really did – but. “you are hiding from something. drinking in the se nsation of his naked flesh against hers.” “Another dictate for me to follow blindly. how many sane people take a rose and bury it in the sand? An intelligent person would put it on display for all to admire.” “I believe. a hideous hairst yle. the mischievous twinkle back in his eye. my lord.” she quipped pr imly. The fact is. I believe . but I don’t imagine it would be easy.” he said. moving his hips against her suggestiv ely as his mouth left hers to nibble at her neck. and you could find a way to keep track of your spectacles if you truly de sired. He sighed. you have been doing your best to play down how attractive yo u are and I. “Loose dresses hide my less than favorable curves.” she sputtered.” He cupped her ch in. looking her in the eye with an annoyed expression. for one.
lived in the same house with her f or so many years. her breasts heavy and full. That feels nice. it does. He ro lled onto his back. but the other qualit ies he found so attractive: such as her humor. right here. nipples boldly peeking through her magnificent mane. and she was creative and smart. Her first season. Prudence was sex personified. “Now. bent over the bed as I take yo u from behind. “What kind of strange look?” “The same look you wear when cook serves your favorite desert: dreamy and excited at the same time. “Oh my.” she repeated apparently at a loss for words for once. tracing the hills and valleys of musc le she found there. What is brewing in that wicked mind o f yours?” “Strange look?” he said lifting a brow.” “Oh. h er face languid and flushed with desire. that’s for certain.Oh.. “I was just imagining waking every morning with you beside me.” “It is not that I.” he continued as if she hadn’t spoken. not just her beauty. she is magnificent! With her hair in rioting waves cascading over her shoulders and down her back. and knowledgeable man of society and what it had to offer.” she huffed crossing her arms over her chest.. discerning. and situated her so her legs straddled his hips. “Mmm. my lord. her legs parted. where was I? Oh. Kolton. Kolton’s eyes devoured the pict ure she presented. at four-and-thirty.” Prudence gave a weary sigh. he knew Prudence was a ra re find. Maybe fate decided he should discover. and never caught the faintest glimpse of the vivacious creature living beneath the d rab façade she’d erected? Perhaps he sensed it the other night when he’d stumbled into her room and climbed into her bed.” she replied tracing his navel with her fingertip. She ran a soft hand down his smooth chest. having your body ne ar me. on your knees in front of me. bother! I still have not agree d to marry you and you insist on planning our future together.” “And I wouldn’t wake you up to initiate an intimate encounter. “Lord Ravensbrook!” she all but shouted in indignant surprise. he had been six-and-twenty. But now. licking and nibbling at her flesh. as a more mature. her poise. . Ther e was no way he could have valued more than her beauty. taking her with him. yes. b ut a goddess who had taken her place. a continued source of challenge that would keep him on his toes. beneath me. “You have a strange look on your face. yes. onl y when he was ready to appreciate them. as if this woman atop him were not really Prudence. and intelligence.” he drawled. The situation felt unreal.. her sometimes sarcastic wit. “What? You don’t like the idea? How disappointing.that is. She knew how to speak her mind.” she gasped. giving a tantalizing glimpse of her moist center as her beautiful bottom rested on his up per thighs. reckless and selfish as hell. “Kolton.. She would make a perfect match f or him. grinding his erection against her soft belly.“Oh. I have told you—” “Atop me. How could he have known her. the idea has its. Sweet Lord.” He lowered his head and pressed his mouth t o her neck once again.
Emboldened. yes. don’t hide those beautiful breasts of yours. His cock leapt with hope. “Women do that?” He lifted his head and looked at her. your mouth. Keep stroking it jus t like that.” He closed his eyes and ran his hands up and down her thighs with appreciation.” “Nature provides for a great many things.” He ferv ently hoped it did not. He tasted different than she expected.” To prove his point. not quite able to touch her middle finger to her thumb. “I believe you know the answer to that. covering the entirety of his organ. “My goodness. if the idea displeases you. “With yo ur hand.” He crossed his hands behind his head casually and studied her reaction. but pleasurable all the same?” he teased. She lowered her head and ran her tongue along the p ronounced veins rippling its length and heard Kolton give a sharp intake of breath. that’s good. “Did I hurt you?” Her disgruntled expression gave way immediately to concern.” She wrapped her fingers around him. A curious frown puckered her brows as she shifted down so she could better acces s him. in fact. He cracked open one eye and studied her a moment before closing it again. He hissed in a breath as her arms fell away and her hand brushed his arousal. a sound he’d never heard from her before. you would enjoy it if I did?” she asked uncertainly. She cradled his arousal in both hands and. *** Prudence took the time to study the part of the earl’s body that had brought her s o much pleasure. catching him off guard. It was long. “I can not think how this was able to fit inside me without splitting me in two.” “You do not have to pleasure me in that manner. She thought it odd looking if she were to be completely honest. “You like it when I touch you with my hand?” she asked coyly. he took her hand and groaned as he placed it on his cock and encouraged her to caress him. “I believe I would enjoy having you explore that avenue of lovemaking. mushroom shaped tip. She l apped at him.” he insisted tugging her arms a way and eliciting an unladylike grunt of disgust from the woman destined to be his future wife. He crossed his eyes briefly then grinned d evilishly.” “Shocking perhaps. Ah. and hard with a curiously spongy. your cun—” “My mouth?” she exclaimed in shock. “No. his balls tightening in anticipation. “Or was it so unexceptional that you have forgotten?” Prudence’s face flushed crimson. “Did you not enjoy it yourself when I used my mouth between your legs?” he reminded her. thick. oh so slowly. love. lowered her head. just the opposite. before she placed a wet . so I will not encourage your vanity. Kolton closed his eyes as her hot breath tickled his cock. “Oh no. Her eyes grew wide as she stared down at his member. both salty and musky.“Oh. I haven’t forgotten. leaving only his tip unexplored. It was soft and feminine and wave of tende rness swelled in his chest. she ran the flat of her tongue up his staff. “I have never felt skin so soft. now.” she breathed tra cing the head and trailing her fingers over the now throbbing length. She giggled. yes. “But.
Her inexperience only heightened his excitement. *** Kolton gave a strangled moan and reached out. and wrapped her han d around his length.” she stammered and felt heat suffuse her face. She pulled back. “Perhaps you could tell me what you would like that I might please you further?” she asked hesitantly. It wasn’t bad : as a matter of fact she liked it. She began to stroke him before she took the head back into her mouth and suckled strongly. She picked up the rhythm quickly. Had she done something wrong or did his expression mean he liked what she was doing? “Am I doing it correctly?” Kolton let out a gust of air and laughed breathlessly. his voice far from steady. She glanced up.” he suggested. He r emoved his hand and propped himself up again on his elbows. She traced the slit she found there and noticed a slightly bitter. Prudence felt a sudden surge of excitement. nearly tripping over his words. “You certainly are not doin g anything wrong. of course. Did the fact she enjoyed exploring him with her hands and mouth make her a shameless wanton? Perh aps. which sent an instant sp ike of heat knifing through her belly to pool hotly between her legs. She continued suckling his staff. and it made her wonder what she tasted like to him. He propped himself up on his elbows.” he replied hoarsely. but he had seemed to be enjoying her ministrations. That is a very sensitive part of a man’s body. “Then what should I do?” The thought was exciting. pausing now and then to run her tongue along t he underside of the . pulling her hair over one shoulder . She lowered her head and took the tip into her mouth. but she didn’t want to do anything wrong and spoil what he was obviously enjoying. Kolton let out another deep groan as she took more of him in her mouth and sucke d lightly. his eyes glowing with desire. eliciting a disappointed sigh from him. “Do anything you want. He placed his hand on her head and showed her how to move it up and down in time with her stroking. His head was thrown back and his face was awash with an expression s he could only classify as ecstasy. his eyes fiery with lu st.” “O-Oh. She paused a moment. He groaned loudly. she had the power to make his breathing come faster and it was she that made him groan with pleasure. “You could take it into your mouth.” he replied quickly. The notion gave her a h eady feeling and excited her beyond measure. his expression tight as his jaw clenched repeatedly. swirling her tongue over i ts surface. enabling him to see her as she took more and more of him into her mouth while she continued the move ment of her hand. She looked up to see him watching her. embarrassment burning her cheek s. “I only as k that you be careful with your teeth. salty taste.kiss at the top. She was in control.
her full breasts jiggling with her movements. He’d never seen a more wondrous sight – her face flushed with desire. his release threatening t o overwhelm him. Kolton thought he mig ht disgrace himself right then. and exceedingly aroused. The sensation was exquisite. You feel so good. and moaned with pleasure. He positioned her over his cock relieved. “No. She sank down. hair flying about her shoulders like an ebony cloud. Suddenly she stopped and began grinding herself against him. “Mmm.” he reassured her.” Prudence’s eyes grew round. when she took hold of his member and guided it into her. “Let go. and the fiercely arousing view of their joined bodies. “Did I do something wrong?” she asked timidly. It didn’t take long for his heart to begin racing and his breathing to grow short and ragged. hair falling in tumbling disarray over one shoulder. engulfing his shaft in her wet heat. She cried out and arched her back. sweetheart. placing a staying hand on her head. I want to see y our glorious body move against mine and perhaps suckle your breasts while you stroke me with your wonde rfully tight passage. and he felt his approaching orgasm coming quic kly. “Yes. “You need to stop now. pushing against her to increase the frictio n she was seeking.head. lips swollen from sucking his cock. Come for me now!” he growled. His balls drew close to his body. Her inner muscles rippled and spasmed as she lost herself in pleasure. Kolton. love.” Kolton’s eyes rolled back in his head. She threw back her head. Pru.” he said grabbing her around the waist before she could lie down.” “Oh. but he was telling the trut h when he told her over and over she was beautiful. When she looked up at him. “I want to watch you while we make love. her ha nd still clutching his cock. Kolton lay still. “No. her hips moving at a frantic pace. Come for me.” she said and began rolling her hips experimentally. She was self-conscious about her body. he r whimpers giving way to sharp cries of abandonment and pleasure. His breathing increased with the pace of her undulating hips. He wan ted to watch her as she climaxed. He gripped her aro und the waist and guided her up and down on his shaft as she continued moving in little circles wi th each stroke. and for a moment he thought he might have said too muc h and frightened her. His lids drifted shut and he fell back a gainst the pillows with a huge sigh. he knew. “It is just that I am close. her wide eyes both innocent and a bit fearful. I would much rather be inside you. Lust gripped him tightly as he watched their coupling.” he said. . and I do not wish to finish in your mouth. releasing him and moving to lie beside him. Kolton fought the urge to flip her over and slam into her with all his strength. whimpering as she r ocked her hips faster and faster.” she said. her inner muscles rippling around his cock. and moved her so she once again straddled his hips.
” “Cruel? How can you say you are not cruel. his orgasm crashing over him with blinding force. listening to t he pounding of his heart. You’ve never given us a chance. Papa was drinking again. an expression of astonishment flashing across his face before a look of painful pleasure captured his features. But she had seen what forced marriages did to all those involved. “Why. He mother had wanted to make a real marriage with Prudence’s father. Prudence heard th e sound of glass tinkling. God. drained but satisfied.” “I don’t want to discuss this again! Damn it. Prudence had heard them argue about it—it was one of her earliest recollections. Did he have to ruin this moment by bringing reality crashing back? She rolled off of him and covered herself with the rumpled sheet. Prudence lay sprawled atop his chest. rolling to his side to face her with a determined expression on his han dsome face. and he threw back his head. Evelyn. He raised his hand brushed back the wild mass of hair covering her face and gent ly stroked her cheek with the back of his fingers. She didn’t want Mama to cry again. Pru.“Yes! Oh. Evelyn. But their last evening to gether her father went too far. it was never a love match. when I know you have taken up with anot her woman? I am your wife! Why do you go to her bed and not mine?” “Our marriage was arranged. “James.” he replied. the tendons on his neck standing out. Pru!” he bellowed as he held her still and pummeled her from bel ow. “Evelyn.” her father replied wearily. Oooh. shouting her name.” Prudence stiffened. His body bowed. it would be so easy to give in to his determined desire to be wed. Papa was getting angry and that always meant he would make Mama cry. please.” “You certainly did. don’t force me to be cruel. and just now. when you fe ll apart atop me. His eyes widened. They lay together in the aftermath. yes. his muscles straining with effort. she raised her head and watched Kolton reach his peak. I don’t want to do this again. “Marry me.” her mother pleaded in a tearful voice . Why can you not acc ept this and make a life for yourself? Why do you insist upon trying to make it into somethin g it will never be?” Prudence hugged her dolly tight. when you spent the night in my arms. The fights were always the worst when Papa dr ank. Prudence was six at the time and playing in the study behind her father’s des k when the two entered. She wouldn’t put herself through the hell her parents had lived. James? Just tell me why you refuse to make our marriage work. *** Another earth-shattering wave of pleasure engulfed Prudence. waiting for their har sh breathing and rapid pulses to return to normal. “I thought I mad e myself clear on that topic. She would lock herself in her room an .
Evelyn.” “Children? We have only one child. your waist is small. What has changed? What makes her so much better than your wife?” “You want the truth. I deserve better. It still haunted her. Prudence had always thought her mother beautiful. you will never do so. You will not speak of her like that in front of me. . Jame s. In fact. instead. You were happy to warm my bed on ce. I didn’t want it to go that far. she had rushe d out the front door on the coldest winter night on record. and her father let out a deep sigh. The doctor was clear that there would be no more children after the last miscarriage.” her father continued. here is the truth. Her mother’s body had been found early the n ext morning near the road leading to town. “Are you saying that because I cannot bear you ano ther child. or at all for that matter!” he bellowed. Evelyn? Fine. James. You have failed to give me a m ale heir. With a mo urnful cry. I have never been attracted to you. “Damn it. but it only emphasizes your big hips. A search party had been dispatched. I will grant you that. she’d had few opportunities to compare her mothe r to other women. as Prudence had thought. whereas I cannot?” “You will not talk about her that way. spare me your misplaced honor where she is concerned. I am your wife! T he mother of your children. especially when she looked in the mirror.” Prudence peeked around the corner of the desk at her mother. “That this tramp can please you. “I will speak of a woman who ruins my marriage any way I please.” Prudence heard her mother gasp. her mother turned and ran from the room. lest you forget. but had to be called off due to the blinding storm that night. Your hair is too dark. Her mother hadn’t run to her room. which had changed her life so d ramatically. A moment later. don’t make me warn you again. “The only reason I entered your bed was to beget an heir. He sat heavily in a nearby chair. your breasts are disgustingly large. that I am no longer worthy of your attention in bed?” her mother choked. “Please.” he said softly. Prudence shook off the memory of the dark night. If you would only get rid of that harpy an d –” “Harpy! She is no harpy. Prudence heard a door slam. but other than that she was t he perfect image of her mother. She shared her father’s unu sual changing shade of blue-green eyes and slight up-tilt at the corners.” Mama was sobbing harder than Prudence had ever heard her do so before. “and you couldn’t even give me that! Now you want me to give up a woman I do find attractive to be with a woman who excites me not at all? I think I have had enough of this farce of a marriage. I know it could.d not come out for days. but then again. “It could work. she is a gently bred lady.” “A woman who would sleep with another’s husband is not a tramp?” she spat.
” Pru’s eyes grew wide and Kolton gave a weary sigh before he sat on the bed next to her and took her hand in his. “I don’t know which untruth to address first. but because I have had the chance to see glimmers of the real Prudence. pet.” But he would make her regret her decision. or trying to sugarcoat it. The first time he turned to another woman—and he would eventually.” he stated with a frustr ated waive of his hand. Marry me. You don’t even make an attempt to socialize. the gesture so gentle. she too faced marrying a man who d idn’t really want her. Kolton cupped her cheek and brought his face level with hers. I truly don’t want to scare you into marrying me.” she pointed out. whose giggles are enchanting. shoving the past back into the ne at little box where it belonged. Pru?” he asked earnestly. “I am not cut out to be a countess. “Damn it. you wouldn’t. “It’s clear you don’t believe I am truly attracted to you. she thought sadly. who has a delightf ul sense of humor. his own urging her to trust him. I would not have to marry you to accomplish such a tremendous feat. But what if there was a child to consider? Could she bear to let it g .” she admitted.” He stopped and turned to face her. “but we have coupled more than once.” she r eplied with a resigned sigh.” He reached up with his other hand and tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear . “But it is the truth. I-I don’t think I could live with that. she had no doub t—it would break her heart. I would m ake a horrible wife. his face registering shock. “Pru. twenty years after her mother’s death. wanting so m uch to believe him. and that only i ncreases the chances of conception. Kolton climbed out of bed and began pacing. Oh. nor am I socially inclined. be autiful. you would see there are others – many others – who would see you just as I do. “Why do you fight the idea so. “I honestly think we coul d make a good marriage if we try. reaching out to trace her j aw with his fingertips.” he said. but you need to seriously consider the fact you might be with child. “Yes. And now. staring into her e yes. I assure you I am.” Kolton blanched. “If you would only be yourself. my dear. this bothers me. it made Prudence’s heart ache with longing. There is no use ignoring it. so useless. his expression so tender. The Prudence who is smart. and yes is. you make yourself purposel y unattractive and hide yourself away. But. “Even if I did agree to ‘spread my wings’ as you so poetical ly put it. heedless of his nakedness. P ru.” he said slowly. “No. not because I think you are lacking in any way. “Where did you get the idea I would resent you? My God. and s pread your wings. “I am not beautiful and vivacious.” Prudence rolled her eyes. and you would come to resent having to marry me. and I will do everything in my power to make sure you never regret your decision.The woman her father found so unattractive. he said he found her attractive – even beautiful – but that would change as soon as they went out in society and he was able to compare her to the truly beautiful women it hosted. throw off the chrysalis. and I am not sure why. Pru!” he growled. whether she wants to see it or not.” he agreed. Please don’t fight what we both know is the right thing to do. his voice thick with sincerity.
sensual woman. Loved? Her mind balked at the thought. Yes.row up fatherless? Or go off to France to have it. Kolton stood looking contemplatively out of the window as if the weight of the w orld resided upon his shoulders. she had softened her appearance by pulling her hair back in a loose bun. was loose an d did nothing for her figure. If he could only improve her taste in clothes. Chapter Eight Kolton paced the drawing room. She had also dispensed with wearing her spectac les. he thought with a decisive nod. No. Prudence took the opportunity to study him. It seemed like hours before she finally entered the study and closed the door. brining to brilliant life the hints of gold in his rich brown hair that framed his strong f eatures. was too rounded to be considered pointed and sported just a hint of a cleft. she wasn’t in love wi th him. she told herself firmly. and let everyone believe it was an orphan? To never acknowledge it as her own? Giving away Kolton’s baby was not an option. which he often rubbed when pondering so mething important. and a powerfully intriguing. Not yet. she would be ravishing indeed. He smiled at the picture of him strolling into the dress shop with Prudence scan dalously flung over one shoulder. That aside. High cheekbones added to his aristocratic air. he wouldn’t give up on his de cision to force the butterfly to emerge and show its wondrous colors—even if he had to drag her to the dressmaker kicking and screaming. Either way. but for the slight widening toward the end that gave him a look of boyishness. But was it the right one? She had her doubts. she couldn’t part with any child of hers. Sunlight showered him wit h its rays. But those eyes of his! . S he wore a blue morning dress that complemented her coloring but. This new Prudence he’d discovered was a constant surprise. his lips full and se nsual. or simper and fawn over him as so many of society’s miss’ did. He enjoyed the fact that she didn’t agree witlessly with every word o ut of his mouth. allowing a few tendrils to hang free and frame her face. She hadn’t refused him outright this time. she would be a good addition to his life. But she was afraid she was coming dangerously close. much less a child conceived with the man she loved. Pru had asked for some time alone to think. sputtering and beating at his back. his chin. She would classify his face as square if it weren’t for the length of his clean-shaven face with its broad for ehead. as she had suggested the day before. as with all her clothing. which pleased him immensely. His nose wa s straight. He liked the idea of Pru losing he r cool mask and letting her spirit show. *** Prudence had come to a decision. It wa s progress at least.
which. more often than not. fate possess ed an ironic sense of humor and had chosen to intervene. or turn her back? Prudence had allow ed herself the occasional fantasy of a life with the Earl of Ravensbrook. he made a st riking figure of a man. She’d known dreaming about a future with him was just that—a dream. Prudence refused to sink to that level of self-depreciation. She almost missed the b rief flash of nervousness he masked behind an expression of mild curiosity as he approached he . when it did. Could she marry Kolton without the hope that he might love her? Would his professed attraction to her w ane and. after years of admiring him from afar. refuse to let her attraction to him become something deeper. but every woman he met. Now. clinging to a man who could not stand t he thought of sharing her bed. So she’d packed her girlhood fantasies away along with her hopes of attracting a husband when she had realized her body had betrayed her and blossomed into a mirror image of her mother’s. self-conscious Prudence with a gallant bow. could she live with knowing he warmed the bed of a mistress. He had greeted the young. and she was touched by his thoughtfulness. perhaps even grown to resent her. happy to have her off his hands. from what time they spent together out of bed. He would have likely settled a large d owry on her and sold her off to the first eligible man available. Prudence had resigned herself to remaining unmarried long ago. dropping a difficult decision squarely in her lap. At two-and-twenty. Would she accept. She’d almost convin ced herself spinsterhood was better than living under a husband’s thumb. at least in Prudence’s adolescent opinion. Their rich. chocolate brown. sometimes so ulful depths. yet undeniably m ale. It was the first time a man had treated her as the young lady into which she was quickly maturing . Kolton turned as she closed the door quietly behind her. possibly more than one? This is what bothered her most. begging for lo ve from a man who didn’t want her. He was back f rom traveling the continent after graduating Oxford. and unerring ly drew not only her. But. If her fa ther had not died of consumption but a few months after her mother. perhaps it could work. She enjoyed his company and. T hey had the potential to be friends. At least she prayed so. but rarely since she left the schoolroom had she indulged in frivolity.They were what had made Prudence melt. she thought he might have come to enjoy hers as well. twinkled with mischief and a passion for life. He was suave and elegant. an opportunity she had never thought would be hers was being offered—marrying him. However. She didn’t want to be the kind of desperate creatu re her mother had been in her marriage: stripped of pride. if she could keep from loving Kolton . he surely would have been as disg usted with Prudence’s rounded curves as he had with her mother’s. and not even a twitch of his lips gave any indication he noticed her clumsy attempt at a curtsey as he took her hand and kissed the ai r above it. She was fourteen when she had first seen him—really seen him—as a man.
her eyes not quite meeting his. He believed that dishonesty would make a marriage between them miserable. He should have. and motioned for her to sit. which had suddenly taken i t over. . “I won’t keep you w ondering. an d he did not want that. “I have thought your proposal over quit e seriously. my lord. the sight making her knees turn to jelly. he’d begun pacing the room. and seduce. her into accepting him. Pru. “Even if you fear I will not like what y ou have to say?” *** Kolton thought this over for a moment. Who knew if he ever could? He did care for her to some degree. I would like to know what to expect if I should decide to marry you. *** “Pru?” Kolton prompted. glad the apprehension churning his insides did not show in h is voice. if possible for her already rigid posture.” she began. His answer seemed to please her and she relaxed a bit. to always tel l you the truth. if I may?” He felt the hairs prickle at the back of his neck. but he’d bee n too wrapped up in gaining her acceptance to contemplate the matter. His lips formed a welcoming smile. in turn. And I am promising. realizing just how big a step he was forcing them both to take. Despite his determination to persuade. a sense of unease adding to h is already anxious state. he wa s nervous. “because I believe being truthful with each other from this point forward is both necessary and important.” she replie d in a no-nonsense tone.” She lifted her eyes and met his steadily.” He meant it. Pru turned and faced him. He would have a wife to answer to and she. “You may ask anything.” He cleared his throat against the thickness. “First. But would it be enough? “Of course.” “I will do all within my power to always be honest with you. Both their lives would change drast ically. What would she expec t from him? He couldn’t offer her love at this point. When the rush of challenge she presented eased a bit. Are w e to live apart? Do you expect to return to your life in London after I produce the required heir?” Kolton hadn’t really thought that far ahead. her hands clasped calmly at her waist. “I am glad. She declined with a slight shake of her head and moved to the place by the windo w he had just vacated. “Thank you. and I have but a few questions I would like to ask first. She looked out over the small clearing between the house and the forest. “I would never want to cause you pain or un due stress. but I will do my utmost to uphold my promise to you. and I will answer whatever you wish to know truthfully.” Pru straightened. Pru. of course. while s he organized her thoughts.r.” “What is it you wish to ask me?” Would he be prepared to answer as honestly as he ha d just promised? He hoped so. would be dependent upon him.
especially after we have children. He rubbed his chin absently.” she replied. “and attraction is important as well. I have never really contem plated how we would live but.” she said quietly searching his face and apparently finding his answer accep table. wherever we l ive. It was withdrawn. not simply con venient for procreation purposes. He didn’t think. “Have you any preference?” “I do not want my feelings on the matter to sway you in your answer.” he said after a short pause. however. “I agree. “but I want to take my marriage vows seriously.” Pru nodded. she would appreciate his first thoug ht on the matter. I believe that one’s spouse should be a companion. he had been deeply in love both times. since I do want to have a successful marriage and not one of the indifferen t arrangements so prevalent amongst society.” he began. and I’d hoped you know me well enough to believe me capable of honoring them. So far. “Well. “I believe I would want to keep my wife with me. but he could tell his answer was important to her. “And fidelity? What of that? Do you intend to keep a mistress as so many men seem to do? And. he no longer had any doubts: he would not need to seek out another woman to satisfy him in bed. Up until his death five years ago. I have been focused solely on obtaining your agreement to marry me. he took her hand in his and studied her expression.” He frowned thoughtfu lly as he pondered his feelings in the matter. the hint of a smile entering her eyes at his o bvious attempt to stall. but his own parents’ lack of convention had proved a close family to be a successful and lovin g one. Mar ried twice. “Was there anything else you wished to know?” . “I see.” she replied softly. what you want from a marriage. honestly.He motioned for her to sit and this time she took a seat on the settee. She took a deep breath and squared her shoulders befo re asking her next question. he had been strict ly faithful to Victoria. I always believed I would share a mutual accor d with the woman I married. “To be completely honest. so he kept that information to himself. Pru. Settling himself next to her. It is my opinion that having both parents involved in a child’s life is important. While Kolton had recently been uncertain on the topic where Pru was concerned. would you be discrete?” “I have never been one to flaunt my intimate associations publicly. if so.” It may not be what the ton viewed as traditiona l thinking. if at all possible. and Kolton believed it had been the same with his mother. I’ll admit I haven’t thought about our living arrangeme nts. I want to kno w. I see no need to live separate lives. but her neutral expression didn’t indicate whether what he said met wi th her approval or not.” His father had believed a great deal in the sacred institution of matrimony. It gives them a sense of stability and self assurance t hat many of the ton’s marriages do not provide for their progeny.
but he was surprised at how much he wanted to hear the words themselves come from her mouth . Prudence stood and paced a moment or two in front of the settee. This was Kolton for heaven’s sake. ind icating she did not consider this a topic to take lightly. but he saw the co rners of her mouth twitch as she suppressed a smile. The earl produced a dazzling smile and took her in his arms. I will marry you. “Have I answered all your questions to your satisfaction. She managed a slight nod and gave him her best smile. I can give you no assurance I will be able to provide you with a son. Oh.” “Do you not want children?” he asked surprised at the thought. Sh e knew he was an honest man—overly popular with the ladies. much less blame the other. it is not that. She’d spent every season for the last eight years in the same London home with him.. “Yes. “Would you be disappointed?” Kolton shook his head.. S . but.” She lowered her gaze to her hands. I would not need to be concerned about the Ravensbrook line. I do have one more thing to ask. “But if it is important to you. Being this close to him sent her heart rac ing and heat pouring through her body. I have V ictor.” “Hmm.” He sat back and rubbed his chin again thoughtfully. you might be carrying my heir as we speak. but Kolton had no intention of handi ng over the reigns anytime soon. prim ly folding them in her lap before taking another deep breath and meeting his eyes steadily once mor e.rift between them. Trust. his answers were all the right ones. “I did plan on child ren. before she turn ed to face him with an air of resolve. I see. I can think of nothing more pleasurable than trying again and again. “You are incorrigible. “While I would be disappointed.” she murmured.Prudence shoved aside her doubts.” he told her. placing a soft kiss on her temple. and it caused a large.” His brother was four years his junior and still sowing his oats. it wasn’t as if either of them could decide the sex of their child. and whatever children he may produce. “You won’t regret this Pru. He cleared his throat and assumed a serious expression once again.. “It is about children. she knew he would do everything he could to keep it. What an odd thing to be discussing.” she replied with more confidence then she actually felt.” He sent a wicked smile Pru’s way.” “Yes?” “Yes. but still. no. Pru raised a brow. my mother was unable to give my father h is heir. It is just … well. if that is your wish of course.” Prudence was temporarily struck dumb. my dear? Are you finally ready to end my torment and share your answer?” Her questions made him feel confident she would ca pitulate. to carry on the family name should anything happen to m e.” Pru blushed and looked away. “And if I had only daughters?” she pushed. “I promise to do everything within my power to make sure of it. “No. If he gave her his word.” he reminded her with a wink. an honest man.“Actually. of course. “I would only be disappointed i f I were not allowed to spoil them rotten.. perhaps. my lord.
She could feel his body heat even through the layers of clothing separating them. “Perhaps the thought of lovemaking in the middle of the day is scandalous to some.” he replied w ith a gleam in his eye. “N-No. Kolton wanted to take advantage of what time they had left in this private setting.” he replied with a predatory gr in. but I susp ect that. “Ah. caressing h er bottom lip with the pad of his thumb. She moistened her lips. stopping when the back of her legs bumped up a gainst the settee. her tongue lightly brushing his thumb. secretly thrilled at his bol dness and the way his eyes devoured her. His manly scent embraced her and scattered her thoughts to the four winds. the heated look in his eyes leaving Prudence no doubt as to his intentions. being with her intimately would carry with it the constant fear of discover y. It wasn’t only her future that wa s at stake.” she replied while attempting to gather her wits to form a coherent answer.he needed to trust him. “I would never call making love with you a chore but. surely you don’t mean to-to. Turning the key in the lock. What do you think. and cupped her chin. and he was surprised at how pleased he was. ran a finger down her cheek. Kolton hadn’t realized he had been holding his breath until she said the words. to them. It was time for her to stop wallowing in her own insecurities and start focusing on learning mor e about her future husband’s needs as well. when they did. Sh e had agreed. the feel of her soft curves pressed against him sparked that oh-so-familiar tingling in his loins. Kolton. he retr aced steps. my dear. Kolton. To do so suggests you have more in mind than a simple kiss. “I was not aware there was a proper time of day to kiss one’s betrothed. Chapter Nine Kolton released her and strode to the door. be it day or night. but would it be enough to sustain a marriage? Coul d she make him happy? Prudence felt suddenly quite selfish. He was a good man and she did believe he would try to make her happy. making love is a chore. But what o f him? He certainly seemed happy with her in bed.” sh e widened her eyes . They would return to the Lond on house soon and. it is the middle of the day. already you have come to read me well. Prudence swallowed hard. His eyes flared and darkened with desire as they focused on her mouth. He pulled her closer. She’d been so busy thinking about her own do ubts and fears she hadn’t considered the sacrifice Kolton was making. my sweet? Do you find ma king love with me a chore?” He stepped closer.” She retreated a step.” she stammered. and now was the pe rfect time to start. “You don’t need to lock the door to do that. you know. “K-Kolton.
thrusting his hips against her. the sound filled with passionate promise. Slowly. as he began to move. He eased her down on the settee and proceeded to remove his jacket and vest befo re he tore off his cravat and unbuttoned his shirt and trousers while staring at her nakedness wors hipfully. his face contorting with pleasure. “My God. She was thrilled he wanted her just as much – if not more so – un willing to wait the time it would take to reach their room. He pushed into her and groaned. Kolton made a gruff sound of approval deep in his throat an d cupped her breast with his free hand. “I want you. Pru. he pulled her skirt up to her waist and pushed his hand between h er thighs to finger her through the slit in her drawers. increasing with each th rust of his hips. Prudence felt an . open-mouthed kiss on her lips.” she whispered. you are so responsive. “You’re right. his breathing ragged. I do. how it excites me?” Kolton panted staring into her eyes. I find the thou ght thrilling. writhing and calling out his name breathlessly as a sudden.meaningfully at him. Reaching down. drawing out their pleasure.” he agreed as he unfastened her dress and eased it along wi th the straps of her shift off her shoulders. now. closing his eyes as he seated himself completely . Prudence wra pped her arms around him and moved in a counter rhythm. unexpected wave of pleasure crested and tossed her over the edge into ecstasy. opening her mouth to receive his plundering assault. yet surprisingly vulnerable. This time the pressure inside her began to build slowly.” he breathed. Pru. She kept her eyes open. He opened his eyes. He moved both hands to grip her bottom and pull her against his prominent erecti on. She wanted him to make love to her just as badly. he advanced and withdrew. “Yes. watching his expression. exposing her breasts to his hungry gaze. feeling every delicious inch of his hard staf f as he drove himself deep within her. leaving no doubt—had she any by this point—of his desire to take her. So passionate! Do you know what that does to me. He then stretched out on top of her. pressing his bared chest against her. don’t you?” “I-I’m not sure-” she started to answer before Kolton’s mouth eclipsed her reply. his expression dark with desire as he shoved his pants out of the way. kissing his way to her ear and nibbling gently on the lobe. holding it in place as he tilted his head and placed a hot. opening herself to him without reservation. Prudence immediately came apart. His brows drew together. “I don’t think I have ever wanted a woman like this. and took her mouth in a nother heated kiss. and moved between her legs. Prudence moaned and pr essed her body against him. “here in the study?” He chuckled. his free hand sliding behind her head. his expression hot. How is it that you ca n make me as hard as stone just holding you?” “We shouldn’t. He wrapped his arm around her. exposing his throbbing manhood. Prudence gasped and parted her legs further . moving down to capture its erect bud between his lips as he buried a finger deep inside her. I don’t want to wait. but knew the words lacked conviction. we shouldn’t.
Since the morning he woke in her bed. would we not die o f starvation? Or exhaustion?” “Good point. Kolton realized this fact moments later as the fog of lust started lifting and h is senses returned. Like he’d felt when they made love moments ago. wholly satisfied smile of a woman well loved. If all kisses were that satisfying. It took his breath away. He didn’t want to lose the se nsation of actually being part of her. Prud ence felt the beginning of her climax approach with blinding speed and was soon arching against him. but it wasn’t.” she replied. she had never mentioned love. What did it all mean? Was it simply lust like he had never known before. or was it the beginning of something more? He wouldn’t mind being in love with his spouse.” . but her flushed cheeks and kiss-swollen lips made her disarray exceedingly attractive. She inspired so many different emotions that he didn’t know up from down. But now that he thought about it. If that was what was happening. Her hair was a mess. “What of announcing our engagement?” “Well. yes. The feeling was addictive—and frightening. He smiled. she wrapped her legs around his waist and moved her hips wildly against him. “That was quite a kiss you gave me to seal our betrothal. a lazy. cry ing out incoherently. He would have thought it would have been amongst her excuses. balancing his weight on his forearms and looked down a t her.instant connection with him. even hoped to love the woman he ma rried some day. he reminded himself with a grin.” he remarked casually as he fastened the b ack of her gown. “If that were the case. “Ah. *** He was in trouble.” He heaved himself off her and buttoned his trousers as she sat up and righted her dress. Prudence jumbled his wits. “We should discuss where we go from here. she seemed to respond very enthusiast ically in that area. He threw back his head with a growling shout of pleasure and thrust faster. that depends on a few things. when she’d refused him.” Prudence frowned in mock contemplation. No other woman had affected him as she did—and she did it without even trying. He stiffened and thrust spasmodically against her as his release poured out of him. He wanted to hold her so tight thei r bodies merged into one being. as if his soul reached out and melded with hers.” “That seems sensible. Wi th a strangled cry. and he’d practically had to force her to accep t him – well not sexually. He lifted his upper body. But what did she feel for him? She had adamantly refused his suit. I fear our lips would never part. “I was thinking we should leave at sunrise tomorrow so we can arrive before the dinner hour. he wouldn’t fight it. He sat back down on the settee and pulled her onto his lap. my lord. He’d never experienced anything like this before.” Kolton gave her a lust-filled smile. Her eyes fluttered open and she smiled at him.
no.” “Y-Yes. crossing his ankles. “Did you want to let the family know right away? Amanda will be at her own house w ith Cecil and his father. “I wish you would accept that fact. “Are you anxious to be home and share our news with the family. it might make avoiding gossip tricky. you stubborn woman. my sweet?” he asked with an amused expression. again. one day at a time and all that. I want to marry you. we could set a date that may serve to stave off gossip. “And love? What of that?” he ventured. I just wanted to point out that you still h ave the opportunity to change your mind if it is what you wish. It is good to share a fondness with one’s spouse. yes I do. I mean. But as to the wedding. . “I am not looking for love. “Of course.” he replied airily.“And what might they be?” she asked. “Yes.” he replied casually. one day at a time. He gave her what he hoped was a compani onable smile.” he stated firmly. You gave your word a nd I expect you to keep it.” she said squaring her shoulders. “First of all. studying her in such a wa y that Prudence felt as if he were able to see right through her clothes to what lay beneath. “The idea causes you concern?” “Yes. “You have already accepted my proposal. “As I said.” “But if I am not with child—” “That makes no difference.” he stated firmly. how soon will you know if you are with child?” If she were. I think we make a fine couple. if you are not expecting. I would hope we might grow some lasting affection between us as time passes. ignoring the disappointm ent her words brought him. He didn’t expect her to love him right away.” “You do?” Her eyes grew round as she gaped at him.” “O-Oh. “Yes. I do. and the announcement will be posted well before we know either way. turning to him with a questioning expression. Surely you want both Amanda and Christopher there when we break the news ?” Prudence pointed out.” “You do?” “You are repeating yourself. Prudence dropped her eyes and blushed prettily. of course I will keep my word.” Her expression cl eared and she gave him a weak smile. “This was never to be a love match and I think it best not to raise expectations which may never be realized. m’dear.” he sighed. “And. Why?” “I was thinking of putting the announcement in the paper in a few days.” she stammered.” Her response surprised him.” “I will not change my mind.” Chapter Ten “How much longer do you think it will be before we reach London?” Kolton stretched out his legs casually in front of him. She nodded her head and gave him an overly bright smile. but he’d ho ped her feelings would eventually lead in that direction.” He chuckled and gave her a quick squeeze. The slight frown on her face gave Kolton pause. “I should know sometime next week. my dear. “I want the family to know immediately.
either w ay she would have a million questions to answer from their surprised relatives.” he replied rubb ing his chin with a thoughtful expression. she told herself. you are an angel. “Your bath is waiting for you.” Harr iet informed her and stepped forward to help Prudence undress.” she agreed with a slight nod. Prudence couldn’t wait to take a nice long bath and wash away the dust from the da y’s travel. I would like to have it for my bath. Kolton had commented several times how much h e admired the scent. but I pers isted and just before we returned. and I proposed. my lady. “Oh. and Kolton sent word to his sister and her husband requesting they join the rest of the family to dine with them as he had promised .” he g raciously offered. “I believe I could live with that ve rsion. She washed her legs and. *** The two arrived well before the dinner hour. or will you announce it before the meal?” It didn’t really matter to Prudence. my lord? Will you make them wait until after dinner. I will bring them to you right away. away from the earl’s heated looks. I had not considered you would be perceived in such a light. Then they each retired to their respective rooms to wash and dress for dinner. the fact that it gave her time alone. “I thought I would answer the bulk of the questions our news is sure to bring. and Prudence made a mental note to send for more in the future. “Perhaps I could say you were hesitant at first. “I thought perhaps when we gather before dinner.” he replied. thank you. in my smaller trunk is th e new soap I picked up while I was away. she rememb ered Kolton’s hands caressing her. “Well. Prudence worked up a lather and ran the sponge over her body.” “Yes.” “So I am to be presented as the desperate spinster who gratefully accepted?” she ask ed.“And when do you plan to appease their curiosity. her gaze drawn to the window and the passing scenery that was quickly fading as dusk approached. Harriet. “Would you agree?” “Whatever you wish is fine with me. Her maid was waiting when she entered her room. “I think suggesting our time alone aided in our discovery of how well we got on tog ether that I thought marriage between us might suit. enjoying the smell of the scented soap she had purchased while shopping with Amanda in the marketplace in Bath.” *** Prudence lingered in the tub after Harriet rinsed her hair and went to set out h er clothes for the evening. as she ran the sponge over her inner thighs. his mouth pressed against her in the most intimate of kisse . It smelled of spiced apple as did the cream she found to go with it. you finally consented to be my wife? Would you be more comfortable wit h that?” Prudence thought this over for a few moments.” she answered. If you would. was simply an adde d benefit. unable to disguise her distaste at the idea.
Pushing aside her self-consciousness. a smile twitching the corners of her lips at her maid’s astonishment. Donning her robe. Finished. dropped to a deep ‘v’. that would be the one. toweled herself off. The bodice was form fitting and emphas ized her small waist where it met the full skirt which fell to her feet and whose hem was decorated w ith more silk rosettes. her womb contracting with arousal.” she replied. before they would share a bed again. “I thought I would see if I liked it better with my new hairstyle. Her features looked less pinched. She changed into her shift and sat before her dressing table so her maid could brush her hair.. Prudence hated the thing because it didn’t hide her curves and. Working herself to a desperate state of sexual tension would make the separation unbearable.” “That sounds marvelous. The effect was startling. When her maid was done. Overall. Her breasts began to tingle. She didn’t recognize the woman in the mirror. more becoming. it made her skin silky soft—yet another t hing Kolton had commented approvingly upon. she stepped out of the bath. “I believe I would like to try some thing different tonight. “I have always wanted to style it in upsweep with curls atop and some framing your face. up until now. The neckline also trimmed with white rosettes. my lady.” Th e rich emerald green gown fit her perfectly. She snatched her hand away and concen trated on quickly finishing her bath. “You look wonderful. curious to see what the finished product would look like.. Harriet went about putting up her hair in her usual. When the tangles were freed and her hair only slightly damp.” she replied. It had small puffed sleeves accented with white silk rosettes and fell just shy of the edge of her shoulders.I can’t describe how beautiful you l ook. “I think I will wear the emerald taffeta gown tonight. she squared her shoulders. “You look. she opened the door to her bathing chamber and entered her room where Harriet had her clothes laid out.” she informed the startled woman. obviously pleased with her work.” “Th-The emerald taffeta? The one you hate?” The gown in question was one Amanda and Victoria had talked her into last season . every curve was on display. but it did extraordinary things for Prudence. “Really.” Harriet breathed in awe. hung unworn in the back of her closet.” Prudence felt horribly exposed in the gown without loose layers to hide behind. “Yes. There was nothing productive in thinking about such intimaci es. Prudence gazed at her reflection. her appearan ce much younger.” Something Ko lton would admire.” Prudence blushed. it was a simple gown. “Perhaps something softer. If his .” Harriet gushed. in all likelihood. It would be weeks. “Oh. not used to such effusive compliments. my lady. “Thank you. She was pleased with her purchase. Prudence stopped her. my lady?” her maid exclaimed excitedly. and went about rubbi ng the cream into her skin. sho wing much of her rounded breasts without being too daring.s. severe style.
as if she had cast a spell over him as well. he amended—than the image of Pru silhouetted in the doorway. I believe I am all set.” Lord Broadshire said with a smile. She stopped short when she noticed three pairs of stunned e yes focused on her. a bit overwhelmed at their effusive prais e. you should close your mouths l est you attract flies. Stop panting after my cousin and esco rt us to the study. All conversation stopped abrupt ly as Prudence swept through the doorway. He t ore his eyes away from the vision in the doorway and glanced at his younger brother. Prudence followed them into the study. *** The earl had never seen a more spectacular sight—well. The Countess and her two stepsons were already in attendance gathered at the opposite end of the room and conversing amongst themselves when the small group entered. . I would have worn one of my oldest gowns.” Lord Broadshire quipped with a knowing grin.lordship didn’t like it. not clothed at any rate. The color brought out the green in her eyes. “if I thought I would c ause a row between the two of you. “Though I sympathize with your reaction. your cousin appears to be giving you a run for your money this even ing.” Amanda admonished with a good-natured laugh. Kolton shut his jaw with a click and shook himself out of his lustful daze. Although. “You l ook absolutely stunning! I just knew that dress would suit you. “Thank you Harriet. “I quite agree with my wife. his mouth still hanging open. darling. “As if any woman could replace my wife in my affections. y ou look ravishing. a ccentuating her alluring curves. gentlemen.” Prudence declared with overstated astonishment. “My goodness.” With a dramatic flourish. the viscount took her hand on which he place d a lingering kiss. “By God. “I have to say.” *** “Is this what Kolton was so cryptic about in his note inviting us to dinner?” Amanda quipped as Prudence entered the hall moments after her cousin and her husband arrived. the neckline giving a tantalizing glimpse of her full. “Christopher! You are an incorrigible flirt. she virtually glowe d with refinement and beauty.” he said with a t winkle in his eye.” “Oh. He had all he could do to keep himself from dashing across the room shouting “Mine !” and dragging her up to his bed. Victor was staring unb linkingly at Prudence.” “Prudence?” Lord Broadshire exclaimed before Prudence could open her mouth. Kolton frow ned and nudged him none too gently in the side.” “Don’t you dare!” ordered Amanda. Coupled with her dark hair and fair complexion. The dress she wore fit her perfectly. it would serve him right. you rat!” Amanda swatted her husband’s shoulder before taking his arm. rounded breasts.
that is. and was r ewarded with a tentative smile in return. I agree with my stuttering sister. “Well. l eading her farther into the room.. “but we must have some idea how long we will have to plan the most perfect of weddings for the two of you. do n’t you think?” “Not at all.” he added. stepping forward to shake Kolton’s hand and bow over Prudence’s. “So. before you hens start planning for Pru to wear the crown jewels and scare he r off entirely. embracing both Prudence and Kolton and offering their best wishes as we ll. Prudence realized ‘simple’ was not g oing to be on the agenda. Draping his arm ca sually around her waist. “Well. “The two of you have nev er. Even pragmatic Lord Broadshire looked s hocked. Victoria.” Prudence interjected anxiously. Amanda and th e Countess stepped forward..” he said.I am at a loss for words. “Pru and I have something we wanted to share with you. unable to form a complete sentence.” Pru blushed but lifted her chin. what do you think of our dear Prudence.your hair. “you look. b ut I thought I would post the announcement in the paper the day after tomorrow.. Victoria. “Come now.” “What I believe my simple minded brother-in-law is trying to say is.. With a sigh. “Yes. “We haven’t set a date yet. “That’s the dress. I suppose there is no rush. I mean. “I sugge st you give us a week at .” “I won’t hear of it!” Amanda and Victoria chimed as one. “B-B-But you. . “I have y et to see a lovelier sight..” Kolton answered for his tongue-tied brother. This seemed to shake the others out of their shock-induced stupor. Prudence took a sip of her wine and let Kolton answer. no. the look of stunned disbelief still present o n his face. . boys?” “Pru. ladling it on rather thick. if you are thinking that I have asked Prudence to marry me and she has acce pted.” he replied with a broad smile. “Well.that dress.. you would be correct.but Pru . now.” A collected gasp sounded from the group.” Victor said clearing his voice. brother?” Ama nda demanded. he smiled softly down at her.” his stepmother. my dear Prudence.” Victor interrupted.“Oh. turning Pru to face the assembled group. isn’t it? The one you had made then refused to wear for us?” She crossed the room to Pru’s side and took her arm. “I don’t want a lot of fuss.” the countess remarked. “Now.. curiosity bright in her eyes. “Actually.” “Oh. *** “So when is the happy event to take place?” Vincent inquired over dinner.. is Pru’s transformation the reason you invited us all here tonight.” Kolton injected with an indulgent smile at his over-eager stepmother and sister. really and—” “Oh. exclaimed. stepping forward and taking her hand for a brief kiss. Victor. congratulatio ns. “Kolton. I have never noticed a particular attraction between the two of you. Prudence. Pru.” he replied waiving the footman away when he offered to refill his glass. are you about to say what I think you are?” Victoria squeaked. willing her to smile back at him.” the viscount interceded.” Amanda babbled.
“I didn’t e xpect them to be quite as. In fact. and sipped his brandy.” Kolton raised a sardonic brow at the note of sarcasm in her tone.. Chapter Eleven It wasn’t until after Amanda and Christopher said their goodbyes and returned home that Victor left for the evening and the countess retired for the night.’ She should have realized all the fuss expected in regards to the marriage of a high ranking peer. And she said she was almost glad Cecil had his little accident because it forced us to spend some time together on a more personal level. He ha d been studying Pru for the last several minutes. she had no idea of how to get us to notice one another in a romantic sense. she told me she had long thought we would be a good match. my lord. dear brother. but the idea never occurred to her – especially since they may have to marry sooner than anyone present expected.” “Amanda cornered me after dinner and let me know she was completely in favor of ou r engagement. Oh. wondering if she was interested in retiring for the evenin g alone or with him. “I believe it came up quite spectacularly befor e dinner.well. Pru smiled wryly as she faced him.” a slight frown creased her brow as she pursed her lips thoughtfully. recalling Victor’s reaction. my dear?” Kolton remarked stretchi ng his legs out in front of him as he relaxed in an overstuffed chair. “I thought my brother was a bout to expire on the spot from shock. “Well. and there is the b all we must throw in honor of your betrothal.” “It certainly did. I must admit. “We ladies will begin discussing the preparations immediately.. and how well I think that dress suits you?” He stood and took her hand. urging her to her feet.” “That it did.” She stared into her glass of sh erry as if it held the answers to all of life’s questions. leaving Prudence and Kolton alone in the study. just to make the conversation last. if memory serves. “Have I mentioned how lovely you look tonight. “It went much better than I expected.” “Oh.” declared the countess. but let the co mment pass unchallenged.” .” “Oh. “Oh. really?” “Yes.” “Take as long as you like.least to decide.” Kolton chuckled. but shor t of throwing us at each other. Not that I expected them to hate the idea exactly. “We should visit the dressmakers on the morrow and h ave a completely new wardrobe and trousseau ordered right away. wouldn’t you agree. yes.” Prudence’s head began to swim as Lady Ravensbrook rang off the list of ‘must do righ t aways. happy about the two of us marrying.” Amanda said flashing Kolton a determined l ook. “I think the evening went well. how so?” he asked.
” “Me?” he asked with false.” He ignored her. attempting to move off his lap.” Kolton conceded. There are servants about and Victoria is upstairs. wide-eyed innocence. settling himself in one of the oversized chairs by the fireplace .” she commented when her laughter subsided. “I don’t know about that. I assure you. “I will not argue the fact you took my breath away. “Kolton! What are you doing? Put me down. It comes as n atural to you as breathing. “I plan to be ‘dangerous’ with only one lady from now on. I would say you are attempting to seduce me with flowery praise.” he suggested as he busied himself with kissing her neck.” he said with contrived concern.” He tightened his hold on her. He cuddled Prudence on his lap.” he said pulling her close and w rapping his arms around her.” she pleaded breathlessly a few moments later.” she replied primly. “but I have never seen him in such a state. you may be right. “Oh?” “Yes. my dear Prudence. As if your flirtatiousness is something that you can control. where were we?” “This is most improper. is it wor king?” *** The combination of the child-like hopefulness in Kolton’s expression and the misch ievous twinkle in his eyes melted Prudence’s resolve to keep him at arm’s length. “Now. admittedly.” Kolton lifted his head from where he had been nibbling at her neck and looked to ward the open door to the study. “There are ways to find pleasure which do not includ e the physical act.” she reminded him with a twinkle of a musement in her eyes. “You can be a dangerous man when you want to be. “Why I would never– by the by.” “You were not far better yourself. I must say. She burst out laughing.” “You are at that. Prudence shivered. “Someone might see.“Well. my sweet Prudence.” “If I didn’t know better. Would you like me to show you?” “I don’t know if that is such a good– oh my!” she exclaimed when he reached a sensitive spot which never failed to make her stomach flutter. I can see I wil l have to keep that in mind in the future. “Kolton.” she huff ed indignantly. Kolton grinned boyishly.” he replied. “so I am no longer a danger to society. you’ve made quite the habit of that these last few days. Lord Ravensbrook. H e closed and locked it before retracing his steps and lifting Prudence in his arms. but I think one foot in the grave is a b it of an exaggeration. . he did appear shocked. striding to the door. Lord Ravensbrook.” Prudence’s last thought before he lowered his lips to hers was that only time woul d prove whether he actually spoke the truth.” he said with a wink.” “Hmph. and that is what makes you dangerous with the ladies. my dear. I like to think of myself as charming. “but I intend to be wicked on ly with you. “Something that can be easily fixed. “but then.” “Perhaps.” “Hmm. making Prudence’s heart flutter. “Not to mention the fact we have tempted fate too many times already.
She was already wet. Prudence tilted her head back and moaned. “Being inside you would feel even better. A look of wonder flashed across his features followed by heavy-lidded ecstasy. *** Prudence was riding a wave of pleasure that threatened to crash against the shor es of ecstasy any moment. his e yes never leaving hers as she felt the rush of his hot seed between her legs. love. thrusting his hips faster. He grabbed the back of her head and brought her lips down to his in a crushing k iss. and it excited him. That feels so good. open-mouthed kiss. “It is a good idea. He wrapped h is arms around her waist and rocked his hips. but for now we’ll have to make do with thi s. “Oh my! Mmm. we can’t. and for a moment.” He slid his hand beneath her skirt and found her hot center. before his own orgasm hit hi m. Prudence looked down at his face as the ripples of her release began to ease. He didn’t know how long he cou ld last. “Yes. Pru. his cock was straining against his tro users uncomfortably. I want you.” he panted. “No. running her fingers through his hair as he sucked hungrily at h er breast while fumbling to open his pants and let his member spring free. “Kolton. and another clim ax seized her. He became drenched with her fluids as she moved faster against him. Don’t hold back. Prudence gasped and gave a soft moan when he slid his finger between her damp fo lds. “God. Kolton. his tongue plunging wildly into her mouth in time with his thrusting cock. He knew of another way as well to prevent conception.” he exclaimed hoarsely and lifted her to straddle his lap. oh Kolton I—oh God!” she cried as her climax took her. Already. that’s it.” she breathed. Pru.*** Kolton chuckled and concentrated on the area.” he murmured as he moved to take the nipple of her other breast into his mouth.” But her voice held little conviction as he rubbed the tip of h is cock along her wet slit. exposing her breast and took one of her ripe nipples in his mouth . He urged her to lower herself against him and showed her how to rub against him to stimulate them both without entering her. or I will go crazy with wanting you. It is eithe r that. it felt as if he could see into her soul. He growled her name. He pushed her dress off her shoulders. His balls tightened. trust me. and couldn’t keep his mind off of how good she’d feel wrapped around his staff since then. Th eir eyes met. . “Shh. He would have to go about procuring the necessary supplies on the morrow after he visited Helena to end their arrangement in person. He’d been suffering a painfully rigid cock stand since he first saw her enter the room bef ore dinner. one he had discovered one of his former mistresses u sed.” he told her as he released her nipple and took her lips in a hot.
then she could be free to love him. Besides.Pleasure soon receded into a pleasant afterglow and she collapsed against him.” “Well.” Prudence chuckled at Amanda’s look of effrontery and abject denial. Prudence observed crossly.” she continue d. Victoria and Amanda seemed as fresh and energetic as they had when they departed that mor ning. Can’t you see the poor gel is exhausted?” She reached over and patted Prudence’s hand reassuringly. If only she could believe he would always want her this way – never become like her father and tire of her. Honestly. a strange sense of belonging as he held her securely against him enveloping her. cousin. we can see about acquiring some fashion plates to look over until you feel recovered enough to visit some more shops. But she couldn’t t rust he wouldn’t grow tired of her. If only things wouldn’t change. “Oh. I for one would think you would be bubbling over with excitement and full o f ideas for making everything perfect. “Every woman is different. “I shudder to think what she’ll put a daughter of hers t hrough when it comes time for her to marry. “I would apprecia te the chance to relax for the remainder of the day. along with Victoria.” “Thank you.” Amanda suggested afte r they returned home and made their way to the sitting room for tea. “I think we have gotten a fair start with ordering your new wardrobe. In a day or two. we will decide on a gown for your wedding.” Amanda remarked as sh e added sugar to her tea. “I don’t even want to think about fabrics and lace and whether the neckline is too h igh or too low for at least a week. Amanda arrived early and. Victoria eyed Prudence with sympathy. her tone devoid of real censure. let her get it out of her system.” Prudence complained collapsing in a most unladylike manner in a com fortable chair.” Prudence sent the older woman a grateful smile. I know I was when Christopher proposed.” the countess admonished her stepdaughter. pouring Amanda and Prudence their tea and handing them their cups. You would think she were planning her own wedding again t he way she is carrying on so. I am happy to have both of your help in planning my wedding. It would appear I am not cut . “we can discuss the guest list – but not today. *** The next morning. In the meantime.” she amended when Prudence crossed her eyes in exasperation. “Perhaps tomorrow. Prudence thought. did the woman ever tire of clothes shopping? Prudenc e had certainly had enough for the foreseeable future. “Oh. “I do suppose you are unaccustomed to the am ount of activity we heaped on you today. hush your nonsense. Prudence’s feet ached and she was more exha usted than she could recall in recent memory. By the end of the day. dragged Prudenc e out on an all day shopping spree.
“Helena. my dear. “and I believe that first on the agenda should be your betr othal ball. but you should be heavily involved. which had suited him just fine in the past .” Prudence tried to sound more excited at the prospect than s he truly felt at the moment. True.” agreed Victoria.” he replied taking hold of her wrists and stepping out of her embrace. hoping to softe n the shock his unexpected news would bring. Amanda. Helena entered the room moments later.” Amanda chimed in. lifting her face for a kiss. She looked fetching in her light blue mor ning gown. we will meet here and discuss the g uest list and other details. but I understand as a future countess. how is poor Cecil doing?” *** Kolton signaled for his carriage to stop a couple of blocks from Lady Whenton’s to wnhouse. giving him a sultry wink. kissing the air above it.” he stated firmly setting her aside. I need to get used to such elabor ate affairs. It opened immediately at his knock.” Helena pouted. which matched her eyes to perfection. it has been far too long since we were last together. “Since I have become an engaged man. “Did you enjoy your trip to Bath wit h your sister and your cousin?” Her voice didn’t reflect much interest. “I quite enjoyed myself.” He lowered his voice. “Then it is settled. as she stepped clo ser and wrapped her arms around his neck. stepping closer and attempting to wrap her arms around him again. her jaw dropping in astonishment.out to organize such an extravagant event. The butler showed him into the sitting room. Only talk. you could do with the practice. “Amanda and I will do most of the planning. “What?” Helena stepped back and stared at him. “Kolton. my darling. but now struck him as a bit debauched.” “That sounds agreeable. Don’t worry. I would be happy with a small church wedding and a handful of guests. Kolton observed.” she cooe d as he lifted one hand and bent over. His relationship with her suddenly seemed shallow on both their parts. He exited the coach and ordered the driver to circle the block until he returned and made his way to Helena’s door. something has come up as a result that I wished to discuss with you.” she rushed to reassure Prudence. “Since when have you wanted only to talk when you visit me?” she chided. frowning with impatience when he stayed her attempt once again. thank you for asking.” “We can talk later.” “Indeed.” “I agree completely. “So. “Enga ged?” . her blond curls piled atop her head artfully as she glided over to him. It was time for him to end his affair with the pretty widow now that he was to be wed. reaching out both hands for him to take. Changing the subject she said. Neither of th em had taken the time to get to know each other except physically. Talking had never been one of their more active pursuits when they were al one together. I came here to talk. tomorrow after breakfast. “As a matter of fact.
yes. He had.” she said with a tinkling laugh. but other than enjoying their physical relationship. we attended a few plays and have gone to the opera a time or two – even danced at various balls and parties. but her expression suddenly changed. but quickly dismissed it . of co urse. quickly masked by a look full of hur t. We have attended functions together. there was really nothing they shared in common. Kolton steeled himself for a scathing retort. I am engaged to Lady Prudence.” he confirmed.” This struck Kolton as a bit overly dramatic. “Yes. Kolton felt a prickle of unease at the quick turnabout of emotion she displayed. “You have to admit t hat she is not your usual . “This is so sudden.” she replied in a tearful voice. her lips forming a thin line.” A spark of indignation flashed in her eyes.” she said with a martyred sigh. Everyone assumes we are courting. To Lady Prudence. He thought he’d made it quite clear he was not looking for marriage wi th her. tel l me what made you decide to marry now? And Lady Prudence of all people? I never thought she was so meone you would ever consider suitable. Helena. subtly—or not so subtly.” A scowl marred her lovely brow. “I thought we had an understandin g. tears maki ng their way down her face.“Yes. Where had she gotten that idea? “Yes. “I find it difficult to believe you w ill suffer socially if I marry. “I understand. the fact is. “Well. I apologize if I somehow gave you the idea things had changed. Helena’s shocked expression changed to one of relieved amusement. in hi s opinion— showing off the slim figure he had once found quite arousing.” he corrected. sprung this on her without warning. You seemed comfortable with our arrangement then.” Lady Whenton clasped her hands behind her back. but marriage? I thought you understood in the beginning what I sought w as not a life-long affair. Helena was a beautiful woman and creative in bed. I am marrying Lady Prudence. I believe you are having fun with me.” he said gentl ing his voice. “Suitable? Why wouldn’t I consider Lady Pru dence suitable?” He kept his tone carefully neutral.” “So you plan to ruin me by marrying someone else?” she asked tremulously. after all. “But. “To your cousin– ?” “My stepmother’s second cousin. She was allowed to be upset. he w ould have ended it months ago. her shoulders dropping in defeat. “Helena. “Shame on you. I am sorry if your friends have gotten the wrong impression.” Kolton gave Lady Whenton an arched look. but his former lover appeared not t o notice the sudden chill that entered his voice. “I never knew you could be so cold.” “This is no joke. her tears apparent ly forgotten. and thought she felt the same. Why would you hurt me this way?” “Understanding?” he said raising a surprised brow. the frown disappeared.” If he had realized she had become emotionally invested in the relationship. I find y our humor not at all favorable. I am sorry you feel that way but. “Lord Ravensbrook.
Kolton pulled out his watch and looked at the time. It stirred nothing in him n ow but annoyance at her obvious attempt at manipulation.” he informed her in a tone which dared her to contradict him.” “Of course.” he replied with a frown. “I am afraid it would. her expression conveying an equal measure of disbeli ef and shock. “Beautiful.” Chapter Twelve The light scratching on her door at midnight was not a total surprise to Prudenc e. as a p otential lover or a potential wife. “My usual type? And what might that be?” “You know. and wom en envy? She is all that and more. he kept his face a mask of pleasant inqu iry. my lord.” She looked at him through lowered l ashes. I know the way. The fact others possibly viewed her the same way made him angry at his own lack of substance as well as theirs. I have several appointments this afternoon which I am afraid I cannot miss. “You really shouldn’t be here. “Would it be asking too much for one last kiss go odbye?” She asked. her lips forming a small. “You honestly expect me to possess the self-restraint required to stay away from y ou. “I sho uld be going.type. her expression clearly indicating she thought he’d gone mad. motioning toward her nightstand. intriguing. he’d never looked twice at Pru. stepping closer and placing her hands against his chest as she tilted her head b ack expectantly.” “No need. she would be sadly disappointed.” This pricked Kolton more than a little. though secretly thrille d he was. perhaps possessing a body men would salivate over. She got out of bed. and I intend to be faithful.” She waived a hand in a helpless gesture. “What have you there?” she asked. Kolton clasped her wrists and set her away from him. “I am afraid you must for the time being.” she informed him with more than a little regret. “Why must I restrain myself ‘for t he time being’ as . her pale skin reddening perceptibly. disappointed pout that made her appear both angelic and subtly alluring.” Prudence chastened him softly. she’d half expected Kolton to seek her out after the way his smoldering eyes had caressed her throug hout dinner. No. Though he felt his blood begin to boil. my lady. It was a look that had gotten Helena her way on more than one occasion. and padded to t he door. I am e ngaged. What did she hope to gain by such a thing? Did she want to lure him into bed? Th ink she could change his mind? If that was what she was hoping for.” he replied firmly. opening it enough for Kolton to slip in before closing it silently behind him. Lady Whenton stared at him. both before and after my marriage. Helena’s eyes widened. placing the book she had been reading aside.” she replied distractedly. “Let me show you out. eager to be on his way. “We can discuss that later. “I-I suppose I should offer my congratulations. my dear?” he replied seriously as he crossed the room and set a small box on her nightstand.
he thought smiling to him self. But I would prefer not have to present ‘tangible proof’ as you hav e requested in the past. I suppose that sett les that.” she replied shyly. “I thought we had more time before nature interrupted our lovemaking. even if she couldn’t be pleasured in return. He opened his eyes and sent her a heated look.you suggest?” “I am not pregnant.” Without hesitation she unlaced the front of her nightgown. His breathing matched his racing heartbeat as he watched her. he vowed to himself. She looked away. “How would you like me to start?” she asked. am a bit disappointed. “I see. “Wouldn’t you like me to pleasure you that way.” Smiling at her easy victory. She would enjoy it.” she said sincerely. she gave his shoulder a little push and he sat hims elf on the bed. obviously uncomfortable with discussing such an intimate topic.” she said seductively as she squeezed his now fully engorged penis.” Her explanation was blunt. Moving her other ha nd inside his dressing gown.” Prudence couldn’t help but smile at his downcast expression. “Well. too. leaning close and g iving his shaft a long. “It would give me great pleasure. It disappointed her as well. “I am sorry. baring her breathtaki ng mounds to his eager gaze. he would reciprocate ten-fold when he was able. “I am sometimes early. she and grasped his half erect member. his eyes running longingly over her body. The thought of bringing him to clim ax was an arousing thought. Kolton? I believe you would. changing the subject. “Wait. slow lick.” he said. to take you in my mouth and watch you c ome for me. But.” he hissed. Kolton closed his eyes with a groan as she parted his robe and used both hands t o stroke both his cock and the heavy sacs hanging below. as she was currently lowering herself between his spread thighs.” he said slidin g back on the bed . “I admit I. The look of tortured lust on his face sending a spike of excitement through her lower belly.” He groaned. but her overall relief at not being pregnant far outweighed any frustratio n over being denied the chance to make love with Kolton. *** Kolton felt a twinge of guilt at not being able to return the favor she offered. Kolton. “I wouldn’t dream of taking my pleasure without offering the same in return.” Pru blushed charmingly at his question. She smiled seductively and reached for him once again. and it was clear the information disappointed him. Ironic really. “I want you to part your gown and bare your breasts while you take me into your mouth. Kolton s ucked in his breath as she wrapped her fingers around his growing erection and stroked it suggestively. but can I not be of some help with your sta te of frustration?” She closed the short distance between them and slid her arm around him.” he repli ed huskily. “Yes. my lord. “I would like that very much.
*** Prudence watched Kolton’s face. Sh e responded eagerly. “God.” She smiled alluringly.” she replied saucily and slid down his body. but decided to wait for another ti me. “As you wish.and propping himself up against the headboard with some pillows then reaching ou t his hand to her. taste his essence just as he had taste d hers. her tongue dueling with his before they broke apart. He groaned and flexed his hips. His jaw clenched. This stunnin gly handsome man was on the edge of control because of her. A wave of purely feminine power washed over her.” he panted.” he growled. she tightened her lips. She didn’t take him into her mouth. gripping t he bed sheets so tight she would not have been surprised to hear them tear any moment. his nostrils flared. his chest rising a nd falling rapidly with his labored breathing. slowing as they reached his cock. Her lips p arted at once and his tongue took immediate advantage. She wanted to see how far she could push him. but moved to lap at the head. It felt delicious. letting her breasts rub along his chest. He growled in frustration and slid his hands under her arms. placed a hot. She was not disappointed with what she saw. Prudence felt more aroused than she ever imagined she could be without Kolton’s to uch. leaving no part except his tip untouched. “You are driving me insane. his eyes tightly shut as he gritted his teeth. She ran the flat o f her tongue along his length. A strangled sound came from his throat and his legs trembled. urging her to join him. Placing another hot kiss on the head of his cock. but he was eager for her to draw him into her mouth. massaging them gently as she took his h ard arousal in the other. her pink tongue tracing the circumference and darting out to poke at the little slit at the top. “Take me in your mouth before I expire from y our sweet torture. plunging between them into her sweet warmth. Prudence. both breathless. sucking strongly as sh e took him into her mouth. Pru! Stop torturing me. wet kiss on the tip. wanting to see his reaction to her wanton behavior . Her. and trailed her tongue along the under side. She did and immediately went back to what she had been doing. She brushed a nip ple down its length before positioning herself again between his legs. dragging her toward him so he could ravage her mouth. hoping she would understand what he s ought. He groaned and bucked his hips. She wanted more: to bring him more pleasure than he’d ever known. She took more of his length into her mouth until she felt him hit the back of her throat . and his e yes burned with molten heat as he watched her. my lord. She glanced at his face. She cradled his heavy sacks in one hand. the thought exciting her be yond measure. She wanted to hear him moa n with pleasure and call out her name when he reached his release. He’d thrown back his head.
His hips gave a sudden jerk and he let loose a guttural moan. her cheeks suddenly pink with. Pru. It took what seemed like hours to get his breathing under control and his heart rate close to normal. woman’s flux or not. “I only regret that I could not return the favor.” she said breathlessly..” “So. *** “Good God. not now!” Kolton rocked his hips in a des perate attempt to reach the peak that was just out of reach. As the wracking spasms of climax eased to softer ripples of pleasure. Kolton crossed his eyes a moment and blinked in reply.. The brief delay had slowed his approaching orgasm and. wet feel of her opening engulfing him. and snug gled against his side. “Darling. a man with as muc h strength as a newborn babe. She moaned again and squeezed his balls lightly as she increased the suction. I can’t even find words t o describe how good that was.” he affirmed. “don’t stop. I pleased you?” she asked shyly raising her head to look at him. and she returned her attention to his straining member. adding the friction he needed to drive him strai ght to the edge where he hovered on the brink. She began pumping his shaft with her hand. Hi s body jerked uncontrollably. The sound vibrated through his cock and hurled him over the edge. She released him. before he could speak. not ready to let him finish just yet.” She lowered her eyes..” he cried hoarsely. crawled up beside him. He gave a strangled cry of untold pleasure. He rocked his hips. I lay before you. Pru moaned. That was what she wanted. her head bobbing up and down while she pumped his shaft vigorously. that act has never brought me such pleasure..” . my lord. and could not be more satisfied with the condition. resting her head on his chest. It felt as if she was sucking his seed strait out of his sacks. Pru. Her eyes flared with excitement. coordinating her movements with her m outh as she glided his cock in and out of her mouth. She stopped. he felt the pressure slowly build once again. “Pru. with complete sincerity. I will throw you on your back and take you!” he promised. a choked sound burst from his throat as he came with unparallele d force. pressing down on his thighs with both hands.and swallowed reflexively. Pru giggled and ducked he r head. He watched her take him in her mouth again.. “Never?” “Never. his r elease jetting out of him with incredible strength.that was. “I’m not ready for you to finish yet. Pru released him with a pop. He’d neve r experienced such a sensation. the hot. “By God. She felt his body stiffen and instinctively kn ew he was close. that was. forcing him to still his movements. as she worked him with her mouth and hands.” Her head shot up in surprise.my God.what—embarrassment? “You have no cause to feel regret. if you don’t finish this. he collaps ed back on the bed gasping for breath..
to the slippers on her feet—were perfect. gushed after helping Prudence into her ball g own and fastening the row of tiny silk buttons down the back. gigot sleeves back into place.” “Mayhap that’s because it’s true. “I’m not having people think I don’t know how to dress the future countess properly. it does. with more value and desirability than a priceless gem. “The dresses you wear now a re so fetching.” The gown was made of a dusty rose. “You are not saying that you climaxed as well?” he asked in disbelief. “Now stop that nonsense. Harriet. brushing Prudence’s hands away and tugging t he full. I am never letting you go. “You loo k perfectly respectable.Kolton frowned. a week filled with a whirlwind of fittings and planning for this evening’s ball held in honor of Prudence and Kolton’s engageme nt. “You have done a marvelous job. Amanda insisted Prudence be completely involved in the plannin g.” “That is quite a compliment. “that gown makes you look li ke a princess. and ever so passionately.” Harriet added adjusting the full skirts so they lay perfectly. but Amanda appeared to love the challenge. It was one of the seemingly endless streams of clothing that arrived daily over the past week. my lady. tast ing himself on her lips and not caring a whit. but it suddenly dawned on him what she might be suggesting. “I meant every word.” Prudence’s maid. The color of this one makes you positively glow. lightweight silk. love. elaborately embroidered in a shimmering thread of the same color. Kolton felt a surge of undeniable male pride. He pulled her close and kissed her soundly.” Chapter Thirteen “Oh. baring Prudence’s shoulders as the style intended. It took a moment. don’t you think?” Prudence tugged at the bodice an d pulled the puffed sleeves up onto her shoulders. The look was finished off with matching elbow length gloves. True to her word. “It seems just a bit too revealing. I have never been compared to anything so favorably. Pru. “Sweet bloody hell. Harriet.” Harriet tisked. you are without equal. “You have been saying things like that with every new gown I put on. Prudence didn’t know where her cousin found the energy to prepare such an extravagant event on s uch short notice. the pink in her cheeks growing darker. Every word.” her maid responded smartly. At her slight nod. Harriet was excited by Prudence’s new look and to ok great pains to make sure everything—from the style of Prudence’s hair which was pulled up in the ba ck and allowed an artful array of curls to tumble down past her shoulders. Harriet.” Prudence smiled. “Why is that. so don’t ever entertain the notion of le aving me.” Prudence was instantly contrite. my sweet?” She shot him an embarrassed look.” she replied with a look of wonder.” .
It was a deep enough shade to comp lement her dark tresses. I almost forgot—where is my brain tonight—his lordship req uested to see you in the drawing room before the four of you left for the ball. the color and cut o f the tight-waisted gown with its voluminous skirts was quite flattering. Prudence appeared moments later. She was still uncomfortable with the amount of cleavage on di splay. opening the b ox to reveal a beautiful . though. Kolton ceased his pacing and stared at the stun ning picture she presented. “You wished to speak with me?” Kolton jerked his attention back to the matter at hand.” When she did. my lady.“Thank you. which would undoubtedly please Kolton. Perhaps he should ask if she had a shawl. She had to admit.” *** Kolton paced the drawing room floor. be ogling her bosom. And. Oh my.” Victoria and Victor would be accompanying them tonight. If she arr ived within the next few minutes. “I have yet to do this properly. Prudence sighed. . so she took his word for it and put it away in her nightstand f or future use.” he began. or rather it showed off her curves. Kolton didn’t know whether to be pleased or dismayed at the nu mber of men who would. He hoped he didn’t muddle this up. he reached into his pocket and knelt in front of her. Whatever could Kolton wi sh to discuss that he needed to meet with her privately? Did he have another ‘little box’ to give her? They hadn’t yet had the opportunity to use the contents of the last one. She wore her pearl and garnet earbo bs along with the matching necklace. yet light enough to enhance the creamy perfection of her skin. smaller box. “Yes. I believe now would be a good time to see what it is Lord Ravensbrook wishes to discuss. Prudence thought with an inward smile. there would be plenty of time before they left so he wouldn’t have to rush. “Well. . The color of her gown was perfect. “Please. Kolton cleared his throat. *** Another little box.” He led her over to th e settee. What scandalous item could this one contain? When she’d asked him about the first one before he left her that night. Prudence wasn’t sure how this would work effectively. which would complement the dress. but Kolt on seemed convinced of its reliability. no doubt. Prudence looked herself over one final time. there was more of it showing than usual. since I am ready a few minutes early. Kolton explained soaking the sponge with the vinegar and insert ing it just so inside her would prevent conception. sit. he had ope ned it to reveal another. on that topi c. but resisted the urge to tug at the neckline again. Inside the smaller box—to her confusion at the time—contained a small sponge and a vile of vinegar.
you were less than happy at the idea of becoming my wife.” he said removing the ring from its blue velvet box and taking her hand in his . And dream as well. she would think his sweet words were a declaration of love. his expression serious. Prudence was overcome with emotion.” Prudence choked back a laugh. pulling back in his arms and fixing a look of feigned shock on her face. I have already agreed.” “But surely you must take time to sleep?” “Yes.” Kolton’s eyes twinkled dangerously. seed pearls. the more I came to discover how well we complement each other. b ut obviously Kolton had. Of course. he kissed her soundly. I realized we didn’t really know each other. in every position a bod y can assume while coupling.” “Pru. I will marry you. “Please tell me I will be able to visit your room tonight and spend my time perfor ming each and every fantasy I have entertained this past week. naked. And the more I took the time to know the real Prude nce. Kolton. set in gold. but the entirety of the time in bed as well. she reminded herself with a twinge of regret. How he could be so completely adorable while suggesting such th ings she hadn’t a clue. but it was one of the things she was coming to love about him. I want to make yo u a promise now. “I will do all I can to make you happy. If she didn’t know he was attempting to make this mome nt special for her. It was the most beautiful thing Prudence had ever seen. I not only spend a large part of my time out of bed thinking of you. Whether he had gone to the trouble of finding out that she loved pearls or not. “Each and every fantas y? You make it sound as if all the time you spend out of bed is spent thinking about what to do in mine. but once I recognized circumstances called for us to become man and wife. It was a large pearl – her favorite gem – flanked by diamonds and sm aller. Sweeping her into his arms. the fact he’d bought her this exquisite ring and had obviously taken the time and consideration into how he would ask her.betrothal ring. “Yes. but I dou bt any woman could refuse such a romantic proposal in any case.” . He’d gone out of his way to make their engag ement official with the most romantic of proposals. “My goodness. Prudence smiled. Nevertheless. As it did each time their lip s met.” he murmured against her lips. of becoming my wife and being my closest fri end and companion? Will you marry me?” He didn’t put the ring on her finger as if awaiting her response. a grin spreading across his face. Realizing that he was waiting expectantly for her reply.” she said. and I hope the idea now holds more appeal. “Oh. “Sweetheart. He slipped the ring onto her fi nger and stood. I understand your reluctance to take such a serious step.” he said. passion ignited and their embrace grew heated. Her reply earned her a smile from her betrothed. She hadn’t given a betrothal ring a thought. “I know when we entered into our engagement.” she jested. she nodded her head and gave him a trembling smile. “Will you do me the honor of sharing your life with me. she was deeply touched by his thoughtfulness. But this was not the cas e.
so I will happily indulge you. indeed. “My dear.” Victor grumbled. but unattractive? Not after tonight. I am anxious to get this . You. I have never given the overbearing little chit—pardon. “but why she has decided to set her sight s on me is beyond my comprehension. It would be just like her t o suggest this type of theatrics. do be nice.” “Well. I hope.” Kolton’s brother agreed. The countess leaned forward in the seat next to her youngest stepson and looked over his shoulder. Kolton thought his stepmother’s demand they wait in order to make a grand entrance instea d of joining the receiving line a bit overly dramatic. You are a rarity wit h your dark hair and flawless creamy complexion.” Kolton bit back a bark of hardy laughter. Pru gave a start and looked at him with wide.” Kolton admonished with a smile.” “Yes. else men both attached an d single will attempt to win you away from me. Your figure will make men drool and ladies green with envy. “How are you doing.“Oh.” Victor commented from his seat across from Kolton. I believe you are fishing for compliments. I have never given the lovely young lady.” “Perhaps it is you who needs spectacles.” *** Most of the guests had arrived by the time their carriage pulled in front of Bro adshire House. in fact. I fear I shall have to attend you quite closely tonight.” “Oh. “Lenora Abernathy is a perfectly…er…lovely young lady. You look ravishing. “Oh. “any encouragement. but suspected his sister was well aware of Victoria’s plan and. my dear? Not nervous. the girl is young . Victor. Mother.” she whispere d back. be considered on the shelf. she is lovely. I have been only passing polite and bordering on rude in my attem pts to avoid her. Dowdy? She may indeed. asking a dowdy spinster to marry you. will outshin e every woman in the room. “Victor. . most of the guests are most likely only s lightly in their cups. “It is more likely that every man will be wondering what has gotten into you. and I do not understand why you continue to view yourself as anything less than attractive. at the age of s ix-and-twenty.” he murmured in her ear. it may indeed have been Amanda who originated the idea. I for one am not looking forward to avoiding the inescapable Miss Abernathy . He moved a little closer to her. I did so want to be the last to arrive.” Victoria chastened. . as he peeked out the window. “You jest. There are still carriages dropping off guests. dear.” “Now. anxious eyes. Be glad we’re still early enough. “It looks like quite a crush.” he corrected himself after noting the disapproving look shot h is way by Victoria.” Kolton turned his attention to his fiancée seated next to him. She had not uttered one word the entire ride. “you know as well as I everyone wishes to hold that honor. But I will not argue with you tonight. my sweet Prudence.
A hush fell over the room as she and Kolton descended the stairs.. and she couldn’t help but feel a bit of a fraud. Kolton must have sensed her distress. her rank. I dislike crowds. Some openly gaped. Or. She gave him a dazzling smile in return. ‘Why w ould the Earl choose to marry that woman? A spinster of all things! He could do a thousand times better. besotted smile he sent her way made her pulse flutter. Their coach pulled up and stopped at the front entrance. traveling greedily over his fiancée’s ri . I am only attending because Amanda insisted on throwing this ball for us. decided to show up. While their expressions were cordial. She could well imagine what everyone was thinking. Amanda must be ecstatic over her success tonight. *** The room erupted in conversation. or even imagined. But that didn’t mean she was immune to his charm when he turned on her in full force. for he placed his hand over hers and gave it an encouraging squeeze. Kolton planned to present their be trothal as a love match. many of the women’s heads together. behind their fans. their desire to find and point out to anyone who would care to hear. while others donned their social masks of polite disinterest. sm all. Prudence tense d. but Kolton was heartened t o see he had succeeded in coaxing a small smile out of her. Prudence didn’t want to face the other women’s scrutinizing assessment. and it made them vicious. It looked as if every person on the guest list. The four alighted and m ade their way into the house Chapter Fourteen The ball was a veritable crush.” he purred.entertainment?” Pru gave a soft gasp. due to the fact the Sea son had ended weeks ago and the majority of the people in attendance had left town for their country est ates. She tore her gaze away from the still silent room and turned to her fia ncé. It was rare for a ball held off Season to draw so many people. gossiping no doubt. Kolton observed with amusement. On and on it would go all evening while they greeted her and congratulated her w ith their false smiles. her hair.over with and return home. She’d seen the same thing over and over in society when sought after bachelors wer e taken off the market. She hated being the center of attention. and perhaps some who weren’t. They envied her position.. That in its self was unusual. each fault she possessed. The brilliant. however. perhaps. were the ones he e yed with interest. But Kolton wasn’t fooled. “your desire to return home has more to do with a diffe rent form of. “You are incorrigible!” she hissed. their eyes.” “Hmm.’ They would disparage her dress. whether it be large. The men.
“I knew there was a romantic hidden beneath that rakish veneer of yours. You and P ru are to lead the . dear sister. comes less frequently. “Oh. “Oh.” Kolton said in a voice loud enough to be heard by those undoubtedly ea vesdropping nearby.pe figure. but he wasn’t about to say so and allow the eager ears straining ar ound them that bit of knowledge.” Lady Broadshire exclai med. and guided them through the crowd. that sounds like a handy idea. “Oooh. “But I am afraid my romantic side lay dormant until a certain woman coaxe d it out of hiding. I plan to remind Pru of that fact e very day for the rest of our lives. dear brother. Leave it to Amanda to be sure everyone took note of that particular piece of Pru’s jewelry.” Amanda rem arked with a swat to his arm. “Ah. “Lady Prudence. “Where ever did you find such a perfect piece? Pe arls are Pru’s favorite you know. “There is no reas on to be so formal. her face turning pink . I commissioned it a few weeks back after stopping at a number of jewelers and not finding what I wanted. you look wonderful! That dress. but the effusive attenti on. Pru. not to mention the flattery.” “Never say so! I am a lucky man and I know it. Especially if he is cross with you. “Quite right. chuckling when she lowered her lashes. It had been his first order of busines s after sending off their betrothal announcement. “It’s magnificent. Don’t forget to remind him of that statement quite o ften.” He hadn’t known.” He smiled down at Pru. Kolton. “It is a betrothal ring as I am sure you well know.” Amanda waived away Pru’s comment with one elegant hand.” Kolton remarked. you have found me out. the love remains the same. “Once the ne wness of the relationship winds down. she led them toward her husband who awaited them on a platfo rm set up in front of the musicians. Amanda. “Really. you do go on so.” Kolton answered with a wry smil e.” his sister gushed.” Amanda ignored him and took Pru’s hands in hers. I am so glad you are here. enjoy it Pru. rushing to greet them. your hair – what is this?” She held up Pru’s hand and studied the ring adorning Pru’s third finger . sending him a look clearly statin g she thought he was layering it on rather thick. Amanda took Kolton’s other arm. “Really. nodding to the head server awaiting her signal to pass out the champagne.” He retrieved Pru’s hand and threaded it thro ugh the crook of his arm. everyone knows you are my sister.” Pru admonished. “Glad to hear it.” Pru replied with a mischievous smile. Lord Ravensbrook. Smiling and stopping briefly to sh are a word or two with some of the guests.” Which was true.” Kolton snorted good-naturedly. gave silent testament to their less than ‘polite’ thoughts. Pru. “Christopher plans to make the official announcement of your engagement.
“The rascal I call brother-in-law has fou nd himself the perfect woman —with the exception of my dear wife that is. Viscount Broadshire raised his glass. he loved the paradox that was Prudence. may your marriage bring you all the happiness life together has to offer. funny at times while withdrawn at others. “Now. she smiled at him. eliciting a round of chuckles from the men in the room. To Lord Ravensbrook and Lady Prudence Mayville. “Your attention. “Don’t fret. the twinkle of amusement in her aqua eyes making Kolton’s heart ski p a beat. God. Don’t depend on that lecherous charm of yours to alwa ys get you out of trouble. without further ado. tonight’s celebration is in honor of two people whom I have had the pleasure of knowing for many years. She was a bit of everything: quiet. “You. Turning her head.” the viscount announced. “As most of you I am sure know. and may fate look kindly upon you in the y ears to come. which Kolton found absolutely adorable. but I will be sure to make up for that later – and twirl my lovely bride-to-be about the dance floor. my lord. placing a hand over hi s heart in an exaggerated gesture of affection toward his spouse. but outspoken. The last thing Kolton needed was Christopher re minding Pru of his popularity with the ladies. are an uncontrollable flirt.” Pru raised her eyes to his and pursed her lips in annoyance. Kolton sent him a rueful grin and cleared his throat meaningfully. Annoyance left her face and she stifled a giggle behind delicate gloved fingers. please. and the n I will have the pleasure of taking you in my arms – though not as I wish to. He didn’t always kn ow what side she would show him next. “Please rais e your glasses and join me in a toast. It seems. “Lucky devil. “May I have everyone’s attention. yet shy. where you are concerned. passionate. wouldn’t you all agree? He must be.guests in the first waltz of the evening.” the viscount continued. abstinence preys on my sanity. sending her a lust-starved look and waggling his brows suggestively.” he replied.” his sister informed him as she urged th em to join the Viscount on the platform.” she warned with a failed attempt at seriousness. yes. my dear. she was insecure enough as it was. and Kolton and Prudence each took a s ip of their champagne. This part will be over relatively quickly.” He winked at Kolton. “Be that as it may. “the guests of honor wi ll lead us all in the . “Is that all you ever think about?” “In the last seven days. and it was something he found intriguing as well as extremely att ractive.” he repeated as t he crowd began to quiet.” A chorus of hear-hears followed the toast. Pru groaned softly beside him.” he added. because he asked her to marry him and s he said yes!” he announced with bright smile as he turned back to the assembled crowd. before looking back at Pru w ith a heavy sigh. Kolton placed his hand over hers and lowered his head to speak quietly in her ear. please?” Kolto n’s brother-inlaw bellowed over the noise of the crowd. I have also the dubious honor of being relat ed to one of them.
He gave a sharp intake of breath an d she was rewarded with the most dazzling smile she’d had yet to see from him in return. Prudence realized at that moment she had more than passed into dangerous territory. She felt desirable. “Pru? Pru. overwhelmed her. you know. Needs to be brighter. Prudence had never been the sourc e of envy from any woman. A man has his pride. “You look as if someone has kicked your puppy. The overpowering scent of the a rray of perfumes in the air coupled with the occasional unwashed body.first waltz of the evening. She was relieved when the music started and Kolton swept her expertly about the dance floor.” He drew her a bit closer and brought his mouth to her ear. Can you not summon a smile for your future husband?” “I don’t have a puppy. While th ey had danced infrequently in the past. “You look pale all of a sudden. but all of them held approval. She would be lying to herself if she denied it any longer. my dear? And a smile! But it is not at all good enough. The Earl of Ravensbrook had captured her heart.. The sense of power it instilled was thrilling. Some of the looks sh e was receiving from the male population were blatantly obvious while others were more discreet. A skitter of excitement trickled up her spine. Prudence could feel every eye in the room studying and assessing her as if she w ere a curiosity at a carnival.” She looked around casually and realized Kolton was correct. Pru. and it must have showed in the smile of pure happiness she sent to her betrothed.. “Was that a joke. I feel. “Those women cannot hold a candle to your allure. however. Prudence fought the blush that threatened to burn her cheeks at the th ought of their bodies entwined in a carnal embrace while they took their positions and waited for the orchestra to begin the first notes of the waltz. Perhaps some air would be a good idea. “I am the envy of every man here. You radiate a mixture of sensuality and poise very few men fail to notice.” “I—well. this was the first time he would take her in his arms publically since they’d become intimate. Look at how their eyes stray to you even as they dan ce with the other beautiful women in the room. The women in the room were another story. more admiring. and felt as though it sucked the air out of the room.” His deep sultry voice washed over her.” *** Kolton took Prudence’s hand and led her to the center of the dance floor.” Prudence raised her eyes from his cravat pin where they had be en focused for the last several moments and offered a weak smile. making her shiver despi te the wave of heat growing inside her. The ballroom suddenly seemed to close in on her.” Anything to keep the .It is a bit stuffy in here. are you feeling all right?” Kolton asked his voice thick with concern.
’ It was too much for Prudence to bear so quickly in t he wake of realizing she had failed to protect her heart.” “What was I thinking? Of course. Perhaps she could trust him not to turn on her as her father had her mother. glad to have a moment alone. . ‘Love’ was a commonly enou gh used expression. and by far the most attractive man in London. Prudence took a deep breath of the night air. She was quite pr etty. above all. “Perhaps a glass of punch? I am a bit thirsty. Now all she needed was a little distance from Kolton so she coul d think. hon est. When she had agreed to the betrothal. my dear. love. overwhelming her train of though t. no. “Of course. Kolto n’s concern was touching. The fresh a ir was helping to clear her head.” He raised her hand to his lips and kissed it before hurrying back to the b allroom in search of the refreshment table. He had called her ‘love. on the other hand. That was bad enough. was warm and charming and.” Which wasn’t completely a lie. and she needed to think rationally right now. but his strong presence engulfed her.room from spinning. I am feeling a little better now. “Ar e you unwell? Shall I call for the carriage and take you home?” “Oh. the terrace is just over there. Prudence cleared her throat softly. some refres hment would be in order. but that is where the simil arity ended. Love. he had been distant and cool. From what little Prudence remembered of her father. She looked up to see a young w oman of about nineteen or twenty pass through the doors and onto the terrace. Cou ld she dare hope she and Kolton had something real growing between them? Prudence was beginning to believe they might. Should she allow herself to trust him with her heart? Did she really have a choi ce? Kolton was equally as attractive as she remembered her father had been. How could she have been foolish enough to think she could avoid falling in love with Kolton? He was passionate. He spent little time at home with her and her mother. Kolton led her to a bench a distance away from the doors and urged her to sit. with her abundance of light blonde hair artfully arranged atop her head and her slender figure. The young woman jumped and looked her way. Chapter Fifteen The rustling of skirts caught Prudence’s attention. Kolton. but his tenderness and concern.” He led her through the open French doors and out into the blessedly cool breeze outside. charismatic. she hadn’t counted on him turning his charm on her so thoroughly. She was simply overreacting. With the heat bothering you. not to mention his romantic proposal were too much for h er to resist. She was being silly. Was she going to faint? How many women actually fainted when they realized they had fallen in love? Certainly none she had ever heard of. Here.
She liked her immediately without quit e knowing why. Lady Hope.” she conceded.” Prudence gave the girl an apologetic smile. there are a few decent people amongst the ton. I am Lady Hope Kingsley. he did seem enamored. “Discovered that already have you? Well. “your memory is not at fault. my dear girl. I regret to say I didn’t know your mother. “but wee . letting it out forcefully. but I d o know losing a parent can be incredibly painful. I am afraid at times I shall awake and all this wil l have been a lovely dream. “I was hoping to meet you.” “Oh. I must confess.” “Well. Something about the young woman drew her. her brows drawing together in a thoughtful frown.” Lady Hope smiled and Prudence noted a hint of sadness in the young woman’s express ion. I am Prudence Mayville. I can assure you. you seem to have me at a disadvantage. but my mother suffered a riding accident and passed away last y ear. Perhaps you have met my father. “I admit his interest in me came as a bit of a surprise. Yes. she had met the duke and had the o pportunity to converse with him on one or two occasions. To congratulate you on your betrothal to Lord Ravensbrook. but I thank you for your praise of my pe rson. though. a mischievous smile lighting up her face. they would surely agree. I do know your father. he certainly played the par t of love-struck fiancé well this evening.” Lady Hope replied with a smile. I did n’t know he had a daughter. I don’t know if I would go that far. the Duke of Stoneville?” Prudence’s brows drew together in thought. You must feel like the happiest woman alive.“Lady Prudence?” Even her voice was lovely.” “It is no kindness.” Prudence replied rising from her s eat. “Lord Ravensbrook is quite handsome.” Prudence smothered a smile with her hand. You seem genuinely kind and don’t put on airs or twitter a nd bat your lashes. I assure you.” Prudence confessed. Yes. Prudence thought without rancor. “Oh.” the young woman replied.” “Mm. but he is so dashing and seems completely enamored of yo u. I am so sorry. “Thank you. my lady.” the young woman re plied. “You are not like many of the women I have met since I came to London. I have spent most all of my life in the country. I cannot stand how false everyone here appears. “You are perhaps the most beautiful woman I have ever met. I do not recall t he occasion. “I’m sorry. you are so kind.” the young lady reassured her shyly. “Yes. “It is simply the t ruth. my lady.” “I cannot imagine why he should not be interested in you.” “Me?” “Yes. “Yes. “Yes. but I am afraid if we have been introduced. If one were to ask any man here tonight.” She patted Prudence’s hand and took a deep brea th.” The young woman tilted her head and studied Prudence a moment. well.” Closing the short distance between them she placed her hand on the girl’s arm. that may be so. I only just arrived at the end of the season. He is a nice gentleman. no. I would have made my debut sooner.” Prudence smiled politely. Please for give me. “I have yet to meet him personally.
ding them out from the herd may prove to be a bit of a problem.” Prudence chuckled softly. “Yes, that it can be.” “I like you, Lady Prudence,” Lady Hope said with a wide smile. “Would it be too forwar d of me if I ask to call on you sometime soon?” “I would like that,” Prudence replied sincerely. Lady Hope seemed the likeable sort, full of life and straight forward. Prudence didn’t have any real close friends outside of her famil y, and this young woman might prove to be an interesting companion. Just then Kolton returned with a glass of punch. “Here you are, my dear. I am sorr y it took me so long. Are you feeling better?” “Thank you, my lord,” she replied taking the proffered glass. “And yes, I am feeling m uch better. The ballroom was a bit warm, and the fresh air has quite revived me. Oh, let me intr oduce you to the Duke of Stonewell’s daughter. Lady Hope, the Earl of Ravensbrook. Lord Ravensbrook, this i s Lady Hope Kingsley.” “Lady Hope, it is a pleasure to meet you,” Kolton said taking young woman’s hand and b owing over it politely. Lady Hope curtsied. “The pleasure is mine, my lord. And may I take this opportunit y to congratulate you on your engagement? Lady Prudence is quite charming, and I am so happy to have t he opportunity to meet you both.” “Thank you. And I would have to agree with you, my fiancée is quite charming.” He sent Prudence a heart-melting smile and took her hand in his. “Well, I will leave you lovebirds to your own devices. Again, it was a pleasure to meet you both.” Lady Hope gave them a bright smile and disappeared back inside the crowded ballroom. “A friend of yours?” Kolton asked lifting a curious brow. Prudence took a sip of the blessedly cool punch. “We just met, actually. I like he r though, quite a bit, in fact. She doesn’t seem at all like the usual young ladies one encounters.” “Neither does she appear shy,” he commented dryly. “No, she certainly doesn’t.” *** “Have I told you, you look ravishing tonight?” “No, Victor, I don’t believe you have,” Prudence replied with a warm smile for her soo n to be brother-inlaw as he partnered her later in a waltz. “Although, ‘ravishing’ is a bit of an overst atement.” The evening had gone well. Kolton had rarely left her side as they made their wa y about the ballroom accepting the good wishes of the guests. Although some of the female members of the gathering were cool and assessing while others were curious, there were some who seemed almost genui ne in their congratulations. The majority of the men gave her discretely appreciative looks while others ran their eyes over her, their gazes clearly revealing ungentlemanly thoughts. Those were the m en who received the full measure of the earl’s chilling stare and suddenly found a pressing reason to depar t. Prudence found the
varied reactions both unsettling and amusing, and was surprised to realize she w as actually enjoying the attention. “Not an overstatement at all,” Victor argued, distracting Prudence from her musings. “I have always thought you were pretty.” She eyed him suspiciously. “Such praise, one would think you were up to something.” Victor chuckled good-naturedly, his jewel-green eyes sparkling with laughter. “One would think that, wouldn’t one? But no, I am telling the truth. I have long thought you and Kolton w ould be a good match. He needs a steadying influence, a purpose, and I think you are the type of woman to provide that. I also think he is the type of man who could encourage you out of that shell you insist upon hid ing in, and it appears I was correct,” he said waggling his eyebrows flirtatiously. Prudence laughed at his ant ics. “I’ve never understood why you chose to hide your beauty for so long but, then again, why women do most of the things they do is beyond my meager ability to comprehend.” “I could say the same of men,” she countered with a sweet smile. “Touché,” he replied with an answering grin. The dance soon ended and Victor returned her to her betrothed with an exaggerate d bow and lingering kiss to her hand. “Watch yourself, dear brother, or you will find yourself on the receiving end of m y fist. I guarantee you won’t be using those lips for anything other than covering a lack of teeth,” Kolton assured him while keeping a pleasant smile fixed firmly in place. Victor gave his brother a cheeky grin. “You sound jealous, brother,” he said with mo ck astonishment. “One would think you considered me – your devoted sibling – likely to steal away with the most charming woman in the room. Who, as it happens, is betrothed to you and not myself, might I remind you.” “Don’t tease him so, you rascal,” Prudence admonished Victor, swatting him lightly on the arm with her fan. Kolton’s brother lifted his hands in a supplicating gesture and retreated a step. “N ow, now, can I help it if he has suddenly lost his sense of humor? Lighten up, old man. With a beauty l ike Pru, you are going to have to resign yourself to the fact men of all ages will be falling all over the mselves to catch her eye, married or not. Just remember they haven’t a chance, it is you she has chosen. After all, she will be going home with you at the end of the night. No need to let the green-eyed monster make an appea rance.” Prudence blushed. “Please, do stop your outrageous chatter,” she said, raising her f an threateningly toward him. “I know when I’m not wanted. I’ll just occupy myself in the card room and leave you tw o to stare adoringly into each other’s eyes,” he said with a wink before he turned and strode off. Kolton shook his head resignedly. “Some day that silver tongue of his is not going to get him out of trouble so easily.” “Now, Kolton,” she said with a placating smile. “He is simply trying to get a rise out of you. You know he
thinks of me as nothing but a little sister. He is very happy for us.” “Yes, I know. He enjoys raising my hackles. That is why I must occasionally indulg e him with an appropriately provoked reaction.” “You weren’t angry?” Kolton took her hand and squeezed it affectionately. “No, I was not angry. A bit i rritated at most, but not angry.” “Good,” she said lightly squeezing his hand in return. “I am going to go freshen up. P erhaps I can prevail upon you to fetch me another glass of punch?” “It would be my pleasure, my lady.” He brought her hand to his lips and gave her a s light bow before he headed off in the direction of the refreshment table. Prudence located the retiring room and slipped behind the screen to take care of her most pressing of needs. She was in the process of setting herself to rights when a group of women entered with a rustling of skirts and conversation. “…I have never met her, but she is very beautiful.” “I suppose,” a second, older voice replied. “If one were interested in that type.” Prudence stood silent, hoping the two would leave without noticing her. The door opened again. “What do you mean ‘that type’?” the first woman asked. “Well, the dark, overly rounded kind,” the second voice replied. “It is disgraceful ho w the men gawk at her like she is some delicacy they are eager to gobble up. A woman like that is better suited to the roll of mistress. She certainly doesn’t look like a countess.” Prudence stifled a gasp and frowned, her mouth hanging open in outrage. “A countess?” a third voice Prudence recognized as Lady Hope enquired. “Are you referr ing to Lady Prudence?” “Of course,” the second voice replied. “You must agree she is quite unacceptable for a n earl. I hear that she is the daughter of a baron, you know. And the way she dresses! A woman her a ge should wear more modest clothing, but Lady Prudence flaunts herself like a bitch in heat.” The other women gasped in response. “Aunt Helena!” the second woman cried in horror. Prudence gritted her teeth, her hands fisting at her sides. “What a nasty thing to say!” Lady Hope spat. “She is close to your age, and you have n o problem ‘flaunting’ yourself. Why if that neckline were any lower, your breasts would be com pletely on display instead of simply threatening to tumble out of your bodice!” “Well!” huffed the woman. “You impertinent little—” “Don’t you take that outraged tone with me, you vicious hag. At least I have the cou rage to insult you to your face.” Prudence bit back a snort of laughter. The girl had pluck. “And who might you be, you insolent little gutter snipe? How dare you speak to me that way?” “I am Lady Hope Kingsley.” “Stoneville’s daughter?” The woman sounded shocked; understandable, considering she ha d just insulted the daughter of one of the most powerful men in England. “Well,” the woman replied in an icy tone, apparently deciding to brazen out the situation. “Your father has much to learn ab out raising a proper young lady, that much is evident!”
fram ed by dark lashes and brows a shade or two darker than her hair. “I believe she had hopes of marrying the earl herself. “I quite agree. It is nice to meet you Lady Hope. your departure would brighten the ro om quite nicely. “It is over. No need to dwell on it.” “Yes. You didn’t deserve to be talked about in such a way.” Lady Constance. “Please accept my most sincere apologies on behalf of my aunt. “No offense.” Prudence decided it was safe to let presence be known. You have no control over what others say.” Prudence nodded silently in agreement. The young widow was attractive. Prudence smiled reassuringly. My name is Lady Constance Warring.diligently. “Thank you for defending me so. I accept your apology. She wanted to thank Lady Hope for standing up for her.” Prudence replied lifting a brow while pursing her lips with suppressed amus ement. “I must apologize for my aunt.” “As would the majority of the unattached women in society. They must be so proud. and she was curious to meet Lady Constance. “I hate it when people speak so nastily behin d each other’s backs. and heard a soft giggle from the other si de of the screen.” “I do not have to stand here and listen to this!” “I wish you wouldn’t.” Lady Constance agreed. i t is obviously a good thing for the earl she didn’t.” The woman huffed and Prudence heard the door slam shut.” they chorused.” Prudence knew Lady Whenton in passing. So blonde in fact that it almo st appeared white. Her hair was lighter than Prudence had first thought. And it shows. “It is always interesting to hear what people really think. She could see her more clearly now that there was sufficient light. backs tabbing shrew.. She was met by two pair of wide eyes and two identical slack jaws. her face going from pale to crimson. a delicate young woman wit h honey-gold curls and light blue eyes apologized. I am truly sorry.” the younger woman who had remained behind said with a note of embarrassment. My aunt is not one of my favorite people. You are a tiresome woman.“I would say your parents were quite well versed in how to raise a cowardly. “Lady Prudence. “I’m not. Well. It is a rare occurrence amo ng the ton.” Prudence turned to Lady Hope. but vain . She had a pixie face with wide eyes Prudence thought might be blue or possibly green. all in t he past. She wanted to clap her h ands and cheer for Lady Hope. She cleared her throat pointedly and stepped out from behind the screen. I certainly do not hold you responsible. but his life would have been miserable.. Lady Constance? It is nice to meet you. Lady Whenton. “I would like to thank you both for your flattering opinion of me.” The girl looked genuinely miserable about what had happened. and I honestly do not sha re her assessment of Lady Prudence.” Lady Hope huffed.” Lady Hope raised her chin defiantly.” “I am so sorry you had to hear all that. Prudence would never have the nerve to stand up to such a woman. their voices filled with shocked horror. m y father is the Earl of Brookshire. I would assume.
in Prudence’s opinion. She did recall Kolton had joined the lady and some mutual friends on so me outings, but to think Kolton would propose? Perhaps they had been having an affair. The thought made her stomach roll. She k new Kolton hadn’t been a monk, but the idea of coming face to face with a woman she knew he had sl ept with made her nauseous. Chapter Sixteen “I fear I am growing too old to spend all night at these functions,” Victoria lament ed as she waived her fan in front of her face. “They are crowded, always stiflingly hot, and the dancin g wears me out.” “We have stayed long enough. If you wish to leave, I am sure Pru and Victor wouldn’t mind leaving before the festivities end.” Kolton surveyed the crowd for his betrothed who was d ancing with the Viscount of Trentmont. He was an old but harmless lecher whose eyes came to the level of Pru’s breasts, to which he was now conversing, as Pru appeared to be politely attempting not to notice. It was a good thing the man’s age had him one foot in the grave or Kolton would feel much more obliged to plan t him a facer. Kolton sighed. Marrying a woman of Prudence’s breathtaking countenance would have at least one drawback after all. But Victor had been right. Pru was a woman of good character . She was his, and he knew she wouldn’t stray. He should just sit back and enjoy the fact that so many o ther men wished they were in his shoes. As long as they didn’t step over the line, there was no reason to be bothered with jealousy. “Oh, here comes Victor,” Victoria exclaimed as she caught sight of his brother heade d their way. “I could ask him to escort me home if you and Pru would like to stay longer.” “No, no, mother. If I don’t miss my guess, Pru has probably had quite enough excitem ent for one evening.” “You are probably right. She does appear a bit wilted,” Victoria observed in a hushe d voice as the aged viscount escorted Pru back toward them. The viscount returned Pru to Kolton’s side, his eyes never leaving her ample bosom as he thanked her for the dance. When he departed, Pru turned to Kolton with a discrete roll of he r eyes and a deep sigh. Kolton leaned close to her ear. “Did your breasts enjoy their dance with the visco unt?” Pru muffled a chuckle with her hand and swatted him with her fan. “It is not funny , Kolton,” she chastened him with an expression which attempted to appear firm, but came up sad ly lacking. “I swear, I was afraid I would have to retire after the dance to wipe the drool off the fron t of my dress,” she whispered back. Kolton bit back a bark of laughter. Her sense of humor was one of the many thing s he admired about her. “I believed we have made a proper showing of ourselves if you would like to r
eturn home.” “Sounds good to me,” Victor announced as he joined them. “I had some of the furniture I ordered delivered to my new townhouse just this morning and am looking forward to spendi ng the rest of the evening in my new bed.” “You needn’t move out, you know. The house here is more than large enough to accommo date the four of us,” Kolton reminded him. “Quite right, you know, but there comes a time when a man needs to launch his own ship, so to speak.” Kolton raised a wry brow. He had a pretty good idea what ‘ship’ his brother wanted t o launch, and why his sibling was not anxious to readily have the rest of the family privy to whic h ports he chose to ‘dock’ it in. “Yes, well,” Kolton said clearing his throat, “Just remember to visit your family on o ccasion.” “Do not fret, dear brother. I intend to make it a point to be quite the nuisance w hen the spirit moves me.” “Well, I, for one, will miss you terribly,” Pru informed him as the group headed for the door after they bid their hostess good evening. “Ah, sweet cousin, you warm my heart,” Victor replied, placing his hand over his hea rt with exaggerated emotion. Pru sighed and shook her head. “Honestly, Victor, I will need boots and a shovel i f you don’t stop layering it on so thick.” “I quite agree,” Victoria chimed in as their carriage pulled up. Victor sighed dramatically as he handed his stepmother into the waiting coach. “Yo u will miss my complimentary disposition when I am gone, just you wait and see.” Kolton helped Pru enter the coach after Victoria. He then turned to his brother and gave him a hearty slap on the back. “That, brother, remains to be seen.” *** Kolton finished the last of his scotch and set the empty glass aside. He’d dismiss ed Rupert an hour ago, and was now seated in his private sitting room waiting for enough time to p ass so he could safely go to Pru. It felt like forever since he’d held her in his arms. He couldn’t wait for the blast ed wedding to be done with. He hated sneaking about his own house in order to be with the woman he lov ed. Kolton shook his head. Loved? Did he love Pru? There was really no sense in denying it. He did love her. When had it started? W hen she turned his first proposal down flat? Or had it been during their time in the cabin when he got hi s first glimpse of the real Pru, the beautiful woman with a quixotic sense of humor? He’d never met a woman like her. She asked nothing from him. Didn’t care about money or title, and they could spend time together without the need to fill lulls in conversation wi th idle chatter. She didn’t toady to him, but stood her ground. Pru was passionate, beautiful, and made him feel.. .whole. But what of her feelings for him? Did she love him? He thought she might be begi
nning to. He couldn’t say why he felt that way; it was just something he sensed. She said she wasn’t loo king for love, but that didn’t me she couldn’t love him. He drummed his fingers impatiently on the arm of the chair and looked at the clo ck on the mantle. He would give it another ten minutes . . . The hell he would. Kolton stood and strode purposely to the door. Chapter Seventeen Prudence put down the book she was reading when she heard the light knock on her door. She hadn’t been able to concentrate on it anyway. She couldn’t stop thinking about her feelin gs for Kolton and what to do about them. He’d said that he wanted a real marriage with love, affection, trust, and fidelity . She wanted that as well, but could he provide it for her? Would it last? What if something happened to te st that love? She climbed out of bed and checked herself over briefly in the mirror. She’d been expecting him, even put on her best nightgown and brushed her hair until it shined. She had also pre pared herself for their lovemaking with the contents of the little box. Satisfied with what she saw in the mirror – or at least as satisfied as she could get – Prudence crossed the room and opened the door. Kolton entered without a word and shut the door be hind him. He turned the key in the lock before taking her in his arms and kissing her senseless. “I’ve missed you, Pru,” he said with a sigh as he loosened his hold and gazed down at her. There was something different about the way he looked at her. His eyes traveled intently o ver her features, his expression filled with desire, but there was something else there, something sof ter. “You silly man,” she said with a smile, sliding her arms around his neck and running her fingers through his silky brown hair, “We were together but two hours ago.” “Not like this,” he answered, nuzzling her neck. “Not as closely, and especially not w ith so little between us.” He flexed his hips, sliding his hard member against her belly, his robe provi ding little barrier between them. She shivered, her body responding at once as arousal licked at her womb, t he apex of her thighs growing moist, drenched with desire. “You know, we really shouldn’t do this, we are bound to be found out,” she reminded hi m without much conviction as she tilted her head to the side, giving him easier access to her n eck. “You are most assuredly correct,” he agreed, his lips traveling along her jaw. “But it appears I am not the most patient of men. Waiting weeks to be with you again is something which s eems beyond my ability to endure.” He took her mouth with his. Instead of the hungry, plundering kiss she expected, his lips were gentle
“I love you. *** .” He lowered his head and took her mouth in a hungry kiss.and persuasive. and ent ered her in one long deep thrust. Her body suddenly was not her own. God. but his—she was his. He unbelted his robe. She wri thed and arched beneath him. Her climax seized her with a strength she’d never experienced before. tilting his head back and closing his eyes.” He parted her thighs. setting a slow deliberate pace. unable to get close enough as she pou red all her love into her kiss. love. He swept her up in his arms and carried her to the bed where he laid her down an d stripped her of her nightgown. her eyes never leaving his. Prudence wrapped her arms around him and matched his movements with her own. Little whimpers and sighs escaped her as he ran his hands and lips over her. She pressed her body against him. please. Kolton gave a soft groan and deepened the kiss.” she begged breathlessly when she could take no more. “Oh. sweetheart. Prudence felt a surge of emotion well up inside her. It wasn’t the heated. something that pulled at her heart. “You fe el so good. Pru. “God. a sense of warmth that wanted to overflow a nd wrap Kolton in its embrace. grinding her hips against his as spasms of pleasure wracked her body. mak ing her blood boil as it raced through her veins and the area between her legs burn with need. Prudence looked into his eyes and was shocked by what she saw. and stretched his hard length atop her. made her heart race and sweet pleasure unfurl within her. “Kolton. his expression turning urgent and ra w. He paused when he was fully seated inside her. The realization sent her spinning out of control. his tongue slipping past her lip s to stroke hers gently. all of you. as if she were something fragile and cherished he was afraid mig ht shatter. She couldn’t look away. hungry look s he’d seen before. positioning himself at her entrance. She struggled to put her finger on exactly what it was. his expression captivated her. almost desp erate. something needy.” he whispered before he lowered hi s head and kissed her deeply. His hips moved faster. “Yes. Oh my God! He said he loved me. Prudence’s heart rate accelerated and her breathing grew light and rapid. Kolton pulled back panting.” he said in a husky voi ce. “I need you now Pru. sliding his hard staff in and out of her. His hands traveled over her back. reaching down to clasp her bottom and pull her against his flexing hips. I don’t think I will ever be able to get enough of you.” he rasped his voice heavy with emotion. yes. He groaned as he slid his arms around her and molded her body against him. the feel of you…what you do to me…” He opened his eyes and gazed down at h er with tender possessiveness as he began moving his hips. his brows furrowing. tossing it aside. Prudence’s eyes flew wide open.
couldn’t get enough. “Pru.” Pru pushed at his chest. . Oh. sweetheart. I—” Kolton sat up abruptly startling her into silence.” She turned her head and looked over her shoulder at him. Kolton. He couldn’t stop. couldn’t keep his hips from continuing to move against her. his eyes locking with hers. say that—if you don’t really feel that way.. No t that he had really expected it. Said he loved her. Her eyes were wide. Pru. “I love you. filled with wonder and surprise as she stared back at him. and he was not going to equivocate simply to protect himself. burying his face in her shoulder. he flew over the edge. Pru. “I meant what I said. I know my own mind. He crushed her to him.” he interrupted. He kissed her over and over. I . her aqua eyes wide as t hey roamed his face. “You don’t have to—you know.” he choked as every muscle stiffened and strained toward his own release. He kissed her shoulder. joy. “Yes. He dropped his head and kissed her with all the wild passion seizing every fiber of his bei ng as his seed shot from him in forceful jets. This is something rare and special.?” Kolton wrapped his arms around her waist. As the shudders of pleasure wracking his body slowly eased. Throwing back his head. Kolton?” Not with tears of joy and immediate confession of love in return. protect iveness. covering her breasts in a protective gesture before her lids lowered and she turned away from him. but hadn’t been able to help himself. tenderness.not something i-in the moment . turning her head to face him. His movements soon slowed to a stop and he raised himself to his elbows and gaze d down into her face. I did say it in the heat of the moment. His control evaporated. He leaned forward and cupped her cheek.. but it is true nonetheless. He slid off her and propped himself on his side next to her. his sacks heavy and tight with unspent passion. I have never said t hose words before. I am a grown man who kn ows his own mind. His chest felt full to bursting with a myriad of emotions. he gave a choked cry. He sighed. fighting the urge to squirm nervously. I have never felt this way. Not the reaction I hoped for.Kolton groaned loudly. This was the most impo rtant moment of his life. you don’t have to try to make me feel better. “Sweetheart. his body no longer under his con trol. an d kissed her temple. I mean. “I told you.” he stated ten derly as he dropped his hand and ran it along her arm. apparently. but it would have been nice. pulling her back against his chest. I love you. thrusting harder. things ca n be said in the heat of passion—” “No. deciding not to hide his feelings. he thought. Pumping his cock madly in and out of her. How would she react? “W-What? Did you say what I think you did. He’d said it. love. Yes. Pru. He had not really meant to tell her so soon. “Are you sure what you feel is not simply. . Kolton collapsed.” “Honestly. She sat up and pulled the blankets up. Kolton brushed a stray lock of hair behind her ear with an unsteady hand.
avoiding his expectant gaze and looking for all the world l ike a child ready to confess her transgressions. too.” she confirmed.. but tonight I realized there is nothing I can do to stop it. but he didn’t c are. And you?” Pru ducked her head.” Kolton blinked. but was she ready to hear it? She lowered her eyes to her hands.” She raised her head. “I am not sure when it started exactly. Like something has been missing—you were missing. your q uick mind. Your laughter causes a flutter in my chest.. meeting his eyes with a sad. The constriction in his chest suddenly eased and he was the one smiling with joy . “Very much more. the way you put me in my place when I need it. too. When you walk through the doorway. but what of now? “Do you still wish you didn’t have these feelings? Do you not believe I am sincere?” She shrugged. “You could say you have some feelings for me as well? Perhaps a strong fondness?” he ventured. I feel.” He was scared. her cheeks blossoming with color. “I promise y ou I will do everything in my power never to cause you pain. “I want to. knowing look as .” she confessed. It’s just grown so much stronger over the years—especially so in the last few weeks. I think of you constantly.. lifting it until she met his eyes.” He hoped he hadn’t pushed too far. When I am with you. which were fidgeting nervously in her lap.I’m scared.” he corrected. Kolton. “What I feel is more than just a strong fondness for you. Pru. Kolton’s heart plummeted.adore your sense of humor. Fought it? Why? Especially these last few weeks? “You don’t want to love me? Is that what you are trying to say? Why? Didn’t I say in the beginning I hoped we would gr ow to love each other?” “Yes.” A logical fear. How long have you known you care for me?” “Love you. you don’t understand.filled. and miss you like hell when we are apart. but what of mo nths or years from now? No. I know it is re al. “I think there is a part of me that has always been ha lf in love with you. He placed a finger under her chin. What would she think of such a declaration? It was nothing but the truth. Pru smiled and turned her body to face him. I didn’t want to fall in love with you only to find you couldn’t return my feelings. “You do? How much more?” He knew he sounded like a child hoping to get a bit of candy. It was a bit frightening placing such a fragile thing as one’s heart in another’s hands. but I’m. and your passionate nature. “No. “I n ever expected.” she repli ed softly. “I-I love you. the room suddenly seems br ighter. She turned her head and looked up at him. I have fought it. “I am sure you believe what you say now. still not meeting his eyes. But.” she nodded...I don’t know what to say.. “But I didn’t really think it would happe n.” Pru turned her head away and hugged her knees to her chest. her manner a bit hesitant.” she said quietly. She looked down at t he coverlet a moment before she replied.
Do you think it was because they thought I was pretty?” Kolton chuckled knowingly..unusual—especially if you r esemble her. You are mine and I will not share your. And..” He eased her back down on the mattress.” Kolton wondered if he would ever get enough of Pru. you wicked man!” She laughed and swatted him on the arm.my father would tell her qui te directly it would never happen.” “Oh. Only time and patience wo uld convince her. “My father didn’t feel the same. .. as you say you do. her father must have been either a lunatic or. I can tell you wi thout a doubt in my mind that they found you far from unattractive. . “I thought perhaps it was because I looked so di fferent.. “They did seem taken with me.” “Yes?” He took her hand and squeezed it encouragingly. “They used to have terrible rows. “Your parents’ feelings for each other changed? In what way?” “I don’t really know for sure how they felt about one another when they first marrie d. I suspect your father’s opinion of your mother was.she rushed to continue when he would have interrupted.full—like mine—there was no way he could be attracted to her. “Because she was so repellant to hi m. My mother would cry and beg him to try to make their marriag e more than one on paper. settling himself atop her while he took her breast in his hand and ca ptured its rosy peak between his lips.attention. . He tol d her without attraction there was no hope for them. I must agree. Pru sighed. They did with my parents. “They thought you were more than pretty. . You saw the way the men looked at you tonight. He didn’t love her because she . “But don’t let it turn your pretty little head. Ever. s he didn’t remember much of them. because I love you.” He waggled his eyebrows suggestively.. Pru smiled.” “Because she what. “Yes. But that was neither here nor there.” he suggested. a man who preferred an enti rely different type of intimate partner. hope shining in their aqua depths. I can guarante e it.” She never talked about her parents. Her mind. let’s. “My father.” She looked up and met his eyes. my father . her body. Though I know my mother loved my father very much. everythi . “Yes. If she resembled her mother.” “And your father?” She hesitated a moment before answering. he speculated grimly.” He gave her a mock frown. as you well know. hopeful look.. You said you love me.. “Pru. my love. because you are considered one of London’s most hands ome men. Pru swallowed and went on in a wavering voice. being so young when they died.” “Because you love me?” he said giving her an exaggerated. sweetheart?” he urged softly. “Mmm. remember. He assumed. wicked. because her figure was so.” Suddenly he understood Pru’s low opinion of her body. “Feelings can change. “As if any man could hold a candle to you. didn’t they?” she agreed tentatively. “Let’s see how wicked I can be to night. the blankets slipping. revealing her lusciously full breasts on which he let his eyes linger appreciatively. he was sure.” She lowered her head and studied their clasped hands ..” “I am rather good-looking.
He gripped her hips with both hands and he drove himself into her. glorying in he r passionate response. Pru began to buck her hips against him. then cupped her bouncing breasts as she complied. He released her hand and brought his own to her breasts. rising an d lowering herself until their bodies met in a hard. He wanted to be buried deeper. the hard length of him greedy for the soft feel of her skin sliding against his. pulling her back to meet him. “Tell me. he entered her again in one swift stroke. but eagerly followed his instruction. She didn’t recoil. Kolton. I love you. but it wasn’t enough. opening herself to him. love. His hands flew to her hips. holding them still while he thrust frantically in and out of h . His body writhed against her.” Kolton’s heart swelled to all but bursting inside his chest.ng about her aroused him to a state he had never before reached. Her moans of pleasure spurred him on to a higher level of excitement. He took one of her hands and directed it down between her legs. He buried himself inside her. the muscles o f his buttocks clenching as he sped his pace. drinking in her moans and sighs of escalating pleasure. He pulled himself up on his forearms and gazed down at her lovely face. Kolton sank his teeth lightly into the skin at the crook of her neck. please. He gr asped her hips. Soon. Her inner muscles contracted tightly around him. forcing him closer to release. pummeling her with his rigid staff. his straining arousal eager to plunge into her wet. sucking an d licking her flesh. wet.” she moaned. caressing he r cheek with the back of his fingers. “Yes. he kissed her.” She didn’t need to ask him what he meant. Kolton. Pru. spreading her legs. She ran her hands up his sides an d around to his chest. her hips pumping a wild rhythm as she reached her peak and flew over the edge. rocking back agains t him. Once he had her positione d on her hands and knees. lightly pi nching and rolling her nipples between thumb and forefingers.” he rasped as she met his slow rhythm. showing her how to add to her pleasure by stroking the erect nub between her nether lips. velvet pas sage. She gasped as he penetrated her more d eeply than he ever had before. His own excitement grew. He caressed her body. He yearned to hear those words fall from her lips once again. He opened his eyes and smiled gently. She cried out. His kiss grew more heated. He pulled himself out. shushing her protests and urged her to roll over. Lowering his head. He closed his eyes ag ainst the overwhelming emotion that washed over him. He ground his hips against her. pounding beat. all he felt for her unguarded in his eyes. Love-seared lust rose inside him. take me deep. urging her to ride him. meeting each of his thrusts. never once breaking his rhythm as he snuggled her against him. She loved him. milking him. the desire to feel her body pressed against him became too great and he wr apped his arms around her. “I love you. inflaming his need to p ossess her. welco ming him. “Mmm.
” she replied removing her gloves and placing them in her lap. “I would be happy to accompany you. “Yes. Making love with a woman had nev er been like this. Her love made him feel like the most important man on earth. curious to get to know this interesting young woman better. that is. He k new. She hadn’t been to Gunter’s for an ice in ages. I love you!” His climax ripped from his soul. “I apologize for calling at such an early hour. Pru. God. please. She had platinum locks. Pru. What she wouldn’t give to have Lady Hope’s petite frame with her slim hips and breasts that weren’t overly large like her own.” Prudence greeted Lady H ope with a smile as the young woman was shown in to the morning room two days later. She was a little taller than Prudence. he would never be whole without the woman he h eld in his arms. Lady Hope was a striking young woman. Prudence noted now that she saw her in the bright morning sun. Tears gathered in her eyes. I had hoped to convince you to accompany me to Hatchards for some reading material and perhaps to Gunter’s for an ice? If you are not otherwise engaged. artfully arranged atop her head with a few stray tendrils framing her heart-shaped face w ith its pert nose and Cupid’s bow lips. no matter what the future held in store for him. When h is racing pulse began to slow.er.” Lady Hope replied. yes. I am free this morning. their breathing coming in heaving pants. Something about her drew Prudence. So deeply satisfying.” “How lovely. I am hoping that we . Formality can be so tedious at times. So passionate. “Tea would be nice.” “As it happens. They collapsed. Prudence sighed inwardly. a bright smile lighting up her entire face. And. it would be a good respite from all the wedding plans . taking a seat. Chapter Eighteen “Lady Hope. his entir e body wracked by spasms of pleasure as his seed jetted into her in an endless stream. “Oh. and he vowed he would die before he would ever let her go. giving her a long languid kiss. call me Hope. “I was hoping you would agree. and she suspected Lady Hope would prove to be a refreshing companion. a soft smile gracing her lips.” He said it without even thinking. “I trust I have not caught you at a bad time. He pulled back and cupped the back of her head. Oh.” “Would you like me to ring for tea first?” Prudence offered. “That is the most beaut iful thing anyone has ever said to me.” Lady Hope exclaimed. and deceptively fragile looking. something which easily put her at ease when normally she would be more reserved. the muscles in his abdomen clenching.” Prudence was delighted at the prospect of a n outing that didn’t involve choosing invitations or being poked by pins and discussing wedding matte rs. what a pleasure it is to see you again so soon.” Kolton smiled. he slid off her and pulled her to him. hearts pounding. “I love you.
I hope you don’t mind. much less Prudence’s father as well. “I am not sure I understand.will become good friends. I agree. Prudence’s curiosity was piqued. If we are to be friends. there is. completely puzzled as to why Hope would want to discu ss her father with her. “Something specific. and yours.” Hope replied settling herself across from Prudence as the two took a seat. my lady. And do call me Pru. “Nonsense.. I believe I could tolerate it reasonably well. Hope’s smile seemed strained and the usual twin kle in her eye was absent. Would you care for some tea. Lady Hope was a frequent visitor. “Brutally honest are you? Well. Pru. You’ve wa nted to speak with me for over a year? I have to admit. “Was there something in particular you wished to discuss?” Prudence inquired as she poured for both of them. you have me curious now. as long as your honesty is tempered with good sense. Prudence sensed something was off. “Well. “What a pleasant surprise!” “I apologize for arriving early yet again without notice.” . or are you here to whisk me away on another ex cursion?” “Yes.” Hope’s troubled gaze met Prudence’s. I. “Lady Hope Kingsley.” “Our fathers?” Prudence asked. Prudence decided. we will get on well together. that is.” Prudence dismissed Hope’s apology with a wave of her hand. formality does seem a bit awkward. does it not?” *** Over the next two weeks. “Hope. happily setting aside the guest list she had been look ing over and stood taking Hope’s hands.” Hope smiled and squeezed her hands.well. “I do not know where to begin. offering Prudence a m uch needed respite from Victoria and Amanda’s constant need to make Prudence’s eyes cross with all deci sions to be made and things that still needed to be done before the wedding. “Actually.” she said. tea would be nice. yes.” “Yes. What is it yo u wish to tell me? “ Hope set down her tea with shaking hands before clasping them in her lap.” Hope replied with a seriousness that caught Prudence off guard .” Arbuckle announced as Hope entered the room. I gather.” Prudence replied keeping her tone light. “But it is rather invol ved you see. If I don’t miss my guess.” “I see. “I am always happ y to see you. Lady Hope was certainly cheeky. I hav e not been completely up front with you.” Prudence laughed.. If you can tolerate my tenden cy to be brutally straight forward at times.” Prudence greeted her. absently wringing her hands in her lap. You see I have wanted to speak with you on an important matter since shortly after my mother died a year ago. “I wish to discuss my father. but not in an off-putting mann er. Prudence rang for the maid and they chattered about trivial things until the ref reshments arrived.
why her father claimed he was never attracted to her mother. Prudence read the letter several times.partially the same blood. Sh e was afraid to open it. I simply cannot love her the way she needs me to. It has been hell seeing you with your husband and knowing that you will never be truly mine. I am afraid I have not hidden that fact well. Prudence scanned the rest of the letter. I can be content with that if the only other option open to me is to never hold you again… *** It was from Baron Montlief..“Yes. and it is getting harder and harder to take her const ant tears and jealousy. Did she want to read them? Did she wa nt to see the truth in writing? What reason would the daughter of a powerful duke have to make such a c laim other than what motives she suggested? “I’m not looking for anything from you but friendship and the chance to get to know you. her father’s lover. The one Prudence’s parents fought over that dreadful night.” Hope had said. you see. Sometimes I am afraid that she will push me into saying something that I shall r egret. I meant our father. She stared at the ye llowed parchment a few moments before she worked up the courage to open and read its contents. It explained so much. and how it would affect her. You have me on tenterhooks. Oh.. My dearest Melinda.. Amanda was like a sister to her.” *** Prudence paced her room. when I said my father and your father. Prudence had often wished she could have had a sister. Words cannot express how much I miss you. but it wasn’t quite the same as knowing she s hared the same blood. Prudence’s father. Evelyn knows I have a lo ver. Well. Now. The nigh t her mother died. go on. “Well. Some blood relation she c ould call her own. It was obviously a love letter to H ope’s mother. and why he had been so cruel the .. I do not cherish the thought of returning to Evelyn’s constant pleas for us to try to make our marriage work. The constant fight ing between her parents. stopping periodically to stare at the two diaries and l etter Hope had given her where she had dropped them on the bed.” Prudence replied leaning forward in her se at and setting her tea on the table as well. what was she to do with all this informati on? Prudence sat down on the bed and reached over and retrieved the letter first. But if I must resign myself to snatch ing only brief moments of bliss in your arms. afraid of what she would read.
but what choice did he have bu t to marry a woman he didn’t truly love? It was an arranged match. Lady Stoneville? Did she feel the same way about Pruden ce’s father or was the woman simply a bored wife looking for a diversion? Prudence picked up the first diary and began to read. but I could not bear to lea ve my little boy behind. not by love. thou gh my heart belongs to another. gathered the other along with the letter. He would surely want us to run away now that Evelyn has passed away. Her mother in love with a man who already loved another. It was written by Hope’s mother. I care for Adam too much to do such a heartless thing as denying him th e right to watch his son grow into a man. Prudence closed the diary. Cons umption the doctors say. But what will he have? A child that he can never claim? A son or daughter that he will watch another man raise? I don’t know if I could bear the th ought of what that would do to him. Did they even know each other when they took their vows? Prudence knew how aristocratic marriages worked: a spouse was chosen by wealth a nd or social standing. Some couples were lucky enough to grow to care for one another. knowing the man she loved was unfaithful and most likely would remain t hat way. I should have been there. . once an heir was produced. beginning ju . He is dead! James is dead! I did not know he was ill until it was too late. the two sought out lovers to fill their more intimate need s.night she died. She’d skimmed through the first diary. But what of Hope’s mother. Rarely was there a love match between people who married in society. . Maybe knowing would have made him fight harder. Prudence hated what her father did to her mother. Prudence turned the page to the next entry. How difficult it must have been for both her parents. Should I tell James? Tell him that our love has created a precious life? I will cherish this child. and locked them in her writing desk. Though Prudence didn’t approve of and in fact resented her father’s behavior. but more often than not. I should have told him about the baby. to watch it grow. I have not yet told James that I carry his child. Adam loves Rafe and. nor could I deny him his father by taking him with me. Chapter Nineteen I do not know what the future will bring. on som e level she could understand how love could make one weak. a part of James that I can keep for myself. a simple cold that infected his lungs and never abated.
st before her entry into society and ending shortly after her marriage to Adam Kingsley. Melinda had no choice in the matter. but her parents had bigger game in their sights. Prudence’s mother couldn’t live with her pain and died alon e in the icy cold of that long ago winter’s night. Prudence thought hard about the situation. How would it have been if things had been different? There was no sense in pondering ‘what if’s’. marriag e documents had been signed by her parents. but never truly belonging. Hope’s mother. A sister who wanted to know her. though she knew she had no right. though she entertained the notion of running away and eloping with James. And. They were victims of circumstance. But their lov e left disappointment and death in their wake. Oh. She had a sister. Prudence recalled the nights when her mother would read her stories and played t ea party with her. Victoria and the rest of her family had welcomed her into their lives as one of them. Prudence was surprised she hadn’t real ized it until now. a settlement reached and an announcement published. short ly after Prudence was born. she didn’t know if she would have had the strength to seek out Hope. Part of her. and lasted until her father died a little over six years later. According to what was written. It was time to put the past behind her whe re it belonged. bu t silently yearned for the man who was forever out of her reach. Hope wanted a relationship with her. the man Hope loved and believed was her father. Would she be betraying her mother’s memory if she became close with her sister? Her mother and father were gone. From what Prudence could put together from the two diaries—written several years a part—it appeared that the affair between Hope’s mother and Prudence’s father started in London. Melinda. She was glad Hope had sought her out. and Prudence’s father. and therefore a mere baron would never do for their daughter. had fallen deeply in love almost immediately. James. Prudence didn’t know how to feel. but she hadn’t been one of them really. the man who believed himself to be Hope’s father. dead for the last twenty years. The future Duke of Stoneville had expressed an interest in Melinda. but the fu ture was still unwritten. James had attempted to court Melinda. the past could not be changed. had always felt like an outsider with her nose pressed against the glass. But in the end. Hope’s mother had tried to make the best of things. she was heartbroken when he wed another woman. she acknowledged. She tried to love the duke. She couldn’t back out. the future Duke of Stoneville. She . watching. And despite the fact that Prudence’s father had led Hope’s mother to betra y the duke. Before she knew what was happening. Had Prudence been in the same position. but Prudence was alive and alone. she had gone through with the marriage. For several days.
“To be honest. If she was nervous. “Lady Hope. “I think the whole thing very s ad. They made their way in sile nce until they were well out of range of anyone who might overhear their conversation. “I read over the things you gave me. “I thought we might take a turn about the gardens.” “That it was. breaking the silence. She stood. Prudence envied her spirit.” Hope was quick to assure her. Prudence studied the young woman’s profile. “Please see her in.” It would also afford them some needed privacy. *** “Lady Hope Kingsley to see you my Lady. “My news must have come as quite a s hock. her stride relaxed and steady.” Prudence began. I didn’t know what I would feel seeing you again.” “You do?” “Yes. opening the French doors of the other side of the room.” the young woman replied formally. clasping her shaking hands in front of her as Arbuckle showed her sis ter in. but she remained composed. “I was pleased to receive your note this morning. I understand. straightening her po sture and giving Prudence a bright smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. We sho uld take advantage of it while the weather holds. studying her hands clasped primly in her lap. did the rest truly matte r? They would never be able to openly claim their true relationship. studying Prudence’s cou ntenance as if trying to read what Prudence was thinking.” Prudence offered. Her face was the picture of calm. “I am glad you decided to contact me. eyes so much l . her chin lifted a notch. Hope had wanted to spare her father the sc andal and pain of revealing the truth. which ran the length of the house. “Oh.” Prudence lifted her head and looked into the other woman’s eyes. giving a weary shake of her head. something Prudence could not deny sh e wanted desperately. Hope took a seat and Prudence settled herself next to her. But they could be close friends. I am glad that you were able to make it on such short notice. Prudence stopped under a large oak tree and turned to her sister.” she said with a tenta tive smile.” Hope agreed. “Thank you for inviting me. I wasn’t sure if you would feel co mfortable with seeing me. It is such a lovely day.” “Please have a seat. “I am sorry that I have not contact ed you sooner.” Hope said. Prudence led the way. “Thank you. but held herself pro ud and erect.” Prudence agreed.” Hope turned to face her. A walk in your gardens would be nice.had a younger sister who wanted to be part of her life. she didn’t show it.” Arbuckle announced as Prudence sat in the l arge sitting room of Ravensbrook’s London home. “And? What are your feelings?” Prudence sighed.” Hope turned sharply to face her. an d the two stepped out onto the terrace. H ope. gesturing to a bench situated a few steps aw ay.” Prudence had made her decision in the early morning hours and s ent a note after breakfast requesting Hope to call on her today. She looked wary.
to have some sort of friends hip?” Hope asked hesitantly. but I never dared hope. she still felt som ewhat on display in her new style of dress. And. it should be on your wedding day. Harriet helped her out of her dress and into a light robe. I would welcome it.. She sat sketching in Prudence’s bedroom while the seamst ress made a few final adjustments to Prudence’s wedding dress..” She flung her arms around Prudence. a frown draw ing at her brow as she concentrated on her picture.” Prudence hoped Kolton liked her choice of gown as well.” Hope turned the pad to face her and Prudence gasped. The overall effect was one of quiet elegance. “Thank you. Pruden ce felt like a princess as she gazed at herself in the mirror. Hope. “I would like to think that I possess more character than those who would condemn an innocent child for their parents’ actions.. her relief palatable. but she knew Kolton admired her figure and this gown showed off her curves without being immodest.” “So does this mean that you would like to try to be. She had captu red every detail of the dress exactly and had even matched the color almost to perfection with her p astels. Lord Ravensbrook will surely be overcome the moment he sees you in it.” Hope said. “Both of our parents suffered dreadfully as a result of something none of them cou ld seem to control.” “You should be. “Hope. and added the finely . It wasn’t adorned with frilly lace and bows. “that I would like to get t o know my sister.it’s wonderful! A master artist could not have done better. Startled. it is. “It means. the full skirt billowing about her as it fell to the floor. It had large gigot sleeves and fit her tightly around the bust and waist .” Hope’s gaze remained on Prudence’s face. giving her a tight hug. something Prudence had insisted upon. “Oh. “If there is ever a day you should feel like the most beautiful woman in the world. “There. Prudence hesitated a moment before returning her sister’s enthusiastic embrace. if a close bond should be what becomes of that. Normally she would have tried to hide her figure. Pru! I prayed you would fee l that way. “Then you do not hate me for what my mother d id? Of what it did to your family? Your mother?” Prudence shrugged. but was simp le in design.” Prudence replied. Chapter Twenty “That dress couldn’t be more perfect. She had put much thought into exactly what she wanted. finished.” Hope’s stiff posture relaxed.” Hope had drawn a profile portrait of Prudence in her wedding gown. her eyes never leaving Hope’s.ike her own.” her sister remarked as she leaned in to her sketchpad. Pru. The gown was made of a lightweight ivory silk with embroidered silver flowers ac cented by tiny seed pearls. I must say that I am quite pleased with the result. .
“She has certainly has no problem speaking her mind when she sets her mind to it. jealous.” “No.” He leaned in closer so his words may not be over heard. Dowling has been atta ched to her all evening like an annoying burr. “I am glad you like it.” “Perhaps later. “Please tell me you will be there as well. What I would truly like to do is box their ears!” *** “Victor. But the most striking thing about the sketch was the detail she had put into Prudence’s face.woven lace veil with its matching embroidery and pearls Prudence planned to wear . She really had to speak to him about his nightly v . No se nse getting my feathers ruffled by the less than pleasant amongst them.” Victor strode off toward Hope and Mr.” Prudence said turning to her cousin with a beseeching smile as they stood watching the dancers at Lady Martin’s ball.” Prudence took a sip of punch. Amanda and Victoria insist that I become more the social butterfly. it would be comforting to know I have one good friend there. cats the lot of them. Pompous. “Is there anything else you desire? I am more than happy to take requests.” Hope assured her.” Hope closed her sketchpad and set it aside. D owling off his game. I want to add a little more before I give it to you.” “I’ll be there. “Never let it be said that I refused to act t he white knight to a damsel in distress. her eyes filled with love. I have learned to smile.” she pu lled a face. I’m sure he is anxi ous to spend some time with you. Dowling. when I have finished it. there you are. my dear.” he replied with a derisive snort. nod.” “Smiling and nodding in the face of their snobbishness is not something I find eas y to do. her lips parted as if awaiting a kiss. “Father insists that I get to know more people. “Why not ask Hope to dance? Mr. “Well then. nasty bunch they can be.” Prudence acknowledged. and retreat from the worst of them. it is magnificent.” Kolton said offering her a glass of punch. the women anyway. dear friend.” “In general.” What was that all about? Prudence wondered.” Victor rushed to reassure her.” “I am quite sure the girl can rescue herself. Do find your betrothed and dance with him. I would have to agree. “Will you be attending the Martin’s ball this evenin g?” “Yes. “Ah. “How did you know I was in need of a cool drink?” “I have made it my mission in life to anticipate your every desire and do all in m y power to assure you have all that you may ever need. I am sure she would welcome a gallant rescue. Her expres sion held a dreamy quality as she stared off into the distance.” Prudence replied with a resigned roll of her eyes. perhaps I could ask Kolton to rescue her. He could certainly put Mr.” “Oh. “but there are a few genui nely nice people as well. Hope. leaving Prudence to wonder what h ad gotten into her normally flirtatious cousin. no. “Not that many of them are worth knowing. I do. May I keep it? I would love to have it framed.
“Be that as it may. clearing her throat. what part of our delightful nights to gether would you like to discuss?” The sun had set hours ago. “Actually. Kolton was leaving her bed later and later. “Kolton. “A simple matter to remedy. you cannot continue to visit me every night. my love. Kolton had no difficulty with describing. but the moon was bright enough that she could make ou t the smile on his face.” she whispered. I would go mad! I don’t believe I could last that long without breaking dow n your door and ravishing you in your bed.” Kolton held out his arm. “Do you now? And wha t would you like to speak of?” he asked.” The idea of bringing herself to speak with him concerning such a highly personal subject made her cheeks burn. Luckily. “There are too many ears about. but not so much that she required a wrap.” she replied primly. The risk is far too great that we will be disc overed. The evening was cool. not wanting to be overheard . While making love to her with words as well as his body was extremely arousing.” The look on his face resembled a child who’d had his favorite treat snatched away before he’d had the . and how to satisfy him. Prudence noticed a bench conveniently located nearby and seated herself.isits. “We cannot talk here. “Now. but far enough away to afford them a bit of privacy . and suggestive. Prudence felt speaking of such things herself far too wi cked.” Prudence took his arm and walked with him as he nonchalantly exited the ballroom and led her into the gardens.” she stated firmly. in minute detail. how her body inflamed him. “I do hope to change that particularly prudish aspect of your per sonality. Partaking of verbal intercourse with you is a most arousing notion. “What are you suggesting? Please don’t say you want me to stay away from you for the next three weeks. He’d laughed when her maid had left the room.” she began. “I don’t want to discuss what happens as muc h as how often it happens. how he wanted to make love to her. we must talk about your visits.” Kolton raised a questioning brow. soft. “Why do I get the distinct impression that I wil l not care for the topic of what I had anticipated to be titillating conversation?” Prudence extracted her hand from his and busied herself rearranging her skirts. but Prud ence had been mortified. his voice deep. a rakish smile spreading across his face. She folded her hands in her lap and straightened her spine with resolve. “I believe it is because you know better than to think I would discuss such things. Kolton was able to grab his robe from the fl oor and slip under the bed before Harriet noticed him. He was in for a large disappointment. Kolton chuckled. she feared. Kolton leaned back. They ma de their way to a spot within sight of the terrace. What if one of the staff saw him? They had alre ady had one close call when her maid entered the room. Kolton lowered himself beside her and took her hand.” she said.
said literature will be delivered to the Times and their subject matter made available to the public. woman!” he replied with a tortured groan. the diaries and letter she’d thought safely locked away . Who had the diaries and her father’s letter? How had they gotten them? She always kept her desk locked and the key in the keepsake box on her desk. know w here to find the key.” “I am deadly serious. and nothing else seemed out of place. I have in my possession. it is my strong suggestion you end your en gagement to Ravensbrook immediately. One of the servants. “I su ppose I could survive on two nights – just barely. I am just concerned that we may be found out. She opened the box. mind you.” Chapter Twenty-One Prudence sat at her desk the next day staring down in disbelief at the letter sh e held in her hand. The other morning was much too close a call. The handwriting was not famili ar. I could not crave you more. Until now. “Your pity would be much more appropria te.chance to savor it. Perhaps we co uld limit your visits for now. and marshaled her resistance to her betrothed’s persuasive charm. She picked up the letter again and read over the flowing script.” he replied in a martyred tone. there had been no reason to secret it away.” He gave a regretful sigh. gone. Kolton. but it was obviously penned by a woman. three very informative bits of literature. How did this person get into the house. “But y ou do have a point. find her room. my love. however. If you were an opiate. I do not want to spend a night away from you. She dropped it on the desk as if it were a snake ready to bite her. “Do you not want to spend time in my arms? Has our lovemaking become blasé?” Prudence took his hand between hers. the key was there. Should you not comply within a timely manner. “Don’t thank me. say one or two nights?” “You are going to be the death of me. Kolton. Lady Prudence. placing her hand against his cheek and tracing the outline of his jaw with her fingertips. “Do stop being overly dramatic.” “Thank you for understanding. She immediately checked the drawer in her desk. She looked over the threatening letter once more. . “You know you are talking nonsense. and search through her desk? It was unlikely a stranger could have managed such a fe at.” H e lifted his hand and brushed her cheek with the back of his fingers. It slid open easily. She didn’t. Should you n ot want them to become the object of public scrutiny.” she said gratefully. The thought made Prudence want to laugh out loud.
my lady?” “No. I thought I saw someone new.perhaps? Harriet was the obvious person to suspect. Pain gripped her chest. What would it do to the family who had taken her in and raised her as one of them? Wo uld they receive the cut direct? Prudence would never be able to live with herself if that happened. Bessie Watersham. tears of anguish flowing freely down her cheeks .” Prudence dismissed her maid with a forced smile. locked it. there came a knock on Prudence’s door. Curling herself into a ball. *** Prudence awoke an hour before dinner was to be served. But it seems the point is moot now. Will there be anything else. She stood. as far as I know. After picking half-heartedly at her plate. Prudence waved away the thou ght. Couldn’t ask enough qu estions. Harriet had been with her too long and she trusted her ladies maid implicitly. “Harriet.” “Well. Pruden ce shoved the letter in the top drawer. Haven’t replaced her yet. and Kolto n slipped in. What was she going to do? She had more than herself to consider. not to mention Hope’s reputation and the scandal th at would ensue if her sister’s paternity should become known. squeezing so tightly she could bare ly breathe. But how would she bring herself to let Kolton go? How could she not? If she brok e off their engagement. She rang for Harriet and asked her maid to let Kolton and Victoria know she felt unwell and would be taking dinner in her r oom. moved to the bed. no. “It is funny you should ask. Then there was the scandal that would foll ow Prudence. and lay down. I didn’t know the girl’s name. have we hired any new servants recently?” Harriet set the tray down on the table in the cozy sitting area situated before the fireplace. Up ‘till she left without a by-your-leave the end of last week. Not long after her maid departed. There was the r elationship with Hope and her father. her name was Bessie. Why? Is there a problem? Nothing’s come up missing has it?” “Oh. All starry-eyed about your wedding the earl. Prudence set it aside.” Prudence lied. the duke. “We did hire a new upstairs maid a few weeks ago. my lady. she couldn’t continue living with the family. She would have to leave. from what I understand. “I should have inquired earlier. in case you were wonderin’. Harriet knocked on the door and entered the room carrying her lunch tray. She let Harrie t help her out of her dress and prepared for bed. Prudence conjured a picture in her mind of Kolton’s expression should she find the strength to tell him she was leaving him. she crie d herself silently to sleep. Prudence wrapped her arms around herself. He . “I will ring when I have finished. thank you Harriet.” her maid answered. Chatty thing she was. Did her job well. and stuffed the key in the pocket of her skirt.” Prudence waited for the door to close behind her maid before resting he r elbows on her desk and dropping her head in her hands.
“Thank you. I just need to sleep. “I can’t stand the thought of your suffering. “Only a few moments.” Kolton’s shoulders dropped in defeat. She moved over and made room for him to sit beside her. Kolton ran the back of his fingers along her cheek. and to cry. Perhaps one day they could both l ook back and agree they wouldn’t have suited after all. Prudence gave him a weak smile. Prudence slipped her arms around his waist and gave him a squeeze. “b ut I would not feel right about it. “Your maid said you were not feeling well. She would never feel his embrace or the soft little kis ses he placed at her temple. and watching it grow. to laugh. his worried eyes studying he r face. I care. He would be hurt when she left and be understandably angry with her.was sitting on the bed at her side and holding her hand before Prudence could bl ink. to grow old with him. “No.” He waived his hand dismissively. But along with the comfort he provided came a s harp stab of pain. She wanted to fall into his arms and cry all over again. Prudence realized then how much she wanted to share her life with him. She would love him until he r dying breath.” A frown furrowed his brow. “You should pro . you can say she would understand. “It is nothing serious.” he conceded regretful ly. but he was the one person she couldn’t share her burden with. Victoria has been like a mother to me.” Prudence couldn’t deny herself one last opportunity to feel his strong arms around her. Are you sick?” His expression of tender concern tore at Prudence’s heart. “Would you like me to sit with you until you fall aslee p?” He tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear.” she agreed. you are so good to me. Kolton. Yes! “No. to argue and make up. “I don’t care about Victoria. I have a crushing headache and wished to go to bed early. She needed him now more than ever. Never again would he hold her. He pulled her into his a rms and Prudence felt the tension leave her body.” It was no lie. I only care about you and how you are feeling. She would never kno w the joy of carrying Kolton’s baby. her eyes ached and her temples throb bed. She took his hand in hers and placed a kiss on his knuckles.” she continued before he could voice any objection. I wouldn’t want her thinking b adly of me.” “Well. Victoria may come to check on me and it wouldn’t do to have you in bed with me. “but I insist you let me hold you for a moment or two before I go. love? Would you like me to get you a cold compress?” By sheer strength of will. I suppose it wouldn’t. What can I do to help. Kolton. No. But it was nothing but an unattainable dream. She doubted she would ever be able to feel that way. She would never make love with him again or become his wife. that’s all. Prudence held back the tears that threatened at his s weet attempt to soothe her pain. and worrying will not help my headache. Kolton. She had no doubt. but I will be fine.
I know it may seem a silly thing to say. “Victoria will be heading u p any time now. my man. She loves me.” Kolton threw Pru’s letter down on his desk. Prudence feigned a realistic yawn and let her lids drop as if she were already d rifting off to sleep. sauntering into Kolton’s study and seating himself in an overstuffed chair where he lounged as if he’d not a care in the world. Perhaps she’ll be back in a couple of days.” “She didn’t confide in me. you can be sure I would have come straight to you. “If I knew that I wouldn’t be standing here asking you. “Do you know anything about this?” He shoved Pru’s letter into his brother’s hands. handing Pru’s letter back t o Kolton who folded the paper and stuffed it into the pocket of his coat. There has to be something other than ‘not being sure of her feelings’ going on here.” Kolton gave a weary sigh. Prudence gave him a sleepy smile in reply.bably get going. his agitation to strong to allow him to sit still.” Victor agreed. but working yourself into a state is not going to help. If I had any idea she’d been having second thoughts or pl anned to run off.” he said softly. He helped her settle herself under the covers and placed a gentle kiss on her lips.” Better now when she still had the strength to let him. “I know you would. Kolton. “What is ‘a ridiculous bunch of drivel’?” Victor asked. Chapter Twenty-Two “This is a ridiculous bunch of drivel.” Kolton blew out a frustrated gust of air. “Is there anything you might have said or done that would have given her leave to doubt your feelings?” Kolton stopped pacing and turned to his brother. Kolton spun and faced his brother.” His arms left her and he stood. “I will leave.” “She had to have spoken to someone!” Kolton started to pace. I know she does. I just cannot believe she has done something like this. It could be something as simp le as wedding jitters. while Kolton’s world was crashing down around him. “Pru’s left? Why? Where did she go?” Victor’s bewildered expression only added to his fr ustration. now would I?” “No need to growl. “I love you.” Kolton grumbled raking his fingers through his already tussled hair. but I want it duly noted it is under prot est.” “Sorry. She couldn’t say those words in return knowing she would be packing in a couple of hours and leaving before dawn . Kolton. I’m sorry. this is a bunch of drivel. His only success there was worrying the sweet woman. Victor. “The wedding is in a little less than a month. “Calm down. Had Pru confided in anyone? Told anyone where to find her? He’d already questioned his stepmother. “Pardon? Where would you have got ten such a . What would you expect I do when I have no idea where my betrothed has run off to?” “You are right.
If that doesn’t help us find her. He wouldn’t think that way. she is not averse to letting me know why in no uncertain terms. she has no problem ringing peal over my head when she is upset with me. She loved him. If she i s annoyed with me. I will send someone out there.” “There is the property left to her by her mother.. “Be that as it may. He handed the list to Victor. That would help enormously.” the butler replied. let simple wedding jitters be the reason. No.” Kolton strode over to his desk and jotted down a list of people Pru would be mos t likely to contact.” “I can check with her friends in town. *** More than a week had passed and Kolton was no closer to finding Pru.” “Have you checked with Amanda?” Kolton blew out a gust of air and raked his fingers through his hair. then. “What do you need me to do? I am at your disposal for as long as you need me.” Please. but I can’t imagine what it could be. He snapped at the servants and locked himself in his study at night. “You know how women are: imagining slights when none were give n. If he couldn’t make things right. “I doubt it. God. Yes..” He shrugged assuming an air of casual disinterest. With each d ay that had gone by. Victor. but had they be come close enough for her to be of any help? Victor had questioned her and. “Nowhere in particular. Lady Hope. I’ll write down some names for you. and walked his brother to the door before ordering a carriage to take him to Amanda’s.” Victor offered. “This time of morning? Who is it?” he snapped “A Lady Hope Kingsley. She would undoubtedly figure it is one of the first places we would look.” “We need to check with her friends in town and see if they know anything. and let me be able fix wh atever is wrong. we should probably check and see if she has run off to one of the country estate s. th at was next.” Kolton’s lips quirked in a small smile as he thought back to his time with Pru at his hun ting cabin. something must have triggered this. he had to find her.” Kolton snorted in agreement. but it is unlikely they will find her there .ridiculous notion?” Victor studied him in silence a moment or two. “Thank you. Life without Pru —the thought was unbearable. they had become close over the last month or so.” “You’re sure about that?” “Trust me. Pru isn’t like most women. Kolton rubbed his chest where the empty void that had swallowed all his happiness and was now filled with a painful ache. she knew nothing of Pru’s . “Not yet. “No. Arbuckle knocked on the door and informed him he had a visit or. Victor stood and crossed the room to stand by Kolton and placed a hand on his br other’s shoulder. he grew more despondent and irritable. As he was dressing. at the time. drinking himself insensible. had to get her back. Could she have headed there?” Kolton shook his head.
but the letter and diaries have been stolen and the person responsible for their theft threatened to expose their contents unless I ended my engagement to Lord R avensbrook. my lord. I stil l fear for you.” She reached into her ridic ule. but I have just rece ived word from Lady Prudence and assumed you would want to know right away. Though I have left London. but her expression quickly cleared and determination took its place. but I thought you had the right to know the reason she left. Please. . Once t he stir amongst the ton my leaving will surely cause has time to settle. “Lady Hope. a pleasure to see you again.” Kolton’s heart began to race. I have made peace with my decisi on. You will never know how sick I feel over this. I beg you not to try and find me. “I don’t know if this will be of a ny help finding her. and handed it to him. I am sorry that I hadn’t the chance to see you one more time and explain why I had to leave London with such haste.disappearance. Had something changed? “Show her into my study and inform her I will be right down. Hope. I am so sorry. pulled out a folded piece of stationery. “Let’s hope she does. and wanted apprise you of the situation.” “Do you think she has news of Lady Prudence?” Rupert asked as he quickly tied Kolton’s cravat. To what do I owe your visit this morning?” He crossed the room and took her outstretched hand. which would be impossible if I stayed and married Lord Ravensbrook. her brows drawing together slightly in apparent indecision. bowing over it politely in greeting and not ing its trembling as he did so.” he replied as his anxious valet helped him into his jacket and he hurried from the room. Hope. I will contact you again. What news have you. Chapter Twenty-Three When Kolton entered the study. and my mind will not be changed. he found Lady Hope standing by the window looking out while absently twisting her handkerchief between her hands. “Your assumption was completely correct. I’m sure you can see how I had no choice but to comply with the blackmailer’s demands. He sent up a silent prayer that this was the chance he had been looking for. “I am so sorry to call on you at such an early hour. Hope. He unfolded the single sheet of paper. my dear?” Lady Hope hesitated. You are young and deserve the opportunity to make a good marriage. I want you to know that the short time we had to s pend together and known each other has meant the world to me and our parting will not be forever.
what is all this about a lett er and a diary. But what does this have to do with Lady Prudence?” Lady Hope clasped her hands tightly in her lap and locked eyes with him. “Lady Pru dence is my halfsister. Did the letter arrive by spec . checking his impatience. “I want you to know first. “I don’t understand. your discretion is appreciated. gazing sightlessly at the shredded bit of material tha t had once been a beautifully embroidered lace handkerchief.” She straitened her spine and squared her shoulders as if drawing her courage around her like a cloak.” “Please. “I will begin by telling you that I am not the Duke of Stoneville’s biological daugh ter.” she repli ed tearfully. my lord. “I don’t know what to say.” Kolton gave a start of surprise. She turned to him and placed her hand on his in a gesture of sympathy. Kolton stared at the young woman. Thank you for sharing such personal information with me. at a loss as to how to respond. and laying his hand on h er arm encouragingly. I know it must have taken a lot of courage to come to me with this. Lady Hope. but now I see it is not pos sible. I h ad hoped to keep him ignorant of the fact I am not his real daughter. and what does it have to do with blackmail? Why would she be concerned for you?” He mo tioned the young woman to take a seat and sat himself next to her.” “It is probably for the best.” To prove his point.” Kolton nodded in acceptance of her apology. he rose an d closed the door to the study before rejoining her on the settee. “What is this all about? It would appear to be of a sensitive natur e.” Kolton urged. but other than explaining Pru’s decision to leave. “I almost positive he does not. “This is all my fault. . “Thank you. He must know of this threat to our family in the event that the truth becomes known. this was the least expected. When her story came to an end. Lady Hope bowed her head. it ga ve him no clue as to where she might have gone. Your news comes as a complete surprise.” she stated boldly. Kolton listened intently. “And your father? Does he know of your mother’s affair and your true paternity?” Lady Hope lowered her eyes and shook her head.” Kolton took her hand and gave it an encouraging squeeze. Lady Hope didn’t give him time to formulate a reply. Kolton sat back and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. Lady Hope. “I am not sure where to begin. “I am only sorry it doesn’t help us find Lady Prudence. Lady Hope smiled faintly. Prudence Kolton shook his head. Of all things the young woman could have come o ut with. Let me promise you that anything you tell me will not go beyond this room. how sorry I a m to be the cause of the upset Lady Prudence’s leaving has undoubtedly caused you. . If I had never approached her in the first place . She told him of the discovery of her mother’s diary and all tha t had transpired since.Ever your friend. perplexed.
expected her to sh . Still nothing. checking under the mattress and tearing off the sheets. the village loc ated near his hunting cabin. he just sensed there was something he’d over looked. Clearin g a place on the desk. but there was still the problem of the blackmail. “I know where this is. “No need to thank me. He had not. I am overjoyed that I am able to have the chance to make things right.” *** Kolton had searched Pru’s room when she first left. He removed the top drawer. but this time he did a more th orough job. The hunting cabin! He hadn’t even considered she might go there. He didn’t know what he was looking for exactly. The letter was sent from Brenshire.” he said. “I am so glad. If he couldn’t find some clue as to the identity of the blackmailer and stop them. He reached in and pulled out a wrinkled piece of paper.” Yes.” she said. pulling out the drawers and emptying their contents onto the bed. however. He’d sent a note to Lady Hope letting her know he had more information regarding P ru’s reason for leaving and asked to call on her before he left. Her dressing room and jewelry case turned up nothing.” Lady Hope sagged with relief. my lord. there would be no way he could convince Pru to come back home. an d dumped its contents on the desk. “It came by post. Lady Hope. Pru would dig in her feet if she thought her sister was still in danger. Kolton studied the envelope. He went through her bedside table.” he said. If she hasn’t moved on. “and I know where to find her now. which he’d pried open the lock the first time he searched her room. taking her hands in his and kissi ng her knuckles. Still. he noticed something stuck in the b ack where the first drawer had been. “I don’t know how to thank you. He searched her bed. He had to give Pru credit. Lady Prudence’s leaving was my fau lt. so he turned his attention to her desk. As he bent down to pull out the next drawer. But—oh my—perhaps there is a postmark! I didn’t even consider the idea until now. Lady Hope blushed. he found nothing of importance.ial messenger? Were you able to perhaps find out anything from him?” “No. She must have known he wouldn’t have thought to check the cabin considering the nature of their time spent together there. that is. Chapter Twenty-Four Kolton was surprised when both Lady Hope and her father were announced and enter ed his study.” she exclai med excitedly. He’d found the blackmailer’s letter. reaching into her ridicule again and pulling out an envelope. Not hing. Now you can go to her and bring her b ack. he smoothed it out and read its contents.
but stood when the two entered. Your Gra ce?” “No. Kolton was seated behind his desk. “Yes. but I am afraid that I am not in the habit of thrashing women.” he added with a ma levolent gleam in his eye as he turned his attention back to Kolton.” . Kolton knew fo r a fact the man was a regular at Gentleman Jacks and could easily take down a man half his age. “She doesn’t appear to have even attempted to disguise her writing. no.” “The woman is either an imbecile or a fool. The Duke of Stoneville was a man few people dared to cross.” Lady Hope said. Shall I ring for tea. He w as a powerful man with connections in both very high and very low places.” Kolton reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew the threatening document. He hoped the duke’s reaction to discovering she wa s not his biological daughter had not been too difficult for her. Stoneville turned to his daughter with a look of surprise.” Stoneville sprang to his feet. “Please have a seat.” the duke said as he read the letter. La dy Hope. “I searched Lady Prudence’s room again and found this. the missive is penned in a woman’s hand. She gave him a reassuring smile and nodded her head slightly in answer to his silent question. You wrote to my daughter of finding something new in this matter?” Kolton’s gaze shifted to Lady Hope. “Please be sensible. “Do you by God! Tell me the name of the bastard who thinks he can threaten my family! I’ll make sure the bloody little coward is silenced permanentl y. He noted her red-rimmed eyes and slightly pink nose.ow up at his residence. reaso ning tone of her voice as she laid her hand on her father’s arm. “in this case.” He handed the other man the not e from the blackmailer. “As it is plain to see. Kolton could see by his stiff posture and s trained expression that the Duke of Stoneville knew all there was to know about the situation with his daughter and Pru.” he greeted them.” Adam Kingsley. coming around the desk and bowing to the duke before bending over Lady Hope’s hand. or perhaps something stronger. Ravensbrook. and those who were fool enough to try received no mercy. He patted her hand re assuringly. Although.” Kolton remarked. while not a young man.” the duke replied gruffly.” “Father. Killing a man i s not the answer. appeared to be in top form. “I believe I know who the black mailer is. let alone bring the duke with her.” he said turning his attention back to the duke. “I do not use such drastic measures to solve my problems. She had obviously been crying recently. a certain amount of satisfaction arises at the thought. I prefer to have a clear head while dealing with this situat ion. the anxious look in her eyes contradicting the calm. my dear. “Your Grace. “Woman? Do you mean to tell me a woman had the audacity to threaten to sentence my daughter to hell on earth?” “I am afraid so. “Ravensbrook.” “I too would derive pleasure from wrapping my hand around the person’s neck and thro ttling them.
She probably should have. not for the first time. She traced his fe atures longingly. Chapter Twenty-Five Prudence hoped the weather would hold as she sat in the back garden of the hunti ng cottage she and Kolton had spent two glorious days and nights not so long ago. Kolton’s cheerful expression and laughing eyes stared back at her from the page. I believe it is Lady Helena Whenton who penned the letter. I gave her a piece of my mind on the topic of her atrocious behavior. “I hardly know the woman. but couldn’t take the chance of him refusing to break the engagement and therefore exp ose Hope’s secret to the whole of England. “I believe by late tomorrow the lady in question will suddenly have the strong desire to take herself off to the continent for an inde finite period of time. She may even decide to stay there permanently. She looked down at what she had drawn. Prudence didn’t discount her seco . Pain and longing for what they might have had washed over her like a thick fog. they would have become man and wife. They would have had a happy li fe.” “The question is. “She is a vicious. noting the surprise and censure di rected her way by the two men. Prudence sighed heavily and closed her sketchpad. and it was most satisfying I must say. “Yes. a disgusted expression marring her lovely fe atures.” Kolton nodded his understanding. is it because you recognize the handw riting?” Lady Hope asked anxiously as she studied the note over her father’s shoulder. my little hellion. problem convincing Helena that England was the last place she wanted to be. but I doubt she will co me willingly if she believes Lady Whenton has not been taken care of. my lord. She loved sitting outdoors while she painted or sketched as she was doing now.” she informed both men. Would the pain and regret ever ease? In a little over a week.” Kolton said breaking into the conversation. “I overheard her at your engagement ball. sharp-tongued.” Both men looked at the duke’s daughter with raised eyebrows. The duke smiled for the first time since entering the room.” his daughter offered.” “I have met her.” “Lady Whenton?” Stoneville said with obvious surprise. wishing it was his face she was touching. The only family she had left in the world. Hope. Her eyes flitted back and forth between them. She wished.” “Leave that to me. “where do we go from he re.“You said you might know who is behind this. “Yes. if any. harpy. she had gone to Kolton and told him everything. “I am sure you gave he r a taste of your own sharp tongue if I know you. and stared up at the overcast sky. I would like to leave first thing in the morning to fetch Lady Prudence. She was sure. He had no doubt the duke would have little. I gave her quite the scathing set-down.” Lady Hope smiled back at her father.” the duke said confidently. squaring her shoulders and lifting her chin defiantly.
Prudence sens ed the tension in him despite his casual pose. She had to have gone straight to Kolton. left him with only pen a nd ink serving as a . throw her arms around him.” he remarked. Don’t try to hide. squared her shoulders. but a stranger in a sm all town rarely went unnoticed. What had made him think to look here? Then she remembered her letter to Hope.” Oh no! Kolton had found her. She didn’t know where she would go. crossing his arms over his chest. She had her hand on the door handle. He leaned against the doorframe. fixing her gaze somewhere in the vici nity of his cravat. I . She dropped her hand from the door.nd cousin. She h ad lost weight and listless as a result. a pot of s oup heating on the stove. her solicitor had yet to finalize the purchase of the small house she had decided to buy in the quiet coastal town. . Instead. She took a deep breath. about to yank it open. What are we having?” Prudence froze. She heard the door open and bang shut followed by heavy footsteps coming down th e hall. He was leaner. but Hope was her sister—the only one she would ever have. she thought franticly as she removed the soup from t he stove. She prayed it was the local vicar to pay a call on the newcomer in his hamlet. “Prudence! I know you’re here. she looked away. But why? Didn’t she know what would happen if she did? Prudence quickly turned and headed to the back door to make her escape. a nd not one of Kolton’s friends come to use the hunting cabin. a hint of sarcasm lacing his tone. “Kolton. his face drawn. . this house isn’t big enough and my pat ience is at an end. and Hope’s wellbeing had to come first. dark circles under his eyes bore testament to the fact . Her heart constricted. She couldn’t be found now. it was getting close to lunchtime and she should at least try to eat something. all she knew at that moment was she couldn’t allow Kolton to find her. and the rest of the Stanvilles as family. She had purposely tried to attract little attention in Brenshire. She was slicing the bread she had bought at the local bakery in town. when Kolton appeared in the kitchen doorway. hours away fro m London. Caught. He looked lik e he hadn’t slept well in the time that had passed. Prudence wanted to run to him. “Something smells delicious. a nd slowly turned to face the man she had managed to elude for weeks. and kiss away t he pain and anger she saw in his eyes. Victoria. Bloody hell! She barely stopped the words before they fl ew from her lips. “Well? Aren’t you going to greet your betrothed? It has been quite some time since we last embraced.” What could she say? She had deserted him. Who on earth could that be? She wouldn’t answer the door. Prudence stood and headed into the house. when the sound of a carriage pulling up in front of the house caught her attention. Her appetite had been non-existent these last few weeks.
my dearest Prudence. Kolton. I know who it was who threatened you. It had never occurred to Prudence that Lady Helena w ould have the nerve or where to all to do such a thing. trying to somehow block out the pain of knowing her answ er made no difference.farewell. you can.” Prudence’s heart leapt with hope for the first time in weeks. I might add. Obviously.” “Yes. His eyes held hers. no matter what he said to try to chang e her mind. She couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. The days—and even the nights—without your sw eet light to brighten them were so unbearably dark and bleak. “Yes. “You know who it is?” “Yes. you must realize why I cannot come back. Pru. They could never be together. we can’t. I only ask that you answer one question—truthfully. love.” Prudence’s mind flashed back to the night of their betrothal ball.” he said softly. It was Lady Whenton. “Kolton. Do you love me?” “Yes.” he demanded softly whe n she lowered her eyes. sweetheart. I love you so much.” She closed her eyes.. I can’t—” He nudged her chin a little higher until she was forced to meet his eyes.” “Do you love me. Lady Constance had said her aunt believed her own betrothal to Kolton had been in her future. It has been hell without you. “You don’t have to explain. It is all over now. .” Prudence drank in the sensation of being in his arms once again while her heart shattered into a thousand pieces. Pru? No. Prudence had to swallow hard to dislodge the lump in her throat. The Duke of Stoneville was as powerful a man as one could be. Prudence had underestimated the horr id woman. Kolton let out a great gust of air and pulled her to him. forci ng her to meet his eyes. I know about the blackmail. How could she possibly promise such a thing? But. She remembered all the nasty things Lady Whenton had said about her. I know everything. She still could—” “The Duke knows of Lady Whenton’s scheme. Eyes t hat begged for the truth.” Kolton informed her. He grasped her chin. Pru. He straightened and closed the distance between them. the vulnerability and entreaty that filled them made her blink back the moisture tha t gathered in her own. “If you know everything.. why I cannot marry you. aside from Royalty its . “Threatening his daughte r was a dangerous move and not very bright of her. “Thank. “I will do my bes t. “I know about your sister. pulling out a handkerchief and gentl y dabbing away the tears streaking her cheeks.” she sobbed . God. sweetheart.” Prudence imagined threatening the wellbeing of a one of the duke’s love ones was i ll advised. look at me and answer my question. “But she has proof.I can’t . how could she bear to hurt him again? If only there were some other way. . resting his cheek agai nst her temple. I know everything. and Hope went to her father an d told him everything. but she sensed the tension that remained. Promise me you will never leave me again. “Kolton.” The anger had left his expression.
It proved amusing in fact. my love.” His voice was rough with emotion. Please forgive me for hurting you . to meld themselves into one being. He pulled Pru against him and wrapped his arms tightly around her. but I saw no other choice. his han ds going to the fastenings of her dress and undoing them until he could lower the bodice of her gown and shift to her waist. Pru. Just promise me you will ne ver keep something so important from me ever again.” she whispered when the kiss ended. She threw her arms around him and hugged him back.” He would have loved to have throttled the woman when she had smugly denied his a ccusation. meeting his eyes solemnly. read the horrible missive dissolve.” “I promise. I didn’t want to leave. “I assure you. there is nothing left to fear. Prudence cried out when he cupped her breast and captured her nipple between his lips and suckled her. Kolton. “And I you. Kolton! I am so sorry I di dn’t come to you. which had borne down on her since she first. Helena had put up little fight before turning over the letter and diaries to the duke. Hurting someone is not in your nature. I need you so much.” he assured her placing a kiss on her temple. Prudence felt the crushing weight of guilt and pain. I know. “I could forgive you most anything. “Oh. “I need you Pru. each striving to draw the other closer. Faced with the damning evidence against her. crushing her to him as he ravaged her mouth with hungry des peration. it brought tears to her eyes. Their embrace grew heated. Pru.” His arms tightened around her. freeing her to love and be loved by the most wond erful man in the world. With little persuasion she turned over what evidence she’d arranged to be stolen from you and agreed it was best tha t she leave the country immediately. Her knees gave out and he caught her. he lifted her onto the table and stepped between her legs. “The Duke and I paid her a visit earlier today. His kiss was so sweet and filled with love.elf. . I know it couldn’t have been easy for you. “I should have come to you at once. Turning. And I you. and the threat of both social and f inancial ruin. I know that now. “What will become of her?” Kolton smiled grimly. K olton groaned and deepened their kiss.” He cupped her face and lowered his head. Now.” Prudence rose to her toes and kissed him with all the love she had inside her. the look of shock a nd horror on the woman’s face when the duke and his daughter arrived shortly after him gave no little sat isfaction. I am so sorry—I cannot express how much. “I love you so much. But. Prudence shuddered at the thought of what would befall Lady Whenton. and then had the audacity to suggest they resume relations.” “I know.” she vowed.
but no less satisfying. sending buttons flying in all directions. gazed down at Pru’s flushed features. She couldn’t wait to feel his bare skin pressed to hers. “Now. Pru. tossing up her skirts and deftly opened the fall of his pants. Not the romantic reunion he’d had planned. God. Impatiently. Kolton!” she cried. pulling her to meet each of his driving th rusts. “Come for me. Never leave me again. “Yes. his muscles strainin g. the tendons standing out at his neck as he neared his own release. Missed you. This table is a bit hard. screaming as her body strained toward him. She pushed his jacket off his shoulders and opened the fastenings of his vest. The taste of you.” he breathed. .” Kolton straightened. Milk me dry. He set a rhythm that was fast and strong. When she came to his cravat she grew restless. Pru’s eyes rounded.” he cried and pumped relentlessly in and out of her. she fumbled with the fast enings of his shirt until she gave up and tore at it. openmouthed kiss that sent spears of excitement straight to her womb. “Yes. yanking at it roughly until it fell open. “Oh. pounding his cock into her mercilessly while little mewling sounds of pleasure tore from her throat as she gripped his clenching but tocks. my! Yes. scraping his teeth lightly against them and flicking them with his tong ue. capturing her lips in a hungry.” he rasped. He lay her back on the table and thrust his hips faster. Pru. She tossed her head helplessly side to side as he molded her breasts in his hand s and drew at her nipples. he decided. her climax gripping her womb with powerful contractions of pleasure. He hauled himself up on his elbows. your smell. Her eyes fluttered open and she smiled lazily up a t him.” he added. securing his trousers before he lifted her in his arms and carried her to his room. god. Kolton gave a feral growl of approval against the curve of her neck. She looked into his eyes. perhaps we should. yes!” He threw back his head with a roar of completion as his orgasm seized him and he emptied himse lf inside her. grasping her bottom and plunging his hard shaft deep inside her an d letting out a heavy groan of pleasure. perhaps we should find a more comfortable location posthaste. Oh. and tuck ed a sweatdampened curl behind her ear. “I love you. you are so tight and wet. “Oh. Pru laughed. The love and unbridled passion on his face sent her spinning out of co ntrol. He smiled ruefully.Prudence was on fire. wrapping her legs around his waist and pulling him deeper. *** Some moments later. Prudence clutched at his forearms. He straightened and grabbed her hips.” “It is not the only thing.” he suggested. Pru. flexing his hips suggestively. urging him on.” he moaned. Kolton regained his senses and realized he was collapsed ato p of Pru on the kitchen table. “Perhaps we should take this to a more comfortable location. how I have missed this. “Yes.
“Blessed. Table of Contents Start Table of Contents Start . her eyes wide with s urprise. “What did I do to deserve such happiness?” “You have done nothing but be your beautiful.” he replied while fondling her breasts. Liz sat down. Desperate to turn h er mind to other things. “I would gladly stay here for days—weeks—but we ha ve a wedding to attend in the near future. never have you back in my arms. but it wasn’t until she left her job a s a secretary to dedicate herself to being a stay-at-home mom to her two young children that her writing c areer began. Pru giggled and the sound made his heart swell with joy.” he murmured against her lips. It would have been admitting I would never find you. funny. “But I refused to do so befo re then. cupping his face and leaning in to kiss him.” Pru’s eyes glittered with moisture and she blinked back the threatening tears. Since then. I am the on e who counts himself the luckiest man on earth. he made quick work of removing the rest of their clothing. darling Prudence. He tossed her on the bed and immediately settled beside her. “In a hurry. and wrote her first novel. Kolton. two children. his hands commencing a thorough exploration of her body. and th ree dogs.” Pru twisted and propped herself up on her elbow facing him. “Oh. When he entered the bedroom.” he replied. blessed with passion. “You didn’t cancel the ceremony?” “Another day or two and I would have had to. two cats. Her love of re ading romance—the steamier the better—began in her early teens. passionate. she has been plagued with other stories demanding to be told. Biography Liz Cole was born and raised in a small town in upstate New York. Who knew that two jobs could be so fulfillin g? She now lives in North Carolina with her husband. “Yes.” Her voice cracked as she said his name. It started with a story rolling around in her head that refused to be ignored. and blessed—Kolton smiled at the thought—bl essed with the ability to persuade his stubborn. hoping to exorcise the ‘demon’. Liz welcomes readers’ comments and can be reached at .” Blessed with love. I co uldn’t bear the thought of that. my lord?” “To touch your luscious body and feel its nakedness pressed against mine? Always. self. and check out her blog at . my love.” She smiled.” “Then we are both blessed.Pru gave a little squeak of surprise and wrapped her arms around his neck.