My Lady Quicksilver

Page 22

Their gazes locked.

Rosa’s lips parted breathlessly, as if she could see exactly what he was picturing. The room felt thick with silence, each slow tick of the clock on the mantel striking loudly in the background. The air between them was charged with tension. He could have let her go. He should have, but the tiny interlocking of their fingers seemed so innocuous. So innocent.

Hardly dangerous at all.

He looked down and soothed his thumb over the backs of her knuckles. Why the fascination with her hands? Perhaps because she hid them from him? He was tempted to peel the glove off and press his lips to the smooth skin of her wrist, to feel the kick of her pulse against his tongue. Blood pounded through his temples. For once, he understood why a woman’s hands should always be gloved.

Rosa sucked in a sharp breath, as if she hadn’t taken one since he’d touched her. “My lord?” A whisper, tight with need.

Damnation. He let her go, digging his fingers into the hard muscle of his thigh. His erection strained against the tight leather of his breeches, the muscles in his abdomen clenched. “My turn,” he said hoarsely.

He raked through questions in his mind. Why don’t you like having your hands touched? What did your father do to them? Who taught you to use a pistol? All of them sensible questions he wanted answers to. Instead, another arrested him.

“You said you didn’t love your husband at first. Did you ever love him?”

Rosa yanked her hand back to her side and pressed them both into her skirts. “That’s very forward.”

“I told you about Annabelle,” he replied. “And let’s not pretend you are shy or retiring. Tell me what he was like.”

Silence. “Nathaniel was a good man. Ambitious but kind. I thought it a fault at first, for he was always looking for the good in people, even when it wasn’t there. So different from myself.” She stilled. “I never realized what I felt for him until he was gone.”

Finally, some truth from her. Though it bothered him in a way he wouldn’t have expected. Lynch eyed the chessboard and realized he’d lost his entire strategy—with just one touch of her hand. He shoved a knight forward and leaned back.

“Now tell me what you meant about the choice of becoming a rogue being yours,” she said. Hot color stained her throat. The question about her husband had somehow touched a nerve.

“I hadn’t finished yet. I answered three questions in a row before. You owe me another two.”

A flare of temper in her eyes. Swiftly concealed. “Very well.”

“How long ago did your husband pass?”

“Eight years,” she said too quickly.

“And you never married again?”

“As you never loved again, neither did I,” she retorted.

“Do you ever get lonely?” The soft words were a mistake as soon as he said them.

Rosa stilled. She glanced his way, and despite himself, his treacherous mind chose to replay the image of her on her knees, sliding those satin gloves up the naked muscle of his thighs.

“That’s three,” she replied, her tongue wetting her lips.

“Answer it.”

“I have my brothers.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

Fury and desire vibrated through her. The dichotomy of character intrigued him; Mrs. Marberry had been calm and flirtatious in all situations, except now, when he pushed her. He wanted to push more, to break that cool control and find out just how far the depths of her passion ran.

Such a move was dangerous though, for he was not immune to her. Not at all. The flush of blood through his body only served to remind him that she was scant inches away, a flimsy table between the pair of them. It would be a simple matter to kick the table aside and drag her into his arms.

If he were a lesser man.

She glared at him, the heat of her gaze cutting through him like a knife. “Of course I get lonely. I’m a widow, not a virgin.” Jerking her gaze away, she grabbed her knight and took his rook. “The question is,” she said, tossing the rook carelessly beside his captured pieces, “whether you do?”

“I’m a man. There are other avenues open to me,” he replied, trying to examine the board to see where the play had moved.

“True.” He could feel her hot little gaze on him. “That’s not an answer though, but an evasion. Which you are quite skilled at, I notice. Don’t you like being under the microscope, my lord?”

A faint tightening of the muscle in his jaw. He took a pawn and began to outline a campaign that would see her swiftly finished. “I’m too busy to think about female companionship.”

“Now that,” she murmured, “is a lie.”

Taking her rook, she smashed his pawn off the board. As he’d intended.

Their eyes met.

“You think about me,” she challenged, leaning back in the chair and rolling the captured pawn between the black satin of her fingers. A slight smile curled over her lips; whatever advantage he thought he’d taken, she’d evidently recovered. The tip of the pawn brushed against her lips, then back again, tracing that enigmatic smile.

Lynch forced himself to shrug. “Of course I do. You’re a handsome woman of a certain age, and I am forced to spend a great deal of time in your company. I’m only a man.”

“How…passionate a declaration.” Her smile deepened, eyes shining bright. “Do you know what I think sometimes when you’re around?”

Danger. He accepted the challenge with a cool look. “What?”

She curled the pawn in her palm, slowly dragging it down over the lace at her throat and across the gray French serge. It dipped over each curve and his gaze went with it. “I think about all these buttons I want to unlatch.” Her small pink tongue darted out and wet her lips. “Starting perhaps with this one?” The pawn was gone; he hadn’t even noticed the sleight-of-hand. Instead her gloves found the velvet button directly beneath her chin. One deft move and it popped open.

Not even a hint of skin revealed, but suddenly the room felt far too small. He swallowed hard, leather creaking as his thighs clenched. What the hell had happened? How had he lost control of this entire situation?

“I love how fiercely you control yourself,” she murmured. Her smile was entirely coy, her gaze watchful. She felt safe now, when it was he who was so evidently distressed. “Another button, sir?”

His lips thinned and he leaned back in the chair. Curse her, but he wouldn’t cry foul. “As you wish.”

“Mmm, not even a hint of concern. You’re very good, my lord.” The second button gave. This time skin gleamed through, warm with her body heat.

The scent of her perfume grew stronger. Everything in him wanted to shove that fucking table out of the way and drag her into his lap. A vein in his temple throbbed. But he hadn’t learned control over all these years for nothing.

“It’s very tempting,” he said. “Would you like more tea?”

“I would like,” she purred, “to undo all of these wretched buttons.”

“If you start this game,” he warned her, “I will finish it.”

Their gazes locked. Dueled. The damned woman smiled. “I dare you, sir.”

Leaning forward, he poured her another cup of tea, anything to keep his mind and body busy. The knuckles of his hands tightened as he heard her fingers whisper over another button. He didn’t dare look up.

“I would like to undo all of your buttons too, my lord—”

His hand shook and tea spilled across the polished silver tray. Fuck. He shot her a dark look and then froze at the sight of her bare décolletage. It barely revealed more than her green dress the other day, but the way she was sitting there, calmly unbuttoning her gown nearly did him in.

“I don’t have buttons,” he replied sharply, cursing the hoarseness of his voice.

“Not on your coat, no.” Her gaze dipped, dark lashes fluttering against her smooth cheeks. Leaning forward, her bodice gaping, she took the teapot from him and accepted her cup and saucer. “But then, I wasn’t speaking of your coat.”

The only buttons he had were on his trousers. Mercy. His cock swelled and he shifted to hide the sight.

“I’m more interested in yours.” He smiled tightly, determined to regain the upper hand. “Another button, my dear?”

She sipped her tea, holding the saucer elegantly. “What will you give me?”

Anything you wish. “What would you like?”

Those vibrant brown eyes warmed in victory before she looked down demurely. “Tell me, why would you choose to become a rogue?”

“You hate not knowing, don’t you?”

“My affliction.” She smiled, fingers trembling over the next button. “How much would you like to see more?”

“Very much.”

“Then answer me.”

His eyes hooded. “The year I turned fifteen, I told my father I had no intentions of dueling Alistair. He was furious, but no matter how much he raged, I would not give in. So he forced my hand. He orchestrated it so that when it came time for the blood rites, the Council offered me a choice: duel Alistair for the right of heir or be denied the rites.”

Her fingers tensed on the button, as if surprised. “You chose to deny yourself your birthright?”

“It wasn’t worth it. Not if I had to kill my cousin.” He gestured. “Now, I believe that has answered your question.”

His hot gaze devoured her. Mrs. Marberry gave him a coy smile and slowly, slowly undid the next button. “Satisfied?”

His body burned. “Hardly.”

That earned another smile. They were almost as devastating as her slow manner of undressing.

“Now,” she murmured, “your turn.”

He stared at her. “I thought you didn’t like being questioned.”

“I mean to play fair, sir.”

“I doubt that.”

Another enigmatic little smile that made his cock clench. She sipped her tea.

Where to begin? Hell, what had he even asked her so far? He raked a hand through his hair. “How long were you married to your husband?”

“Five months.” Shadows flickered through her gaze, then vanished. She stared at him, her gaze cutting right through him. “A button, my lord. That is the forfeit, is it not?”

It took him moments longer than it should have to understand what she meant. Heat flushed into his cheeks and he pinned her ruthlessly with his gaze.

Rosa sipped her tea. Patient. Waiting. Practically daring him.

If he wanted to know more, he had to indulge her—even if indulging her was the worst mistake he could ever make.

I can control this. He gave her a brief nod, acknowledging her victory, then dropped his hands to the top button of his breeches. His coat was long enough to cover himself decently, though any sense of decency had long since left this room.

Yet slipping the button free felt like the first step to the hangman’s noose. His vision was swimming again, dipping between gray tones and color, his entire body on edge. He grabbed the decanter and poured himself more blud-wein—anything to take the edge off.

“How did you become a blue blood then, if you were denied the rites?” she asked.

“It was Alistair’s idea. He said he felt guilty for what had happened to me and suggested a plan. He would infect me with his blood and we would both be blue bloods, free of our father’s influences.”

“A curious choice of words,” she murmured. “‘He said he felt guilty…’”

“I have always wondered,” he replied. “To go against Council edict was foolish and I knew that.”


“Annabelle came to me that night professing her…her feelings for me. We could be together, but only if I were a blue blood. Her father would never allow her to forge a consort contract with a human.”

“Do you think they were working together?”

“I think the duke wanted to make sure that I could never overthrow his son,” he replied. “What had occurred with me was unusual, and there were members of the Council querying it. If I were named rogue, however, my chances were forever lost.”

Rosa sipped her tea, thoughtful. “So Annabelle gets to become duchess, Alistair remains heir—and by all means pleases a father I suspect was rather forceful—and the duke gets everything he wants. They trapped you very neatly.”

“Yes, I suspect they did.”

Rosa frowned. “You seem very calm about it all. I would be furious.”

“What good would it have done? I was very fond of Annabelle, no matter whether she lied to me or not. I had no wish to hurt her, nor Alistair. You’re right in your assessment of his father. In truth, Alistair might have gotten what he deserved—he still had to live with that monster.”

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