“I don’t need your pity, Miss Jenson,” Miles said harshly.
“It isn’t pity I feel, Your Grace. It is sorrow for the injustice you suffered. Heartache for the helpless little boy who was uprooted from his home and taken from everything he had ever known.”
His hands tightened on hers. “And what do you feel for the man, Miss Jenson?”
“Desire,” she whispered.
His eyes darkened. “So do I.”
His head bent, moving closer until his lips touched hers. A spark flashed between them. He released her hands and took her by the shoulders, drawing her to him, even as his mouth pressed firmly against hers. Her palms moved to his broad chest, feeling the hard muscles beneath his layers of clothing.
Emery had never been kissed. A humming seemed to invade her body and her senses sharpened. The feel of his wool coat beneath her palms. The sandalwood soap rising from his heated skin. Hers, too, felt on fire as he continued to kiss her, making her heart slam against her ribs and her knees threaten to buckle.
This was madness.
Emery was kissing a duke. In public. A man so far above her station that it caused her head to reel. Though they were in the far corner of the church’s graveyard, anyone who entered it might see them.
She pushed him away, breaking the kiss. Her breath came in quick, short spurts, as did his. He gazed at her, those blue eyes glowing with need.
“My sincerest apologies, Your Grace,” she said stiffly, whirling to return to her horse.
His fingers locking around her elbow.
“What is your name?” he rasped.
She tried to shake him off but he only tightened his grasp.
“Your name, Miss Jenkins. Your Christian name.”
Before Meadow could speak, the duke took her hand and slipped it through the crook of his arm. He ushered her from the drawing room and along the corridor.
“Please show me Marshmore’s gardens, my lady. I think the fresh air will do both of us some good.”
Her head spinning, she brought them to Tilda’s sitting room, where they exited from a set of French doors. The gardens lay only a few steps away and the duke led her to the entrance and down the path.
They strolled for a few minutes, no words between them. She didn’t know what kind of conversation he expected after the dramatic scene in the drawing room. As for her, she was overwhelmed by his sheer size. He was tall and broad and smelled marvelous. Her body brushed against his slightly as they moved, causing her belly to do continuous flipflops, keeping her off-balance.
She finally stopped their motion. “Why did you wish to speak with me, Your Grace?”
“I believe we have a great deal to say to one another, Meadow.”
The use of her name coming from his sensual lips caused an explosion of butterflies to flap their wings inside her.
“I did not give you leave to call me by my Christian name, Your Grace. We are not and never will be that familiar with one another.”
“I totally disagree,” he said, his voice a low rumble. “I think we will become very familiar with one another, Meadow.” His tone had turned flirtatious.
She realized he was a rogue. Just like the very ones he had warned her against last night.
“If you think I will be lured to your bed like the rakes you cautioned me about, you are mistaken, Your Grace. No man will tempt me enough to behave as a wanton. I may be a widow but I have my pride and reputation to consider. I neither want nor need to have an affair with you.”
He placed his hands upon her shoulders, sending a rush of heat through her.
“Oh, I am not interested in an affair, Meadow.”
With that, he lowered his head. She started to protest. Then his lips touched hers.
He was … kissing her …
She had never been kissed.
Donovan had never wanted a woman more than he did Wynter.
And because of that, he had to rein himself in. Practicing self-control was not something he ever exercised. Especially around beautiful women.
But he would do it or be damned forever. Because for some ungodly, crazy, wonderful, incredible, impossible reason—he saw a future with this woman.
It scared him, but he had never been one to let fear manipulate him. He dictated to it, not the other way around.
Whatever it took. However long it took. Someway, somehow, someday.
He was going to wed and bed this woman.
Despite her declaration of never planning to marry.
In fact, he looked upon it as the greatest challenge of his life, one which would bring the sweetest reward. Wynter was an amazing woman. She would keep him on his toes. She would never bore him. And suddenly, though he had never given children a moment of thought, he wanted to plant his seed deep within her. Donovan wanted to see Wynter’s belly swell with his child. No other man’s. He wanted to mate with her. Build a life with her.
And possibly become the duke Sam would have been.
Passing an alley next to a bookshop he had stopped in a few days ago, Hart saw a group of boys and the back of a woman. One boy moved menacingly toward her and before Hart could act, the woman swung her reticule into the boy’s head. Her other arm swiftly came up and the boy howled as Hart saw blood sprout from his nose.
Hart glared at the boys, who caught sight of him and rushed past the woman. Her head bent and she cooed softly before turning around and spying him. Her eyes widened and he was drawn in by them. They were a bluish-gray and had depths he suddenly wanted to explore. He took in the rest of her, petite with blond hair and an oval face. She was very pretty though her mouth trembled. She wore an old shawl and a gown of faded blue which had seen better days.
A faint meow sounded and they both looked to the furball she held close to her. Hart stepped forward.
“Is it your kitten?” he asked softly.
The woman shook her head, dropping her gaze to focus on the black furball. “No, I came across those boys on my way to the bookshop. They were torturing the poor thing, lighting matches and holding them to it.”
An expletive escaped his lips and he apologized.
“No need to apologize, my lord,” she told him. “I have a few choice words to call those ruffians myself.”
Hart didn’t correct her. He had been Your Graced enough so that he was sick of hearing it. Instead, he touched the pad of his thumb between the ears of the kitten. Despite its mistreatment, he heard it purring.
“She likes you,” the woman murmured, smiling at the kitten—and him.
“It is your first ball,” Olivia said. “We want you to feel comfortable and surrounded by friends.” She smiled. “Are you ready to dance?”
Finch nodded. “Thanks to you I am. How many dances do I have to dance to appear sociable?”
Olivia had told him about the card room, where he could retreat, as well as the supper room, where some gentlemen gathered to sip port before or after supper was held.
“Already trying to get out of dancing?” Miles teased.
“Olivia has me sufficiently frightened of the number of people who might be chasing after me this evening, especially doting mamas who wish to see their girls attached to a duke.”
Emery laughed. “Just glower at them. You are quite good at that, Finch. That should scare off a large portion of them. The ones left are the brave ones. Those are the ladies that might be a challenge to you.”
“And why would I seek a challenge, Emery?” he posed.
“Because you would be bored otherwise,” Hart supplied. “You are brilliant, Finch. It will take a special woman to hold your attention.”
“You seem to think I should marry quickly,” he said.
“Not quickly,” Miles replied. “But I fancy you’ll know your duchess soon after you meet.”
“What if I told you I wasn’t looking for a duchess?”
“Good for you, Finch,” Olivia said. “You don’t need to look for one.”
“I don’t?” he questioned.
“No.” She smiled. “Deliberately looking won’t get you anywhere. It happens when you least suspect it. In fact, I would say you definitely shouldn’t be looking to wed. It is the best way to be surprised.”
Finch wanted no surprises. No duchess. He settled against the seat and refrained from speaking the rest of the way. He would dance a few times. Allow his friends to introduce him to people. But he would not be tempted by any woman.
Tonight or any other night.