Mrs. Dove-Lyon said, “You have one hour in which you may get to know one another. In that time, you will also share a single kiss. At the end of the hour, you should know if you suit one another or not.”
Emma had never been kissed. Ever. The thought of sharing a kiss with Lord Z flustered her. She could feel her cheeks heating.
She felt Lord Z’s eyes upon her, which caused her face to flame further. All thoughts of conversation fled as she inhaled the subtle spice of his cologne. He was broader than he’d appeared from a distance and took up too much space. He was much too close for her to think.
“Tell me something about yourself,” she said.
“I am an only son of a peer. I adore my niece and nephews. Having children is part of the reason I am here tonight.” He smiled ruefully. “And I seek a bride with a large dowry.”
“Many young women making their come-out possess one.”
“They were all so young. So green. I am thirty, Lady A, and felt old enough to be their father. I long for a woman I can converse with. One who wants to be a good wife and mother and yet remain her own person, interested in all manner of ideas.”
Lord Z squeezed her hand. “Family is very important to me. Are you open to this possibility?”
“It is the only reason I seek a husband,” Emma said. “I have longed for children.”
He smiled and it was as if the sun had come out from behind the clouds. It filled her with a warmth she’d never known.
“Do you have anything else you wish to ask of me, Lady A?”
She didn’t. Her heart told her he would be her choice.
“No, Lord Z.”
“Then I suppose we must accomplish the task Mrs. Dove-Lyon assigned to us.”
Emma’s pulse quickened.
“May I kiss you, Lady A?”
Adam guided his horse in front of hers and they reached the water quickly. He dismounted and then went to aid Thea. He captured her waist, his hands spanning it, and brought her to the ground.
And didn’t let go.
They continued gazing at each wordlessly, something passing between them that he might never be able to explain.
Then she said, “I’ve missed riding. Remind me never to break my leg again.”
“I’ve other things to remind you of, Thea,” he said, his voice husky and low. “Important things.”
She licked her lips nervously. “What, Your Grace?”
He bent and touched his lips to hers. His fingers tightened on her waist. Her palms flattened against his chest. He pressed soft kisses against her mouth, his thumbs stroking her ribs. She sighed.
Adam longed to taste her. He urged her mouth open and his tongue swept inside.
Her fingers clutched his waistcoat. She whimpered—and he delved deeper, doing more than merely sampling. She tasted divine. Like the best sweet he’d ever indulged in, though a thousand times better. Her tongue met his and begin teasing it as she kissed him back. His hands moved to her slender back and traveled the length of it, up and down, as they continued to kiss. And kiss. And kiss. Adam had never known a kiss such as this. One that caused his heart to beat rapidly. That filled him with a giddiness that made him want to shout with joy. A kiss that told him everything he needed to know.
He wanted this woman in his life. Now. Forever.
Derek couldn’t take her. She belonged to another, even if her husband had no interest in her. By law, Amelia could never be his. Kissing her now was madness and would only result in heartbreak for them both.
Breaking the kiss, he touched his forehead to hers. They both breathed quickly, almost panting. He inhaled her perfume as he brought her flush against him, feeling her breasts pressing against his chest. What he wouldn’t give to erase the mistakes he’d made, knowing she’d rushed into Trumbull’s arms merely because Derek had cast her aside. He would have to live with that the rest of his life. See her unhappiness as the years unwound. Watch her grow old and bitter, never fulfilled with children, much less have a loving husband and safe home.
“I know you are not only a man of principle but very kindhearted because you brought Diana back into your family.”
He lifted his head from hers. “I loved her. Father banishing her from Esterley never meant I stopped loving her. I brought Diana home as soon as I could.”
Amelia studied him, a slight frown creasing her brow. “I know it’s asking a lot. I’m not asking for love. I’m just so lonely, Derek. I was hoping you would agree … to become my lover. For just one night.”
“I’d like to see you beyond tea, Diana,” he said, his voice low as his gaze sought hers.
“You … would you like … to go for a drive after tea?”
“That would be nice—but I can think of something even nicer.”
Oliver cupped the nape of her neck and saw her eyes widen. The irises darkened. He didn’t say anything, giving her time to refuse his advance if she wished.
And anticipate what would come if she didn’t.
Her tongue darted out and moistened her lips. She didn’t say no. He took that as an encouraging sign.
“I’m going to kiss you, Diana. Do you want this as much as I do?” he asked softly.
“Yes,” she whispered. “Maybe even more than you.”
He sensed the current that ran between them as his fingers tightened slightly. His thumb stroked her neck and finally stopped where her pulse fluttered wildly.
“I promise you won’t forget this first kiss between us.”
“Oh, I forgot my reticule in Walton’s office,” Caroline told Luke, worrying her bottom lip.
He couldn’t understand why women even carried them, much less why Caroline fretted, especially since they’d be back at Evie’s tomorrow morning. “Do you need it?”
A blush tinting her porcelain cheeks. “Actually, I do. I’d ordered a … special book. It came in and I slipped it inside my reticule.”
He captured her waist, his thumbs massaging her ribcage. He loved watching her eyes go large and the hitch in her breath. “How special?”
“It was … something I thought … we might look at tonight. Together,” she demurred.
He lowered his face till his lips were hovering above hers. “It’s naughty?”
“Yes,” she said, the corners of her mouth turning up. “Rachel told me about it.”
He chuckled. “Leave it to my sister to find something like that.”
“Rachel said it’s very interesting. And there are all kinds of things to … try out.”
Luke’s lips touched hers and he took his time leisurely exploring her mouth, enjoying those little noises that came from the back of her throat. He broke the kiss.
“Then I better go back and retrieve it. We’ve only tonight to ourselves to enjoy total peace and quiet till the monsters return tomorrow.”
Caroline swatted him playfully. “They are not,” she protested. “They are the sweetest of children and you love them dearly.”
“I do love them dearly,” he agreed, nuzzling her neck. “And I adore their mama even more.”
Just as Ferand reached where two hallways intersected, a figure rounded the corner at blazing speed and crashed into him. Instinctively, Ferand grabbed on to someone’s elbows and looked down.
His gaze met the deep, green eyes of Elia de Wolfe.
“Come back!” a voice called from a distance.
Lady Elia cursed under her breath. She removed a scroll hidden inside her kirtle and slammed it against his chest.
“Take it!” she hissed.
Ferand released one of her elbows and accepted the small scroll. The seal remained affixed. On it was a head of a wolf. He assumed it was a missive to her from a family member, most likely her father.
“Hide it,” she commanded as the footsteps grew louder.
She pulled on him, leading him around the corner. “Promise me you will not read it.”
He saw the panic welling in her face and how she fought against it.
“I won’t.” Ferand slid it inside his tunic.
“Lady Elia!” The voice came closer.
“God’s Bones,” she murmured. Looking around, she pulled Ferand toward a nearby alcove and pushed him partially in it.
“Kiss me,” she ordered. “And make it look like the kiss of your life.”
Ferand needed no further invitation.
Geoffrey said, “I have something for you this Christmas Day.”
Surprise filled Merryn’s face. “Me? That wasn’t necessary.”
“It was to me.”
He stood and went into their bedchamber, fetching the pair of earrings he’d had the village jeweler craft. He wrapped his fingers around his palm so they couldn’t be seen and returned to the solar, wrapping his arms around his wife’s waist and pulling her close.
“Do you remember what I gave you on our wedding night?” he asked.
“You gave me a brooch from France. I wear it every day.” She fingered the piece resting on her breast.
“I told you the sapphire stones reminded me of your eyes.”
Merryn smiled. “I remember. I remember everything about that night.”
He brought one arm between them and opened his hand, palm up. “These also are the deep blue of your eyes.”
“Oh, Geoffrey!” She stared at the earrings. “They’re lovely.”
“Put them on,” he urged.
His wife took one and fastened it to her earlobe and then did the same with the other.
“They match your eyes,” he told her. “I’ve never seen eyes as blue as yours.” Geoffrey cupped her cheek. “This Christmas is the first of many we will spend together, Merryn.”
He brushed the back of his fingers against her belly. “Next Christmas, our family will grow by one. I hope more children are to come.”
“I love you so much, Geoffrey.”
“I will always love you, Merryn. Forever and ever.”
Standing before him was a woman of incandescent beauty.
Her hair drew Godwin’s eyes. It spilled about her shoulders and down past her waist. It was as if it had been lit afire and burned with all of the shades found in flames. He itched to run his fingers through the silken waves. Vibrant, green eyes dominated her oval face, though pink, full lips tempted him to kiss her before he spoke to her.
Pushing that notion aside, he asked, “What’s your name, pet?”
Her eyes narrowed in displeasure. “What is yours?” she countered, raising her chin a notch.
Beautiful and brave. A lethal combination.
Godwin couldn’t help but chuckle at her daring, a mere slip of a woman standing up to a pirate. “I am Captain Godwin Trenoweth of Poseidon’s Legion. Some even call me God of the Seas.”
Her nose crinkled in disgust. “Oh. A pirate. I’ve heard of them. They take what isn’t theirs.”
He closed the distance between them. “They do,” he confirmed. “Your name, my lady? I’ve told you mine.”
She hesitated a moment and then said, “Melisent Winchester.”
Godwin knew the king had been known as Henry of Winchester before he took his Plantagenet throne. Clever of her to use that surname. She also wore something shapeless of undyed wool, a gray, colorless thing that was no better than a sack covering her, instead of the finery that a princess would wear.
Idly, he wondered what lay beneath the sack.