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Lady Stephanie Lakes sat quietly and adjusted the skirts of her pale blue watered silk gown with a languid movement, waiting as the man behind the desk frowned over the document in his hand.
Eventually, Sir Phillip Marston looked up and gave her a grim smile. "So you do not think he is the infamous spy, Partisan, my lady."
She shook her head slightly. "I am not certain, of course, but I as of yet cannot find any evidence to support the suspicion. I also do not think he is the kind of man who would betray his country."
"This conclusion is based on sharing his bed for a week? I have always thought it might take a bit longer to know the true measure of what lies inside a human being. Keep in mind, our quarry is well-used to deception as well as treachery, my dear." His tone was dry and Sir Phillip lifted bushy gray brows.
"The concept is not foreign to me." Having learned a long time ago to school her expression, Stephanie just smiled slightly. "I was with my husband a great deal during his time in Spain, was I not? That is why you recruited me and that is why I tell you that I think Colonel Kingsley is no more and no less than what he seems--a wounded hero of Wellington's most grueling campaigns come back to England to recover and resume the life of a gentleman."
"Including acquiring a beautiful aristocratic mistress?" Marston's face was craggy, his clever eyes very dark under those heavy brows, and when he smiled, he looked a bit like a wolf ready to pounce on his prey. "As always, your stunning beauty is an asset to our little endeavors, Madame." He tapped her report with a crooked forefinger. "If the whispers are true and Partisan has left Spain and returnedto England, there are a few other men who could be suspects for the role of our wily adversary. One is a close acquaintance of your handsome lover, which is convenient for our purposes. It would be suspicious for you to suddenly lose interest, and besides, before I exonerate the Colonel, I wish to have his study thoroughly searched. My orders are to continue to generously use your considerable charms on our heroic suspect and contact me at once if necessary. Also gather whatever information you can on Major Mark Chase."
Not expecting Sir Phillip to be easily convinced, Stephanie merely inclined her head. It was illogical, and she knew it, but being commanded to sleep with Daniel Kingsley eased her guilt over the fact she enjoyed every moment in his arms. "When do you propose the search? I can make sure he is ... occupied."
"I am sure you can," Marston said in smooth amusement. "That is why I admire you, my dear Lady Lakes, you are both lovely and resourceful. Tonight will do. My men will wait until the two of you return from the little gathering you are attending at the Houghton's. Once you retire upstairs, his servants will go to bed. Please make sure the Colonel does not leave the bedroom for at least two hours. That should be plenty of time to do the job with infinite care."
Stephanie rose. "Very well."
Outside the dim, small window, the street shimmered in the afternoon heat, carriages lurched past, and street vendors screeched into the sultry air. She would exit the seedy building as she came, in a closed hack used for clandestine meetings such as this, her identity hidden and her destination a public place where she would catch yet another conveyance to take her home.
As she turned to leave, Sir Phillip said coolly, "Tell me, my lady, for I am curious, what made you agree to seducing Kingsley? In the past, though you have charmed and beguiled, you have refused to actually bed any of our subjects. I respected your virtuous convictions, even if they were ... problematic for my purposes, because you were still a very valuable agent. Why is this assignment different?"
Though it did not happen often, she flushed slightly. "He is not the kind of man a woman can bat her eyelashes at and bring him to his knees. Flirtation only amuses him. His pursuit was very direct and his objective quite clear. Had I resisted for too long, he would have wondered why I started the game in the first place. Whatever else he proves to be, hero or traitor, Daniel is not a fool."
"I see." Marston's expression was inscrutable. "You do realize the folly of letting your feelings become engaged, I assume."
Recovering her composure, Stephanie elevated a brow. "I lost my husband to a French bullet, Sir Phillip. My life is devoted to bringing Bonaparte to his knees. Falling in love with the Colonel does not suit my purposes."
But as she left the dingy little office and walked slowly down the shrouded stifling hallway, she wondered if her plans of indifference had already gone awry.
Something wasn't quite right. He could always sense it, like the building tension before a battle. Daniel Kingsley watched the woman sitting across from him in the carriage and registered nothing but her usual serene and unrivaled beauty, and the slight smile on her soft lips as she gazed back with her signature emerald green eyes.
How easy, he thought cynically as they rumbled along the cobbled streets, to be captivated by her striking allure. The male members of the haute ton referred to his new mistress behind her back as the Luscious Lady Lakes. Raven-haired, with flawless ivory skin and those remarkable verdant eyes, she was gorgeous in a way completely different from the popular golden-haired, blue-eyed misses that graced London's ballrooms and soirees. Lush and graceful, her body also took his breath away. Tonight she was stunning in a gown the color of fine claret that showed off the smooth upper swells of her full breasts. He remembered only too well how she felt in his arms, how hotly welcoming and seductive when he moved between her pale thighs...
However, everything about the lady wasn't as it appeared.
"You seem preoccupied this evening, Daniel," Stephanie murmured, one hand lifting to lightly brush away an errant ebony curl that had escaped her coiffure. "Is something wrong?"
"That is odd you should ask," he replied, lounging back and lifting a brow. "I was actually thinking the same about you, my dear."
She looked a little startled, her eyes widening. "Me? No, I assure you. I had a wonderful time at the party, though I do feel we were rather the topic of conversation the entire duration." She made a moue of distaste. "Perhaps we are lucky that most everyone is in the country because of this awful remorseless heat. I loathe people whispering behind my back, but I suppose it is inevitable. Discretion simply does not work when one has servants, does it?"
Recalling their first night of impetuous lovemaking, Daniel remarked dryly, "When one falls asleep from sheer sexual exhaustion and fails to duck out in a gentlemanly fashion before the staff awakens, then I don't think discretion applies. Let's face it, darling, we were fairly caught out by your maid. I could have jumped, stark naked, I suppose, from your bedroom window, but there would still have been the dilemma of how to get home unnoticed."
He knew she was absolutely not promiscuous, in fact, quite the opposite, for she had a reputation as being unattainable. In fact, he had been surprised--pleasantly so--when she asked a friend to introduce them, and even more so when she proved receptive to his admittedly heated interest. Chagrin over the scandalous public disclosure of their newfound intimate relationship was understandable, he supposed, and it made her all the more attractive.
She lifted an elegant dark brow. "I am glad you fully accept the responsibility for our current notoriety, Colonel."
"The price," he said softly and meaningfully, "is well worth the reward."
Something flickered in her green gaze, a reflection of the same sexual anticipation, perhaps, that he felt for the night ahead. One slim hand slightly adjusted her skirts in a slow movement. "Oh, I see. You feel rewarded when we make love?"
One of the things that so intrigued him about the woman sitting across from him was what he sensed to be a complexity of personality, which separated her from any other lover he had ever bedded. He didn't consider himself a shallow man, but usually, he sought willing women who desired little more than a pleasant sexual interlude. Up until this point in his life, there had been no room for anything other than transient relationships. One did not seek love and permanence when fighting a war. As gallantly as possible, he responded with deliberate flowery flattery, mimicking some of her poetic admirers. "The privilege of being able to kiss your hand is reward enough, my lady. Anything else is sheer heaven."
Stephanie laughed at his exaggerated speech. "Heaven would be very nice."
"I'll do my best."
"Then I will not be disappointed."
Daniel grinned. "That sounds like a challenge."
"I can only stay a few hours," she responded, sounding a little breathless, "for I wish to maintain some semblance of propriety. My sister-in-law's arrival in London yesterday makes everything so much less convenient, since she is staying with me. We will have to utilize the time we have wisely."
His body reacted to those soft suggestive words with predictable alacrity, his erection starting to swell. "I'll endeavor to make every moment count, my lady."
The carriage started to slow as he spoke, rocking in a few moments to a halt.
His townhouse was well lit in anticipation of his arrival home for the evening. After informing his driver he would need to be available to take Lady Lakes home later, Daniel escorted Stephanie up the steps and inside the foyer, one hand on her slim waist, his body starting already to tighten in need. Dismissing the young footman who hovered by the door for the night with a murmured thanks, he waited until the young man disappeared down the hall. Leaning forward, he inhaled the delicate fragrance of her floral perfume, whispering in her ear, "You enchant me."
"Take me upstairs," she said in hushed response. "Now, Daniel ... I need you."
The invitation was more than enough, as was the quiver of open desire in her voice. Lifting her in his arms, he took the long curving stairs swiftly, carrying her into his bedroom and kicking the door shut with his foot.
He deposited her on the bed he'd had sent over from Spain, a massive piece of dark, beautiful carved wood that once belonged to a powerful don, the artistry of the work remarkable. Waist high, it was an impressive size and dominated the room, and it was even more lovely with Stephanie lounging on it in a languid sprawl of enticing pale skin and rumpled silken skirts. She reached up and pulled the pins from her hair so it slid over her shoulders in a heavy, raven mass that gleamed in the thin moonlight coming in the window. "Undress me," she whispered, looking up at him from under her lush lashes.
"You must have read my mind," he said huskily, lifting her wine-colored skirts and running his hands up the long length of her legs. Deftly unfastening her garters, he slid off one silk stocking, and then the other, his fingers gliding against her warm, satin skin, taking her slippers as well. Her feet were dainty and small in his hands. He leaned forward and kissed her bare ankle, grazing her calf with his mouth.
She shivered in reaction, her lashes drifting lower.
His cock was entirely rigid now, just from the fragrance of her skin and the sight of her compliant, waiting body on his bed. "Lift your arms," he ordered as he urged her to a sitting position. "Yes, that's it exactly. I want to take off your dress without doing it damage, but I'm a little impatient, as maybe you can see."
Her gaze dropped to the bulge in his tight breeches, and she smiled, a secretive feminine smile that made his blood race even faster. "You look very interested in something, Colonel."
"You'll see just how interested in just a moment," he promised on a low growl, his fingers moving on the intricate fastenings of her fashionable gown. In record time, he managed to fully disrobe her, and Stephanie reclined, nude and all opulent curves, as he jerked off his cravat and shirt, then sat down to remove his boots and breeches.
He joined her, climbing onto the high bed, his arms closing around her slender, voluptuous body as he tugged her into his embrace and an ardent kiss that reflected his current state of high need. Her mouth was warm, sweet and receptive, and he used his tongue to explore every inch, tasting her lips time and again as his cock throbbed against the soft flat plane of her stomach. Slim fingers slid into his hair as she kissed him back with equal open desire.
Freeing her mouth, he teased the perfect line of her jaw, kissing the fragile hollow beneath her ear, lightly nipping at her earlobe. "I am not at all sure how long I am going to last this first time. Just a word of warning."
Her laugh was low and seductive. "You do feel very ... eager, Daniel."
Sliding a hand between their bodies, she found him, lightly encircling his stiff penis with exploring fingers, which squeezed lightly and made the breath go out of his chest. His testicles were full and heavy and ached with that teasing touch. "That's not going to help," he rasped against her smooth skin, his mouth trailing down to where her pulse beat in her throat with a light and rapid rhythm. "And two, my lovely lady, can play that game."
Her breasts were opulent and firm, filling his palm to overflowing as he lifted one and tested the silken pliant weight, his bronzed fingers looking dark against the alabaster hue of her skin. Beautiful, deep rose nipples tightened as he fondled and caressed, becoming hard and puckered. Taking one taut crest into his mouth, he heard Stephanie gasp in pleasure, her eyes drifting shut as he began to suckle it deep and lave it with long hungry strokes of his tongue.
The ferocity of his arousal was too much for him to indulge long in foreplay; though somewhere in the back of his brain, he found that unsettling, for he usually had formidable sexual control. Heated lust overwhelmed his senses, gripping his entire body, and when he slid his hand between her legs to explore her sex, he was gratified to find the woman beside him was wet, hot, and ready. "Sorry for the lack of finesse, darling," he said on a harsh note of sheer animal need, and shifted easily, his knees pushing her slim legs apart. "I find my impatience overcomes any gentlemanly qualities I may possess. Hold on."
Guiding the tip of his erection to her entrance, he thrust inside. His eyes shut momentarily, white-hot rapture soaring through every nerve-ending. Her vaginal passage was tight, but yielding, the tiny inner muscles clenching around his carnal invasion. Ebony curls framed her pale shoulders and spilled over the coverlet. Her throat was an arched white column in the dim light as she made a low sexy sound of acceptance and dug her nails into his shoulders. "Daniel."
"I'm right here," he managed somehow to say, pushing deep between her open thighs. His whole body was tense, yearning, and he felt a gentle sweat sheen his skin.
Arms braced on either side of her luscious body, he began to move, settling into a rhythm of fast thrusts and withdrawals. Beneath him, Stephanie matched his urgency, lifting her hips to accept his rigid penetration, her hands imploring at the sensitive small of his back. The sensation was even more arousing because he felt her equal impatience, and he bent his head to take her mouth in a searing kiss that left them both breathless and gasping.
"Oh, yes," she moaned, her thighs tightening around his surging hips, her long dark lashes fluttering. Full breasts quivered and shifted with each thrust, and her smooth cheeks were flushed with the onslaught of her rising orgasm. He could feel the fluids of her arousal lubricating his cock, aiding the slick slide of his sex inside her vagina. She panted. "Harder."