A Lady's Pleasureby Renee Bernard
Seeking revenge, she discovers how delicious a case of mistaken identity can be....
Merriam Everett has always been regarded as a shy, docile creature. But for one night, Merriam the Mouse has become a temptress who will recklessly take her pleasure with the arrogant earl who once slighted her, and then leave him aching with lust. A fine/b>/big>… See more details below
Seeking revenge, she discovers how delicious a case of mistaken identity can be....
Merriam Everett has always been regarded as a shy, docile creature. But for one night, Merriam the Mouse has become a temptress who will recklessly take her pleasure with the arrogant earl who once slighted her, and then leave him aching with lust. A fine plan, if Merriam had not just seduced the wrong rogue!
Drake Sotherton left England amid dark speculation and has returned to seek vengeance against Julian Clay, the man he believes murdered his wife. Convinced that the masked beauty who seduced him is Julian's pawn, Drake tracks her down and proposes that she become his mistress for the Season. Every sensual desire, every secret longing will be explored...and fulfilled.
But keeping his enemy close is a dangerous game. Merriam is an irresistible mix of innocence and abandon, and each encounter proves more soul-searing than the last. With a passion this wild, this wonderful, one Season will never be enough....
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Meet the Author
Renee Bernard is a freelance writer for Romantic Times Bookclub magazine. A Lady's Pleasure is her first novel. She has also written a story, "Mischief's Holiday," for the anthology The School for Heiresses. Renee lives in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Northern California. Visit her website at ReneeBernardAuthor.com.
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Read an Excerpt
I have no use for whey-faced widows or limp-boned virgins.
She recalled the biting words with acidic clarity. Moments after she'd met a man who had made her heart come alive with desire, and made her wonder if all the years of longing had ended, that very same man, Julian Clay, the Earl of Westleigh, had quietly spoken those words to a nearby companion. Unaware of the devastating blast he'd delivered to the trembling soul on the other side of the column, he had chuckled at his friend's mumbled reply and set the wheels of Fate in motion.
That the words referenced her own slight impact on the notorious rake was not in doubt. Or at least that was what Merriam told herself with the cruel precision of long years of practice.
Merriam the Mouse. It was a nickname her father had given her that had lingered throughout her youth, and even into the lonely nightmare of her marriage to an older and indifferent man. Her husband had teased her with the pet name, using it when he wanted to dismiss his quiet wife and return to more important and pressing matters: matters that included his business interests, endless correspondences, and sleeping with her maidservants.
But the mouse had survived him. And tonight Merriam was determined to taste the forbidden pleasures whey-faced widows and limp-boned virgins only dreamt of -- lust and vengeance. Julian Clay would be hers, and she would show him just what a mouse was made of, then leave him wanting and aching -- the satisfaction hers alone to savor. She would bring London's most notorious rake to his knees, and then...she would walk away.
Lord Milbank's Grand Costume and Masked Ball was notorious for its decadent and outrageous delights. No self-respecting member of London's high society would ever admit to attending it, which of course meant no one who received an invitation would dream of missing it. It was the most coveted invitation of the Season.
Merriam handed over her own gilt envelope tied with red ribbons, amazed at the steadiness of her fingers. For her, weeks of preparation would culminate in this one night. After days of careful study and nights of restless need, the mouse was transformed. Tonight, she would be the cat.
"Has Merlin arrived?" she asked.
"Yes, m'lady," the butler responded.
"Could you have one of the servers find him and tell him that his familiar is here?" She ignored the twist of the heated knot in her stomach at her brazen request.
He nodded. "As you wish, m'lady."
Merriam smiled. Oh, yes, the lady wishes to teach the sorcerer a new kind of magic.
In black silk and draped velvet, she entered the crowded room. Amidst costumes of blinding color and opulent flashes of jewelry, Merriam knew she would stand out. Her costume made a mockery of modesty, a widow's darkest weeds turned into a sensual invitation. Her black velvet mask and cat's ears were simple, but the black ties that held them on and laced through her hair were deliberately too long, draping over her collarbone, accenting her bare shoulders and the curved flesh above her bodice. Her figure of bold curves was displayed in simple lines, finished with a shocking glimpse of red satin beneath the black velvet, drawing the eye down to the flash of color that hinted at the shape of her legs and slim ankles through the strategically placed slits in her skirt.
She had even gone so far as to dye her brown hair to jet-black with one crimson streak to match her costume.
Madame DeBourcier's last bit of advice echoed in her mind: You must feel sexual, invincible. It will emanate from you like heat, the scent of a woman who is ready, accessible, and willing. You must feel this power, then draw him to you.
She circled the room, avoiding small talk and ignoring the subtle bids for her attention from some of the bolder male guests. With every silky step, she felt a well of electricity start to pool between her legs and along the column of her spine. But several anxious minutes passed, and her confidence began to falter. She'd confirmed the layout of the house and even where the tryst would take place but.... What if her information about his costume had been incorrect? What if he wasn't even there? What if --
"You should be more careful." His voice came from behind her, the deep, masculine growl sending a delicious chill across her skin. "I thought familiars were supposed to stay close to their masters."
She turned to face him. "Ah, but then I am close, am I not?" He was taller than she remembered, but fear could color one's perception, and even as a cat, she knew this game could take many turns. He was masked, with his hair pulled back and powdered silver to match the gray silks of his beaded overcoat, embroidered with symbols of ancient magic and power. He was a strikingly handsome Merlin, and she made no effort to hide her appraisal, measuring him from head to toe as if Julian Clay were already hers.
At last, her eyes met the glittering heat of his through the barriers of mask and costume, and she felt the first hint of victory. Mine.
He watched her, fascinated by the open challenge in her eyes. Who was this woman who presented herself, a sensual offering from gods he couldn't remember praying to? "You could not be close enough for complaint, my dear familiar," he countered softly, trying to recall that, no matter who she was, the rules of "polite engagement" would still apply.
She took a slow step closer, her face tilting up to look at him, and he felt his breath catch in his throat. She was like a magnificent panther, and his hands itched to stroke every sleek line of her body.
"No? Let us see then, Sorcerer, how close a woman can get before you...complain." With a subtle shift, she moved past him, then glanced back over her shoulder, daring him to follow, as she sauntered toward a private corridor, away from the lights of the party.
He followed without hesitation, dismissing any rational thought to caution or care. The truth of the rumors of courtesans and whores mingling amidst the Ton at Milbank's infamous affair appeared all too possible. He watched the hypnotic sway of her hips as this "cat" led him into the shadows of his host's hallway. He anticipated being led into one of the house's bedrooms, but she held out her hand and drew him into an alcove hidden by heavy velvet drapes. Moonlight through the window cast them both in shades from purest white through the gray of shadows to deep darkness, and he noted their small, secret space appeared to have a conveniently cushioned window seat wide enough to accommodate a tryst.
He drew the drapes and turned, reassessing this creature in velvet and silk, her skin like cream inviting him to drink and her chin angled with pure bravado. But instinct whispered that here was no courtesan, no jaded prostitute. In the light of the moon, he reveled in the details of his "seductress" as she bit her lower lip and seemed to struggle over what to do with trembling hands that conveyed inexperience. Her eyes caught the direction of his gaze, and she began to try to hide her hands in her skirts. But he caught them effortlessly, intent on uncovering the mystery that pulsed with raw need behind her mask.
Her hands were soft -- her fingers long and tapered, her nails buffed smooth. They were the hands of a lady fluttering for escape, betraying her nervousness. No, this was no practiced whore, or even, he suspected, a wanton creature who had lost track of the lovers' beds she had visited. She was something else entirely. But exactly what, he could not yet say.
"How shall I please you, then, Master?" she purred, drawing his attention from her hands, forcing herself to face him in the cool and confined world of velvet and stone they would share for as long as the game lasted.
"Shall I tell you how?"
"And show you how?"
She swallowed, her heart skipping at the unbidden images the question evoked. After hours in Madame DeBourcier's parlor discussing the finer points of seducing a rogue, the time for talk was gone. Merriam wondered how she could ever have come to this place, could ever have conceived of anything so foolish, so laughable. But then he pulled her into his arms, and his mouth was on hers, tasting, teasing, consuming. She clung to the rugged heat of his chest and arms, feasting on the sensual fire of his kisses, devouring the raw pleasure, and gasping in shock to find, in just this first taste, that she may have underestimated her own need. Her own hunger.
He stroked the velvet of her dress with one hand. Finding the top of her bodice, his fingers dipped beneath the material to catch the peak of one nipple and free her breast from its confines. Merriam threw her head back, surprised at the streak of electricity that flowed from the touch of his hand on her breast, arching down to a sharp ache between her legs. God, she wanted his mouth there...everywhere.
"Who are you, Cat?"
She shook her head, fighting her need and the impulse to tell him anything...everything and anything he asked if only he would put his mouth against the sensitive coral tip of her breast. "Please..." The ragged whisper tore past her lips.
His mouth traced down the line of her jaw, guided by her desire. He gently took advantage of her exposed throat and followed her pulse to her collarbone, and to her breast to capture with his lips the impertinent peak that jutted into his fingers. He rolled his tongue around the flushed, taut flesh, mirroring the movement with his hand on her other breast, and grazed her with his teeth, nipping at the sensitive tip. She arched her back, her breath coming faster as he tried to teach his familiar about pleasure. Her own and his.
He tasted her breast, suckling her, drawing from her as if she were life and pleasure embodied. Her soft sighs and whimpers spun the heat and tension within him beyond his control -- beyond recall or reckoning. He reached down to draw a hand along the outer line of her thigh, lifting one of her legs up around his waist and shifting back to press through the layers of her skirts. He worked his arousal against the damp core between her thighs. She bucked against him, and his lips released her breast as the eager, unpracticed message of her movements nearly undid him.
He took one of her hands, which were clutching the lapels of his coat, and slowly loosened her grip. His tongue flicked along each fingertip just as it had lingered on her breast, teasing each sensitive pad and suckling each indent between fingers until he felt a small measure of control return.
"I...I want to touch you." Her whisper ended his strategy in one swift intake of breath. The cat's eyes glittered in the moonlight, and he accepted a new definition for the word surrender.
"Then touch me."
He offered no assistance, beyond freeing the hand he had just worshiped with his mouth. A hand that now memorized the landscape of muscle and bone beneath the smooth folds of his shirt as she relentlessly sought her prize.
She prayed he wouldn't notice her trembling fingertips but forgot that concern when her touch encountered the unmistakable length of him, the straining power of his need against the buttons of his trousers. Merriam dropped her eyes from his, captivated by the sight of her hands shamelessly caressing and stroking him through the cloth.
Whose hands are so bold? Is this me doing this? Aching to touch more of him? To have all of him? Who is this woman?
The power of the questions made her giddy, and without the need for any more urging, she freed him from his pants. The buttons gave way easily. The stark light and shadows revealed his erection in all its beauty. Merriam smiled at the sight. She was surprised at the length and girth, for he was much larger than her late husband.
She ran her fingers along the silken skin, teasing then gripping, stroking his flesh, making his breathing change. The heat of him burned her as she reveled in the hardness and the way his flesh jerked against her palms, swelling and beckoning for more of her touch, more of her attention. Suddenly, she wanted more too. Madame DeBourcier had said there was one way to enslave a man, to drive him wild, but Merriam had privately dismissed that portion of the lecture as completely beyond the pale. Now, though -- now, all she wanted was to taste him, to drink in the power of his flesh and to know what it would be to have the swollen, ripe head of him against her tongue and in her mouth. Merriam knelt down, her skirts fanning out around her.
"It's so beautiful," she murmured, and then she kissed him, slowly drawing one ivory pearl of moisture from the swollen tip and drinking in the sweet musk and salt before her mouth opened to enclose him.
He bit back a groan at the sensation, the sight of her on her knees, the unexpected brush of her breath against his erection, her whispered exclamation at his beauty. God, he wasn't sure how much longer he could keep from exploding. Her lips, her mouth, her tongue, so inexperienced, but God, she wrapped her fingers around him, the pressure exquisite, and the enthusiasm of her kisses made his thighs quiver. She closed her mouth over him again and pulled him slowly into its heat, the tip of her tongue flicking back and forth across the sensitive juncture at the tip of his shaft. His fingers tangled in her hair, his jaw clenched, determined to make it last.
Turnabout is fair play, kitten, he thought as he lifted her to her feet. Kissing her deeply, he used his tongue and teeth to seize control -- her breath mingling with his until she sagged against him with a sigh. He held her upright while he reached down to cup the soft curve of her bottom, stepping forward until the backs of her knees met the window seat. Gently he set her down on the cushions, holding her so that she was balanced on the edge of the bench, and knelt facing her. His hands spread her thighs and reached to her ankles to push up the sensual barrier of her petticoats. The material trailed over her knees and brushed along black stockings secured by saucy red ribbons, revealing that his cat was a bold creature after all. For above her stockings, the receding line of black and crimson cloth showed that she wore nothing at all. Moist and glistening curls above her lush and ripe succulent lips beckoned to him.
"W-what are you d-doing?"
He grinned. Her naïve and breathless question made him wonder again at the mystery of a woman who would dress so provocatively, no undergarments but silk stockings and ribbons, yet tremble like an untried virgin at the prospect of his most intimate kisses. "I thought we were going to find out how close a sorcerer could get to a woman before he 'complained'?"
There was almost no sound behind her response as he deliberately held his mouth above her, the air from his words the first feather touch against the wet satin of her skin. "But if you're shy," he intoned softly, "let us see what we can do."
His hand caught at one of the layers of her red silk petticoat and trailed the light material back over her, covering her with the thin illusion of a barrier against his touch. And then he lowered his mouth against the cloth and demonstrated how a sorcerer uses an illusion to achieve his desired ends.
His tongue traced the outline of her moist folds, the red silk wet within seconds from his mouth, from the liquid of her need, her body so slick, so ready to take him. But for now, there was only the tantalizing pressure of his tongue through her petticoat; heat and pressure, even the alternate cold and heat of his breath, all played against the silk. Merriam gripped the pillows, fighting and reveling in it all at once. To be touched there and not entirely touched. It was maddening.
"Are you shy?" he whispered against her, his tongue flicking over the tight bud of her clitoris. Merriam had to bite the palm of her hand to keep from crying out at the sensation.
The mouse was shy...the mouse would never spread her legs...would never pull them open so far that her muscles ached to give a man the access he wanted...she would never beg for him to penetrate her...to remove the damn silk...Ah, but tonight was different...
"I-I'm not shy," she managed to say through clenched teeth, her hips riding up to maintain the contact, cursing the existence of silk in the world.
The reward for the admission came quickly, as the wet cloth was dragged back across her skin, making her gasp when air struck the exposed and tender flesh. He blew a cool breath at the trailing edge of the silk as he removed it. And then his touch ignited her, the reality of his mouth, his tongue, his teeth against her -- with nothing to keep him from tasting her fully, from exploring the contours and textures of her sex.
Merriam writhed against the cushions as she felt one of his fingers penetrate even as his tongue began to dance over her clitoris, a gentle and feathery flickering that contrasted with the increasing pressure and strength of his moving finger. A delicious tension, a red-hot coil, began to mount, and she gripped his head, her hands pulled at his hair, instinctively seeking more. More of the pressure. More of the teasing.
He added a second finger, stretching her. Pain and pleasure made her eyes fly open as the relentless dance of his tongue continued. Finally, the coil exploded. She bucked at the wave of ecstasy, shuddering as her muscles clenched against the fingers still pushing into her. Merriam cried out as the wave seemed to gather momentum. She arched her back with the ebb and flow, and he pulled his mouth away and drew himself up to kiss her -- his fingers still penetrating and withdrawing -- as she came. She could taste herself on his tongue, and the thought tugged at the coil of her release, the start of another cascade of explosions.
He pulled his hand away, and Merriam groaned at the searing heat of his erection against her still shuddering flesh. She was still coming as he spread her legs wider and positioned himself to drive into her. Merriam felt a small lash of fear at the reality of his daunting size against her. She had a fleeting thought that her body couldn't possibly accommodate him. "W-wait..." She tried to catch her breath, to wriggle away but his hand held her hip, trapping her. He took his other hand and caressed her with his own swollen tip, and her body reacted, another tremor jerking her hips up and around him, and Merriam knew she wanted it. She suddenly wanted to claw him for more. Even if he rent her in two, she would have it all.
"Say yes," he commanded, pressing into her.
"Yes." His eyes held hers, her body tightening around the head of him, aching at the new presence, the first hint of the invasion that would come, writhing to escape even while a deeper drive made her hips quiver, tilting upward to try to take in all of him. He stopped, just barely inside her, and she could feel him trembling with the effort to hold still.
"Say yes," he commanded her again.
"Yes." And she was rewarded with just another inch, just one more thick, glorious inch of him, and he watched the realization come to her: that there was a great deal more of him and that the power was hers. Even as his body was held in a position to conquer, he yielded control to her to surrender completely and take him, or even then, she had the power to refuse him. So he asked, his voice rough and unsteady, "Yes?"
"Yes! Oh, dear, yes, yes, yes!"
He plunged into her, driving himself in completely, swallowing her small cry of shock and pleasure with his mouth. Then slowly he began to move, his jaw clenching at the molten heat and friction of her body, so tight -- the slick passage of a virgin, but no...She wrapped her legs around his waist, her ankles urging him to take her -- deeper, faster, harder. His cat was no virgin. She countered his every move, drawing against him, pulling him in, crying for him to pound the innermost core of her body, and he wanted it to last. He wanted to make the magic last, the enchantment of her scent and the feel of her beneath him, her hips rocking him, her muscles contracting and milking him, draining him.
"Oh! Oh, my!" Her fingernails dug into his shoulders, "I-It's happening...a-again!" Her innocent shock at her ability to climax again stripped away his last illusion of control. By God, he wanted her to scream with it. He wanted to be the one to teach her that she could come again and again -- until the lines between pleasure and pain were no more. He would take her until there were no illusions between them, nothing but the sustenance of need. And then he couldn't hold it back any longer, a scalding orgasm tearing from him, jetting into her as he ground against her sensitive clit and felt the unmistakable grip and spasms of her answering climax.
The game had definitely taken a turn, but even so, Merriam's return to reality was slowed by the sweet ripples of her climax, the ache and burning between her legs setting off another wave of desire when he shifted slightly, withdrawing his still firm length a fraction of an inch to take his full weight off her. A whimper of protest escaped her throat, her legs tightening to hold him captive. He kissed her throat and nuzzled her, apparently unwilling to beg for mercy. "Are you keeping me, then?" he teased, and she tensed, all too aware that he was not hers to keep, that it was time for the cat to free her prey.
She pushed against him, shuddering at the sensation of loss, the ache between her legs, her flesh throbbing with hunger even now. She turned her face away, seeking composure, repeating silently over and over that victory is in the having, and that, at the very least, she would have the memory of the cat to keep her warm on the cold nights to come. Merriam the Mouse straightened her dress and readjusted her bodice, standing to shake the wrinkles out of her skirts, refusing to meet his curious gaze. The trembling in her hands was the only sign of her turmoil.
"Tell me who you are," he said softly.
She stepped back with an odd smile and shook her head. "I should thank you. I didn't know it could be so...wonderful."
"This isn't amusing," he said more loudly. "I must know your name. I have to see you again."
Her chin came up defiantly; behind the velvet mask, her eyes shone with unshed tears. "You will, but you won't look twice. Let's just say that the next time you cut me in public, I'll have the pleasure of recalling this night and knowing that this is one whey-faced widow who is grateful to have had the honor of your attentions." Taking a deep, unsteady breath and squaring her shoulders, she transformed herself into a woman he could not touch, a woman who would never allow a man liberties such as moonlit trysts and forbidden caresses. "Good evening, sir, and good-bye."
Before he could protest, she slipped through the curtains and was gone. Whey-faced widow? he asked himself. What the hell was she talking about? The next time he cut her? After eight years of self-imposed exile, he'd returned to England only two weeks ago. Drake Sotherton, the Duke of Sussex, found himself alone in the alcove, the scent of her clinging to his skin and clothes. He pulled a hand through his hair and tried to absorb the meaning of her parting words. He was a man who was used to getting what he wanted -- and he'd be damned if he knew what had just happened, but she'd not escape him that easily.
Copyright © 2006 by R. Renee Bernard
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