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Edinburgh, Scotland, April 1815
It took ten minutes to cross from Edinburgh New Town to Edinburgh Old Town in a carriage, and for all of those ten minutes Jack had an almost uncontrollable erection the like of which he had never experienced before in his life. He had learned over the previous ten years that anticipation was one of the greatest aphrodisiacs of all; the anticipation he felt tonight was acute and almost impossible to bear.
Opposite him sat the woman who was the cause of his discomfort. He could not see her clearly in the drifting lamplight, but his awareness of her was sharp. Jack could smell the jasmine perfume that lingered on her hair and on her skin. He could see the shadow of a smile that curved her lips beneath the mask and he could still taste her from the kiss he had snatched a few minutes earlier. She had pushed him away then, but playfully, in a way that promised more, much more.
He had a rake's reputation, but it was a long time since he had bedded a woman. He wondered if that accounted for this reckless urge to throw caution to the wind and take this woman he had met a mere four hours before. Jack did not know her name. He had not seen her face. He knew only that his sexual awareness of her was so keen that if he did not have her, and soon, he would be in danger of exploding with the frustration.
She knew it too. He could tell that she could feel the tension in the carriage, the expectation wound as tight as a spring. He wanted to wipe that satisfied little smile from her face with a kiss. He wanted to take her here in the carriage with each lurch of the wheels over the cobbles driving him harder into her body. He had no notion why she affected him so and he did not like it because it pushed him close to losing control; he only knew that from the moment he had first seen her he had wanted her.
The coach drew up with a sudden jerk. A groom, black-clad and inscrutable, opened the carriage door and let down the steps. Jack sat back to allow his companion to descend first. She gathered up the filmy silver skirts of her gown in one hand and stepped lightly down. Jack followed, glancing about him curiously. The carriage had stopped on Edinburgh's Royal Mile. He could see the dark bulk of St. Giles's Cathedral. The streetlamps glimmered in the soft falling rain.
She took his hand and drew him along one of the narrow alleyways that plunged downhill away from the main thoroughfare. The darkness was absolute here. He could hear the tap of her slippers on the cobbles and feel the rain cold against his face, soaking his hair and his jacket. The walls of the tenement buildings pressed close on each side.
He was rushing headlong into danger; in these deep alleys he could be robbed and murdered and no one would come to help him. A knife in the ribs would be rich reward for his reckless pursuit of passion. He paused, good sense overriding lust for a moment, but then she turned to him, pressing her body against his, reaching up to kiss him. The cold tenement wall was at his back, but she was all heat and sweet fragrance. Her kiss was fierce and urgent, sweeping away any polite preliminaries, demanding a response. She put one hand on the nape of his neck and held his mouth on hers, tangling her fingers in his hair. He felt the hot slide of her tongue against his and groaned into her mouth.
He slipped his hands beneath her cloak and felt the slippery silk of her gown slide beneath his palms. He caught her about the waist and drew her closer. Her breasts were pressed against his chest and she rubbed her hips against his. It was galling to be so at the mercy of his senses when he was a man of experience and not a schoolboy, but Jack seemed powerless to resist the molten lust that was coursing through his veins.
The faintest thread of light glimmered in her eyes as she smiled at him. She broke away, but only to turn the handle of a door set back in the corner of the wall, deep in shadow. She took his hand again and pulled him inside.
The house was not as he had expected. Here, in this poor neighborhood of peeling walls and dirt-strewn cobbles, it was like a miniature palace. Everything was polished and rich and gleaming, wood, silver, gold. He saw it all only in a brief flash as she pulled him up the stone stairs: the jewel-bright colors in the long curtains that shut out the night, the scatter of cushions on the settle. When she stopped at the turn of the stair to kiss him again, she slipped a hand inside his pantaloons and stroked his shaft and he almost came there and then. He was panting with anticipation and lust, his mouth was dry, his heart pounded.
The room she took him into was all in darkness. Only the embers of a fire burned low in the grate. There was no candle. She shut the door with the quietest of clicks and stood for a moment with her palms resting against it. He could feel her looking at him. The dark sharpened his senses; he could hear her breathing, hear the little hitch in her breath that told him she was neither as calm nor as in control as she seemed. The knowledge gave him a savage satisfaction. He would have hated to be the only one to be so close to the borders of control.
There was a soft hush of velvet as she untied the ribbon of her cloak and allowed it to fall. The gossamer silk of her gown glinted again as she moved, coming over to him, placing one hand against his chest. Her fingers were sure on the buttons of his jacket; she slid it from his shoulders and then burrowed beneath his shirt to find the heat of his skin. He heard her sharp intake of breath as her hands slid over his bare chest. Despite the raging need inside him, he kept quite still and let her have her way. It felt like a small victory to resist her.
She reached up to kiss him. She was tall but he was taller still. He caught a curl of her hair in his fingers, satin-soft. He had no idea of its color as she had been wearing a hooded domino. His questing fingers found some pins holding more curls in place. He tugged. They fell with a tinkle onto the wooden floorboards, and her hair cascaded over his hands.
She nibbled his lower lip, then slid her tongue into his mouth, and his mind spun away into a dark realm of sensation. He drove a hand into her hair to hold her head still for his kisses, seeking the heat and demand of her mouth, meeting it and demanding more in return.
Wherever he led she followed eagerly. She tangled her tongue impatiently with his. She nipped at his lips and tasted him deep.
Sometimes she ran ahead with needs of her own; it was she who pressed the cold handle of a dirk into his hand and then spun around in mute order that he cut her laces. It was madness in the dark but he managed somehow, sliding the blade beneath, hearing the first creak and tear of the fabric before it suddenly gave way and her gown and petticoats slithered down to lie at her feet.
She was naked. He could sense it. He could feel her warmth. He could smell the jasmine scent again, fainter now, transmuted into something different, sweet and hot, on her skin. He remembered the sensation of her breasts against him and reached for her, but suddenly the blade of the dagger was at his throat and he fell back a step and she put her hand against his chest and pushed. His thighs came up against the edge of a bed. The blade pricked harder and he allowed himself to fall into the softest, widest, most comfortable mattress he had ever known.
She ripped the shirt from him then and straddled him, her thighs pressed tight against his side. With one hand she freed the buttons on his pantaloons and allowed his shaft to spring free into her hand. He tried to tumble her beneath him, but the blade at his throat warned him to be still. It traced an idle path down his chest, over his breastbone, farther down the line of his stomach until the flat of the blade kissed the tip of his straining shaft. At the same time, she squeezed him in her palm.
Christ, she was quite mad. And he too was about to lose his mind.
She tossed the dirk aside and came over him, sliding down to take him inside her body. His mouth opened on a shout at the heat and warmth and slickness of her, but she swallowed his cries in a kiss. She rocked, deeper and deeper, tighter and tighter and his mind splintered and he grabbed her hips hard, grinding her down on him as he came violently, desperately, calling out.
She rolled off him and lay by his side. Above the harsh pants of his own breathing he could hear the quick gasp of hers. Despite the shocking wantonness of the entire coupling, Jack felt as though something was missing, something he did not understand.
He turned his head to look at her, foolishly since he could see nothing of her in the oppressive dark. Suddenly, though, he had the certainty that she was about to run. He felt it in the flicker of movement through her body, heard it in her intake of breath.
His hand shot out and grabbed her wrist just as she started to move. He pulled her back against him, tucking her into his side, holding her still.
"Don't you know it is bad manners to run out on a man so soon after having him?" His whisper teased her hair. He felt it brush his lips.
After a moment she laughed and he felt her body soften against his. She said nothing, though.
"What is your name?" He wanted to talk to her, wanted it quite desperately, in fact, as though the physical connection between them simply was not enough. Odd, when previously he had never wanted more from a woman than the simply physical.
"Rose." There had been the very slightest hesitation in her voice before she had spoken. Not her name, then.
"I'm Jack." He did not deal in lies, half-truths or evasions. It was not his style.
She rubbed her hand gently over his bare chest in acknowledgment. She might be a woman of few words, but she made up for it in other ways. His blood was tingling from that small touch.
"I want to see you."
"No." Her response was instant and with a note of panic in her voice.
"Why not, sweetheart?" In deference to the fear, he kept his own tone light, brushing the tangled hair away from her face, his fingers a gentle caress against her cheek.
She shifted slightly in his arms as though she was uncomfortable with both the endearment and the gentleness. He knew she was rejecting the intimacy. It was odd when they had just shared the most intimate experience possible.
"I don't want any light." Now there was an unconscious command in her voice. A woman accustomed to giving orders, then. That made her all the more intriguing.
"And what if I do?"
"You will have to be satisfied with touch."
She took his hand and placed it over her breast. It was a gesture intended to stop conversation. He realized that. Yet he still succumbed. He felt her nipple harden against his palm and felt his blood heat in response. He toyed with her breasts with fingers, lips, teeth and tongue, allowing himself to be distracted, taking pleasure from her gasps and the way she arched to his touch. She urged him on in broken whispers, begging him to nip and suck harder to a point where pleasure turns to pain. He was painfully erect again by then and she spread herself for him and pleaded for him to take her hard, then harder still, her hands gripping the wooden headboard tight as he plunged into her. It was wild and wicked and he felt as though he were in a hot, dark dream, but even as he ravished her he felt the touch of a shadow on him as though something, somewhere was wrong. It almost felt as though she was asking to be punished, as though each stroke of his body into hers, each nip of his teeth at her breast, was penance.
Through the long night she let him do whatever he wished to her; she was his plaything and it was spectacular, unimaginably exciting, and he felt exhausted, satiated, but he couldn't quell that stubborn instinct that something was missing. The final time he made love to her slowly, languorously, trying to anchor the intimacy between them in something deeper, trying to capture and hold her. Jack had no idea why he wanted that connection when he was by nature a man who wanted only the most superficial of love affairs. Perhaps it was the challenge; he was unaccustomed to a woman who held something back. Normally they were the ones pushing him into a closeness he did not want.
By now her skin was flushed and damp, slick against his. She moved with him on the same dark tide of desire and pleasure, she came for him when he demanded it, her body was his, and yet somehow it felt as though she still eluded him in all the ways that mattered. Afterward she slept but he lay awake listening to her breathing, his mind alert. At one point she cried out. He pulled her into his arms and held her and she calmed, but he felt tears on her cheek where it was pressed against his chest.
Eventually the warmth of her in his arms lulled him into sleep too, only to awake hours later when the sun was high in the sky and the room was bathed in light.
Jack knew before he opened his eyes that she would be gone.