Boldly romantic, sinfully seductive, he's the dream lover of your most thrilling fantasies. With his sun-burnished hair and hypnotic blue eyes, he is whatever you want him to be--devil-may-care scoundrel or tender hero. Now he sweeps you away to the blazing sands of a tropical paradise, where emotions run high and desire is sensual, hot, and. . .
Working as a maid on the luxurious estate of a Miami businessman had its advantages--especially when A.J. Sutton met Marco Estevez With his bronzed good looks and explosive sexuality, Marco tempted A.J. as no other man ever had . . .enticing her into his arms and a passionate affair that knew no bounds. But that was before a shocking murder forced A.J. to change her name, her looks, and flee for her life.
Only one other person knew what she had witnessed--the man whose seductive touch she couldn't resist. Now her dangerous desire for Marco would plunge her into a world of peril and sizzling passion, where she'd be torn between doubt and hope. . .between fear and a love that could keep her safe--if she dared to trust her heart. . .
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WILD THE PACK OF ST. JAMES
By NOELLE MACK BRAVA BOOKS Copyright © 2008 Noelle Mack
All right reserved.
Chapter One London, 1815. October ...
"A woman is most beautiful when she is waiting to be kissed," Kyril said. He looked down at her, a sensual fire in his gaze, and his thumb traced the line of her chin. He tipped her face up to his. "And you are the most beautiful woman in London."
Vivienne Sheridan did not mind if he thought so. Her lips parted as she began to reply to his gallant compliment-but he spoke first.
"May I kiss you, Vivienne?"
He wasted no time. Neither would she. "Yes," she murmured. A kiss was only a kiss.
Kyril smiled. "Well, then. Come a little closer."
She obeyed without saying a word. His arm encircled her waist. Her eyes closed as his hand moved down to the side of her neck. He stroked the sensitive skin with his fingertips, easing away every trace of her nervousness. To be touched so tenderly felt wonderful. Blissfully aroused by what he was doing, Vivienne sighed, wishing she was not ...
In her drawing room. Fully dressed.
His strong hands made her feel naked. How she wanted his kiss.
But his lips only brushed hers before his mouth moved to her ear and he spoke again, very softly. "May I stay the night?"
She had not expected that. Or at least not so soon. Her answer came quickly. "N-no."
"Why not?" His low, very masculine voice was as persuasive as his caress.
Vivienne straightened up, a motion that made her bosom rise within the snug-fitting bodice of her gown. She quickly tugged at the décolleté neckline, aware that the delicate lace edge might not be enough to conceal-she stopped when she saw him glance down at it and then up again at her face.
He was too tall not to have seen her nipples.
They tightened. She quelled a wanton urge to wind her arms around his neck and press her breasts against the fine linen of his shirt. But Vivienne was unwilling to leave his embrace and equally unwilling to give in too easily.
"Why not? Ah-I would rather sleep alone."
Her new bed was her sanctuary, a bower in which she retreated from the world, piled with soft pillows and hung with rose-embroidered curtains. No man had ever shared it.
He drew her body back to his. He inclined his head and nibbled her neck precisely where he had stroked her. Vivienne tried not to moan. The pleasurable stimulation was almost too much to bear, and the light trace of stubble on his chin only added to her excitement.
"Hmm." He ceased his gentle biting and relaxed his hold somewhat. But she did not move away from him.
He pressed his lips to her forehead, his gaze heavy-lidded and dreamy when he finally looked at her face again. He touched the small emerald in her earlobe, toying with it. That too was stimulating. It was clear enough what was on his mind.
"Pretty earrings," he said at last. "The same green as your incomparable eyes."
"You do not like compliments."
"I do not trust them. But I like them well enough."
"I meant it when I said you were the most beautiful woman in London."
"No doubt you did."
He gave her a level look that held a hint of amusement. Then he touched the other earring. "Can I persuade you to take these off?"
As a prelude to ... she would do well not to think about taking anything off if she was going to refuse him. "No."
"Then I will take them off for you." Before she could stop him, he removed both jewels and dropped them down her bodice. "There. They will be safe enough."
Her eyes widened with surprise. A master thief could not have done the trick more deftly.
"Oh!" Her indignant protest faded away when he bent down again to take her earlobe in his mouth and suck it gently. "You-mmm. Never mind."
He released it. "Should I stop?"
Determined beast. She did like what he was doing. "Not yet," Vivienne answered. "But you must go soon. You do understand that I like to be alone."
"If you say so." He turned his attention to the other earlobe and sucked it harder than the first.
His lips and tongue were warm and wet and tight on that tiny part of her body. What he was doing felt so good. So very good.
"Everyone knows that I do," she managed to say.
He let go and laughed against her ear, a throaty sound, almost like a growl. "Yes, I have heard a few rumors to that effect. I am glad to have no rival."
"That is not what I said-"
"I know." He radiated self-confidence as well as heat. His hands moved to her shoulders, stroking her bare skin until languorous warmth spread through her. "But I suspected as much."
Vivienne arched her back, wanting and not wanting a more intimate embrace. She placed her hands upon his chest to push him away, then felt the strong beat of his heart and let them rest there.
Kyril kissed her neck once more and lifted his head. She could not help but meet his unfathomable gaze. His eyes seemed to take in everything but they reflected nothing. Not the candles or the fire in the drawing room. No detail of her face.
He gazed down at her and Vivienne felt a dizzying sensation of vertigo.
What was-that? For a fraction of a second she saw something strange in the darkness of his eyes. A glimpse of a wild and forsaken land ... an otherworld buried in blue-white snow ...
She blinked and the illusion vanished. She told herself she'd had too much champagne. She was tired. Imagining things. She would not explain.
He seemed to understand, though, that something had upset her. He brushed away a tendril of the dark hair that clung to her cheek and then his hand slid over her shoulder to the bare skin of her upper back. He stroked her there, taking his time.
She rested her head against his chest, limp with pleasure. His shirt had a pleasant fragrance, as if it had been washed in herbal water. There was a much more masculine smell mingled with it-the warm smell of his skin underneath the shirt. Kyril clasped her nape, calming her. Her neck curved in graceful submission. She could not move, did not want to move. For a moment, the feeling of falling ebbed away and Vivienne felt deliciously safe.
No woman is safe with Kyril Taruskin ...
The thought vanished in an instant.
"Come away with me," he murmured. "The drive to my house is not long."
She could not think of a very good reason to say no. She came up with a merely serviceable one. "My servants will see."
"They are abed."
"We can continue this conversation on the way."
"Kyril, if you-"
"We do not have to talk, of course. But a carriage with closed curtains is a wonderfully private place. As private as a confessional. Intimate secrets, softly voiced-there is nothing more exciting."
The warm hand on her nape stayed where it was. Vivienne tilted her head back to smile at him. "Perhaps. But I have no significant sins to confess."
"Give me time. You will."
Vivienne laughed a little but made no reply.
"Just tell me what you want, my darling. Let me satisfy you."
"Kyril, I cannot think when you hold me like this." She did not really want to think. Such was the power of his touch. His strong hand upon her nape was deeply soothing and stimulating at the same time. "No-do not move your hand-not yet."
He gazed down at her, his eyes dark with passion. "Grant me one night, Vivienne."
"My coachman will bring you back in the hour before dawn. No one will know."
She hesitated. "It is already past midnight."
"The church bells rang. Did you not hear them?"
He shook his head and moved his hand from her nape, tucking a fallen lock back into her upswept hair. The passion in his eyes was shadowed with tenderness.
The candles had burned low. Without his hand upon her skin, Vivienne felt a sudden chill down her spine. The fire had dwindled down to a broken mass of gray and scarlet embers, dancing with shivering little flames. She avoided his intent gaze, not wanting to see his mouth so close to hers.
He still had not kissed her-not really. She had said yes to that. But nothing more.
Vivienne steeled herself to resist whatever came next. The tenderness in his eyes had vanished. His moods were mercurial. Now Kyril was smiling down at her in a wicked way. Ready to pounce.
He was wicked. She was well aware of his reputation. And he was wild in equal measure, for all that he dressed so elegantly. Kyril Taruskin's dark clothes were set off by a pure white linen shirt, its tall collar filled with a black silk cravat. Above that, a strong jaw and sensual mouth. An aristocratic nose. And those odd eyes. Intent upon her.
With a start, she felt Kyril's hands trace her collarbone and then move lower, over the swell of her breasts.
She gasped but she did not say no.
He cupped the lush flesh and gently squeezed, again and again. The sensation was deeply erotic. Suddenly all she wanted was to lie down with him, let him suckle her until she cried for joy, running her fingers into his dark hair while he buried his face in her breasts ... She swayed against him, feeling something small and hard prick her skin-the earrings.
Breathing hard, Kyril released her breasts and circled his palms over the erect nipples nestled in the lace of her bodice, looking into her eyes now with intense desire. Teasing her. Exciting her. He would have her dress up to her waist next to fondle her bare bottom if she let him-how far was he going to go?
As far as you let him.
No. However handsome, however gifted in the art of pleasing women, Kyril Taruskin was not going to have her tonight.
"That is enough," she said softly. "I will not go with you and you cannot stay here."
He nodded, a curt motion at odds with the sensual slowness of his caresses, and ceased what he was doing.
"As you wish, Vivienne. When a lady commands, a gentleman obeys."
It was rather the other way around, she thought nervously. His tone was neutral, his words polite, but there was an unmistakable steeliness behind both. His reluctance to concede was obvious-he was no longer stimulating her nipples but his hands had moved down again to clasp her waist.
Vivienne drew in her breath and his grip tightened ever so slightly. It was easy to imagine how good those hands would feel on her if she were naked before him, her dress upon the floor in a silken heap, her dark hair tumbled over her shoulders, her corset unlaced and tossed aside ...
But he might insist on you wearing the corset and nothing else. To start.
Her breasts ached, not from his sensual fondling of them but from wanting more of it. Her flesh betrayed her. Still and all, his expert caresses had not left her dress in disarray. Her breasts were nicely uplifted and pressed together by the exceptionally fine corset that he was not going to see. Her damned nipples were as hard as the emerald earrings he had playfully dropped into her décolletage. The faceted stones pricked her but she was not going to fish them out. He would only look at her, eyes hot with desire, while she retrieved them-and then she would have no chance at all. No, her dress would stay on and her hair would stay up. Vivienne pressed her lips together and held back a sigh.
There was no real reason to refuse him. But it would be interesting to make Kyril wait for what he wanted. His lust for her would know no bounds-and his erotic ingenuity would come to the fore to win her. The moment of ultimate surrender would be intensely pleasurable for them both.
Vivienne favored him with a look that she hoped was stern. The gossip that she had tried to ignore in the last months was not wrong. Kyril Taruskin had a legendary talent for seduction and making love. His conquests were many. Now she understood why.
Of course, no one had ever mentioned him loving anyone. Yet it did not matter, not to Vivienne. Certainly it would be foolish of her to think that she was or would be different, somehow, from the others. Still ... she wanted him.
He cleared his throat with a slight cough. "Where were we?"
She cast a meaningful glance at the door.
"Now I remember. You want me to go."
He gave her a wry look. "But you are not sure."
"I am quite sure of what I want, Kyril."
"Are you?" He grinned at her. Deep-carved dimples appeared, framing his sensual mouth.
Annoyed by his amusement, she tipped her head to one side. "You need not grin like that."
"Like a damned wolf."
Kyril laughed. "Perhaps I am one. I do follow my instincts and I can sense your mixed emotions."
"By what I see." He gestured at her glass on the low table near the fireplace. "Champagne left unfinished. The ashes of a fire that has burned too low."
She almost smiled. "As good a way as any to describe the end of an evening."
His gaze locked with hers. Damn him-the mixture of intelligent amusement and sexual desire in his expression made her feel hot all over again.
"Vivienne ..." His voice was deep and yearning.
She shook her head and Kyril let go of her at last. Vivienne was almost disappointed.
Until he pounced. His full lips captured hers for a kiss that made her tremble. Encircled once more by his arms, lifted slightly, she barely felt the floor beneath her thin-soled evening shoes. Her stockinged toes curled and wiggled under the embroidered flowers on her silk shoes as freely as if she were barefoot.
Kyril's lips were soft, his technique sensual in the extreme. Opening her lips, his tongue tasted her mouth as if he found her utterly delicious. His kiss was tender but not in the least tentative. His self-assurance and his skill compelled her to respond fully, pressing her body to his at last, arching with the pleasure of allowing so powerful a man to claim her, however briefly ...
But the kiss went on and on.
Vivienne was the one who ended it. When he stopped to draw breath, she placed her hands on his chest once more and pushed him away with firm resolve. He stood his ground. She was the one who moved.
Kyril studied her. A few candles sputtered and went out, their hollow stubs filled with molten wax. A thin thread of smoke rose from one extinguished wick and hung in the air. He neither moved nor spoke.
He seemed taller and more masterful, growing in apparent size as the light diminished. Another illusion. Vivienne reached up a hand to rub her eyes and he caught her by the wrist. Her fingers curled into a loose fist, as if to defend herself, but his long thumb gently forced her fingers open.
That done, he pressed a tender kiss into her palm. Then he released her and she let her arm fall to her side, feeling suddenly bereft. How had he ensnared her with such ease?
"Kyril ... when will I see you again?" She bit her lip. That had sounded far too eager. Almost girlish.
Kyril only shrugged. "Soon." He looked at her and murmured a few words in Russian under his breath.
"What are you saying?"
"That you are utterly alluring. And dangerous."
The first part of his reply was flattering, but the last puzzled her. It was he who was dangerous. To her peace of mind. And to her heart, if she was not careful.
Still, she was feeling reckless. It had been too long since she had let a man get close to her and Kyril was no ordinary man.
"Will you not-" She hesitated, looking at him warily.
"Stay?" He shook his head, looking down at her parted lips. "No. Forgive me, Vivienne. As it happens, it is for the best that you asked me to go. I have just remembered that I was supposed to meet someone."
Highly unlikely. But she supposed it served her right for putting him off.
"As a matter of fact, yes. I cannot be late."
He could not possibly be telling the truth. No, they were playing the same game with each other. Advance and Retreat.
"Then it is a good thing you remembered it."
He only nodded.
She would not ask one word more. Vivienne silently reproved herself for her pique. She hoped he did not see the tinge of angry scarlet in her cheeks.
They got through the adieus politely enough. He turned to go without touching her again.
The sound of his boot heels on the stairs died away and the front door closed behind him. Vivienne went to the window. She pulled the heavy drape aside and looked out in time to see him stride to his black coach. Its windows were shielded on the inside of the glass with rich material she could just see under the streetlamps. Their light revealed the falling rain, turning it into sparks of gold that pattered down upon the black-lacquered top of the coach.
The sight was beautiful but it filled her with melancholy. Rain often did. There were times when she could not stand the sound of it against the windowpanes.
Excerpted from WILD by NOELLE MACK Copyright © 2008 by Noelle Mack. Excerpted by permission.
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