Unveiled (Turner 1) - Page 26

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“You know,” Ash remarked, “my brother is either going to win instant accolades with this book, or he’s going to be charged with blasphemy and these pages will join Thomas Paine and Fanny Hill on the list of forbidden titles.”

“Both, in fact, are possible.” Margaret stared at the pages in her hand. “For a book on chastity, he has already touched on adultery and ankles. It seems surprisingly outré, given the subject matter.”

“Only because you’re reading it. The word ankle is a thousand times more provocative when spoken by a beautiful woman.”

A light flush touched her cheeks. But she gave him a dry stare. “Do stop these compliments, or I might find myself sinning in my heart instead of reading.”

“Are you just starting that, then? My heart has been sinning for a very long time.” The dimple on her cheek deepened, but she pursed those sensual lips in a pretense of primness and gathered up the pages again.

“Now, where were we? Ah, yes. ‘I have written this first practical guide to chastity.’”

Her voice was warm and filled with humor. As she spoke, she lifted her slippered foot, pointing her toe and then flexing it in an unconscious rhythm. Every so often, the slipper would fall, and he’d catch a glimpse of her bare foot. Not so much skin to get excited about, but then, it was her skin. And her ankle.

Mark was right. Thoughts of ankles lead to thoughts of pushing skirts aside, following the line of that leg…

She read on.

When she spoke of sin, he thought of her. When she mentioned chastity, breathing the word at him over lowered eyelashes, she could not help but evoke thoughts of the opposite. Her voice was low and seductive, and Ash realized that his brother was right. Chastity was hard.

He was ready to take her to his bed now.

She must have felt his eyes on her, because halfway through, she glanced up at him and stopped speaking. Her tongue darted out to touch her lips, and he could not help but imagine the softness of that caress against his aching erection. And if he had been stiff before, he was rigid now.

“Ash?” she asked uncertainly. “Shall I continue?”

He cleared his throat. “I’m listening.”

It wasn’t just her voice or the words that brought him to this fist-clenching arousal. It was the intimacy of what they were doing. They were separated by three feet, yes. But he’d admitted to her his most private secret, and instead of flinching from him in horror, she’d made him feel whole in a way he’d never felt before.

That intimacy made a subtle, erotic counterpoint to her reading on chastity—through page after page, punctuated by her laughter mingled with his.

He hadn’t realized how funny his brother was. Oh, he’d known Mark had a sharp wit and a flair for a turn of phrase, but this was that keenness of observation, condensed. The work reminded him of his brother: chaste, moral…and yet tinged with a sense of humor that elevated the pages from sober rectitude to something almost wicked.

Margaret turned to the last page that had been copied from Mark’s manuscript.

“‘There is no need to belabor the reasons for chastity, of course. But as a mere reminder to my readers, I outline the most important points. Male chastity is absolutely vital for three reasons.’”

Vital was the shape of her lips, making those words. Vital was that flash of skin covered by silk, peeking from under the dark hem of her dress. Vital was the ache he felt, something deeper than the mere wants of his flesh.

“‘First,’” Margaret said solemnly, “‘it is commanded by God and Holy Scripture.’”

Ash waved a hand.

“‘Second,’” she started, and then stopped. The amused light in her eyes faltered. She glanced over at him, suddenly wary. “‘Second,’” she said, “‘profligacy in such relations causes harm to the families who must endure such infidelity, and to the children who result from the union.’”

He had forgotten that she was illegitimate. But was that something she could overlook? Her life would have been very different, had matters been otherwise. He wanted to say something to her, to remind her how little such things mattered to him. But she set her chin stubbornly, bent her head and read on.

“‘And third—and most important to a chaste, practical gentleman—’” Her eyes scanned ahead once more, but this time she burst out laughing.

“What? What is it?”

She didn’t respond for a few seconds, but her shoulders shook with mirth. When she finally spoke, she could barely force the words out. “‘Third, as the ladies have clearly mastered the female art of chastity, our masculine inability to control our urges rather weakens our claims to be the stronger sex.’” She looked up at Ash. “He’s not serious. Truly?”

Of course Mark wasn’t. It was a subtle joke, precisely the sort of sly, tongue-in-cheek suggestion his brother might drop. But a more serious-minded audience might take his words to be pure truth.

Ash shook his head. “That alone will get him banned.”

“I’ve lost count of the number of times your brother has made me laugh. Chastity is far more amusing than I had anticipated.”

“Chastity,” Ash said dryly, “is far more arousing than I had anticipated.”

Margaret flushed. She sat primly on the velvet sofa, and at his words, she rearranged her ankles underneath her. “I do believe we are straying into the improper,” she said.

“Oh, no,” he contradicted. “We aren’t straying. I had hoped we had embarked on a deliberate voyage.”

Her slipper fell off her foot once more. She didn’t even seem to notice; instead, she felt about for it on the ground with her foot, her toe pointed, revealing her ankle beneath the edge of her gown. And suddenly he could think of nothing but sliding his hands up the sinuous curve of her calf.

“A voyage?” she asked, her voice shaky. “But…but we can have no mutual destination.”

Clearly she’d not realized they’d left the docks behind days before. “It’s not about where we go, but how we arrive.” Slowly. At great length, savoring every last inch of her skin.

She bit her lip, perhaps balancing her sense of propriety with her desire. And then she leaned forwards, canting towards him. As she did so, the bodice of her gown shifted. The lamplight caught the curves of her bosom. The strangled noise he heard must have issued from his own throat.

“When you do that, I can see.” He made a gesture in the direction of her cleavage. “At least, I can see more.”

She drew a deep breath. Her hand raised one inch, as if to block his view, but then she let her arm fall to her thigh. And then—oh, God—she leaned another inch towards him. She crooked one finger at him, and he found himself standing, drifting towards her. She licked her lips, and then she whispered, “Come here and kiss me.”

He was transfixed: by the lamplit swell of her breasts, barely visible above her neckline, by the damnably enticing rose of her lips, by the clarity of her eyes, untouched by her usual grief. She smiled at him—an expression both shy and brazen, a smile as old as woman herself.

“You should always be like this,” he said roughly.

“Forward?”

“Sure of yourself. Powerful. Unshadowed.”

She shook her head. “I’m not sure of myself, Ash. I’m just…just…”

“You’re sure of me.”

Her head jerked up. She looked at him in surprise, and then, slowly, she nodded. “Yes. Because you’ll understand the spirit in which this is offered. You’ll know what it means to me.”

“And what will it mean?” His breath caught, hurting him. “What will I mean to you?”

She looked into his eyes. “Oh, you told me that the first day I met you. Do you not recall what this is about? ‘A little defiance,’ you said. That’s what I want from you. A little defiance. I want to know what it should be like. What I should have had, when I lost…lost it all.”

Defiance. He swallowed. It wasn’t enough for him—not anymore. He wanted to be more than her defiance. He wanted


Tags: Courtney Milan Turner Romance
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