He smoothed back her hair against her forehead. “If I were trying to seduce you, Margaret, I’d have done it by now.”
“In here? But—there’s no room to actually do that.”
His breath hissed out. “I should have done it sooner,” he said. “I should have done it more, and Mrs. Benedict be damned. No room to seduce you?”
His hands came down on her hips, hard, but not painfully. And then he was lifting her up and holding her against the wall. He pulled her bodice down as far as it would go, exposing the tip of one nipple. “No room? Margaret, we don’t have to lie down for me to do this.” And then his mouth was on her breast, his tongue swirling around it. She gasped and shivered. But he did not relent. Instead, he brought his hand up to cup her bottom, pulling her into him, grinding her against the hard ridge of his erection. She wrapped her legs around his, bringing herself that much closer, and his hand crept beneath her skirts, sliding aside her drawers to dip into the warmth between her legs.
“Tell me we need to be lying down for me to do this,” he said, his finger sliding inside her passage. “I can still feel you, can I not?” And then he adjusted her weight against the wall behind her and undid his breeches. She could feel the hard tip of him against her, blunt and powerful.
He sucked on her nipple again, and sensation swirled through her.
“And you already know we need not lie down for this.”
She said nothing, throwing her head back.
“Tell me you don’t want this.”
“I want it.” The words jerked from her, unwillingly. But she couldn’t lie to him.
He entered her. Slowly. Surely. Her body adjusted to his thickness. Then his hand slipped between her legs, touching, rubbing. And finally, he began to thrust, pushing her against the wall as he did so. Her senses danced. She felt pleasure build and burn, build and burn, until it overtook her, and she was caught up in flames, aware of nothing but his touch, his slow heated slides. Their joining now, when she needed to tear them asunder.
It was both beautiful and ugly, the pleasure that rose up. White-hot radiance filled her, melding them into one indivisible being. Her hands clenched and the entire world washed away.
Just as she was gasping against his chest, he slammed inside her, hard. She clutched him tight. For one moment, they stood, entwined in motionless wonder.
But as her breath stilled, all her doubts crept back. They weren’t one. They were, indisputably, two.
But he didn’t seem to notice. “There,” he whispered in her ear in satisfaction. “That is what we had room to do.”
“Ash.” Her voice trembled.
“Don’t tell me you can’t. Don’t tell me you mustn’t.”
“No, Margaret. If you won’t look at me in public, at least hold me in private.”
Nobody could see them. Nobody even knew she was here, that they were together. This wasn’t a betrayal of her brothers—just a physical expression of something she did not dare say aloud.
And perhaps he finally recognized how delicate that balance was, because he held her tightly and did not say a word.
AFTER ASH LEFT MARGARET, it did not take long for Richard Dalrymple to hunt him down. The man caught Ash’s eye. His face was unreadable, cold as marble and twice as hard. But he raised his chin and jerked his head towards the veranda. There was something harsh and final in that movement, as if he had said, Let’s skip this Parliamentary rubbish and settle this like men.
A wonderful notion. Ash’s fists itched to satisfy him. Dalrymple stepped out into the dark, and without glancing behind him to see if Ash followed, he disappeared. Ash didn’t have to think long. It took him a few minutes to extricate himself from polite conversation, another few minutes to amble across the room without drawing untoward attention.
And then he slipped outside.
The veranda was not as dark as it had appeared from the ballroom. The flagstones were surrounded by a stone wall, on which lanterns had been placed. The lamps cast a hazy warmth in the winter chill, obscuring the gardens into black, plant-shaped silhouettes. Dalrymple slouched against the stones to his right, his arms folded. Ash could feel the heat of his glower before he made out the expression on his face. But if Dalrymple imagined he could do anything to intimidate a man six inches taller than he was, he was mad.
But what Dalrymple said, jerking his thumb into the darkness of the garden, was, “Fred is out there.”
“Fred? Who is Fred?”
“Frederick Talhuis, Earl of Indiver.”
The name sounded familiar, but Ash shook his head impatiently.
Dalrymple let out an exasperated sigh. “The one man in all of London who is a greater ass than you. Margaret’s former fiancé. My former friend. You heard what she said. You know what he did.”
His temper, not quiescent to start, stirred at that. “And what do you propose we do?”
Dalrymple smiled. “Simple. We smash him to bits.”
“Two on one? One to hold him down, the other to beat his face in, I presume.” Ash shook his head. “I suppose that you’re forgoing the Dalrymple five just to give him a sporting chance.”
“The Dalrymple five? I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“That is your typical mode of operation, isn’t it? Five on one?”
“Still no notion, Turner. And very well. Have it your way. I’ll take care of the matter myself.” Richard tu
rned to leave.
Ash grabbed his arm. “You don’t stand a chance—I would say that you hit like a girl, but I wouldn’t insult your sister.”
Dalrymple shook his head. “You don’t want to fight him with me. You don’t want me to fight him separately. Are all the Turners tangled up in such convoluted logic?”
“You misunderstand. I am going after him myself.” Ash shook his head. “And you can stay here. I don’t care to deliver my justice in a pack.” He set off down the path.
Dalrymple scrambled after him. “Wait! You don’t even know what he looks like!”
Ash didn’t answer. He strode into the garden, until he caught the scent of cheroot smoke. The silhouette he made out against the oleander bush was shorter than Ash—shorter, skinnier and doubtless stupider.
There was an easy way to find out if this was the fellow he sought. “Indiver?” he asked.
“Ah. Turner. I was wondering when you would come, currying my favor. You’ve convinced a great many lords to take your part. You’re almost to the halfway point, aren’t you?”
Ash even disliked his voice. It had an oily, mellifluous sound to it.
He liked him even less when the man sighed. “You are quite wealthy, are you not?”
Ash stopped in front of the man. The tip of Indiver’s cheroot glowed red, and Ash smelled acrid smoke.
“And,” Indiver continued, having no idea of the danger he was in, “you do need every vote you can muster. Do you not?”
Ash set his hand on the man’s shoulder. “No,” he said, in as friendly a tone as he could manage. “I don’t need every vote. I can spare this one.” Before Indiver could make sense of that, he drove his fist into the man’s stomach. He barely had time to let out a gurgling cry before Ash followed his strike with a blow to the kidneys. Another—and then Indiver collapsed at his feet.
How satisfying. He only wished it had lasted longer.
Dalrymple came scampering up behind him.
“That,” Ash said quietly, “is what you should have done to me when you found me with your sister. You are the most ineffectual flailer.”