Unclaimed (Turner 2) - Page 30

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He set the decanter on the side table and sat on the divan. She might have said that he sat next to her, but it was a long divan, and he’d settled on the opposite edge from her. If she stretched out her arm full-length, and he held out his hand, their fingertips might scarcely touch. Still, a little frisson went through her. They were sitting…almost next to each other. The cushions against her back moved when he leaned back. Her hand stroked the silk of the seat.

“To your health.” He raised his glass and drank.

Jessica sniffed the liquid tentatively. Above the sweetness of apple, she scented something strong and raw. It tickled the back of her throat. “Sir Mark,” she said tentatively, “are you trying to inebriate me?”

“I didn’t even give you an inch.” He raised one eyebrow. “Can’t you hold your liquor?”

She pressed her lips together and focused on the challenge. “I could drink you under the table,” she informed him flatly. But her heart wasn’t in it. She raised the glass and took a gulp.

She’d expected something smooth like cider. But what hit her was alcohol, raw and unfinished, burning her tongue, stealing the breath from her lungs. She coughed, barely swallowing the slug she’d taken into her mouth. This wasn’t the smooth taste of well-aged spirits sipped by gentlemen in London clubs. This was the sort of hash brewed by backwoods laborers, reserved for raucous gatherings. And then the effect of those spirits struck her, like a kick applied to the seat of the pants. It felt like a fire, igniting in her belly and pushing aside her worries.

She cleared her throat and stared at the seemingly inoffensive liquid. “You could have warned me. This is a death trap.”

“That, too, is a local tradition.” A small smile touched his lips, but faded as he looked at her. “And, truthfully, you looked as if you needed a bit of something to pick you up. I figured that would do the trick.” He took another sip from his glass. His gaze shifted from the apple brandy to her hands, wrapped around the tumbler. And then, he followed her arms, up, up until his eyes met hers. “Also, I believe I am trying to drown out my better self.”

Fire? The brandy had nothing on the heat in his gaze. She might have found her forgetfulness in the look in his eyes alone. The dark need. The desire. It was all there, too much to grasp with both hands.

Jessica took another gulp of brandy. Easier to swallow fire than to meet his eyes. If she’d had a better self, it was Amalie. “Lucky you,” she said bitterly. “I haven’t got one of those.”

He picked up the decanter and poured himself another inch.

“It’s not goodness that leads men and women to sin, Sir Mark,” she said. “It’s the dark, ugly portions that drive men and women together. Our better selves have no need to be held.”

She’d not realized what she wanted until she said the words aloud. But perhaps that was why she’d come—not for unapologetic lust, not for mere physical intimacy, but for something that ran deeper than the blaze of want.

She’d come for comfort.

He took another swig and then met her eyes. “Need more brandy?” he asked conversationally.

Jessica rubbed her neck tentatively. “It appears that the lining of my throat has not yet been entirely stripped away.” She held out her glass. “Why not?”

He lifted the decanter. But instead of taking the tumbler from her hand, he slid across the divan toward her. His eyes held hers. His hand wrapped around hers. If the brandy had seemed hot as tongues of flame, Sir Mark was the heart of the fire. His fingers engulfed hers, steadying the glass as he poured.

She pulled the cup to her mouth. He didn’t let his hand fall away, letting her draw him toward her until his hip rested against hers. She couldn’t breathe. She didn’t dare drink. He was alive and warm, and when he touched her, he drove shadows from the dark corners of her vision.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m contemplating.” His voice was dark. “Thinking about right and wrong.”

His hand slid down her forearm to cup her elbow. Her whole body leaned toward his. His other hand took her cup, set it on the floor next to the decanter. And then her fingers were wrapping around his arm, little shivers traveling through her.

“I see you’ve decided against right.” Her voice shook.

“Not precisely.” He leaned toward her, his face fitting into the space between her chin and her neck. She could feel his breath against her neck, his arm curling around her waist.

How did he know that this was what she needed? That more conversation would have left her falling to pieces?

How did he know to trace her chin with his thumb, to cradle her head in his hands? How did he know that she needed to rest her forehead against his? Because any other man in his position would have thought nothing of her comfort. He’d have wanted to claim her, not hold her.

“You’re shaking,” he said.

“I’ve had some bad news.”

He didn’t demand that she divulge it. He didn’t demand anything of her, and that made her feel wrong and dirty—because she came to him for comfort, and he gave it without asking questions. It recalled her nausea of that afternoon once again. Her hands shook anew.

If she seduced the one good man she’d met, she’d surely earn her place in hell. But if there was a hell, she’d already earned her place in it. That’s what it meant to be a fallen woman. She’d already lost all hope of heaven.

All hope except the scent of Sir Mark, his arm wrapped around her now. If there was any such thing as salvation, surely it felt like the gentle kiss he laid on her throat. The feel of his nose, brushing against the line of her jaw. The light calluses on his hands, sliding across her shoulder.

It didn’t feel like damnation when her fingers found his chin, when she lifted his head so that his eyes met hers. His mouth touched hers, sweet and gentle; her hands dropped to curl about his elbows, as if she could cradle the comfort he offered her. His kiss seemed some blasphemous prayer whispered against her skin. His lips caught at hers. His arms encircled her, as if she were some fragile, precious thing.

And, oh, it felt good. He held her without restraining her—as if his every caress was a supplication. As if every touch of his lips was a question, one she could answer as she willed, and not a demand.

There was only one answer. Yes. Yes with her tongue; yes with the heat of her breath; yes with her hands digging into his shoulders.

And then his fingers were brushing up her ribs, setting her afire. His mouth slid down to her chin, her neck, leaving a cascade of warmth in his wake. His palm cupped her breast, his fingers exploring it. His touch was neither tentative nor practiced—just slow, excruciatingly slow, as if he were unearthing some kind of archaeological treasure, and he feared it would break.

“Jessica,” he murmured against her skin.

He’d found the nub of her nipple. She gasped as he circled it with his thumb. The pleasure was like drink—intoxicating, stealing away memories she wished forgotten.

Her hands slipped down his chest to the wool of his waistcoat. Copper buttons twisted in her grip until she revealed the starched linen of his shirt, warmed to his touch. She tugged, and the tails came loose. She reached beneath the fabric.

His skin was hot. His breath hissed in as her palms skimmed up the wall of his abdomen. His muscle tensed into hard curves under her touch, corded and inflexible. Any other man would have flipped her onto her back by now. His lips found the side of her neck. He kissed her slowly.

“You know,” he whispered to her, “this afternoon, I had vowed never to talk with you again.”

“Why ever did you change your mind?”

He shrugged. “You were waiting on my doorstep. And I believe my first coherent thought upon seeing you was—so much for that promise, then. The resolution would not have lasted past seeing you. You may be utterly wrong for me, but I don’t believe I can give you up.”

“That’s precisely how I feel. You’re the worst man on earth fo

r you to be.”

“Am I so bad, then?”

“So good.” She swallowed. “Sir Mark—the village gossips were too kind. I have been intimate with men who are not my husband.” She stopped, forced herself to go on. “More than one.”

“Have you, then?” He didn’t move from her.


Tags: Courtney Milan Turner Romance
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