Unclaimed (Turner 2) - Page 32

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His hand worked, quick jerks that sent little shocks of pleasure through him. As he moved, as he grew harder, as his lust grew more insistent, Mark opened his eyes and stared out the window into the dying sun. But even that fierce, red afterimage couldn’t steal the vision he had of her.

He was tight all over—his muscles contracted—thought washed away in a rush toward pleasure. His eyes shut at last, and he was bombarded by sensation, a barrage of images. Her hands. Her lips. The curve of her waist. And then, at the very end: Jessica, fully clothed, standing on the edge of the harsh rocks of the Friar’s Oven. Her skirts belled out around her in the wind, and she looked out over a sea of mist.

His release pounded through him, sweeping him away. It was welcome, so welcome. All that pent-up lust burnt like so much tinder in a wildfire. It savaged him, choking him, ripping his breath away.

Passion ebbed, and he was left with the furious pound of his pulse, the only echo of what had come before.

Mark opened his eyes. The light in the room was fast fading to navy-darkness. He breathed out; one final jolt of pleasure shook him, before his body subsided.

It was done. He’d banished his want.

Mark gingerly unwrapped his fingers from the wood post and walked to the basin on the other side of the room. The water was cold against his skin, the towel rough as he cleaned himself. He washed his hands, his skin. He could see the night sky outside his window. A lingering line of light painted the edge of the hills in claret.

With his want satiated, his thoughts should have been clear and rational. Instead, he felt even more muddled than before. He was alone with himself in the dark.

And he was in trouble.

With the sun of his want set, he’d expected relief from the blinding light of lust. He’d hoped for an utter absence of desire. Instead, he’d discovered stars—a thousand pinpricks dancing around him; an entire constellation of yearning, sketched into his skin.

He got into bed by rote. Once there, he longed for her touch as he drifted off to sleep. For her body, to pull parallel against his, that he might explore her skin with his fingers, his mouth. Not for lust. Not for sin. For…comfort. He’d uncovered a cavernous desire that was impossible to satisfy with fingers and palm.

Mark opened his eyes and blew out his breath. With every exhale, he banished her image. He called to mind dark, cold things: caves under water, winter storms blocking all hint of the sun. He concentrated on the reckless cry of a cricket somewhere in the night. Nothing danced in front of his vision but darkness now—black of night, shadow playing on shadow.

Even with his mind cleared, he could feel the subterranean tug of his desire.

Mrs. Farleigh—Jessica—wasn’t comfortable. She wasn’t demure. She wasn’t even respectable.

She was none of those things. And yet… Mark inhaled deeply and faced a truth that he had been trying to avoid for far too long.

He was done resisting her.


“I DON’T SUPPOSE there’s anything here for me again today?” Jessica asked.

The post office was dark—dim enough, she hoped, to hide the familiar flush of humiliation that touched her cheeks. She hated asking after the post. It always made her feel like a beggar, ringing her bell on the street corner while passersby slunk to one side, avoiding her eyes.

The letter she’d received a handful of days past had taken away everything she’d hoped for. It was foolish to think that she’d receive any communication today. Still, hope, obstinate as that creature was, whispered that maybe she would receive something to make up for recent pain. She was owed something good in the post. It had been years since her family had sent her away. Why should today not be the day on which the embargo was lifted?

Because, Jessica thought grimly, I’ve already had a letter from my solicitor this week.

But the proprietress crinkled her forehead instead. “Happens there is.”

Jessica hadn’t realized she was holding her breath until she sucked air in, light-headed all at once. She squeezed her hands together, hard, and tried not to lunge at the woman and demand her letter. Possibilities flashed in front of her—her father had written; her mother, maybe Charlotte—

“That is, assuming you are who is meant by Jess Farleigh.”

Jess. Her family had never called her Jess. Her excitement turned to heavy lead.

“I suppose I am.”

Only one person called her Jess. If he was writing her directly, instead of sending his missive roundabout through her solicitor, he must be feeling anxious. Only a few days had elapsed since she’d last heard from him.

She didn’t want another letter reminding her of what awaited her in London. Still, the woman handed the envelope over, and Jessica took it gingerly between thumb and forefinger. Weston’s hands had covered this paper. His thumbs had rested where hers were now. It made her skin crawl, just to think of his touch on her gloves, even in such an indirect manner.

She wandered out into the square. She shouldn’t have told herself that fable about her family. Hope was a fickle friend. Gorging on it was like eating too much pudding. All that sweetness would feel wonderful for a few minutes, but once the first heady rush of energy faded, it left you tired and worn through.

After seven years, she needed to accept that she no longer existed. Her sisters had almost certainly forgotten her. Her father had banished her entirely. She was a fading memory to them. It wasn’t a crushing blow not to receive a letter from them.

It was only today that it felt like one.

She ripped open George Weston’s envelope and pulled out a half sheet of paper.

Jess, it read. Hurry it up. Lefevre is announcing his retirement at the end of next week. I want that sanctimonious ass discredited immediately. A seduction’s no good to me if I lose the role as Commissioner before you deliver.

She checked the date on his letter and calculated. Adding in time needed for her to return to London, time to secure publication, that left her with… Three days. She only had three more days to spend in his company before she had to ruin him.

“Well, then.”

The voice sounded behind her, and she whirled around, crumpling the paper in her fist.

“Sir Mark,” she gasped. She could hear the thrum of her heart, beating hard in her ears.

“Mark,” he said.

“Your pardon?”

He was serious, unsmiling. “It’s just Mark,” he said quietly. “To you.”

The sun suddenly seemed overbright. There was nobody else on the paving stones, but the taproom window looked out on the square. Anyone might see them here.

I want that sanctimonious ass discredited immediately.

“How are you today?” he asked.

She could destroy him. She had to do it. And he’d just asked her to address him by the naked intimacy of his Christian name and then inquired as to her well-being.

She wanted to scream at him, to shove him in the chest and tell him he was an idiot. She could destroy him. What else was she to do?

“Jessica?” His voice was soft and low. They stood in public, in full view of anyone who could see. “I may call you Jessica, may I not?”

“Don’t.” The word squeaked out.

Tags: Courtney Milan Turner Romance
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