Emotionally scarred in the horrific accident that took her husband’s life, Lady Cranfield is imprisoned by her lingering terror of horses and carriages. Lady Cranfield longed to be closer to the fascinating Earl of Ruel. She sensed intuitively that he could teach her how to overcome the terrors that held her in bondage.
And now she’s willing to risk almost anything-her reputation, even her virtue-to find out. But what he proposes startles her.
When the shy, studious and socially awkward young widow approached him, Ruel instantly sensed she would be the sweetest, most submissive experience of a lifetime-if only he can gain her total and complete trust. He makes her a non-negotiable offer. His help in return for her submission and obedience.
But Lady Cranfield grew up neglected by her ducal parents, raised by servants and then later ignored by her handsome, charming husband. She’s learnt to protect her heart at all costs and she trusts no one but herself.
How can the jaded Earl of Ruel break through her self-protective defences and show her how to love when he has spent his lifetime avoiding that tender trap?
Ruel’s stare pierced into her. There was something predatory and hot in that stare. It came to her, slowly, that he was pursuing her; challenging her.
Yes, her. Anne Bourchier, the Countess of Cranfield. The awkward, somewhat chubby girl who had hidden in the shadows during her season. The woman with the ice-cold embrace that had repulsed her husband, a wholly oversexed gentleman who never turned down a chance to roll in the sheets.
It was unthinkable that man like Ruel could possibly be interested in her.
He knew something about living and being brave. Something she wanted desperately to know.
The highest activity a human being can attain is learning for understanding, because to understand is to be free.
Spinoza’s words echoed in her head. Yes, if she could gain better understanding of what true, natural bravery was, she could grasp hold of it and free herself.
An only child left alone by her parents and always separated from others by her rank and her social awkwardness, she’d found all her answers about life from reading. One could read and study people just like books, surely. If she could speak to him and analyse his responses, she could distil that knowledge into something she could use.
He continued to stare, as if daring her to make the move that would either end the game…or take it to the next step.
A giddy sense of power washed over her. For once, she had something someone else wanted, besides her wealth. She could use it to get closer to him. To observe and learn from him. Should she just give the signal and be done with it?
She knew nothing of such matters. What if she did it wrong, made herself look a fool? Gripping her open fan in her right hand, she lifted it in front of her face.
She intoned the words in her mind with all the power of her intention.
How long should she leave it there? She closed her eyes and silently counted to thirty, each number echoed by her pulse. Then she let her hand drop, her stomach bottoming out.
She’d done it.
Oh God, she’d actually done it.
Gooseflesh rose all over her body and an itchy, twitching sensation raced down her spine to energise her legs and feet. Without daring to check his reaction, she snapped her fan closed and fled the chamber, leaving behind the others and their merrymaking.
Once safely down the corridor, she leaned against the wall, whipped her fan open and fluttered it rapidly in front of her overheated face.
Boot falls echoed in the empty passage way. Her hand froze. One quick glance took in his customary fierce expression.
Oh Lord. Now what?
Her heart pounded into life. She picked up her skirts, flew down the corridor and dashed into the study.
It was empty but for the odour of cigars lingering in the air.
She stared at the doorway, still filled with edgy energy.
What would he say or do once he found she wasn’t playing quite the game he thought she was? But how else to speak to Jonathon Lloyd, the seventh Earl of Ruel, away from the bevy of hangers-on he attracted?
She turned to stare out of the window, watching the wind toss the mighty oak as if it were but a willow.
The door closed softly.
She turned. He was advancing on her. At the sight of him, she caught her breath. His tall body was long-limbed and large-boned, yet in perfect proportion. Masculine elegance. Now, as always, his hair was styled with the appropriate amount of disarray. His clothes were eminently fashionable. Yet she’d never once seen him glance in a mirror or fidget with his cravat or hair, as other gentlemen were wont to do. He didn’t seem to give a damn.
He scanned the room with a sweeping yet comprehensive stare, as if he were still on a battlefield, searching for hidden dangers. Then he narrowed his gaze on her.
Her heart fluttered with little shocks of apprehension. Heavens…to be the object of that stern, intense gaze.
She backed all the way into the bookcase.
“Why did you run away?” His deep voice settled in her belly, rich and warm, like crème brûlée on a cold winter’s night.
“Because I wanted you to follow.” She tried to sound sophisticated and seductive, but her voice choked off on the last word.
Ruel placed his hand on the shelf above her head and blocked her path to the door. His tall, solidly muscled body leaned over her, surrounding her with the sumptuous, sinful scents of tobacco, Scotch whisky and something masculine and undeniably dangerous. A slow, sensual smile stretched his hard mouth.
He appeared different. Softer. More approachable.
At the change, her insides seemed to flip over.
“Well, sweeting, getting us off alone was a very inspired idea.” He touched one of her fallen ringlets. “I am bored to distraction with endless hunting and fencing.”
As he slowly wrapped the curl around two fingers, he brushed her collarbone. Fiery sparks tingled down her spine, so intense that she shivered and her nipples beaded, pressing against her stays. By some instinct she hadn’t even known she possessed, she arched her back, presenting herself for his assessment.
His eyes shone so vividly blue against his bronzed face that they resembled cornflowers. She swallowed tightly and wished for a long drink of claret. This more personal side of him suddenly seemed far more hazardous than his usually fierce exterior.
Well, no matter. There was nothing to fear. She would allow only as much contact as need be to get to know him a little. Since being torn from her lonely yet secure life in Ireland and thrust into society at age sixteen, she’d spent her time allowing people only as near as was comfortable. She was an expert at emotional evasion.
It should be easy to regain her control.
But now, as late afternoon sun rays played over his pale hair, turning it to the colour of winter wheat, all her carefully rehearsed words flew away.
Say something—anything—else he will think you’re a bird-wit.
An intimate smile, one that invited her to play, tugged at his mouth.
“In a situation like this, alone with a gentleman, it’s perfectly normal for a lady to feel some apprehension.” His hushed voice, barely audible above the piano and boisterous singing from down the corridor, accentuated their isolation. He brushed his fingertips over her cheek and his gaze became so piercing that she had to lower her eyes. “She will invariably ask herself if he will try to kiss her.”
She jerked her eyes back to his face. God, he couldn’t mean to—Not yet, surely… Peculiar, heated chills swept over her. She tried to take a step back, but found her arse flush against the bookshelf.
He leaned closer; so close that his Scotch-scented breath tickled her face. “And just in case you are wondering, Lady Cranfield—the answer is most assuredly yes.”
She should demand that he put his arm down so she could pass by and leave. She really should. But she couldn’t stop looking at his hard mouth and wondering what it would feel like upon hers. He was so close to her, his breath blew on her lips. If she moved but a fraction, she’d be kissing him.
Dear God. Her breath began to come very fast and short. Her throat went tight with a suppressed moan.
His eyes burnt as brightly as aquamarines. He looked so fierce. If he kissed her, if he dared… Oh God, it would be so harsh. That cruel-looking mouth could express itself no other way.
Excitement rushed through her, sending tingles to every point of her body, even her toes.
But no, he wouldn’t. Not yet.
He kept leaning closer. He didn’t close his eyes. Instead, he seemed to focus all the harder upon her.
Heart pounding and unable to move away, she braced herself for his assault.
His lips brushed hers, barely. A gossamer caress.
He lifted his head.
It was done.
And it hadn’t even begun.
He held her chin, appearing so cool, so unaffected. His kiss had seemed to sear her. An urge to put her fingers to her lips arose in her. She resisted it, for it would give away too much of how she was affected.
Never show your feelings.
He traced his thumb along her lower lip, slowly, deliberately, as he studied her with eyes that now glittered with something powerful and predatory. Heat pooled in her pelvis, low and spreading even lower.
She went weak all over, as if she’d lain in a sunny window seat for too long. Her knees almost buckled. She forced them to lock. To be strong.
It should not have affected her so profoundly. It had just been a peck—not a true kiss at all. William had poured out all of his skill upon her and hadn’t garnered even a tenth of the reaction in her that this man’s peck had.
Ruel traced her jaw line with his fingertips. Unthinkingly, she leaned in to his touch.
“Of course, once he has kissed her, then it’s his turn to wonder…” His voice sounded unnaturally loud to her ears. “How will she respond? Will she withdraw, or can he ignite some hidden fire?”
She sensed that he was toying with her. She’d didn’t understand flirtation—why had she imagined she could carry this ruse off? Was he making advances in order to have a laugh with Francesca and her simpering friends later? Hurt blossomed in her chest. She resented him for that. She ought to feel indignant, superior, uncaring—anything but hurt.
“Please don’t make sport of me.”
She cringed. Was that quavering, pleading voice really hers?
An infinitesimal pause. “Now, why on earth would I do such a thing?” His voice was as smooth as velvet.
“To please your vanity,” she replied, trying to regain her wits.
“Here.” He placed her hand to his chest. The contours of his muscles were hard, powerfully developed. Even more so than she’d expected. His body heat radiated through the satin and, beneath her hand, his heart beat was rapid and strong.
“Is that vanity?” He put a finger under her chin, giving her no choice but to face him. “Is it?” He gentled his grip.
The warmth in his voice settled over her like luscious hot chocolate. Melting her insides to quivering burgoo, rendering her speechless, unable to move.
“My dear, lovely Lady Cranfield, I am going kiss you again.”
Then he touched his mouth to hers, more firmly this time. Delicious, steady pressure. Her lips trembled and she clutched his lapels. He lifted his head. At the loss, a throaty, pleading moan sounded in her ears. Had it really come from her?
Clearly, now was the time for her to reassert some control over her reactions. To put him at a more comfortable distance.
“Kiss me back.” At the commanding edge in his voice, hot, sweet honey pooled in her belly.
What had she wanted to ask him? Focus? Dear God, what rubbish. She could scarcely remember her own name, much less anything else. What madness had made her think she could maintain control over him?
He traced her mouth with his tongue. Deliberately; lingeringly. This time she couldn’t hold back a moan. She had grown to dislike it when William kissed her opened mouthed. It had always seemed such an overheated, messy thing. But where was her coldness now? She was burning to know what it would feel like to know Ruel’s full kiss. She had to know—just once—or she would surely die.
Just once. Certainly once wouldn’t hurt.
Tentatively, tremulously, she opened her mouth.
He thrust inside, his tongue like a bold blade of flame as it touched hers. He tasted of whisky and something smoky, too sensual to be borne. Fire burst within her, spreading over her breasts. Of their own volition, her hands slid up his muscled arms and she gripped his shoulders and moaned again.
She twisted and pressed her breasts against his chest, trying to increase the sensation on her taut, aching nipples. However, her stays prevented it. Her frustration vibrated deep in her throat, another longer, more intense moan.
The sound startled her and, for a moment, it was as if she was staring down at the two of them. She didn’t recognise herself, but she couldn’t stop kissing him back. Couldn’t stop rubbing her breasts against him.
Who was this uninhibited strumpet? His breathing changed, growing heavier. He cupped her face with his large, long-fingered hands, angling her head. She went even more boneless and allowed him to move her as suited his wont.
He probed more forcefully with his tongue, went deeper, compelling her to open further, to melt against him more completely. He slid his hand to her neck and threaded his fingertips through her hair. He lifted the heavy mass off her neck. Cool air rushed over her nape. In one quick movement, he tightened his hold and, with gentle but firm pressure, he pulled her head back. Her shocked gasp came out as a mere whimper, muffled by his demanding mouth.
No man had ever handled her like this. She’d never even suspected a gentleman would handle a woman—even one of his whores—like this. If she had any sense left, she ought to be frightened, offended—enraged.
Instead, her nipples pebbled painfully and heat twisted through her insides.
He tore his mouth from hers. As she gasped for breath, a sense of loss hit her so intensely that she felt disorientated. She stood there, leaning against his hard body, panting open-mouthed, with her head pulled backwards by his grip.
He studied her and tightened his grasp, pulling more harshly this time. A violent shaft of desire stabbed her, womb-deep.
Warmth, and what looked very much like satisfaction, shone in his gaze.
He laid his other hand along her collarbone in what could only be called a blatant, sexually possessive manner. The skin crinkled around his eyes. He was smiling, ever so slightly. Something had just happened. She didn’t understand what it was. If only she could think, she would be able to reason it out. However, liquid warmth pooled in her lower pelvis and flowed out between her legs in a gush that came so suddenly she gasped. Her sex throbbed as if it were a beating heart.
Coherent thought was impossible.
He shifted and throbbing heat seared her, even through their clothing.
Its long, thick, tubular weight was more substantial than William’s.
Ruel brushed his fingers against her back. Tugging, pulling.
Undoing her laces.
She froze and placed her hands on his chest. “Don’t.”
The gown slipped and she automatically clutched the dark purple silk to herself.
He took hold of her wrists, easily circling them with the forefinger and thumb of each hand. “Let the gown fall away.”
He used the voice. The one from the dreams she only reluctantly admitted to herself. The very confident, commanding tone that the nameless, faceless man used in her nocturnal fantasies. Her secret lover who would press her down and—
“I want you to remove the rest of your garments and then I want you to lie on that crimson divan and display yourself for me.”
She threw a glance at the divan, her favourite spot in this whole house. The image his words conjured—her, lying naked on the crimson velvet, open for his perusal—burnt into her brain. Her inner muscles contracted several times—hard. The folds between her legs swelled and grew slicker.
Of course, despite her wayward dreams, she didn’t really want to do something like that.
She barely knew Ruel. Yet there was that innate sense that she could trust him. That she could give in to his whims and it would be safe. A secret shared between them. Temptation tingled through her, increasing with every beat of her heart.
She had never been reckless in her life. A trembling began in her legs.
She turned back to him. His features were tight with desire, his stare commanding and compelling. She wanted to be reckless with this man.
“The door is locked. The others aren’t going to come in here—the gentlemen are all occupied with fencing and the ladies are busy with their watercolours.”
She’d never allow herself the luxury of surrendering to this. For this was pure emotion and it would be giving him too much of herself.
“I won’t do it.” She had intended to make her tone resolute. That thready, pleading voice couldn’t possibly be hers.
“It would please me.” His firm tone sent a new wave of lassitude through her limbs.
Need twisted in her lower stomach and a fresh cascade of wetness slicked her intimate folds. It slid down her inner thighs.
Wait—How had they come to this moment? Where the devil was the reserve and sexual coolness that had driven William into other arms? This virtual stranger held some kind of special power over her. God. It was unthinkable. It was terrifying.
“No.” Her strident denial echoed jarringly in her ears.
He released her wrists.
She pulled the gown up high and clutched it tight. She wanted to run. She should run. But his large, strong body still stood between her and the exit. Would he really attempt to stop her if she tried to flee? Her heart pounded at the thought. Because she knew that if he put his hands on her and stopped her, especially if he did it as forcefully and firmly as he’d behaved thus far, she’d melt for him.
What a revelation! She’d never suspected such a creature existed in her secret heart, waiting for someone to come along and draw her out.
“You’d better leave now.” She pushed the words past her shaking lips.
Wan't that just a pure yummy tease? And this book is full of wonderful little scenes like this....except way HOOOTTTTEEERR!! LOL!!!
I love erotic historical romances, and Natasha's books meet my needs every time. Especially her latest book A Measured Risk. This is by far my favorite book in her collection, even though Grey's Lady comes in a close second. Anne was on a mission. Ever since the horrid accident that had taken her husband's life, she had lived in an unrelenting grasp of fear. But what Anne never realized was that she had been stuffed into a box long before her husband's death. For lurking inside this studious lady's cold facade was a passionate woman screaming to get out. And it took one look at The Earl of Ruel to know he was the man that would help free her, she just didn't realize it meant freeing all of her. Even the parts of her that she hid from herself.
Johnathan was used to getting exactly what he wanted, and he knew from experience that the society ladies rarely offered it. There maybe a hint of something more behind there cool exterior glances, but it rarely panned out into anything remotely resembling long-term or interesting. But Anne had his attention long before he came to another one of these dull parties. She had an air about her that was intriguing and Jon couldn't help being reeled in. Especially when he realized she was more than willing to play his game.
Anne came to Jon at first for help. But something sparked between the two of them that left Anne breathless and Jon grasping for control. Neither were prepared for where their games would lead them, and these games in question were unbelievably hot!!! You'll need one of those hand-fans yourself for a large part of this book! If you enjoy light BDSM, tied in with a sensuous romance then this is the book for you!!! Who knew a little rope and spanking could be soooo delicious? Hat's off to Natasha!! I can't wait for more like this!!!
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