Miss Wynchester swept into the Duke of Faircliffe’s dining room with her head high.
Faircliffe’s throat went dry and his mind emptied of rational thought.
Gone was the insipid blandness of tan-on-tan. Her curves were now draped in a slip of mauve twill, overlaid with a sweeping frock of white netting. The dark velvet trim on the light rose bodice matched the velvet vandyke points decorating the skirt. The gauzy romantic colors brought out the dark brown of her hair and the deep brown of her long-lashed eyes.
His body tightened. It was all he could do not to reach for her. Pull her against his chest, and claim her in ravenous kisses that weren’t his to take.
A smile flitted at her lips, as if she sensed the maelstrom she’d unleashed within him.
His lungs tangled, making it hard to speak. Each syllable was the rasp of a drowning man. “You look magnificent.”
She stood much too far away for Faircliffe’s taste. That bodice would be displayed at its best pillowed against his chest, the perfect distance for a man to embark on a trail of kisses from her rosy lips, down the column of her throat, and into the swell of her bosom.
Tonight, he would dream of nothing else.
Miss Wynchester took a step toward the table. He watched, rapt. The swing of her hips was sensual and confident. She was a Wynchester. A woman of flesh and blood. Not being a highborn lady erased none of her power. The empty dining room crackled with it.
He leapt to his feet to help her into her chair.
She stopped her forward progress when she was less than an arm’s length from him. Close enough to touch. Close enough to see.
Her eyes were the warmest shade of brown he had ever beheld. They were fathomless, penetrating. He wanted to see those eyes flutter closed in pleasure, and know that it was he who had brought her to that peak.
“That.” Her voice was warm honey. “Whatever you’re thinking at this very moment. That is what you should be doing.”
He’d been thinking of her. Of devouring her kiss by kiss, lick by lick, until she was limp and sated in his arms.
It was highly improper dinner party behavior.
His voice was hoarse. “I don’t think you understand what I…”
“Don’t I?” Her eyes were hot on his, her gaze intense and unwavering.
He tried to calm the rushing in his veins, carnal desires straining to be set free. She meant this. That he should be and do as he pleased.
But what he wanted would lead them both to ruin.
“My father…” His voice was too low, too rough. A rumble of thunder on a spring day. “Father was emotional and impulsive. It made him a laughingstock.” It had made Faircliffe a laughingstock. “I will not compound his mistakes.”
Even if there was nothing he wanted more than to end this conversation by covering her mouth with his. Giving in. Allowing passion to consume him.
Her gaze searched his face. “What if it’s not a mistake? How will you know, if you keep yourself gaoled inside your head?”
Gaol. That was exactly what he should do with the urge to take her, kiss her, taste her. Lock his visceral, libidinous urges behind bars and throw away the key. It was the only way he would be strong enough to resist temptation.
“I…” Had he stepped closer? Had she? Their forbidden kiss was a breath away.
Her eyes sparked with challenge. “What would you do, Your Grace? If you were the sort of craven rogue who indulged his every desire. What impulse are you trying to fight?”
He reached up to touch her cheek. He should not have. Its softness was his undoing.
Faircliffe was done fighting. For the moment, he would allow desire to break free from its chains. With no gaoler to stop him, there was only one thing
Faircliffe wanted… and she was right in front of him.
He grasped her face, his fingers delving into the softness of her hair, and brought her to him. Heaven. Hell. His lips upon hers were less a kiss, and more two souls crashing into each other, shattering and melding at the same time.
She smelled like honeysuckle and tasted like fresh tea. Had he thought he hated the substance? He adored it when it came from her lips. No amount of sugar could compare to the sweetness of her mouth, the fierce rush of her fingers twisting in his hair.
Something fluttered in his chest, an unfurling, a rebirth. He explored the contours of her mouth, mapping each hidden corner to remember later, to revisit in his mind when he could not have her in his hands.
Both palms now cupped her cheeks. Not to keep her in place, but to stop himself from skimming his eager hands down the column of her neck, the hollow of her back, the flare of her hips.
If he touched her body, he’d be tempted to pull her closer. To leave no doubt that kissing her was no fleeting impulse, but a gale-force of temptation he barricaded himself against every time he thought her name or saw her face. This was what he had hungered for. Her. Beneath his fingers. Had he truly believed he could stay away?
Kissing her was as inevitable as the rain falling from swollen clouds, and just as impossible to hold in one’s hands forever.
He forced himself to wrench his mouth from hers, panting. Her face was still in his hands, her lips swollen from his kisses. He touched their foreheads together and tried to regain his breath. It was no use.
“Now you know.” The words were a growl, a plea. “All I can offer you is a moment’s passion. Do not ask me to uncage myself again, unless this is what you want.”
Erica Ridley is a New York Times and USA Today best-selling author of historical romance novels, including the newly released THE DUKE HEIST, featuring the Wild Wynchesters. Why seduce a duke the normal way, when you can accidentally kidnap one in an elaborately planned heist?
In the 12 Dukes of Christmas series, enjoy witty, heartwarming Regency romps nestled in a picturesque snow-covered village. After all, nothing heats up a winter night quite like finding oneself in the arms of a duke!
When not reading or writing romances, Erica can be found riding camels in Africa, zip-lining through rainforests in Costa Rica, or getting hopelessly lost in the middle of Budapest.