Caught in a snowstorm on Christmas Eve - Jessica Peterson
Jessica Peterson began reading romance to escape the decidedly unromantic awkwardness of her teenage years. Having found solace in the likes of Rhett Butler and Mr. Darcy, it wasn’t long before she began creating tall, dark, and handsome heroes of her own.
A graduate of Duke University, Jessica worked at an investment bank before leaving to pursue her writerly dreams. She lives with her husband, the tall, dark, and handsome Mr. Peterson, in Charlotte, North Carolina.
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CAUGHT IN A SNOWSTORM
A Not So Short Story
Two households, both alike in dignity…
Shakespeare, ROMEO AND JULIET
Winter, 1813. Since the time of the Cousins’ War some three hundred years before, two of England’s greatest families – the Woods and the Danes – have feuded over control of the Northern shires.
As heiress to a strategically important barony straddling both Wood and Danes land, Lady Jane Brookes is a prize coveted by both families. All but sold off by her father to the eldest Danes son, Gunnar, Earl of Laurence, Jane faces her wedding day with as much dignity and fortitude as she can muster.
Which is to say, not very much at all.
HER GROOM was every inch the Romeo he believed himself to be.
Broad shoulders, proud nose, mane of blonde hair, thick and tightly waved: Gunnar, Earl of Laurence, heir to the Duke of Westwick, would have made his warmongering medieval ancestors proud, and any woman with two eyes and a pulse swoon on sight.
Any woman, that is, except the one he meant to make his bride.
Chafing against her wedding gown – new, and velvet, embroidered with so many seed pearls it could have sat upright on its own – Lady Jane Brookes peered at her betrothed through the carriage window, heart elbowing, hard, against her ribs.
It was nothing personal, this antipathy she felt towards him. If her father hadn’t sold her like a fattened sow to the highest bidder, she might’ve liked Gunnar, and encouraged his half-hearted suit.
As it was, she would trade places with literally anyone – a peasant, a partridge, the long suffering and oft-ridiculed Princess Caroline – this chilly December morning.
The wedding procession, made up of the bride, the groom, their families and retainers, moved slowly through the gloom. It had started to snow, a low ceiling of grey cloud pressing down upon the moor.
Jane’s breath fogged the glass; she rubbed it away with a gloved hand; her mother the Baroness, sitting on the squabs opposite, admonished Jane to move away from the window, it was terrible luck for the bridegroom to see his prize before the ceremony.
“Prize.” Jane’s lips twisted as she released the curtain. “Of course. I forgot I am a thing that has been fought over, and won.”
Her mother rolled her eyes. “Oh, for heaven’s sake, Jane, I didn’t mean it like that. It’s tradition, that’s all, that His Lordship doesn’t see you until you join him at the altar.”
Jane, determined not to part with her mother on a sour note, bit back the hot words that bubbled to her lips; words that would let mother dearest know exactly how Jane felt about this asinine tradition.
Gathering the curtain in her fingers, she was about to venture another glance when the thunder of hooves, heavy and unfamiliar, filled the air.
Jane’s heart rammed a hole through her breast. She met eyes with her mother across the swaying carriage; outside there were shouts, the scrape of steel as weapons were drawn; the vehicle shuddered to a sudden, violent stop, Jane tumbling headfirst into her mother’s lap.
“What is it?” the Baroness hissed. “Surely it can’t be – “
But by all accounts – the weapons, the shouts, the masked men Jane had glimpsed through the window – it was indeed.
It had happened to Mary, Queen of Scots, some several hundred years ago; and it appeared it would now happen to Jane Brookes.
Bride kidnapping, the old fashioned Scottish kind.
The carriage door swung open, and a tall, lanky figure, his dark hair curling out from the sides of his black leather mask, filled the threshold. The Baroness shrieked; but before Jane could scream, shove the man aside, he was reaching for her, encircling her waist in his enormous hands.
His grasp was firm; coupled with the paralyzing cold, it left Jane in helpless thrall as he lifted her out into the swirling snow. She let out a small oof! when he tossed her, easily, carelessly, over his shoulder.
“Really?” she huffed.
“Sorry,” he mumbled.
She was aware, vaguely, of the struggle happening around her. Men grunting, the awful sucking sound of their boots in the mud, shouted oaths. So much for Romeo and his bred-for-battle mob; they were no match against her kidnapper and his men.
She prayed, fervently, that no one got hurt.
The masked man hoisted her onto the biggest, blackest destrier she had ever seen; even in the low light, its coat shone like silk. Jane wondered if it was a kidnapping requirement, that sinister men have equally sinister-looking mounts.
He swung up onto the saddle behind her, cradling her body between his powerful legs, and she started at the warm rush that arrowed through her. She tried to ignore it, to focus on the task at hand, but when he took the reins, guiding her even further into the curve of his arms and chest, the rush became so poignant she shivered.
“Are you all right?” he murmured in her ear, which only caused her to shiver harder, an embarrassing, whole-body tremor.
“You’re ki-kidnapping me on my w-wedding day, remember?” she said through teeth that chattered. “Of course I’m not-t-t all right.”
She could hear the grin in his reply. “Of course, how silly of me to anticipate otherwise. Let’s be off then, it’s a good ride we’ve got ahead of us.”
Jane saw stars when, as her captor spurred the horse into an all-out sprint, the man bucked his body against her own. She could feel the jutting angles of his hip bones at the small of her back, the hard planes of muscle roped across his belly and chest as they slammed against her with the destrier’s every stride.
She could feel the beat of the man’s heart, a rapid, strong pound, between her shoulder blades.
Her skin was on fire; which could’ve explained why Jane didn’t mind the snow, except for when it landed in her eyes. It was coming down now, the snow, coating the moor in speckled white. Around them the world dimmed, so that while it was hardly past ten o’clock, it appeared as if night already approached.
Then came the wind. A great howl that whipped at their faces, turned the snow into a white frenzy, and beat back their progress.
There was a thump of fear in her chest. Having spent the better part of her twenty two winters here in the north, she knew the signs well.
This was no flurry; this was a storm. From the look of it, that damp, slightly earthy smell that filled her nostrils, it was going to be a bad one, too.
And that did not bode well for Jane and her sinister captor, riding out across the open moor. They could get lost, disoriented. They could ride in circles for hours until they gave up and their horse gave in, their frozen bodies found a month from now by a pair of curious – and hungry – bears.
Jane shivered again.
Behind her the man was struggling to control his destrier.
“I’m afraid a detour is necessary,” he shouted over the wind. “Hold tight!”
Huddled into the circle of his arms, Jane did as she was bid, and held on for dear life as he urged the horse across the moor. They rode for what seemed an eternity, until the snow came down so thickly, the wind blew with such fierceness, Jane could hardly make out the destrier’s muzzle. Her hair and clothes were soaked through, and even though the warmth of the man’s body seeped into her own, it was no match for the storm’s bitter cold.
Just when Jane resigned herself to bear bait, the horse’s hooves began clapping in a way that made her heart leap. They’d found a road, or a drive; it was paved; which meant shelter couldn’t be far off.
She felt limp with relief as the hulking outline of – yes, it really was, the crenellated tower of a small castle. It appeared to be intact, and well loved; lived in. Its glazed windows reflected the creeping darkness; there was one, on the bottom floor, that glowed warmly.
“Oh,” Jane panted. “Oh, thank God. D’you know the family that lives here?”
The man pulled his horse to a stop as they rode into a cobblestone courtyard. “No family yet,” he said, sliding to the ground. She nearly cried out at the loss of his warmth. “Just me.”
“Yours?” Jane asked, leaning into his outstretched arms. Beneath her hands the muscles in his shoulders gathered and released as he helped her to the ground. “This all belongs to you?”
“As much as I’d love to play the part of sinister-yet-secretly wealthy captor and regale you with tales of my exalted castle, I daresay you won’t be quite as impressed when you see what’s inside. Besides, I’m bloody freezing.”
He swung open a low, heavy door, its thick iron hinges squawking in protest, and gestured Jane inside. She darted into the fragrant warmth of small but orderly kitchen. A fire burned in an enormous stone fireplace; the spicy scent of cinnamon filled the air; and a middle aged man, face flushed from the heat of the fire, sprung from his perch on a stool to his feet.
His pale eyes alighted on Jane first. And then, moving to the figure that stepped into the kitchen behind her, the man fell back against a neat pile of cast iron pots, causing them to tumble to the floor in a cacophony that made Jane’s ears ring.
“It’s all right, Monty, it’s just me.” Her captor tugged off his mask, riling his thick, close-cropped hair. He ran a hand through it, mussing it into a tangle of licks and coils. With his other hand he reached out and, grasping Monty by the elbow, hauled him to his feet.
Jane’s heart hiccupped in her chest. Her dearest friend’s older brother, Max, always cut a dashing figure; but clad in black leather, his wet hair mussed, cheeks and nose a ruddy shade of pink – all the accouterments of a proper outlaw – he was something much…well, much more virile than dashing.
Monty held a hand to his heaving breast. “Heavens, m’Lord, gave me quite a fright ye did! We wasn’t expectin’ ya, not ‘til after Christmastide. Is everything – “
“As it should be?” Max said. His brown eyes, dancing in the light of the fire, met Jane’s. “Hardly. You see, Monty, I’ve just kidnapped this blushing bride from her wedding.”
Jane offered Monty a wan smile. “To be fair, it was my idea. It’s a bit of a story, but I didn’t want to marry the man I was sold to. Considering my options were suicide, or kidnapping, or an ignominious flight to Scotland, I chose to have myself kidnapped. I offered the part to Max here, and he graciously agreed to play the perpetrator. Did a bang up job of it, too.”
Max grinned, the brackets around his mouth and nose deepening with genuine pleasure, and offered Jane a small bow. “It is only what a very perfect gentle knight would do, my lady.”
Oh, never mind that he was quoting Chaucer.
(That was enough to slay her.)
Very perfect backside, yes. But there was something about the way he looked at her – the way his eyes teased, how they darkened as he none too discreetly admired the way her sopping dress clung to her body – that made her think Max Wood, heir to the Duke of Clare, entertained decidedly ungentle thoughts.
Jane shivered for the hundredth time that day.
Max blinked, crossing the small kitchen in one, two enormous strides, his eyes now narrowed with concern. He did not hesitate, he didn’t ask; he pulled off his gloves and put his hands on her, running them up and down the length of her arms as he guided her closer to the fire.
He kept his gaze trained on Jane as he issued orders to Monty. Open the solar, light a fire, bring up candles and whatever libations you and the Missus might have on hand, Monty, thank you. Oh, yes, and a change of clothes for us both, too.
The man scurried from the kitchen.
Even as she shivered, and kept shivering – the eager working of his hands certainly didn’t help – Jane burned beneath Max’s attention. She liked this new Max, the leather-clad kidnapper, the quietly capable master of the castle, liked him too much.
Jane had been in love with Max since she was fifteen. But this new Max – she wanted him in an entirely new, and disconcerting, way.
She was trembling now, the chill of her wet gown seeping into her bones and skin.
“Monty?” Max called over his shoulder. “The change of clothes, have you got it?”
“Damn,” Max said, turning back to Jane. “I don’t think we can keep you in these clothes much longer before you catch cold.”
“N-now you play the p-p-part of kidnapper to-to-too well, Max,” Jane managed.
“What?” He grinned, oh dear, that grin. “I waited a few minutes before I began the tearing-your-clothes-off-and-seducing-you-soundly bit. Surely that’s time enough?”
You can seduce me anytime, she thought.
She said instead: “You at l-least ought to p-pour me a drink first. D-dull my wits, p-ply me with wine.”
He cast his gaze about the small kitchen, pausing at the trestle table tucked beneath a window on the far wall. It was covered in a plain white tablecloth.
“Here,” he said, whipping it off and holding it up between himself and Jane. “This’ll have to do. I promise not to look.”
Jane glanced down at her exquisite – and exquisitely heavy, and sopping – gown, then glanced back up at Max.
“What?” he said again.
She felt her face go up in flames. “This gown. I can’t get it off by myself.”
“Oh.” She thought she saw him blush. Was he blushing? Why would he blush?
“Well then.” He lowered the tablecloth and set it on the stool, then blew into his hands and rubbed them together. “I shall help you.”
She was about to protest when a new wave of tremors racked her body. At once Max was standing close, too close, turning her to face the fire, his fingers working at the row of buttons that trailed down her back.
“Just a few more, Jane,” he said. “Just a few more and I’ll have you wrapped up and warm.”
He slid his bare hands into either side of her gown, his skin scraping against hers as he coaxed the garment over her shoulders. It fell with a wet squish to her feet. He moved to her stays, unlacing them with savage quiet, his fingers moving quickly as she continued to shiver.
Jane felt Max’s eyes on her, the burn of his gaze as it moved over her body. She knew without looking her shift was so wet as to be a second skin; she wanted to die of embarrassment.
“I-I can manage it,” she said, glancing over her shoulder. “And you p-p-promised not to look.”
She could see the bob of his Adam’s apple as he swallowed, hard. “Yes. Right. Of course, Jane, I’ll just. Um. The tablecloth, I’ll get it.”
He held it up once more between them as she wiggled out of her chemise in the most ungainly way possible. She tossed it aside, covering herself as best she could; then Max was swallowing her in the fire-warmed tablecloth, wrapping it tightly about her before turning her to face him.
“Better?” he asked. His voice, she noticed, was oddly deep, crackled.
“A bit,” she said. “All right for a tablecloth.”
Monty reappeared at the door. Jane, feeling naked as the day she was born despite being wrapped up like a mummy, backed further into the kitchen. Max stepped forward, tucking Jane behind him. He was very tall up close; her nose barely grazed the blade of his shoulder.
Something lovely – something dangerous – bloomed inside her chest at his thoughtfulness, his apparent protectiveness. She dared not think Max – heir to a dukedom, and terribly handsome besides – felt for her the things she did for him.
Still. The way he looked at her, and touched her –
“Fire’s lit in the solar, m’lord, and ‘ve laid out what clothes ye have on th’ bed. I’ve brought up a jug o’ wassail, should be nice an’ warm.”
Thanking his man, Max reached for Jane and led her out of the kitchen and down a long, narrow hall. At the end of the hall a winding staircase followed the rounded outer wall of a tower. As she climbed, Jane held the cloth close against her, praying she didn’t step on it and trip.
(Although that would be a decent excuse to fall into her perfect knight’s perfect arms.)
(Really, the daydreaming had to stop.)
At the top of the stairs a small stone landing led to another door, which Max pushed and held open for Jane.
“All kidnapping jokes aside,” he said, stepping into the solar, “this is the only chamber I keep with any semblance of comfort. Or furniture, really. So. Um. I’m afraid we’ll be sleepi – sharing it, if that’s all right with you. I can always bide time in the kitchen, with Monty – “
“No.” The reply came before Jane could stop it. “It’s all right, Max. Heavens, I asked you to kidnap me. I mean to return the favor, I do, but until you need to be kidnapped, the least I can do is allow you use of your own house. Castle. Whatever you call it.”
“It’s called Castle West.” He smiled, relieved. “Come in, then, Jane, get settled in the chair there by the fire.”
Jane. She loved the sound of her name on his lips; there was something secret about it, her name, when he said it. A grown-up version of his baby sister’s friend.
Despite the tall ceiling that arrowed to a point high above their heads, the tower room was cozy, and well appointed. Faded tapestries lined the walls; the floor was strewn with colorful turkey carpets, and a fire was crackling to life in the most enormous fireplace Jane had ever seen.
An equally enormous four poster bed, dressed in downy, inviting linens, loomed in the shadows behind them. A pile of clothes sat on the counterpane.
Jane looked away from the bed, quickly. She had a fertile enough imagination without the encouragement of that bed. His bed. Max Wood’s.
He must’ve caught her looking, because his smile deepened as he began untangling himself from layers of black leather.
“Now that we’re at last alone, Jane, shall I tie you to the bed, and ravish you thoroughly?”
She managed a wry quirk of her lips as she sunk into the chair. She had gotten good at it over the years, pretending his words did not affect her; pretending she didn’t care.
“Wine first, seduction second, remember?” she said.
“Ah! Yes! Just a moment, then.”
She pretended not to see his bare chest as he peeled back the last layer, making for the clothes laid out on the bed. His chest was as finely wrought and frankly male as the rest of him. Pale skin, stretched taut over muscle and sinew –
Jane blinked, hard, focusing her gaze on the narrow windows – once arrow slits – on the far side of the room. Outside the storm howled; ice pelted against the panes; snow dimmed whatever view the room afforded.
She hoped, fervently, she and Max weren’t snowed in for too long. She didn’t trust herself for one night, much less two, more than that. She’d kept this secret for almost ten years; she had no plans of divulging it tonight.
“Bad news.” Max appeared at her side, bearing a small pile of linen. “I’ve got plenty of shirts here, but only one pair of breeches, and no trousers or robes in sight. Monty is many things, but I’m afraid a decent valet isn’t one of them.”
“I suppose the tablecloth is to become a skirt, then,” Jane said, taking a shirt in her hands. Her fingers tingled; holding Max’s shirt, touching fabric that touched his skin, felt unbearably intimate.
He retreated to the far corner of the chamber; they dressed, Jane letting out a little sigh as she pulled the shirt over her head, tying the cloth about her hips. She practically swam in the shirt; the sleeves were two times too long; she could smell Max in his shirt, the faintest hint of his cologne.
Her eyes rolled to the back of her head.
She came to just as Max pressed a mug of warm wassail into her hand, falling into the chair beside hers. He stretched out his long, thickly muscled legs to the fire. His feet were bare; the breeches loose about his waist. She could see the plane of his chest, peeking through the open neck of his shirt.
“To a job well done,” he said, holding out his mug.
Jane tapped her mug to his. “To that black mask of yours.”
“Liked it, did you?” He wiggled his eyebrows. “I shall have to play the outlaw more often, then.”
Wait. Was Max – the forbidden elder brother of her dear friend – was he flirting with her?
Closing her eyes against a rush of excited confusion, she took a long pull of spiced cider, only to sputter at the burn that laced down her throat. “Good Lord,” she wiped her mouth, “Monty’s not as stingy with the brandy as he is with your breeches, is he?”
Max met her eyes over the rim of his mug. “I’d rather have brandy than breeches, wouldn’t you?”
That was definitely flirtatious...wasn’t it?
Jane slurped more wassail, and hoped Max didn’t see it in her eyes – her very fervent agreement that yes, he should drink more brandy, and yes, he should definitely lose the breeches. And put on that mask…
For several moments they were quiet, the fire and cider defrosting their limbs, slowly, Jane’s toes coming back to vibrant, painful life.
“You know, Jane,” Max said at last. “I understand why you did it. Kidnap yourself. You do have a flair for the dramatic, and no one wants to be forced into a marriage they don’t want. But Gunnar Danes is, by any measure, excellent husband material. Wealthy beyond imagine, handsome – though the hair is a bit much for my taste – and, from what I hear, shamelessly charming. Just ask my sister, she’s smitten.”
Jane bit back a smile, staring down into her mug. “I’d like to think myself a dutiful daughter. I used to want, more than anything, to make my parents proud. I love them, Max. I believed in what they were trying to do.” She paused. “But duty only goes so far. And I stopped believing in them when they bullied me like they did, made such an important decision without my consent. I can bear their moods, I can bear their quirks and aggressions and opinions, but I cannot bear their betrayal. Gunnar had no interest in me beyond the estates and the ten thousand a year that came with me. How was that supposed to make me feel? My parents wanted me to believe it, they believed it themselves, that I was only worth what I would inherit. And I, God forbid, begged to differ.”
Max raised his brows. “So you had me kidnap you to make a point. That you are a person, not a fortune, and as such deserve a more dignified ending than an arranged marriage to a curly-haired fop.”
“Exactly,” she said, her chest and knees beginning to glow from the cider. She held out her mug for more; Max refreshed both their cups. “Really, Max, as my kidnapper I didn’t expect you to be quite so sympathetic to my plight.”
“As your friend” – here he touched his mug to hers – “I am more sympathetic than you might think.”
“Friend?” she eyed him.
“You’re Katherine’s friend, which makes you a friend of mine. My sister has a keen eye for character. And you forget – my family hates the Woods almost as much as you do. My father wanted me to offer for you, if only to score a victory against our old enemy.”
“Please say you didn’t.”
“Of course I didn’t.” He fell back in his chair, cast her a thoughtful look. “I wouldn’t have won, anyway. And I’d much prefer your vengeance be directed at Gunnar and your parents instead of me.”
“Fair point,” Jane said.
“Besides.” Max drained his mug, smacking his lips. “Apparently I make a better outlaw than a lord.”
“Only when you wear the mask,” Jane said, smiling.
“We – you – you did it. Pulled off a kidnapping.” His eyes burned amber in the warm light as he scoffed. “Pardon the expression, Jane, but you’ve got bollocks. That’s a compliment, you know.”
He grinned. “I know you know that I know. You know?”
“I don’t know.”
“I’ll teach you.”
“I venture it would be an interesting lesson.”
“I am more than happy to instruct you in my sinister ways, madam.”
Jane laughed, and Max laughed along with her, and they drank and they talked and they drank some more, and as she grew loose-limbed from the cider, Jane was more confused than ever. Max had always been an affable sort of man; he was handsome as sin, and he knew it; heavens, he practically flirted with everyone, his grandmother and spinster aunts included.
But that didn’t mean he was flirting with her.
OF COURSE Max was flirting with Jane.
It began as it always did: innocuously, unconsciously. He’d been a natural flirt since the time he could talk.
But he hadn’t meant for it to go this far. To take a turn from playful barbs to heated (and mostly nonsensical) suggestions. Perhaps it was the thrill of a job well done, or the cask of wassail she’d helped him drink: but tonight Jane was far more outspoken, and far cleverer, than she’d ever been before.
And Max liked this Jane. Liked her.
Which was problematic on so, so many levels. She was his baby sister’s dearest friend, firstly, and betrothed to his great enemy besides. She was an heiress, he nearly destitute, and while in a novel they would have matched up quite nicely, at present neither of them was much interested in that kind of marriage.
It didn’t help that, as she gestured and laughed, his shirt had worked its way off her arm, revealing the gleaming slope of her bare shoulder. Swallowing, hard, Max shifted uncomfortably in his chair and looked down at his mug.
He looked back up at her shoulder.
Since when had Jane Brookes – freckly, brown-haired, bookish Janie – become a woman, and a beautiful one at that? It seemed to have happened overnight.
Max Wood was not prepared.
Tugging a hand through his hair, he looked away. “Your – my – um – shirt,” he said gruffly. “It’s coming off.”
“Oh,” Jane said. A beat. “I’ll put on my shirt if you put on your mask.”
Max’s blood roared to sudden, simmering life. He didn’t feel like joking anymore, this was getting dangerous.
Outside the storm howled, wind whistling down the chimney.
“Jane,” he said.
“Max,” she said.
He felt himself grinning. “Fine,” he said, and heaved himself out of his chair. Crossing the room, he swiped the mask off a beside table.
Max knew he shouldn’t. It was unforgivably wicked, suggestive; the worst sort of bad idea there was.
But because he was a man, and because he was enjoying Jane’s company far more than he should, he did it anyway.
He handed Jane the mask, and, placing his hands on the armrests of her chair, leaned over her, his face mere inches from her own. “I’m afraid I require your assistance,” he said.
She looked startled, intrigued, aroused. Her eyes, dark brown, sparked with mischief as she wrinkled her nose. “What sort of kidnapper are you if you can’t put on your mask?”
“A second-rate one, obviously.”
She tsked. “Next time I’ll be sure to hire someone more qualified.”
Jane’s fingers worked their way into his hair as she carefully tied the mask at the back of his head. Sensation coursed through him as she touched and pried; he thought he might die.
Her hand brushed his jaw as she pulled back. He met her gaze. They both went still, the space between them crackling, twisting, pulling them closer together. He looked and she looked and it was all Max could do not to swallow her in his arms.
Max was still possessed of enough sense to not lean in. But oh, the way she was looking at him, the curious uncertainty in her gaze, the way her breath fluttered on his skin – he couldn’t possibly kiss her, not Jane, not here, like this –
And he didn’t.
Because Jane kissed him.
It happened so quickly Max hardly had time to register the feeling of her lips on his lips, the shock of tasting her for the first time.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. He’d agreed to kidnap her, then bring her to safety where she could gather her things and her courage and make for London – that was as far as his complicity went.
He was not supposed to flirt with her, seduce her, and he definitely wasn’t supposed to kiss her.
But here he was, falling into her, his body going up in flames. Her bollocks, her taste – it drove him wild.
She pulled away, suddenly, her hand flying to his chest. His heart thundered against it, her hand, the both of them breathing hard.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t want – I shouldn’t have – “
But then he was taking her face in his hands and bending his neck to bring his mouth to hers, and he kissed her, deeply, and in a searing flash he was overtaken by his desire for her, desire to possess her, take whatever she would give him.
Max woke slowly, blinking back the cobwebs of sleep. The memory of what he’d done – her giving, his taking, and taking, and taking – came back in a poignant rush.
Dearest mother in Heaven. He and Janie Brooks – they’d – oh, God, what had he done?
He glanced out the window. It was dark; he hadn’t a clue what time it was; the storm had at last ceased its assault. The fire had died down long ago, and a single taper by the bed provided the only light.
He was sprawled out on his back on the bed. Instinctively he reached out beside him, expecting to find Jane curled up, her hair swirling about her in seductive disarray.
He found instead mangled bedclothes, cold, an empty void.
“Jane?” Max pitched upright. She wasn’t in bed; a quick search of the room provided no clue as to her whereabouts. “Jane, are you here?”
Around him the castle was quiet. He listened for a sound, any sound, but none came; his heart began to race.
He glanced at the pile of clothes beside the bed. His shirt, his mask (that mask!), her tablecloth – but no breeches.
His boots, too, were gone from the far corner.
His heart beat one last time, and then stopped working altogether.
Max knew, he knew, Jane had gone, stolen his horse and ridden off to God knew where. It wasn’t enough that she orchestrated her own kidnapping yesterday; she had already moved on to her next plot, her next adventure.
He flung off the counterpane and, shivering, stalked to his wardrobe.
He didn’t know where she went, how she was feeling, if she was safe. He didn’t know if he’d been careful, taken the proper precautions – damn Monty and his wassail, it was stiff enough to fell a steer – he didn’t know if she’d enjoyed it as he had.
But he did know, all the way down to his bones, that he was going to find Lady Jane Brookes, come hell or high water.
If only to ask her what the devil she meant by that kiss.
Oh, that kiss.
He rested his forehead against the wardrobe.
That kiss would be the end of him.
TO BE CONTINUED…
In an age of stately decorum, the Hope Diamond was a source of delicious intrigue—and a font of unimaginable adventure…
Though not of noble birth, Thomas Hope has a skill in banking that’s made him one of the richest, most trusted men in London. Still, he keeps his dubious past hidden. So when an old acquaintance calls on Hope to help acquire the infamous French Blue Diamond, he’s desperate to be discreet. He never expects that his biggest concern shouldn’t be losing his reputation, but his heart…
Sophia Blaise is determined to make a brilliant match with this season’s most eligible, most titled bachelor, but her true passion has been ignited by the incredible stories she hears while secretly transcribing the memoirs of a notorious Madam. After a night of clandestine writing ends with Sophia caught up in a scandalous adventure of her own—with an alluring banker—she begins to question whether she’s suited to the proper life she’s always known…
Caught up in a thrilling exploit and unexpected romance, Sophia must make a choice between what her head knows is safe and what her heart desperately desires, before both slip from her grasp forever…
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