My True Love Gave to Me
… ten lords a’leaping…
Mary Jo Springer
Sinclair Fitzholden, Lord of Hawksford, Sin to the people who mattered, was bored, with his life, this ball, and the gruesome task of finding a wife. Sprawled across the burnished leather couch in Pemberton Hall’s library, he reclined with one leg on and one leg off the settee. Thrown across the two upholstered chairs flanking the couch, his blue coat, gloves, and neckcloth laid in a crumpled mess. His white waistcoat hung open, a snifter of brandy balanced on his stomach. The orange glow of dying embers in the hearth cast dancing shadows across the chamber. Shifting on the settee, he stuffed a pillow behind his head easing his body into a more comfortable position. Miles and miles of leather bound books filled the floor-to-ceiling bookcases surrounding him.
Tonight, he’d danced the obligatory number of dances, played cards with Hastings, Dixon and Lewis, smoked cigars and drank way too much brandy. Now, he preferred his own company.
Bong . . . bong . . . the steady rhythm of the mantle clock chimed the hour signaling midnight. Rubbing a hand over his face he gave into the irresistible lure of the room’s warmth intermingled with the clean lemon scent of polished wood and pine. Soon the sweet lure of sleep claimed him.
The whisper of the library door’s lock sliding into place caught him off guard. Bloody hell! The soft rustle of silk alerted him the intruder was female. The edges of his lips lifted into a smile as the intriguing possibility of a midnight tryst solidified within his mind. This year he was definitely getting what he wanted for Christmas.
Swinging his leg off the couch, he pushed into a sitting position carefully balancing his warmed snifter of brandy. He blinked several times, unable to clear the delectable mirage before him. Slacked-jawed, he openly gawked at the woman leaning against the closed door, her hands pressed against the solid wood. Of all the women . . .
Of course he knew her . . . well . . . knew of her. What man on the face of the earth hadn’t fantasized about having Lady Victoria Gremswell? Many a night she kept him awake, torturing him, the image of her body searing his thoughts. The epitome of English womanhood, she was pampered, graceful, and saddled with a dowry so obscene even he’d been tempted to throw his hat in the ring. Golden hair pulled up into a stylish coiffure with those damn distracting ringlets dangled beside her ear. Without a care, he’d shove those enticing curls out of his way as he kissed his way up her swan-like neck before he tumbled her to the floor. Good God, man, get a grip!
Amethyst eyes bore into him, glittering like the stones they mimicked. Her melt-your-heart eyes could seduce a man at twenty paces. He’d tried his damnedest to obtain a dance with her, not just tonight but at every ball this season. Frustrated he’d retired to this room to plan his next strategy. How did one go about convincing a goddess to look upon him as husband material? Ha! He didn’t look upon himself as husband material, why should she? After this morning . . . she’d never grant him a chance.
The moment she stepped into the ballroom a sea of men swallowed her. Surveying her with great intensity, he’d stalked the perimeter of the room like a hawk shadowing his quarry. At any time she had at least ten Lords a leaping to fulfill her slightest whim. He didn’t leap, never had . . . never would. So why was she here, in the dark - with him?
Rising to his feet, he bowed in her direction, awaiting her pleasure. The monastic silence stretched into several moments.
“Your Grace, I want to thank you for what you did today.”
Ah, so that’s what this is about.
Warmth palpitated along his limbs rivaling the sting of the brandy. Soft, seductive, even her voice projected pedigree. Within him a fire raged hotter than the surface of the sun. After a week of damnable celibacy, Lady Victoria couldn’t possibly understand the sexual danger closing in on her.
He barked out a laugh that bordered on a growl, rubbing his hand behind his neck working the tension out of his muscles. It didn’t help.
“Lady Victoria, my intentions . . . my reputation regarding women. Being here with me . . . in my obvious state of undress, do you think this is prudent?”
Breaking all the rules, she closed the distance between them. No, no, no. His brow shot up. Her brass actions would only give rise to gossip.
With a will all their own, his eyes slid over her attire. At first he thought her dress was white, but as she moved closer the silver threads caught the low light of the hearth giving the delectable gown an ethereal appearance. His breath stuck in his suddenly dry throat. She was a vision. Pure temptation. More dangerous than her brother’s loaded pistol he’d faced this morning. Positively lethal.
His eyes locked on hers, her pupils dilating to encompass almost the entire iris. “I wanted to express my gratitude to you for not killing my brother.” Her voice shook as she clasped her hands together.
Needing to put as much distance between them as the room allowed, he fought the fierce urge to crush her in his arms. Prowling over to the hearth he swung around. “Your brother is an arrogant ass who needs to learn some manners.”
Her lips arched into a dazzling smile showing off white even teeth. He swallowed hard, fighting to keep his scattered wits about him. Her answer surprised the hell out of him.
“I know. That’s why I’m here. To tell you how grateful I am you spared him.”
“Lord Hartley explained what an honorable thing you did when it was within your rights to kill Matthew. I cannot believe he cheated by firing his pistol at eight paces.” She turned away as tears welled in those gorgeous eyes. Oh hell, he could take anything but tears, her brother didn’t deserve them. It took every ounce of restraint to remain where he stood. Her brother may have pointed a loaded pistol at his back but she . . . she was far more dangerous.
Gaining her composure, she swiped a gloved hand across her cheek. “Lord Hartley also stated you turned, leveled your gun at Matthew’s heart before raising it and firing into the air.”
No sound resonated against the thick Persian rug as she moved closer. He raised a hand to halt her. If she came within his reach?
“I cannot thank you enough for sparing him. I don’t know what I would do without him?”
“Half of the people attending the ball tonight think I’m a coward for my actions.”
The intoxicating scent of white jasmine permeated his nostrils. Delicious. Perilous. Inspiring.
“Nonsense,” she broke into his befuddled mind. “From my observations you’re a hero.” Her lips, coral, haunting . . . enticing, captured his intense interest. Every muscle in his body clenched, every muscle, the fall on the front of his pants becoming increasingly uncomfortable.
“You must know why I did it?”
She cocked her head to one side, the simple movement bringing the tantalizing flesh of her breasts bubbling up against the square neckline of her grown.
She didn’t have a clue how he felt about her? Not a clue!
“My intentions weren’t as honorable as you profess.”
Her brows knitted together. “I don’t understand. What did you hope to gain with your actions?”
His gaze wandered over her, from the tips of her dainty shoes upward, lingering for an extended moment on the lushness of her breasts before capturing her face. “You.”
Surprise shocked her eyes wide. “Me?”
His frustration escaped his lips in a growl before he had a chance to tap it down. Pulling at her gloves, she removed them and set them on the chair. She was staying.
“Lady Victoria, I must insist you leave, your reputation is at great risk. You should not be here.”
“I’m not concerned with such trifles.”
What? Clearly, she wasn’t thinking straight.
“Trifles, this is far more damaging than mere trifles. If you are discovered here with me?” His voice dropped into a husky octave as his mind conjured images of her tangled within his sheets.
Again, that smile, what was behind that captivating smile?
He could watch the exquisite way her mouth formed words all night long. Everything about her enchanted him.
She took a step backward. He followed, expertly maneuvering her under the bough of mistletoe.
He glanced up. Her eyes tracked his. She let out an astonished gasp a millisecond before his lips claimed hers.
Oh my, oh my, my my . . .
Lips that were firm, bold, moved over hers, devouring her with his heat. Is this how a rogue kissed? Like an invasion. He didn’t just kiss, he conquered. Her reserve splintered. He smelled masculine, he tasted masculine, his long-fingered masculine hands framed her face tilting her lips up to his. Her knees went weak. Blood hummed through her veins as desire pooled between her thighs. Was that sexy mewl coming from her? Her eyes slid shut as she lost herself in his masculine expertise. God the way he kissed. She was in trouble now, drowning within the sensations he invoked. God help her . . . she liked this . . . liked it a lot. Her hands plastered against the wall of his chest, flattening out over solid flesh —hot steel beneath her fingers, the rumble of his growl vibrating against the pads of her fingers.
He stepped back, crossing his arms over his muscular chest. Immediately she missed the fervor of his body. His gaze leveled on her. Breathing hard, he fought to get the next words out. “Lady Victoria, forgive my forwardness. I . . . I lost control. Let me escort you to the door.”
“Your Grace . . .”
With a wave of his hand he interrupted her.
“Sin,” he corrected.
“I beg your pardon.” Her hand flew to her chest.
“Sin, my friends call me, Sin. I think we’ve crossed into the ranks of friendship, wouldn’t you agree?” He winked, sending her heart into a free-fall, suspending her ability to breathe.
“Sin . . .” she tested, the sound rolling off her lips like a novena. She stepped back, staring at him. Tall, well over six feet, his mile-wide shoulders all but blocked out the rest of the room. Light-headed, she nearly swooned from his nearness, when he touched her . . .
Raven hair, intense green eyes with explosive depths provided a stirring excursion into his soul.
“You’re staring at me like I’m some white knight riding to the aid of a damsel in distress.” He shoved a hand through his hair, disheveling the layers; they gleamed like black satin in the candlelight. “I’m not.”
“I have a confession to make.”
A smile dented his lips. “A secret told at midnight? I’ll take it to my grave.”
The spell he evoked rivaled the pull of the earth on the moon. Toying with the ruffles on his shirt, she bunched the slick material into her fist. “I coaxed Matthew’s friends into filling my dance card so I didn’t have to dance with you.”
For a moment confusion marred his exquisite features. Then, he threw his head back and laughed, the brawny sound sparking a ripple of sensual pleasure.
“Whatever for?” He persuaded.
She squirmed under his ardent appraisal. “I was afraid.” Heat seared her cheeks. Rumors of his prowess were legendary. She’d wanted to avoid the temptation so many other women succumbed to. And yet, here she stood – mesmerized. The spell he conjured magnified by the throaty sound of his voice. She wanted him. Not for his title, his lands, or his bluer-than-blue blood. No, it was the flesh and blood man she yearned for.
“Of me?” He jerked back, his hand covering his heart, toppling the gold Saint Joseph medal hanging about his neck out of his shirt.
Self-repugnance washed over her. She’d hurt his feelings. “Your reputation.”
Along the sharp edge of his jaw a muscle ticked. “Pure ladies gossip.”
“Oh, I think not, Your Grace.”
His fingers gave a sharp tug on one of her ringlets, the curl unfurling then bouncing back into place. “And how have you attained this knowledge?”
“Your kiss, my lord.”
Strains of the orchestra playing a waltz drifted up from the main ballroom below.
Offering his hand, he inquired, “Lady Victoria, may I have the honor of this dance?”
Every nerve vibrated with the possibility of being in his arms, moving across the expanse of the library.
“Certainly, Your Grace.”
Placing her hand in his, she moved in unison with him across the floor, her gown swishing with the practiced movements. He pulled her closer. “Things that begin with a dance often lead to the altar. Are you open to my suit?”
“I would like nothing better, Your Grace,” was all she managed before his lips claimed hers under the mistletoe.
Look for the eleventh installment of Eleven Pipers Piping.
Merry Christmas to all.