“I’m sorry for the disturbance, Lord Laramore.” His manservant apologized from the doorway.
“Silas, what is going on out there?”
“Her ladyship has arrived, and I think she’d like you to join her in the foyer.”
“Lady Laramore? Here? Today?”
“Yes, milord, and she has—”
“Well, isn’t that fortuitous to have her show up at the same time I needed to speak to her.” Gabriel moved around his desk. “I have a few choice words to say. You might not want to be around when I do.”
“Yes, milord, however, I feel obligated to remind you that—”
“Not now, Silas.” Gabriel marched out of the room, into the spacious foyer, ready to confront the spendthrift he’d married. They had never taken up residence under the same roof, since a marriage of convenience didn’t require it. He certainly didn’t know all he might about her, but her excessiveness could one day be the ruin of him if he didn’t put his foot down. She had presented herself as a sensible and simple lady during their brief courtship. Her manners were impeccable, her lifestyle far from extravagant. Yet, the growing pile of bills from creditors showed him just how badly he had misjudged her.
The sight of Carmody, Lady Laramore, slowed his stride. Regret for marrying the exquisite creature vanished in that moment. As if an angel descended from the heavens, she stood in the glowing ray of sunlight fanning the room from the glass dome in the ceiling. Beneath the straw hat adorned with yellow ribbons, her hair spilled over her shoulders and shone with the sparkling vibrancy of spun gold. God had designed her to perfection.
He took a deep breath. The twenty feet that separated them didn’t prevent him from inhaling her unique, perfumed scent. From the fateful year of their meeting until now, he’d never forgotten the exhilarating rush to his senses.
Marriage was an event he hadn’t looked forward to until he caught the sight of her dancing at one of the social events of the ton
. Enchanted immediately by her elegance and beauty, he fell in love. Unfortunately, his situation dictated that he keep feelings out of the nuptial contract.
“Lady Laramore.” He bowed his head in greeting, breaking the spell blocking his prior thoughts. “Tell me you don’t mean to burden me with your spending until I’m in the poor house?”
“Good afternoon to you as well, Lord Laramore. It’s nice to see you are in excellent health.” Her brow rose in a perfect arch as she reprimanded him for his rudeness with a terse glance.
“What are you doing here?” He reined in his annoyance before it took control. Women had a way of ending up the winners in a heated debate. Staying composed best suited his plans. If he was going to keep the future of his finances on solid ground, he had to curb his wife’s spending habits.
“I should ask the same of you.” Carmody pulled off her white gloves.
An expression he took as frustration darkened her features.
“I live here.” He advanced, his anger dissipating completely by the cause of Carmody’s wrinkled brow. “Are you all right?”
Obviously, the breaking glass had done more than nick the marble floor. It had inflicted injury to his wife. Blood spiraled down the back of her hand and dripped from her palm.
“No, I’m not all right.” She used the ruined glove to dab at the cut near her middle knuckle. “I couldn’t get my key to work in that old lock. When I knocked on the glass, I apparently hit it too hard. Why in heaven’s name is that door bolted anyway?”
Without a convenient and suitable answer, Gabriel didn’t respond. He glanced at Silas, wishing the man would overstep his position and lie.
“I have a towel and water.” Another servant hurried in, toting a bowl and clean cloth and began attending to Carmody’s wound.
Gabriel watched with worry. She’d have a scar on her flawless skin. While he’d not consider it an imperfection, she might. Anything that could distress her affected him.
“Ouch,” she squealed at the first touch the woman made to clean the cut.
“Here, give me that.” Gabriel took the rag and held Lady Laramore’s slender hand.
He moved in close to her rather than making her extend her arm. It gave him a chance to inhale the fragrant reminder of what had captured his attention when they first met. He ministered to her with gentle care, wiping lightly, inspecting the severity of her cut as well as the soft texture of her fingers lying across his palm. He hadn’t seen her in a long time. To have an opportunity to stand close and inhale her pleasing scent was a golden moment. Roses and lavender drew his thoughts to the day they married. Her minted breath had barely whispered over his lips in a kiss sealing the deal. Two years had passed since the ceremony, six months since he had seen her at his London house while they exchanged residences.
“Everyone, leave,” he ordered the servants, sensing their stares were too intense upon him. Never having seen him and his wife together, they made him feel self-conscious about his actions. Was he showing too much concern? Not enough? Did they wonder and talk about the odd marital relationship? Of course they did.
“Milady?” The woman who had brought the bowl of water hadn’t left like the others.
“I’m fine, Frances.” Carmody used her unscathed hand to wave the woman away. “You can go.”
Gabriel paused in his meticulous cleansing of his wife’s hand and dared a quick look at her. Her expression hinted at amusement instead of irritation. Did she think him a buffoon for his concern?
“You were going to tell me what you were doing here.” Her warm breath caressed his cheek.
“Like I said, I live here.” He let her hand slip free from his grasp and stepped back. “What is it that brings you here?”
“We agreed, don’t you remember? I would have Laramore Manor for the season.”
He looked out the window. “Is it that time of the year already, milady?” he asked as if he didn’t know.
“Yes, it’s that time of the year. Do you sit here with your head in a cloud all winter, Lord Laramore?”
If only he could. Instinct had given him signals—inherent warning signs to avoid females. Those traits he wished to keep secret were his enemy. Carmody stood within his reach, and he knew now he had chosen to ignore the time of year with purpose. The opportunity to confront her about the debts was nothing compared to the chance to be near her. He hungered to pull her into his embrace and kiss her with every measure of desire to express his lust.
“Our agreement was that I use the house for the spring and summer, just as I did last year.” She took the cloth from his hand. “It’s important that I entertain, and the house in town is too small for me to have dinner parties grander than the occasional intimate ones.”
“Intimate?” The word hit a raw spot in his thoughts.
“It is upon my head to carry on the reputation of our name, milord. Laramore is as prestigious a family as I make of it. You of all people should be the one concerned. How would it look upon your ancestors to have the last of the Laramores considered lazy, unsociable, and worse, forgettable?”
While he wasn’t lazy, unsociable did have a place in his life just so he would be unmemorable. Unaffected by that part of her comment, his focus locked onto the first point—the last of the Laramores. There was only one solution to that, and his body had been pressuring him for weeks, just as it had every year, to resolve the matter.
Carmody continued chattering, either ignoring or not hearing him. “I assume you’ll be leaving today. If not, I would think it very discourteous of you to…”
Gabriel stopped listening and stood back to examine the lines of his wife’s body. More beautiful than ever, she captivated him. Petite frame, trim waist, ample breasts—a goddess constructed for making love. His dreams often brought her to him in his bed where he explored the regions of her feminine softness without really knowing any details. It made him wonder. Were her nipples plump like grapes, and did her skin taste as sweet as milk? Did her abdomen have a softness he’d enjoy against his nose when he nuzzled the area with kisses? Perhaps she’d be ticklish in that region, giggling with delight so her belly quivered. What about her bottom? Was it firm, rounded, and suitable for squeezing? He had no favorite area, and then with further thought, he desired them all with an equal fervor.
While his sexual appetite was as healthy as any man’s, Gabriel had felt constrained in passing years to shut himself off from the ton
. Unfortunately, when he was a bachelor, he had too many well-intentioned acquaintances who felt it their duty to find him a wife. By marrying Carmody, he no longer had to play the interested chap to the bevy of females who wanted to be his lady. The idea he’d enjoy having a wife grew on him the more he’d gotten to know Carmody in those months before the nuptials. Only his feelings for her scared him, making him revert to his original plan—stay out of the limelight of social events and keep his distance from his wife.
“Excuse me.” A thin man with a youthful face stuck his head around the door and shattered Gabriel’s daydream. “Am I late?”
The stranger stopped his wife’s tirade of why she should have use of the manor. Her face lit with joy. The scene instantly set Gabriel on edge, raising his hackles to the point a low growl rumbled deep in his throat.
“No, Reginald. Come in, darling.” Carmody rushed to the man, as the rustle of her silk gown danced along the polished floor. “Watch the glass, dear. It seems I’ve caused a mess from a struggle I had with getting in the house.”
She grasped Reginald’s hands and pulled him forward. The man bowed to her tug, not only accepting a well-placed kiss to his cheek, but also reciprocating with an equally generous smooch that landed too close to the corner of Carmody’s mouth.
Gabriel lifted a brow at the informality between the two. His wife’s actions and endearment suggested intimacy. Who the devil was this man? Did Carmody dare to flaunt her lover under his nose? His snarling protest worked at release, and he swallowed hard, clenching his jaw to restrain the sound climbing toward escape.
He scrutinized Carmody’s movements, looking for reasons to dissuade his thoughts from the obvious. However, the hug she offered the fop put forth a familiarity he didn’t like. Bad manners were compounded when Reginald’s arm went around Carmody’s waist and he pulled her close to whisper something in her ear. In response, she held his arm and giggled. Her laugh intimated deep affection. The sentiment stabbed Gabriel with the ferocious jealousy of an animal.
“Lady Laramore?” Gabriel interrupted, demanding an introduction by his tone.
“Oh yes, forgive me.” Carmody twirled around to face him. “Reginald was just letting me know he had one of the servants put my special case of port in the pantry.”
“You’ve taken up drinking?” Gabriel questioned.
Every curve of his wife’s sensuous body attracted his gaze, even the angle of her jaw where he imagined nuzzling his nose under her ear as he kissed a mark of possession on her neck.
“Of course not, milord.” She turned to the man hanging on her. “Mr. Reginald Kent, I’d like to introduce you to my husband, the Viscount of Laramore.”
“Lord Laramore, it’s a pleasure.” Reginald bowed slightly, his steady gaze oozing with more arrogance.
Carmody continued to cling to the man’s arm in a blatant gesture of cozy friendliness. She appeared to be clueless at how her actions disturbed Gabriel.
“Milord, Reginald has been helping me plan a small dinner for tomorrow night as an early start of the Season.”
“Ah, the reason for the port wine.” Gabriel clasped his hands behind his back and reined in his primitive urge to snatch his wife out of Reginald’s grasp. It should be his arm securely surrounding her trim waist.
“Lady Laramore has a very creative mind, and her ideas for the affair are quite wonderful,” Reginald gushed. “You are indeed a lucky man to have her as your wife.”
“Isn’t it a bit early in the year to have the first party?” Gabriel wracked his brain for when they usually started.
“That’s the point, Lord Laramore,” Reginald answered. “Lady Laramore will be famous for, as the French say, the faux pas
. But she’ll also be credited for being insightful about the need to change this tradition.”
“Oh, Reginald, I do love the way you believe in me.” She gave him an excited hug.
“Let’s hope the English don’t consider this more an inexcusable blunder than the bucking of a long-standing custom, Mr. Kent.” Gabriel could care less about the ton
and their snippy ways, unless in their haughtiness they embarrassed Carmody.
“Lord Laramore, you need to think more positively. The season is too short for the number of parties held. We must shuck away old-fashioned ideas and bring a new line to our modern times.” Carmody gave Reginald another squeeze around the waist. “Don’t listen to him, dear. This is a fabulous idea, and we will
pull it off.”
Gabriel clenched his fists behind his back, frustrated by jealousy.
“I wish to be the first to break tradition,” Carmody continued. “It will make me the subject of many conversations. I’ll be the talk of the ton
. I told you I intend on making the Laramore name a formidable presence in society. That’s done by having the grandest of parties. Those I’ve invited are the most influential, the most respected. Besides, it’s only two weeks before Easter, which is when the Season normally starts.”
“No one will even notice,” Reginald added.
“Oh, I so can’t wait.” Carmody hugged herself.
Carmody’s excited tone aroused Gabriel. Passion such as she showed for a simple dinner left him thinking she’d be no less animated in his bed. An image flashed through his head of her straddling him, mounting his cock, and laying claim to his body with a fervor that sent a heated sensation through him.
“Come, Reginald. Lord Laramore doesn’t bother himself with my parties, and he certainly won’t be attending.” She took the man’s arm, dragging him from the foyer into the drawing room.
Gabriel’s gaze followed every move of her lithe figure until she passed through the doorway and drew the panels closed. He blinked at that last second, but he’d swear he’d seen her smile. The rather innocent and provocative expression confused him. She had never once looked at him with a hint of mischievous desire, though it was possible he hadn’t noticed since their encounters were always brief. If one thing was ever clearer, he needed her to quell his loneliness. Prior to his marriage, he’d had his affairs—short liaisons with beautiful women. They were meaningless. Nothing tied him emotionally to those lovers. Carmody filled his senses. From her beautifully textured skin to the scent of her delicious body, she captivated the animal in him. He yearned for her to be his bedmate as well as a companion.
Walking back to his study, Gabriel sat down to the work he’d left at his desk. Then, lifting his pen, he dipped it in the inkwell. He placed the tip against the bank draft to pay yet another of Carmody’s vendors but paused midstroke.
His wife was entertaining a gentleman behind closed doors. What kind of idiot was he to let it go uninterrupted?
He dropped the pen and rose from his chair. Short paces took him in circles around the furniture as he debated the reason behind Carmody’s smile. Did she think him bacon-brained for letting her dangle her lover right under his nose? He had to barge in upon his wife and the rakehell. How long should he delay his intrusion? Should he give her ample time to go beyond kissing the rapscallion or just presume the two were engaged in an illicit affair?
Prudence suggested he have proof of her infidelity.
“Lord Laramore, will you take all your clothes, including your winter coat?” Silas intruded on his deliberations.
“Take my clothes?” He looked up, puzzled. “Where?”
“Her ladyship has asked that I pack them. However, she wasn’t very specific, so I’m not sure if she meant your summer attire or everything right down to your wools.”
Naturally, when Gabriel made a deal, he kept his word. In the case of his wife, he wasn’t quite certain he could. She talked of their good name, and yet, she went against the grain with the impropriety of her apparent affair.
“Pack nothing, Silas. I’m not going anywhere. Lady Laramore will not put me to the curb.”
“But her ladyship said—”
“You can inform her ladyship of my intention to stay.” Gabriel took a deep breath and sat back down at his desk to resume tallying his accounts. He would give her a good ten minutes before confronting her and her lover.
He found concentration hard for even a second. How long would it take for that chap Reginald Kent to have his clumsy paws all over Carmody? Once the doors closed, they could have instantly been in each other’s arms, kissing and groping, fresh with the excitement of doing it under the lord of the manor’s nose.
Gabriel shook his head to clear away the image of the bloke opening his wife’s bodice, exposing her young and tender breasts. Did she like her nipples sucked or nibbled, twisted or plucked? This wasn’t the first time he had pondered the details.
He rose from his chair when his imagination got the better of him. Carmody’s entrance helped relieve him of the thoughts he had of her on the settee with her skirts raised and her legs spread wide for Reginald.
“What do you mean you’re not leaving?” She breezed into his study, swinging her hand in front of her with a slip of paper in it. “I have already sent invitations for forty-six people to attend my dinner tomorrow night. I haven’t any room left at the table to add another place setting.”
“The table seats forty-eight.”
“Forty-six invitations, milord, and then a place for Reginald and myself. That equals forty-eight.” She paced in front of his desk, her white beaded reticule swaying back and forth from where it dangled off her wrist. “I mean, really, we did have a very good plan for when you would be here and when I would.”
Gabriel watched her beautiful hands brush over her sleeves. When he didn’t see her cut produce more blood, he let his gaze stray. The way she moved, the sound of her voice, and the color of her eyes attracted him. Sleek-toned like a feline, her sultry voice soothed his emotions in a way that made him want her to be around during some of the rougher days in his life. The coming of spring was the hardest, what with his desire to mate.
“Carmody?” Reginald’s voice echoed from outside the room.
“Where did you pick up the popinjay?” Gabriel asked, pressing his hands on the desk and leaning forward so that Carmody blocked his view of watching the man preen himself.
Carmody waved to signal Reginald to wait for her in the foyer. Gabriel had a better plan to send the chap scurrying out the door. However, the way he wanted to do it would raise the kind of questions he wasn’t about to answer.
“Keep your voice down.” Carmody stepped closer, her lips puckered, displaying irritation, yet poised for him to kiss. “You don’t know him, so there’s no need to call him names.”
Gabriel dismissed the urge to start a new set of troubles by tasting her delicious mouth.
“I’m waiting,” he reiterated.
“I met him at Dolly’s,” she finally answered, a puff of her breath bursting against his nose.
“Dolly who?” Did he know a Dolly? Probably, but keeping up with the names of women was never his strength in socializing.
“Lady Dolly Mitchell, Lord Mitchell’s sister?” She angled over the desk from the other side. “He is fabulous with his hands.”
“Lord Mitchell?” The implication of a confession stunned him.
The fichu around her neck had loosened, and without the scarf tucked securely, a great deal of her lovely assets came into view.
“No, silly, I was speaking of Reginald. He has gifted hands.”
Carmody’s revealing bodice cast a spell of silence on him as he stared into the valley of her rounded breasts. For a petite woman, she had a full bosom, the healthy size a man could plow his cock between with vigor.
Gabriel shuddered. Not at the vulgarity of his decadent thoughts, but the imaginings he had of his arousal, nestled between the twin mounds of creamy flesh, while Carmody licked the preliminary drops of semen from the crown.
He tore his gaze away, looking past her at the lanky fellow in the foyer. The contrast helped deflate the growing hardness in his trousers.
“Do I dare ask where he might have put his paws?” He returned his stare to her, lowering it to indicate the lush curves rising above the rim of her bodice as she took a deep breath.
“That is not an appropriate question, Lord Laramore. I was referring to his decorating talents, nothing lewd.” She pursed her lips, obviously aggravated by his insinuation.
“Forgive me, then. I misinterpreted your comment.” While he put as much sincerity as possible into the statement, it didn’t change his suspicions.
Lowering his attention to the pleasant features of her well-crafted shape reminded him how deprived of sex his marital status had left him. He had no inclination to take a mistress as long as he fancied his wife.
“What are you looking at?” Carmody touched her neck, finally noticing how his gaze lingered in that direction. “Is something on me?”
Gabriel got up and moved around the piece of furniture that kept him from touching her. “There might be.” He lifted his hand, thinking how devilishly suitable the timing.
“Heavens, do get it off.” She stepped forward until there wasn’t enough space between them to put a book.
Gabriel scrutinized her neck. Brushing his fingers against the silk-textured skin aroused him to new heights. His body grew tense in places he ached to rub. Blood pounded through his constricting veins as his heart beat faster. His face dampened as the strain of containing himself became almost unbearable.
“Did you get it?” Her frantic voice quivered.
“Let me look on this side.” He tipped her head and pulled the fichu completely free. As he continued his ploy, he took advantage by stroking the smooth skin pulsing as rapidly as his own.
“Well?” She breathed faster.
“It’s gone into your hair,” he lied.
He untied her hat and tossed it to his desk. Then brushing his fingers over the silky locks, he tried picturing her naked with the long tendrils dancing around her nipples.
“Is it a bug?” Her fingers gripped his sides. “I detest insects, especially ones that are creeping around on me.”
Gabriel noted Reginald watching them from outside the room. Unable to hear their conversation from that distance, the man paced back and forth in anxious strides. If ever there was a good time for Gabriel to discourage his wife’s lover, it would be now.
“Hold still,” he whispered to Carmody, pulling her closer, inhaling the exquisite, heated scent of nervousness oozing from her pores.
“I am doing my best.” She brushed against him with her jittery up-and-down movements.
Gabriel slid a hand around to her back, calming her with a gentle glide of his fingers along her spine. He pretended to look in her hair. Slyly, he turned her as he lowered his face toward her shoulder. With the right position and the proper angle to the foyer, he hoped to make it appear to Reginald as if he kissed her. He took his time, moving his head and his hands to give the perfect performance.
“Do hurry.” She squirmed against him.
Her thigh pressed between his legs, nudging his trapped erection. The little stepping in place she did, continued abrading his cock, teasing and taunting him to react. He held his breath, clenched his jaw, and fought the dire urge to pounce on her as she continued the moves that made him harder.
“I’m getting goose bumps thinking about the crawly little thing touching me.” Her leg wedged tighter into his crotch.
Her hands slid farther around him to his back. They were in a position some might look upon as hugging. He felt it close to a position of lovemaking. Dropping his hand, his fingers rested on the edge of her gown. One tug, one forceful clawing downward, and he’d bare her shoulder.
“Did you find it?” Carmody’s warm breath rushed over his cheek, waking him from the growing fantasies he had of undressing her right there before her lover.
Gabriel flicked his finger along her collarbone. “There, all gone.” He let go, needing her to move back and take her enticing body off his.
Only she didn’t let go. Her arms folded up under his, and she grasped his elbows. She stared at him with a strangely hypnotizing expression.
Ensnared by the fragrant smell of her tantalizing scent, and the thump of her heart vibrating her breasts against his chest, Gabriel struggled to say something, confess his desires and consummate their marriage.
“Thank you, Lord Laramore.” Her appreciative, but suddenly cool tone broke the spell.
“It was nothing.”
“You are my hero.” She smiled, her demeanor taking another turn so that he felt she played games with him.
Only she pressed a kiss to his cheek, and it made him feel bad for his ruse of a bug on her.
A slight turn of his head and he would have had her soft pink lips against his. Except, she lowered back on her heels, let go of his arms, and spun away, and in that second of stunned hesitation, he missed his golden opportunity.
Carmody looked over her shoulder at him as she marched toward the doorway. “Oh, and do be a dear and take your cat with you.”
“I don’t have a cat,” he blurted out.
“You must. He has shed hair all over everything.” She extended an arm and pointed to the red tufted piece of furniture. “For shame on you, Lord Laramore, fibbing about having a pet, when just a look at the velvet on the settee, tells me different.”
Carmody sashayed out of the room.
Gabriel stepped back and leaned against the desk. He watched with fascination the way his wife glided from his presence as if she were on a cloud of air. Although, out of sight, wasn’t out of mind when seconds later her laughter drew him to the door.
Escorting Reginald into the dining room, Carmody didn’t hide her affection. The man wasn’t any better, what with his arm surrounding her shoulders, holding her close. It was all Gabriel could do to hold back his predatory instincts to bound across the foyer and pounce on his rival.
“The woman is impossible,” he grumbled, frustrated by his attraction to the one person he feared approaching with his feelings.
Before his marriage, he’d never had trouble with bedding women at leisure. Yet, when he had the one woman he really wanted obligated to him by contract, he dreaded her rejection.
“Milord, did you say something?” Silas surprised him with his nearness.
“No.” Gabriel returned to his desk and gathered his paperwork. “It appears I’m to be put out of the manor. Her ladyship is taking over, and if I don’t—” He tossed the papers back to the desk.
Gabriel stared at the discarded straw hat, and then he looked up at Silas. “This is my house, is it not?”
“It is, and therefore I’m staying.” He slammed his fist down on the desk. “She will just have to get used to my presence as well as my attendance at her little dinner party.”
“Wait.” He stopped Silas from departing. “Her ladyship brought with her a case of wine. Expensive, I’m sure. See that it’s stored in the wine cellar so it’ll be the proper temperature for serving.”
“I’ll handle it personally, Lord Laramore.” He backed to go, pausing at the opening. “And the cat, milord?”
Gabriel frowned at Silas for reminding him of the unusual condition.
“It is spring, and you know how…um…how the season affects him,” Silas elaborated. “He’s a mite frisky, and her ladyship is not aware how her presence will further aggravate the situation.”
Gabriel waved the man to leave him.
Alone with his thoughts, he slid his hand over his face and rubbed his jaw. Having Carmody there was like having a canary out of its cage where the cat was concerned. He’d prowl the house and grounds in search of ways to get close. Then the heat of her would drive him intolerably mad.Copyright© Brenda Williamson, 2009
All Rights Reserved