AN INDECENT WAGER
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AN INDECENT WAGER
DEANA COULD MUSTER NO OATH strong enough to reflect the dismay she felt when Lord Halsten Rockwell revealed his ace and queen. She glanced at her own cards, a king and a ten, to ascertain she had indeed lost. How was it possible? Rockwell had been losing all night.
“You owe me fifty pounds, Miss Herwood,” Lord Rockwell stated placidly as he collected the winnings in the middle of the table. It included a chit signed in her own hand.
She suppressed a glower, for she would not be dubbed bitter in defeat. It was evident from his immaculate dress—a perfectly tied cravat, a waistcoat sewn from the finest silk and a coat cut to fit his broad shoulders in tight embrace—that Rockwell had not her situation and was not in dire need of funds. She watched him replace a beautiful onyx ring upon his hand and found herself regarding his rugged fingers. She had never before paid much heed to a man’s hand—or a woman’s for that matter—but his conveyed strength, agility and even gentleness.
Dismissing the odd warmth that flared in her of a sudden, she glanced about the gaming hell for someone she might harry to lend her fifty quid. But the hour was late, the patrons at her table had left half an hour ago, and many of those remaining had debts themselves to pay. If only she had quit while ahead, but she had derived too much satisfaction from besting a man who possessed all that she did not—wealth, refined features and a quiet assurance that bordered on arrogance.
“I will repay you from my next winnings,” she informed Rockwell.
“I have a better repayment option for you, Miss Herwood.”
She raised her brows and waited patiently as he returned his purse to his coat. He looked across the card table at her. His dark-brown eyes reflected either the light of the candelabras or some inner merriment. His stare unsettled her, but not as much as what he said next.
“I would have you in my bed, Miss Herwood. For one night, I will take my pleasure of you, after which, your debt to me will be acquitted in its entirety.”
“You would make of me a whore?” she asked when she had collected her wits and realized that he did not speak in jest. No one would mistake her family for members of the ton, but neither did her status merit such an affront.
“Let us have no pretentions, Miss Herwood. You relinquished your maidenhead years ago.”
Her cheeks—nay, her entire countenance—flushed to know that he was privy to such confidence. Younger and more impulsive, she had surrendered her maidenhead to a man she thought would care for her. A colonel in His Majesty’s Army, he was called to service before their affair could blossom into anything of consequence. Having lost her honor, she saw no reason subsequently not to indulge in the occasional affair, but she had always proceeded with great discretion. Her family had already suffered a fall from grace when she became a regular at the gaming hell, and she would not worsen the situation with more scandal.
Holding his gaze, she replied, “You overestimate the appeal of your company, Lord Rockwell. I would sooner double my obligation.”
“Suit yourself,” he said with dispassion and rose to his feet.
She considered how many hands of vingt-et-un she would have to win to secure fifty pounds and the litany of woes she would hear from her mother and aunt should she fail to bring home any income. They were a household of women since her father passed away, and the want of a man was never more palpable than now. If she could erase a debt of fifty pounds through one act—one night—might she be a fool to pass upon such an opportunity? As Lord Rockwell’s barefaced assertion indicated, she no longer had any claim to a maiden’s honor.
But what did she know of the man? Very little. He was not a frequent patron of her gaming hell. They had perhaps shared a card table once before; he had not taken much notice of her then. She, however, had not overlooked his presence, nor the women who threw themselves his way.
He possessed a countenance she would have enjoyed studying at length, much in the way one would admire a painting or sculpture. If he favored a lass here or there, it was difficult to ascertain, though surely no mortal could resist such attentions for long. Years ago, she had heard that banns would be read betwixt him and a Spanish princess or the daughter of a Duke or some such. Admittedly, the lack of a wedding ring was one of the first things she had noted when he sat down at her table this evening.
That he was always impeccably dressed also did not escape her, but many a man spent money he did not possess in order to maintain the appearance of wealth. She would not have allowed the wager to reach the sum of fifty pounds had she not felt assured of Lord Rockwell’s finances. Unlike others, he did not flaunt his affluence. And though down by an even grander sum at one point, he showed no apprehension at the loss. How quickly thereafter the game had betrayed her!
Regardless of what she knew or thought of the man, her situation remained. If she did not accept his proposition, she was indebted to him for a significant amount of money. His demeanor suggested if she rebuffed him tonight, he would not necessarily renew his proposal.
Lord Rockwell paused and looked down at her.
“I accept your offer,” she informed him with eyes downcast. Honor or no, she could not look at him.
He inclined his head. “You honor me, Miss Herwood.”
What a ridiculous statement, she thought, as if she had accepted an invitation for a ride in the park with him.
“There are rooms here reserved for more, er, amorous pursuits. Shall we retire to one of them?” she inquired, meeting his gaze this time, then wishing she hadn’t. The contrast of dark intensity with the glimmer of light in his eyes disconcerted her.
“That won’t do. The accommodations here are hardly adequate,” he replied. “My carriage shall meet you here two nights hence. The wait will deepen the anticipation.”
Anticipation? His or hers? Perhaps his self-assurance was arrogance after all.
“My only request,” he continued with a stern tone, “is that you do not arrive inebriated.”
Again, she reddened. She was known to have had a glass too many on occasion, but how did this man whom she barely knew acquire such knowledge of her? And why should it matter to him what state she was in? Lest he was expecting her to perform certain acts upon him? The thought made her blush deeper.
His features softened as he lifted her hand to his lips. “Au revoir.”
As she watched him depart, she began to regret her decision, for she could not attribute to indignation alone the warmth she felt spreading throughout her.
[ * * * ]
“Are you headed to that gaming hell again?” her aunt queried as Deana finished her supper and prepared to leave the table. “You’ll never find a husband if you waste your hours there in the company of cads and rogues.”
“Leave her be,” her mother responded. “We can ill afford her not to go. It were not as if she had any marital prospects to entertain.”
On that merry note, Deana ascended the stairs to her bedroom. Had she known her father would pass from an untimely failure of the heart, she would have sought matrimony earlier. While he had earned a decent income as a barrister, they had over time eaten into what savings they had, including funds intended as her dowry. If it were not for a flair and more luck than not at the card tables, she knew not how they would have fared. She had to acquit herself of her debt to Lord Rockwell or her hours at the gambling hall would be long indeed.
Struggling with her attire, she settled first on her plainest muslin, but vanity, and perhaps a subtle desire to please Lord Rockwell, led her to a simple but elegant gown of batiste. She could not deny a part of her was flattered that he wished to bed her. He had a physiognomy pleasing to the eye, a physique that knew few rivals, and a grace to his movements and carriage. She had relived the kiss to her hand over and over despite herself. The firmness, the gentleness with which he had held her hand and the deliberateness in how he had released her made her quiver. Though not uncomely herself, she would be as naïve as a schoolroom chit to think she was a skirt of singular interest to him. There were rumors enough of the women he had taken to bed, and undoubtedly others that had not risen to the level of tittle-tattle.
At the gaming hell, she drummed her fingers against the card table before bolstering her courage with a third glass of burgundy. She played a few rounds of faro, hoping that in the final minutes Lady Luck would spare her the humiliation of prostituting herself for a mislaid wager. She had assumed Lord Rockwell to be discreet, for she had not known him to confirm any of his liaisons, but she had no guarantee of his confidence. Granted, her patronage of a gaming hell had already diminished her repute, but word of her lifting her skirts to Lord Rockwell would discharge any prospects for matrimony—the only stable salvation for her family.
“Your carriage awaits, Miss Herwood,” a footman informed her.
She retrieved her gloves and hat, pulling its veil low over her face before she stepped into the carriage. By the time it pulled up in front of Lord Rockwell’s Town home, the burgundy had calmed her anxiety and put her in a more cheerful disposition. She had consumed three glasses of wine in the past with no significant impacts. Despite his command that she arrive sober, he would be no wiser. No doubt he differed little from others of his sex and, after twenty minutes, she would find him spent, her obligation complete, and herself returned home before midnight.
Once inside, the butler offered to take her pelisse but she declined. He showed her into the drawing room. Compared to her address, the room was richly furnished and its décor stately but not garish. The gleam of the wood and the shine of the upholstery indicated the furnishings to be new or well cared for, unlike the few pieces her family owned or borrowed. A healthy fire kept the room warm and the candelabras on the silken walls gave it light. A small elephant carved from ivory caught her eye. She picked it up from the end table and admired the detailing and its two ruby eyes.
“Do sit, Miss Herwood.”
She bobbled the figurine before clutching it tightly to her chest to keep it from falling. She turned in the direction of the rich tenor.
Lord Rockwell stood at the threshold, appearing as dapper in his banyan as he did in full dress. Quickly she returned the elephant to its home. The thought that she had nearly dropped what was no doubt an expensive item made her tremble. God knew what she would owe him then.
“Two and twenty thousand rupees,” he answered. “It belonged to a Hindu rajah.”
“It’s beautiful,” she murmured.
“Sit, Miss Herwood.”
His imperial tone contrasted with the more courteous manners he exhibited at the gaming hell. Perhaps he fancied himself a rajah in his own abode. Though tempted to defy him, she sat down upon a settee, noting that tea had been set upon the table before it. He sat opposite her and poured her a cup, which she accepted gratefully, for she would not know what to do with her hands otherwise. She took a sip of the fragrant Darjeeling, ignoring his penetrating gaze.
“You’re inebriated,” he stated with a frown.
Damn. How the bloody hell did he discern that? Caught, she opted to mask her embarrassment with childish insolence.
“I had myself a glass,” she admitted with a dismissive shrug, avoiding his stare by focusing on her tea. “I am no child, Lord Rockwell, and you are not my guardian.”
“Indeed. If I were, you would certainly not be spending your time in a gaming hell.”
“And if I were yours, you would not be making indecent propositions to ladies you hardly know.”
His brows rose but his eyes glimmered with amusement.
“Such insolence can be tamed,” he said almost to himself, then offered her the plate of biscuits. “You will require sustenance to soak up the effects of the wine.”
She hesitated. The wine was giving her courage, but perhaps it was best she had all her wits about her with this man.
“The servants have all retired for the evening. You’ve no need to conceal yourself.”
“You will forgive me if I fail to trust to assurances alone that our transaction, if you will, shall remain private.”
After a moment of thought, he went to the writing table and retrieved paper and pen. After a quick scrawl, he affixed his seal and handed her the note.
“You may redeem this if the confidence of this night is broken,” he told her.
She choked on her tea upon seeing the amount he had penned. Five hundred pounds!
“Do you make such offers to all the women you take to bed?” she could not help asking.
His expression darkened and she regretted her impudence.
“Consider yourself unique, Miss Herwood.”
There was a peculiar strain to his voice. She took another sip of the tea to avoid his gaze. Of course the other women willingly lifted their skirts to him. She wondered if she would have done the same had she not lost to him.
“When do we, er, begin…?”
“Would you prefer a more romantic term?” she replied archly.
“Not at all. I have always observed you to be practical and devoid of the silly sensibilities and nonsense that permeate others of your sex.”
He had observed her before? Should she be flattered by this? She began to wonder if he had deliberately chosen to sit at her card table the other night.
“We will conduct our matter when you are in full possession of your faculties,” he continued, pouring her more tea, “that you may fully appreciate its aspects.”
She could not help an unladylike snort. “You fancy yourself an accomplished lover, do you?”
He said nothing, but a smile tugged at the corner of his lips. They were a sensuous pair. For a moment, she wondered what it would feel like to be kissed by them. She shook herself back to attention, glad the veil shielded her, to a degree, from his discerning stare. The wine was having the damnable effect of making the man more attractive.
“I think you will find the experience agreeable, Miss Herwood.”
“And how do you come to merit such arrogance?”
“You will discover for yourself soon enough.”
She pursed her lips in frustration. She had hoped for a short visit and instead of concluding their business, they were having a tête-à-tête over bloody tea. Setting aside her cup, she untied her pelisse and allowed it to fall from her shoulders.
“Did you not wish to take your pleasure of me?”
A muscle along his jaw rippled as he settled further into the settee. “In due time.”
Those with wealth and countenance assumed the world revolved about them. A rush of envy stoked a darker side of her. In the end he was but a man, with base desires no different than a commoner, and she would prove it so. She unpinned her hat and fixed her most smoldering stare upon him. She had witnessed the coquetry of the women who patronized the gaming hell and been entertained by how simply a man could be lured into their grasps.
“Have you ever considered becoming a courtesan to relieve your fiscal conditions?”
His uncanny ability to know her thoughts unnerved her, and the truth of the matter struck a vulnerable chord. She had considered the option but simply had no prospects at the moment.
“If you are offering, Lord Rockwell, I am flattered but must decline,” she retorted as she removed her gloves, slowly peeling one past her elbow and exposing the smooth, pale skin of her forearm.
The corner of his mouth quirked upward. They both knew he had no intention of inviting her to be his mistress, but her response amused him. His gaze fell to her bare arms. The heat in his eyes made her feel as if she had taken off all her garments, not just her gloves. Emboldened by his appreciation, she angled herself on the settee and put a hand to the nape of her neck.
“I seem to have missed a pin,” she said. “Would my lord oblige in removing it?”
He made no movement, making her wonder whether her inexperience in playing the coquette appeared that obvious, but then he crossed the distance between them and sat down beside her, his thigh dangerously close to her rump. She felt his fingers upon her hair and suppressed a shiver.
“You are mistaken, Miss Herwood. I see none.”
She could sense the warmth of his body, and when he trailed a knuckle down the length of her neck, she suddenly wanted him to grab her and kiss her. But he had resumed his seat opposite her, leaving her wanting. She frowned. He had propositioned her. Did he expect that she would throw herself at him? Looking into his eyes, she suspected that he knew the effect he had on her. But she must have impressed him to some degree or he would not have offered to forfeit fifty pounds for one night of attention. Granted, fifty pounds was no significant sum for him, but he could have had women of far more consequence at his beck and call for far less.
Inspired by this reasoning, she stood up and sauntered toward him.
“Shall we retire to your bedchamber, my lord?”
“I prefer different quarters.”
His response struck her as odd, but the sofa upon which he sat appeared comfortable enough. She dropped to her knees, the wine humming in her veins. Surprise lighted his eyes but he did not move. His gaze caressed the swell of her cheek, the skin above her décolletage and, seeming to penetrate the material of her dress, the curves beneath. Her body tingled from head to toe beneath his regard. She dared to put a hand upon his knee. When he did not flinch, she glanced into his countenance and thought she saw flames in his eyes.
“You have managed to learn the arts of a courtesan,” he observed coolly, with only the faintest hitch in his voice.
Her heart hammered in her ears. She was a novice playing with fire. Never before had she been so bold with a man. But never before had she dealt with a man who refused to be seduced by the very woman he had propositioned.
“You have finished neither your biscuit nor your tea, Miss Herwood.”
“I have no need for your tea and biscuit. I am in full command of my faculties, Lord Rockwell, despite the presence of a bit of wine,” she responded.
“Ah, Miss Herwood, how poorly you lie.”
She would have risen, thrown her hands up in exasperation and reached for her gloves and hat, daring him to stop her from leaving, but he had cupped her chin in one hand, his forefinger lazily grazing the soft spot beneath her jaw. She fought the desire to melt into his hand and the weakening in her limbs, for she had to uphold her earlier assertion. It was no easy battle, and the wine, which had hitherto been her supporter, turned foe in this matter.
“You contravened my command. I would have overlooked one glass of wine, but you have partaken of more, Miss Herwood.”
Command? The word jolted her to attention and she pulled away from him. His touch rattled her senses far too much.
“You insist upon playing my guardian, Lord Rockewell?”
He smiled. “If that were the case, you would be splayed across my lap for a sound spanking.”
Her mouth went dry at the thought. A small voice inside advised her to run from this man. At the very least she ought to put some distance between them, but a darker side of her was drawn to him more than ever.
“Patience, my dear Miss Herwood,” he gently coaxed.
Patience? Would he have her return to her seat, twiddle with the damn biscuits and wait…wait for what?
“Have I misunderstood your proposition, Lord Rockwell? Did you not say that I could discharge my debt if I were to lay with you?”
“I did proffer one night of pleasure.”
“And by pleasure you meant a tête-à-tête over tea? La! How silly of me to have suspected you of more roguish intentions.”
As she spoke, she realized a part of her would be quite disappointed if he answered in the affirmative. She rose to her feet but he grabbed her at the wrist and pulled her across him with startling deftness. How easily he manhandled her.
“Make no mistake, Miss Herwood. I intend to take my pleasure of you,” he growled, his mouth beside her ear.
“Then why delay, my lord?” she whispered back against his ear over the loud thumping of her heart.
He made a low groan. Before she could react, he had pinned her against the arm of the sofa. His mouth was atop hers, crushing, claiming, punishing. She had never been kissed with such force and felt a surge of triumph. Her head swam from the heady combination of intoxication and arousal. She attempted to return his forceful kiss, but his mouth dictated the terms. He tasted of her, explored her, consumed her. She could do little but surrender to his attentions.
When at last he released her to breathe, and the world had slowed its swirl about her head, she could not resist saying, “Patience, my lord.”
“Patience be damned,” he returned, though the glint in his eye had her suspecting that perhaps her triumph was not as complete as she would think.
SHE DID NOT DWELL long for he captured her mouth once more in his and she was content to revel in his desire for her. He trailed his lips down her neck and her back arched of its own volition, pressing her body into his, feeling the weight of him. She had not expected that area to prove so sensitive. As if cognizant of that delicacy, he kissed her with feathery lightness, a contrast to the vehemence with which he had plumbed her mouth earlier. His hand went to the small of her back, and that too proved provocative. She felt surrounded by him.
Desire swelled below her waist. She put her hand to the back of his neck, brushing the ends of his hair as he nestled into her neck. Forgetting her intentions to make quick her obligation to him, she allowed him to take his time caressing her décolletage and skimming the tops of her breasts. She had expected him to ravish them. In her previous encounters, the men had torn at her bodice as if they were starving babes eager to nurse, but she sensed that Lord Rockwell was no callow lover. Her nipples hardened, desiring his attention. As if sensing her precise need, he cupped a breast and grazed the nipple with his thumb. Her breath caught as a jolt of sensation shot from her nipple to the apex of her thighs. His thumb circled the nipple, rubbing the fabric of her dress into the bud until she squirmed and moaned her need for release.
He slid his hand to her upper thigh. Would he now throw up her skirts and mount her? She found she did not dread the prospect. Indeed, the carnal yearning within her welcomed it. But instead of unbuttoning his trousers, he pulled up the hem of her dress and ran his hand along her leg. How she wished she had a better pair of stockings to present to a man who undoubtedly knew all the luxuries in life. He brushed the soft skin just above the stockings with his knuckles, his hand dangerously close to where her desire pooled hot and wet.
She glanced into his face. His soft brown eyes gleamed in a manner that made her reconsider once more the wisdom of her intoxication. He had the upper hand in more ways than one. But she had no time to chide herself for his fingers skimmed the patch of hair at the base of her pelvis. His thumb slipped lower and teased that small but potent nub of flesh between her legs. She closed her eyes against his stare, marveling at the delicious disconcertion in her body. Lightly he fondled her clitoris, nipped it between two fingers, stroked its length ’til she was panting. Her body, now a coil that needed unwinding , strained to his touch. In response he deepened his caress. Dipping a finger into her hot wetness, he rubbed her with increasing vigor.
Gasping, she felt herself thrown over a familiar precipice, only it felt more glorious than when she attended to her needs in solitude. She erupted in uncontrolled paroxysms against him. A cry escaped her lips. He pushed the last of the spasms from her body before easing his caress into a gentle swirling. She shuddered.
“You spend beautifully, Miss Herwood.”
She barely heard his words. Lost in a fog of relief and glory and the remnants of her inebriation, she allowed herself to sink into the sofa. If he wanted her to attend him, he would have to wait and acquire some of the patience he had advocated earlier.
[ * * * ]
Deana fluttered her eyes. Settled in a haze of comfort and satisfaction, she had no desire to move, but the aroma of fresh coffee called to her. She glanced down at the luxurious blanket covering her legs and felt the firm cushions beneath her. Her gaze moved to the porcelain coffee set in front of her and then across the table to the opposite sofa where Lord Rockwell sat, one leg crossed over the other, his expression soft.
Good heavens, had she fallen asleep?
Quickly she sat up, but the speed of her motions made the side of her head throb.
“Coffee will aid your situation,” he offered, pouring a cup.
Flushing, she took the hot beverage with gratitude. He was correct—she should not have come intoxicated. She noticed he was no longer wearing his banyan or any neckwear. Instead, the top buttons of his shirt were undone—a minor feature but grandly provocative. Memories of what had transpired betwixt them rushed into her mind, warming her body instantly.
“Forgive my impoliteness for having, er, fallen asleep on your settee,” she said more to her coffee than to him. She had never fallen asleep in a strange place before.
“I am glad for it,” he replied. “Do you drink often, Miss Herwood?”
She eyed him carefully. “You seem to know much about me. Do you not already have your answer, your lordship?”
“A gaming hell is no place for one of the fair sex to let down her guard.”
“I am no fool nor child.”
“Tonight being the exception?”
She tried not to glare at him. “Though I am sure you are accustomed to women throwing themselves at you, might you allow that one would deem the situation I find myself facing rather daunting?”
His lips curved in genuine humor and she found it hard to remain angry with him. How glorious those lips had felt upon her…
Realizing she had been staring at his mouth, she buried her face in her coffee. What a gauche young woman he must perceive her to be!
“Please partake of the sweatmeats.” He gestured to the berries, cheese and bread on the coffee tray.
Though not particularly hungry, she decided to eat as a distraction and idly wondered if he had woken the servants in the middle of the night to prepare the coffee.
He poured himself a cup and settled back into the sofa to gaze upon her. She wanted to quip about the impoliteness of staring, but the entitled would not care for comments from one such as her. Instead, she broke the silence with small talk.
“Do you travel to India often?”
“What do you consider often? It is no easy journey.”
She had no definition in mind. The farthest she had ever been from London was Bath.
“Would you venture there if it were not?” she rephrased.
He weighed her query. “In truth, I am ambivalent. There is much to wonder at and detest of the East.”
She tried to fathom a world she had seen only in books and an occasional painting, but in her mind danced colorful silks, teas and curries.
“Tell me of India.”
“Many would find her easy to disdain, but you would appreciate India.”
“You know me well enough to make such a declaration?”
“I merely observe the inflection when you speak and the shine in your eyes. You are not difficult to read, Miss Herwood.”
She frowned. She was gauche and guileless?
“Do not distress yourself. Consider it a compliment. I find it refreshing.”
Is that what had attracted him to her table?
“I imagine a visitor from India could find much to disdain in England,” she remarked. “For instance, certain noblemen can be quite insufferable here.”
He grinned at her taunt. “I couldn’t agree more, Miss Herwood. More coffee?”
She eagerly accepted, for the coffee did aid with her headache and she was beginning to enjoy her conversation with Lord Rockwell.
“I think you are partial to India, Lord Rockwell.”
She gestured about the room. “You have reminders of her everywhere.”
He followed her gaze from the elephant she had held earlier to a bronze oil lamp above the fireplace to a tapestry on the wall. The image on the tapestry was a woman wearing a golden headdress, arms stretched with a bow and arrow, astride a many-hued parrot.
“Rati,” he explained. “Hindu goddess of love, passion and carnal pleasure.”
Her cheeks colored. She recalled her purpose for being here and, as she had pointed out earlier, it was not for conversation.
“How appropriate,” she murmured. “I am aware that I have not fulfilled my end of the arrangement, my lord.”
“Not entirely. I took great pleasure in seeing you spend.”
Her whole body flushed. She shifted under his gaze.
The fires in his eyes flared. “I have much more planned, Miss Herwood.”
She swallowed with difficulty the coffee she had just imbibed and felt a strong need to fan herself.
“How do you wish to begin?” she croaked.
“Come here,” he said, his tone gentle and commanding.
She went to stand before his sofa. He rose to his feet. Looking down at her, he brushed a stray tendril of hair over her shoulder.
“What does your body desire most, Miss Herwood?” he asked.
You. At that moment, she realized that she had never desired a man as much as she did then. The embers from his recent caresses were quick to burn anew.
“What brings you the greatest pleasure?” He slid the back of his forefinger down her neck and along her collarbone.
“Having a romp at the tables against haughty noblemen.”
He circled his arm around her waist and jerked her to him. She could feel his hardened arousal against her hip.
“I promise you will enjoy having lost to me, Miss Herwood.” As he held her against him, his other hand cupped her jaw and lifted her face. “You shall not soon forget this night.”
“And what have I done to merit such a prospect?” she asked quietly, momentarily mesmerized by the depths of his eyes. Like diamonds, they reflected an inner fire.
His thumb passed over her mouth, tugging the bottom lip down. He grazed the tip of her tongue. She caught his thumb in her mouth and sucked. Hard.
He groaned. Removing his thumb, he replaced it with his mouth. She could taste the coffee and, beyond that, him. His mouth covered hers, his tongue probed and coaxed. Her head was spinning, she had never experienced such a full and luscious kiss. Deeper he went but in steps that assured she could follow. Not at all like her last lover, who harkened to her mind a pet dog she once had. The dear little bitch would greet her with all tongue, lapping at her face and drowning her in slaver.
Lord Rockwell’s kiss was consuming but purposeful. His lips led hers in a heady dance that left her breathless and wanting. His cock felt like a steel rod against her. She pressed her hips to him, the carnal yearning in her body needing to connect with his. He responded by gripping her tighter, one hand cupping a buttock so that she remained molded to him. She let out a small gasp. He dropped his head and tongued the hollow of her neck. Any lingering regrets of having lost to Lord Rockwell at the card table vanished. She wanted him to take her and satiate the burning within her. Wrapping her arms around his neck, she pulled him into her. She would be content to kiss for an eternity but for the ache building within her. Her hand slid from his neck to the slight opening of his shirt.
Abruptly he whipped her around and pinned her backside against him. The thickness of his desire pressed against her derriere. One arm circled her chest, the other her pelvis. She could have melted into his embrace. As he rained kisses along her neck, he groped a breast, kneading the flesh through her dress. Her nipple puckered beneath his touch. She wanted his other hand to pull up her skirts as he had done and fondle once more that most sensitive of parts.
Taking her by the hand, he led across the drawing room and, pulling a key from his pocket, unlocked a door she had not noticed before.
The room she entered was dark but for two bronze oil lamps on either side of a grand four-post bed of mahaony with a blood-red canopy and golden tassles and orange silk curtains, large plush pillows, and silk bedclothes. It was beautiful, fit for an Indian princess. “How lovely,” she mururmed.
“It pleases you?”
“I supposed it were as fine a setting as any for the…” she began.
He had cme up behind her. She tensed. His presence alone could send her judgment scattering. Already her body responded as if being called by sirens.
“The transaction,” he supplied, “or let us call it what it is: a night of debauchery, of the finest pleasures.”
She closed her eyes at his seductive voice but resisted.
“Finest pleasures? I hope your words signify you will not be too difficult to please.”
“I was referring to your pleasure.”
“Mine? You are bold, my lord.”
“Have I not attended you with satisfaction?”
He ran a finger up her bare arm and she could not quell a shiver. How had her body become so sensitized to his touch?
“What you require is beyond the norm,” she murmured.
He rested his hand upon her shoulder, then gently began rubbing away the tension.
“I would not have invited you here if I did not think you possessed a bold spirit. I shall do nothing you cannot bear. All that I do is for your desire.”
She raised a brow. “You presume to know my desires?”
The corner of his mouth curled upward. “And they shall be provided a most rapturous end.”
She shook her head. “Your presumption knows no bounds.”
His eyes glimmered. “Care to lay wager upon it, Miss Herwood?”
“Despite my conviction, I think I had best not.”
“Then to allay your fears, allow me to propose that if you do not find this night to be fulfilling, I will offer as recompense the sum of one hundred pounds.”
A hundred quid! She salivated at the sum. She could stall the creditors from repossessing the furniture. Her mother could indulge in jam and butter upon her toast.
“And how would you define fulfillment?”
He trailed his hand down to the swell of her breast. “Not I. You shall—with your orgasm. The absence of it would mark a night unfulfilled.”
She gazed down at his hand. One hundred pounds. And she had but to refrain from spending?
“You mock me, Lord Rockwell.”
“I rarely jest on such matters.”
His hand dipped beneath her décolletage and cradled a breast. She closed her eyes. His touch was exquisite.
“Do you make a habit of such outrageous propositions?”
“Would you believe me if I said I did not?”
He kissed her lightly upon the neck. “Then why ask?”
She sighed. Exasperating if not clever man.
He whipped her around and pressed his mouth full upon hers.
“Come, I dare you to accept the wager,” he murmured against her lips.
THE WARMTH BETWEEN her legs flared once more, but she forced her mind to the task. “You have me at a disadvantage. I have but your word that you will honor both the word of safety and your wager.”
He pulled back and stared deep into her eyes. “Your dilemma is understandable. I can only ask that you trust me.”
Her heart throbbed with excitement and fear. Thriving in a gaming hell necessitated the constant assessment of character, and her instincts gave no alarm with Lord Rockwell. She wanted to place herself in his hands, but she barely knew the man. And yet she had never felt more at ease in a man’s company.
A hundred pounds. It was too grand a sum not to take the risk.
“Very well, Lord Rockwell, I accept.”
His smile reached his eyes and she sensed her relief reflected also in him.
“I promise you will not rue the hand you lost at vingt-et-un.”
He led her to a mirror and stood once more behind her. It was most disconcerting for she knew not what he would do, nor could she read his countenance.
“Tell me what arouses you,” he instructed as his hand brushed the skin above the back of her bodice.
“You are most forward, Lord Rockwell, and I have no intention of giving you any assistance in winning your wager.”
She saw his smile in the mirror.
“Touché. I will discern the answer nonetheless.”
He began to unbutton her gown.
Dialogue could prove a good distraction, she decided. “How many women have you entertained in this chamber of yours?”
The answer should dampen her lust.
“You are most forward, Miss Herwood.”
She could not help a grin at his response.
“I have not kept count.”
He eased the top of her gown down her arms. It pooled at her feet. She watched in the mirror as he untied her petticoats next.
“Four or more?”
“Or more, certainly.”
The petticoats fell to the ground. She blushed at the sight of herself in stays and shift. He began to unlace her stays without effort.
“Should not a man of your stature be seeking a wife instead of indulging in prurient interests?” she asked, averting her eyes from the mirror.
“Should not a woman of your situation be seeking a husband instead of gambling at a gaming hell?” he returned.
She bristled. “I asked first.”
“A wife is easy enough to attain. I see no reason to rush.”
How she wished she could claim the same of a husband!
“I am earning my dowry, if you will, at the gaming hell.”
Clever response, she praised herself.
“You require a husband with funds, not a man in search of a dowry.”
She pursed her lips at his obvious statement, which made quick work of her smugness.
“It is no easy matter to find a man with funds and possessing a decent character.”
“Especially in a gaming hell.”
Their dialogue was proving quite effective, for now anger trumped all that she felt. To her surprise, tears threatened. She was well aware that her current finances necessitated her spending time in a gaming hell, which dimmed her marital prospects and future security.
“You see the irony of my situation then,” she replied with an edge. “I have not the fortune to have been born into the ton or with a bounty of assets at my disposal.”
The stays dropped from her.
“I beg to differ,” Rockwell said.
She saw herself wearing only her chemise, stockings and garters.
He slid the sleeve of the shift down a shoulder and kissed her there. “You have remarkable assets.”
He gripped the flimsy fabric and tore it in twain down the front, exposing her breasts, her abdomen, her pelvis. She gasped and stared at the mirror in shock. Modesty finally set in and she looked away. As if his words had not riled her enough, he had to destroy her shift as well?
“I will compensate you for your loss, but look in the mirror, Deana.”
She should chastise him for the familiar use of her name, but she fixed her concentration upon the ground.
“Look,” he ordered in a tone she found difficult to disobey.
She moved her gaze to the mirror.
“You are lovely.”
He pulled the torn garment from her and circled his arms around to cup her breasts.
“In addition to many other fine attributes in your possession,” he continued.
He tugged at her nipples and all her anger dissipated, replaced with a poignant need. She looked away once more, but he took her chin and directed her to the mirror.
“Look at yourself,” he commanded.
She raised her eyes.
“I am no poet,” he said, “or I could speak eloquently of these.”
Once more he fondled her breasts. Desire warmed in her loins despite the awkwardness of having to look upon her own nakedness.
His hands dropped to her hips.
One hand reached the triangle of hair at her groin. How delicious his warm, strong hands felt upon her body…
A hundred pounds, she reminded herself.
“You have the body of a goddess.”
His voice was a caress as powerful as his touch.
“That of lithe Artemis,” he continued, “or Athena.”
He took both her hands in his and guided them to her breasts and over her belly. He moved their right hands between her thighs. She gasped. She was touching herself in front of him! He stroked her flesh through her fingers. His left hand moved hers back to a breast, palming the mound, rolling it over her chest. She needed to escape the assault of sensations but tried not to squirm. He began strumming against her flesh, bumping her fingers into herself. She squeezed her thighs together to limit the movements but he managed to push her forefinger into her wet, hot cunnie.
Dear God, he’s making me frig myself. She was both aroused and flustered. He lifted his head to see her countenance. The flash in his eyes made her heart thump even more. He pushed her finger deeper inside her while he pressed his thumb upon her clit. Gradually he increased the motions of both hands. Her head fell against his shoulder at the onslaught. She could look no more. Wonderful sensations brewed and ricocheted inside her.
A hundred pounds. A hundred pounds. A hundred pounds.
“Do not move,” he said, withdrawing his hands.
She saw herself in the mirror, one hand upon her breast, the other buried between her legs. Her flesh throbbed about her finger. When he stepped away to retrieve something, she pulled out of herself and covered herself.
“You moved,” he scolded upon his return.
The darkness of his tone quickened her pulse. A threat lay beneath his words. She saw he held a length of rope. What was that for?
“And I have yet to punish you, Miss Herwood, for your first indiscretion.”
She could barely speak but managed to croak, “My lord?”
“I specifically told you not to come inebriated.”
She felt like a chastened child but retorted, “I forget you are accustomed to women doing all that you bid.”
He pulled the rope taut between his hands and sauntered over to the bed. “By all means, contravene me at every turn. I shall have as little qualm in administering punishment as I do pleasure. Come here.”
After some hesitation, she complied, praying that she would not regret her decision to place all trust in him. With the servants asleep, there would be no one to come to her rescue should she need it. She doubted they would hear her screams through the door and down into the servants’ quarters.
He positioned her before one of the bedposts and, pulling her arms up, tied her wrists above her to the post. Her heart beat rapidly. Did he intend her harm? Her intuition had never suggested the possibility to her, but why would he bind her to the bed?
“Is this necessary?” she asked, testing the bonds to see if she could escape if needed. They held fast.
“I find the placement of one’s hands to be an unnecessary distraction,” he replied, stepping back to look her over. “You may attend your enjoyment better this way.”
He cradled a breast, then kneaded the flesh. He passed a thumb over the nipple, causing it to harden further. She shivered.
“And it permits me complete freedom to have my way with you,” he finished.
She was about to protest the necessity of being tied to the bed when his mouth covered her nipple, dashing all words from her. The wet warmth encasing the sensitive bud sent her senses reeling. He sucked, taking her breath as well and sending flutters from her bosom to her loins. For several minutes he toyed with the nipple—licking, tugging, nipping. Closing her eyes, she tried not to let the sensations overhwlem her. She squirmed against the bedpost and was now partially glad that he had bound her hands for she knew not whether she wanted to push him away or pull him closer.
When he stopped, she opened her eyes to find him assessing her. Her gaze caught in his, she sensed she could have been prey he intended to devour. His mouth descended upon hers. She could do nothing but submit to his ferocious kiss and understood then why he had wanted her sober—that she could appreciate every maddening sensation. When he released her from his kiss, she felt as if a fine wine had been dashed from her lips. She wanted more, wanted his tongue to continue probing her depths.
But a hundred pounds was at stake, she reminded herself and did her best to quell her nerves.
“You are quite delectable, Miss Herwood,” he murmured as a hand slipped between her legs to her wetness. She groaned. He teased and tormented that traitorous nub of desire there. Despite her efforts to resist, she felt the arousal intensifying, felt herself growing hotter and wetter. She shifted, against both the constraints of the rope and the ache emanating from within.
With his free hand, he attended her other breast, groping her, pinching the nipple. Her breath grew erratic as she writhed beneath his dual ministrations and the beautiful agony they created.
“Please,” she mumbled after he had withdrawn his hands.
Remembering their wager, she stopped herself from asking him to continue.
“Do you desire me to continue?” he inquired, his hand softly brushing the top of her thigh.
She could not think properly when he caressed her there, tantalizing close to where he had been touching her before. Of course she wanted him to continue—not to continue, that is.
His hand returned to the heat between her thighs. He strummed his fingers along her.
“Do you desire this?” he asked before slowing to a stop.
“Pray continue,” she mumbled.
Was he reveling in his victory? Glancing down, she saw the bulge at his crotch. Perhaps she was not the only one fighting back urges.
He resumed his stroking, stoking the tension in her loins. Lubricated by her wetness, his hand created a delicious friction against her. She could not ignore the heat engulfing her body, the blood pumping in her veins. The odds of her winning the hundred quid were no longer in her favor. Her body craved to be led up to the precipice over which she would find release.
Dear God. Shutting her eyes, she tried to pretend the exquisiteness waving through her body were not hers. She was elsewhere. This woman at the mercy of Lord Rockwell, this woman bound and fondled was not her. Think of something inane!
Her mind went briefly to her aunts recounting their walks through Hyde Park, whom they saw, what was worn by those they saw, whom they didn’t see…
She should not have asked him to continue! She cursed to herself. A hundred pounds…
As she warred with herself, he undid the rope. She had not realized how sore her arms were till they fell to her sides. Sweeping her into his arms, he carried her to the bed. He lay her on her stomach over a stack of pillows.
She heard the rustle of his clothes being shed and remembered how inviting his chest had looked beneath his shirt. Twisting her head, she looked behind herself to see his desire spring from his pants. Thick and hard, it was a beautiful member. She wanted it, needed it to tame the heat inside her.
No, that will not do! She needed to prevail with this wager. She forced her mind to consider the soreness in her arms and how unsettling it was to have her most intimate parts fully exposed and at his mercy.
And yet there was something quite titillating, exhilarating and seductive in submitting to Lord Rockwell.
He encased his cock with a protective sheath. Partaking of her wetness, he rubbed it upon the covering and looked at her. The dark hunger in his eyes made her cunnie throb. She straightened her head and took a deep breath. When his erection grazed her, she gasped in delight. He sawed his erection between her legs. Back and forth. Back and forth. As pleasurable as the action was, she wanted more.
Take me, she nearly shouted.
As if reading her mind, he plunged himself into her. How marvelous he felt inside her. She would have savored the sensation longer but her arousal, brought to a famished height, was impatient for more. Her hips moved of their own volition. He moved his own in rhythm to hers until he was thrusting deeper and deeper into her. She moaned her appreciation. Yes…
She managed to calm her hips. With her mind she tried to extinguish the fire consuming her. The effort made her feel as if her body would twist itself inside out.
He reached around her and pinched a nipple. The sensation shot straight to her quim. He continued his thrusting and circled his hand around her hip for her clitoris, stroking the engorged nub as he pumped in and out of her.
No, no, no…yes…no…yes!
Desire vibrated with unbearable intensity within her. The tide pushed against her now meager wall of resistance and her body shattered into a thousand pieces. She cried out as the waves washed over her. Spasms rippled through her limbs, jerking her against him. She vaguely heard him grunt and felt his thrusts quicken before he fell atop her, his weight pushing her into the pillows. They lay, their bodies still joined, taking in air as they sank back to earth.
[ * * * ]
A full sennight had passed since her visit with Lord Rockwell and still her cheeks flushed when she recalled their assignation. For days she could not sit without feeling the flogger upon her arse.
Applying a balm to the affected area, he had murmured, “Well done, Miss Herwood.”
Despite having lost the wager, she had felt quite satisfied with herself. She had not required her safety word. Her body had been pushed to limits she had never thought possible. The whole experience had been unworldly.
With tenderness, he had removed her bonds and rubbed her sore arms as she lay against him, her body spent. And that too proved pleasurable. She would have been content to fall asleep in his arms but for the need to return before the household awoke. He had attended to her toilette with the air of a gentleman, notwithstanding what he had just done to her.
“I presume my debt to be disposed of?” she had inquired before departing.
His eyes had glimmered. “Indeed.”
“Then I bid you good evening—or good day, rather.”
“Good day, Miss Herwood.”
He had lifted her hand to his lips. The kiss had sent the embers of desire flaring and she would have been tempted to stay if he had asked her to.
“Oh that I could have a new ribbon for my bonnet. This one has lost its color and is more white than pink.”
Her aunt’s voice broke into her reverie.
Deana studied the petticoat she was mending for the fourth time. Perhaps she should have tried harder to win the hundred pounds from Lord Rockwell. She would not have minded another hand at cards with the man—and she was unsure whether she would prefer to win or lose against him.
She looked outside the drawing room window at the setting sun. It was almost the time when she would make her way to the gaming hell. The first few days she had looked for Rockwell often but he had not appeared. She could not help some disappointment at first. But why would a man like him seek her out again? He owed her nothing, not even a letter. They had said their farewell.
So she ought to turn her mind toward her customary pursuits and the constant goal of winning enough at cards to pay for the food upon their table. Her encounter with Lord Rockwell would be relegated to the past, an isolated exchange but one she would not look back upon without fondness.
“Dear, I hope it not be the creditors,” her mother bemoaned.
Engrossed in her thoughts, Deana had not heard the knock at the door. She put down her sewing.
“I shall see to it.”
She opened the door to a messenger holding a brown paper package.
“For Miss Herwood,” the young man said.
Looking at her name upon the package, her heartbeat quickened. She recognized the hand. After thanking the boy, she quickly stole upstairs. In the privacy of her room, she carefully untied the string. She peeled back the wrapping and, lying in the middle of red and orange silks was a familiar ivory elephant with ruby eyes. Heart pounding, she picked it up gently. Beneath the elephant lay a simple note.
For a most pleasurable evening.
Smiling, she returned the elephant tenderly to the silk. A pleasurable evening indeed. Losing a hand at cards had never proved more delightful.
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Copyright © 2017 Em Brown
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For debt-ridden Deana Herwood, losing a hand of cards to the wealthy Lord Rockwell was bad enough. To settler her loss, she must offer her body to him for one night of pleasure. When she expresses her reservations, he offers an even more outrageous proposition. Can she win the wager or will her body succumb to the wicked attentions of Lord Rockwell? For a more erotic version of this story, try Em Brown's Submitting to Lord Rockwell.