If ever a woman deserved to be shot, it was Miss Crenshaw. But dawn appointments weren’t meant for the weaker sex. Weaker sex. The lady was anything but weak, which is why Erroll intended to throttle her.
Erroll laid a shilling in the innkeeper’s palm. “You understand the need for discretion.”
“Indeed, I do, my lord,” the man replied. “Your betrothed’s reputation is safe with me.”
Erroll managed to maintain a bland expression as the innkeeper handed him the key to the lady’s room. So news of his impending nuptials had sped from Coventry to Manchester even quicker than he had—which meant London society would hear the news by morning light and the story would cross the border to Edinburgh just as quickly.
Which of the gossipmongers had he to thank for that? He was grateful to the heavenly powers that his mother had remained in Scotland and not accompanied his father to England this month. God help him if she got wind of this entanglement before he had a chance to extricate himself from the tenacious claw of the husband-hunting wench.
“A beautiful woman is hard to resist,” the innkeeper said.
“Indeed,” Erroll murmured, glad the man had interrupted the mental picture of his mother outfitting the deceitful huntress in her wedding dress. No bachelor’s mother was more determined to see her son wed than Erroll’s own dear mamma, and since his return from the navy, his father had put his considerable weight behind her efforts.
He whirled toward the stairs, climbed to the second floor and made a left down the hall. At the third door on the left, he stopped. Erroll had endured his father’s hour-long diatribe that ended with the command to marry the woman who had accused him of compromising her—a woman he’d never laid eyes on—before he finally broke away to discover his accuser had fled Coventry. The hard five hour ride to catch her before she reached her father’s estate would have been in vain if not for the fact a wheel on her carriage broke forty miles distance from Manchester.
This experience would teach him to dally with the women outside of London. Had he satisfied himself with the eligible ladies in Town—if those females could be called ladies—he wouldn’t have gone to Coventry and attended the damn house party that had gotten him into trouble. The fact he’d spent a pleasurable hour with a lady in the hostess’ gardens had only served to put him in the very place his accuser said he’d been. Erroll felt sure the cunning creature was well aware he’d been in the gardens, and therefore claimed to be the object of his attentions.
Erroll quietly unlocked the door, slipped into the darkened room, then eased the door shut and slipped the key into his pocket. Faint moonlight filtered in through thin curtains and outlined the sleeping figure in the bed. Erroll crept forward until he reached the bed. He braced a knee against the side of the mattress, then placed a hand on each side of the woman and brought his face to within an inch of hers.
She shifted in her sleep and lush breasts grazed his chest. He wondered how long it would be before she became aware a man was in her bed, then concluded that since she hadn’t awoken with a shriek she must be accustomed to having a man in her bed. He should ravish her as she’d said he had just for good measure. The thought froze at the pressure of a pistol jammed against his abdomen.
“I am a crack shot.” The feminine voice was steady—as was the hand holding the gun. “But even the worst shot in Great Britain couldn’t miss.” The gun dug deeper into his belly. “Move away.”
Erroll considered. Her calm response to his presence almost made him think she’d expected him. “If I’m to be shot, I should at least commit the crime for which I’m accused.” The click of the pistol’s hammer being pulled back was his answer. “I see you do not agree.” He straightened off the bed.
“Step back,” she ordered.
He retreated two paces.
He moved back another two paces.
“I promise you, sir, my aim is as true at such short a distance as it was when you were an inch from my face. Back against the door.”
Erroll complied. A light click indicated she had released the hammer back into place. She rose, a small figure in the shadows, and picked up something from the night table. The clink of glass was followed by the scrape of a match on wood, then light flared and he got his first look at the woman who claimed he had ravished away her innocence. Dark brown eyes pinned him with a hard stare. Honey-brown hair tumbled down her shoulders. The top of her head was no higher than his chest.
The muff pistol remained pointed at him as her attention shifted to the lamp on the nightstand. She bent slightly and her full breasts strained against the nightgown as she lit the wick. His cock jerked and he couldn’t deny his good fortune in not having met her at Lady Baldwin’s party. He very well might have fallen prey to her charms and been guilty of her accusations.
She blew out the match and tossed it onto a metal tray, then took a step toward him. The lamplight illuminated the outline of her body through the nightgown. The curves he discerned were fuller than were fashionable and the kind he’d sought without success. His cock began to lift. He might end up shot after all.
“You are no common housebreaker,” she said. “Who are you?”
Erroll’s mind snapped to attention. The wench didn’t recognize him. Fury doused his lust. He gave a mocking smile and bowed. “Lord Erroll Rushton, at your service.”
Shock registered on her face, then an answering fire appeared in her eyes. “I see we shall have to break you of the habit of entering a lady’s room uninvited.”
“You use the term lady too loosely.”
“That is the pot calling the kettle black.”
He nearly laughed.
“One would think a prospective groom could keep his cock in his pants with his wedding but two days hence,” she said.
“Three days,” Erroll corrected. That was how long it would take him to get the special license his father ordered him to procure. “Pray tell, what sort of lady carries a gun?” He didn’t ask what lady used the word ‘cock’ as easily as the word ‘groom?’ That was perhaps too obvious.
“The sort who knows what to expect of a man,” she replied.
“The very sort who understands a man might object to being forced into marriage?” he said.
She gave a derisive laugh. “You are a rakehell, sir.”
“I never denied being a rake, madam, but I am no liar.”
She wasn't what he’d expected. He’d been told this was to be her second season, but this woman was no debutante and, given the way she unabashedly stood before him in her nightclothes, he would wager she was no virgin.
“Surely, you’re a little old for this game?” he drawled.
Her brow knit, but he detected no shame. She was too collected. But a level head—along with a liberal dose of nerve—is exactly what it took to accuse a complete stranger of compromising her.
“Did you really think you could get away with it?” she asked.
The question startled him.
“Now who is the pot calling the kettle black?” he said. She shifted and Erroll could have sworn he discerned a dark patch between her legs. “A shame we met under these circumstances.” He flicked a glance at her breasts. “We could have been friends.”
Her mouth thinned. “By God, I really should shoot you.”
“Tut tut, love, not until the vows are said and I claim what is left of your virtue.”
She drew in a sharp breath.
“Your righteous anger is completely undone by the fact that you’re nearly naked.”
Her mouth twisted in a derisive smile. “Forgive me, my lord. Had I known you were coming, I would have dressed for the occasion.”
“You are impeccably dressed for the occasion.”
Did she have any idea how visible the contours of her body were with the lamplight behind her…or how her nipples pressed against her nightgown? She shifted, widening her stance slightly and his cock jerked harder. Oh yes, the witch knew.
“I should send you to hell this instant,” she said.
He lifted a brow. “The marriage vows will take care of that—had I any intentions of marrying.”
“My father will ensure that you do not escape this time.”
“That sounds as though you think I am getting what I deserve.”
“You do not deserve such a good and innocent wife.”
Erroll laughed. “Innocent? A woman who puts herself in such a position is no innocent.”
“How dare you?” she hissed.
“How dare I? I understand there were several suitors for the honorable Miss Crenshaw’s attentions at Lady Baldwin’s party. I wager none of them were as good a prospect as I, which is why you gambled that no one would notice if I was included on that list.”
He didn’t miss the way her fingers flexed on the gun.
“Everything I’ve heard about you is true,” she said. “You have no conscience.”
“In that we are alike. Should my father succeed in coercing me into marriage, I will make the worst sort of husband you can imagine. I will not settle down and sire an heir as he expects. Instead, I will send my wife to the family estate in Scotland while I go about my pleasures in London.”
“So the choice is desertion or ruination?”
“Be honest, the ruination was done long before you concocted this plan.”
“Plan?” she repeated. “I feel certain I can convince the magistrate of self-defense. After all, you broke into my room.”
“Think again.” Erroll reached into his pocket.
“Beware,” she said.
He slowly withdrew the key from his pocket and held it up. “The innkeeper was very obliging. He feels nothing should stand in the way of true love.”
She frowned, then comprehension cleared her expression. “I should have guessed. You think you can browbeat me into helping you avoid the marriage vows. You, sir, are the worst sort of knave.”
“So we do understand one another.”
“You are a fool,” she muttered.
He’d had enough. “You are the fool if you believe I will marry you.”
“Marry me? What—”
Erroll started toward her.
She took a faltering step backwards and he lunged. She gave a startled cry. He seized the hand holding the gun and shoved it upward in their tumble backwards. They landed on the bed, him on top of her. Her lush body yielded beneath his hard planes—his stiffening cock in particular. To his surprise, she didn’t struggle, but released the pistol. The weapon bounced off the mattress and struck the carpet with a thud.
“Is this how you described my having ravished you?” he demanded.
Shock registered on her face. He blew out a frustrated breath. He’d come ready to battle the vixen and she was already crumbling. Moisture appeared in her eyes. Ah, there it was. She was simply moving onto another tactic.
“Lies, pistols, tears, and…” He moved suggestively against her breasts and felt the rigid nipples beneath his shirt. “Your arsenal of weapons is impressive, madam.”
“I tell you, mamma, I heard a scream.”
A woman’s voice penetrated the door on the right wall. Erroll jerked his gaze in that direction as the door swung open. Two women stood in the doorway staring, one young—in her second season, he would guess—the other, the mamma the girl had addressed.
Erroll looked at the woman lying beneath him. “I thought that was a closet.”
A man torn between two worlds. Both need him...neither wants him.
Groomed for a life amongst the English aristocracy, Lord Erroll Rushton is unexpectedly thrust back into his father’s Scottish world when the Englishwoman he compromises refuses to marry him.
No gentleman breaks into a lady’s bedchamber...but then, no lady sleeps with a pistol under her pillow.
Miss Eve Crenshaw will marry for love or won’t marry at all. When London’s most notorious rakehell breaks into her bedchamber in the dead of night and compromises her beyond repair, Eve plans a daring escape that shocks even the Earl.
Eve’s heart leapt into a furious rhythm. The hidey-hole was wide enough to accommodate Lord Rushton’s broad shoulders, and long enough for them to squeeze in together. Nothing more. Eve inhaled a breath, then stopped at his hiss of breath.
“Miss Crenshaw, I will ask you not to move,” he whispered.
Her pulse skipped a bit. “I-I do not hear anything. Maybe they did not come into the room.” Please, God, she prayed. But the moment the prayer passed from her lips, a woman squealed on the other side of the panel.
Eve gasped. Lord Rushton clamped a hand over her mouth. He bent slightly and she felt warm breath wash over her temple as he whispered, “Careful.”
She nodded—as much in a fervent plea for him to quit touching her as to indicate her understanding. His hand dropped away. A male voice murmured something in the room and Eve wanted to cry. Someone had chosen this room for an illicit interlude. How long would they stay? If she and Lord Rushton were caught, her father would personally escort them to Gretna Green for a quick marriage. But almost worse than that, the heat that radiated off Lord Rushton threatened to melt her on the spot.
The tension in her back was working its way up her shoulders. She shifted. He seized her hips. She jerked and banged her elbow against the wall. He cursed softly. Her heart hammered harder. What was wrong with her? She wasn’t an untried maiden. What she and Blane had done was far worse than being squeezed into a hiding place the size of a rabbit hole. So why did being wedged in with Lord Rushton have her ready to jump out of her skin? The man’s muffled voice was followed by a woman’s moan.
Eve became suddenly aware of the steely bulge pressing against her belly. Her legs weakened and she felt her knees give way. Lord Rushton jammed an arm behind her and caught her by her buttocks. Eve squeaked and batted at his shoulder. He gave her a shake. She understood the rebuke and buried her face in his chest. The thump of his powerful heart against her chest made her head spin all the faster and she seriously feared she would swoon.
His free arm slid around her shoulders and he stroked her back. Her heartbeat slowed. Despite the pressure of his fingers gripping her buttocks, her panic lowered to a simmer. Then she became aware of his chin resting on her head. The hand beneath her derriere slid upward over the curve of her buttocks in what she almost swore was a caress. A shiver ran up her back. Eve drew in a stuttered breath, and released it when his embrace relaxed. The woman moaned louder and Lord Rushton’s arms tensed. Another moan followed. The man said something indistinguishable.
“More,” came the woman’s hoarse plea.
Eve swallowed against a dry throat. The bulge digging into her stomach seemed to thicken. Was that possible? A grunt sounded from the room. The man? Eve fisted Lord Rushton’s lapel. Her stomach tightened and an ache began to thrum between her legs. The woman grunted—or had it been the man? Eve’s breath quickened, but it seemed Lord Rushton had become a statue. Then he shifted. Eve instinctually lifted her head. Her head brushed his jaw.
Soft female cries filtered into the hidey hole. Lord Rushton moved and Eve realized he was looking down at her. She became aware of a tiny displacement of air near her face, then his lips nuzzled her temple. A languid shiver slid down her spine. He pressed his warm lips against her cheek and she realized he was going to kiss her. As the thought formed, his mouth covered hers.
Eve’s head swam. She was vaguely aware of the woman’s murmured pleas. Lord Rushton touched his tongue to her lips. Eve gave a small gasp of surprise and his tongue slid inside. His hand skimmed down the curve of her buttocks, then his long fingers cupped her bottom again as he flicked his tongue against her tongue. The rhythm was strange…erotic, and she was startled by the thought of his hips thrusting against hers in tandem with his tongue.
He moved his mouth on hers and she couldn’t repress a tentative thrust of her tongue against his. His fingers squeezed her buttocks and she jerked, digging his member deeper into her flesh. He groaned, the sound deep and masculine. Heat coiled in Eve’s stomach and radiated downward. Lord Rushton’s grasp on her derrière tightened as he undulated his hips and rubbed his rod against her.
It hadn’t been like this with Blane. He had made her feel cared for, feminine, but he hadn’t lit a fire that centered—Eve pushed at Lord Rushton’s chest. His mouth froze on hers. Her heart thrummed in unison with the beat that had taken up residence at the intimate point between her thighs. She had to stop, had to think…
Lord Rushton drew back. Eve collapsed against his chest, and he once again rested his chin on her head. They stood, unmoving, until his heartbeat slowed and Eve became aware of the silence in the room beyond. Had the couple departed? She leaned away from the earl and he straightened. She lifted on tiptoes and pressed her lips to his jaw. He shuddered and she froze. Holy God, she couldn’t reach his ear.
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The deep male voice caused Margot to slow her walk along the east garden path and glance over her shoulder. A tall, sandy haired man approached. Blue jeans hugged long legs, and a brown bomber jacket stretched across broad shoulders. Arresting blue eyes held her gaze. Margot’s pulse skipped a beat. Well, damn, Scotland was the place for good-looking men.
She stopped and turned so he could catch up with her. “Sugar, I don’t think we’ve met, but I’m glad you didn’t let the possibility of rejection stop you. Not that there’s much chance you’ll get rejected.”
A corner of his mouth twitched. “Special Director McNeil, at your service.”