Read Blaze Online

Authors: Susan Johnson

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #General



Chapter 1


, February 1861


STRONG dark hands lazily stroking a warm spine…


A fragile woman smelling of summer roses…


Shadows and half-light in a deserted hallway…


The rubbed walnut paneling felt solid behind his back. Beneath his fingers, Lyon silk, delicate and heated, inundated his senses with pleasure. Slowly savoring the feel, his hands slid up the silken back of the woman pressed against him, glided over the ruched neckline of her gown to lightly close on naked scented shoulders. She smelled of violets too, and when he unobtrusively turned his head to glance down the darkened hallway, his jaw brushed across perfumed golden curls, soft as feathers.


"I hope you don't mind my coaxing you up here." A coyly whispered preamble.


"I don't mind," the deep masculine voice huskily replied.


"You're the most gorgeous man I've ever seen— north or south of the Mason-Dixon line," a honeyed southern accent purred, luscious as sable, while a voluptuous body moved provocatively against the man's obvious arousal.


A low, noncommital murmur modestly acknowledged the sugared compliment while eyes dark as a moonless midnight gazed down at the pretty female held lightly in his hands.


The tall, sun-bronzed man with a faultless face like Attic sculpture, untamed raven hair, and arresting jet eyes, was dressed in full Plains Indian regalia: fringed elkskins decorated with ermine and quillwork; moccasins beaded in sinuous bands of gold, red, and black; an exquisite collar of bear claws and feathers spilling down his partially bared chest.


It was that heavily muscled chest which was currently the object of the lady's rapt attention; its contours were being caressed with long, lingering strokes. And the two figures, one powerful and tall, the other dainty and fragrant, pressed together in the dimly lit second floor corridor, were carrying on an abbreviated, softly murmured conversation between languid body movements and gently roving hands.


"Where are you from?" the extravagantly clothed woman, arrayed in lavish French court dress, whispered. Her hands moved down, slipping under the waistband of the leather leggings.


,"1 the hawk-faced man replied on a sharply drawn breath.


"What tribe is all this from?" she asked in a soft, throaty tone, and while her question implied the costume, her fingers were touching his blatantly rigid manhood.


He swallowed once before answering, "Ab-sarokee,"2 and immediately felt the small hand suspend its exploration. Correctly interpreting the hesitation, he murmured in clarification, "Mountain Crow," giving the name the outside world knew.


The intimate fingers began moving again, drifting upward, luxuriating in the rock-hard sinew and muscle beneath her slowly gliding hands, and every nerve in her heated body melted into flame at the raw power underlying the dark skin. She could sense the years of physical exertion and training, could almost inhale the exotic smell of far-flung prairie and mountain. He was inches taller than most men, strong, quiet, the incarnation of majestic nature and freedom.


Why hadn't he kissed her yet? Why? she somewhat petulantly asked herself, when it was perfectly clear he wasn't immune to her charms. Lillebet Ravencour wasn't accustomed to such resolute control; men had been throwing themselves at her feet since she was sixteen. In a whisper of silk she stirred against his lean form, with a delicate balance acquired long ago—that perfect nuance, subtly ambiguous, between suggestion and demureness— moved into the male hardness and felt it swell against her although no sound came from the man holding her easily in his arms. Now he'd kiss her, she thought, and the lovely face framed in golden ringlets lifted expectantly.


But he didn't kiss her. Instead, his strong hands slid around her back and legs and, lifting in one smooth movement of shifting thigh and bicep muscles, put an end to their mating ceremonies. He carried her swiftly into the nearest bedroom, the lush folds of primrose silk billowing over his arm, trailing behind in pale, gleaming rivers in the corridor.


Later—only moments later—did he kiss her. He kissed her all over while he slowly undressed her. His mouth and lips and tongue caressed every curve, swell, hollow, every cresting peak and luscious plane. He kissed her in places she'd never been kissed before, intimate, dewy places, and she thought at first she'd die when his warm breath touched her there… But she didn't die, of course, and when his tongue followed where his mouth and teeth so obligingly led, a tongue that licked and teased, she knew she'd never been so near paradise.


She regained her reason briefly when he rose to strip off his own clothes. Kicking off his moccasins, he pulled the leather shirt over his head in one swift masculine tug. "What if someone comes in?" she murmured, watching him toss the necklace on the bedside table with one hand and strip the leather leggings from his lean hips with the other. Stepping out of the fringed trousers, he left them where they lay, inches from a tumble of lace petticoats representing six months' hand labor of a dozen peasant women. Tall, broad-shouldered, lean near spare-ness through torso and hips, he walked the short distance to the bed, his erection beautifully formed. Lillebet's gaze dropped as if magnetized by the sight, and the fire between her thighs burned higher.


"Don't worry," he quietly assured her, his body already lowering over hers. Intent on the pulsing arousal even now sliding slowly into her womanly sweetness, his long-lashed eyes lifted and he glanced up at her face. Her eyes were tightly closed, her mouth slightly open, her breathing intermittently punctuated with little panting whimpers.


The lady seemed satisfied. He forgot about the question and bent to kiss the softly parted lips.


THREE blocks away, on a gently sloping street, elevated enough to offer a glittering view across the Charles River, a young girl with unruly flame-red hair stood at her bedroom window, looking out into the wet, dense darkness.


"Another night of fog," she lamented with a sigh, dropping the heavy lace curtain back over the small paned window. "I suppose it'll be too rainy to go riding again tomorrow."


The elderly woman readying the bed ignored the sigh and the dispirited comment. "Come sit down, Miss Venetia, and I'll braid your hair."


The nightgowned girl padded barefoot across the plush pink carpet and flopped dejectedly on the bed. "Dammit, Hannah, if I don't get out riding soon, I'm going to die of boredom!"


"Miss Venetia," her former nanny turned personal maid remonstrated, "watch your tongue. If your mama ever heard you, she'd have you put to bed without supper for a week."


Unmollified by the threat, the young woman with wide spaced eyes the color of clear mountain lakes wrinkled her face into a momentary pout. "Since I see her only at teatime on the rare days she's home and doesn't have a headache, it's not likely she'll ever hear, Hannah. Besides, Daddy doesn't care if I swear once in a while. He says one has to release one's frustrations somehow; and being a girl leaves out almost every other conceivable way of releasing frustration. Except shopping, of course," she finished scathingly, "as Mama spends her life doing."


"Come now, pet, it's not so bad." Hannah had been soothing these childish tantrums and gloom since Vene-tia first entered the world.


The slim young girl fell back on the bed in a lethargic sprawl, her tumbled red hair in jarring juxtaposition to the rose-colored bedspread. The eyelet bedcover had been selected, as had all the room's decor, by a mother stubbornly resistant to the imperfection of her daughter's coloring. Miss Venetia morosely threw her arms above her head and sighed again. "Oh, Hannah, it is. It's terrible. The only excitement in my life is riding and I haven't been riding in a week. Rain, rain, fog, rain, cold—every day…" A third sigh—large and theatrical—drifted across the richly furnished room.


IT WAS, in fact, a typical chilly winter night in Boston, damp and misty, and the gas street lamps, enveloped in dense fog, glowed in a strangely eerie way.


Only a short distance away from the young girl complaining of the cold, in one of the opulent guest chambers of the Gothic revival mansion on
Beacon Street
, the night was far from chilled. Actually, it was extremely heated, and the sweat-sheened body of the lithe, dark-skinned man giving pleasure to the feverishly aroused woman beneath him attested to the fact.


His urgent hunger struck her as wildly barbaric, the magnificent body and willful hands did things to her which played havoc with her senses. A sense of being possessed—of capitulation—overwhelmed her, heating her passion deliriously. She was moaning, gentle whimpers of pleasure, breaking into breathy exhalations on each slow downthrust of the slim boned hips poised above her. With each withdrawal stroke, her white ringed fingers tightened on copper skin until the lower back of the tautly muscled man was bloodied and laced with scratches.


Immune to the clawed paths on his back, he was murmuring into the smooth curve of her slender throat: love words, sensual words, coaxing words, words in a strange, unknown language, and that strangeness further excited her… brought her to a cresting pleasure as intense as the expert rhythm moving deep inside her. A tiny bite of his strong white teeth on the soft flesh of her throat inundated her throbbing senses with a wave of passion. Her moist lips opened and she screamed as exquisite ecstasy peaked, tearing through her body, relentless as the rain pounding on the windowpane.


The man glanced at the door before swiftly covering her mouth with his, muffling the cry of illicit love. Only then, having silenced her orgasmic release from the guests below, did he allow himself his own gratifying climax.


Lying on his back afterward, his arm gently encircling the woman at his side, he wondered if she was the kind who asked about scalps. Since entering Boston society four years ago, a modest fortune in gold conferring instant acceptability, he'd discovered that society women responded to him in one of two ways—either with horror, as if a presumptuous servant had drifted in uninvited from the stables, or with undeniable lust. Females of the latter persuasion fell into two further categories—those sympathizing with tender condolence on the plight of the native American aborigine or those interested in the number of scalps he'd taken.


A pale hand floated up his chest, arresting his musing. The dainty belle murmured in her soft, musical drawl, slowly, as if questioning a simple-minded child, "Have you killed… many… enemies?" The last word was defined in long-drawn-out syllables.


For a moment, the man lay very still, from the glistening black hair lying tumbled on his shoulders to the ermine-decorated ankle bracelets he'd not had the time —or the patience—to remove. Then his mouth broke into a smile and, sliding his hands under her arms, he lifted her onto his chest. Gazing at the beautiful face a few inches from his he said, very, very quietly, "I've found so few enemies at Harvard this year, the killing business has been slow."


She squealed a little at the sound of the deep, cultured voice offering the prosaic answer and she quivered pleasantly against his body. An instant later, the lady's full lower lip pushed out in a coquettish pout. "Well… don't tell me before."


"You never asked… before," he softly replied, his grin widening.


"You led me on." The lush Charleston cadence was flirtatious.


"At the risk of contradicting a lady," he said, warm laughter in his eyes, "that point's debatable."


A slow, sensual smile greeted his remark. "What are you doing in Boston"—the delicate pause was scented with graceful suggestion—"otherwise?" Her small leg slid seductively between his.


"Besides this, you mean," he murmured, his easily aroused libido responding to the soft hips which had begun moving in a lazy motion atop him. "Going to school," he replied in a minimum way, positive the lady wasn't looking for a lengthy explanation, which would have had to begin with the
gold rush and the U.S. government's treaties with the Plains tribes in 1851. Hazard's father had understood the inevitable impact of those enormous migrations west, and when his only son was old enough, he'd sent him east to school. Considering the time, the place, and the woman's soft, undulating hips, Hazard condensed the complex reasons he was at Harvard and briefly added, "My father insisted I learn the white man's ways."

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