Authors: Alexandra Ivy
Reaver flashed a mocking smile. “Which, of course, means you intend to stay.”
“Ah, you know me so well.”
“Aye.” Reaver deliberately narrowed his gaze. “Well enough to know you're courting trouble.”
“When am I not?”
“There is trouble and then there is trouble.”
Ian shrugged, well aware that his companion was referring to his uncharacteristic fascination with Mercy Simpson. Christ. He had conducted affairs with women beneath the noses of their fathers, their brothers, and even their husbands. Obviously, however, his skills at Casanova did not include concealing his bumbling attempts at seduction with a country miss.
Reaver chuckled with undisguised enjoyment. “It's your neck in the noose, not mine.”
The clock was striking nine bells when Mercy hurried into the upstairs salon that her parents had appropriated for their evening tea. After two days of endless waiting upon her parents, Mercy's feet were aching and her temper strained, but she forced herself to maintain her stiff smile as she stepped into the pretty pale green and ivory room with its delicate ornamentation and Satinwood classic furnishings.
Her smile was growing stiffer by the moment. Dear Lord, she would give anything to be in the peaceful solitude of Rosehill's beautiful library. Or better yet, in the shadowed gazebo with Ian's strong arms wrapped about her.
The past two nights had been nothing less than torment as she had lain alone in the dark. It was one thing to imagine the delights that could be found in the arms of an experienced rake and quite another to truly understand just what she was missing in her cold, spinster bed.
Unfortunately, she knew her parents too well.
They were annoyed by her refusal to simply return to their cottage and determined to punish her for her stubbornness.
If she were not close at hand to bear the brunt of their displeasure, then they would quite readily turn it upon anyone unfortunate enough to cross their path.
The servants . . . Ella . . . even Lord Norrington.
Mercy shuddered at the mere thought.
“Here is your tea, Father,” she murmured, halting at the door to study her parents, who had chosen to settle on a settee near the fire they had insisted be lit.
The older man closed his book with a snap. “'Tis late.”
At his side, Mercy's mother heaved a small sigh as she patted his arm.
“Not so late, Arthur. I am certain that Mercy is doing her best.”
“Hmmm.” Arthur peered at the tray in Mercy's hand. “Where are my lemon tarts?”
Mercy grimly held onto her smile. “I believe that Cook has made a lovely plum cake.”
“I told you quite plainly I wished lemon tarts with my tea.”
“Perhaps tomorrow . . .”
“Really, Mercy, it is hardly an excessive request, is it?” Arthur complained, his cheeks reddening with his rising temper.
“No, of course not,” Mercy murmured, anxious to divert her father before he could work himself into a full-blown tantrum. “I will bake a few tarts tomorrowâ”
Her words were interrupted as a large male body brushed through the doorway, plucking the tea tray from her hands and roughly setting it onto a nearby table.
“Actually, you will do no such thing,” Ian Breckford announced, turning to meet Mercy's startled gaze. “We possess an entire kitchen staff to tend to our cooking.”
Mercy blinked, dumbfounded by Ian's unexpected appearance. For the past two days she had barely caught a glimpse of the wickedly handsome gentleman. Not that it mattered. Despite her efforts to keep a distance between them, he managed to haunt her every thought. There was not a moment of her day she did not recall the scent of his warm skin, the feel of his slender hands, the husky rasp of his voice.
Still, he had seemed content enough to remain at a discreet distance.
Perhaps even relieved.
Now she struggled to gather her rattled thoughts. “Good heavens, Ian, you nearly gave me heart failure. Whatever are you doing?”
In the firelight, his beautiful features were set in grim lines, his eyes smoldering with gold fire and his hair tousled as if he had run his fingers through the dark curls more than once.
Mercy shivered, feeling as if a caged panther had just been released into the room. The very air prickled with danger.
Stepping so that they were nose to nose, Ian glared into her baffled eyes.
“By some ludicrous twist of fate, it has fallen upon my shoulders to rescue you from your aggravating, pestilent, ill-mannered dragons,” he growled, his voice oddly rough.
Dragons? Was the man tipsy?
“You have carried your last tray and fetched your last shawl, my sweet. I will endure no more.” Without waiting for Mercy to react to his abrupt attack, Ian turned to point an accusing finger at her father. “Since it has obviously escaped your notice, sir, I will warn you that your daughter is not a servant at Rosehill.”
Arthur instinctively flinched as Ian's lethal power filled the room. Then, jutting his heavy jaw forward, he met Ian's glittering gaze with a stubborn expression.
Arthur Simpson did not admit he was wrong to any man, let alone a mere bastard.
“Of course Mercy is no servant. My daughter is a lady.”
“Then treat her as one,” Ian snapped. “If you desire fresh tea or lemon tarts or yet another damnable shawl, then you will ring for one of the maids. They are paid to see to your comfort.”
Her father's countenance flushed with a dangerous color as he struggled to rise to his feet.
“Now you see here, Breckford, Mercy is quite happy to devote herself to her parents' needs.” He waved a gnarled hand about the elegant room. “Perhaps among society it is accepted for children to consider only their own pleasures, but in most homes it is the Christian duty of the young to tend to their elderly.”
Ian's laugh was deliberately grating. “I hardly believe it is the Christian duty of a beautiful maiden to be denied an opportunity for her own home and family so she can be at the constant beck and call of her parents.”
Arthur scowled, refusing to acknowledge the truth of Ian's charge. “You know nothing of our family.”
“I know that since you have arrived, Miss Simpson has not had a moment to enjoy her studies or to assist my aunt with her charity luncheon.” Ian stepped forward and plucked the small bell from the table near her father. “Hell, she has not even been allowed to sit down and eat a proper dinner without having it interrupted by this infernal bell.”
“No, Ian.” Mercy gave a strangled gasp as Ian turned and tossed the bell directly into the fire.
Arthur sputtered in outrage. “How dare you?”
Ian growled as he took a threatening step toward the older gentleman. “Someone must halt your incessant bullying, and since Mercy is too tenderhearted to put her foot down, then I shall do it for her.”
“By what right?” Arthur demanded.
“Ian . . .” Mercy rushed forward, sensing that the confrontation between the two men was more than a spat about a ridiculous bell.
“By the right of a gentleman who happens to care about your daughter's happiness.” Without allowing his warning gaze to waver from Arthur Simpson's heavy countenance, Ian easily captured Mercy with one arm and hauled her close to his side. “Something you obviously have forgotten in your selfish desire to keep her your prisoner.”
“Prisoner?” Arthur gave a blustering laugh. “That is absurd.”
“Is it?” Ian trailed his fingers down her arm, his tender touch leaving a path of fire in its wake. “When was the last occasion that your daughter attended a local society event? Or enjoyed an afternoon of shopping with her friends? Or even spent a few moments flirting with a handsome young gentleman?”
Mercy's mouth went dry, her words of protest forgotten as an aching wave of need slammed into her.
Oh . . . heavens. This was a mistake. She could not possibly concentrate when she was drowning in the heat and scent of this man.
Unfortunately, her father had no such troubles. With a loud sniff, Arthur glared at Mercy, clearly expecting her to deny any wish for a life of her own.
“She has no interest in such things,” he at last muttered when Mercy remained silent.
“Every young maiden has interest in such things,” Ian countered, his voice thick with an aversion he did not attempt to hide. “You have simply denied Mercy the opportunity to indulge in harmless pleasures.”
Pressing a hand to her heart, Lydia rose to her feet and regarded Ian with a wounded expression.
“We love our daughter, Mr. Breckford.”
Ian was blatantly unmoved by her mother's gentle reprimand. Indeed, his expression only hardened.
“If you loved Mercy, Mrs. Simpson, you would devote your attention to her needs rather than your own selfish comforts. You speak of duty, but you have utterly and completely failed your daughter.”
Lydia sucked in a shocked breath. “Mercy, what is the meaning of this?”
Well, that was a bloody good question.
Although Mercy had suspected Ian would find her parents a source of irritation, she had presumed he would do as most people did and simply avoid them. She had never dreamed he would actually feel the need to confront them in this manner.
“Mr. Breckford has a rather unpredictable sense of humor.” Threading her arm through his, Mercy sent him a warning glare. “If you will excuse us for a moment?”
Mercy was not foolish enough to believe she could force Ian from the room. She would no doubt have better luck attempting to haul about a load of bricks.
Thankfully, the scoundrel made no effort to battle her persistent tugs on his arm, and with a mocking dip of his head toward her father, allowed himself to be pulled into the wide corridor.
Her flare of relief, however, was fleeting.
Pulling closed the door to the parlor, Mercy turned to confront Ian, only to find he had reversed her hold and she was now the one being towed down the corridor with a relentless force.
“Ian.” She stumbled as he led her down the long flight of stairs and toward the side door that opened into the gardens. “Where are we going?”
He refused to answer her question, steering her with a grim purpose out of the house and onto the dark balcony. Then, as she parted her lips to share her thoughts on being yanked about like a hound on a leash, he pressed her into a shadowed alcove and claimed her mouth in a kiss of stark possession.
“Dammit, I can bear no more, Mercy,” he muttered against her lips, his hands gripping her hips with rough urgency. “I do not give a bloody hell if they are your parents or not. I will not allow anyone to treat you like a common drudge.”
Her hands lifted, intending to push him away before they fluttered and at last landed lightly against his chest.
Why pretend that she had not been aching for his touch, his kiss? Ian did not have to be Casanova to sense her body was melting with pleasure.
Of course, that did not mean she intended to concede total defeat.
Ian Breckford had a great deal of explaining to do.
“Ian, what on earth has gotten into you?”
“Beyond a violent need to have you in my bed?” he demanded, his lips skating down her jaw in a path of destruction.
Her heart jerked as she struggled to recall the reason she was alone in the dark garden with Ian.
“You cannot speak to my parents in such a manner.”
“Actually, it appears that I can.” Ian pulled back to regard her with a brooding gaze. “And I will continue to do so until they realize I will not endure watching you fetch and carry for them.”
“How my parents treat me is none of your concern.”
“Is that meant to be a jest?”
She licked her dry lips. There was a strange intensity smoldering about Ian that was more than a tad unnerving.
“Why would it be a jest? I am nothing more than your aunt's companion who will soon be gone. . . .”
His fingers tightened on her hips, his eyes glittering with gold fire.
“Damn you, Mercy, do not be a fool. You are a hell of a lot more than just Ella's companion.” He deliberately paused. “Or have you forgotten what occurred in that gazebo just two nights ago?”
Forgotten? The memory of being held in Ian's arms would be seared into her mind for all eternity.
“Of course I have not forgotten, but that does not change anything between us.”
“On the contrary, it changes everything.”
A burst of treacherous excitement exploded low in her stomach at his rough words. Was he implying that this fierce, near-overwhelming attraction between them was more than just a fleeting fascination? That it might be a deeper, more enduring connection?
Realizing the dangerous direction of her thoughts, Mercy sternly squashed the renegade flare of hope.
She had gone into this affair with no illusions. Indeed, she had deliberately chosen Ian Breckford because she had understood there would be no unpleasant complications, had she not?
Now was no time to begin courting disaster.
“This is absurd,” she breathed. “For God's sake, you are the Casanova.”
“Do not call me that ridiculous name,” he snapped. “I am Ian Breckford, a man like any other.”
“No.” She gave a bewildered shake of her head. “Not like any other.”
His lips twisted. “Should I be flattered or insulted?”
“You have had dozens of lovers. I cannot believe you felt the need to meddle in all their lives.”
The golden eyes darkened as he lowered his head to bury his face in the curve of her neck.
“Only yours, sweet Mercy. Only yours.”
Mercy shuddered at the sensation of his warm lips moving against her skin.
“Because I cannot halt myself.” He growled low in his throat, as if not entirely pleased by the realization. “Christ, it does not matter how many times I tell myself you are just a passing amusement, I cannot get you out of my thoughts. You haunt my dreams. You are my first thought when I awaken, and my last before I go to bed.”
Mercy gripped his coat as her knees threatened to buckle. “Ian?”
He scattered a trail of punishing kisses along the modest line of her bodice.
“I follow you about like a lovesick fool, consumed by the need to be near you.”
“I . . .” Mercy moaned as his hands slipped upward, cupping the aching fullness of her breasts. “Wait, Ian, I cannot think when you are doing that.”
He chuckled, his thumbs teasing the tips of her nipples. “If that is an argument to encourage me to halt, then you are far off the mark, my sweet. I do not want you thinking. I just want you to feel. To feel me.”
She did feel him. Dear heavens, she was drowning in the searing awareness. The heat of his body. The tormenting pleasure of his touch. The frantic beat of his heart.
“I am trying to make a point.”
“You can make all the points you desire later.” He lifted his head to stab her with a glittering gaze. “Come with me.”
“I want to be with you, my sweet.” His voice held a raw yearning that echoed deep within her. “I want to have you in my bed.”
“We cannot risk being seen going to your chamber.”
“Then come to the gazebo.”
“But . . .” Mercy struggled to breathe. “My parents.”
Holding her wide gaze, Ian lifted his hands to tenderly cradle her face.
“Sweet Mercy, your parents are not the only ones who have need of you.” He shifted to press the hard thrust of his arousal against her stomach. “I ache for you.”
She shuddered, her body clenching with a ruthless desire. For the past two days she had been the dutiful daughter, falling all too easily into her traditional role of pandering to her parents. She had denied her desire to concentrate on her studies or to simply enjoy a quiet tea with Ella. Even more unbearable, she had denied the sheer enjoyment of being with Ian.
In this moment, she was done with sacrifices.
He stilled as the word fell softly from her lips.
“Yes, I will join you in the gazebo.”
As if fearing she might change her mind, Ian swept her off her feet and cradled her against his chest as he charged through the rose-scented garden. Struggling to capture her breath, Mercy stared at Ian's dark features, a tiny thrill racing down her spine at the grim intensity of his expression.
There was nothing of the smooth, sophisticated Casanova in his urgent step or the beads of perspiration that dotted his forehead.
This was quite simply a man caught in the grip of an overwhelming desire.
As if to prove her point, Ian vaulted up the steps of the gazebo, kicking the door closed behind him as he carried her toward the cushioned bench. Claiming her lips in a demanding kiss, he set her on her feet and swiftly stripped her of her gown and corset.
Mercy welcomed his hungry onslaught, returning his kiss with the smoldering frustration that had plagued her for the past two days.
He tasted of whiskey and warm male desire. An erotic combination that made her head spin and her heart race.
It was only when her thin chemise was pooling at her feet and Ian was jerking off his jacket that Mercy reluctantly pulled back.
Ian groaned, leaning his forehead against hers as he struggled to control his fierce need.
“Forgive me, Mercy,” he rasped. “I did not mean to frighten you.”
“No, Ian, you could never frighten me.”
Lifting his head, he regarded her with a wary gaze. “Then what is wrong?”
With a small smile, she reached up to unknot his cravat, tugging it free before attacking the buttons of his waistcoat.
“I believe this should be my honor,” she murmured.
He chuckled, his fingers skimming lightly down the bare curve of her back. “By all means, my dear.”
Mercy swiftly discovered that a gentleman's attire was considerably more complicated than she had ever dreamed possible, but with more than a few awkward stumbles and a good deal of giggling, she at last was able to strip away the last of his clothing and reveal his glorious form.
And it was glorious.
The world seemed to halt as Mercy lifted her hands to trace the smooth planes of his chest. Beneath her fingers she could feel his muscles flex at her touch, his breath hissing through his clenched teeth as his hands clutched at her hips.
“Not yet,” she muttered.
She allowed her fingers to skim lower, discovering the hard ridges of his stomach and the trail of dark hair that led to the thick jut of his erection. Just for a moment, she hesitated, unexpectedly embarrassed by her bold behavior.
“Please,” Ian muttered, his voice a harsh rasp.
Gathering her courage, Mercy allowed her fingers to curl around the straining shaft, once again amazed how smoothly the skin moved over the hard muscles beneath. She stroked downward, reaching the soft sack before exploring back to the damp tip.
Ian's groans filled the gazebo as she stroked downward again, his lips capturing her mouth in a kiss of sheer desperation. Encouraged by his fierce response, Mercy continued her daring caresses, so lost in her heady sense of power that she was barely aware Ian was moving until she found herself flat on her back on the cushioned bench.
“The honor is now mine,” he warned, poised above her with a predatory expression.
Mercy shivered, her hands clutching the cushions beneath her as he lowered his head and nibbled his way down the curve of her neck. Her body bowed in pleasure as he paused to tease the aching tips of her breasts, his tongue sending flames pouring through her blood. Gently he captured one beaded nipple between his teeth, chuckling softly as she cried out in delight.
“I did not know anything could feel so wondrous,” she whispered, lifting her hands to shove her fingers in the thick satin of his hair.
“You are wondrous, Mercy Simpson.” With slow, savoring kisses, Ian journeyed down the shallow curve of her stomach, smiling against her flesh as she wriggled beneath his teasing caresses. “There has never been another woman like you.”
Mercy's hips lifted off the cushions as he stroked his mouth over her hip bone and down the sensitive skin of her inner thigh.
“Oh heavens.” Her chest was so tight she could not breathe. “You must do something. I cannot bear much more.”
“Be patient, my sweet tyrant.” Ian relentlessly tugged her legs apart, slipping off the bench to kneel between her thighs.
Lifting on her elbows, Mercy regarded him with a smoldering gaze. “Ian?”
“I need to taste your sweetness.”
“But . . .” Her protest died in her throat as he shifted and stroked his tongue through her damp curls.
She tumbled back onto the cushions, her eyes squeezing shut at the pure bliss that trembled through her body. Oh, this was decadent. Decadent and wicked and so utterly wonderful.
Moaning in pleasure, she allowed herself to be swept into the maelstrom of sensations. Over and over his tongue dipped into her gathering dampness, stroking with a steady rhythm until her soft pants filled the silence of the gazebo.
Then, gently, he sucked the tiny nub of pleasure into his mouth and Mercy screamed as the entire world exploded in a burst of shimmering stars.
Stunned by the sheer force of her release, Mercy was barely aware of Ian sliding up her body and entering her in one smooth thrust. But as he captured her lips in a heated kiss, she instinctively wrapped her arms about his shoulders and arched her back to meet the fierce strokes of his invading erection.
“Mercy, my love, I need you,” he husked against her lips, his entire body trembling as he jerkily surged in and out of her body. “Don't ever leave me.”
Mercy barely registered his soft command, lost in the shimmering magic that was once again building in her lower body. With every thrust, he pressed deeper into her body, his fullness creating a friction that was rapidly urging her toward that breathless pinnacle.
“Yes, Ian . . . yes . . .” She urged him to a faster pace, raking her nails down his back as he bucked against her with a wild lack of control.
“Mine,” he rasped as he pressed his lips to the hollow beneath her ear. “My sweet Mercy.”
With one last surge he tumbled them both over the edge of reason, remaining buried deep inside her as he released the hot flood of his seed.
It was only the knowledge that he must be crushing the slender woman beneath him that gave Ian the strength to at last roll to the side and pull Mercy into his arms.
Christ, he felt . . . what?
Sated, of course. Utterly, blissfully sated.
And oddly peaceful. As if just having Mercy near was enough to soothe the restless beast that had plagued him for his entire life.
But beyond that, he felt a vague sense of dread that refused to be dismissed.
Pressing his lips into her vanilla-scented curls, Ian did not have to search far to discover the reason for the unease lodged deep in his heart. After years of taking precautions to avoid creating a child with his various lovers, he had just thrown all caution to the wind to release his seed deep in Mercy's body.
This woman was no longer a delightful distraction that he would soon put in his past.
In truth, the mere thought of losing her was enough to make his gut clench with something perilously close to panic.