“I’ve seen you entertain and entice, hang on the arm of the Angel’s wealthiest patrons while somehow giving those down on their luck the idea that they might one day bask in the glow of your attention.”
She lifted her chin, acting out his words. “You have my attention now, sir.”
“Don’t. Not with me. Why do it, if not for the pleasure of the masque?”
Something flashed in her gaze at the question, there, then gone. “Survival.”
Duncan had lied enough in his life to recognize the truth in another. It was what made him such a tremendous newspaperman. “What are you afraid of?”
She laughed at that, but the sound lacked humor. “Spoken like a man with no fear of ruin.”
If she only knew the fear he had in the dead of night. The way he woke every morning, afraid that today would be the day of his ruin. He pushed the thoughts aside. “Then why do it?” he asked, “Why assume the role of Anna? Why not simply live life as Georgiana? Isn’t Anna the role that threatens to destroy you thoroughly?”
She shook her head. “You don’t understand.”
“I don’t. You worry that you cannot marry a high enough title to render your daughter’s reputation clean, and still you don your wicked silks and paint your face and run the lightskirt brigade at London’s most renowned casino.”
“You think it idiocy.”
“I think it reckless.”
“You think I am selfish.”
“No.” He was not a fool.
He did not hesitate. “I think there is no profession in the wide world that a woman would be less likely to choose than yours.”
She smiled at that, and he was surprised at the honesty in the expression, as though she knew something that he did not know. And perhaps she did. “There, Mr. West,” she said, all feminine wile, “you are wrong.”
“So what is it?” he asked, now desperate for the answer. “Why do it? Is it his power? You like being the exclusive property of the elusive Chase, who strikes fear into the hearts of men Britain-wide?”
“Chase is part of it, certainly.”
He hated the truth in the words. Couldn’t stop himself from saying, “He is that good of a lover, is he?”
She was quiet for a moment, and he cursed himself for the question. Even more so when she said, “What if I told you that my relationship with Chase had nothing to do with sex?”
Sex. The word curved over her tongue and lips, wrapping around them in the dark alcove, all temptation and promise. God, he wanted to believe her – he hated the image of foreign hands on her, of lips stroking over her most private, precious of places. And for some reason he hated the thought even more without a clear image of the man who claimed her.
“I wouldn’t believe you.”
“Because any man who has exclusive access to you would not be able to go a day without touching you.”
He shocked her. He saw the expression pass, there, then gone so quickly that another, lesser man would not have noticed. Because another man would have been so enthralled with the expression that replaced it – her beautiful mouth curving in utter satisfaction – that he wouldn’t have cared to notice the first.
But it was the combination of the two – evidence of somehow innocence and vice – that threaded straight to West’s core, spreading desire through him.
He worked to steady his breath when she took a step closer. “Are you saying you would like exclusive access to me?” It was Anna who spoke, the skilled prostitute, all wickedness and vice.
And so he returned it in kind. “I’m a man, am I not?”
Her hands came to his shoulders, running smoothly down the lapels of his coat and inside, over his linen shirt. “Does Chase strike fear into your heart?” she asked quietly, her hand settling over the organ in question. “Is that quaking I feel?”
His heart pounded for this maddening, mysterious creature. He’d never wanted anyone like he wanted her. Even as he knew she was a terrible wager, worse than all the ones he had made on the floor of the casino beyond. Out there, he risked only money.
Here, he risked something much more serious.
“Don’t tempt me,” he whispered in the darkness, pulling her hands from him.
“Or what?” The question was a lick of fire.
“Or you shall get that for which you ask.”
He felt the curve of her smile at his cheek. “’Tis a lovely promise.”
He turned his head and caught her lips once more, lifting her against him, adoring the way her arms came around his neck and she pressed herself to him, giving in to him. Allowing him the lead.
He pressed her to the wall, fitting himself between her thighs, cursing her diaphanous silk skirts. He wanted her closer. Open. Hot. Wet.
She signaled her pleasure with a little, lovely sound, and he deepened the kiss, stroking long and soft until she followed his movements with her own. His hand came along her side in a long caress, his thumb finding the swell of her breast at the edge of her gown. Unable to resist the temptation, he slipped his fingers beneath the silk and lifted her breast from its padded confines, running the edge of his thumb over the straining tip.
He lifted his mouth from hers. “I would give anything for more light.”
She arched against the caress. “Why?”
“I want to see the color of this gorgeous thing. I want to watch it strain for me.” She bit her lip at the words. “Does it ache?”
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