“I don’t want to be your love,” Roberta said, giggling.
“You could give it a try.” He put an arm around her waist and before she knew it she had her back against an old apple tree. His mouth looked very delectable, but—
“Are you really trying to seduce me?”
“Of course,” he said, leaning over to brush his mouth against hers.
“You smell a little bit like a cowpat,” she said.
“I could say the same to you.”
“Don’t. I prefer to think of myself as perfumed.”
“I prefer to think of you as naked,” he said, his voice a husky murmur against the sound of birds singing.
She let him kiss her. Why not? He was a rogue, but such an enjoyable one. She relaxed against him, letting him slip into her mouth, start a game that made her heart pound. He had his hair tied back, so she pulled on the ribbon until all that loose silk fell into her hands, the way it had the previous night.
He was kissing her with a breathless intensity now, his mouth slanting over hers, invading her, retreating. His lips were hot and beautifully full. She licked his lower lip and he let out a little noise, like a muffled groan.
It was so odd that she pulled back to stare at him.
That was a bad idea because Damon seemed to have shed his friendly exterior. He snatched her back so quickly she lost her breath, and kissed her hard, so her knees buckled. He had her against the tree trunk, and she could feel every hard curve of his body.
“Don’t push at me,” she gasped. “This tree has bumps on it.”
“We can lie down.”
“Then I’ll have to protect you from those evil bumps,” he said, sliding his hand over the curve of her bottom and pulling her against his body. He had bumps of his own, and her body welcomed each of them with feverish delight.
It made her feel weak and silly, capable of collapsing against him and squealing, take me, or something foolish of that nature. That dim suggestion was just enough to bring her thoughts together.
She pulled back and this time he let her go, bracing his arms on the tree on either side of her. Kissing made her feel delicate and fragile, all those things she wasn’t and never could be.
“Are you trying to seduce me?” he demanded. “Because, damn it, Roberta, you’re about as close to success as I’ve ever come with a marriageable young woman.”
“No, I’m not,” she said, pushing his arms away. He had no reason to look quite so shocked at the idea that she might be seductive. “You know I’m not.”
He straightened. “Because you’re in love with Villiers, right?”
“Among other reasons,” she said, straightening her skirts.
He still sounded a little stunned. “If you weren’t in love, you still wouldn’t want to seduce me?”
Roberta looked up at him. He had a look of utter disbelief on his face. He stood there, muscled and lean in his white shirt, his hair tousled by her hands, and his eyes narrowed. She started laughing.
“I’ll kiss you silent,” he threatened.
So she sobered. “It’s just that—well, you will fall in love someday, Damon, and then you’ll see what I mean. You’re awfully handsome and very sweet, funny and all the rest of it. Just not for me.”
“Sweet and funny?” He ran a hand through his hair and it looked even wilder. “Damn it, what happened to my ribbon?”
She picked it up and watched as he pulled his hair back and tied it off his face. The style suited him; it made his cheekbones even more prominent.
“Haven’t you ever been in love?” she asked.
“Of course I have,” he said, smirking at her. “Many a time.”
“No, really in love.”
He pulled on his waistcoat. “Of course I have been, you wench. The first time was a lass named Susan, and I’ll have you know she was lovely.”
“Someone from the village?” she guessed, thinking of him as a young lad with a buxom barmaid.
“Lord Kendrick’s daughter,” he said, pulling on his coat. “Married a squire and lives in the country.”
“Really? And did she love you back?”
“Oh, she did.”
“For at least a week. She sent me a letter drenched in scent. Which brought us to a tragic close, because our butler informed my father that I was receiving mail from a lady, and he cut off our friendship.”
“Goodness. He didn’t want you to marry your Susan?”
He grinned at her. “I was fourteen. And he’d arranged my marriage already, though the poor lass died before we got to the point.”
“How old was Susan?”
“An ancient woman of seventeen.”
“Quite precocious on your part.”
“I shall watch Teddy like a hawk. Speaking of which…”
They walked across the buttercups to a small grove of spindly trees. They were about half way through when Damon said suddenly, “You never told me why you wouldn’t wish to seduce me if Villiers wasn’t in the picture.”
“Because I intend to marry. And unlike Susan I have enough sense to see that you are not the husband for me.”
“I’m not fourteen any longer. I have a title. Why would I be ineligible?”
For some reason she felt like reassuring him, even though it was obviously all a jest. “You’re very good looking. And very skilled at kissing.”
He grinned down at her. “Thanks for those words of praise. But?”
She shrugged. “You don’t want to marry me; you explain it.”
“I’m a man. No good at explaining things.”
“The moment I saw Villiers, I knew he was perfect for me.”
“Because he’s an old stick who will never embarrass you?”
“I like you hugely, Damon. You can tell that I do. But I feel as if you are a family member, a cousin.”
“If you were really my cousin I wouldn’t be kissing you under an apple tree.”
“It’s just that it’s all easy with you. And funny.” She stopped, hands on her hips. “Do you really think that you’ll find yourself having a cowpat throwing contest with your bride?”
He raised an eyebrow. “No?”
“Absolutely not. When you fall in love, your heart will pound so much that you won’t be able to throw a mouse, let alone a cowpat.”
“I don’t think I could throw a mouse now. I dislike the idea of scrabbling little feet in my palm. Unless they were yours, of course.”
“That’s just what I mean. You wouldn’t be so silly if I were the right person for you. You’d be too afraid to do or say the wrong thing.”
“Whereas with you I don’t give a damn?”
“That is my distinct impression,” she said, walking a little faster because there was sunlight just a few trees away.
“Well, in that case,” he said, and a moment later she was spun around against a tree again and he was kissing her. Hard. When Damon kissed, there was nothing cousinly or funny or sweet about him.
At first she struggled a bit; had he no concern for the fact that she was marrying another?
But Damon was the sort of kisser who claimed mastery. Lord of his realm, etc. There was no fighting him when he—