Something in her expression dimmed a little and he wrenched his mind away from her bodice. Cleared his throat. “Shall we visit the summer house?” he asked, desperately.

“A summer house! You have one?”

He would do anything for that smile. The certainty of his vulnerability was so dangerous that he just walked beside her, silent as the grave. They walked toward the bottom of the formal gardens. “It’s more of a folly than a true summer house,” he said finally.

They rounded a last turn.

“As you see.”

Her mouth fell open.

“It wasn’t meant to be a ruin,” he told her, deciding honesty was the best policy. “Although I understand that ruins are becoming quite fashionable.” He cocked his head and tried to see it through her eyes. A romantic heap of stone, supposedly a disintegrating medieval castle? Or what he saw: another of his father’s imprudent failures, a building that was to be a proper summer house of stone, fallen to pieces after the builders were left unpaid?

Isidore walked ahead of him. She wasn’t wearing panniers tonight, and her gown followed the curves of her own delectable hips.

“Have you been inside?” she said, turning and looking at him. He could barely focus on what she was saying over the roaring in his blood. She was his, and he had to have her, to own her, to touch her, to kiss her, to…

She leaned back against the fragment of a stone wall and smiled at him. Was that an invitation? Who gave a damn?

With a muttered curse, he strode forward and picked her up, as smoothly as if he carried damsels on a regular basis. “The grass might be wet,” he said, hearing the roughness of his own voice.

She didn’t say anything, but she wasn’t struggling to get away. She just nestled there in his arms, a curvy perfumed bundle. He rounded the building and headed straight for the broken arch. Where the courtyard was supposed to be…

Yes. Tiles gleamed faintly in the moonlight. Fallen walls protected them from view…not that anyone was out wandering his gardens at this hour of night.

He put her down and stripped off his coat. He still couldn’t meet her eyes. She would be horrified if she knew what he was like, how mad in lust he was, mad enough to howl at the moon, to pounce on her like an animal.

“Simeon?” she asked. Her voice didn’t sound frightened. It was husky and caught a little on his name. There was something about it that made his groin clench. And then she combed her fingers through her hair, almost shyly, and he broke, lunged at her and yanked her against him. If he’d thought, he might have considered a gentleman’s kiss, a sweet meeting of mouths that would tempt her into opening her lips…

He ravaged her, took what he wanted, took her sweetness and the taste of her, the smell of her, the way her body swayed under his fingers when he kissed her, the way she murmured something, or perhaps moaned.

But in the back of his mind a voice was shouting for attention. He couldn’t just—he couldn’t just do what—

She was moaning, she was, just a little sound in the back of her throat but it was enough to make him mad. Surely he could just put her down—

Gently, of course.

On the ground? Cold and damp?

His bad angel spoke up again, telling him that his coat was as good as a blanket. For a moment he managed to look down at Isidore with a modicum of logic.

Her eyes were dazed and she had her hand wrapped in his hair. She looked like a woman in the grip of desire. She would…


His good angel screamed so loud that even his most diabolic self shuddered. “I promised,” he said, and had to stop for a moment. She licked his lip, and it sent a stab of desire to his loins that could only be responded to in like manner. He had his hands around her again, lifting her slightly so that she fit snugly against him.


“I’m going to show you how my body works,” he said, pushing her away.

Isidore’s mouth was slightly puffy, bruised. Her eyes were like shadowed wells. “Tomorrow,” she said, drifting toward him. “For now, let’s just kiss.”

He had to take charge. He had to be in control. He stepped back and ripped his shirt over his head.

There was an audible gasp and then a giggle. He risked looking at her.

“Simeon! You’re taking your clothing off—”

He leaned over and pulled off a boot, and the other boot. The stones felt cold under his stocking feet.

“I can hardly see you!” she protested. “The moon isn’t that bright and—” Her eyes were large and shining. She could see him well enough. He could see every shadow and curve on her, every inch of skin he wanted to kiss and lick…

He pulled down his breeches, paused for a moment and pulled off his stockings as well. If you’re going to be naked in the garden, you might as well be naked.

Then, finally, he met her eyes.

Her hair was tumbling around her shoulders, falling around her face in a way that made her look shy and retiring, like the girl he thought he wanted. Back when he didn’t know anything. Isidore might look shy, but it was a trick of the moonlight; her eyes were ranging all over his body, pausing here and there, sticking at his midsection until he almost started to grin, but he stopped. Waited.

She needed to know him in order to want him, he had decided.

“You have so many muscles,” she said finally. “Why?”

“Because I run.”

She came closer until she was a fraction of an inch from his skin. It was incredibly erotic, standing there naked before her in the moonlight. She reached out a finger and touched his chest. Her touch burned and he had to clench his fists to stop himself from reaching out to her. She rocked back on her heels and he felt her touch leave him.

“So how does your body work?” she whispered. But she wasn’t looking in the right place any longer.

His erection was standing out from his body, straining in her direction. He wrapped his fingers around himself. Her eyes flickered, darkened he thought, though it was hard to tell in the moonlight. “This is designed for your body,” he said. “Man and woman are designed to fit together.” He let his hand fall away.

Of course she was no timid miss. She wrapped her fingers around him and his head fell back. He caught a groan back at the last moment. “I’m glad it’s not hairy,” she said thoughtfully. “You don’t have very much chest hair, do you, Simeon?”

She loosed her grip and then just as he was about to answer, swept her fingers down the length of him. The words died and he couldn’t stop the muffled sound in his throat. She liked that; he saw a gleam in her eyes.

And that was what he wanted, wasn’t it? Wasn’t it? Because she was experimenting now, holding him close, sliding—

“No,” he managed.

“Yes,” she said, tightening her hand, sliding…And her other hand, it was—

Fire raced up his thighs. He put his hands on her wrists and pulled them from his body, holding them for a moment before he let them drop.


She pouted and her lips were so plumply alluring that he forgot his plan and pulled her into his arms. She gasped and then fit herself to him perfectly, like parts of a piano coming together to make music. Like a violin reunited with its bow.

“You’re mine,” he said. His voice was guttural and not calm. Not soothing. Not in control. He didn’t even care. She put her lips against his chest and gave him a little kiss, and another. The touch of her lips burned. He couldn’t remember what the next phase of the plan was. But that part of his brain was still beating out the same reproach: gentlemen don’t make love to their ladies out-of-doors. It’s not proper. It’s not right. It’s not calm and collected.