Claire had managed to give him a shattering reminder of a chapter in his past that he would rather not remember. A part of himself almost despised her for it. God knew he despised himself. There were some who said he had no heart. If only he didn’t! His hands were like his soul, black and stained with blood. That was something that would never change. Something that could never be erased.
Such was his penance. Such was his pain.
Then there was Claire. Somehow, she had gotten beneath his skin. He had only to be near her to give rise to an erection that was almost painful.
Had he known what effect Claire would have on him, he never would have pursued her. Every inch of his body was taut, every nerve wound tight. Desire still gripped him. She was tempting as sin. He thought of her undressing him. He wanted to lay her down. He wanted her naked, writhing beneath him while he buried his rod to her very soul.
He wouldn’t let her go until he had what he wanted. And he was more certain than ever there was something she was hiding.
It was obvious it had something to do with her marriage.
He didn't understand her reluctance. It made no sense. He’d felt her lips blossom beneath his. She'd returned his kiss, yet he was puzzled by her air of purity. . . her air of almost innocence.
The answer to his questions had only led to more.
At the wide, stone steps of the manor house, he stopped. He leaped down and went around to her side to lift her down.
She nearly tumbled in her rush to be away from him.
Gray’s jaw knotted.
Inside she went straight for the stairs.
And she didn't come down to dinner.
The men went to retire with port and cigars. Gray stopped Clive.
“Where is Claire?”
Clive looked surprised. “She isn’t feeling well. She said something must have made her ill this afternoon.”
Not something. Someone.
“Didn’t you know? I thought the two of you were together this afternoon.”
Gray’s expression told the tale all too well.
Clive hiked a brow. “Ah--”
“Don’t say it,” he growled.
“I see. Then you’ll probably not be interested in the fact that she’s planning to leave early tomorrow morning.”
The little cheat!
If there was a cynical twist to his mouth, Gray couldn't help it. But it wasn't going to deter him.
He climbed the stairs to the guest wing and asked a maid which room was hers. Thirty seconds later he stood before the door. He knocked firmly.
“The maid’s already collected my tray,” she called from within.
Gray knocked again, more loudly this time.
The door opened. Claire stood there. Apprehension chased across her face. But then her skin paled. The green of her eyes darkened to jade. Her gaze locked on him—
As if he was the devil.
Gray smiled tightly.
“You didn’t come down to dinner.”
“I’ve an early morning ahead,” she said quickly. “I received an urgent note from Penelope. She cut short her stay at the Northrups. I’ll be returning to London with her tomorrow morning.”
“How fortuitous for you.”
“Are you calling me a liar?”
“Did I say that?”
“That’s what you meant! I received a note from Pen when we returned! Ask the duke!”
Gray did not speak. He stepped into the chamber.
Claire retreated a step, her eyes wide with dismay. She wore a dressing gown of white silk that lent her an air of purity, that virginal innocence that puzzled him even as it unnerved him.
“You can’t be here, Gray.”
“Nonetheless I am.”
“You shouldn’t be here.”
“You allowed me in.” Deliberately he closed the door.
“Gray, this isn’t proper--”
“Surely you know enough of me to be aware I’m not a man to be concerned with propriety. And I would remind you, nor have you.”
He took a step forward. Claire retreated a step. Nervously she wet her lips.
His regard slid over her from head to toe. He sucked in a breath. Across the room, the moon had begun to shine through the windows. God, she was lovely. Her hair was shot through with amber and gold. Her dressing gown fell in soft folds, barely brushing her bare feet. It hid nothing of the shape of her breasts, her nipples round and pushing against the bodice in enticement.
A primeval surge of desire heated his veins. He didn't welcome it. No, he didn't welcome it at all. But then came the strange awareness--
“Are you afraid?” He laid a hand on her shoulder, curled it around her nape. His thumb dipped into the hollow where her pulse betrayed her. It drummed wildly beneath his touch.
“You are,” he said, darkly amused. He gave a shake of his head. “Oh, Claire, you disappoint me. I thought you were braver than this.”
“I’m not afraid of you.”
“I know women, Claire. I know you.”
Darkness stole all through him. Something bitterly ominous had begun to burn inside him. Damn her! he thought. Damn her for making him feel like this! Damn her for making his passion rise to a fever-pitch.
“I didn’t think you were such a coward.”
“I’m not a coward--”
Gray caught her up against him. A hand slid down her back. Almost fiercely he clamped her hips against his, letting her feel the swollen measure of his need. Making her feel it. Making her breath thin to a wisp of air as his mouth trapped hers.
His kiss was wild. Ferocious. He captured her lips beneath his, the ragged rush of her breath with his. His mouth was blatantly erotic and bold. He demanded; he took. He kissed her hotly—fiercely--until she sagged against him, supported only by his embrace.
He released her so suddenly she nearly lost her balance.
She stared up at him, her skin white, her mouth wet and red and trembling.
“There,” he said harshly. “Now run away, little girl. Run away. I’ve done my worst. Now you have nothing to fear.”
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