Moonlight Rider by Charlotte Boyett-Compo

Moonlight Rider by Charlotte Boyett-Compo

Moonlight Rider

by Charlotte Boyett-Compo

Boroughs Publishing

Ebook ISBN: B0103H4BRW
Print ISBN: 978-1-942886-47-1

[ Historical Romantic Suspense, MF ]

The famous highwayman known as “the Gypsy” is about to have his heart stolen by the very woman he intends not to marry.

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Chapter One


He stood on the cliff overlooking the windswept sea. One booted foot was braced on a rock and his wrists were crossed over his knee as he stared out over the heaving waves. Far below him the crash of the breakers washing over the rocks helped to calm the wildness within him. It was four of the clock and the sun was beginning its slow descent—its rays of flickering in the rapier strapped to his waist. Behind him the edgy stamp of a hoof on stone made him look around.

“Nearly time, boy,” he said to the steed. “Be patient.”

The coach from Warrington to Wexford would just be leaving the open road and entering the thick greensward of the Chappendale forest. In his mind he heard the rattle of the harnesses, the rhythmic pounding of the hooves, the squeaking of the struts, the sharp crack of a whip over the heads of the horses as the coach lumbered along. He closed his eyes and saw the driver and guard sitting atop the high seat, the two unarmed, uniformed footmen clinging precariously to the back of the coach. Inside was the Earl and Countess of Warrington, their houseguest Lady Althea Standfield—only daughter of Alastair Standfield, the Duke of Oxmoor—and Lady Standfield’s maid.

The women were dressed in their finest frocks with fashionable bonnets perched upon expertly coiffed hair. Jewels sparkled on fingers atop lacy gloves, on their wrists, around their necks and at their ears. Gold coin would be inside the silken reticules hanging from their wrists and in the pompous Earl’s purse.

Baubles and gold for the taking.

He straightened, adjusted the heavy pistols at his waist then walked to his mount. The steed nickered, bobbed its head and once more struck a hoof to the ground. It was ready to run.

Pulling the black handkerchief up from his neck to cover the lower portion of his face, he swung into the saddle. He drummed his heels against the sides of the big black beast and the horse sprang forward eagerly.

With the breeze whipping under his cavalier hat, he rode with one gloved hand on the reins and the other doubled into a fist pressed against his thigh. Ramrod straight in the saddle, his body flowed comfortably with the rocking motion of his steed. The stallion was sure-footed in the gathering dusk, its long neck stretching toward their destination.

Over the rise ahead came the sound of the coach. He directed the beast to the stand of trees to their right and slowed him down with a gentle tug on the reins. When the beast was moving no faster than a walk, he ushered it into the trees and then pulled it to a halt. The sound of the wheels on the loose stones was louder now. From his position amid the trees he would not be seen until he urged his horse into the middle of the roadway, his pistol pointed at the lone guard.

The coach was almost upon him when he gently kicked the steed and it moved to the center of the road. In the fading light he saw the driver’s eyes widen as he sawed on the reins. The guard raised his musket but never got it to his shoulder before a pistol shot rang out and the reckless man snatched back a stinging hand where the musket ball had grazed him.

Hat pulled low over his forehead, mask in place, he pointed the 3-barrel revolving flintlock directly at the guard. “Stand and deliver,” he commanded. “The next shot will find its target.”

“Aye, milord,” the driver said and tossed his musket to the ground.

The driver’s hands were still on the reins to keep the horses in check but there would be no trouble from him. He was too fat to move fast and too old to try.

“What the divil is going on out there?” came an imperious voice from inside the coach. “Are we being robbed?”

“Aye, Your Grace, you are,” he called out.

“Bloody hell,” the man in the coach snapped. “We are late as it is.”

The two footmen were standing together with their hands above their heads, their knees shaking. The highwayman motioned with the barrel of his pistol and they took off running. Where they would go he had no idea but they were no problem for him, either.

“Down,” he told the driver and guard and both men scrambled to leave the high seat. Once they were on the ground, he ordered them to start walking back the way they had come. They obeyed without a moment’s hesitation and he chuckled as he threw a leg over the steed and dropped to the ground.

He knew the Earl would have a percussion derringer upon his person but he doubted either the Countess or the ladies’ maid would have a weapon. Nevertheless, he would take no chances.

“Toss out your weapon, Your Grace,” he ordered.

“I’ve no weapon on me,” the pompous old man stated.

“Aye, but you do,” he said. “Toss it out now or you won’t live to regret not having done so.”

“Oh, for the love of God, Jacob, throw out the pistol,” an older woman demanded. “Is a few gold coins and pieces of jewelry worth your life?”

“I’d listen to your lady, Your Grace,” he told the Earl. “I’m after the gold and jewels but if I need to take a life, I have no qualms about doing so.”

There was a series of low protests from inside the coach but then two derringers were flung from the window.

“My thanks,” he said and advanced cautiously to the coach door.

“I’ve three ladies herein,” the Earl said.

“Aye, I know,” he replied. He took hold of the handle and opened the door. “Ladies, if you please?”

Another series of protests then the coach shifted toward him as a large woman appeared in the doorway. He held out his hand and she slipped her sausage-like fingers into his palm. He helped her down the steps as she flounced her skirt around her.

“You are a detestable young man,” she said, looking him in the eye.

“So I have been told on numerous occasions, Your Grace,” he replied to the Countess. At her harrumph, he switched his attention back to the door. The younger woman who descended the steps next batted his hand away as he tried to help her from the coach.

“Don’t you dare touch me, you ruffian,” she hissed. She was as thin as a rail with a face only a horse could love. Well, maybe not his horse for his steed had discriminating tastes where fillies were concerned. Her hair was an odd color of red that actually made his eyes hurt as he looked at it. She stomped over to the Countess and stood there glaring at him.

The next to appear in the doorway was the Earl. His bulk all but filled the opening and he had to turn sideways and suck in his pendulous belly in order to exit the coach. He came down the stairs huffing and puffing and waddled over to his wife who was a good foot taller than he.

“Take whatever you like and let us be on our way,” the Earl said. “There’s no need for more violence.” He straightened his jabot, reached up to adjust his hat.

“I believe there is one more person in the coach,” he said. “Milady, will you join us?”

A shapely ankle appeared beneath the hem of a plain grey gown. He held out his hand and the young woman who stepped down from the coach allowed him to help her down. She did not glance his way but kept her eyes on the steps then on the ground. When she would have pulled her hand free of his grip, he tightened his hold then brought her hand to his lips. Her head came up as he pressed his mouth to her fingers.

“Lady Standfield,” he said softly, looking through his lashes into her vibrant green eyes.

“You are mistaken,” the Countess spoke up. “The lady beside me is—”

“This lady’s maid,” he said. “Your ruse might have worked for others but not for me.”

She was staring at him with curiosity instead of fear. Her hair was tucked beneath a nondescript bonnet but the broad ribbons holding it atop her head framed her softly oval face to perfection. No man with a discerning eye would mistake her for anything other than the aristocrat she was.

“I am at a disadvantage, milord,” she said and her voice was as sweet as honey.

Still holding her hand in his, he put his free hand over his heart. “Alas, it would be unwise for me to provide my true identity to you, milady.”

“Then what shall I call you?” she asked.

“What I am,” he replied. “The Highwayman.”

She smiled. “Indeed,” she said and tugged gently. This time he allowed her to break free of his hold. “And I suppose you are here to abduct me for ransom.”

“That is my intent, aye,” he acknowledged. “And to rid these good folks of their baubles.”

“Take whatever you want but you shall not abscond with the Lady Standfield,” the Earl said. “The entire might of the British Army will descend upon you.”

“The entire might of the British Army has been after me for months now, Your Grace,” he said. “I have no doubt they’ll come after me but they won’t find me nor will they ever catch me.”

“You are that sure of yourself?” Lady Althea inquired.

“I am, milady.”

She cocked her head to one side. “Yes, I believe you are.” She turned to look at the Earl and Countess. “Pray give the man what he wants, Your Grace, and I am sure he will allow you to be on your way.”

“How?” the Earl asked. “Who will drive the coach?”

“I will,” the horse-faced woman said. “Ain’t nothin’ to drivin’ a coach and four.” She lifted her chin. “And if I had a pistol, I would put a hole between this brigand’s pretty blue eyes.” She glanced at the pistols lying on the ground nearby.

“I am sure you would try,” he told her. “Now, if you will, Your Grace, I will have your coin and your wife’s jewelry as well as the borrowed ones Lady Althea’s maid is wearing. You may place in them in Her Grace’s reticle.”

“Do you want mine as well?” Lady Althea queried. She put a hand to her throat were a crucifix hung.

He gave her his very best smile. He lowered his voice where only she heard. “What I want from you, milady, will be taken in private.”

Her soft gasp made him grin behind the kerchief.

Necklaces adorned with diamonds and sapphires fell into the Countess’ reticle along with the huge garnet and gold signet ring that belonged to the Earl. Earrings, rings and bracelets were added to the cache then the Earl’s purse stuffed atop the take.

“My thanks,” he told them. “Now if you will return to the coach, you may be on your way.” He looked at the thin woman who had been posing as Lady Standfield. “Do you need a hand to climb into the driver’s seat?”

“Touch me and I’ll scratch your eyes out, boy,” she snapped at him. Hiking the skirt of her borrowed silk gown, she put a sensible boot to the rail and pulled herself easily into the driver’s seat.

“A very manly woman, is she not?” he asked Lady Althea.

“Teresa Ann has a certain way about her, aye,” the young woman replied.

Once the Earl had helped his wife into the coach and huffed and puffed his way inside as well, the thin woman barely gave him time to shut the door before she snapped the reins, shouted haw at the horses and the coach lurched forward with a discordant shriek.

He shook his head as the coach disappeared down the road in a plume of billowing dust. “She’s a menace on the highway,” he quipped.

“You have no idea,” she replied.

He turned to face her. “I will see no harm come to you, milady,” he said quietly. “Once I have the ransom, you will be free to go. You have my word as a gentleman on it.”

She nodded as though they were accomplishing a business deal. “I trust you will be true to that word, milord,” she said.

He held out his arm and she hooked hers through it then led her to his mount.

“He’s quite a handsome beast,” she said, patting his neck.

“And docile enough when he wants to be,” he replied.

She looked up at him. “And when he doesn’t want to be?”

He bestowed upon her his most wicked smile—the one that had melted away the undergarments of many a maid.

“He can be the very devil himself,” he told her.

Before she could comment, he bent his knees, swept his arms under her knees and back and hoisted her with ease into the saddle. The serviceable skirt rode up her shapely calf and he felt his cock stir at the sight. Not giving himself time to contemplate long on that silken limb, he swung into the saddle, trapped her within the circle of his arms and put his heel to the steed’s flanks.

Reaching into the pocket of his coat, he pulled out a single silver dollar. He flipped it into the air toward the Duke. When the older man caught it nimbly, he tugged the brim of his hat in compliment. The coin was his calling card, what he left behind at each robbery.

“Never let it be said I left you with nothing, Your Grace,” he quipped then clucked to his horse. The beast neighed in reply and leapt into motion.

 

He took her to a cabin deep in the woods by which ran a moonbeam-shot stream that trickled pleasantly over shimmering rocks. Smoke rose in a ghostly shroud from the fieldstone chimney and the smell of evergreen was thick in the air.

“Who lives here, milord?” she asked as he drew his mount to a halt.

“Someone I trust,” he said and swung his leg from the horse to slide to the ground then tugged the kerchief from his face.

Her eyes widened at the sight of him then she smiled.

“Like what you see?” he asked.

“Indeed,” she replied.

He held his arms up to her.

She put her soft hands on his shoulders and he lifted her from the saddle. Her body slid down his and he kept possession of her waist as he gazed down into her eyes. The glow of the moonlight was caught in the verdant depths as she stared back at him.

“Are you going to compromise me before you return me, milord?” she asked on a breathless note.

“Would you like me to, milady?” he countered.

“I do not believe my father will either pay to get me back or want me back if you do,” she said.

He wrapped his arms around her and pressed her tightly to him then crooked a finger under her chin. His eyes dropped to her mouth. “Even if I compromise you just a tiny bit with a fleeting kiss?”

Her lips parted and her hands tightened on his shoulders. “Would it be only a fleeting kiss, milord?”

“I’m not sure. Why don’t we see?”

He lowered his head, hesitantly moved in then gently covered her mouth with his. He had to caution himself not to ease his tongue past her soft lips for he did not want to offend her. He made the kiss brief—a mere touch of his mouth to hers—and respectful, as gentle and soft as he could make it despite the raging desire that was speeding through his body.

“That was, I believe, the most fleeting of kisses, milord,” she said then pursed her lips before adding. “I have a cousin whose kisses are more to the point.”

He arched a brow. “You want me to make a point with my kiss, milady?” He knew damned well she felt the flick of his cock against her abdomen as he spoke.

“I would have you make a statement at the very least,” she replied.

He stared into her lovely face and got lost in the green depths of her eyes. His body was on fire with need. It was all he could do to force his passion under control.

“I don’t think you would like what I have to say, milady,” he said huskily.

“Why don’t you let me be the judge of that, milord?” she countered. “I have been kissed before.”

“Have you now?”

Whether it was by design or nervousness, her gaze fell to his lips. “I have,” she said. “I am not unknowledgeable in the art.”

He knew better and he seriously doubted any man had ever put his lips to hers. She was unspoiled, untried and she was playing at something she did not fully comprehend or understand. But he would enter her game if only to show her what a real man’s kiss could do.

But not standing in front of his friend’s cabin.

He released her and stepped back. “We’d best get inside,” he said.

She nodded and he walked her to the door, opened it for her. She went in, looking around her with the curiosity of a woman.

“It is well-kept,” she said, putting a hand to her bonnet strings. She took off the bonnet and placed it on a table. “Lovingly so.”

“When a man owns only a little, he takes extra care of it,” he replied. He watched her move about the room, taking in all that she viewed.

“We were speaking of what you might have to say to me,” she said as turned to face him.

“You’re sure you want me to make my case?” he asked, removing his hat and pistol to lay them on the table beside her bonnet. He went to her and once more encircled her in his arms, unable to prevent his body from needing the closeness of hers.

“Yes,” she whispered.

“Then I give you fair warning, milady, my statement will be bold and it will not be brief.” He spread his hands up her back to anchor her to him. “I can be a bit longwinded when it comes to speeches.”

“All I can ask is that you not put me to sleep with your discourse,” she said with a tilt of her chin.

That—he thought—was a challenge he could not and would not let pass. He lowered his head and slanted his mouth over hers, pressed his tongue between her lips and delved deep. The sharp intake of her breath brought her breasts hard against his chest and he moved his hands to her sweet little rump to press her against his erection. Her groan was like music to his ears.

Her hands moved into his hair as she became bolder with her kissing. She was a fast learner and obviously knew what she wanted, how she wanted it. There was a moment of shocked surprise when she thrust her sweet little tongue into his mouth and his groan made her chuckle.

He pulled his mouth from hers and looked at her. “Am I amusing you, milady?” he asked, a bit hurt by her mirth.

“Nay, milord. I just realized I have as much power over you as you have over me,” she said with a saucy grin. Her fingers raked lightly along his scalp. “You’re not going to give me back, are you?”

He slowly shook his head but did not answer.

“Is it your intention to compromise me so that giving me back is not an option?” she queried, that adorable little face tilted to one side.

“Do you want me to compromise you?” he countered.

“I would hear your argument for that option,” she replied.

He took a step back so he could look down into her face. “Milady, when a man makes that kind of argument it is a one-sided proposition. He knows what he wants and can only hope the lady wants the same.”

She looked up at him through her lashes. “And if she does?”

“Milady,” he said and pulled his arms from around her so he could take her hands in his. “I cannot promise what will be argued can easily be stopped once started. I cannot swear I can control my…” He took a deep breath. “My words.”

“Mayhap I do not want you to control your…” She smiled. “Words, milord.”

He tightened his hold on her hands. “Let me be clear with you on the matter, milady.”

“Please do,” she responded.

“Once a woman is spoken to in such a way, what is said cannot be taken back. The die will be cast. The—”

“You talk entirely too much, Highwayman,” she said and pulled him to her, bent his captive arms behind him as she rubbed her body suggestively against his.

“Milady,” he said, shocked by her actions.

“Will you marry me?” she asked, shocking him to the very foundation of his being.

“Marry you?” he repeated.

“Yes, milord. Will you make of me an honest woman after our…talk?” she questioned.

He stared into her beautiful face—got lost in her those mesmerizing eyes.

“Marriage is not an option for me,” he stated.

“Then let’s retire to yonder bed and I will listen very carefully to your argument against it,” she said in a business like tone. She released her hold on his hands, turned and headed for the bed. “I’ve something I’ve been itching to get off my…” She swiveled her head around to give him a sultry look and her hands went to the buttons of her plain bodice. “My chest.”

Like a man in a trance he followed behind her. His gaze was steady on her swaying hips as she neared the narrow bed. Though his friend’s wife kept the cabin scrupulously clean, it was no fitting place for a woman of Lady Standfield’s rank to lose her virginity. He stopped in the middle of the floor.

What the hell was he thinking? He could not deflower the woman.

She looked around and frowned at him. Her bodice was unbuttoned all the way to the waist and he saw her chemise. He clenched his hands into fists, released them, clenched them again and felt all the moisture evaporate from his mouth.

“Is something amiss, milord?” she asked.

“I…I…” He couldn’t find the words to tell her that he could not—nay, would not—violate her. He was a knave of the highest order, a rake of the lowest degree but she was a lady of substance, of breeding and though she was well past the age of consent, she was pure. He knew it in his heart. In the very marrow of his bones.

“Milord?” she questioned. “Why are you so pale?” She took a step toward him. “Are you ill?”

He shot his hand up—palm outward—to stay her advance. “Milady, I do not believe you have thought this through,” he said, hating every word that fell from his lips. “In good conscience I cannot despoil you here in this place.”

Her eyebrows lifted. “And pray tell what is wrong with this place?”

“It is not a fitting place for a lady such as you to—”

“Milord, stop,” she said sternly and before he could say another word, she was peeling the bodice from her creamy shoulders. “I am a woman full grown and I know what I want. And what I want is you, Highwayman.”

The sight of her silken shoulders, the gown falling down her arms, past her fingertips, gliding down her hips to pool at her feet flooded his entire body with molten heat. He could not look away from the swell of her breasts above the neckline of the chemise. Every breath she took lifted those delightful mounds and he saw the dark shadow of her areolas outlined beneath the lace.

And he was, he thought, as much a male as the next man and just as easily tempted by the sight of a woman’s naked charms.

“Merciful God,” he whispered.

“I want you, Highwayman,” she repeated. “Do you want me or not?”

“Not like this,” he heard himself say.

“Then pray how do you want me?” she demanded. “In yon forest on a bed of pine needles? On the banks of the stream? Beneath a—”

He took five steps and put his hands to her waist, lifted her up then grabbed her under her thighs to pull her legs around him. With his gaze fused with hers, he walked her to the wall to press her back against it. He took her mouth with a fierceness that barely registered as he ground his lips to hers and inserted his tongue into the warm cavern of her mouth.

Her arms were around his neck. Her ankles were locked at the small of his back. He pushed against her with his hips, ground his cock to her center. His shaft was hard as steel and aching—burning with need. His palms itched to mold around her bare breasts. His tongue wanted to taste the very core of her.

“Milord, do not torture me,” she whispered against his mouth. “Let me know what it is to be a woman.” She put her hands to his cheeks to push him. “Let me know what it is to be your woman.”

He searched her eyes. “Are you sure?”

“As sure as I live and breathe,” she stated emphatically. “I’ve wanted you—and you alone—from the moment I laid eyes on you.”

“Once done…”

“Cannot be undone,” she said with a roll of her eyes. “I know.”

Her comical expression, the hot desire in those verdant green eyes was his undoing. He lost all contact with what was morally and ethically right. All resistance went out the window and he surrendered. Hefting her higher against him, he turned and took her to the bed. He hesitated only a second longer before leaning forward to lay her upon the mattress. Stepping back, he moved to the foot of the bed to remove her slippers.

She had small feet with high arches within the opaque cotton of her stockings. The hem of her petticoat was rucked up to her knees and the sight of her shapely calves made his mouth water. Gently—so as not to frighten her—he eased the hem higher until he could get to the garters that held the stockings in place. They were about six inches above her knees and the higher he pushed the hem of her petticoat, the harder his cock became.

As he began to peel the garter and stocking down her leg, his body clenched with such raging lust he was all but salivating. The soft, creamy skin revealed inch by inch to his sight was the stuff of wet dreams. By the time he removed her other stocking and her legs were bare from knee to cute little toes he was barely cognizant of anything save her silken limbs. He swallowed hard for his attention had gone to the V of her legs and he wanted more than anything to see what lay hidden under the petticoat.

“You may remove the petticoat, milord,” she said.

He’d had many women in his life, was no novice to the realm of Aphrodite. A skilled lover who had undertaken dozens upon dozens of conquests in his lifetime, he knew what he was about. Each woman had been a delightful invasion but this woman was different. He knew it in his soul—what there was left of it. He knew he had to tread carefully for how she was led this night would either make or break the relationship he found he desperately wanted with her.

Realizing his hands were shaking, he put his hands to the drawstring of her petticoat.

You shouldn’t be doing this. It is wrong. You know it is wrong, a voice said inside his head.

“Shut up,” he snapped.

“I beg your pardon?” she queried.

“Not you,” he said.

Jaw clenched, he fumbled with the ribbon and was tempted to tear the blasted thing apart. When it came undone, he stilled his hands. It was like unwrapping a present and there was a right way and a wrong way to do it. You did not unwrap a package from the bottom up. You unwrapped it from the top down. You peeled the paper away inch by inch until the entire gift was revealed. He looked up at her then extended his hand.

A puzzled look passed over her face but she slipped her hand into his and he pulled her to a sitting position. The chemise should come off first, he decided and it should be slipped down her shoulders slowly instead of pulled over her head. Why that was important, he wasn’t sure. In the past he’d all but torn the undergarments from the women he seduced but Lady Standfield was different. He needed to treat her with the respect and adoration she deserved.

So he came to the side of the bed, sat down and took her hand in his. He brought it to his lips. “Don’t be nervous,” he said.

“How can I not be, milord?” she said. “’Tis a monumental enterprise I am about to experience.”

“Life altering,” he admitted. “And one you should be absolutely sure you wish to have.” He reached up his free hand to tuck a loose strand of hair that had escaped the serviceable bun at the nape of her neck behind her ear.

“I am absolutely sure,” she said breathlessly and leaned her cheek into the cup of his hand. As he caressed her, she lowered her lashes. “I would have it be no other man save you with whom to undertake the enterprise.”

“Why me?” he asked. “Why not wait for that titled lord your father has waiting in the wings?”

She pursed her lips and gave him a droll look. “If you were thirsty, milord, and someone gave you the choice of a fine wine or a cup of sour milk, which would you want?”

“You liken me to fine wine, milady?” he queried.

“Well, you’re not sour milk,” she said. “And then there is the adventure of it, my bold highwayman. What maid would not prefer a handsome brigand over a mule-faced milksop?”

“I see your point,” he acknowledged with a twitch of his lips.

“Besides, there is the forbidden involved to make it all the more exciting,” she said, curling that sweet little tongue over her bottom lip. “The clandestine rendezvous. The illicit liaison. The wicked temptation.” She swept her unengaged hand to the side. “All those things we maidens read about in our lonely beds and dream about when we lay our heads upon our pillows.”

As she spoke he released her hand and reached up to remove the pins from her hair. He wanted to see the ebony tresses tumbling down. When they fell, he fanned the heavy locks around her shoulders, the living cape cascading to her hips.

“Beautiful,” he told her, fingering one curl.

“It is my pride and joy,” she said.

“And rightly so,” he agreed. He brought the lock to his face and inhaled the heady scent of gardenia.

“Do I compare to the other women you have bedded, milord?” she asked and he looked up to see her cheeks blazing with color. There was apprehension in her gaze. “Would you prefer one of them instead of me?”

“Ah, milady, what need have I to pluck the feathers from those gaggling geese when I have the treasures of Kublai Khan here before me?” He stroked her hair. “Here are strands of onyx.” His finger trailed to the corner of her eye. “And brilliant emeralds.” He cupped her cheek. “Flawless alabaster.” He eased his thumb across her upper lip then grazed it over her front teeth. “And here rubies and pearls.” He glided his hand down her neck onto the swell of her breast. “And beneath this lacy garment, there will be peaks of rich coral.”

“I believe you have missed your calling, milord,” she said—sucking in a breath at his bold touch. “You have the soul of a poet within you.”

“I know beauty and rich treasure when I behold them, milady,” he replied. He took her cheeks between his palms and brought her lips to his.

It was a chaste kiss as kisses went but it held all the passion he wanted her to taste. She put a hand on his biceps and her touch sent a tremor through him. He slid his hands from her cheeks to her shoulders—to the capped sleeves of her chemise. He held her gaze—silently asking for her permission to continue. When she nodded, he eased his hand along her collarbones to the ribbon tie between her breasts. Her indrawn breath made his cock shift again.

“I will go slowly, milady,” he promised.

You need to leave. Now. Not slowly but as fast as you can run. Go, before it is too late! that inner voice hissed at him.

He pushed the voice to the back of his mind for she was nodding again and seemed to be trying to relax although her lovely eyes were filled with apprehension.

“I will not hurt you, Althea,” he told her. “I will never hurt you.”

“I know,” she whispered.

He lowered the chemise slowly until it caught on the tips of her breasts. The blood was hammering in his ears and he wanted to pull it all the way down to her neatly-tucked waist but controlled the urge. Instead, he leaned in to place a soft kiss on the sensitive spot where neck met shoulder.

“Ah,” she moaned, letting her head fall back.

That was the incentive he needed to move his lips to the hollow of her throat where a frantic pulse was beating madly. A succession of light kisses across her left collarbone to the curve of her shoulder elicited another low moan. He trailed kisses from that shoulder to the other then back to the center of her upper chest before tugging the chemise lower until the peaks of her breasts were revealed.

“Sweet Lord,” he said on a long breath. Her nipples were hard little pebbles standing erect and beckoning his mouth, his tongue, his teeth. A ripple of desire undulated through him as he caught one dusky nubbin between his lips.

“Milord,” she gasped.

He leaned harder against her, pressing her down to the mattress and sliding his upper body over hers. Lifting his knee, he swung his left leg over hers and drew his other leg onto the bed.

“No,” she said and shifted her hands to his shoulders.

He lifted his head. “What?” he asked, stunned by her reversal.

“Undress,” she said. “Your buckle is cutting into my stomach.”

He hadn’t thought about being fully clothed. Hell, he hadn’t even removed his coat. Before he took another breath, he catapulted himself from the bed and began to strip as though his clothing was aflame. As he did, she sat up—bracing her body on her elbows—to watch him.

The coat went in one direction, the waistcoat in another. He fumbled with the belt behind which he tucked his gun until it was undone then jerked the shirt from the waistband of his britches and pulled it over his head. His hands got caught in the sleeves to make him growl with frustration. The shirt went sailing as he put his hands to the buttons of his fly.

“I would think it best to take off your boots before you go much further,” she advised.

He looked down at his boots, groaned then glanced over at her only to stop in mid-action. She was reclining there with her breasts fully exposed, her legs apart with the hem of her petticoat resting mid-thigh. She looked wanton and…

He let out a shuddery breath.

She looked ready.

That spurred him into action and he hurried over to the table, pulled out a chair and sat down heavily to yank off his boots.

“There is no hurry, milord,” she said and he heard the humor in her voice.

“Aye, there is,” he replied through clenched teeth. He dropped the first boot, had trouble pulling off the other and released a long stream of curses in his native Gaelic.

“I don’t believe I want to know what you just said,” she told him.

“Nay, you don’t,” he agreed and flung the offending boot across the room. His stockings came next then he shot up from the chair and made quick work of the buttons of his fly.

“You have a very nice chest,” she said. “As dark and curly as your hair is, though, I would have expected a rich thatch of hair on your chest.”

Her off-handed insult brought his head up. “Is that a deal breaker, milady?” he demanded.

“No,” she said and wiggled her toes. “Merely an observation.”

He narrowed his eyes for he had something hiding behind the opened V of his britches that he was itching for her to observe. Hooking his thumbs into the waistband, he pushed the britches down his hips. As his cock sprang free, he watched her eyes widen.

“Oh my,” she said, lips parting.

“Aye,” he said with what he realized was a touch of pride.

She was staring avidly at his shaft as though afraid to look away.

“It doesn’t bite,” he said with a laugh.

Slowly she tore her gaze from his cock to look him in the eye. “I had no idea,” she said in a near whisper.

He came toward her much as he would have a wild filly he wished to tame. No sudden or menacing moves. As he neared the bed, she once again lowered her eyes to his manhood. Once he was beside the bed, he made no attempt to join her. Her chest was heaving as nerves took over her breath. At the moment she put out her tongue to lick her lips, his cock pulsed and her eyes widened even more and her mouth dropped open.

“It is…” Her lips moved but she couldn’t seem to find the words she wanted to say.

“A part of me, milady,” he said quietly. “Not some alien appendage intent on doing you harm. God designed it to give pleasure, not pain. To create life, not produce death.”

“P…pleasure?” she repeated and lifted her gaze to his.

“The greatest of pleasures, milady,” he said. He extended his palm to her. “Give me your hand.”

She hesitated for a second or two then shifted her weight so she could take her left hand from the mattress. It shook as she reached for his hand—expecting to slip her fingers into his palm—but he took gentle hold of her wrist, stepped closer to the bed and brought her hand toward his cock.

“Touch it, Althea,” he said. “Wrap your fingers around it. You will see it is nothing more than flesh.”

Tucking her bottom lip between her teeth, she reached for him. The moment her palm made contact, she drew in a shuddery breath. “The flesh is soft,” she said then closed her fingers around his girth. Surprise shifted over her face. “Yet hard as steel beneath.”

It was the hardest thing he’d ever done to stand there and let her caress him, run her hand up and down his length, test the texture of the head as she ran her thumb over it. His knees felt weak and his blood was running lava-hot through his veins.

“What is this liquid at the tip?”

“Semen,” he said in a choked voice. “The seed of life.”

He watched her frown. “Your seed,” she said then it was almost as though a candle had been lit for she slowly took her hand away. “Seed that would get me with child.” She turned frightened eyes to him. “I am not ready yet for a child, Highwayman.”

“Then when the time comes, I will not spend my seed within you,” he said. He put a hand to his heart. “On my honor, I will not.”

She seemed to be considering his words. “That would work?”

“For centuries that is all that has been used by many couples,” he replied. “I cannot swear it works every time but it is my understanding that it does most times.”

“It is the chance we take,” she said. “It will not matter once we are wed.”

“What?” he asked.

“We will marry eventually,” she stated.

“Milady, I have no inclination to marry,” he told her. “You know what I am. You know—”

“I know you are of the peerage,” she interrupted.

The breath caught in his throat. “The peerage?” he echoed.

“Your speech is too precise, milord. Your bearing too noble for you to be anything but an aristocrat. I have heard it said your skill with a rapier is unequaled. Such skill is taught by a fencing master and a man of lower lineage would not have access to such an instructor.”

“Mayhap I am the boyhood friend of a noble,” he countered. “And learned alongside him.”

“Mayhap but unlikely,” she said.

He couldn’t help but think what a ridiculous conversation this was. There she reclined upon his friend’s bed with her breasts and calves uncovered. There he stood with nothing save the air clothing him and his cock now at half-staff. For want of something to do, he looked around him.

“For what are you searching, milord?” she asked.

A way out, he thought. He wasn’t sure this was a good idea. As much as he wanted her—and God knew he wanted her—he knew marriage to him would not be to any woman’s benefit. If anything, it could very well ruin that woman’s life. He was a wanted man with a very high bounty on his head. He risked his neck every day of his life and had no plan to stop doing so. Not for wealth from the gold or the trinkets he gathered from the rich, pompous men and snooty women he robbed but for what that wealth could do. It could buy another week of living for those who needed to make it through another day.

She patted the bed beside her. “Your lady is waiting for you, Highwayman. Will you not join her?”

What if he got her pregnant? He thought. The stigma of bearing the child of an infamous outlaw would ruin her socially. Not even his father’s immense wealth and position with the Crown would stop tongues from wagging and those of her class from ostracizing her. Could he really deal her such a desperate hand?

No, he thought. He had no intention of sliding past those creamy thighs no matter how much he wanted to.

“Milord, something tells me you are having second thoughts about speaking to me,” she said and he saw merry glints moving through her gaze. “If that is the case, mayhap I should put forth my argument.”

As bold as any doxy he’d ever encountered, she reached out and took possession of what she so obviously was determined to have. He had no choice but to put knee to mattress else have her pull the very root from his body.

“Milady, I beg you to be gentler with it,” he said, wincing. “It is not a wagon tongue.”

She released him but pursed her lips. “Then instruct me on how I am to handle it, milord. I am not a mind reader and by the by, should you not divest me of the remainder of my clothing before you begin your rebuttal?” she asked. She slid her arms from under her and lay upon the covers, arched her hips in invitation for him to peel the chemise from beneath her hips.

“Milady, we must discuss this tendency you have to be so forward,” he said sternly. “That is not the way an untired young lady behaves.”

“Mayhap not but it is the way a young woman who wishes to be bedded by a handsome rogue behaves,” she replied then smiled. “Is it not?”

“I suppose—” he began.

“Either take what you so obviously want, milord, or put on your clothes and leave,” she interrupted. She pursed her lips, frowned with her eyes narrowed and lifted her chin in challenge.

It was her cute little chin raised in the air and the way her lush lips were pressed tightly together that was his undoing. He sighed and gave in. He put his hands to the bunched bodice of the chemise and slid it down her abdomen and over her hips.

“Sweet Morrigunia,” he whispered as the soft curls at the juncture of her thighs was revealed. He stilled—staring intently at the dark V that concealed her most private parts from him.

“Do you gain pleasure from torturing women, milord?” she asked with a burst of pique. “Take the bloody garment off me. Now,”

He jerked his gaze from her groin to her face. She had one eyebrow arched in such a way it reminded him of the way his governess would glare at him when she was annoyed. For some reason that amused him.

“Milady,” he said. “Has no one ever told you that expectation is half the fun of being taken?”

“I am not finding this fun, milord,” she snapped. “I am finding it frustrating.” Not giving him any more time, she sat up, lifted her rump from the mattress, batted his hands away then shoved the chemise down her thighs, kicking it from her legs as he stood there with one knee on the mattress and his hands up at his shoulders as though she held a pistol on him. She lay back down. “There. All done,” she pronounced. “Nothing left to impede us.”

Lips twitching, he raised his eyebrows—trying not to return his gaze to the curls between her creamy thighs. “You are at the ready, are you not, milady?” he teased.

“Overly ready, milord,” she said. She held her arms out to him.

Those silken arms extended toward him pushed away any resistance he had left. He nodded in acceptance of what was going to be and swung his leg onto the bed. With infinite care but deliberate intent, he slid his body up hers, reveling in the way her eyes widened at the touch of their flesh meeting.

“Like that?” he inquired as he lifted his knee to press it lightly against the inside of her knee. Gently, he nudged her left leg to the side so he could settle his body where it needed to be.

She swallowed hard. “Aye,” she said on a soft whisper. “Very much, milord.” She shifted her other leg so he could position himself between her spread thighs.

“Good,” he said. “Then you will love this.”

Before she could ask what he meant, he slithered down in the bed until his lips were just above her navel. Her hastily sucked in breath made him smile as he put his mouth to that sensitive indention.

“Declan,” she hissed and her hands went to his head—her fingers spiking through his hair.

“Mm,” he said against her navel and her entire body quivered. Giving her no time, extending no quarter, he flicked his tongue into the concave little hollow. Again she shuddered as her fingers tightened almost painfully in his hair. It took some doing to lift his head to look up at her for she was pressing his mouth to her body. He hoped he wouldn’t have to speak but that the way he gazed up at her would loosen her hold on him.

It did and she marginally relaxed though her heels were digging into the mattress, her pelvis arched toward him.

He winked then lowered his mouth to that sweet spot just below her navel and midway to the beckoning curls that hid her nether lips from his sight. Pushing himself up so he could slide farther down the mattress, he kissed his way to the soft, spiky locks then turned his cheek to lay it upon her abdomen, lowered his hand to rest it upon her right hip and thigh.

“Milord?” she questioned.

“All in good time, milady,” he replied. “All in good time.”

He drew his hand down her side from the outside of her breast to her hip then continued its journey onto her thigh. Yet again she shivered under his touch and goose bumps popped up under the pads of his fingers.

Idly he stroked her from the crease of her thigh to her knee, turned his hand so the backs of his fingers made the return journey, then turned it again to run his nails to her knee the next time. He continued the enticing movement several times before easing his fingers closer to the inside of her thigh on the next upward stroke. He heard her sigh—almost purr—and blew his breath across her hip. She was smoothing his hair much as if he were a pet and that nudged the wicked little devil inside him. He could not—would not—let her sink into contentment. He ran the backs of his fingers down her thigh and then slowly dragged his nails upward on the return trip. This time he did not stop at the crease of her thigh. Instead, he moved his hand over even more so he could rake his fingers upward through those silky curls.

As though she had been poked with a red hot dagger she jumped as he pressed the base of his thumb to that place he knew she would feel it the most—her clit. He fanned that little nubbin and grinned as she cried out.

Lifting his head again, he looked up to see her staring down at him with her mouth open and eyes wide. He didn’t think she was breathing and her face was infused with a dark blush. Slowly he smiled at her then shifted his hand so his thumb was paused at the dampness that had formed between her legs.

“Milord?” she asked—her voice quivering.

He didn’t answer. Instead—watching her the entire time—he moved even lower in the bed, put his hands to the insides of her thighs, pushed them as far apart as he thought would be comfortable for her then eased his thumbs to the warm lips that bracketed the entrance to her body. Her lips formed a perfect O when he anchored her flesh then placed his mouth to the slick heat.

She arched her back from the bed and her hands left his head to slam down to the coverlet. He was grateful she grabbed handfuls of the material rather than his hair for she twisted the cloth and pulled at it savagely. A soft, vibrating keen came from deep within her throat.

One long, slow lap of his tongue from one end of her slit to the other made her entire body shiver and at the moment he thrust that warmth into her she cried out. He heard the coverlet rip from her tight hold upon it. As he pressed into her sweet cavern he splayed his hands to either side of her groin then began to run the pads of his thumbs up and down the inner folds of her vagina. He probed deep with his tongue and felt the immediate clinches that signaled she was about to find out what pleasure truly was.

Milord,” she screamed as her inner muscles vibrated. Her hands left the bed to grab his head as he flicked his tongue against her clit to intensify the sensation she was experiencing.

Strong little waves rippled through her then with one final flutter ceased. She was panting and when he lifted his head to see her face, her neck was arched against the pillow, eyes squeezed shut and her mouth open wide. He saw a vein throbbing in her neck. She said something unintelligible then stiffened as the release undulated through her cunt.

He had lain with many women in his lifetime. From the first older woman who took him into her bed to make him a man until the milkmaid just three nights back who had nearly broken his cock with her acrobatic pelvis, he’d carved many a notch on his proverbial headboard.

But he’d never experienced a woman’s first time. It was a revelation to him. Watching her shuddering, dragging at the coverlet twisted in her hands as her hips squirmed, he took pride in knowing he had been the first man to introduce her to such pleasure. He smiled for she was making little purring sounds he’d never heard any other woman make.

He had satisfied her well, he thought. Initiated her into the art of lovemaking in such a way she would always have fond memories of this night and of him. He only wished he could finish what he started but that couldn’t happen.

She was the only virgin he had dared touch past a few squeezes of a tit or a rub of his palm between their legs as he kissed them. Fucking a virgin was tantamount to marrying the little miss and that he had no intention of ever doing. He cherished his bachelorhood too much for that.

And then there was his profession…

She heaved a great sigh.

He lifted his head to watch her body melt into the mattress. With her thighs splayed wide, her breasts rising and falling rapidly, she looked far more wanton than any chit he’d ever tupped.

He slid up beside her, took her into his arms to hold her against him. “You enjoyed that?”

She pressed her face into his shoulders. “Aye, milord, but…”

Turning his face down to her, he arched a brow. “But?”

Her hand came up to his chest, her index finger to the tuft of hair between his breastbones. She coiled the curl around her finger. “Is that all there is to it?”

“No,” he said. “If you were any other woman, I would take you fully.”

“Put your manhood inside me you mean,” she wanted clarified.

“My cock into your cunt, aye,” he said, wanting to shock her with the coarse language but his words seemed to have the opposite effect. Instead of recoiling, she pushed harder against him then lifted her leg to glide it between his thighs.

“What are you waiting for?” she asked.

That made him laugh. “Some other man to breach you, milady. I don’t fuck virgins.”

She shot up in the bed—her thigh pressing hard into his groin—and her beautiful face turned hard. “Wasn’t that the point? To deflower me?”

“Not on my end,” he said, lacing his hands behind his head. “You wanted to know what it felt like to have an orgasm and I more than fulfilled that desire.”

“But you haven’t done what I wanted you to do,” she stated.

“I am not going to take your maidenhead, milady,” he said.

“No?” she queried, eyes narrowed.

“No. That right is reserved for your husband and for him alone.”

Her purr of a few moment before became a growl and she surprised the hell out of him by throwing herself on him, pushing his legs apart with her knees and slamming her mouth down upon his. The invasion of her tongue thrusting between his lips shocked him. She was writhing, grinding, wriggling against him in such a way his cock took immediate notice.

He tore his mouth from hers. “No,” he said firmly and took hold of her upper arms to push her away. “We’re not going to…”

“Yes, we are, milord,” she said.

“No, hell, we aren’t,” he replied through clenched teeth. He had every intention of flipping her off him and scrambling from the bed.

That was until she reached down to enclose him in her fist.

“You, sir, are going to finish what you started,” she said, squeezing him almost to the point of pain.

Some unchivalrous, nasty little part of his brain hissed at him to do just that. If ever a woman wanted to be fucked as badly as this one, he’d yet to encounter her. Even with her fisting him, sliding her palm up and down his rock-hard flesh, he tried to push her off him but she would not be denied. Her thumb moved over the slit of his cockhead and that was more than he could bear.

“Damn it, woman,” he snarled between his gritted teeth. He tightened his hands on her arms then rolled until she was stretched out beneath him. Almost savagely he shoved her thighs apart and parked his hips atop hers. Trouble was: she still had a tight grip on his shaft.

He stared down into her challenging eyes.

“Let go,” he said.

“Put it in me,” she replied and shocked the hell out of him by trying to stuff his cock into her cunt.

“No,” he said. Some other part of him—a part he didn’t know he had—felt violated by her action.

“Put it in me or I will pull it from the root,” she said, lifting her chin. Her fingers clamped down on him so tightly he yelped.

All right, he thought. If she wanted to be fucked that badly…

Letting go of her arms, he shot his hands down to her hips, slammed his palms under her ass and lifted her. He ground himself hard upon her, all but slithering his lower body across her arm as she held him.

“You want it?” he said. “Then let go.”

He felt the pressure on his shaft loosen.

“You will take me fully?” she asked.

“Aye,” he stated and rocked against her.

“You swear?” she queried.

“Aye, woman, I swear,” he growled.

“On your honor as a gentleman?”

“Aye,” he said with a downward snap of his head.

She stared at him for a moment then released him, dragging her hand from between them.

He pulled one hand from under her to take hold of his cock. “And if I get your pregnant, the onus will be on you, not me!” he ground out.

“You said you would not spend your seed within me,” she reminded him.

“I lied,” he snapped.

Her eyes widened, her mouth dropped open and she tried to push him off her but it was already too late. He had his cock at her entrance and at the moment he eased the head inside her, she bucked and impaled herself upon him.

“Damn it, woman!” he hissed.

He’d had no intention of fully penetrating her. He’d had no intention of breaching her maidenhead. He’d meant to scare with the thought of him getting her with child but she had surprised him yet again. Apparently him impregnating her hadn’t concerned her.

Now the point was moot.

She was panting as she stared up at him with eyes wide and mouth farther ajar. If he’d hurt him she gave no indication of it. She seemed merely stunned.

And he knew why. He was not a small man. He filled her completely and to the base. He was stretching her, realizing he shouldn’t move until she was fully accustomed to his shaft spiked within her lest he cause her pain. He watched her pupils dilate then she slowly closed her lips. She swallowed then her lips parted. She blinked.

“You are inside me,” she whispered.

“Aye,” he said. The urge to thrust was like a brand burning his shaft but he kept rigidly still.

“I can feel you touching my womb.”

He knew that wasn’t possible but didn’t disagree. Her breathing was changing which meant she was becoming aroused again.

That was all the encouragement his shaft needed.

Slowly—with teeth grinding together—he began moving inside her. The moment she sucked in a breath, he stopped but then she shook her head.

“Don’t,” she pleaded. “Please don’t stop. You have no idea how good that feels.”

Oh, but he did, he thought as he started to move again. Drawing back slowly, easing forward. Drawing back a little more, then seating himself firmly again. That slow pull and push was making him pant, had brought sweat to his forehead. Pushing aside the need to pump like a mad man to ease the ache in his shaft, he dug his toes into the mattress and rocked against her as he withdrew almost all the way out.

“Ah,” she said—the word drawn out on a long sigh. Her eyes drifted closed.

He twisted his hips then pushed in to the hilt.

Her hands went to his shoulders, her nails digging lightly into his flesh.

“Lift your legs,” he said and realized his voice was harsh, grating. Which made sense for his arms were shaking from trying to control himself.

“What?” she said, snapping her lids open.

“Lift your legs and wrap them around my hips,” he instructed.

“Like this?” she asked and encircled him.

“Aye,” he replied, clenching his molars together.

He couldn’t maintain the stoic calm any longer. His shaft was burning with need. His ball so tight he thought they might explode. He clenched his fingers into her soft ass and began to thrust into her with more speed.

Sweat clung to his chest now, dripped from his temples. A fine sheen of moisture coated his upper lip and he swept his tongue over it. He increased the rhythm of his drives but held himself still for a second or two within her when the tip of his head touched her far wall.

He heard her moan, felt her vaginal walls clench around him. He pulled back until only the crown of his shaft was inside her. She moaned again and clawed at his shoulders. From that moment on, he was no longer in control. His cock was.

She was sufficiently slick and stretched that he felt he could thrust into her with more force and not hurt her. She needed; he needed it.

Gods how he needed it!

The bed beneath them squeaked as he thrust harder into her hot sheath. The iron headboard banged against the wall in time to his lunges. She was making that strange half-purr/half-growl sound that spurred him on. Her legs tightened around his waist. She arched her hips into his.

Declan!” she screamed, looking past his shoulder.

Stunned, he stopped moving. “What?” he asked, fear jumping up his throat.

But it was too late. Their releases came simultaneously and he could never remember that ever happening before but that was the last thought he had before the cabin door crashed open. He turned his head just as the butt of the musket crashed against his temple.

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