One Summer of Surrender(8)

By: Jess Michaels

“I know,” she whispered.

He swallowed. “You’re here for a man.”

Heat flooded her cheeks, but Elise forced herself to nod again. “I-I am.”

His face twisted yet again, but this time it wasn’t a mask of anger, but of pain. He just as quickly flattened that into bored disapproval. “Why?”

Stenfax couldn’t stop looking at Elise. Smelling her, that same jasmine scent he’d caught in Vivien’s office earlier. The one that had set his body on edge. It was hers. Of course, it had always been hers, he’d just allowed himself to forget. Forced himself to forget.

Now it all but filled him up and he wanted to rip the gown off her body and bury himself in her. Cover himself in that smell and in her taste and her feel.

How he hated them both for that lingering want.

He turned away and walked across the room, back to the window where he’d first seen her. “Answer me,” he said.

She cleared her throat and he faced her. God, but she was calm. Cool. He so wanted her to react, but of course it was only him who was affected. Just as it had always been.

“Why do you think?” she asked, repeating her earlier answer. It was just as unsatisfying now as it had been then.

He clenched his hands at his sides. “Damn it. It’s a straight question, give me a straight answer.”

She shrugged and broke eye contact with him at last, looking instead toward the fire across the room. “He left me with nothing.”

He. Of course she meant her husband, the Duke of Kirkford. The man she had left him for, thrown him over for, all those years ago. The mention of him sent a shockwave of fresh pain through Lucien’s body. Fresher than he’d allowed himself to believe when he’d spent so much time ignoring it and denying it.

“Do you want me to feel sorry for you?” he spat out, his voice as hard as diamonds.

She slowly returned her gaze to him. “No. I would never expect that. You asked me a question and those are the facts.”

He drew in a few deep breaths. “And so because he left you destitute, you are turning to…to…”

He couldn’t even say it.

She nodded. “I’m looking for a protector.”

He paced away, his blood boiling even hotter at her simple answer and her calm demeanor as she gave it.

“You’re a duchess.” He strode over to the fire and pressed a fist against the mantel. “A lady.”

“Many ladies do the same, either because they are forced by circumstance or because they wish an affiliation. And that is why I turned to Vivien. She is said to be good at providing discreet help in such matters.”

He spun on her, glaring at her. “Oh, well, as long as it is discreet, Your Grace.”

Her eyes suddenly lit up with a flash of anger and he was torn back in time to a girl with red braids. He had tugged them and she had spun on him with the same rage on her face and given him a set-down. He had dreamed of her for the first time that night, boyish dreams where he stole a kiss.

He forced himself back to the present as Elise took a long step toward him, her hands gripped at her sides and her shoulders shaking. “You are here, aren’t you? I assume you were looking for a tumble. So don’t you dare judge me, Lucien.”

She had said his name. It was the first time he’d heard it from her lips in three long years and it washed over him and turned him inside out. He found himself moving on her again, one step, two, three, and her eyes widened, and yet she didn’t move, just as she hadn’t the first time he did this a few moments before.

He crowded into her space and tried to tell himself he was making an attempt to frighten some sense in to her. It was a lie and he didn’t care. He didn’t care about anything except the fact that he was so close to her he could feel the warmth of her skin pulsing out, reaching for him.

He lifted his hands and closed them around her upper arms. The first time he’d touched her in so long. She caught her breath and slowly her gaze moved his hands. His did the same and they stared together at his big, darker fingers around her pale, soft skin.

Need coursed through him, more powerful than anger or hate or anything else he had ever felt. And he couldn’t deny it. He couldn’t deny her and her power over him even after everything she’d done, everything she’d broken.

He leaned in and pressed his mouth to hers. He expected her to remain cold, or even to turn away, but instead she made a muffled little cry in the back of her throat and opened her lips.

And he was lost. He drove his tongue into her wet heat and stroked hers as he yanked her closer, into his arms, molding her body to his. She pulled her arms loose from his grip and wrapped them around his neck, whimpering as she lifted against him like she could find a way to get closer even though they were flattened together in an embrace.