Catching Caroline (Chapter 1)
Caroline closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Standing on the foredeck of the merchant vessel The Dreamer, the misty salt air bit at her skin and caused her to clutch her shawl more firmly around her. She'd left the warmth and comfort of her cabin to find a reprieve from thoughts of Jack, but it was impossible. Beneath the smell of the ocean she could still detect his evocative masculine scent, a scent that heated her blood and made forgetting him impossible.
He owned this ship, as well as a dozen others, and his presence lingered here, taunting her with the promise of what she wanted most, but could never have.
Under more ideal circumstances Caroline would have found berth on another vessel, but time had been of the essence. Jack had returned to America months earlier than she had anticipated.
She'd heard word of his return at almost the exact moment she'd sensed him. Rushing to her lodgings, she'd gathered up her belongings and boarded the first ship back to England. It was her misfortune that the earliest departing vessel had been one of Jack's, because her haste had cost her dearly.
These last days at sea had been torture. Jack's essence had seeped into every pore of the ship. He haunted her dreams, would give her no peace. Every night as she attempted to sleep he visited her, begging in his velvety voice for her to return to him. Come back to me, Caroline, he urged. Come back. The heat of his nocturnal caresses and the ravishment of his kisses drove her to madness.
Opening weary eyes, Caroline gazed out over the water. Swirls of mist partially obscured the cloudy sky, the silvery gray color reminding her so much of Jack's eyes.
From the moment she'd first seen him in the Fontaine ballroom, she'd been lost. The passionate kiss a week later had destroyed her. Even now she could feel the heat of his expert lips against hers, and the remembrance of his taste made her mouth water.
She wanted him so desperately she knew she would never be able to control the animal within her. It would bleed him dry; she would not be able to stop it. She had to stay away, far away. A man as beautiful and magnetic as Jack Shaw did not deserve to die in such a heinous manner. He radiated life and vitality, and she would flee to the ends of the earth before she drained him of the very things that had caused her to fall in love with him. A love that had been doomed long before she met him.
And so she ran. From France to Italy to America, she'd barely catch her breath before Jack would arrive, the expansion of his shipping interests causing him to visit all of the places she fled to.
This last missed encounter had come too close. Caroline could only hope his overseas business was resolved and he would remain in America. She was tired, lonely, and hungry for him. Misery was sapping her strength and resolve. If Jack came near her again, she wasn't certain she had the will to resist him.
And he would pay for her weakness with his precious life.
* * * * *
It was nearly two o'clock in the morning when Jack Shaw strode down the gangplank of his ship in London. Thick fog swirled around his boots as he left the dock and vaulted into his waiting carriage. He looked at his man of affairs who sat across from him. "She's in residence? You're certain?"
"Yes, Mr. Shaw. Lady Caroline is here. I saw her myself, just to be sure."
Jack breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed into the squabs. He'd deliberately timed his docking, aware that if he arrived during the day word would spread of his arrival and Caroline would hear of it. For the sake of his ego, he'd denied for years that she was running from him, but after this last occasion in Virginia he could no longer delude himself.
Lady Caroline Seton didn't want anything to do with him.
At the age of five and twenty Caroline was considered a spinster by choice. Highly sought after for her beauty and unaccountable wealth, she rejected all suitors. She was an enigma in every respect, a beautiful and vivacious young woman who had taken the Beau Monde by storm. Her origins were unknown, her courtesy title derived from a tenuous tie to a title now held in abeyance. Jack appreciated her mysterious appeal for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the pleasant notoriety that allowed him to find her wherever she was.
Unfortunately, he'd caught only fleeting and rare glimpses of her over the last two years. Yet every time he saw her Caroline attracted him on some deep, primitive level he'd never experienced before. She traveled with no abigail or companion to lighten her journeys and he respected her strength of will and intrepidness. No other female of his acquaintance would travel the world alone, flaunting convention and unafraid of censure. He appreciated her individuality and admired her for it.
"You've gone to a great deal of trouble to locate Lady Caroline," his man of affairs murmured.
Jack's chest expanded on a deep breath. Caroline was the only woman he had ever pursued. He hungered for her, desired her on a level that went far beyond the physical. She felt their unusual connection as well, or she wouldn't be avoiding him. But running was futile. There was truly no choice for either of them. After that night in the Moreland garden their fate had been sealed. Soon she would see that.
"I missed her in Virginia by only an hour," he brooded, remembering the nearly unbearable frustration he'd felt when he learned she'd fled to London on one of his own ships. But he had come for her. She would not be getting away again. This time he would soothe her concerns.
This time he would be catching Caroline.
The carriage rolled to a halt and Jack alighted. He paused on the street and gazed up at the home where his love slept. Three storied and Georgian in design, it was situated in a part of town that was not quite fashionable. The street was quiet and dark. It was a location that suited Caroline–mysterious and on the fringes of society.
"Here is the key, Mr. Shaw."
Jack turned and held out his ungloved hand, his fingers curling around the metal that would grant him his deepest desire.
His carriage moved away, the clopping hooves of his team of four and the rolling of the wheels echoing eerily around him. Climbing the front steps of Caroline's townhouse, Jack gained entry with the key he'd ordered made from a wax impression.
Once inside he moved unerringly through the darkened house, following her scent and traversing the galleries without light until he found her.
Testing the door to her bedchamber, he was relieved to find the portal unlocked and he entered, sliding the bolt home behind him.
The room was shadowed in almost complete darkness. The fire in the grate was banked and barely gave off light, but he had no difficulty seeing. It was a small room, but perhaps that was merely the impression he received from the massive bed that dominated the space. Before the fire waited two wingback chairs. A book and blanket rested upon the arm of one; a cozy picture that warmed him as surely as the coals.
As if she sensed his presence, Caroline stirred restlessly. "Jack," she breathed in a sleep-throaty murmur that made his skin mist with sweat and his cock swell.
Stepping away from the door, he moved toward her, the tight knot of longing he'd felt these last years loosening with her proximity. He lit the taper on the nightstand and paused at the fierce reaction of his body to the sight of her in the bed. In the golden glow of the candle Caroline was ravishing.
Her soft, creamy skin was flawless. Against the white linen pillow, the gleaming curls of her hair were spread with wanton abandon. His fists clenched against the powerful urge to run his fingers through them, to cup her head in his hands and hold her still for his ravishment. Her full lips were parted with the deep, rhythmic breaths of slumber, which lifted her chest and outlined her ripe breasts against her night rail.
He smiled. Within moments those breasts would be bare and pressed to his chest, that sweetly parted mouth would be panting and crying out his name as he made love to her like he'd wanted to do for years.
It was time for her to see him as well, to remember and feel the powerful attraction between them, an attraction so overwhelming that time, distance, and unfamiliarity had not affected it.
Taking a seat on the edge of the bed, Jack brushed the back of his hand across her cheek. She nuzzled into the caress, but slept on. His smile widened. Using the sheer power of his will, he called to her, Caroline, come back to me.
* * * * *
Caroline sat up, and discovered Jack Shaw once again invading her dreams. Dressed simply in sweater, breeches and boots, his casual attire bred a familiarity far removed from the glittering ballrooms and Society events from which she knew him and dreamed of him. His hair was slightly longer than she normally pictured it, the dark ebony strands falling across his proud forehead and curling at his nape.
But some things were constant. The sharp silver of his irises glowed with sexual intent and his full, firm lips were curved in the wicked smile that made her heart race.
She took a deep breath, resigned to her torment. He was so achingly gorgeous she had no defenses against him, and the tenderness of his gaze shattered what was left of her heart. Pushing her curls away from her face, she asked mournfully, "Why must you torture me?"
He blinked as if she'd startled him. "What are you talking about, sweetheart?"
"You know very well what I'm asking you. Why can't you allow me even one night of restful slumber? I think of you ceaselessly during my waking hours, why must my sleep suffer as well?"
Already her body ached far worse than usual. Her skin was tight and hot, her breasts heavy and tender. She licked her lips, desperate for a taste of him, and watched his eyes flare with desire at the movement.
Jack rubbed the line of his jaw thoughtfully before answering. "If you would cease to run from me, your dreams would be less troubled."
Caroline shook her head. "You know I cannot do that."
"You know why," she snapped. "We have this conversation nightly. Why must we discuss it again?"
"Because we must, love," he said patiently.
"I will hurt you, Jack. I've told you before. I will hurt you terribly and I couldn't bear to do that."
He reached for her hands, then appeared to think better of it and withdrew. "Hurt comes in many forms. It hurts that you run from me."
Rising from the bed, Jack began to pace, the powerful muscles of his thighs flexing beneath the tight breeches, making her mouth water. She was reminded of how vital it was that she resist her desires, but she longed for him to understand.
"As long as I stay away from you, you'll remain safe. I love you enough to do what is best, despite how it pains me."
He stilled mid-stride, his smoky gaze locking with hers. "Beg your pardon?"
His sudden shock chilled Caroline to the bone. Every night she confessed her love to him. Never had he responded in such a fashion. She slipped out the opposite side of the bed, putting the large piece of furniture between them. He cursed as he watched her reaction.
"You are not a dream!" she accused.
Jack rounded the bed.
"Stop!" She held up her hand to ward him off. "Remain where you are."
"Allow me to explain."
"No!" She shook her head vehemently. "You must go. Now."
He raised a sardonic brow. "You just confessed to loving me. I'm certainly not going to leave."
Caroline damned herself for not paying heed to the throbbing that permeated her entire being. But she slept hard, like the dead. Even now she struggled into full wakefulness. "How did you gain admittance to my home?"
"I have a key."
Her eyes widened. "How did you…? No. Never mind. Don't explain. Leave it on the nightstand and go."
Suddenly, he stood directly before her, having moved so quickly as to be undetectable.
"Jack–" she began, but he silenced her with his mouth.
Just like that night in the Moreland garden, every nerve ending in her body reacted instantly to Jack's kiss. Heat scorched through her veins and melted her resistance. He urged her closer, and then closer still, until her breasts were crushed against his powerful chest and his cock burned through their clothing to heat the skin of her stomach.
His hands, work roughened and callused, came up to cup her face, his thumbs brushing across her cheeks and prodding her mouth to open. Caroline complied helplessly and he groaned, his head tilting to the side to deepen the contact.
Jack's taste was intoxicating, rich and heady, and his scent… She wanted to drown in it. Virile and masculine, it was uniquely his and it called to her. Everything about him called to her.
Her mouth moved feverishly beneath his, her tongue sliding past his lips, drawing the taste of him deep inside her. Clutching fistfuls of his sweater just to remain standing, Caroline lost all ability to move or think, her animal springing to the fore with a surge of triumph. And then, just as quickly as he'd grabbed her, Jack released her.
"Damnation," he muttered, his hand going to his mouth. When he pulled it away it was bloody.
She had pierced him with her fangs.
Caroline stumbled backwards, horrified. "Oh, God, Jack. I'm so sorry. I couldn't help it…" Backing into the corner, she fought the beast inside her, a beast that had tasted a blood so rich it was desperate to drain the being that contained it. Panicked, she began to cry. "Go, Jack. Please. I'll hurt you if you stay."
He came toward her inexorably, undaunted by her distress or her pleas. She sank to the floor, tears flowing down her face.
"Love, don't cry," he soothed. "I can't bear it."
"Go away." She tucked her knees up to her body and wrapped herself around them. "Please…"
"Shhh… 'Tis nothing, a small nick that will heal soon enough."
Her tortured gaze lifted to his and he smiled, a heart-stopping, gorgeous grin.
A grin that revealed a sparkling pair of fangs.
* * * * *
"You didn't know," Jack breathed, noting the obvious shock on Caroline's face.
She began to tremble all over. "All this time…"
He staggered as everything became clear. "Is that what these last years have been about? Is that why you've been running from me?"
"Oh, God, Jack…"
He pulled Caroline to her feet and into his arms, his heart swelling with emotion and relief. He'd begun to wonder if he were mad, chasing a woman who didn't want him across three continents. Now he was grateful he'd continued the pursuit. Her motivation had been love, just as his had been.
Wrapping a slender arm around his waist, Caroline pressed a kiss to his jaw, the sweetness of the gesture making him cherish her all the more. Her scent, that warm combination of vanilla and exotic spice, intoxicated him. The press of her body… the softness of her curves… the long, slender fingers that cupped his nape and ran through his hair… All of it was beyond what he remembered. He'd had centuries' worth of women. None had burned him with their touch as Caroline did.
Her mouth, moist and hot, traveled across his throat, her tongue laving at his skin, tasting him and warning him of what was to come. Jack hissed as her fangs sunk into his neck, piercing with practiced skill and flooding his entire being with a sexual pleasure so intense he almost spilled his seed. He gripped her hips and ground his cock against her, the desire that overwhelmed him almost bringing him to his knees.
He'd never been bitten before. As a pureblood he had been born the way he was, not turned. It was a novel and completely rapturous sensation to give to her in this way, the soft suction of her mouth spurring his ardor until his cock ached with the need to be inside her. Bending his head, Jack nuzzled the neckline of her night rail away and with a growl of possession bit into her.
Instantly a connection snapped into place between them. It was the kind of affinity he'd heard of before, most notably from his parents, but after centuries of existence Jack had thought he would never find such a love for himself. Yet by some miracle he had. Caroline belonged to him now and he belonged to her. The thought filled him with such joy he could hardly contain it.
Caroline purred with contentment as she drank from him and Jack understood completely. Her blood was pure and sweet like a thick wine of excellent vintage. His entire body turned hard and aroused as the strength of her essence poured down his throat, filling him with her heat just as he longed to fill her with his. He'd waited so long and spent so much of the last two years searching for her that holding her now simply wasn't enough.
When her nails scratched his back through his sweater and her body writhed against his, he sent out his Calling, probing deep into her mind until he saw her Hunger. It held her in its grip, urging her to feed and claim him, to become one with him, devour him. And through the need he witnessed her fear that she would hurt him and he felt the love she held for him. A love that had grown unbidden, but was precious to her nevertheless. It was precious to him as well.
Caroline was confused by the depth of her need for him. She didn't understand it, mistaking the need to join with the need to consume. He tried to calm her, tried to explain, but the heat of her desire was such that he couldn't get through.
Jack tore at the placket of his trousers, freeing his erection. Tugging up her night rail, he gripped her bare waist and lifted her. With a few strides he pinned her to the wall, his cock seeking her heat. She clutched him tightly to her, moaning against his throat, giving him the permission he hadn't asked for, but had needed anyway.
Clenching his buttocks, he thrust into her, deep and hard. Her pleasured cry vibrated against his neck. His answering groan tore straight from his loins, the burning tight grip of her body nearly more than he could bear.
Releasing her throat, Jack cursed, his entire body shaking with the need to finish this, to ravish her, to fill her with his seed. Her flesh was silk under his hands, her scent permeated the air around him, seeping into his very pores, branding him as surely as he would be branding her.
"Don't move," he growled, as she tried to crawl into his skin. The need to go slowly, to pleasure her, was foremost in his mind. He had an eternity to fuck her in whatever manner he desired. This time would be for her.
He gasped as her cunt tightened around him. Slipping out of her damp, clinging depths, Jack thrust forward again, gritting his teeth as the need to come nearly overwhelmed him. Heat wrapped around his spine, swelling his cock and drenching his skin with sweat. Pleasure inundated him in waves, each crest more powerful than the last. Her desire flooded his mind, making his own that much more difficult to contain.
Caroline whimpered and released his throat. "Jack…"
Her breath gusted across his ear and his cock jerked inside her, his arousal so acute it was painful. His large hands cradled the delicate curve her spine, drawing her closer, hugging her to him. He was afraid to move, afraid to hurt her with the force of his passion.
"My love." His arms shook as he nudged deeper into her, hoping to relieve the tightness of his sac and nearly sinking to his knees instead.
Caroline's fingers entwined in Jack's silky hair and then tugged as her body shivered around the throbbing shaft that stretched her deliciously. "You have to move, Jack," she whispered against his skin. He was huge, wondrously huge, filling her completely and she wanted more than just this fullness. She wanted movement, friction–a hard, deep fucking that would end this biting craving she'd felt for years. "You have to move now!"
Thrusting his hips hard against her, he held her to the wall, impaled on his cock, as his hand left her buttocks and moved between them. "If I move, this will all be over before either of us is ready."
"I don't care," she cried.
His thumbs brushed across the lips of her sex, then dipped inside. Finding the hard point of her pleasure, he rubbed softly, massaging the cream-drenched skin that was taut with the effort to accommodate him. "Come for me, love." His tongue swirled along the shell of her ear and then dipped inside. "Milk me," he whispered, his voice dripping with sin.
Spurred by his words, Caroline dug her nails in his shoulders and held on as rapture, sharp and searing, shattered her, shivering through her in rippling spasms.
With a harsh groan of relief, Jack released his desire. She wrapped her legs around his hips, using the curve of his buttocks as leverage, rising and falling with his thrusts, taking as much of his cock as she could.
He was killing her with pleasure, taking her as if he couldn't get deep enough, couldn't stroke her fast enough. She sobbed, struggling against him.
"Yes, sweet," he rasped, pumping into her with astonishing speed. "Scream my name, come for me again." He thrust hard and then ground against her, sending sparks of sensation from her core to the tips of her toes. His thrusting grew more frenzied, his cock thickening magnificently until she was certain she was losing her mind.
Crying out his name, she came again, her body gripping him rhythmically until he followed her with a haunting moan, flooding her with his seed. Panting, shuddering, he buried his face in the curve of her shoulder as he emptied himself inside her.
When he finished, he pressed a reverent kiss to her skin. "Caroline," he murmured as he carried her to the bed. "All these years…centuries I've waited." He lay her down gently, his semi-erect cock slipping from her sated body.
"How old are you?" she asked, snuggling into the pillows.
"Too old for you." He brushed the curls back from her face, his own visage tender and flushed with passion in the candlelight. "But I hope you'll have me, nevertheless."
Straightening, he yanked his sweater over his head, revealing a torso rippling with strength. Unlike the indolent aristocrats she associated with, Jack was strong and fit, a hunter forever in his prime.
Caroline sighed at the sight of him. "How did you come to have a key to my home? And why? You just recently returned to America."
"I went to America in pursuit of you. Just as I went to Italy and France and a dozen other locations." Sitting on the edge of the mattress, Jack tugged off his boots. Unable to help it, she reached out and caressed the flexing muscles of his back. As her fingers brushed across the top of his shoulder, he turned his head and kissed her fingertips.
"Truly?" Her heart skipped and then raced, resuming the same feverish pace she'd experienced just moments before in his arms.
He tossed her a careless smile over his shoulder. "Truly. I've been chasing you for years, my lovely Caroline. I acquired the key through nefarious means because I knew of no other way to reach you, and I don't regret it. From this night on, we'll weather the years together."
Her heart aching, Caroline curled back into the pillows. Now that she knew the depth of Jack's affection it would be even more difficult to leave. The smell of him, the taste of him, the skin she'd felt beneath her hands would haunt her forever.
Tonight was all she had. Selfishly she clung to it, determined to enjoy what little happiness fate would allow her before the dawn rose and forced her to go.
* * * * *
Arching his back from the bed, Jack awoke to pleasure so intense it hurt. "Bloody hell," he gasped, his eyes flying open to find his love straddling his hips, his cock held tightly within her creamy depths.
Caroline smiled down at him, her fingertips drifting across his chest and swirling around the flat points of his nipples. Riotous, disheveled curls surrounded her face, which he saw as clearly in the darkness as if the room were lit with a hundred candles.
"God you are so beautiful," he breathed, lifting his hands to cup her breasts, his thumbs returning the favor she had just paid to him. She moved on him, lifting with her lithe thighs and then sinking to claim his cock again. His fangs descended as the Hunger took over.
Jack dropped his head back on the pillow and allowed Caroline to have her way with him. Through heavy-lidded eyes he watched her fucking him, watched the lust and love that drifted across her porcelain features, watched the pleasure she took in his body, and reveled in the fact he could give it to her.
There was so much he had to teach her about their kind, so much he could sense she didn't yet know, but they had an eternity for such sharing. At the moment he considered nothing but this joining. His hands dropped to her thighs, his thumb brushing across the mark that adorned her hip.
How he loved her! Loved how she hungered for him, hungered enough that the hours he'd just spent pleasuring her senseless had not been enough to sate her. Jack imagined all the endless mornings ahead of them, his body hardening further at the thought of waking again to this delight. Caroline whimpered at his added girth and rode his cock faster, her firm, high breasts bouncing with her motions.
His orgasm followed hers, draining him until he sank into the mattress, exhausted. Caroline sprawled across his chest, her sweat slicked skin bonding with his. "I love you," she sighed, snuggling closer. "Never forget that."
"Ah, sweet." He crushed her to him, wishing he could explain how he felt, but knowing there were no words to express the deep need she appeased. "How could I? I expect you to remind my in just this way for the rest of eternity."
But when he woke just after dawn, he was alone again, just as he had been that fateful night in the Moreland garden. He closed his eyes and searched for her, but the echoing reply he'd basked in all night was gone. He sat up and the sheets rustled behind him. Turning, he spotted the missive on her pillow…
I cannot ask you to wait for me, however I pray that you do. There is something I must resolve, but I cannot say how long it will take me. Once I am free, I will come for you.
Yours forever, my love,
The warm languor in Jack's veins turned to icy fear as he read. And then the fear buckled under the weight of his grim resignation.
Caroline had run again.