"Lady Braccon isa cow, she …";"Lord Snowtanis a dullard, he …";and so on and so forth. Valoree, aside from beginning to suffer aching feet, was heartily sick of the man with his cruel quipsand snide remarks. If it weren’t for Daniel’s gentle little jibes at the man – jibesGravenner, just likeShether, did not seem tograsp – -she wouldhave told Gravenner toshove off andhave headed home long ago. Instead, she was seeing thehumor inthe situation, sharing silent laughter with Daniel, and actually enjoying herself in an odd way.
"Well, herewe are."
Meg’s voice, heavy with relief, madeValoree glance aroundin surpriseto see that they had returned to the townhouse.
"Aye. I can hardly believe it. The hour passed like mere moments in your company." Lord Gravenner turned to take Valoree’s hand."It has been a true pleasure, my lady. I can hardly wait to enjoy yourcompany again."
Bending, he pressed akiss to her hand, then nodded to the groupatlarge and turnedto get into hiswaiting carriage. Valoree turned awayas it pulled off, her gazemoving to Henry.
"Cross himoff the list? "theolder man asked solemnly.
"Aye. Who isnext? "
"Ye’ve a free hour between now and the next one, " Henry informed her, pulling a piece of paper out of his pocket and contemplating it briefly before scratching out an entry, presumably Gravenner. "I thought I’d best put rest periods in once in awhile – incaseone of the appointments ran overtime."
"Hmmm." Valoree nodded, impressed with his forethought, thenstartedfor thedoor. "Well, I do not know about the rest of you, butI could use adrink."
"I intendto putmy feet up, " Megmuttered, following her into the town house. "I certainly hope the rest of the suitors have something alittlemore entertaining inmind thanwalkingabout jabbering about themselves … orsniping about everyone else."
"So doI, " Valoree muttereddryly, stripping her gloves off her hands as she crossed the entry tothesalon.
"What youneed is to giveyour feet a good soak, Meg, " Henry commented, following Danielinand closing the front door.
"Oh, thatdoes soundlovely." Theolder woman sighed, then shook her head. "Mayhaplater. We should – "
"There’s no better time than now, wife" Henry arguedfirmly.
Pausing by the sideboard, Valoree glanced overin timeto see the man catchMeg by the arm, drag her around a startled Daniel, then pull her out of the salon.
"Henry, what areyou doing? " Meg gasped, struggling tofree her arm. "I cannotsoakthemnow. Valoree cannot be left alone with agentleman caller. It isnot proper."
"It ain’t improperif noone knows aboutit. ‘Sides, shecan take – "
The door closedbehind the older couplewitha firm snap.
ValoreeandDanielwerebothsilentfor a moment, staringat the closed door; then their gazes met.
"Well, " he began with a smile, "I would guess that means that I have your uncle’s, approval."
"Aye, "Valoree admitted, then frowned and glanced back to the sideboard. She busied herself preparinga drink, then asked politely, "Did youwant refreshment, mylord? "
"Please." The soundof hisvoice right behind her made her start slightly in surprise. Forcing herself to ignore him, she finished pouringtwodrinks, drawing itoutas long asshe could before picking up both and turning reluctantly to face him.
"Here you are." She held one glass out.
"Thank you." His voice was deeper than usual, softer as he closed his hand overhersonthe glass. "Now perhaps you could tell me something? "
Valoree glanced up tomeet his gaze, amazedto find herself suddenly nervous. "I… Whatwould thatbe? "
"What itis I have todo to convinceyou to reconsider."
She didn’t play dumb. She knew he was referring to her considering him as a potential husband, and her lips tightened slightly inself-defense.He was a temptingpackage. Especially when he stood thisclose, his bodyandlips a hairbreadth away, his hand gentlywarming hers around thecool drink. She took a deepbreathto tryto clearthe effecthe hadonher senses, but it just made thingsworse as she inhaled the scent of him.
"Itold you, I donot reconsider, " shebeganalmost desperately, buthe interrupted, finishing for her.
"Unless there is a part of the equation thatwas left out. And there is, you know."
Valoree paused in surprise, her head cocking to the side.
Taking both glasses, he reached his arms around her to set thembothon thesideboard.Then he caught her shoulders and drew her toward him, whispering, ‘This." And then his lips covered hers, warm, soft, and seductive.
As before, Valoree was lost at once. Opening her mouth beneath his evenbefore he issued the invitation, shesoughtthe heat and excitement she hadexperienced in his mother’s garden.
She had beenyearning for a repeat performance since thatnight, andwas honest enough to admit it, at least to herself, as she wrapped her arms aroundhis neck, archingso that her br**sts pressed tightlyagainst him through their clothes.
Muttering a sound of surprised delight into her mouth, Daniel thrust his tongue inside, his hands slipping down her sides to grasp her waist. He inched forward, pressing her back until a sword blade couldn’t have fitbetween herand the sideboard, or herand himself. When hismouth left hers to traildownher neck, shetipped her head slightly to the side, releasing amurmur of pleasure.Thenshe shuddered and broughther head back around topress akiss to, suck, then nip at his neck in return, enjoyingthe slightroughness ofhis skin against herlips andtongue.
"Vixen." Daniel chuckled breathlessly, raisinghis head to kiss her lips again as hegrasped her by the waist andlifted her tosit on the sideboard.But then his kisses became moreteasingthan satisfying. Healternated between brushing hislipslightly over hers, then nippingather.
Agrowl offrustration slippingfrom herthroat, Valoree caught her handsin his hair to holdhisheadstill. Coveringhis mouth with hers in mute command, she thrust her tongue into his mouth anddaredhim to a duel. It was a dare hemet withenthusiasm as his handsmoved to busythemselves with the fastenings of her gown. He wasn’tfastenough forValoree’s liking. Releasing her hold on his hair, sheslid her hands between them, undoingthe laces herselfand tugging her gownshamelessly open, arching and gasping intohis mouthas he tugged her chemise down and closed hishands over heraching br**sts.
"Beautiful, " he murmured, tearing his mouth away and loweringhis head to suckle at one hardened nipple.
Moaning, Valoreeshifted, closing her legs around hiships and drawinghimnearer as shewrappedherarms around the top of hisbowed head.She pressed onecheek tohis soft hair.
"More, " shesaid softly by his ear. Daniel chuckledagainst her breastat the urgency in her voice, then straightened and pressed aquick kiss to her eager lips.
"More, hmmm? "hemurmuredagainstthe side of her mouth.
His hands dropped to grasp her ankles, then slid slowly upward overher calves, pushing her skirts before them.
Shuddering, Valoree nodded and soughthis mouthwithhers, but heevaded her, pulling back slightly to watch her face as his hands crestedher knees and eased up the insidesof her thighs.
"How muchmore? " heasked huskily.
Suddenlyunable to catchher breath, Valoree met his gaze, her mouth parting andher tongue dartingout towet dry lips shethen bit as hishandsmetin themiddle. Eyelids dropping slightly, she stiffened under his touch, her posture suddenly perfect.
"All of it, " she managed to get out in a raspy voice, then glanced down to seea slow, satisfied smile creep over his face.
"Youwillnotbesorry, " heassured her gently, moving in to give her a brief, passionate kiss as he continued his caresses.
Pressing a trail ofkisses across hercheekto herear, he added, "I shall make allthe arrangements. You need not worry about a thing."
"Arrangements? " That was really the only wordthat made it through Valoree’s passion-soaked mindas thetension inside her mounted.
"For the wedding."He laughed, nipping at her ear.
"Oh, that." Shakingher head, she insinuated her hands between their bodies and began to tug at the buttons on his shirt. "I did not mean that.I meant I wanted more ofwhatyou aredoing, " she said with a snort. Her head snapped up in surprise, her eyes searching his face as hesuddenly removed his hands from under herskirtand stepped back. He crossed hisarmsand glaredat her.
He wasangry, sherealized with surprise."What? "
"Do I understand you to say that you have not changed your mind about marrying me? "
"Nay, ofcourse not, " shesaid, surprised that he wouldthink so.
Taking in his grim expression, she realized hewas quite upset.
Sighing, she slidoff the sideboard and moved forward, placing her hands gently onhiscrossed arms. "Do not takeit so. I like you and am attractedto you, but nothinghas changed. We simply wouldnot suit."
Uncrossing his arms to avoid her touch, he propped his hands on his h*ps and saidin disbelief, "You meanyou areletting me touch you and makelove toyou like this when you have not decidedto marryme? "
"Well, sure.And why not? "
"Whynot? " He gasped in horror."Mayhapthings are different in the Caribbean; but herein England, ladies do not behave so with just anyone. Theysave themselves for their husbands."
"Really? "Valoree asked. She heardhisdoubting emphasis on the word Caribbean, but ignored itas She had the wayhe seemed to emphasize uncle when he spoke of Henry.She was gathering thathe didn’tbelieve their coverstory, yet for some reason she was more interested in this new bit of informationat the moment.
It seemed more relevant, since her body was throbbing and aching withdesire for him. Too, she found what he said hard to believe. Men didn’t seem to wait to have sex until they were married. Themembers of her crew certainly didn’t.Every single oneof themhad been with almost every willingwoman there was inthe warmer ports, and no doubt those on leavewere having a goodgo at those here in London at this verymoment.
In fact, Valoree was the only one on board the Valor who hadn’t been with amember of the opposite sex. She had noteven beenkissed untilDaniel. But, living a lie as she had, it wasonly because the opportunityto do so had never come up. Valoree had no interest inwomen, and shecouldhardlyhave brought men on boardto satisfy any baser needsshe might have had. Besides, she really hadn’t had any until now. An oddity, that, she thought.
None of the men, not One-Eye with his charming smile and ways, oreven Bull, whowas pure muscle and handsome ashell, had made her feel thewayshefeltwith Thurborne. She supposed it had somethingto do with growing up withthem; shethought of those men as family. But whatever the case, nowshe no longer needed to hide the fact that she was a woman, and she was attracted to the man before her – whynot have him?
"Yes, really, " Daniel said in exasperation and Valoree was drawn back to theirconversation.
"Hmmm." She peered at himdoubtfully. "So you’rea virgin, too? "
"Too? " Daniel seemed tosag with relief, apparently pleased by the unintentional admission.Then whatshe had askedsank in, and he frowned. "Nay, I… Only women mustrefrain until after they are married."
"Aha!"shecrowed a bit derisively. "Ladies arethe only ones who must restrain themselves! Not men! Now, is that not interesting? " she asked. "Whoexactly would it be who made up that rule, do ye think? Men, mayhap? "
"Aye, but – "
"Now, why do you suppose that is? "
"So they would know that any heirs born of the union are theirs, " he answered.
"Oh, of course, "she said with a sneer. "That must be it. It wouldnot be another way tocontrol women.Nay, of course not."
"Well." Hesmiledslightly. "No doubt they enjoy the fact that it alsomakes women behavea certain way. But thefact is, a man – even myself – does not wish to leave his family estate and name to someone else’s by-blow."
Valoree’s eyebrows rose slightly;then she nodded herhead."I suppose I can understand how that might be an issue in the normal course of things, " she admitted, then shrugged. "But nothing about mysituation is normal. I amthe one with the land andtitle. I also must produce anheir. And as it is a businessdeal, whomever I marry willhave norights in the matter of what I do with my body. So . .."
Stepping closer, she pushed his undoneshirt off his shoulders, licking a path from his right nipple upto his neck asshe did. Then shepressed her br**sts against his chest, kissed himjustbelow the ear, and murmured, "Help me makea baby."
Daniel was tempted. Oh, dear Lord, was he tempted. He had never been quite so much soinhis life, infact. His body was screaming at himto just doit. Just grab her, dragher down tothe carpet, push her skirtsupto her belly, crawl between her sweet legs, and thrust himself into her untilhe cried out and spilled his seed.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t sofargone that his brain didn’tstill work, and it was pointing outthe reasons whyheshouldn’t. For instance, it certainly wouldnot help him out of his predicament of needing to marry. And if he did have to marry someone, Valoree was his choice. But that aside, if he did goahead and takewhat she wasoffering, and shemarried one ofthoseother oafs on her list of suitors, he would be imagining that man enjoying herbody, and knowing what itfelt like to do so. That would be sheer torture. Then again, she might be willing to continueto allow him access to her body aftershe marriedone of those other oafs – but he would still know that when she went homeat night, another man was enjoying crawling between her sweetthighs. On top of that, what if his seed took? If hedid take her as he wanted to, and she did produce a child as she must to inherit, he would always wonder if the child was his, and would have tolive with the factthat some other bastard was raising him.
Glancing down with a start as she squeezed his hard manhood through his pants, Daniel stared at her with fascination. She wanted him. That desirewas written all over herface. Hercheeks were flushed, her eyesheld a mixtureof desire and impatience, and her nak*d n**ples stoodproud and erect. Aye, shewanted him. Badly.Hmmm. Mayhap this wasa weapon he could usein hiswar forher hand in marriage.