Welcome to my June Excerpt Monday post!
But when a young lady is to be a heroine, the perverseness of forty surrounding families cannot prevent her. Something must and will happen to throw a hero in her way. Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey
Today, I have shared with you a little tidbit from the Scandal series. Regency romance has always been my favorite thing to read. It is my dream to someday complete this series and share it with you.
Meet Lady Julia and the duke who will steal her heart.
Blazing torches lit up the pathway meandering through manicured hedges and aromatic plants. They continued walking. He directed her to a bench nestled between colorful flowerbeds and there she waited for him to release her. But, he did not let her hand go. He made no move to assist her to the seat.
“Your grace, I find this highly improper. Indeed, I am mortified at being removed from the ballroom without my chaperone!” She turned on him, stepping backward until the stone bench hampered her movement.
“Such flagrant and bold attentions I would expect from a rakehell.” Raising her chin, she pinned him with a haughty stare. “I should not have been so careless in your company! Have I been mistaken in our dealings? ” With her arms crossed over her chest, she fought to retain her composure.
If he even suspected her feelings were far more brazen than her speech, it wouldn’t do her any good. The direction of her thoughts frightened her. She had to tamp down the most salacious images flitting through her mind. Like a flighty girl, she diverted her stare behind the duke’s shoulder and focused on the plush green vines climbing the wall. Julia chewed nervously on the inside of her cheek.
Strong fingers encircled her upper arm and grasped firmly. She jerked at the heated contact.
“No,” he replied mildly. “You have not been mistaken.”
Julia felt her eyebrows rise of their own accord. She had never learned the art of hiding her reaction to surprise. Right now, he certainly had her off her guard.
“Then you must have intended to haul me out here to the garden so you could ravish…” She closed her mouth, stunned with the direction her flippant reply was heading.
The duke’s shrewd mien altered when the corners of his lips quirked. Julia’s breath hitched. Good heavens! The sensual curve of his mouth teased her into wanting it pressed to hers. While he peered at her, lines formed deep grooves beside his eyes. Something glinted in his vibrant gaze. Julia thought it looked like hunger. He blinked though and in the next instance, it was gone.
She realized he knew how ill-at-ease she was. His large stature overwhelmed the area and he blocked the moonlight. The touch of his palm to her skin felt distractingly warm and little tingles ricocheted out from his hold, all the way down her arm. He examined her, from the elegant coif of her head, to the satin slippers covering her toes. She couldn’t stop the shiver his inspection caused.
He must have been intimately aware of the affect he had on the female sensibilities. Though she wanted him to do something to lessen her discomfiture, he made no move to settle her nerves. Indeed, the wretch leaned in closer. She could fair feel the heat of his body and the crisp male scent that teased her senses. Biting down on her bottom lip, Julia willed herself to remain rational. All thoughts of propriety dissipated when he slid a finger beneath the spill of lace at her shoulder.
“Ravishment? My dear, sharing a spot of fresh air in a garden is hardly ravishment.” He tsked under his breath and took a step closer, still. Julia stopped torturing her lip but completely forgot to close her mouth. He was really quite beautiful, she thought, and then felt her face blush at the direction her mind had rushed toward.
“Now,” the duke went on easily, “say I were to kiss you, here, where no one can see us. Would that be ravishment by your definition?” He waited for her reply, but Julia could only watch his wicked mouth as he added, “No? Something such as…” He had neared her throughout this whole little speech, and by that point, only a breath separated their lips. If Julia so much as puckered, she’d be kissing him.
Her knees felt suspiciously weak, and her breath came out on uneven wisps. She felt her eyelids droop and, on impulse, her chin tilted up.
The next second passed and, Lord help her, she was kissing him. She had started it! It was all her fault!
And yet … this felt neither scandalous nor particularly offensive to her person. Indeed, it felt somewhat … perfect. Unlike their previous kiss, which had been hard and demanding, this one was soft, utterly light. The duke let Julia lead the way, and she rather enjoyed the sense of power his surrender evoked. When she was good and ready, she parted her lips. Instantly, he responded to her cue. Emboldened, she teased her tongue against his teeth. She thought he might have groaned in response. With the sweep of his tongue along hers, Julia felt a surge of something so bright and strong it might have been joy. Heaven help her, she wanted even more.
But modesty got in the way.
At length, she drew back and glanced at him. A muscle ticked at his jaw. He returned her stare, watching her closely. Her tongue slid out and traced her lips, tasting him there. She exhaled, slowly.
“Was that ravishment, then, your grace?” she asked, pleased that her voice sounded somewhat even. To her own ears, she discerned a bit of self-satisfaction.
He grinned, wolfishly. “A fine start, you ladyship.”
His other hand skated across her hip to the small of her back. A little pressure with his fingers drew her gently against his body. She could definitely feel his warmth now. Any cultured young lady would be highly offended at his liberties. This was where she ought to slap him or stomp on his foot or something. But … he hadn’t just kissed her, open-mouthed, after all-she had kissed him. And she truly liked that feeling of control. Liked it very much, in fact.
“Theoretically, let’s say a lady wanted to ravish a nobleman…” Julia began, raising her hand and tracing the intricate fold of his cravat. In a daring move, she brushed her fingertips across the smooth underside of his chin.
Triumph simmered low in her belly when he sucked air over his teeth.
“In a garden?” the duke finally queried.
“Yes. In a garden. Would she start with kisses, do you think?” Julia felt impious and wanton with the tone of this conversation. But, she really didn’t want to stop.
“Most assuredly,” his gruff reply drew her even closer.
“And proceed to…” She let her voice drift off on a question.
“Oh, very likely she would then chatter his ears off, whilst she had him her captive audience,” he smirked, unabashed at his answer.
Julia paused and looked up at him. She tried to convey a stern expression. He seemed in all seriousness, but she could see the flicker of humor in his eyes. A giggle bubbled past her lips, and she relaxed against him. She felt the answering rumble of laughter in his chest, and leaned even closer. Reckless, she reached up and laced her arms about his neck.
“But let’s say that this is no typical lady,” she whispered, quite serious now.
“Ah,” the duke breathed, flattening his palm low on her back. His hand might have edged against her bottom. A little sweep of his thumb delved lower, just a tiny hint of scandal. The slip of pressure was fleeting as if at any moment he fully expected her to deliver an inevitable set-down. Julia moved her fingers against the fine hair at his nape. The dark waves were silky smooth, like she had always imagined.
Julia went on. “This lady, the theoretical one, has no notion about how to conduct a proper ravishment, you see. She would need some guidance.”
The duke’s eyebrow arched up. She felt the muscles of his chest firm while he considered Julia’s obvious confession. Truly, she did not know what to do next. Despite that fact, she was loath to stop touching him. She did not want to be released from his embrace. Swallowing back her nerves, she became resolute that she would learn more.
Holding out her hand, he captured it within his own. The contact of her palm against his sent a bolt of heat through her veins. She tried in vain to suppress the resultant shiver.
“If one was to continue with such a ravishment, where should she touch him, first? Show me.” Opening the door for bold and indecent decorum, Julia allowed him to place her hand on his chest. He slid it beneath the thick brocade of his waistcoat to the linen shirt underneath. The steady beat of his heart echoed against her palm.
Inclining his head, he spoke guardedly, “She would touch him where ever she so wished!”