Copyright 2020 @Kathleen AyersDespite wanting to forget him, the memory of Haddon never left Marissa, no matter how busy she had kept herself since her return to town. The destruction of Simon and his mother did take up a great deal of her time. And of course, she had holiday festivities to plan. Haddon shouldn’t have entered her thoughts at all. “Lady Cupps-Foster.” The light, spicy scent Haddon favored hovered about his broad shoulders as he bowed before her. Marissa inhaled sharply, filling her nostrils. Haddon’s scent had stayed with her, lingering along with her memories of him and the night she’d spent in his arms. He took her hand, eyes flitting across her bosom as he straightened, a soft purr of male appreciation coming from his chest. The brush of his lips against her knuckles sent a tendril of warmth from her core to slide between her legs. But the touch of his tongue made her knees buckle. Marissa abruptly snatched her hand from his. A mischievous grin crossed his lips, meant to disarm her and indeed any lady he bestowed it upon. It made him quite irresistible. An image of Haddon walking toward her, naked, the same grin firmly in place on his lips, flitted before her eyes. The ballroom had grown very warm. She resisted the urge to fan herself. Realistically, for any woman her age, there was always bound to be someone in the room she had been involved with. Two of Marissa’s previous lovers were at the Cambourne ball tonight, in fact, though she couldn’t for the life of her remember how they looked naked, nor, upon greeting them tonight, had she felt as if her heart might burst from her chest. “Lord Haddon, how lovely to see you again.” “Isn’t it though?” His grin widened further. “Dance with me?” he said as the musicians began to play. Without waiting for an answer, Haddon took her hand in his and led her out to the dance floor, his grip on her fingers tight as the sapphire skirts of her gown wrapped around them both. Marissa had always found the sensation of silk hugging her to a gentleman as they danced to be mildly erotic, though much more so with Haddon than, say, Enderly. Haddon was a graceful dancer, confident and agile. Turning her expertly, he brought Marissa closer to the lean lines of his body with each twist of his hips. They moved easily together, as if they’d danced many times in each other’s arms. In truth, they had only danced once before. The warmth of his palm splayed intimately across the small of her back, fingertips pressing into the skin at the base of her spine. The pressure was seductive. Enticing. Haddon had kissed that very spot during their night together, as well as a great many other places. She saw Adelia out of the corner of her eye watching them with a smug look. “How have you been, Marissa?” The husky growl of her first name sent bits of flame across her arms. “Enjoying London?” “I’m quite well, thank you. I didn’t realize you’d come to town.” The tips of her breasts chafed against the fabric of his coat, stroking her nipples each time he turned her; it was distracting, to say the least. A tiny smirk crossed his beautiful mouth. He knew she was lying. “I don’t come as often as I did before my wife died. My daughters require my attention, as does my estate. London does not.” Haddon had been married very young in a match arranged by his father. His wife had been sickly and bed-ridden during the latter part of his marriage, the birth of his youngest daughter destroying what remained of her fragile health. In between bouts of lovemaking, they’d whispered to each other in the dark and Haddon had told Marissa of his marriage. Another thing she hadn’t done with a previous lover. Dalliance. He had left out his former rakish reputation, and well he might. Though discreet, Haddon certainly had cut a swath through the ladies of London. But unlike most husbands who wouldn’t have cared to be saddled with an ill spouse, he’d been with his wife when she died, at her bedside. After, he had not returned to London to pick up the threads of his life; instead, he’d stayed away from town, choosing to remain with his daughters in the country. Another thing most gentlemen would not have done. “I brought Jordana to London with me.” He mentioned his eldest daughter, to whom Marissa had been introduced to at Brushbriar. “And how does Jordana like town?” Marissa found it hard to have a casual conversation with Haddon, especially when his hips kept brushing hers. “As well as can be expected. But I thought she might enjoy some time here before making her debut. Ease her into things, so to speak. Jordana has a tendency to be stubborn.” Haddon twirled her, the motion forcing her more fully against his chest. The distance between them was only one tiny, heated inch. “You left before I could tell you goodbye,” he said, breath warm against her temple. “Did I need to tell you goodbye?” Her own guilt at not doing so made her reply sharper than she intended. His grip on her tightened. “I suppose not.” “After the discovery of my late husband’s remains, I was in shock, as you can imagine.” That was putting it mildly. “I’m sure you were.” “I wasn’t up to receiving callers, nor did I wish to receive polite condolences,” she said. “Of course,” he agreed coolly. Marissa bristled. Something about his calm manner, his instant agreement with her, smacked of judgement. It was clear by his attitude Haddon thought she should have received him. Sent him a note. Told him goodbye. She didn’t care for him acting the discarded lover. Dalliance. “Ours was a brief acquaintance, Lord Haddon,” Marissa said politely, allowing a hint of chill to enter her words. “Little more than a dalliance, if you’ll forgive me for saying so.” He looked down on her, eyes like quicksilver. A touch of pink shone on his magnificent cheekbones, a sign of his annoyance, perhaps, though it could have been a trick of the light. “A dalliance?” “A tryst, if you prefer.” “A tryst?” Would he repeat everything she said? “Our relationship would have invited speculation and unwanted attention, both things I don’t care for. An older widow carrying on with—” “Dear God, Marissa.” He looked away from her, the corner of his lip lifting into something resembling amusement. “You didn’t seduce some innocent young lad; stop behaving as if you did.” “I didn’t do any seducing,” she shot back. “Debatable. I was under the impression we seduced each other, not out of boredom, as I’m sure will be your next point, but because we were meant to.” His broad shoulders gave a soft roll. Marissa stayed silent, uncertain how to respond. “You know, I never really considered your elderly status at the time, but you brought it up so often during our brief acquaintance, perhaps your concerns have merit.” “They do?” “You’re a highly intelligent woman. Older and wiser than I. Shouldn’t I listen to your council?” The heat of him bled through the thick silk and layers of petticoats, caressing her skin as they danced. Each time he spun her, Haddon managed to notch the length of one muscled leg into her skirts and between her legs. Deliberately. “Stop doing that,” she hissed beneath her breath. A slow, honeyed ache followed the movement, driving her mad. “Do you intend to cause a scene?” “What? This?” He pulled her a fraction of an inch closer and moved his thigh into her skirts again, sliding his leg in a sinuous motion. “I’m merely dancing.” A flutter of arousal slid down the length of her body at Haddon’s very calculated teasing though Marissa was doing her best to ignore the sensation. Desperate to provide a distraction, she said, “I see you’ve made the acquaintance of Lady Christina Sykes.” “An incomparable beauty with an impeccable lineage,” Haddon acknowledged. “A gentleman could do worse than to wed her. She’s a lovely girl.” “She’s very young.” Marissa said, hating the prick of jealousy at the thought of Haddon dancing with Lady Christina the way he danced with her. “You don’t sound as if you approve. Shouldn’t I seek someone closer to my own age? I’m barely out of the schoolroom, after all.” The mischievous grin, the one she found so endlessly endearing, floated across his mouth. Marissa forced herself to smile up at him. “I’m sure my approval is of no consequence. I’m only concerned.” “How very maternal of you, Marissa.” She deliberately stepped on his toe. Haddon grunted in pain. “Lady Christina is barely older than Jordana,” she said. “But it is none of my affair who you deem a suitable bride. If your aim is to find a wife, Christina Sykes would serve as well as any.” She forced the words up her throat though they left a bitter taste. Spinning her about, he gave her a wolfish grin before murmuring, “The lady doth protest too much.” Her heel ground into the top of his foot. “Pardon me. I seem to have two left feet this evening. Goodness.” Haddon’s fingertips dug into the silk at her hip. “I’m only acknowledging the vast difference in our ages. One you’ve brought to my attention repeatedly during our previous dalliance. Are you old enough to be my mother?” He pretended to consider the question. “Good lord, how depraved I am.” Marissa was going to slap him, right here in the middle of a dance with most of the ton watching. “While there is an age difference, my lord, I assure you—” “And in regard to Christina,” he interrupted her tirade, “you also suggested during our dalliance that I need to remarry. Truthfully, I hadn’t considered wedding again until you brought it to my attention. Again, I’m thankful for your guidance.” She bit her lip, knowing she couldn’t refute his claim. Haddon was correct on all counts. She had been the one to bring up his need to remarry and produce a male heir. At that moment, Marissa could have cheerfully kicked herself for reminding him of his duty. “I’ve something I wish to discuss with you, my lady.” “Oh?” There was a slight, hopeful leap of her traitorous heart before remembering it would be best if she didn’t allow him to seduce her again. Haddon was far too dangerous. They could remain acquaintances and nothing more. “May I call upon you? I would prefer not to have a private discussion here.” “Yes, of course,” she agreed, ignoring the slight racing of her pulse. The dance ended, and Haddon led her off the dance floor, a wisp of a smile hovering on his lips. But instead of leaving her where she’d stood with Adelia, Haddon purposefully took her to the opposite side of the ballroom; an area populated with elderly matrons, wallflowers and spinsters. A strangled sound bubbled from her lips. “Something wrong, my lady? Didn’t you enjoy our dance?” “I did. Immensely.” If she wasn’t sure it would cause a scene, Marissa would wrench her fingers from his. Once he seemed satisfied Marissa stood with the most undesirable women in the room, Haddon bowed again over her hand, hiding his enjoyment at her discomfort behind a polite, bland smile. “Enjoy the rest of your evening, Lady Cupps-Foster.” Haddon turned and, without another glance at Marissa, sauntered back across the ballroom.
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About the authorKathleen Ayers is the bestselling author of steamy Regency and Victorian romance. She’s been a hopeful romantic and romance reader since buying Sweet Savage Love at a garage sale when she was fourteen while her mother was busy looking at antique animal planters. She has a weakness for tortured, witty alpha males who can’t help falling for intelligent, sassy heroines. A Texas transplant (from Pennsylvania) Kathleen spends most of her summers attempting to grow tomatoes (a wasted effort) and floating in her backyard pool with her two dogs, husband and son. When not writing she likes to visit her “happy place” (Newport, RI.), visit wine bars, make homemade pizza on the grill, and perfect her charcuterie board skills.
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