An Excerpt From: A SMUGGLED ROSE
Copyright © AMY CORWIN, 2007
All Rights Reserved, Ellora's Cave Publishing, Inc.
The fire and single candle did not provide sufficient illumination for him to see her expression clearly, but she seemed almost abnormally composed, chillingly cold. However, her very control made her that much more desirable. While he hesitated, she moved further into the shadows.
He stepped around the trunk at the foot of the bed. When he approached her, she reached out and plucked what appeared to be a small pen knife from a writing table.
The gesture would have been ridiculously histrionic had it not been done in such a calm and calculating manner. Michael smiled, though he knew she could not read his face. The heat of the fire seeped into his back leaving his face in cool shadow.
“Are you intending to kill me, or yourself?” he asked sardonically.
“I can’t decide. If I kill you, it’ll be very difficult to explain one dead and one wounded Englishman.” She paused, as if considering the matter carefully. “Of course, I could simply throw your body into the Channel, but that’s risky and the tides uncertain. It might inconveniently wash up upon my shore. I don’t have a boat, you see, and it would be dreadfully awkward to borrow the Vicar’s under the circumstances.” She sighed mockingly. “Then there’s your brother. I can’t expect him to be particularly grateful if I murder you, though he’d inherit the earldom, wouldn’t he?”
Michael nodded, wondering if he was quick enough to grab the knife without risking a stabbing. It was unsettling to think of his brother celebrating Michael’s untimely demise. He wished she had not placed the thought in his head.
His brother loved him more than the earldom. Didn’t he? Of course he did.
“Give me the knife.” Michael held out his hand.
“Do you truly believe he’d object if I removed you? Regrettably, I might need to ensure he doesn’t recover, either. But, two deaths are so frightfully bad form, aren’t they? Not at all bon ton, though I’m sure I needn’t worry about that.”
“Damn it, just give me the blade before you come to harm. There are many much more pleasant ways to pass the night.” She was making an ass of him and he did not find it at all amusing. He sighed. Why did his brother have to get himself shot on this difficult woman’s doorstep? Why not in the yard of a comfortable tavern with plenty of wine, good food, and buxom serving wenches?
“Your lordship may find this hard to comprehend, but I don’t appreciate your lewd suggestions. You don’t know me.”
“Ah, you’re wrong, Miss Lane. Your reputation precedes you.”
“Reputation?” She took a firmer grip on the knife as he edged closer. “You don’t know me--and please discontinue creeping about in that manner! I find it very difficult to hold any sort of a meaningful conversation with you when you insist on acting in this deplorable way. Have you no manners at all?”
Her tone pulled Michael up short. She sounded precisely like his mother when he arrived late for supper. If she screamed, or cried, or behaved in any other acceptably hysterical female fashion, he would have been able to laugh at her. They could have both relaxed. As it was, he just felt rather naughty.
He was an adult, not an errant five-year-old, damn it!
“For the last time, put that knife down,” he repeated testily. “I don’t force myself on unwilling women.”
“That’s not at all the impression you gave me earlier. And, not to put too fine a point on it, doesn’t your set make a habit of insisting your demands be met? Since when has a woman’s willingness been a consideration?”
“Damn it, Miss Lane! I don’t insist on anything except some sort of regard for personal safety. Now be reasonable.”
He was surprised to hear a faint laugh and was thankful she could not see his face. He felt a hot flush rise up his throat and stain his cheeks.
“When faced with unreasonable behavior, the irrational is an effective recourse.”
He snorted. The situation was just aggravating enough to tickle Michael with frustration. The added tension aroused another flush of lust throbbing through him. He examined her again, though the dim light revealed precious little.
She was attractive, but not overwhelmingly. If anything, he should have been put off by her coldness and her obvious distaste for a man’s touch, but her attitude inexplicably fueled the burning within him. The cooler, more amused she became, the harder it was for him to keep his distance. Like an alpine climber he once heard of, he was caught in an avalanche and helpless to direct his downward course.
The memory of her softly scented skin returned unbidden. His breathing became ragged with his body’s insistent response as he watched the pale figure clad only in her damp muslin gown standing so still in the shadows.
Her shawl had dropped to the floor during their struggle, and though she kept the neckline closed with one hand, it could not hide the contours of her shape beneath the thin material. His mouth remembered the fine texture of her skin. It glowed pearl-white against the darkness. His heart hammered in his chest in response.
“Miss Lane,” he said, his voice harsh.
“I should get back to your brother. Please hand me my shawl.”
“Let me apologize.” He was acting badly and impulsively, but he could not stop.
“No. Don’t apologize. Hand me my shawl and let me pass.”
He picked up the material and let it slip from finger to finger as he studied her. She hadn’t dropped the knife, but how resolute was she? Would she truly kill him--or herself?