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Page 27

testpreptraining

Although Lord Westcliff had offered McKenna and Gideon the use of Marsden Terrace, they had opted for the more convenient location of the Rutledge. Not unexpectedly, Harry Rutledge had identified himself as a close friend of Westcliff’s, leading Gideon to observe sourly that the earl certainly had a healthy proliferation of acquaintances.

Taking up residence in an elegantly appointed suite filled with brass-bound mahogany furniture, Gideon soon discovered that the hotel’s reputation for quality was well deserved. After a night of sound sleep and a breakfast of crepes and out-of-season plovers’ eggs, Gideon had decided to amend his opinion of London. He had to admit that a city with so many coffeehouses, gardens, and theaters couldn’t be all bad. Moreover, it was the birthplace of the sandwich and the modern umbrella, surely two of man’s greatest inventions.

A day of meetings and a long supper at a local tavern should have left Gideon exhausted, but he found it difficult to fall asleep that night. There was no mystery as to why he was so restless—his usual talent for self-deception was failing him. He very much feared that he was falling in love with Livia Marsden. He wanted her, adored her, craved her, every waking moment. However, whenever Gideon tried to think of what to do about Livia, he was helpless to arrive at a solution. He was not the marrying kind, and even if he were, he cared for her too much to expose her to the pack of sharks that was his family. Most of all, he was far too closely wed to the bottle to consider taking a bride—and that was something he doubted that he could change, even if he wanted to.

It began to storm outside, thunder growling and clapping while rain fell in intermittent bursts. Gideon opened a window an inch or two to admit the smell of summer rain into the room. Resting fitfully between freshly ironed linen sheets, he tried—and failed—to stop thinking about Livia. Sometime in the middle of the night, however, he was rescued by a rap on his bedroom door and his valet’s quiet murmur.

“Mr. Shaw? Pardon, Mr. Shaw…someone is waiting for you in the entrance hall. I requested that she return at a more suitable hour, but she will not go.”

Gideon struggled to a sitting position and yawned, scratching his chest. “She?”

“Lady Olivia, sir.”

“Livia?” Gideon was stupefied. “She can’t be here. She’s in Stony Cross.”

“She is indeed here, Mr. Shaw.”

“Jesus.” Gideon leaped from the bed as if electrified, searching hastily for a robe to cover his nakedness. “Is something wrong?” he demanded. “How does she look?”

“Wet, sir.”

It was still raining, Gideon realized in growing concern, wondering why in the hell Livia would have come here in the midst of a storm. “What time is it?”

The valet, who showed signs of having tugged on his rumpled clothes in a great hurry, gave a beleaguered sigh. “Two o’clock in the morning.”

Too worried to bother with finding his slippers or combing his hair, Gideon strode from his bedroom, following the valet to the entrance hall.

And there was Livia, standing in a little puddle of water. She smiled at him, though her hazel-green eyes were wary beneath the brim of a sodden hat. Right at that moment, staring at her across the entrance hall, Gideon Shaw, cynic, hedonist, drunkard, libertine, fell hopelessly in love. He had never been so completely in the thrall of another human being. So enchanted, and foolishly hopeful. A thousand endearments crowded his mind, and he realized ruefully that he was every bit the mooncalf that he had accused McKenna of being the previous day.

“Livia,” he said softly, approaching her. His gaze raked over her flushed, rain-spattered face, while he thought that she looked like a bedraggled angel. “Is everything all right?”

“Perfectly all right.” Her gaze chased down the front of his silk robe to his bare feet, and she reddened at the realization that he was na*ed beneath.

Unable to keep from touching her, Gideon reached out and took her coat, letting a shower of droplets cascade to the floor. He handed it to the valet, who went to hang the garment on a nearby rack. The sopping wet hat followed, and then Livia stood shivering before him, the hem of her skirts drenched and muddy.

“Why have you come to town?” Gideon asked gently.

Livia gave an impudent shrug, her teeth chattering from the damp. “I had some sh-shopping to do. I’m staying at Marsden Terrace. And since our r-respective lodgings are s-so close, I thought that I would pay a call.”

“In the middle of the night?”

“The shops don’t open till nine,” she said reasonably. “That gives us some time to ch-chat.”

He gave her an ironic look. “Yes, about seven hours. Shall we chat in the parlor?”

“No—in your room.” She hugged herself in an effort to stay her shivering.

Gideon searched Livia’s eyes, looking for uncertainty, finding only a need for connection, for closeness, that paralleled his own. She held his gaze as she continued to tremble. She was cold, he thought. He could warm her.

Suddenly Gideon found himself acting before he gave himself a chance to think sensibly. He gestured to the valet and murmured a few directions to him, about sending away the footman and carriage outside, and that Lady Olivia would need to be conveyed back to her residence at a discreet hour in the morning.

Taking Livia’s hand, Gideon slid his arm behind her back and guided her to his room. “My bed isn’t made. I wasn’t expecting company at this hour.”

“I should hope not,” she remarked primly, as if she weren’t about to launch herself into a clandestine affair with him.

After closing the bedroom door behind them, Gideon lit a small fire in the hearth. Livia stood before him docilely, bathed in a flickering yellow-orange glow as he began to undress her. She was silent and passive, raising her arms when necessary, stepping out of her gown as it dropped in a wet heap. One by one Gideon draped her damp garments over the back of a chair, carefully removing layers of muslin and cotton and silk from her body. When she was finally naked, the firelight gilding her slender body and her long, light brown hair, Gideon did not pause to look at her. Instead he removed his own robe and covered her with it, swaddling her in silk that had been heated by his own skin. Livia gasped a little as he picked her up and carried her to bed, laying her amid the rumpled bedclothes. He straightened the covers around her and joined her beneath them, gathering her in his arms. Holding her spoon-fashion, he laid his cheek against a swath of her hair.

“Is this all right?” he whispered.

She sighed deeply. “Oh yes.”

They lay together for a long time, until Livia’s tension eased, and her silk-draped body was warm and pliant. One of her feet moved, her toes exploring the hairy surface of his leg. Gideon drew in his breath sharply as he felt her h*ps inch backward until they were cradled against his. With only a thin layer of fabric between them, she could not help but be aware of the turgid length of his erection.

“Are you sober?” she asked, nestling closer.

Gideon was acutely aroused by the voluptuous brush of her body against his hard, sensitive flesh. “I occasionally am, despite my best efforts to prevent it,” he said huskily. “Why do you ask?”

She took his hand and pulled it to her breast. “Now you can seduce me without being able to claim afterward that you didn’t know what you were doing.”

The sweet little hill beneath his fingers was too insanely tantalizing for Gideon to resist. He caressed her lightly over the silk, then slipped his hand beneath the robe. “Livia, darling, the unfortunate fact is, I nearly always know what I’m doing.”

She gasped a little at the velvety stroke of his thumb and forefinger against her nipple. “Why is that unfortunate?”

“Because at times like this, my conscience is screaming at me to leave you alone.”

Turning in his arms, Livia slid one of her thighs over his hip. “Tell your conscience this,” she said, and fastened her mouth to his.

Requiring no further encouragement, Gideon took her lips in slow, drifting, gently inquiring kisses. He opened the silk robe as if he were peeling a fragile, exotic fruit, laying her bare before him. His head lowered, and his mouth traveled tenderly over her downy skin. Finding the vulnerable places where her pulse beat most strongly, he stroked her with his lips and tongue, and caught at her lightly with his teeth until she made shivering sounds of delight. He had never known such an overwhelming need to penetrate, to enter, to possess another human being. Whispering her name, he touched the place between her thighs, where the flesh was silken and very wet, and he slipped his fingers inside her. Livia went rigid at his touch, delicate splotches of passion marking her skin, her hands opening and closing frantically against his shoulders.

Gideon teased her languidly, loving her faraway expression, the sensual helplessness of a woman being fondled and stroked into cl**ax. Livia’s eyes closed as she gave herself over to his gentle skill, gasping and arching in mounting pleasure. She reached the peak, going stiff against him, her toes curling tightly. “Yes,” he whispered, his thumb swirling over her clitoris, “yes, sweet lady, sweet darling…” He brought her down slowly, tracing erotic patterns in the damp thatch of curls between her thighs, kissing her br**sts until she was calm and still beneath him. Then he drew his lips over her midriff, and the soft skin of her stomach, and he pressed her thighs open with his hands.

Livia moaned as his tongue found her, while his thumb pushed inside the swollen entrance of her body. Gideon nibbled and teased her, loving the sounds she made, the rhythmic undulation of her h*ps as they rose against his demanding mouth. Feeling the delicate clench of her muscles around his thumb, he realized that she was at the edge of another orgasm, and he withdrew his hand slowly. With a little protesting cry, she stretched her entire body toward him. He levered himself over her, spread her trembling limbs, and thrust inside her warm, pulsing softness.

“Oh God,” he whispered, suddenly unable to move, so intense was his pleasure.

Purring, Livia wrapped her slim arms around his back and rocked her h*ps upward to engulf his stiff length and pull him deeper. He answered her movements compulsively, nudging, pushing, then plunging, until the sweet impact of flesh into flesh was too much to bear. She held her breath and shuddered, her body tightening around him in a rippling inner caress. Gideon withdrew from her with a harsh cry, his c**k throbbing in frenzied release against her stomach.

Groaning, he collapsed beside her dizzily, his pulse thudding in his chest and loins and ears.

A long time passed before either of them could speak. Livia lifted her face from his shoulder and smiled drowsily. “Amberley never did that, at the end,” she told him, her fingers playing in the hair on his chest.

Gideon grinned suddenly at the reference to his last-second withdrawal. “It’s the coffeehouse method of contraception.”

“Coffeehouse?”

“You go in and out without ever spending anything,” he explained, and she pushed against him with a muffled laugh. He caught her wrists easily. “Livia…I have to protect you from the consequences of what we’re doing, until—”

“I know,” she interrupted, pulling away from him. Clearly she did not want to discuss anything of importance right now. Slipping out of bed, she gave him a provocative smile. “We’ll talk about that later. But for now…”

“Yes?”

“Come and bathe me,” she said…and he obliged without hesitation.

Sixteen

The first morning of waking in Gideon Shaw’s arms made Livia feel as if the world had been transformed while she had slept. She had never expected to feel this intimate connection with a man again. Perhaps only those who had loved and lost could truly appreciate this magic, she thought, nestling against the soft, springy fur that covered his chest. As Gideon slept, his face robbed of its usual expressiveness, he had the countenance of a stern angel. Smiling, Livia let her gaze trace over the severe beauty of his features, the long straight nose, the lushness of his lips, the widow’s peak that caused a stray lock of amber-gold hair to fall over his forehead.

“You’re too handsome for words,” she informed him, when he yawned and stretched. “It’s a wonder that you can get anyone to listen to you seriously, when they probably just want to sit and stare at you for hours.”

His voice was sleep-scratchy. “I don’t want anyone to listen to me seriously. That would be dangerous.”

Smiling, Livia smoothed his hair back from his forehead. “I must return to Marsden Terrace before Mrs. Smedley awakens.”

“Who is Mrs. Smedley?” Gideon rolled to pin her beneath him, nuzzling into the warm curve of her neck.

“My chaperone. She’s old, hard of hearing, and dreadfully nearsighted as well.”

“Perfect,” Gideon commented with a swift grin. He moved lower on her body, cupping her br**sts in his hands and kissing them softly. “I have meetings this morning. But I would like to escort you and Mrs. Smedley somewhere this afternoon…out for fruit ices?”

“Yes, and perhaps a panorama show.” Her skin became flushed beneath his ministrations, her ni**les contracting as he painted them with the moisture of his mouth. “Gideon…”

“Although,” he murmured, “the view at the panorama won’t begin to compare with this one.”

“It’s nearly sunrise,” she protested, wriggling beneath him. “I must leave.”

“You’d better pray that Mrs. Smedley sleeps late this morning,” he said, ignoring her protests.

Much later in the day, Gideon proved to be the most entertaining companion imaginable, especially to Mrs. Smedley, who resembled an imperious hen in her brown silk gown and her feathered headdress. Peering at Gideon through the inch-thick lenses of her spectacles, Mrs. Smedley could not see him well enough to be impressed by his dazzling handsomeness. And the fact that he was an American was not in his favor, as the chaperone was deeply suspicious of foreigners.

However, Gideon eventually won her over with sheer persistence. After he had purchased the best seats at the panorama, which featured views of Naples and Constantinople, he sat beside Mrs. Smedley and patiently shouted descriptions into the massive ear horn clasped against the side of her head. During intermission, he went back and forth numerous times to procure refreshments for her. After the panorama, as they rode through Hyde Park, Gideon listened humbly to Mrs. Smedley’s booming lecture on the evils of tobacco use. His meek admission that he did at times enjoy an occasional cigar sent Mrs. Smedley into an ecstasy of disapproval, allowing her to continue with new vigor. How disagreeable, how corruptive tobacco was…and sitting in smoking rooms would expose him to vulgarity and obscene language, a fact that did not seem to perturb him nearly as much as it should have.

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