from Chapter 2, A Set for as Many as Will
* * *
A random puff of breeze lifted the curtains, then a long-fingered hand slipped between them. A lithe, half familiar shape eased lightly in at the casement and slipped to the floor. Quick, if a bit careless, and grinning a small, merry grin in the moonlight he was careful to disturb no further the night's even, easy quiet. She froze and squeezed shut her eyes, listening to her heart pound.
With a sure motion of that slender hand, he pushed aside the bed curtains and sat gently beside her. When she squirmed gratifyingly under the palm he placed over her mouth, and her dark eyes flew open, he knew she had not been asleep.
“Waiting for me, eh lass?” Prentiss whispered.
The jade green eyes gleamed wide more with anger than with panic. The muscles of her throat tensed to scream.
He did admire the flash of those eyes. “Nay, nay, my girl. None of that. You're quite safe.” He felt her trying to relax the panic. “Quite safe indeed. You'll not scream?”
A tight shake of her head was all she could manage against the pressure of his hold. When he released her, his long fingers dropped to caress the slender curve of her throat.
“Is it you, then!” She was trembling, but with rage or something quite different?
“The very same. I would greet you as a gentleman should, but …” A futile flutter of his free hand. “I am as you see me. I'm called Prentiss, Sweet. Dick Prentiss to my friends, or Dickon, if ye like.”
“I have had enough of gentlemen tonight! But whoever you are, you cannot be here.”
“Can and am, Sweet. After watching you from the gar¬den all evening, charming all those others, I think it's only fair to take my turn.” When she said nothing, his handsome face fell into an expression of dismay. “Ah, have I mistaken you? You didn't want me to come? I was so sure this morning.”
“What if you're caught!”
“Would you mind?”
“Hardly,” she sniffed.
“Then cry out. I won't stop you. Let them take me. Or let them try.”
“But if they put you in jail?”
“Anything, so Molly doth desire it.” He'd seen a play once himself.
His self conscious theatrics were too much to resist. Yes, she had hoped to see him again, and just this way, whether she knew it or not. The danger of it, the way it made her heart race, made her blood sing.
She sat up, huddling under covers drawn up to her chin to hide the silken nightdress beneath. Oh, his eyes were blue!
Her face lit with gaiety. “But who are you? What do you want here?”
A slender auburn brow flared. “Oh, aye?” He would have to stand in line. “To what end?”
“To no end at all, sweet Molly, but our own entertainment.” His laughter stilled briefly. “Would you mind so much if they locked me up?”
“Lord, why should I?” Curls tossed, moonlight catching in her hair. “I mean, yes. I mean… Damn you, I don't even know you!”
A pleasant pause while he watched the light caught in that hair caress the porcelain shoulders, glisten in her eyes. “Then meet me in the morning,” he said at last. “And know me better. Come to the flower seller's at daybreak, under the market bell. I have a day I want to give you.”
“A day. The second best gift a lad can give to a lass. Say you'll come.”
She tried to fight off the turmoil clouding her brain, but it was no good “You are quite mad, you know.”
“Absolutely. Say you'll come.”
“No!” But there was too much yes in her voice. In her heart. What else had she been wishing for but an adventure. She bit her lip, hesitating.
He said, “Say yes.”
His hand still rested in the ivory curve of her throat, fingering the hair delicately curling under the exquisite ear. Now he pulled her face to him gently, inexorably. One small, delicate kiss, then another, just teasing her lips. Then when she responded, another, and stronger.
She kissed him, and the kisses grew deeper, until she could feel the fire in her body flare, and sense with wonder the response from him. She wanted to cast aside the sheets and tangle his arms and legs with hers, draw him down along the fiery length of her body. She wanted all those things Armand had promised would bring so much delight.
But then, reluctantly, she recalled who and where she was, and that what she wanted was impos¬sible. And slowly she drew away, shivering as his fine dark hair dragged lightly across her breast.
The first indrawn breath quavered as he took it. “Meet me tomorrow. Say you will.”
The pleading in his voice, such a change from the careless bravado, was at last too much. She tried to speak but her throat had gone dry. She had to moisten swollen lips, swallow, breathe.
“All right.” She nodded, unsteadily. “I will. I swear. Now go away. Please. If you're found, they'll lock us both away and I shall never see anyone again, never mind who.”
Instead of answering, he laid a finger against her anxious mouth. Then helplessly, exultantly, he kissed her again, and when he finally released her, brushed the wonderful tears starting from her eyes.
“If ye're not there by six, I'll call at the front door and fetch you myself.” He grinned impishly. “And wouldn't that scandalize your Aunt.”
Then he was up and away to the casement, leaving her flushed and dreamy headed. “Prentiss,” she called lowly just as he ducked out. He turned midnight eyes on her one final time. “Be safe.”
The infuriating grin creased his face once more, and he was gone.
* * *