An Earl’s Guide to Catch a Lady
Two hours later Evelyn was sprawled, quite scandalously, in a comfortable chair enjoying a steaming cup of tea. Her thoughts were occupied by one particular man as her eyes followed the patterns of the rain clattering against the window. The sensation of his lips still scorched her skin. She should have been outraged that he’d taken such liberties, but for some unexplainable reason, all thoughts of propriety fled when she was in his presence. It was quite nerve-racking. Especially now, that the heavy rain prevented her from slipping away.
Evelyn thought back to the past day and wondered at what point her life became so complicated. No bells had rang, marking the point of change. No little men jumped out from shrubberies shouting ‘surprise’! It was only now in the quiet safety of her own room that Evelyn felt the subtle shift like that of a fluttering butterfly.
Her fingers settled on her mouth in a soft touch. The only experience she had in the field of kissing had been stolen pecks—nothing as passionate at Matthew’s searing kisses. But even if she had been kissed in that manner before, Evelyn doubted it would have had the same force, the same intensity that compelled her to kiss back.
After his last onslaught to her senses and mouth, the impact of her fall finally caught up with her and it had taken them another hour to arrive at the Inn. Matthew, bless his soul, had gradually slowed his pace so that she could keep up. And so an hour of silence had ensued. An hour of being tormented by thoughts of his kiss. The Inn was already bustling with activities and together with his amused groom, Carleton, they’d snuck her through the back entrance without being seen.
And now that she was in her own room, Evelyn had begun to relax once more. Well, except for the blasted kiss she couldn’t rid her mind off. No matter, as soon as the rain stopped, her footman would return with the repaired carriage. She heaved a sigh of frustration. Being comfortable again still didn’t change the fact that she was stuck here for another night, maybe two, with him.
She glanced toward the door in speculation. Somewhere between the confines of these walls Matthew would be resting, or pacing, or doing… something. Was he obsessing over the kiss as she? Did he feel frustrated that he would be stuck for another night or two, with her?
Bah! It was in her best interest to forget about him. Her predilection toward travel meant nothing good could ever come of their acquaintance and she would rather avoid the unpleasantness of a scandal. Not that she cared one whit whether she was cast out from society or not. The endless set of rules on decorum and deportment were enough to try a saint. But Evelyn did not want to shame her family and friends with unnecessary scandal even if they never would abandon her.
Lifting the cup to hover over her lips she was about to take a sip when the scrape of an opening door drew her attention to the figure that suddenly filled the doorway. Her heart leaped against her chest.
“It’s bad manners not to knock,” she snapped, irritation overriding her initial shock. She couldn’t, however, stop her traitorous heart from fluttering at the sight of him. He leaned casually against the doorway, regarding her with amusement, his arms folded across his chest. Dressed entirely in black he looked dangerous and powerful. The glint in his eyes so mesmerizing it sent shivers down her spine. It was quite disturbing how breathtaking she found him. He was magnificent. He was trouble. Evelyn shifted in her chair and cleared her throat.
“Can I help you?”
Matthew’s breath caught. Again. She stole the very air from his lungs every damn time. It was all he could do not to yank her body against his and kiss her senseless.
The thought pulsed through his blood and for a mere second he wished that she was. But he pushed the notion aside. She could never be his. He had to remember that. Women, especially beautiful women, were untrustworthy and deceitful.
“Can I help you?”
His lips twitched at the supposed indifference in her voice and he sensed her defiance. If she knew the wicked deeds he wanted to do to her at this moment, his little hellion would try to box his ears. Without replying, Matthew stepped into the room and kicked the door shut with a thud. He was pleased when her eyes widened in alarm. It felt oddly good to know that he could ruffle her feathers.
“I thought I could entice you to a game of chess?” he drawled lazily.
His predatory smile widened when she considered him through narrowed eyes. Evidently, she did not trust him either. Good girl. He supposed she was debating whether to agree or toss him out, but she would soon learn he would not accept the latter.
Surely Evelyn’s ears must be playing tricks on her. Chess? Now there’s a pile of rot, Evelyn thought suspiciously. She ought to scream, it would serve him right. “Actually Mr. Langdon I—”
For a moment he looked surprised that she’d learned his last name and she inwardly smiled, like a cat with cream. She had her own means to obtain certain information.
He recovered just as swiftly. “Matthew, please.”
“Actually Mr. Langdon, while I do like a good game of chess, I find myself exhausted and in no mood for company,” she replied pertly, waving her hand in a dismissive manner.
“I see. I suppose that losing can become rather tiresome.”
He chuckled at her outraged expression.
“The predictable outcome, Mr. Langdon, is that I always win.”
“How about I join you for a cup of tea then?”
Did he not know what ‘in no mood for company’ meant? It appeared not, as he only stood there, looking impossibly arrogant. She considered him for a moment, not quite certain what he was up to. It was clear from his lazy stance and hard set of his jaw that he wasn’t going to leave. And even though his words were framed as a question, he expected her to agree. He would not be dismissed, it seemed. And even though the chances were slim that he’d depart in this weather, she had rather hoped he had, regardless.
Why then, was she so ridiculously pleased that he hadn’t? It appeared that where he was concerned, her trusting mind and her traitorous heart were at odds with one another. Even so, Evelyn couldn’t see any harm in sharing a cup of tea, improper though it might be. It might even make time pass quicker.
“Very well sir, you may join me for tea.”
He smiled knowingly as he took a seat across from her. Oaf.
Pouring tea into his cup Evelyn considered his motive for joining her. It could be that he was merely lonely and looking for company, but she wasn’t fooled. Nothing about him could be considered as uncomplicated. He was hard and masculine and so…domineering, maddening, arrogant and annoying in his attractiveness. Yet aside from his obvious male inherent flaws, she sensed something else, something deep, something gentle, something redeemable.
Handing him his tea, she took a deep breath when his fingers brushed hers. Sharpen your senses, Evelyn! She would need her wits about her if she was to come out on top. Nothing would give her more pleasure at the moment than to rile him. He sipped his tea rather innocently, watching her expectantly. Evelyn furnished him with a crooked smile. His cup paused midair.
“I gather you are here to ask for my hand in marriage?”
His face turned comical as he sputtered, tea spilling over the brim of his cup. Evelyn managed to hold her composure. By a thread.
“I beg your pardon?” he rasped, wiping the tea from his chin.
Evelyn hid her smile behind her cup. This was even better than she could have hoped for. Normally she wouldn’t make such outlandish statements if it could be seen as such, but in the case of Mr. Devilishly Handsome, it was refreshing.
“It is why you are here, is it not?”
Matthew stared at her in astonishment. “How did you come to that conclusion?”
“Well, why else would you be here?”
“Madam, I do not know whether you’ve escaped from Bedlam or simply read too many of those blasted women’s novels, but I am most certainly not here to ask for your hand in marriage.”
Evelyn almost laughed out loud at his vexed tone.
“Good, now that we have that all cleared, I’ll have you know the books I read are nothing as depraved as your thoughts.”
“You tricked me,” he accused incredulous.
“Nonsense! Now where was I?” she asked, giving him a mesmerizing smile. “Oh yes! I am reading a novel with the title, Lady Sugar Finds Love. It’s written by an unfortunate woman who thought she would never find love because of her circumstances. It’s a very good read. I will be happy to loan it to you.”
Matthew grimaced. “You mean it’s about a whore finding someone to marry her?”
A funny noise escaped Evelyn, something akin to a laugh and a snort. Her hand flew to her mouth, failing to gasp in mock outrage.
“Just because you’re so high up on your throne does not mean there are not others struggling to make their way through this world,” she managed to say with a straight face. “I wager if you were put in her shoes for just one day you’d expire on the spot, you insufferable old goat.”
She finished the insult with a flair that Matthew rarely saw. No one dared to call him names, much less to his face, and yet she did so with pleasure.
He tried to keep his tone light as he said, “Let us call a truce between us. Your company would shed some brightness on this dreary day.”
“It would, however, not be proper.”
He blinked. “Proper? You have been nothing but improper.”
“Notwithstanding recent events, I would rather steer to the side of caution.”
“I doubt you know how, my dear. Alas, we are two people trapped in the same establishment, waiting out a storm. I hardly think enjoying each other’s company is a crime.”
“The last time I enjoyed your company I woke up practically naked in your bed, and you were naked.”
Matthew was taken aback by her admission. Or perhaps he was only taken aback that she’d voiced it out loud.
“Yet, your virtue is still intact.”
While Evelyn was relieved she hadn’t forgotten a night of wickedness, she was completely unprepared for the disappointment she felt. It had never bothered her before, but after such passionate kisses, Evelyn caught a glimpse of the price for her decision to never marry. Would it be so bad to be loved by a man, this man, for one night, a night that she could hold onto for better or worse?
She did not know, but murmured into her tea nonetheless, “Well, that’s too bad.”
A devilish smile spread across his face and she bit her lip to keep her own smile from broadening.
“Is that a proposition, sweetheart?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she scoffed, straightening her spine, not thinking anything of his use of her title except for the hoarse note in it. “I am beyond relieved that my virtue is still intact.”
“Is that so?”
Evelyn angled her face away. He would see the truth reflected in her eyes. She had been given a taste of heaven, and she wanted another taste but dared not. If she had chosen to give her virtue away, it would never have been to a man like him. He would demand the surrender of her body, her mind, her very soul. Perhaps even her heart.
That would have been expectable, except Evelyn wanted to travel the world. A husband, especially one like Matthew, would never permit her to go off and explore the wilds of Africa. Her brother on the other hand still held hope that she would marry. He can’t fathom why a lady wouldn’t jump at the chance to snatch an Earl.
“Fine. Mr. Matthew. Why are you here? You must know it is, as I’ve said, highly improper.”
That earned her the lift of an arrogant brow. “I believe we’ve covered this topic already and deduced that there is not a proper bone in your delectable body.”
Evelyn sputtered. “I did not intend for any of my improper behavior! And perhaps I might have overlooked us sharing tea in such an improper way if we were friends or even mere acquaintances but, we are neither.”
“I disagree. We have become very well acquainted, my dear.”
Evelyn’s stare turned stormy. “I have nothing more to say, so either voice your ulterior motives or leave.”
“You do not believe that I enjoy your company and I have no other motive?”
He set down his tea and folded his arms across his wide chest. “Very well Evelyn, I will go.” He saw the relief on her face, knew it would be short-lived, “After we have discussed recent events.”
She huffed, then said, “I cannot imagine why.” An edge of nervousness had crept into her complexion.
Matthew continued, “In light of these recent events, I demand answers.” He held up his hand when she would have interrupted. “Surely you did not believe I would just let you go?”
Evelyn sat in stunned silence as his words mulled in her head. A tremor of unease made its way down her spine. Memories flashed through her mind.
Sick maid, broken carriage, rain, impatience, delayed, misery, wine, Matthew, kiss.
Her eyes flew to his. Now he demanded answers. Had she known she would accost a man in his bedchambers and make a spectacle of herself she would never have left London. And that brought her to the reason she had left London.
Lord Harry Spencer.
If she hadn’t overheard him plotting to compromise her, she would never have left the comfort of her home. She would never have continued without her maid and her carriage would never have broken down. She would never have indulged in wine and she would never have stumbled into Matthew’s bedroom.
His voice pulled her out of her reverie. Coming to her feet swiftly she moved to stand by the window, staring at the storm raging outside. Could it have been fate that created all these extraordinary circumstances so that she could meet Matthew?
“What is it that you want to know?” she murmured softly. If she had any hope of getting rid of him she would need to answer his questions. This had not been the hand of fate.
She heard the scrape of his chair and felt rather than saw him come up beside her. He took her hand in his. Her traitorous heart jumped at the simple touch.
“I have a confession.”
Saints, now he had a confession. She didn’t think she could survive a confession, but still, she craned her neck to search his face. Goodness, but he was tall. She barely reached his shoulder. He truly made an intimidating figure. Their eyes locked, and it felt as though he gazed straight into the depths of her soul.
“Oh,” she heard herself murmur when she recognized the desire in his eyes.
Taking a step closer he leaned forward and whispered softly, “From the first moment I laid eyes on you, stumbling into my room, I’ve felt something that I’ve never felt before.”
Oh, my. Evelyn swallowed. Her mouth suddenly dry.
“You feel it too,” he said matter of fact. “I know you do.”
She did not deny it. She couldn’t even if she wanted to. Not only would it be a lie, but she couldn’t form a single word of reply.
Matthew watched her violet eyes widen with fascination and curiosity. She had beautiful eyes—large and intelligent. They were shadowed by thick dark lashes giving her a dreamy countenance. He could stare into them forever. A whisper of familiarity echoed through his mind and he frowned down on the mysterious Evelyn. Nothing about her added up. She was a lady, of that he had no doubt, yet she hardly acted like a one. She was an innocent, yet ran around stealing horses while scarcely dressed. Instinct urged him to demand she reveal all her secrets, or walk away and pray he never encountered her again. Everything about her was dangerous to his heart. He ought to leave her be, yet wasn’t ready to let her go.
Her scent filled his senses. It was intoxicating. She was intoxicating. Looking at her now she emanated radiance and brightness. It held him captivated.
“I want you.”
“You— Ah—” Whatever she was about to say died in her throat as she caught the truth in his eyes. He saw her swallow. “You do?”
His response was a lazy purr. “I do, and you want me too.”
He leaned closer and bent his head to the crook of her neck, breathing in the scent of her.
“You smell delicious,” he murmured against her skin.
He heard the ragged draw of her breath, but she didn’t pull away. He was astonished that he had to struggle to resist taking her into his arms and kissing her senseless.
“It— It’s the soap,” Evelyn stammered, her voice trembling.
Matthew smiled when he saw her shiver at his touch.
“Are you going to kiss me again?” she asked brazenly.
He lifted his head to study her. He could see the desire in her eyes, a hint of curiousness calling to the predator in him. Her tongue flickered out to moisten her lips.
Desire slammed into him.
He clenched his fists at his side. “Do you want me to kiss you, sweetheart?” He needed to hear her say it.
She bit her lip. Common sense warned her that this was not a man to be trifled with and yet her body wanted him in a way she did not understand. In the end, common sense won out, he was just too dangerous.
“No,” she said in a breathless whisper.
“Liar,” he chided softly. “You want me to kiss you. You wanted me to kiss you this morning and you want me to kiss you now. What’s more, Evelyn, you want to kiss me back. Admit it.”
Evelyn opened her mouth and closed it again. His green eyes held her captivated to the point of speechlessness.
“Evelyn.” His voice was a hoarse whisper, a pleading note. To hell with her saying it! What he saw in her eyes was all the encouragement he needed. He took her face in his hands and lowered his mouth to hers. Her lips parted in a small gasp and he did not wait for her to press them together before deepening the kiss. For a moment she stood rigid in his arms, then a soft moan escaped her and she leaned deeper into him. His body pressed against hers, backing her into the wall. Slanting his head he urged her to open even more to him.
Then just as suddenly she shoved at his chest, breaking out of his embrace. “We cannot do this Matthew,” she protested weakly.
He closed his eyes at the sound of his name. “One kiss Evelyn,” he breathed raggedly. “Only one more.”
Her heart pounded rapidly in her chest. In the back of her mind, Evelyn knew this was dangerous. She should ask him to leave, but she could not stop herself from wanting one more kiss.
Moving as if in a dream, she gently placed her hands on each side of his face, lifting herself onto her toes and kissed him, the scent of sandalwood making her senses swim. She felt his left hand move to her waist and pull her closer against him. The kiss changed then. His lips became more searching, insistent.
She hesitated, but then decided to the devil with it. She wanted to be kissed senseless, by him. This would be their moment. She’d barely finished the thought when he broke away, breathing hard. She stared at him confused, while he stared at her with wonder, his arm still around her waist.
“Evelyn, if we don’t stop now, I won’t be able to stop.”
He was so tall, so strong, so overpowering and yet his reassuring hand on her waist was gentle. In that moment Evelyn desperately wanted to say yes. Yes to everything he wanted from her. But giving herself to him would mean giving up her independence. She knew, without a doubt, that if she said yes now, he would take over her life in a heartbeat. He would expect nothing less than her full surrender.
“I cannot.” She took a step back, out of his arms. It had been nothing but a moment of insanity.
Matthew forced his hands to let go of her when she stepped back. His body raged with suppressed desire and he had to fight the urge not to show her just how much she wanted him. He would let her go, for now. There was something between them, too powerful to ignore. Every instinct in his body told him they would be good together, so he could not make a wrong move now. He would have to treat her with care and thought, or risk spooking her. But he would not stop until he had her in his bed.
His jaw tightened. It was time to find out exactly who she was and what she was up to.
“Join me for dinner,” he said, daring her to refuse.
“Why?” Evelyn asked defiantly.
Matthew smiled knowingly. “Because we both need to eat and I don’t want to eat alone.”
“Very well,” she conceded. It seemed innocent enough. She could also use this opportunity to learn more about him. “Dinner would be lovely, thank you.”
Stepping closer, Matthew took her hand in his and placed a gentle kiss on the inside of her wrist. “Until this evening, Evelyn.”
Evelyn watched him leave with apprehension. She did not believe for one second that his calm demeanor was anything but. She’d seen the predatory look that entered his eyes when she’d said no. Leaving as soon as possible was the only option.