Claire coaxed free another loop of cloth. The slow side of cotton against cotton matched the soft tenor or her voice. 'I have lots of talents Mr. Ryland. Listening is only one of them.
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Mr. Ryland was a riddle to unfold, an attractive one at that. The lone candle flickered behind him, outlining powerful shoulders, tempting solidness she wanted to test. "But an evening of harmless flirtation isn't out of the question." His gaze fixed on her. "I'd welcome an evening free of complications." Did he just proposition her?
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Growing up a steward's daughter on the grand Greenwich estate afforded her many opportunities. But life changed one fateful night, a reminder of who and what she was. Since then, she labored hard, building calluses anew on her hands and heart, all in an effort to fall into a deep sleep every night and forget what had happened years ago. Many more years of hard work stretched ahead of her. Why not sip champagne once more? What harm could come of that?
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The saucy Miss Tottenham slipped the strawberry into her delectable mouth, all the while looking at Cyrus. His thigh muscles tensed inside the velvet prison of his breeches. Hot pleasure shot through his body at the sight of the red berry slipping through her lips. Adding to his misery, a spurt of juice from the tender morsel painted her bottom lip red. He nearly groaned. Tradition named the apple as the fruit of man's downfall, but tonight he'd argue mightily for the dangers of a ripe strawberry on a certain woman's lips.
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Her feet moved into the vast space, but all she could see was Cyrus. He strode through the room the way a captain commands his ship. Was it possible his maroon bruise made him more dashing? He was a fine sight in a black broadcloth coat. Her salacious gaze dropped to a brass button lower on his waistcoat. The metal glimmered, winking at her with flirtatious intent very near the tuft of hair she remembered so well at his navel. The corner of Cyrus's mouth crooked. If she looked ready to devour him, he read the message on her face, no words required. 'Claire.' He said her name like a treasured sound. Then, her landlord bent low over her hand, kissing her knuckles and keeping her fingers in a tender hold. Her flesh sung a merry tune recalling how she'd gripped those broad shoulders of his in a fit of passion. Was that only two nights ago? Her cheeks turned hot at the memory. Cyrus rose to his full height, holding her hand. He planted a kiss on her forehead. 'Mmmm... ' he hummed approvingly. 'You smell of almonds.' His lips lingered on her hairline, giving her another soft kiss. 'And vanilla, I think. Something you cooked?' He breathed in her scent, standing close yet not intimidating in the least. His own smell was clean and starched with a hint of coffee. She reached high, touching his face like a woman with every right to partake of the feast he offered. 'It's face powder.' One finger stroked the smooth square of his jaw, her voice curving with amusement. 'Today I join the ranks of ladies who meet for luncheon, and I can't be sure if I've been lured here or goaded by one very challenging man put on earth to harass my senses.' She caressed his jaw, the grain of his skin smooth to the touch. He must've shaved in the last hour. His mouth quirked sideways, pressing the maroon bruise higher up his cheek. 'Something tells me you're the perfect woman to soothe such a man or put him in his place.' His pewter stare flicked over her exposed skin, settling on her cleavage. 'As to your senses, I shall treat them with the utmost care.
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They sat in a sphere of quiet, save the sound of their breathing and the carriage's creaks and sways. Outside, the coachman yelled his encouragement to the steeds moving them forward. The whole carriage cocooned them in a peculiar world with the heaven's wool-thick mists pressing against the windows. Her hand didn't stop rubbing his neck, but she shifted her leg, bending her knee to rest her leg on his thigh. Her patten slipped off, dropping to the floor with a thud. Cyrus's head moved off the squab. 'Are you undressing for my benefit?' His smile's wicked curve played on her. From her stays to her drawers, everything was too tight, too much against her skin. Cyrus reached for her hand working his neck muscles. He brought it to his lips and kissed her knuckles thrice with slow adoration. 'We don't have to stop, ' she said, her voice breathy and quick. 'I'm sure you have more aches and pains.' Mid-kiss, he smiled against the back of her hand, his warm breath brushing her skin. 'There are so many ways a man could go with that.' Humor lightened his voice. 'But I'm sure you mean to provide tender care to my neck only.' She grinned at her unintended innuendo. This was the experience she craved-to flirt and tease, to kiss and touch. Cyrus put his lips to her wrist, marking her with hot kisses. A spangle of pleasure shot up her arm. 'You would break down the meanest soul with your soft heart.' He set her hand on the blanket's scratchy folds, his thumb caressing her wrist. 'High praise, indeed, sir.' Tinseled sparks danced across her skin, not letting her recover from those gentle touches, his lips to her arm. He stroked a lone finger on her hand that rested between them. 'And you don't care one bit that I'm the son of a Midland swine farmer, do you?' Cyrus asked the unexpected question, but his voice conveyed confidence in her answer. Was her chivalrous brawler showing a hidden spot? She peered at him, wanting a better view of his shadowed features. How was she to decipher this latest turn? The carriage bumped and rocked, and the outside candle lantern swung another shaft of light inside. His quicksilver stare pinned her. 'Miss Mayhew, have you ever wondered how a freehold farmer got to be in such a fine place?
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