The fledgling hope building in Charlotte’s breast was more than ill-advised. The last thing she needed was Mr. Fairfax becoming involved. Not when she had no idea what their future held.
But what if they were able to resolve their legal predicament and then discovered they suited quite well? Wouldn’t it be lovely have a kind, handsome husband?
She pushed the tantalizing idea away. For now, they must stick to being friends.
“Help me to my feet, Mr. Fairfax,” she said instead.
“Oh, dear,” he gasped in mock horror. “Are we to be a stuffy married couple?”
She looked down her nose at him primly. “A lady would never use her husband’s given name without permission.”
“Then, by God, you must call me Anthony immediately. And I shall call you…”
She gazed back at him placidly.
“…Mary?” he guessed.
She pressed her lips together and shook her head.
“Sarah? Jane? Griselda Louise?”
She burst out laughing. “Do I look like a Griselda Louise?”
“I have an aunt named Griselda Louise and she’s even prettier than you are,” he said with an exaggerated harrumph. He held out a palm. “You are quite a judgmental bit of baggage, for someone named… Gertrude Hortense?”
“Charlotte,” she admitted as she placed her hands in his. “You may call me Charlotte.”
Perhaps his arms were too strong or her knees too weak, but when he pulled her to her feet, she found herself fully in his embrace, her parted mouth mere inches from his.
“Charlotte,” he said softly, as if trying the syllables out on his tongue. He wrinkled his nose. “A rather hideous name, but I suppose one cannot help what one is born to.”
She smacked his shoulder, but did not remove herself from his embrace. She wasn’t certain she even could. Her breasts were molded to his waistcoat, her fingers clinging to hard muscle. If she lifted her chin any higher, her lips would brush against his.
Desire surged within her. The more she tried to deny it, the stronger it became. He was so close. She didn’t want him to kiss her because she knew she’d like it. Likely press against him and beg for more, with every beat of her low-born heart. Lust was in her blood. Even though he was within her reach, she knew she should not give in to those desires.
Yet she couldn’t make herself pull away.
“We should go back inside,” she whispered. “It’s… dangerous out here.”
“Very.” He cupped a hand behind her head and crushed his mouth to hers.
Sensation flooded her. His lips were soft, warm, firm. With his mouth on hers, he seemed bigger than before. Less safe. More tempting. His warm body was tight with coiled strength. As if he were holding himself back, preventing his carnal side from pouncing. Her blood pulsed with excitement. What must it be like to be on the receiving end of his unchecked passion?
She was breathless in his arms. His kiss was sweetness and power. He well knew he could claim her. He was choosing to woo her.
Shame shimmered beneath her desire. The fact that he could claim her if he wished to was due to the carnal nature she’d spent her life trying to deny. She did not want him to suspect how much he tempted her. And yet she could think of nothing more than losing herself in this kiss.
If the Scottish wind was cool, she couldn’t feel it. Every inch of her skin danced with the electricity of his touch. Her flesh was hot, yearning for something she couldn’t quite name. Something she was certain only he could give.
He released her forcibly from his embrace, as if to hold her for a single moment more would be to surrender himself completely.
She struggled to regain her equilibrium. Her pulse still sang, her body longing for his touch. His self-control had saved them both. She was just as wanton as she’d always feared. The moment his lips had touched hers, she’d forgotten about stopping. About doing the right thing.
All she wanted was more.


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