EXCERPT FROM LORD OF PLEASURE
Breathless, Camellia gazed up into Lord X’s fathomless black mask. She could not see his eyes. Even his brow was hidden. There was no way to know what expression he wore. Nothing to go on except the words he spoke. Yet there could be no other answer to his query.
Bolder. She had longed to be bolder, yearned to be someone else since the moment she realized it was too late to change her personality. Dahlia was forceful, Bryony was fearless, but Camellia watched from the shadows. Looking out for her sisters. Being a good girl. A proper young lady. Minding every one of high society’s interminable rules as if the price for bending them was death. Perhaps the cost of denying her own desires was just as dear.
She was tired of being perfect. The only way to never break a rule, to avoid disappointing anyone’s expectations, was to never do anything at all. That wasn’t life at all.
Yet who was at fault? If she was nothing more substantial than a music box, nothing but a dutiful automaton respectable enough to possess an Almack’s voucher and too terrified to use it, then it was because she had let herself be programmed that way.
She wanted to change. Needed to. Perhaps it wouldn’t be for the better, but it would be more authentic—she would be more herself—if once in a while she did what she wanted, instead of molding to the wishes of everyone around her.
“Bolder,” she repeated. “I want to be bolder. It’s the one thing about my life I would alter.”
“I can grant you that wish.” He pushed his goblet away and sprang to his feet. “Be fearless here. Tonight. With me.”
He held out his hand.
Simultaneously hopeful and nervous, she placed her fingers in his.
“Whatever it is that you want, you need only be bold enough to ask.” He pulled her to him.
Her heart pounded so loudly, she feared he could feel it through his layers of shirt and waistcoat.
“What do you want?” he asked softly. “Be bold. Let me give it to you.”
What did she want, here, with him? She closed her eyes and let the night be her guide.
Now that they were no longer nestled on a woolen blanket, the breeze was cool against her bare upper arms… but not overly so. The warmth from Lord X’s body heated her whether they were lying prone or standing chest-to-chest beneath the moonlight.
The scent of his breath so close to her lips was as sweet as the wine they had shared. The sounds of the night—if indeed there were any other than the thundering of her heart—were eclipsed by the siren call of the orchestra, whose seductive waltz spilled out through the open doorways and up from the balcony overlooking the garden to kiss their feet, even out here on the roof.
She opened her eyes. There was only one answer. One thing among the many she’d never done that he alone could give her. Without scandal. Tonight.
“I want to waltz,” she admitted hesitantly. “But…”
He shook his head. “With me, you never have to justify yourself or your desires. I will never say no.”
Her breath caught at his words. “Why?”
“Because I want to be the reason for the sparkles in your eyes.” His husky voice was intoxicating. “You want to waltz? We waltz.”
He took her hand and turned toward the stairs.
She held her ground.
He looked over his shoulder. Though the expression behind his mask was a mystery, every inch of his posture asked a silent question.
“Here,” she said. Boldly. “I want to waltz here. Where it’s just you and me and the stars.”
He stepped forward and took her into his arms without another word.
At first, she thought he might kiss her. Her heart thumped. She was pressed tight against him, her lips tilted up toward the sensual line of his mouth.
And then he took her hand in his and swung her in time to the music.
Her pulse thrilled at his touch. Never had a moment been so magical as dancing across a rooftop in the arms of a dashing stranger. The wind whipped through her hair, tugging tendrils free from her careful chignon, fluttering the ruby silk of her skirt about her legs.
None of that mattered. All she cared about was the hand holding hers. The warmth of his fingers against the small of her back. The strength in his arms, his body, as he whirled her from one stunning night view of London to another.
The night was crisp but his embrace heated her to her core. She could no longer feel her feet flying across the roof to their private rhythm, or the whispery material of her gown fluttering against her silk stockings in the breeze.
All she could feel were her trembling fingers tucked against his warm palm, the strength of his arm tucked about her waist, her lips curving into the widest, most unabashed smile she’d ever experienced.
This was life!
Every part of him was danger and romance and adventure. He transported her not just from one soaring section of the roof to another, but to an alternate world. One in which she was exactly the woman she pretended to be. Carefree and wild and bubbling with joy at the consuming, heady sensation of being truly, completely, wonderfully alive.
Being in his arms stole her breath, yet gave her strength. He did not look through her as so many men had done throughout her life, but rather as though he could not look anywhere else. As if the sight of her in his embrace was so entrancing, so intoxicating, that he too had forgotten everything and everyone until all that remained was the two of them. Their bodies entwined in a waltz that found its music in their very souls.
Tonight she wouldn’t run away at midnight. She would dance in his arms until dawn
Erica Ridley is a USA Today and New York Times best-selling author of historical romance novels.
In the new Rogues to Riches historical romance series, Cinderella stories aren’t just for princesses… Sigh-worthy Regency rogues sweep strong-willed young ladies into whirlwind rags-to-riches romance with rollicking adventure.
The popular Dukes of War series features roguish peers and dashing war heroes who return from battle only to be thrust into the splendor and madness of Regency England.
When not reading or writing romances, Erica can be found riding camels in Africa, zip-lining through rainforests in Costa Rica, or getting hopelessly lost in the middle of Budapest.
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