by Lisa Valdez
On sale date: TBA
Available soon from Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, or Powells.
A LETTER OF TERRIBLE CONSEQUENCE
Luke, you pitiless husband-
How dare you leave me! How dare you-when you know I need you. And after you've rejected me so cruelly! How could you reject me-and on your birthday, when I have offered you the greatest gift I could ever offer-to sacrifice myself for your sake?
You don't love me anymore! You don't!
You think me some vile, unnatural creature. I know it, for I can read your thoughts as if they were my own.
But if I am a vile creature, then it is because of you! You forced my hand and now you blame me. You don't say it-you hide behind your oh-so-calm and carefully couched words-but I've seen the horror in your eyes! Your eyes that are so often turned away from me now.
But did you see the horror in my eyes that night you came to me-drunk? Did you see the horror in my eyes as you mauled me and infected me with your seed? You disgusting pervert, you killed me that night-you killed me! And none of your paltry apologies will ever change that!
Yet now you think you can just walk away from me? Where is your kindness now? Where is your comfort and care of me? Where is the man who used to sit all night at my bedside?
I call and I call, but you do not come. My throat is raw from screaming your name. Why don't you come? You've always, always come.
Are you in those filthy stables? Do you think your damned horses are more important than me? That you can give all your love and attention to those dumb beasts, whilst you leave me to suffer? Alone?
I see now that you will never forgive me. Your rejection of my gift, my offering-your rejection of me-is proof. We will never be able to go back to the way we were. I will never be happy again.
Never never never never never never never never never never never never never...
How could you steal my happiness?
When I am dead, you will be sorry-sorry for everything! But it will be too late. You will be the one alone-alone and in anguish forever!
For even in death, I do not forgive you-
CHAPTER ONE - PRIMROSE
July 22, 1852 ~ The Lake District
He was naked.
Primrose Eleanora Dare froze in her footsteps, her hat slipping from her fingers with barely a sound.
The man wasn't more than fifteen paces away from her. He stood in three-quarter profile. A pool of mirror-like water lapped at his hips. His face, ruggedly handsome, was tipped up to one of the slim fingers of sunlight that reached through the trees. His eyes were closed. More splashes of light dappled his wet skin, highlighting the sculpted curve of his shoulder and the smooth plane of his belly.
Prim drew a halting breath. It was her dream brought to life-her own private fantasy, conjured and imagined every single time she made the walk from her home to the little lake behind. Only she wasn't at home, and this wasn't a dream.
His black hair, sheared very short, revealed the even shape of his head. A day or two's growth of beard shadowed his jaw. More black hair covered his broad chest, tapering and thinning to his navel and pelvis before thickening again and disappearing below the surface of the water.
A warm tingle shimmered beneath her skin. Propriety dictated that she turn away-retreat back down the long, overgrown path she'd come-return to her aunt and cousin who were, no doubt, still happily lounging alongside the remains of their picnic lunch, debating matters of fashion and fabric.
But she couldn't turn away, because the moment she'd been anticipating for years was finally upon her. The man of her dreams, the man she was meant to spend the rest of her life with, stood before her. And she'd found him just as she'd always imagined she would-standing naked in a pool of quiet water. This was her dream, and the realization of it was so startling-the vision of him so breathtaking-that she just stared, filling in every tiny detail of the moment. The feel of the warm air, the verdant smell of green leaves and damp moss heated by the sun, the sweet soprano call of birds-and him.
Prim sighed softly.
Though his eyes were closed and his posture relaxed, a frown marked his brow and his mouth was set in a somber line. He was a man with cares-cares that prevented his peace even in this peaceful place.
Yet, he was so beautiful.
Not Adonis. Zeus.
Not a lean-waisted youth-but a man, fully formed and in his prime. A man with breadth of shoulder and chest. A man with strength and power in his torso and hip. A man-
His eyes opened.
Her heart fluttered, and her fingers twitched against her skirts.
He tipped his head to the side as if to stretch his neck. Then, rotating his right arm at the shoulder, he began to turn toward her.
She held her breath.
But, just then, he winced and briefly closed his eyes as he turned past her. When he opened his eyes again, she was looking at his profile. Seemingly absorbed in thought, he took two steps toward the embankment. The curve of his buttock came out of the water. He took another step and more of him was revealed. Then, suddenly, he stilled.
Prim didn't move.
But in the next moment, he whirled, pinning her with his gaze.
She blinked and, yet again, it occurred to her that she ought to turn and run away. But she couldn't turn from her own destiny. Besides, a dreamy immobility had suffused her and she was captivated by his stare, which had quickly shifted from angry, to surprised, to...
Was he as enthralled as she? Did he wonder if she were real?
As they looked at each other across the small bit of water and grassy shore, Prim saw something else in his gaze.
His lips parted and he took a step toward her as his gaze, hot and intense, moved over her.
Her heart skipped and her breathing grew shallow, for he had stepped far enough out of the water for her to see the proof of his desire rising strong from the black curls at his groin. Despite the fact that her cheeks felt on fire, Prim couldn't help staring, for his phallus was unlike any she'd ever seen-unlike Wilson, her butler, who enjoyed his daily fellatio from Mary, the upstairs maid. Unlike Jeremy Snap, the potter's son, who never failed to devise some way to reveal his prick to her every Sunday at church. And unlike her friend, Jack Gordon, who she'd once caught masturbating in the woods alongside her lake. This man's cock had a dense, meaty appearance, and it was crowned with an exceedingly large and bloated head that seemed to have overflowed from its thick, upward curving shaft. Below, his sac hung full and heavy looking.
Her cunny clenched and she felt a sudden moisture between her thighs. The fleshiness of him excited her. Trembling, she wet her lips and lifted her eyes back to his. He excited her-in a way that made her gut quiver and her breasts ache.
The silence stretched out between them. Energy hung suspended in the air, as if waiting for some decision to be reached.
Finally, his body inclined slightly toward her and he took a step.
Prim's heart beat faster.
The water whispered gently as he moved through it, unveiling strong thighs, sculpted knees and well-formed calves. She swallowed when his feet stepped onto the embankment, the entirety of his tall, god-like form revealed. Desire coursed through her, as if some floodgate had been released. Then he moved through scattered patches of sunlight to come stand directly before her, only the breadth of her skirts keeping them apart.
Her heart racing, she stared directly at his chest. Water droplets clung to some of the straight black hairs that lay smooth over his skin. The steady rise and fall of his breathing highlighted her own rapid and uneven respiration.
God, his proximity was like a magnet, pulling at her. Not from without, but from within. As if the very blood in her veins were drawn to him.
Then, ever so slowly, he lifted his hand until one finger touched beneath her chin. The gentle contact sent a spark tumbling straight to her womb. Her eyelids fluttered. But as he tilted up her face, she kept her eyes open and followed the strong column of his throat to his whiskered jaw and cleft chin, to his sensual, unsmiling mouth, to his slightly crooked nose, and then...oh, God, such beautiful eyes. Eyes that looked like leaves on the forest floor-green and brown punctuated with bright, leaf-like patches of gold. Autumn eyes, framed by black lashes and brows.
Eyes that looked at her with such desperate yearning-yearning and something else.
Prim's heart tightened. Before she knew what she was doing, she'd brought her hand to his cheek, feeling the firm plane beneath its half-shadow of whiskers. She touched the smooth cheekbone revealed above.
His eyes darkened and his frown deepened.
But when she started to withdraw her hand, he clasped it with both of his and pressed it back against his cheek. She glimpsed an aching vulnerability in his eyes before he closed them.
In that brief moment, her heart hurt for him. What pained him so?
Her breath caught as he turned his face into her palm and slowly lifted the inside of her wrist to his nose. His nostrils flared. When his lashes lifted the vulnerability had been replaced with a hot and sensual intensity.
All at once, he closed what small space remained between them and took her face in his hands. Grasping his wrists, she sucked in her breath. At the sound, his eyes dropped to her mouth. He brushed his thumbs over her lips, tracing them and pressing them gently. His eyes moved slowly and hungrily over her features as he stroked her temple and brow with his fingers.
Everywhere he touched she tingled.
Prim slipped her grasp to his forearms. She'd never been regarded so avidly-as though he were committing every detail of her to his memory, both with sight and touch. But then, she was engraving him into her mind as well. She noted the tiny lines that radiated from the outer corners of his eyes, slightly paler than the rest of his tanned face, as if he spent his days squinting in the sun. She noted the slight peak of his hairline, and the way his black hair, so short and straight, grew forward on his head. And then there was the smell of him-sandalwood, sunshine, and the faintest hint of horses, all evaporating from his moist skin.
His eyes were fixed on hers now, looking for something.
She didn't look away or drop her gaze. She just stared back at him. Slowly, he began to lower his head to hers. She trembled with anticipation. But then he paused-just above her mouth. She could feel the touch of his breath. Her clitoris throbbed eagerly. Kiss me. God, kiss me!
But he didn't move, so she stretched onto her toes.
The moment her lips touched his, he moaned low and deep, the sound strumming her senses. And then he was pressing down upon her, his lips opening over hers, his tongue thrusting. He tasted of fennel, sweet and fresh.
Prim gasped into his mouth as his arms came around her and pulled her tight. Melting heat bubbled up in her at the feel of his hard chest and strong embrace. He kissed her deeper and deeper-more deeply than she'd ever been kissed before. Her head reeled. Clasping him tightly, she gave him kiss for luscious kiss. For, Lord, these were the kisses she'd always dreamed of-the kisses she'd imagined as she'd laid her hands upon herself in the dark hours of the night.
Only they were more...so much more. For he was pressing them upon her, and he was warm and real in her arms.
She was vibrant and alive in his arms.
Luke felt the tightening of her fingers against his nape and shoulder, and then she was arching against him, kissing him back and thrusting her tongue into his mouth with a demand that was both urgent and sweet.
God in Heaven!
Moaning, he clamped his hand over the layers of her skirts and, pulling her hips tight to him, rubbed his starved and aching cock against her. He couldn't help it. It had been forever. And she was so...
...so goddamned sweet.
All breathless gasps and throaty moans, she smelled like a rose garden in the heat of the day. She felt both soft and resilient in his arms, and she didn't try to pull away from the thrusts of his ugly beast. No recriminations about messing her fine pink gown. Rather, she held him tighter and kissed him even more eagerly. His cock responded with a heavy throb.
Sweet Jesus. She was both innocent and forward at the same time-a delectable dichotomy that was making him break all his rules.
She surged against him and, with a little mewl, bit into his lower lip. Fuck! Another jolt of lust infused his veins.
Growling, he hauled her off her feet and, holding the back of her head, slanted his lips across hers. He thrust his tongue deep into her mouth even as he thrust his prick against her skirts in a quick, hard volley-a clear and obvious promise of consummation.
Moaning and drinking from his mouth, his beautiful ingénue clung to him, clearly anxious for the fucking she had coming.
And, damn his rules, he was going to fuck her. Because, despite the guilelessness of her big blue eyes, despite the fantasy of her innocence, she wasn't truly innocent. Innocent young ladies didn't allow themselves to be embraced and kissed by naked men. And innocent young ladies most certainly didn't exude the hot and reckless passion that was pouring from the straining body, clinging arms and warm mouth of the woman he held now.
How many have come before me?
The question came before he could stop it. And with it, came a hot and sudden rush of jealousy. What the hell? Tearing his mouth from hers and turning away his face, he quashed the ludicrous emotion and forced the question from his mind. It didn't matter. In fact, he should be bloody grateful.
He turned back to her. Her cheeks were flushed, her kiss-swollen lips parted and panting, and some of her coppery blonde hair had escaped its low bun. But her beautiful blue eyes were searching his, and two worried little creases had drawn together between her brows. Jesus Christ, she made both his heart and his cock ache at once. Her arms tightened around his shoulders, as if she feared he might set her down.
But there was no danger of that, for he couldn't let her go. Her eyelids fell closed as he used his thumb to gently smooth the creases from between her brows. When he finished, she looked up at him.
And then she smiled.
And for a heartbeat, time stopped.
Because it wasn't the sort of smile one might give a stranger, or even a friend. It was altogether more-brimming with happiness, trust and exuberant desire-and something he couldn't quite touch, but that touched him.
No one had ever smiled at him like that.
If only he deserved such a smile.
He buried his face in her neck and breathed in roses as he pressed kisses there. Fate, or chance, had brought them together for this brief moment of bliss. And whatever had happened before-for either of them-didn't matter.
Lifting her higher, he opened his mouth against her soft throat, laving and sucking as he grabbed at her skirts. She moaned and her head fell back.
He would pretend that they had a past-a happy past-and that they lay together, everyday, under this leafy green canopy.
She shivered as he squeezed her pantalet-covered bottom, and his cock pulsed painfully as he pulled her legs around his hips.
He would pretend they had a future.
Taking her with him, he dropped to his knees.
He would pretend he was her first and only lover.
He laid her back in the soft green grass.
He would pretend he deserved her glorious smile.
Such glorious feelings!
Happiness, passion and a wild abandon flowed through Prim's veins. Every nerve felt alive and, as he kissed along her jaw and pressed his weight between her legs, she felt the reciprocal press of the earth beneath her, spongy yet firm. She let herself settle against it and was suddenly filled with the sense that she was exactly where she belonged-where generations of women, all the way back to Eve, had been-between earth and man.
Moaning at the feel of his open mouth against her throat, she clasped him tighter and pressed her lips to his brow and temple. Though he was resting on his elbows, she felt his hands upon her-against her side and the outer curve of her breast. She felt the flexing of his muscles beneath his warm skin. She felt the strength of his nape and the unexpected softness of his short hair. Then, kissing along her jaw and cheek, he shifted higher.
Suddenly, Prim felt the probing of his cock through the fabric of her pantalets. The head pushed, searching for entrance.
Her breath caught. It felt bigger than when they'd been standing. He felt bigger.
A quiver of hesitation scurried through her.
Lord, this was not the time for pause. She thought of her sisters and the risks they'd both taken for love. Should she risk any less?
Soft, fennel scented kisses brushed sensually against her mouth.
No. Her lips parted on a sigh. This was it-the magical moment-the leap of faith.
Her eyes fell closed as he kissed her eyelids and brow. His hips eased then she felt his hand between them, finding the opening in her pantalets. Her clitoris throbbed.
This was the inexplicable rightness her sisters had spoken of-the absolute trust that seemed to exist without reason.
His head lifted. His hand guided his cock.
But, of course, there had been a reason.
She stared into his beautiful, autumn eyes. She felt the press of his swollen knob against her flesh.
He stilled. His gaze searched hers.
Her heart felt full. His brow furrowed.
The sort of love that is so deep and so profound that traces of it stretch back to a moment in time before it's actual blossoming-a moment that prophesies its existence in the future-a moment that makes you say yes, when in all other circumstances the answer would be no.
Prim cupped his cheek and her whisper broke their silence. "Yes."
Her whisper was like a caress. Luke stared a moment longer at something beautiful that was in her eyes. His heart throbbed and his cock hurt.
"Yes," he moaned in answer.
And then he thrust into her.
He heard her sharp cry, felt resistance, and thrust again.
With a passionate wail, she clung to him, her face pressed against his chest.
He could feel her wetness, yet her cunt was so tight. "Fuck!" Clasping her close, he thrust again and again. His cock felt like steel and the cries she muffled against his chest only made him thrust harder and harder, until every last inch of his aching prick was buried inside her.
Holy Heaven! He couldn't remember ever being held so tightly. She held him with cunt, arms and legs. A part of him wished he could stay in her rose-scented embrace forever. But his heart was hammering in his breast, and his long-starved body was ravenous to fuck.
Strengthening his hold on her, he kissed the top of her head and breathed in the scent of her moistened hairline.
The muscles in his hips and thighs tightened.
And then he was fucking.
And fucking and fucking.
With his cheek against her hair, he drove into her so hard and fast that he had to grind his elbows into the ground to keep his purchase. Every muscle strained, every tendon pulled taut. His head swam as he grunted and groaned. "Fuck!" He wanted to slow-to last for her-but it had been so long, and he couldn't remember it ever feeling so good. She was the reason-her throaty moans so perfect and passionate, her cunt so small and tight. He pumped into her wildly, the friction on his inflamed knob exquisite.
The end was near! He wanted to see her face-to see that beautiful something in her eyes. He moaned. Long ago, he'd learned not to look, for fear of what he might see. But this time...
His sperm boiled.
...just this once...
His thrusts shortened.
...to see some passion and joy...
His shaking hand lifted her face.
He stared at wet cheeks and eyes awash with tears.
Despair stopped his heart and stilled his body.
What have I done?
Her hand came to rest against his neck. "I'm all right," she breathed. Her fingers touched his ear. "It's just a bit of flesh. The pain will pass."
As she spoke the words, he smelled her virgin blood. He looked down and saw it-bright red on her pantalets and smeared over his thick shaft.
"Oh, God..." A hot, possessive lust cut through him. His hips jerked and his prick began to spasm. But even as his sperm erupted, self-loathing turned his gut. He yanked back and, gripping his big knob, struggled to get to his feet.
Her fingers slipped down his arm. "No, I'm all right."
Snatching free, he stumbled down the embankment and into the water. He was still coming and his legs were shaking. Breathing hard, he squeezed his eyes shut and kept hold of his cock until he'd ejaculated the last of his seed into his fist.
Shit, why wasn't he softening? Trembling, he looked down and slowly opened his hand. It was covered in blood and sperm, and his ugly beast was still as hard as ever. Luke shivered with lust and loathing. His prick didn't care that he had blood on his hands yet again-didn't care that he'd hurt another woman-all it wanted was more.
More of her.
He looked over his shoulder and his phallus pulsed. She was sitting up and, pressing down her skirts, was trying to look between her legs, which were still cocked wide apart.
He snapped his head back as his cock pulsed again. This time a thick dollop of cum spilled from the stretched opening. He choked back a groan. Fuck! He wanted to leap back upon her and fuck her bloody little cunt until it was overflowing with sperm and clenching with rapture.
Guilt and revulsion overpowered him. Disgusting pervert!
"Really-it's all right." Her voice was gentle behind him.
"No, it's not all right!" He flung out his hand and then bent to plunge it in the water. He cleansed it of all traces of blood and semen then once, twice, brushed it over his cock before turning to her.
She had tucked her legs to the side, and her eyes went briefly to his erection as he approached. But when he stopped before her, she lifted her gaze to his.
"Why didn't you tell me?" he bit out. "Why did you let me take your virginity-let me hurt you?"
Her brows quirked and she seemed to be searching for an answer.
"Why did you let me take your virginity?" he repeated.
She looked up at him unflinchingly. "Because I wanted you to have it."
She said the words so simply, and her eyes were so blue. Again, he was flooded with a possessive heat, but his reaction to her only made him angrier with himself. "And what if I don't want it? I can't exactly give it back, can I?" he snapped.
She frowned and hurt filled her eyes. "No. I suppose not." She lowered her gaze. "I just thought..."
He stared down at her. Tendrils of her coppery blond hair were loose around her face. "You thought what?"
She looked back up at him and her eyes were glistening. "I thought I should risk everything."
Risk everything? His gut slowly knotted as realization dawned.
Her lower lip began to tremble. "I-I did it because I thought you were the realization of my dreams."
"What dreams?" The words were ice on his tongue.
She seemed to search for an answer. Then she shook her head and her tears spilled over. "Dreams of happily-ever-after."
Fury burned through him as he whirled away from her. How stupid he'd been! How fucking naive! He crossed to the stone where he'd left his clothes, and grabbing his undergarment, shoved his legs in and hauled it up. His trousers followed.
God damn him, he should have known. No one was that perfect-that sweet, passionate and true. He hated that he'd believed. He hated that he'd wanted to believe. And most of all he hated that he still wanted her-the lying little sharp.
"Shit!" He struggled to button-up over his erection. It hurt and he winced at the pressure on his glans.
He could hear her crying softly, but he grabbed his shirt before looking at her.
She'd gotten to her feet and her face was a mask of sorrow.
He scoffed disdainfully. What the hell had she expected? That he would be overjoyed at being entrapped? That he would be so dazzled with delight over the gift of her blood, that he would happily skip with her to the altar? Or perhaps it was really money she was after.
"Who are you?" he sneered.
Her lips moved, as if she might speak, but then she clamped them shut.
God damn it! "Then perhaps I should ask, who do you belong to? Who will come knocking on my door to make me pay for this day?"
"What?" She looked confused for a moment and then she shook her head. "No one."
"Stop lying!" he hissed. "You think I'm not aware that everyone knows I'm arriving today? You think I don't know that my sister-in-law has told everyone in the county of my intention to remarry? What, you couldn't wait for the ball? You thought you'd sneak to the front of the line-sneak in front of Lady Wilton?" Bloody hell! He yanked on his shirt. "Tell me, did you deepen the rut in the road yourself? Or are you just a fortunate opportunist and I an unfortunate fool?"
Her blue eyes were wide. "I have no idea what you're talking about. I have no idea who Lady Wilton is. And I have no idea who you are either." Her voice trembled. "I thought I did, but I was wrong."
Why the fuck did the disappointment in her voice sting?
His anger flared higher. "You don't know who I am?" he shouted. "You don't know who-" He clenched his jaw shut and, drawing his breath through his nose, forced his emotions into tighter control. "So," he bit out, "you just happened to be in the vicinity today, came across a naked man, and decided that it was as good a day as any to fuck a stranger and rid yourself of your virginity?"
Tears slipped from her eyes. "It wasn't like that."
"No," he said bitterly. "It wasn't."
Silence stretched between them.
The birds had gone, and pain and anger hung in the air.
Luke forced his breathing to slow. "I assume there's someone waiting for you."
She held his stare. "Yes."
His chest hurt. "Go, then. And tell whomever it is that I will not be forced into marriage. Not by you, or anyone else."
Her blue gaze held his for a long moment.
Then she turned and, moving to the edge of the clearing, picked up a straw hat from the ground. She paused there then glanced back at him over her shoulder. Suddenly, she looked very young.
He clenched his jaw against the urge to say-what?
He watched her eyes lower. Watched her turn away from him. Watched her silently disappear down a narrow, overgrown path.
He let his head fall forward and stared down at the excruciating bulge in his trousers.
Alone and in anguish.
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