A word from her lips can bring him to his knees.
Gaspard Toussaint is known throughout 1820 French society as the “molly comte”, a foppish throw pillow of an aristocrat. But his entire life is a twisted mass of secrets and lies as a spy for the Crown. His final covert act will have him fleeing his broken country forever…but before he can escape, he needs the power and safety that only money can provide. And no one has more money than English heiress Claudia Pascale.
The only child of a wealthy tradesman, Claudia has continually failed to catch a husband—due in large part to her uncontrollable stutter. Spurned by a dashing French lieutenant and desperate to escape her parents’ household, she joins forces with the seemingly harmless Gaspard to learn how to properly ensnare a spouse: through seduction.
All too soon, Gaspard’s lessons in delicious domination and sinful submission make Claudia suspicious that he is not what everyone believes him to be. And Gaspard realizes his quest to possess her is becoming less about her dowry…and more about the woman herself.
“Tell me no, kitten.” But he tempted her with his teeth nipping her naked earlobe, his lips lowering to press a hot, open-mouthed kiss to the sensitive skin behind her ear. His tongue circled clockwise, then counter, and he sighed with the clean taste of her. “Tell me no if you do not want this.”
“What is th-this?”
“A lesson.” His mouth drifted down to skim over her collarbone. She was a short little thing, but he didn’t mind bending to her when the reward was his lips on bare female flesh.
Untouched flesh. Virgin flesh.
She quivered beneath his touch. “A lesson in what?”
He wanted to bite her. Something about her skin, her scent, the way she subtly shifted toward him, had him longing to take a bite out of Claudia Pascale. “Séduction. You will not…not…” He shook his head. His first forays into the English language had been during the years in the army he fought never to think of, the rest of his linguistic education scrabbled together in the early days of spy-hood. Many English words continued to elude him—he could only feign aristocracy in one language, it seemed, and even then it was a constant battle to keep the rougher jargon of his youth from slipping between the cracks of his precisely enunciated French.
What he wanted to say now was that she would never entice Sabien Purvis as a passive wallflower, but hell if he knew what to say, or how to say it in her language. “You must prove you want him.”
Oh, how he liked the scrape of tension hiding beneath the surface of that one, confused word. “Sabien. Or have you already forgotten him?”
“Of c-course not.”
Of course not. She was using Gaspard as much as he was using her, with the notable exception that he knew he was being used, whereas she did not. How naïve was she, to think a man would maneuver a woman into being alone with him out of some Samaritan-like desire to hasten a friend into holy wedded bliss? Foolish girl.
“What is your age?”
“Twenty,” she breathed as he dropped his other hand to her waist, feeling the lightly boned corset beneath that shaped the curved indent of her torso.
His thumb stroked over her jawline, his hand lifting her chin aloft as his mouth traced a path of kisses across the plane of her chest. Twenty was good. Twenty was an adult, not a child. Twenty meant she’d been on the marriage market for more than one season and her desperation was likely no dramatic, juvenile pronouncement.
She wanted to escape her parents’ household. What was happening to her there?
No, he wouldn’t ponder it now. Now was for the rising bubble of lust traveling from his heavy groin to tingle up his spine until it burst at his nape, making his vision blur and his ears ring. Yet he wasn’t so blind he couldn’t see her stiff shoulders settle into relaxation, nor so deaf he couldn’t hear her sigh of layered longing, tonally different by miles than the sound of defeat.
Claudia Pascale wouldn’t tell him no.
His hand tightened on her waist as he straightened, stepping into her so that his feet tangled with hers beneath the hem of her skirts. The lamplight cast her in muted gold, leaving her lovely but still no great beauty. The fingers cupping her face slid to splay over the side of her neck, his thumb tipping her chin up, up to him, and he leaned down, in, until his lips brushed against her parted ones in a ghost of a kiss.
In the past, when he’d managed to sneak away to the seedy brothels located as far from this Parisian neighborhood as possible, Gaspard hadn’t kissed the whores. He knew too much of their trade to want his mouth anywhere near theirs.
He’d only kissed men, or been kissed by men, for a decade. First forced upon him, he’d soon learned to use them—the kisses—as a lure, a tool. If he willingly kissed his tormenter, he could avoid some of the more distressing tortures that took place in the captain’s tent. Years later, he withheld his mouth from the men with whom he flirted, until they begged him for a taste. A taste he refused to grant until he had the information his employer needed.
So this, here, with Claudia Pascale…it was his first kiss. First with a woman. First in any way that counted.
He refused to feel anything over it. “Say no, chaton,” he dared her, lips caressing hers with each word. “Tell me you do not want this.”
Her eyes drifted shut. “B-but I do.”
Which made her far more honest than he, and to squelch that pinprick of belated conscience, his mouth covered hers. Her lips gave beneath his, parted, a surprised release of flushed, pink flesh. He closed his eyes, breath halting in his chest as the tip of his tongue swept along the satin-soft curve of her lower lip. He tasted the slight tang of sweet wine as he dipped inside, mapped the battlements of small white teeth. When her tongue tentatively met his, all tension left his body on a harsh sigh.
The hand at her waist slipped around to palm her lower back, tugging her forward as much as her bindings permitted, aligning the peaks and valleys of her torso with the firm plane of his. A flood of heat flashed through his veins, searing him, and he slanted his lips over hers, excitement sizzling just beneath his skin.
Kissing a woman was nothing like kissing a man. A woman eliciting a breathy moan reduced him to a pile of ash. A woman dancing her tongue past his lips turned him hard as stone. A woman straining forward, her arms bound on either side of her body, her throat taut beneath his fingertips as she tried to get closer, closer to him, as though determined to crawl inside his soul…it drove him to the precipice of insanity, and he teetered on the edge as he gripped her to him.
She was a feast for a starving man, and Gaspard had lived too long in famine.
2013 © by Edie Harris