Authors: Barbara Monajem
Lucasta Barnes knows the folly believing in magic can lead to—and she won’t accept that her illicit tryst with a notorious rake was the result of anything more than pure lust. Or that it has bonded them together forever. Yet, she can’t deny that she yearns for just one more night in his arms...
David, Earl of Elderwood, is used to women being enchanted by him, but ever since a passionate encounter with Lucasta three years ago, he desires only her. How can he convince his thoroughly practical paramour that love is the greatest magic of all?
Book two of the May Day Mischief duet.
Bewitched by His Kiss
Lucasta Barnes crept down the side staircase at Whistleby Priory just before dawn on the first of May. Since her cousin Peony Whistleby insisted on rolling naked in the dew, Lucasta had no choice but to follow and ensure that she returned home safely.
, Lucasta reminded herself.
. And although Peony was foolish, she wasn’t a madwoman. Still, Peony’s belief in fairy magic, combined with the chill darkness of the morning, reminded Lucasta horribly of a Sussex night well over three years ago, when her grieving mother had crept out alone. She’d refused to accept that her husband was dead, believing instead that the fairies had stolen him. They’d found her the next morning, weeping on the rainy Downs, and she’d died of an inflammation of the lungs a few days later.
, Lucasta told herself firmly. She took the last stairs in a hurry and sneaked into the gunroom, where she retrieved her little muff pistol from one of the drawers in the big old cabinet. Mr. Whistleby had confiscated it when she’d first come to stay at the Priory, saying he didn’t hold with women handling guns. She found some powder and shot, and a few minutes later, the loaded gun in the pocket of her cloak, she hurried through the orchard toward the wood.
If only she hadn’t mentioned the idiotic ritual to Peony in the first place! To Lucasta, rolling in the dew was merely another subject in her folklore research, but it was just the sort of thing to catch her cousin’s romantic fancy. It wouldn’t magically call Peony’s true love to her side, but if some wayward male should dare to accost her naked cousin, Lucasta wouldn’t hesitate to shoot him.
She was out of breath by the time she rounded the eastern edge of the wood. Somewhere along there, a path led to the so-called Enchanted Meadow. The lightening of the sky, along with the morning clamor of birds, meant that dawn had arrived, so hopefully Peony was already getting the rolling over with.
Lucasta wished it were lighter, because paths into the wood were notoriously hard to find even in daylight. Peony, of course, attributed this to the magical character of the wood; according to her, people who weren’t supposed to reach the meadow, didn’t. However, Lucasta had made her way through the wood on numerous occasions by applying logic and perseverance, which were much more reliable—and safer—than magic. She eyed the darkness between two massive old oaks, certain the path was—
Out of the twilight a horse and rider loomed.
Damn! Intent on finding the way to the meadow, she hadn’t noticed their approach, and now they were almost upon her. Judging by his hat and greatcoat, the substantial male figure astride a dark horse wasn’t one of Mr. Whistleby’s keepers, looking out for poachers.
Whoever he was, he shouldn’t be here. Lucasta gripped the pistol in her pocket and strode forward, intending to tell him so.
* * *
“Miss Barnes,” said David, the Earl of Elderwood. “Better hurry, hadn’t you? Dawn is upon us and the moment is nigh.”
She froze. He couldn’t see her clearly in the gloaming, but sensed the distress and anger surging within her like a swarm of wasps. He had expected the anger, but the distress woke an answering unease within him. God knew he didn’t want to upset her, but she’d refused more customary methods of communication, such as civil conversation. Now there was no other way.
“What the devil are you doing here?” she snarled.
“Surely Alexis told you of our impending visit,” he said in his softest, most nonchalant voice. His close friend Sir Alexis Court was Lucasta’s betrothed. They’d been engaged now for close to three years. They were likely to tie the knot sometime soon.
Whenever David considered the possibility that Lucasta might actually marry Alexis, he found himself possessed of a murderous rage. David liked Alexis. He didn’t want to harm him, much less kill him, and besides, Alexis deserved better. Or rather, different. Lucasta was a single-minded, unyielding shrew. She would destroy Alexis, a decent fellow if ever there was one.
David, on the other hand, was notoriously indecent. Not only that, he wanted Lucasta. No, more than that—Lucasta belonged to him, whether she liked it or not. She was
“Go on, sweetheart,” he drawled. “The pathway’s not between those two trees this morning, but to the left of them. Get your clothes off, and I’ll be right there to claim you.”
He didn’t need more light to see her glare. She didn’t deign to answer his quip, but as long as the memory of May Day morning three years ago was besieging her, so far, so good.
The few conversations he’d had with Lucasta during the intervening years had served no purpose whatsoever, either as inducements or threats. Therefore, he’d asked Alexis to arrange a visit to Whistleby Priory, although they were not supposed to arrive until that afternoon. Ostensibly, David wished to learn firsthand about folklore connected with the estate. That would no doubt prove interesting, but his true purpose for this visit was to make sure once and for all that the proposed marriage never took place.
“How foolish of me to assume you would arrive at the front door like a civilized Englishman,” Lucasta said. “Where, pray tell, is Alexis?”
David waved a hand vaguely in the direction from which he’d come. “Somewhere over there, humoring me by pretending to look for a way into the wood. Such an obliging fellow, you know. He’ll make the perfect henpecked husband.”
“Alexis won’t need henpecking,” she retorted “because he’s a reasonable human being, not a lecherous lunatic.”
“How encouraging to know that you still think of me, darling,” David said, vaulting off the horse and advancing toward her. “Not that you can help yourself, since the bond between us is eternal and unbreakable.”
“Rubbish,” she said. “Rubbish that I think about you, and rubbish that anything exists between you and me but a tawdry, faded memory.”
One of the wonderful things about Lucasta Barnes was that she refused to back down. If she would turn and run like any sensible woman, or at least back fearfully away, she might be able to avoid him. Instead, she made getting close to her all too easy.
“Tawdry?” David said, bearing down on her. “Yes, delightfully so. Your luscious, milky-white thighs parting. Your glistening folds opening to me.”
Her eyes widened and her lips parted as she drew in a breath. “You are
.” Her voice trembled ever so little.
That was all the encouragement he needed. He backed her up against one of those massive oaks she’d been peering between, trying to find a path she wasn’t meant to follow. Tardily, she tried to sidestep him, but he hemmed her in with his arms and pressed her bodily against the tree.
“Faded, is it? I can mend that,” he said, and kissed her.
* * *
She barely had time to get her hands on his chest before he crushed her between his large, powerful body and the tree. She spread her hands and pushed hard, but he didn’t budge, and meanwhile his mouth claimed hers with a familiar ferocity that she’d dreamed about and tried to forget for three long years.
As for his words, oh,God, the mention of her parted thighs had sent fire straight to her privates, and she was wet and ready and no doubt glistening, damn him, just as he’d described.
She melted under his kiss with a groan of pleasure and pure rage. Why couldn’t she resist him? It couldn’t be because he was a rake. She’d never before met a rake who appealed to her in the least.
She’d spent almost three years thrusting the Earl of Elderwood out of her mind. She’d arranged a false engagement with Sir Alexis Court to stave him off. Now she sank into the taste of him, dizzied by his heady male aroma, overwhelmed by his size and power and heat. Desire rampaged through her, stirring her flesh to flagrant, wanton need.
And he knew it, his hot hands traveling her, dominating her with ease, one hand cupping her breast, teasing the nipple through the fabric, while the other raised her skirts.
The rush of cold air sobered her, gave her strength. She tore her mouth from his and pushed again, but he merely laughed and bit her ear.
. Desire stormed her defenses again, and now his clever mouth feathered kisses down her throat and nipped the tender spot where her neck met her shoulder. The scratch of his day-old beard sent quivers through her limbs. He tormented her with kisses and bites and kisses again, and all the while his hands explored and uncovered and made her insane with wanting him.
This wasn’t magic, as he claimed. It wasn’t a result of their frantic, naked coupling in the dew three years ago. Lord Elderwood had asked—no,
to marry her then and several times since, when she’d accompanied Aunt Edna and Peony to London for the Season. He claimed there was an unbreakable bond between them. Sheer nonsense! It was nothing but animal attraction and could be overcome by willpower.
She had plenty of that, but to get away, she must disarm him. She
, but instead she found herself running her lips over his rough cheeks, nipping his ear in return, burying her nose in his aroma and heat.
The muscles of his shoulders softened, and he leaned into her, the pressure sensual and insistent but no longer fierce. He was sure of her now.
And no longer unstoppable, but she must make him think he had succeeded. She let her hands fall, let her breasts sink against his chest, and at the crushing of their bodies, so close and so hot, she almost succumbed again.
. She ran one hand up his torso and around to his back, fondling but not really, while the other hand slithered down his hip and into the pocket of her cloak.
She grasped the pistol and pressed the muzzle against his groin.
“Let me go, or I will shoot you,” she said.
* * *
David stilled. Damn, that certainly felt like a gun. His cock cringed in abject terror. The rest of him was merely annoyed. For the sake of that most important part, he released her. “What in Hades is wrong with you?”
“I don’t want this.” She backed away. “Can you not get that into your thick head?”
“Come now. You were enjoying it as much as I was.” He moved toward her.
Lucasta cocked the pistol and leveled it. “I mean it. If you so much as touch me again, I will shoot.”
He considered her. She had more resolution than several other women combined, but if it came down to it, would she shoot him? And if she shot, what were the odds she would hit him?
He shrugged. At this range, she would be hard put to miss. For all he knew, the gun wasn’t even loaded, but he decided not to chance it. “Very well,” he said. “If you’re absolutely sure you weren’t enjoying yourself...”
She didn’t lower the pistol as any ordinary woman would do at this juncture. “I’ll thank you to remember that I’m engaged to your close friend.”
“I haven’t forgotten,” he said. “As I’ve told you before, you’re making a mistake. Why ruin poor Alexis’s life?”