If you’ve never read a Delilah Marvelle book then you need to fix this immediately. Her historicals are some of the best I’ve ever read. They aren’t like the typical historical’s being written. They push the boundaries, tackle subjects normally not talked about during that time frame. All while making us fall in love with the hero and heroine. Her latest book Lady of Pleasure is the third book in her School of Gallantry series, and oh my is Ronan an excellent hero, and Caroline his perfect match.
Glancing around, to ensure no one was watching, and noting that there were no footmen positioned against any of the walls, she hurried down the corridor toward the alcove Ronan had disappeared into. She paused one last time to confirm she was indeed alone and let out a breath. Pulling aside the heavy curtain just enough to slip through, she quickly disappeared inside, letting it fall closed, and edged into the small space leading to a row of French windows that reflected the moonless dark night beyond.
Seeing Caldwell leaning against the brocaded wall alone, she veered in close to that tall, muscled body. “And I thought you were avoiding me. How are you?”
His lips parted as his startled dark-brown eyes captured hers. “Caroline.”
She grinned, trying not to be too nervous. “Regrettably, I only have ten minutes.”
He stared and rasped, “Ten minutes for what?”
Her grin faded and her face now simmered and gave way to prickling heat, knowing full well what he meant. “For conversation,” she blurted. Or a kiss.
“Conversation?” He glanced at the closed curtain, adjusting his coat around his large frame again. “Why are you here?”
She blinked rapidly. “Uh…I…because you asked me to be, didn’t you?”
He swung back toward her, his dark searching her eyes. “Oh. Yes. Yes, I did.”
She sensed he was ruffled. “Is something wrong?”
“Why would something be wrong?”
“I don’t know. You’re acting very strange.” She hesitated and knew she had to ask about the lady with the crescent-shaped scar and the locket. “Who was the lady you sent over to speak to me? The one with the small scar above her brow. She was very beautiful.”
He shifted his jaw and eventually offered, “Yes. She is. I’ve uh…I’ve known her for some time now.”
“Oh. For some reason she didn’t introduce herself. Who is she?”
He adjusted the sleeves on his coat. “A friend of mine.”
Caroline quirked a brow. A friend? He had never mentioned this woman in any of the letters they had exchanged prior to this moment. “And does this friend of yours have a name?”
He shoved both hands into pockets, hooking his thumbs out. “Lady Danbury.”
Caroline paused. She knew that name. Her mother had once mentioned a tragedy relating to the Danbury name. A young boy who had tragically died in his own home. In the Danbury home. Years and years ago. “Didn’t her brother die in some sort of an accident? Wasn’t he young?”
He half-nodded. “Yes. His name was Harris. She never talks about what happened to him, but she uh…she always carries a portrait of him in a locket.”
The locket. The gold locket around her neck. Caroline brought a hand to her throat at the thought of it. “I can’t even imagine losing any of my siblings. I don’t think I would be able to survive it.”
“Fortunately for me,” he murmured, “I don’t have any siblings to worry about.”
They eyed each other in glum silence.
She had certainly poisoned the mood of what little precious time they had together. How on earth did one move on from a conversation about a dead boy? One didn’t. Caroline bit her lip and awkwardly arranged her skirts.
He watched her intently, skimming her appearance, but still said nothing.
Knowing she had to break the cumbersome stillness she had unintentionally created, she leaned in toward him and asked, “So why did you want to see me? What did you want to talk about?”
He bumped back against the wall, wedging his hands behind his back. “Don’t lean in so close, Caroline. It really isn’t necessary.”
She tightened her hold on the fan dangling from her wrist, sensing he was panicked by her presence. “I’m sorry.”
Silence pulsed between them again.
He lingered but now wouldn’t meet her gaze.
It was obvious this wasn’t going anywhere. She honestly didn’t know what to make of it. It was like he wanted to be with her but…didn’t. She set a trembling hand to her stomacher knowing it. “I should probably go,” she murmured, trying to hide her disappointment. “Before anyone notices I’m gone.” Knowing she ought to say more about the awkwardness between them, she added, “It’s all right to be nervous. I’m nervous, too. I feel much has changed between us since we have been apart, but please don’t pretend like we’re strangers. Because we aren’t. We have shared too much to ever be that. Or at least…I hope.” She nodded and slowly turned toward the curtain to leave.
His gloved hand jumped out and grabbed her arm, whirling her back to him.
Her breath hitched as he yanked her against himself. “Caroline,” he rasped.
She swallowed, fully aware that all six feet of him was against all five feet and four inches of her. This was it. Her kiss. Her first kiss. “Yes?”
His rugged features wavered.
She held his gaze, waiting.
His gloved hands trailed up the length of her bare arms. “I’m sorry I…” He paused, as if realizing he was touching her.
She didn’t know how her legs were even able to hold her up against that touch and the weight of her gown. She leaned against him, placing her hands on the tense bulk of his biceps and wanted so much to dig her soul into his soul. “Hold me. Please hold me. Just once.”
A breath escaped him. His muscled arms jumped around her entirely and brought her savagely closer against the heated scent of shaving cream and soap that drifted from his face and evening coat. His hands unyieldingly dug into her back as if he wanted so much more but was fighting against it. Lowering his large frame and his head down toward her, he buried his entire face into the curve of her neck, the stubble of his chin grazing her skin.
She almost staggered against him in bliss, the heat of his large frame sinking into her body. She could hardly breathe knowing he was holding her and touching her.
He dragged large hands rigidly up her back and down again, grazing the hooks on her gown with several fingers. His chest rose and fell against her own. “You still smell the same,” he murmured against her skin. “Like nutmeg.”
Her pulse quickened. She had never realized she smelled like anything but soap. Maybe it was time to wear the powder and perfume her mother kept insisting on.
The warmth of his breath fanned her throat in uneven takes. Still buried in the curve of her neck, his full lips slowly, slowly dragged leaving a moist trail that cooled against the fire of her skin. The tip of his hot tongue suddenly slid across her skin just above her necklace, causing her to sway. His fingers trailed the hooks on the back of her gown, down toward the fastening of her skirts, just at the curve of her bum.
Her cheeks grew unbearably hot and her thoughts too muddled to see reason, yet she still managed to tilt her lips toward his shaven face and that masculine mouth and tongue that was sensually making its way back up her throat.
She was ready for their soul connection. So ready. “Kiss me,” she breathed out.
As if her voice had startled him, he lifted his head from the curve of her shoulder and stared down at her with a tight jaw, his fingers still digging into her corseted waist. His chest notably rose and fell against his embroidered waistcoat.
He instantly released her waist, breaking their heated embrace and swiped his flushed face with a gloved hand, before saying in an even, husky tone that penetrated the small space of the alcove, “We shouldn’t be doing this.” He edged toward the curtain. “We should leave. I’m sorry that I…that I did that. I’ll uh…I’ll leave. I ask that you wait before you follow me out. So no one sees us together. Good-night, Caroline.” Without meeting her gaze, he disappeared behind the curtain, leaving her alone.
Caroline fell against the wall beside the window, unable to hold herself straight. She almost slid down the wall in a hazy bliss. That was only an embrace. A kiss would no doubt shatter every last one of her bones. “You pierce my soul,” she whispered, reciting Persuasion, which she had read more times than she had lived years. “I am half agony, half hope.”
And hope, while dangerous to any heart foolish enough to believe in something too big to happen, was what carried her forward and onward through any doubt. She did know one thing. That embrace revealed that Caldwell was struggling to understand what they shared. Which meant…it was up to her to help him understand it.
Lady Caroline Arabella Starling has been in love with her older brother’s best friend, Caldwell, since she was thirteen. Unfortunately, too many things keep getting in the way of proving her love. Her four younger sisters, her mother, her brother, all of society and the man she loves himself. But where there is a will, there is a way, and Caroline is about to redefine not only respectability but true love.
Ronan Henry Dearborn, the fourth Marquess of Caldwell, lives to see himself through Caroline’s eyes but knows he is leading a life unworthy of her or her dreams. He will do anything to keep her from learning the truth about himself and his past, including keeping her at a distance. But when he and Caroline get tangled in a situation neither of them can get out of, the only way to create a happily-ever-after between them is to take up the advice of a French courtesan who re-educates them both in the art of love.