Merry didn't realize how thick the
air had gotten until the door banged open behind her.
"Jesus," said Nic, his candle blurred by the haze.
Goodness, Merry thought. That's a lot of smoke.
As soon as he saw she was all right, he strode to the window and heaved
it open. She inhaled in protest at the blast of frigid air and caught
an unfortunate lungful of floating soot.
Nic crouched down and held her shoulders while she coughed. "What
were you trying to do? Burn the bloody house down?"
Merry's teeth chattered. "I was c-cold. I was trying to light the
"Well, it might help if you'd opened the flue!"
"Oh," she said, mortified. "I, uh, guess I forgot. How
silly of me."
"I'll say. Why didn't you give up when it started to smoke? And
what is all this paper doing in here? You're smothering the fire."
Merry could only hunch her shoulders in a shrug. She could hardly admit
she wasn't sure what a flue was, much less how one opened it. Something
in the chimney, she thought, and stifled another cough. Despite her
embarrassment, she couldn't help noticing Nic was bare from the waist
up. The side he'd pulled her to during her coughing fit was smooth-skinned
and toasty warm. As if he knew how good he felt, he snuggled her closer.
His ribs pressed her arm, moving evenly as he breathed.
She knew the moment his awareness of her shifted, because the rhythm
of that movement changed. Apparently, being alone with a scantily clad
woman affected even a jaded rogue like him.
"Here." He moved to his knees behind her, his long, lean body
spooning hers. "Let me show you how to find it."
He took her hand, cupping its back with his palm and guiding it up the
chimney's maw. Merry's heart began to pound. He was so close his jaw
brushed hers, its bone sharp, its skin appreciably smoother than her
brothers'. When he nudged her hair back with his nose, a shiver skittered
deliciously down her spine.
"Here's the handle," he said, his lips next to her ear. His
fingers wrapped hers around a rusty metal hoop. He pulled and jiggled
and she heard a muffled thunk. Air rushed down the shaft. Like magic,
a tiny flame sprang up from one of the coals.
"There," he said, "now the fire can breathe."
Too bad Merry couldn't say the same.
Though he drew their arms back out, he remained on his knees behind
her. His sleeping trousers were something a native of India might wear,
silk with a twisted cord to tie them at the waist. Feeling her shiver
again, he chafed her arms, then hummed low in his throat. The sound
of his pleasure was sweet as honey.
"I never had to light the fires," she said, wanting to distract
him. "I always worked in the laundry."
Nic smiled against her cheek. "No woman should have to light her
own fire unless she enjoys it."
Heat washed Merry's body. She knew he wasn't talking about a fire you
built with coal. He was talking about the kind of pleasure you gave
The concept rocked a place inside her that had never moved before. That
a man might know, and approve, and perhaps even want to watch what women
did . . . She couldn't catch her breath. It came in shallow, ragged
gasps. She knew he must hear; must guess what his words had done. He
made a sound, low and rumbling, and rubbed his front against her like
a cat. At once, her spine lost all its starch. His narrow, silk-clad
hips slid slowly behind her own. Tiny hairs stood on her arms. He was
aroused. His erection strafed her bottom, the friction light but unmistakable,
as if he meant to tease them both. The ridge of his sex pulsed behind
the silk, its motion enticingly erratic, its heat as humid as a summer
Merry struggled for control.
"I've always—" She drew a startled breath as he dragged
the rounded tip along the parting of her cheeks. "I've always thought
a woman should cultivate independence."
Nic chuckled, the sound a seduction by itself. "To be sure, independence
is an admirable trait, but when a man has the strength and the will
to offer a woman aid, why shouldn't she accept?"
As he spoke, his longest finger drew a circle on her hip, a deft, suggestive
circle that made her want to move his hand a few more inches to the
left. With all her strength, she fought a groan. Nic didn't make it
easy. The tip of his tongue curled out to flick her ear. "Wouldn't
you like my aid, Mary? Wouldn't you like me to ease your needs?"
2002 by Emma
Holly. It is illegal to reproduce or distribute this work in any manner
or medium without written permission of the author.
hot Victorian romance. No monsters.
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