In anticipation of the upcoming release of His Scandalous Kiss, I will be writing a few short stories featuring Thorncliff and guests who have not been included in any of the books. This is just for fun - a little freebie for you, my lovely readers. Thank you for your support :)
Harriett Gaverdine, daughter of the Earl and Countess of Rockburn, was positively convinced that Simon Shaw - rogue, rake and reprobate extraordinaire - had to be the most vexing man in existence; a man without whom her sojourn at Thorncliff would have been rather lovely. Regrettably, however, he’d arrived on the same day as her, and had, since then, taken every opportunity imaginable to insult her in some horrid way. Like yesterday, when he'd told her that it wouldn't hurt her figure if she refrained from eating teacake, or this evening after supper, when he'd commented on the color of her gown.
"It makes you look like a corpse," he'd told her dryly.
Had she not been so shocked by his statement, she would have slapped the intolerable cad. Or at least she liked to imagine that she would have. Realistically, ladies did not resort to such unrestrained bursts of violence. But that didn’t mean that they didn’t feel the need to.
To her detriment and consternation, Mr. Shaw had certainly proven himself more than capable of riling her. Which was why she now found herself awake and strolling through the Thorncliff hallways after one o’clock in the morning, in search of the library. Perhaps there, she would find a welcome distraction with which to appease her anger and frustration.
Locating the door, she quietly eased it open and stepped inside. It was a large space – huge, in fact – spanning almost the entire width of the building with a variety of seating arrangements along its length. Through the tall arched windows opposite, she could see the silver shimmer of the full moon peeking out from behind a scattering of clouds. It illuminated the room just enough for her to make out the silhouetted furniture and bookcases, but not enough to actually read.
Nudging the door shut, she crossed to a low burning oil lamp that someone must have forgotten, and turned up the flame, the glow creating a welcome cocoon of light around her.
Harriet jolted back with a gasp, her eyes searching the shadows for the person who’d just spoken. It had been a man, judging from the deep timbre, but she couldn’t quite see… Until slowly, a dark form rose from the chair to her left, uncurling itself as it stretched upward. She stared at the man, her pulse unevenly striking her veins with keen apprehension. More so, when he stepped forward and allowed her to see his face. Her throat tightened. “What are you doing here?”
A low chuckle rolled through the air between them. Mr. Shaw gave a curt bow. Straightening himself, she saw that a few stray locks had fallen against his brow, so out of place that her fingers suddenly itched to pull them aside. “I could ask the same of you,” he said, his voice so soft and gentle that it seemed at odds with the otherwise arrogant man she knew him to be.
“I…” Her voice faltered. Perhaps because he’d taken a step closer – just enough for her to catch a hint of his musky scent interspersed by a touch of brandy and rich tobacco. Her stomach tightened as her fingers started to tremble. She shook her head, determined not to be affected by any of it. “I couldn’t sleep, so I thought to find a book with which to pass the time.”
“And why, pray tell, is sleep eluding you?” He was studying her with intense curiosity, tempting her to shift beneath his gaze.
“That is none of your concern,” she told him tightly. Reaching for the lantern, she moved to turn away from him – to put a safe distance between them by finding her book at the other end of the library. To be here alone with him at this hour would not be wise.
“Do you realize,” he began, halting her progress before it had even begun, “that you and I have never been alone together – not even in the company of others.”
“Perhaps because I have made every effort to avoid your company?” she suggested with a bite to her voice that was meant to provoke him.
“Why would you do that?”
The genuine curiosity of his tone made her laugh. “You cannot seriously pretend not to know the reason.”
Though gingerly spoken, Harriett didn’t miss the demand. And against all rhyme or reason, it did something to her – something bold and reckless and utterly unlike her – by giving her the chance to give Mr. Shaw the proper set down he deserved. “Because it is clear to me that you have a deep dislike of me, or you would not be so adamant when picking out my flaws for cross analysis. And in so doing, I have come to despise every aspect of your being. If your aim has been to push me away, you need not try any further, for I can assure you, Sir, that there is no man alive on this earth with whom I’d be less inclined to spend my time than with you!”
Furious that he’d somehow managed to make her lose her temper once more, Harriett spun on her heal and started forward, only to find herself halted by long fingers circling her wrist. Before she could pull away, his grip tightened, holding her in place. Harriett’s stomach collapsed, her skin pricking with keen awareness while a slow burn rose from their point of contact.
“Stay,” he murmured as he came up behind her.
His breath ghosted across the nape of her neck, causing a shiver to fan across her back.
“Why?” This made no sense – this crushing onslaught of overwhelming emotions and unfamiliar sensations. “Why should I stay when we don’t even like each other.”
Leaning forward, he whispered in her ear. “Because sometimes…” The edge of his jaw touched hers in an inappropriate caress that sent heat spiraling through her. “Things aren’t at all what they seem.”
Her heart almost skidded to a halt. Turning, she looked up at him, confounded by the sincerity shining in his eyes and the sheepish smile that captured his lips. “You did it deliberately,” she said as understanding dawned. “All the horrid things you’ve said to me these past few weeks…” She shook her head. “But why?”
He gave a little shrug. “What other chance did I have? I’m competing for your attention against a slew of handsome and titled gentlemen. You wouldn’t have offered me the time of day if I was anything like them, so I had to be different – I had to find a way in which to make you think of me more than you’d think of them.”
“Even if my thoughts were of strangling you?”
His smile broadened. “Even then. Yes. Because eventually, I hoped a moment such as this might arise.” Reaching out, he stroked a callused finger against her cheek, the rough abrasion scraping her skin until it tingled.
“What do you mean?” Heavens, she sounded as though she was caught between waking and dreaming, her voice a husky whisper of air. Her mind whirled with a thousand questions and contradicting emotions. Five minutes ago, she’d wanted nothing to do with this man. Now, she felt the strangest urge to fling herself into his arms. It made no logical sense.
His fingers trailed along the edge of her neck, scalding a path to her shoulder. “Let me show you.” And before she could wonder what he meant by that, his mouth was on hers, kissing her in a way no young lady ought to be kissed by any man. It was, without a doubt, the most sensual caress she’d ever experienced in her life. It stripped her of any lingering reserve she felt for him and replaced it with a burning desire to have him hold her like this forever – to kiss her until her knees grew weak and until she could barely recall her own name.
“It is as I hoped,” her murmured against the corner of her mouth. “You and I are perfectly matched.”
“At least in this regard,” she whispered, her words dissolving in the darkness as he kissed his way along the curve of her neck.
“And in others. I’ve no doubt about it.” Raising his head, he gazed down at her upturned face. His hand came up, smoothing a path across her cheek. “Let me court you.”
Dazed by the sudden assault on her feelings, Harriett couldn’t quite believe the question. She’d disliked him for so long, convinced that he disliked her with equal fervor, and now he was asking to court her. “Why?” There could only be one answer of course, but she needed to hear him say it.
“So that you and I can determine just how well suited we are.” Stepping back, he reached for her hand, raised it to his lips and pressed a kiss to it. “My intentions are completely noble, Harriett. I plan to make you my wife.”
Unable to think straight and with her stomach bouncing around inside her like a rubber ball with nowhere to go, Harriett could only nod.
“So we are in agreement?”
Seeing that he was holding his breath, his eyes tinted with flecks of uncertainty, she voiced her answer with clarity. “Yes.” A smile stole across his lips, and before she knew it, she was back in his arms. A laugh bubbled inside her chest, bursting forth with elation. “Now kiss me again, Mr. Shaw, before I change my mind.”
And he obliged, with whispered words of devotion that quickly laid siege to her heart.
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