“Running away?” a male voice asked.
Allegra froze. She knew that voice. Its smooth cadence, its velvet tone had haunted her for the past week. Slowly, she turned back. She searched the room once more. A man stepped into the rectangle of moonlight on the dark Persian carpet.
Yes, he was the same, except this time he was elegantly dressed in evening attire, not blindfolded, not naked with his skin gleaming in candlelight. His dark hair was skimmed tightly back into a queue now, not loose and free flowing like black satin about his shoulders. His black coat and breeches faded into the shadows, but the white of his shirt and neckcloth appeared to glow as he stood in the moonlight. One side of his face was outlined by the light, defining his cheekbone, the hollow beneath, the sharp angle of his jaw. The other side disappeared into the darkness.
Allegra flipped open her fan and fluttered it. “I was escaping the heat of the ballroom,” she said. “I’m sorry if I intruded on your solitude, signore.” She could not let him know she recognized him. Could not.
“I would gladly give up my solitude if it is to be broken by such a beautiful woman,” he said with a small bow of his head.
“Such flattery, signore.” She laughed lightly and turned to leave. “I will leave you to your solitary thoughts, si?”
“So, you are running away.”
Allegra turned back at the challenge. “I am being sensible. A woman does not remain alone in the dark with a stranger, no matter how handsome.”
“Then allow me to introduce myself. I am Sebastian Fox, Earl of Hawksmoor,” he said with a formal bow.
She covered her shock by fluttering her fan more vigorously. She had kidnapped one of the most elusive, wealthy, sought-after eligible bachelors in England. And one of the most disreputable and dangerous. He was rumored to have a mistress in every country on the Continent, to have killed twenty, thirty, forty men in duels, to have lost and won fortunes at the gaming tables, to be the head of a notorious band of smugglers, to spy for whichever country paid the most. The reality, of course, could not possibly be any of those things, but rumor was always generated from some truth. What had he been doing in that seedy tavern where she’d had him kidnapped?
Allegra lifted her nose a tiny bit into the air. “Learning your name, signore, does not reassure me of your intentions.”
“Then perhaps I have gone about this all wrong. Perhaps I should have offered you something to drink.” He held out a crystal wine glass that he must have been holding the whole time. It was filled with a clear liquid.
Suspicious, she said nothing and did not move to take the glass.
“It is only water,” he said. “Nothing harmful. Believe me, I want you fully awake.”
Allegra immediately recognized the very words she had spoken to him. She fought not to react, but her heart jumped. How could he remember? She had induced him to sleep, muddled his memories. He should not have remembered what had occurred between them.
He took a step forward, still holding out the glass. “Come, come, Mary. Or is it Constance? Or Alice? I never did learn your name. I am sure I will learn it eventually, especially since we will be spending very much more time together.”
Allegra sniffed, covering her confusion. She had taunted him with those names. “You are being quite presumptuous, signore. I do not recall giving you leave to spend time with me.”
He smiled. His teeth glowed white in the moonlight and gave him the appearance of some predatory cat, ready to pounce on its prey. “Lovely lady, we will be spending time together whether you give me leave or not.” He sauntered to a small table next to the door and set down the glass.
He was closer to her now. His proximity and his words sent a shiver down her back. He was angry. She had made a mistake kidnapping him. At the time, he was all she wanted. As soon as she saw him strolling with feline grace down the street of Bath, she needed him, desired him, craved him with a ferocity that drove out any other thought from her head. The Hunger had clouded her brain. Serendipity or something more sinister had brought him to that tavern where he drank the charmed ale.
Now, all she wanted was to get away from him.
She backed away and pulled the door open a bit more so she could slip out. His arm came up, and he placed the flat of his hand on the door above her head. With a gentle shove, he closed the door fully and leaned his weight on his hand. She was shut in with him. Alone. In the dark. The orchestra and the babble of guests would drown out any calls for help. She took another step back, away from him, and came up against the wood of the door. His other arm rose, blocking her in, caging her against the door. His scent, piney, woodsy, clean male, teased her nose. The memory of his naked body flashed through her mind. No, no, no. She must not think of that.
She snapped her fan shut, gripped it tightly. “Let me go.”
He shook his head. “I think not.”
“I will scream.” She dared him with her eyes.
He smiled again. “A useless exercise. You know as well as I that you would never be heard.”
Desperate to get away from him, even just a few feet, she jabbed the end of her closed fan into his ribs.
He grunted and jerked away, but his hands remained firmly pressed on the door. “That was very unladylike,” he said with a scowl.
“I am only reacting to your very ungentlemanly behavior,” she countered.
“I never admitted to being a gentleman.” He leaned in closer. “In fact, you tempt me to very poor behavior.” He leaned closer still. “I find I have the irresistible urge to spread you across my bed and kiss every inch of your body until you whimper.”
A hot-cold frisson flashed across her skin. Allegra gulped. “That is —”
“Seduction,” he finished in a murmur. His fingers traced along her shoulder and up her neck. They circled the pulse below her ear. “I find myself suddenly in full agreement with the Bible: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. In this case, one seduction for another.”
Madre di Dio. His touch felt like lightning. And something that she had missed when she had him chained, naked, washed over her. He had come into contact with a piece of the Sphere of Astarte, the artifact that would break the curse on her family. Right now, that meant nothing. Right now, all she wanted was to get away. His words sent fear thrumming through her. She trembled so hard her dress rustled against her ankles. What could she say or do to make him let her go?
“Please. . .” The word escaped. She had not meant to plead. But what was she asking for? Release? Or seduction?Return to Moon Bright