Excerpt from Dangerous Desires
She lifted her chin, tilting her head in an oddly vulnerable little movement. She could not gauge the effect her gesture had on the Earl, as he, too, had his defenses well in hand. They stared at each other across the dimly lit room, each measuring the other's resolve as the candlelight flickered eerily.
Stephanie made the first move. "I think, milord, that I should bid you good night and retire. I am wet and tomorrow—"
"By tomorrow you will have had the time to create a neat little explanation for your unorthodox behavior. Oh, no, I think not, Mademoiselle."
Amusement colored his deep voice. Stephanie stiffened angrily. "I protest, Monsieur! It may amuse you to malign my character, but I am far too fatigued to be in the mood for jesting. Tomorrow I will be happy to discuss the evening with you. But for now I will retire." She turned toward the door, intending to sweep out in a grand, imperious exit.
Instead, forgetting that she was not wearing a fine gown, she stumbled over her own booted feet and the clinging folds of the heavy cloak. Stifling an unlady-like curse, she twisted, trying to save herself from falling.
As her shadowy form swayed, then pitched forward, Nicholas moved quickly, familiar with the layout of the room and sure of his path even in the gloom.
Stephanie felt his hands catch her waist, stopping her fall. The momentum pressed her body against his hard chest and his hands slid round her waist to wrap her securely in his strong arms. Her heart thundered—because of the narrowness of her escape, she assured herself, patently ignoring the sensations that his long, lean body was arousing in her.
"My, my. Mademoiselle, I had no idea you knew such colorful language." His words were light and mocking, but there was a telltale unsteadiness in his voice. Evidently the Earl was as much affected as Stephanie knew herself to be.
The house was very still: silent evidence that they were truly alone. Stephanie knew that there was danger, not because Lord Wroxton would do anything to hurt her, but because he roused feelings in her that she was hard put to control. The absence of others freed her from constraints that would normally have kept her safe. "Please, milord," she whispered.
She put her hands on his chest to push him away, but as her palms touched him, they seemed to take on a will of their own. Slowly, she smoothed the fine fabric of his shirt with her fingers, savoring the warmth of his skin beneath. His heart pounded, beating as erratically as her own.
"Mademoiselle." Nicholas caught her roaming hands. His voice was ragged, and he cleared his throat before speaking again. "Mademoiselle, I am now sure of what I only surmised before."
She looked up quickly. "Q'est-ce que c'est?" Instantly, she realized that she had made a mistake. Her mouth was inches from his and the temptation to rise up on her toes to eliminate the intervening distance was almost irresistible. Their eyes locked and she thought he was moving toward her. But then he drew back, deliberately breaking the spell between them.
Shakily she said, "Pardon, milord. I forget my English at times. What was it you were asking?"
Before responding, he prudently stepped back. Still holding her hands, he paused at arms' length to examine her. Even in the gloom, Stephanie was able to watch the passion that had darkened his eyes being damped down, until it was nothing more than a pale smoldering gleam in the blue of his eyes. That he had himself well under control was confirmed when he spoke in a cool, amused voice. "Apart from the dampness of your outer garment, which you have transferred to my own apparel, I cannot help but be aware that you are not clothed, er, shall we say respectably?"
Stephanie offered no resistance as he gently guided her toward the fire and the incriminating light. Bravely, she turned to face him and boldly she met his challenge with one of her own. "I am dressed for riding, Monsieur. What of it?"