A Rake's Ruin (Devilish Lords #1)(6)

And tonight, he reminded himself, this little twit had put herself in harm’s way by coming to a terrible neighborhood alone at night. Alone.

He reached for her arm, steering her back toward the carriage so she would be out of view. “What were you thinking coming here by yourself?” he scolded. The schoolmarm tone in his voice was perhaps more alarming to him than to her.

Claire was acting rebellious and he was the one scolding her. Had the world tipped over and turned upside down? Surely that was the only explanation for this reversal of roles.

Shaking off his grip, she tilted her chin up once more. “I am not leaving here without my brother.”

He stared. And then he stared some more. This could not be Claire Cleveland. “Who are you and what have you done with Miss Cleveland?”

She narrowed her eyes further so she was glaring at him through slits. “I am Miss Cleveland, you fool. And stop trying to distract me. I am here to retrieve Jed and I am not returning home without him.” Her voice rose as she spoke until she was shouting that last bit.

His mouth fell open and for the life of him he wasn’t certain whether he wanted to laugh or shout back.

Claire shouting? What in God’s name had come over her?

She tried to take advantage of his shock by darting around him. Claire was small, but he’d never thought of her as wily until this moment. He had to spin around quickly to snag her, and even then it was like holding on to a slippery creature as she wiggled and writhed in his arms trying to free herself.

“Just hold still, you little heathen,” he muttered.

“Oh, I’m the heathen? That’s rich,” she said, her voice coming in pants as she fought against his arms, which he’d managed to wrap tightly around her upper body in an odd embrace that fell somewhere between a hug and a wrestling hold.

He tightened his grip so her arms were pinned to her sides, but that didn’t stop her lower body from wiggling against him and his body responded, apparently completely unaware that this was a struggle, not an embrace.

When she pressed her hips back in an attempt to gain some traction, he sucked in his breath and tried valiantly to think of anything that might drag his mind out of deliciously unsavory depths. But really, her bottom was pressing up against his groin and it was more than he could bear.

He tried to do the math in his mind, adding up the yearly sum for his tailor from memory. Then he tried to remember the words to that song his nanny used to sing. Out of sheer desperation, he called up memories of his beloved dog who’d died when he was a child.

But no, no amount of distractions could keep him from noticing just how good she felt in his arms. He’d always known she was pretty—Claire Cleveland’s beauty was an undisputed fact—but he’d never realized how soft her skin, how sweetly she smelled, how utterly delicious those curves felt against his body.

Bloody hell, if she didn’t stop wriggling he was going to lose all control over his senses right then and there. Finally, he managed a hiss. “Please, for the love of God, stand still.” Some of the desperation must have been evident in his voice, because she finally stilled.

Her breathing was labored, which made her breasts rise and fall beneath his arms. With her back to him like this, he could feel the rapid beating of her heart through the thin silk gown.

Do not think about how thin this gown is, he commanded. Do not do it. Because this thin material was all that separated him from that warm, soft, luscious body and—

Damn. Too late.

She was so still against him that he had the sudden and horrifying thought that he’d scared her with his body’s reaction. This close, there was no way she could miss the fact that his manhood was hard against her bottom.

He let her go slowly, warily, ready to take off after her should she bolt. Of course, the gaming hell’s front door was hardly advertised. She would probably not know which door to knock on first, and even then they wouldn’t let her in.

“This is pointless, you know.” He was glad to hear that his tone had normalized. No schoolmarm and no trace of the lust that was still coursing through his veins at the sight of her perfect up-do all mussed from their struggle. One blonde tress had escaped and lay curled against her back.

He had a sudden and unbidden image of what that hair would look like spread across his pillow. Of what that backside would feel like pressed up against him as he trailed kisses along the back of that long, smooth neck. Of how she’d flip over with a sleepy smile—

That thought brought him back to reality, because not even in his wildest daydreams could he envision prim, proper Claire Cleveland smiling at him like that. In fact, he couldn’t imagine her giving him any sort of genuine smile, let alone one that spoke of need and desire.

No, the only smiles he’d ever received were the vague, polite smiles she’d perfected in the nursery. The ones that made her look all sweet and harmless, though he knew better. He was one of few, he was certain, who’d been privy to the genuine sparks of emotion. It was one of few benefits of being despised by the great beauty. But though he antagonized her and made her seethe, she still smiled for the benefit of those watching. She always smiled that false simpering smirk, even when her eyes flashed with enough venom to slay a dragon.

She never had liked him, not since that first time he’d gone home with Jed during their schooldays. Even back then she’d given him a haughty look, as though she’d judged him and found him wanting. Granted, he hadn’t done much to earn her good opinion. He’d never been terribly fond of rejection—but then, who was? He’d chosen to respond with teasing and taunts. He supposed back then it had been his way of getting her attention.

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