Wicked Again – Kathleen Ayers

Marissa stretched her body out across the bed, discreetly pulling the sheet up over her naked body. She was sore. Deliciously so. A large palm, fingers splayed possessively, rested just below her navel. The owner of the hand watched her, eyes shining like quicksilver in the faint, pink mist of morning light filtering across the bed from the windows. A shock of hair hung over his forehead, delightfully tousled from the previous night’s activities. Heat touched her cheeks just remembering what those activities had included. When was the last time a man had spent the entire night in her bed? Years. A decade at least. That she had allowed Lord Haddon to do so while they were both guests at a tedious house party hosted by Viscount Pendleton and his mother was nothing short of shocking. At least for Marissa. She was no longer the reckless girl of her youth, but Haddon had been very persuasive. Simon, Lord Pendleton, and his mother, Lydia, had arranged this little house party to not only remind everyone in Derbyshire of their wealth and importance, but also to announce the news of Simon’s betrothal to Lady Petra Grantly. Lydia had spared no expense in her efforts to cement herself as the grandest lady in the Peak District. The food thus far had been exquisite.

The musicians for the dancing the evening before had been brought all the way from London for the special occasion. Lydia had fairly glowed, moving about to boast of Simon’s accomplishments in Parliament and imply with a wink that her son might well be Prime Minister one day. Despite Lydia’s best efforts, and that of Petra’s mother, Lady Marsh, Marissa thought both women would find themselves disappointed. Marissa doubted very much that Petra would be marrying Simon. “You should go,” she murmured, admiring Haddon’s beauty in the early morning light. It wouldn’t do for anyone to see him leaving her room. At the age of forty-nine, Marissa prided herself on a lifetime of discretion in regard to her enjoyment of male companionship. She had first-hand knowledge of what it was like to be the object of gossip. Her family’s notoriety had long ago assured Marissa rumor would always follow her. She’d no inclination to add to it.

Especially at her age. A low growl was Haddon’s reply. His fingers, large and blunt, tightened over the top of the sheet, searing her skin through the thin layer of linen. “Not yet, my lady.” A widower with four daughters, Haddon was handsome, charming and several years her junior. Marissa didn’t take lovers often, but when she did, the gentlemen in question didn’t look a thing like Haddon. No, her lovers were her own age or older. Distinguished. Balding. Perhaps sporting a paunch.

Haddon, in contrast, possessed a body hewn from stone, not an ounce of fat on him. The thick mane of hair framing his finely sculpted features was the color of freshly turned earth in the spring, with no hint of a receding hairline. Haddon tugged at the sheet covering her breasts, clearly determined to expose her body to the morning light. Marissa was firmly against such a thing. True, her waist was still slim and she’d only a bit of gray in her hair, but she was the mother to two grown sons and thrice widowed to boot. Portions of her body were no longer the perfection they’d been in her youth. She’d noticed, much to her horror, that her bosom, once a wonder to behold, sagged. The previous evening, she’d been fortunate to have wine and the cloak of darkness to boost her bravado. Not so, this morning. She clasped the linen more securely in her fists.

“Why do you insist on hiding from me? I humored you by dousing the lamp last night, but I find I’m not so tolerant this morning.” Haddon lay on his stomach, entirely naked, a tiny smile tugging at his lips. Marissa started to reply, but then a streak of sunlight fell across the expanse of Haddon’s back, drawing her attention to the hard curves of his buttocks and thighs. It was very difficult to look away, let alone answer him. A trail of dark hair shadowed his chiseled jawline, giving Haddon a slightly disreputable look. He possessed high cheekbones that demanded attention but only until one caught sight of the silver in his eyes. A most unusual color, like the underside of the moon in the night sky. His eyes were slightly tipped at the corners and framed by lashes most women would envy. Haddon was incredibly attractive and much more exotic looking than any gentleman born and bred in Derbyshire should be. “I’m no longer a young girl,” she reminded him needlessly, acutely aware of her age in comparison to his.

Marissa decided she was a novelty to him—a thrice widowed older woman from a notorious family conveniently trapped, as he was, at a boring house party. Still, she found it strange to feel so insecure. Marissa Tremaine—she still thought of herself as such and not as Lady Cupps-Foster—was the daughter of a powerful duke. She was rarely intimidated by anything or anyone. “No. You aren’t.” Another sharp pull of the sheet revealed the tops of her nipples. “I find you to be well-aged. Like a giant wheel of cheese. Cheddar, perhaps.

My favorite, as it happens.” Marissa giggled. “You equate me to a fine cheddar? I think I’d rather be compared to French wine or brandy. Even a good cider would be preferable.” “Ah, yes, you do possess a delicious aroma now that I think of it.” He nuzzled the side of her hip. “I wonder if you taste as good as you smell?” The dark head disappeared beneath the sheet. A moment later the heat of his mouth traveled down one thigh, nibbling at the hollow of her knee as he moved between her legs. Dear Lord. Haddon made her forget everything but him, which was why she’d awoken this morning with a large, naked male snoring next to her.

He was a rake, or at least he had been before he was widowed. She suspected that behind the veneer of doting father to his rambunctious girls, Haddon still was. His teeth nibbled the sensitive skin of her inner thigh and Marissa’s body jumped in response. A wicked laugh came from beneath the sheet. On principle, she avoided rakes, even reformed ones. Having wed two of them, she knew how much trouble they could be. Haddon might well be worth the difficulty though Marissa had no intention of finding out. A brief dalliance during a tedious house party to alleviate their mutual boredom was acceptable, but Marissa knew she couldn’t see him again. Even if he hadn’t been significantly younger, Haddon possessed the ability to make Marissa feel things she’d rather not. There was a reason she kept her relationships limited to gentlemen who would not stir a lick of emotion in her.

Not so with Haddon. As he nipped his way up the inside of her thigh, Marissa arched back, feeling the response of her body, when she should have been pushing him out the door. Haddon was demanding in bed, taking control of Marissa and her pleasure with breathtaking intensity. Her past lovers were not so robust in their attentions, only mildly satisfying her before taking their leave. Haddon insisted on Marissa’s response. Devouring her until she was limp and draped over his chest. He’d done so at least three times last night. She could grow used to such treatment. And Haddon. Her mind rebelled instantly at the thought.

As soon as he’d taken her in his arms to dance last night, Marissa’s entire being had seemed to fold around Haddon, the sense of belonging to him and with him so terrifying, she had almost refused when he insisted on sneaking into her room. I haven’t felt such a thing since Reggie. Reggie, the father of her youngest son, had been the only one of her three husbands Marissa had actually loved. His loss had been devastating, leaving her adrift and grieving for years. Recovering from his disappearance and restoring her independence had taken great effort. I can’t go through such a thing again. Her fingers twisted in the sheets of the bed as Haddon’s ministrations sent small pricks of bliss rippling across her body. The pressure built slowly from the teasing pressure of his tongue until Marissa found herself rocking her hips into his waiting mouth. Dear Lord, but he was skilled. Haddon reached up with one large hand and palmed her breast, the callouses on his fingers adding to the sensation.

Seeking out her nipple, he rolled the peak between his thumb and forefinger as his mouth moved against her. Haddon carefully drew out her response until a tortured moan escaped her lips. An insistent rap sounded at the door. The doorknob twisted. No. No. Haddon flung one of her legs over his shoulder, spreading her wider, unconcerned that someone clearly sought entrance to her room. A fist banged against the wood. “I don’t need my fire lit,” she said in a strained voice, cursing the efficiency of the servants at Brushbriar and their determination to perform their duties. Haddon’s chuckle was a low hum against her skin.

“Mother.” An annoyed baritone sounded from the other side of the door. “I need to speak to you. Now. Open the door.” Marissa sat up in surprise, her body crying out in frustration. Swatting at Haddon’s shoulders, she wiggled to get away from him. “Stop,” she hissed in a whisper. “Brendan is at the door.” What was her son doing demanding entry at this hour in the morning? Haddon pulled away the sheet until his face was exposed, deliberately flicking his tongue against Marissa while she watched, smiling at her the entire time.

“Stop,” she begged. Haddon was incredibly wicked. “You’ve got to hide.” “Marissa,” he replied calmly, tossing aside the sheet and setting his chin atop her stomach. “I am not going to hide.” “But you must,” she said, pulling a pillow over her exposed breasts. “Brendan cannot find you here.” She glanced at the window. Her room overlooked Brushbriar’s gardens. “Perhaps—” “Nor am I going to jump out the window to crawl down a trellis.

You’re not a twittering virgin I’ve seduced.” Haddon didn’t seem the least distressed her grown son was demanding entry and he was— Haddon blew a stream of air between her legs. “Stop this instant.” She kicked until he finally rolled out of bed with a grunt, silver glinting from his eyes. “Maybe it’s best if Brendan knows I’m here.” Haddon’s eyes flashed with determination, turning them the color of old pewter. “Last night—” “Are you out of your bloody mind?” Marissa stopped him before he could say more. “I don’t think I am. I’ve never felt more sane. Don’t be stubborn.

” “Mother, please open the door.” A pause. “Jesus, is Haddon in there with you?” Haddon shot her a triumphant look. This was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the most embarrassing and shameful moment of her life. Her son was about to open the door and see Marissa with her lover. No. Not her lover. Such a moniker proclaimed a relationship. An understanding. This was a dalliance.

She wrinkled her nose. The entire room smelled of sex. There would be no doubt as to what had taken place last night. Repeatedly. Just the thought sent a flood of arousal through her. And Brendan would know. She wouldn’t be able to make an outlandish excuse about Haddon merely stopping by to take her for an early morning walk or something else equally unbelievable. She shot a pointed look at her lover, who was still naked. Dalliance. Haddon’s beautiful, skilled mouth twisted into a mischievous smile.

“This isn’t the least bit amusing,” she snapped at him, grabbing the robe flung over the back of a nearby chair. Careful to keep her body hidden behind the pillow, she put her arms through the sleeves, only releasing the pillow once she was assured she was covered. “You’re being ridiculous. I’ve explored every magnificent inch of you, Marissa.” His voice softened. “I find you beautiful. Doesn’t that matter?” Belting the robe, she shot him a pleading look. It was a lovely, thrilling thing for him to say, and Marissa’s heart would have swooned had her very large grown son not been demanding entry. Haddon shook his head at her before walking around the bed, unmindful—or at least uncaring—that his own body was so exposed. And why should he? Even in her mounting anxiety and mortification, Marissa couldn’t look away.

He was such a gorgeous male animal, all sleek lines and elegant strength, dusted with dark hair. Gentlemen she had . dalliances with weren’t even the same species as Haddon. He reached down and pulled on his trousers, taking his time to do so while Marissa gritted her teeth, resisting the urge to hurry him along. Throwing on his shirt, he picked up his boots and regarded her again, brow raised. Oh God. He was going to walk out of here in his bare feet. Why not just announce to the entire house party he’s been in my room? Perhaps mention it to everyone over breakfast? “Brendan can’t see you,” she whispered, wondering if she would expire on the spot from embarrassment. “Please hide,” Marissa implored again. “Under the bed, perhaps?” She gestured helplessly.

“I think you’ll fit.” “He already knows I’m here, Marissa.” Haddon stalked toward her. His fingers brushed against her skin as he pushed aside the top of the robe with his free hand. Teeth nipped at the exposed length of flesh between her shoulder and neck. She gasped at the sudden stinging sensation before Haddon pressed an open-mouthed kiss to the spot. A bolt of pure lust shot down between her legs, further stoking the frustration of her body still clamoring for Haddon’s mouth. His hands. Anything. “We aren’t done, Marissa.

” The words were deceptively calm. “But you have to hide,” she whispered. He looked down at her intently before his eyes widened slightly. “Are you ashamed of me?” “It isn’t shame, exactly,” she started, hating the way his face clouded at her words. More like mortification. Or horror. Marissa wasn’t completely comfortable with her children knowing she sought male companionship on occasion. The current situation was made worse by the fact that Brendan and Haddon were friends. And he was so much younger. “I only—” The line of his jaw hardened.

Pink stained the very tops of the magnificent cheekbones. Apparently, she’d flung the worst possible insult at his exotically handsome head. Haddon’s eyes never left hers as he walked to the door with purpose, stood to one side and very deliberately flicked the lock. Marissa’s mouth gaped open in astonishment, rendered speechless. She pulled the robe tighter. One hand went to the tangled nest of her hair. Could she fluff the pillows to dispel the shape of Haddon’s head and pull up the sheets before Brendan glanced at the bed? The younger of her two sons flung open the door within seconds and stomped into the room. Brendan was a big man and looked larger still in the space of her guest room. Scowling at Haddon, his fingers curled into fists at his thighs. Brendan liked to brawl and, given his stance, seemed about to throw a punch at Haddon.

“Brendan,” Marissa stuttered hoping to avoid bloodshed. “How unexpected to see you so early.” “Apparently,” Brendan growled, shooting another murderous look in Haddon’s direction. Haddon stared back, seemingly unconcerned that he may be beaten to death at any moment. “Did something happen to Petra?” Marissa shouldn’t have said such a thing in front of Haddon, but she was flustered. And Petra was the only thing she could think of which would bring Brendan to her room at such an hour. “No. She’s fine. Sleeping,” Brendan said, wincing as he realized what he’d given away. Marissa’s eyebrows shot up, and a knowing half-smile tugged at Haddon’s lips.

Brendan flexed his hands, his gaze shifting from his mother to Haddon. “I’ll thank you to be discreet.” “Morning, Morwick.” Haddon crossed his arms in no hurry to exit the room despite Brendan’s obvious desire to pummel him. “Did you sleep well? You look tired. As if you were up most of the night. I didn’t get much rest last night either, as it turns out.” Marissa blinked. Must he be so blatant? Brendan made a guttural sound and took a menacing step in Haddon’s direction. “Get the f—” “Good morning, Lord Haddon,” Marissa said sharply, cutting off Brendan’s string of vulgarities.

If the two men came to blows in her room, everyone would wonder why Haddon was here, defeating the purpose of her dismissing him. Besides, there was a much larger scandal brewing, one which would rescind her welcome at Brushbriar. Unless she was very much mistaken, Brendan had just admitted to ruining Petra. Haddon didn’t move, the grip on his boots so tight his knuckles whitened. He didn’t care to be dismissed—Marissa could tell. In fact, he was bloody furious about it. “We will talk later.” “Please excuse yourself, Lord Haddon.” She tipped her chin toward the door, commanding Haddon with her eyes to leave. Didn’t he understand the situation? From the absolutely chilling look he gave her, Haddon did not understand Marissa’s plea for him to leave.

He seemed about to comment but must have thought better of it. Instead his lean form bent smoothly into a mocking bow. “Good day, Lady Cupps-Foster.” Marissa held her ground. She hadn’t wanted them to part in such a way, but maybe it was for the best. There was nothing to be gained by continuing their association beyond this house party. Even so, she took hold of the bedpost in an effort to keep herself from running to him. He was only a dalliance. He had to be. Haddon shot her another frosty look.

.

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