“It would mean nothing, you see. Probably a very bad suggestion.” He held his breath, his entire body taut, not knowing what he wanted her to say. Of course, he wanted to kiss her, but he wanted to kiss her, not pretend it was some sort of lesson. Then again, he really wanted to kiss her no matter what the reason.
“Yes. Very bad.” She didn’t sound at all certain. “But if we did kiss, at least I could honestly say I’d been kissed. Should anyone ask.”
The relief that Charlie felt was nearly dizzying. “Very true. And I’ll let you kiss me, so there will be no doubt about who is kissing whom.”
“Oh, Charlie,” she said, almost sounding weepy. “You are the kindest man I know.”
Guilt gnawed at him, but not enough to change his mind. For nearly two years he’d imagined what it would be like to kiss Rose, and now he finally had his chance. He turned, his left arm resting on her mattress, the other straight by his side, right hand pressed flat against the rough wood floor. Then he felt her hand, just one, spanning his cheek, her fingertips at his jaw so that she might pull him toward her if she wanted to. Instead, she moved forward, keeping him still, until her nose butted up against his, making her laugh.
“You have to tilt your head just a bit,” he said, trying to keep his voice from shaking. He closed his eyes, even though it was black as pitch in the room.
“Tilt,” she whispered, her mouth so close to his, it was all he could do to keep that hand planted firmly on the floor and not drag her to him. And then, heaven on earth found him when her lips touched his, soft, hardly felt, but by God the most glorious thing that had happened to him in his adult life. She withdrew and he could almost picture her face, with her brow likely furrowed. It had not been much of a kiss. “There, we’ve kissed,” she said, but she was still so close he could feel her soft breath against his face.
“We’ve touched lips. We have not kissed.”
“Isn’t that the same?”
Charlie chuckled. “Let’s try again. I’ll show you, just a bit, and you can stop anytime you’d like.” But please, please don’t stop, at least not too soon.
This time, she pulled him toward her and planted her lips against his. “Now what?” she asked against his mouth, her voice slightly muffled, and he smiled.“You’re smiling. Don’t laugh at me, Charlie.”
“No. I wasn’t.”
He moved his mouth, just a bit, just enough to show her how it was done, this kissing stuff. He pulled at her lower lip and he thought he heard her gasp, but the engine noise was too loud and he couldn’t be certain. He teased her, first her bottom lip, then her top, then slanted his head a bit more, deepening the kiss just a bit, just enough to show her but not enough to frighten.
When she moved her lips against his, finally, finally, he fisted his hands to keep them where they were, for his body was screaming to pull her close. She sighed--he felt it more than heard it--and he pulled back more for self-preservation than anything else.
“There. See? It’s not awful.” He knew his voice sounded hoarse, his tone gruff, but he couldn’t utter a gentler sound at the moment.
“No, not awful,” she said, sounding far less affected by the kiss than he. “Thank you, Charlie.”
Thank you, Charlie. It felt like a punch to his gut, those words. Because they were uttered precisely the way she would have thanked him for saddling her horse or handing her up. Thank you, Charlie.
He had to leave, had to get out of this room where his stupid desires, his foolish dreams seemed to be laughing at him. What the hell had he been thinking? That he could trick her into kissing him and then she’d fall head over heels in love with him and want to marry him instead of some wealthy American stranger?
He stood and climbed up on his bunk, staring blindly at the ceiling, and waited perhaps five minutes before saying, “I’m going to get some air, my lady. I’ll be right back.” He jumped down from his bunk and walked out of the tiny cabin, not aware that he’d called her my lady until the door was shut. How quickly he reverted to the servant when he was treated like one. In that moment, as he pressed the back of his head painfully against the stateroom door, he hated himself. He hated what he represented, he hated his lust and love for Rose, he hated the fact he was poor, that his hands were rough, that his boots were dull and worn. Charlie stalked around the common room, finally settling at a table, alone in the dark, unwilling to return to the stateroom where he would have to listen to her lilting voice, breathe in her perfect scent, wish he could lie next to her.
Thank you, Charlie.
Bloody hell, if he wasn’t the biggest fool on the face of the earth.
Run though they might, love will find them…
Lady Rose Dunford is shocked--and titillated--by the number of female visitors coming and going from her mysterious new neighbor's Manhattan brownstone. Recently widowed by the death of her very sweet, but not very exciting husband, Rose finds it difficult to imagine just what the attraction could be.
And then she meets the bachelor in question. Not only is Charlie Avery dashing and outrageously good looking--she knows him! He is none other than the man who once helped her escape the dreary matchmaking plans of her father, the man she once dreamed she could love. Can Charlie's presence next door be an accident? Or has he come to show her everything he has learned about…