Will didn’t expect her to come to the creek that night. The family was busy entertaining that damned Scot, and she would be on her best behavior. He waited nonetheless, just in case, until he fell asleep against the tree. His dreams, of course, had been filled with the sight of her pink tongue sticking out at him. What a woman! The idea that she’d not only caught him spying but had an answer to it had nearly made him fall off his horse. The only reason he hadn’t burst out laughing was because his organ had abruptly gone rock hard at the sight.
And now he was sitting here on a tree root, his mind and his body entranced with the idea of her and her sweet, pink tongue.
Fortunately, he didn’t have to wait through the night. A quarter hour after midnight, he heard her footfalls through the brush. She was coming and his body nearly hummed with anticipation. After all, it was time for him to begin his seduction of the woman with that pert tongue.
She arrived as she always did: with a huff and a sigh. He didn’t move, but she found him nonetheless. And she didn’t waste time on their typical banter but went straight for the heart as if they’d already been in conversation for an hour.
“People can change,” she said firmly. “But… but maybe they don’t change easily.”
“Nothing changes easily,” he said grimly. “Not the canal that fights being built nor the villagers who don’t like all those new workmen tromping through the town.”
“And boys don’t like becoming civilized and even dresses like to get dirty.” She paused. “Wait. That is a change. From clean to dirty. That’s a natural change, I guess, which does happen.”
“That’s nature,” he agreed, not really understanding what they were discussing but liking the sound of her voice nonetheless. “Land runs wild if it can, horses will jump their pens if they’re not watched.”
“So maybe it’s not that people don’t change, it’s that fighting their nature is hard work—”
“Constant vigilance is needed.”
“And all that vigilance is exhausting.”
He nodded, thinking of the work yet to be done on the canal. An eon’s worth of digging and clearing. Extra men were arriving daily, but it was still damned difficult.
“I spent last night here waiting for you,” he said. Then he silently cursed himself. That wasn’t at all what he had intended to say.
“Because I wanted to talk with you.”
He saw her turn to face him. She was in a dark gown as usual for her nightly wandering. But this one was thin since it was a warm night, and her pale skin showed white in the moonlight. Ethereal white, as if the soft glow came from her rather than the moon.
“You wanted to talk to me? About what?”
“Are you going to marry the Scot?”
She stiffened. “I hardly think that’s your business.”
He didn’t argue. “I want to know anyway. Will you? Do you like him?”
“He’s a gentleman,” she said primly. Obviously, her tone implied, that made him the exact opposite of Will.
“He’s a dandy,” Will countered.
She sniffed. “Nothing wrong with keeping one’s clothes clean. I find it admirable.”
He nodded, and for the first time ever in their nightly discussions, he pushed off his tree root and crossed the space between them. He went to stand directly in front of her, and he watched her eyes widen in surprise. She hadn’t settled on her rock yet, but was still standing, her back to the tree but not touching it.
“Nothing wrong with getting dirty either, depending on how it’s done.”
She straightened and glared at him, not one to back down. At least not with him. “No one cares how you get dirty,” she said. “All they see is the dirt.”
“Not true,” he said as he reached behind her to where the tree branched out. At the base of the branch was a collection of soft, wet mud, and he scooped it up with a quick flick of his fingers. Then he showed it to her. “This is mud.”
He brushed it across her cheek.
“What are you doing?” she cried, rearing back. But that was exactly what he wanted her to do. Because she had nowhere to go but back against the tree trunk. Especially as he followed her motion, trapping her neatly against the bark.
“And now your dress is dirty too,” he said.
“What are you doing?” she cried, but there was a breathless note to her voice. “Have you gone mad?”
“Yes,” he said with absolute certainty. “Bedlam mad. I should be locked away.”
“Do you want to know what I see?” he asked, easily bowling over her words.
She swallowed. He saw it distinctly. She didn’t answer because he had frightened her, but there was a current of excitement beneath the fear. Of that he was certain because a shaft of moonlight brightened her bodice. And right there, plain as day, were the twin bumps of her erect nipples.
“I see you, Miss Josephine Powel. I see how you looked with your tongue sticking out at me.”
“You deserved that—”
“And I saw you falling from a tree last July and nearly breaking your leg.”
She gasped in surprise.
“You had a streak of dirt right there on your cheek, just like that, and you laughed and laughed while you gripped your sides.”
“You can’t have seen that,” she whispered.
“I did. And I saw you strip out of your stockings two days later to wade in the creek. Your skirt was hitched up past your knees.”
“I did. You had dirt then on your calves, and I swear it was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen.” That wasn’t all he’d seen, but he wasn’t going to tell her about the leaf that had plastered itself to her thigh or that he had thought of that often at night in his lonely bed.
She shook her head. “I was alone.”
“I see you all the time. In my head, in my dreams, in every moment. I try not to, but it still happens. I see you spinning like a top in the creek, splashing water every which way until you nearly toppled and cracked your head open a rock.”
“You caught yourself on a tree branch with your right hand, but it was too slick. You stumbled and went sideways until your dress floated about you like petals from a flower.”
“You waited for a moment, then released a near-hysterical laugh before dropping all the way in. Flat down on the bottom. Twenty minutes later, your laughter was happier. Calmer. As if the water had washed away whatever had been bothering you.”
“I…” She swallowed and bit her lip. “How could you have seen that? How could you…” Her voice trailed away.
“How could I know what you did? What you do when the wildness takes you and you rush outside? Sweet heaven, woman, can’t you guess? Think you are the only one going mad from the strain?”
She blinked, and he could tell he had surprised her. “You?” she whispered.
“Aye, me. Why do you think I work myself to the bone? It’s not for your father. It’s so I can sleep at night for an hour or two before the restlessness claims me again.” He gestured to the creek. “For nearly five years we have been coming to the same place, snapping at each other like angry turtles. Did you think it was by accident?”
“You followed me?”
He released a dark chuckle. “I am usually here first.”
She looked away because she knew it was true. And for the first time ever, she must have realized that she was not so unusual as she’d thought. That there was another person—a man—who knew a wildness that ate at her.
“Miss Josephine Powel,” he said in a low rumble.
Her gaze hopped back to his, and she released a shocked mew of distress as he leaned even closer to her.
“I was sixteen when I realized that there were other ways than falling into a creek bed to release the dark. Other things that tame the beast inside.”
She licked her dry lips. He saw the flash of pink, and his groin tightened painfully. He wasn’t touching her yet. He was crowding her, but there was still space between them. Enough to run if she intended to.
“Why are you doing this?” she whispered.
“Because I am tired of waiting for you, Miss Josephine. Now I ask you again, do you intend to marry that Scot?”
She took a stuttered breath. “It is what my father intends.”
“And you? What do you intend?”
She shook her head and looked away. There were tears in her eyes, and he knew she struggled with the weight of too many expectations, of too much being told and not enough telling.
“I don’t know,” she said, her voice raspy.
“And your head hurts from the struggle, your chest feels tight, and you think of running naked in the creek while you scream at the moon.”
“How can you know that?”
“How can you think you are the only one?”
She dropped her head back against the tree trunk, defeat and acceptance in every line of her body. “Why are you doing this?” she whispered.
“I have already told you,” he said as he leaned his body slowly—inevitably—against hers. “I’m tired of waiting.”
Then he stood there, leaning everything against her. His thighs, his groin, even his chest, but not his face. He kept apart from her by the space of a breath. And he waited while she froze against him.
Clearly, she’d never felt a man before. Not like this. Did she even know how the act was done? She had to. She was too old not to know. But he was damn sure no man had ever touched her like this. Never pressed his burning cock against her hips the way he was. Or crowded her until she either had to kick him or give in.
But she didn’t move. She was frozen like the virgin she was. So he taunted her in the way they usually conversed. He gave her a shot of normalcy even when what he was doing was very abnormal for them both.
“Frozen deer get shot. If you want to defend yourself, you lift your knee hard. As hard as—”
“I know!” she said, her breath short enough to make the two words a curse. And yet she didn’t move, though he stood there with his legs spread enough to make his balls tighten in fear.
“And if you don’t move, Miss Josephine,” he made her name a caress, “I’m going to take that as a yes.”
“No!” she said, though her voice was a whisper.
“Yes.” But still he didn’t kiss her. She expected it because he watched her lick her lips. She knew something of kissing then. So he didn’t do what she expected. Instead, he touched the tight bud of her left breast, her nipple taut and inviting.
He rolled his thumb over it, scraping it with his nail. Back and forth while she gasped and jerked her body against his. She didn’t want to react like that. He could tell that much. But when her hands lifted to knock him away, she stopped. Instead, she gripped his forearm, but she didn’t push him back. And that set his blood on fire.
He didn’t stop. He just continued to scrape his nail back and forth across her nipple. Her breath grew tight. Her head dropped to expose the white column of her neck. How easy it would be to start kissing there and then trail downward. How simple a thing to rip apart the thin material of her dress and feast upon her breasts.
Simple enough that he had a moment of doubt. Perhaps she was not the virgin he assumed, and his words turned crude in anger. “Have you done this before, Miss Josephine? Have you had a man at your teats?”
She shook her head, oblivious to his temper. “No,” she whispered. “Never.”
He looked at her mouth, her lips parted as her breath came in short pants. “But you have kissed before. You have kissed men and they have invaded your mouth with their tongues.”
“Twice,” she said.
“And did you like it?” he pressed.
“I…” She swallowed. “No.”
“But you like this,” he said as he shifted his weight against her. He wanted access to the other breast, but the roll of his cock against her hips had him groaning in hunger.
She echoed him. He hadn’t expected it, and the sound went straight through his brain to his organ. Without intending to, he thrust against her. The rub, the pressure, and the womanly softness of her body made him growl like the beast he was.
But he didn’t stop. Neither did he stop his other hand as he squeezed her right breast.
“You are no gentleman,” she said, her accusation low and almost inaudible.
“All you need do is lift your knee.”
“No,” she whispered.
“Then shall I do more?”
She opened her eyes then, meeting his gaze with a steady regard. “This quiets the wildness inside? This is why men rut?”
He nodded, but honor made him tell her the truth. “It works for a time.”
“And then…” He squeezed her breast and she shuddered. “And then the need rises again.”
She nodded as if she understood. She didn’t because she was a virgin. But that didn’t stop him from shifting his fingers, trailing them along the low scoop of her bodice. Her dress was what she often wore on her nighttime wanderings. It was a dark color so she wouldn’t be seen, and it buttoned down the front so she could take it on and off by herself.
He found those buttons most interesting now. He could undo them. He could have her dress at her feet in a moment. She would have a shift on underneath. She was, after all, a proper woman. But there would be no corset because the restriction of those tight bindings would be too much for her at night. Too much restraining her at a time when the wildness pushed her outside.
But even as he thought these things, he wanted something different. He wanted to show her something more.
“Have you ever had a man with his fingers inside you? Ever come apart in a man’s arms?”
“What?” She blinked at him. She had no understanding of what he said.
“You have a brother. Did you never come upon him by accident and see him stroking himself? Heard the noise he makes?”
She swallowed, a blush staining her skin. “I…” She looked away. “Once.”
“Did you wonder what he did?”
She nodded. “I learned from my sister that men do that. That it is pleasurable.”
He slid his hands from her breasts, slowly spanned her waist and then hips. Bit by bit he gathered her skirt and started pulling it up.
“What are you doing?” she cried, and he heard a note of real alarm.
“A woman can enjoy that too. Her bud is not a rod like a man’s, but it is equally pleasurable. And it can be done all alone in the privacy of your bedroom.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Because no one has taught you. No one has shown you how to ease the wildness inside.”
She pressed her hands to his forearms as if to restrain him. But there was little strength in her, and besides it was his fingers—not his wrists—that steadily lifted her skirt.
“It is not proper.”
“Does that matter?” he pressed. “If you can tame the scream inside you without wandering through the night, without falling into the creek, does it matter how it happens?”
“A secret trick,” she said, with a high, tight giggle. “Like lifting mud off a dress.”
He had no understanding of what she meant, but he didn’t argue. He was too busy finally touching the creamy expanse of her thighs. He stroked the outside of her legs, feeling the smooth silk of her skin. What he wouldn’t give to be in her right then. To forget the seduction of the woman and give in to his hunger.
But he didn’t release his beast. He would not sacrifice his plans for the glorious pleasures of the moment. And yet the temptation was so strong!
“Many women do it,” he said. “Even the married ones. But they have to be shown how.”
“I will stay a virgin?”
“No one need know?”
“No one but you.”
He smiled. He liked that she would think of him every time she touched herself.
“Say yes, Miss Josephine. Let me show you what so many others already know.”
“Yes.” The word was so quiet, he wasn’t sure he’d heard it. But he’d seen the shape of her mouth as she agreed.
He smiled. He had her. So he shifted his hand and began to seduce her in earnest.