MY HEART BELONGS TO YOU
Paris, France 1887
What have I gotten myself into?
Lady Jennifer Hamilton stared wide-eyed at the mysterious man headed in her direction. Dressed in midnight black from the silk scarf that covered his hair to the tips of his polished knee-boots, the man behind the mask exuded confidence and charisma.
The shape of his chiseled jaw and the structure of his muscular frame illuminated his build absolutely irresistible. His black cape had been tossed back over one shoulder, displaying his loose-fitting raven colored shirt and tight trousers. He reminded her of a pirate, but the long cape suggested he was not. Her gaze lifted to his mask and her hearts rhythm increased triple fold when realizing she was the object of his intent stare.
Her heart stopped or had she forgotten to breath?
She turned around and grasped her friends arm. "Allison, the most incredible looking man I've ever seen is coming this way. Whatever shall I do?"
Lady Archibald patted her hand. "Do not worry. Simply remain the she-Devil you have been portraying for the last few hours. He will be swept away by your charm." She pulled away and eyed Jennas costume. "And he will definitely be enthralled by your seductive gown."
The tight-fitting, blood-red, Devil's dress squeezed her chest, threatening to cut off her breath. She swallowed and ran a shaky hand down the silk waist of her gown. The material molded to her curves like wet cloth. Her hand fluttered up and tried to cover the daringly low-cut bodice that showed more cleavage than shed ever displayed before. Red gossamer sleeves hung straight on her arms, gathering at her wrists, and the skirt flattened against her body. Her attire was indecent compared to the others here tonight. Although her friend's Egyptian gown was alluring, it didn't come close to being as seductive as Jenna's costume.
"I cannot do this." Panic gripped her throat, and her voice squeaked.
Allison flipped her hand through the air. "Nonsense. We are at a masked ball. He does not know you. Besides, we will only be in Paris for a short while before traveling back to England. You will not see him again after tonight."
Jenna breathed slower and deeper, steadying her heart, but before she could regain control, heavy footsteps vibrated on the floor behind her. A mixture of spice and leather wafted around her, stirring unknown quivers in her stomach.
"Excuse me, Madame." His deep French accent heated tremors down her spine.
Be the she-Devil he sees. For a short while, I am someone wonton and wild before I return to reality.
She turned. He stood dangerously close, and a soft gasp sprang from her lips. His tall frame and wide chest made her throat go dry. The top of her head barely reached his shoulder.
Collecting her courage, she smiled. "Ye-" She cleared her throat. "Yes?"
His sculptured lips curved into a grin. "May I have the privilege of escorting you out for the next dance?"
"Of course, but only because my partner has yet to claim me." She laid her unsteady hand on top of his and he led the way.
The heat from his powerful body radiated from his skin. He spoke not a word until he slid his arm around her waist and took her in the dance hold. When their feet stepped in time with the string quartets waltz, he pulled her body closer.
The smooth material of his shirt slipped beneath her fingers as she laid her unsteady hand on his arm. Flesh and sinew flexed beneath her fingertips. She tightened her lips, keeping back the moan that wanted to escape.
"Are you aware of the spectacle you have made tonight, Cheré?"
Shock trembled through her body at the blunt sensuality of his words. Shed expected no less from the men assembled her tonight, but her own body's response stunned her. "I have?"
"You have not noticed you are the most provocative woman here?"
She breathed a sigh of relief. "No, I'm not aware of this."
"You are certainly a Devil woman, tempting almost every single man at this ball."
"And what of you, my lord? Are you aware of how devastatingly handsome you are, in a mysterious way?"
"No, my attention has been focused on one woman in particular, and I'm dancing with her now."
She chuckled. "Are you always this forward?"
"Yes. Are you?"
His dark eyebrows lifted. "So, am I to believe you are only this way because you were tempted to taste the forbidden fruit?"
His charm hypnotized all of her senses, and her limbs weakened. She hurried and changed the subject to keep from falling further under his spell. "What is your costume, my lord?"
"What do you want me to be, Cheré?"
Her heart skipped. "That is not a fair answer to my question."
"The truth is, Madame she-Devil," he replied, huskiness filling his voice as his fingers stroked her hand, "I was not planning on coming tonight, but changed my mind at the last minute. This costume was the only thing I could find in my closet. So please, tell me what you think I might be, and it shall be so."
She hadn't taken her gaze from the shadow of his eyes through the mask since they started dancing, so she grudgingly tore them away to scan his body. He was so near to perfection it made her heart skip a beat. Her face heated from the path her not so innocent thoughts had wandered.
"I do not rightly know. Perhaps you are a night rider?"
"I have a better idea. Since you are the Devil, I shall be hell."
A hearty laugh bubbled up from her throat. "What a sense of humor you have."
"You do not agree?"
She gazed into his masked face, her mind floating away as if in a dream. "If you are hell, then I would gladly turn over my life to become wicked."
He tightened his hold, and her breasts barely brushed his chest. They danced scandalously close, but she didn't protest. It was as if a warm blanket of safety had wrapped around her.
"Madame, she-Devil? May I ask you a personal question?"
All humor disappeared when desire crept into her body, weakening her. Yet the foreign flutter in her chest excited her. "What might that be?"
"Are you by chance, taken?"
She held her breath, afraid to make a sound. Should she lie to him? This was just a masked ball, and she would never see him again. With a firm decision, she buried her secret deep inside her, and would not give a hint to her true self.
"No, I'm not."
"Who is the man you and your friend are with?"
Her heart flipped with the knowledge that hed been keeping watch over her as Allison had suggested. "Which man?"
"The one dressed as an ancient God."
"He is my friend's escort."
The music came to an end, and she leaned into him, not wanting to leave the comfort of his arms. His warm breath ticked her cheek. It smelled like peppermint. "I would like it very much if you belonged to me tonight."
The words came out as a request, but his tone held more of a command. Her heart soared. Never in her life had a man's words or touch affected her like this, and although it scared her, the new sensation stirred something from within. She wanted more.
"I think, my lord, you are indeed hell."
His face moved forward and she thought he meant to place a kiss on her cheek, which shed gladly accept, but instead, his lips brushed her earlobe, sending chills down her spine.
He whispered low in her ear, "I will show you sin if you will let me. Give me the word, Cheré, and I will take you away to a most pleasurable place."
Without waiting for her to answer, he backed away and escorted her back to Allison. Her heart pounded with every step, yet desire shot through her limbs and made her weak. Shed never experienced this kind of passionate longing before, and God help her, she wanted it with this devilish evil man. But she couldn't. Her secret wouldn't let her.
"Until later, my sweet, Devil woman." He bowed over her hand and gallantly kissed her knuckles, then turned and left. She glanced at the spot his lips had made on her skin. Her mouth went cotton dry.
Allison clutched onto her arm. "Good heavens, Jenna. Is he not absolutely wicked?"
Jennas gaze followed him through the crowd. "You have no idea, Allison. No idea at all."
Jenna smiled. "He made me feel things I have never felt before."
"Did he touch you in an improper manner?"
"No, but his words touched deep within my soul and awaken my desires."
"Jenna? Do you want my suggestion?"
She lifted an eyebrow. "No."
Her friend shooed her with her hands. "If it were me-"
"Yes, I know. You would enjoy the pleasures being offered."
Allison laughed. "You know me well, my dear friend."
"Now, I'm not saying I have decided on what to do, but do you think Ian would help me if I need him?"
Her friends forehead creased in confusion. "Why do you think you will need Ian's help?"
"I just would like Ian nearby if I need him."
"We will keep a close watch on you tonight."
"Thank you." She squeezed her friends hands.
Anxiously, Jenna waited as the next hour slipped by. Her attention drew to the mysterious mans lithe movements as he swept from person to person in conversation. His deep laughter filled the air and sent her heart into an erratic rhythm. People seemed to like him, and they laughed easily around him. A smile touched her mouth with the knowledge he hadn't danced with anyone after leaving her side.
The night wore on and his gaze periodically met hers. Even through the shadows the mask made of his eyes, she suspected his thoughts were indecent. The prickly sensations racing up her spine made her ever so conscious of the lusty desires pulsing through her. Why have I waited so long to experience this? Had she believed her life might change after all this time?
She studied the man in black as if examining a piece of art. He carried himself like a gentleman, his genuine smile charmed many. He held his drink and his long lean fingers caressed the stem of the champagne glass. Her body grew warm in places when she imagined his skilled fingers on her.
He turned and captured her stare - and held it. For several moments, time seemed to stand still. Were they the only two in the room? The tinkling of laughter around her disappeared and she felt light as a feather, almost as if she floated above the room. She remembered his scent, his voice, and especially his touch.
Without breaking their gaze, he placed the glass on the tray as the butler passed, then moved in her direction. Her heart pounded with each step he took until he stood in front of her.
He mocked a small bow. "Hello again, Madame she-Devil."
"Hello yourself, my Lord Hell."
A deep laugh escaped his throat, sending another round of sexual tremors shooting through her body. The new feeling rejuvenated her.
"I thought you might like to take a stroll outside for some fresh air."
Here was her chance to decline his improper invitation, but deep inside, she knew it was something she wanted. But she mustn't let it get out of hand. She had to stay in control of everything - especially her body's reactions. Being with him was wrong, but her mind argued, telling her not to pass up the chance for passion.
"You are a mind reader?" she asked.
"No, but your thoughts are so sinful, Cheré, I cannot help but know them."
He took her hand, hooked it around his elbow and escorted her outside through the double glass patio doors. Cautiously, she glanced over her shoulder to make sure Ian and Allison watched.
Many lanterns lit the terrace. Discreet shadows were everywhere: shadows made for lovers. Her palms moistened with anticipation. He didn't speak as they walked out on the grassy lawn. They passed others on their way, but the couples soon diminished from sight.
Once he found a spot shadowed more deeply than the others, he stopped and faced her. In the flickering light, his piercing look set her heart to a wild patter.
"So, my darling Devil woman, would you entrance me by telling me something about the woman behind the mask?"
She tilted her head to the side. "You cannot wait for the unveiling? It is a little more than an hour away."
She smiled. "I do not think I shall tell you very much about myself, however, I will tell you I'm not from Paris, but from England. I'm here with friends."
"I assumed as much. I would have remembered seeing someone so lovely." His fingers trailed across her cheek softly.
"How long have you lived in Paris?"
"For quite a while now." His fingers moved from her cheek down to her neck. The tingling sensations caused her breath to catch in her throat. She felt once again for obstructions.
"You know, I feel strange being alone with such a mysterious man." Her voice trembled.
"Then, leave." He gestured toward the house with a nod.
She smiled wider. "But alas, I cannot. I fear you have drawn me inside your web of temptation."
"Nay, Cheré, it is you who has lured me." He took a step closer, his fingers trailing further still down her neck. "You have entrapped me, my wicked woman, so what will you do with me now?"
A thrill shot through her chest, stirring a volcanic fire within her bosom. His tender caress closed her mind as his fingers inched their way toward her breastsbut she wouldnt stop him. She couldn't even if her life depended on it.
She moistened her dry lips with her tongue. "What would you like me to do with you?"
He chuckled, sliding his free arm around her waist. When he pulled her against his body, she gasped.
"You can do anything you would like, my evil one, because I'm sure whatever you do will bring me sinful pleasure."
This was not going the way shed expectedyet the tingling coursing through her body refused to put a stop to his obvious intentions. "You should not speak this way," she whispered. "You are making me want to do things I have never experienced before."
His heated touch moved between her breasts, practically burning the exposed skin. She couldn't decide which was betterhis tender caress or his sensual words. Maybe it was the combination of them both.
"Can this be true, Cheré? Can the she-Devil in my arms actually be as pure as freshly fallen snow?"
"There is only one way to find out."
A gasp caught in her throat from her own words. Had she meant that? Yet, isn't this what she really wanted?
A deep growling laugh escaped his throat moments before he leaned in to kiss her. Sparks sliced through the air when their lips met, and it shocked her system into a fevered frenzy. She moaned. Urgently, she circled her hands around his neck. He crushed his lips to hers. His large palms cupped her face, his mouth urged hers open, and his tongue slipped inside.
He threaded his fingers through her hair and found the tie to her mask, then released it. He broke the kiss just long enough to gaze upon her features. The moon gave off a dim glow. Could he see her at all? She met his stare and his mouth turned upward, pearly white teeth gleamed in the shadows.
"You are absolutely beautiful, just as I had imagined," he whispered.
What does he look like? Could he be as handsome as he appears?
She pulled on the ties of his mask, but he brought his lips back down to hers before she could see. The forgotten mask slid through her fingers as she concentrated on finding the opening to the scarf hiding his hair. The knot came apart and the material floated to the ground. She pushed her fingers through his silken waves. He sighed.
He broke the kiss and pulled her back deeper into the shadows. After taking her behind some tall hedges, he gathered her in his arms and kissed her. His hands were so wild as they moved all over her body.
His lips wandered down her neck, down the valley the low-cut bodice provided. "You are certainly a Devil woman," he groaned. He kissed every part of her chest.
He laid her on the ground and partially covered her body with his. Her head spun and lifted her as if she floated on a cloud. She couldn't stop him, or even herself, even when his hands expertly unfastened her dress and pulled down the bodice. Her breasts bared and the evening's light breeze tickled her skin.
Her mind screamed for him to stop. This was wrong immorally wrong. Yet, her heart argued that this was exactly what she needed.
He latched his mouth to one of her nipples. His tongue swirled around the tip, and she moaned with pleasure. She allowed his hands to wander under her gown, touching, stroking, exciting her in ways she'd never known.
All negative influences dissolved from her head. Nothing mattered right now except the heady sensations drowning her. He unfastened the tie on her drawers and separated the flaps, but she didn't flinch, even when his body covered hers. He reached between them and unfastened his pants, seconds later his rock hard organ slid between her legs and into her wetness. Biting her bottom lip, she kept herself from crying out as pain sliced through her. His body stilled.
He lifted his head, and with wide-eyes gazed into her face. She held her breath. Would he scold her for not telling him the truth? Would he stop and leave her lying on the ground? Please, God, let him finish making love to me.
His mouth lifted in a grin before he covered her lips with his in a gentle kiss. She let out another moan and returned his kiss. The pain between her legs quickly became a vague memory when overwhelming pleasure surrounded her. He drove himself into her deeply and she raised her hips to meet his thrusts. His lips and tongue consumed her mouth, and she copied the way his tongue slid and caressed hers. She slid her hands over his back and chest, his hardened muscles moved beneath her palms.
The tingling sensations spiraled through her body grew to an explosive peak, igniting and spreading everywhere, especially at the juncture between her legs. He groaned deeply, and in one last push, shuddered inside of her. She lay still, letting him trail kisses down her neck to her chest, leaving lightning paths of wetness in its wake.
Guilt washed over her, causing her heart to ache and at the same time, panic suffocated her. How would this affect her future? They werent supposed to go this far - yet the hot volcanic emotions that had spiraled through her body erased any further doubts.
All too soon, he rolled off her and fastened his trousers. She pulled down the skirts exposing her lower half. He rolled to his side, resting his weight on his elbow as he gazed upon her. His knuckles brushed softly across her cheek.
"Did I hurt you, my darling she-Devil?"
She chuckled. "I will admit, it did hurt a little, but I'm fine now."
"Then what troubles you?" His fingers tenderly traced her face.
She sighed. "Nothing. The moment is perfect. I just cannot believe I let this happen."
"Thank you." He bent down and kissed her lips.
"I'm relieved you do not hate me."
"How can I hate such a passionate and desirable woman?"
"Because I did not tell you about my virginity."
"Think nothing of it." He pecked on her lips. "In fact, because you were a virgin, our lovemaking was more special. Next time will be even better."
Her heart accelerated. "Next time?"
One corner of his mouth lifted and he continued to stroke her cheek. "Of course. You do not think I'm going to let such a passionate woman get away, do you?"
She nuzzled her face into his hand. She tried to study him, but the shadows were too deep, only showing the outline of a striking face. A small light touched his eyes. They were magnificent. He had to be a very handsome man.
"Will you tell me who you are now? I think I have the right to know," she asked.
"Yes. I suppose we can meet formally, now." The French accent suddenly disappeared from his voice, making her curiosity grow. "I am truly from England, although I have spent the past two years here in Paris. My name is Lord Hamilton, the second son of the Earl of Stanwyck."
The name struck her like a bucket of ice water. Two years of heartache and loneliness rushed into her mind, bringing back her past. This cannot be! Her luck couldn't possibly be this horrid. She peered more closely at him, the rugged jaw, sculptured lips, and seductive eyes...those eyes. Oh, God!
It was the man she married two years ago. The very man she came to Paris to pursue for an annulment.
He touched his finger to her lips in a soft caress. "Now it is your turn. What intoxicating woman did I have the pleasure of making love to just now?"
Her heart crumbled, causing a deep ache to grip her chest yet at the same time, the hilarity of the moment struck her. She gave a throaty laugh. "Are you certain you want to know who I am?" She laughed harder.
His dark eyebrows lifted. "Yes, of course."
"Oh, Cole, you are not going to believe this." She pushed him away and righted herself. After retying the bodice and arranging the skirts down around her legs, she faced him. Her hesitant giggle emoted into hysterical laughter.
"Madam? What ails you?" He put a hand on her forearm.
She stopped laughing and narrowed her eyes. "I am the last woman on earth you ever expected sharing intimacies with."
"Explain yourself." His forehead creased.
"Cole Hamilton? You have just made love to Jenna Ashton Hamiltonyour wife."