In Charmed By Her Smile, cousin India Byron finds herself in need of rescue from an unwanted suitor. To create the illusion that she’s being courted by another man, she demands a kiss from the devilish Duke of Weybridge. Little does she expect the passion she unleashes when she finds him only too happy to oblige.
FOUR DUKES AND A DEVIL
“CHARMED BY HER SMILE”
Clybourne House Gardens
Early August 1809
“Quick!” India Byron declared in a breathless voice. “Kiss me!”
One of Quentin Marlowe’s dark eyebrows winged skyward. “I beg your pardon?”
“No time for pardons,” she admonished. “He’s nearly upon us. Just do it. Kiss me!”
“He isn’t a jealous husband, is he?” he asked with lazy amusement. “Or a lover brandishing a pistol?”
Now that really would liven up the festivities, he thought.
“No,” she said. “He’s just a besotted idiot, who doesn’t know when to go away. Hurry while there’s still time. Kiss me. Please!”
Quentin, the 8th Duke of Weybridge, looked down at the girl’s lovely heart-shaped face and into the depths of her beseeching green eyes. His gaze roamed lower, tracing across the adorable sweep of her nose, the refined curves of her chin and cheekbones, then over her full, rosy lips that were parted in rapt anticipation.
Despite his better judgment, he was intrigued. Even more, he had a sudden craving to find out if her mouth tasted as ripe and delicious as it looked.
“Well,” he drawled, warming to the possibilities. “Who am I to deny a lady?”
Taking her in his arms, he pressed his lips to hers.
The spark was instantaneous; a jolt of pleasure so intense it blazed through him like a rippling summer heat, saturating his blood and sinking deep into his vitals. As for her mouth, she tasted like honey and wine, with a lightness that made him think of pure spring water. Wanting a deeper draught to quench his sudden thirst, he traced his tongue along her lower lip and urged her mouth to open.
She gave an answering sigh of delight and began to respond. But just as quickly, she pressed her palms to his chest and broke away. She didn’t draw back very far, however––their faces remaining close. “Is he still there?” she whispered.
He who? For a moment, Quentin didn’t understand the question. Then memory returned. Glancing up, he surveyed the garden. “Brown hair? Lanky build? Wounded expression like a puppy that just got kicked?”
She gave a faint nod.
“Then yes, he’s still there. Shall we continue, since he doesn’t look sure yet whether to stay or go?”
She paused, her eyes wide and slightly bemused. He wondered if she was about to refuse, when she nodded and slid her arms around his shoulders. “Yes. Kiss me again.”
With a smile, he bent to do as she commanded.
Sensing her distraction over the other man, he kept their kiss brief this time. Light, playful and undemanding. She relaxed, growing increasingly more confident and pliant inside his embrace.
Leaving his lips against hers so they were barely brushing, he flicked another glance upward. “Now, he looks like a furious, wounded puppy,” he murmured. “Mad enough to chew off his own tail. Sure you aren’t trying to make him jealous?”
Her sweet breath puffed against his mouth. “No! I just want him gone, since he’s been plaguing me this past month entire. Truly, I have tried to be nice, but he just will not take the hint.”
He gave her another plucking, lingering kiss. “Don’t look now, but I think your wish has been granted. He’s turned around and is walking back to the house––or should I say stomping back. Ah, there, he’s gone inside.”
“Thank heavens,” India declared, tension flowing from her in voluble waves that reached all the way to her toes.
For a moment she considered looking over her shoulder to verify that Peter, “the Pest,” was truly gone, but she didn’t want to take the chance of ruining her good fortune. Instead she gazed up into the face of the stranger, who still held her inside his arms.
Arresting was the best way to describe him, she decided, since he wasn’t handsome in the conventional sense. His nose was too long and hawkish for one, his chin too square. His bone structure looked chiseled, as though it had been hewn from a rough block of granite. Contrarily, his lips were elegant, capable of being seductive or stern, she was sure, depending upon his whim. As for his eyes, they were dark––the color of freshly brewed coffee––with a pair of formidable brows that arched like raven’s wings above his penetrating gaze.
His most remarkable feature, by far though, was his hair. Thick and soft with a stubborn hint of wave, his close-cropped locks were so dark a brown as to appear black. But the true surprise lay at his temples, where twin streaks of silver gleamed as though painted there by a master’s hand.
Her fingers tingled with the need to touch, to glide through those pale strands and see if they were as luxurious as they promised to be. Instead, she left her hands where they rested on the wide expanse of his large male shoulders––her body nestled against his long, powerful frame.
“Lately, I’ve come to realize how the poor fox must feel during hunting season,“ she remarked, trying to steer her thoughts back to her recent escape from her unwanted admirer’s attentions, rather than dwelling on the overwhelming sensuality of the man in whose arms she stood.
“That bad, hmm?” he asked.
“Worse.” She paused. “I suppose you think I’m cruel?”
His dark gaze turned gentle. “Not at all. Sometimes stronger deterrents than words are required.”
“Exactly. And I have you to thank. I am greatly in your debt.”
“No need. Believe me, the past few minutes have been my express pleasure.”
Her pulse gave a dangerous thump. “Yes, well, now that he is gone, I suppose I ought to be returning inside.”
“I wouldn’t go just yet,” he warned. “Not until he’s had time to call for his carriage.”
Tiny lines formed over the bridge of her nose. “Oh, mayhap you’re right. Still, you should probably release me, now that Peter is gone.”
He stroked a hand over her back in a way that made her want to purr like a cat. “All the more reason to keep you right where you are. I kissed you for his sake. Now, I want a kiss for my own. After all, you did make mention of being in my debt.”
“Yes, but you said there was no need for gratitude––“
His teeth flashed in a wicked grin, his arms tightening as he turned her more fully into the concealing shade of the arbor. “I changed my mind.”
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