Winifred Willington was the bane of Christopher Layne’s existence, and she had been for quite some time. He fondly recalled those days in past years when he had not even been aware of the chit’s existence. He rode, played cards at his gentleman’s club, and visited his mistress. And all without having to worry about what his troublesome ward was up to now.
If there were any justice in the world, he wouldn’t even have a ward. He was too young for one to begin with. Barely twenty-three when he’d been saddled with the fourteen-year-old. And now, four years later, he had aged more from it than his twenty-seven years should merit. And she was far too wily for an eighteen-year-old.
At the time that the Layne family solicitor, Mr. Newton, had sought him out to inform him he was the ward of some girl he’d never met, he thought surely that this must be a joke. Since Newton never joked, he skipped on to posit that a mistake had been made. But Newton unfortunately had the paperwork to prove that indeed, by virtue of the death of his father some years ago, and the recent death of Winifred’s parents while on safari in Africa, he had inherited the girl, so to speak.
“What the devil kind of irresponsible thing is it to gallivant off to the dark continent when one has a child at home?” he had lamented. Of course, when he met the “child,” it became all too clear why the Willingtons had braved tigers rather than stay in England and bring up their own.
Now, four years later, the girl was on the third school she’d been expelled from, and governesses had long since proven impossible to retain where she was concerned. Christopher was never quite sure what Winifred did to the governesses, but leaving without notice was always the end result of it. As to the schools, he had an inkling of what she had been up to there. His ward incited near riots among otherwise sedate young ladies with talk of the injustice of women’s suffrage, or rather lack thereof. She procured questionable reading material in which inappropriate pictures figured greatly and then shared it with her classmates. She punched a nun.
On this last one, Winifred had felt obliged to write him a letter explaining that the nun in question had been rapping the knuckles of a younger girl with such fury that Winifred feared the injury would leave the girl unable to hold a pen. Since the girl’s infraction had been messy handwriting in the first place, the punishment not only did not fit the crime, but also was counterproductive in terms of rehabilitation. So of course, Winifred had written, she had needed to intervene with whatever means had been available. Namely her fists.
Christopher had been summoned to the school shortly after that fiasco and only went with the wan hope that he could somehow manage to convince the nuns to keep her. Unfortunately, the glowering figures all in black—one with a black eye, he noted—met him at the gates with Winifred and her belongings in tow. Not to say good-bye. They had merely wanted to ensure that she left the property.
So, he was doubly punished by not being allowed to keep the girl at the school and having to ride in the carriage with her all the way back to London. The carriage door had barely closed on them, the horses in their first trots, when she started in with her usual laments.
“Do you think, Mr. Layne”—he had long ago given up on trying to get her to call him by his proper address, Lord Layne, as she had a host of surprisingly American ideas regarding democracy, not realizing apparently that she was not an American—“that we could dispense with all this troublesome schooling nonsense? I could quite teach the lessons myself rather than learn anything from that bunch of narrow-minded persimmons.”
“Do you even know what a persimmon is, Miss Willington?”
“Yes. It’s a juicy, smooth-skinned orange-red fruit that is sweet only when ripe.”
“Then I fail to see the resemblance between a group of nuns that you seem to be trying to insult and a piece of sweet fruit.”
She frowned. “I like the sound of the word persimmon. One so rarely gets to use it in conversation. It sounds persnickety, doesn’t it? I suppose I should have used persnickety.”
“Do you suppose we might spend this carriage ride in silence?”
“But it’s four hours at least to London!”
“Precisely.” He turned away from her ever so—always so—intent gaze and looked out the window. How he wished he had ridden his stallion and could just gallop along beside the carriage rather than ride inside it.
“If I can’t practice a trade or serve in the government or even cast a vote, why in heaven’s name does it matter whether I’m educated?” she tried after that.
“You don’t believe in educating women, Miss Willington? I must admit I’m surprised.”
“I’m simply making a point,” she said earnestly.
He looked askance at her. “Aren’t you always?”
She huffed and flung herself back against the cushions, looking out the window herself in an exaggerated fashion. She was an exaggerated girl, Winifred was.
When he had first seen her, the solicitor Newton dutifully toting her along for an audience with her new guardian, he had the distinct impression of a jumble of all elbows and legs. Far too tall for a girl, she was nearly his own six feet and must have been less than half his weight. Her waist-length curly brown hair was combed back as best someone could untangle it apparently, but ringlets escaped all around her face and her sharp little chin jutted out as if to be free of them. Her lips were rather too lush for a girl her age, but he supposed she couldn’t be faulted for that. And her eyes were huge and blue and forever scanning the horizon or a gentleman’s face to determine what was what.
The girl was frankly exhausting.
And he had had such hopes that the nuns at St. Xavier’s were the final stop on this merry-go-round of schools for his ward. They had managed to keep her nearly a year with only the most minor of complaints until this latest episode. It turned out that what they wanted to keep was Christopher’s hefty monthly donation, but finally even that could not coax them to swallow the indignities Winifred had apparently been visiting upon them all along, listed in precise detail in the letter summoning him to retrieve her.
Once in his room, she closed the door firmly. Candles had been lit and the fire stoked. Holding his hand in the flickering candlelight, she led him to the bed, and he sat down. Uncomfortably aware of his bare chest for a moment, she felt a frisson of excitement at his lean muscular torso, some kind of delayed memory of holding him in her arms. Of her exploring and his kisses these past few nights. Ignoring it, she put her hands on his shoulders, intending to urge him to lie down on the bed from which he had sprung up earlier. But he put his own hands over hers and brought her palms to his lips. She shivered as he murmured, “Thank you, Winifred.”
She nodded dumbly as he used her hands to pull her closer to him, so close she bent a little and could feel his breath on her own lips. “Thank you. Thank you,” he whispered over and over.
Then somehow, he was kissing her, soft, gentle, as if it was just an extension of his gratitude, like the hug perhaps that she had given him when he needed it. But whatever he intended, to her, his kiss was explosive. Her breath caught, and that place between her legs tingled. Just as she was about to remonstrate herself for misjudging his intentions, thinking he meant to seduce her when he was just grieving for his friend, he pulled her down to the bed, rolling on top of her. The firm, entire feel of him was wicked and exciting and so wonderful she couldn’t speak. And then she didn’t want to as he continued kissing her, but not so gentle this time, frantic and fierce, pushing her mouth open with his tongue and exploring, his knee somehow between her legs, covered as they were by her night dress.
She could feel that stiff, insistent part of him moving against her, starting some rhythm that she was helpless to ignore. He shifted his lips down to her throat, dipping his hands inside her neckline, fingers caressing in a subtle, greedy exploration of her hardened nipple, and she gasped. But it did not stop him.
And God, neither did she.
Whatever had turned him so suddenly from his prostrate grief to this swift, unrelenting demand, she would not stop him. She wanted to comfort him, in whatever way he needed right now. If he couldn’t cry, this cathartic release they seemed to be building toward might suffice. She had often heard that the response to death was an affirmation of life, but she had no idea it could take this form.
It was impossible to keep track of all the places his hands traveled, where his lips grazed and licked, and unspeakable parts of his body rubbed up against her, fondling her, goading her into individual acts of surrender, each more delicious than the last. He tugged her nightgown up to her hip bone and slid his hot fingers inside the slit in her drawers that was meant for unmentionable access, but surely not this kind. And he rubbed his fingers against her most private, sensitive place in a way that stunned her.
“Yes, yes,” he murmured in her ear, sounding more intoxicated than he had that night at dinner, though she knew he was not, “move against me, feel me…” He groaned, and she felt him hard against her bare thigh, only the thin material of his long johns, which were being stretched to capacity, between them. “I want you. I want to be inside you.”
Even those shocking words did not cause her to call a halt to the thrilling pleasure. Instead, she moved more frantically against him, and matching his words, he thrust one long finger inside her, actually inside her, stroking, and it felt so incredible, so right.
* * * *
“Oh, God, what is this?” she cried as he felt her come apart, his finger inside her slick warm pussy, his thumb on her puffy clit. He was hungry, so hungry, for her flesh, for her comfort, for her whole being. He wanted to be, needed to be, on top of her, inside her, with her.
Removing his finger swiftly, he tugged her drawers down to her silky thighs. Even lower, trapping her in their tangle, keeping her in place before he bent to between her legs and tasted her sweetness for himself. Sliding his hands around to cup her bottom, he brought her closer to him, not knowing or caring what this was, what he was doing. She was giving and he was taking. It was as simple, as elemental as that.
He tongued her clit and she tangled her hands in his hair. Too innocent to know how forbidden this act was, even among those women who were not innocent, she gave herself over to it, the exaggerated, dauntless enthusiasm this girl showed for everything here in her response to the carnal act, and God, he was going to revel in it.
The ease with which she climaxed against his mouth, shuddering, moving with him, drove him on to the unthinkable. His cock pounded with need, unthinking, uncaring, or caring too much. Wanting too much. Greedy. Hungry. He needed to take that final step, make her his own, make her belong to him. This wild, beautiful girl who pushed him and prodded him, but opened to him so lovingly when he needed it.
Shoving his own drawers down, he swiftly divested her of hers as well as her nightgown, wanting no barrier, however thin, between them. Gently, or as gently as he could while this driving need pushed him, he parted her thighs and slid his cock between them, prodding until she spread them wider.