Can a powerful woman finally take control of her own pleasure?
After finding her husband tupping one of the maids in the pantry, Countess Ariadne sets off to visit her sister to avoid scandal. Wondering if her marriage is over, she’s come upon by a highwayman, whose silver tongue and suave manner soon have her eager to demand what she’s due. Having found the ability to get what she desires, will Ariadne choose to pass his way again? Or will she use her newfound knowledge to bring her husband to heel?
A short while later, the carriage halted again in a patch of gloom. Tree branches arched overhead, casting odd shadows that seemed to shift from dark to darker. It had grown cooler since we'd entered the woods, and I shivered, but I wasn't quite sure if it was due to the cold or the moodiness of the setting. Around us, the forest stood absolutely still. Not a leaf rustled against the breeze. Neither bird nor beast made a sound.
I waited, frowning, hoping it was nothing more than a dead limb in the road that had caused Harlan to rein the team to a halt.
“Step out of the coach!”
A deep voice, highborn. Not Harlan.
I snatched up the pistol from beneath the pillow just as Harlan's whip cracked. The shriek of a horse and the confused dance of hooves rent the air as the carriage jerked forward, then back, and toppled me to the opposite bench. The pistol flew out from my hands and spun off across the floor.
More shouting. Harlan, I thought, but then the carriage lurched again, sending me to the floor, as well. I scrambled to seize the pistol, feeling like a child's ball bouncing to and fro.
There was a thud and a grunt, and someone fell past the window in a flutter of dark coattails. I rose and lurched to the window. Harlan lay in a dark heap in the tall grass along the roadside. He made no attempt to rise.
I peered out into the gloom, frozen, the smooth curve of the pistol grip heavy in my hand. For a long moment, nothing moved, nothing made a sound, other than the nervous stamping of the horses against the rails, which shook the coach.
“Stand and deliver!”
My heart punched hard and fast in my chest like a hare beneath the shadow of a hawk. I clutched the pistol tighter and pressed back into my seat, trying to look between the windows on either side to see where the threat would first appear. I had no idea what I should do then, with only an unloaded pistol between myself and a bandit, who would most certainly be armed.
“Step out of the carriage! I shall not ask again!”
“I am only a woman alone,” I shouted back, cocking the flintlock on the pistol as quietly as I could. I hadn't loaded it because in truth, I was deathly afraid of it going off accidentally. What a rattle-pated goose!
Perhaps he'd fall for the ego game. “Please, sir, you frighten me!”
I glanced back and forth between the windows, straining to hear something. There! The creak of saddle leather and the thump of boots on the ground. His footsteps ambled lightly toward the door to my left.
An idea exploded in my head like a cannon shot. I slid to the floor and dropped to my back, facing the door, which opened outward, and drew my knees to my bosom. I held the pistol in one hand, its weight tugging at my wrist, and took a deep breath to calm the pounding of my heart.
His dark form filled the window, and he turned the latch. The moment he began to pull the door open, I kicked out savagely with both feet. The door crashed into him, sending him sailing back into the dust. I leapt to my feet as gracefully as I could, cursing my skirts to the devil, and looked out at my handiwork.
From his back in the dust, he peered up at me, his gaze firmly on mine. His eyes were a startling, clear sky blue. He'd dropped his pistol, and it lay in a heap of dried grass along the edge of the road. He glanced at it briefly, then back at me.
“I shouldn't try it if I were you.” I raised my empty pistol and pointed it at his head.
And felt the pull of its weight immediately in my wrist and shoulder. His eyes widened a bit, whether at the pistol or the fact that my bosom hung half out of my bodice from tumbling around in the carriage, I couldn't tell.
“Remove your sword, sir.” My voice trembled, but only the slightest bit. All in all, I was quite proud of my brave façade.
He drew his rapier and tossed it to the grass beside his pistol.
God help me. Only a moment ago I'd been in fear for my life, but now, seeing those eyes, and with my pistol firmly in hand and his own hands empty, a sense of power blossomed inside me like nothing I'd ever known. Or perhaps that feeling of power, that thrill rushing through me and dampening my thighs, had more do with the flicker of awareness in his gorgeous eyes, and how they fluttered almost imperceptibly, not to my pistol, but to my décolletage.
He took a moment, as if to collect himself, then swept off his tricorn—adorned with a garish black plume—and bent forward in as much of a bow as a man in his position was able.
“My lady, forgive the intrusion.”
“What have you done to Harlan?” I could see my poor coachman from here, but he remained still.
“He's only stunned—a blow to the head with the butt of my pistol. I haven't killed him.”
“How uncommonly kind of you.” I looked the highwayman over, but sprawled as he was in the flaps of his greatcoat in a patch of shade, he seemed to melt into the shadows like a wraith. A tall wraith, broadly built, in well-cut greatcoat and fine buckskin breeches, certainly of quality. His dark hair fell unbound over his shoulders, lending a wildness to his rugged face that completely suited his occupation. He was a handsome creature, no doubt about that, but his appearance possessed a hardness, an edge—a sensuality—which even Edgar's never had.
Yet his pale blue eyes seemed…kind. Strange to say about a man who had just clouted my coachman and seemed set on stealing my jewels, but there it was. There was no malice in his gaze, no violence, and the smile on his face looked more than a little chagrined at finding himself disarmed by a lady.
But there was more. Beneath it all, those blue eyes reflected something else.