He wanted to laugh. He wanted to dance. He wanted – God help any music lovers within earshot – to sing. He wanted to run out of the guard-house, raise his face to the falling snow and shout out his joy to the invisible heavens and the High Street of Edinburgh. Most of all, he wanted to stay here and keep on kissing Christian Rankeillor.
Her cool fingers were coiled around his wrist, under his Dresden ruffles. A moment before, the starched white embroidery frothing out at his cuffs had brushed her cheek, and she had shivered. Not because she was scared, as he had initially feared, but in anticipation. Her response to this first kiss they had shared had been all he could have hoped for and a lot more than he deserved. Trust. Innocence. Passion. ’Twas an arousing combination. His anatomy was already responding, even as his brain was telling him he had to hold himself in check. She might be scared if he went too far. Besides which, they weren’t alone.
Robert Catto’s eyes dropped to Geordie Smart the cook boy, snoring softly with his head resting against Christian Rankeillor’s shoulder. The lad had fallen asleep there half-an-hour before, worn out by his own adventures this evening. Her free arm curved around the child, she sat between him and Catto. The lavish rose-pink skirts of her evening gown were a startling splash of colour against the smoke-blackened settle, one of two which faced each other across the guard-room. Catto pressed his forehead against her own. ‘All right?’ he murmured.
She didn’t answer him with words, only sought his mouth again. This time it was she who deepened and prolonged the kiss, setting his blood and his body on fire and testing his good resolutions to the limit. His brain was losing this battle.
He wanted more. Much, much more. His hand already lay on her shimmering skirts. Those spilled over his own satin-clad knees, covering the dark-green breeches of his evening clothes. Expansive though her gown was, its skirts and the petticoat below formed only the lightest of blankets. The barrier between his long fingers and the smooth skin of what lay between her thighs was no barrier at all.
It might be a long time since he had last made love to a girl wearing a hooped petticoat, rather than one in a simple skirt and bodice he was paying for the pleasure, but he hadn’t forgotten how to navigate his way through the layers. Although what if the movement woke Geordie up? Catto had been in brothels where no one paid any attention to the wide awake children of the whores, gave no thought at all to what those children heard and saw. He’d always felt a certain delicacy about that.
Lost in a haze of rising desire, still he wondered if he could. Oh God, just a little touch… his fingertips nudging tight curls, sliding through that enchanted forest to the irresistible paradise within. In the midst of the kiss, he heard himself utter a little moan of desire. Just a little touch, that was all. He would go no farther. Doing his thinking for him, his hand skimmed down to the hem of her skirts, rose underneath them over smooth white stockings to her knees, slid over one knotted garter to the prize of bare skin. It was as smooth as her stockings, warm and enticing.
She stiffened and broke the contact, her eyes flying open. ‘Robert…’ she breathed. ‘Please… I’ve never… We can’t…’
Not too hard to work out what she had never done, which wasn’t helping the situation in the slightest. Quite the reverse. Yet his hand stilled. No girls who seemed in the least wise unwilling. That had always been a golden rule. And God Almighty, there was so much more than that to think about here.
He wanted this girl. He wanted to protect her too, and from more than a rough tumble and a careless coupling. She was in deadly danger. Not least from him. He drew back, laid the offending hand flat against the rose silk and creamy lace of her elbow-length sleeve and looked into her startled green eyes.
‘Listen to me,’ he said, pushing her a little away from him. ‘You have to listen to me.’
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