by Lisa Valdez
Publisher: Berkley (July 5, 2005)
Available Now from Amazon.com : Amazon Kindle
A Holt Medallion Award Winner!
A Romantic Times Reviewer's Choice Award Winner!
PASSION... First in The Passion Quartet
A woman called Passion. A man who would make her true to her name.
In her second year of mourning, lovely young widow Passion Elizabeth Dare never dreamed she would be with a man again--and certainly not a complete stranger. But amidst the crowds of London's Crystal Palace, Passion finds herself discreetly, yet insistently, pursued by a sensual gentleman who awakens her long-supressed desires. After a loveless marriage of restrained propriety, Passion abandons herself to true bliss for the first time.
Intoxicated by his encounter with the beautiful stranger, Mark Randolph Hawkmore, Earl of Langley, cannot wait to see her again. As a series of rapturous rendezvous follows, he and his mystery lover find something rare and wonderful blossoming between them. But a blackmail scheme against the Earl threatens to destroy everything. As a scandal brews, each will have to choose between duty and desire...their love for their families--and their love for each other.
A LETTER OF SOME CONSEQUENCE
July 12, 1824
My Dearest Abigail,
What news I have! I hardly know how to tell you — you, my dearest and most trusted confidante, my girlhood friend and sister of my heart — you, who did warn me so directly and honestly what might happen were I to let my heart rule my head. And how correct you were. For here I am, facing the folly of my feverish desires. Have you guessed my situation? I would not doubt it. But I shall tell you immediately, as I am positive that your eyes are leaping down the page in order to discover my secret.
I, Lucinda Margarita Hawkmoore, am with child! A fact, I know, that in and of itself is not entirely remarkable. But wait, my dearest, for here comes the revelation that will lift your brows ceiling-ward. Do you remember the ravishingly handsome young gardener that I employed to repair my languishing roses? The one with the naughty brown eyes and delightfully thick appendage? Well, it seems that though he was unable to make my roses grow, he was very adept at planting seeds of a different sort, the fruit of which shall spring from my womb, in all glory, some seven months hence.
Now, my dearest, you mustn't chastise me. As you know, I am completely devoted to my new lover, Lord Fentworth. And since I have already born a Hawkmore heir, George, in his usual compliant, husbandly fashion, shall accept this child as his. So there is no harm done. Though George did request that I take measures against his having to play father to any more children not of his making.
I told him I would do my best. And, in truth, I have no desire to bear the loathsome burden of more children. As you are aware, I can barely stand the first one. Yet, I know nothing of such matters, my dearest Abby, so you will have to educate me. Though, I suppose I am safe for the next several months, which is fortunate, as I cannot bear to be out of my darling Fentworth's arms.
So, there it is, my dearest. You and George are the only ones to ever know. You must write to me immediately so that I may know what you think of my little situation. I can almost hear your gentle recriminations now. But, as always, I know you shall forgive me.
With all my love,
Post Script ~ I know I can rely upon you to burn this letter.
CHAPTER ONE — PASSION
May 4, 1851
London, The Crystal Palace
His hand held her breast.
Passion Elizabeth Dare looked down at the large, gray-gloved hand cupped over the lavender silk of her bodice. It rose and fell with her rapid breath. A black clad arm curved around her waist, holding her tightly — so tightly she felt the firm press of a body against her back.
Did no one see?
No, the spectators and exhibitors were too busy trying to round up the three scamps who had toppled the tall potted palm, too busy fanning the elderly matron who had fainted when it crashed in front of her, too busy insuring that none of the fine porcelains in the exhibit had been disturbed. Too busy to notice her, who had been swept out of harm's way even before she herself had seen the peril of the falling palm.
His body shielded her from most of the crowd. His hands didn't move and, though the brim of her bonnet hid her view of him, she felt his head tip forward. Was he looking at his hands upon her?
Passion blinked slowly. She felt she was in a dream. A stranger held her with unabashed intimacy in a public place. He smelled of lemon verbena. Why did she feel so safe?
As she turned to face him, her gaze followed the path of her savior's gray-gloved fingers. They smoothed around her waist and across her breast, lifting her nipple to a hard peak. Passion closed her eyes with a gasp. Then, as his hands moved up her arms in a long, unrelenting caress, an infinitesimal spark flared between his glove and her sleeve. The hot tingle penetrated her skin and ignited her nerves. Shivering down her spine, it flooded her womb then shimmied down her legs.
Passion bit back a moan. His fingers gripped her shoulders. Her breasts ached and she felt moisture on her thighs. How long had it been since she had felt desire?
The low but constant hum of voices surrounded her. She was in the Crystal Palace, Prince Albert's wondrous endeavor to exhibit the worlds' advancements in manufacturing, textiles and art. She had come to meet her cousin, Charlotte, in the china. Not to be fondled by a stranger! Passion's eyes flew open.
Blue. The eyes she stared into were vividly blue. Blue as the wings of a butterfly she had once seen fluttering by her window. She drew a deep breath. Could she paint eyes that color? Could she capture their intense gaze? Could she draw the particular slant of the dark brows that frowned at her from beneath the brim of his top hat? And what of his wide, sensually curved mouth? By God, but he was beautiful.
His nostrils flared before his hands slid slowly down her arms to her wrists. Passion felt his fingers pressing firmly against her racing pulse. She couldn't move. She couldn't speak. She just stood, trembling, while his hot blue gaze moved over her features.
People shifted past them, around them. Behind, someone laughed loudly, startling her. He cast a quick, almost angry glance toward the source of the boisterous laughter before releasing her wrists. For a long moment, his eyes bored into hers. She stared back, frozen. Finally, he lifted his hand to the brim of his hat. With a nod, he turned and walked away.
Passion's breath rushed out all at once. He was tall and she followed his broad-shouldered back with her eyes as he moved easily through the crowd. Just as she thought he would disappear entirely into the throng, he paused. She tensed. Her eyes widened as he turned slowly and looked directly at her across the broad expanse of the exhibit room. She couldn't read his expression. What was he thinking?
Her heart leapt beneath her breast as he started purposefully back toward her. She took two shaky steps backward, then turned and hurried into the adjacent exhibit. When she glanced over her shoulder, he was still there, closing the distance between them with a determined, predatory intensity in his eyes.
Passion pressed forward, passing from one exhibit to the next without thought to where she was. Finally, she stopped beside a small crowd that stood listening to a man with a heavy German accent. Clocks. He was talking about Swiss clocks. Passion glanced behind her. A dull thump of disappointment drummed once in her stomach. He wasn't there. She scanned the crowd before turning back to stare at a large grandfather clock with a looming white face.
Disappointment? The big hand clicked forward. Relief, surely. She sighed. Why lie to herself? She had wanted him to follow. Had wanted him to touch her. Just one more time.
The little Swiss man droned on. The big hand clicked forward again and the heavy pendulum swung — back and forth, back and forth. She stared at it until it blurred. Yes, just one more time. She closed her eyes and conjured piercing blue eyes and large, gray-gloved hands. Hands that made her want…
A touch! Passion's eyes flew open. Although the brim of her bonnet acted as a blinder, she could smell him. Bare fingers pressed on the small expanse of skin between her glove and the sleeve of her gown. He had found her.
The pads of his fingers moved slowly over the thin skin of her inner wrist. She bit her lip as he slid one finger inside her glove, pressing it into her bare palm as his other fingers wrapped around her wrist. Surely, he could feel her blood pounding through her veins.
The Swiss man was still talking. The big clock was still ticking. No one was watching. Haltingly, Passion turned her head to look at him. He stood close beside her, staring at the clockmaker as though he were listening to every heavily accented word. Yet, hidden by the folds of her skirt, his finger moved slowly and sensually over the curves and lines of her palm. She closed her hand around his finger and watched a muscle clench in his jaw.
Polite applause punctuated the end of the clockmaker's speech. But Passion continued to stare. Her words came before she thought to hold them back. "Your profile ought to be pressed upon a coin."
He bent his blue gaze upon her. "Your body ought to be pressed upon mine."
Passion's mouth went dry. Her insides went liquid. "Excuse me," she whispered, backing away.
"No," he said casually. "I do not excuse you."
The low pitch of his voice made a muscle quiver in her thigh. She moistened her lips and swallowed convulsively before mustering the strength to turn from him and move into the milling multitude.
Walking slowly into the main gallery of the Crystal Palace, she squinted a moment in reaction to the bright sunlight shining through the towering, vaulted ceiling. She ought to return to her aunt. She ought to leave. Instead, she glanced behind her.
He was there, leisurely following several paces behind. One corner of his handsome mouth turned up in a sort of half smile.
Passion veered into another exhibit room, less crowded than the others. Silver pieces, resting upon velvet-covered platforms, lent the room a glow as light reflected off the polished surfaces. Crossing to a corner, she paused before a large tureen decorated with grapes, leaves and frolicking Pans engaged in bacchanalian pursuits.
She felt him behind her, pressing the protective layers of skirt and petticoats against her legs. She bit her lip. What was she doing? Why didn't she stop him?
His fingers ran up the middle of her back. Gooseflesh lifted on her arms and her nipples tightened into hard buds. This was what she was doing. This was what she wanted.
Moving to her side, he seemed to study the tureen. Passion studied him. He was tall, big even, but not coarse. Immaculately dressed, the fine fabric of his coat accentuated his tapering torso. His white shirt showed in sharp contrast to his perfectly tied cravat and dark vest. The long legs of his trousers broke perfectly over his polished boots.
"Do I meet with your approval?"
Passion lifted her gaze. He was looking at her with a hot intensity. People moved about behind them. She didn't care. "Yes."
"Good." Suddenly he pulled her hand to the front of his pants. She gasped to feel his erection huge and hard against her palm. His eyes darkened. "You meet with my approval as well."
Passion's fingers clenched convulsively. His jaw tightened. Lord, she hadn't meant to do that. He felt so big, her fingers had moved of their own accord.
She tried to pull away but he held her firmly against him. Her eyes widened in silent appeal as a large group of people paused directly behind them. The corner of his mouth lifted a little in that small, almost smile, then he slowly and deliberately rubbed her hand up and down the thick length of him.
Staring into his eyes, Passion froze, sure that any movement or sound from her would draw some observant individual's immediate attention. Her lip trembled and his gaze dropped to her mouth.
"Fear or excitement?" he asked quietly.
"Both." The word came out in a soft rush.
"And you simply must see this wondrous tureen," a woman said loudly behind them.
He released her, but let his fingers brush her nipple as he lifted his hand to once again touch the brim of his hat. They both stepped back and a small cluster of ladies, accompanied by a gentleman, moved to crowd around the gaudy silver piece.
Passion watched them for a moment as they admired the awful thing. How different she felt from them — how apart. But then, except in the company of her sisters, she always felt different. And now, her whole body tingling with sensation, she felt even more so. It was as if she were moving in the landscape of a dream.
She looked at him. Yet, he was real — he was with her. Though a stranger, he was somehow a part of her.
His coat was pulled forward, his arms crossed over his chest. He stood beside a display, watching her watch the others. His eyes didn't leave her. What must he think? That she was a strumpet? How odd. She, Passion Elizabeth Dare — dutiful daughter, dedicated sister, respectable widow, companionable niece and helpful cousin — a slut?
Her body inclined slightly toward him. Oh, to forget duty and obligation. Could she not indulge this craving, this desire? Just this once? It felt dangerous, yet completely necessary.
Passion strode forward, the tips of her gloved fingers brushing his pant leg as she passed. She knew he followed — had felt the flex of his thigh as he turned. Her decision didn't surprise her so much as her boldness. Suddenly she felt like Bathsheba or Delilah. And though she knew the havoc those women had wrought, she couldn't stop herself — despite a niggling fear.
Passion walked from exhibit to exhibit. He was there, every moment, following. She didn't know what to do or where to go. She just wanted to touch him and be touched by him. She finally stopped in a room of gothic furniture. As with all the exhibits, people roamed throughout.
She strolled to the back of the room, pausing before a huge screen erected in one corner. It was carved to resemble the façade of a medieval castle. Beside it stood a tall prie-dieu, an Italian piece made for the purpose of individual prayer, complete with a cushion for the devotee to kneel upon. A bible lay open upon the broad top. Passion stared at it for a moment before stepping close. She leaned forward tentatively. The words on the page leapt out at her.
Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.
By God, how many times had her father quoted Corinthians in his homilies? Even miles away, there was no escaping his influence.
She sensed him before he touched her. Not her father. Him. Passion shuddered as she felt his hand rest warm on her waist. Why did it feel so comforting, so secure?
He was looking over her shoulder at the Bible. After just a moment, his voice sounded near her ear. "Don't read that." He reached around her. "It's inappropriate for the occasion."
His chest pressed against her shoulder as he flipped the pages. His hands were large and tanned. The subtle scents of lemon verbena, linen and his skin surrounded her.
"There." He looked into her eyes. He stood so close. "Read this."
Passion tore her gaze from his to see the passage he indicated. The Song of Solomon. A small smile turned the corners of her mouth.
"Beautiful." He said the word as if to himself, but he was looking at her — looking at her so hard.
"Read it to me," he said, his voice low. "I want to hear you say the words."
His eyes flickered over her shoulder, surveying the room. Then he lifted his finger, drew it across her cheek to her chin and, with gentle pressure, tipped her head to face the page. "Read it," he urged softly.
She didn't need to read. She new the words by heart and spoke them softly. "As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste." She looked into his fiery gaze and her voice shook. "He brought me to the banqueting house," his large hand cupped her breast; desire tore through her, wetting her, "and his banner over me was love," she gasped.
"I have what you need," he said, his voice rough and urgent. His broad shouldered frame blocked them from view as his hand slid to her other breast. "And you have what I need."
The word had barely passed her lips when, with one quick glance over his shoulder, he pushed her behind the huge screen.
Passion whirled around and felt the wall against her back. He closed the small distance between them in two strides and braced his hands on either side of her head. Even in the dim light she could see the blueness of his eyes.
His voice came low and quiet. "If you want to say no, say it now." He shook his head, "Not two minutes from now, not five minutes from now." With one hand, he slowly pulled free the ribbons of her bonnet. "Now, or not at all."
Passion stared up at him. Her breathing came fast, yet she was powerless to slow it. The noisy chatter of voices floated over the top of the screen. This was the fork in the road — her last chance to retreat. She had never thought to be with a man again. But here she stood, in the most unbelievable and extraordinary of situations. This man, this day, these circumstances, would never happen again. He was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Could she walk away? Everything she was made of — blood, bone, heart and soul begged her to stay. She could do nothing else.
Slowly, she reached up and removed his hat. A thick lock of dark brown hair fell forward over his brow. Still, he didn't move.
"You have what I need," Passion breathed. She lifted her other hand to her bonnet and, pushing it back, let it fall to the floor with his hat. She tucked an auburn curl behind her ear. "No reproaches. No regrets." She pulled off her gloves and dropped them. "No repentance."
His mouth was on hers, his body pressed to hers. She had barely had time to draw breath, but it didn't matter because she had stopped breathing.
His tongue thrust between her parted lips. His hand clasped her breast and his enormous erection ground against her skirts and prodded her stomach.
Passion moaned into his mouth as her body shivered with unfulfilled need.
She tasted and sucked his driving tongue. His nape felt strong and firm beneath her fingers, his chest hard and solid. When had she reached for him?
She didn't know. She didn't care. He tasted like desire and she wanted to feast upon him forever.
His tongue plunged repeatedly to meet hers and his hands moved in tight, sweeping caresses over her breasts and around her waist. She arched against him. Her thighs were wet.
He tore his mouth from hers and Passion filled her lungs with a loud gasping breath. Suddenly, his hand pressed over her mouth and she stared into eyes that were glittering with lust and potent expectation.
"You must be quiet," he said low, his own breathing short and rapid.
She could hear the voice of the crowd just beyond the screen.
As his fingers moved to lightly trace the outline of her mouth, she felt his other hand working between them. He pulled her hand down and she curled her fingers around the stiff, thick shaft of his penis.
His jaw clenched and his hands fell away from her. "Look at it." His words were a demand but his tone was a plea.
Passion lowered her gaze. Her eyes widened and she stared hungrily. Protruding from his pants like some giant pagan phallus, his penis jutted massive and heavy in her hand. Threaded with cord-like veins, she watched, entranced, as he thrust it back and forth within her grip. Her hand looked small and her fingers barely closed around him. Her mouth watered and a heavy throbbing started between her legs. It was beautiful and she wanted it.
"I told you I had what you needed," he murmured. A clear drop of fluid welled over the swollen head of his penis. "Look, it's crying to be inside you."
Passion gasped softly and licked her lips.
With a finger under her chin, he lifted her face to look at him. "Is your cunt crying too?"
Something fluttered in Passion's stomach as her womb pulsed with need. She stared into his intense blue gaze and her legs trembled.
His head dipped and he barely brushed his lips against hers. "Tell me." He kissed her softly, briefly. "Is your cunt weeping for my cock?"
"Yes!" The word came in a whispered rush against his mouth.
And then he was kissing her again — deeply, unrelentingly. His hands pulled at her skirt and petticoats.
Passion's chest heaved and she opened her mouth wider beneath the force of his kiss. She sucked the air from his mouth in a gasp as she felt his hand between her legs. Yet he kept kissing and kissing, giving her the breath she didn't seem able to draw. Then his fingers pushed through the slit in her pantalets and plunged inside her.
Passion's blood rushed to her center. The tight, throbbing spot pressed to the heel of his palm was like a second heart beat. She moaned into his mouth as she felt herself clenching around his thrusting fingers. Her legs shook uncontrollably and her arms tightened around him lest she fall.
He broke the kiss abruptly and his voice came low and raspy in her ear. "My God, has it been so long?"
Passion felt tears well in her eyes. It had been forever. It had been never. Never like this. Her fingers clasped the fabric of his coat. "Please," she begged in a desperate whisper. "Please!"
Something flared in his eyes. One hand slipped over her mouth, the other moved between them. Passion stared into his beautiful eyes and mewled quietly behind his hand as he rubbed the head of his penis against her wet curls and tender flesh. Her hips jerked once, twice.
Groaning, Passion shut her eyes. She had never felt so out of control.
Then he thrust deep inside her and in one soul splitting, body breaking moment she didn't care. Her eyes flew open and she cried out behind his hand as a deep groan escaped him.
Passion couldn't move. She was impaled, filled, stretched — pinned to the wall. Her toes barely touched the floor. She didn't want to move. She was held in place by the unrelenting pressure of his cock against the door to her womb. If only she could stay here forever — forever filled, never empty. Her flesh throbbed and clenched around him.
He surged upward and Passion moaned as she was lifted against the wall. The throbbing pulse between her legs intensified, drowning out her heartbeat.
His eyes blazed into hers and he thrust again. "This is what you need," he rasped. "You need to be fucked." He thrust, "And fucked."
Yes! It was true. Passion gasped with each driving force, the pressure inside her building, as he seemed to be ever pushing yet never withdrawing.
"Take me inside you," he groaned, thrusting again.
Her muscles drew taught with expectation. She wanted to scream — to spew everything out of her that was not an ally to desire. To rid herself of the woman she was, and be only this woman, now, forever. Deep inside her, the pressure built. Was it he trying to get in, or she trying to get out? She felt faint. Her eyes filled with tears of pent up longing.
Did he see her need? He must have, for she felt his hand tighten on her buttock, and in the next moment he was bearing down hard upon her hip while he pushed up inside her.
Passion bit back a scream. Her mind reeled. She clenched hungrily, protectively around the thick shaft of his cock, though the swollen head was slowly forcing the tight door of her womb. It was killing her. She writhed wantonly against him. It was the greatest pleasure she had ever known.
"Take me," he rasped. "That's it. Take me." He ground against her.
Passion's whole body began to shake and open. She felt everything inside her was going to shatter. And she wanted it.
His eyes never left her. "Take all of me. Open for me. Open! "
And he bore down so hard upon her and drove up so fiercely, that Passion broke. The door to her womb tilted, moved in some small way. Her heart stopped and she sucked in air. Then her whole body began to convulse in wracking spasms of hot, quivering desire. The only heart that beat was the one between her legs. Beating so hard, so fast — shaking her with violent jolts of wracking pleasure. Her eyes rolled back and with a weak, keening cry, warm wetness gushed out of her in a torrential wash of cum and tears.
With a choked groan, he pumped his hips into her, forcing her to give more. Passion sobbed at the exquisite pressure and could do nothing to resist it — didn't want to resist it.
"That's it." He drew breath through clenched teeth. "Open! I have more to give you." He pushed fiercely into her hot wetness and Passion choked on a sob — a sob of desire, anguish and gratitude. "It's all right," he rasped. "It's all right." But he kept pushing, faster and faster, his cock driving into her, lifting her.
Passion saw hunger and supplication in his eyes. Her body answered and somehow she eased open another small bit.
He gasped, his eyes closing for a moment. Then his hips were driving her into the wall. Passion felt everything drawing up tight inside her. He yanked his hand from her mouth and kissed her, filling her with his tongue.
Her flesh clenched and caressed his thick shaft. The tilted door of her womb rubbed the invading head of his cock. Her mouth opened to him. Her arms held him, her fingers twisted in the hair at his nape. Her thighs trembled in willing submission.
Then with a long, guttural groan into her mouth and wrenching thrusts into her body, he spewed hot seed deep inside her. He came and he came, bathing her insides with hot washes of cum.
And Passion wept silently between gasps and kisses as the tortured pulse between her legs exploded again and sent a thousand darts of bursting pleasure into her cunt, her womb and the very organs of her body.