Three Schemes and a Scandal (The Writing Girls #3.5)(10) by Maya Rodale

In an effort to avoid being ushered out along with the mob, James tugged Charlotte into a private window alcove.

On one side, French doors opened onto a small balcony overlooking the terrace. The thick walls—about two feet deep—formed the sides and luxurious velvet curtains draped on either side of the alcove’s opening into the library.

There was room for the two of them. Just.

The only time James had seen Charlotte cry was when George Coney had died. No, that wasn’t quite right. When he laughed at her for thinking to bury the beloved pet with hymns and a recitation of memories. The worst, of course, was when she had encountered Dudley. With her pet. Over an open fire.

The doctor actually sedated her with laudanum. The boys were soundly punished, and sent back to school early … before Charlotte had awoken.

He’d always felt shame about how he acted that day.

While he had not taken a bite, he had not tried very hard to stop Dudley, who threatened each and every day to dunk James’s head in the privy. He was a bully to this day, which made the whole thing worse. James had hurt the fragile feelings of a really terrific girl to impress a bloody idiot.

And now tears were perched menacingly and he would be damned if she cried because he hadn’t defended or befriended her again.

So he tugged her into the alcove so they might have some privacy. Immediately, he regretted it. There was barely enough room for them both and it was impossible to forget that she was no longer a girl, and very, very, very much a woman. Especially as every slightest movement resulted in a complete caress.

“Charlotte you must not let him get to you,” he said. “My father is an arse.”

She sniffed, and blinked back the tears. He allowed a small exhalation of relief.

“He’s so ungrateful! The lengths I went to in order to issue a heartfelt apology! I invented an architectural motif for him,” she hissed.

“Upon which he lectured at length further solidifying his reputation as London’s architectural expert. You are too kind,” James said. She was either kind or insane; at the moment he was feeling charitably toward her for he could see the marvelous chain of events she had set in motion so that he and his father might mend their rift.

“I know that. But why doesn’t he see it?” she asked, miffed.

“Because he cares only for blocks of stone, architectural whatever and Gideon,” James said frankly. Beyond their alcove, the room was steadily emptying as Lord Capulet herded them out.

“Doesn’t that bother you?” she asked, peering up at him with her big blue eyes. He would swear that she could read minds, and see through carefully constructed facades. No wonder so many men were terrified of her.

“Not so much anymore,” James said with a shrug. It was a mild annoyance that he had reconciled himself to, like a blister that becomes a callus.

A woman’s laugh punctured the silence that had fallen upon the room.

James ducked his head out and saw Lady Layton and Lord Beaverbrook stumbling into the now empty library, clinging to each other in a manner than left no question as to their intentions.

“I want to see the Eversham Motif,” Lady Layton giggled.

“I’ll show you my motif,” Lord Beaverbrook growled. James thought he might be sick.

James also realized that unless they acted now—

Too late. Lord Beaverbrook locked the library door. And then he bent Lady Layton over the desk.

James quickly yanked the sashes holding the curtains back, and the heavy velvet drapes fell together, enclosing him and Charlotte in a dark, secluded alcove in which it was impossible for them to stand without touching each other.

“Well, this is compromising,” Charlotte remarked, uttering the understatement of the nineteenth century. They were stuck together in a small, dark space with another couple making loud, adulterous love on Lord Capulet’s desk.

“It we get caught,” he clarified. It was their only hope. And then he prayed they would not get caught. How long could Lady Layton and Beaverbrook go at it? They just needed to wait them out and sneak out undetected. And pray no one looked for them in the meanwhile.

“What about—” Charlotte asked, inclining her head toward the amorous couple, who were now loudly declaring the pleasure that they wrought upon each other.

“If we just remain quiet, they won’t notice us at all. In a moment or so, they’ll be very … distracted … then we can make our escape,” James said. If only he believed it. He had visions of being stuck here all night.

“Are they doing what I think they are doing?” She wriggled in an effort to peek out of the curtains, and in doing so brushed intimately against certain portions of James’s anatomy. Part of him was thrilled with this situation.

“What do you think they’re doing?” James asked her, relishing the blush that crept across her cheeks.

“Marital relations,” she said solemnly.

“In a manner of speaking. Except they are not married to each other, but to other people,” James said.

“I want to see,” she said, grinning wickedly.

“Oh, that is nothing you should witness,” he told her. “There are some things which ladies—or gentlemen—are not to see.”

Lord Beaverbrook’s bare arse is at the top of the list.

“That was the worst possible thing you could say, James,” Charlotte said, and she writhed a little more, and he groaned. Her hands crept toward the part in the curtains …

He forced them closed.

“Do not make me tie your wrists with this,” he said, dangling the velvet sash before her wide eyes. She bit her lip. He suspected he felt more threatened, teased and tortured than she.

“You wouldn’t dare,” she whispered. Strangely, he wanted to. What a sight it would be for Charlotte to be still, to be at his mercy for once.

“No one would blame me,” he said. But that was a lie. If he were discovered with a bound female, he would have to leave town. Indefinitely.

“I want to see,” she whispered again. Her curiosity would be the end of them both.

“Chess. They are playing chess,” he said, his voice oddly husky.

She smiled at him, like the devil with a trick up her sleeve. Then she slid down slowly, her back against the wall, her br**sts brushing against him. Quite nearly on her knees—with her mouth just inches from certain excited parts of his anatomy—she turned her head, parted the curtains and peered out.

“Chess? I think you meant chest. Yes, he has his hand on her chest,” she murmured. James thought of his hands on the round swells of Charlotte’s br**sts, then his mouth, and the thought was tempting. Too tempting. Especially with her mouth just inches from …

“I can’t quite …” Charlotte tilted her head, trying to get a better view from her impossible position. She brushed against him. He groaned softly.

“It’s an advanced move in … backgammon,” James told her. Why he felt impelled to protect the innocence of Charlotte Brandon he knew not. Especially given that he’d just been considering his hands and his mouth lavishing attention on her br**sts.

“If that is backgammon then I have been playing all wrong,” she replied, and God help him, he wanted to laugh. She slid up to stand, her body torturously caressing the length of his as she did. The thing was, he didn’t think this was a deliberate scheme or a purposefully seductive maneuver.

In spite of all her dangerous and devious machinations, she was an innocent.

“Don’t look anymore. You’ll be ruined,” he said, his voice hoarse.

“One might say I already am. For the second time,” she said.

“And whose fault is that?” he questioned.

Hers. But he would be blamed for it.

“Quite beside the point, I’m sure. Now step aside sir, I couldn’t quite see and I’d like to be shocked.” She tried to inch past him. He held the curtains firmly shut. Mainly, though, to keep his hands occupied with something other than her—whether a caress or strangling, he wasn’t quite sure yet.

“You want to be shocked, Charlotte?” he asked, with a lift of his brow, like a dare.

“I’ll settle for amused,” she said coolly.

“Will you now? He replied just as coolly, even though, by God, he suddenly wanted to take her, kiss her hard and show her shocked. Ravished. Amused.

“Shouldn’t a gentleman honor a lady’s wishes?” Charlotte mused. “Is that not the gentlemanly thing to do?”

“It depends upon the matter in which she wishes to be obliged. I cannot in good conscience let you look at the extremely indelicate situation in which Lady Layton and Lord Beaverbrook are engaged.”

“Extremely indelicate?” Charlotte echoed with a stifled burst of laughter. “You sound like a dowager.”

“I’ll have you know, Miss Charlotte, that I am a renowned rake. No woman would mistake me for a dowager,” he said, warningly.

“Why does that sound like a threat?”

“It isn’t,” he said firmly. But he was this close to proving to her thoroughly and assuredly that he was not a dowager. He was a rake and he would take his pleasure where it suited him.

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