“Do as I said. Take off the dress.” He took a step backward, as if he wished to view her distress from a more casual distance. Her hands were trembling. She gripped the delicate apricot silk and slid the ruined dress off her shoulders. Such a beautiful gown, she thought, each one so precious to a women who had never owned such lovely things. She tried to think of something she might say, some way to make him understand what had happened between her and Phillip, but one look at his face told her the effort would be futile.
The gown fell away. She stood before him in only her slippers, white silk stockings, satin garters, and fine lawn chemise, the fabric so transparent it revealed the faint pink circles of her nipples. Her face turned scarlet as those cold, silver-gray eyes moved slowly over her breasts.
“Remove the pins from your hair. I wish to see how it looks round your shoulders.”
Ariel bit the inside of her cheek, not sure she had the courage to continue. She couldn’t bear to imagine what the dark, forbidding earl intended to do. The thought returned that she should run, make at least some effort to save herself. But she didn’t believe for a moment the angry, predatory man who stood across from her would ever let her escape.
Instead, she steeled herself and did as he said, praying God would intercede, hoping she could think of a way to save herself. Her fingers were shaking so badly she couldn’t hold onto her hairpins. They made soft pinging sounds as they hit the wooden floor at the edge of the carpet.
When the last pin was removed, her pale hair tumbled down
past her shoulders.
“Now the shift.”
Oh, dear God. Fresh tears sprang into her eyes and this time she could not stop them. They brimmed over and slid down her cheeks. “Please….I’m sorry about what happened. I shouldn’t have let him come in, but I-I had no idea he was going to kiss me.”
The earl’s jaw clenched. She closed her eyes against the sight of his tall lean figure bearing down on her like a vision from hell. He stopped directly in front of her, reached out and gripped her shoulders.
“I’m not a fool, Ariel. It’s obvious Phillip Marlin is your lover. Since that is the case, from this day forward, you will simply warm my bed instead of his.”
Her lover? Misery crashed over her in great numbing waves. She faintly shook her head. “Phillip isn’t…my lover. I’ve never…no one has ever…that was the first time anyone has ever kissed me.”
His fingers tightened on her shoulders almost painfully. “You’re lying.”
“I’m telling you the truth.” She nervously moistened her trembling lips. “We only just met last week. I was walking in the park and he…he simply appeared. Today we went for a ride in his carriage. It was starting to rain, so I…I asked him in to tea. Then he kissed me.”
Another bolt of lightning stabbed into the overcast sky, illuminating the shadowy angles of his face. Ariel caught a flash of something in his eyes she hadn’t expected. Something stark and filled with pain. Something he hadn’t meant for her to see.
His long dark fingers dropped away. For the first time, he appeared uncertain. “You’re not saying…. You’re not telling me that you are still a virgin?”
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