That sacrificing a pawn would net him the queen.
It was a dangerous move and he knew it. Still, Victoria Temple was a difficult opponent and he had been forced to come up with a different approach than he had intended.
Cord grinned at the sound of four sharp raps at his door. Not the soft, tentative knock Claire would have used, but the firm, furious tapping that could only belong to her sister.
“Come in,” he drawled, and then waited as the door swung open and Victoria walked in. Standing as she was in the shadows, he couldn’t see her face but he recognized her shorter stature and the belligerence in her stance.
“You’re late,” he said with a nonchalant glance at the clock. “I specifically instructed you to be here at midnight. It is now three minutes past.”
“Late?” she repeated the fury in her voice unmistakable. “Three minutes or three hours, the fact is Claire is not going to come.”
Victoria stepped toward him, out of the shadows and into a shaft of moonlight streaming in through the window. Her hair was unbound, curling softly around her shoulders, and he itched to run his fingers through it, to know the silky texture. Beneath her wrapper, her breasts rapidly rose and fell and he wanted to cup them, to bend his head and take the fullness into his mouth.
“I am sorry to disappoint you, my lord,” she said, “but your plan for seduction has failed. Claire remains safely upstairs in her room.”
Cord came up off the bed and paced toward her, a panther with his prey in sight. “As well she should be.”
“What are you talking about? You sent Claire a note. You told her to come to your room at midnight. You planned to seduce her. You–”
“You’re wrong, lovely Victoria. I told her to come because I knew you would not let her–which you would come in her stead.” He reached her then, settled his hands on her shoulders, felt the tension thrumming through her. Very slowly, he drew her toward him. “It is you I want, Victoria. It has been from the start.”
Tory gasped as his mouth settled softly over hers. For several moments, she simply stood there, letting the heat flood through her, absorbing the taste of him, only dimly aware of the hard male body pressing into hers.
Then she remembered why she was there and forced herself to pull away. “I don’t believe you.” She took several steps backward, her breath coming too fast. She told herself it was anger. “You…you would take whatever woman happened to appear in your bedchamber.”
The earl shook his head, stalking her, matching her step for step until her shoulders came up against the wall and she couldn’t retreat any farther.
“You don’t really believe that? We were playing a game, you and I. You were the prize I wanted, not Claire.”
“That can’t be the truth. Men always want Claire.”
“Claire is a child, no matter her years. You’re a woman, Victoria.” He pinned her with his lion’s gaze, caught her chin, and held her so she couldn’t look way. “Deep down, you know it’s you I want and not Claire.”
She swallowed, stared into those hot brown eyes and fought not to tremble. She remembered that same look the night he had come to her room, remembered the way he had kissed her in his study. She remembered the vague hints that he wanted her as his mistress–and God in heaven, she believed him.
The earl tilted her chin up, bent his head and captured her lips. It was a gentle, persuasive kiss, softly taking, convincing her with every touch, ever taste. He kissed the corners of her mouth, pressed his lips against the side of her neck.
“If you’re telling the truth,” she whispered, “why didn’t…why didn’t you send the note to me?”
She felt the faint pull of his smile. “Would you have come?”
She wouldn’t have, of course. “No.”
“I didn’t think so.” And then he kissed her again.
Tory’s hands came up to his chest, fluttered, and flattened against the hard wall of his chest. Sweet Lord, it was heaven, the softest, hottest kisses, his lips hard-soft, perfectly fitted to hers, coaxing yet demanding, giving and taking all at once.
He deepened the kiss and pleasure made her legs go weak. Her arms slid up around his neck, and he pulled her more snugly against him.
Tory trembled. She knew she should stop him. He was the Earl of Brant, a rake and a rogue, a man who would ruin her if she let him. And yet she sensed a need in him, had since that night he had barged into her room.
Her own need surfaced, pulsed to life with every stroke of his tongue, deepened with the feel of his hands on her breasts, smoothing over them, molding them through her robe. He kissed the side of her neck as he parted the blue quilted wrapper and slid his hand inside, over her thin cotton nightgown to cup a breast.
“Give you to me,” he said softly. “I know you want to.”
God’s breathe, it was the truth. She had never wanted anything so badly. He was every wicked dream she’d ever had, every wanton fantasy. She had known that about herself, that she wasn’t like Claire, that she had desires and wants and she wanted the Earl of Brant.
Tory shook her head, tried to step away, but the earl held her firmly in place.
“Don’t say no. Let me take care of you, give you a better life. And you can take care of Claire. Neither of you will want for anything.”
He was saying it straight out, asking her to become his mistress. He wanted her, the sturdy sister, not Claire the beautiful one.
Tory simply could not do it.
She was surprised to feel the sting of tears.
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