The Husband Hunt
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"Are you sure you want to do this?" Christiana asked with concern.
"Of course she's sure," Suzette answered for her. "Lisa has loved Robert forever. It will be all right."
"Suzette, don't push her into this," Christiana said quietly. "This is not a game. He could be very angry if he works out it was a setup. He might never forgive her."
Lisa bit her lip as Christiana's words ran through her head. It was a scary thought, but not as scary as the thought of never having him, she acknowledged. And if she did not do this, she very much feared she would lose him. Or never get to claim him, Lisa supposed, since he wasn't hers to lose yet.
Straightening her shoulders, she nodded firmly. "I want to do this."
"Good girl," Suzette said cheerfully, rubbing her shoulder. "You can do this. You've read all those books and know what to do. Just pretend you are Fanny or Sophia and do all those delicious things you've read about. He will not be able to resist you."
"Right," she murmured, her mind scrambling to pull up all the bits of information she had read over the years. Unfortunately, the only thing she could remember just then was that the first time was supposed to be terribly painful and bloody. The thought was not an encouraging one. Hardly something to look forward to and she felt herself begin to wilt. Then she recalled those moments at the ball when Robert had kissed and caressed her after pushing her into the dark room. Those memories managed to push back the fear and trepidation.
"Good." Suzette patted her back. "So we will head out to the ball, and you go sit with him in his room while he eats, and then seduce him. We will return early and check on him and catch you in there, hopefully naked in bed," she added. "You can do this."
"I can do this," Lisa agreed, shoulders straightening, and then she asked with worry. "What time are you returning?"
"We hadn't decided on a set time," Christiana said with a frown when Suzette hesitated.
"It's better that way, then you will not have to fake being surprised," Suzette assured her when Lisa looked worried. "But what if I haven't seduced him by the time you come back?" she asked plaintively.
"Well, you should seduce him right away," Suzette said firmly. "Or at least as quickly as possible. The doctor has given him a tincture so he should be manageable enough and suffering no pain."
"But - "
"Blow out the candle when you've done it," Christiana suggested. "If we return and the candle in his room is still glowing, we will wait to make our entrance."
"Oh, okay," she murmured with relief. It would be just her luck for them to return before she'd worked up the courage to seduce Robert and ruin everything.
"All right," Suzette smiled encouragingly. "Chin up. This will work. This time next year you and Robert will be happily married and laughing about all of this."
"If he forgives her," Christiana said gloomily. She was still not keen on this idea, but was giving her support because she loved Lisa and wanted her happy. And because she couldn't think of another way to handle the matter. Lisa appreciated that.
"Chrissy, stop being such a pessimist about this," Suzette reprimanded grimly. "We have been considering the problem for the last two days since the attack and there is really no other way to handle him. And it has to be handled soon. Those runners could return at any moment with the name of the suitor."
"Yes, I know," Christiana said on a sigh. "That's the only reason I have stopped arguing against it." Forcing a smile, she patted Lisa's shoulder. "Everything will be fine, I'm sure."
Lisa nodded solemnly, though she wasn't sure of that herself.
"Are you ladies ready to go?"
The three sisters glanced to the door together to see Daniel smiling brightly. "Richard is arranging for the carriage to be brought around right now. We need to get going if we wish to avoid the worst of the crush of arrivals."
"Yes, we're ready," Suzette said and gave Lisa's arm an encouraging squeeze before crossing the room to slip her arms around her husband.
"Good," he said and bent his head to kiss her forehead affectionately. Glancing back to Lisa, he said solemnly. "Good luck, little sister."
Lisa nodded and managed a smile, then turned her attention to Christiana as she moved in front of her.
"All will be well," Christiana whispered, giving her a bracing hug. "You don't have to do this if you don't want to. But it will be all right. At least I hope it will. It will be fine. Maybe."
On that confusing note, she released her and followed the other two out of the room.
Lisa stared after them briefly, then turned to pace to the window and peer out at the night sky, trying not to think about what she was supposed to do. Seducing Robert. Good Lord, she didn't have a clue what she was going to do. How was she supposed to seduce him? It wasn't exactly something she'd been trained in. Did they even have training in that? Was there a school for Birds-of-Paradise and other light skirts? Classes on kissing? Caressing? Or on how to not scream like an idiot when he tore through your maidenhead and sent the blood gushing?
"Dear God," she muttered, pushing that thought firmly away. She would just go in there and . . . well, she would eat with him, talk, laugh, and . . . hopefully, something would inspire her. It would be easier though if he were doing the seducing. She would respond most eagerly if he did. However, that wasn't likely to happen.
"Here we are."
Lisa turned from the window as Bet entered, a tray in hand. "Cook put together quite a feast for the two of you. She says Lord Langley needs to build up his strength. I managed to refrain from saying more than she knew," Bet said with a naughty grin.
Lisa managed a rather sickly smile, and moved to take the tray from her. Everybody was so bloody cheerful and happy about this plan. It seemed to her most households would not be so happy at the thought of the deliberate ruination of a young unmarried lady of the family. She truly had an unusual family.
"Good luck," Bet murmured as she released the tray. "I shall be thinking of ye."
"Oh, dear God, please do not," Lisa whispered shakily. "This is going to be hard enough without knowing you are thinking about what I am doing."
"Oh, aye," Bet muttered. "I'll . . . er . . . think o' something else then."
"Thank you," Lisa said dryly and headed out of her room to the one Robert was occupying. She paused, her gaze sliding from the tray she held to the doorknob, and then sighed and glanced around. She smiled with relief when she saw that Bet had recognized the problem and was now rushing forward to open the door for her. "Good luck," she whispered as Lisa nodded and slid inside.
"God be with ye."
Lisa turned with a start at those words, just in time to see the door close.
God be with her? She was planning to seduce a man, compromise herself and force him into marriage. God was not likely to approve of that plan, or stay at her side to help her through it. Good Lord, they'd all gone mad.
Sighing, she offered a smile for Robert's benefit as she moved toward his bed.
"Good evening. I've brought you dinner and thought I would stay to eat it with you," she announced cheerfully, carrying the tray to the bedside table
"That is kind of you," Robert murmured and started to pull himself up in bed.
"Just a moment and I'll help you," Lisa said with a frown when he winced and paused.
Setting the tray quickly on the table, she turned to bend to him. Lisa caught the way his eyes shifted to her chest as her robe gaped open, but pretended she didn't and acted very businesslike as she helped him sit up.
"Er . . . Lisa?" Robert muttered as she fussed over tucking his blankets more securely around his waist.
"Would you like a robe or something? Are you chilly?" she asked as she straightened.
Robert glanced down at his chest, bare but for the bandaging around his ribs and grimaced. "A shirt will do."
"Of course." She moved to the chest at the foot of the bed and bent forward to open and begin searching it, knowing as she did that she was once again revealing a good deal of what she was wearing under her gaping robe.
"What the hell are you wearing?" he asked in a near growl as she pulled out a shirt and briefly examined it.
"Oh, a robe and night wear," Lisa answered absently as she straightened and moved back around the bed to help him don the shirt.
"What kind of night wear?" he asked, distractedly allowing her to tug the shirt on for him. Lisa didn't close it properly or bother with buttons.
"A nightgown, Robert," she answered on a laugh as she turned to the tray. "What else would I be wearing?"
"Yes, but . . . it is not that gown Mrs. Morgan put you in, is it?" he asked fretfully.
Lisa glanced at him with feigned surprise. "As a matter of fact it is. How did you know?"
"Because when you bent over I saw damned near down to your belly button and there wasn't much in the way to prevent it but a gauzy film," he said dryly. "What the devil are you doing wearing that damned thing?"
"It is extremely comfortable," she said with a shrug, removing her own plate and glass of wine, leaving his on the tray before she turned toward him with it as if to set the tray on his lap. She paused before setting it down though and raised her eyebrows, then turned to set the tray back. Lisa then settled herself on the side of the bed and reached for the buttons of his shirt, murmuring, "You did not do up your shirt. I suppose your wound makes such things difficult."
"I can do up my own shirt," he muttered, but didn't try to stop her as she reached for the buttons, allowing her fingers to brush as much of his skin, by accident, as she could. Not that he seemed to notice. His eyes were on the opening of her robe. Which appeared to be parting a little more with every movement she made. "I can't believe you are actually wearing that damned gown."
"As I said, Robert, it is comfortable," Lisa responded with unconcern, finishing with one button and letting her fingers trail down his chest to the next. "It feels as if you're practically wearing nothing at all, and brushes light as feathers against your skin when you move. It's quite nice. Here, feel."
Releasing the button she'd been about to slip into its hole, Lisa took his hand in one of hers while tugging the top of her robe to the side with the other. Then she pressed his hand to the material between her breasts. "It's quite lovely, really."
While she pressed the backs of his fingers against the material between her breasts, it was he who turned his fingers over to run them down the V she'd revealed, following the swell of one breast.
"Beautiful," he murmured, his eyes burning.
Lisa held her breath, waiting as little tingles began in the trail of his fingers and swept smoothly outward in both directions, bringing her nipples erect. She could see them pebbling beneath the thin material of her robe and even thinner nightgown. She wasn't the only one. Robert had noticed, she saw. His gaze appeared to be fixed on the flesh rising beneath the cloth as his finger moved. "You shouldn't be here," he growled, but his fingers continued to run over her skin through the delicate cloth.
"Of course I should. You need to eat," she whispered back, pressing gently forward into his caress until her breath brushed his lips as she spoke.
Robert shifted his eyes to her face, a frown beginning to pluck at his lips and she knew he was about to start thinking and ruin everything.
"Kiss me, Robert," she pleaded. "I so enjoyed your kisses at the ball. They made me burn and tingle everywhere. Just a kiss. Please?"
Lisa saw the struggle on his face as he hesitated, and decided to add to her persuasion. Releasing his hand, she quickly undid the sash of her robe and pulled it apart, baring herself to him from the waist up. Well, she did still have that gown from Mrs. Morgan's on, but it covered nothing. She might as well have been naked.
Robert groaned, his hand moving now under its own power to allow his fingers to drift to the side and crest one breast and then brush across the now erect nipple.
Lisa moaned in response and pressed closer, her mouth instinctively seeking his. Robert didn't push her away, but slipped his other hand into her hair and tilted her head to the angle he wished as his mouth claimed hers. She knew then she'd won. She'd actually done it. She'd seduced Robert.
Damn, she thought with amazement. That had been a hell of a lot easier than she'd expected, and then she stopped thinking altogether as his hands began to roam over her, pushing the robe off her shoulders to leave it pooling around her waist as his fingers then sought both breasts, squeezing and kneading the eager flesh through the gauzy cloth as his mouth devoured hers.
When Robert suddenly urged her back, Lisa feared for a moment that he was going to send her away and that perhaps she hadn't won after all, but he only pressed her back enough to break their kiss. He then caught her by the waist and dragged her farther up the bed until he could claim one nipple through the gauzy material of her see-through gown.
Lisa gasped as his mouth closed over her tender, excited flesh, her body humming with a growing need. She slid her hands into his hair, cradling his head to her breast and murmuring little, senseless sounds of encouragement as he laved the cloth-covered nipple and then suckled at it by turn.
When one hand dropped away to find the bottom of the gown and begin to slide it up her leg, Lisa groaned and shifted under the touch, her thighs rubbing together as a tingling began between them. She remembered this and felt anticipation build in her as his fingers brushed up her outer leg. But this time he didn't run it back down once he reached her hip and then slip it back up the inside of her leg. Instead, he simply followed her hip bone around in front of her and then let his fingers drop and slip between her legs.
Lisa gasped, her legs opening slightly to allow his fingers entrance, and then snapping closed again the moment they brushed against her core. Robert wasn't put off. Rather than retreat, his fingers pressed forward more firmly, sliding between the folds to find the silky flesh beneath.
"Robert," she groaned his name as his fingers stirred all sorts of delicious sensation in her.
His response was to begin tugging at the neckline of the gown, dragging it off her shoulder and down her arm. Lisa was sure he would rip it with his actions, but the cloth seemed to stretch to accommodate and within seconds he'd revealed one breast.
Leaving off his attentions to the first breast, Robert turned his mouth to the now uncovered one and began to lave and suckle it.
Lisa gasped and arched into the action as his hand now tugged fretfully at the other side of the gown, pulling it off her shoulder to bare that breast for his attention. He covered it with his hand and squeezed, kneading the tender flesh and then plucking at the nipple with his fingers as he was doing with his mouth to the other.
"Oh," Lisa moaned, clasping his shoulders now, her legs spreading slightly at his urging to allow his hand more freedom there.
"Christ you're so wet and hot," he growled, releasing her breast. Lisa barely registered the words. He was suddenly erupting beneath her, his body shifting and blankets flying and then he had removed his hand from between her legs and caught her by the waist and was dragging her from her sitting position, rolling her onto her back on the bed. Suddenly she was beneath him and he was bent over her, his body shifting down along her body so that she lost her hold on him. His tongue, lips and hands seemed to be everywhere, grazing her throat, chest and breasts. Then he was forcing the gauzy gown down with fingers that scraped across her skin, pushing the material before them to allow his mouth to lick and nip its way down her belly.
"Robert, your wound," Lisa muttered, shifting and squirming under the attention and trying to reach his shoulders again. She needed something to hold on to, something to ground her. Unable to reach him, she finally grabbed for the pillow on either side of her head, clutching at it almost desperately and gasping and moaning as first his fingers pushed the cloth over her hips and then his mouth followed. Finding her hip bone, he nipped and licked his way across it.
Lisa lifted her hips instinctively when he continued to push the material along, allowing him to slip it down off her bottom and past her thighs. Robert paused to remove it completely then, sitting back on his haunches to the side of her to slip the material down her legs and off her feet. Then he tossed the gauzy material to the floor and turned back to peer at her.
Suddenly self-conscious, Lisa tried to cover herself; one arm moving to cross over her breasts, while her other hand dropped between her legs. For some reason the shy action made Robert smile. And then he clasped one ankle and lifted her leg, raising it up and over his head so that he knelt between her legs.
"Robert?" she said uncertainly, sure he was now going to do what one of the books she'd read had described as planting his victory flag in her turf. When he suddenly shifted and sort of dove forward, she braced herself, but he didn't land on top of her, planting his flag. In fact, he didn't land on top of her at all. He fell short, his shoulders coming down between her knees and his head dropping between her thighs.
Lisa thought it was an accident. That he'd simply undershot, so was shocked when he suddenly pressed her thighs farther apart and planted his mouth over the core of her.
For one moment she was confused and didn't know what was happening. Then she cried out and bucked as he spread her folds and his tongue lashed over her most secret place. This was just not - none of the books had mentioned - dear God! Her mind screamed with confusion, but mostly with the pleasure he was wringing from her. He was doing things to her that - hell, she wasn't even sure what he was doing. All she was really aware of was a terrible, overwhelming pleasure shooting from the center of her and swelling with terrifying speed. Her body was suddenly shaking and rocking, her blood roaring in her ears, as she arched and thrust into a caress she'd never come across in all of her reading.
Lisa groaned as he continued to lave and suckle, and drew her knees up. She then dug her heels into the bed and pushed, raising herself slightly into whatever he was doing. She was vaguely aware that she was making little noises, pleading sounds and prayers, but if asked wouldn't have known what she was saying. Her mind was completely focused on her pleasure.
She was so far gone that it hardly registered when he suddenly grabbed her ankles and shifted her feet to his shoulders, or when one hand wrapped around her upper thigh, anchoring and holding her down as he worked to drive her completely insane. At least that was how it felt. Lisa was losing herself in the sensations. Thought was impossible. She was merely a throbbing, vibrating thing of need, responding to the song he was playing. But God, it felt good.
She never wanted it to stop. She could have died in that moment and gone with a smile, sure she'd experienced everything. And then the building tension suddenly snapped like a bow releasing an arrow, but this arrow exploded on release, shattering through her body and mind and making her scream as if she were dying. That scream surely would have drawn every single person in the house to the room had she not been gnashing on the pillow by that point and had the good sense to pull it completely over her face to muffle the sound.
When it ended, Lisa came back to awareness to find that she was lying limply in the bed, the pillow covering her head while Robert pressed kisses to first one of her quivering thighs and then the other. After a moment she was aware of his shifting and moving up her body, but she was too spent to even remove the pillow covering her face. It was he who lifted it away.
When a completely male smile of satisfaction claimed his lips, Lisa just smiled wryly back. The man had earned that arrogant smile, she acknowledged, and found the strength to raise her hands to his head and draw him down for a kiss. Lisa had meant it as one of gratitude and appreciation, but moaned and arched when it somehow became more and the fires she'd thought he'd banked suddenly roared up within her again.
Dear God, she'd thought surely there wasn't an ounce of passion left in her, but there was and he quickly stirred them back to life. Almost demanded a response with the passion of his kiss, and Lisa gave it to him, shifting restlessly beneath him as he lowered himself.
When she felt something hard press against her, she instinctively wrapped her legs around his hips even as her arms went around his shoulders. But that hardness merely rubbed against her again and again as he kissed her, helping to build the fires in her, and then he broke their kiss to drop his mouth to her breast again and suckled briefly as he reached between them and took himself in hand to rub against her with more precision. It made her moan and twist her head on the bed as the heat in her revved, and then she felt him pressing into her and he released his hold and removed his mouth from her breast to kiss her instead.
Lisa kissed him back, but her attention was on what his body was doing as it eased into her a bit, and then withdrew before easing in again a little further. It was a completely alien sensation and one she wasn't sure she liked. It just felt odd. And then his hand slid between them to find the center of her excitement and she groaned and tightened her legs around him as excitement jumped within her. Distracted by the pleasure he was eliciting, she began to instinctively move her hips, pressing into the caress. The hardness claimed more of her push by push and then his hand suddenly left her so that he could brace himself on the bed.
Lisa opened her eyes in confusion and disappointment and then gasped in shock as he suddenly thrust forward. This time there was no tentative easing in, but a full plunge that sank him fully into her. For one moment they both froze. Lisa had no idea why he paused, but she was waiting for the shattering pain and blood to begin rushing out of her. However, that never came. Other than a slight pinching, and a strange stretching sensation as her body tried to accommodate this strange intrusion . . . well, really there was no pain at all. And as far as she could tell she wasn't suddenly gushing blood . . . she didn't think.
She blinked her eyes open, realizing only then that she'd been holding them tightly squinted closed. Robert was peering down at her, looking as if he were the one who had suffered all the pain. His face was scrunched up as if he were in agony, his eyes mere slits as he peered at her. None of the books had mentioned that men suffered pain the first time, she thought with surprise.
"Are you all right?" he growled.
When she nodded uncertainly, relief washed over his face and then he lowered his head to kiss her and his body began to move again, withdrawing from her partway, before sliding smoothly back in. Lisa kissed back and shifted a little beneath him as he moved, and found if she positioned herself just so, he rubbed against the nub of her excitement, stirring that delicious excitement again. When he began to move more swiftly, his thrusts becoming more demanding, she untangled her legs from around him and pushed her heels into the bed to raise her hips to meet his thrusts. She was riding the waves, crashing toward shore again, her body trembling and quaking as it strained toward the explosion of pleasure she knew was coming.
When it came, Robert dropped his head to kiss her almost violently and caught her cry in his mouth. A heartbeat later, he tore his mouth away on a gasping cry of pleasure and threw his head back as his body pounded forward and arched, pinning her in place as they both rode the waves he'd unleashed. Moments later he sagged on top of her, then rolled onto his back, taking her with him and Lisa simply nestled against him, completely spent, her eyelids drooping closed.
Lisa wasn't sure how long she'd slept when she suddenly woke up. She wasn't even sure what had woken her, but she found herself still curled up against Robert's side in his bed. Lifting her head carefully, she peered at his face, smiling when she saw that he was dead to the world, his eyes closed and mouth partly open to emit the faintest of snores.
Perhaps that was what had woken her, Lisa thought with amusement as she took in his relaxed face. He looked so peaceful in sleep, with none of life's worries troubling him, she thought, and wished he could always be so at peace. But of course, that wasn't likely. Especially after Suzette, Christiana, Richard and Daniel returned to "catch" them. He would be furious then. Or worried for her reputation. Or both. He probably wouldn't blame her unless he figured out that it had been a deliberate trap. But he would resent being forced to marry her when he had no desire to enter that blissful state.
That thought made her shift carefully away from him and she rolled onto her back, wanting to think without his smell and the feel of his body to distract her. But the move did not remove his smell. It was on her now like perfume. Eau de Lord Langley. He had marked her with his body and his scent. She was his. It was just a shame he didn't want to be married.
Grimacing at the unpleasant thought, Lisa glanced at the ceiling and then frowned when she saw the way the light was flickering on it. That made her shift her gaze to the candle on the bedside table. It was apparently a flawed candle, the wick not quite centered. The flame had burnt down one side, leaving a small mountain of wax around the other that was melting and pooling at the bottom. The light was about to be guttered by its own wax . . . and then the others would come, catch them in here and demand Robert make an honest woman of her.
Which he would do. Lisa didn't doubt that for a minute. But he would also hate her for it. Or at least resent her. He would blame her for this for the rest of their days.
Lisa didn't think she could stand that. And in truth, she didn't want to win him this way. She wanted him to want to marry her. She wanted him to trust her. She did not want him marrying her out of duty and then always watching her, waiting for her to betray him. Life would be unbearable like that. There had to be another way. The thought had barely entered her head when the candle gave its last flicker and went out.