One Night With You by Sophie Jordan
Excerpt for One Night With You by Sophie Jordan
"Sizzling sexual tension ... thoroughly satisfying ..."
Whirling around, Jane let the figurine slide through her fingers to thud at her feet. Its heavy fall mimicked the drop of her heart to the soles of her slippers as she gaped at the shadow of the man who shared her sanctuary.
She opened her mouth to tell the stranger exactly what she thought of men who lurked in dark corners and announced themselves in a manner that only produced terror in unsuspecting ladies.
But the words died on her lips as he unfolded his great length from a chair tucked in the room's corner and stepped from the shadows. Her gaze narrowed on his face.
The face of a ghost.
Her hand flew to her mouth, doing a poor job of stifling her gasp. Nerves taut as a harpsichord string, she stared. Not a ghost. A man.
He wore no domino, had donned no disguise. A white scar, stark and livid on his swarthy skin, slashed the left side of his face, cleaving his top lip and disappearing into his mouth.
Even disfigured, his was a face she would never forget.
Her lips moved, but no sound emerged. She watched, horrified as he advanced on her with slow, measured steps. An invisible hand squeezed her heart at the sight of a face that had once been too beautiful for mortal man, a face left to the realm of poets and dreams. A face her memory had refused to release. She stared at this new face of his. Scarred, hard-edged, unsmiling. A tremble snaked over her.
His name whispered across her mind again. A name she had not spoken in years. A name she pushed from her thoughts daily. Seth.
He bent and picked up the figurine she had dropped. Without a word, he set it back on the table, his intense gaze never wavering from her face. The hot look in his deep-set eyes gave her a jolt. He had never looked at her in such a fashion.
Then it struck her that he did not recognize her -- not masked -- and the tightness in her chest lessened as relief swept through her. Her hand flew to her mask. She drew an even breath at the feel of black silk stretched over stiff brocade. Still there.
Cocking his head, he gestured behind him and repeated, "There is a perfectly good door."
She managed a quick nod, drinking in the sight of him. He was taller than she remembered. His skin darker, his shock of brown hair sun-streaked. There was a hardness to his mouth and eyes that had not been there before. Yet she would remember those molten brown eyes anywhere. The same eyes invaded her dreams to this day.
Broad of shoulder and lean of hip, he towered over the room's dainty furniture, his carriage erect, rigid, as though he stood braced at the helm of a ship. His dark jacket and trousers contrasted sharply to the room's plums and lavenders, heightening his masculinity.
She supposed she should have forgotten him over the years. Should not have followed news of the war in Canton so closely. Should not feel so shaken at the sight of him now.
"Can you not speak?" he inquired, his voice deeper, richer than she remembered.
She nodded, forcing her lips to form a whispered reply. "Yes."
Gazing at him, old feelings stirred to life in the pit of her belly.
Her sister may not have wanted him -- at least not within the bounds of matrimony -- but Jane had. She had wanted him with every fiber of her being. Had looked at him every day for as long as she could remember and prayed that he would feel for her what he felt for her sister. She would have risked her parents' wrath, risked anything, everything, for him to love her back. Only his love had been reserved for Madeline. Not Jane. Never her.
Not then and certainly not now.
She pressed a hand to her face, her skin disturbingly hot against her palm as she commanded herself to cling to that particular reality and not get swept away by the sight of him, ambrosia to her long-starved heart.
"Yes?" he echoed, his voice low, a drag of velvet against her over-heated skin. "Then you merely choose not to?" His gaze prowled her face. "A woman with no wish to speak? How singular."
Her throat constricted as he neared, stepping so close the smell of him filled her nose. Leather and some unidentifiable cologne, earthy and wild, reminding her faintly of nutmeg. Her eyes drifted shut.
A thousand images flashed through her mind. A youth spent with Seth. Riding, swimming, apple picking in the fall. He had been her life's one pleasure. More constant than the parents who preferred her sister to her.
A shudder washed through Jane and she pushed the unwanted memory to the shadows of her mind with a small shake of her head. She opened her eyes to find Seth staring.
"Where'd you go?" he murmured, his eyes dark and probing.
She sucked in a breath and dipped her head, almost afraid he could read her thoughts, glimpse the dark roads her mind traveled. He placed a finger beneath her chin and forced her gaze back up with a single burning touch.
Unable to resist, she leaned into his touch, wanting to feel more than that single finger on her, hungering for what she had missed, what had never been hers.
Surprise flickered in his eyes. His gaze scanned her face, assessing, questioning with a lift of his slashing black brows. His fingers slid beneath her chin, tracing upward, skimming the soft line of her jaw. A sigh escaped her.
He swallowed visibly, the tendons along his throat working.
Recalling herself, she pulled back before she did something truly foolish. Like forget herself entirely. With a man who would have nothing to do with her if he knew her identity.
Desperate to escape his nearness, his touch, his heat, she stepped back until she felt cold glass penetrating the fabric of her gown. Only he followed, caging her in, the muscles along his square jaw knotting, rippling beneath his scar. A feverish gleam entered his eyes. He slid long fingers over her cheek, sparking a fire in her blood that forced the air from her mouth in a hiss.
The calluses of his palm rasped her skin as he gazed down at her, the dark centers of his eyes glowing. "Are you real? Or some enchantress?"
His hot look robbed her of breath, especially when her last memory of him contained no such looks. In fact, he had looked at her very little in the end. In the end, she had simply not existed to him.
"Why do you look at me so?" His hoarse voice scraped over her nerves.
Hysteria bubbled up inside her.
Because I loved you. Once. When I knew you. When you knew me.
She didn't know what undid her more, the heat of his gaze or the way his touch made her come alive after years of living numb.
She didn't know, but she didn't dare let herself find out.
And why not? You're no insipid virgin. Why not experience everything his hot look promises? Everything you've never had? Would that not be the ultimate exercise in freedom?
Her gaze dropped to his mouth, the lips wide and sensual despite the scar. She leaned forward, letting her breasts graze his chest, imagining tracing her tongue over that corner of his mouth. Her belly clenched.
He didn't know who hid behind the scrap of satin -- that she hid. She could embrace anonymity ... embrace him. One kiss.
One sample and she could experience what she had missed as a girl. And later as a woman. As Marcus's wife.
A bolt of anticipation shot through her, followed by something else. A cold douse of fear. Fear of discovery, fear of stepping outside herself for even a brief moment and doing something so bold. For daring to make long-held dreams a reality.
Pulling back her shoulders, she stifled a cringe at the feel of cold glass against her bare shoulders and forced herself to resist the dark pull of his gaze. In as stern a voice as she could manage, she ordered, "Step aside, sir."
Seth stared at the woman trapped between his chest and the window, commanding himself to move away, to respect her request. But he could not force himself to budge, relishing the feel of her soft curves far too much.
He had watched her with keen interest from the moment she burst into the room. How could he not? Even if her odd behavior had not attracted his notice, her appearance would have.
He eyed the length of her now -- tall, stately, full-bodied. Bloody hell, the woman had curves. His gut tightened with desire.
In the room's gloom, her hair gleamed dark as the night sea, and her eyes, an indeterminate color in her black domino, burned through him with a ferocity he felt in his blood.
He wanted her. Badly. Even more astonishing, he felt certain she wanted him. Scar and all. Reason enough to keep her trapped in his arms.
His gaze slid over her, a ray of golden light in his arms. "Aurora," he murmured.
She blinked long lashes. "That's not my name--"
"No? What is your name?"
Her lips thinned.
"Then I shall call you Aurora. Fitting, I think." The Goddess of Dawn herself could not dazzle him more.
She gazed up at him with wide-eyed solemnity. He had never seen a sadder pair of eyes, eyes that called to him, that seemed to ... need him. Against his will, he felt himself sinking, falling.
Fired by whatever it was about her that moved him, he took her face in both hands and lowered his head, ready to claim her mouth for himself, to see if she tasted as sweet as he imagined.