Wisteria shouldn’t have been surprised when he kissed her, but she was anyway. Oh. That’s how you do it without asking first. It did feel natural, as if the logical consequence of bantering was of course kissing. What a splendid result. It was different than with Lord Nikola: Lord Comfrey was more assured, firmer, and tasted of wine instead of champagne. Of course they would both taste intoxicating. She closed her eyes and drank him in, lightheaded, eager; her hand slid of its own accord from his cheek to cradle the back of his neck. His arms enfolded her, one around her shoulder and the other her lower back, kissing hungrily, nibbling at her lower lip, kissing the corner of her mouth. She was dizzy with desire as his lips pressed against her jawline. He shifted, moving her as if she weighed no more than a doll, laying her back against the seat with himself on top, one leg braced to support some of his weight. One of his hands was at the nape of her neck, deftly undoing the tiny buttons. This struck her as a fine idea, as she was suddenly much too warm. He must be too warm, too: she ought to help him with that jacket. This was difficult, since she had her head tilted up so he could kiss the underside of her chin. But he paused when she tried to worm her hands between them, then he lifted away enough that she could start unfastening the buttons. Lord Comfrey’s expression turned from sober to smiling, chuckling as he drew the jacket off and tossed it to the bench opposite them.
“Let me help you with that, my dear,” he murmured, rolling her over to unfasten the buttons down her back. For each loosed button, he pressed a kiss in its place, pushing aside the cloth to caress the soft exposed skin of her back.
She arched into his touch, not sure if she wanted him to hurry or stop or continue at exactly this pace. Her behavior was immoral, she knew, but her mind was much too incoherent to marshal the willpower to stop him as he unlaced her underclothes. His caress felt better than silk against her shoulders, hands easing the sleeves from her arms. She turned over to help him, then a shred of modesty made her catch up the cloth and hold it to her exposed chest. “It’s not fair.” Holding the front of her gown to her chest with one hand, she sat up, reaching for him with the other.
Lord Comfrey had dropped his hands when she held her gown up, and he perched sideways next to her as her legs were stretched out on the seat. “What isn’t, my dear?”
“You’re still all dressed.” Wisteria fumbled one-handed at his waistcoat.
He laughed again and helped her with the buttons, opening shirt and waistcoat for her. She’d seen bare-chested men before, sailors on her brother’s ship, but Lord Comfrey was different, as muscular as the largest of them but with unmarred skin, smooth and rich golden-brown by the light of the carriage’s lantern, dusted in dark curly hairs. “Better?” he asked.
“Some.” Wisteria tried to push the shirt and waistcoat off one-handed, and he helped her again by removing the garments and sending them to join his jacket on the opposite bench. She let the top of her gown pool around her waist as she ran both hands over his chest. It was nothing like she’d imagined, muscles firm but not unyielding, skin velvety, warm, inviting. She curled a few of the chest hairs around a finger: not so soft as his hair but not as wiry as beard hairs either. “You feel wonderful.”
He ran his hands down her bare sides, then back up to cup her breasts. “As do you, my dear.” His thumbs brushed over her nipples and she gasped with the intensity of the sensation, aching with need. At her sound, he shifted to kiss her, pulling her hard against his chest and then laying her back against the seat again. She writhed under him for the pleasure of feeling his bare skin against her, hands stroking his back. His hips rubbed against hers and she arched into him instinctively, wanting so much to feel more. He shifted lower, kissing her throat, her collarbone, mouth engulfing one breast. She whimpered again, and he covered her mouth with his hand to muffle the sound. “Shhhh,” he said, breath cool against her damp skin. He shifted some of his weight from her and tugged her gown down her hips.
Abruptly, the situation became more real. A refrain of I shouldn’t be doing this whispered in her mind, alongside whore and slattern and other designations she was no longer sure she wanted to accept as the price for her choices. Is this what I want? Well, yes, but ought I want it? Her hands fell away from Lord Comfrey’s back, fear spiking through her. You already invited this, you cannot stop him now. It was almost a relief, not to be responsible any more.
But he did stop, a few moments later, with her clothes still half-on. He scooted high enough to look into her eyes, brushing a few wisps of hair from her face. “Is something amiss, my dear?”
Everything. She could hardly breathe, never mind explain. “I hate this – I’m sorry, I shouldn’t – I – I am all wrong, please, I—” Wisteria tried to pull up her clothing, to put herself back into the same stupid safe facade she’d worn for so many years.
“Shhh.” He kissed her lips, lightly, and then her forehead. “It’s all right.” For a moment she was half-afraid and half-hoping that he wouldn’t let her withdraw, that he would continue anyway. But then Lord Comfrey shifted his weight from her to perch at the edge of the seat once more. She sat up, wriggling back into her clothing, putting her arms through the sleeves. “Let me help you.” He stood so she could put her feet down, then turned her back to him. With a gentleness at odds with his earlier passion, he laced her underbodice back together, smoothed the straps, and buttoned the gown over it. Then he put his own clothes back on with smooth professional care, as if he dressed in carriages without the aid of a valet every day. “Better?” he asked, shrugging into his jacket and pulling his long hair free from the collar.
Wisteria nodded, ashamed of herself. “I’m sorry, my lord. I did not mean to—”
Lord Comfrey laid a finger across her lips, as Lord Nikola had, and she felt worse. “This was not at all my intention when I offered you a ride, but I have no regrets, my dear. I forbid you to have any either.”
“You forbid me?”
“Indeed. This carriage, I will have you know, acts an extension of Comfrey’s demesne; I am therefore lord here. As viscount of Comfrey, I thereby insist that you regret nothing.”
She tilted her head at him. “Is it in truth?”
“No, but I am going to make this irrational and baseless demand anyway. I hope you will be so good as to humor me.”
“…and if I do not?”
“You leave me no choice. I will be forced to pout at you.”
“Pouting does not work on me, my lord.”
“Does it not?” Lord Comfrey gave the most exaggerated, comical pout she’d ever seen: outthrust lower lip, dipped chin, wide puppy eyes peering at her from beneath arched eyebrows. Even she could tell his pout was insincere. She would have wagered it was less convincing than her own smiles.
“…I yield, my lord. I will not regret, I promise.”
“Splendid.” His expression cleared, smile returning to narrow lips. Wisteria suspected her promise would be easier spoken than kept, but in the moment, with Lord Comfrey beside her and his manner so ordinary and kind, her heart was at ease.
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