Chasing Cassandra

Page 62

Tom made a project of undressing her fully after that, rolling her to her stomach and working on the row of tiny, stubborn buttons. It took a long time, especially because he kept pausing to reach inside the openings of her dress, or beneath the crumpled skirts, caressing her with his mouth or fingers. She loved the sound of his voice, sated and deep, as if he spoke to her from drowsy distances. “You’re so beautiful everywhere, Cassandra. Along your back, there’s the faintest line of golden down, like a peach … and here’s your magnificent bottom … so full and sweet … so firm in my hands. You drive me mad. Look at how your little toes are curling. They do that right before you come for me … they clench and turn pink, every time …”

After Tom had unfastened the last button, the dress was tossed unceremoniously to the floor. He kissed her everywhere, and made love to her with diabolical slowness. After coaxing her to her hands and knees, he took her from behind, his body a sturdy frame around hers. He slid his hands to her front, cupping the hanging weights of her breasts, pinching and tweaking her nipples softly, teasing them into hard points. All the while, he thrust straight into the core of her body, in deep, lustful plunges.

It felt primitive, being taken like this. It felt like something she shouldn’t be enjoying this much. Her face was hot, her insides clenching with desire. He reached down to the wet triangle between her thighs and massaged lightly, steadily. At the same time, she felt his mouth at the top of her shoulder, his teeth clamping in a gentle love bite. She shuddered hard, her body squeezing powerfully around his, detonating his release. He pushed deep and held, while she buried her face in a pillow to stifle her sharp cries.

Eventually Tom eased them both to their sides, his body still clasped within hers. She sighed in contentment as his muscular forearms wrapped around her.

His lips brushed the soft skin behind her ear. “How’s this for cuddling?” he asked.

“You’re learning,” she told him, and closed her eyes in contentment.

Chapter 25

“IF YOU DON’T LIKE this house,” Tom said as the carriage came to a halt at Hyde Park Square, “you can choose another one. Or we’ll build one. Or we’ll find something else on the market.”

“I’m resolved on liking this one,” Cassandra said, “rather than having to move an entire household somewhere else.”

“You’ll probably want to do some decorating.”

“I may be quite pleased with what’s already there.” She paused. “Although I’m sure it’s crying out for fringe.”

He smiled and helped her from the carriage.

Hyde Park Square was an elegant and prosperous area that was coming to rival Belgravia. It occupied a district filled with private gardens, cream stucco terraces, and spacious brick and stone mansions.

Cassandra’s gaze moved over the façade of the picturesque house. It was large and handsome, with bay windows overlooking the landscaped grounds. There was an adjoining coach house and fine modern stabling, and a glass conservatory attached to the main building.

“There are eight bedrooms on the first floor and five on the second floor,” Tom murmured as he escorted her through the wide entrance vestibule framed with columns and ornamental brickwork. “After I bought the house, I added several bathrooms with hot and cold water supply.”

They entered a square hall with a lofty ceiling and roof lights of stained glass. A row of servants had been lined up to greet them. As soon as they caught sight of Cassandra, there was a volley of whispers, and even a muffled squeal from some of the younger housemaids.

“They’re always so excited to see me,” Tom remarked blandly, his eyes glinting with amusement. A short, matronly housekeeper dressed in black bombazine approached them and curtsied. “Welcome home, master,” she murmured.

“Lady Cassandra, this is Mrs. Dankworth, our remarkably efficient housekeeper—” Tom began.

“Welcome, my lady,” the woman exclaimed, curtsying yet again, her square face beaming. “We’re all so very pleased—overjoyed, in fact!—to have you here.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Dankworth,” Cassandra said warmly. “Mr. Severin has spoken so highly of you. He’s praised your abilities to the heavens.”

“You’re too kind, my lady.”

Tom’s brows lifted as he looked at the housekeeper. “You’re smiling, Mrs. Dankworth,” he remarked in bemusement. “I didn’t know you could do that.”

“If you’ll allow me to introduce the servants,” the housekeeper said to Cassandra, “they would be most honored.”

Cassandra went with her to the line of servants, meeting them in turn. As she exchanged a few words with each one, and tried to commit their names to memory, she was touched by their friendliness and eagerness to please.

Out of the periphery of her vision, she saw a small, swift shape hurtling past the line and colliding with Tom, who was standing off to the side.

“That would be Bazzle, the hall boy,” Mrs. Dankworth said ruefully. “A good boy, but quite young, as you see, and sorely in need of supervision. We all do our best to look after him, but we have our daily chores to attend to.”

Cassandra met the woman’s gaze and nodded, understanding much of what was being left unsaid. “Perhaps later,” she said, “you I and might discuss Bazzle’s situation in private.”

The housekeeper gave her a look of mingled gratitude and relief. “Thank you, my lady. That would be most helpful.”

After Cassandra had met all the servants, and introduced her lady’s maid, she went toward Tom, who had lowered to his haunches as he talked with Bazzle. She was struck by the obvious affection between the two, which she was certain Tom wasn’t even aware of. The boy chattered without stopping, clearly thrilled to have his attention. Tom reached into his pocket and took out a cup and ball game with a handle, one of the presents he’d bought for Bazzle on the island.

“For bashin’ someone on the noggin?” Bazzle asked, inspecting the ball that was attached by a string.

Tom chuckled. “No, it’s not a weapon, it’s a toy. Swing the ball and try to make it drop into the cup.”

The boy struggled with the game, repeatedly jerking the ball upward and failing to catch it. “Ain’t working.”

“That’s because you’re applying too much centripetal force to the ball. At that rate of velocity, the force of gravity isn’t strong enough to—” Tom stopped as he looked into the boy’s blank face. “What I mean is, swing it more gently.” He closed his hand around the boy’s, to show him. Together they swung the ball upward. At the peak of its slow curved ascent, the ball seemed to hover in midair, then dropped perfectly into the cup.

Bazzle let out a little crow of delight.

Cassandra reached the pair and crouched down beside them. “Hello, Bazzle,” she said, smiling. “Do you remember me?”

He nodded, seeming dumbstruck by the sight of her.

A regular supply of healthy meals, sufficient rest, and good hygiene had wrought an astonishing transformation since she’d last seen Bazzle. He had filled out, his limbs now sturdy instead of breakably thin, his cheeks rounded. The dark eyes were clear and bright, set in a fine-grained complexion warmed with a healthy glow. His teeth were white and scrupulously clean, and his hair was scissored into cropped, gleaming layers. A fine-looking boy, on his way to being handsome.

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