Home > The Gilded Cuff(13)

The Gilded Cuff(13)
Author: Lauren Smith

He’d never dared to bring a woman home before, had never wanted to. There was something about Sophie that made him want to risk everything even though there was every chance that she’d turn her back on him or betray him. She was a journalist after all. Telling stories was what they did best, often at others’ expense. He hadn’t forgotten that she’d claimed she could save him and solve the kidnapping. It didn’t need solving. He knew the man who’d taken him, would never forget that face for as long as he lived. But he was curious to know what this intrepid little creature thought she could show him about the past.

“We’re almost there.” He rubbed his thumb on Sophie’s palm, reveling in her responding tremor.

She was unpredictable. He’d spent years avoiding people in her line of work, but there was something irresistible about Sophie. The way she’d defended herself, tried to hide her weaknesses as she met him head on. But then she’d knelt at his feet and surrendered herself to earn his trust. On some level she was submissive, but she was also a warrior, not a timid mouse. Earning complete trust and surrender from such an equal would be a sweet prize, one he had to taste again soon or he’d go mad.

That dangerous kiss. He shouldn’t have done it, shouldn’t have given in to his need so soon, but he was unable to deny her offering. She’d raised her lips and he’d just taken them. Her kiss heated him, like the first step on hot sand after months of winter. The pleasure of the heat, the scorching blaze, barely controlled and yet incredibly soft for all its intensity.

“Oh my god.” Sophie sat up on the edge of the seat, peering through the car’s windshield to see where they were headed.

The headlights struck the black wrought-iron gates of the entrance to Lockwood. Hans tapped a small device on the visor above and the latticework of the iron broke apart to allow them passage. A gravel drive cut a white path through the well-manicured lawns. Trees loomed along the road’s path, just visible at the edge of the beams from the Mercedes’ headlights, lining the drive like walls of brown steel. Even at night the sight was impressive beneath the bright moon’s glow.

The house was still a ways off, but the moonlight accented the columns of white marble, while its red brick blended into the night. Hans guided the car up the drive that curved around to the back entrance of the house. No servant waited for them. Emery kept the house empty; a cleaning crew came in once a week to take care of the necessities. He preferred the house empty, empty as his heart. It was a fitting punishment, after all these years. He allowed the specters of those golden days to seep out of the walls and haunt him with the sound of his brother’s laughter, the sunny remembrances of hours spent in the gardens playing the games only children could dream up.

Emery’s eyes traced the night breeze as it rippled through the thick ivy that crawled up the brick walls. Like a lady’s evening gown stirred on the dance floor during a gentle waltz, the house’s walls seemed to shiver and roll with the light wind. The house was a ghost, a shell of its former glory in so many ways. Even though he’d updated the plumbing, and electricity and given it an impressive security system, it didn’t feel the same. Not since…then. Emery shut his eyes as a headache swamped him.

A low husky laugh. The burn of scotch in his throat. The strains of a country song teased his ears.

“Hans, turn off the radio,” he said, and opened his eyes.

“It’s not on, sir.” His guard raised his gaze in the rearview mirror and met Emery’s stare.

“Oh, right.” He fought off a wave of dizziness and confusion. Sometimes he got headaches, sometimes not, but every so often he seemed to slip somewhere else. He was pretty sure he was going crazy—probably all the strain of running his father’s company, among other things. There was also the stress from his nightmares. He never left his back exposed to an open door. The doctors said he suffered from some form of PTSD. Maybe he did. After everything he’d…

Emery shook his head, jostling the unsettling thoughts and memories, shoving them into the dark box inside his head and locking them up. The sense of otherness, the awareness of that external part of himself he could have sworn died twenty-five years ago, faded. The clean scent of trees wet with recent rain filled him and he drew a breath upon the cool air, letting it clear his head.

“It’s so beautiful.” Sophie seemed unaware of the dark path his thoughts had traveled. She pressed a palm against the window, peering out at the monolithic home. She unknowingly teased him with the close proximity of her body. It took every ounce of control not to drag her into his arms and claim her with the hunger that gnawed at him.

Emery wasn’t looking at the house, but at her. She had a luscious figure: wide hips, a trim waist, muscled legs and sculpted arms. She was on the delicious edge of plumpness that made his body ache to be cushioned in its softness. She wasn’t tall, couldn’t be more than five-foot-three inches, but she was a perfect size. Small enough to be cuddled and held, but strong enough to handle his sensual appetite.

Unable to resist, he curled his fingers around the back of her neck and rubbed. She tensed instantly, and then slowly relaxed. He’d practiced this move, perfected it over the past several years and it never failed to make a woman melt. He stifled a chuckle as Sophie sighed and leaned back against him, resting in the crook of his arm.

“I’m not normally like this, you know.” Sophie’s gray eyes flicked up to his. They reminded him of tarnished silver, dark and mysterious.

“Like what?” He knew what she was going to say. He’d broken the first wall of her defenses, made her accept his touch, however innocent.

Sophie waved a hand in the air. “This. I’m not easy, but you make me do the stupidest things.”

Emery cupped her cheek in one palm, nuzzled her neck and then kissed the corner of her mouth.

“When we’re through, you’ll do many things you wouldn’t have done before. Being with me is about testing your limits.”

The car rolled to a stop. Hans slid out and walked around to Sophie’s door and opened it for her. Emery followed her, eyes fixed on her curves, on the way her skirt hugged her bottom and her hips swayed as she walked.

She was probably just out of college and her energy appealed to him. Normally he avoided much younger women. Their innocence wasn’t alluring. He’d only slept with jaded women, who mistrusted emotional connections and wanted sex and nothing more. They knew the score and didn’t fall asleep dreaming of sunny futures with children and happily ever afters.

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