Improper Pleasures (The Pleasure Series), page 1
First Kindle Edition, September 2012
Copyright 2012 © by Cheryl Howe
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, distributed, stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, without express permission of the author, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages for review purposes.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Edited by Janet Wellington, author and independent editor. Contact Janet at mail@Janetwellington.com.
Cover by LFD Designs For Authors
To Michelle Sandlin
My BFF and childhood creative co-conspirator. I’m so blessed to have you as a lifelong friend. Thank you for always seeing the best in me and reminding me of who I really am.
A masculine sigh drifted past the partially open bedroom door, interrupting Lady Astra Keane’s private gesture of commiseration. Poor Wesley. She paused to deposit the crystal vase overflowing with freshly cut flowers she’d arranged, placing it onto the sitting room’s nearest side table. Astra was certain her late husband’s cousin and her own dear friend from childhood would hate for her to witness his despair, especially since he’d done his best to cheer her over his change in fortune.
Still, with the new lord’s arrival imminent, Wesley’s banishment here to Eastlan’s guest wing must truly be excruciating for him. The sound of a sharp intake of breath followed by a throaty moan halted her escape. Was Wesley crying?
Perhaps the shock of discovering an unexpected heir, a stranger to all of them, had all been too much. Once again he was merely the steward and no longer the acting lord, now just a distant relative who would have to ingratiate himself to their new master. Currently, they were all simply guests of James Keane, former American privateer and the new baron of Eastlan.
Astra crept toward the bedchamber to check on Wesley. Despite their ardent respect for one another’s privacy, she felt compelled to let him know he had a friend, a kindred spirit, someone who understood the cruelty of fate and English entailment. She nudged the dark paneled door and it silently swung open.
A couple—standing exposed in the middle of a sunlit bedroom—locked in a lewd embrace. Astra swallowed her shocked gasp. Wesley had a lover! She jerked back, almost stumbling.
The wave of shock subsided in an instant with her realization that Wesley was not the man hungrily sucking the breast of the newest addition to their staff. Melva’s fiery red curls piled atop her head and her bare pale shoulders sprinkled with freckles were hard to mistake.
The man gripped the maid’s waist with large hands Astra noticed were tanned from too much time outdoors. Melva held him to her with fingers tangled in his hair. His booted feet were spread. He was much taller than he first appeared. Most definitely not Wesley. As she watched, Astra reached for the door handle, torn between running from the sitting room and confronting the couple as she knew she should.
Though she was relieved to confirm Wesley’s character remained untarnished, the carnal exchange set Astra’s heart racing. Once she identified the man, Astra would report them both to the housekeeper. A situation such as this had never occurred while she’d resided as Eastlan’s baroness. Her tenure had been marked by sickbeds and sadness, but never lusty couples throwing caution to the wind.
After another look at the man, Astra was certain she did not recognize the maid’s strapping companion. The breadth of his shoulders stretching his worn linen shirt marked him as a laborer, perhaps a stranger making a delivery. His sun-streaked hair tied with a leather thong had come loose at Melva’s greedy fingers. Though fair-haired, his coloring was his only resemblance to Wesley who had always struck her as slight. A glance lower proved the stranger wore scuffed leather boots. Strong thighs flexed through the faded material of his black wool breeches as he sucked the maid with enough enthusiasm to hollow his cheeks.
Astra’s face heated. When was the last time she’d noticed any part of a man’s anatomy much less his thighs? A very long time…and the only reason why she could imagine she felt compelled to linger on such a shocking interlude.
The man pulled his head away from Melva’s grip, though she tugged on his freed hair to keep him from escaping entirely. He reached up and caught her wrists, pinning them to her sides before returning his mouth to Melva’s aroused and exposed nipples. She gasped as he sucked her hard once more, the sound of his mouth pulling away from her loud and wet.
Astra pursed her lips to stop her own harsh breath from escaping. She should leave, feared she would be caught staring at the couple. No, it would be best to wait for the moment she could slip away unnoticed.
“Greedy, aren’t you?” he murmured in a deep voice that contrasted her impression that he was a randy villager. His accent was odd. The confident timbre sent a shiver down the nape of Astra’s neck. Then, all the heat that had been building in her stomach plummeted when she realized the stranger’s identity.
“Only for you, my lord,” the maid crooned. “Welcome to Eastlan. It’s my pleasure to be at your disposal.”
Astra nearly swallowed her tongue in her need to squelch her shocked gasp. She watched as James Keane, the man whose anticipated arrival promised to destroy her peaceful existence, straightened and grinned down at Melva with a searing blue-eyed gaze. The family resemblance in his features proved he was indeed a Keane by birth, though his size must have come from his mother’s side. Or perhaps his innate ruggedness sprang from the life he had lived in America, so different from that of his English relatives. The planes of his face were hard, yet artfully arranged with high cheekbones and almond-shaped eyes. His tanned face made his eyes appear bright, like sun hitting water. A cocky grin tugged at his lips, the only hint that he was younger than he appeared.
Astra was certain this man was going to make her life torture from this moment forward. After releasing his hold on Melva’s wrists, he took a step back and braced his hands on either side of the bureau behind him. Undeterred, Melva followed and slipped one hand below his waistband. Astra immediately knew what she was about. She needed to leave at once, but suddenly her late husband’s American cousin raised his gaze, his muscular frame stiff and alert. Astra froze, waiting, now afraid her movement might cause him to see her before she could escape.
“Perhaps I should meet the rest of the household before we become any better acquainted.” Though his voice sounded roughened by lust, James Keane moved one hand to grip the maid’s wrist, then eased her hand from the front of his breeches. Melva stepped back, her lips curled into a pout.
“You said you wished to change from your riding clothes, my lord.” Melva used her free hand to reach for his white shirt that had already been partially undone. “I’m merely here to assist you.”
“Oh, you’ve been quite helpful.” The sudden humor in his words lashed Astra with the same sexual intensity of his earlier husky tone. He dropped his hold on Melva and yanked the shirt over his head, then let the worn linen fall to the floor. “Anymore so and I’ll have to change more than just my shirt.” He glanced down and grinned. The maid laughed and reached for him again. This time he didn’t stop her. Astra could only stare at his heavily muscled shoulders and thickly corded arms. Her mouth went dry and she found it hard to swallow.
“You should take the rest off then.” Melva smiled and slid against him,
Melva licked her lips suggestively. When that didn’t attract his full attention, his gaze still fixed above her head, she used her tongue to toy with his nipple. He jolted then leaned his head back a little, his heavy lids half-closed. To Astra’s shock, he seemed to enjoy the stimulation as much as the maid had earlier. Instantly Astra’s own body heated, responding to his increasing passion. Thankfully, he kept his unfocused gaze staring straight ahead, though she still feared if she moved he would surely see her. Then what? Astra flattened both palms over the flutter in her stomach, desperate to keep her own spiraling anxiety in check because that’s all it was. Wasn’t it?
As she watched the maid press her teeth against his nipple, the urge to slide her hands over the swell of her own breasts grew almost impossible to resist. But surely it was only a protective measure. The man was a menace, she reminded herself. Still, in such a state as she was at the moment, she feared more than ever attempting to flee. Her legs felt too weak to even move.
Liquid heat pooled between her thighs as she watched the maid’s tongue. Uncontrollably drawn to the carnal scene, Astra’s wits had completely betrayed her but she didn’t care. Unable to stop herself, her hand drifted up to cup her own breast, her thumb gently rubbing her nipple through her dress.
She stared, her tongue wetting her lips as she squeezed her nipple while she watched Melva briefly tease her new lord’s other nipple with the tip of her tongue then trail kisses down his ribs. He gripped the marble-topped bureau behind him with both hands, rattling the figurines on top as he stared straight ahead, his pleasure visibly spiraling upward. A vivid sheen glistened over his taut skin. His haggard breathing mysteriously snatched Astra’s breath as well.
Forcing herself to come to her senses, she dropped her hand from her breast then pivoted to slip completely behind the doorframe. Still weak-kneed, she paused, needing to steady herself before she could safely dash from the outer room.
“Perhaps…we should…Jesus!” he cried out. He seemed to struggle with his words as desperately as Astra struggled with her sanity. What was Melva doing to him? The voluptuous maid had obviously added another seductive weapon to her arsenal, one that aroused her captive beyond reason. One more glimpse, just one, Astra told herself, and she would leave, and with any luck banish this episode from her mind forever.
She peeked around the doorframe to see that Melva had dropped to her knees in front of him and had efficiently opened the man’s breeches, his engorged sex in full view.
Astra cupped her mouth to keep from audibly gasping.
Melva did gasp, but the hum in her voice sounded pleased rather than shocked. She petted him, stroking his length then firmly wrapping her fist around his girth. She kissed the swollen tip, teasing it with her tongue until he moaned again, then took him into her mouth. His knuckles were white from gripping the chest behind him, as if it was the only thing keeping him upright. Still he only stared forward, as though unable to move his gaze.
Astra allowed herself to look lower, to see exactly what the maid was doing, watching her take him inside her mouth, in and out, then sucking him, pleasuring him with her tongue. Melva used long, slow strokes, occasionally glancing up as if for instruction or to confirm he was enjoying her attention. Still he only looked straight ahead.
Astra had no idea such things were done between a man and woman. Melva seemed to give him the most crippling ecstasy with each stroke of her mouth. Astra felt his pleasure from across the room.
Long seconds passed as Astra watched, moistening then parting her lips and imagining what the maid was feeling, tasting… Unable to look away, not really wanting to now, she felt a quiver growing between her thighs and wished she were…oh, lord, she did wish she were in the maid’s place no matter how improper…then she felt herself swaying. She abruptly closed her eyes. But it was no use. The scene was still vivid in her mind, and she felt a delicious rush of liquid heat between her legs. She clenched inside, then squeezed her thighs together as hard as she could. Holding her breath, she fought the moan that threatened to escape her lips. She forced her rapidly beating heart to calm, concentrating on breathing slow long breaths.
She must leave. Now. As soon as it was safe. One more quick glance at Lord Keane—as she kept her gaze carefully averted from Melva and what she was doing below his waist—proved the wall in front of him still held his fascination. Thankfully he hadn’t turned his head toward the door.
Astra gathered her skirts and backed from the doorway, her legs slowly regaining strength. Once her feet reached the thick Persian rug, she ran on her tiptoes, her slippers barely skimming the floor. She didn’t slow her pace until she rounded the corner leading to another arm of the estate.
The latest Lord Keane promised to live up to the reputation of his cousin. Her thoughts raced, but the prominent one sobered her: once again, her future lay in the hands of a careless reprobate destined to destroy it.
James Keane added the numbers that lined the right side of the ledger a second time. The dismal total evaporated any lingering pleasure left from his short but sweet encounter with the chambermaid. Thus far, the illicit interlude had been the only promising thing about his unexpected rise in stature. That, and the mysterious woman in black.
“It’s growing rather late, my lord.” Wesley Hutton, Eastlan’s estate manager and one of several relatives that James discovered he now supported, suppressed a yawn. “Perhaps we should retire for the evening. Are you sure you are more comfortable in the guest wing?”
“My apologies for displacing you, but I prefer my privacy. If you’re tired, feel free to call it a night.”
Though James had been poring over Eastlan’s accounts since early afternoon, he still didn’t have a solid plan to make the estate solvent. Discovering he couldn’t just sell the place had been a disappointment. Though he inherited the land with the title, they weren’t his to dispose of as he wished thanks to English law.
With that quick solution out of the picture, he needed to concentrate, apply his intellect to the problems at hand. He definitely felt the weight of his unexpected appointment as lord of Eastlan, but also an almost attractive challenge. And a way to at last prove his own worth. Too late to prove it to his father, but perhaps it would be enough to prove it himself.
Could he do it? The accounts were in shambles, but he intended to try. Once again he stared at the figures in the ledger, convinced there must be a solution hidden among the numbers.
A knock at the door provided a welcome distraction.
“Come in,” he called and took a healthy sip of brandy from the cut crystal goblet. He eyed the hand-painted china plate that had held his dinner of roasted pork and baked apples and wondered if it would be rude to ask for seconds. Though his English relatives’ taste for the finer things had obviously contributed to their downfall, James saw no benefit in allowing an immediate surplus to spoil.
The pinched-faced butler stood at the door, appearing more superior than subservient in his crisp gray suit and white wig. “Lady Keane is here to see you as you requested, my lord.”
James rubbed his bleary eyes, regretting the interruption after all. He no longer had the energy to face his predecessor’s widow, especially considering the blow he must deliver. “I asked to see Lady Keane hours ago. It’s late.”
“My apologies, Lord Keane.” A feminine voice followed by a rustle of starched skirts warned him that the lady in question had already stepped into the study. “My daughter takes up much of my day. She has become understandably more dependent since her father’s passing. I had expected to make your acquaintance at dinner, but you failed to join us.”
James studied the papers on the black lacquered, gold-trimmed desk instead of Lady Astra Keane. His plans to stave off bankruptcy would be easier in theory than practice, a realization that suddenly ruined his appetite. And exactly the reason he’d
“I am sorry for both your loss.” James stood and gestured toward a chair in front of the desk. “I asked to see you because I thought you’d be anxious to discuss the terms of your husband’s will as soon as possible.”
“Thank you for your consideration.” He watched as Lady Keane crossed the study with some hesitation, her head deeply bowed, then eased herself into the embroidered seat in front of the desk.
When she finally tipped up her chin, recognition froze James with a mixture of hot and cold. He’d thought the black dress a uniform, but he could plainly see the woman who had raptly watched his encounter with the maid was no servant, but rather his cousin’s widow. The mirror on the far wall had reflected her from trim waist to lace-capped head and he’d been transfixed by the perfect oval of her pretty face. She was indeed the same woman, though then her wide hazel eyes had been sensuously hooded, her mouth red and wet instead of pinched and pale as it was now. Good God! James struggled with something appropriate to say while praying that his neck had not turned as red as it felt.
Lady Keane returned her gaze on the hands she rested in her lap. James slowly lowered himself to his chair and tried in vain to find a glimpse of the smoldering seductress he had imagined her to be as she’d hungrily watched him with the chambermaid, something that had made his encounter that much more enjoyable.
He noticed she had lost the lace cap sometime during the day, her sand-colored hair now severely restrained with an elaborate rigging of braids. Her pale face appeared small against the black high-necked dress, reminding him that she was still in mourning.
He had done quite a lot of vivid speculating on their next meeting, hoping it might be one similar to his tryst with the red-headed maid, but this particular situation had not once come to mind. Up until this moment, he would have sworn that his mystery woman had been as fully aroused as he by their voyeuristic exchange. The woman before him could not possibly be the same woman he’d been fantasizing about.