The ruby necklace Danielle Hadlow was stealing clattered onto the polished wood of the dressing table. Her back tensed. A man was behind her in the dark, close enough for her to smell him. Her heart raced. She inhaled the fresh and spicy scent and something fluttered in the pit of her stomach. Fear, or maybe inappropriate arousal.
Sounds of the English aristocracy enjoying a ball echoed up from downstairs. Music. Laughter. Champagne being drunk from crystal glasses that would fund meals for the orphans in her care for months.
“I’ll be forced to turn you over to the law.” He put his arm out, capturing her hand more gently than a thief deserved.
She jolted at his touch, recoiling back into his chest. He was taller than her, athletic and broad chested.
“Robberess,” he breathed against her neck.
Heat raced across her skin from the tips of her ears to her nipples.
“Perhaps we could come to an agreement,” she murmured. He wasn’t holding her. Seductive overtones would allow her to escape while he was distracted.
“What were you thinking of?” he replied, his mouth a whisper from her cheek.
didn’t run, overcome with curiosity about this man and the erotic potential of
“Kiss me.” This was throwing herself into flames when she ought to flee, but she’d never cared for caution.
She felt more than heard him chuckle. “Turn then.”
In the shadowy greys of the moonlight through the window she glimpsed his face. A strong jawline, deep-set intense eyes, and dark hair.
Mr. Radford. Excitement jumped in her belly. They’d danced at a ball months ago.
His mouth captured hers and sent tingles through her. He pulled her to him, crushing her breasts. She gasped, and he took the opportunity, plundering her mouth with his tongue. He was fierce and hot, nibbling at her, and she wanted more.
Danielle ran her fingers up his arm, exploring his body through his shirt and coat. He responded in kind, stroking the exposed top of breast. Dragging the fabric of her dress down, he rubbed her nipple, sending shots of pleasure through her. There was slickness at her core, growing with every touch from him.
He dragged his lips across her cheek, scattering kisses from her neck to her bosom. There he nibbled, then licked her nipples, firing need and soothing it by turn.
They could be discovered at any moment, and it thrilled her.
He lifted his head, and held her to him, the evidence of his desire hard at her pelvis. His expression was stark and direct. “What will you do to prevent me from reporting you?”
She gazed into his eyes. “Knee you in the balls. Then escape.”
A smile lit his face. “I wouldn’t let go.”
Her heart pounded. The peril was exciting; that had always had been an element of the appeal of stealing rather than begging funds for her orphanage.
“Anything.” The danger was an excuse to be outrageous. “Anything you want.”
“Good.” He pushed her against the dressing table, her buttocks pressing onto the wood. She realised he was going to take her there. He would pound into her with his cock until he found his release, regardeless of whether she did too.
He kissed her firmly and grasped her skirts and petticoats, dragging them up. A knot of disappointment twisted her insides. She enjoyed a hard fuck, but she’d expected more novelty than the tedious male fantasy of conquering an unruly woman.
He sank to his knees.
Danielle had taken part in depraved acts in her twenty-seven years, but for a moment her mind couldn’t comprehend what he intended.
He had her at his mercy and he was parting her drawers, smoothing his thumb over her folds, then pressing his mouth to her sex. The pleasure of his caress ripped through her. She grasped blindly for stability and her hands found his shoulders. She dug her nails in and he groaned in response. But she was lost to what that meant, caught up in the sensations of his tongue laving across her bud. She threw her head back, eyes closed, spiralling inevitably towards a peak.
His fingers joined his mouth, swirling over her entrance then slipping inside. She gasped as he exerted pressure and stroked the wall of her passage. He pulled away and she cried out in protest. His thumb took up the place, unrelentingly caressing her bud.
“I saw you first at Lord Fox’s ball.”
She opened her eyes to find him looking up at her, bracketed by her arms.
“I expected a footman or man with a black hood to be stealing jewels. But I found you, with your silent lithe calm, elegantly picking the door lock then expertly rifling through the gems.” He didn’t stop stroking her sex, rhythmically fingering her as he spoke. “I was so shocked I didn’t interrupt.”
His hands roamed over her legs and hips, keeping her as entranced as his words.
“I watched you steal two pairs of sapphire earrings from Lady Patel. At Mr. Laurence’s you stole a pair of emerald and pearl bracelets.”
He pressed a kiss to her exposed thigh, a smile playing around his mouth.
“At Lord Killson’s ball, I saw you pinch the diamond tiara. Audacious.”
“I.” She meant to say something erudite or amusing. But the feel of her sex at the point of explosion was too much.
“Your thievery is so subtle and clever, I didn’t even notice when you stole my heart.”
She tipped over. Pleasure wracked through her in waves, each one roiling over her more intense than the last.
“You interested me when I danced with you, a beautiful but reserved widow. But when I saw you steal, I was lost. I’ve been to every godforsaken ball this season hoping to catch sight of you.”
Catch her. Panic chased away pleasure, leaving cold facts. He’d seduced her with a clever tongue, and now he’d turn her over to the authorities.
She jerked from his touch and broke into a run, knocking into a chair and groping her way across the room.
Her hand reached for the door handle.
“Aren’t you forgetting this?”
She ought to leave, but she turned. The ruby necklace hung from the tip of Mr. Radford’s finger, glinting in the moonlight.
She’d already gambled tonight, but still needed the money that jewellery would raise.
“Lady Ballard can afford to contribute to your orphanage.”
He was lines of dark shadows, a bleak risk. Danielle paced back to him and reached out to take the gold and gem strand.
“She won’t be your funder, though. This necklace belongs to me.”
Recognition clamped down. “You left this jewellery box out deliberately. The mechanism was simple to pick. You were waiting.”
She closed her grip around the gold chain and their gazes locked.
He nodded. “Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps,” he quoted softly and released the necklace.
She resisted the force tugging her toward him and returned to the door, smiling. “Until next time, Mr. Radford.”