Two Sinful Secrets
Lady Sophia Huntington carefully studied the cards in her hand. Not a bad hand, but not as good as she would like either. Her usual good luck at the card table wasn't with her tonight.
Or maybe she was distracted.
Sophia peeked over the edge of the cards to study the man across from her through the beaded eyeholes of her mask. Dominic St. Claire. She knew it was him, even though he too wore a mask, a swath of stark black silk over his chiseled face. No one else she had ever seen had hair quite that shade of pure, molten gold, or such fine shoulders under his perfectly tailored coat. His eyes, the deep, pure green of summer leaves, gazed back at her steadily, making something flutter nervously deep inside of her.
No wonder her parents didn't like her going to the theater, she thought wryly. One glimpse of such a god-like being onstage and she wouldn't be able to bear her pompous, pale, parentally-approved suitors any longer.
And he was wrecking her concentration at cards as well. She definitely couldn't have that. Not when she had finally been able to escape her family's guard and sneak into the Devil's Fancy using her cousin Bill's invitation. It would be hard to come back again, so she would have to make the most of this evening.
But she might have tried harder to come here a little sooner if she had known Dominic was one of the owners. She had thought about him far too much ever since that glimpse in the park.
"Well, madame?" he asked, in his deep, smooth actor's voice. A small smile played over his lips, surprisingly full and sensual for a man.
Sophia, who was such a good card player in part because she had become adept at reading people's faces, couldn't fathom what that smile meant at all. Did he hold a good hand?
Or was he flirting with her?
Sophia looked back down at her cards. "Two more, please."
Dominic took two cards from the deck and slid them across the small, red-draped table to her. He had beautiful hands, the skin smooth and faintly bronzed dusted with pale blond hair, tapering fingers made for theatrical gestures on a stage or wielding a sword.
Or tracing a soft touch over a woman's skin, which she had heard he was quite adept at doing.
Sophia forced down an instinctive shiver at the vision of his hand on her body and forced herself to forget he was there, so close, watching her. She had just wagered the last of her quarterly allowance, and she couldn't afford to lose her focus now. She slowly turned over the new cards and almost sighed.
Luck was really not with her tonight.
She laid out her cards on the table, hoping against hope his hand was worse. That faint hope died when he revealed his own cards, and he had her beat by several points.
"You win again, sir," she said with another sigh. "It seems Lady Luck favors a sinfully handsome scoundrel as much as the next woman."
Dominic laughed, and the emerald sparkle in his eyes almost made it worth losing.
Almost. Sophia needed that money.
"Forgive me, madame," he said. He gathered the scattered cards from across the table and lazily shuffled them back into the deck. "I take no pleasure in disobliging a lady. Shall we play again? Lady Luck is often fickle."
Sophia shook her head regretfully. She longed to play again and try to get back that money. It was what so often led her into trouble, the obsessive thought that with the next hand her luck would surely turn. Equally bitter was the thought that now she would lose Dominic's company. She had never enjoyed losing at cards so much as with him.
But she had nothing left to wager. She wore her grandmother's diamond and onyx earrings, necklace, and hair clips to go with her black satin gown, and her mother would definitely notice if they were gone.
"I'm done for the evening, sir," she said. "But I confess I've never enjoyed losing quite so much. It's no wonder your club is so successful."
His head tilted slightly as he studied her, his green eyes growing darker. "And how do you know I own this club?"
Sophia smiled and leaned closer to him, resting her arms on the table as she reached out to smooth one fingertip over a lost card. Oh, yes--he did bring out a spirit of the devil in her. "Oh, I know a great deal about you."
"That's hardly fair, is it?" he said, laughter lurking in his voice. Laughter and something darker, something she couldn't read. "I know nothing about you, except that you are a fierce opponent at the card table."
His fingers slid over her hand. It was a light touch, teasing, testing, his skin cool through her lace gloves. But Sophia felt like fire had just licked along her arm, burning and shocking. She had to force herself to stay still and not jerk away and run screaming from the salon. She had never felt anything like it. It was almost--frightening.
She touched the tip of her tongue to her dry lips as his hand slid away. "Wh--what do you want to know?"
He suddenly frowned, as if a shadow passed over his face. "Everything."
Something seemed to sizzle in the air between them. Sophia couldn't look away from him. The game, which had started out so light and fun, such a dare, had become something so much more. It had become something she didn't understand at all.
She had wanted to see Dominic St. Claire tonight. Something had driven her to seek him out after she saw him and felt so strangely drawn to him at the park. But now--now she felt afraid of what he awoke in her.
And Sophia was never afraid.
"Come with me," Dominic said. He rose to his feet, his gilded chair scraping back over the parquet floor, and took her hand in his. His smooth, polished, charming manners suddenly took on a raw edge, and it was as if she was glimpsing the feral power under his poetical beauty. And it made her even more afraid.
Yet she couldn't pull her hand away. She couldn't turn and run as she longed to. Something in her bound her to his touch. He was so very different from everything she had ever known, every convention her parents pushed onto her, every safe suitor and narrow expectation. Something in him called out to the secret darkness within her that always brought her to places like the Devil's Fancy, to card tables and deep play.
Something in him was the same as her. She had that terrible certainty as she looked up into his forest-green eyes. And she let him take her hand and lead her through the crowded salon.
The hour grew late, and champagne had been flowing freely, driving the laughter louder and louder. Ladies leaned on their escort's shoulders as they watched the roulette wheel spin wildly, and she could hear music from the ballroom. But it was nothing to her, a mere echo. The only real thing was Dominic's hand on hers. What was she doing?
Where had he been all those long, dull months and years of her life?
He led her down the staircase, past couples who sat against the banisters whispering together. They went to the cold marble foyer where she had talked her way past the grim-faced butler earlier that evening. The man wasn't there now, and there was only the quiet of the night after the loud party.
Dominic opened a door half-hidden in the wall and tugged her in after him. When the door closed, they were closed off in darkness. The only light was a faint glow from a window high in the wall. Sophia leaned back against the door and saw they were in a tiny sitting room of sorts, crowded with the hulking shapes of furniture.
But then Dominic braced his palm flat to the door above her head, his warm, tall body close to hers, and she knew only him. He pulled off his mask and threw it to the floor. His face was lean and harsh in the light, his eyes brilliant as he stared down at her.
Sophia thought he must be a supremely intense Hamlet. It was no wonder ladies flocked to his theater.
"Who are you?" he asked, his voice low and rough.
Sophia swallowed hard. "Just a woman who enjoys a good game of cards."
"And what else do you enjoy?" He reached up and gently traced the curve of her jaw with his fingertips. Sophia shivered, and his fingers skimmed lightly over her cheek.
When she felt him touch the edge of her mask, she drew her head back. A little spark of reality came back to her. She was daring, true; something drove her to seek out places like this, to find somewhere beyond her small, restricted world. But she didn't want to be completely ruined either.
And she also remembered the dark glare Dominic gave her cousin Aidan in the park. He did not like her family. He couldn't know who she was.
His hand slid away from the mask to toy with her earring and the curl of hair over the soft shell of her ear. His mouth followed, and Sophia gasped at the feeling of his hot kiss, the sound of his breath against her. Her knees went weak beneath her, and she pressed back harder to the door.
Dominic's lips moved along her neck, pressing light, caressing nips to her skin and then soothing them with the tip of his tongue. Sophia clutched at his shoulders to keep from falling, and she felt the ripple of his powerful muscles beneath the layers of fabric. She had never felt like this before. None of the kisses her suitors pressed on her in garden groves at Society balls could possibly compare. They always made her want to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. But this...
This made her feel as if his touch had set her on fire and made her come completely, gloriously alive for the very first time. Not even the rush of a winning hand of cards made her feel this way.
Dominic groaned, and she felt his tall body press even closer against her. His arm came around her waist and pulled her up on her toes.
"Who are you? Where do I know you from?" he said hoarsely as he kissed the corner of her mouth. "Tell me."
Sophia frantically shook her head. Her thoughts went all hazy when he did that, so fractured and unfocused she couldn't put them together. She feared she would shout out her name for him.
"Tell me," he whispered again, and kissed the other corner of her parted lips. "I have to know."
"I'm no one at all," she answered.
The tip of his tongue traced her lower lip, and she opened to him with a gasp. His mouth covered hers in a hot, starving kiss, his tongue pressing deep to twine with hers.
Sophia's nails dug into his shoulders. This was definitely not like any other kiss she had ever had! Those fumbling caresses from boys who had groped at her in the dark, even as she sensed their fear of her, could never have prepared her for the force that was Dominic St. Claire. He would not be afraid of anything. He claimed what he wanted, and oh, but he was so good at kissing.
He drew back from her lips, his eyes a bright green in the shadows. "Tell me," he demanded.
And Sophia wanted so much to do just that, to give him her name and hear him say it in that wondrous voice of his. But then this precious moment would be shattered. She didn't know why he hated her cousin. She only knew she never wanted him to look at her that way. She never wanted his desire to become icy with hatred.
This moment was all she could have with him.
"No," she answered, finding strength in the sure knowledge that she had to keep him from finding out she was Lady Sophia Huntington. From finding out what his kiss meant to her. "I am no one. You have to let me go."
His arm tightened around her waist. "No," he said, his voice a low growl full of dark determination. "I've just found you."
Suddenly desperate to be gone, to not give in to the power he held over her, Sophia frantically shook her head. "Please, Dominic..."
"No! I need you to tell me who you are."
"Then I'm sorry," she whispered. "So very, very sorry."
His head tilted back from her. "Sorry?"
Taking a deep breath, Sophia brought her knee up hard between his legs. Her old nanny had once told her to do that if she needed to escape from a man, and she hadn't been sure it would work. But Dominic gave an agonized shout and fell to the floor, letting her go.
Absolutely appalled at what she had done, Sophia almost knelt beside him. Until he shouted a foul name at her, a string of the dirtiest curses she had ever heard, and she knew she had to get out of there while she still could.
"I'm so, so sorry!" she cried again and dragged open the door. She let it slam behind her and ran for the entrance as fast as her heeled shoes would carry her. With the one stroke of luck she had all evening, the foyer was deserted, and she found a hansom on the street outside.
Once safely in the carriage, Sophia yanked off her mask and covered her face with shaking hands.
"Oh, heavens above," she whispered, quite sure she was going to be sick. "What have I done?"