When Captain Xavier Grey finds himself snowbound with a sultry bluestocking intent on seduction, he does what any honorable soldier would do: He tries to make her think of him as “just a friend.” Unfortunately, the absence of servants means the gruff ex-soldier is forced to act as lady’s maid…
Miss Downing had moved the stool before the fireplace, and sat with her back toward him. A cinnamon-colored dress gaped below her nape as she tilted her head to one side and struggled to drag a pearl comb through her long, wavy hair. Each curl glimmered in the firelight, then nestled back against the curve of her breast and the small of her spine.
He had never seen anything more erotic in his life.
“Would you like me to—” He clapped his chest when his voice came out far too husky. After clearing his throat, he tried again. “Shall I lace your stays?”
“Only if you wish to.” Rosy firelight—or perhaps a light blush—colored her exposed neck.
“I have to,” he answered, not bothering to hide the strangled desperation in his voice. “For both of us.”
“You don’t have to.” She turned around and looked him square in the eyes. “You wish to.”
A surprised laugh burst from his throat. His bluestocking might be exceptionally well read, but she knew very little about men.
“No. What I wish to do are acts so unapologetically carnal, the ink would catch fire if I attempted to commit my ideas to paper. But what I’m going to do is lace up your stays, toast some breakfast, and put you on the first coach back to London. You will thank me later.”
“I will think of you later.” The tip of her tongue ran along the bottom of her upper lip. “Just as I did last night.”
He clutched the doorjamb and held his position. If he went to her right now, it would not be to lace her stays. They were playing with fire.
She turned back to the hearth and resumed teasing the knots from her curly hair. “I don’t suppose you’ve any skill with a comb? My lady’s maid is the only one who could ever vanquish these tangles, and I fear I’m only making the matter worse.”
His jaw worked. He was profoundly grateful she couldn’t witness the naked desire writ upon his face.
Yes, he wanted to run his fingers through that long, silken hair. To touch it, to comb it, but mostly to have its softness be the sole blanket above their hot, twined bodies.
Which was simultaneously the best and worst idea to have ever crossed his mind. He liked her too much to let her throw away her future on a tryst with someone like him.
“We can’t be lovers, Miss Downing. Now or ever. You think me someone I am not.” As she met his gaze, he infused his tone with cold finality. “Your vision of me is flawed. A romanticized, idealized knight who saves the day and wins his lady’s favor. I am no knight. I do not deserve your favors. I will not be your seducer.”
She lifted a half-bare shoulder. “Right now I think you’re someone who doesn’t know how to unknot curly hair and doesn’t wish to come out and say so.”
“I know how to comb hair.” Against his better judgment, he stormed forward and snatched the pearl comb from her fingers. “Stand up. Not another word until you’re properly laced.”
She rose to her feet as docile as a lamb.
Xavier wasn’t remotely fooled.
With the comb between his teeth, he cinched her stays and buttoned her gown as quickly as possible. When she settled back on the stool, he lifted her hair in one hand and began to gently tease the tangles free, starting from the ends.
The firelight caught each curl as it released, turning the long brown waves into rippling gold.
When a little, contented sigh escaped Miss Downing’s throat, the tension in his neck muscles softened. Her eyes were closed, and a half-smile curved her lips. The corners of his mouth quirked in response.
His seductive bluestocking was a far better cat than that devil creature she’d brought in a basket. He could comb her hair for hours, just to listen to her relaxed sighs and watch the blissful expression upon her pretty face.
His fingers froze in place. He could do this for hours? Just because she liked it?
“Good enough.” He tossed the comb into her lap and stalked out the door before her big brown eyes and sweet-smelling skin domesticated him any further. She would be gone in the next two hours. He would see to it personally.