Bianca made him the man he wanted to be. She made him better. She’d asked him once if he’d ever wanted to hurt a woman. The answer had been no. She’d already known what he’d struggled with his entire life. He’d never be his father. And certainly not if he married Bianca. They already had a stronger bond than his mother and father had ever had.

“What are you thinking?” Dashlane asked. “Are we still leaving tomorrow?”

“Nope,” Chris answered, patting his friend on the shoulder. “I’m not certain I’m going to ever leave and you might be stuck here until my wedding. And probably Crestwood’s too.”

“Crestwood?” Dashlane staggered back. “How could Crestwood succumb? He’s a rake through and through.”

Chris shrugged. “He chased an innocent out of a gathering, asking her father’s permission first. My guess is he’s engaged already. If he isn’t, he will be soon.”

Dashlane scrubbed his face. “And you’re getting married too?”

Chris shrugged. “If I’m lucky.”

“Lucky? Do you know how wrong that sounds? And what do you mean exactly? You haven’t asked her yet?” Dashlane had gone pale. “I told you this place was cursed. I can’t possibly stay any longer. I’ll never escape the marriage noose if I do.”

Chris chuckled. “Juliet wearing you down?”

Dashlane shook his head. “Juliet doesn’t tempt me in the least but Corde—”

Chris stopped laughing. Pitting sisters against one another, that was trouble. “You’re right. You should leave. Tomorrow. I’ll forgive you for not attending my wedding.”

Dashlane frowned. “And do what exactly? You and Crestwood are here. Why did the two of you have to go and get all silly over women?”

“Go have a drink, my friend. I’ll be back later.”

“No you won’t.” Dashlane groused as he turned on his heel. “You’re never coming back.” Then he turned and started down the road alone.

Chris would worry about his friend later. Right now, he needed to go secure his own future.

He skirted around a clump of bushes, hiding until most of the lights had gone out. At one point he heard rustling nearby and he peeked his head out to see a couple silhouetted in the moonlight. He couldn’t say for certain, but he’d bet money that it was Crestwood and Adrianna. Poor Mr. Moorish. The man had been overrun.

But that was his signal. If Adrianna could get out, surely he could get in. With that in mind, he returned to the house, scaling the balconies.

Reaching the one that he knew was Bianca’s, he found the door open. He slid inside, noting that several candles still burned about the room. And there, in the middle of the bed lay Bianca in nothing but a flimsy shift. Her head was propped on her elbow, her hip curving up from the bed. He forgot to breathe as he stopped to stare at her. She’d undone her hair and the dark locks trailed over her shoulder, covering her chest. He was going to take great delight in pushing that hair back.

Hell, he was going to take great pleasure in exploring every inch of her.

“You came,” she said, pushing up on the bed. If anything, she looked even more alluring. Her hair fell on one side, revealing one of her breasts and a creamy length of her arm.

“You didn’t doubt I would.” He took another step closer and then another until he reached out and ran a hand down the length of her bare arm, her skin like silk under his touch.

She shivered, looking up at him. “I need to talk with you.”

Talk? He’d wanted to do that too, he supposed, but not right this moment. “Later, love. Right now I’ve got a beautiful woman in front of me who I need to touch.”

She gave him a small smile. “Not yet. First we need to set a few things straight.”

Damn. He hated the sound of that.

* * *

Chris stood over the bed, looking down at her. Her chin tilted up to see his dark, heavy eyes assessing her. “Straight?”

Bianca took a deep breath. She had so much to say she didn’t know quite where to start. Still, she nodded, rising to her knees. “I asked you this once, and I’ll ask you again. Would you ever hurt me?”

He shook his head, reaching down and cupping her cheek with his large hand. “Never.”

Relief made her a bit limp and she leaned into his touch. “Despite what you told me about your past, I didn’t think so. Not that I didn’t understand your fear. And it isn’t that you’re not tough or strong but you have complete control of yourself. Even with Fred you didn’t—”

Tags: Tammy Andresen Romancing the Rake Historical