Page 11 of Earls Prize Curves

He must’ve read the distress on her face, and she hated that her emotionsweresotransparent. Clara wanted to appear sophisticated in spite of her lack of experience, though she couldn’t help a breath of relief at his explanation. Their steps echoed in the foyer before being cushioned by the thick runner lining the second-level hall. Portraits of Covington ancestors hung interspersed with framed landscapes as they traversed the wide walkway before arriving at their destination.

“This is the master suite,” he murmured, and Clara struggled for a full breath, preparing to add another stepping stone to her ruination. Inching forward, the room fairly radiated masculine energy from the deep tones of emerald and accents of leather and wood. A large four-poster bed dominated one wall while a hearth lit with a blazing fire shone from the other side.

She didn’t know what she’d expected—a strike of lightning or hoards of lascivious items lying about—but it was just a room. The only special and scandalous thing about it was the fact that it belonged to Covington—her soon-to-be lover.

Heaving grunts sounded behind them, followed by the boom of her trunk dropping to the floor before the young footman discreetly made his exit, and she and Covington were left alone.

"So my little lamb decided to come after all,” he drawled, the low timbre of his voice chasing the chill from her skin.

“You doubted me?” she questioned, brows rising in challenge—willing her nervousness to abate beneath an onslaught of confident flirting. This she could handle. Banter with men wasn’t difficult; it just wasn’t enticing enough to keep them around without a financial incentive.

“I wondered if you would come to your senses.”

“If I wanted to be sensible, my lord, I never would have agreed to an affair in the first place. Instead, a prompt set down at the ball would have occurred.”

“Is that so?” A slight grin transformed his handsome face. “It would seem my lamb may have claws. Shall I call youkitteninstead?” He circled her like a predator stalking its prey—a comparison she found strangely arousing.

“Call me whatever you like as long as you live up to your end of the bargain… wolf.”

A teasing glint remained in his eyes, though he veered the topic towards safer territory. “I trust your trip was satisfactory, Miss Netherfield?”

“Clara, please. Considering how… intimate we’ll become. And yes, thank you, your carriage was quite lavish compared to what I’m used to.”

He nodded, a knowing flash in his brown eyes. “The notoriously frugal Netherfields. Why doesn’t it surprise me tolearn that equippingtheir conveyances for comfort isn’t a priority? And call me Hugh.” He gestured to a nearby chair and offered a glass of an amber-colored liquid. Whisky? Brandy? A slow burn slid down her throat at the first taste before a soothing warmth settled in her belly.

“Tell me, Clara.” Her name from his lips sounded sensuous, a caress from a dream lover.Won’t be a dream much longer.“What did your parents think of this impromptu holiday to Bath?”

Heat from the fireplace combined with the liquid warmth she continued to sip, creating a lazy heaviness that pervaded her limbs. Idly, she examined Lord Covington—Hugh’s—profile as he leaned against the mantel, shadows and light leaping across his large body.

“It took persuading.” An understatement. “But they relented when I mentioned retrieving my mother’s favorite elixir for ailments. I suppose I’ll need to create an excuse for the lack of such an item upon my return.”

A dismissive hand cut through the air and rich mahogany waves rippled from the shake of his head. “No need. I’ll send someone for a few bottles if you supply the elixir’s name and the shop where it can be found.”

Surprise weaved its way through her chest at the generous offer. No one ever thought to help her in any way. Her needs always fell to the back of her family’s minds—if they occurred at all. “Thank you, my lord… Hugh.”

They shared a moment of contemplative silence, their gazes observant, curious, before Hugh continued,“Now that we’ve taken care of the niceties. Shall we go over expectations during your stay?”

Sudden anxiety ate at the edges of Clara’s previous languor. Sitting straighter in her seat, she nodded. “Of course. As the wiser in these situations, I rely on your expertise.”

“An excellent start,darling.” A wolfish grin ignited another feverish warmth in her body, one entirely due to the devilish bite inhisexpression that made her thighs clench in anticipation. “What I have in mind for you will require full cooperation and obedience. If you ever decide a certain act is uncomfortable or unwanted, I will immediately stop. However, I caution you to be doubly sure of a decision before making it; you might find certain actions to your liking if you only open your mind.”

His gaze pinned her to the chair like a butterfly stuck to the wall. “Additionally, if there comes a time when you want to end our liaison early—for whatever reason—that is your right, and you will be safely sent home. Do you have any questions?”

Clara’s mind conjured all sorts of‘certain actions’he could be referencing—all based on the drawings inHer Dark Earl. A thrum of expectation beat in her heart at the days of pleasure and new discoveries to come. However, she did have one question, and his answer could end things before they even started. “You won’t hurt me, will you, my lord?”

She didn’t travel all this way to replace emotional duress with physical pain—no matter how alluring she found Hugh.

“There will be some pain at the initial loss of your virginity. And certain kinds of pain verges on pleasure. However, as far as intentionally harming you? No, I will never hurt you. You are safe with me.”

Nodding in acceptance, she trusted his word, an undeniable sense of safety and comfort swaddling her like a baby chick safe in its nest. Clara didn’t understand where those feelings came from considering the circumstances of their affair, but they calmed her nonetheless.

“Thank you. I believe I’m ready to continue with our arrangement if there’s nothing else to discuss?” Setting her empty glass aside, Clara rose to her feet, flushing under Hugh’s admiring perusal, his gaze mapping her full form from head to toe.

“None at the moment. As your first task, you’ll find a gown waiting for you in the washroom behind that door. While you change, I’ll ring for our dinner to be brought here. Do you need help with any buttons or laces?”

“No, I only brought dresses that could be easily removed.”

“Good girl. I do so like a prepared woman.”

Tags: Jemma Frost Historical
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