“I’d say your chances are still good,” he muttered. “When it comes to seduction, letting your partner know what you want is the easiest way to ensure it happens.”
She tilted her head. “But you didn’t invite me here to seduce me, did you?”
“I told you.” He set down the basket and shook out the blanket. “I’m on my best behavior.”
“In a secluded clearing. With a woman you’ve exchanged torrid kisses with. And no chaperone.”
“Mybest behavior, not a monk’s best behavior,” he grumbled.
“I’m not complaining,” she assured him as she stretched out atop the blanket. “I’m just realizing… You really didn’t know I was an heiress until Lord Devin mentioned the size of my dowry a few minutes ago.”
He opened the wine and handed her a full glass. “I invited you here to celebrate your birthday.”
“Nothing more and nothing less?”
He touched the pocket with the ring. “I might have hoped for a little something more.”
Her eyes sparkled wickedly. “So might I.”
Harry nearly choked on his wine.
Was Bianca seriously hoping for a seduction? Of course she was. If anyone knew her own mind on the subject, it would be the daughter of a courtesan. Her parents had been in love, and it hadn’t been enough for Quinseley to be willing to marry her. If Bianca became intimate with Harry, it would be because she desired him, not because she thought it would be advantageous in any way. She fully expected him to ruin her and leave.
Or maybe she was the one willing to walk away. Perhaps Bianca believed the sparks between them would fizzle. That once they’d consummated their desire, they could go back to being casual acquaintances… or, worse,strangers. That after today, they need never see each other again.
It was up to Harry to change her mind.
Bianca lay on her back atop the blanket, her bent knees aiming skyward beneath her ankle-length skirts.
The previous year at this time, she had spent her birthday cleaning the flues of Lady Quinseley’s fireplaces. Today, she was surrounded by the calming sounds of nature in a picturesque secluded clearing. Instead of scrubbing bricks by herself, Bianca was relaxing in the company of a rakishly handsome lord whose attention had never once strayed from her face to take in the beauty of the trees and flowers surrounding them.
Nonetheless, the moment felt less like an overt seduction and more like a celebration. Harry’s romantic picnic felt remarkably earnest. He had not brought her here to take advantage of her, but to make her happy.
Fortunately for them both, a birthday seduction would make Bianca very happy indeed. The connection they shared was palpable. Consummating their mutual desire could not make up for more than a year of abject loneliness, but would mark the perfect start of the next phase of her life. One with friends, with joy, and if all went well… with Harry.
He pulled fresh fruits from the basket. “Strawberry, madam?”
She opened her mouth obediently.
He brought the berries closer and stretched out beside her on the blanket, placing one of the fat red strawberries between her lips.
She bit into the berry. It was tart and sweet and perfect. The burst of juices filled her mouth with the flavor of springtime and happiness.
“Another?” Harry asked huskily.
She rolled onto her side and tipped her face up toward his. “Can you offer me something… more satisfying?”
He tossed the fruit back into the open basket and covered her mouth with his.
She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him to her. Their limbs tangled briefly in her skirts as his body aligned with hers. She ran her hands over his form. He felt divine beneath her palms, all warm planes and hard muscles.
Yet his mouth was sweet, soft, and gentle. As though he were wooing her with each kiss. Coaxing her onto a path she had already willingly taken. He wasn’t leading her into a seduction. She was already there, pulling him along, taking them deeper.
“Do you know what I want for my birthday?” she murmured against his mouth. She felt his lips smile.