Seduced by His Touch(7)

By: Tracy Anne Warren

Silently, he accepted the case, untying the strings that held the sides closed. One by one, he studied the illustrations inside, careful as he turned the large paper sheets with their fine watercolor renderings of birds. “These are your best yet,” he pronounced. “Stunning, Grace. Absolutely stunning.”

Her cheeks warmed with pleasure. “The chimney swallow turned out best, I think. I would like to have added a bit more green to the mallard, but I suppose he’ll do.”

Terrence smiled. “He’ll more than do. It was my lucky day when we met at that ornithology lecture four summers ago. If not for that fateful introduction, I would likely never have thought of producing a series of illustrated nature books. I have no doubt this new one is going to make us a nice little profit.”

Pin money, Grace thought. At least that’s what Papa liked to call it, since her earnings never amounted to much more than her quarterly allowance. Nonetheless, the money she received from the publication of her “little watercolors” provided a small reserve for her use. More importantly, the money was hers. All hers. Derived by means of her own skills and efforts.

“We’re receiving advanced orders already,” Terrence confided as he carefully straightened the group of drawings inside the folio, then retied the strings. “Lord Ast-bury is taking two dozen this time. Told me he plans to give them out as gifts to his hunting friends.”

Her lips parted as the implication sank in. “Why, that’s dreadful. This book is supposed to be an ornithological reference guide.”

“Apparently he and his toff friends don’t care about such niceties. They like to study the birds, then go out and shoot them. Of course, what is it you said your cook is serving for dinner tonight? Roast chicken, I believe.”

She glared at him for a moment, then released a laugh. “Point taken. Are you certain you won’t stay to enjoy the carnage?”

Smiling, he shook his head. “No, but it is tempting. Look now, here is Martha with our tea.” Setting the folio aside, he stood and helped the housekeeper with the heavy tray.

A crumpet and a slice of meat pie later, Terrence wiped his mouth on his napkin, then laid his plate aside. “So will I see you next Tuesday at the theater? They’re doing Midsummer, I think.”

Grace returned her teacup to its saucer. “Oh, did I not tell you? I am to go to my aunt Jane’s in Bath for a few weeks. Apparently she wrote to Papa asking if I could stay with her. She wants to take the waters and hates the idea of being in the city alone, despite her wide circle of friends. I didn’t see any way I could refuse.”

“No, nor should you,” he agreed, a slight frown on his brows.

“Not to worry,” she assured him. “I shall take everything I need to begin work on the flower illustrations. You needn’t have any concern that I shall be late in completing the new renderings.”

“I know you won’t. If there is anyone upon whom I can count, it is you. I will only miss you, that’s all.”

“Ah.” She knew she should not encourage him. Still, he was her friend. “And I you,” she said with sincerity. “And I you.”

Late the following evening, Jack claimed his release, his body shuddering, as he lay locked inside his mistress’s arms. She glided her hands over him, her satisfaction plain. He’d taken care to make sure she peaked first, her cries of satisfaction loud enough to awaken the entire household. Luckily her servants were far too well-trained to react, even if they had noticed.

Striving to recover his breath, he rolled onto his back in the wide, satin-covered bed, unabashedly naked, the sheets and counterpane kicked to the floor long ago.

“Heavens, darling, you do that so-o-o-o-o well,” she cooed, reaching out a delicate hand to smooth over his chest. “How soon do you imagine we can do it again?”

He chuckled. “Give me a minute and we’ll see.”

She smiled, her fingers drifting downward with the obvious intent of helping him along. For a moment, he allowed her to play, his interest only mildly reawakened. Then with a gentle touch, he captured her hand and folded it inside his own. “Philipa,” he began, “about the country party next week…”

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