Home > Marrying Winterborne (The Ravenels #2)(4)

Marrying Winterborne (The Ravenels #2)(4)
Lisa Kleypas

“My lady, we both know that I’m the last man you want to marry. From the beginning, I’ve seen your disgust of me.”


Insulted by her feigned surprise, he continued savagely. “You shrink away from my touch. You won’t speak to me at dinner. Most of the time you can’t even bring yourself to look at me. And when I kissed you last week, you pulled away and burst into tears.”

He would have expected Helen to be ashamed at being called out in a lie. Instead, she stared at him earnestly, her lips parted in dismay. “Please,” she eventually said, “you must forgive me. I’m far too shy. I must work harder to overcome it. When I behave that way, it has nothing at all to do with disgust. The truth is, I’m nervous with you. Because . . .” A deep flush worked up from the high neck of her dress to the edge of her hairline. “Because you’re very attractive,” she continued awkwardly, “and worldly, and I don’t wish for you to think me foolish. As for the other day, that . . . that was my first kiss. I didn’t know what to do, and I felt . . . quite overwhelmed.”

Somewhere in the chaos of his mind, Rhys thought it was a good thing he was leaning against the desk. Otherwise, his legs would have buckled. Could it be that what he had read as disdain was actually shyness? That what he’d thought was contempt had been innocence? He felt a splintering sensation, as if his heart were cracking open. How easily Helen had undone him. A few words, and he was ready to fall to his knees before her.

Her first kiss, and he had taken it without asking.

There had never been a need for him to play the part of skilled seducer. Women had always been easily available to him, and they had seemed pleased with whatever he cared to do in bed. There had even been ladies now and then: the wife of a diplomat, and a countess whose husband had been away on a trip to the continent. They had praised him for his vigor, his stamina, and his big cock, and they hadn’t asked for anything more.

In body and nature, he was as tough as the slate dug from the flanks of Elidir Fawr, the mountain in Llanberis, where he’d been born. He knew nothing of fine manner or good breeding. There were permanent callouses on his hands from years of building crates and loading merchandise onto delivery wagons. He was easily twice Helen’s weight, and as muscular as a bull, and if he rutted on her the way he had with other women, he would rip her apart without even trying.

Holy hell. What had he been thinking in the first place? He should never have let himself even consider the idea of marrying her. But he had been too blinded by his own ambition—and by Helen’s sweetness and fine-spun beauty—to fully consider the consequences for her.

Bitter with the awareness of his own limitations, he said in a low voice, “It’s water under the bridge, it is. Soon you’ll have your first season, and you’ll meet the man you were meant for. The devil knows it’s not me.”

He began to stand, but Helen moved even closer, standing between his spread feet. The hesitant pressure of her hand on his chest sent desire roaring through him. Rhys sank back to the desk weakly, all his strength focused on maintaining his crumbling self-control. He was a terrifying hairsbreadth away from taking her down to the floor with him. Devouring her.

“Will you . . . will you kiss me again?” she asked.

He shut his eyes, panting, furious with her. What a joke Fate had played on him, throwing this fragile creature into his path to punish him for climbing higher than he’d been meant to. To remind him of what he could never become.

“I can’t be a gentleman,” he said hoarsely. “Not even for you.”

“You don’t have to be a gentleman. Only gentle.”

No one had ever asked him for such a thing. To his despair, he realized it wasn’t in him. His hands gripped the edges of the desk until the wood threatened to crack.

“Cariad . . . there’s nothing gentle about how I want you.” He was startled by the endearment that had slipped out, one he had never used with anyone.

He felt Helen touch his jaw, her fingertips delicate spots of cool fire on his skin.

All his muscles locked, his body turning to steel.

“Just try,” he heard her whisper. “For me.”

And her soft mouth pressed against his.

Chapter 2

TIMIDLY HELEN BRUSHED HER lips over Mr. Winterborne’s, trying to coax a response from him. But there was no answering pressure. No hint of encouragement.

After a moment, she drew back uncertainly.

Breathing unevenly, he leveled a surly watchdog stare at her.

With a despairing sinking of her stomach, Helen wondered what to do next.

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