Authors: Heather Cullman
His kiss was wonderful . . .
Her whole body felt hot, as if he’d lit a fire inside her that danced beneath her skin and made her burn in places that were as shocking as they were secret.
Nicholas groaned his torment. A ragged sob escaped him. Never in his life had he desired a woman as he did Sophie; never had he felt such urgency, such unbridled need. There was no coyness in her passion, no self-consciousness or calculation. She gave it freely and joyously, with a generosity that was as innocent as it was brazen. Driven beyond all thought by her responsiveness, Nicholas deepened the kiss.
Sighing her rapture, Sophie melted against him. Oh, those sensations … the ecstasy! They kindled within her the strangest and most bewildering desires, ones that made her moan and flush and quiver all over. She sighed again and clung to him tighter. Ecstasy, yes… sheer ecstasy.
FOR ALL ETERNITY
A TOPAZ BOOK
Published by the Penguin Group Penguin Putnam Inc., 375 Hudson Street,
New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Books Ltd, 27 Wrights Lane,
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First published by Topaz, an imprint of Dutton NAL, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc.
First Printing, December, 1998 10 987654321
Copyright (c) Heather Cullman, 1998 All rights reserved
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If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”
For sweet T.K.,
My little lost kitty boy.
I hope that wherever you are has milky treats and hammy-cheesy bagels. We love and miss you, and pray that you are safe.
The drawing room was hot, insufferably so, the air scented with a headache-inducing fusion of beeswax, potpourri, and the cloying melange of perfumes that wafted from the fashionable crowd. Yet, despite the stifling atmosphere, there was nowhere else Sophie Barrington would rather be at that moment than there, at Lady Stuckely’s exclusive
“Lumpish,” murmured someone at her left. Recognizing the voice as belonging to her best friend, Lydia Kemp, she glanced to her side to find the girl stationed there. “Lumpish,” Lydia repeated, indicating a newly arrived gentleman with a nod of her green and gold turbaned head.
Raising her fan to hide her scrutiny, Sophie swept his length with her critical gaze, shuddering when she came to his spindly, white silk encased legs. “And will you look at those calves,” she whispered. “Dreadful!”
“Mmm, yes. Dreadful,” her companion concurred, “though not half as dreadful as his thighs. How he can stand with those twiggy thighs, I’ll never know.”
Sophie cringed at Lydia’s indelicate observation. Not, of course, that she, herself, hadn’t noticed the man’s deficiency in that particular area. It was just that she knew better than to remark upon it, especially in public where they might be overheard and branded as brass-faced romps.
Though she knew her words were in vain, for outspokenness was as much a part of her friend as her dark, gypsy wild hair and catlike green eyes, she felt it her duty to chide her. “Really, Lydia. You know as well as I that it is exceedingly ill-bred to remark upon such things.”
As she always did when called to task for her frankness, Lydia merely shrugged. “If being honest is ill-bred, then I suppose I’m the most ill-bred chit in all of England. And since we’ve established me as such — ” she stared pointedly at Lord Motcombe, one of Sophie’s most ardent admirers ” — I see no reason to refrain from stating that I’ve never seen a worse cut suit of clothes than the one Lord Motcombe is wearing this evening.”
While thighs and related nether regions were subjects to be whispered about only in girlish confidence, everything else about gentlemen was open to comment. And having voiced her perfunctory protest to Lydia for breaching that rule, Sophie felt free to resume their game and do just that. “Oh, I don’t think the fault is so much that of his tailor, but of his lordship’s figure,” she said, regarding his narrow chest and sloping shoulders with disfavor. “One can only improve so much with padding, you know.”
At that moment their victim glanced up from the platter of oysters he studied and spied them looking at him. Instantly his expression of bored petulance transformed into the one of fawning ingratiation that Sophie always found so odious.
She groaned. Any moment now he would saunter over, and they would be stuck listening to his inane prattle. Apparently Lydia found that prospect as torturous as she did, for she looped her arm through Sophie’s and pulled her into the crush of people at their right. Nodding and smiling as they went, Sophie allowed her friend to escort her to a small clearing next to the fireplace.
Like everything else in the room — the friezes of gilt plasterwork dragons, the painted glass lanterns and gaudy Chinese wallpaper — the red-and-black-pagoda-shaped monstrosity of a fireplace reflected their hostess’s zeal for everything Oriental. After sharing several disparaging observations about that fact, the two women turned their attention back to the crowd.
“Fine eyes, bulging belly,” Lydia pronounced of Lord Swale, resuming their game from their new vantage point. Appraising the gentlemen was their favorite pastime, one they’d invented while watching the passersby from their boarding school window in Bath.
Easily falling back into the spirit of their wicked sport, Sophie declared of Mr. Trent, “Good figure, face like a ferret.”
Lydia nodded. “And whatever do you suppose you call that stuff on his head? It’s altogether too limp to be called hair.”
Sophie tittered and homed in on Lord Walsingham, who had the misfortune to stroll by at that moment. “Well enough looking, but hardly exceptional. Certainly not handsome enough for a husband.”
“I should say not,” Lydia agreed, then turned her attention to his lordship’s companion. “Fine thighs. Too bad he’s bran-faced.”
Sophie was about to take her to task again for her thigh remark when Lord Quentin Somerville swaggered into view. Just the sight of him was enough to make the words die on her lips. With his romantic tousle of mahogany curls, his extraordinary violet eyes and elegant build, he embodied the word magnificent.
“Perfect,” Lydia declared, breaking their awed silence. “Flawlessly beautiful. Too bad he’s only a second son, eh?”
“Tragic when you consider his brother’s looks,” Sophie replied on a sigh. “How a man as handsome as Lord Quentin can have such an ugly brother, I’ll never understand.”
“Lord Lyndhurst? Ugly?” Lydia stared at her with mock consternation. “My dearest Sophie, are you quite certain that your eyesight is up to snuff?”
Though they had been in accord in their assessment of every other man they had seen during the Season, Lyndhurst remained their one bone of contention. And as happened three out of every five times the subject of his lordship came up, Lydia was now tossing that bone between them like the proverbial gauntlet.
A gauntlet which Sophie readily snatched up. “I can assure you that there is nothing wrong with my eyes,” she countered, emphasizing the word “my” in a manner that pointedly questioned her friend’s vision.
Lydia made a derisive noise. “In that case, it seems that I have clearly overestimated your taste in men.” “No. You’ve underestimated it if you think that I could ever be swayed to favor that unsightly creature. Unlike yourself, I have standards for men. And those standards include a handsome face to go with his title.” “The rest of the ton seem to think Lyndhurst comely enough,” Lydia retorted in a superior tone. “As you well know, there are at least a dozen other eligible titles on the market, even a duke, and he is still considered to be the catch of the Season.”
Sophie sniffed. “Lord Murdock would be considered the catch of the Season if his pockets were as plump as Lyndhurst’s.” Not only was Lord Murdock the biggest wastrel in London, his dissolute behavior had all but banned him from polite society.
“Perhaps by those whose only concern is marrying a fortune,” Lydia shot back. “Lyndhurst, on the other hand, is a true gallant and counted desirable by those in the very top-of-the-tree. No one, not even you, can dispute the fineness of his character.”
“Oh, his character is fine … fine to the point of crushing dullness. Indeed, there’s not a finer or more boring man in London.” Her voice perfectly reflecting her contempt, Sophie mimicked, “Yes, Miss Barrington. No, Miss Barrington. As you wish, Miss Barrington.” Resuming her normal tone, she finished, “He’s so stiff and proper. Never once have I heard anything remotely witty cross that man’s lips.”
“My brothers tell me that he’s counted quite the wit at their club,” Lydia returned slyly. “I’ve also overheard them discussing his — um — prowess with the ladies. From what they say, the entire
set are all but pulling out each other’s hair in their zeal to be his mistress … and not because he’s so rich.”
“Lydia! It is — “
“Ill-bred to speak of such things,” her friend finished for her. “Perhaps. But it proves that he isn’t dull, eh? My guess is that his lordship would be quite amusing once one got to know him.” She paused to slant her companion a look of pure devilry. “A rich, amusing earl with excellent thighs. What more could a girl ask?” Sophie let the thigh reference pass unchastened, too vexed by Lydia’s blind adulation of his tedious lordship to concern herself with propriety. Struggling hard to mask her growing annoyance, she rebutted in what she hoped was a cool tone, “Even if he is by chance as witty as you claim, there is still the matter of his unfortunate appearance.”
“Is there indeed?” Lydia looked positively smug. “According to gossip, the only thing the other ladies of the ton find unfortunate about Lyndhurst’s appearance is that he makes it far too infrequently to suit them.” Sophie sniffed at that. “In my opinion he makes it far too often. Why, I can’t so much as turn around that he isn’t there, towering over me like some great — ” she made a fluttering hand gesture as she sought the right word ” — Goliath.” She settled on this analogy, though it hardly seemed adequate to describe his ungainly size. At well over six feet tall with broad shoulders and a muscular build, he dwarfed every other man at any given gathering.
With a derisive noise that echoed her, Lydia retorted, “Well, I haven’t noticed you exactly discouraging his attentions. Indeed, you’ve been seen together so often of late that he is expected to make an offer any day now. My brothers tell me that the betting book at White’s has him wed to you by Christmas.”
Sophie couldn’t have been more shocked had Lydia informed her that Napoleon now served ices at Gunter’s. “Why — why — that’s preposterous!” she sputtered. “Never, in any way, have I indicated that I would welcome an offer from him. As I’ve told you a hundred times before, I receive him only because my aunt and cousin insist that I do so.”
“Receiving him is one thing, but going driving with him three afternoons a week is quite another. And let’s not forget all the times you’ve allowed him to escort you to the theater — six isn’t it? — as well as all the other outings you’ve attended together. It seems to me that you’ve given him plenty of reason to assume that you would favor his suit.”