Brazen and the Beast (The Bareknuckle Bastards #2)

As she’d come to 72 Shelton Street with the intention of ruination, Hattie really should have considered the possibility that the business of virginity losing might be pleasurable.

She’d never thought of it in such a way. Indeed, she’d thought it would be a perfunctory business. A ticking-the-boxes kind of business. The kind of business that was a means to an end.

But when this man touched her—mysterious and handsome and unsettling and more welcome than she’d like to admit—she was unable to think of anything but the means.

The very pleasurable means.

Very pleasurable means that took hold of her when he suggested that he be the one to assist her in losing her virginity.

But the combination of his low growl and the slow sweep of his thumb over her lower lip made Hattie think that he might do more than that. Think that he might burn her down. Think that she might allow it, incineration be damned.

And then it made Hattie think very little but yes.

She’d arrived earlier in the night to the promise that she would be met by an exceedingly thorough man who would prove a stellar assistant. But this man, with his amber eyes that saw everything, with his touch that understood everything, with his voice that filled her dark, secret corners, was more than an assistant.

This man was dominion—the kind that Hattie hadn’t imagined but now couldn’t not imagine.

And he was offering to make everything she imagined real.

Yes.

He was so close. Impossibly large—large enough to make Hattie feel small—and impossibly handsome—handsome enough to have given her pause on another, less heady night—and impossibly warm in the cold room.

And impossibly, he was going to kiss her.

Not because she was paying him; because he wanted to.

Impossible.

No one had ever . . .

The slide of his hand into her hair pushed the thought aside before it finished. “You will—”

Silence.

“—assist me—”

His fingers tightened.

“—with . . .” He held her hostage with his touch and his silence. He was making her finish the thought, dammit. The sentence. What was the thought? “. . . it?”

He met the word with a growl, a rumble of sound that she wouldn’t have understood if she weren’t so rapt. If she weren’t so eager for it. “All of it.”

Her eyes slid closed. How was it that a man could turn so few words into such pleasure? He was surely going to kiss her. That was how it began, wasn’t it? But he wasn’t moving. Why wasn’t he moving? He was supposed to move, wasn’t he?

She opened her eyes again, finding him there, so close, watching her. Looking at her. Seeing her. When was the last time someone had seen Hattie? She’d spent a lifetime becoming so good at hiding, she’d never be seen.

But this man—he saw her.

And she found she hated it as much as she liked it.

No. She hated it more. She didn’t want him seeing her. Didn’t want him cataloguing her myriad flaws. Her full cheeks and too wide brow and too big nose. Her mouth, which another man had once described as horsey, as though he were doing her a favor. If this man saw all that, he might change his mind.

And that made her brazen enough to say, “Can we begin now?”

A low rumble of assent heralded his kiss, the sound as glorious as the touch when he settled his lips to hers and gave her precisely what she wanted. More than it. She shouldn’t have been surprised by the feel of him against her—she’d kissed him quite boldly in the carriage before tossing him out—but that had been her caress.

This one was theirs.

He pulled her to him, tilting, tipping until they were perfectly matched, until his beautiful mouth was aligned with hers. And then his second hand came to match the first, to cradle her face, thumb stroking over her cheek as he took her mouth in little, sipping kisses, one after the other, again and again, until she thought she might go mad from the tease of them. Until he captured her bottom lip and licked, his tongue warm and rough and tasting like lemon sugar and making her . . .

Hungry.

That was what it felt like. As though she’d never eaten before and now here was food, rich and welcome and all for her.

Those licks made her wild. She didn’t know how to suffer them. How to manage them. All she knew was that she did not want them to stop.

She took him in hand, gripping his coat and pulling him closer, pressing herself to him, wanting his touch against every inch of her. Wanting to crawl inside him. She gave a little sigh of frustration, and he understood, his arms coming around her like steel, lifting her, forcing her to give herself up to him, her hands sliding over his massive shoulders and around his neck, the muscles of it all corded restraint and so warm.

She gasped at the heat of him, and he pulled back. Was he stopping? Why was he stopping? “No!”

Good God, had she said that aloud?

“I—” Her cheeks were instantly aflame. “That is—”

A brow rose in silent query.

“I would prefer—”

And then this silent beast of a man said, “I know what you would prefer. And I shall give it to you. But first—”

She caught her breath. First, what?

He reached for her hand, clutching his shoulder, an embodiment of the fear that he might stop before they’d had a chance to start. He pulled it away, forcing her to let him go, but not loosening his hold on her.

What was he doing? He turned her wrist over in his grasp, and set his fingers to the line of buttons along the inside of her arm. She watched for a moment. “You’re very adept at buttons.”

A grunt as he worked.

“You don’t even have a button hook,” she said inanely, wishing she could take the words back before they’d even left her silly mouth.

He removed the glove from her hand, revealing her wrist, covered in ink stains from her afternoon at the offices, poring over lading books. She twisted the limb to hide the unsightly marks, but he wouldn’t let her. Instead, he studied them for a moment, his thumb stroking over the stains like flame before he returned her hand to his shoulder. Her now-bare fingers reached for the place where his collar met the warm skin of his neck, desperate for honest touch, and he released a rumble of pleasure when skin pressed skin. The ink was forgotten.

“First that,” he said.

Someone else must have replied, because surely it was not Hattie who slid her fingers into his curling black hair, pulled him toward her, and said, “And now you’ll give me what I want?”

But it was Hattie who received it, his kiss claiming her as one hand lowered to pull her tight against him, to lift her thigh over his hip, to press her against the thick ebony bedpost at her back.

His tongue stroked, entered, and she met him eagerly, matching his movements with her own, learning him. Learning this. She must have done well, because he growled again—the sound of her pure triumph—and he pressed into her, rough and perfect at the juncture of her thighs, drawing her attention to the ache there, an ache she felt certain he could cure. If only he’d— He tore his mouth from hers with a curse—a word that seared through her, making her feel wicked and wonderful and immensely powerful. A word that didn’t make her want to stop what she was doing. And so she didn’t, lifting her hips to his again, increasing the pressure, willing her skirts gone.

His thumb pressed against her chin, lifting it high as he met her thrusts and set his lips to the soft skin there, nipping along the underside of her jaw to her ear, where he whispered, “Here?”

Yes.

He moved down the column of her neck. A glorious slide. A delicious suck. “Mmm. Here?”

Yes.

“More?”

More. She pressed against him. Was that her whine?

“Poor love,” he rumbled. He lifted her higher, her feet coming off the floor. How was he strong enough? She didn’t care. He was at the edge of her dress, the fabric too tight. Too constraining. Too limiting. “This looks uncomfortable.” He ran his tongue over the hot, full rise of her breasts, making them impossibly hotter. Impossibly fuller. She gasped for breath.

Not-Hattie spoke again. “Do it.”

He did not hesitate to obey, setting her to the high edge of the bed, his powerful fingers coming to the edge of the bodice. Her eyes opened and she looked down, his strong hands against the gleaming silk.

Sanity returned. He surely wasn’t strong enough to—

The dress ripped like paper beneath his touch, cold air chasing her shock and then— Fire.

Lips. Tongue.

Pleasure.

And she couldn’t stop watching. She’d never seen anything like it. The most beautiful man she’d ever seen, entirely at her pleasure. The breath left her lungs as she watched, uncertain of what she loved best—the sight of him or the feel of him . . .

The sight of her hands in his hair, holding him to her.

The feel of them guiding him to her pleasure.

The sound of his assent, of his desire.

It was beyond anything she’d ever imagined. This man was beyond anything she’d ever imagined. At the thought, she dragged him up again, her fingers thrusting into his hair, pulling him to her until they kissed again. This time, though, it was she who licked over his full lips. It was he who opened to her. She who plundered. He who submitted.

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