A good love story is timeless....

A Lady's Addiction

Chapter One

Bixley, England, May 1818

The upstairs corridor of The Bell and Swan Inn, lit by the soft candlelight from several wall sconces, was deserted save the tall gentleman who stood before her door.

“Are you coming in or do you intend to stand out there all night?” Lady Anna Stafford measured her words in an effort to keep any trace of her inebriated state from her voice. “You are Lady Pickerel’s friend, are you not?”

Had she imagined the flicker of surprise that raced across the man’s strong features? He leisurely examined her face before sketching an elegant bow.

When the gentleman replied, the deep voice which answered her queries held a trace of amusement. “I am at your service, my lady.”

“Do come in then.” She stepped back through the doorway of the bedchamber and motioned the man to follow her. Once he moved past her, she peered out to check the passageway for bystanders before she closed the door. The scent of warm male assailed her. A confident smile affixed to her face, she turned to face her guest.

With the addition of another occupant, the modest room she’d retained at the nondescript inn now felt crowded. Although shabby, the establishment didn’t border the chief coaching roads and she expected there was little chance acquaintances from London would visit these lodgings.

“Cecily told me your name is Franco.” She’d assumed the man would be of Italian descent. Although he had dark hair and eyes, he sounded as British as she.

“I am called by many names.” His eyes roamed over her body and she fought the urge to cross her arms over her chest and shield herself from his penetrating gaze. His smile no longer reflected amusement, but sincere male interest. “You may call me Franco or any other name you desire.”

The word desire reminded her of the reason this man now stood in her room.

“Are you disease free?” Had she really asked such a thing? Accustomed to drinking a bottle of wine every night, she’d felt the need to imbibe even more alcohol that evening to settle nerves before her midnight rendezvous. The wine had already gone to work on her tongue.

“To the best of my knowledge,” her companion replied and took a step closer to her.

She couldn’t remember the question she’d asked Franco. His nearness unsettled her. Her entire body had flared into wakefulness the moment he’d entered her room. Cecily could be right; this man might be able to help with her problem.

Tonight she would play a part. She would emulate the sophisticated facade her friend Cecily Pickerel displayed. The scandalous nightgown she wore underneath her thin robe was in fact a gift from Cecily. She would never have had enough courage to buy such a shocking garment for herself.

“You are discreet?”

“What is your name?” Franco asked, ignoring her question.

Somewhere in the back of her mind she remembered Cecily telling her she needn’t share personal information with Franco. She would never see this man again. He did not move in her circles. With the slightest of shrugs she answered truthfully, “Anna.”

“Anna,” he said in a husky rasp. The way her name rolled off of his tongue sent the lightest frisson along her skin. “It is a graceful, pretty name. It suits you.”

“There is no need to flatter me.” She felt heat on her cheeks. “It is a common enough name.”

“Despite our current situation, my dear, I do not believe you are at all common.”

Stunned into a brief silence, she met his searching gaze. He stood only a step away from her and looked content to do so for the rest of the evening. She felt the flush on her cheeks deepen.

“Please be seated.” She nodded toward the lone chair in the corner. The only other place in the room to sit was the bed.  She gingerly settled herself on the worn coverlet.

Her guest took his seat with grace, his movements unhurried. Franco did not look or behave as she’d expected. He wasn’t classically handsome, and although charming, did not attempt to seduce her right away as she’d anticipated. Maybe he did not find her attractive enough to follow through with the purpose of their meeting.

Impeccably dressed in a blue superfine coat and buff trousers, one could mistake the man for a member of the ton. She estimated his height at six feet. Of substantial build, his shoulders were wider than the back of the chair he now sat in. Her gaze shifted from the elegant long-fingered hands resting on his knees to his not quite good-looking face.

“Do I pass muster?” The pleasant tone was at odds with his narrowed gaze. He reminded her of a coiled garden snake she’d seen once, harmless, yet ready to strike.

“You’ll do,” she replied with some pertness. The absurdity of Lady Ice sitting across from a lover for hire hit her. Her mouth curved into a rare smile.

“What do you require this evening?” His question drew her from her alcohol induced reverie. She saw his eyes drift to the table beside him where a bottle of wine, a single glass, and a few guineas rested. The bottle was nearly full. She had concealed the empty one under her clothes on the dresser. He reached out a hand and picked up a coin. When he rubbed the coin between his thumb and forefinger, she trembled at the thought of his hand rubbing her skin in the same fashion.

Not sure how to proceed with her appointment, she asked, “What did Cecily tell you about me?”

His gaze moved from the coin in his hand to her face. “Only that you needed my services.” The words were said in a soothing tone as if she were a skittish horse he meant to calm. They were a contrast to the hungry way he looked at her lips.

She almost faltered. She lifted her chin and looked into Franco’s dark eyes. “I am known in society as Lady Ice.”

“Yes?” No visible reaction, only the one word, nudging her to continue.

“My husband gave me the name, told me I was a cold, frigid lover.” She paused to collect herself. She must not tell this man too much. Waver now and her plan would be ruined.

“Where is your husband now?”

“He died in a riding accident.” She flinched at the lack of emotion in her words. What little feeling she’d had for Danforth evaporated soon after they were wed.

Franco placed the coin he held back on the table. He stood and moved to sit beside her on the small bed.

“You want to know if you are frigid.” His face now only inches from her own, his warm, sweet breath caressed her cheek.

“Yes,” she replied in a whisper, disconcerted by the large male body so close to her own slight figure. She hoped the cloves she’d chewed a short time ago would disguise the smell of alcohol on her breath.

“I think the problem lay with your husband.”

“You do?” She squeaked out her response. She cleared her throat and asked, “What makes you say that?”

He chuckled and the delicious sound pricked her already heightened senses. “I can tell from the way your body responds to me.”

Responds to you… You haven’t even touched me.” She jumped up and moved to look out of the single window in the room. Dizzy from the quick movement, she concentrated on the view before her. Nothing stirred in the dark stable yard below.
The sound of creaking floorboards came from behind her.

“The pulse in your throat is beating faster than the wings of a midge.” She felt her pulse race even faster as she realized Franco had navigated the small space from the bed to the window and now stood behind her. “Your cheeks are flushed and you’re trembling.”

The draft emanating from the poorly hung window in front of her caused her a momentary shiver. She felt an overwhelming need to seek warmth from the man behind her.

“Perhaps I’m afraid of you.”

“Your body is aroused.” He added in a murmur close to her ear, “The tips of your breasts are so stiff I can see them through your nightclothes.”

She gasped at the shock of his words. Her head snapped down to allow her to view her chest. Her nipples were indeed standing tall and erect.

“Perhaps I’m cold,” she replied, her words clumsy.

“If not for the fire, I might believe you.”

A log settled in the fireplace and the pop of the embers put truth to her lie. Sure fingers pulled out the hairpins holding her upswept coiffure in place. Mixed with the sound of her shallow breathing, she heard the soft plink of the pins as they met the wooden planks beneath her bare feet.

With her hair falling about her shoulders she felt vulnerable, and aroused. Warm hands glided over her shoulders and down her arms. He turned her to face him and she did not resist.

“You have nothing to fear from me.” Franco captured her chin with strong fingers and raised her face to his. “I can give you your answer with a single kiss.”

“One kiss?” She shook her head.

“Only one, I guarantee it.”

The sober part of her brain searched for a response.

“Close your eyes,” he said.

Curious, she obeyed. She tensed as she waited for the touch of his lips on her own. Memories of her husband Danforth’s moist fleshy mouth nearly sent her scrambling away to the other side of the small room. She forced herself to remain still.

Franco’s kiss was a revelation. His lips were firm and warm. She felt her own lips soften beneath his tender ministrations. When he moved his lips to tease one corner of her mouth she groaned at the loss.

“Kiss me.” She sighed, eager for the full weight of his mouth against hers. Her body swayed toward him as she rejoiced at her first taste of passion.

Franco groaned in the back of his throat as he reclaimed her lips. The sound both alarmed and excited her. He released her chin and taking her hands, placed them on his shoulders and gathered her closer.

Her hands moved of their own accord and her fingers sank into the luxurious black hair at his nape. The sensation of his mouth on hers started a throbbing deep in her body.

“One kiss,” Franco said against her mouth before he raised his head and looked down at her. Their faces were so close she could now see his dark eyes were not black as she’d first thought, but navy blue. Those eyes were now clouded with an emotion she couldn’t identify.

She would make love with this man. Prove to herself she could accept his touch. “I want more than one kiss.” Tomorrow she could blame the wine for her scandalous behavior. This man had aroused something inside of her, something that needed to be satisfied.

“Make love to me.”

“With pleasure, my dear,” he replied without hesitation. Franco lifted her into his arms, carried her the short distance to the bed and placed her on the tatty bedding.

She watched in fascination as Franco peeled the layers of clothing from his body. The small patch of skin she viewed when he removed his cravat elicited a sigh from deep within her. The removal of his jacket confirmed no padding was necessary to widen his shoulders. As each button of his waistcoat came unfastened, her breathing ratcheted up a notch. Danforth had come to her bedchamber naked under his dressing gown. His white, flaccid body had never aroused her. Franco removed his boots and pulled his white linen shirt from the waistband of his trousers.

“Come,” she said, both arms outstretched. This man had woven a spell around her. She’d never known desire before and the feeling was one she felt eager to explore.

His sensual smile sent prickles of sensation down to her very toes. He sat next to her, leaned over and untied the belt on her robe. She reached for the buttons on his shirt and with trembling fingers bared his lightly muscled chest to her inquisitive gaze.

“You are beautiful.” She smoothed a tentative hand over the sparse dark hair on his chest, pausing as she passed over a hard nipple.
His quick intake of breath encouraged her and she reached to gently roll the nub between her fingers.

“I mean to pleasure you,” Franco said as he took her hands in one of his own and raised them above her head. He opened her robe with his other hand and stared down at her near naked form with glittering eyes.

The movement of her arms stretched the cream voile of her transparent nightdress taut across her breasts. She watched as Franco’s head dipped toward her body. Her breath caught in her throat as anticipation of what he intended consumed her. His lips surrounded one erect coral nipple, laved it and then tugged gently. When he blew against the now moist material covering her breast she felt an answering response in her lower body. The moisture between her legs increased. Franco continued to hold her arms above her head as he suckled the tips of her breasts.

“Your breasts are perfect.” The ragged timbre of his voice made her believe he was as affected by their love play as she.

“Let me touch you.” She writhed beneath his mouth and attempted to remove her hands from his grasp. For the first time in her life she wanted to explore a man’s body.

Franco returned his mouth to hers. After a moment he lifted his head and searched her face with dark, penetrating eyes.

“Anna, how much have you had to drink tonight?”

She hesitated.  

“Enough to calm my nerves,” she replied.

“I think you’ve had quite a bit more than necessary to calm nerves. I would like to think your flushed skin and bright eyes were the result of my lovemaking. Regrettably, I don’t think that is the case.”

He released his hold on her hands and stood. She sat up and used both hands to pull the edges of her flimsy robe together.

“Franco, what did I do wrong?” For the first time she heard the slur in her spoken words.

“We’ll continue this when you’re clear-headed. I won’t take advantage of a lady.”

He reached for his clothing and she watched him dress. Within her, humiliation and disappointment fought for position.

“You don’t want me?”

He looked up from the task of buttoning his waistcoat to gift her with a soft smile. “You’re the best welcome home present a man could have, Anna, but I have to be able to look at myself in the mirror tomorrow morning.”

“I won’t be here in the morning.”

“I’ll find you and we’ll continue this when you haven’t finished off a bottle of Portugal’s finest export.” Franco completed dressing himself and took the single step to the bedchamber door before he turned to say, “You, my lady, are worth waiting for.”