Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Christmas Wedding Wager - Michelle Styles

A Writers Vineyard Holiday Treat

‘I promised you another dance --a waltz, I believe-- but I became entangled in other matters.’ The fire cast shadows over his face, concealing his expression. ‘And you...were busy.’

‘After my polka, I was not a wallflower.’ Emma’s voice sounded breathless. She concentrated on the mantelpiece clock, ignoring the way her body became alert as if it expected something to happen -- wanted something to happen.

‘I dislike saying something and not doing it.’ Jack took a step closer. If she reached out a hand, she’d encounter his shirt front. Her palm itched to touch, and she barely restrained it.

‘There is not another ball between now and Christmas. Put it out of your mind. I have.’ Emma knew it was lie. All the time she had waltzed with the other men, she had thought about what it was like to be in Jack’s arms. How safe and familiar it had felt, like returning home. She struggled for control. ‘Shall we speak about the bridge? It is another promise you made. I am eager to hear your progress.’

‘If a polka was worth a discussion, might a waltz be worth a site visit to see how things are actually progressing?’ His voice dropped an octave, became thick rich velvet that stroked her skin.

She struggled to remember what was important.

‘It might be, but we are discussing theory only, Mr Stanton. I told you there was no ball between now and Christmas.’ A pang of disappointment ran through Emma. Against all reason, she wanted to be in his arms again, have their breaths intermingled. The reason did not matter.

‘What if I hum?’ He held out his hands, his eyes were shadowed. ‘Would you dance with me? Here now, in the firelight?’

She attempted to draw a breath but her stays were pulled far too tightly. To dance here...A tingle of excitement rippled down her spine.

‘You are teasing me, Mr Stanton. Waltzing in the drawing room? Without music?’ Emma tried a laugh, but it died in her throat as she saw his expression. The light from the dimmed gas gave him a dangerous look, his face all planes and shadows. And his evening dress did nothing to tame him. If anything, it showed that the merest veneer of civilisation covered him.

‘I have never been more serious.’ He moved over to the fireplace.

Emma stared at him, took an involuntary step forward, gave an imperceptible nod.

Tomorrow she would once again be sensible. Tonight, she wanted to feel his arms about her waist. She had drunk a cup too many and her blood seemed to be tingling.

‘Once around the room and that is all.’

‘As my lady commands.’ He put one hand on her waist, and the other clasped her free hand. Emma’s fingers trembled as they touched his shoulder, felt the muscles rippling underneath.

He began to hum loudly but with a definite waltz, a Strauss waltz like the one that they had first danced to all those years ago. Was it deliberately chosen? Or simply the one waltz tune he knew? Emma hesitated, longed to ask but decided against it. She had no desire to alert him to the fact that she remembered. She dreaded to think what construction he might put on that piece of intelligence.

At his look, she joined in. Her hum matched his. He nodded and his hand rested more firmly on her waist, pulled her body closer to his. His hand seemed to burn through her dress.

They circled the room once. Their feet slowed, the humming faded. Stopped.

Her gaze tumbled into his, caught, held. Emma knew she should step back. Propriety demanded it. But her limbs were powerless to move.

She wanted to stay where she was – in his arms. Safe. The desire to lay her head against his chest and hear the steady thump of his heart threatened to overwhelm her. She made one last effort towards sanity. Pushed back against the circle of his arms.

‘I should go.’ She looked towards the closed door. It seemed an age away. She had no idea how she would make it there without stumbling. Her legs seemed to be made of jelly.

He made no reply but his mouth swooped down, captured hers. Lips touching lips. His hand came and cupped the back of her head. It seemed as if her entire world had come down to this one thing – the pressure of his mouth against hers.

Firm, but gentle.

A warm ripple coursed through her. She had been kissed before, quick pecks, and once someone had kissed her full on her lips. But nothing like this lingering possession of her mouth, this kiss that threatened to unravel her senses. She should move back, but her spine appeared to have melted. She wanted the moment never to end. The kiss changed, became more seeking, more urgent, devoured her lips as his arms tightened and drew her closer, crushing her against his hard body.

The clock chimed striking midnight, and Emma jumped away from him. Her face showed panic, but her lips were a little too full, too red. Jack made no move to keep her there.

He had meant to test her, to see how far she’d go but to pull back at the last possible moment. Then this had happened. He had tasted her lips, felt them curve underneath his, yield, and it taken all of his self control not to go beyond that. Even now, his hands itched to reach out and press her warm body back against his.

‘Forgive me, Miss Harrison – the mistletoe.’

Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A. Cover art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved. ® and ™ are trademarks of Harlequin Enterprises Limited and/or its affiliated companies, used under license.

This has been an excerpt from A Christmas Wedding Wager
Although born and raised near San Francisco, California, Michelle Styles currently lives a mile south of Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland, UK, with her husband, three children, two dogs, two cats, assorted ducks, hens and beehives. An avid reader, she has always been interested in history and a historical romance is her idea of a perfect way to relax. Michelle writes historical romances for Harlequin Mills and Boon
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