Last updated: Feb 19 2015, 22:59:18

An extract from Wicked At Heart:

"You don't learn, do you?" the marquess murmured, faintly.

A tingle of fear raced through Gwyneth. "Oh, I've learned a lot," she returned, refusing to be cowed by that flat, diabolical stare.

"Have you?" he asked, tucking his chin between thumb and forefinger and rubbing it slowly, in a manner that made him seem all the more menacing, frightening. He still leaned against the table, yet every muscle in his body radiated power, every nuance and shadow that moved across his eyes, danger. "Why don't you be a good girl and tell me exactly what it is you've learned?"

"Don't patronize me. Besides, you won't like any of it."

"Really? Try me, madam. I can be painfully tolerant."

"Somehow, I doubt that." He merely smiled. The message that gesture conveyed was more effective, more awful, than anything he might've said.

Steeling herself, Gwyneth moved to his swivel chair and sat down on the edge of its seat, her back stiff and unbending. She planted her parasol in front of her, its point stabbing the decking, and crossed her hands atop the handle as she leaned forward over it and met that waiting stare. "I have learned, Morninghall, that you are a master of deception, and that you are not as evil as you would have others believe."

"Oh, this is rich," he murmured, but a cold, wary glitter came into his eyes and his smile wasn't quite so self-assured.

"You never had any intention of coming to our Committee meeting, but accepted my invitation so that your failure to show could only restore your reputation -- at least in my eyes -- as a blackhearted scoundrel."

The barest flicker of something -- admiration? alarm? -- moved across that iridescent stare. He smiled, chillingly, then slowly lowered his hand, his head tilted a little to one side.

"And why would I do that?" he asked, silkily.

"Because I am getting a little too close to the core of whoever Damon, Lord Morninghall, is." He uncrossed his arms. Then he straightened up, tall, taller, now so tall that his great height seemed to lower the deckhead above by several inches. He filled the cabin, and every inch of him was throbbing with rage. With slow, menacing grace, he moved forward.

Toward her.

"Too close, eh?" he murmured, dangerously.

Gwyneth had seen that look in his eyes before. The one where his lids came down to half-shutter fiery, glittering intelligence, anger, and yes, desire. No. Not desire. That was too mild a word for a man like this one. What she saw there was a craving, a hunger, an obsession that was as lethal to him as it was to her. She knew what was coming, and her skin began to prickle with warning. With hope. With wanton, screaming excitement.

She straightened up, holding her ground in the face of his advance. "Yes, too close, and you don't like it, do you, my lord?"

"You have no idea what I like. And you have no idea who the real Damon, Lord Morninghall is," he said softly, and reaching out, tilted her chin up with the tip of his finger.

She remained stiff and unresponsive, though her nostrils flared with delicious fear as she stared up at him. "Oh, but I think I do -- Damon."

He released her. She thought he would come back with a cold retort, but instead, he moved slowly behind her chair, his fingers whispering along its arm as he passed. She sensed him standing just behind her, over her, staring down at the top of her head -- a magnificent, angry force she could sense but could not see, could feel but could not face. She shivered, uncontrollably. Yet she refused to turn around and give him the satisfaction of knowing that he was unnerving her. She refused to flinch, even when his fingers, dangerously warm, came down to rest lightly on her shoulder.

God, help me.

The seconds crept by, crackling with tension. Every beat of her heart was louder than the one before it, every nerve in her body began to scream. She heard his slow, measured breathing. She felt his hand, burning through the muslin to her shoulder. And now his fingers were pushing into the delicate flesh just beneath her collarbone ... questing ... seeking. She stared fixedly at the opposite bulkhead, hardly daring to breathe.

And then, with one quick, savage movement, he tore her hat off -- and sent it flying across the room.

Gwyneth's mouth went dry.

She felt his fingers in her hair, slowly splaying through the heavy masses and sending pins tinkling to the floor.

She shut her eyes, praying for strength.

But what she got was desire, and he was a master at inducing it. She felt it skating in husky waves over her flesh as his hand moved toward the swell of her breast. She felt it tightening her chest, deepening her breathing. She felt it in the warm flood of moisture now pooling between her thighs, and in the wild, erotic images her mind played out before her eyes, of the last time she had duelled with this man -- and lost.

But he is not so terrible, not such a monster as he wants you to believe! She had seen that glimpse of goodness in him, God help her, she had!, that spark of humanity he kept brutally locked within himself, and the tiny flame of hope it gave her was all that kept her frozen in the chair, hardly daring to breathe, when every primitive instinct of survival was shrieking at her to run for her very life. Light and dark, good and evil, it all faded and she knew only that dark and masterful hand, combing out her hair, pulling the rich wheaten waves of silk down around her shoulders, the slow, skillful fingers catching in a tangle, gently tugging it free ... now moving downwards to linger on the clasp of her mantle, thumbing suggestively over it before moving with scorching slowness back up her neck ...

"You want me, don't you Lady Simms?"

His voice was a dark angel's, dangerously soft, seductive and husky. He was leaning down over her, so close that the low words stirred the wispy hair at her temple, so close that she could feel the quivering anger that made every word he uttered something dark and threatening and deadly. She swallowed, hard, but there was not a drop of saliva left in her mouth. She felt the heat of him looming behind and over her. She felt the untamed power that emanated from him. And now his knuckles were grazing the side of her neck, his palm and fingers opening to cup the fragile, white column of her throat and totally encompass it, only the thumb moving as it tested her frantically beating pulse. That hand was hot, hard, terrifyingly powerful. The long fingers, deadly. He could kill her with one quick movement and she was powerless to stop him. She knew it. He knew it.

And she began to shudder.

"Did you hear me, Lady Simms? I'll bet that when I spread those clamped legs of yours, I'll find you hot, wet, and wanting."

She didn't answer, only staring straight in front of her. The pressure on her throat tightened. His hot, male scent, deliciously spicy with the taint of sandalwood, infiltrated her senses. Then, slowly, he released the pressure, letting his fingers drag across her windpipe before moving down the swan-like column of her neck, skimming the sensitive skin there until coming to rest on the fastening of her mantle. She felt the barest tug, a loosening; then, with a faint whisper, the cape-like garment slid from her neck and he was pulling it up and off, letting it fall to the decking behind her ...

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