Taste of Desire - By Lavinia Kent


Cornwall, 1816

Minerva, Lady Harburton, tipped her glass to him across the ballroom. He watched as she let her lips linger on the edge, parted her mouth further, and then slid her tongue artfully along the rim. She lowered her eyelids and let her shoulders roll forward, displaying the upper swells of a monumental bosom above the emerald silk of her bodice.

He should have been titillated, or at least intrigued. In fact, Tristan St. Johns, Marquess of Wimberley, had pursued this moment for weeks. He knew he had only to breathe seduction, and Lady Harburton would spill all her secrets.

At last he would learn whether the Lady or her family had traded the King’s secrets to Napoleon.

He took a step towards her. Her smile broadened. Why did he feel shackles around his ankles?

She was a beautiful if overblown woman. She was married, but that had never before been an impediment. A quick tumble with a willing and experienced woman, a tryst that might solve the puzzle he long worried at – it was a small price for so great a prize.

Lady Harburton stepped towards him. He waited and she drew closer, the lioness approaching the tethered sheep, not seeing the trap about to be sprung.

He could smell her heavy scent, see the powder and rouge that marked her face. She licked her lips again and it was impossible to miss the innuendo of the gesture. She giggled like a schoolgirl and laid her hand upon the embroidered velvet of his jacket.

“It is so hot inside this evening, my lord.” She snuggled closer as she spoke. “Don’t you long for a cool breeze?”

“I would confess the room is a trifle stifling, but what is one to do?” Tristan held still as she moved until her breast brushed along his arm. He shot a glance around the ballroom. He had always believed in discretion. His friend Wulf strode around the edge of the room, no doubt seeking their hostess, Lady Burberry. Minerva’s husband was deep in a corner, involved in conversation that almost certainly centered on horseflesh. Everyone else was engaged in his own small social sphere. Nobody was watching.

Minerva followed his glance. “Don’t worry; nobody cares what we do. I should tell you that I have a corner room, where the breeze positively caresses the bed. It really is most invigorating. It’s at the end of the blue hallway if you should care to experience it. I know I positively must get out of this dress and lie down.”

She didn’t give him a chance to answer, but rubbed her breast hard against him so that he could feel the peaked nipple beneath the silk. Then she turned and, with a quick flounce of her skirts, headed towards the hall.

Tristan leaned back against the wall and wished he could close his eyes.

It was all just so much bloody work. A man never got the chance to rest. Still, he had a job to do, and he would do it well. He sucked in a deep breath and pulled himself upright. He’d give Minerva five minutes and then follow.

It wouldn’t hurt to have another brandy first.

He turned, and stopped.

She stood at the top of the stairs, hair made of moonbeams and a shy curve of lip that could have lured foxes from the den. Her gown was blue and straight – but that was all he noticed. She glowed as if she were lit by stars as she slowly descended the stairs.

Miss Marguerite Wilkes.

She was his hostess’s younger sister. He’d seen her before. Been introduced. But now she rendered him speechless, thoughtless. Innocence. Beauty. Wonder. Integrity.

He walked towards her, and all else was forgotten.

“Lord Wimberley.” Her blue eyes searched his and did not stray.

“You must call me Tristan.”

She blushed, the ivory skin warming to a deepest pink. “I couldn’t.”

“But indeed you must.”

She grew even pinker, but did not answer.

He had to say something; he was rarely at a loss for words. “May I fetch you a drink, some lemonade perhaps?”

“I should say yes, but I must confess I had several glasses before I came down – it is awfully warm – and I fear that if I have another . . . .” Her words trailed off and she dropped her gaze to her brightly painted evening slippers.

“Yes, it is warm, but I’ve been told there is a breeze. Perhaps, I could escort you through to the gardens.”

Her glance trailed up his body and he could feel it as sure as any caress. Her pale