“Not all of us have your catlike reflexes,” he said, reaching up and giving the trellis a small tug, testing its sturdiness. It was true. She’d managed to rescue him at the balcony. He’d watched her scale a cliff to save some cats. She was uncommonly coordinated.
“Fine,” she called. “I’ll come down.”
He blew out a breath. “No.” First of all, he wanted to see her bedchamber, and second, this evening was much cooler, he wanted her tucked in the warmth of her room. But also, it pricked at his male pride. “I’m coming up.” Then he started to climb. She was right. Once he got the hang of it was quite easy. After reaching for the balcony, he hoisted himself over the side of the rail to meet Adrianna’s warm hands.
He hadn’t been able to see her clearly from the ground, but now he noticed that her hair was down, waves blowing softly in the breeze, even as the silk of her dress flowed about her ankles. Her feet were bare, and he caught sight of her naked calves as a larger gust blew up the hem of her dress. “Adrianna,” he rasped out, reaching for her waist. “I thought we were going to talk.”
“We are,” she answered, sliding her bare hand down to his and pulling him into her room.
“Then why aren’t you wearing shoes?” He’d felt those legs, but seeing them in the flickering candlelight, he had the distinct urge to kiss every inch of her.
She turned back, looking over her shoulder at him. “I like having my feet bare and I wanted to be comfortable while I listened.” Then she stopped, turning toward them. She lifted their joined hands and brought the back of his to her lips, placing a soft kiss on his rough skin. “Luke, this is me. Bare feet, hair down, ready to give you whatever you need.”
His heart, which had been slowly accelerating in its beat, nearly stopped in his chest. She was going to undo him. If she was trying to coerce him into marriage, she was surely going to be successful. “Adrianna. Don’t take your choices away. I told you. You don’t want to marry me.”
She stopped then, her free hand reaching for his cheek. “I do want to marry you. I love you.”
He growled out a guttural noise of satisfaction. “No.”
“Yes,” she murmured, kissing his hand again. “And even more than I wanted to be strong enough to defeat a rake, I want to be loving enough to heal a hurting man.” She stepped closer. “Your brother dying was awful but it happens far too often. I’m not sure I blame you for not wanting to marry. You’d have to face the same worry with a wife. My father lost my mother from something very similar and I know it’s been hard on him.” She took a deep breath. “But I also know that he considers his time with her a gift.”
His face spasmed. “And wishing my brother dead? Because that is what I did after he proposed to Miranda and now he’s gone.”
Adrianna moved even closer. “I’m fairly certain I wished Juliet dead the other day just for making me go out on that ledge to get Mittens. If she gets sick, will it be my fault?”
Luke drew in a shuddering breath. “No. It won’t.”
“So when your brother died, was that your fault?”
His face spasmed. “No. And you’re too good at this.” She was winning this war of words, but did that make her right?
Adrianna was right up against him now. Close enough to realize that not only did she not have stockings or shoes on, but in fact, she didn’t wear a stitch under her clothes. He brought a hand to her shoulders, running it down her back. No corset and no chemise as far as he could tell. He stopped at her waist. If he ran his hand over her backside this conversation would be done.
She threaded her arms about his neck. “See. Even you know it’s true.”
“I know it’s true.” He dropped his face into the crook of her neck. “I needed Miranda. Way back then.” He drew in her violet scent and let it fill him. “And she left me. Worse still, she left me for my brother. He was the one man I still called family and I couldn’t even look at him without hurting.”
“I know,” she whispered, as one of her hands combed through the hair at the back of his neck. “It was a cruel thing to do.”
He squeezed her tighter to his chest. Her body fitting against his, her warmth seeping into him. “Is that why you called her a viper?”
“She will say whatever she thinks will get her way and she isn’t afraid to hurt you. Whatever she wrote in that letter, don’t listen to a word of it.” She stroked his back with her other hand.
But he jolted back, staring down at the woman in his arms. Miranda had always been terribly selfish. Why had he not seen it before? “By God. You’re right.”
Adrianna gave him a soft smile. “Your mistake was not wishing your brother dead but giving your affection to the wrong woman.”
He stared down at her, drinking in her crystal-blue eyes and the softened curves of her face. “A mistake I won’t make again.” But not because he wouldn’t love again.
Her smile wavered. “It’s all right that you don’t want to marry me. I just needed you to know that she was wrong and that you are not to blame and—”
“Adrianna Moorish.” He finally slid his hand down the perfect curve of her backside pulling her hips up and into the cradle of his. “I have every intention of making you my wife.”
Her gasp filled the room, but he covered her mouth with his. He kissed her long and fully, his tongue dancing with hers until they were both breathless.
“You are everything that has been missing from my life and if you let me, I’ll love you with my whole heart.” His fears had melted away as they’d talked and he realized that Adrianna was the piece that had been missing for such a long time.
“Did you say love?” He heard her little squeak and he might have laughed but he was too busy lifting her up into his arms to carry her to the bed.