Monday, August 4, 2014

TOUCH ME by Lucy Monroe

TOUCH ME by Lucy Monroe

The Langley Family Trilogy Book One

Thea might have been born a lady, but she's lived a life of freedom as a simple miss in the West Indies, unbound by the strictures of her title or straight-laced Regency England. She's unlike any woman Pierson Drake has ever met, but he finds her innocent sensuality irresistible. 

The illegitimate son of a duke with no claim on the title, Pierson Drake maintains a level of honor most in the ton only give lip-service to. He is determined to make a name for himself and will stop at nothing to keep what he claims for his own.

Thrown together on a voyage back to England, Drake finds Thea's innocent sensuality irresistible. She's unlike any woman he's ever known. Passion flares between them with enough heat to burn the best of intentions to ash, and once they share a bed for the first time, there's no going back.

But Thea's secrets are a heavy burden. With her life hanging in the balance after a devastating betrayal, Drake must take any risk to protect her, and the hope for their future. They have one chance to get it right. . .





The skirts of Thea’s highwaisted gown swished around her ankles allowing welcome air to cool her legs as she strode through the warehouse. The tall ceilings and dark interior of the building did little to mute the oppressive Caribbean heat. Beads of sweat trickled between her shoulder blades. She itched to press the muslin of her gown against the moisture, but years of training by her proper English mother prevented her.

Mama, if you were here, you’d be tempted as well.

But, Anna Selwyn was not there, nor would she ever be. Thea’s heart constricted. Ten years and she still mourned the loss of the strong and determined woman who had given her birth.

"Afternoon, Miss Thea."

She stopped at the sound of Whiskey Jim’s voice. She looked up and smiled into the old man’s weather-wizened face. "Good afternoon, Captain."

His one good eye twinkled merrily at her while the patch that covered his other eye shifted as his face creased into a grin. "See you’re moving with the main sail at full mast like always."

She waved the air in front of her face. "Perhaps I should let down some sail and move more slowly. It’s so hot today."

"That it is. That it is." He pulled a large bandana from his pocket and wiped his forehead. "This old man should know better than to try to load his ship on a day like today."

Thea smiled. Old man indeed. He looked about a hundred, but he was still one of the fastest captains employed by Merewether Shipping. "When are you sailing?"

"She looks to be loaded by the day after tomorrow."

The timing could not be better. She needed to take action before Uncle Ashby became aware of the pilfering going on in the London office. He would insist on making the trip to England to investigate and his health would suffer for it.

She owed him more than she could ever repay. When her mother had died of the fever that killed so many Europeans in the West Indies, the Merewethers had insisted on caring for Thea, treating her like their own daughter.

"When do you expect to arrive in Liverpool?"


Thea stopped fanning herself. "What do you mean?"

"I’m up to Charleston and then on to New York this trip."

"But I thought you were going to England."

He scratched the side of his head. "Nope."

They weren’t expecting another ship for weeks. "Sacré bleu."

The old man’s eye twinkled. "What did you say?"

Although the seamen and even Uncle Ashby could turn the air blue with their curses, she would have a peal rung over her for letting the French phrase slip from her lips. "Nothing."

There was no hope for it. She would have to sail on someone else’s ship.

The captain bid farewell and ambled toward the far end of the warehouse where his crew moved without regard to the heat, loading the heavy barrels of sugar and rum onto wagons for transport to his ship.

She turned and walked toward Uncle Ashby’s office, the problem of finding berth on a ship to England weighing heavily on her mind.
A droplet of perspiration trickled down her neck and the relative privacy afforded by the opening between two stacks of wooden crates became too strong a temptation to resist.

Slipping between them, she cast a furtive glance around her. No one was in sight. Reaching behind her back, she awkwardly patted the fabric against her damp skin. Oh, heavenly. She lifted the skirts of her gown just a few inches and flapped the edge to force more air against her legs. She closed her eyes in bliss. Wouldn’t it be lovely to go swimming right now? She could almost feel the refreshing water against her skin.

"Mademoiselle Thea. Mademoiselle Thea."

Her eyes flew open. The sight of Philippe, the warehouse manager, staring at her as if she’d been caught dancing naked on top of the crates, rather than fanning herself behind one of them momentarily froze her wits. The dark contours of his face were formed in lines of rigid disapproval. Well, drat. If she had to get caught couldn’t it have been by someone like Whiskey Jim, not her self-proclaimed duenna?

Thea straightened, tossing her skirts back to decorously cover her ankles. "Philippe, I didn’t see you."

"That would have been difficult, yes? With your eyes closed and cavorting in such a fashion?"

How could a mountain-size Black man sound so prissy? "I was not cavorting. I was fanning. There’s a difference."

Philippe frowned. "Not for a lady."

Everyone took for granted that she wanted to be a lady. Thea was not convinced. It certainly hadn’t done her mother any good and the title carried more restrictions than benefits as far as she could see.

She much preferred the persona of plain Miss Althea Selwyn, raised in the West Indies with a freedom no London debutante would ever know. Oh, she knew the important strictures of life as a lady. Aunt Ruth and her mother had seen to that, but she was rarely forced to adhere to them. Which did not mean she wasn’t taken to task for her behavior.

She was. Frequently. And she found it most annoying indeed.
How could she behave as if she’d been raised to grace a drawing room when in fact she’d spent her entire life around sailors, plantation workers and freed slaves? Despite Mama and Aunt Ruth’s efforts, she’d spent more time learning the shipping business and how to keep an accurate ledger than she had how to be a lady. And she certainly hadn’t learned life’s basic skills from a tutor or proper English nanny.

Philippe had taught her French. Whiskey Jim had taught her other things and she’d learned to swim the same way as all the other children on the island, naked in the lagoon. Her mother had about swooned when she’d found out, but the truth was, Thea was better suited and always had been to her life here than she ever would have been to life in England.

Deciding that ignoring Phillippe’s outrage was the best way of dealing with it, she asked, "Was there something you needed?"

"Mr. Drake is looking for Mr. Merewether."

Philippe stepped aside, revealing another man standing behind him. A man every bit as tall as the warehouse manager, but there the similarity ended. Drake. The privateer. The name fit. This man could very easily be a pirate. He did not look like a man that balked at danger.

Although he matched Philippe for height, he was built quite differently. Thea’s gaze snagged on the muscles that pressed against the gentleman’s long pants. Uncle Ashby and the other men of Thea’s acquaintance still wore the breeches popular in the last decade. She had never actually seen a gentleman wearing long pants. They should have hidden his well-developed legs, but they didn’t. His obviously well made clothes were worn in the understated fashion of the English.

She forced her gaze higher only to be sidetracked again by the fact that the gentleman’s upper torso was every bit as muscled as his legs. When her eyes finally reached his face, she sucked in her breath. He had noticed her perusal. How could he not? His mouth tipped in sardonic humor and brown eyes, the color of dark molasses, mocked her.

Realizing that her mouth had dropped open, Thea shut it with a snap. Her cheeks felt hotter than the Caribbean sun. "May I help you?"

"I’m looking for Mr. Merewether." His voice held all the authority that his posture implied.

"He’s not here." Wonderful. Not only had she gawked like a desperate spinster, but now she sounded like a bacon-brained idiot. Obviously Uncle Ashby wasn’t with her. "I mean to say, I don’t know where he is. Perhaps I can help you."

There that sounded better, much more appropriate.

"My business is with Mr. Merewether."

Thea stifled a retort. Many gentlemen had aversions to doing business with a lady. Evidently Drake was one of them. "Then I will not keep you."

"I am sorry to disturb you, Mademoiselle Thea. We will search for Mr. Merewether elsewhere." Philippe nodded his head in formal dismissal and turned to leave.

The Englishman did not follow. "First, we will escort the young lady to her destination."

Thea stiffened at his peremptory tone. "That will not be necessary."
He reached out to take her arm, his dark hair and even darker expression making him appear almost menacing, despite his excessive masculine appeal. "I insist."

She stepped back toward the high stack of barrels, to elude his grasp. "Thank you, but I will be fine."

His expression hardened. "Nevertheless, I would feel better if I saw you safely to your destination." His brown eyes narrowed in obvious censure. "A warehouse is no place for a lady." His tone of voice implied she might be anything but.

She wanted to give him a proper set down, but business must always come first. Uncle Ashby would not thank her for offending Drake. She pressed her lips together and imagined loading an entire wagon with storage barrels in her mind before she felt calm enough to speak.

By the time she imagined the wagon leaving for the dock, she was able to summon a formal smile. "I am quite at home in this warehouse, but as we are looking for the same person, perhaps it would not hurt to find him together. I was on my way to Mr. Merewether’s office."

She stepped forward, but apparently not quickly enough because the Englishman’s hands shot out and grabbed her waist.

She gasped. "Really there is no need—"

He yanked her against his chest, backing up as he did so. She had barely registered the strange phenomenon of being held by a man when she heard an unholy crash behind her. She started, her hands going around the neck of her captor involuntarily.

Drake continued to move with agile grace, carrying her several feet from the crash. She craned her neck, turning her head to see what had happened. Her hands convulsed on Drake’s neck and she shuddered against him at what she saw. Several small storage barrels rolled across the floor and a large storage crate had broken into splinters on the spot where she had stood. The broken contents looked like porcelain, although it was difficult to tell from the hundreds of tiny shards mixed with packing hay.

She turned back to face the snowy cravat of her rescuer. Taking a deep breath, she inhaled his uniquely masculine fragrance. Shattered cargo, her near miss, even Philippe’s presence receded in her consciousness as she became wholly occupied with the sensation of her breasts flattened against his waistcoat and her lower body pressed against the hardness of his thighs. She could not seem to lift her gaze from the patch of white cloth in front of her.

Her feet dangled several inches above the floor while feelings she had never before experienced coursed through her body. She felt safe in this man’s arms despite the stirrings that she did not wish to examine too closely. He had saved her from certain injury and possible death. Why, he was a knight-errant.

She raised her face, giving him a no doubt stunned smile. "Thank you."

His expression registered no emotion. "As I said, women do not belong in a warehouse."

It took all of two seconds for his words to register. The snake. Actually he had said ladies and it occurred to her that she should let go of him before he decided beyond doubt that she wasn’t one. She unlocked her hands from behind his neck and pushed against his chest.

He lowered her to the ground, allowing her body to slide in a most indecent manner along his. He held her for a timeless moment, her body still pressed to his, her hands against his chest. She waited, the air locked in her chest, not knowing what to expect. This man, this situation was completely out of her experience. Were all Englishmen this compelling?

He released her and she stumbled backward, beset with conflicting emotion. She wanted to run from the danger she sensed in him, but she also wanted to jump back into his arms and experience that delicious sensation just once more.


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