The Gilded Hour Page 91

The room was lit only by the trembling touch of lightning and the fire in the hearth. Jack was nowhere to be seen. Most likely he had gone off to arrange for the telegrams to be sent first thing in the morning. Maybe he had even told her he was going to do that, thinking she was awake, and in fact there had been some vague dream in which she was sitting in front of the coroner with a telegram in her hand. She read it out loud, just five words: Janine Campbell stop. Stop. Stop.

All day she had been successfully forbidding herself to dwell on Monday’s inquest, but it had found a back door into her waking mind. The Russo boy had been in the dream too, sleeping in the arms of a faceless woman.

She got up now and used the water closet and washbasin, and in short order she unpacked her valise and set out the few things she required. The day had been too long and too full of surprises, and she was exhausted. And where had Jack gotten to, anyway?

She cleaned her teeth and let her hair down, forgoing her usual braid because Jack liked her hair unbound. When she was changed and ready for bed she got out the medical journal she had brought along in case she had time to read, and made herself comfortable.

•   •   •

JACK MEANT TO be away for just a few minutes, but the hotel clerk was in no hurry at all; just the opposite, he counted and recounted every word on all five Western Union telegram forms, frowning deeply at the Italian.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t speak this language, whatever it is.”

“It’s Italian, and you don’t need to speak it,” Jack said. “Count the words as you would English. I’ve printed very carefully. The telegraph clerk shouldn’t have any problem.”

“Aubrey doesn’t speak anything but English either,” the young man said.

“He doesn’t need to,” Jack said, again. “Any competent telegraph clerk could handle this. Is this Aubrey around? Maybe I should talk to him directly.”

Aubrey wasn’t available, but he could be fetched if Jack would like to come back in an hour—

Jack would not.

The conscientious, fastidious, and frustrating clerk turned back to his study of the telegrams. He pointed with his stub of pencil.

“If you take out this word and these, and this one, you’ll save—”

“I want to send them exactly as they are,” Jack said.

The young man mumbled to himself as he labored over the short column of figures, adding them three times while Jack fumed silently to himself. Then it turned out that there wasn’t enough change in the cash drawer. If the detective sergeant would wait—

Jack would not. He assured the clerk that morning would be soon enough to collect his change, and left before the young man could find something else that needed counting.

Every once in a while he came across a person who was determined to demonstrate how seriously they regarded the law, as if Jack were watching closely for an excuse to make an arrest. He took the stairs two at a time, stopped to say good evening to a startled older couple with a teenage daughter, and arrived at the door of the room some fifteen minutes later than he had hoped. Mezzanotte, he told himself. You are behaving like a sixteen-year-old. Snap to.

With a deep breath he opened the door.

By the light of the fire he made out her shape in the bed, a small form under the blankets. She was asleep, with a journal open under her hands. Her color was high, from scrubbing or the day’s exercise or the breeze from the window she had cracked open. A heart-shaped face with strong dark brows and deep-set eyes and a wide mouth the color of raspberries just coming into full ripeness.

He saw all this and more, but he must keep it to himself. She could simply not tolerate praise and always found a reason to walk away or change the subject.

Jack took a moment to consider. There was a nightshirt at the very bottom of his valise, along with a facecloth and toothbrush. He didn’t want to wake her, not just yet. He made some tactical decisions.

•   •   •

ANNA WOKE WHEN Jack slipped into bed, six feet four inches of naked male radiating heat like a giant and very prickly hot-water bottle. His head propped on one hand, he was leaning over her to study the open journal page.

“You know, I’m sure that clinical observations on tracheal tubes by mouth instead of—”

“Tracheostomy,” she supplied.

“Tracheostomy,” Jack echoed, drawing the journal away and dropping it behind him so it fluttered to the floor. “Exactly that interesting topic can wait—”

“Forever,” she finished, grinning so broadly that her cheeks began to ache. She rolled onto her side to face him. “Where have you been?”

“Did you think I hopped a ferry?”

She pressed her forehead under his chin and against his throat, shaking her head because she knew her voice would wobble. And how could she be expected to put together a single sentence while his fingers hooked into her nightdress and skimmed up her leg. He tugged, and she lifted and turned and shivered as the fabric dragged over her skin inch by inch, until it snagged.

“There’s a button caught in your hair. Hold still.”

His arms came around her head as his fingers threaded through individual strands of hair, pulling gently one by one so that gooseflesh ran up and down her spine. His breath was warm on her scalp, and she shivered and shivered and shivered.

“You’re not cold.” His tone was almost accusatory.

“Not cold,” she agreed.

He pulled the nightdress up and off, and it disappeared behind him to join the medical journal on the floor.

“So now that we’re finally here,” he said, his arms slipping around her waist to pull her close, “what should we do with ourselves?”

•   •   •

THEY LAY FACE-TO-FACE in the shadowy cave of white sheets, damp skinned, swathed in each other’s heat. Quiet but alert, both of them. Anna had the idea that she could hear his heart beating, just as she saw it in the throbbing pulse at his throat and temples. She leaned forward to draw in his scent just there, burrowing into his hair.

She said, “The smell of you puts me in a trance.”

When she pulled away he raised a hand to touch her face. His fingers were long and thick and strong, big knuckled, with blunt, square fingertips, clean nails cut to the quick. She would never have thought that a man’s hands could arouse so much feeling, but nerves fired all along her spine at the simple sight of him holding a newspaper or a fork, lifting a valise. Unbuttoning a shirt.

He cupped her face with one palm, threaded his fingers into her hair, and pulled her close, lingering for a heartbeat, their mouths almost touching. Anna felt him draw in a deeper breath, as if his lungs were suddenly too small. She closed the distance between them, opened her mouth against his, and let herself be drawn down and down into a kiss that rendered her limp, soft and open and welcoming, pressed against him from knee to belly to breast to mouth, where he stroked her tongue with his own and called up her response, small murmurs and gasps.

He took over. She found herself on her back with his weight suspended over her so that she still felt every tensed muscle, the hard planes of his thighs and belly and between them the evidence that he wanted her. He was turgid, arching, weeping, the broad head of his erection seeking blindly, tapping against her belly.

“Come,” she said. “Come to me.”

He made a clucking noise, mock surprise and male satisfaction rolled into one. “So impatient.” And he slipped down to press his face to the curve of her breast. “We have all night,” he mumbled against her skin. “What’s the hurry?”

She shook her head and laughed and gave in, arching up to rub against him, running a heel down his thigh through rough hair and then stopping when he drew her nipple deep into his mouth and suckled.

The hot pull distracted her so that she didn’t realize they were moving until they sat, face-to-face, Jack on his knees, her legs spread wide over his hips, his hands tangled in the hair that cascaded down her back, holding her just so while he drew hard at her breast, suckled and suckled until she groaned, flexing against him, stretched open and wet.

She reached for him but he blocked one hand and then the other, gathering them behind her to keep them at the small of her back as efficiently as handcuffs. It went against the grain and he knew it, knew she’d struggle and resist, and that she’d stop, as she did, as he used his free hand to fit himself to her.

Anna dropped her head to watch it happen. She wanted to rock against him in welcome, to drag him in and then retreat so that he must follow, but he knew her game. He held her and moved her exactly as he wanted, entering her with excruciating, exacting intention: he penetrated mind and heart and body, insisting that she give in and take all of him, everything he had to offer. When she thought there was no more to surrender he still inched forward, crooning at her, come and come and come to me. Finally he released his grip on her wrists and cupped her buttocks in his hands to lift her, just so.

His mouth grazed her jaw, suckled at her earlobe. He whispered to her.

“I fill you up.”

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