The Lure of The Night Ch. 02byMini_Sinclair©
Meredith Montgomery wandered aimlessly through the ballroom, wishing she could be anywhere but there. Masquerade balls were so boring. Why did people like them so much?
And yet there she was, just where her mother wanted her to be. She had dressed in the exact manner her mother had dictated. She wore the green silk sleeveless gown that showed a very generous amount of cleavage. She also wore a green and gold papier-mâché mask that her mother had picked out. ("It matches with your dress!" her mother had enthused.) Her hair was done in a ridiculously youthful fashion—a loose chignon with titian ringlets cascading down her neck and forehead. She looked every bit the society widow in want of a second husband, which was precisely what her equally widowed mother had wanted. Meredith had done everything that Caroline Foster had wanted her to do, but she drew the line with her neckline. Her mother had insisted on tightening Meredith's corset almost to the point of breaking her ribs, just so that her generous cleavage would be more prominent. Her breasts had jutted out so much they'd almost popped out of her bodice, but she'd put an end to her mother's demands by loosening the whalebone stays on her corset and opting for a more decent look. She had some standards, after all.
Meredith was all false politeness and decorum with the hosts—the fabulous Mr. and Mrs. Dawson, of the Philadelphia Dawsons—and the other rich families in the county, but she found it difficult to hide her distaste the moment she was introduced to the Viscount of Brighton. It was a good thing she wore a mask. Thank God for small miracles.
"Meredith! Come over here, child!" Mrs. Foster called out from across the ballroom. "I'd like to introduce you to a very honorable guest. Mrs. Meredith Montgomery, meet Mr. Joseph Deadlock, or rather, the Viscount Deadlock of Brighton."
Sighing, Meredith walked over to her mother and the rather imperious-looking blonde man standing beside her. She couldn't see his entire face, for he wore a white mask, but she saw that he had light blue eyes and a fine chin.
The viscount bowed before her, to which Meredith responded with a clumsy curtsy.
"It is a pleasure to meet your acquaintance, Mrs. Montgomery," the viscount said with an English accent that was not at all unpleasant to hear.
Meredith felt her mother's hand nudging her forward. She shot her mother a glare before stammering, "Good evening, my Lord."
Mrs. Foster smiled approvingly. "As I've said, Lord Brighton, my daughter here lost her loving husband all of two years ago and she has finally opened up to the possibility of a second marriage. She is quite lovely under the mask . . . Remove the mask, dear. Do let his lordship see you!"
Meredith rolled her eyes underneath the mask before removing it. Lord Brighton smiled as he feasted his eyes on her lovely face and even lovelier bosom. "Charmed," he purred heartily.
As Meredith donned the mask, she sensed someone was eyeing her from across the room. Surveying the large crowd of guests, she spotted a dark figure standing at the entrance of the ballroom, his gaze fixed on her. Or at least he appeared to be looking at her. The man wore a black jacket and matching waistcoat, with a pristine white shirt and cravat that had been fashionable decades ago. He also wore black breeches and knee-high black leather boots that also seemed to have come from another time. As far as fancy costumes went, his was quite dashing, not to mention sexy. The dark artifact concealed his features, and the only discernible thing about him was his short black hair. He was tall, with broad shoulders and a slim waist. Meredith shivered. She had no idea why, but the strange figure reminded her of—
"Oh! And this is my wonderful younger daughter, Miss Daphne," Mrs. Foster chirped, interrupting Meredith's train of thought. "And the gentleman beside her is her fiancé Mr. Alfred Wells."
Daphne and Mr. Wells approached them. Daphne looked breathtakingly beautiful in her silk ivory gown. Meredith's younger sister had been blessed with silver-blonde hair and a large set of aquamarine eyes that gave her that perpetual deer-caught-in-headlights expression that men seemed to adore. Gentlemen often fell for her angelic beauty upon sight. Meredith couldn't believe that her sister was betrothed to Mr. Wells, a middle-aged man who resembled a toad not only in looks but in personality as well. Daphne wanted to marry a wealthy and respectable man, even if it meant throwing away her chance at marrying for true love—or at the very least for true lust. If there was someone who needn't marry beneath her expectations, it was Daphne. Meredith felt fortunate to have loved her late husband. If she married again—a big emphasis on the if—it would be for love. She wouldn't settle for less.
"Charmed again, I'm sure," Lord Brighton intoned with a leer he hadn't been inclined to hide.
Meredith regarded him with distaste before glancing over her shoulder to catch a peek at the mysterious man in black, only to find that he was no longer there. Disappointment seized her. She hoped he hadn't left the party.
One thought had entered her mind and wouldn't let go. If only it were him, she thought. If only it were Alex, my Alex.
Her mother's loud chirp interrupted her reverie. "As you can see, my Lord, Miss Daphne is quite the beauty. The most beautiful young woman in all of New England. She is nineteen and is to marry Mr. Wells no later than this winter. That is why she wears no mask. I insisted upon it. It would be a shame to hide so much loveliness, don't you think?" Mrs. Foster turned her beady blue eyes to Meredith. "Meredith is quite handsome as well. Not as beautiful as my Daphne, true enough, but very few women are."
"Indeed," Lord Brighton responded, glancing between Daphne and Meredith before turning to Mrs. Foster. "You must be quite proud, Mrs. Foster, for having two such lovely daughters."
Mrs. Foster smiled and fanned herself vigorously as she squeaked in delight. "I most certainly am. Meredith is a widow and of age, three years shy of thirty. Her husband died of consumption, God rest his soul. But my Meredith is not alone. I've always said that she would never be in want of my care and affections, regardless of her age."
"Lovely, just lovely," Lord Brighton enthused.
Meredith thanked the heavens above for wearing a mask. Otherwise her mother would see the incredulous and disgusted look on her face. Mrs. Foster looked quite comical in her red velvet frock and matching mask. She sort of looked like the devil. How very apropos, thought Meredith disdainfully.
The orchestra began to play a waltz. Mrs. Foster glanced between Meredith and Lord Brighton expectantly, fanning herself all the more vigorous as she waited for the inevitable invitation to happen. She cleared her throat not once, not twice, but three times before Lord Brighton got the hint. Meredith thought she would die of embarrassment.
Lord Brighton bowed in front of all three ladies. "May I have this waltz"—at this Mrs. Foster beamed—"Miss Daphne?"
Mrs. Foster watched in astonishment as Lord Brighton escorted Miss Daphne to the dance floor. Unperturbed, Mr. Wells invited another young lady to dance. "Well!" Mrs. Foster frowned. "The proper thing would have been for his lordship to have his first dance with you. But it's your fault, really. You've hardly said a word to the man. And don't think I haven't noticed your lack of manners." Mrs. Foster paused in her fanning and narrowed her eyes at Meredith. "You were rolling your eyes like a drunkard on laudanum. Remember what I told you early this evening, dear," she added in haste. "Do not let Lord Brighton slip through your fingers or you'll live to regret it. I know you've had your eyes set on that Ashford man, but I've heard far too many rumors about his... distasteful exploits. Not surprising coming from the son of a new-money jewelry merchant. No way would I let you marry a social climber with a questionable reputation." Mrs. Foster's face twisted with displeasure as she added, "Alexander Ashford the Third indeed. Who were his family before they became rich? They were nobody. How presumptuous of his father to give his son such a distinguished title."
"It is not a title," Meredith shot back, annoyed. "It's his name. He's the third man in the family named Alexander. It's not meant to be pretentious."
"Well, it still sounds to me like they're giving themselves airs," her mother responded lamely.
Meredith huffed out a breath. "I would like to get some punch, if you don't mind."
"You go right ahead, dear," her mother drawled as she fanned herself and waved at another guest.
Disgusted, Meredith walked swiftly to the punch bowl. How on earth was she going to charm Lord Brighton when he hardly seemed interested in her? He seemed quite enthralled with her sister, and she doubted that he had his eyes set on a widow past the marriageable age. Mrs. Foster had told her during their carriage ride to the ball that his lordship had two young sons, which meant he was not in need of heirs, but Meredith supposed that he nevertheless wanted to marry a young virgin. All the better for her, she mused, for regardless of her mother's money-grubbing agenda, she wasn't going to live under her "care" anymore. She was an adult, with no need of a ward or a chaperone, and even though her finances were limited now that she and her mother were widows, she had enough to enjoy a pleasant and comfortable life on her own. Joseph Montgomery had been a wonderful husband, and they'd lived a happy life together. Now that he was gone, all she wanted was the freedom to make her own choices. She would leave tomorrow morning, no ifs or buts. If only Alexander were here, she thought longingly. If only—
Her thoughts were interrupted when a strong arm smoothed around her waist and a big hand settled underneath her left breast. A strong body pressed itself hard against her from behind.
Meredith gasped. She tried to move away, but the stranger pressed all the more firmly against her. She felt the man's warm breath in her ear, felt him nuzzle on her hair as he moved his gloved hand to her breast. Meredith closed her eyes as the breath rushed out of her.
Nervous, she opened her eyes and glanced over the ballroom. Could anyone see them? No, no one was paying attention to them. There were quite a few dancing in the center of the ballroom. Some of the ladies and gentlemen were dressed elegantly, as they would at any normal fancy ball, but others were in full costume. There was a fairy princess dancing with a gypsy, a ballerina talking with a pirate, and an angel laughing with the devil. They were all wearing masks. Meredith glanced worriedly at Mrs. Foster, but her mother wasn't looking in her direction. She was sitting in a corner with a large group of ladies hovering around her—gossiping, no doubt.
Meredith closed her eyes again and let the stranger hold her against him. He felt wonderful, and the faint scent of vanilla that emanated from him was intoxicating. She felt the hardness of his body on her back. A shiver ran through her before she could stop it.
"Do not be afraid, my sweet," the man whispered in her ear. "I'm here now."
Her heart leapt at the sound of his sensual baritone. She took three shaky steps forward, reluctantly parting from his warm embrace, and turned to face him.
She'd recognize those eyes anywhere. They'd been imprinted in her memory ever since she met him just one year ago. Those big eyes of his, eyes so blue that they sometimes turned a deep violet. Her gaze shifted over to his lips. He had full lips, the sort of lips you'd want to kiss the moment you see them. Meredith licked her own lips and met his eyes again. His nostrils flared and his intense gaze bored into hers.
Alexander. My loving Alexander.
A couple waltzed quickly in their direction, startling her. He cast a quick, annoyed glance at the couple dancing in their vicinity before turning back to her.
"May I have this dance?" he murmured.
Speechless, Meredith could only nod her agreement.
He walked slowly to the center of the ballroom and held out his arm to her. Gingerly, she stepped forward and took his hand, and drew a deep breath when he slid his arms around her waist and pulled her firmly against him.
They waltzed in silence, his eyes never leaving hers. Sometimes she looked away to escape from his intense gaze and also to make sure her mother wasn't watching. Fortunately, she was quite entertained with the flock of old birds nestled around her. Meredith would've sighed with relief had her body not been pressed hard against the man. Her breasts were crushed against his rock-solid chest and she could barely breathe from the pressure and from the sensations he was giving her.
"Look at me, Meredith," he commanded.
Slowly, she looked at him. His eyes looked ardent and determined as they moved down to her neck, her collarbone, her breasts. She felt his hand move around her back, tracing a path until he reached her derriere. Meredith gasped and closed her eyes.
"Look at me," he persisted.
Her eyes flew open. He stared at her for a few moments before he nuzzled her masked face, teasing her lips with his. He trailed her lower lip with the tip of his tongue before stepping back to look at her again. Meredith's mouth went dry at the same time as her insides turned to liquid. She felt she was in a dream. The people in the ballroom had ceased to exist. They were the only two people in the room.
And then she realized that they were indeed the only two people in the room. The ballroom, once luminescent and lively, was now dark and deserted. Emptiness surrounded them. Her lust momentarily turned to panic. Where had everyone gone? What was going on? She tried to disengage from Alexander's embrace, but he held her firmly. She put her hand on his chest to create a barrier between them. "Please—just let me go."
"I will never let you go." He said darkly. "Not in this lifetime. Or the next."
His words held an ominous tone that wasn't lost on her. A sense of foreboding took over, but was quickly forgotten the moment his hands, no longer gloved, moved to the small of her back. Then he placed one muscled leg in between her thighs, creating a barrier of his own. She could feel the rigidness and throb of his cock pushing against his breeches.
Passion gripped her. She'd waited too long for him, and had no intention of wasting another second of their time together. Her lips captured his in a long, passionate kiss.
Sweet, so incredibly sweet, his lips against hers. She took a breath, relishing the scent of him, and her heart melted when he parted his lips and responded to her kiss. He made a soft groaning sound in the back of his throat as he caressed her with the tip of his tongue, sending a tremor through her. When the kiss intensified, the contact created a jolt of pleasure so intense it made her cry out.
After they parted, she gave him a sultry little smile. "Alexander," she breathed out. "I love you. I love you so much it hurts."
A flash of anger crossed over his face. "Don't you ever mention the word 'love' to me again, you understand? Don't pretend you're here for anything other than my cock."
A violent flush heated her face and neck. "Alexander, what on earth has come over you?"
Was this truly the wonderful dominant male she'd loved and submitted her mind and body to for almost a year? Why was he behaving so strangely? Was he upset about her mother's meddling? Had their short—though torturous—time apart upset him that much? Bemused, she was about to turn away from him when he pulled her hand and guided it to the front of his breeches. His erection felt enormous against her palm. "This is what you want, isn't it?" he purred as he nuzzled her titian curls with his nose. His tongue dipped into her ear, forcing a moan out of her. "Isn't it?" he repeated.
Desire surged through her body as her fingers closed firmly on his erection and gave his shaft a hard squeeze. Alexander closed his eyes and groaned. "Yes," she relented. She'd let him do his little withholding dance. For now. "This is what I want, what I've always wanted."
"Then let me give it to you."
"Yes." She squeezed his hardness again as she felt his fingers loosening the laces of her gown. "Yes, please."
The corset came next. He loosened the stays, then he lowered the upper half of her gown and corset all the way down to her waist. Her naked breasts rose and fell with her rapid breathing, her nipples turning into hard little peaks encircled by rosy flesh.
Through half-closed eyes Meredith stared up at Alexander. Even with his mask on, his emotions were clear, and it was impossible not to be aroused by his expression. Possessive, slightly mocking, and totally authoritative. He didn't have to touch her for her body to respond, and it was definitely responding. It practically hummed with desire. And when his hands finally moved over her breasts and pinched her erect nipples between his fingers, the combination of sharp pain and erotic pleasure made her gasp with shock.
He lowered his head and worked on her silently, using his fingers, the palms of his hands, and his lips and tongue. He touched a nipple with his lips, tentative and featherlike, before claiming it completely.
Heat shot up and settled somewhere between Meredith's thighs. She had forgotten how great he was, and how he'd made her feel things that she had never felt before, not even with her late husband.
Now his movements were becoming more urgent and erotic. He switched from her breasts to her stomach, circling her navel with his tongue, then back to her breasts, nipping one hard nipple lightly with his teeth. Meredith bit her lower lip and let out a strangled moan. Why on earth had she let her mother keep her from spending the rest of her life with this wonderful man? She was a fool. Her mother would never control her again. From now on, she would only yield to Alexander—her Master.
Alexander lifted her skirts and removed her petticoat and undergarment. Then he took two steps back and appraised her. "I love the fact that you're a natural redhead," he told her pleasantly. "The hair on your cunt is darker than the one on your head—an interesting shade of mahogany. Simply beautiful."
Meredith felt herself blushing scarlet at his compliment, but all thoughts soon left her when she felt his breath just inches above her wet passage. A shock of pleasure paralyzed her limbs the moment his lips made contact with her body. He nipped, nibbled, licked and kissed his way down her thighs, one hand reaching between them, forcing her legs apart. His hands moved under her buttocks, lifting them, pulling her towards him. His tongue found the swollen bud that peaked out of her silky folds, and pressed his lips against it, sucking hard and fast. Meredith let out a startled cry when he began to stab his tongue deep into the very depths of her as his fingers flicked on her clitoris.
Seeing the top of his head moving between her thighs was almost as agonizing as the sensations he was giving her. She grabbed a fistful of his dark hair and pushed his head closer, so as to feel his tongue deeper inside. She struggled to keep control of her legs, for it was impossible to stand still while he held her so expertly on the brink of release. Her hips pushed toward his face as she forced his head closer, but this time he simply moved back, dug his fingers harder against her bottom, and teased her with his tongue, lessening the intensity of his ministrations so as to prolong her torment.
"Please," she cried. "Please, Mr. Ashford, I don't think I can bear it much longer."
The fact that she'd called him "Mr. Ashford" had pleased him—she knew it had—because Alex's tongue moved faster, and he let her thrust her body hard against his face. In the past, Alex had ordered Meredith to call him "Mr. Ashford" during their intimacy. (And sometimes daringly in public.) It was, he'd said, a show of respect and deference, for he was her master and owner.