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All Through the Night

All Through the Night

EXCERPT ONE

London December 1817

"There's nowhere to run," Jack said as if reading the thief's mind. "My men are in the outer hall and I…" —he shrugged apologetically, lifting his hands— "well, I am here."

"So you are," the Wraith murmured.

Abruptly Seward tilted his seal-sleek head. Even in the dark, one could discern the intensity with which he suddenly listened.

Damn. The thief had only one trump card to play —surprise— and that was a long shot. Jack Seward looked as if he'd given up being surprised a long, long time ago. Yet there was no other option. If unmasked… Well, there was only one possible end for a thief: the Tyburn Tree.

"Right-o, Cap," the thief said, using Seward's former rank and swaggering forth with hard-feigned bravado. "You got me fair and square. But why, I'm wonderin', ain't you screamin' to your lads for help?"

"Very good. Very astute, lad," Seward said approvingly. "But not so fast, if you please. I'd like to see your hands, above your shoulders and straight from your body. Anyone as good with a pick-lock as you are is bound to be just as good with a sticker."

"Right, mate. But I don't carry no knife. Bloodlettin' ain't what you'd call a gentlemanly trade, and I —within me means a' course— am a gentleman." A bit closer now.

This close the shadows lifted from Seward's angular face revealing a scar-broken brow, a long mouth mobile with intelligence, and quiet, watchful gray eyes.

"Just what sorta deal is it you look to be strikin'? You wants a bit of the take? A little somethin' to turn the blind eye?"

"No," Seward said. "I want something you've already stolen."

"Oh." What? the thief wondered desperately, measuring the distance to the window, all the while still moving closer to Seward.

What could possibly be so important that Whitehall's Hound had been sent to retrieve it? Nothing taken had been priceless. Indeed, there were never any family heirlooms in the take, nothing anyone would bother to raise a sustained hue and cry about. No, nothing —nothing— justified the involvement of the War Office's premier agent.

"I told you to stop moving," Seward said, his gentle voice assuming a subtle mantle of deadliness.

The thief shuddered, a tincture of unhealthy pleasure spurring on a sudden, reckless decision. Lately, more and more often, audacity proved irresistible, the urge to give in to it irrepressible. Like now.

"Right you are, Cap." Nearly within arm's reach. There would be no second opportunity to catch Seward off guard. "But I told you, I ain't got no sticker. And we don't want the lads in the hail there to get wind of any deal we might be conductin', now do we? Pat me down if you don't believe me. Go on, satisfy yerself before we begins negotiations."

Seward's eyes narrowed at the same time his crippled hand shot out, seizing the thief's wrist. There was surprising strength in, the twisted fingers. The Wraith jerked back, instinctively fighting the implacable hold until it became clear any struggle could end only with Seward the victor.

"I believe I will, at that," Seward murmured, pulling the black wool-clad figure against his hard chest and securing both wrists. Quickly and efficiently he swept his free hand down over the thief's shoulders and flanks, hips, thighs, and legs. He moved back up, his touch passing lightly over the thief's chest.

He stopped, pale eyes gleaming with sudden intensity, and quickly jerked the slight body forward by the belt. His band dipped down, clamping hard on the juncture between the legs in a touch both violently intimate and absolutely impersonal.

"My God," Seward said, dropping his hand as if burned, though the other still clenched the belt, "you're a woman."

EXCERPT TWO

"Why do you do it?" he asked.

It would be futile to pretend she didn't understand the question. But how could she explain what she didn't understand herself? So, as she didn't have any answer, she gave him the thief's flip retort.

"Haven't you ever stolen anything, Cap?"

She was unprepared for his response. He surged forward then jerked to a halt as if caught on the end of a barb hook. She backed away. Her pulse kicked into double time.

An evil smile crept over his lips. "Nothing compared to what you've stolen."

She knew he was speaking of the night she'd tied him up and done the unimaginable.

His smile became knife sharp. "I see you understand me. Did you think I was bluffing when I promised I'd have you? Or did you think that when I discovered that the woman who fondled my body with such enthusiastic eroticism was the modest and dignified widow, I would renege? I won't. I never break a promise."

Her knees went rubbery and her hand shot out, searching for support. He rose, coming to her as gracefully and attentively as a court swain to his lady's aid. He took her arm and led her to the small, straight-backed chair she occupied earlier.

"Here. Sit by the fire." He held it for her. Confused by this combination of suitor and enemy, she obliged. He took a position looming unseen and silent behind her.

"I think I deserve a little compensation for that evening, don't you?" he asked softly.

His hands came down on her shoulders. She jerked half out of her seat. He pressed her back down.

"Easy," he murmured, as if gentling a horse. "You're cold. Your hair is still damp. Let me help you."

His voice rippled over her like rough silk. He threaded his fingers through her hair and slowly separated the thick mass into dark strands, spreading it like a net over her shoulders and breasts, his knuckles brushing lightly over her bosom as he worked. His hands were beautiful. Even the ruined one had a certain tortured grace.

It disconcerted her, having him standing behind her, as she was unable to see him. He touched her familiarly, almost casually. She wanted to read his expression but could not bring herself to turn. It would be too intimate.

More intimate than this? She caught back a burble of laughter. Her head swam with fatigue and increasing tension.

He ran his thumb lightly along her neckline and dipped it beneath the laced edge. She went as still as a hind in a woodsman's net. She shivered. He'd sworn he'd have recompense. Fear added its unique flavor to her tumultuous emotions.

"You really are exquisite." He might have been a sightseer commenting on a particularly nice vista. His voice was detached. Idly he pushed down her gaping neckline, revealing her breasts nearly to their tips.

If he heard her slight gasp, he ignored it.

"One cannot help but wonder how someone so exquisite, with so many advantages, decides to take up thievery as a pastime."

She could barely think. His hands flowed down over her. The heat from his broad palms penetrated through the silk, warming her flesh. He cupped her breasts and massaged them, testing their texture and weight with ruthless gentleness.

Tongues of firelight flickered over her skin, bathing her in stripes of light and shadow. He scared her. She couldn't remember a time when her body had been caressed so deliberately and with such obvious intentions.

"Was it boredom?"

"What?"

His thumb had found the peak of one breast beading beneath the tissue-thin silk. "Was it boredom?"

"No." She sounded breathless. She was breathless. She started to rise but he abandoned his languid fondling of her bosom to push her down into her seat again. She began to turn but he braced her head gently between his hands, keeping her facing forward and away from him.

"Stay there," he whispered, his warm breath rushing over her ear. She could judge nothing from that soft, rasping voice. "A few touches. Surely you had more of me."

He set her hands carefully on the arms of the chair and covered them with his own. "Hold on. You aren't required to do anything, to acknowledge anything. Just feel." His low voice hypnotized her with unspoken promises of a dark knowledge she longed to share; it sucked her will from her.

She looked down. His dark hands were casually fiddling with the satin loops decorating her neckline, his knuckles rubbing artlessly against her nipples.

"Well, Anne? Why do you steal things? Just blood running true?" His voice held a trace of amusement or pain, impossible to tell which one.

"No."

He quit playing with the satin decoration. Disappointment and relief flooded her in equal portions until she heard him move. He'd knelt behind her chair. She stared straight ahead, unsure and apprehensive of what he planned.

He reached around her and slid the back of his hand down her skirts to her knee. Slowly, incrementally, he crumpled the material in his fist until he'd exposed her calf. His fingers slipped behind her knee, making small, delicate little circles on the too-receptive flesh.

"Relax," he whispered in her ear. "There was a night when you wanted me. Do you remember? I do."

Her face and body flushed with mortification. "I'm sorry."

His hand stopped for a heartbeat. Then he began touching her again. The laughter fanning her cheek held no amusement. "Liar. You are not. But I am."

"Please."

He drew lazy designs on the soft downy flesh inside her thigh. "You never allowed me to participate. Unkind. One might say discourteous. I would have been happy to oblige you. Service you. But you know that." For an instant an edged note penetrated his languid tone. "You demonstrated quite clearly just how willing I would have been."

Yes. Her eyes fluttered shut, reeling beneath the casual assault he made on her body. Yes. She'd wanted him. Wanted to control all that masculine power and sexuality. From the start she'd been drawn to his strength, his power, his control. It had been such a contrast to her own lack of power, her own lack of sexuality, her own lack of control.

"I want to oblige now. Let me pleasure you."

Pleasure? The concept beckoned her. She'd never been allowed pleasure for pleasure's sake, uncomplicated and in its rawest form. No man had ever done things to her just to gratify her senses. The idea enticed her.

She wanted him. Like a moth to fire, his ability to destroy her bewitched her. His free hand lifted her heavy mantle of hair and swept it aside. She felt his open mouth on the nape of her neck. Her head fell back, her throat arched, offering itself to his exploration. Warm lips brushed feathery kisses at the corner of her eye and on the curve of her chin.

"Let me service you."

"Yes." She breathed the consent in surrender. She no longer cared what he sought from her, revenge or shame.