Crushing Desire, страница 1
by April Dawn
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or
persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright© 2010 April Dawn
Cover Artist: Justyn Perry
Editor: Sherri Lee
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations
embodied in reviews.
To my loving husband and son who are my heroes.
To my mother who has always believed in me.
To my sister and resident romance novel
expert for all her help in my endeavor.
At fourteen, Reena Harrison had no idea that she was about to meet the man she would always love.
She stood against the wall in the massive ballroom of her cousin’s estate watching the crowd move around the room greeting one another. The scent of roses filled the air, and occasional laughter punctuated the animated conversations. She’d never met her cousin Harriett and couldn’t muster interest in the engagement ball her fiancé held for them, especially with the manner of her dress. Not for the first time that evening, she examined the creation her uncle had expressly ordered for her to wear. Her cheeks reddened, and she scooted closer to the large plant in the corner where she stood.
Her uncle had been behaving strange all evening. Each time a man was introduced to her, he emphasized how young she was, but in truth, she didn’t understand why. Her youth was obvious by the manner in which Uncle Howard had her dressed and coifed. With a high waist, the dress was uncompromising in its pressure on her still forming breasts, and the voluminous lace covered skirts were much too childlike. Most girls were dressed like their mothers.
She was dressed like a doll.
Reena edged along the room’s periphery. The gardens beyond the ballroom were supposed to be lovely. She could explore them and be away from the crowd. Just as she moved one delicate slipper toward the door that lead to that aromatic hiding place, she froze. An exceedingly striking man with sandy hair stepped into the room, a beautiful young lady holding his arm. He was young as well, perhaps eighteen or nineteen if she had to guess and devastatingly handsome in his fine military attire. The woman’s dress was very stylish, and the sparkling ring on her finger shone brightly. Reena frowned at the sight of it. Of course such a handsome man already had a wife. All the same, she needed to get a look at him…just a look. She clutched at the folds of her skirts to keep her hands from shaking. Creeping along the wall, she craned her neck to get a better look at the stranger. After greetings were made, another young gentleman spoke to the soldier for a moment before sweeping his wife off to the dance floor.
Reena’s hands twisted at her skirt, and she bit her lip, willing him without a sound to face her. Suddenly, he turned in her direction and their eyes met. A vibrant shock ran through her body. She stared at him entranced for a moment. If his hair was the sandy beach, his blue-grey eyes, the lake on which mysterious clouds had formed.
“I see you’ve met my niece, Mr. Sinclair.” Her uncle Howard broke her trance.
Attendees bustled around her, pressing against her from all sides as they moved past. Reena stood in the center of the room; it seemed that her uncontrolled feet had carried her toward him in absence of her mind.
“Yes, I was about to say hello—to you both of course.” His eyes flitted between her uncle’s and her own.
“This is Joshua Sinclair,” her uncle said. “He has just been demobilized. A hero for the many lives he saved during the war.” He eyed Joshua. “This is my niece, Maureen. Turned fourteen this year and has just arrived from America. She’s staying with me while her father puts her through Madam Bellwater’s School for the Deportment of Fine Young Ladies.” Uncle Howard inclined his head. “Colonials, you know. Shame that a girl so young should be so far away from her family at such a crucial age. Wouldn’t you say?”
“Yes, truly terrible.”
His deep timbre, and the sensual way his lips moved in speech, conspired to rob her of her attention. She sucked her lower lip into her mouth, nibbling at it gently. Watching his big hands move, she wondered how strong they were. Imagined what it would feel like to have her hand grasped in his as she had seen her parents do. Blood pounded in her ears at the thought.
After a moment, Joshua turned to her and touched her fingers. His eyes met hers, sending another jolt through her body. Did he feel it too?
Her mind had gone blank. She panicked. She had a name when she’d come in. She knew it! What was it?
“Harrison.” Her uncle frowned at her.
“Reena.” Her breath came out in a shudder.
“Until next time, Miss Harrison.” He bowed low and disappeared into the rush of the crowd.
The toes knew first. In love and lighter than air, they spread the news throughout her body.
“You can’t possibly mean it…” Reena’s heart lurched, and the blood rushed to her face. She waved a hand to cool her warming cheeks. Grabbing more white, she pressed the powder to her pinked cheeks as she watched Emily’s hands moving behind her in the mirror.
“Why Reena Harrison, I’m sure you don’t doubt me.” Emily pulled a pin from between her teeth and secured a strand of Reena’s long hair in place. “Your uncle and several of his friends all insisted Mr. Sinclair come out for your eighteenth birthday party, and he acquiesced. Or so says your uncle.”
Reena had seen little of Joshua Sinclair in the past four years. She had been at finishing school much of that time. The few social occasions they’d attended at the same time had been filled with only brief greetings. She’d embarrassed herself on a number of those occasions by displaying unladylike knowledge of science and books. She never could seem to mind her tongue. He had always replied courteously and never shied from her. Despite those polite yet awkward meetings, and the constant presence of his wife, Juliet, Reena had never been able to purge him from her thoughts.
“It’s been almost a year since his wife died. He should be ready to come out into society again. Shouldn’t be cooped up in that big house all alone. Unnatural, if you ask me.” Emily fussed over the last strands of Reena’s chignon.
“The man lost—” Reena bit back the retort. Emily meant well. She didn’t know how Reena’s heart had cried for his after hearing of his devastation. He had lost both wife and baby on the same terrible day. Reena had cried alone in her room, wishing she could offer him comfort in his pain. However, to her shame, as time rolled along and the months passed, she found herself crying more for his continued seclusion than his loss.
“It’s been not quite a year. Give him time. He will come back into society when he is ready,” Reena continued.
Smoothing her hand down the front of her dress, Reena took in the old fashioned gown. The modesty piece came all but to her chin, but the flounces of lace at the sleeve looked rather attractive. The pink silk robe and quilted petticoat made a charming combination, but in spite of it all, she wished she’d chosen another. Wished she had let Emily and the seamstress talk her into the latest thing, the beautiful yet frighteningly soft fashions Reena so
“I’m sorry, Emily. I don’t mean to be nippy. It’s only that I’m so nervous.” She ran a hand over her waist and onto her skirts. Emily’s head cocked around Reena’s shoulder, her gaze meeting Reena’s through her reflection in the glass.
“Don’t you worry about seeing him again. Not one little bit.” Emily pressed a curl near Reena’s face. “You look exquisite, and there is no reason at all to be concerned over Mr. Sinclair’s presence at your party. You just dance and enjoy yourself, and don’t let his wife’s death, or the passage of a little time worry you any. Take your own words to heart. He will come back into society when he is ready.”
Taking in a shaky breath, Reena wondered if she was capable of following those orders. “What should I say to him?” She closed her eyes. It had been so long since she’d seen him, yet her mind had gone to him time and again. “Should I speak condolences? Or perhaps ignore the subject and behave…normally? I don’t know if there is such a thing when I’m faced with him.”
Rolling her closed eyes, Reena turned away from the mirror. Emily followed her as she strode across the room, grasping the post at the end of the bed.
“I never did quite know how to speak to him while his wife lived, and now I must find a way to do it after her death. And all this time has passed since I’ve even laid eyes on him.”
“Yet in your mind you have seen him every day of that absence.” Emily took Reena’s cheeks in her hands. “There never was a woman in love who had a calm stomach or mind when facing a meeting with her man, but enough of this nonsense now. You go out there and be yourself. All this bother is foolish. Things will work themselves out.” Emily tugged Reena’s shoulder, forcing her to face the doorway. “If you keep fussing over every ridiculous little thing, you will never have the chance to see what might happen. Your party will pass you by, and Mr. Joshua Sinclair will never even see you, because you will be pacing this room fretting over nothing.”
Emily pushed at Reena’s back, shuffling her toward the door.
“All right. I know I’m being silly. I’ll go,” Reena said. Emily guided her out of the room. “I am not going to—stop pushing, I’m going.” Emily’s hands dropped from Reena’s back. “I am not going to worry about this any longer. Instead, I will dance and have fun. When the time comes to speak to Joshua, the words will come. They always have.”
Even as she spoke the reassuring words, her stomach sank. The thought of seeing him again filled her with thrill and dread in chorus. She’d been trying to forget him for years before his wife died. To let her heart open to another man…but she’d failed. Not even that long ago kiss from Dan, the oldest of the Dubois brothers, and her most flirtatious suitor, had taken Joshua from her mind. But now that his wife had passed…
She shook her head to clear away the inappropriate thought.
“He is still in morning.” She chided herself.
“What was that?” Emily called out from behind her.
“Nothing.” Reena stepped through the door to the gardens. “Nothing at all.”
A billowing tent towered outside her uncle’s Estate. The scent of exotic flowers permeated the air near the skillfully planted Sweet Williams. Pausing, she crouched down and drew a finger across a soft petal where a ladybug explored.
“Stop procrastinating.” Emily shooed her on, but Reena didn’t move.
“It sounds like the guests are arriving.” Reena plucked a flower, spinning it in her fingers as she stood.
“All the more reason you should be on your way.” Emily eyed the darkening sky, not quite rolling her eyes at Reena. “I should have brought a whip with me. It would have moved you along faster.”
Reena winced. She knew she should hasten into the tent and greet her guests, but the longer she waited, the more she could imagine the pleasant possibilities and ignore the disagreeable ones. Perhaps she would enter, and Joshua would be awaiting her, eyes shining, hand extended for the first dance. He would fight away all others who asked for a dance, then kiss her deeply, telling her he loved her too.
Sighing, she trudged on, knowing it more probable that he would spend the evening sitting in the corner with his eyes on the floor, and she would spend it pining for him.
The candles and torches, which lit the fluttering canvas, cast a magical glow on the night. Entering the tent, she found herself greeted by a cheer as the first chord of a favorite country dance was struck. Merry voices called loudly, and dancers took their positions.
“Come, come.” An excited Daniel Dubois encouraged Reena onto the dancer’s line.
She took her place, the corners of her traitorous lips lifting against her will. Her mind wanted to hold on to her worries, to hold on to thoughts of Joshua, but her body wanted to dance. Whirling across the floor, she glimpsed Joshua for the first time. He sat in the corner, eyes downcast. His gaze rose to meet hers. Her heart caught in her throat, and she found it hard to breathe past the lump it formed. She missed a step in the dance and shrugged her apology to Dan, falling back into line with him.
Trying to focus on the steps, which by and large came so naturally to her, Reena kept her eyes on Dan. But she could feel Joshua’s gaze. Tingling heat filled her cheeks and spread down her neck to settle in her belly.
Whirling into a turn, she followed the others in the dance, coming in to touch hands with Dan, and then stepping away again. She glanced back toward the darkened corner where Joshua sat. He was still so attractive, though perhaps a bit thinner. His black waistcoat and breeches showed his mourning, but his eyes showed something else: a profound craving. A heat that burned her from across the interior of the tent.
The last notes of the dance played, and Reena turned, curtsying at Dan.
“Merci, Monsieur Dubois.” He looked devastatingly handsome with his dark hair, buff breaches, and tan waistcoat. But her gaze moved right past him, gliding over his shoulder to the spot where Joshua had been but a moment ago. “If you would excuse me, I must greet my uncle.”
Reena surveyed the room, searching for Joshua. There was a small band and a table filled with refreshments for the small group. A number of chairs lined the walls for those who wished to rest, but Joshua was nowhere to be found.
“Where could he have gone?” she mumbled to herself and moved to the opening in the tent, eyes on the room. She stood at the entrance, watching as the next set of dancers took their places. With her bottom lip in a tight hold between her teeth, Reena snuck out.
The darkness was near absolute after being inside the well lit tent. She could make out two figures in the darkness beside the tent. They stood very close, almost intimate.
“You are stunning tonight, my sweet one,” the male voice said before lowering his head to the woman in his arms.
Reena looked away, her fingers curling in the folds of her skirt. She had always wondered what it would be like to kiss Joshua like that. Her gaze slid back to the whispering couple, and her heart beat harder in her chest. She should move on, she knew it, but her mind had filled with the fantasy images of Joshua kissing her as Dan had in that alleyway so long ago. Better still, as this man now kissed his woman in the consuming shadows of the night.
Averting her eyes, she shook the daydream from her head and continued her search. It was not good to linger on things that were not to be. Joshua had never shown interest in her before. Though his eyes had lingered on her tonight.
The torches that lit the edges of the garden illuminated a lone figure sitting on a bench, head in hands. Something in the strength of his build and the dejected way he slumped told her it was Joshua, regardless of the shadows. Soft music filled the silence of the night beyond the tent. She stepped forward, hesitant to break into his isolation.
“You shouldn’t be out here, Reena. You should be in there, dancing and enjoying yourself.” Joshua sat up, eyes rimmed with dark circles, his countenance stiff.
The use of her given name sent a thrill through
“So should you,” Reena said softly, her eyes gliding over his lean form. Her heart welled, seeing the man before her, so decimated by grief. Eyes tearing, she bit her lip, trying not to think of the great love he must have shared with his departed wife. Trying not to be selfish and wish that love were hers.
He rose from the bench, facing her, his face illuminated somewhat in the torchlight. His gaze wandered to the well-lit room from which music and frivolity emanated.
“Go inside, Miss Harrison, I’m not fit for company yet.” His gaze returned to his shoes.
“I don’t mind staying here with you. You are always enjoyable company to me.”
His eyes met hers. They blazed with ferocious intensity, burning into her, holding her entranced. Her pulse thundered in her ears, and her breathing became shallow. It seemed neither of them had moved, but in the next instant, she was in his arms. First he only held her, as if his life depended on the heat and energy of her body. His strength and warmth seared through the material of her dress. Reena pressed herself closer, clinging to his arms as he held her against his chest.
For a moment, that was enough. They held each other in the night without a sound. Then they were kissing. His tongue found its way into her mouth and made Dan’s kiss meaningless. There was something powerful and intimate about this stolen moment. Fire built in her body as his kiss deepened, Reena moaned deep in her throat.
A growl emerged from Joshua. His hand slid between their bodies, over her ribs, and closed over her breast, setting her ablaze through thin cloth which separated her flesh from his. Reena cried out against his lips. Then, to her eternal dismay, he stopped, releasing her without warning. She stumbled. He looked at his hand as though it were something foreign to him.