Lieutenant Stephen Byrne stands guard over a British envoy asleep after an all-day drinking binge. So when his fiancée arrives, Stephen feels safe leaving his post for a quick meal. Yet his worst nightmare comes true when the Englishman slips from the room and leaves the hotel.
Victoria Manning will soon have everything she’s ever wanted—a loving husband and a new life at Fort Leavenworth as an Army officer’s wife. When loneliness and a special picnic lunch for her fiancé bring her to the Willard Hotel, their meal soon falls by the wayside as their passion ignites and their agreement of abstinence is put to the test.
Stephen and Victoria must put their special night on hold as they search for the fugitive envoy. Can they find him and save Stephen’s commission in the Army, or will their future together be in jeopardy?.
Her gentleman officer was a thief.
His gaze, dark as midnight and intense as a bonfire, robbed her of all good sense. Determined lips stole the breath from her lungs. Prowling touches fleeced the strength from her legs until all Victoria Manning could do was slump in the rock-hard embrace holding her captive.
He pulled her closer, his palms scorching her skin through the gown’s thick material. Practiced fingers skimmed over her ribs and hunted their way to a breast that ached for his touch. He thumbed a nipple, circling and brushing with butterfly softness. Warmth blossomed inside her like a bud opening up to the sunshine.
“Stephen…” she pushed out on a raspy exhale.
His warm breath grazed her face. “We what?”
She closed her eyes and splayed fingers over his broad chest, the Army wool uniform scratchy beneath her fingertips. He smelled of soap and aftershave. Something spicy. Her head reeled. She could dine on him for the next hundred years and never be sated.
A door slamming shut deep in the hotel plunged through the desire clouding her head. She pushed away, more to restrain herself than him. “Stop, Stephen.”
He dipped closer as if to resume his plunder, and she tilted her head aside. “Not here.”
“What’s wrong, sweetheart?”
The gas-lit hallway was deserted, but it wouldn’t stay that way. Due to the upcoming social event, The Willard Hotel nearly bulged with out-of-town guests. She dropped to a whisper. “Someone could come along and see us.”
He barked out a laugh and scooped up her hand. “Come. I know a place where we can have some privacy.”
“What about your assignment?” She nodded at the closed door behind him. “As much as I want to visit with you, I wouldn’t want you to get in trouble for leaving your post.”
“Always my loving protector. It’s what I love most about you, darling.” He pressed a kiss to the base of her throat. “We won’t be gone long. Besides, the drunken dolt is done for the night. I had to help him into bed less than an hour ago. Hear that god-awful snoring?”
She cocked an ear. The noise filtering through the wooden door sounded more like a boar rooting for grubs than a man breathing. She shook her head. “I can’t believe Mr. Hammond would take to drinking the night before his wedding.”
“Not just the night before. Every day since he arrived. Morning, noon, and night. The man’s a tosspot.” He nuzzled her earlobe. “Among other less desirable traits.”
His nibbling teased a giggle, and she danced away, the picnic basket she’d brought swinging wildly on her arm. This new and unbridled passion was exciting, yet frightening at the same time. She pitched a glance at the thankfully still-empty hallway. “Is Senator Grover aware of this behavior? I can’t imagine he’d allow his daughter to marry such a reprobate.”
Stephen countered her retreat with a quick step and palmed her lower back, his fingers urging her forward while kneading her spine at the same time. “I’m sure he’s aware of it. General Babcock’s instructions to those of us guarding the British envoy were very clear. Hammond is not to venture outside of the hotel for any reason. Nothing will prevent this wedding from taking place tomorrow. Not even the groom himself.”
Legs trembling and breaths coming in shallow draws, she ran a hand down his arm, gaining strength from the firm muscles beneath his sleeve. “Poor Nellie. The newspapers say she’s besotted with her Englishman. That the two met on a cruise while crossing the Atlantic and began courting in the moonlight. They stole away to the darkened decks…while her chaperones lay bedridden with seasickness.” She pulled in a much-needed breath and heaved a sigh. “Such a romantic story.”
Stephen stopped in front of a door midway down the hall and reached for the knob. “No more talk of Hammond or the Grovers. We only have a short time together. Let’s not waste it on idle gossip.”
As he tugged her through the open doorway, the heady smell of beeswax and fresh laundered cotton enveloped her. Crisply folded linens and towels lined the floor-to-ceiling wall shelves. A scarred but clean work table occupied the middle of the room. The maids’ closet. Not exactly an ideal trysting spot, but it would have to do.
“Are you hungry?” She certainly was. But not for food. However, what she craved would—for the time being—have to stay shelved. She placed the basket on the table and pulled back the cloth covering. “I brought some of my sister’s fresh baked bread. And cheese from Howard’s store. The herbed goat cheese you adore more than anything else.” Her brother-in-law stocked his mercantile with only the best wares. No cheap goods for Howard Taylor. She’d tallied the receipts often enough to know while helping with the bookkeeping.
Stephen moved behind her and peeled off her cloak. “There’s nothing I adore more than you, my darling.”
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About the Author
Donna Dalton lives in Central Virginia with her husband, two sons, and a pitbull mix named Gizmo. An avid reader of historical romance, Donna uses the rich history of the “Old Dominion State” to craft action-packed stories set during and after the American Civil War.
You can find her at her website – www.donnadalton.net