DIAMONDS IN THE ROUGH
Please be aware that this excerpt contains sensual content that is only suitable
for adult readers who are comfortable with frank language and descriptions of
Pragmatism and passion. Diamonds and daring drawings. First desire rekindled…
and out of control!
Adela Ruffington has resigned herself to becoming an old maid,
despite her sensual nature and a passionate sexual initiation at age eighteen,
with her distant cousin, Wilson. What she perceives as imperfections in her
appearance seem to be the reason for her lack of suitors, along with unfavorable
financial prospects due to the eccentricity of her wealthy but misogynistic
grandfather. But a lack of marriage proposals doesn't mean Adela denies her
sexual urges, and she's arrived at daring but logical solution to satisfying
her desires. Trading on her remarkable skills as an erotic artist and illustrator
she swaps the fruits of her talent for the services of the "young men" at her
friend Sofia Chamfleur's exotic pleasure house for women.
At a summer house party hosted by wealthy friends, eccentric polymath scientist
and academic, Wilson Ruffington, catches his distant cousin Adela breaking into
the room housing a famous private erotica collection, cleverly employing a couple
of her hair pins to pick the lock. Intrigued by her clandestine behavior, he
finds his long standing but dormant desire for Adela suddenly and powerfully
rekindled, which is a shock to him since he's sworn off sex in the wake of a
disastrous breakup from his mistress, a legendary beauty.
Embroiled in family complications involving inheritance, indiscretions, and
some breathtaking heirloom diamonds, Wilson and Adela somehow find themselves
joined in a marriage of convenience, a union fraught with dark secrets, confrontation,
and a lot of conveniently fabulous sex.
But can their practical arrangement ever be more than just desire? Can these
two stubborn, strong willed people stop butting heads long enough to admit they're
still in love?
Diamonds in the Rough will be published by HQN in June 2013
Excerpt - unedited draft
A country house party, 1891
The touch of Wilson's lips rocked Adela in her shoes. Seven years ago he'd done exactly this. Grabbed her and kissed her. Now it felt like barely a second had passed between that kiss and this one, and just as before all her resolution melted, lost in a heightened perception so intense it almost pained her.
Her cousin's mouth was like warm velvet moving against hers, infinitely teasing and tantalizing, and she could smell his shaving lotion and his soap, the notes of each one quite separately and distinct. On his lips there was a very faint flavor of something sweet and spicy, plum cake perhaps. It was on his tongue when it traced the seam of her lips.
These impressions crowded into the space of a small, surprised fragment of a second, each one of them enough to rock her heart.
I should push you away. I should push you away and run like the wind. This is all wrong and it will only lead to trouble, no matter what Mamma thinks.
Yet with this rationale in her mind, she still wound her arms around her outrageous cousin instead of thrusting him away. He was, and always had been, the most aggravating man in the world, but still she parted her lips for him, instead of clamping them shut and grabbing him by the ears to get him off her.
Oh how she'd yearned for Wilson once, yearned for him with all her young heart and soul. But until a moment or two ago, she'd believed the urge done and dead, crushed by circumstances and Wilson himself. Now, it was patently obvious she'd been completely wrong about that. Her feelings for Wilson were as alive and rambunctious as ever. The taste of his mouth and tongue thrilled her just as it had done all those years ago. Sliding her free hand boldly beneath his dressing gown, she clasped his strong, lean back, and pressed her body close to his, metaphorically waving adieu to her wits.
Ah! I'm not the only one with feelings alive and well then...
His cock was hard, and it pressed against the curve of her belly, just beneath her corset, as hot and ungovernable as it had been those seven years ago. In the frozen moment of time that they stood together, his eager flesh seemed to twitch, calling to her flesh. Even though there were layers and layers of clothing between them.
Adela rocked her hips, the response like breathing. Wilson gasped, making a gruff sound in his throat, countering her action.
What was she doing? This was absurd. Unthinkable. In the space of a few fractious exchanges, he'd unmasked her. Compelled her to reveal her secret self, just by... just by being Wilson! Trying to back away, Adela shoved hard, her hand spread against his chest, trying to dislodge him. No more blindly clinging and cleaving like a hysterical trollop. It was madness.
“Wilson! For heaven's sake, what are you doing? You can't just grab me and kiss me as if you own me!” He seemed reluctant to let her go. His grip even tightened. But then he succumbed, fingers relaxing their hold on her arms. "Have some decorum. You're not a rutting dog!" Adela cried, jumping back a step.
“Decorum, eh? I'm not the one who threw their arms around me just now." Oh, that voice, that damned voice. It was familiar, thrilling, deep, its resonance playing across her senses like a bow across a violin. A narrow smirk curved her cousin's beautiful mouth with its sharply defined upper lip. "All I was hoping for was a chaste and cousinly peck on the cheek. I didn't expect to be manhandled.”
You are an insufferable beast who should be thrashed and pummeled.
“It was just shock, cousin dearest. You kissed first and it surprised me. I wasn't quite in my right mind.” She darted back further, still clutching her portfolio of sketches. She had to get out of here. But just looking at him made it difficult to leave.
Her distant cousin Wilson Ruffington had always been an eccentric, and even his liaison with a notoriously fashionable French adventuress didn't appear to have tidied him up very much. In fact he was more a wild man now. His thick, wavy black hair was longer than when she'd last seen him, curling and tousling around his ears and on his collar, untidy and yet admittedly shiny and clean.
Which summed him up, really. A scruff who was also fastidious. A puzzle in every possible respect.
Adela compressed her lips. Why, when he was so annoying, and could be so hurtful, did he still make her also want to smile. Her fingers just itched for her pencil, and in her mind she was already drawing him. Aggravating or no, he was a sight for sore eyes, tall, wiry, intriguing and stylish in way that other men just weren't. Flagrantly Bohemian, he still affected his dressing gown during the day time as he'd done seven years ago at Ruffington Hall. He'd swanned about in his robe then, much to the consternation of the Old Curmudgeon -- who'd called him a nancy and told him to brace up -- and it seemed he'd not broken the habit. Today's example was a blue silk paisley confection, and beneath it he wore an equally absurd waistcoat in a different pattern entirely. His trousers were thankfully quite normal, but he wore his white shirt sans neckwear or even a collar, and a little open.
He was a ragamuffin prince, almost a comic opera figure, drenched in a wayward male glamour. Beside him she was the drabbest dark crow.
And yet... and yet... the way Wilson was looking at her, it seemed to say otherwise. His blue-gray eyes, so pale and all-seeing, monitored every detail of her appearance, even as she assessed his. And they were hot. Searing, despite their icy color, their devouring heat confirming what she'd felt at his groin.
How could he want her after what he'd said six months ago ? And the way he'd scrupulously avoided any chance of them being alone together for seven years? He probably just wanted any woman, and she'd simply blundered unawares into his line of sight. Society talk -- which she told herself was tedious and uninteresting, yet followed avidly -- said that he and the famous Coraline had parted recently, so her randy cousin was probably just missing his regular quota of carnal pleasures.
She narrowed her eyes back at him, imagining her head clamped in place for a formal photograph. Wilson would not make her back down and look away.
“I see you haven't improved your habits of dress yet, cousin.” She raked her glance from his toes to his shaggy head, schooling her face to not to show the lustful feelings she couldn't suppress. Far from a lady in that respect, she must not allow him to perceive her true nature, her dangerous secrets.
“I dress for rationality and comfort, Della, and to please myself. You should leave off your corsets and try it. You'd feel so much better... Far less prone to fits of temper.”
Ah ha! How little you know, Mr. Clever Boots.
At home, Adela had abandoned her corsets. She'd happily embraced a rational form of dress, inspired not only by Mrs. Wilde and other lady aesthetes, by also by some of her free thinking friends at the Ladies’ Sewing Circle. She'd joined the group just over a year ago, and found it a revelation, in ways she'd never have imagined. The loose, comfortable garments, and lighter underclothing affected by some of the Ladies were pure bliss after the restrictions of corsetry, and even better, through them, she'd been introduced to a dressmaker whose charges were exceptionally reasonable. It was a lot less pricey to run up a lightly shaped "aesthetic" gown than it was to tailor a formal, fitted costume.
She was only trussed up now because Mama had insisted, even if it did mean that her only "presentable" gowns were those left over from mourning her father.
“Women wear corsets, Wilson. It's simply what we do. They're an aid to good posture and they create an elegant silhouette.” Damn him, why did he provoke her to lie? And behave badly... Why did the way he looked at her make her suddenly long to rip the whole lot off, corsets, petticoats, drawers and all, just to make those silvery eyes pop wide? “And pray tell me what's so rational about the juxtaposition of that waistcoat with that dressing gown? It's sartorial chaos and an assault to the eyes and to the sensibilities of anyone with even the tiniest appreciation of good style.”
"Ouch!" Wilson clutched dramatically at the offending waistcoat, even while his eyes still seemed to pierce her clothing and lasciviously view the body underneath. "But seriously, you don't need a corset, Della. You have immaculate posture and a perfect silhouette without one... and I should know. Having seen it.”
Curst the beast! Why had she ever even hoped that he wouldn't refer to their "incident"? Their tryst. It had changed her more radically than any other event in her life, but a thousand "what ifs" made it far too painful to reflect on often. And she didn't want to discuss it, or refer to it now. Not with the one other person on earth who knew it had ever even occurred. Her closest friends from the Sewing Circle, Sofia and Beatrice, were aware that there had been a boy, in her youth... but Adela had revealed only the most oblique details. She'd never spoken of what still sang in her flesh...
“Well, I'd be grateful if you'd expunge that sight from your mind, Wilson, peerless as you claim it to be. The incident during which you saw it never happened. I thought we agreed to that?” She edged towards the door again, then faltered, shocked by Wilson's expression. He'd winced, pain in his eyes, and the taut high lines of his cheekbones. It only lasted an instant though, then disappeared again completely, eclipsed by a narrow, wolfish grin.
"I'm not sure I ever agreed to that, Della... but if you say it never happened, then it didn't... or did it?" Slowly, lasciviously, his tongue touched the center of his lower lip.
Her heart thundering like a runaway locomotive, Adela yearned to escape. But somehow her muscles just wouldn't work, to carry her away from him. Just the simple task of opening the door and exiting the room, was a mountain to climb.
“Don't go, Della.” His sharply angled face gentled, the look on it conciliatory if not precisely pleading. “Please stay a little while.”
It was dangerous. He was dangerous. He was a colossal hazard to her peace of mind, in a dozen different ways... and yet he was as irresistible to her as he'd been those seven years ago.
And retreat was cowardice too, something she despised.
Diamonds in the Rough by Portia Da Costa
Harlequin ® 2012
© 2012 Portia Da Costa
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