The Black Orchid
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by Diana Bold
Category: Romance/Historical Fiction
Description: When Lady Jessalyn Hunter finds herself ruined, both socially and financially, she is forced to accept the help of her older brother's best friend--the man she's loved since childhood. Ethan Tremaine has spent his entire life running from the tragedy of his past, but he can't refuse his best friend's dying request. He reluctantly agrees to marry Jessalyn, though he's terrified by the thought of someone depending on him. What begins as a marriage of convenience quickly becomes much more. Can they find the courage to love, or will they let the ghosts of their past destroy them?
eBook Publisher: Cobblestone Press, 2007
eBookwise Release Date: June 2008
20 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [251 KB]
Reading time: 159-223 min.
Jessalyn's cheeks burned with mortification as she hurried from the bathroom, leaving Ethan alone in the tub. She strode to the fireplace and stabbed at the dying embers, then added kindling until the renewed blaze was sufficient to dry her damp nightgown.
Suppressed desire thrummed deep within her. She shifted and crossed her arms over the heavy ache in her breasts. She didn't know whether to be shamed or elated by her brazen behavior, but one thing was certain--tonight, her relationship with Ethan had changed irrevocably.
Water splashed as Ethan got out of the tub. She had no idea how he'd react to what had happened, but the fact that he'd remained faithful to her all these months gave her foolish hope. He'd said he wanted her. Only her....
She closed her eyes and committed to memory the way he'd looked, naked and aroused, his beautiful face drawn with passion. How would she bear it if he turned from her in disgust?
Soft footsteps sounded behind her, and then he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her back against his damp chest. His lips brushed her temple.
"Ah, Jess," he whispered. "What are we doing?"
She sighed and relaxed against him. "I don't know, but I'm tired of pretending I don't want you."
"I'm afraid I'll hurt you." He hugged her tighter. "You know I can't stay here forever. I want you to have the option of an annulment."
The thought of losing him was like taking a knife in the heart, but it would be there regardless of whether or not they gave in to the passion that blazed between them. Fighting past the pain of knowing he didn't want to stay, she turned in his arms and gazed into his fathomless green eyes.
"There are things we could do. Things that won't count as a consummation."
"Yes." His eyes darkened with sudden understanding. "There are."
Shamed, she dropped her gaze. "I'm sorry I'm not an innocent."
"Don't be." He brushed her lips with his fingertips. "I'm not a virgin. Why should I expect you to be?"
"I'm ruined," she whispered. "Damaged."
"We're all a little damaged. My past would disgust you, if you knew all the sordid little details."
"Never." She twined her hands through his with utter confidence. "I want to know everything about you. I wish you trusted me enough to tell me all the things that have hurt you."
"I do trust you." Releasing her hands, he moved toward the bed and removed the pillows and heavy down comforter. "The question is, do you trust me?" Holding her gaze, he spread the quilt in front of the fire, then arranged the pillows around it.
Heat blossomed within her as he sprawled across the pillows, naked except for the thin white towel at his waist. She nodded. "Yes. I trust you, too."
"Then take off your gown and come here." He held out a hand, his voice smoky with promise.
Heat bloomed in her cheeks as she lifted trembling hands to the tiny buttons that ran down the front of her nightgown. She'd never bared herself completely to James. Not like this, with the firelight illuminating every imperfection.
She feared he wouldn't like what he saw. What if he changed his mind and decided they were better off remaining friends?
But when she dropped the gown and let it pool at her feet, the expression on his face stilled her doubts. "You take my breath away. You're beautiful, Jess. So beautiful."
Ethan had known she'd be lovely, but when she stood naked before him he could hardly breathe for sheer wonder.
He reached for her hand and pulled her down beside him on the quilt. She lay back against the pillows, all long, silken limbs and golden skin, and trembled with fear and desire. He knew she'd been wrong. She might have had a lover before him, but she was still innocent.
Her breasts were generous on her slender frame, her waist so narrow he could span it with his hands. He brushed one rosy nipple with his fingertip, elated when it swelled and hardened at his touch.
"I'm going to make love to you, with my hands and with my mouth. I'm going to bring you the same sort of release you brought me in the bathtub. But if I do anything you don't like, just tell me, and I'll stop. I swear I will."
She nodded and stroked his cheek. "I believe you. But I can't imagine you touching me in any way I won't like."