He looked like he had swallowed his tongue. That was not encouraging.
Sara dropped her eyes and stared at the hot toddy he had shoved into her hands. She lifted the mug to her lips and took another drink.
She couldn’t even say for certain how she had arrived at this decision; her thoughts had been rushing through her mind so fast and had been so overwhelming that they had propelled her off the drawing room sofa and into the rain. She walked for what seemed to be hours, but had suspicions it had been considerably shorter than that. She could pinpoint one moment of pristine clarity, one thought that made everything else make sense so abruptly that she had halted in mid-step.
Mr. Grant can help me.
That had settled it. Next thing she knew, Windent Hall was before her. When there had been no answer to her knocking on the door, she had pushed it open herself and made her way to the library, the only room she knew in the place.
Seeing him facing the fire, lost in thought—rightness had reverberated in her bones.
But now she was uncertain, her confidence fleeing with his silence. And his swallowed tongue look.
“Hm.” His grunt broke the silence and Sara lifted her eyes with trepidation, wondering exactly what expression she would see on his face now. His narrowed eyes were staring at her but while they used to cause her skin to chill, now all she could feel was the radiating heat.
Mr. Grant spoke. “I must ask you to clarify. What exactly are you are seeking my help for?” His voice was low and raspy.
“Um—” Sara hesitated.
“Just say it, Miss Collins,” he bit out. “If you could walk in here the way you did, you can bloody well say it.”
“I want your tongue in my mouth,” she blurted, feeling her face catch on fire. “I want to know what you meant when you said you want to do more to me.”
He took an audible breath, his eyes narrowing even more, though one would think it was impossible. He spun on his heel and took the short steps to the side table and filled one of the mugs with an amber liquid—brandy, she remembered, was what he preferred. He tilted his head back and drained the mug before filling it again.
“So,” he said, still facing away from her. “The innocent has come seeking corruption and I am to be the corrupter.”
His voice was tight, with anger she thought. “I did not think of it in quite that way,” she replied.
He turned to face her. “No? Tell me, how do you think of it then?”
She swallowed and lifted her chin. “As an adventure.”
His bark of laughter made her jump. “An adventure? Do you fully comprehend what you are asking me to do?”
“I am certain Mr. Frobisher did not fully comprehend what his journeys would entail, but that did not stop him from going.”
Mr. Grant shook his head with incredulity and walked toward her. He did not have the aid of his cane and his limp was pronounced. “You, Miss Collins, are asking me to educate you as a husband educates his wife. As I currently have no intention to marry, you are asking me to ruin you.”
She swallowed again. “Oh,” she said, her voice small. She glanced down at the now cold toddy.
“Yes, oh.” He stopped a few feet away from her, just out of arms reach. He finished his brandy and tossed the mug onto the sofa. “I may be a cad, but I do have some scruples, small as they may be.”
“But I didn’t take you as the type to make empty promises,” she whispered, still not looking up.
“I was a politician, Nymph; empty promises are what we are known for.”
She heard his uneven gait as he moved away from her. “And are all politicians cowards as well?”
Her words halted him and she raised her eyes, looking at his rigid back. “I beg your pardon?” he asked, his voice tight and chilly.
“You mock me for being amused by adventures. I am here now, standing before you, taking the opportunity to have adventure in my life for once. Yet you, you who told me that you dream of me and what you would do to me, as soon as you are given the opportunity to make your dreams a reality, you are the one refusing it. Rejecting the chance is more cowardly than never having sought it out in the first place.”
He turned and looked at her, his face unreadable. “You haven’t thought this through.”
“That is likely.”
“You will be ruined.”
“Only if people find out. As you just admitted to a distaste for marriage, I assume you will wish for discretion as well.”
“What about your vicar?”
She swallowed. “We will not speak of him.”
“This will change your life.”
“Isn’t that the point of adventure?”
He fell silent, looking at her long and hard. She shivered under the intensity of his gaze, knowing that if he still refused, there was nothing she could do to change his mind.
Finally he spoke again. “If we do this, we will do it my way.”
“I will have rules.”
“What sort of rules?”
He shook his head. “I’m not telling you just yet. But they will be designed to guarantee you get the most out of . . . your adventure.”
She nodded. “Sounds reasonable.”
“I will devise a plan to ensure discretion.”
He moved toward her and took the mug from her hand, placing it on a nearby table. He turned back to her and cupped her face in his hands. “I am going to kiss you now,” he murmured, looking at her lips.
Sara licked them, feeling her pulse begin to speed up as the warmth from his hands spread down her throat. “To seal our bargain?” She had heard Claire and Jacob do such a thing.
A flicker of disgust crossed his face. “Nothing so trite. I am going to kiss you because I want to.”
His lips captured her inhalation and he slid his tongue into her mouth with no hesitation. A moan escaped her the moment it touched hers and her eyes slid shut. His hands moved to the back of her head, tangling in the wet strands, to tilt her head, enabling him to fuse their mouths more closely. One step brought his body flush against hers, toe to chin, trapping her arms between them until she wiggled them free to move under his arms and place her hands on his back, the blanket falling to the floor and pooling around her ankles. The movement pressed her breasts against his chest and Mr. Grant continued to kiss her with his tongue in her mouth.
This was not a kiss of love. This was not a kiss one gave a friend. Even Sara knew that, innocent as she was. This was the kind of kiss she saw Jacob give Claire outside their bedroom.
This was a kiss of desire.
And heaven help her—she wanted more of it.
She moved her mouth in time with his, her lips becoming greedier for the taste of him, for the feel of his skillful kiss, the scratch of his rougher skin against hers. She pressed her hands more firmly into his back, eliciting a grunt of approval from deep in his throat. His hands released her head and migrated south, skimming down her sides and over her hips before slipping to decisively grip her bottom, squeezing and massaging the cheeks as he tilted it so she could feel a hard length pressing against her belly.
Sara shifted, the hardness unfamiliar and odd. She shifted again, feeling the friction caused by that hardness caught between their bodies. Mr. Grant stiffened and broke the kiss, his head falling back and a groan leaked out of his mouth. “Sara,” he rasped out.
“No.” She grabbed his head and pulled it back down to hers. She didn’t recognize her voice, but she didn’t care. “No. Don’t stop kissing me.”
She seized his lips, this time not waiting for him to take control with his tongue, but instead pushing her own into his mouth. She nipped at his lips, enjoying his sharp inhalation against her cheek. One of his arms wrapped around her shoulders and his free hand cupped her neck. His fingers were hot against her skin and Sara shivered at the sensation of bare skin touching bare skin. Dear heavens, if this is what happened when his hand touched her neck, what would she feel when he did more?
His fingers traced her collarbone as their tongues danced, diverting her attention from the kiss as his path slowly lowered to the swell of her bosom. Sara’s breathing, already heavy, increased; enough air didn’t seem to make it into her lungs. Mr. Grant moved away from the kiss, trailing smaller, wet ones along her cheek, shifting until his face was buried in her hair, her hands clutching his shoulders for support as waves of awareness spiraled through her body. Her breasts ached as they swelled and her nipples tightened.
He took her ear in his mouth and nibbled gently just as his hand encircled her breast, filling her chest with agonizing relief. She gasped and moaned, her fingers digging into his shoulders as her knees buckled. She pressed her forehead into his chest.
Sara stumbled when Mr. Grant suddenly jerked away from her, putting space between them. He grasped her shoulders to steady her. She stared at his chest, her body heaving in an attempt to breathe. With a trembling hand, she touched her lips and felt how swollen they were; the same hand felt for the disarray her hair had become.
She raised her eyes to his face. Mr. Grant’s eyes were narrow slits and his shoulders lifted rapidly as he sought to regain control of his own breathing.
“Wha—” she started, only to realize articulation was as slow as her breathing to recover.
He visibly swallowed. “I assured you discretion. This was not it—at least it would not be if we continued. And as—adventurous as you may have become, you deserve more than a tumble on the sofa or floor for your first time.” He released her shoulders and took several more steps away, increasing the distance between them. A lump of disappointment filled her throat at the separation, but she swallowed it away.
She nodded. “You’re all wet,” she pointed out stupidly. Indeed, every inch of where their bodies had touched was wet from her sodden dress. Her eyes widened as she saw the hardness that had been between their bodies and her eyes flew back up to his.
A gleam flared in his eyes and one side of his mouth lifted in a wicked smile. “You probably are too.”
“Excuse me?” Confused, she glanced down at her dress. “I was out in the rain; of course I am wet.”
He shook his head, the smile and gleam remaining. “Never mind. Rule number one: you must trust me.”
Sara blinked. “Does my coming here not show you that I do?”
“You came here out of lust, not trust. If this is to work, you must trust me to guide you appropriately in your sexual education. Can you do so?”
She swallowed, his blunt words startling her. She was unused to such directness and honesty. She nodded her head, refusing to speak the words.
“You must say it,” Mr. Grant instructed. “Otherwise it doesn’t mean anything.”
“I trust you.” Her voice was little more than a whisper.
He nodded brusquely. “Good. It is best you return to Ridgestone now. It is still raining; you can use my coach.”
“No thank you. I have no wish for others to know where I have been. A coach would raise questions.”
“Right.” Another brusque nod. “I will contact you in a few days when I have made the arrangements.”
Her eyes grew wide. “No, you cannot—”
“Did you not just promise to trust me?” His voice was sharp, giving her no option but to nod her acknowledgement. “Say it.”
“Yes, I did,” she answered automatically to his command.
“Then do so. I will meet you on Thursday at the tree you were reading a letter under in that awful forest maze. You remember the spot?”
“I do.” She did not wait for his instruction to speak this time.
“Good. If it happens to rain, I will return every afternoon around the same time until you are able to meet me.” He moved closer again and Sara’s breath caught, thinking he was going to kiss her again, but he merely retrieved the wet blanket that had dropped around her ankles. He folded it and placed it near the hearth, an action so domesticated it looked bizarre on him.
Mr. Grant turned and regarded her for a long moment. “You are certain you do not wish to take my coach?”
Was that concern she heard in his voice? “Thank you for your consideration, but I will be fine.”
He grunted and took her elbow, escorting her out of the library. “Do not fool yourself into thinking I am a considerate man, Miss Collins. Were you to take ill, I would not benefit from your little adventure.”
Oh. Sara swallowed, allowing him to lead in her silence. At the door, she paused to put her hair to rights, the wet strands clinging to her chin and neck. The memory of his hands cupping her face came to the fore and she fought to keep from blushing.
He opened the door and gave a gallant gesture. “Until Thursday, then.”
She curtseyed and took a step to leave, but his hand fell on her arm. His touch was gentle, but it stopped her in her tracks.
Sara looked at him to find the gleam in his eyes had returned, as well as the wicked smile. He leaned in, close enough to kiss her. “Rule number two, Miss Collins.” His voice was soft and dark, sending a thrill down her spine to flutter in her stomach.
She swallowed. “Yes?” Her voice squeaked.
“No night rails allowed.” His wicked grin remained as he pushed her into motion. Sara automatically kept walking, but the one time she looked back, he was still standing in the doorway, watching her.