Louisa left the office. “Where is Mr. Taylor?” she asked the kitchen. Her voice was clipped.
“Don’t know, ma’am,” Maisie said, lifting a tray of buns from one of the ovens.
Alan was stirring a pot of stew and Timothy was peeling potatoes. Both shook their heads. “I’ve not seen ’im in an age,” Alan said. He and Timothy exchanged a glance as she turned on her heel. “I wager ’e’s in trouble agin,” he whispered.
“I heard that, Alan,” Louisa called over her shoulder. “No wagering unless you want to be the one in trouble.” The boy ducked down, stirring the stew vigorously.
She stepped out into the pub just in time to see some new arrivals enter with luggage, snow coating their boots. Glancing around, she did not see Giant Johnny anywhere, so she welcomed them and after they signed the register, sent Rose to see them upstairs to their rooms and settled.
She moved to speak with Mr. Packard at the bar, her boots sounding her determination against the floor. “Where is Mr. Taylor?”
Mr. Packard finished pulling some ale. “Last I heard he was going into the cask room for some inventory.”
“Thank you.” She turned on her heel and made her way down a small corridor behind the bar that led to some storage rooms. The door to the cask room was open and she could see several sconces lit once she stepped inside. His head was in a corner, floating above the casks. She moved to see down the aisle created by the untapped barrels. She looked at him, his back to her, mumbling softly as he marked things in the notebook in his hands. His spectacles were in place and he was wearing his standard trousers and shirt, his head covered by a red kerchief.
“John,” she said.
He jumped, jerked out of his engrossment. “Yea gods, Louisa, you scared the bejeezus out of me.”
“John,” she repeated.
He turned, his brow furrowing at the tone of her voice. “What is it?” He placed the inventory book, the pencil and his spectacles on one of the casks and put his hands on his hips.
Louisa fought to control her smile. “I checked four times. All four times it was the same.”
She took a step toward him. “A profit. We made a profit last week.”
He stared at her for a moment. “You are certain?”
She nodded. “Four times. I am more than certain.”
“We made a profit?”
“A small one, just twenty pounds, but a profit.”
His eyes widened. “Just twenty pounds?” he exclaimed. “Just twenty pounds? Do you have any idea what we can do with that?”
She nodded. “We can buy some new dishes and cutlery or more tea sets or start the private dining room or—”
“Yea gods, woman!” he said. “Stop thinking of the inn. On twenty pounds I could rent a gig and take you to Bath for a night at the Assembly Rooms, pay for a nice hotel and still have some quid leftover.”
She frowned. “That would be foolish.” To spend their money on such a frivolous thing would be folly when the inn needed so much attention. She had the fleeting thought of running into some old acquaintances there. She had avoided fashionable centers for a reason.
“Foolish be damned,” he said, walking toward her. “We made a profit!”
A grin replaced her frown. “We made a profit!”
He danced a little jig in front of her, looking absolutely foolish, being such a large man in a contained space. She laughed joyously and clapped her hands until he grabbed her and spun her around in quick dance steps. With a squeal, she threw her arms around his neck and he lifted her in a big hug, twirling her around the cask room.
“We made a profit,” she murmured in his ear.
John stilled, holding her close to him, becoming fully aware of the woman he held in his arms. Her breasts pressed against his chest, her length running along his, her feet dangling between his legs. Her hair was soft against his cheek and smelled of the stew that had been simmering in the kitchen all day mixed with her own lemon scent. Her arms were warm around his neck, her hands gripping his shoulders with a strength her slender frame did not reveal upon observation. He pressed his nose into her neck, still smelling the stew mixed with lemon.
He could feel the stillness in her frame, feel how her nipples hardened even through the layers of fabric that separated them. John pulled his head back to look at her. Her face was flushed and the gold in her rich brown eyes shimmered with awareness. She licked her lips, staring at his mouth.
“We made a profit.” His whisper was hoarse.
She met his eyes. “Yes.”
John ducked his head closer, stopping with just inches between their mouths, giving her a chance to pull away. But it was she who tightened her arms around him and closed the distance, pressing their lips together.
It was a heated fusing, born out of excitement and the lust that had simmered the last several weeks. Their mouths devoured each other, their breathing rapid. She gripped his head with both hands and pushed her tongue into his mouth, tangling with his in the familiar erotic motions. He adjusted his grip on her, one arm hooking beneath her bottom to secure her body closer to his. She wrapped her legs around his and the last coherent thought to run through his mind was Door is open. He stumbled over and shut it loudly, fumbling with the lock, triumph rushing through him when he heard it slide into place.
He turned them back into the room, staggering around until their bodies jerked to a stop when her back met a cask. A puff of breath was forced out of her, but she did not stop kissing him, did not stop herself from dominating his mouth. Her hands tugged his kerchief off his head until her fingers gripped the bald skin, running along the sensitive surface.
John drew away slightly, slowing the kiss, teasing small moans out of her as he nibbled and sucked her bottom lip. Using the cask to support her, he lifted a hand to bury it in her hair. The strands were silk around his fingers and the sound of pins hitting the floor joined their heavy breathing and moans. He captured her mouth again, sliding into it to caress her tongue, licking and dancing together.
Louisa’s head was spinning, her blood cascading from her body to between her legs, instinctively preparing for the man who was currently kissing her senseless. She moaned as he stroked her tongue with his, the action sending tingles down her spine. His beard scraped her chin with the deep kiss, the prickly hair sending sensations swirling from her mouth and down her neck. Her body recognized the hard discomfort of the cask at her back, but all of her attention was focused on the man at her front.
Her nipples were painfully tight, her breasts aching for attention. As if he could read her mind, his hand left her hair and tugged down her bodice and he palmed one of her breasts when they sprang free. Pleasure made her head tilt back, breaking the kiss. Her breath came in gasps as he molded and kneaded the round flesh, his coarse skin causing slight abrasions and increasing her delight. It had been over two years since her last affair and she had not realized how much she had missed the feeling of a man’s hand on her.
He kissed his way to her neck, his back hunching over and forcing a separation from hers. She did not appreciate that and grasped his head to bring it back up. She claimed his mouth, invading it, and tangled their tongues together again. Her hands fell down to her skirts and pulled them up to her waist, freeing her legs to properly wrap around his waist.
John was beyond thinking. All he knew was the tantalizing woman in his arms was opening up to him and he needed no encouragement to take what she was offering. He stepped in between her legs, grinding his granite-hard cockstand against her. Being this close to her intoxicated him. He reached down to her knee and followed her leg up underneath her skirts and cupped her mound, feeling her wet heat throb from under her unmentionables. A growl of frustration rose up in him. He wanted—he needed to be closer to her. He gripped the material separating his fingers from her core and pulled, the sound of tearing material reaching his triumphant ears.
He stroked her as he thrust his tongue into her mouth, mimicking the action he knew was only moments away. His blood pounded through him, each throb making his erection harder and more desperate to settle into her heat. Her wet arousal coated his fingers, allowing them to slide along her outer lips before he pushed one into her.
She gasped against his kiss, her arms gripping his shoulder and her legs tightening around his waist. As he moved his finger in and out, she ground her hips against his hand, unable to keep herself from moving. He pushed a second finger into her and rubbed her clit with his thumb, feeling her inner muscles tighten around his fingers. He had not been mistaken—this woman was a firecracker in his arms.
She broke the kiss and sank her teeth into his shoulder, small moans and gasps heating his skin and shirt. Louisa was overcome with a desperation to have him inside her, filling her completely. She reached down and her fingers frantically worked at the buttons of his falls. When they were done, she freed his cock and whispered the hot command.
Without delay, his fingers left her and his hands gripped her hips, holding her in place. He pressed closer to her, the head of his penis nudging at her entrance. Deeply kissing her, he thrust inside. Yea gods. Seven years and how many weeks of this woman teasing him and he was finally inside her, her smooth muscles encasing him, her wetness welcoming him in.
His mind emptied of everything, his entire being focused on where the silky heat surrounded him. He couldn’t hold back. One hand grasped the cask above her head to give himself more leverage as he thrust, feeling his cock slide in and out with long-denied lust and vigor. Her nails bit through the linen of his shirt and into the skin of his back and once more she was biting his shoulder, the soft keening escaping her spurring him on. He grunted with each thrust, pushing harder and harder into her, wanting to fill her as much as he possibly could. Her ankles were locked around his waist, keeping him close and digging a heel into the small of his back. Her muscles squeezed him tight each time he pulled out as though trying to keep him inside. The sound of him sliding against her juices filled the room, accompanying the dull thud of their clothing crashing together.
A small part of him registered how her grip around him tightened and her shudder as she gasped out her release, her inner muscles contracting around him. He followed her scant seconds later, his seed flooding into her. His climax rushed through him, forcing out grunts from deep inside him, and he slowed his thrusts, bringing their coupling to an end.
Faint laughter and conversation floated down the corridor and snuck into the room, becoming more audible as their breathing and hearts slowed. John pressed his forehead to hers as he caught his breath, dropping soft, slow kisses on her lips and cheeks.
Her grip on him relaxed. Legs releasing his waist, she gently nudged his chest. He had no choice but to step away, his cock sliding out of her. John gave her a quizzical look, but she adjusted her dress and retrieved her hairpins from the floor without looking at him. Following her lead reluctantly, he tucked himself back into his falls and picked up his kerchief, long having fallen to the floor. Without asking her permission, he moved back to her and lifted her skirts.
“Stop—” she exclaimed with surprise and tried to push his hands away.
He pressed the kerchief to her core, cleaning up their lovemaking. “Allow me this,” he said. “I would not have you uncomfortable or embarrassed.”
Louisa stood awkwardly, her legs pushed slightly apart as he tended to her, her hands hidden in her raised skirts. She didn’t know what to do or where to look, so she directed her gaze to the row of casks beside her. Somehow having him clean her up was more intimate than what they had just done. The material was soft against her sore flesh and the way he pushed against it was soothing.
When he was finished, he stuffed his kerchief into a pocket and tucked some of her hair behind her ear. At that, she brushed around him and left the cask room, hurrying back toward the office. She pushed through the growing crowd of the pub and into the kitchen, distractedly noting how smoothly things were running. Timothy was still peeling potatoes, Alan now helping him, telling her that it had not been all that long since she had last been in here.
“Did you find ’im, Mrs. Brock?”
She pulled up short at the sound of her name and blinked at Maisie. “I beg your pardon?”
The cook scooped stew into two bowls and placed them on a tray already laden with buns. Rose, one of the serving maids, took the tray out into the pub. “Mr. Taylor. Did you find ’im?”
“Oh. Yes. I did.” She continued to the office and closed the door, shutting out the kitchen and noise. Rubbing her forehead, she leaned against the door and the reality of what had just transpired hit her.
Well, that was unexpected.