Countess Meredith du Chevalier, a widow with a reputation for being sexually adventurous, is intrigued when she is approached by a gentleman who wishes her to "make a man" of his son. Sensing a passionate man beneath Christopher Whitby's reserved exterior, Meredith takes on the challenge, inviting the botanist to her country home to revitalize her abandoned greenhouse.
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May 05, 2008
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Excerpt from The Countess Takes a Lover by Bonnie Dee
The lecture on South American plants was long and full of even longer Latin words. Meredith suppressed a yawn as the lecturer droned on. The colorful illustrations his assistant placed on the tripod broke the monotony a little, but she found herself trying to count how many of them were still to be displayed. If each picture prompted a five minute explanation, then it looked like there may be as many as forty-five minutes left in this lecture. If there was some kind of concluding speech, they could easily be here another hour.
She glanced at her companion, Christopher Whitby, and smiled at the avid expression on his face, his gleaming blue eyes and slightly parted lips. He was as entranced with the lecture as she was bored. While he had shown her his garden and talked about the plants, she'd found his enthusiasm about his chosen field of study endearing. His informal air and self-effacing presence was charming, and his features were handsome in an understated way.
His hair was tousled, but not in the styled way that society rakes arranged their curls. Christopher's was naturally messy. Sandy brown locks fell over his forehead, and she longed to ruffle her hand through his hair. A sweet ache and a hot flash of lust swelled simultaneously in her breast.
The man appeared more boyish than his years, but in the hard planes of his face and the set of his jaw, Meredith detected the strong-willed man he had the capability of being. In the few hours since she'd met him, Christopher's eyes had often appeared unfocused and dreamy as if he were somewhere other than sitting at a tea table engaged in stilted conversation. Yet when he'd talked directly to her in the garden, he'd been engaged and focused. Power and energy flowed from his piercing eyes and vibrated from his body. She had no doubt this passion channeled into lovemaking would be formidable.
It had been easy to engineer an invitation to accompany him to the presentation at the Royal Botanical Gardens and, honestly, she was quite intrigued by the prospect. She'd envisioned walking in the fragrant, tropical warmth of exotic climates protected by the glass bubble. She hadn't counted on the lecture being so very long and dull. But, she'd already decided to take on Lord Whitby's proposition, and the first step to gaining her new lover was to show an interest in what fascinated him.
Meredith didn't generally believe in operating on pretense. She'd given that up after her husband's death, when his money had freed her from society's constraints and she'd finally begun living life by her own rules. She no longer had to feign interest in every little thing a man said or did. That wasn't necessary in order to gain what she wanted from them. But she did try to at least understand the passions that made them tick, whether they were hunting, gaming, business, politics or books. She'd learned a little about all things considered masculine and could readily converse on any subject of interest to her paramours.
"Have you heard enough?" A low whisper and faint brush of warm breath against her cheek roused Meredith from her reverie.
She glanced at her escort. He leaned toward her, his face mere inches away, brow furrowed and blue eyes peering into hers. She had a sudden impulse to lean in and kiss him, to replace his look of anxious concern with one of shock and desire.
"I wouldn't mind a stroll," she murmured.
Christopher rose from his seat, took her hand and helped her to her feet. Together they made their way down the nearly empty row of seats to the door of the lecture hall.
The conservatories were nearly empty so late in the evening and lit by flickering gaslights casting strange, leaf-shaped shadows that eerily shifted and moved. As they passed from the arid climate of the desert room to the damp humidity of the tropical garden, it was like entering an alien, green world from which a jungle beast might suddenly leap. The humid air was dense and redolent of earth and growing things.
Meredith's kid shoes crunched on the white gravel path and her dress clung to her perspiring skin. She would've liked to strip it off and wander through the palm fronds and ferns in a diaphanous gauze gown like some preternatural dryad. "I can see why you love them," she said to Christopher, who strode silently by her side. "The plants, I mean. It's so peaceful here." She spoke in a reverent hush as though in a church.
"Nature truly gives one a glimpse into the mystery of the universe. To the untrained eye, plants might appear to be just a lot of green leaves and pretty flowers, but the structure of each is unique. Each has adapted in miraculous ways to survive in its environment." He stopped and rested a hand on the bark of a towering tree, the canopy of which brushed the fogged glass high overhead.
"They're like people in that regard," Meredith said, moving in close beside him. "Each of us has to adapt to our world in various ways, don't we?"
When he turned to look at her, she was right there. She tilted her head back and offered him an invitation with her eyes, curious as to whether he would accept it. His tongue swept over his lips, but he remained poised, inches away, with his gaze trained on her mouth.
This was early in the game to make a bold move. She didn't want to frighten her quarry away, but that ripe lower lip was too inviting to ignore. She raised her hand and cupped the side of his face, tracing her thumb over his mouth. "Shall we take a small detour from the path?"
His eyes were wide and shining, his breathing uneven and shallow. Silently, he nodded.
The countess took her hand from his face and grasped his warm palm in hers. "Come, then." They walked from the main path toward a bench secluded in a grove of trees and screened by some kind of flowering vine.
He gripped her hand and followed her like an obedient child. But he wasn't a child, and his first lesson in becoming a man would begin this evening.