Deliciously Wicked Excerpt

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Chapter One

Piddington Confectionary, outside of London, 1892

Meg Piddington tried the heavy door one more time, to no avail. “It’s locked.” She leaned against the barrier and eyed her fellow captive.

“I told you that already,” he said, the slight hint of an Irish brogue tickled at her ears. He leaned against a table stacked with small boxes.

“Well, how are we to open it?” she asked.

“I’m thinking.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “If you would but keep your mouth shut, I might think of something useful.”

She shot him an exasperated look, which he didn’t even notice.

Shut her mouth, indeed.

She took the opportunity of silence to study him as he propelled himself away from the table and began to move about the room. Gareth Mandeville had been in her father’s employ for only a handful of weeks. And he’d only been in London a few weeks longer than that, or so she’d been told. At the moment he crouched and leaned and moved things about, presumably trying to locate a way out of the locked store room.

Tall and undeniably handsome, Meg had noticed him the moment she’d seen him in her father’s confectionary. Something about him looked as if he’d feel more comfortable in a ballroom than a factory. The way he carried himself or perhaps it was the refinement of his well sculpted features.

Light from an oil lamp flickered across his face as he turned to examine a shelf. He had the sort of eyes that could see into a person – into the tiny, hidden places that housed dreams. Thickly lashed and intense, she’d never stood so close as to determine the exact shade of his, but she pegged them for an intoxicating brown.

He turned and examined another stack of boxes. No matter what time of day she’d seen him, he always had a shadow of stubble outlining his mouth and along his chin. She knew it would feel devilishly prickly to touch it. His mouth, even though set in a frown, was enticing. Full-lipped and perfectly crafted, it was nearly mesmerizing to look at.

Oh, good heavens, she was becoming quite the dramatic.

“How the bloody hell did you get locked up in here with me in the first place?” he muttered.

Attractive, but surly. Some women might find that mixture appealing, but Meg suspected that after a while it would begin to lose its affect. She frowned at him. “What is that supposed to mean?” she asked.

His glance trailed across her, taking his sweet time as his eyes slid down her body. She shivered in response.

“It means, what are you doing here?” he asked. “It’s well past dark. What are you doing out at night all alone? Do you not require a chaperone or something?”

She thought she detected a slight smile. He was baiting her. “I do not need a keeper, if that is what you’re implying. I can very well take care of myself, thank you very much.” Perhaps he didn’t know who she was. “My father owns this factory; I have every right to be here.”

“I know who you are.”

Then again, perhaps he did. “Well, what are you doing here this time of night?” she planted her feet and crossed her arms over her chest. She wasn’t certain, but she believed that it wasn’t customary for employees to be here after hours.

He shrugged. “I was working late,” he said, then turned away from her to examine a tower of boxes stacked on the floor.

Evidently she was wrong. Not only did she not know if it was legitimate for employees to work late, she still hadn’t figured out all the different rooms. This part of the factory housed the main divisions; her father’s office overlooked the grinding and mixing floor. There was still much to learn.

A voice inside her insisted that she should probably be alarmed. It was late. Not the middle of the night, but still past dark and she was alone in a factory with a strange man. Well, not precisely strange in the odd or peculiar sense, but more so in the never spoken to him until today sense. For all she knew, Gareth was a ravager of innocents. She barely suppressed a shiver.

Then she sighed with resignation. No, her father would never have sent her out if he believed she might be in danger, she reminded herself. She was being silly and allowing her imagination to wander to one of the many adventure stories she’d read in the past. Where ladies wound up in all sorts of trouble.

Since her Papa had broken his leg, he’d had to do business from Piddington Hall. Tonight he’d sent her to the factory to retrieve last quarter’s ledger book for a meeting with his Factory Director the following morning. But before she’d made it into her father’s office, she’d heard a noise and came in to investigate. Then the door had shut behind her. And locked.

She’d found the source of the noise. It was Gareth digging through his locker. And here they were, a half an hour later locked in with no discernable route of escape. She surveyed the room. Lockers neatly lined ones side of the room. These were used by the employees to store any belongings they brought with them to work, as the men were using this store room until their dressing room was completed. The other side of the room housed supplies: shelves and tables piled with smaller boxes, and larger boxes stacked into towers on the floor.

She walked closer to him and peeked over his shoulder to better view what he was examining.

“What did you find?” she asked without moving away from him.

He straightened, causing his back to brush against her arm. Stepping away, he turned to face her. “Boxes,” he said flatly.

“I can see that.” She frowned. “You’re not terribly friendly, are you?”

A slight grin slid onto his face. “No, I don’t suppose I am.”

He was peevish, rude and uncivilized. There was simply no reason for him to be irritated with her. It was not her fault they were locked in here together. Meg knew that the life of factory workers was rough. It was why her father’s employees were so loyal and why everyone in London wanted to work for him. They were treated kindly, paid well and even provided with affordable living quarters on the factory’s grounds. The factory was outside of London, where the air was cleaner. Purer air resulted in more refined cocoa. Fewer health complaints from the employees as well. But perhaps Gareth’s past employment had not been so pleasant. Perhaps that was why he was so surly.

Because it couldn’t possibly have anything to do with her. She’d always gotten on well with everyone. There was no discernable reason why this man should be any different. She didn’t like to consider that she might not be quite so put out by his poor humor if he wasn’t quite so handsome.

Still, she desperately wanted to see if she could make him smile or even laugh. Even those with poorly developed humor laughed on occasion. And she wanted to get close enough so she could decipher the precise shade of his eyes. Shameful as it was to admit, she wanted to brush her lips against his just to see if they would be as soft as they looked.

Gracious, what was the matter with her? She’d never been accused of being level-headed, quite the contrary, most thought her impulsive, but she’d never wanted to kiss a man she scarcely knew.

Hoping to distract herself from the temptation, she opened her mouth to ask him a question, but he held up his hand.

“Now is not the time for idle chit-chat. We need to find a way out of here. We cannot stay in here locked together all night long. So, if you’re not going to help, find somewhere to sit. And be quiet.” He waved his hand in front of him. “You rattle my concentration with all of that chatter.”

She stood back for a moment and watched him return to his investigation of the boxes. “I don’t believe you’re going to find anything useful back there.” She resisted the urge to mock his irritated tone.

He pinched the bridge of his nose. “I suppose you’re going to tell me that you’ve grown up in this factory and you know where everything is.”

“Actually no, we only moved to this location last year.” If they were keeping score in this verbal battle they were engaged in, that would have earned her a point. “What precisely are you looking for beneath those boxes? A trapped door? Because I don’t think you’ll find one.” There, she was being helpful. Two more points.

“It’s not the floor I’m trying to get to. It’s the opposite wall. There could be a door.”

He had her there. Perhaps there was a door. She actually hadn’t been in this particular store room very often. And every time she’d been in here, that side of the room had been laden with boxes. You could scarcely see the opposite wall. Either shelves or boxes climbed all the way up to the ceiling. For all she knew there was a circus hiding behind all the supplies.

Gareth did not wait for any additional commentary from her. He turned back to the boxes and began shifting some of them aside.

He made it impossible for her to be even remotely flirtatious, not that she was giving it great effort. Nor should that have been her goal for this evening. Nonetheless, he had not looked at her long enough for her to offer him a coy glance beneath her lashes. No, he simply took all the fun out of the situation with his surly mood. She nudged a box with her toe. “What is in all of these?” she asked.

He looked behind him to the one she’d just moved. “Boxes,” he muttered.

She frowned. “Pardon?”

“That group there beside you are all filled with decorative chocolate boxes. Those were a special order.”

“Oh yes, Lady Glenworthy’s order.”

He raised his eyebrows.

“I keep abreast of the goings-on at the factory. But why are they in this store room?” One more point, she might be winning this imaginary competition.

“I don’t know. Best I can tell, they’re using this room for a little of everything right now.”

“The rest of the enlargement should be completed soon,” she said. She peeked into it to see the decorative chocolate boxes. “Such a lovely idea. Don’t you agree?”

He ignored her.

He was trying her hospitality. He went beyond simply not being friendly. He was completely insufferable, if she were honest.

Perhaps no one had ever told him. “You are an insufferable man,” she said. There she’d done her duty and notified him.

But rather than turn to her and apologize, he kept his back to her and chuckled.

That was not how she’d intended to make him laugh. “I was not being funny,” she said.

“Yes, you were.” He turned to face her then. Walking towards her, he wiped his hands on his pants leg, drawing her attention to his long legs. “Has anyone ever told you that you talk too much?”

She swallowed. “Of course not.”

“Well, then no one has been honest with you. You talk entirely too much.” He inched closer still. “So much so that someone ought to bind your mouth simply to give the world some peace and quiet for a few hours a day.”

Boldly, she took a step towards him and pointed one dainty finger in his direction. “That was rather boorish of you. No one has ever told me that because everyone finds me, and what I have to say, pleasant and interesting. What gives you the right to stand there and accuse me…” She felt herself sputtering for words. “Can you not be kind?”

“Madam, so far this evening you have called me unfriendly, insufferable and boorish and you want to question my kindness? I’m trying my damnedest to get us out of here so that you might lay your pretty head on a nice pillow tonight. But I find that I simply cannot concentrate while you are talking. All I want is some peace and quiet. Peace and quiet,” he repeated with a flash of resignation. Then he closed the distance between them and grabbed her by the shoulders. Without another word, he leaned in and kissed her.

She’d been forming a saucy retort, but the thoughts flew out of Meg’s head as Gareth’s soft lips slanted across hers. His kiss, unlike his words, was gentle and teasing. His tongue made no great assault of her mouth, but rather coaxed her lips and teeth. And then, as abruptly as the kiss began, it ended.

She stood there staring at him, not completely certain if when he released her she would slide to the floor. He stepped away from her and went back to moving the boxes. Luckily the kiss hadn’t affected her balance as much as she anticipated, because she was still standing.

With one kiss he’d won their little competition, because there was nothing she could do to recover from that. But how could he walk away, and say nothing of the kiss? Continue working as if nothing at all had occurred. As if their lips had not created sparks and tiny explosions within his flesh as they had her own.

She frowned. Of all the audacious things to do. She marched over to him and prepared to tell him precisely how she felt. If she had been unkind it was most definitely his fault. He seemed to spur her to unkindness.

“There. This is it,” he declared.

She swallowed her words. “What is it?” she asked.

“A window. Up there.” He pointed to a spot above one pile of boxes.

She peered up and did, in fact, spot the window. But it was terribly small. “It’s tiny.”

He nodded. “True.”

“Well, what good will it do us?”

He leveled his gaze on her. “You are going to have to climb through that window and walk around to the door and let me out.”

She eyed the window a second time. He was delusional. “How do you suppose I do that? The window is far too narrow.”

“No, it is big enough for you to fit through. With a few adjustments.” He looked from her to the window. “Take off your dress,” he said simply.

She felt her eyes go round and her cheeks warm. “Are you mad? I cannot take off my dress.”

“It’s either that, or we’re locked in here all night. I am too large to fit through that window, else I’d crawl up there myself. But you are the perfect size.” He motioned to her. “Without all that fluff attached to you. I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry.”

Her stomach betrayed her and growled in agreement. He smirked. He was right; they could not stay in here all evening. But it was immensely annoying that he was right.

Meg didn’t know if she were angrier because he wanted her to save them or because he hadn’t acknowledged their kiss. It was ridiculous. And now he wanted her to remove her dress. Not so that he might ravish her, she couldn’t help but notice, but so he could be relieved of her company. Clearly she did not actually wish to be ravished.

The window was far too narrow for the breadth of her dress with her puffed sleeves and bustle. She could clearly see that. And she could also see that without the excess material, she would be able to squeeze through. If they were to escape before morning, she would need to climb out of the window. Only one problem. She could not get out of the dress on her own. The buttons went from her neck to her waist. Earlier today, it had taken her maid a good five minutes to button them. She’d have to be some sort of contortionist to reach them all. Narrowing her eyes at him, she asked, “Can you behave as a gentleman would?”

“That all depends.”

“Either you be a gentleman and assist me, or we shall stay in here all night. I’m certain I can make myself quite comfortable.” A complete fabrication. In an hour or less, she’d be longing for her bed.

“What do you need help with?” he asked.

“I cannot get out of my dress without assistance.” She turned her back to him, but looked over her shoulder to see him. “Too many buttons. You’ll need to unbutton them quickly, then turn the other way.”

He took a step towards her and smiled.

The white of his teeth looked even more so against his tanned skin. Warnings should have sounded in her head. When a man looked at a woman in such a manner, the woman should be concerned for the security of her virtue. But Meg felt no concern, only curiosity and perhaps a tad of hopefulness as to whether or not he would kiss her again.

Her body reacted to the memory of his lips. She swallowed.

“I’ve never had a lady ask me to undress her quickly,” he said.

She put her hand to her throat. “Well, this isn’t that sort of request.” Her voice was weak.

He chuckled.

The sound caressed her ears and she found herself eager to hear it again regardless of the current situation.

She closed her eyes because, while she might have enjoyed the stolen kiss, and might fancy a harmless threat to her virtue, she wasn’t actually prepared for him to steal anything else. She felt his warm breath behind her, and shivers scattered across her body. While she did not feel his fingers, she knew he was working the buttons as her dress was loosening.

Gracious. She felt her face flame. She’d never before had anyone, save her maid, undress her. It was intensely intimate and she didn’t know what to feel or think about the matter. She suspected she should be horrified, but she knew that was not the feeling coursing through her at the moment.

“There,” he said. He stepped away from her. Without his body standing that close to her, she could now feel a slight breeze brush over her neck and across her back.

She faced him, then twirled her finger around to tell him to turn away, but he did not catch her hint. “Do you mind?”

He crossed his arms over his chest and smiled. “Not at all. I might fancy a show, actually.”

Her face burned. She’d heard of such shows and she certainly would not perform one now. “That’s not what I meant,” she said hotly. “Please avert your eyes.”

He turned away from her, but clearly found the situation far more amusing than was necessary.

“I’ll have you know that I do not find any humor in this situation.”

He angled to look at her from over his shoulder. “Duly noted.”

She quickly slipped the dress from her shoulders and then held it up in front of her to block his view. “I’m finished,” she said.

He turned, then cleared his throat. He stood a moment longer simply watching her before closing the distance between them. Perhaps he would kiss her again. She should move away from him. Instead of a second kiss, Gareth reached over and snatched the dress from her hands. “To ensure you come back and let me out.”

She swallowed a scream. No need to be overly dramatic. Standing in front of him in nothing more than her combination garment and petticoat, it was enough to cover her body in the heat of a blush. More than likely it already had, but she dared not look down to see if pink shaded her skin. Meg took a deep breath and tried to relax. Aside from the lack of sleeves and the fabric difference, it was not too different from a swimming costume. He could not see all that much flesh. She was a grown woman; she could take this situation in stride. To prove that to him, and to herself, she tilted her chin up a notch, then walked over to stand beneath the window.

“Shall I fly up to that window, or are you going to give me a boost?” She gave him a mocking smile.

He dropped her dress on a table, then came to stand behind her. Without a word, he wrapped his hands around her waist and hoisted her up. She grabbed onto the window sill, then with a great amount of effort popped the window open. He moved his hands to her bottom and gave her a shove enabling her to climb through. She scarcily had time to feel embarrassed by the touch, as the encounter had been so brief, she had not even been able to tell if his fingers were warm.

From the window, she jumped into a bush, tearing her petticoat and scraping her arm and face. Brilliant. When she finally made it home tonight, everyone would assume she’d been assaulted.

She took a quick look around the grounds to ensure no one was around, then made her way back into the factory and opened up the storage room door.

Gareth strolled out and dropped her dress at her feet. He gave her a once over and then walked off.

“Where is my thank you?” she called out to his back.

But he didn’t stop walking.

She grabbed her dress, then rushed to meet him. “Very well,” she said loudly. “I’m certain, I’ll make it home alone, in the dark, completely unharmed.”

He stopped and his shoulders sagged. He turned slowly. “Don’t you live right over there?” He pointed to the manor up on the hill.

“Yes.”

He walked back to her. “Let us be off then. I have delayed my supper so long now, I’ll skip it for sleep.” He passed her and started for the slope that led up to Piddington Hall.

She quickly locked the factory door, then tossed her dress over her head leaving the fabric to gape open. It took considerable effort on her part to match his pace as she had significantly shorter legs. At this rate, she’d be panting like a horse before they crested the hill.

“Could you slow down a little,” she asked.

Surprisingly enough, he did.

“Tell me, Miss Piddington, are you always this much trouble?”

She smiled. “Yes, I believe I am.”

They spent the remainder of the walk in silence. The occasional hoot of an owl and their shoes treading upon the grass were the only sounds. Then the noise changed to crunching rocks as they stepped onto the driveway.

“In the future,” he said. “If you continue to go out at night, and you find yourself in questionable situations, you might want to consider a chaperone.” And with that he left her on the stairs to her house and headed towards the employee boarding rooms.

The man was an absolute cad.

Copyright © 2007. Robyn DeHart. All Rights Reserved.


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