Soulless (Parasol Protectorate #1)


Alexia trailed off, for Lord Maccon had stood up from the tiny couch, which creaked at the loss, and advanced purposefully toward her. He certainly was good at looming. Alexia was not used to feeling so small.

“That,” the earl muttered gruffly, “was not the reason.”

“Perhaps,” Miss Tarabotti offered, hands up before her in a defensive position, “you thought better of it because you realized how ignoble it would be: the Earl of Woolsey and a twenty-six-year-old spinster?”

“Is that your real age?” he murmured, seemingly uninterested and still coming toward her. He moved in a hungry, stalking way, and under the brown of his expertly cut jacket, solid muscle shifted, all coiled energy directed at her.

Miss Tarabotti backed away and came up short against a large wingback armchair. “My father was an Italian; did you remember that all of a sudden?”

Lord Maccon moved closer, slowly, ready to pounce if she decided to bolt. His eyes were almost completely yellow now, with a ring of orange about the edge. Alexia had never noticed before how black and thick his eyelashes were.

He said, “And I hail from Scotland. Which origin is worse in the eyes of London society, do you think?”

Alexia touched her nose and considered the dark tenor of her skin. “I have… other… flaws. Perhaps time spent thinking over the matter made these more apparent?”

Lord Maccon reached forward and gently pulled her hand away from her face. Carefully he brought it down toward her other hand and then trapped both together in one big paw.

Miss Tarabotti blinked at him from a scarce few inches away. She hardly dared breathe, not quite certain if he was actually going to eat her or not. She tried to look away, but it was nigh impossible. His eyes had turned back to tawny brown as soon as he touched her—his human eyes. But instead of being a relief, this color was more frightening because no threat masked the hunger there.

“Uh, my lord, I am not actually food. You do realize this, yes?”

Lord Maccon bent forward.

Alexia watched him until she went almost cross-eyed. This close, she could smell open fields and dark cold nights all about him.

Oh no, she thought, it is happening again.

Lord Maccon kissed the very tip of her nose. Nothing more.

Startled, she shied back, then opened her generous mouth, a bit like a fish. “Wha?”

He drew her back in toward him.

His voice was low and warm against her cheek. “Your age is not an issue. What does it matter to me how old or how much a spinster you may be? Do you have any idea how old I am, and how long a bachelor?” He kissed her temple. “And I love Italy. Beautiful countryside, fabulous food.” He kissed her other temple. “And I find perfect beauty excessively boring, don't you?” He kissed her nose again.

Alexia could not help herself; she drew back and gave him the once-over. “Clearly.”

He winced. “Touche.”

Alexia was not one to let the matter drop. “Then why?”

Lord Maccon groveled. “Because I am a foolish old wolf who has been too long in the company of the pack and too little in the company of the rest of the world.”

It was not an explanation, but Alexia decided she would have to settle for it. “That was an apology, was it?” she asked, just to make perfectly certain.

It seemed to have taken almost everything out of him. Instead of answering her in the affirmative, he stroked her face with his free hand, as though she were an animal that needed soothing. Alexia wondered what he thought of her as—a cat perhaps? Cats were not, in her experience, an animal with much soul. Prosaic, practical little creatures as a general rule. It would suit her very well to be thought catlike.

“Full moon,” said Lord Maccon, as though this were some kind of clarification, “is just round the corner.” A pause. “You understand?”

Miss Tarabotti had no idea what he was on about. “Uh…”

His voice dropped, low, almost ashamed. “Not much control.”

Miss Tarabotti widened her dark brown eyes and batted her eyelashes to try and hide her perplexed expression. It was an Ivy maneuver.

Then he did kiss her properly and fully. Which was not exactly what she had intended by applying eyelash flapping, but she was not about to complain at the consequences. Ivy might be onto something.

As before, he started slowly, lulling her with soft drugging kisses. His mouth was unexpectedly cool. He ran a path of little fluttering nibbles over her lower lip and then applied the same treatment to her upper one. It was delightful but maddening. The tongue phenomenon occurred once again. This time, Alexia did not find it quite so startling. In fact, she thought she might even like it. But, like caviar, she suspected she'd have to try it more than once to be confident in her enjoyment. Lord Maccon seemed willing to oblige. He also appeared to be staying quite maddeningly calm and cool. Alexia was beginning to find the cluttered front parlor overly oppressive. This polarity annoyed her.

Lord Maccon stopped nibbling and went back to long soft kisses. Alexia, never one for patience, was now finding them entirely unsatisfying. A whole new source of annoyance. Clearly, she would have to take matters into her own hands—or tongue, as the case may be. Experimentally, she darted her tongue against his lips. That got a whole new agreeable reaction out of the man. He deepened the kiss, almost roughly, angling his mouth over hers.

Lord Maccon shifted, drawing her closer. He let go of her hands and curved one of his up into her hair, tangling his fingers in the heavy curls. Alexia was certain, with a tiny modicum of offended sensibility, that he was probably mussing it up most dreadfully. He was using the maneuver to direct the angle of her head in harmony with his wishes. As his wishes appeared to prescribe further kissing. Alexia decided to let him have his way.

He began running his other hand up and down her back in long strokes. Definitely a cat, thought Alexia groggily. Her mind was becoming hazy. Those bizarre, sunshiny tingles that proximity to Lord Maccon seemed inevitably to produce were coursing through her body with alarming intensity.

The earl turned them both about where they stood. Alexia was not certain why, but she was inclined to cooperate so long as he did not stop kissing her. He did not. He arranged it so that he could sink slowly down onto the wingback armchair, taking her with him.

It was a most indelicate thing, but there Miss Alexia Tarabotti inexplicably found herself, bustle hiked up and all her layers of skirts askew, sitting in Lord Maccon's well-tailored lap.

He moved away from her lips, which was disappointing, but then began nibbling her neck, which was gratifying. He lifted one dark curl away from where the carefully arranged locks fell over one shoulder. He ran the strand between his fingertips and then pushed the silken mass aside.

Alexia tensed in anticipation, holding her breath.

Suddenly he stopped and jerked back. The wingback chair, already taxed by two occupants—neither of whom could be described as flimsy in physique—swayed alarmingly. “What the hell is that?” yelled Lord Maccon.

He had turned to anger so swiftly; Alexia could only stare at him, speechless.

She let out her pent-up breath in a whoosh. Her heart was beating a marathon somewhere in the region of her throat, her skin felt hot and stretched taut over her bones, and she was damp in places she was tolerably certain unmarried gentlewomen were not supposed to be damp in.

Lord Maccon was glaring at her coffee-colored skin, discolored between the neck and shoulder region by an ugly purple mark, the size and shape of a man's teeth.

Alexia blinked, and her brown eyes cleared of their dazed expression. A small crease of perturbation appeared between her brows.

“That is a bite mark, my lord,” she said, pleased her voice was not shaking, though it was a little deeper than usual.

Lord Maccon was ever more enraged. “Who bit you?” he roared.

Alexia tilted her head to one side in utter amazement. “You did.” She was then treated to the glorious spectacle of an Alpha werewolf looking downright hangdog.

“I did?”

She raised both eyebrows at him.

“I did.”

She nodded, firmly, once.

Lord Maccon ran a distracted hand through his already messy hair. The dark brown strands stood up in small tufts. “Dog's bollocks,” he said. “I am worse than a pup in his first season. I am sorry, Alexia. It is the moon and the lack of sleep.”

Alexia nodded, wondering if she should point out that he had forgotten proper etiquette and used her first name. However, that seemed a little silly given their recent activities. “Yes, I see. Uh. What is?”

“This control.”

She figured at some stage in the proceedings she might understand what was going on, but now did not seem to be that time. “What control?”


Miss Tarabotti narrowed her eyes and then said something very daring. “You could kiss the bruise and make it better.” Well, perhaps not quite so daring for someone who was settled as intimately as she on Lord Maccon's lap. After all, she had read enough of her papa's books to know exactly what it was that pressed hard and flush against her nether regions.

Lord Maccon shook his head. “I do not think that is a very good idea.”

“You do not?” Embarrassed by her own forwardness, Alexia squirmed against him, trying to extricate herself.

The earl swore and closed his eyes. There was a sheen of sweat on his brow.

Tentatively, Alexia squirmed again.

Lord Maccon groaned and leaned his head against her collarbone, clamping both hands about her hips to still the movement.

Alexia was scientifically intrigued. Had he gotten even larger down there? What was the maximum possible expansion ratio? she wondered. She grinned a tad maliciously. It had not occurred to her that she might have some sort of influence over the encounter. She decided then and there that, being a confirmed spinster and averse to allowing Mr. MacDougall his druthers, this might be her only chance to test some long-held and rather interesting theories.

“Lord Maccon,” she whispered, squirming again despite his firm grip.

He snorted and said in a strangled voice, “I suspect you could get away with calling me by my given name at this juncture.”

“Um?” said Alexia.

“Um, Conall,” prompted Lord Maccon.

“Conall,” she said, relinquishing the last hold on her scruples—once the egg was broken, might as well make an omelet with it. Then she got distracted by the feel of his back muscles under her hands. Hands that had run afoul of his coat and unceremoniously managed to strip it off him without her knowledge.

“Aye, Alexia?” He looked up at her. Was that fear in his caramel eyes?

“I am going to take advantage of you,” she said, and without giving him a chance to reply, she began untying his cravat.


Revelations Over Chopped Liver

Uh, probably not a good idea.” Lord Maccon was panting a little.

“Hush, none of that, now,” Miss Tarabotti admonished. “You started this.”

“And it would be a devilish bad lot for all concerned were I to finish it,” he said. “Or for you to finish it, for that matter.” But he made no attempt to remove her from his lap. Instead, he seemed fascinated by the low neckline of her dress, which had sunk considerably during their exertions. One big hand was now tracing the lace frill tucked there, back and forth. Alexia wondered if he had a particular interest in ladies' fashions.

She dispensed with Lord Maccon's cravat, undid the buttons of his waistcoat and then those of his shirtwaist. “You are wearing entirely too much clothing,” she complained.

Lord Maccon, who ordinarily could not agree more, was rather appreciative of it at the moment. Any additional time it took for her to undo buttons might give him back a modicum of restraint. He was sure his control was around somewhere, if he could simply find it. He tore his eyes away from the tops of those remarkable breasts of hers and tried to think unpleasant thoughts of particularly horrible things, like overcooked vegetables and cut-rate wine.

Alexia succeeded in her aim: peeling back Lord Maccon's clothing to expose his upper chest, shoulders, and neck. She had stopped kissing him for the moment. The earl considered that a godsend. He breathed a sigh of relief and looked up at her. Her expression seemed more one of avid curiosity than anything else.

Then Alexia bent forward and nibbled at his ear.

Lord Maccon writhed and let out an animal-in-pain sort of whimper. Alexia considered her experiment an unqualified success. Apparently what was good for the goose was, indeed, good for the gander.

She investigated further: moving along with little kisses down his throat and over his collarbone until she came to the same location on his neck that on hers was currently a decorative black and blue color. She bit him. Hard. Alexia never did anything by halves.