Soulless (Parasol Protectorate #1)


She scrunched up her forehead, trying to find the right words. “Well, should we not be abed for this kind of sport? Plus, they are scheduled to return at any moment.”

“They? Who?” He was clearly falling behind the conversation.

“The scientists.”

Lord Maccon gave a strangled laugh. “Aye, yes. And we wouldn't want them to learn too much about interspecies relations, now, would we?” He reached down with a free hand and pulled hers away from its questing.

Miss Tarabotti was faintly disappointed. Until he raised it to his lips and kissed it. “I do not mean to rush into these things. Alexia. You are inexplicably tempting.”

She nodded, bumping his head slightly. “The feeling is mutual, my lord. Not to mention unexpected.”

He seemed to take that as encouragement and rolled so that she was beneath him, and he loomed above her. He was now lying between her legs, component parts flush against hers.

Alexia squeaked at the sudden shift in positions. She was not certain whether she should be grateful or upset that women's fashion demanded so many copious layers of fabric, as this was now all that prevented more intimate contact and, she was pretty certain, sexual congress.

“Lord Maccon…,” she said in her best, most severe, spinster voice.

“Conall,” he interrupted. He leaned back, and his hands began journeying over her chest.

“Conall! Now is not the time!”

He ignored her and asked, “How do I undo this blasted dress?”

Alexia's ivory taffeta gown was held together by a row of tiny mother-of-pearl buttons up the length of its back. Although she did not answer him, the earl eventually discovered this fact and began undoing them with a rapidity that bespoke consummate skill in the art of undoing ladies' clothing. Miss Tarabotti would have been disgruntled, except that she figured it was best if one of them knew what they were on about in the matter of fornication. And she could hardly expect a gentleman of over two hundred years or so to have remained celibate.

In no time at all, he had dexterously undone enough of the buttons to pull down the neckline of her dress and expose the tops of her breasts where they rose above her corset. He bent and began kissing them, only to stop, rear back very suddenly, and say in a voice harsh with suppressed need, “What in tarnation is that?”

Alexia lifted herself onto her elbows and looked down, trying to see what it was that had stopped the annoying but unfortunately delightful ravishment of her personage. However, given the nature of her copious endowments in the bosom department, she could not make out what it was about her corset that had so taken his attention.

Lord Maccon picked up the shard of mirror wrapped in a handkerchief and showed it to her.

“Oh, I forgot about that. I pinched it from the dressing room when the scientists left me alone for a moment. Thought it might come in handy.”

Lord Maccon gave her a long, thoughtful, only mildly amorous look. “Very resourceful, my dear. It is at times like this when I really wish you could be on the BUR roster.”

She looked up into his face, embarrassed more by the compliment and the endearment than she had been by their previous physical proceedings. “So, what is the plan?”

“We are not going to develop a plan,” he growled, placing the mirror carefully down on the floor next to them, out of view of the doorway.

Alexia grinned at such foolish protectiveness. “Do not be ridiculous. You can hardly hope to accomplish anything more this night without my help. It is full moon, remember?”

Lord Maccon, who had, outrageously, forgotten the moon, had a momentary shock of terror that, in his absentmindedness, he might lose proximity with her. Alexia's preternatural abilities were the only thing currently keeping him sane. He quickly canvassed to make certain they were in firm physical contact. His body reminded him that, yes, firm was the operative word.

He tried to keep his head focused on their future non-amorous actions. “Well, in that case, you are to remain tangential as much as possible. None of those fire-eating antics you are so fond of. In order to get us out of here, I may have to use violence. In which case, you will need to hold on to me tightly and stay well out of the way. Do you ken?”

Alexia was going to get defensive and angry and explain quite severely that she was practical enough to avoid fisticuffs, especially when she had no brass parasol to protect herself with, but instead she said, “Did you just ask if I kenned?” She could not help grinning.

Lord Maccon looked ashamed of the verbal slip and muttered something about Scotland under his breath.

“You did! I was just kenned!” Miss Tarabotti's grin widened. She could not restrain herself; she did so like it when the earl's Highland lilt came out. It was currently her second favorite thing he did with his tongue. She leaned up on her elbows and kissed him softly on the cheek. Almost despite himself, Lord Maccon moved his own mouth toward her lips and turned it into a far deeper kiss.

When Alexia finally dropped back, they were both panting again.

“This has got to stop,” she insisted. “We are in danger, remember? You know, ruination and tragedy? Calamity just beyond that door.” She pointed behind him. “Any moment now, evil scientists may come charging in.”

“All the more reason to grasp the opportunity,” he insisted, leaning in and pressing his lower body against her.

Miss Tarabotti pressed against his torso defensively with both hands, trying to stop him from kissing her again. She cursed fate that had set life up so that when she finally did get to touch Lord Maccon's bare chest, there was no time to appreciate it.

He nibbled her earlobe. “Just think of this as a sort of wedding-night prelude.”

Alexia was not certain which part of that particular statement gave the most offense—the fact that he assumed there would be a wedding night or the fact that he assumed it would take place on the hard floor of a barren room.

“Really, Lord Maccon!” she said, pushing harder.

“Oh dear, back to that, are we?”

“Where do you keep getting this idea that we should marry?”

Lord Maccon rolled his tawny eyes and gestured expressively to his naked flesh. “I assure you, Miss Tarabotti, I do not do these kinds of things with a woman of your caliber without contemplating marriage in the very near future. I may be a werewolf and Scottish, but despite what you may have read about both, we are not cads!”

“I do not want to force you into anything,” Alexia insisted.

Keeping hold of her with one hand, the Alpha rolled off her prone body and sat back. Although he kept in contact to keep himself from changing, most of him was now separated from Alexia.

Miss Tarabotti's eyes, having entirely adjusted to the dim interior of the room, received a full-frontal view. Those sketches in her papa's books had been far more restrained than she realized.

“Really, we must discuss this silly notion of yours,” he said with a sigh.

“What?” she croaked, goggling at him.

“That you will not marry me.”

“Must we discuss it here and now?” she said, not realizing what she was saying. “And why is it silly?”

“Well, at least we have some privacy.” He shrugged. The movement shifted all the muscles of his chest and stomach.

“Uh… uh….” stuttered Miss Tarabotti, “couldn't it wait until I am home and you are, uh, clothed?”

Lord Maccon realized he had the advantage over Alexia; he was not about to sacrifice it. “Why, you think your family will allow us some privacy? My pack certainly will not. They have been eager to meet you ever since I came home covered in your scent. Not to mention Lyall and his gossiping.”

“Professor Lyall gossips?” Alexia tore her eyes away from his body to look up into his face.

“Like an old churchyard biddy.”

“And what exactly has he told them?”

“That the pack is getting an Alpha female. I am not giving up, you realize?” He said it with deadly calm.

“But I thought it was my move? Isn't that the way this works?” Miss Tarabotti was confused.

Lord Maccon's grin was all wolf. “Up to a certain point. Let us simply say you have made your preferences known.”

“I thought you found me utterly impossible.”

He grinned cheerfully. “Most assuredly.”

Alexia's stomach flipped over, and she was seized with the sudden impulse to tackle him and rub up against him. Lord Maccon naked was one thing; naked and smiling that gently crooked smile of his— devastating.

“I thought I was too bossy,” she said.

“And I shall provide you with an entire pack to boss around. They could use the discipline. I have been getting lax in my old age.”

Miss Tarabotti highly doubted that. “I thought you found my family impossible.”

“I shall not be marrying them,” he began, inching back in toward her, sensing a weakness in her resolve.

Miss Tarabotti was not certain his return was a good thing. True, that most disturbing view was blurring as he moved toward her, but he had that look on his face that said the kissing would start up again presently. She wondered exactly how she had managed to get herself into such an untenable position.

“But I am tall, and brown, and have a large nose, and large everything else.” She gestured ineffectually at her hips and chest.

“Mmm,” said the earl, agreeing with her entirely, “you most certainly do.” He found it interesting she did not mention those things that had worried him from the start: his age (advanced) and her state (preternatural). But he was not about to assist in her protestations by giving her more ammunition in objecting to his suit. They could talk about his own concerns later—preferably after they were married; that is, he grimaced mentally, if they managed to survive their current predicament and make it to the altar.

Finally, Alexia came round and about to the thing that really troubled her. She looked down at her free hand as though finding its palm fascinating. “You do not love me.”

“Ah,” said the Alpha, looking pleased at this, “says who? You never asked me. Should it not be my  opinion you take into account?”

“Well,” sputtered Miss Tarabotti, at a loss for words. “Well, I never.”

“So?” He raised an eyebrow.

Alexia bit her lip, white teeth gnawing at the full swollen flesh. Finally, she lifted trembling lashes and cast a very worried glance up at him, now too close to her once more.

Naturally, because fortune is a fickle beast, it was precisely at that moment that the door to their cell opened.

Standing in the doorway was a backlit figure, clapping slowly but with evident approval.


The Last Room

In a lightning-fast movement, which bespoke his dexterity as a human before he had become a werewolf, Lord Maccon shifted around Miss Tarabotti so that his back was to the intruder and he was shielding her with his body. In the same motion, Alexia saw he had managed to grab the shard of mirror off the floor next to them. He held it between them, protected from Mr. Siemons's view.

“Well, Miss Tarabotti,” said the scientist, “you certainly do excellent work. I never thought to see a were-wolf Alpha in human form on full-moon night.”

Alexia moved to sit, lifting the bodice of her dress over her shoulders as subtly as possible. The back had entirely come undone. She glared at Lord Maccon, who looked back at her in an utterly unapologetic way.

“Mr. Siemons,” she said flatly.

As the scientist moved into the room, she saw that behind him stood at least six other men of varying sizes, mostly on the larger end of the spectrum. He was clearly taking no chances should her preternatural abilities be simply a superstitious hoax. But, having found no were-wolf in residence, he stared at Lord Maccon's back with a decidedly clinical expression.

“Does his brain return to human reason as well as his body to human form, or is he still essentially a wolf inside?” the scientist asked.

Alexia saw the earl's intent in the narrowing of his eyes and the way he shifted his grip on the shard. With his back to the door, Lord Maccon had not seen Mr. Siemons's large retinue. Miss Tarabotti shook her head almost imperceptibly at him. Taking the hint, he subsided slightly.

Mr. Siemons came closer. Bending over their prone forms, he made to grab the earl's head so he could tilt it up and look into his face. With a spark of malicious humor, Lord Maccon growled loudly and snapped at him as though he were still a wolf. Mr. Siemons hurriedly backed away.

He looked at Alexia. “Really,” he said, “quite remarkable. We are going to have to study your abilities extensively, and there are several tests…” He trailed off. “Are you certain I cannot persuade you to our cause—that of justice and security? Now that you have experienced the true terror of a werewolf attack, you must admit to how incontrovertibly hazardous these creatures are! They are nothing more than a plague on the human race. Our research will lead to empire-wide prevention and protection against this threat. With your capabilities, we could determine new neutralization tactics. Don't you see how valuable you could be to us? We would simply want to do a few physical assessments now and again.”