VIP Membership
Upgrade

The Tryst by Kim Allison - HTML preview

PLEASE NOTE: This is an HTML preview only and some elements such as links or page numbers may be incorrect.
Download the book in PDF, ePub, Kindle for a complete version.

CHAPTER 23

 

It was Friday night. Derek had accepted David and Phillip’s invitation out for a night on the town. It certainly didn’t smack of the former revelry the friends typically celebrated. Joel had declined to come, his excuse that of not feeling up to par. The others knew, however, that Joel merely didn’t wish to pretend the previous closeness that seemed to have been shattered between he and Derek.

The evening was pleasant enough, however, and Derek found himself glad to have gone after all. David and Phillip were always good for a laugh, though truth be known, Derek wouldn’t have minded getting into a fistfight with someone that deserved to have his face smashed in. It might help let off a little steam where Dominique was concerned. His perplexing feelings for her, to be precise.

He absently rubbed the palm of his hand over his heart, the dull aching a constant reminder of the young woman who’d unwittingly stolen into his life. Derek purposely didn’t mention Joel and Dominique during the evening, not wishing to have his worst fear confirmed, that the couple was inseparable and in love. Derek dreaded the thought that he may have waited too late to consider his true feelings for Dominique. He knew if she ever gave her heart to Joel completely, he wouldn’t stand a chance of swaying her affections back toward him.

Did he even want that? Lord Derek Montford, breaker of countless hearts, lurer of innumerable women to his bed, did he truly want to commit his life, his heart, to Dominique? He had already made the mistake of pledging his future to another woman, and look how that had turned out. Of course, he really hadn’t felt the emptiness one would expect from an engaged man thrown over by his fiancée. If anything, it had been more of a quiet relief to know he didn’t have to marry Allison after all.

Two of the barmaids insinuated themselves at the handsome trio’s table, one of them plopping herself between David and Phillip, the other doing her best to gain Derek’s attention. To her dismay, Derek took another drink and completely ignored the soft curves pressed against him. He barely acknowledged her when she kissed the corner of his brooding lips. She finally gave up and went around the table to sit on David’s lap.

The two barmaids continued flirting with David and Phillip, the dim tavern starting to feel stuffier, less appealing. Derek was just about to get up and leave his friends to their merriment and go home, when another mug of ale was slammed down onto the wooden table. Derek looked up to see Joel standing there, a second drink in his hand. David and Phillip voiced their delight in seeing Joel had come after all, but he told them to continue on with their female companions. Grinning at the sight of their randy friends, Joel motioned Derek to sit at a nearby table for more privacy.

“Thanks for the drink,” Derek said, sitting at a deserted table in the corner.

“Don’t mention it,” Joel replied as he sat, leaning his back against the wall.

“We didn’t get a chance to talk after the party the other night, but I appreciate you keeping me apprised of those business dealings while I was out of town.”

Shrugging his shoulders, Joel replied, “You asked me to. Friends look out for each other. You’ve always helped me when I needed it.”

“I assume you never mentioned my being out of town to Dominique.”

“You told me to use my own judgment and I saw no need to involve her in your business problems.”

“Embezzling and smuggling are not your typical business concerns,” Derek replied testily. “Someone has been going to a hell of a lot of trouble to cause such complications. It took a lot longer to investigate than I expected. And I really didn’t think I had to worry about you laying claim to Dominique the way you did.”

“Dominique is not a possession to be bought and sold. She has her own mind. Besides, you were the fool that left her without a word. Which is only right,” Joel bit out, his face a mask of anger, “after what you were doing with her, even while you were engaged to Allison.” The brief look of guilt on Derek’s face quickly vanished and he took another drink, glancing about the tavern. His recent business woes had Derek on guard constantly and he suspected someone might be following his every move. It wouldn’t do to let himself get careless. Careless could get you dead.

“No denials?” Joel asked. “No excuses? I know you were sleeping with Dominique all those months. Don’t bother lying,” he said as Derek shook his head in denial for Dominique’s sake. “She admitted it to me.”

Derek’s head snapped up to stare Joel in the face. He found it hard to believe Dominique had confessed their sexual encounters to Joel. That could only mean that they’d had a significant breakthrough to get past something so monumental without Joel breaking things off. They obviously cared about each other even more than Derek feared.

“I believe she regrets her mistakes,” Joel said pointedly.

“That’s what you think I am to her, a mistake?”

“Oh, come off it, Derek. We both know you don’t give a damn about Dominique. You use women then discard them. It’s what you do. And believe me, I know you have been used by them in return. We all have. But be realistic. You don’t really have any sincere feelings for Dominique, so just let her be.”

“I know you are not ordering me to stay away from her, are you?”

“I’m not commanding you to do anything,” Joel replied. “But I should tell you that I have asked Dominique to be my wife.”

“What!” Derek hissed. He couldn’t help but notice the threatening look on Joel’s face. “What did she say?”

“Perhaps you should ask her herself. But do me a favor and don’t make plans to leave town anytime soon.” A cocky smile claiming his lips, Joel said, “I really want you to stand up for me as my best man.” The chair scraping against the floor as he stood, Joel bid Derek goodbye and left his friend glowering in the darkened corner, the glass mugs clinking as a fist slammed solidly against the wooden table in angry frustration.

The following day started out pleasant and cloudless. As the morning progressed, however, dark clouds set in and a storm looked inevitable. Dominique decided to go shopping, something she didn’t typically like to do alone, but she really wasn’t up to company. Too, she didn’t really plan to buy anything. She simply needed to get out for a while.

She had spent the past few days poring over the documents Derek had gifted her with. To all appearances it seemed he was telling the truth. It still boggled the mind that her father’s father had been titled, though not spectacularly, and never a word had been spoken of it. She assumed her father must not have stayed in contact with her grandfather, for whatever reason she couldn’t imagine. Perhaps they’d had some falling out years before. But it made Dominique happy to know her grandfather had apparently known of her and kept up with her whereabouts. That he had thought enough of her to bequeath his properties and possessions to her was staggering. She only wished she had known of his existence previously so she could have gotten to know him.

He’d obviously not had any other male relatives to will his belongings to or Dominique would most likely have continued on forever blissfully unaware of her paternal grandfather’s existence. She was anxious to travel to Southampton and see the property for herself. Perhaps she could convince Joel to make the trip with her sometime soon.

It would only be a modest piece of land with an unspectacular home built on it, of course. And that was fine, because she didn’t really need it. Dominique loved her quaint little home in London. But she would be a fool to sell her birthright, even if there had been a rift between her father and grandfather. It would one day belong to her future children, and she knew her parents wouldn’t want her to squander such good fortune away.

“A beautiful dress, isn’t it?” the clerk’s voice brought Dominique back to the present. She hadn’t even realized she was gazing at a bridal gown.

“Yes...yes, it is,” Dominique replied.

“Would you care to try it on?”

“Oh no,” she laughed, “I’m not getting married. Not yet anyway.”

“Soon then?” the girl pressed. “There’s no harm in trying it on. It was fashioned recently for one of our customers but the wedding ended up being canceled. Go ahead, it will be the highlight of your day, I promise!”

Dominique returned the girl’s friendly smile, spontaneously agreeing that putting on a beautiful gown for a few moments might help lift her spirits. It wasn’t as if she had anything else to occupy her time. With the clerk’s help, Dominique was gazing at her ethereal reflection several moments later. It was a long flowing gown of pure white, fashionably low-cut, the waist tight and flattering.

“Of course, without all the petticoats and underthings, it’s not nearly as full as it would be otherwise, but you get the idea. There’s the full length mirror, so take your time. I have to go wait on someone else. Let me know if you need help getting the dress off.”

“No, you go ahead. Thank you for all your help.” Dominique sighed aloud in admiration at the exquisite handcrafting on the dress. It was sad the bride hadn’t gotten the chance to wear it, but the lovely gown would no doubt be snatched up soon enough.

Joel’s image entered her mind and Dominique smiled softly at the fantasy of wearing just such a gown at their wedding. She still hadn’t given Joel an answer yet, Allison’s commotion at the party having completely overshadowed any thoughts of that, but she would soon.

She wondered what Joel would think of her walking down the aisle toward him in such a magnificent creation. Would he think her beautiful? Would he think her good enough for him? He had already said so. His very proposal was promise enough that he found her lack of blue blood no matter of concern to him. And that had been before finding out she was titled after all.

A life with Joel would be lovely, full of affection, and never dull. She would make him an excellent wife, she would cherish and adore him. She would give him a houseful of children who would grow up with Josephine and Jamison. What more could she ask for?

As Dominique admired her celestial reflection in the mirror, she imagined Joel standing next to her, their hands held in reverence as they pledged their hearts to one another. Her fragile smile faltered as the mirror’s reflection suddenly revealed not Joel, but Derek’s prodigious image standing next to her. Dominique cried out, stepping back in fright, certain her traitorous heart was causing her to see things. But as she reached out to steady herself, she met with a solid male body. “Derek?” she gasped, her voice quaking.

Derek steadied her, his face full of concern. He turned to close the door so they were alone in the small room. “You should learn not to leave doors open when you’re trying on clothes, Dominique. You never know who might wander in.”

“Indeed,” she muttered. “What are you doing here? You nearly frightened me to death!”

“Why are you wearing that godforsaken dress?” he scoffed.

“I just wanted to see what it looked like on, not that it’s any of your bloody business.”

“It doesn’t do you justice. You should take it off.”

“What is wrong with you?” Dominique asked, slowly making her way backward toward the door. She didn’t trust herself being enclosed with Derek in a locked room, and certainly not one that forced such nearness to a man like him. Realizing her intent, Derek blocked the doorway, resting against it with his arms crossed over his chest.

“Nothing is wrong with me.” His lips curved upward in an admiring smile as Derek looked her over from head to toe. “What a pleasant surprise to find you in here.”

“Why are you in a ladies’ dress shop anyway?” Dominique smirked. “No doubt to purchase your latest doxy some scanty underthings?”

“You women certainly have suspicious minds, every last one of you. It doesn’t matter why I came here, only that I am here.”

“You are so full of yourself,” she criticized, a bit too breathless for her liking. “I suppose I should take comfort in the fact that some things never change.”

“You have become cynical in my absence, Miss Harrison. Or were you that way all along and I just never noticed?”

She finally looked him straight in the eyes, determined to stop being frightened every time she ran into Derek. He seemed to take great delight in baiting her and proving her weakness toward him. She needed to make him believe otherwise and demand he leave her to her own life. “You were probably too busy ripping my clothes off to notice,” her sullen voice replied.

Derek chuckled and took a slight step toward her. The guilty grin on his face made Dominique feel weak-kneed. His was the most gorgeous face she’d ever had the pleasure of staring into, and against her wishes, inwardly she counted herself fortunate to be in his company.

“One of my favorite pastimes, I must admit,” he replied huskily. “Why, even now I have the urge to rip that horrid gown off your delectable body. And then I would take great relish in licking and kissing every naked inch of you.”

A slow, sexy smile claimed his lips at her shocked gasp. Her breath coming faster, Dominique knew this was the moment of truth. She was typically falling beneath Derek by now on whatever piece of furniture lay closest by. And though his erotic words were bringing a deeply buried lust to head, she was determined not to give into his wickedness. “This dress no doubt costs a fortune. I would advise against your usual barbaric behavior.”

Touching Dominique familiarly upon her shoulder, Derek slowly slid his hand down until his fingers boldly splayed over a breast, continuing downward until they rested on her hip. The amused gaze in his blue orbs dared her to deny him. “Do you really think I care about the cost of this hideous dress? It would be well worth every last coin to rip it off of you.” His voice was hushed and urgent, the raw hunger on his face causing Dominique to ache with the need for him. She should slap his hand from her body and curse him to hell, yet she was unable to entertain a rational thought in her head, much less deny Derek’s scandalous touches.

He was barely able to proceed with feigned nonchalance, to refrain from acting the rutting beast she believed him to be. What Derek really wanted was to take Dominique in his arms and kiss her senseless. Instead he removed his hand from her hip and took a slight step backward.

In truth, he’d been angered at seeing Dominique in the lovely gown because he feared it meant the utter end of her in his life, that she was surely trying on the gown for her marriage to Joel. And if Joel was being honest, Derek had no time left to decide on his innermost feelings for Dominique. Having feelings was one thing, but acting on them was another entirely. He had already hurt Dominique too many times. Still, he was no bumbling halfwit that would beg any woman to love him in return, Dominique included.

“Joel said he asked you to marry him.” Derek’s sudden change in subject alarmed Dominique. She wasn’t sure what to say. Joel had given his word that he wouldn’t tell anyone about their talk of marriage until she said otherwise. And for reasons she didn’t want to admit, it squeezed her heart painfully to find out Derek had learned of Joel’s marriage offer.

“Yes, he did,” she finally replied. Dominique didn’t even know how she would reply to Joel’s proposal. She certainly wasn’t comfortable discussing it with Derek of all people.

“And?” Derek asked, closing the distance between them, his eyes searching hers for any sign of hope.

“I haven’t given my answer yet.”

“How interesting,” Derek replied, barely able to refrain from grinning in elation. He turned Dominique’s attention back toward the mirror and stood behind her, his arms reaching about her in a familiar embrace. It took everything Dominique had not to lean back against his hard body, not to turn her head about for one of his soul scorching kisses. She tried to escape the disturbing picture staring back, tried escaping his hold, but Derek tightened his arms around her. He forced her gaze back to the mirror, determination on his face.

She stared at their reflection, the pulse in her neck quickening. The sight of Derek holding her so was devastating to her heart. It was a seductive thing to watch herself being held by the sinfully handsome man she’d been intimate with––the only man alive who had ever known her in that way. His strong tanned hands lay possessively about her waist, his chin gently nudging the side of her face as he snuggled even closer. Derek splayed his fingers over her stomach, his voice husky in her ear, “It was not so long ago that you wanted to have my child, Dominique. Have you rid yourself of me so completely since then?”

“Please don’t,” she softly begged, her eyes welling with tears. Her short lived determination to remain unaffected by Derek was swiftly dying. She could no more withstand his touch now than she ever had.

“Don’t what? Remind you of how much you love me?”

“You presume much!” she cried, forcing his hands from her stomach. She turned to face him. “Joel is a good man, a great man. He is offering me a life of security. I can count on him.”

“That sounds nice and boring and platonic.”

“It would be anything but!” she cried.

“Perhaps. But admit it, Dominique, the only man that can please you beyond your wildest dreams is standing right in front of you.”

“How conceited you are!”

“And yet you love me,” he said. Pulling Dominique gently against his chest, he ran his thumb along her bottom lip, stared into her fathomless eyes until he sensed the slightest acquiescence. Moving her lips apart with his thumb, his tongue made a slow, lazy path across her bottom lip, sucking on it until he heard a tiny gasp deep in her throat. Languidly and possessively, his mouth slowly claimed hers. Again and again he assaulted her mouth, his kisses growing sweeter, deeper. He ravished her mouth as if he were making love to it, her response growing in urgency until Dominique was breathless and ready to surrender to him. Sensing her capitulation, Derek released her. He stared into her beautiful face, her mouth still parted in sensuous breathlessness.

“You are too passionate a woman to settle for anything less. You may fool yourself into thinking you will share the same with Joel, but it will never be what we have.” She opened her mouth to refute his warning, but Derek continued, “I branded you that first time, Dominique, on that stormy night. It may not have been gentle or chaste, but you became mine in that darkened room. And try as you might to forget, you shall always belong to me.”

Dominique listened to his hypnotic words, his husky voice drawing her further beneath his spell. Her hair was mussed, her lips swollen from his kisses, and already she felt empty without him holding her, possessing her. She needed his mouth on hers again, breathing breath into her, or stealing her soul, she knew not which.

Opening the door to leave, Derek turned back to her once more. “I hope you think long and hard before you give Joel your answer. I want you in my life, Dominique. I want your heart and your soul and everything else you have to give.”

And with that he was gone. Dominique quickly shut the door behind him, resting against it, her eyes closing in despair. His words left her with more questions than answers. Was that supposed to be some type of marriage proposal he’d left her with? Or did Derek simply want her any selfish way he could as long as she broke Joel’s heart in the process?

Two months ago she would have sworn Derek’s words and kisses meant nothing more than appeasing his male desire, but she had never heard such directness from him before. He seemed to have been genuine in his desire to not lose her to Joel. Was it simple male competition or was Derek truly coming to love her? While he’d insisted that she loved him, Dominique hadn’t heard him voice the same in return.

Think long and hard about Joel’s proposal she would, but Dominique knew it would be Derek’s face haunting her every thought and dream.