An Excerpt From: PINCH OF NAUGHTY
Copyright © GEM SIVAD, 2012
All Rights Reserved, Ellora's Cave Publishing, Inc.
“Eleanor, I didn’t give you permission to leave.” The sound of water splashing on the floor accompanied his warning as his wet feet hit the floor.
She slammed shut the door and took off running, making it down the stairs and outside to the swing with him following close behind.
“Eleanor, you sure you want to conduct our business out here?” He came out on the porch, his nakedness outlined by the house light.
She edged behind the swing, keeping it between them. Speechless, she gazed at the beast stalking her. His bare feet were big, his long legs topped by muscled thighs and the evidence of his manhood jutted rigidly in front of him as if it were made of steel.
Gauging the distance to the steps leading to the ranch yard, Eleanor risked a glance away from the savage.
“You run off the porch and I’m gonna chase you,” he drawled, crossing his arms over his chest. Waiting for her next move, he added, “Might be kind of fun.”
“Don’t you have something better to do than tormenting me?” she asked tartly.
“Yep, I figured on doing it in that bed upstairs. But if it’s the porch you’ve decided on, I’m flexible.”
“If you’ll put on some clothes, I’ll come back into the house.” Eleanor drew in a deep breath waiting for him to agree—then she’d get off the porch and run like hell toward the big gate and the town beyond.
“Nope, no point in it,” he said. “They’d be comin’ back off as soon as you hit the door.”
“Your brains were addled by a head injury, right?” Cornered and unconvinced she could persuade her cowboy boss to come to his senses, she gripped the railing, ready to sprint for the steps.
“Eleanor, did I not agree to haul your desserts to town?” If he hadn’t been stark naked it would have been a reasonable question.
“I don’t know what you agreed to. Worse yet, I don’t know what I agreed to,” she muttered, inching her way closer to her goal.
“Did I not tell you my housekeepers had night duty too?” he growled.
“You didn’t say night duty included cavorting naked in a bathtub with you,” Eleanor answered swiftly.
“You haven’t done much playing in your life, have you, Eleanor?” he asked. Then seeing her glance toward the steps again he said sternly, “Don’t move. I’ll be right back.”
As soon as he went through the door, she studied her escape to nowhere, hesitating before she started her descent.
“Eleanor.” His voice cracked out like a whip drawing her gaze to where he stood draped in a blanket that covered him from neck to knees. “Sit down in the swing. We’ll negotiate some.”
Dreading the coming conversation, she took a seat. As soon as her feet left the porch floor, he walked to where she sat in the swing, unfurled his blanket, wrapped it around both of them, and slid next to her, pulling her tight against his bare thigh.
Eleanor gasped, jerking in shock when Cyrus reached down and untangled her clenched hands, laying the right one on his bare leg.
“Just settle down. All we’re doin’ is talking a bit.” He covered her fingers, capturing her hand between his warm palm and warmer thigh, sending heat scorching through her. Lazily he propelled the swing into motion, his left arm embracing her shoulders, her body hugging his.
“Eleanor, the way I see it, we made a deal and finalized it last night. If you didn’t agree to the terms, you shouldn’t have accepted the contract.”
Before she could protest further, he dropped his head and nuzzled her neck.
“Did you not enjoy yourself?” he whispered the question in her ear.
“I’d rather not speak about it.” She averted her gaze, staring at the barn.
He moved his hand, pulling hers with it in a slide through the fine hair on his thigh. Her fingers clenched, grabbing his skin in a pinching hold, preventing the upward climb.
“You brand me, I put my mark on you in the same place.” His low chuckle brushed across her ear, his breath warming her as he leaned closer with his promise.
She released her grip.
“Burns where you touched me,” he drawled. Then, instead of rubbing his own leg, he dropped his left arm to her side and put his hand on her thigh, mirroring the spot she’d pinched.
“Right about here,” he said, stroking her limb, his heat radiating through her skirts.
“What do you want from me?” she asked desperately.
“Well, aside from two meals a day, a clean house and you warming my bed, I wouldn’t mind you dropping the Mr. Burke and calling me Cyrus.”
Since she’d just been arguing with herself about the same thing, her answer was already framed. “Mr. Burke, I’m your temporary housekeeper. Using your given name would signify we have a relationship other than employee and employer.” She closed her eyes and sighed, holding her head rigid where it lay against his shoulder.
“Not interested in anything else, huh?”
“What? Resident doxy, slattern with a mop? Of course I’m not interested in anything else.” She grabbed his arm, stopping the hand on her thigh from moving higher. “I have to maintain a reputation above reproach in order to be tolerated in town when I set up my shop. It will be hard enough keeping my presence here on your ranch a secret. Flaunting an illicit relationship is unthinkable.”
“Your reputation is safe with me, Eleanor. Mable knew that when she sent you out here.” Cyrus shrugged and sent the swing gliding back and forth again.
Since his fingers had resumed their slow crawl, towing her hand toward his shaft, Eleanor didn’t find his reassurance convincing.
“We’re sitting here in a porch swing, you’re totally nude under this blanket and the men in the bunkhouse can surely see your intentions are not honorable.” She wasn’t stupid, just hopeful somehow the men would remain quiet.
“You don’t need to worry about them talking. My men have sense enough to keep their gobs shut. If there’s gossip it won’t start here.” He squeezed her thigh and slid his hand upward again.
“I expect Aunt Mildred will be instrumental in spreading the news if she finds out I’m here.” Eleanor turned her head and unintentionally rubbed her cheek against his chest. His warmth against her face made her want to purr. Instead she quelled the urge and sat up straighter.
“Nope, that’s not going to happen either,” Cyrus told her. “That would be Henry’s wife, right?”
“Yes,” Eleanor agreed. “But during my visit with them it was clear Aunt Mildred loved gossiping. I don’t think she can resist.” She didn’t tell him that Aunt Millie’s favorite topic was him.
“Henry’s not likely to want his dirty laundry aired in public.” Cyrus made a disgusted noise, pulling her tighter into his embrace.
“Uncle Henry is henpecked and Mildred doesn’t listen,” Eleanor explained.
“She understands she likes to eat and they’ll be out on the street if she runs her mouth.” Cyrus interrupted.
“Why?” Eleanor craned her head backward, trying to see his face in the dark.
“Why do you think Mable sent you here?”
“Well, because I needed a job and a place to stay.” Eleanor started to explain again.
“Nope,” he said. “Because Mable knows when Henry can’t stifle his wife, I can.”
“I own the bank.” Cyrus said calmly.
“You are in banking, like Grandfather?” Was this yet another manipulation on the part of her family to conduct a business transaction? Eleanor froze.
“Nope,” he drawled. “I just don’t trust others to manage my money so I built my own, got a state charter and set up a bank close to home. I hired your uncle away from the bank in Paris.”
Eleanor didn’t know whether to warn him or not. It was common knowledge in the family that Uncle Henry had been sent to Texas to expand the family’s banking interests.
Cyrus’ laughter rumbled under her ear, changing the direction of her thoughts.
“You’re enjoying this. Aren’t you?”
His callous enjoyment of her ordeal made her stiffen, wiggling to get free from his embrace. Her inclination to caution him evaporated. If the Alcotts gobble you up, so be it, Mr. Cyrus Burke.
“The way I see it,” he drawled, “you’re a respectable woman who fell from grace while doing right. Now you’re reclaiming your place in society by doing wrong with me. If you consider it that way, it all seems pretty damn laughable.” He pulled her back down, adjusting her body against his side, her head again resting on his chest. “You worry too much, Ellie.”
“Eleanor,” she corrected him.
“Ellie, we’ve got six weeks to have some fun and I’m all for enjoying your stay while you’re here.” His fingers stroked her thigh, leaving a trail of heat there. His soft laughter brushed across her senses.
“Bet I can make you scream again.” He smoothed the folds of her dress, his caress lighting a torch in the flesh beneath.
“You are shameless.” Eleanor flushed with embarrassment at his reference to their coupling the previous night. She’d been unable to stifle her cries during one incredible orgasm.
“Yep,” he agreed. “Never found much use for shame. I’m more into tasting,” he murmured in her ear before he nibbled her earlobe. “And smelling,” he brushed his nose against her hair, rubbing his face in the strands, inhaling the scent, “and touching.” He shifted her slightly, covering her hand again.
Eleanor shivered, another wave of heat flushing her skin as he lifted her hand and cupped it around his engorged shaft. He made soothing noises in his throat, sounds that became a low hum of pleasure as he guided her fingers up and down, stroking the hard length she palmed.
It was so hot inside the blanket at first she didn’t realize he’d lifted her skirt. She shivered as the heat from his hand painted a blush of desire up her thigh. When his fingers brushed through her nether curls, she whimpered.
“You give in to temptation often, Eleanor?” he asked.
“Never,” she answered honestly.
“That’s too bad, Ellie,” he murmured. “Everyone ought to try a pinch of naughty from time to time.”