Chapter 6

It was an illusion-all an illusion-a typically arrogant sleight of hand. The scales fell from Honoria’s eyes late the next morning, right in the middle of Tolly’s funeral.

The crowd attending was considerable. A short service had been held in the church in the grounds, a stone building ringed by ancient trees shading monuments to Cynsters long gone.

Then the pallbearers-Devil and his cousins-had carried the coffin to the grave, set in a small clearing beyond the first circle of trees. Contrary to her intention to merge with the crowd, Honoria had been partnered first by Vane, who had given her his arm, thus including her in the family procession to the church, then later claimed by Amanda and Amelia, who had steered her to the grave, admitting they were acting on Devil’s orders. A funeral was no place to make a stand. Resigned, Honoria had capitulated, accepting a position behind the twins at the graveside.

It was then the truth struck her.

The males of the family lined the other side of the grave. Directly opposite stood Tolly’s brothers, Charles, with Simon beside him. Devil stood next to Simon; as Honoria watched, he placed a hand on Simon’s shoulder. The boy looked up; Honoria witnessed their shared glance, that silent communication at which Devil excelled.

Vane stood next to Devil; behind and around them stood a solid phalanx of male Cynsters. There was no doubt of their connection-their faces, seen all together, held the same unyielding planes, their features the same autocratic cast. They numbered six, not counting Simon and Charles, both set apart, one by age, the other by character. Between the six, hair color varied, from Devil’s black to light chestnut; eye color, too, differed. Nothing else did.

There was enormous strength in the group facing her-powerful, masculine, it emanated from them. Devil was their leader yet they were a group of individuals, each contributing to the whole. Elsewhere about the grave, grief was amorphous. The grief of Tolly’s male cousins held purpose, melding into a cohesive force, directed, focused.

Focused on Tolly’s grave.

Honoria narrowed her eyes. People were still shifting, finding places in the crowd; both Amelia and Amanda were tense. Honoria leaned forward and whispered: “Tell me the names of your older male cousins.”

The twins glanced at her, then across the grave. Amelia spoke first. “Vane’s next to Devil, but you know him.”

“That can’t be his real name.”

“His real name’s Spencer,” Amanda whispered. “But don’t ever call him that.”

“The one behind Devil is Richard-he’s called Scandal. He’s Devil’s brother.”

“And the one behind Vane is his younger brother, Harry. They call him Demon.”

“Demon Harry?”

“That’s right.” Amanda nodded. “The one next to Vane is Gabriel.”

“His real name’s Rupert-he’s Uncle Martin’s eldest son.”

“And I suppose the one behind Gabriel is Lucifer?” Honoria asked. “His brother?”

“That’s right-he’s really Alasdair.”

Straightening, Honoria spent one minute wondering how they’d come by their pseudonyms-one question she was not about to ask the twins. She looked across the grave at those six male faces, and saw them clearly. No force on earth would stop them bringing Tolly’s murderer to justice.

Being Cynsters, they could be counted on to avenge Tolly’s death. Also being Cynsters, they would ensure their womenfolk, their elders and juniors-all those they considered in their care-were not disturbed or touched by such violence. Death and vengeance was their province, the home fires for the rest.

Which was all very well, but

The last prayer was said; earth struck the coffin. Tolly’s mother sagged in her sisters-in-law’s arms; her husband hurried to her side. Amelia and Amanda tugged at Honoria’s hands. Reluctantly, she turned from the grave-from the tableau on its opposite side.

Charles and the older Cynsters had left, but Simon, Devil, and the five others remained, their gazes still locked on the coffin. Just before she turned, Honoria saw Simon look up, into Devil’s face, a question in his wide eyes. She saw Devil’s response, the tightening of his hand on Simon’s shoulder, the quiet promise he bent his head to give.

She had no doubt of the substance of that promise.

In company with the twins, Honoria crossed the lawns, musing on her situation. She would send for her brother Michael tomorrow, but he would take some days to reach her. Those days could be useful.

She needed to see justice done; she had a duty to avenge innocence-that was doubtless why Tolly’s face haunted her. Impossible to send adult Cynster males to avenge innocence; their vengeance would be fueled by their warriors’ reasons-the defending of their family, their clan. She would be the defender of innocence-she had a role to play, too.

She’d been looking for excitement, for adventure and intrigue-fate had landed her here. Far be it from her to argue.

The wake was a crush. Many of the bucks and bloods who had come up from London stayed for the final scene. In half an hour, Honoria had been introduced to more dangerous blades than she’d thought to meet in a lifetime. Luckily, her inclusion within the family group had sent a clear message; she was not troubled by any of the visitors.

The twins again took to their instruments; the crowd filled the music room and the drawing room and overflowed onto the terrace.

While chatting with Cynster relatives and tonnish family acquaintances, Honoria kept a careful eye on Devil and his five accomplices. A pattern was soon apparent. Devil stood in the drawing room, his back to the open terrace doors; the others roamed the crowd, every now and then either stopping by Devil’s side quietly to impart some information or catching his eye.

She could do nothing to intercept that silent communication; as for the other, however… Honoria focused on Lady Sheffield, her present interrogator.

“Of course,” her ladyship intoned, “this distressing business will delay matters somewhat.”

Deliberately vague, Honoria raised her brows. “Indeed?”

Lady Sheffield eyed her consideringly. “Three months of mourning-that makes it December.”

“Winter,” Honoria helpfully observed. She smiled at Lady Sheffield, and gave her something for her pains. “Pray excuse me, ma’am-I must speak with Webster.”

With a smile, she glided to the door, quite certain how her words would be interpreted. In the hall, she wove through the knots of guests. Plates piled with tiny sandwiches sat waiting on a sideboard; picking one up, she proceeded through the music room and onto the terrace.

Reaching the spot immediately behind Devil’s back, she took up her position, her back to the drawing room. The sandwiches on her plate instantly attracted suitable cover.

“Lady Harrington,” an older lady introduced herself. “Know your grandfather well, miss. Haven’t seen him for a while. Daresay he’s keeping well?”

“I daresay,” Honoria replied, keeping her voice low.

“Hurst knows nothing, nor does Gilford.”

Without turning around and risking one of Devil’s cousins noticing her, Honoria couldn’t tell which one was reporting. But she knew Devil’s voice. “Vane’s checked with Blackwell. Try Gelling.”

“Nice sandwiches, these.” Lady Harrington took another. “There’s Lady Smallworts-she knows your grandfather, too. Here-Dulcie!”

Lady Harrington waved at another bedizened lady; behind Honoria, another report was coming in. “Nothing from

Dashwood and yes, I leaned heavily. He’s not holding anything back. Not his style, this sort of caper.”

There was silence, then Devil asked: “Anyone else here from that part of town?”

“I’ll try Giles Edgeworth.”

Some older gentleman approached Devil, and he was forced to converse; Honoria grasped the opportunity to give her attention to Lady Smallworts.

“Dear me, yes!” Lady Smallworts was examining her face through lorgnettes. “There’s a definite likeness there, don’t you think, Arethusa? About the chin.”

Making a mental note to examine her chin when next she glanced in her mirror, Honoria plastered a smile on her lips and set herself to getting the two old dames chatting. Then she tuned her ears to the activity behind her.

“No luck with Farnsworth, nor Girton either.”

Devil sighed. “There has to be something, somewhere.”

“Must be-we’ll just have to keep looking until we find it.” After a pause, whichever cousin it was said: “I’ll try a touch on Caffrey.”

“Careful-I don’t want this all over town by morning.”

“Trust me.”

Honoria could almost see the Cynster smile that went with the words.

Again Devil’s attention was claimed by others; Honoria put her tuppence worth into the discussion over whether sprigged muslin would still be all the rage next Season.

It was some time before another of his cousins came to Devil’s side. Guests were starting to depart when Vane reported; Honoria recognized his voice. “Forget Hillsworth or, I suspect, any of that ilk. If the problem’s in that line, we’ll need to get Harry to dig deeper.”

“Speak of the Demon…”

“No go with any of my lot.”

“Here come the others,” Vane said.

“Not a whisper-not so much as a twitch.”

“No luck.”

“Not so much as a hint of a suspicion.”

“Which means,” Devil said, “that we’ll have to go hunting.”

“But in which direction?”

“In all directions.” Devil paused. “Demon, you take the tracks and all connected enterprises. Vane, the guards and the taverns. Gabriel, the dens and finance in general. Scandal-you can do what you do best-chat up the ladies. Which leaves the catteries to Lucifer.”

“And you?” Vane asked.

“I’ll take the local angle.”

“Right-I’m for London tonight.”

“So am I.”

“And me-I’ll give you a lift if you like. I’ve got a prime ‘un between the shafts.”

Their deep voices faded, blending with the murmurs of the crowd. Lady Smallworts and Lady Harrington had moved onto the mysteries of the latest poke bonnets. It was time for Honoria to retreat-she’d heard all she needed. “If you’ll excuse me, ladies?”

“Actually, my dear.” Lady Harrington grasped Honoria’s wrist. “I had meant to ask whether it’s true.”

“True?”

On the word, Honoria heard from behind her: “Dear me, coz-what trouble you do get into when you don’t have me covering your back.”

It was Vane’s drawl; Honoria knew the instant Devil turned and saw her-she felt his gaze on her neck, her shoulders. She stiffened. She longed to swing about, but her ladyship clung tight.

“Why, yes.” Lady Harrington smiled. “About you and-” She broke off, gaze lifting to a point beyond Honoria’s left shoulder, eyes widening with delight. “Ah-good afternoon, St. Ives.”

“Lady Harrington.”

It wasn’t his voice, and the subtle menace beneath it, that sent shock waves coursing through Honoria-it was the large hand that curved possessively about her waist.

Devil captured the hand Lady Harrington freed. Honoria watched her fingers, trapped in his, rise inexorably toward his long lips. She steeled herself to feel his lips on her fingers.

He reversed her hand and pressed his lips to her wrist.

If she’d been a weaker woman, she’d have fainted.

Smoothly, Devil turned to Lady Harrington. “You were saying, ma’am?”

Lady Harrington beamed. “Nothing of any importance-think you’ve given me all the answer I need.” She all but winked at Honoria, then jabbed Lady Smallworts in the arm. “Come along, Dulcie-I saw Harriet on the lawn. If we hurry, we might catch her before she leaves. Your Grace.” Her ladyship nodded to Honoria. “We’ll see you in town, my dear. Give my regards to your grandfather.”

“Yes, of course,” Honoria half gasped. Her lungs had seized, courtesy of the long fingers spread over her ribs. If he kissed her wrist again, she would faint.

“Wave to their ladyships,” her tormentor instructed.

“With what,” she hissed back. “The plate?”

“I really don’t think you need the plate anymore-Thomas will take it.”

A footman appeared and relieved her of the plate. There were few people left on the terrace. Honoria waited, but the grip on her waist did not ease. Instead, Devil wrapped his other arm about her waist, too, her hand still held in his. She could feel him, his chest, his thighs, steely-hard behind her, his arms an unbreakable cage about her.

“Did you learn much, out here on the terrace?” The words, soft, deep and low, tickled her ear.

“Reams about sprigged muslin. And did you know that the latest poke bonnets have a niched rim?”

“Indeed? What next?”

“Precisely what Lady Smallworts wanted to know.”

“And what do you want to know, Honoria Prudence?”

He had a distinctly lethal way of saying her name-he rolled the “r”s, just slightly, so the perfectly prim English words transformed into something more sensuous. Honoria fought down a shiver. “I want to know what you’re about.”

She felt him sigh. “What am I to do with you, you meddlesome woman?” He rocked her, slightly, to and fro.

The sensation of losing touch with the earth made Honoria gasp. He hadn’t even shifted his grip. “You can put me down for a start!”

She was saved by the Dowager. “Sylvester! What on earth are you doing? Put Honoria down at once!”

He obeyed-reluctantly; the second Honoria’s feet touched earth, the Dowager took her arm. “Come, my dear-there’s someone I want you to meet.”

Without a backward glance, Honoria escaped with the Dowager.

She took care to play least-in-sight for the rest of the day. While most guests left directly after the wake, many of the family lingered. Honoria had no intention of finding herself unexpectedly alone with Devil in his present mood. The summerhouse, a white-timber hexagon wreathed by a yellow rambler, became her refuge.

Her embroidery in her lap, she watched the carriages roll down the drive-watched Devil play the host and wave them on their way. Afternoon was fading to evening when Charles Cynster descended the front steps and started across the lawn, heading straight for the summerhouse.

Inclining his head gravely, he entered. “Good evening, my dear. I wanted to speak with you before I left-Sylvester told me where to find you.”

So much for her refuge. Honoria studied Tolly’s older brother critically. He was certainly older than Devil, which made him the oldest of the Cynster cousins. He cut an impressive figure, six feet tall and solidly built, but lacked the lean Cynster lines. His face was rounder, with heavy jowls. His eyes, resting on her, were plain brown; given his recent loss, Honoria was surprised by how intent his expression was.

The summerhouse boasted a long wickerwork settee with chintz cushions, and nothing else. With a wave, she invited Charles to sit; somewhat to her relief, he declined the settee to settle on a windowsill. Facing her. Honoria raised a polite brow. Presumably, Devil had sent Charles to persuade her to leave Tolly’s death to the Cynsters.

“I wanted to thank you for aiding Tolly. Sylvester mentioned you’d helped.” Charles’s lips twisted in a fleeting smile. “To use his phrase, ‘above and beyond what might reasonably be expected of a lady of your station.'”

Graciously, Honoria inclined her head. “Despite your cousin’s beliefs, I did nothing more than any lady of practical sensibilities.”

“Be that as it may…” Charles’s words trailed away; Honoria glanced up and met his gaze. “My dear Miss Anstruther-Wetherby, I hope you will excuse me if I speak plainly?”

“I would prefer you did so.” Setting aside her embroidery, Honoria folded her hands and gave him her full attention.

“It appears to me that, rather than being rewarded for your help, you have been placed in an invidious position.” Charles glanced at her. “Forgive me-this is a delicate subject. But I understand that, by virtue of rendering assistance to Tolly and thus being stranded by the storm, you were forced to spend the night in company with Sylvester, and thus now find yourself compromised and, not to put too fine a point on it, forced to accept his offer.”

Honoria opened her lips-Charles raised his hand. “No, if you please-allow me to finish. I realize that many ladies would be aux anges over becoming the duchess of St. Ives, whatever the circumstances. I can see, however, that you are not of that giddy ilk. You’re an Anstruther-Wetherby, daughter of an old and ancient line-quite as proud as we Cynsters. You are a woman of sound sense, independence, and-as you acknowledged-of a practical bent.

“You have, I believe, chosen to live life quietly-it hardly seems fair that in return for your good offices, you should be forced to become Sylvester’s wife, a role that will not only be demanding but also very likely less than rewarding.” He paused, then added: “For a lady of sensitivity.” He hesitated, weighing his words, then continued: “Sylvester bears a very specific reputation, as do most of the Cynsters. It seems unlikely that a leopard so devoted to hunting will readily change his spots.”

He looked at Honoria; she raised her brows haughtily. “There is little in your assessment with which I would argue, Mr. Cynster.”

Charles’s brief smile did not light his eyes. “Indeed, my dear, I believe we are two who would understand each other well, which is why I hope you will understand my motives in proposing an alternative solution to your undeserved predicament.”

“An alternative?” Honoria was conscious of increasing unease. She had not expected Charles to undermine Devil; she was truly surprised that he had.

“A more acceptable alternative to a lady of your sensibility.”

Honoria looked her question.

“Marrying Sylvester would not be in your best interests-anyone with understanding can see that. You stand, however, in need of an offer, in restitution if nothing else. As Tolly was my brother, in order to retrieve your standing, I would be happy to offer you my hand. My estate, of course, is nothing compared to Sylvester’s; it is, however, not inconsiderable.”

Honoria was stunned; only years of training kept the fact from her face. She did not have to think to frame her reply-the words came spontaneously to her lips. “I thank you for your offer, sir, but I am not of a mind to marry-not for this nor, indeed, any other foreseeable reason.”

Charles’s face blanked. After a moment, he asked, “You don’t intend to accept Sylvester’s offer?”

Lips compressed, Honoria shook her head. “I have no intention of marrying at all.” With that firm declaration, she reached for her embroidery.

“You will be pressured to accept Sylvester’s offer-both by the Cynsters and your own family.”

Honoria’s eyes flashed; she raised her brows haughtily. “My dear sir, I am not at all amenable to unwarranted interference in my life.”

Silence ensued, then Charles slowly stood. “I apologize, Miss Anstruther-Wetherby, should I have given offense.” He paused, then added: “However, I urge you to remember that, should a time come when you feel it necessary to marry to escape the situation arising from Tolly’s death, you have an alternative to marrying Sylvester.”

Engrossed in jabbing her needle into her canvas, Honoria did not look up.

“Your humble servant, Miss Anstruther-Wetherby.” Barely glancing at Charles’s bow, Honoria stiffly inclined her head. Charles turned on his heel and descended the steps; Honoria watched, narrow-eyed, as he returned to the house. When he disappeared, she frowned and wriggled her shoulders.

If she ever had to marry a Cynster, she’d rather try taming the tyrant.

The tyrant came knocking on her door late that evening.

Devil’s uncles, aunts, and younger cousins had stayed for dinner, then all except Tolly’s family had departed, letting the staff catch their collective breath. A cloak of calm had settled over the Place, a restful silence only found in those houses that had seen birth and death many times.

Leaving the Dowager and Tolly’s parents swapping bittersweet memories, Honoria had retired to her chamber. She had intended to compose her letter to Michael. Instead, the peace outside drew her to the window; she sank onto the window seat, her mind sliding into the night.

The knock that interrupted her undirected reverie was so peremptory she had no doubt who was there. She hesitated, then, stiffening her spine, rose and crossed to the door.

Devil was standing in the corridor, looking back toward the stairs. As she set the door wide, he turned and met her gaze. “Come for a walk.”

He held out his hand; Honoria held his gaze steadily-and slowly raised one brow. His lips twitched, then he fluidly sketched a bow. “My dear Honoria Prudence, will you do me the honor of strolling with me in the moonlight?”

She preferred his order to his request; the effortless charm lurking beneath his words, uttered in that soft, deep voice, was enough to turn any lady’s head. But it needed no more than the blink of an eye to decide why he was here. “I’ll get my shawl.”

The swath of fine Norwich silk lay on a chair; draping it about her shoulders, Honoria pinned the ends, then headed for the door. She intended making it plain that she was not about to pull back from her interest in Tolly’s murder.

Devil took her hand and drew her over the threshold and shut the door, then settled her hand on his sleeve. “There’s another stairway that gives onto the side lawn.”

In silence, they left the house to stroll beneath the huge trees dotting the lawn, passing from shadow to moonlight and back again.

The silence was soothing; the pervasive tang of leaves, green grass, and rich earth, scents Devil always associated with his home, was tonight spiced with a subtle fragrance, an elusive scent he had no difficulty placing.

It was her-the fragrance of her hair, of her skin, of her perfume-lily of the valley with a hint of rose-an expensive, alluring mix. Beneath all wafted the heady scent of woman, warm and sensual, promising all manner of earthly delights. The evocative scent teased his hunter’s senses and heightened the tension gripping him.

Tonight, he was prey to two driving desires-at the moment, he could pursue neither goal. There was nothing he could do to avenge Tolly’s death-and he could not take Honoria Prudence to his bed. Not yet. There was, however, one point he could address-he could do something about her chin.

He had no intention of letting her involve herself with Tolly’s murder, but his action on the terrace had been ill-advised. Intimidation would not work with this particular lady. Luckily, an alternative strategy lay to hand, one much more to his liking. Using it would kill two birds with one stone. Cloaked in shadow, Devil smiled-and turned their steps toward the summerhouse.

She lost patience before they reached it. “What steps are you taking to apprehend your cousin’s killer?”

“The matter will be dealt with-rest assured of that.”

He felt her glare. “That’s not what I asked.”

“That is, however, all the answer you need.”

She stiffened, then sweetly inquired: “Has anyone informed you, Your Grace, that you are without doubt the most arrogant man in Christendom?”

“Not in those precise words.”

The comment robbed her of speech long enough for him to lead her up the summerhouse steps. He halted in the pavillion’s center, releasing her. Shafts of moonlight streaked the floor, patterned with the shadows of the leaves. Through the dimness, he saw her breasts swell.

Be that as it may-“

Honoria’s words ended on a half squeak; one instant, her tormentor was standing, loose-limbed and relaxed, before her-the next, long fingers had firmed about her chin. And he was suddenly much closer. “What are you doing?” Her eyes had flown wide; she was breathless. She didn’t try to free her chin; his grip felt unbreakable.

His lids lifted; his eyes, even paler in the weak light, met hers. “Distracting you.”

His deep murmur was certainly distracting; Honoria felt it in her bones. Other than on her chin, he wasn’t touching her, yet she felt herself sliding into his hold. He drew her upward and she stretched, her head tilting further, her heart tripped, then started to race. His eyes held hers, mesmerizing in the moonlight, ageless, seductive, all-knowing. His head slowly lowered-her lips softened, parted.

She could not have pulled back had the heavens fallen.

The first touch of his lips sent an aching shudder through her; his arms immediately closed about her, drawing her against him. Hardness surrounded her; muscles with less give than steel caged her. His head angled; the pressure of his lips increased.

They were hard, like the rest of him-commanding, demanding; a heartbeat later they were warm, enticing, seductively persuasive. Honoria stilled, quivering, on some invisible threshold-then he tugged and she plunged forward, into the unknown.

It was not the first time she’d been kissed, yet it was. Never before had there been magic in the air, never before had she been taken by the hand and introduced to a world of sensation. Pleasure rose, warm and enthralling, then whirled through her, a kaleidoscope of delight, leaving her giddy. Pleasurably giddy.

What little breath she managed to catch, he took, weaving his web until she was caught beyond recall. The tip of his tongue traced her lips, a beguilingly artful caress. She knew she’d be wise to ignore it; be was leading her into realms beyond her knowledge, where he would be her guide. A most unwise situation-a dangerous situation.

His lips firmed; heat welled, melting all resistance. On a sigh, she parted her lips farther, yielding to his arrogant demand.

He took what he wanted-the intimate caress sent sensation streaking through her, a bolt of lightning striking to her core. Shocked, Honoria drew back on a gasp.

He let her retreat-just so far. Stunned, her wits reeling, she searched his face. One black brow slowly arched; his arms tightened.

“No.” Honoria braced against his hold-or tried to; her muscles had the consistency of jelly.

“There’s no need to panic-I’m only going to kiss you.”

Only? Honoria blinked wildly. “That’s bad enough. I mean-” She hauled in a breath and tried to focus her wayward wits. “You’re dangerous.”

He actually chuckled; the sound shredded her hard-won control-she shivered.

“I’m not dangerous to you.” His hands stroked soothingly, seductively, down her back. “I’m going to marry you. That puts the shoe on the other foot.”

Had her wits been completely addled? Honoria frowned. “What shoe-and which foot?”

His teeth gleamed. “According to all precepts, Cynster wives are the only beings on earth of whom Cynster men need be wary.”

“Really?” He was pulling her leg. Honoria tried to whip up her indignation, an impossible task given he had bent his head and was gently nibbling her lips.

“Just kiss me.” He whispered the words against her lips as he drew her hard against him. The contact set her nerves quivering again; his lips, lightly teasing, left her mind in no state to quibble.

Devil kissed her again, waiting with the patience of one who knew, until she yielded completely. Her melting surrender was all the more sweet, knowing as he did that she would prefer it was otherwise. Too wise, too experienced, he did not push her too far, keeping a tight rein on his passions. She lay softly supple in his arms, her lips his to enjoy, the sweet cavern of her mouth his to taste, to plunder, to claim; for tonight, that would have to be enough.

He would much rather have claimed her-taken her to his bed and filled her, celebrated life in that most fundamental of ways-a natural response to death’s presence. But she was innocent-her skittering reactions, her quiescence, spoke to him clearly. She would be his and his alone-but not yet.

The reality of his need impinged fully on his mind; Devil mentally cursed. Her softness, pressed from breast to thigh against him, was a potent invocation, feeding his demons, calling them, inciting them. He drew back; chest swelling, he studied her face, wondering… even while he shackled his desires. Her eyes glinted beneath her lashes.

Her mind still adrift, Honoria let her gaze roam his face. There was no softness in his features, no hint of gentleness, only strength and passion and an ironclad will. “I am not going to many you.” The words went directly from her brain to her lips-an instinctive reaction.

He merely raised a brow, irritatingly supercilious.

“I’m going to send for my brother tomorrow to come and escort me home.”

His eyes, silver in the night, narrowed fractionally. “Home-as in Hampshire?”

Honoria nodded. She felt unreal, out of touch with the world.

“Write a note for your brother-I’ll frank it tomorrow.”

She smiled. “And I’ll put it in the post myself.”

He smiled back-she had a premonition he was laughing at her though his chest, so close, was not quaking. “By all means. We’ll see what he thinks of your decision.”

Honoria’s smile turned smug; she felt quite lightheaded. He, Cynster that he was, thought Michael would support his cause. Michael, of course, would agree with her-he would see, as instantly as she had, that for her, marrying Devil Cynster was not a good idea.

“And now, if we’ve settled your immediate future to your satisfaction…” His lips brushed hers; instinctively, Honoria tracked them.

A twig cracked.

Devil raised his head, every muscle tensing. He and Honoria looked out into the night; the sight that met their incredulous eyes had him straightening. “What the…?”

Sssh!” Honoria pressed her hand to his lips.

He frowned and caught her hand, but remained silent as the small procession drew nearer, then passed the summerhouse. Through moonlight and shadow, Amelia, Amanda and Simon led the little band. Henrietta, Eliza, Angelica and Heather with Mary in tow followed. Each child carried a white rose. Devil’s frown deepened as the dense shadow of the trees swallowed them; of their destination there could be little doubt. “Wait here.”

Honoria stared at him. “You must be joking.” She picked up her skirts and hurried down the steps.

He was on her heels as they slipped from shadow to shadow, trailing the small band. The children halted before Tolly’s freshly filled grave. Honoria stopped in the deep shadows beneath an oak; Devil stopped behind her. Then his hands gripped her waist; he lifted her to put her aside.

She twisted in his hold and flung herself against him. “No!” Her furious whisper made him blink. Her hands gripping his shoulders, she whispered: “You mustn’t!”

He frowned at her, then lowered his head so he could whisper in her ear: “Why the hell not? They’re not frightened of me.”

“It’s not that!” Honoria frowned back. “You’re an adult-not one of them.”

“So?”

“So this is their moment-their time to say good-bye. Don’t spoil it for them.”

He searched her face, then his lips thinned. Lifting his head, he looked at the contingent lined up at the foot of the grave but made no further move to join them.

Honoria wriggled and he let her go; she turned to watch. The chill beneath the trees penetrated her thin gown-she shivered. The next instant, Devil’s arms came around her, drawing her back against him. Honoria stiffened, then gave up and relaxed, too grateful for his warmth to quibble.

A conference had taken place at the graveside; now Amelia stepped forward and threw her rose on the mound. “Sleep well, Tolly.”

Amanda stepped up. “Rest in peace,” she intoned, and flung her rose to join her twin’s.

Next came Simon. “Good-bye, Tolly.” Another rose landed on the grave.

One by one, the children added their roses to the small pile, each bidding Tolly farewell. When they were done, they looked at each other, then re-formed their procession and hurried back to the house.

Honoria held Devil back until the children passed by. He sent her an unreadable, distinctly Cynster look when she finally let him loose, then took her hand; together, they trailed the children back to the lawn.

There was dew on the grass; it was heavy going, particularly for little Mary. Devil grunted and lengthened his stride-Honoria flung herself at him again. “No!” She glared furiously and pressed him back under the trees.

Devil glared back. “They’ll get wet feet-I can carry two of them.”

He gripped her waist: Honoria clung to his shoulders. “They’ll guess you know where they’ve been-they’ll guess you watched. It’ll spoil it for them. A little water won’t hurt them-not if they’re true Cynsters.”

A gleam marked Devil’s reluctant smile. He waited, grudgingly, until the children disappeared through the side door, then, her hand locked in his, strode for the house. The children were still negotiating the stairs when they reached the foot. Devil went straight on, treading close by the wall. When they reached the upper landing, the children were only partway up the next flight-Devil yanked Honoria into an alcove.

She gasped as she landed against his chest. One arm locked about her; hard fingers lifted her face. His lips were on hers before she drew breath; she tried to hold firm, but beneath the pleasure he lavished upon her, her resistance wilted, then melted away.

To be replaced by something so insidious, so soul-stealingly compulsive, so innately enthralling, she couldn’t pull back. He was hungry-she sensed it in the leashed passion that hardened his lips, that, when she opened to him, set him plundering more rapaciously than before. The tension investing his every muscle spoke of rigid control; the turbulence behind it frightened and fascinated. His tongue tangled with hers, intimately enticing, then settled to a slow, repetitive, probing rhythm. Her mouth was his; his possession set her senses whirling-no man had touched her like this. A warm flush rushed through her, a sweet fever unlike anything she’d known. Beyond that and the shocking intimacy of his caress, she knew only one thing. He was ravenously hungry-for her. The sudden, almost overwhelming impulse to give herself to him, to assauge that rampant need, shook her to the core-and still she could not pull back.

How long they stood locked together in the dark she had no idea; when he lifted his head, she’d lost touch with the world.

He hesitated, then brushed her lips with his. “Do I frighten you?”

“Yes.” In a way he did. Wide-eyed, her pulse tripping, Honoria searched his shadowed eyes. “But it’s not you I’m frightened of.” He was making her feel, making her yearn. “I-” Frowning, she stopped, for once lost for words.

In the dark, Devil smiled crookedly. “Don’t worry.” He took her mouth in one last, searching kiss before putting her from him. “Go. Now.” It was a warning-he wasn’t sure she understood.

She blinked up at him through the dimness, then nodded. “Good night.” She slipped out of the alcove. “Sleep well.”

Devil nearly laughed. He wouldn’t have a good night-he wouldn’t sleep well. He could feel another headache coming on.

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