Excerpt from A Lady of Letters

     
     Augusta closed the door behind her. "How dare you, sir!" she said in a strangled whisper. "How dare you break into my private study and paw through my things. Get out! Get out at once!"
     "Not until I have some answers from you."
     "I—I have nothing to answer for," she rasped.
     "No?" He rose, as did his voice, and held a piece of paper with his handwriting on it up in the air. "What of this?"
     Her gaze dropped to the ground. "What of it?"
     "You impudent chit! I cannot believe it! You—you tricked me!"
     "Oh, and how do you figure that? Did I give you false advice? Did I betray your confidences? Did I do anything but... act as a true friend?"
     He wasn't sure how to answer.
     "I certainly didn't know either, sir, if that is what you mean," continued Augusta. "Not until very recently." Her eyes were alight with sparks. "Good Lord, you cannot imagine I should ever have written such things if I had any idea it was... you!"
     Marcus found himself staring at the molten hazel, flecked with amber, and growing hot all over. He took a step closer to her. "Why not?"
     "You just answered that yourself, sir. You said you couldn't believe it—you have made it clear that you could never accept that your learned friend was a female."
     "Damnation! All the same, you should have told me!"
     "Why?" she cried, anger mixing with some other emotion. "What does it matter that we don't like each other in the flesh, when something that was of real value to both of us might have been saved?"
     The earl took a deep breath." Is that why you chose to quarrel with me last night?"
     Augusta didn't answer, but turned her head to avoid meeting his gaze. He was surprised to see a glimmer of wetness in her eyes. "On top of everything, I suppose you are now going to reveal the true identity of Firebrand and ruin everything I have been working for."
     "I should hope you know me better than that," he said in a low voice as he moved even closer.
     Her mouth quirked upward in grim humor as she considered his words. "It does appear we know each other very well."
     "Hmm. Very well, indeed." Marcus was now standing quite close to her and could breath in the faint scent of lavender and lemon from her person.
     "Yes, well, er, if you are not going to unmask me, what do you suggest we do about this unfortunate mess?"
     "This."                     
     His mouth came down upon hers, with an urgency that nearly scorched both of their lips. She struggled to speak but instead of allowing a word, he slipped his tongue deep inside her, twining with hers in a most intimate kiss. All attempt to elude his arms ceased, and with a low cry, she melted against his chest. Tentatively, she began to return his embrace, her fingers stealing up to brush the hard planes of his cheeks.
     Her untutored response only stoked the fires of his passion. Wild thoughts flamed in his head as his hands pulled her close, molding every soft curve to his body. At that moment, he wanted nothing so much as to strip off all her clothes, lay her glorious body on the carpet before the crackling fire and make passionate love to her, uniting them physically as one, just as they were joined in thought.
     A groan escaped him as her thumb ran along the line of his jaw. Never before had his self control gone up in smoke like this. Her simple touch was threatening to burn away every last vestige of the defenses he had carefully constructed around his soul, leaving him naked in his need. Good Lord, in another second he would—
     "Lord Dunham, have you had any luck in—" Marianne's words ended in a squeak of surprise as she clutched at the latch to keep the door from swinging open any farther. Eyes widening slightly, she stared in some fascination at the scene before finding her voice again. "Er, well, it seems you are in no need of my help." With that, she pulled the door shut.
     Augusta pulled away from Marcus's chest. "M-Marianne knew you were here?" she managed to stammer.
     "Er, yes. I came here this morning in hopes of borrowing a certain book. She let me in to look for it." His voice sounded equally dazed.
     "What book?
     He told her the title.
     She moved rather unsteadily to the stack of books by the window and took up the one on top. "Here," she said, hurrying back and thrusting it in his hands. Without waiting for a reply, she continued on in a rush of steps and disappeared into the hallway.
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