Author's Note: I'm back at school, so unfortunately I'll probably be updating less frequently than I was in the past month; however, I will still try to update as often as I can. Of course, the more you lovely readers review, the harder it will be for me to do my actual homework instead of writing/posting. :D

Hanging by a Thread

Chapter Twenty-One

x x x

It was good they were leaving, Kylie decided as she let the footman help her into the carriage. It was good they were getting away from the kitchen-boy turned artist who ate her with his eyes day after day but refused to touch her.

Which should have been a good thing. Which would have been a good thing, if the memory of their one kiss hadn't seared itself into her mind so strongly. She needed to get away for a few days, to remind herself what she was supposed to do, remind herself of the man she was supposed to desire, make herself forget a smear of pink on a golden fingertip, the dash of a kiss on her lips.

As the carriage lurched to a start Adrian's arm settled across her shoulders, pulling their bodies closer together.

"What are you thinking about?" He asked her, as if he owned her thoughts along with everything else. She wasn't fool enough to tell him.

Kylie pulled her coat closer to her body, tucking the soft fur collar around her neck. "I was wondering what the old me would think if she saw me now."

"You can't have changed that much."

She shrugged. "I'm sitting in a private carriage with the Duke of somewhere or other, wearing fur and . . . hell, this outfit is probably worth more than my whole dowry."



"Duke of Lancing." He corrected. "Not somewhere or other."

She sighed and let her head fall to his shoulder. "I know that." She told him, and sank back into her thoughts while he played idly with her hair.

What would Kade have said if she'd told him the same thing?

"Would you have been jealous of her?" He would have asked, letting his hand rest, just for a moment, as he brought his gaze up to study her, his fingers entwined as always around the paintbrush.

"Probably." She would have said. "But I would have gotten over it soon enough." Her mother had taught her from the beginning not to waste her time dreaming of pearls and silk. Some people were wealthy, some weren't. She wasn't.

"Is this the color of your jealousy?" Kade would have asked, showing her a fingertip swathed in a shade of green so light it was almost yellow.

"Not quite."

What her mother hadn't taught her was that some people are free, and some people aren't. Adrian had taught her that.

"What is the color of freedom?" She wanted to know. Kade, despite the fact that he was currently present only in her mind, was at loss for words.

x x x

Towards the end of their journey the mountain grew steeper and the roads became impassable. With a mile yet to go, they were forced to leave the carriage behind in exchange for two sleek brown horses, all their supplies for the weekend packed into saddlebags.

By the time they had reached the cabin, Kylie had put all thoughts of artists out her mind, laughing as Adrian swung her off her mount and carried her over the snow into the safety of the cabin, where servants had lit the fires and changed the sheets hours before.

But those servants had left long ago, just as Adrian had requested, and the cabin was empty but for the two of them. It was small, smaller than Kylie had expected. She had grown used to the opulence of Lancing, but this small cabin contained simply a main room adjoined by two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a kitchen. Nothing else.

Kylie was instantly in love with the simplicity of the cabin, which might have reminded her of her old home were it not for the elaborate furnishings that spoke of wealth beyond compare. A huge fireplace stood in the center of the room, ready to confront any cool air seeping in from the wide glass windows on the opposite wall, glass that gave a view of the mountains surrounding the cabin. Colorful tapestries hung on the other two walls, and the wooden floor was covered with a carpet of real fur so large it put the collar of Kylie's coat to shame.

She threw her coat off and sank into the couch, relishing the feeling of exhaustion that came only after riding. Adrian kicked off his boots and stood above her, watching her form lying stretched across the couch, noticing that her face, just like his, was still flushed from riding in the cold. He could have been any man in that moment, wearing a simple white shirt and plain black breeches, his fingers cold and his face warm.

"I've got an idea." He said, his hand playing with the heavy fabric of her riding habit.

"Do you?" She asked. "I can't possibly guess what it might be . . ."

"I just want to make sure you stay warm."

"I just can't tire you out, can I?" She asked with a teasing smile. "That was my whole plan—make you ride halfway up the mountain so that you were too tired to do anything but sleep."

"You underestimated me." He laughed. "Sleeping is the very last thing I want to do." He sat down on the edge of the couch, entwining his fingers in her hair.

She closed her eyes and let herself enjoy the motions of his hand in her hair. "Well, I for one am too tired to do anything but lie here. If you want what I know you want to do, you shall have to undress me yourself."

He kissed her throat, just below her ear, his mouth warm and moist against her skin. "I can do that."

She sighed as he moved his lips down her throat, sliding his caresses further down her body with each button he undid and tie he unlaced. By the time he had finished, Kylie had forgotten that she was exhausted, she had forgotten not-quite-right shades of pink, she had forgotten how she ended up on the fur rug stretched in front of the couch, her skin shining white against its deep brown.

All she knew was that the fur was soft beneath her, and Adrian was warm above her, and that she felt very, very good.

x x x

Adrian had draped a blanket over Kylie's nude form, and she lay in front of the fire in perfect contentment. He stood in the doorway, a smile rising on his lips at the sight of her. How was he supposed to marry some rich man's daughter when he had a woman like this waiting in his bed? He hoped his wife didn't expect him to remain faithful, for if she did she would be sorely disappointed.

He had wrapped a blanket around his waist for warmth but his chest was bare, his already tanned skin flickering to golden in the firelight. He held a mug of tea in each hand, a satisfied grin on his face. He handed Kylie one of the mugs and sat on the floor next to her.

"Did you make this?" She asked, bringing the hot beverage to her lips.

"Yes, I did." That satisfied smirk returned.

"I've got to say, I'm surprised you can boil water without setting the kitchen on fire."

"I'm not completely incompetent." He chided her.

She raised an eyebrow.

"Don't look at me like that!"

"Alright then, what else can you cook?"

Well . . ." He paused in thought. "One time, after Devon and I went fishing, I grilled our catches over a fire."


Adrian laughed, thinking of what Marissa would have said in this situation. "A whole fish, my Lord, all on your own! If only I could do the same!" He almost shuddered thinking about her musical voice, so eager to praise, so completely lacking in sarcasm.

"Well, it tasted good." Adrian retorted.

"You're lucky I'm here to keep you from starving."

"I think other parts of my body are luckier than my stomach." He grinned.

"Can you last a minute without dropping some kind of sexual innuendo?"

"With you around? No."

She laughed and let him kiss her. She let his lips seek hers, let his tongue push its way into her mouth, she let her tongue push back, she laughed and let herself enjoy what she was feeling.

x x x

By the time the weekend, a montage of clothed bodies riding horses all across the mountainside and naked bodies coupling all about the cabin, was over, Kylie was thoroughly exhausted.

She accepted the footman's hand gratefully as she slid back into the carriage, and fell asleep with her head on Adrian's lap the moment they started rumbling towards home.