He shrugged modestly. “Most of it.”
All of it, but he didn’t want to sound as eager for her admiration and approval as he felt. He’d been telling himself he’d done all this building to take his mind off her, and now he wondered if he’d been telling himself a lie. Maybe he’d done it for her. Not to seduce her, but to impress her. She’d complimented his carpentry, after all. Even named it as one of his redeeming qualities.
You’re good with your hands.
Her gaze landed on the hammer and nails he’d just set aside, and she walked toward his just-finished project—a wide, tall cabinet with two shuttered doors.
“Is this a new wardrobe?” She put her hand on one of the door handles.
“Alex, wait.” He lunged forward just as she gave the handle a pull, catching her in his arms and drawing her to the side. Just in time. The contents of the cabinet fell forward as designed, spilling into the center of the room and landing with a crash.
His heart pounded from the urgency of whisking her to safety. It pounded even harder from the thrill of holding her in his arms.
She didn’t seem in a hurry to leave his embrace. Instead, she stared at the room’s new centerpiece and gave a little laugh. “Oh, my. Now that is impressive.”
Really. A secret, stashed-away bed. This was beyond antlers, beyond bawdy house paintings and velvet draperies. He’d tucked a mattress and bed frame in the cabinet, standing it on end so that when the doors were opened, the bed folded down from the wall—ready for use.
It was ingenious in its sheer depravity.
His strong arms remained about her. She probably ought to express some thanks for his swift move to save her from being crushed by the thing. But at the moment, she was too transfixed by his invention. Extricating herself from his embrace, she strolled around the perimeter of the bed, peeking under the frame and investigating the mechanics.
“Did you devise this yourself?”
“I’m not the first to think of a folding bed, if that’s what you mean—but I made my own customizations for this one.”
“Where did these wooden legs come from? The cabinet’s not deep enough to fit them.”
“They’re tucked under the bed frame. When the bed is lowered, they unfold to support it.”
“Remarkable. And it’s even made up with bed linens.” She trailed her fingertips over the satin sheets. When she came to the end of the bed, she peered at the back of the cabinet. “Oh, look. There’s a mirror. You truly are shameless, aren’t you?”
“Never claimed otherwise.” He moved behind her, stepping into the reflection. “There’s meant to be a strap to secure the thing. Keep that sort of accident from happening. But I hadn’t installed it yet. I only completed the thing today.”
If he’d only completed it today, and he didn’t have company tonight . . . that meant the bed hadn’t yet been used.
The thought of him occupying this bed with another woman made her tremble with envy.
She wanted him for herself.
There was no denying it any longer. Only deciding what—if anything—she meant to do about it.
Alex regarded herself in the mirror, consulting her conscience. In years to come, her memory of the next few moments would either be cause for pride and satisfaction, or a source of profound regret. One way or another, her life would be altered forever.
“The other night, in your bedchamber . . .” She turned to face him. “You told me there were many ways to give and receive pleasure. A great many ways.”[email protected]@@@[email protected]@@@@=======
He nodded slowly. “Yes.”
She steeled her nerve. “Teach me a lesson.”
“You can’t mean that,” he said.
“Before you argue, let me assure you—I’ve thought it all through.”
He looked dazed. “But of course you have.”
Alex navigated around him and went to the well-stocked bar. “Let’s count the advantages.” She slid a whisky decanter toward one end of the counter. “There’s too much tension between us. If we can dispel it, why shouldn’t we? We’re both adults.” She sent a bottle of champagne to join the whisky. “You’re frustrated”—a jug of apple brandy—“and I’m curious.”
“You said yourself, you’re scrupulous about preventing conception and disease. That does away with those risks on my end.” She moved a few more bottles to join the rest, then stood back. “Look at the tally. The conclusion is obvious.”
He blinked at the row of bottles and decanters. “What I’m concluding here is that I should send you to bed and then get roaring drunk.”
“Don’t be absurd. I can’t think of any disadvantages at all, unless . . .” She gave him a coy look and pushed a wine bottle toward the “against” direction. “It might be bad?”