Is it possible for the hunger that flourishes in darkness be a love for ever?
The reputation of Jack Shaw as a wicked libertine is suitably warranted. Indulging in fleeting pleasures, Jack lives for the moment, until he runs into Lady Caroline Seton. Right now he wants more than just a stolen kiss, he wants eternally. Caroline however, is concealing a dangerous secret, one that could cost Jack his life. Will his love be suficient to save them both?
Two years later
Caroline closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Standing on the foredeck of the merchant vessel The Dreamer, the misty salt air bit at her skin and caused her to clutch her shawl more firmly around her. She'd left the warmth and comfort of her cabin to find a reprieve from thoughts of Jack, but it was impossible. Beneath the smell of the ocean she could still detect his evocative masculine scent, a scent that heated her blood and made forgetting him impossible.
He owned this ship, as well as a dozen others, and his presence lingered here, taunting her with the promise of what she wanted most, but could never have.
Under more ideal circumstances Caroline would have found berth on another vessel, but time had been of the essence. Jack had returned to America months earlier than she had anticipated.
She'd heard word of his return at almost the exact moment she'd sensed him. Rushing to her lodgings, she'd gathered up her belongings and boarded the first ship back to England. It was her misfortune that the earliest departing vessel had been one of Jack's, because her haste had cost her dearly.
These last days at sea had been torture. Jack's essence had seeped into every pore of the ship. He haunted her dreams, would give her no peace. Every night as she attempted to sleep he visited her, begging in his velvety voice for her to return to him. Come back to me, Caroline, he urged. Come back. The heat of his nocturnal caresses and the ravishment of his kisses drove her to madness.
Opening weary eyes, Caroline gazed out over the water. Swirls of mist partially obscured the cloudy sky, the silvery gray color reminding her so much of Jack's eyes.
From the moment she'd first seen him in the Fontaine ballroom, she'd been lost. The passionate kiss a week later had destroyed her. Even now she could feel the heat of his expert lips against hers, and the remembrance of his taste made her mouth water.
She wanted him so desperately she knew she would never be able to control the animal within her. It would bleed him dry; she would not be able to stop it. She had to stay away, far away. A man as beautiful and magnetic as Jack Shaw did not deserve to die in such a heinous manner. He radiated life and vitality, and she would flee to the ends of the earth before she drained him of the very things that had caused her to fall in love with him. A love that had been doomed long before she met him.
And so she ran. From France to Italy to America, she'd barely catch her breath before Jack would arrive, the expansion of his shipping interests causing him to visit all of the places she fled to.
This last missed encounter had come too close. Caroline could only hope his overseas business was resolved and he would remain in America. She was tired, lonely, and hungry for him. Misery was sapping her strength and resolve. If Jack came near her again, she wasn't certain she had the will to resist him.
And he would pay for her weakness with his precious life.
* * * * *
It was nearly two o'clock in the morning when Jack Shaw strode down the gangplank of his ship in London. Thick fog swirled around his boots as he left the dock and vaulted into his waiting carriage. He looked at his man of affairs who sat across from him. "She's in residence? You're certain?"
"Yes, Mr. Shaw. Lady Caroline is here. I saw her myself, just to be sure."
Jack breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed into the squabs. He'd deliberately timed his docking, aware that if he arrived during the day word would spread of his arrival and Caroline would hear of it. For the sake of his ego, he'd denied for years that she was running from him, but after this last occasion in Virginia he could no longer delude himself.
Lady Caroline Seton didn't want anything to do with him.
At the age of five and twenty Caroline was considered a spinster by choice. Highly sought after for her beauty and unaccountable wealth, she rejected all suitors. She was an enigma in every respect, a beautiful and vivacious young woman who had taken the Beau Monde by storm. Her origins were unknown, her courtesy title derived from a tenuous tie to a title now held in abeyance. Jack appreciated her mysterious appeal for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the pleasant notoriety that allowed him to find her wherever she was.
Unfortunately, he'd caught only fleeting and rare glimpses of her over the last two years. Yet every time he saw her Caroline attracted him on some deep, primitive level he'd never experienced before. She traveled with no abigail or companion to lighten her journeys and he respected her strength of will and intrepidness. No other female of his acquaintance would travel the world alone, flaunting convention and unafraid of censure. He appreciated her individuality and admired her for it.
"You've gone to a great deal of trouble to locate Lady Caroline," his man of affairs murmured.
Jack's chest expanded on a deep breath. Caroline was the only woman he had ever pursued. He hungered for her, desired her on a level that went far beyond the physical. She felt their unusual connection as well, or she wouldn't be avoiding him. But running was futile. There was truly no choice for either of them. After that night in the Moreland garden their fate had been sealed. Soon she would see that.
"I missed her in Virginia by only an hour," he brooded, remembering the nearly unbearable frustration he'd felt when he learned she'd fled to London on one of his own ships. But he had come for her. She would not be getting away again. This time he would soothe her concerns.
This time he would be catching Caroline.