Lady Temperance knows she is in trouble when her guardian, Viscount Linchester, catches her sneaking out of the garden in a state of dishabille. When she reveals she was with Lady Prudence, not Pru’s brother Horrid Harold, as Ashby assumed, her guardian accepts the news she was kissing the other woman with aplomb. Ashby is convinced she can’t have learned much from another inexperienced chit and does something most peculiar—he offers to instruct her in the art of kissing…everywhere.
Tempie had her hand on the banister and had taken a single step up when Ashby broke the silence that had sprung up between them in the carriage ride home from the Hoytons’ evening party.
“A word in my study, Temperance.”
She winced at his use of her full name. Yes, her guardian was assuredly angry about something. Tightening her hold on the reticule in her hand, she stepped off the stair and turned to face him. “Of course.” As she followed him into his study, her mind whirled with reasons why he’d want a discussion, especially this late at night. Two possibilities occurred to her, and neither one appealed. The first was, he had contracted a marriage for her. She hid a shudder at the thought, but couldn’t pretend the idea would please her. The other possibility was he had seen her slip out to the gardens and return in a state of dishabille. Had others noticed?
In his study, he directed her to stand at the edge of his desk while he sat down. His seated position made him slightly shorter than she was, but no less intimidating. She swallowed a lump in her throat as she dropped the reticule on his desk and stripped off her gloves. “I am weary this evening, Ashby. I would like to retire soon.”
He nodded. “Where were you this evening when you disappeared?”
She tried widening her blue eyes and striving for an expression of innocence. “I do not know what you mean, sir. I did not disappear.”
Ashby frowned, giving his distinguished features a rough edge that made her heart race. Tempie wasn’t sure if the increased pulse came from fear or something else she couldn’t identify. “I saw you walk into the Hoytons’ garden. You did not return for nearly an hour. I ask again. What were you doing?”
She pursed her lips, refusing to answer. Tempie hoped tales of her guardian’s temper were exaggerated by the Ton. It had been a little more than a year since she had come to reside with him, when her beloved papa died, and she had never seen him angry before. Of course, she didn’t see much of him anyway, as he seemed to go out of his way to avoid her by staying busy with gentlemanly pursuits, such as card games and spending time at his club. Tonight, she feared she would be on the receiving end of his legendary anger as his eyes darkened, and he leaned forward.
“I shall not ask you again, Temperance.”
Tempie tried to remain impassive as she looked over his shoulder instead of at him, unable to meet his gaze.
With a sigh, Ashby said, “Very well.” His voice was cool, but there was a hint of hardness beneath that made her tremble. “Turn around.”
Tempie blinked. “I…what?”
Biting her lip, she slowly turned, until her back was to him. She gasped when the warmth of his hand seeped through the lavender muslin of her gown. He pressed between her shoulder blades, forcing her to bend forward. A second later, his hand collided forcefully with her buttocks.
With a cry of outrage, Tempie tried to spin away, but he held her immobile, continuing to spank her thrice more before he stopped. His hand on her back kept her from standing or turning. “What were you doing this evening?”
She shook her head, biting back tears caused more from humiliation than pain. No one had spanked her since she was a little girl. How dare he?
“Do tell me when you change your mind.” He sounded bored as he resumed thumping her bottom with solid smacks that jarred her.
Tempie endured, sure with each strike she could take no more, when he finally relented.
“You are a stubborn hoyden, Temperance.” Was that a trace of amusement in his words? “Allow me to prompt your confession. I know you disappeared into the gardens with Harold Hoyton.”
His hand still kept her from turning, and Tempie realized he was rubbing her inflamed buttocks in a soft circular motion. Her stomach clenched, and she was suddenly tingling between her legs. Alarmed by what she was feeling, she took a step forward before turning to face him. “Very well, Lord Linchester,” she snapped. “Since you are so misinformed, I see it is up to me to correct your assumptions.”
Keeping her voice as frigid as she could, and trying to maintain a blank expression, she said, “I was in the gardens, but not with that despicable Harold Hoyton.” She glared at Ashby. “Have you no sense to suggest such a thing, sir? He is a loathsome coxcomb.”
Ashby inclined his head. “I do apologize for offending you. Perhaps you will be so good as to clear up the confusion on the subject of your whereabouts?”
She braced herself, certain he would not be pleased by her actions. “I was in the garden with Prudence Hoyton.”
Ashby looked relieved before frowning again. “Why were you so disheveled upon your return? I had assumed you had sneaked off for an interlude with Harold, since he disappeared around the same time.” His mouth tightened. “Did someone force unwanted attentions upon you or Lady Prudence?”
Tempie blushed. “No. If you must know, I was kissing Pru.”
He froze, looking astonished. “Lady Prudence?”
Tempie resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “Yes, Ashby.”
“I see.” His expression was impassive. “Why were you kissing Lady Prudence?” He gave a small smile. “Were you practicing?”
She shook her head.
“Then why should you wish to kiss another woman?”
“She has soft lips,” blurted out Tempie, her cheeks feeling even hotter.
“Ah.” Ashby cocked his head. “Was this your first kiss with Lady Prudence?”
After a hesitation, she shook her head again. “No,” she said in a whisper.
He cleared his throat. “How long has this been going on?”
“Since the beginning of the season.” It was her third and Prudence’s first. The girls had bonded over a lack of male attention. Men of the Ton had given up trying to call on Tempie, due to her constant refusals, while Prudence’s plumpness and shyness seemed to have cast her into the role of reluctant wallflower.
“I see.” He sighed. “Is that all you have done?”
Tempie blinked, unsure what he was asking.
“How do you kiss Lady Prudence?”
“On the lips.” Surely, Ashby had kissed a woman before? Intrigued by the idea that he hadn’t, she asked, “Are you unaware how the deed is performed, Ashby?”
He chuckled. “No, Tempie.”
She relaxed slightly at his return to the preferred version of her name.
“Have you kissed a man?”
Tempie shook her head. “That would be improper.”
Ashby laughed again. “You must know many of the Ton would view your kiss with Lady Prudence as improper. It is not illegal as such an act would be between men, but nor is it flaunted.”
She glared at him. “We were not flaunting anything, sir. We prefer discretion for our trysts. Pru would never contemplate public exposure, unlike some men, who might try to force me to marry them. That is why I do not kiss men—that, and it would be an unpleasant task.”
He eyed her with a peculiar expression. “If you have not kissed a man, how do you know what it would be like? You might prefer kissing men to women.”
Feeling a little confused, she climbed up to sit on the desk without thought. “I do not know for certain, of course, but she is soft and pleasingly round. Pru feels delightful in my arms. Men are hard and rough. How could they compare?”
“That is not very scientific of you, Tempie. I know you have an inquisitive mind. How can you discern the outcome of an experiment if you do not account for all factors?”
She nodded. “I see your point.” She couldn’t hide a grimace. “Yet, there are no men I would kiss.”
“Not even the Honorable Harold Hoyton?” he teased with a sparkle in his eyes.
Tempie giggled. “Certainly not.”
After a moment, his expression turned serious again. “I shall kiss you.”
She blinked. “I do not think—”
He leaned forward to put his finger lightly against her lips. “Do not think. Simply feel, so you can decide if you have a preference.”
Feeling uneasy, she remained perfectly still as he raised his head while bringing hers lower. As his lips touched hers, she thought about pulling away, but hesitated. In that instance, she was lost. Ashby’s firm lips were surprisingly soft and gentle against hers, with an underlying hint of steel that made her shiver. His mouth coaxed hers into a response, and she moaned quietly as he deepened the kiss, pulling her closer. He issued a moan of his own before parting her lips. Then he did the most peculiar thing. He put his tongue in her mouth!