Asher's Dilemma

By: Coleen Kwan

A cautious expression came over her face. “Do you mean you accept my need to forge my own independence?”

The relief of being with her made him extravagant. “Pursue your independence, my sweet, but remember I’ll always be here for you, waiting.”

“Always?” Her eyebrow lifted.

He folded his arms around her, and the familiar sensation of her body set his heart hammering. There were some things time could never change. “Minerva, if need be, I would wait for you forever.”

The smile she gave him was enough to melt a glacier. “Forever is a long time.” Circling her arms around his neck, she pressed herself against him. “I promise I won’t make you wait that long.”

Eyes glistening with expectation, she raised her mouth to him, and his blood began to thrum. Oh, dear heaven. He’d not thought this out thoroughly. How the blue blazes was he to avoid such knee-buckling temptation?

Through the thin stuff of her dress he could feel her warm curves sliding against him, igniting a firestorm of lust in him. The lure of her lips was too much. He lowered his head and kissed her fiercely. Heat shattered through him. Lust, unfettered, roared in his veins. In an instant she’d brought him fully back to life. Aroused, he pulled her closer, and she moaned in response.

“My love.” She caressed his chest and shoulders, her hands moving over him compulsively. “Will you be staying the night?”

His mouth moistened. The bulge in his groin swelled at the thought of peeling her dress from her fine shoulders and running his hands over her velvet skin. If it were just the two of them he would have carried her upstairs and had his way with her right then and now, even with her invalid father and the maid in the house. He ached to make her his. But…she was not really his, and they were not alone. There was a third party involved. Personally he didn’t think the present Asher deserved any consideration, but that was the man Minerva thought he was, and he couldn’t bring himself to take advantage of her ignorance.

Reluctantly he disentangled himself from her embrace. “I think it would be best if I did not.”

Disappointment clouded her expression, and he silently cursed himself. He smoothed back her shining bits of hair which had come adrift. In his arms she felt so warm and animated. How could she disappear from existence? The idea was monstrous.

“I must return to London as soon as possible,” he said.

She sighed and moved away from him. Immediately he felt the loss.

“Ah yes.” Briskly she tucked away her loosened hair. “Your secretive inventions beckon you. Far be it from me to keep you away from your discoveries.”

He’d forgotten how different she was from other women. Not for her sulking or pouting or tantrums. Just a crisp retort to let him know she was no one’s puppet. He couldn’t help smiling, which brought a frown to her smooth brow.

“I’m glad you find it so amusing,” she said.

“I’m not amused.” Swiftly he caught her hand, eager to wipe the frown from her forehead. “I’m desolate to be parting from you, but I will write to you, every day. I swear.”

“You? Write?” She arched a skeptical eyebrow. “I’ve only ever seen you write letters to other scientists or possibly to your tailor. Never any love letters. You shouldn’t make promises you cannot keep.”

Lifting her hand, he pressed it to his heart. “This is one promise I will honor.”

She stared at him, her gaze becoming troubled as she took in his appearance. “I don’t know what it is about you, but you seem somehow…altered.”

The muscles in his neck tensed. “Altered? Whatever do you mean?”

“I’m not sure.” She surveyed him from top to toe. “Where are your gloves? And I could have sworn you were wearing a different coat earlier today!”

She was too demmed observant. “A different coat? Of course not,” he bluffed heartily. “And as for my gloves, why I must have dropped them outside.”

“You don’t look like the man who stormed out of here earlier.”

He stretched wide his arms and affected a waggish tone. “Now really, Minerva. Are you saying I’m an imposter?”

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