She told herself not to panic. “You can’t mean—”

He cut her off again. “You are my wife. My only wife, Mia. You may have married me on a six-month lease, but I married you for life.”

“We’re in a marriage of convenience!”

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“No, we’re not. It’s inconvenient, for both of us.”

A wave of horror crashed over her. She couldn’t be married to Vander. Not forever. Not . . . not living in the same house.

No.

He must have sensed what she was thinking. “You will live here, at Rutherford Park. Your nephew will also live with me. And”—he leaned forward and there was a distinct flare in his eyes—“you will sleep with no one but me.”

“You don’t understand!”

“Oh, but I do understand. I understand madness all too well, and I suspect you have more than a touch of it. I’d say that we have even odds on whether our children will be as cracked as a broken egg. Another reason we ought to have spares: the eldest might have to be put away before he reaches majority.”

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The sob that she had held in check broke and she tried to twist free. “Let me go!” He released her immediately and she dashed sideways, putting a heavy chair between them.

“You really thought I wouldn’t mind having a temporary duchess?” Vander asked incredulously.

“I imagined that we would live separately for the few months that we would be married,” she said, rubbing her arms where she could still feel the pressure of his fingers. “I planned—plan— to travel to Bavaria with Charlie.”

“I gather you didn’t picture yourself fulfilling your wifely duties. Presumably you would lure some unwary Bavarian into giving you evidence of adultery if annulment didn’t work?”

“No! I’m sure I could bribe someone. With my own money. I would be writing,” she explained. “You can’t know it, but I—”

“If you ever write another one of those deplorable poems that could be construed in any way to address me or a body part of mine,” Vander said flatly, “I cannot be responsible for the consequences.”

Anger flashed up Mia’s spine and she drew herself as tall as she could be. “My poem was not deplorable,” she retorted. “If you think that I would write a line about you again, you are sadly mistaken.” She added, “Besides, I don’t write poetry anymore.”

With a violent shove, Vander pushed aside the chair that stood between them and took a step toward her.

“Stay there!” she cried. “If you—if you try to hurt me in any way, I shall shoot you!”

That caught his attention and he gave a rough bark of laughter. She hated that his face still affected her, even knowing how arrogant he was. It was just that he was very beautiful, with his tousled hair and deep bottom lip.

“Allow me to tell you something important, Duchess. My wife lives with me.”

“No.” She managed to make the word firm but polite.

“No?”

You’d think no one had ever refused him in his life.

“No,” she echoed, feeling like a parrot. “No, Your Grace, I will not live with you, dine with you—or sleep with you, even for four nights.”

Chapter Ten

NOTES ON FREDERIC

~ Flora wakes knowing her heart is in Frederic’s keeping, he of the angelic eyes and . . . something.

~ “I will love none other than him he,” she announces to Mr. Mortimer’s solicitor.

~ His request she give up her bequest appeals to Flora’s sacrificial side. “Filthy dross means aught to me; I would live in a Hovel with my beloved.”

~ Mortimer’s solicitor notes Frederic has palazzo in Italy. (would that make his name Frederico?) Frederic has palazzo somewhere in Bavaria. Or a castle? Ugh.

Frederic draws her into his arms, kisses her passionately. Flora feels her head swim (‘Flora feels’?), and her slender body sways in his, overcome by the Force of Pure Sentiment. Recalled to herself by a whisper from an Angel on High (her dead mother), her slender delicate hand strikes his cheek. “How dare you forget yourself, Count! My Circumstances have been difficult but my Soul is that of a lady!”

Vander was in the grip of shock. No one—not even Thorn—gainsaid him. Not that he issued orders to Thorn.

But where he did command, he was used to unquestioning obedience.

He was a duke.

His wife didn’t seem to appreciate what that meant. Every inch of Mia’s small body was rigid with defiance. A sense of profound surprise rocked Vander to the core. For once, it seemed he truly had made a mistake. That he had both underestimated and misunderstood his opponent.

“Why in the hell did you want a temporary marriage?” he demanded. “If you are so infatuated with me, why didn’t you bid for more time?”

“You truly believe that I would blackmail you into making me your wife because I was still in love with you—after over ten years in which I hadn’t even seen your face?”

Vander’s eyes narrowed and his body stiffened. Put that way, his assumption had indeed been illogical.

Mia’s voice took on a distinctly derisive edge. “And the ‘four nights’ proviso? I suppose that was meant to corral my adulation. Did you come up with that, or was it your solicitor’s addition?”

“Mine,” he bit out.

“My father thought a great deal of himself, but I don’t think even he believed himself quite as irresistible as you apparently do!”

Vander cursed, more or less under his breath. “It seems I misunderstood the motive behind your marriage proposal,” he said.

The mockery in her eyes vanished. “It wasn’t a proposal,” she admitted. “I blackmailed you into marriage, which is an ugly business. I would never have done it if I hadn’t been desperate. No decent woman would have.” One side of her mouth quirked up. “Even so, I must confess myself surprised by the arrogance of your thinking I would commit a felony in order to buy myself four nights in your bed!”

A moment of silence in the room made the air sizzle.

Vander drew a hand through his hair and said, “I must be losing my bleeding mind. None of this makes sense. You didn’t marry for ambition, for money, or for love. Why the hell did you blackmail me?”

“It’s a long story.”

“I have time,” he said grimly.

“I was jilted,” Mia blurted out. “At the altar in St. Ninian’s. Well, not quite at the altar, because I was waiting in the vestibule, but everyone else was in the church.”

That was unexpected. “When did this happen?”

“Around a month ago. I had to marry, you see. I’m—well, I’m a mother.” She stopped.

Vander froze. No wonder Mia’s bosom was lush. She was carrying a child. Hell, India looked like that too—now that she was carrying Thorn’s child.

Her eyes widened. “Not that sort of mother!”

“Do you count me a fool, Duchess?” Vander demanded. “I can see your shape well enough. What will you say to me in four months, when your waistline expands? Even more than it already has,” he added, knowing it was unkind but unable to control his tongue.

Mia’s mouth trembled, and he felt a stab of guilt. “I am not carrying a child,” she repeated. “Yet in every way that matters, I am my nephew’s mother and have been since his birth. Charles Wallace Carrington, my nephew, is the child your solicitor mentioned. My brother’s will specified that I would remain his guardian only if I were married to a man of worth within a year of the will being proved. I was betrothed when John died, so it didn’t appear to pose a problem. We waited until I was out of mourning—but he fled the country rather than marry me.”

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