Vander frowned at that. “I gather the guardianship reverted to Sir Richard Magruder if you did not marry?”

She nodded. “Unfortunately, Sir Richard made it clear that I would no longer be welcome in the house, and I would have had to leave Charles Wallace—Charlie—behind.” Mia’s voice trembled for the first time. “I could not allow that to happen. Moreover, Sir Richard is recklessly litigious and will lay waste to my nephew’s inheritance. In the last year, he has launched three separate court cases on behalf of the estate.”

Bloody hell. It all made sense now. Jilted and desperate, Mia used the only tool that came to hand: his father’s treasonous letter. Vander choked back another curse. “So you came to me with a proposition to marry for six months, which I promptly chucked into the fire.”

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“My solicitor thought if you knew all the details beforehand—the fact that Sir Richard will almost certainly sue you—you would be even more disinclined to make me a duchess, temporary or otherwise.”

Somewhere in the back of Vander’s mind, in his very blood, a pulse pounded, and he knew what it was. His wife had been betrothed to marry.

To another man.

He took a moment to consider the emotion rationally. It wasn’t possessiveness. Hell, a few days ago he’d scarcely known Mia existed. That wasn’t entirely true: he had clear memories of her from years before, but he certainly wouldn’t have turned a hair if he had heard she’d married.

Not possessiveness. He was feeling lust, that was all. He lusted after his little wife, with her tempting curves and rumpled golden hair.

It must be something to do with the fact that she had just become his wife. That changed things. He’d seen perfectly sound men go mad when they thought that their wives were unfaithful.

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Satisfied, Vander relegated that feeling to its proper compartment. Someday he would take Mia, whether it was for four nights or longer.

He simply had to convince her that he had no intention of enduring the charade that would be necessary to find a second wife, particularly considering divorce would further blacken his reputation and make the process more difficult. Mia was good enough, and he’d be damned if he would allow her to leave him on the grounds of adultery, and saddle his family name with yet another scandal.

Now he knew her weakness, he was not above exploiting it. “It seems that I am now Charles Wallace’s guardian,” he pointed out.

“That doesn’t mean we have to live together!”

He smiled at her. “Charles Wallace will live with me.”

He watched as the reality of it sank in. The battle was won. Over.

“In exchange,” he continued, “I will counter Sir Richard in court when he sues me for theft of the estate and whatever other charges he trumps up. I will raise your nephew as if he were my own son. I will endeavor to make the Carrington estate double in value by the time Charles Wallace is of age.”

“I would make a terrible duchess,” she cried. “Look how I dress.”

He shrugged. “Not exactly à la mode, but I don’t care.”

“Society will care!”

“I don’t go into society.”

Panic was settling into Mia’s bones, making her cold from the inside out. Vander meant it. She was caught in a trap of her own making.

He rose and moved toward her in a lazy stroll. “All I need is an heir, and I’ll take that from your body.”

“No, you won’t!” Mia snapped, unnerved by that grotesquely vulgar statement. “I’m not your wife, not really.”

“Yes, you are.”

She knew what he had in mind. He was going to kiss her. Once, Edward had kissed her for long minutes, and afterward Mia had felt flushed all over, and had a happily muddled feeling low in her stomach. He had laughed, and put her away, and said, “You’ll be the death of me before I get you to the altar.”

The memory sent a pang through her.

Stupid Edward and his stupid promises.

Sure enough, Vander bent his head and forced his way into her mouth—or perhaps surprise made her part her lips. His kiss was hungry and disrespectful and raw.

She should struggle. She should hit him. She should stamp on his foot, or bite his lip.

Any of those things.

All of them.

But instead her mouth opened and her head tilted. Her arms went around his neck while his hands tightened on her hips. He brought their bodies together with a jolt.

Mia felt an ache move through her, slow as honey and twice as sweet.

Vander’s hands slid down, rounding her bottom. He pulled her closer, and ground his hips against hers. Her breath caught in her throat.

When he drew back, she blinked up at him and found his face completely unmoved. “My instincts are always good when it comes to women,” he told her, sounding as triumphant as a farmer who got a bargain on two piglets.

“Wh—what?”

“I like the way you wiggled against my cock.”

Mia’s mouth fell open and every bit of sultry warmth drained from her. “Did you just say that to me?”

“I did.” Vander held her gaze. “Why the hell not? The good thing about us is that we don’t have to bother with the stupid rigmarole of polite conversation. We can be honest. There was no surprise in your body when I rubbed against you.”

Heat crept up Mia’s cheeks again.

He shrugged. “In case you’re wondering, I’m no virgin.”

Mia couldn’t even speak.

Vander, on the other hand, was becoming visibly more cheerful by the second. He leaned in and whispered in her ear, “I can’t wait to remove that ugly gown.”

“You think my stomach is large and my breasts are cabbages and I’m a charity case!” she retorted. He opened his mouth and she gave him a look that closed it. “You don’t want me. Don’t start lying now. You just said that we would be truthful with each other.”

“I do want you,” Vander repeated, sounding annoyed. Before she could stop him, he pulled her in again and encircled her with his arms and his scent and his strength.

The problem was that when he was kissing her, her mind dimmed like the sun fading at twilight. She stopped thinking, because he was tasting her . . . or the other way around.

One of his hands closed on her bottom in an entirely inappropriate manner that made her long to push closer. The other held her head so that his tongue could do as it wished. Her brain shut down and it became nighttime, dim and dark in her head.

His arm hitched her higher and he was grinding against her again. She whimpered, and it was only that sound coming from her own lips that brought her back to sanity. She pulled away and brought a trembling hand to her mouth.

“This is the best possible marriage,” Vander stated. “And you can’t complain that I don’t want you, because the evidence is clear.”

He didn’t sound calm anymore; his voice was rough. His silk breeches stretched in the front, just the way they had when he—the first time. The sight made her heart thump at an even faster rate.

“I don’t want to be married to you,” she said once again, her voice coming out cracked, like a shard of glass.

“That’s no longer your prerogative,” Vander replied. He shifted his position and winced, and before she could stop herself she looked there again. He was adjusting himself.

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