And bested him.

If he was honest with himself, in some twisted way he had been looking forward to the four nights with Mia.

Of course, that was when he had believed she adored him. When he believed that he would be doing her a favor. He had felt an errant pride that a woman—any woman—had loved him to the point at which she would go against her own moral code in order to bed him.

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He hadn’t been dreading the marriage bed. No, he had pictured himself looming over Mia, her curls spread across the pillow, eyes soft with desire and love, rounded body his and only his. She would be ecstatic because she was finally his.

Wrong.

This woman’s mouth was set in a firm line and her eyes were fierce.

Very wrong.

“All I ask is that we revisit the issue in a year or so,” he said. “At some point I must produce an heir. There is no particular urgency.”

Mia frowned. “I suppose we could consider it once we are better acquainted. But Your Grace, I beg you to rethink your decision about this marriage.”

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Why the hell was she so reluctant? It must be the fiancé. Maybe he was one of those pretty men. Vander knew perfectly well that there was a brutal shape to his chin, and an energy about him that women either loved or loathed.

“You are my wife,” he stated, “and you shall remain my wife. We should have a conversation about Sir Richard’s litigious intentions, as well as about management of the Carrington estate.” He saw exhaustion in her face, so he added, “but that can wait until tomorrow.”

Her eyelashes flickered. “Will I be part of management of the estate?”

“Of course. Unless you’d rather not.”

“My father did not believe that a woman could have a head for business.”

“Given what I’ve paid for Chuffy’s novels, I would venture a guess that your career is quite profitable.”

A smile lit her eyes. “My father told me that I could keep my pennies.”

“I always thought he was an ass.”

“I would not say that. But we often did not agree about business matters.”

“Are you really one of the most popular novelists in England?”

Pink came up in her cheeks. “Yes.”

“Brava,” he said sincerely. Suddenly his body was more aflame than he could remember being; something about Mia’s combination of sensuality and intelligence was wildly arousing. Bedding her would be the key to turning their marriage into the comfortable arrangement he had envisioned. Only it would be even better than he had thought, because he now respected her reasons for forcing him to marry.

After spending the afternoon with Charlie, he knew already that he’d blackmail the king himself to ensure his new ward’s safety.

Once he managed to seduce Mia, he would dispense with the four days proviso and give her access to his bed whenever she wanted.

Hell, maybe he would even let her sleep with him. He had never slept with a woman, but he was warming to the idea of reaching for Mia in the middle of the night.

Rolling over and sliding his hands between—

“If you’ll excuse me, I will retire and have a light supper in my chamber,” Mia said. “The brandy went to my head and besides, I have a letter to write.”

“Of course,” Vander said, thinking that perhaps they could eat together in his bedchamber. It would be a prelude to eating in bed.

Before he could put the idea into words, Mia withdrew, nipping out of the room. He almost started after her, but thought of the blue shadows under her eyes and stopped himself.

His wife would be his wife for years.

He thought he might like her to kiss him goodbye when she was leaving a room. Her lips were . . . delectable.

They could work on that later.

Chapter Fourteen

NOTES ON JILTING SCENE

Flora has to confront Frederic or seem a jelly-boned coward.

She should toss her prayer book to the side and tell the jilting faithless count exactly what she thinks of him, that sniveling, dribbling, dithering, palsied, pulse-less man.

Flora waited at the altar, her graceful hands clutching the prayer book that her dying moth—

Count Frederic walked into the church, and Flora knew instinctively, with just one look at his devilish black eyes, that he intended to humiliate her in the worst possible way, in front of the whole of the beau monde. She hurled her prayer book like a discus, knocking him to the ground.

Then she walked over his prone body on her way out the door.

This isn’t working.

Mia awoke the next morning feeling much better.

Few women would complain about being married to a wildly handsome duke. Though they might grumble about Vander’s ready agreement to forego consummation of their marriage.

She would have put it down to dislike of her figure, but although Vander thought she was dumpy, he had kissed her that one time. Well, two times.

Men were like that, by all accounts. Merely being in the vicinity of a woman made a man eager to bed her. It was interesting to discover that her governess had been correct in that respect.

She rang the bell for Susan and walked into the bathing chamber, only then making an important discovery. A door on the opposite wall from the bathtub almost certainly opened into Vander’s room. And Mia couldn’t see a hook that would prevent him from walking straight into the chamber while she was bathing.

Naked and surrounded by all those mirrors.

That would absolutely not do. Hooks must be installed immediately. In the meantime, she made Susan stand guard before that door while she bathed.

Sometime later she made her way down to the breakfast room, finding it empty but for Nottle.

“Good morning, Your Grace,” the butler said. “May I offer my felicitations on your wedding?”

The words dripped with insincerity, but Mia chose to ignore his tone. “Thank you, Nottle. On another note, I should like someone to install locks on the inside of the doors in my bathing chamber. Both the doors leading to my bedchamber and to the duke’s.”

“To be quite certain that I understand Your Grace,” Nottle said in a wooden voice. “You wish to have locks nailed onto both sides of the bathing room doors? Those doors were imported from Venice, where they graced a three-hundred-year-old palazzo.”

“Precisely. Those doors,” Mia confirmed.

When he didn’t immediately agree, she asked, “Perhaps you would be happier if His Grace confirmed my request?” It appeared that Nottle felt that her rank was trumped by her sex.

“Of course not,” he said, as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. Mia wasn’t sure what that meant, but she disliked melted butter.

And Nottle.

She moved toward a chair to sit down, but the butler said, “If you will forgive me, Your Grace, I have an urgent domestic conundrum on which I would request your guidance.”

“Oh,” Mia said, turning back. “Of course, Nottle. What is it?”

“The late duchess’ animals.”

“All those glass ornaments,” she said, understanding his problem. “They must be very tiresome to dust.”

“I was referring not to the collection, but to her canines,” he said, with a pained expression.

“Winky and Dobbie!” Mia exclaimed. “Of course I remember her dogs. Dobbie must be getting on in years. What became of them in the last year?”

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