She backed away. “Our marriage will remain unconsummated until I beg for one of my allotted nights, don’t you remember? You decreed that. And you made me sign a contract to that effect.”

“I’ve decided to break the contract,” he said, entirely at ease with the decision. He had Mia, and he was going to keep her. That asinine rule about four nights had to go.


“That is not in your purview. I am not requesting a night. In fact, I will never beg for a night with you.” She darted to the door leading to their shared bathing chamber. “If you’ll excuse me.” She tugged on it in vain.

Vander strolled over. “It must be hooked from the inside.”

“That’s absurd!”

“So is the idea of keeping your husband out of the chamber when you’re in the bath.” If he hadn’t already had an erection, he would at the thought of Mia’s creamy skin slick with water.

She apparently decided there was no point to further discussion, because she headed for the door to the corridor.

Vander caught her by the waist and spun her about until their bodies were aligned. Instantly she stilled, her eyes caught by his. A deep certainty swelled in his chest, even as his body throbbed with desire. It was a certainty that felt as right as spring rain, as momentous as when the first horse he trained won a race.

They were married, and Mia was his, and that was significant. It wasn’t just a matter of papers and negotiation.

There was something about it. Chuffy’s song tumbled through his head: Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty . . . Youth’s a stuff will not endure.

Vander brought his mouth down to hers, and it was just like the last time they kissed: passion flared so high and fast that it felt tangible. Actually, it was tangible, in the hard length that pressed against her softness.

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His mouth demanded . . . hers opened. Threaded into the rough, sensual joy of it was his hunger and desire.

His hands slid down her back and pulled her closer. He was shaking with lust, but he had enough sense to realize that Mia was no longer trying to escape, or caviling about those four nights. She was kissing him back, her tongue curling around his in a way that sent fire through his blood.

Voluptuous curves melted against his body. His hands slid further down her body and he hoisted her up, swinging around until her back was against the wall, supporting her weight so he could ravage her mouth without bending his head.

She made a soft sound. He felt like a madman, overwhelmed by desire. Her eyes opened . . . they were heavy-lidded, sensual, desirous. A shudder went through him.

“Will you please request one of those nights?” he whispered. Before she could answer, he bent his head to kiss her neck. He wanted to lick her all over, drive her to writhe under him, make her gasp and call his name.

The thought of her open lips as cries broke from her throat drove him an inch further toward insanity. “Every time I touch you, I feel like a madman,” he muttered. Had there ever been such a beautiful pair of eyes? They were the color of green water. They made a man imagine that her eyes saw things no one else did.

“Did you really stop writing poetry?” he asked.

“Yes,” she replied, the first word she’d uttered since they began kissing. Her husky voice ignited his body and he took her mouth again, silently commanding her to ask for him. To ask for his services. To demand that he service her . . .

However she wanted to put it.

He would do anything, especially when her fingers curled in his hair and she pressed close to him. He would throw her on the bed and devour her, and the hell with promises and contracts, four nights or three hundred nights. Three hundred and sixty nights might not be enough.

“God, I want you.” The words jumped from his mouth, as brutal and simple a sentence as a dockworker might say to a streetwalker.

“I think it would be better—” Mia said, with a gasp, stopping because he took her mouth before she could finish. Her sentence wasn’t going in the right direction.

Without allowing her to speak, he pivoted, walked to his bed, and laid her there, his heavy body following hers.

It occurred to him that for the first time, he wasn’t entirely sure that he could wait for a woman’s permission. Shocked, he reared back and rolled to the side.

“Mia,” he murmured, putting a finger on her plump lips. Should he demand a night? Hell, she was his wife. She was—

“All right,” she whispered, pink coming up in her cheeks. “If you . . . if you really want to.”

Vander stared at her with incredulity. “‘If I really want to?’” His cock was against her leg, so he rolled forward slightly. “Does that feel as if I’m of two minds on the issue?”

Mia blinked and looked down at his breeches. They were strained over an erection so ferocious that his smalls had given up the fight and slipped down. Which was damned uncomfortable, by the way.

There was one question he should ask, though he already knew the answer. Mia’s response to him spoke for itself. She had surely slept with that imbecile of a fiancé.

“Have you ever been with a man?” he asked, schooling his tone to be neutral.

He knew instantly that he’d made a mistake. “I haven’t had that opportunity,” she replied, her voice stilted. Before he could stop her, she sat up and slid toward the edge of the bed. “This has been remarkably educational, Your Grace, but I think we shouldn’t . . . shouldn’t overtax our ability to spend time in the same room.”

He sat up and caught her waist just as she got to her feet. “Stay with me.”

“I would prefer not to.”

“I had to ask that question.”

She turned her head and looked at him. “Why? Because I am a blackmailer, you think I am generous with my favors?”

“No! It had nothing to do with that. A man treats a woman differently if she has experience, that’s all. Many a couple anticipates their vows.”

Mia’s lips tightened. “Edward and I did not,” she stated.

The feeling sweeping Vander’s chest was primitive and uncivilized . . . powerful. “I’m glad,” he said, before he could catch the words.

“If you will forgive me, Your Grace, I’d like to retire to my chamber. I think that clearer minds should prevail.”

“No.” He tightened his fingers, holding her in place. “We must talk, Mia. We can’t keep snapping things at each other. We’re married now. We share responsibility for Charlie.”

“You have no responsibility for Charlie,” she said instantly.

“Yes, I have,” he said. “There are few people who could meet Charlie and not be both charmed by him and happy to take responsibility for him. You know that.”

Her mouth wobbled. “You think so? Really?”

“All the same, you’ve been coddling him. He needs to leave the house, get on a horse, figure out how to carry himself around other boys.”

“You have no idea how cruel children can be. It might break his spirit.”

“I do have an idea, and it won’t break him.”

“How would you know? Once, when he was five, I left him alone for just a few minutes in the village and when I returned, they had him in tears.”

“There will be more tears,” Vander said calmly. “There will be difficult moments. But if we are at his shoulder, he’ll be fine. He must do it, Mia. He has to grow up to be a man, not an invalid.”