She was grinding her teeth, which made him grin. Marriage to Mia would never be boring.

He settled his arm more firmly around her waist, drawing her closer. “I want to change the terms of our arrangement. Of our marriage.”

“I see no reason for that,” she replied, not looking at him, but somewhere around his right ear. “Four nights a year is more than enough to produce an heir. If four nights prove insufficient for that purpose, we might reconsider after a year has passed.” She tried to leave, but he reeled her back against his chest as easily as a dappled trout caught in summertime.

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“I want you,” he said again, his voice dark with lust. He nipped her ear. She jerked, but she didn’t struggle free, and he felt her pulse quickening against his arm.

“So let me tell you how this shall be,” he said, when she remained silent. “We shall consummate our marriage tonight, because that’s what newly married couples do. They go to bed together and they don’t stand upright again for hours.”

“We do not have a normal marriage,” she tried.

Her voice was tight, which Vander didn’t like. “Turn your head so I can kiss you,” he said against her sweet-smelling hair.

She shook her head. “This is inadvisable.” His wife was stubborn. Hell, if he looked up the word in a dictionary, he’d probably find the name Mia printed there. “We’re not really married,” she insisted.

“Yes, we are. You’re my wife, and you’re staying my wife. And if you think we’re not going to sleep together, after you kissed me like that, you are wrong.”

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“Kissed you . . .” She cleared her throat and turned her head just enough to frown at him. “You kissed me, not the other way around.”

“No.”

“Yes!”

Desire boiled in his gut, urging him to topple her backward again. But he’d already pushed his wife enough. If he pressed open those strawberry lips, he could seduce her.

But that wasn’t enough. He suspected that bedding Mia would be like learning the art of making love all over again.

You can’t do that alone.

“That kiss was a long, slow ride into oblivion, and it took two of us,” he whispered, his lips brushing her cheek. “You opened that sweet little mouth of yours, and tangled tongues with me as if you wanted me just as much as I wanted you.”

Chapter Twenty

NOTES ON CHURCH & JILTING

~ Shocked gasps from the assembled audience. guests in the cathedral. Westminster Abbey (only for royalty?) St. Paul’s.

~ ancient priest pats Flora’s shaking hand.

~ Chin high, she picks up the hem of her wedding gown.

~ Is she blinded by tears? “Slubbered with tears, she—” Don’t know about “slubbered.” Not sure what it means.

~ She runs out the (side door—Nave?) unable to meet the curious eyes/Frederic’s parents? All the way from Germany?

~ Bursts through the back door of church into a sunlit day. Veil floats behind.

~ Runs like wounded animal: only idea to hide.

~ kindly man on cart takes her as far as . . . (somewhere outside London) and drops her off with two a crust of bread.

Mia could feel red patches breaking out on her neck from pure embarrassment. Her husband had hardly glanced at her, and the walls she’d built up to hide her love had cracked open. “I did not kiss you,” she said stoutly.

The laughter in Vander’s eyes made her at once irritated and aroused.

“The man whom you kiss would forget he’s ever been kissed by another woman,” he said, cupping her face in his hands and tilting her head until he had her just where he wanted her.

This was dangerous. All Mia’s childhood yearnings flooded back into her heart as if they had never left. As if Vander was the only man she had ever loved or desired.

He bent his head again, at the same time one of his hands slid down over her collarbone.

She pulled away. “What are you doing?”

“Nothing,” he said innocently.

“You are touching my—” she faltered, then cleared her throat. If they were to consummate the marriage—and she wasn’t foolish enough to delude herself about that—some basic rules of conduct had to be established.

She might be destroyed by her marriage, broken into shards. But at least she could avoid the sort of humiliation that had scarred her after her poetry—and her chest—had been mocked.

He could have her body. But not that part. Not the part she abhorred. “You may not touch me there.”

“What?”

“I prefer not to be touched there,” she repeated.

His voice came out fast and low. “Did someone grope you against your will?”

“No!” Mia cried, startled. “No one has ever—and no one shall, and that includes you.”

His face relaxed, but his eyes had lost the heated sweetness they had before. She regretted it, but it was essential that she made herself understood. She’d gathered from other women that men liked to feel women’s breasts.

“Why not?” he asked.

She tried to explain. “We all have parts of our body that we are less than happy with.”

An eyebrow shot up. “We have?”

Men, it seemed, liked everything about themselves. That didn’t surprise her in the least. “Women have, at any rate. Some women don’t like their knees, or their feet, or their hair.”

“Your bosom is exquisite. And your hair. I can’t speak of your knees or feet, but if given the chance, I can reassure you on those points as well.”

Mia could hardly believe that Evander Septimus Brody, the most handsome duke in all England, was gazing at plain Emilia Carrington with desire in his eyes.

But he was.

Lust, even. Lust for someone like her? A quiet voice reminded her that men were like tomcats; they lusted indiscriminately.

But another part of her thought that his eyes had changed color since kissing her. That was for her.

Not for just any woman.

For her.

“Mia?” He leaned forward and kissed her, swift and hard. “Can we agree about your hair and move to points farther south?”

“I thought you hated my hair.”

“Why on earth would you think that?”

“You said it was like my father’s. Actually, you referred to him as my ‘blasted father,’” she clarified.

Vander brought a handful of her hair forward, his strong brown fingers entangled in it. “I will never be fond of your father. But . . . Chuffy revealed a few things tonight that I—at any rate, I must give it some thought. Your hair is like sunshine. And your breasts are truly stupendous.”

She stiffened. “I don’t wish to talk about them.” Back when Oakenrott had labeled them cabbages, they had been large for her age, but now they were larger still. Stupendous was one word for them.

But he persisted, asking again, “Why not?”

“I just don’t. I think we should wait,” she said, babbling a bit. “A bride should . . . A bride should look entirely different when . . . when intimacies . . .” Her voice died away because Vander’s lips were sliding across her cheek, coming ever closer to her mouth.

“Go on,” he said, “tell me more about what you think should happen.” Rather than wait for a reply, though, he kissed her again. His kiss was rough and sweet, and his urgency made her melt against him helplessly.

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