“Is the rule about not touching your breasts still in place?”

Mia withdrew her arms from around his neck and crossed them over her breasts. Maybe she would start to wear her corset under her chemise to hold them in a bit. Glancing down showed that her breasts looked even larger from this perspective. She felt a lurch of disgust in her stomach.


He sighed. “I’ve never made love to a woman wearing clothing before.”

Her turn to raise an eyebrow. “Really? I thought that gentlemen were always taking women into back alleys and tupping them against the wall?” She meant her tone to be sardonic, but somehow it came out a little intrigued.

“I have not had that particular pleasure,” he said, after a telling moment of silence. “But I’d be delighted to experiment, Duchess.”

“No!” she spluttered.

He lowered his head and his lips drifted across hers. “Fair warning: in lieu of a back alley, I propose to make you scream my name. I’m tired of being Your Grace’d.”

Mia felt another chilly bolt of panic as Vander pulled her legs apart. He lowered his head, and dropped a kiss on her inner thigh. “That’s inappropriate!” she whispered urgently.

He lifted his head, eyes devilish. “How do you know?”

“I . . .” His lips caressed skin, closer to the heart of her.

This was too intimate. It was one thing if he put that part of himself inside her. She could turn her head, or—or something. But she had a terrible feeling that if he kissed her there, she would lose what remained of her self-control.

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It would be worse than when he touched her. She wouldn’t be herself; she would be turned inside out by desire, ravished, begging him . . .

She was not wrong.

Without warning, he lapped at her and she screamed. His mouth was wet and ravenous, and set Mia on fire like a spark landing on a pile of dry kindling.

She couldn’t think. She could do nothing but twine her fingers in his hair. Even his warm breath against her flesh made her shudder. She let go of Vander’s hair because her fingers curled, and her toes curled. Everything in her was tightening, launching her like a boat to some distant shore.

And then it was happening; she slammed out into deep water, sensation rushing over her. Vander was urging her on, his voice smoky. She heard him dimly, realizing only later what he was saying.

And she . . . that wave brought her back to where she’d been years ago: in love. In love with Evander Septimus Brody.

So mad with love that she had written him a poem, had dreamt of him entering her moonlit room.

He was rising over her, pushing her legs further apart, whispering something . . . an apology? Pushing into her.

It was a possession her body welcomed, even though it was uncomfortable. Perhaps more than uncomfortable. Abruptly her mind slammed back into clarity and she stopped him with both hands to his chest. “No!”

Alarm had replaced every other emotion. Something was wrong. He was too large, like a cork that didn’t fit a bottle.

His words were strangled. “Duchess, you can’t stop me now.”

“It doesn’t fit,” she said, choosing her words carefully. “We are not compatible. You’ll have to—” She shoved at his shoulders. “Take yourself off. It’s not working.”

He took a breath, didn’t move.

Mia felt a primitive surge of fear: “Get off me,” she cried. “Didn’t you hear me? It doesn’t fit.”

To her utter fury, a flash of amusement went through his eyes. “Are you certain?” he asked silkily. “Because it feels damned perfect to me.”

“Don’t swear!” she cried, beside herself. Then she realized what he was doing, rocking slightly as he spoke, slipping in further. And further. “Stop that,” she said, between clenched teeth.

He was braced on his arms, over her. She smelled something heady: a man’s sweat, combined with an elusive touch of leather and fresh air. Vander’s eyes were intense blue slits, and she grasped that he was exerting tremendous self-control not to push forward.

Mia cleared her throat. “Let’s try again at a later date,” she suggested. Such as never, her mind supplied.

He nudged forward again. “Is it painful?” he asked, his eyes intent on hers.

It felt intrusive. Too much. Too wide. Too fast. “It isn’t painful, exactly, but it’s just not right. We’re not compatible. You’re too large and too close.”

“May I move a bit more?” he whispered back. “You’re driving me mad, Mia. I’ve never felt anything like it.” He nudged forward again and as she watched, his pupils dilated and his head dipped so that strands of hair brushed her face.

Just like that all the heat bubbled up in her again. And just like that, he no longer seemed intrusive and too large, but like a part of her body that had been missing until now. He was both foreign and intrinsic to her.

Tentatively, she tilted her hips, and though he hadn’t moved, the thick length of him came into her a bit more. Breath came harshly between his lips. “You,” he whispered. “It’s up to you, Mia.”

A dark undertow of desire pulled her down, teasing her, taunting. She braced her knees, and slowly, slowly pressed upward. Her body shook, but it had nothing to do with pain.

Her body and his . . .

They were two halves of the same whole.

Vander made that inarticulate noise again, and she caught sight of his face: beautiful, voracious, raw. It fired her blood, dragged her under. With a wild cry, she pushed up, pulling him down at the same moment, seating him fully in the softness of her body.

His response was carnal, as his body surged into motion. Mia gasped, trying to learn the rhythm of the dance, an urgent, hard, pounding dance. She barely mastered it and she was shooting down that same river again, clinging to him, arms around his neck, legs curving around his hips, head back, being pulled faster and faster . . .

She finally let go with a scream, surrendering to the deep pleasure that washed over her, her fingernails digging into the thick muscles of his shoulders.

Dimly, she heard a harsh noise come from his lips and he pumped again, once, twice more, pressed into her so far that there was no place where he stopped and she started.

Chapter Twenty-one

From Miss Lucibella Delicosa to Mrs. Petunia Stubbs

September 11, 1800

Dear Mrs. Stubbs,

I write in response to your letter of June 17, informing me that you plan to name your unborn daughter—if she is a daughter—after one of my heroines. I am truly honored to think that you have read Esmeralda, or Memoirs of an Heiress over twenty times. And I am deeply moved to know that my books helped you overcome the tragedy of your mother’s death.

I generally hesitate to offer advice, but since you express the fervent wish that your future daughter resemble my heroine in every particular, I do want to point out that Esmeralda’s appearance might lead one to think that the hero loves her for that reason. It is not so: he loves Esmeralda for her loving spirit, kind heart, and courageous disposition.

It is my hope that your daughter will have those attributes of Esmeralda, as they will give her a much happier life than if she resembles my heroine’s appearance.

I wish you and Esmeralda all the best in life,

Miss Lucibella Delicosa

Mia woke suddenly, the way she used to jerk awake when Charlie was a baby and she heard a wail from the nursery.