A word fell from his lips but she wasn’t listening. Their eyes met and like that, the fire burst up her legs again. She writhed against the wall, twisting in his fierce grip, her moans fracturing in the air. The only thing in the world was the fierce weight of his body.

The hand Vander had braced on the wall over her head came down and he pulled her head toward him, taking her mouth with a hot, wet kiss, his body jerking so hard that her backbone struck the wall.


She’d have a bruise, but she didn’t care.

She cared about nothing but the heat searing her body, the mouth slammed down on hers, the grunt as he pressed home one last time.

Mia opened her eyes, finally, to discover that she was staring up at the ancient eaves of the roof above her head. Her mind tried to put pieces of herself, her inner self, back together.

She felt as if the two of them had cracked and flown apart, broken by pleasure. Last night had been wonderful, but in retrospect, it had been civilized. This was mating: sweaty, grunting, incomprehensible.

At least she hadn’t been alone. She risked a look at Vander’s face and saw he was stunned as she was. He withdrew slowly and lowered her to the ground; her skirts fell over legs so weak that she clung to him for fear she’d crumple.

Last night, he had been tender and desirous, soothing her when it stung, whispering reassurances in her ear.

Today, he had uttered only one word, a word she had scarcely registered in the instant. What was it he’d said?

Then it came to her: greedy.

That’s what he’d said.

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That was the word.

She glanced down, feeling as if she were in some sort of odd dream, and watched as he buttoned up his breeches.

Greedy. The word grew and grew until it occupied all the space in her head.

The tingling she felt now wasn’t the pleasurable kind. “What did you mean by that?” she whispered, and then cleared her throat and elaborated, “By that word?”

His eyes moved slowly to hers. The good thing was that he looked as stupefied as she felt. Her hair had fallen down her back. His beard had scraped her face and her neck, and her legs ached because she had clung to him with all her strength. And other parts of her . . .

Ached too.

“What word?” Vander asked.

He was staring down at his wife, trying to work out what had just taken place between them. He had been with many women before; he’d sampled women as if he were at a banquet.

He regarded women the way he regarded food: necessary and sometimes delectable, but ultimately a distraction.

He had spent hours upon hours training a single horse. He would never spend hours on a woman. Hell, he’d never even had a mistress who lasted more than a few months. Either they wanted more, or he became bored—whichever came first.

But he had never had an experience like this one. A moment ago everything in him had turned inside out and poured into Mia. And he wasn’t done, either. Even though he was still shaking, all he wanted was to scoop her up and head back to the house to start all over again.

A man could lose himself in a woman like this. He could find himself tied to her, so tightly that he would go mad if she strayed.

If she left him.

The way his father had broken.

“You said ‘greedy.’” Mia’s voice was hoarse.

Bloody hell, she was beautiful. All that bright hair had fallen around her shoulders, and her skin had turned rose where his stubble had scraped it. She had that perfect nose, and pointed chin, and her eyes were exquisite.

How had he ever thought he preferred blue eyes? He liked green eyes, dark green eyes like water tumbling in a Highland stream, reflecting pine trees.

There was nothing sunny and sweet about Mia. She was all hidden depths and passion. Her lips were plump and red, and looking at them made him start to harden, even though he’d just poured himself into her.

This was unacceptable.

The feeling lent itself to what he said, sharpened his voice though he didn’t mean it that way.

“You’re greedy for me,” he said bluntly. “I had you pinned against the wall and you wanted more. Hell, if—”

He stopped. What was he doing, talking to a lady like that? Not just a lady, but his wife?

Mia’s cheeks first turned red, and then pale. She swallowed so hard that he saw her throat ripple. She bent her head and hair fell across her face; when she looked back up a second later, her eyes were calm and her face empty.

She didn’t look angry. Or hurt.

But she was.

Vander felt another stab of irritation about that, because he didn’t like that he could read her face. He didn’t care to wonder whether a woman was angry.

If she was angry, she was welcome to leave. If he disappointed her, she could leave. If he asked for too much, she could leave.

Or he could leave.

But he was married to Mia.

Neither of them could leave.

And even worse, he didn’t want to go anywhere. It was as if her wedding ring strung a chain between them, because even now, after insulting her, he was hard and he wanted more than anything to take her back into his bed and fill her up.

That feeling sent a spasm of panic through him, and he didn’t care that her face was no longer flushed and pretty and open to him, her eyes soft.

He didn’t want a woman with an open face. Or softness in all the right places, including her eyes.

“Some women are greedy for a cock, and men love that,” he said, stepping back and rearranging his breeches because commanding his tool to go down wasn’t working. “It was a compliment.”

“‘A compliment,’” Mia repeated.

She gave her skirts a shake and pulled at her bodice, which stretched the fabric against her breasts.

He had to force his eyes away, because another streak of madness went through him. He had never made love to a woman—gone mad with lust—without even touching her breasts.

It had to be the novelty of marriage.

No ring would tie him to a woman, not even a woman who looked at him as if he could give her bliss. As if he had the only thing in the world she wanted—without meaning his title or money.

She looked at him as if he were a king.

“So, Duchess,” he said. “Let’s count that as part of last night, shall we? It needn’t be the second of our four nights. It’s morning, after all.”

Her eyes weren’t blank now; they were growing enraged. He welcomed it, because he could not resist her if she looked at him with aching hunger. If she looked at him that way again, as if she were greedy for him, he would follow her anywhere. Probably on his knees.


“My treat,” he added, and tapped her chin with his finger.

Her hand came up so quickly that he saw only a blur. She caught him hard across the cheek with her open hand. His head jerked back, but he welcomed the sting.

He deserved it, taking a lady against the stable wall with no more finesse than a man takes a cheap whore.

Gentlemen didn’t treat their wives that way. They didn’t behave like sailors on shore after a nine-month-long voyage. She had driven him mad. If she would allow it, he would have her against the wall again, her lush body cradled in his.

He’d never seen anything more erotic than the way Mia threw her head back, lips open, when she came. There was nothing feigned about it. She’d responded with her whole body.