Vander caught a hint of something . . . a delicious, heated hint of Mia, sweat and desire and honeysuckle. All of a sudden he was caught up in an erotic haze and took a step closer to her. Yet his words came out haltingly. “I apologize for my remarks. They were deeply inappropriate.”

“Stop looking at me like that,” she hissed.


He couldn’t.

“I am not a jam tart!” The words came out in a scream.


She was gone. Vander fell back against the stable wall, his knees weak, staring after his wife. His duchess.

A jam tart? Where in the hell had that come from? He’d no idea, though now he thought on it, she was like a jam tart. She was like sweet treacle and he’d like to eat her up.

Slowly his mind cleared. A memory came to him: Rotter calling Mia a jam tart years ago.

He had been appallingly rude, far more so than Rotter. He would likely have to grovel.

Of course he would grovel. He would make their excuses to Charlie and Chuffy, and follow her to the house.

Now Mia wasn’t in front of him, he remembered that there were things he hadn’t done with her . . . to her. Even though he’d just come, he was throbbing, damn it. Throbbing the way he had as a boy, on the verge of an unacceptable loss of control.

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He wanted the jam tart. He wanted to eat his wife over and over, make her throw back her head like that until she was dizzy with it. Until he could rear up and pull her small body under his and pound into it.

He leaned against the stable wall, trying to force his mind elsewhere. The sky was pale blue and far away, and a hawk circled far above, below a single cloud. He rearranged his breeches again, trying to make room for a body part that no longer fit in his smalls.

He ached all over, his body telling him that there was only one thing he wanted.


Thanks to his being an ass, he had exactly three nights in the rest of the year to enjoy her.

One would have to be tonight. Tonight . . . the promise of it sang in his blood. She was angry, but she would get over it.

He would tell her the truth: if she was greedy, he was as starving as a man who not only had been at sea for months on end, but at sea without food.

Surely she would understand. And they did have three nights left.

A slow smile curled his lips. That would be enough to take the edge off this frantic lust. He’d never slept with a woman for more than two nights in a row. He got bored.

Tonight should do it.

The second night would break the spell.

Chapter Twenty-four


~ After Frederic continues on his fruitless quest, the Evil Lord Plum discovers Flora unconscious amongst the poppies and takes her to his castle.

“The dark air hovering around Castle Plum drew attention to the ravages of time, visible in some parts of the building. The massy gate of the castle was opened by a tall, dark-haired old man who screeched, ‘Who goeth?’”

~ Conscious of approaching death, Flora begs Plum to send her beloved Frederic a lock of her hair.

~ Lord Plum keeps the hair and nurses her back to health instructs his housekeeper to nurse her to health. Yes! Very Bluebeard.

~ Lord Plum: “How improbable that any man who had once viewed the Ethereal Graces, the Matchless Beauty of this maiden, should quit her side?” (Flora cheers up.)

~ A ruse, because he has a wife in the attic. Or somewhere.

~ Her youth and innocence not proof against the dangerous combination of male beauty and sleek artifice. This is good!

Mia made her way back to her bedchamber and closed the door, which reminded her that locks had been installed on the bathing chamber door, but not on the door leading to the corridor. Vander would follow her to apologize, and she would be unable to keep him out.

She went straight into the bathing chamber, put the hook on both doors, and looked about for a place to sit. There were two alternatives: the bathtub or on the floor. She chose the floor.

She sank down, so devastated that for some seconds she didn’t even breathe, let alone cry.

Their marriage was only two days old and already a pattern was being established: Vander would blurt out the truth about how he felt.

Afterward, he would apologize and pay her false compliments . . . until the next time he let slip just how little respect he had for her.

Even worse—and she hated this truth—he hadn’t been wrong: she was greedy for him.

She had written that poem all those years ago. She had created the moonbeam, even if she hadn’t known what she was talking about. She had dreamed he entered her bedchamber. Somehow, just by being around him, that side of her sprang back to life.

She had allowed him to pull up her skirts and take her against a wall. It didn’t matter that he was her husband. In a way, it was worse.

Real ladies were never treated that way. He had seduced her without a single compliment or an adoring glance, no matter how insincere. How could she blame him?

She had agreed, if tacitly, to being demeaned. She had opened her legs and let him do what he willed.

If at any point she had said “no,” Vander would have stopped.

That was what hurt the most. She didn’t want to be a woman like that. Words knocked around in her head, ugly words: greedy, cock, pearls . . . jam tart. They brought on tears that streamed down her face until she had her head on her knees, sobbing.

Sure enough, after a while, there was a knock on the door leading to Vander’s bedchamber.

“No,” she said, taking a shuddering breath. “Please go away.”

A moment of silence, followed by the sound of retreating footsteps. Seconds later, the door to her bedchamber rattled.

“They are both locked,” she said, choking. “Just leave me alone, please.”


It would seem that dukes expected to get their way all the time, even when their duchesses were desperate to be alone.

“Go away!”

“I want to talk to you. I must apologize.”

Mia heard a floorboard squeak as Vander shifted his weight. She had known that apology was coming. Did she care to hear it? Not particularly.

He had already made clear what he thought. And he’d said it in the heat of passion, when a man couldn’t lie if he tried. What he’d said was real. It was no great surprise he was now sorry he’d blurted that out. He was a decent man, and he didn’t want to hurt her feelings.

But that didn’t make it any less truthful.

She wrapped her arms around her knees. “I accept your apology,” she said, clearing her throat and raising her voice. “I shall be out in an hour or so. Please give me some privacy.”

She began pulling herself back together. After all, she wasn’t sluttish all the time. Only around him. Her poem had been innocently desirous.

Not that she was innocent any longer. She had taken one look at his unbuttoned breeches, and she would have done anything to have him thrust inside her. Lie down on the ground, on the gravel, probably.

Another tear slid down her cheek.

Up against the stable wall.

She shuddered at the memory. If she could just get away from Vander, she could regain her self-respect. She wasn’t like this with other men. She knew with absolute certainty that she would never have behaved like this with Edward.

They would have had an affectionate marital life, intimacies conducted under the bedcovers, with respect.

Love would have come in time. She had already loved him a bit. Or, at least, she had been tremendously fond of him.

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