“Duchess!” It seemed that her husband was growing annoyed. Her thoughts darkened. Vander ought to shoulder some blame as well. He had treated her like a hired harlot, even though she was his duchess.
The door rattled in its frame, more forcefully now. “Open this door!”
Did he really think that roaring at her would make any difference? He was far too used to getting his own way. Women had probably melted in front of him from the time he was . . . oh . . . fourteen. Thirteen, she thought, remembering what he looked like at that age.
The door rattled some more and he began ranting about something or other, but she had stopped listening.
Hadn’t he said something about a race tomorrow or the next day? A pulse of relief went through her. He would be gone soon.
Suddenly she heard Susan’s voice, and Vander ordering her to take herself downstairs, which he hadn’t any right to do.
“She’s my maid!” she shouted.
Susan abandoned her, of course; she could hardly refuse the duke’s command.
There was a huge thump and the whole door vibrated.
“What are you doing?” Mia shrieked. “Nottle said that door was imported from Venice.”
Another resounding thud.
“It probably cost as much as a thatched roof! Don’t you dare break it.”
“Then open the door. Now!”
“I want to be alone,” she cried. “Is that so hard to understand? I want to think.”
His voice quieted. “Don’t think.”
“How can you say that? Do you think that you can rule every moment of my day?”
“I know what you’re thinking.”
“No, you don’t.”
“You’re thinking that I don’t respect you.”
“I am not.” There was no point in dwelling on unpleasant truths.
The door rattled again. “Mia, if you don’t open this door, I shall break it down.”
“Oh, do go away, why don’t you!” she snapped. “You don’t care how I’m feeling. I’m the wife you loathe, remember?”
“I do not loathe you.”
Her answer was a curse that she had never spoken aloud before. In fact, now she thought about it, he brought out all her worst tendencies.
“I do not loathe you,” he repeated.
“You—you did that to me, and you said those things. A man only treats a woman he loathes in that manner.” She kept her voice steady even though another tear ran down her cheek. “Or a woman he’s paid for.”
“That’s it.” Another thud, and the door bowed ominously inward for a long instant. With a shriek, the lock gave way and the entire hook and eye assembly flew across the chamber, smashing into one of the long mirrors.
She turned from gaping at the cracked glass to see Vander standing in the doorway, looking so stormy and beautiful that her heart temporarily lodged in her throat. “Look what you’ve done!”
“I hate these damned mirrors. In fact, I loathe everything about this room.”
Mia wrapped her arms around her knees and put her head down again.
Edward would never have treated her like a harlot. He had kissed her with reverence. Once he even dropped a kiss on her forehead for no reason.
Vander hadn’t kissed her when they wed, not even when the vicar bade him to. It was no wonder that his kisses were more like invasions than demonstrations of respectful affection. His kisses were just about lust, brute lust.
He stood over her now, as big and tall as a pine tree. Mia refused to look up. He could glower and bully her all he wanted.
Then Vander hunkered down before her. “I’m sorry, Duchess. I shouldn’t have said those things. They were unconscionable.”
“Yes, well,” Mia said. “I’m sure you had your reasons. It hardly matters.”
“Yes, it does matter, because I’ve hurt your feelings and I didn’t mean to.”
At that she raised her head. “Yes, you did mean to hurt my feelings. No man would speak in that manner unless he deliberately wished to hurt. But at least you were speaking the truth. I prefer the truth.”
“What truth?” He sounded frustrated.
“You were correct. I—I bewhored myself.” Her voice wavered a little. Whore was such an ugly word; she had never thought to apply it to herself. But she would never have thought that she could behave in such a manner either. “All the same, I saw in your eyes that you wanted to hurt my feelings, so don’t try to insult me by pretending otherwise.”
He sat beside her.
“I didn’t deserve that from you,” she said, steadying her voice. “You didn’t say a single nice thing to me. Not even one. I may not have behaved like a lady, but neither were you a gentleman. I think they treat doxies with some respect.”
“You did not behave like a doxy.”
Mia’s gut clenched. “Yes, I did. There’s nothing you or I can do to change that. I have—I have a part of me that I loathe, but I will spend the rest of my life taking control of these disgusting urges. I vow it.”
He flinched at her words; then his hands clamped on her arms and he lifted her straight into his lap.
Mia gave a startled yelp. “Let go of me! Just because I’m small doesn’t mean you can keep moving me about like a doll.”
It felt good to be in the circle of his arms, though.
“There was nothing disgusting about what we did.” His voice was firm and unwavering. “And you are beautiful, not loathsome.”
Mia would have snorted, but she remembered just in time that ladies don’t snort.
“I behaved like an ass afterward,” he said. “I just— I’m not used to feeling that way while bedding a woman.”
“‘Bedding!’” Her voice was bitter. “That would imply we got as far as a bed. I wasn’t even worth a pair of sheets.”
He gave her a gentle shake. “I was overcome. We both were. And Duchess, I’ve never been that mad for anyone. Any woman. Ever.”
Mia’s heart missed a beat.
“When it comes to refinement, I’m an ass,” Vander said. “I didn’t bother to learn ballroom etiquette and the rest of it. But I have never found myself so overcome by lust that I couldn’t even get to a bed. You turn me into a madman. That’s the truth, if you care to hear it.”
An involuntary shudder ran through Mia. His arm tightened, pulling her head against his shoulder.
“I feel that way now,” Vander told her, his voice low and gruff. “I just had you, and all I want is to take you again. I could do it on the floor or in that bathtub. I see you, and I want to get close. I smell you, and I want to taste. I taste you, and the only thing I want is to shove myself inside and ride you until you scream with pleasure.”
Mia’s entire body turned liquid at his words and she couldn’t find an answer.
“If you think I have ever spoken to any woman the way I spoke to you,” he continued, “you’d be mistaken. I may not prance around like a court dandy, but I’m a decent man. I have paid for my pleasures because I don’t like adultery and I don’t—I didn’t—want to marry. But I have always been courteous. I’ve never behaved like a lunatic, not until I met you.”