She bit her lip.

“No?”

“I’m . . . somewhat tender,” she confessed.

Advertisement

“I’m an animal,” he said, pulling her tighter. “I’m sorry, Duchess.”

Mia was beginning to enjoy the way he called her Duchess, even though she understood it was a way of avoiding intimacy. She wasn’t one of his friends; he wouldn’t call her Mia.

All the same, she loved being called Duchess. His duchess.

“I didn’t mind that much,” she whispered. She put out her tongue and very delicately touched the indent at the base of his throat.

He gave a strangled groan. “Right. Perhaps in a few days. I’m going to the stables.”

“All right,” she said, kissing the tiny patch of moistened skin on his neck. He tasted like sweat and desire.

-- Advertisement --

“Do you think that we might renegotiate your ban on being touched here?” He put a finger on her collarbone and slid down.

“No,” Mia said instantly. She shifted her weight and he let her slide down his body to stand on her feet.

“Why not?”

“I told you already.”

Vander gave her a look that made heat shoot through her stomach. “You will have to tell me again.”

She didn’t want to talk about her bosom. It hadn’t slowed him down last night or today; obviously it wasn’t very important in the scheme of things.

The scheme of erotic things, that is.

Marital things.

“I’d rather not,” she said, walking through the broken door to her room and pulling the cord summoning her maid. By the time Susan poked her head around the bedroom door, Mia had managed to pull off her morning gown. The back, she saw with dismay, was stained the color of decaying wood.

“That won’t come clean,” Susan said, with a saucy grin. “The fabric was already pilling. I’ll give it to the housekeeper to make rags with. May I ask whether you had an accident, my lady?”

“Please don’t ask,” Mia said. “What should I put on? I haven’t any gowns that aren’t black or gray. Though no one cares what I wear.”

“Yes, they do,” Susan said. “Believe me, they do. Everyone in this house thinks your husband is the next best thing to royalty.” She had opened the clothes press and was poking about in the shelves. “This will do.”

She brought out an amethyst gown that Mia had last worn two years ago. “It’ll be large in the waist, but it will do until Madame duBois arrives tomorrow morning. She might even get here as early as this afternoon.”

“A modiste?” Mia asked, unenthusiastically. Seamstresses promised miracles, but she always ended up looking like a stubby woman with large breasts.

“Madame duBois makes gowns for all the very best people.” Susan lowered her voice. “And some who are not: she has made frocks for Maria Fitzherbert, and you know what they say about her.”

“She has caught the prince’s eye,” Mia said. “But, Susan—”

“More to the point, Maria Fitzherbert is short. Tiny! Short as you are, if not shorter. I directed Madame to bring along any garments she might have partially constructed for petite clients. I promised her that the duke would pay three times her going rate for ready-sewn gowns.”

Mia sighed. Poor Vander had been forced to marry; the least she could do was not cost him too much money.

“You must dress as befits your station,” Susan stated.

If she was going to be a duchess for more than six months, then Susan was right. “Very well,” Mia said, resigned.

Her maid’s eyebrow rose. “Does that mean that you’ll agree to lower your bodice below your collarbone?”

“Yes,” Mia agreed. Adding, “If I must. Perhaps only in the evening.”

“Unless you want to look like a maiden aunt who is pretending to be a young duchess, you must. I didn’t argue when you were at Carrington House, because you rarely attended any sort of social event. But it will be different now.”

“I don’t want that sort of gown every day,” Mia protested. “Only if I have to make an appearance as a duchess.”

Susan crossed her arms. “Mr. Dautry and Lady Xenobia live less than two hours away, and His Grace’s man told me that they visit often. Your appearance reflects on me, and I can’t imagine what Lady Xenobia’s maid would say of your wardrobe. I cannot face her if your clothing is not à la mode. In the evening and in the day.”

Mia knew when she’d been beaten.

She’d probably end up with a wardrobe full of gowns whose necklines landed just above her waist. The gleam in Vander’s eyes came back to her . . .

Presumably, he would enjoy them, even if she didn’t.

Chapter Twenty-five

MORE NOTES ON CASTLE PLUM

~ the evil Lord Plum has deceitfully confused Flora’s affections by giving her lavish compliments and gifts. He rains insults on the man who jilted her.

~ what if Frederic happens on the castle, and is invited to dinner to meet Lord Plum’s fiancée: Flora!

Count Frederic was appalled to find that the lovely, modest, artless, bashful, yet warm-hearted girl he jilted at the altar has become a young woman of fashion, resplendent in jewels and displaying an Artful Fastidiousness in attiring herself.

~ Pale face now too thin for true beauty.

Two days later

Charlie was proving to be a fine equestrian. He had a tendency to favor his weak leg, which affected the direction in which his horse turned, but in time he’d get over that. More importantly, he loved everything about horses, and he especially loved Jafeer.

And Jafeer seemed to be cautiously affectionate in return; Vander had the idea that his new stallion considered the boy to be Mia’s colt. Anything the duchess liked, Jafeer liked.

At the moment Vander was standing on the side of the yard, watching Charlie go around on his wife’s palfrey, Lancelot. He had a groom guiding the horse with a line.

His wife. Wife. Vander still couldn’t get around that word. He’d been blackmailed into marriage, but somehow a fact that had enraged him mere days ago seemed irrelevant now.

Mia Carrington was his wife, no matter how it happened. Jafeer adored her. Hell, everyone adored her.

She was the sort of woman who made a person try his damnedest to get her attention. He caught himself performing like a boy, trying to come up with witticisms to bring out that throaty laugh of hers.

He couldn’t even concentrate on his work, because he spent his time thinking about Mia and all the things he meant to do with her once she felt ready.

How long did it take a deflowered virgin to recover from said deflowering? It wasn’t the sort of question men talked about. He felt an absurd sense of pride, knowing that he was the only man who’d ever touched Mia intimately, plunged into her.

He wanted more. And more still. His lust had become so overwhelming that he had taken care not to touch her at all in the last two days. He hadn’t even brushed up against her on the stairs. He didn’t trust himself.

In any case, she spent most of the time tucked away in her room working on her novel. She and Chuffy talked with great animation throughout the evening meals while Vander watched.

Mia’s hands would wave in the air, describing the spacious and magnificent apartments of some castle in which her heroine was taking refuge. Hell, if she wanted a castle, he could buy her one.

-- Advertisement --