“I seem to have been reading your memoirs,” he said, strolling toward her and doing his utmost to look innocent. “I had no idea your life had been so enthralling before marrying me.”
“Oh hush,” she cried, her face turning rosy. “It’s horrid of you to look at my manuscript without asking me first.”
“I think you should spice it up a bit.”
“Spice it up?”
“Well, what sort of man would say ‘may I not kiss you now’?”
“My hero, Frederic, is extremely courteous.”
“He’s an addlebrained dunce. Who would want to kiss a man like him? Clearly not your heroine, since she makes up that whopper about not liking kisses.”
“Frederic is a complete gentleman,” she said defensively.
“And I am not?” Vander grinned and changed the topic. “What on earth have you been doing? I looked all over the house for you.”
“Reading,” she said, a bit guiltily. “I haven’t been able to put Miss Julia Quiplet’s books down in the last two days, even though I must write my own novel. Was there something you wanted, Duke?”
“Duke?” Vander looked insulted. “Surely we are on intimate terms?”
Mia had a moment of extreme irritation.
How was she supposed to guess what Vander felt was the appropriate degree of intimacy at any given moment? He still addressed her as “Duchess,” after all. She avoided the question altogether. “I thought you were in the stables. Is Charlie all right?”
“I set him to grooming horses. If it were up to him, he’d ride all day long, but I thought his leg had taken enough.”
“Perhaps I should check on his progress,” Mia said. Vander had a look in his eyes that she recognized, even after a few short days of marriage.
But it was daytime. Afternoon. Servants were about.
“Charlie will not miss you,” he said. He took a long stride, bent his head, and pulled her into his arms. Mia had to admit that his kiss was pure bliss. She even dropped Miss Quiplet’s novel.
In the last two days, she had done her best to ignore Vander at dinner, because every time she met his eyes, she felt herself turning pink. She stayed up late reading, but he never knocked on her door.
Only the raw lust in his eyes when they encountered each other about the house kept her from despair. She wasn’t feeling these ground-swells of desire all on her own.
Now she kissed him with all the longing she’d kept in check, coming back to herself only when she realized that her husband was nudging her backward toward the enormous bed on which Queen Elizabeth herself had slept.
“We mustn’t,” Mia said, pulling away. “Not that . . . Not here.”
“Why not?” His urgent, hungry look sent a throbbing pulse down her legs.
“We should restrict intimacies to appropriate times and places, to wit, our bedchamber at night.”
“This room is not a stable. It’s arguably the nicest bedchamber in the house.”
“It’s my study, and besides, it’s daytime.”
Vander’s only response was to topple both of them onto the bed.
“I mean it,” she protested. “This just isn’t proper!”
Vander planted his hands on either side of her and dipped his head, running his tongue along her lips. “I don’t give a damn.”
She pushed at his shoulder. “Well, I do, because I don’t want to be called ‘greedy’ again. Just to be clear, I am not asking you for intimacies, which are supposed to happen only at night.”
He scowled down at her, with a frown that he likely thought would shake her resolve since it had terrified horse thieves in the past.
“I don’t want you to say any more unkind things to me,” she told him. “If I don’t behave like a doxy, I can’t be labeled one. Please, Vander, let me sit up. I’m going to the stables to see Charlie.”
“I will never say another unkind word to you,” Vander said huskily, brushing his lips across hers once more.
She must have looked dubious, because he continued, “I said those things out of fear. I want you more than is good for my self-esteem. Hell, Mia, I’m turning into a man who would walk to London for one of your kisses.”
“My self-esteem matters as well,” she pointed out. “I have no wish to become the type of woman whose husband feels he can—can tup her whenever and wherever he wants.”
“You’re the type of woman whose husband wants to tup her in a bed made for Queen Elizabeth. For a queen, Mia!”
He slowly lowered his weight onto her, and it was so delicious that she let out a little moan. His eyes sparked in response, and a callused hand ran up her legs.
“I don’t think—”
“Hush,” Vander said, kissing her. His fingers were teasing their way up her inner thigh. When his lips wandered to her cheekbone, Mia discovered that she had relinquished control. Again.
His fingers slipped upward, and she instinctively rolled her hips toward his caress. Despite herself, her voice came out breathily, like a silly debutante being introduced to the queen. “It’s not right. Might be seen. Not . . . Not married. I mean, it’s still daytime.”
“We are married,” Vander corrected her, as his fingers sank into her slick warmth and took on a rhythm that made her body shake, bliss hovering just outside her reach. “Perhaps you truly don’t wish to continue?” His fingers stilled.
“Don’t stop.” Her nails dug into his forearm.
“It’s still daytime,” Vander pointed out, his eyes devilish. He slipped a broad finger inside her.
She let out a gasp and arched against him, trying to force his finger deeper inside her.
“Mia,” he said, voice rasping in her ear, “I want to make love to you.”
“Yes,” she gasped.
“I want to see you naked.”
“All of you,” he clarified.
“No.” Mia’s head cleared. She would never enjoy herself under those circumstances. Especially in the daylight. She pushed his hand away and began to inch toward the edge of the bed.
“Where do you think you’re going?” he growled.
“We can’t behave like this.”
He let her go and she sat up and rearranged her skirts. But her heart sank, looking at his face. His eyes were steady on hers and there was no mistaking his expression.
His wasn’t the face of a man who had ever heard the word “no.” Well, except when he was trying to refuse her marriage proposal. That was probably the first time in his life that he had been thwarted.
This would be the second. The idea of undressing in the broad daylight filled her with horror: Vander would see every curve and dimple.
If she had married an average-looking man, she might consider it, but given the difference between them, it was inconceivable.
He was the embodiment of one of her fictional heroes—excepting the fact that he wasn’t madly in love with her, nor was he quiet, gentle, or even civilized.
Mia raised her chin and told him the absolute truth. “I am not the sort of woman who likes to be unclothed.”
“Ladies are very private. Chaste,” she added.