“You are not chaste.”

She flinched, and he said hastily, “I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.”


“Stop. Just stop. I shall not change my mind.”



His face was about as malleable as a block of marble. “I intend to see you without your clothes. And I intend to touch you without your clothes. I’m tired of pushing your skirts out of the way.”

“You are far too accustomed to getting your own way,” she blurted out. “Has no one ever denied you in the whole of your life?”

He didn’t answer that, just stood up and announced, “I’m going to remove my clothing. Brace yourself.”

“It would ruin everything for me if I had to get undressed,” she explained awkwardly. “I am not at ease.”

Vander frowned. “Do you have a scar, Duchess? I don’t give a damn.”

“No, I haven’t. Might you postpone your plan to remove your clothes until tonight, in the privacy of your chamber?”

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Vander wrenched off his coat, which was its own answer. Mia’s heartbeat quickened. Next to go was his waistcoat. The performance reminded her of the day that he had demanded she inspect him carefully before she purchased him. How was it possible that it was less than a fortnight ago?

Late-afternoon sunlight streamed through the windows, casting shadows the color of dark copper across his skin. His shirt flew across the room. Bands of muscle corded his body, making her fingers itch to caress his hard stomach.

When he bent over to pull off his boots, panic welled up in Mia’s stomach. If Vander forced her to unclothe, she would faint from pure humiliation. Taking advantage of the fact he was busy with his boots, she headed for the door.

He made it there before her.

“This is not a good idea,” she said, panicked. “It is deeply improper and no one . . . no lady would tolerate it.” She could smell a mixture of saddle leather and spice.

It weakened her knees, so she made her expression even more ferocious.

Vander leaned back against the door and grinned at her. He hitched his thumbs into the waistband of his breeches.

“No!” she cried.

Of course he ignored her. His breeches and smalls slid down over the thighs of a man used to leaping on a restless horse. Mia let out a shaky sigh. His taut abdomen had a little line of hair that led . . .

Well, down there.

No wonder she’d been sore.

His shaft was far too large.

He kicked away his breeches and smalls and simply stood there, relaxed, as if he often stood naked in a shaft of sunlight.

“Do my looks please you, Mia?” he asked, looking at her from under long eyelashes, as if he didn’t know perfectly well that desire was pounding through her like a drum beat. Directing her to touch him, to squirm against him, to lure him to the bed . . .

She had to clear her throat. “You are presentable, as I’m sure you’ve been told every day since you were a boy.”

“Does my moonbeam meet your expectations?” The grin on his face said that he knew perfectly well that he was magnificent.

“Aren’t you ever going to forget about my stupid poem?”

“I doubt it,” he said, his smile deepening. “I’m the only one of my friends who’s had an ode written to his cock.”

Mia groaned silently. There was no point in trying to school him in the art of literary metaphor.

“I can’t wait to read your novels,” he added.

“There is nothing about moonbeams in my work!”

He shrugged. “It’s your turn to disrobe.”

“As I made clear, I am not at ease undressing in the daylight.” She stepped closer, her hand drifting down his chest to his waist. “Isn’t this enough?”

“Not by half,” he said. But he took her hand and put it on his hard length.

Her hand instinctively curled around his silky maleness. To her delight, he visibly shuddered, then cupped her face, and brushed his lips over hers.

She tightened her hand just a little. His eyes glazed over and a harsh sound came from between his lips. His hands slipped down to her jaw, guiding her face up to take her mouth.

In the back of her mind, Mia was losing her nerve. What if Vander no longer desired her, once her breasts had been freed from her corset? Even she felt distaste for her breasts, so why should he feel any different?

“I want to touch you,” Vander growled into her mouth, his hands gripping her bottom and pulling her against him. “I want to hold those lush breasts of yours, bury my face in them, suck your pretty little nipples . . .”

Oh dear God.

She would have to let him do it. Either that, or she could call the Four Nights rule into effect.

“Please,” she asked desperately, “Please might we wait until tonight, when our room is dark?”

He ground against her, a harsh noise breaking from his chest. “Does it feel to you as if I can bloody well wait until tonight?”

Mia felt dizzy, as if she might faint. Perhaps she should get it over with? If she didn’t look at his face, she wouldn’t know how he felt. Would not knowing be better than knowing?

Yes. Unquestionably.

His nimble fingers were unbuttoning her gown in back, but he lost patience and ripped open the last few buttons. Mia numbly let him lift the gown over her arms and head.

He fell back a step. “Duchess, the corset you wore the other evening was impressive, but I must say this one resembles nothing so much as a steel cage designed to contain wild tigers.”

The corset employed a great deal of whale-bone to control her figure. It fell from her body and the laces’ silver aglets tinkled as they hit the floor.

Then all that remained was her chemise.

Chapter Twenty-six


Flora mortified to find seamstress views her as bony. “The Fripperies of Outward Appearance are unimportant,” she informed the lady.

“Pas pour les hommes,” the Frenchwoman said grimly, pins in her mouth obscuring her comment.

Flora knew no man of worth would take such foolishness into account. Still . . . “Can you improve the bodice of this gown?” she implored. The gown was made of white pleated muslin and left no doubt that Flora had very little in the way of feminine endowments.

The modiste mumbled something about sow’s ears.

~ is this working? Probably not.

Interesting change, though.

Do men truly like bosoms?

It was taking all of Vander’s control not to lunge at Mia, now that her corset had fallen away. His wife had turned white as a bleached stone and she was visibly trembling, but she undid the ribbon of her chemise. Closing her eyes momentarily, she pulled it down around her shoulders.

Vander restrained a groan. He felt desperate to touch her, like an animal in a duke’s form.

The white chemise dropped away to reveal breasts that were more beautiful than he could have imagined: plump and smooth, with nipples like ripe cherries.

Mia gave a little wiggle and the chemise slid from her arms, was caught briefly on her hips, and fell to the floor. And there she was.

His wife.

His duchess.

“Bloody hell,” Vander said hoarsely, words deserting him.

Mia rolled her eyes. “There’s no need to offer me such extravagant compliments.”