“You are beautiful, Duchess.” He could see her thinking about that, but he was in the grip of an overpowering lust and could not wait for his compliment to soothe her fear. He picked her up and lay her on the bed, coming down on his side next to her. “May I touch?”

“No.” She meant it.


He ran a hand up her leg and straight to her sweetest spot. She was drenched, and a moan broke from her throat the moment he touched her.

Beside himself with desire, he rolled on top of her, reared back, and thrust inside. No preliminaries, no tender coaxing caresses—just fast, sweaty motion that sent pleasure racing down his limbs, smoky and hot as burning grass.

He kept his hands away from her breasts because she hadn’t given him permission, but somehow it was all the wilder for that.

Instead he braced his hands on the bed next to her shoulders and hung his head above her breasts. He could have sworn that her nipples puckered tighter every time he looked.

The bed board slammed into the wall. Over and over and over. And Mia was with him. She was caressing his body, her hands running down over his arse and curling around his thighs, urging him on.

He stilled. “May I touch your breasts now?”


“You’ll love it,” he promised.

With a sudden movement, he rolled, and then she was on top of him.

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Mia had been lost in delight, allowing Vander’s hard body to pleasure her while she stroked and caressed and kissed what parts of him she could reach.

But as always when her breasts were involved, she snapped to cold attention. Glancing down, she saw that they were standing out from her torso like globes.

“Look at me,” Vander commanded.

Reluctantly, she did so. His expression was delirious . . . ecstatic.

“Your breasts are perfect,” he rasped. “Soft, giving, your nipples like strawberries waiting for my mouth. I’m not touching. But I mean to kiss them now.”

Before she could stop him, Vander’s mouth closed over her nipple, and Mia went straight from somewhat ashamed apprehension to a storm of sensation so acute that she involuntarily pulsed around his cock, making him groan aloud.

His big hands gripped her hips and pulled her down as he thrust up. Her hair fell around his face. With every suck to her nipples, the desperate, hot sensation inside her increased, as if she were a boiling pot on the verge of explosion.

All the time Vander told her in a hoarse voice what he was doing, what he thought about her nipples, about her breasts.

She believed him. And when she gave everything to him, her body jerking over and over, his in every sense of the word, the rightness of it echoed down to her soul.

She loved him.

She had never stopped loving him.

The pleasant affection that she and Edward had shared was not love. This mad, wild, consumption of each other’s bodies, sweaty and real: this was love.

“Vander,” she cried, about to tell him.

But he wasn’t listening. He rolled again, and his strength and muscle and weight came down on top of her. His thrusts grew even fiercer; as he came, he shouted, the abandoned mad pleasure in his voice sending her body into another spiral, until she convulsed around him.

In that space of white-hot joy, there was no Vander and no Mia: they were one, panting, crying out, moving together in a primal dance as old as the earth itself.

It was blissful and raw.

When Vander withdrew, neither of them said a word. He pulled her close, and dazed, Mia tucked into his shoulder.

She had given him everything, ceded her body. And he had given his back to her.

They had consummated their marriage.

Chapter Twenty-seven

From the Duchess of Pindar to her Publishers, Mssrs. Brandy, Bucknell & Bendal

September 15, 1800

Dear Mr. Bucknell,

I have scarcely left my chamber for two days while reading Miss Julia Quiplet’s three novels, and shall shortly begin Mrs. Lisa Klampas’s novel.

I know this may sound as if my own writing has been neglected, and it has been neglected, but I assure you that the opposite is true. Miss Quiplet’s books have been very inspiring, and even partly restored my faith in romance, and renewed my conviction that Love is the Secret Architecture of the world.

I will happily provide an endorsement of Miss Quiplet’s next novel.

All best wishes,

Her Grace, the Duchess & etc.

Two days later

Vander woke when the blue light of dawn crept through the window. For a moment he didn’t know where he was, as if he had been thrown into a kaleidoscope, shaken and tumbled.

His body felt different.

Slowly he turned his head. Mia was curled against him, satiny hair falling over his arm. She was smiling in her sleep.

It wasn’t just his body that felt different: he felt different. He felt unbalanced. Vulnerable. Every night he became a madman, pounding into his wife, groaning, out of control.

Control had been the backbone of his life. A flicker of panic followed that thought. Perhaps his father lost his mind because of the fierce love he felt for the duchess, for the woman who cuckolded him.


He could not forget what Chuffy had told him: His father had shown signs of madness even as a boy. And the former duke had abused his wife. What sort of love was that?

Gently he slid Mia’s head from his shoulder and stood up. His blood had a slow thrum, as if he’d never experienced pleasure before. As if the only thing worth doing in the world was kissing the woman in his bed.

Of course, he’d felt this much pleasure before. At the moment he couldn’t remember precisely an occasion, but there must have been other women who drove him into a frenzy of lust.

He pulled on clothing without bothering to bathe or to shave. Jafeer would make his debut appearance at the races in the afternoon, on a track only two hours from Rutherford Park, virtually next door to Starberry Court, Thorn’s country house.

He had to retreat to the stables and recover whatever the hell it was he’d lost last night. Part of his heart, maybe.

That was unacceptable.

He strode down the stairs, waving away Gaunt, except the man wouldn’t be brushed off and trotted after him as he burst out the front door.

“Your Grace!”

Vander turned around with a growl. “What is it?”

“You asked me to find out”—the butler bent over, gasping—“about Her Grace’s fiancé; do you remember?”

Of course Vander remembered, though he’d never mentioned the request to Mia. Why worry her with the idea that Sir Richard may have killed her beloved Edward?

“He’s alive,” Gaunt said, holding his side. “Blimey, Your Grace, you walk faster than a sow in heat.”

“Excellent,” Vander said, dismissing the subject of Edward Reeve from his mind. “Glad to hear it.”

“But he’s been in prison!” Gaunt said, raising his voice.

Vander froze. “Prison? Where?”

“Old Tolbooth, Edinburgh! The Bow Street Runner only found him after the man organized a prison break.”

“Trumped-up charges,” Vander surmised. No man would voluntarily leave Mia. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he’d always known that.

Gaunt nodded. “Indeed, that is so, Your Grace. The Runner will stand Crown’s evidence that Sir Richard Magruder had Mr. Reeve sent to prison on a fallacious charge, under another name, without due recourse of law. Mr. Reeve almost died due to a head wound he suffered while being captured, and the charge will include attempted murder.”