“Despite this letter, you can’t possibly think that I will agree to marry you.” For a second control eluded him, but he reined it back in. He’d be damned if he threatened a woman, even one who was trying to bend him to her will.

Not that she showed the faintest sign of fright.

No, Mia Carrington looked like an Amazon, if that race of female warriors had a corps of petite archers. It was oddly provocative.

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But he felt like a footman being called to a bedchamber, summoned for her lady’s pleasure, which was intolerable.

“Years ago, you vowed not to marry me if I were the last man on earth. What in the hell has changed, Miss Carrington? Besides the fact that our reputations are even more notorious than they were when we were young? Why in God’s name would you embarrass yourself like this?”

Chapter Three

NOTES ON HERO

Angel’s Form: Hero is elegant to a fault—wears coat made by Weston, silver-topped cane. Tumbling black hair. Hair—flaxseed in the sun. Brown eyes.

Titled. A count? Last 4 Lucibella heroes all dukes.

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But why does he have a devil’s heart?

Draw from real life? Heroine jilted? REASON??? Not bec. change of heart—hero too enamored. Bring in evil count? Twin?

Is ‘Count’ an English title? Never met one (check Debrett’s). Or: French Bavarian comte. More perfidious. (Will readers understand perfidious? Comte, for that matter? Spelling?) stay with Count.

Count Frederic!

Leaves her at the altar in St. Paul’s Cathedral . . . Why?

Good question.

“Embarrass myself?” Mia had never heard a voice that angry. And cold.

If she was gorgeous and dewy-eyed, it wouldn’t be quite so humiliating to propose marriage. But as it was . . . some part of her was writhing with humiliation. Some part? The whole of her.

“I do not consider a proposal of marriage to be an embarrassment,” she said untruthfully, fighting to keep her voice from rising into a squeak. “I am in possession of a special license, and I would like to marry quite soon.”

Instead of thunder, she got another crack of laughter, sharpened by rage. “You have to be joking. You think I would marry you?” His eyes raked her from head to toe.

She fell silent, swallowing hard. She tried not to think about her attractiveness—or lack thereof—and most of the time she was successful.

“You are not joking.” He didn’t move a finger, but she felt danger in the very air, as if he might turn and smash his fist straight through the window if he lost control of his temper. He had already uttered some words she’d never heard before.

She forced herself to speak. “My solicitor obtained the license. I hoped we could marry in a few days. At the least, within the week, Your Grace.”

“Unbelievable. I’ve asked you repeatedly, and I’ll ask again. Why do you want to marry me, Miss Carrington? Is it a matter of ambition?

“Oh my God,” Vander continued, not waiting for a response. “You’re getting revenge for the poetry episode all those years ago?”

“Of course not! The subject is irrelevant.” Mia pulled another folded sheet from her reticule. “You may keep the letter written by your father, Your Grace. I took the liberty of putting into writing my specifications as regards our marriage.”

“‘Specifications?’” Vander echoed.

He felt as if he had fallen into another world. Ladies did not propose marriage. They did not issue “specifications” for male behavior, within marriage or without.

“The terms of our marriage.” She put the document on a side table. “Here they are.”

Vander took a step forward and caught her wrist. It was shockingly small. “This makes no sense.”

She tried to pull free, but it was no use; he had restrained horses that were far taller than she was and weighed ten times as much. “Are you ambitious for social status? Or did your father put you up to this before he died?”

Her eyes skittered away, and he realized the truth with a sickening thud. “That’s it. I didn’t even ask how you got that damned letter. He stole it, didn’t he? Or my mother gave it to him. It wasn’t enough to drag my mother into the gutter and shame my father—Carrington made sure that he would befoul the Pindar line.”

“Befoul?” She stopped struggling to free herself and stared up at him with an absurd air of innocence.

“Taint my blood,” he said, wanting to hurt her. “I think anyone would agree that children of your family will sully the ducal line. My father expected me to marry into the best of families, Miss Carrington. Your father was not ennobled by his association with my mother. Quite the opposite.”

She glared at him. “May I remind you that you’re talking about sullying a ducal line headed by a madman and—” She stopped.

“A what?” he said, his voice dangerously low. “By what word would you characterize my mother?”

“We should not be having this discussion, Your Grace.”

This time he snatched both of her hands and reeled her close to him before she could do more than gasp. “I think the word you were looking for is whore.”

“I wasn’t, and you should not speak about your mother that way,” she cried. “What’s more, you shouldn’t even speak that word in my presence!”

Vander’s grip tightened. “You don’t make an outcry when I curse, yet I say the word ‘whore’ and you squeal like an insulted nun? Who are you, really, Mia Carrington?”

“I’m all those things you’ve called me, Your Grace,” she said steadily. “A wallflower, an old maid, a charity case. A desperate woman in need of a husband.”

“A husband?” He looked her up and down. “In your bed? Is that what this is about?”

Red flashed through her cheeks. So that was it. She still lusted after him, which should make him laugh. But this close, he could feel the warmth coming from her lush little body.

He didn’t want to look at her eyes; they made him feel odd, unbalanced. With one swift movement, he turned her about so that she was snug against his front, his arms crossed over her chest.

She fit in the circle of his arms perfectly, so perfectly that he pulled her even closer, before he realized what he was doing.

“Do you imagine that you and I will have the sort of relationship that our parents had?” he asked. He spread his right hand over her stomach, pulling her tightly against him so that she could not mistake the reaction of his body to hers. He was still hard as a rock and had been since he loomed over her in the chair.

She was no lady, and he refused to do her the courtesy of treating her like one. What he wanted to do was act like a man who had never heard of civilized society: bend her over that chair and take her.

“Let me go!” she demanded. He heard no fear in her voice, so he ignored her protest.

“If I want a whore, I pay for her,” he said, thrusting forward with his hips in a rough motion that she could not mistake. “I don’t marry the woman. Your father didn’t bother with such formalities, so why should you?”

She didn’t respond other than continuing to struggle to pull away, her head bent forward and her hair falling from its pins. Vander had a discomforting feeling that perhaps he was the one more affected by their position. For some damn reason, her body was practically burning him, and he felt as if he were surrounded by her soft elusive scent.

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