Vander reached out and tilted her chin up. “You can’t force a man to love you, Mia.” The words were rough but there was softness there too, pity for the old maid who had no way to get a husband except by blackmailing him. And he used her personal name, as if he were her big brother offering counsel.

Mia drew in a breath of air that scorched her lungs, as if it burned from the inside out. Could this be any more humiliating? Once they married, she would take Charlie and go live in Scotland.


“I know it’s a difficult lesson. You simply have to trust that in time you’ll love someone else,” Vander added, looking sorry.

Sorry for her.

Scotland wasn’t far enough.

Bavaria. She and Charlie would go to Bavaria, where no one knew them. Charlie could return to England at age eighteen and reclaim the Carrington estate from Vander.

At least she knew that he would have an estate to inherit, if Vander was in charge. Sir Richard would waste it all in frivolous lawsuits, with no regard for Charlie’s patrimony.

Mr. Plummer could help Vander petition the House of Lords for a divorce in her absence; he would take care of everything. She herself need never return to England.

Vander’s eyes were intent on hers. “Tell me to destroy the letter, Mia. Keep your dignity and your self-respect. Don’t make me hate you.”

He had no idea how much she wanted to keep her self-respect. Her dignity was gone . . . but her decency? She shuddered, knowing what she would think of a woman who had acted as she had. Villainesses in her books always came to a bad end.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “But I can’t.”

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Mia looked regretful . . . but Vander could tell that she didn’t have the faintest intention of freeing him. She was determined to tie him to her apron strings. Or perhaps bedpost was more accurate.

She couldn’t have the faintest idea what a man needed, what a man would demand of his wife. To put it bluntly, she was an old maid without the faintest understanding of what really went on between men and women: the sweaty, grunting, pleasurable truth of it. Anger filled him again, like water coming to a boil.

“You think you’re getting my moonbeam, Mia? Whatever you want to call it, I can assure you that it will not perform under these circumstances. Not when you’ve commanded the act. We men are odd that way. We like to choose our bed partners. And if you’ll forgive my bluntness, I would not choose you.”

Her cheeks flooded with color again. “My poem had nothing to do with that—with, with intimate matters!”

“I disagree.” Vander tore off his coat and tossed it behind him.

“What are you doing?”

He started on his waistcoat, her eyes going wide as he tossed that aside too. This time he heard a tinkle of broken glass.

She gasped. “You just—”

“Don’t you think you should see what blackmailing a man does to his cock? Excuse me: to his moon-beam?”

His hands moved to his waistband and undid the first button. At the same moment, the combination of Mia’s wide eyes, luscious bosom, and that kiss wrapped around him. He felt his body grow hard.

In fact, his cock was about as stiff as it had ever been.

“Hell,” he muttered. That ruined his initial plan. Never mind: he could shock her into realizing that marriage wasn’t poetic, but sweaty and real.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she demanded.

Vander ran a hand slowly down the front of his breeches and sure enough, her eyes followed the movement. Mia likely believed that wedding vows had some sort of romantic power to them. Hell, she had spun a fairy tale around the dissolute relationship their parents had shared.

She had probably read too many of those novels, the ones full of tripe about gentlemen who behaved as no man ever would, falling on their knees from one moment to the next. Begging for a woman the way a spaniel would a bone.

“What I’m doing is showing you every inch of what you wrote about in that damned poem,” he said, baring his teeth in an approximation of a smile. He undid another button, his breeches straining in front.

He expected her to squeak like a mouse and dash from the room. Ladies did that sort of thing to avoid reality.

But Mia surprised him. Again. “Is there something I am supposed to be noticing?” she inquired.

For a moment he almost admired her. He wasn’t boastful, but he knew he was large—all over. Seasoned courtesans had looked shocked at the size of his rod.

Not her.

For someone who was going to all the trouble of threatening his dukedom in order to climb into his bed, Mia seemed astonishingly nonchalant.

Button number three.

“You stop what you’re doing this instant!” she said, finally looking a bit unnerved. Her voice had taken on a husky lisp that only made him harder.

“Do you mean that you don’t want to assess the merchandise? Really, Mia, you must learn to conduct yourself in the marketplace. Vendors always want to display their wares.”

At that, her back stiffened. “There’s a reason gentlemen keep such details to themselves,” she flashed. “You, for example, seem to have delusions of . . . of adequacy!”

“Actually, I have a conviction,” he drawled. “Of grandeur.” With every button he undid, with every sign of her determination, he felt anger swelling in his throat, threatening to strangle him, making him behave more and more outrageously.

He courted danger, not women. He had sometimes talked vaguely about a wife but now he realized with abrupt clarity that he didn’t want one.

Every ounce of his being resisted the idea, screaming at him to fight in the only way he could fathom in this insane circumstance. He undid the final button and his tool sprang free, shielded from her eyes only by the thin silk of his smalls.

“So, Miss Carrington, does the moonbeam live up to expectations?”

For a second, he could have sworn her green eyes darkened, but in the next, she folded her arms over her chest. “As I recall, when you were merely fifteen, your closest friends were already expressing some concern about your size.”

Surprise ripped through him, and he gave a bark of laughter.

“What I see, Your Grace, is a man who has the good sense to celebrate what Nature gave him, overlooking Her stinginess!”

Vander grinned, the surprising thought that few people were capable of verbally sparring with him flashing through his brain. He was about to respond, but he realized that Mia was feeling behind her for the latch. Instantly he dragged her to him, bucking his hips against her body. Then he slid his hands down her back and splayed his fingers over her bottom, holding her tight against him.

She didn’t say anything, but a sound escaped her lips, a little puff of air that sent an answering shudder through his body.

He had made another mistake. He had just played into her hands. What was he thinking? This woman had been writing sensual poems at fifteen. She wanted him for bedding and probably didn’t give a damn about his title.

She was her father’s daughter, after all.

Before he could speak, Mia shoved at his chest and he let her go. Color was burning in her cheeks; she didn’t meet his eyes, staring somewhere to the left of one shoulder. “I shall—I shall leave you now,” she said, her voice huskier than it had been. “Please let me know your response to my requirements.”

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