Sounds climbed in her throat, but she swallowed them back. She wanted to move, to twist in the restless heat. Her hands itched to grip the flexing muscles of his shoulders. Instead, she lay with martyred stillness.

But he knew how to make her body respond, how to coax delight from her unwilling flesh. She couldn’t stop her h*ps from riding upward, her heels delving into the cool pliancy of the mattress. He slid along her front, kissing lower and lower, his mouth measuring tender distances across her body. When he nuzzled into the soft, private curls, however, she stiffened and tried to move away. Her mind was reeling. No one had told her about this. It couldn’t be right.


As she wriggled, his hands slid beneath her bottom, gripping her in place, and his tongue found her in wet, fluent strokes. Carefully he guided her into a deliberate rhythm, urging her upward, and again, while he stroked in voluptuous countermeasure. Wicked mouth, merciless tongue. Hot breath, flowing over her. The feeling built and built, until it came to a startling summit and flared in all directions. A cry escaped her, and another, as dense spasms rolled through her. There was no escaping, no holding back. And he stayed with her, prolonging the descent with soft licks, extorting a few last twitches of pleasure as she lay trembling beneath him.

Then came the worst part, when Harry took her into his arms to comfort her . . . and she let him.

She could hardly help but feel how aroused he was, his body taut and solid, his heartbeat swift beneath her ear. He ran his hand over the supple curve of her spine. With a pang of reluctant excitement, she wondered if he would take her now.

But Harry surprised her by saying, “I won’t force the rest of it on you tonight.”

Her voice sounded strange and thick to her own ears. “You . . . you needn’t stop. As I told you—”

“Yes, you want to have done with it,” Harry said sardonically. “So you’ll have nothing left to dread.” Releasing her, he rolled away and stood, adjusting the front of his trousers with casual unconcern. Poppy’s face flamed. “But I’ve decided to let you dread it a bit longer. Just remember that if you have any idea about requesting an annulment, I’ll have you on your back and divested of your virginity before you can blink.” He drew the covers over her and paused. “Tell me, Poppy . . . Did you think of him at all just now? Was his face, his name in your mind while I was touching you?”

Poppy shook her head, refusing to look at him.

“That’s a start,” he said softly. He extinguished the lamp and left.

She lay alone in the darkness, shamed and sated and confused.

-- Advertisement --

Chapter Fourteen

Sleep was always difficult for Harry. Tonight it was impossible. His mind, accustomed to working on multiple problems simultaneously, now had a new and endlessly interesting subject to ponder.

His wife.

He had learned a great deal about Poppy in one day. She had shown that she was exceptionally strong under duress, not a woman to go to pieces in a difficult situation. And although she loved her family, she had not run to them for shelter.

Harry admired the way Poppy had dealt with her wedding day. Even more, he admired the way she had dealt with him. No virginal theatrics, as she had put it.

He thought of those blistering minutes before he had left her, when she had been sweet and yielding, her beautiful body blazing in response. Aroused and restless, Harry lay in his bedroom, on the other side of the apartment from hers. The thought of Poppy sleeping in the place where he lived was more than sufficient to keep him awake. No woman had ever stayed in his apartments before. He had always conducted his liaisons away from his residence, never spending a full night with anyone. It made him uncomfortable, the notion of actually sleeping in a bed with another person. Just why that seemed more intimate than the sexual act was not something Harry cared to ponder.

Harry was relieved when daybreak approached, the sky’s low roof enameled with dull silver. He arose, washed, and dressed. He let in a housemaid, who stirred the grate and brought freshly ironed copies of the Morning Chronicle, the Globe, and the Times. As per their usual routine, the floor waiter would arrive with breakfast, and then Jake Valentine would deliver the managers’ reports and take his morning list.

“Will Mrs. Rutledge want breakfast as well, sir?” the maid asked.

Harry wondered how long Poppy would sleep. “Tap on her door and ask.”

“Yes, sir.”

He saw the way the maid’s gaze darted from the direction of his bedroom to Poppy’s. Although it was common for upper-class couples to maintain separate bedrooms, the maid evinced a touch of surprise before she schooled her expression. Vaguely annoyed, Harry watched her leave the dining area.

He heard the housemaid’s murmur, and Poppy’s reply. The muffled sound of his wife’s voice caused a pleasant ripple of awareness across his nerves.

The housemaid returned to the dining area. “I’ll be bringing a tray for Mrs. Rutledge as well. Will there be anything else, sir?”

Harry shook his head, returning his attention to the papers as she left. He tried to read an article at least three times before finally giving up and staring in the direction of Poppy’s room.

Finally she appeared, wearing a dressing gown made of blue taffeta, heavily embroidered with flowers. Her hair was loose, the brown locks shot with gleaming fire. Her expression was neutral, her eyes guarded. He wanted to peel the intricately stitched garment away from her, kiss her exposed body until she was flushed and panting.

“Good morning,” Poppy murmured, not quite meeting his gaze.