“Where did it come from?” she asked.

Harry tucked the watch into his pocket. His expression was inscrutable. “From my father, when I told him I was leaving for London. He said his father had given it to him years before, with the advice that when he became a success, he should celebrate by purchasing a much finer watch. And so my father passed it on to me with the same counsel.”


“But you’ve never bought one for yourself?”

Harry shook his head.

A perplexed smile touched her lips. “I would say that you’ve had more than enough success to merit a new watch.”

“Not yet.”

She thought he must be joking, but there was no humor in his expression. Perturbed and fascinated, Poppy wondered how much more wealth he intended to gain, how much power he wanted to accrue, before he considered it enough.

Perhaps there was no such thing as “enough” for Harry Rutledge.

She was distracted from her thoughts as he pulled something from one of his coat pockets, a flat rectangular leather case.

“A present,” Harry said, giving it to her.

Her eyes rounded with surprise. “You didn’t need to give me anything. Thank you. I didn’t expect . . . oh.” This last as she opened the case and beheld a diamond necklace arranged on the velvet lining like a pool of glittering fire. It was a heavy garland of sparkling flowers and quatrefoil links.

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“Do you like it?” Harry asked casually.

“Yes, of course, it’s . . . breathtaking.” Poppy had never imagined owning such jewelry. The only necklace she possessed was a single pearl on a chain. “Shall I . . . shall I wear it tonight?”

“I think it would be appropriate with that gown.” Harry took the necklace from the case, stood behind Poppy, and fastened it gently around her neck. The cold weight of the diamonds and the warm brush of his fingers at her nape elicited a shiver. He remained behind her, his hands settling lightly on the curves of her neck, moving in a warm stroke to the tops of her shoulders. “Lovely,” he murmured. “Although nothing is as beautiful as your bare skin.”

Poppy stared into the looking glass, not at her flushed face, but at his hands on her skin. They were both still, watching their shared reflection as if they were two forms encased in ice.

His hands moved sensitively, as if he were touching a priceless work of art. With the tip of his middle finger, he traced the line of her collarbone to the hollow at the base of her throat.

Feeling agitated, Poppy pulled away from his hands and stood to face him, coming around the little chair. “Thank you,” she managed to say. Cautiously she moved to embrace him, her arms sliding over his shoulders.

It was more than Poppy had intended to do, but there was something in Harry’s expression that touched her. She had sometimes seen the same expression on Leo’s face in childhood, when he had been caught in mischief and had gone to their mother with a bouquet of flowers or some little treasure.

Harry’s arms went around her, pulling her farther up against him. He smelled delicious, and he was warm and hard beneath the layers of linen, silk and wool. The soft gust of his breath against her neck was ragged at the finish.

Closing her eyes, Poppy let herself lean against him. He kissed the side of her throat, working up to the juncture of her neck and jaw. She felt warm from the bottom of her feet to the top of her head. She found something surprising in the embrace, a sense of security. They fit nicely together, softness and hardness, pliancy and tension. It seemed that every curve of her was perfectly reconciled with his masculine contours. She wouldn’t have minded standing against him, with him, for a while longer.

But Harry chose to take more than had been offered. His hand went to the side of her head, easing her back at just the right angle to kiss her. His mouth descended swiftly. Poppy arched and twisted away from him, nearly causing an awkward collision of their heads.

She turned to face him, refusal stamped on her expression.

The evasion seemed to have stunned Harry. Sparks of wrath kindled in his eyes, as if she had been vastly unfair. “It seems the ban on virginal theatrics has been lifted.”

Poppy replied with stilted dignity. “I don’t think it’s theatrical to pull away when I don’t want to be kissed.”

“A diamond necklace for one kiss. Is that such a bad bargain?”

Her cheeks went scarlet. “I appreciate your generosity. But you’re wrong to think that you can buy or bargain for my favors. I’m not a mistress, Harry.”

“Obviously. Because in return for such a necklace, a mistress would go to that bed, lie there willingly and offer to do whatever I wanted.”

“I’ve never denied you your marital rights,” she said. “If you wish, I’ll go to that bed willingly and do whatever you want, this very moment. But not because you gave me a necklace, as if it were part of some transaction.”

Far from being appeased, Harry regarded her with gathering outrage. “The thought of you laid out like a martyr on the sacrificial altar is not what I had in mind.”

“Why isn’t it enough that I’m willing to submit to you?” Poppy asked, her own temper flaring. “Why must I be eager to lie with you, when you’re not the husband I wanted?”

The very second the words left her lips, Poppy regretted them. But it was too late. Harry’s eyes turned to ice. His lips parted, and she braced herself, knowing he was about to say something decimating.

Instead, he turned and walked from the room.