"Why on earth not?"
"Allow me to demonstrate," he said and took her lips in a swift, hard, demanding kiss. Finished, he looked into her face and quirked a brow, suggesting she state an opinion of his demonstration.
"Well, there is that," she admitted, and Stephen stifled a shout of laughter at her tone and expression, "but it is not reason enough to rush into a ceremony."
"Sunday," he repeated flatly.
She shook her head, showing him a glimpse of an amazing strength of will, even though he could see she was beginning to falter.
"I am not yet subject to your wishes, my lord, so I suggest you not use that particular tone on me. It is most arbitrary, and for some reason it seems to raise my hackles. I insist on having a choice—What are you doing?" she burst out as he slid his hand inside her bodice, cupping her breast and fondling her nipple, forcing it into a tight bud.
"Giving you a choice," Stephen said. "You can admit you want me, and agree to let me make an honorable woman of you on Sunday, or you can deny it…"
He let the sentence hang in a way that was intended to alarm her. "And if I do deny it…" she argued softly.
"Then we will go home instead of to the Rutherfords' ball, and I will continue there what we left off a few minutes ago, until I either prove it to you or you admit it. Either way, the result will be a wedding on Sunday."
Beneath his velvet baritone, there was a steely determination, an arrogant confidence that he could and would succeed in anything he decided to do, that made her feel even more helpless and bewildered. Sherry knew he could and would make her admit it. He could kiss her into insensibility in a matter of minutes. "Yesterday, you were not at all eager to wed, or even honor our betrothal," she pointed out. "What has brought about your change of heart?"
Your father is dead, and you have no one left in the world but me, Stephen thought, but he knew there was another reason that was far more compelling, though not entirely true: "Yesterday, I didn't fully recognize how badly we want each other."
"Yes, but earlier tonight, I was perfectly certain I did not want you at all. Wait, I have a suggestion—" she said, and Stephen grinned at the way her face lit up, even though he knew he was neither going to like, nor to agree to, any alteration in his plans. Five hundred years of undiluted nobility flowed in his veins, and with the true arrogance of his illustrious forebears, Stephen David Elliott Westmoreland had already decided that his will was going to prevail in the matter. All that was important was that she wanted him, and he wanted her. Beyond that, his only reason for haste was that he wanted her to be able to enjoy some time as his wife before she had to confront her father's death.
"We could go on as we are, and if you don't become disagreeable, and if we continue to like kissing one another, then we could be married."
"A tempting suggestion," Stephen lied politely, "but as it happens, I have a great deal more in mind than merely kissing you, and I am… uncomfortably eager… to satisfy us both on that score."
Her reply to that remark proved that she'd forgotten more than merely her own name, and her fiancé's name. Either that, or like many of her gently bred English counterparts, she'd never been told what was actually going to happen on her wedding night. With her delicate russet brows drawn together over quizzical gray eyes, she confirmed it. "I don't know what you mean or what precisely you have in mind, but if I am making you uncomfortable, it's little wonder. I am practically sitting on your lap."
"We'll discuss all my meanings and motives later," he promised in a voice roughened by the pleasure she gave him as she wriggled her way off his lap.
"When will we discuss it?" she persisted stubbornly when she was seated across from him again.
Unable to summon the fortitude to argue with him further or even meet the challenge of his gaze, Sherry parted the curtain at the side window of the coach and looked out. Two things hit her at once: First, they were stopped in front of a house with footmen standing at attention on every step, holding torches to welcome the droves of splendidly garbed guests who were moving inside in a steady stream while casting curious looks over their shoulders at the door of the coach. And worse, if her reflection in the coach window was even close to accurate, Sherry's elaborate coiffure had been hopelessly damaged by her fiancé's marauding fingers. "My hair!" she whispered, aghast, reaching up and confirming that the intricate curls had come loose and were hanging about her shoulders in what Stephen privately thought was delightful, artless disarray. But then the moment she'd called attention to her hair, his thoughts had immediately gone to his regular fantasy of seeing those locks spilled over his bare chest. "I can't go in there, looking like this. People will think—" When she trailed off in embarrassed silence, Stephen's lips twitched.
"What will they think?" he prompted, studying her flushed cheeks and rosy lips knowing damned well what some of them were going to rightfully assume.
"It does not bear contemplating," she said with a shudder, pulling the pins out of the gleaming mass and letting it tumble over her shoulders.
Sherry pulled the comb through her hair, growing increasingly aware of the way his warm gaze lingered on her movements, and it only added to her confusion. "Please stop looking at me in that way," she said helplessly.
"Looking at you has been my favorite pastime from the moment you asked me to describe your face," he said solemnly, looking straight into her eyes.
The velvet roughness of his voice and the amazing words he'd spoken were more seductive than any kiss could have been. Sherry felt all her resistance to marrying him begin to collapse, but pride and her heart demanded she mean more to him than she apparently had. "Before you think any further about a marriage on Sunday," she said hesitantly, "I think you should know I have a freakish aversion to something that English ladies seem not to mind in the least. I myself did not recognize, until earlier tonight, how strongly I feel."
Baffled, Stephen said, "To what do you have this aversion?"
"The color lavender."
"I see." Stephen was stunned by her temerity and unwillingly impressed by her courage.
"Please consider it very carefully before you decide if we should even remain betrothed another day."
"I'll do that," he replied.
He hadn't conceded as she'd hoped, but at least he wasn't angry, and he had taken her seriously. Sherry told herself to be satisfied with that and lifted her hands to try to restore more order to her tumbled hair. Self-conscious as the focus of his lazy, admiring glance, she said with a helpless smile, "I can't do this if you're going to watch me."