Sometime later she opened her eyes. They were lying down again, and Vander’s hands were sliding up her legs. His eyes were on hers, waiting to see if she approved. “You make me so fucking hungry,” he growled.

Mia had overheard that word shouted by street sweepers and once, memorably, growled by her father, but no one had ever said it to her. “Did you say that word?”

“I did.”

“You—you can’t say things like that!”

“Why not?”

“Because you’re a duke and I’m—”

“You’re my duchess.” His hand went higher, skimming over her thigh. She shivered under his touch. Her legs fell open because that part of her was burning.

He made a groaning noise. “I’m not much of a duke, Mia. You should know that by now. My mother was known as a whore the length and breadth of England by the time I got to Eton. I had to fight my way through school. My only friend was a bastard.”

Mia froze, horrified. “The boys spoke to you about your mother’s behavior?”

He grinned as if she had asked the silliest question imaginable. “They generally didn’t speak; they just called me names. And I answered them with my fists.”

“Oakenrott,” she said with disgust. “That loathsome little toad.”

“How did you—” He stopped. “I forgot that you know precisely what Rotter is like.”

His hand had reached the roundest part of Mia’s thighs and she was fighting an impulse to moan. Anything that would encourage him to move his hand higher, to the place between her legs that was waiting for his touch.

He smiled as if he knew what she was thinking, and his fingers slid right between her legs. Mia squeezed her eyes shut and concentrated on the aching darkness behind her eyelids, and the fact that her hands clutched arms hard with muscles.

She wondered for a second if this touch was permissible between a lady and gentleman, and pushed the thought away. She had no one to ask. And she didn’t want him to stop.

In fact, she thought of allowing her legs to fall open and pulling his large body on top of her. That image was so shocking that she stayed absolutely still, not moving a muscle.

“I love touching you, Mia,” Vander growled, his voice low, guttural but sweet. “I intend to kiss you there too.”

Her eyes flew open. “No, you will not!”

He laughed, and his fingers swirled and pressed. Mia’s head fell back again and she let out a sound that no lady would allow to pass her lips.

Vander rolled on top of her, all his delicious weight holding her down. He began kissing her so fiercely that his hunger soaked into her body, taking all her restraints, taking away her claim to be a lady.

Before she knew it, she was shuddering all over, her hands clenched tight around his forearms, begging without words.

And then begging with words, because she was bursting into flames and he was the only person who could help her.

But he stopped. Why had he stopped? She whimpered, looking at him through eyes dazed with desire. She was wound tighter than a spool of wire, vibrating like a note so high that it barely struck the ear. “Mia,” he growled, “ask me for one of your four nights.”

“Wh—what?”

His hand took up that rough caress again.

“Don’t stop,” she whispered.

“Is this to be one of your four nights?”

Something unraveled in her heart, destroying the last of her defenses, the final shard of sanity she possessed. “Yes! It is, it is.”

What he said in response . . . what he did . . . was blasphemous. Miraculous. She felt like a river, liquid, rushing to a destination outside her control. She clung to him, crying out, her body clenching around his probing fingers as his thumb dragged over her soft flesh, setting it on fire.

The only thing that mattered was the stark lust that shimmered in the air around both of them. Vander was driving her to a pleasure greater than she could have imagined.

She hadn’t quite got there when he bundled her skirts around her waist and, as if he were her maid preparing her for bed, began swiftly undressing her. As she would to her maid, Mia mindlessly obeyed his requests, her breath coming in little pants, her brain muddled by desire. Raise your arms, Turn on your side, Twist the other way.

Her corset was tossed to the floor. It was only when he tried to remove her chemise that she came back to herself and clamped her arms across her chest.

“No.” She’d used the word thousands of times, but never under these circumstances. It came out with a kind of sultry intimacy that she’d never heard from her own lips. Or anyone else’s, either.

In response, Vander stood and pulled his shirt over his head. She pushed up on her elbows, openly staring. When she was a girl, she used to sit on the fence and watch him working with horses, surreptitiously feasting her eyes on his chest. He hadn’t even been fifteen years old.

It was all different now.

What had been a youth’s sinewy leanness had filled out into a grown-up male beauty that made her tremble. His face was set in ferocious lines of need and his eyes roamed over her body without the slightest distaste. He bent down and pulled off his breeches, standing squarely before her, flaunting himself.

Her eyes widened. This was entirely different than seeing him in his smalls, when she proposed marriage.

Vander grinned at her with a purely male pride. “Is it the first time you’ve seen a man in the flesh?” he purred. He came down on all fours over her. This was truly happening.

Vander was about to make love to her.

She had the vague sense that she was expected to exhibit virginal apprehension, but she felt none. She wanted to touch him all over, wind his thick hair around her fingers, pull his mouth down to hers.

Of course she couldn’t behave like that. She had to rein in this unfamiliar wantonness. So she reached up to him, but in a ladylike way, putting her hands delicately, loosely around his neck, sliding them to his shoulders with the hope that caress was appropriate. “Shouldn’t we douse the lamp?”

Warm muscles slid beneath her fingers as he shrugged. “Why?”

Because darkness was more modest, she thought. But what part did modesty play in bedding, when a man put his fingers in such private places, and teased those pleading sounds from a woman’s mouth?

Who could be modest after that?

It was too late.

Mia abruptly decided to abandon her plans for ladylike restraint. She surrendered to curiosity and slid her hand down his chest to reach the part of him that strained toward her.

He stifled a groan as she ran a finger down his length and, with a quick glance at him for approval, curved her hand around him. He was thick, hot and silky.

A curse, dark and guttural, wrenched from his throat. Likely every man thought he possessed the largest tool a woman had ever seen. And because society demanded that a lady never admit to intimacies of any sort, these delusions of grandeur were never dispelled.

Still, she could hardly imagine anyone larger than Vander. It would be impossible. It was impossible now.

The thought brought a chill down her spine and she felt a pang of fear. “What do we do now?” she asked, bringing her hands back to his shoulders. She was on her back, legs together, and he had a knee on either side of her hips.

The whole situation was embarrassing, and the lovely warmth she had in her stomach began to drain away.



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