“Charlie cannot—” she began.

But she broke off when she met Vander’s eyes. They were heavy-lidded, a devastating knowledge gleaming in their depths. A knowledge of her, of what they did the night before, of what she felt like, and tasted like, and sounded like.

The cool control in his eyes was gone, swallowed by an erotic abandon that she had scarcely learned, although her body responded instantly.

“Charlie will enjoy Eton.” He placed his hands on her arms and drew her to him. “You left my bedchamber without saying good morning.”

“You were sleeping,” Mia said.

“Next time, wake me.” His expression made her weak at the knees. “As I see it, this is still part of my night.”

“Your night?”

“My first night.”

Chapter Twenty-three

NOTES ON NEAR-DEATH SCENE

~ Flora lies dying amongst the poppies, her yellow hair & etc. Trembling, pale, her tuneful voice reduced to a prayerful murmur. Has eaten naught but an egg in the last day. Raw? Ugh. Dove’s egg? It’s splattering rain, Angel’s Tears.

~ Frederic has searched every lane throughout England. Too much to say that he would not long survive her death? Probably.

~ he gives up only a few paces from her form. White and lean, sorrow concealed, his easy graceful movements reduced to—to something.

~ Sinks to his knees only a few steps from her prostrate form and prays that the Almighty will give him the Dearest Hope of his heart: his Flora. “I was made bewildered and impatient by the strength of my feelings. Like a base Indian fool, I threw away a pearl worth more than all my tribe possessions.” (Another touch of Shakespeare!)

~ “If you restore her to me, Lord, I will become a humble attendant to her daily Lesson of Love. No matter what affections Flora awakens in the breasts of her admirers, I will respect and honor her faithful love.”

“You don’t understand,” Mia said, trying to ignore the coaxing honey in Vander’s voice. She desperately tried to remember the important issues she had thought to discuss with him.

When her husband looked at her with that expression, all she wanted to do was answer his craving with a kiss. Hurl herself into his arms and pull his face down to hers.

Last night, she had felt sensuous, desirable . . . almost beautiful—and she hadn’t felt that way since she was labeled a “charity case” at fifteen years old.

“We mustn’t do this,” she whispered, but he pulled her close.

“A mere kiss,” he whispered back. At first he didn’t even touch his lips to hers. Instead he opened his mouth against her neck, licking her in a way that sent her mind reeling.

She meant to turn away. She meant to say no, to break free.

Instead she wrapped her arms around his neck and tipped her head back, delighting in the way he held her up, as if she weighed nothing, as if she were as delicate as a flower.

Suddenly panic bloomed in her stomach. She was behaving like a wanton in front of the house, where anyone could see. The servants. Gaunt. “Stop,” she gasped. “I must go to the stables. Charlie will be waiting.”

“Very well,” Vander said easily, his hands slipping away. “If you must go to the stables, I’ll go with you.” He took her arm and they began to walk. “And if you come,” he added, “I’ll come.”

It took a moment, but when she grasped his double entendre Mia felt color flood into her face. “You can’t mean what you just said!”

“Perhaps not in the front drive.” His smile acknowledged the desire between them with a frankness she could never have imagined.

Just looking at his lips made her want another kiss. She craved more than a kiss. She wanted the bliss of last night, the way their limbs had slid over each other like water, the way his fingers had stroked her into a mindlessness where she needn’t worry about her figure or her breasts. Or anything else.

She could just be.

They reached the first of the stables, but rather than enter, Vander steered her around the back. “Where are you taking me?” Mia asked.

When they were around the corner, out of sight of the house, he picked her up, braced her against the wall, and took her mouth. A craving, toe-curling hunger vibrated between them.

Vander pulled back just enough to lick her lips, his tongue flickering against hers, driving her into a low moan.

The sound startled her into sanity. “No!”

“No one can hear,” he said thickly. “This building is not used as it’s too old and unsafe.”

She succumbed. They spoke without words, just murmurs of hunger, an emotion as primitive as greed.

As love.

Mia scarcely noticed that Vander was hauling up her skirts; all she could hear was her own harsh breath and the way her body felt empty, waiting for him. Every touch of his hands on her legs kindled the fire in her higher until she couldn’t think straight.

The flimsy skirts of her morning gown were no barrier. Vander pulled back, just enough to meet her eyes. One hand was curled under her bottom, but he had jerked her legs wide, around his hips.

Mia was stunned into silence by the scalding ache between her legs. Vander was fumbling at his breeches with his other hand, but it didn’t occur to her to demur. Instead she waited, her heart beating quickly, yearning for him.

His eyes were fixed on her mouth. “I must have you,” he said, his voice low and hoarse. “I need you again.”

His face wasn’t beautiful now; it was savage, demanding, almost cruel. His fingers stroked her and Mia gave a little cry.

And then he was there.

What had been discomfort the night before was pain now . . . but exquisite pain. She gave a little gasp, her hands closing on his shoulders. He stopped instantly, his breath harsh, forehead against hers.

“I’m sorry,” he growled. “Is it too soon?”

Irrationally, the only thing Mia thought was that she didn’t want him in control so that he could think, could talk, could leave her. She leaned forward and let her tongue slide between his lips as if she’d done it a hundred times.

At the same time, she curled her legs around his hips and forced his rigid thick length into her body. A cry burst from her throat and was swallowed by him . . . he was kissing her, but she hardly knew it. His weight pushed her legs so wide that as he pressed forward and withdrew, it sent exquisite sensations through her thighs, a fiery sensation gathering in her limbs.

She broke the kiss when she threw back her head.

“That’s right.” His words were more a groan than a growl, the bass note to the pumping of his hips against her. He was sliding easily now, driving her higher and higher into incoherence.

She bucked against him when she came, a cry wrenched from her chest and swallowed by Vander’s mouth on hers. Her fingers tightened until she was clinging to him as if he were a raft in the heart of a storm, her body jerking uncontrollably, guttural ecstasy escaping her lips.

Vander gasped something in reply, a curse, a blessing, and he began thrusting even faster, grunting with as little elegance as she had shown.

Mia could feel him deep and hard inside her, but more than that, she knew instinctively that he was lost to himself, lost to the pleasure she was giving him. He was holding her as if he would never let her go. The thought made her legs clamp around his hips and push back toward him.



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