“I love you,” he told her again, just as one of his hands slid down and cupped her breast. Madame duBois’s bodice gave way and Mia’s breast spilled into his hand.

Vander bent his head and took her right nipple in his mouth. It felt so good that Mia whimpered, and her body went liquid, boneless. One of his hands had pulled up her skirts and was roaming, leaving quaking trails of fire, coming closer to where she most wanted him to be.

“I want you,” he bit out.

A moan broke from Mia’s throat. “Take me, then,” she whispered. “I’m yours, Vander.”

He stilled. “Say that again.”

His eyes had changed from tenderness to something infinitely wilder. Still, he hesitated. “I do want you, Mia, but mostly I love you.”

“You can have me,” she said, giddy with the joy of it.

“Forever?”

“Forever.”

There in the carriage, on a too-narrow seat, Vander came to her in heat and love and laughter. He came to her with respect and adoration.

After a while, things had become hot and sweaty. Mia’s tangled hair was spilling onto the dirty floor. She was sweating behind her knees and other places too. She was gasping because Vander kept taking her mouth again, as if he could never have enough of her.

“I can’t—not again. I—” she pleaded.

“Come, Mia,” his voice was raw again. “Come with me.”

She did.

A POEM WRITTEN BY THE DUKE OF PINDAR, WITH THE INVALUABLE AID OF MASTER CHARLES WALLACE CARRINGTON

Roses are Red, Violets are Blue.

Your duke respects you, and he loves you too.

Epilogue

The following morning, Gaunt had a terrible shock when he opened the front door: Jafeer was grazing on the front lawn below Mia’s bedchamber window, riderless, his reins trailing.

Later that day, the sheriff paid a visit, reporting that Sir Richard Magruder, who had been erroneously released from custody, had stolen a horse, and was a fugitive from justice, had been thrown into a ditch in the midst of his flight, and had died instantly of a broken neck.

Jafeer, it seemed, had not enjoyed having Sir Richard on his back.

In fact, he much preferred his own herd; as long as his family was near, Jafeer was the most amenable of animals. In the year that followed, he went on many a painfully slow walk, during which he pranced around Lancelot and Mia. Yet no matter how ardently Jafeer courted her, Mia adamantly refused to ride a horse that size.

The following spring Her Grace changed her story, announcing that she didn’t want to risk her unborn babe by riding a mount more energetic than Lancelot.

Two years after that, she declared that Flora became very irritable if separated from her mother for long periods, and so she meant to bring her on her daily ride. No one would trust Flora—who had her father’s tumbling black hair and her mother’s laugh—to a horse other than Lancelot.

Flora was followed in rapid order by Cuthbert (named after a beloved great-uncle) and by Edward (named after a special friend of his mother’s); thus the Duchess of Pindar successfully avoided being thrust onto a monstrously tall horse for a long time.

By that point, Jafeer had won every race there was to win in all Great Britain, and he’d retired to stand at stud, a task which he took to with great enthusiasm.

Then, early one morning as the duke and duchess were lying about in bed after behaving in a fashion that would have shocked their nearest and dearest, His Grace pointed out that Lancelot was growing elderly, and probably would be happiest remaining in the stable.

Since anyone in the world could tell that Lancelot would, indeed, be happy never to leave his stall again, the duchess offered no counter argument. His Grace added that Jafeer wasn’t terribly tall, and besides, all three of their offspring were dashing around on horses twice the height of the duchess.

Mia was draped halfway across her husband, tracing circles on his chest with one finger. “I simply can’t believe the children all turned out to be such giants,” she said with a sigh. “They were tiny babies, and now look at them.”

Vander kissed her forehead. “They have your beauty and my height.”

“Do you know, I think Bertie might become a novelist? He told me a story about something that happened at Eton with a perfect sense of timing.”

Later that morning, Vander helped his wife onto Jafeer’s back, much to Mulberry’s astonishment. Though Mia showed a lamentable tendency to cling to the pommel and close her eyes—and Vander felt very strongly that all riders should keep their eyes open—they finally ambled down the path that led through the wood.

After that, there was never another horse for Mia.

If Mia had spent a great deal of energy avoiding Arabians, the same could not be said for Charlie. Just as Vander had predicted, Charlie quickly became the finest equestrian in five counties. He was fearless on the back of a horse, and could handle the most intractable of stallions.

At Eton, he had special permission to miss classes for various races, which at first caused not a little envy. But once the other boys came to understand that as long as young Lord Carrington rode for the equestrian team, Eton would not lose the Steeplechase Cup—a silver goblet that had been traded back and forth between Eton and Harrow for years—well, after that, no one begrudged him the missed classes or ever dared to call his lordship “Limpy” or “Peg-Legged Pete.”

In fact, as Mia confided to her editor, Mr. William Bucknell—who had ceased to be Mr. Bucknell and become simply “Will” a few years before—it was as if her nephew had taken one look at the duke and decided to become Vander.

“Charlie has grown so muscled wrestling half-trained horses that he even looks like my husband; no woman notices his limp,” Mia said. “And he talks like Vander as well. By all accounts, Miss Alicia Gretly, who is pretty enough to be one of my own heroines, is pining away for love of my nephew. But when I mentioned it to him, Charlie winced and said that when he took a wife he planned to chase her, rather than the other way around.” She wrinkled her nose. “Precisely what Vander would have said at that age!”

Will Bucknell couldn’t help laughing. It was the first day of his annual monthly visit to Rutherford Park, during which he edited the duchess’ latest manuscript; that month was invariably the happiest of his year. “If he follows His Grace’s pattern, Lord Carrington has a good ten years in which to find the right woman,” he pointed out.

“It seems like only yesterday that he was a tiny boy, hopping around with his crutch,” the duchess said with a sigh, picking up her quill. “I suppose we ought to start working; we’ve been gossiping for at least an hour.”

Before Will could reply, the duke poked his head in the door. “Might I lure my wife away for a brief consultation on a matter of grave importance?”

Will watched with some interest. In his opinion, one of the reasons why the duchess’ novels were being compared, in some circles, with Miss Jane Austen’s, was because she took the joy that was so evident in her private life and shared some of it with her readers.

But Her Grace was shaking her head. “Off with you,” she told her husband, blowing him a kiss. “No consultations until Will and I have finished at least ten pages.”

After the duke closed the door behind him, Her Grace turned back with a wide, impish smile. “Did you see how peaceably he left? If you can believe it, my husband used to think that he could always get his way. It took me at least a year of marriage to disabuse him of that notion.”



----