“I don't think so,” Daphne said, shaking her head. “And then when I asked her if she'd participated in this”—she looked up at him with an exasperated expression. “I really don't know what else to call it but an act.”

“Go right ahead,” he said with a wave, his voice sounding awfully strained.

Daphne blinked with concern. “Are you all right?”

“Just fine,” he choked.

“You don't sound fine.”

He waved his hand some more, giving Daphne the odd impression that he couldn't speak.

“Well,” she said slowly, going back to her earlier story, “I asked her if that meant she'd participated in this act eight times, and she became very embarrassed, and—”

“You asked her that?” Simon burst out, the words escaping his mouth like an explosion.

“Well, yes.” Her eyes narrowed. “Are you laughing?”

“No,” he gasped.

Her lips twisted into a small scowl. “You certainly look as if you're laughing.”

Simon just shook his head in a decidedly frantic manner.

“Well,” Daphne said, clearly disgruntled. “I thought my question made perfect sense, seeing as she has eight children. But then she told me that—”

He shook his head and held up a hand, and now he looked like he didn't know whether to laugh or cry. “Don't tell me. I beg of you.”

“Oh.” Daphne didn't know what to say to that, so she just clamped her hands together in her lap and shut her mouth.

Finally, she heard Simon take a long, ragged breath, and say, “I know I'm going to regret asking you this. In fact, I regret it already, but why exactly did you assume I was”—he shuddered—“unable to perform?”

“Well, you said you couldn't have children.”

“Daphne, there are many, many other reasons why a couple might be unable to have children.”

Daphne had to force herself to stop grinding her teeth. “I really hate how stupid I feel right now,” she muttered.

He leaned forward and pried her hands apart. “Daphne,” he said softly, massaging her fingers with his, “do you have any idea what happens between a man and a woman?”

“I haven't a clue,” she said frankly. “You'd think I would, with three older brothers, and I thought I'd finally learn the truth last night when my mother—”

“Don't say anything more,” he said in the oddest voice. “Not another word. I couldn't bear it.”

“But—”

His head fell into his hands, and for a moment Daphne thought he might be crying. But then, as she sat there castigating herself for making her husband weep on his wedding day, she realized that his shoulders were shaking with laughter.

The fiend.

“Are you laughing at me?” she growled.

He shook his head, not looking up.

“Then what are you laughing about?”

“Oh, Daphne,” he gasped, “you have a lot to learn.”

“Well, I never disputed that,” she grumbled. Really, if people weren't so intent on keeping young women completely ignorant of the realities of marriage, scenes like this could be avoided.

He leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees. His eyes grew positively electric. “I can teach you,” he whispered.

Daphne's stomach did a little flip.

Never once taking his eyes off of hers, Simon took her hand and raised it to her lips. “I assure you,” he murmured, flicking his tongue down the line of her middle finger, “I am perfectly able to satisfy you in bed.”

Daphne suddenly found it difficult to breathe. And when had the room grown so hot? “I-I'm not sure I know what you mean.”

He yanked her into his arms. “You will.”

Chapter 15

London seems terribly quiet this week, now that society's favorite duke and that duke's favorite duchess have departed for the country. This Author could report that Mr. Nigel Berbrooke was seen asking Miss Penelope Featherington to dance, or that Miss Penelope, despite her mother's gleeful urging and her eventual acceptance of his offer, did not seem terribly enamored with the notion.

But really, who wants to read about Mr. Berbrooke or Miss Penelope? Let us not fool ourselves. We are all still ravenously curious about the duke and duchess.

LADY WHISTLEDOWN'S SOCIETY PAPERS, 28 MAY 1813

It was like being in Lady Trowbridge's garden all over again, Daphne thought wildly, except that this time there would be no interruptions—no furious older brothers, no fear of discovery, nothing but a husband, a wife, and the promise of passion.

Simon's lips found hers, gentle but demanding. With each touch, each flick of his tongue, she felt flutterings within her, tiny spasms of need that were building in pitch and frequency.

“Have I told you,” he whispered, “how enamored I am of the corner of your mouth?”

“N-no,” Daphne said tremulously, amazed that he'd ever even once examined it.

“I adore it,” he murmured, and then went to show her how. His teeth scraped along her lower lip until his tongue darted out and traced the curve of the corner of her mouth.

It tickled, and Daphne felt her lips spreading into a wide, openmouthed smile. “Stop,” she giggled.

“Never,” he vowed. He pulled back, cradling her face in his hands. “You have the most beautiful smile I've ever seen.”

Daphne's initial reaction was to say, “Don't be silly,” but then she thought—Why ruin such a moment?—and so she just said, “Really?”

“Really.” He dropped a kiss on her nose. “When you smile it takes up half your face.”



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