The only sound he could make was her name, and even that came out as a half-groan. She was more than ready for him, hotter and wetter than he'd ever dreamed. But still, just to be sure—or maybe it was because he couldn't resist the perverse impulse to torture himself—he slid one long finger inside her, testing her warmth, tickling her sheath.

“Simon!” she gasped, bucking beneath him. Already her muscles were tightening, and he knew that she was nearly to completion. Abruptly, he removed his hand, ignoring her whimper of protest.

He used his thighs to nudge hers further apart, and with a shuddering groan, positioned himself to enter her. “This m-may hurt a little,” he whispered hoarsely, “but I p-promise you—”

“Just do it,” she groaned, her head tossing wildly from side to side.

And so he did. With one powerful thrust, he entered her fully. He felt her maidenhead give way, but she didn't seem to flinch from pain. “Are you all right?” he groaned, his every muscle tensing just to keep himself from moving within her.

She nodded, her breath coming in shallow gasps. “It feels very odd,” she admitted.

“But not bad?” he asked, almost ashamed by the desperate note in his voice.

She shook her head, a tiny, feminine smile touching her lips. “Not bad at all,” she whispered. “But before…when you…with your fingers…”

Even in the dull candlelight he could see that her cheeks burned with embarrassment. “Is this what you want?” he whispered, pulling out until he was only halfway within her.

“No!” she cried out.

“Then perhaps this is what you want.” He plunged back in.

She gasped. “Yes. No. Both.”

He began to move within her, his rhythm deliberately slow and even. With each thrust, he pushed a gasp from her lips, each little moan the perfect pitch to drive him wild.

And then her moans grew into squeals and her gasps into pants, and he knew that she was near her peak. He moved ever faster, his teeth gritted as he fought to maintain his control as she spiralled toward completion.

She moaned his name, and then she screamed it, and then her entire body went rigid beneath him. She clutched at his shoulders, her hips rising off the bed with a strength he could barely believe. Finally, with one last, powerful shudder, she collapsed beneath him, oblivious to everything but the power of her own release.

Against his better judgment, Simon allowed himself one last thrust, burying himself to the hilt, savoring the sweet warmth of her body.

Then, taking her mouth in a searingly passionate kiss, he pulled out and spent himself on the sheets next to her.

It was to be only the first of many nights of passion. The newlyweds traveled down to Clyvedon, and then, much to Daphne's extreme embarrassment, sequestered themselves in the master suite for more than a week.

(Of course Daphne was not so embarrassed that she made anything more than a halfhearted attempt to actually leave the suite.)

Once they emerged from their honeymoonish seclusion, Daphne was given a tour of Clyvedon—which was much needed, since all she'd seen upon arrival was the route from the front door to the duke's bedroom. She then spent several hours introducing herself to the upper servants. She had, of course, been formally intoduced to the staff upon her arrival, but Daphne thought it best to meet the more important members of the staff in a more individual manner.

Since Simon had not resided at Clyvedon for so many years, many of the newer servants did not know him, but those who had been at Clyvedon during his childhood seemed—to Daphne—to be almost ferociously devoted to her husband. She laughed about it to Simon as they privately toured the garden, and had been started to find herself on the receiving end of a decidedly shuttered stare.

“I lived here until I went to Eton,” was all he said, as if that ought to be explanation enough.

Daphne was made instantly uncomfortable by the flatness in his voice. “Did you never travel to London? When we were small, we often—”

“I lived here exclusively.”

His tone signaled that he desired—no, required—an end to the conversation, but Daphne threw caution to the winds, and decided to pursue the topic, anyway. “You must have been a darling child,” she said in a deliberately blithe voice, “or perhaps an extremely mischievous one, to have inspired such long-standing devotion.”

He said nothing.

Daphne plodded on. “My brother—Colin, you know—is much the same way. He was the very devil when he was small, but so insufferably charming that all servants adored him. Why, one time—”

Her mouth froze, half-open. There didn't seem much point in continuing. Simon had turned on his heel and walked away.

He wasn't interested in roses. And he'd never pondered the existence of violets one way or another, but now Simon found himself leaning on a wooden fence, gazing out over Clyvedon's famed flower garden as if he were seriously considering a career in horticulture.

All because he couldn't face Daphne's questions about his childhood.

But the truth was, he hated the memories. He despised the reminders. Even staying here at Clyvedon was uncomfortable. The only reason he'd brought Daphne down to his childhood home was because it was the only one of his residences within a two-day drive from London that was ready for immediate occupancy.

The memories brought back the feelings. And Simon didn't want to feel like that young boy again. He didn't want to remember the number of times he'd sent letters to his father, only to wait in vain for a response. He didn't want to remember the kind smiles of the servants—kind smiles that were always accompanied by pitying eyes. They'd loved him, yes, but they'd also felt sorry for him.



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