Her eyes slid from his face. “Nothing,” she said, her voice unnaturally staccato.

He gave his head a tiny shake, the motion directed more at himself than at her, then he began to brush her hair. For a moment it had seemed as if she were staring at his mouth.

He fought the urge to shudder. All through his childhood, people had stared at his mouth. They'd gazed in horrified fascination, occasionally forcing their eyes up to his, but always returning to his mouth, as if unable to believe that such a normal-looking feature could produce such gibberish.

But he had to be imagining things. Why would Daphne be looking at his mouth?

He pulled the brush gently through her hair, allowing his fingers to trail through the silky strands as well. “Did you have a nice chat with Mrs. Colson?” he asked.

She flinched. It was a tiny movement, and she hid it quite well, but he noticed it nonetheless. “Yes,” she said, “she's very knowledgeable.”

“She should be. She's been here forev—what are you looking at?”

Daphne practically jumped in her chair. “I'm looking at the mirror,” she insisted.

Which was true, but Simon was still suspicious. Her eyes had been fixed and intent, focused on a single spot.

“As I was saying,” Daphne said hastily, “I'm certain Mrs. Colson will prove invaluable as I adjust to the management of Clyvedon. It's a large estate, and I have much to learn.”

“Don't make too much of an effort,” he said. “We won't spend much time here.”

“We won't?”

“I thought we would make London our primary residence.” At her look of surprise, he added, “You'll be closer to your family, even when they retire to the country. I thought you'd like that.”

“Yes, of course,” she said. “I do miss them. I've never been away from them for so long before. Of course I've always known that when I married I would be starting my own family, and—”

There was an awful silence.

“Well, you're my family now,” she said, her voice sounding just a bit forlorn.

Simon sighed, the silver-backed hairbrush halting its path through her dark hair. “Daphne,” he said, “your family will always be your family. I can never take their place.”

“No,” she agreed. She twisted around to face him, her eyes like warm chocolate as she whispered, “But you can be something more.”

And Simon realized that all his plans to seduce his wife were moot, because clearly she was planning to seduce him.

She stood, her silk robe slipping from her shoulders. Underneath she wore a matching negligee, one that revealed almost as much as it hid.

One of Simon's large hands found its way to the side of her breast, his fingers in stark contrast with the sage green fabric of her nightgown. “You like this color, don't you?” he said in a husky voice.

She smiled, and he forgot to breathe.

“It's to match my eyes,” she teased. “Remember?”

Simon managed a returning smile, although how he didn't know. He'd never before thought it possible to smile when one was about to expire from lack of oxygen. Sometimes the need to touch her was so great it hurt just to look at her.

He pulled her closer. He had to pull her closer. He would have gone insane if he hadn't. “Are you telling me,” he murmured against her neck, “that you purchased this just for me?”

“Of course,” she replied, her voice catching as his tongue traced her earlobe. “Who else is going to see me in it?”

“No one,” he vowed, reaching around to the small of her back and pressing her firmly against his arousal. “No one. Not ever.”

She looked slightly bemused by his sudden burst of possessiveness. “Besides,” she added, “it's part of my trousseau.”

Simon groaned. “I love your trousseau. I adore it. Have I told you that?”

“Not in so many words,” she gasped, “but it hasn't been too difficult to figure it out.”

“Mostly,” he said, nudging her toward the bed as he tore off his shirt, “I like you out of your trousseau.”

Whatever Daphne had meant to say—and he was certain she'd meant to say something, because her mouth opened in a most delightful manner—was lost as she toppled onto the bed.

Simon covered her in an instant. He put his hands on either side of her hips, then slid them up, pushing her arms over her head. He paused on the bare skin of her upper arms, giving them a gentle squeeze.

“You're very strong,” he said. “Stronger than most women.”

The look Daphne gave him was just a bit arch. “I don't want to hear about most women.”

Despite himself, Simon chuckled. Then, with movements quick as lightning, his hands flew to her wrists and pinned them above her head. “But not,” he drawled, “as strong as I.”

She gasped with surprise, a sound he found particularly thrilling, and he quickly circled both her wrists with one of his hands, leaving the other free to roam her body.

And roam he did.

“If you aren't the perfect woman,” he groaned, sliding the hem of her nightgown up over her hips, “then the world is—”

“Stop,” she said shakily. “You know I'm not perfect.”

“I do?” His smile was dark and wicked as he slid his hand under one of her buttocks. “You must be misinformed, because this”—he gave her a squeeze—“is perfect.”

“Simon!”

“And as for these—” He reached up and covered one of her breasts with his hand, tickling the nipple through the silk. “Well, I don't need to tell you how I feel about these.”



----