“In the name of all that’s holy, Davis, what’s got into you now?” Edward bellowed even as he felt his face heating.

“It’s not enough that you’re always at them whorehouses; now you’ve brought home a-a…” The valet’s mouth worked.

“Woman,” Edward finished the sentence. “But not the kind you’re thinking of. This is my fiancée.”

The bedsheets began to heave. He placed a hand on the upper edge, trapping the occupant within.

“Fiancée! I may be old, but I’m not stoopid. That’s not Miss Gerard.”

The bedcovers muttered ominously.

“Fetch the maid to start the fire,” Edward ordered in desperation.

“But—”

“Go now.”

Too late.

Anna had worked her way to the top of the bedclothes, and her head now emerged. Her hair was delightfully tousled, her mouth sinfully swollen. Edward felt a part of his own anatomy swell. She and Davis regarded each other. Their eyes narrowed simultaneously.

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Edward groaned and dropped his head into his hands.

“You’re Lord Swartingham’s valet?” Never had a naked woman caught in a compromising position sounded so prim.

“ ’Course I am. And you’re—”

Edward shot a glare at Davis that held the promise of dismemberment, mayhem, and the apocalypse.

Davis stopped and continued more cautiously. “M’lord’s uh, lady.”

“Quite.” She cleared her throat and withdrew one arm from the covers to push back her hair.

Edward scowled and tucked the sheets more firmly around her shoulders. He needn’t have bothered. Davis was carefully studying the ceiling.

“Perhaps,” Anna said, “you could bring up his lordship’s tea and send the maid to tend the fire?”

Davis jumped at this novel idea. “Right away, mum.”

He was actually backing out the doorway when Edward’s voice stopped him. “In another hour.”

The valet looked scandalized but didn’t say a word, a first in Edward’s experience. The door shut behind Davis. Edward leaped from the bed, strode to the door, and turned the key in the lock. He flung it across the room where it clanged against the wall. He was back in the bed before Anna had time to sit up.

“Your valet is rather unusual,” she said.

“Yes.” Catching the sheet, he pulled it entirely off the bed, provoking a squeal from her. She lay all warm and sleepy and naked for his delectation. He growled in approval, and his early morning erection hardened even more. What a wonderful way to wake up.

She licked her lips, a move his cock thoroughly approved of. “I-I’ve noticed your boots are seldom shined.”

“Davis is terminally incompetent.” He placed his hands on either side of her hips and began to nip his way up her legs.

“Oh!” For a moment he thought he’d succeeded in distracting her, but she rallied. “Why do you keep him, then?”

“Davis was my father’s valet before me.” He paid scant attention to the conversation. He could smell his own scent on Anna’s body, and it satisfied him in a primal way.

“So you keep him for sentimental—Edward!”

She gasped as he buried his nose in her maiden hair and inhaled. His scent was strongest here, in her gilded curls so soft and pretty in the morning light.

“I suppose so.” He spoke into her hair, making Anna squirm. “And I’m fond of the evil old reprobate. Sometimes. He’s known me since childhood and treats me without an iota of respect. It’s refreshing. Or at least different.”

He drew a finger through her cunny. The lips parted shyly, revealing a deep-pink interior. He angled his face to see better.

“Edward!”

“Would you like to know how I hired Hopple?” He propped himself on his elbows between her legs. Holding her spread with one hand, he teased her bud with the forefinger of his other hand.

“Ohhh!”

“And you’ve hardly met Dreary, but he has an interesting past.”

“Ed-ward!”

God, he loved the sound of his name on Anna’s lips. He debated licking her but decided he couldn’t hold out that long this early in the morning. He moved on to her breasts where he suckled at first one and then the other.

“Then there’s the entire staff at the Abbey. Would you like to hear about them?” He breathed the question in her ear.

Thick eyelashes almost hid her hazel eyes. “Make love to me.”

Something inside him, maybe his heart, stopped for a second. “Anna.”

Her lips were soft and yielding. He was not gentle, but she didn’t protest. She opened her mouth sweetly and gave and gave and gave until he couldn’t stand it anymore.

He pulled back and carefully turned her to her belly. He filled his hands with her plump arse and pulled her up toward him until she was on elbows and knees. He paused to study her vulnerable sex from this angle. His chest heaved at the sight. This was his woman, and only he would ever be privileged to see her this way.

He took hold of his cock and guided it to her wet entrance. It felt so good, he thrust in more roughly than he’d intended. Paused to gasp. Then thrust again. And again. Until her slick walls gave and he’d made a home for himself in her heat. Her muscles squeezed around him.

He grit his teeth to keep from spilling too soon.

Reaching, he stroked his palm down her spine. From her neck to her arse to the place where he entered her. He circled her there, feeling her stretched tissues and his own hard flesh impaling her.

She moaned and nudged him.

He withdrew to the head of his cock. And thrust. So hard her body slithered up the bed. He withdrew and thrust again. His hips swung faster and faster, and he flung back his head and ground his teeth.

He could hear Anna’s heated cries, and he reached around her hips to find that tender nub and pinch it. The walls of her vagina began contracting in waves, and he could hold out no longer. He came in jets of almost painful pleasure, pumping into her, marking her as his. She was collapsing beneath him, and he followed her down to the bed, grinding his hips into her. Shuddering in the aftershocks.

He lay a moment, panting, and then rolled off Anna before he could crush her. He rested on his back, one arm over his eyes, and tried to catch his breath.

As the sweat dried on his body, he began to think about the position he’d put her in. She was now undoubtedly compromised. He’d nearly hurt Davis merely because of the look he’d given Anna. God only knew what he would do when someone made a comment to her, as inevitably would happen.

“You need to marry me.” He winced. That had been rather blunt.

Anna apparently thought so, too. Her body jerked next to his. “What?”

He scowled. Now wasn’t the time to appear weak. “I’ve compromised you. We must marry.”

“No one knows but Davis.”

“And the entire household. Do you think they haven’t noticed by now that I didn’t sleep in my own bed?”

“Even so. Nobody knows in Little Battleford, and that’s what matters.” She rose from the bed and pulled a chemise from her bag.

Edward grimaced. She couldn’t be that naïve. “How long do you think before the news gets back to Little Battleford? I wager it’ll return before we do.”

Anna threw on the chemise and bent to rummage for something else in her bag, her bottom temptingly displayed through the thin linen. Was she trying to distract him? “You’re already engaged,” she said, her voice firm.

“Not for long. I’ve an appointment with Gerard tomorrow.”

“What?” That got her attention. “Edward, don’t do anything that you’ll regret. I’ll not marry you.”

“For Christ’s sake, why not?” He sat up impatiently.

She perched on the bed and rolled on a stocking. He noticed it was darned near the knee, and the sight made him even more angry. She shouldn’t have to wear rags. Why wouldn’t she marry him so he could take proper care of her?

“Why not?” he repeated as quietly as he could.

She swallowed and began on the other stocking, carefully smoothing it over her toes. “Because I don’t want you to marry out of a sense of misplaced duty.”

“Correct me if I’m wrong,” he said. “Wasn’t I the man making love to you last night and this morning?”

“And I was the woman making love to you,” Anna said. “I share just as much responsibility for the act as you.”

Edward watched her, searching for the words, the argument that would convince her.

She began tying a garter. “Peter was unhappy when I didn’t become pregnant.”

He waited.

She sighed, not looking at him. “Eventually, he went to another woman.”

Damned, stupid bastard. Edward flung back the bedcovers and paced to the window. “Were you in love with him?” The question was bitter on his tongue, but he was compelled to ask it.

“In the beginning, when we were first married.” She still smoothed the tattered silk over her calves. “Not at the end.”

“I see.” He paid for another man’s sins.

“No, I don’t think you can.” She picked up the remaining garter and stared at it in her hands. “When a man betrays a woman in such a way, it breaks something in her that I’m not sure can ever be repaired.”

Edward stared out the window, trying to form a reply. His future happiness depended on what he said next.

“I already know you are barren.” He finally turned to face her. “I’m content with you as you are. I can promise you that I’ll never take a mistress, but only time will provide real proof of my faithfulness. In the end, you must trust me.”

Anna stretched the garter between her fingers. “I don’t know if I can.”

Edward turned back to the window so she couldn’t see his expression. For the first time, he realized that he might not be able to convince Anna to marry him. The thought brought him close to something very like panic.

“OH, FOR GOD’S SAKE!”

“Hush. He’ll hear you,” Anna hissed in Edward’s ear.

They were attending Sir Lazarus Lillipin’s afternoon lecture on the rotation of crops using swedes and mangel-wurzels. So far, Edward disagreed with almost every word the poor man said. And he wasn’t keeping his opinion of the man or his theories to himself.

Edward glared at the speaker. “No, he won’t. The man’s deafer than a post.”

“Then others certainly will.”

Edward looked at her indignantly. “I should hope they do.” He turned back to the talk.

Anna sighed. He was behaving no worse than the rest of the assemblage and better than quite a few. The audience could only be called eclectic. They ranged from aristocrats in silks and lace to men in muddy jackboots, smoking clay pipes. All were crowded into a rather grimy coffeehouse that Edward had assured her was perfectly respectable.

She was doubtful.

Even now, a shouting match was breaking out in the back corner between a country squire and a dandy. She hoped it would not come to fisticuffs—or swords, for that matter. Every aristocrat in the room wore a sword as a badge of his rank. Even Edward, who eschewed the affectation in the country, had belted on a sword this morning.

He’d instructed her, before setting out, to take notes of the important points of the lecture so he could compare them to his own research later. She’d made some halfhearted scribbles, but she was uncertain how useful they’d be. Most of the lecture was incomprehensible to her, and she was a bit hazy about what exactly a mangel-wurzel was.

She’d begun to suspect that the main reason for her presence was so Edward could keep her in his sight. Since this morning he’d stubbornly maintained his argument that they must be married. He seemed to be under the impression that if he simply repeated it often enough, she would eventually wear down. And he might be right—if she could just let go of her fear of trusting him.