“Phillip,” she gasped.

He rose and turned her around, leaning down until they were nearly nose to nose. “It was there,” he said helplessly, as if that would explain everything. And in truth, that was all the explanation there was. It was there, that tantalizing little patch of skin, pink and peachy and waiting for a kiss.

She was there, and he had to have her.

He kissed her mouth again as he let her gown slide from her body. She’d been married in blue, a pale version of the color that made her eyes look deeper and more tempestuous than ever, rather like a cloudy sky just before a rainstorm.

It was a heavenly dress—he’d heard her sister Daphne say that to her earlier that day. But it was even more heavenly to rid her of it.

She wasn’t wearing a chemise, and he knew that she was bared to him, heard her suck in her breath as the tips of her breasts grazed the fine linen of his shirt. But instead of looking, he ran his hand along the side of her breast, his knuckles lightly nuzzling the side of the swell. Then, as he continued to kiss her, his hand curved around until he was cupping her, feeling the exquisite weight of her in his fingers.

“Phillip,” she moaned, the word sinking into his mouth like a benediction.

He moved his hand again until he covered her, her pert nipple sliding between his fingers. And as he squeezed—gently, reverently—he could, after all, hardly believe this had all come to pass.

And then he couldn’t wait any longer. He had to see her, to see every bit of her and watch her face as he did so. He pulled back, breaking their kiss with a whispered promise that he’d be back.

He sucked in his breath as he gazed down at her. It was not yet dark, and the last vestiges of sunlight still filtered in through the windows, bathing her skin in a red-gold glow. Her breasts were larger than he’d imagined, full and round and plump, and it was all he could do not to sweep her into bed that very moment. He could feast forever on those breasts, love them and worship them until . . .

Dear God, who was he trying to fool? Until his own need grew too intense, and he had to have her, to plunge into her, devour her.


With shaking fingers, he went to work on his own buttons, watching her watching him as he tore the shirt from his body. And then he forgot, and he turned . . .

And she gasped.

He froze.

“What happened?” she whispered.

He didn’t know why he was so surprised by the moment, by the fact that he would have to explain. She was his wife, and she was going to see him naked every day for the rest of his life, and if anyone was going to know the nature of his scars, it would be her.

He was able to avoid them, as they were quite out of his sight on his back, but Eloise would not be so lucky.

“I was whipped,” he said, not turning around. He should probably spare her the sight, but she was going to have to get used to it sometime.

“Who did this to you?” Her voice was low and angry, and her outrage warmed his heart.

“My father.” Phillip well remembered the day. He had been twelve, home from school, and his father had forced him to accompany him on a hunt. Phillip was a good horseman, but not good enough for the jump his father had taken ahead of him. He’d tried it, though, knowing he’d be branded a coward if he did not make the attempt.

He’d fallen, of course. Been thrown, really. Miraculously, he’d walked away without injury, but his father had been livid. Thomas Crane possessed a very narrow vision of English manhood, and it did not include tumbles off horseback. His sons would ride and shoot and fence and box and excel and excel and excel.

And God help them if they did not.

George had made the jump, of course. George was always a hair better at all things sporting. And George was also two years his elder, two years bigger, two years stronger. He’d tried to intercede, to save Phillip from punishment, but then Thomas had just whipped him as well, berating him for meddling. Phillip needed to learn how to be a man, and Thomas would not tolerate anyone interfering, even George.

Phillip wasn’t sure what had been different about the punishment that day; usually his father used a belt, which, over a shirt, left no marks. But they’d already been out by the stables, and the whip was handy, and his father had been so damned angry, even angrier than normal.

When the whip sliced through Phillip’s shirt, Thomas didn’t stop.

It was the only time his father’s beatings had left visible scars.

And Phillip was stuck with the reminder for the rest of his life.

He glanced over at Eloise, who was watching him with an oddly intense look in her eyes. “I’m sorry,” he said, even though he wasn’t. There was nothing to be sorry for, save for having forced her into the horror of his childhood.

“I’m not sorry,” she growled, her eyes narrow and fierce.

His eyes widened with surprise.

“I’m furious.”

And then he couldn’t help it. He laughed. He threw his head back and laughed. She was absolutely perfect, naked and angry, ready to march down to hell itself to drag his father out for a tongue-lashing.

She looked slightly alarmed at his oddly timed laughter, but then she smiled, too, as if recognizing the importance of the moment.

He took her hand and, desperate for her to touch him, brought it to his heart, pressing it flat until her fingers spread out, sinking into the soft, springy hair on his chest.

“So strong,” she whispered, her hand sliding gently along his skin. “I had no idea it was such difficult work, toiling away in the greenhouse.”

He felt like a boy of sixteen, so pleased was he by her compliment. And the memory of his father quietly slipped away. “I do work outside, too,” he said gruffly, unable to simply say thank you.

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