“With the laborers?” she murmured.

He looked at her with amusement. “Eloise Bridgerton—”

“Crane,” she corrected.

A burst of pleasure shot through him at her words. “Crane,” he repeated. “Don’t tell me you’ve been harboring secret fantasies about the farm laborers.”

“Of course not,” she said, “although . . .”

There was no way he was going to let those words trail off into oblivion. “Although?” he prompted.

She looked a little sheepish. “Well, they do look terribly . . . elemental . . . out there in the sun, toiling away.”

He smiled. Slowly, like a man about to feast upon his dream come true. “Oh, Eloise,” he said, bringing his lips to her neck and moving down, down, down. “You have no idea of elemental. No idea at all.”

And then he did what he’d been dreaming of for days—well, one of the things he’d been dreaming of—and he took her nipple into his mouth, running his tongue around the edge before closing around to suck.

“Phillip!” she nearly shrieked, sinking into him.

He swept her into his arms and carried her to the bed, already turned down and waiting for the newlyweds. He laid her atop the sheets, stopping to enjoy the sight of her before attending to her stockings, which were all that was left on her body. Her hands went instinctively to cover her sex, and he allowed her her modesty, knowing that his turn would come soon.


He looped his fingers under the edge of one stocking, caressing her through the whisper-fine silk before sliding it down her leg. She moaned as he passed her knee, and he couldn’t help looking up and asking, “Ticklish?”

She nodded. “And more.”

And more. He loved that. He loved that she felt more, that she wanted more.

The other stocking was disposed of more quickly, and then he stood beside her, his fingers moving to the fastenings on his trousers. He paused for a moment and looked at her, waiting for her to tell him with her eyes that she was ready.

And then, with a speed and agility he’d never dreamed he possessed, he’d stripped himself of his remaining garments and laid down beside her. She stiffened for a moment, then relaxed as he stroked her, his lips making shushing sounds as they moved to her temple, and then to her lips.

“There is nothing to be afraid of,” he murmured.

“I’m not afraid,” she said.

He drew back, looked her in the face. “You’re not?”

“Nervous, but not afraid.”

He shook his head in wonder. “You are magnificent.”

“I keep telling everyone that,” she said with a nonchalant shrug, “but you seem to be the only one to believe me.”

He chuckled at that, shaking his head in wonder, barely able to believe that here he was, on his wedding night, and he was laughing. Twice now, she had made him laugh, and he was beginning to realize that this was a gift. An amazing, priceless gift, one that he was truly blessed to receive.

Intercourse had always been about need, about his body and his lust and whatever it was that made him a man. It had never been about this joy, this wonder at discovering another person.

He took her face in his hands and kissed her again, this time with all the feeling and emotion coursing through him. He kissed her mouth, then he kissed her cheek, then her neck. And he moved down, exploring her body, from her shoulders to her belly to the side of her hip.

He skipped only one place, one place he would have very much liked to explore, but he decided that would come later, when she was ready.

When he was ready. Marina had never let him kiss her there—no, that wasn’t fair; in truth, he’d never even asked. It had just seemed so wrong as she lay beneath him, still and silent, as if she were performing a duty. There had been women before his marriage, but they’d been of the experienced sort, and he’d never wanted to be quite so intimate with them.

Later, he promised himself as he stopped, briefly, to nuzzle her curls.

Soon. Definitely soon.

He wrapped his large hands around her calves, then slid them up, nudging her legs apart so that he could settle between them. He was hard, really hard, afraid he was going to embarrass himself, and so he took deep breaths as he touched her opening, trying to calm his blood so that he would be able to make this last long enough for her to enjoy herself.

“Oh, Eloise,” he said, although in truth it was more of a grunt. He wanted her more than anything, more than life itself, and he had no idea how he was going to last.

“Phillip?” she asked, her voice sounding vaguely alarmed.

He pulled back so that he could see her face.

“You’re very big,” she whispered.

He smiled. “Don’t you know that’s exactly what a man wishes to hear?”

“I’m sure,” she said, nibbling on her lower lip. “It does seem the sort of thing you’d brag about while you’re racing horses and playing cards and being competitive for no particular reason.”

He wasn’t sure whether he was shaking with laughter or dismay. “Eloise,” he managed to say, “I assure you—”

“How much is it going to hurt?” she blurted out.

“I don’t know,” he said honestly. “I’ve never been in your position. A little, I imagine. I hope not too much.”

She nodded, seeming to appreciate his candor. “I keep . . .” Her words trailed off.

“Tell me,” he urged.

For several seconds she did nothing but blink, then she said, “I keep getting swept away, like the other day, but then I see you, or I feel you, and I can’t imagine how this will work, and I worry I’ll be torn apart, and I lose it. The magic,” she explained. “I lose the magic.”

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