This Duchess of Mine Page 46


He looked down at himself. “I look like a man, nothing more, nothing less.”

“No.” She shook her head, laughing. “It’s the way you stand, as if you own the ground you stand on. And the way you hold your chin. There’s something powerful about you, Elijah, bred in the bone.”

“Something rigid, you mean.” He was resigned to being his hidebound, moralistic self. It was probably too late to relax.

“I suppose I won’t try to tie you to the bed with my corset strings, then,” she said.

He blinked for a moment and then realized she was laughing again. At him. His hands twitched, ready to lunge at her, pull her to his side of the baths. “I’m absurd, aren’t I?” he said a moment later.

“No! It’s just that…well, I always thought it might be fun to…”

“You did?” He stared. “You want to tie me to the bed?”

She was blushing.

“No!”

But there was something in her eyes, something secret and delicious, something that turned intimacies into shared pleasure between a man and a woman rather than a horrid act, fraught with disgust.

“My mother probably shouldn’t have told me all those details,” he said. He made little waves with his hands, for the pleasure of seeing them lap her breasts.

“How old were you?”

“Seven? Eight?”

Jemma looked appalled. “She told you the details of your father’s death just when it happened? All the details?”

It had never before occurred to him how damaging that had been. His mother hadn’t just told him of the circumstances of his father’s death; her voice had vibrated with disgust and revulsion as she detailed the women, the leather the former duke wore, the humiliating truth of it.

Jemma apparently could see it in his face. “That was very wrong,” she observed. “No matter how egregiously your father behaved, she should have protected his memory in front of his only child.”

“I think she couldn’t control her anger.”

There was a moment of silence, a contented moment in which Elijah felt as if his childish disgust and fear were being washed away in the warm water.

“Did any of those Frenchmen ever tie you up?” he asked cautiously.

Just like that, her face turned pink again. “Of course not! And there weren’t so many. You make it sound as if I had hundreds of lovers! There were only two.”

“I know you didn’t.” He doubted he would ever feel comfortable in that position, but he could suddenly imagine winding a soft ribbon around Jemma’s wrists. Tying her to the bed so that his oh-so-sophisticated wife couldn’t stop him from doing whatever he wished to her body.

She must have read his thoughts in his eye. Her hands came up to cover her breasts, as if she were suddenly protective.

“No,” he said, tired of the limitations she set. The next second he had her in his arms, her soft body pressed against his. In between ferocious kisses, he told her all the things he would do to her once she allowed him to join her in bed.

With a pile of ribbons.

“Jemma,” he said finally, raising his head from her mouth, running his hands down her back to her round bottom. Pulling her against him roughly. “If you truly insist that we should not be intimate in this bath, then may I accompany you to Beaumont House? And may I join you in your bedchamber later this evening?”

Jemma felt as if the steam were rising from her body, rather than from the water. Elijah’s eyes blazed down into hers with the same steady strength as his hands, holding her close against his demanding body.

“Yes,” she whispered. She knew it would break her heart, but she couldn’t steel herself against him any longer. If she were truthful, it was already too late…it was far too late.

He was the man she loved. The man who loved honor more than his life, and certainly more than his wife. There was nothing she could do but allow him to revel in his conquest.

But Elijah surprised her. He ran his hands up her back with an achingly soft touch, and then moved back, away from her. The water felt like ice touching her thighs, her belly, the places where his skin had caressed hers. “Yesterday you said no.”

He was so beautiful, with his grave eyes and marked cheekbones. “It’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind,” she said, guarding her tongue so she didn’t make a fool of herself and confess to loving him more than her life.

More than he loved his own life.

His smile was more intoxicating than wine, sweeter than honey. And because, after all, he was a man, it was more than a little triumphant.

Chapter Seventeen

Later

“Lady Banistre holds a charity ball this evening,” Jemma said, entering Elijah’s study. She thought she knew what his response would be but…

Elijah, intent over a document on his desk, looked up absently. “What did you say? I apologize, I’m writing—”

“Is it important? Shall I come back?”

“I can finish it later,” he said, putting blotting paper over a sheet as she sat down on the arm of his chair.

“Oh,” she said, taken aback by how quickly he covered his work. Not that she wanted to see it, but…

“I’m afraid that I must pay a quick visit to my solicitor,” he said. “I may not be back to the house before the sun sets.”

Jemma wrinkled her nose. “How tedious. Can’t it wait?”

“Alas, no. I thought we might play chess this evening.”

“Chess?”

“In bed,” he added casually.

Her mind reeled. “You wish to play the last game of our match? Tonight?”

He looked up at her calmly, every inch the duke. “I think we should put the Chess Club out of its misery, and solve the question of who is the first-rated player.”

Jemma felt herself growing pink, remembering their agreement. “Blindfolded?”

His smile caused a fever in her blood. Without saying a word, he toppled her into his lap. But there was something different about his kiss, she thought dimly, something savage and despairing, something—

“Elijah,” she said, struggling against the strength of his arms. “What is it? What’s the matter?”

“I’m just writing a difficult note,” he said, kissing her eyebrow. “It has made me ill-tempered, and I apologize.”

“Oh.”

“So our chess game begins tonight, Duchess. At eleven o’clock. I will give you one hour to try to win, blindfolded or no.” His teeth showed very white when he smiled. “And then I shall win.”

Jemma sniffed and turned up her nose. “Pride goeth before a fall, Duke.”

“You will fall before me,” he said, his smile a blatant challenge. “Backwards.”

Her breath caught at the blatant masculinity of him. The two French lovers she’d taken, years ago now, had both been secretive and circumspect, thrilled by the fact that the woman called the most beautiful Englishwoman in Paris had chosen them. They lavished attention on her.

They didn’t command. They weren’t arrogant or possessive. They were grateful.

One could say they weren’t dukes, and leave it at that. But the title didn’t explain things, Jemma thought. The title didn’t explain Elijah, and the way he was looking at her.

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