This Duchess of Mine Page 71

“And Dr. Withering,” Elijah put in. He was lying on the floor, just as he had threatened to do.

“How’s your heart?”

He just smiled and drank more cognac.

She came and stood over him. “Drink faster. This can’t be considered a proper test unless you are tipsy.”

“I have an idea,” he said, and his voice sounded so sleepy that she thought he meant to return to bed. His hand wrapped around her ankle and gave a gentle tug. “Kiss me.”

“Oh, Elijah…” But she came to her knees beside him. His kiss was more joyful than desperate, more honey than lust. It banished her fears, replacing them with something stronger: faith that her husband would live.

Slowly those kisses changed to something else and fire crept up the back of her legs. “We can’t do this again,” she gasped.

“O ye of little faith!” He laughed at her, and sure enough the evidence of his ability was more than obvious. “Of course, I must remain on my back. Exhaust me,” he commanded.

Jemma shifted, moving to hover over him, allowing him to stroke her. Then with one powerful thrust of his hips, he lunged upward. A cry broke from her lips.

“Did that hurt?” Elijah gasped.

“No,” Jemma whispered. “Do it again—Oh!”

She tried leaning forward and leaning back. She tried teasing him, and teasing herself. She let him kiss her breasts, and then sat back again so she could do some caressing of her own.

Finally she found herself beginning to shudder, driven to ride him with a steady, pounding beat. “Beg me,” she said, nipping his bottom lip with her teeth. “Beg me to go faster, Elijah.”

His fingers tightened on her hips. “I love it when you growl at me.”

She rose to her knees and teased him by withdrawing. “Beg me.” She slid downwards with a wanton twist of her hips.

“I—never—beg,” Elijah gasped.

Jemma would have laughed, but she had to concentrate to keep desire from overwhelming her. She drove him mercilessly, dancing to the brink and then stopping just before he toppled into pure pleasure.

“I can’t—” He spoke through clenched teeth, his body bowed in an effort to force her compliance.

“Are you begging now?” she asked, pushing his hips down so that a hoarse gasp came from his throat—and then sliding away just as easily.

“No. Begging is shameful and you won’t—” His voice broke off because she was reaching behind to caress him. “God,” he said, his voice breaking. “Jemma!”

“Mmmm,” she said, moving so slowly that her nerves danced with fire. Every inch of her body longed to drive him home, to ride him as fiercely as she was able.

But in a marriage, a true marriage, she couldn’t be the only one who knew how to beg.

He was gasping now, his muscled chest heaving, but she was relentless, using her body, her fingers, her lips to drive him mad. Finally, reluctantly, he threw back his head and a guttural moan came from his throat. “All right. I’m begging you!”

Before she could even react, as if the very hint of submission was too shameful to bear, he lunged up, flipping her over and driving deep. She clutched him desperately, gasping in his ear: “Please, please, please.”

Elijah braced his hands on the floor and stroked forward with a primitive force that made her shriek. “Say it,” he said, between clenched teeth. “Say it!”

“I’m begging you,” she sobbed. “I love you…”

“And I love you.”

They fell together into a place where there were only their two bodies, and their two hearts.

Beating together.

Chapter Thirty

April 5

Villiers couldn’t sleep. He kept thinking about that boy up in the nursery. If you could call him a boy. And then there was Elijah. Was he still alive? Surely he would have heard if Elijah had died.

He rose at the first light of dawn and strode around his chamber, unable to settle his mind. He didn’t know what to do next. Should he fetch another child? The idea was—frankly—terrifying. Perhaps it would be better to get a wife first, and bring a woman’s hand into it. How long could it take to find a wife?

And then there was Elijah. He turned so quickly that his heel slipped and the rug crumpled behind him. He kicked it flat again.

Finally he cursed and rang the bell for his valet. He required a woman’s advice about matrimony. Jemma was a woman. And Jemma was married to Elijah: he needed to know how Elijah was. In any case, he couldn’t bear to be in his house anymore, not with that boy upstairs. One had to suppose he should go upstairs and say something to him. He shuddered at the very thought.

Villiers arrived at the Beaumont town house at the grotesquely unfashionable hour of eight o’clock, fully expecting the butler to deny him entrance. By the grace of God, Elijah’s butler wasn’t at his post. Instead a round-faced footman informed him that the duke wasn’t yet awake. “Fine,” he said brusquely, throwing his greatcoat into the man’s arms. The footman caught it reflexively, and Villiers strode around him. “I’ll be in the library. When the duke awakes, inform him that I’m waiting.”

He threw open the door to the room and stopped, frozen on the threshold. Then he stepped through the doorway and closed the door behind him.

“Well, well, well,” he said.

“Don’t wake her,” Elijah said.

Jemma looked utterly delectable, of course. She appeared to be wrapped in little more than a blanket, and was sleeping as soundly as a babe in his friend’s arms. At least Elijah had a dressing gown on. Somehow Villiers found himself able to view the scene without more than a faint pang of envy. The whole experience of rescuing his son made his feelings for Jemma seem far in the past.

“You’re up and about very early,” Elijah observed.

“I had an interesting day yesterday,” Villiers said. Then he narrowed his eyes. “You look—”

“The foxglove works.”

“It works?”

“My heart beat steadily for approximately thirteen hours after taking a dose,” Elijah said, a huge grin breaking over his face. “When Jemma wakes, I’ll take another dose, as I only just started missing a beat or two in the last few minutes.”

“I’ll get the medicine,” Villiers said. “Where is it?”

“Nonsense,” Elijah said. “Dukes don’t fetch things. Jemma dashed over to your house to fetch the article on foxglove, and now you’re the same.”

“We’re not living up to your ducal expectations?” Villiers said.

“In some ways, yes,” Elijah said. “What has happened to you? You look as altered as I. Did you know that your hair ribbon does not match your coat?”

Villiers had grabbed it from the table and left his valet bleating something or other.

“Just to demonstrate that dukes do fetch things, yesterday I went to fetch my eldest son.”

“Were you successful?”

Jemma murmured something and turned in her sleep. Bright hair spilled over Elijah’s knees. Villiers realized with some surprise that he felt nothing.

“The boy had been consigned to a grotesque personage who ran a group of boys as mudlarks.”

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