“I don’t care if you ask or not,” he said, pulling her into his arms again. At least she let him hold her. That would have to do until they wed. “We can work it all out on our wedding night.” He was determined to bring his beloved Poppy the same pleasure that he would find in her body. He’d read all about it in a French book, stumbling along through the strange words. And he was astute enough to realize that none of the semi-professional encounters with women he’d had before coming to Paris had had anything to do with his partner’s pleasure. In fact, thinking of their practiced moans made him shudder.
If Paris had taught him anything, it was this: he could sleep with Cleopatra herself, and if she wasn’t enjoying the act, he didn’t want anything to do with it. When a Parisian woman smiled, her smile was an invitation that had everything to do with her pleasure, and little to do with his. When a Parisian woman smiled at him, Fletch remembered Cécile, who told him that his lips were as beautiful as cherries, or Élise, who uttered little screams when she saw him unclothed. Of course, Élise and Cécile belonged to his first month in Paris, before he fell in love. Now his heart was full of Poppy…and his loins would love to follow his heart.
But Poppy, leaning against his broad shoulder, frowned to herself. What exactly did Fletch mean by saying that they would work it out? That sounded as if this type of kissing was something he had his heart set upon.
Poppy was a practical little soul, at the heart. She could see that her husband’s easygoing manners and sweet eyes masked a sturdy determination to get his own way. One only had to look at his windswept locks to see that. Never a touch of powder! Her mother clucked, but Fletch refused…and Poppy had to admit that he looked well with raven locks tumbling around his neck.
“I’ll ask Jemma,” she promised. He was kissing her ear, and she liked that. In fact, she enjoyed many of the things Fletch did, like putting his arms around her (as long as he didn’t disturb her hair), and kissing her ear and her cheek and her chin, and even her lips, except when he became a trifle too forceful in that respect.
Her mother had instructed her very firmly on that front. “You must allow him to brush your lips with his,” she had said. “After all, he is a duke. You will be a duchess. In order to catch a duke, one must allow certain indignities.”
At the time, Poppy had laughed at the idea that Fletch’s lips on hers could be seen as an indignity. Joy had flooded her soul that she was so lucky. She was in love with a duke, and that made her mother happy. A duke (darling Fletch) was in love with her…and that made her happy. In fact, the world was all sunshine and light, if she could just work out this kissing business.
“Let me show you how nice it is,” Fletch said coaxingly. When his voice deepened like that, Poppy wanted to do anything he wished, though of course she would never have told him so. One mustn’t let men know how much power they have, her mother often said. And she was right, of course.
But she obediently bent her head up towards his, and he brushed his lips across hers. “That’s nice,” she said encouragingly. “Why, I—”
The next moment he pulled her so sharply into his arms that she felt her stays poke directly into her breasts; her brooch unhooked and fell to the stone floor. “Fletch!” she cried. He took advantage of that, and stuck his tongue directly into her mouth. Directly! And—and swept it about, as if she were some sort of cupboard he were cleaning.
“Awk, urg, no!” she shrieked, shoving him away. For a small woman, Poppy had a lot of strength.
Not even his sad eyes could make her change her mind about this. “I love you, Fletch, you know that.” She narrowed her eyes and waited.
“You know how much I love you,” he said, giving her a coaxing little smile.
She didn’t smile back. “You simply have to learn that there are things that—that an English lady doesn’t do.”
“What do you mean?” He looked a bit confused, and Poppy had a flash of pride. For once, she knew something he didn’t!
“Mama says that ladies have different rules for intimacy than—than, say, our lavandière does,” she explained to him, carefully keeping even the slightest bit of condescension out of her voice.
“They don’t kiss? Of course ladies kiss. And washerwomen too, no matter whether they’re French or English!”
“They may kiss,” she said, “but there are different kinds of intimacies practiced by the different classes, of course. Just as we wear different clothing, and eat different foods. And different nations too. We are fundamentally different. My mother says that English gentlewomen have very little in common with the French.”
He stared down at her and Poppy nearly blinked. Could that look be, just a little, well, disappointed? She hated disappointing people. “Do you understand?” she asked, a catch of anxiety in her voice.
“I suppose,” he said, rather slowly.
“You can see it yourself, Fletch, if you compare our monarchy to that of the French. The English court is virtuous, whereas the French court is riddled with scandal. My mother says—”
“Believe me, the English court is as rife with scandal as is the French. The distance of the Channel just makes it look cleaner. Their rumors don’t make it across the water.”
Poppy thought about that. “So you mean that last week, when there was all that fuss about Lady Serrard flirting with L’Anou…”
“They never heard about it in En gland, obviously, but it was all we talked of for days. Yet it came to nothing. We never hear English tittle-tattle, any more than they will hear of Lady Serrard’s supposed indiscretion.” “That’s a fair point,” Poppy conceded.
He grinned down at her and her breath caught in her throat. She couldn’t help thinking that Fletch was far too beautiful for her.
The eyes of all the French ladies followed him, even those of the Countess Pellonnière. He often didn’t appear to notice, but Poppy did. Looking up at him now, she felt as if she could turn to stone, admiring his beautiful eyes (black in the center with a luminous gray rim), his lean body, the way he moved so gracefully, even when just walking. A lady had once sighed and said that to watch the Duke of Fletcher make his bow was to see the male body at its utter peak of grace. How on earth could such a nonpareil have fallen in love with her, Poppy, short for Perdita and just short in general?
She wasn’t the only one with that question in mind. French ladies looked at her and tittered behind their fans. They drifted past, congratulating her on her cleverness or called her a mignonne, which was next thing to calling her an infant.
Last night Fletch wore a mantle of black Epingle velvet embroidered with black jet beads to a ball given by the Duchess of Orleans. With his hair in a simple queue at his neck, he combined a rakish care-for-nothing air with the garments of an élégante. French ladies dropped their fans to smile at him, with that special pout they kept for delicious men. She had watched him smile in return, and then bow before the Countess d’Argentau, dancing with her for the second time.
“Sit straight!” her mother had barked at her. “You are going to be his duchess, not that rag-tale piece of nobility. Don’t peer like a lovesick nursling; you lower yourself by noticing her attentions to him.”