He hadn’t even known such women existed. As the daughter of a marquess, India was everything he wasn’t, and everything he would never be. All that privilege and birth was bred in the bone, and it showed in her face.
With a sudden surge of irritation, Thorn sat on the bed, expecting the motion would wake her. She opened her lips and made a funny little huffing noise, flung an arm above her head, and slept on.
Once, when he was a boy and it was cold, just beginning to snow, he’d seen a girl in a warm woolen coat whose mother had held out her hand and said, “Come on, sweetheart.” The girl hadn’t even seen him, but she’d walked away with all the love he’d never known.
No wonder sitting beside India made him feel every inch the mudlark. She’d had all that: all that money and gloss and love and protection.
He reached out and shook her shoulder, and not terribly gently either.
She opened her eyes, and the look in them went straight to his cock. She had a hazy look about her, as if she’d just made love for hours. As if she was waking after a night of it, and she wanted still more.
As if . . .
Her eyes popped open all the way and she sat up. His hand went over her mouth. “Please don’t scream. God knows the last thing either one of us wants is for you to be compromised. I will never marry a woman just because society thinks I ought to.” His voice came out harder than it should have.
He dropped his hand.
Her eyes had lost that hazy sweet look, and for a second he felt a pulse of regret. Instead, she was glaring at him. “What are you doing in here?” she hissed. “Don’t you dare think that because you employ me, you have the right to personal services!” She began to grope around behind her.
Outrage surged up his back. “You think I would come to your bedchamber for that?”
“You wouldn’t be the first!” she snapped. She brought up her arm, and damned if she wasn’t wielding a club, covered in flowered flannel. “Touch me again and I’ll hit you!”
“What the hell is that?”
“An iron bar that I will use on your skull if you don’t get off my bed and out of my room!”
“Are you telling me that some man dared to enter your bedroom and accost you? Is that what you’re saying, India?” Their eyes met, and he reached out and took the weapon away, weighing it in his hand. “This wouldn’t do very much. It wouldn’t stop a man who was truly determined.”
“It did what it had to,” India replied proudly.
“Who?” He knew his voice came from his throat like a gunshot. “Who did that?”
“I took care of it.”
“Who was it?”
“That’s none of your business!” She picked up all that gorgeous hair of hers and swept it behind her shoulders. “Now, you—”
He bent over and growled it, right in her face. “India, who dared to come into your bedroom and frighten you?”
“Besides you?” But she added, “Sir Michael Phillips. I struck him in the ear with my iron bar.” Her smile made her eyes light up. “He complained the next day that he had lost his hearing and wouldn’t be able to sing in tune!”
Thorn fought back another growl. The bastard was going to be taking the castrato part once he got his hands on him. But there was no need to disclose that fact to India.
“Phillips, who has a house in Porter Square? Went to Oxford? Silly little beard that only covers half his chin?”
“Yes,” she said, pushing more hair behind her shoulders. “Adelaide and I visited his mother, because she had influenza. After she was out of danger, he seemed to believe that I would take care of him as well.”
“Anyone else do that?”
She frowned at him, so he put it a different way. “Where did you get the idea of the iron bar, India?”
“My godmother keeps one just like it in her bed when she’s traveling. In an inn, for example. A woman should always be prepared.”
If a woman didn’t have a man sleeping at her side, she probably should have an iron bar. In fact, it wasn’t a bad idea. In fact . . . he might be able to make bars for just this purpose.
“What are you thinking about?” she asked suspiciously.
“Manufacturing iron bars, for the self-defense of ladies,” he said readily. “I have a factory that could make them. We could use scrap metal. Perhaps with a slender end for women with smaller hands.”
She stared at him a moment, then broke into laughter. “Is that how you made your untold millions?”
God, she was gorgeous. Dangerously so. He wrenched his mind back to the reason he’d invaded her privacy. “India, would you care to explain what that statue is doing in my bedchamber?”
“Don’t you like your room?” she asked, a naughty smile glimmering in her eyes.
In fact, he did like it. And she knew it. “The walls are red,” he pointed out.
“The devil should have a lair that suits his disposition,” she replied, obviously unperturbed. “A background, you might call it.”
“You’ll have to change it.”
India shook her head. “I’m finished appointing the house. Your guests begin to arrive tomorrow, and I must ensure that Lala’s mother adores you, which frankly will be a bigger challenge than the whole house put together.”
“Bedchamber aside, India, you did a hell of a job. The place is dazzling.”
She sat up straighter, and a hank of her hair fell over her breast. The lock was long and curly, and the breast was as lush and delectable as it appeared when she was dressed, though she tended to wear gowns with all the appeal of a governess’s.
He had to get out of her bedchamber. “Right,” he said, jumping to his feet. “I’d better go prepare for Rose’s arrival. She’ll be along in the carriage presently.”
For one second, India looked disappointed, but then she said regally, “You ought never to enter a lady’s chamber.”
“Vander arrives tomorrow,” he told her, ignoring her rebuke. “That’s Lord Brody, future duke. Don’t wear that dress I last saw you in. Haven’t you any gowns that might seduce a man?”
“I’m not going to seduce Lord Brody!” India said, brows drawing together like a thundercloud.
“I’m friends with Vander, but I can’t guarantee that he’s anything much in bed,” Thorn said, grinning. “If you like his looks you should try the merchandise first. I’ve never been partial to tow-heads, myself.”
“I am ignoring you.” India swung her feet out of bed and poked around with her toes for her bedroom slippers. She had the prettiest feet he’d ever seen: slender and white and silky looking. And her ankles were as delicate as the rest of her.
An image of the scars that slashed across his thighs popped into his mind. Her head bent as she poked her feet into her little slippers; all he could see was her incredible hair.
She straightened up. “You must leave now. Marie, my maid, will arrive soon.”
“Does she simply walk into your room in the morning?”
“She’ll have to change that once you’re married.”
India didn’t even glance at him as she went to the dressing table. He didn’t like to be ignored, so he said, “Vander might be a morning man.”