Alesandra's thoughts were a little more centered. She was determined to get him to tell her he would have missed her if he'd taken the assignment.
When the last of her clothes had been discarded, she turned her gaze to her husband's chin and whispered his name. "Colin?"
"If you'd left London, would you have missed me?"
He lifted her chin up so she would look at him. His smile was filled with tenderness. "Yes."
She was so pleased with his answer, she let out a little sigh. Colin leaned down and brushed his mouth over hers. "Do you wonder if I would have missed you?"
He distracted her by taking her hands and placing them around his neck. Then he began to nibble on her earlobe. "Because I already know you'd miss me. You love me, remember?"
She couldn't fault that reasoning. Her husband certainly didn't have a problem with self-esteem. She thought to tell him so, and just as soon as he quit turning her thoughts into mush with his kisses, she would.
Colin placed wet kisses along the column of her throat. Her pulse was beating frantically now and she was already trembling in his arms. He thought that was a nice start.
He was slowly driving her crazy with his touch, and he knew it. That realization settled in her mind all at once.
Alesandra pushed herself away from him. He let her go, but the look on his face showed his confusion.
"What is it, sweetheart? Why did you push me away? I know you want me, and you sure as hell have to know how much I want you."
Alesandra was determined to turn the tables on her husband. She got into bed, moved to the center, and then knelt on her knees, facing him. She could feel herself blushing, but she absolutely refused to give in to her embarrassment. Colin was her husband and her lover, and she should be able to do anything she wanted with him.
She crooked her finger at him. He was so surprised by her boldness, he laughed. He got into bed and reached for her. She shook her head at him and pushed against his shoulders, telling him without words she wanted him on his back.
"Does my boldness please you?"
"Yes," he answered. "It pleases me."
It wasn't what he'd said as much as how he'd said it that gave Alesandra the courage to continue her game. She trailed her fingers down his chest.
"When you touch me, I go a little crazy," she whispered. "But tonight…"
She didn't go on. Her fingertips slowly circled his navel. She smiled over his quick indrawn breath when her hand moved lower.
"Yes?" he asked, his voice rough with need.
"You're going to lose your control before I lose mine. Do you accept my challenge, husband?"
In answer Colin stacked his hands behind his head and closed his eyes. "I'll win, Alesandra. I have far more experience."
She laughed over that boast. Odd, but admitting she loved him had somehow freed her from all restraint. She felt wild, wanton, and she didn't care at all that she wasn't being dignified. She really didn't think it was possible to maintain decorum when she was stark naked. "Thank you for telling me I love you, Colin."
"You're welcome, sweetheart."
He was tense with anticipation. His voice was gritty when he said, "Are you about finished working up your courage?"
"I'm planning my attack," she countered.
That remark made him smile. She was highly curious about his body. She wanted to learn the taste of him just as he had learned the taste of her. The thought of what she wanted to do to him made her blush intensify, but Colin's eyes were closed so she didn't worry about hiding her embarrassment.
"Colin, is… everything permitted or is there something I shouldn't do?"
"Nothing's forbidden," he replied. "Our bodies belong to each other."
"Oh, that's nice."
She leaned back on her heels while she considered where she would like to start. His neck appealed to her, but then so did the rest of his body.
"Sweetheart, I'm going to fall asleep if you don't get started," he announced.
Alesandra decided not to waste time getting to the area that most intrigued her.
He should have kept his eyes open. When he felt her mouth on the tip of his erection, he damn near came off the bed. His groan of pleasure came out as a raw shout.
He came undone. It took every ounce of discipline he possessed not to spill his seed then and there. Perspiration broke out on his brow. Her sweet tongue flicked over his sensitive skin until he was in acute agony to let himself cl**ax.
He couldn't take the torment long. He suddenly let out a low growl as he grabbed hold of her shoulders and lifted her upward. He forced her thighs apart with his knee so that she would straddle his hips, cupped the back of her neck with his hand to bring her mouth down to his, and then sealed her soft lips with his as he thrust inside her with one hard surge. The liquid heat he felt told him she was ready for him. His hands dropped to the sides of her h*ps and he forced her upward so that he could thrust back inside again. He was beyond reason now, and as soon as he felt her instinctively tighten around him, he was powerless to control his body's reaction. His cl**ax caught him by surprise. He let out another loud groan as he poured his seed into her.
Touching her husband so intimately and watching his own uninhibited response had heightened Alesandra's pleasure. He found his own release before she did, but he didn't stop moving inside her. The ecstasy was almost too much to endure. She whimpered his name when the heat began to uncoil and spread like wildfire through her body. Her head fell back in surrender to the bliss. Colin felt the first tremors of her release and reached down between their joined bodies to stroke her. His touch helped her gain her own fulfillment. She arched against him, rigid with the consuming pleasure cascading down her limbs.
The tremors seemed to go on and on, overwhelming in their intensity, yet she wasn't at all afraid because Colin wrapped his arms around her and pulled her down against his chest. He held her close, keeping her safe until the storm of passion eased.
The beauty of their lovemaking was too much for her. She was so shaken by what had just happened she began to cry great gulping sobs against his neck.
Colin was just as shaken. He stroked her back and whispered honeyed words in a voice as ragged as a winter's wind until she regained a bit of her composure.
"Each time it gets better," she whispered.
"Is that so terrible?" he asked.
"I'll be dead in a week," she countered. "Can't you feel how my heart is hammering away? I'm certain this can't be at all good for me."
"If you die, sweetheart, you'll die happy," he boasted. "You liked being on top, didn't you?"
She slowly nodded. "I won the challenge, didn't I?"
His laughter filled the room. "Yes," he conceded.
She was content. She closed her eyes and snuggled against her husband.
"We forgot to eat our supper," she whispered.
"We'll eat later," he replied. "After I have my turn."
She didn't understand what he meant. "After you have a turn at what?"
Colin rolled her onto her back and covered her with his body. He braced his weight on his elbows and smiled down at her.
When his mouth was just an inch away from hers, he answered her. "Winning."
Loving and liking Colin were two different kettles of fish altogether. The man was impossible to reason with but extremely easy to kiss. She knew better than to offer him what was left of her inheritance to put into his company, and she finally had to resort to plain old-fashioned trickery in order to help him. She followed her father's example, and she told herself more than once that God would understand even if Colin didn't. Her husband would eventually get over his stubbornness, but she wasn't willing to let outsiders buy into his company while she waited for him to come to his senses.
The stock went public at ten o'clock on a Wednesday morning. Two minutes later, the transactions were complete and all twenty shares were sold. The price was extremely high.
Colin was stunned by the amount. He was suspicious, too. He demanded to know the names of the new stockholders. Dreyson would only tell him there was a single buyer of all twenty shares, but that he wasn't at liberty to divulge the buyer's name.
"You will answer one question for me," Colin demanded. "I want to know if my wife's name is on the shares as owner."
Dreyson immediately shook his head. "No, Sir Hallbrook," he was able to admit quite honestly. "Princess Alesandra isn't the owner."
Colin was satisfied the broker was telling the truth. A sudden possibility then occurred to him. "And her adviser, the man she calls Uncle Albert? Is he the owner."
"No," Dreyson immediately answered. "I'm certain he would have snapped at the chance but the shares were all sold within a blink of the eye. There wasn't time to notify him."
Colin finally let the matter drop. Alesandra said a prayer of thanksgiving because her husband wasn't going to probe deeper.
She felt extremely guilty because she'd used trickery. She knew it was wrong to manipulate her husband, but she blamed her sin on his stubbornness. She thought she could put the deceit behind her, too, yet found that the longer she went without confessing the truth to her husband, the more miserable she became. She did a lot of muttering to herself. Thankfully, Colin wasn't there to hear her. He was working twelve-hour days at the shipping company. Flannaghan heard her carrying on, of course, but he believed she was just in an irritable mood because of her long confinement.
The month actually did hurry by. Catherine's ball was reported to have been a smashing success, and the event was recounted in vivid detail by both the duchess and her daughter-in-law, Lady Jade. They were sorry Alesandra couldn't attend, of course, but they understood the reason behind Colin's decision to make her stay under lock and key.
Catherine stopped by the following afternoon to add her own descriptions. She announced she was already in love with a marquess and two earls. She was anxiously waiting to receive notes through her father for permission for the gentlemen to call on her.
Because Colin was working such long hours, Alesandra treasured their time together and didn't like bringing up business matters. Still, there were times when it was necessary. The rental agent notified Flannaghan that the owners had decided to stay abroad and wished to sell their town house. Alesandra had become attached to her home and wanted to purchase it. She eased into the topic at the dinner table.
Colin's attitude toward her inheritance hadn't changed. He told her he didn't care what she did with her money.
Then she became more specific. "I would like to purchase this town house," she announced.
She didn't give him time to deny her request right away, but hurried on with her explanation. "Because of your ignorant English law, it's almost impossible for a married woman to make a contract on her own. I wouldn't bother you with this matter, but I need your signature on the papers."
"The reason for that law is simple to understand," he countered. "Husbands are legally responsible for any and all ventures their wives enter into."
"Yes, but the issue under discussion…"
"The issue is rather or not I can provide for you," he interrupted. His voice had gone hard. "Do you doubt I'll be able to provide for you?"
"No, of course not," she replied.
He nodded, satisfied. She let out a sigh. He wasn't going to be at all reasonable about this. She briefly considered using her initials and claiming Uncle Albert had purchased the town house for them, then discarded the idea. Colin was bound to pitch a fit. Besides, such trickery would be an out-and-out lie, and she doubted God would forgive her this transgression where her motives were only selfish ones. Using a little bit of deceit to secure the stocks and keep them in the family in order to help Colin and his partner was one thing, but manipulating the purchase of a home just because she'd taken a fancy to it was quite another. Her list of sins had grown by leaps and bounds since she'd married Colin, she supposed, but most of her offenses were surely under God's column of minor transgressions. A blatant lie told to get her own way would definitely come under the heading of more serious sins. She couldn't deceive him. "As you wish, Colin. I would like you to note that I believe you're being extremely unreasonable about this."
"So noted," he replied dryly.
He didn't even let her have the last word this time. Yet although he was frequently insensitive to her needs, he was quite the opposite with other people. He could actually be very thoughtful upon occasion. After the month was over and Raymond and Stefan were no longer needed to guard her, Colin offered them employment with his company. The men were eager to work on a ship and travel the world, as they were both young and unattached, and Colin put them under the supervision of his friend, Jimbo, so they would be properly trained.
Colin continued to be a very passionate lover. He spent every night in her bed, and after he made love to her, he held her close until he thought she had fallen asleep. Then he went back to his own room. Alesandra was afraid to make an issue out of the ritual because her husband had made it quite clear he didn't want to talk about his leg. He all but pretended he didn't even have a problem. She didn't understand how his mind worked. Did it make him feel inferior if he acknowledged a human frailty? And if he loved her, wasn't it his duty to share his joys and his sorrows with her? But Colin didn't love her—at least, not yet, Alesandra reminded herself. She wasn't disheartened, however, because she had complete faith in her husband. He was an intelligent man, after all, and in time she felt certain his attitude would soften and he'd realize what a fine wife she was. If he didn't get around to the realization for five years, that was all right. She could wait. She would keep her promise to him, too. She wouldn't interfere.
The inserts she'd had made for her husband's shoes didn't qualify as interference in her mind, however. She took great delight in the fact that he was now wearing the special pair of Wellingtons almost every day. The bootmaker had made two leather inserts. The first was too thick, or at least she thought it must have been too thick because Colin only wore the boots for a few minutes before taking them off and putting on another pair. The second insert she'd slipped under the lining worked much better. Colin believed he'd broken in the boots and they were now comfortable. She knew better, of course, but she didn't say a word. Neither did Flannaghan. The butler whispered to Alesandra that he'd noticed his employer's limp wasn't quite as pronounced at the end of the day. Alesandra agreed. She was so pleased with the success of her plan she immediately ordered two extra inserts made so that her husband would have comfortable walking shoes and evening dress shoes as well.