“I am telling you precisely that.” She folded her arms over her chest. “I made a home for you. You mustn’t sully it.”

“ ‘Sully it’?”

India was starting to feel distinctly querulous, as well as faintly ridiculous. Had she really allowed a man to put his hands between her legs . . . in the open air? It seemed that she had. The excuse of “an error in judgment” didn’t quite cover that foolishness.

She shook out her skirts, wondering if her hairpins were all lost. “I think we should—”

Her words stopped in a little squeak, because suddenly she was over Thorn’s shoulder and he was striding back up the hill. “Put me down!” she insisted. “Thorn!”

He just laughed. “We’ll be at the gatehouse in a moment. And by the way, I’m not a man to ever keep a mistress after I’m married. And I should also tell you that I have never made love without a French letter: you will face no danger of an unwanted child from me.”

“The gatehouse?” One of his hands was holding her bottom, cupping it tightly, and it felt . . . She began wiggling. “You must let me down. This is absurd!”

“You’re surprisingly light, considering your curves,” he said cheerfully, and that hand curled a bit tighter.

India pushed herself away from his back. “Are you saying that I’m fat? Let me down!”

His long strides had taken them from the grass onto the gravel path leading to the gatehouse. “Thorn!”

“I’d have to investigate more closely to know whether you’re carrying extra weight,” he said, his tone silky smooth.

“You certainly will not!” India wrenched herself up at precisely the moment that he swung her to her feet, so she lurched backward and fell against the door of the gatehouse. She looked up at Thorn, prepared to blister his ears as he had never been scolded before.

But he was looking down at her, and her words evaporated.

“I want you,” he stated. “I shall have you, Lady Xenobia India. We’re not contemplating marriage, because you will marry better than I, and I am all but promised to another. But we shall give each other pleasure tonight. Have you any clarifications to add?”

She shook her head, unable to move her eyes from his face. Everything she did, all her adult life, had been regulated and disciplined, and directed toward the best possible marriage.

This had nothing to do with marriage.

This was for her.

“Do you know, I’ve never made love to a woman I trusted,” he said conversationally.


“You understand a contract,” he said, reaching behind her to push open the door. “You are not trying to entrap me, because I know damn well that you’re wet between the legs thinking about me, not my money.”

He made her sound like a loose woman. Which, it seemed, she was.

Or rather, she would be as soon as she did this, because ladies did not make love to men to whom they weren’t married.


She watched as he pushed open the shutters to let in the fading sunlight. He turned to look at her, and she was surprised by the ferocity in his eyes. “I will ask once more if someone took your virtue by force, India.” His voice had gone low and ominous again. He was ready to fight—no, to squash—every man who had offered her insult.

“No,” she said, giving him that new smile that existed only for him.

He said something she didn’t hear, and then she was in his arms and they were kissing again, so frantically that she couldn’t breathe. His shirt was already out of his breeches, and she slid her hands around his waist. He pulled back and threw the shirt over his head.

He was magnificent, bunched muscle narrowing to a waist without an inch of extra flesh on it. Not at all like her body. She frowned and reached out, tracing a white slash across his abdomen with her finger.

“My body’s covered with scars,” he said, glancing down.

“I’m sorry,” India said softly, bending to put a kiss where her finger had been. Then she straightened, turned, and climbed the narrow stairs to the bedchamber that she’d furnished for a gatekeeper, should Thorn ever hire one. The room held little more than a bed big enough for a man and his wife.

She had pushed open one shutter when a pair of hands slid around her waist and Thorn’s body came hard and warm against her back. “May I unbutton your gown?” His lips were on her neck, and she leaned back against him and reveled in a feeling of being outside herself.

She didn’t feel like Lady Xenobia, daughter of a marquess. At this moment, she was just India, just herself, making love to someone who had no expectations of her other than her own pleasure.

“Yes,” she said, her voice so husky that she cleared her throat and tried again. “Yes, you may.”

The shell-pink gown fell to her feet, followed by her corset. India turned about slowly, aware that her chemise was transparent. Compared to many fashionable women, she was generously shaped. When one grows up hungry . . . well, she liked to eat, and she made no apologies for that. And even though she sometimes thought she had too many curves, she didn’t care enough to go hungry again.

“Damnation,” Thorn growled.

India felt a smile form on her face without her volition. Her shape might not suit current fashion, but Thorn obviously appreciated it. She reached down, just as he had done with his shirt, pulled her chemise over her head, and tossed it aside.

Chapter Nineteen

Thorn took one look at India, who stood before him wearing no more than a pair of silk stockings tied just below her plump thighs, and knew that the control on which he had prided himself since he bedded his first woman was about to break. He wouldn’t be able to make love to India by hovering over her on rigid arms, analyzing the way her head turned, or the sounds that came from her mouth.

He was going to lose control and feast on her body. She had gorgeous breasts, a slightly rounded belly, lush hips, and legs that didn’t stop.

The curse that came from his mouth was heartfelt. It wasn’t just her body. It was the way she was looking at him, slightly amused, confident, with desire in her eyes. Her long hair was tousled and fell around her shoulders and over one breast. She looked like a dream, like Venus herself come to earth.

“Why do you smell so good?” he asked.

“My perfume is scented with moonflower. Aren’t you going to remove your breeches?” Her voice rolled over his skin like heated honey.

Her lips were dark cherries, swollen from his kisses. He wanted to push her onto her knees and beg her to take him in her mouth. Thank God she wasn’t a virgin. No virgin ever looked at a man as she looked at him now, as if she could lap him up.

He had to pull himself together. “I suspect you don’t need me to tell you how beautiful you are?”

Her lips curved, and the only thoughts in his mind were outrageous. He reached down and pulled off his boots.

“A woman can never hear that too often.”

“You are damned incredible,” he said bluntly, wrenching down his breeches and drawers in one movement, keeping his eyes on her.

She seemed entirely at ease. The thought that she must have stood like this before more than one man flitted through his mind, but he brushed it away.

Her eyes drifted down his naked body and caught at his groin. Her tongue touched her bottom lip, and he nearly groaned aloud at the sight of that pink tip, his cock sending a wild pulse of lust through him.

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