“Do you really want to try everything Feather did with his various inamoratas?” he asked, forcing his mouth to form words.

Her eyes came back to his face slowly, heavy-lidded but not sleepy. She let a smile answer him.

“Let’s start here.” He took a step forward and they were skin to skin, a second later tumbling on the bed. He bent one knee so he didn’t crush her with his weight, and then he was touching her everywhere, his mouth following his hands.

Her breasts: making her cry out.

Her belly: making her pant.

Lower still: making her moan.

A second later he was kissing her in her sweetest private place. He nudged her legs aside, took one more look at her eyes, hazy with desire, bent his head, and tasted her, making her scream.

Ordinarily, he would have been analyzing what every touch did to her. But this time it was as if he was doing it for himself. Her taste was like a drug setting his body on fire. His fingers curled into her hips so hard that he’d leave bruises, he gave her one last caress, and she exploded. Again.

Generally, Thorn entered a woman with due attention to her state of readiness and her state of mind. He was respectful.

But now he was driven by a need and hunger that knew nothing of respect. He pulled on a sheath, his hands rough and urgent. Rearing up, he pushed India’s legs farther apart, bent her knees, and thrust into her in one long stroke. She was hot and tight, and wet. His mind went blank for a moment, his entire being focused between his legs.

He came to himself for a fleeting moment of sanity and looked down. India seemed . . . stupefied. But not with pain, thank God. Some women found him uncomfortable.

“You must be as large as Feather,” she said, her voice husky with unmistakable pleasure.

He drew back, watching her face, thrust again . . . she arched her head back and actually shrieked. And before he had done more than thrust home one more time, he felt her tightening around him, her body shaking, little pants coming from her mouth.

He looked down and caught sight of the two of them. Connected. All her dainty, duchesslike pinkness and the tool of a rough bastard like himself. It was hardly possible, but he thickened even more.

“Damn it, India,” he whispered, leaning down to kiss her carefully, with reverence. Her mouth opened under his, hot and wet and urgent, and he completely lost his mind. He didn’t brace himself on his elbows, the better to assess his bed partner. He didn’t listen for the catch in her breath or watch for a tremble that might reveal she was close to finding pleasure yet again.

He did none of that. The horse had broken its lead line and was away. His mind spun to white, his senses narrowed to the soft perfection of her, the lush beauty of her breast in his hand, the way her body clasped his.

He began going faster and harder than he remembered ever going. She was clutching him, her legs curved around him, her arms around his neck. His hands were on her hips, holding her still as he thrust into her, grunting because the pleasure of it was so acute that it was like pain burning up the back of his thighs, deep in his balls.

But he held on, managed to hold on by some thread of control until . . . she threw back her hair and a cloud of white-blond silk flew about her shoulders. He heard her cry as if it were a command. His hips jerked with a force he’d never felt before, emptying him into her, thrust after thrust.

Until he had no more to give.

Chapter Twenty

The following morning

India rarely hesitated when it came to dressing. Her wardrobe was organized, mentally if not physically, into categories that corresponded to their purpose, whether that was to cow a bumptious butler or soothe a nervous lady.

But she hadn’t any gowns that would simultaneously usher in a betrothal (the dark violet muslin with buttons?) and flirt with a potential husband (the rose-colored muslin with a low bodice?). Frankly, all her bodices felt precariously low. In the last two years, waistlines had crept ever upward and necklines downward—and India was well endowed. Very well endowed. Lately fashion had become annoying, and something she’d prefer to put out of her mind.

At length she made up her mind. “I’ll wear the sprigged muslin with the embroidered roses this morning,” she told her maid. “And tonight, the French silk.”

Marie’s eyes widened. “Finally, you will wear the French silk!”

“With amethysts in my hair,” India said, remembering that she had to appear a proper candidate to become a duchess.

Marie handed her a jar of lotion, and India began swiftly rubbing it into her legs. She felt different, as if she’d paid a visit to a foreign country and come home speaking a new language.

She and Thorn had lingered in the gatehouse until she’d had to go home or risk exposure. They’d been lucky, because she’d darted in a side door and made her way to her bedchamber without being seen. Marie had been surprised to find her already tucked into her bed, but she made the excuse that she’d been exhausted.

And frankly, she had been. After hours in Thorn’s arms, she had felt as limp as a piece of velvet; she’d slept with a dreamless intensity that she hadn’t experienced since she was young.

But now it was all different. Whatever she and Thorn had had between them was over. Lala and her mother were due later that afternoon, as was Lord Brody. The Duke and Duchess of Villiers would arrive, and the last thing she wanted was for Eleanor to think that she was a hussy who would roll about with Thorn in the open air.

That was a private memory. She knew that she would never again have such a wonderful night. That was it.

It was over.

Thorn had used sheaths every time, and he never suspected that she was, in fact, inexperienced. So there would be no consequences, other than the gift of an utterly delightful, sensual memory that she could tuck away and examine later in life.

She’d had a lover. Most women gained a husband, at some point or another. But few, in her opinion, had a lover. The thought made her smile.

“It’s nice to see you happy,” Marie said, as India handed her back the jar of lotion. “I’ve never seen you work so hard,” her maid continued. “But Starberry Court is just perfect. Everyone says so, from the bootblack to Mr. Fleming himself. It’s exquisite.”

“Thank you, Marie,” India said, feeling a bit guilty because she was happy for all the wrong reasons.

She had to stop thinking about the gatehouse. Last night was like a fairy tale, like something that happened to a stranger, not to herself. Though every time she sat down she had to suppress a wince. Clearly it had happened to her.

Thinking about Thorn made her nipples harden, and her belly take on a liquid, hot feeling. That was what loose women, who made love not for coin but for pleasure, presumably felt all the time. The women in Feather’s book.

She had a lot of newfound sympathy for them. This was like being hungry: it felt urgent. She wanted to find Thorn and pull him into a spare bedchamber and demand that he ravish her. No. That was over.

From now on, she would be virtuous. As soon as the house party had concluded, she would return to London and make a decision between her various suitors.

Unless, of course, Lord Brody was as charming as Thorn seemed to think he was. In that case, she might choose to be a duchess.

An entirely virtuous duchess, of course.

After India was dressed, she tried to look at herself as critically as possible. She was going to conduct a courtship under Thorn’s eyes. She knew he would watch her and Lord Brody.

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