Michael had recently decided
there were three times in his life when he needed to take extra care in
preparing himself: when he was to be auctioned, when he was to be wed, and
when he was to bed his wife for the first time.
He rapped his knuckles once
on the door separating their bedchambers, before opening it. The gaslights
were lit. Near the window, she was lounging on a chaise longue, a book in her
lap, a box of chocolates beside her. She was dressed for the night in a white
gossamer nightgown, a shawl draped over her legs. She barely lifted her gaze
from the book as he strode farther into the room.
"I've come to say goodnight."
"Goodnight." She plucked out
a chocolate and popped it into her mouth.
He studied her, trying to
decipher the meaning of that concise reaction. She was either more naïve than
he'd realized or it was an intriguing story that she was hesitant to set
aside. He cleared his throat. "I think you'll find it'll go more pleasantly if
we say goodnight in bed."
She did look up at him
completely then, the tiniest of creases etched between her brows. "Do you wish
to say goodnight or to show me goodnight?"
Maybe not as naïve as he'd
"Show you, I suppose."
"Do you love me?" she asked.
She couldn't seriously be
posing that ludicrous question, and yet her expression contained no hint of
teasing. Rather she appeared to be incredibly sincere. Why was she making this
moment so blasted difficult by referring to matters of the heart with which he
had no experience? Why did she look so hopeful as though the answer could be
anything other than what it was?
He averted his gaze, studying
the pattern on the faded wallpaper. He should have it replaced. He would
have it replaced. If she approved the funds. That was the bargain he'd
struck with the devil.
"As I thought," she said
rather smugly. "Your answer and mine, my lord, is no."
He turned his attention back
to her. She popped another chocolate into her mouth and returned to reading
her book, apparently dismissing him as though he were of little or no
"I beg your pardon?" he
She looked at him as she
might some dim-witted fool. "No. I will not crawl into bed wtih any man who
has not earned my love."
"This was not the arrangement
I made with your father."
"More's the pity. You should
have discussed the arrangements with me."
"You are my wife. You have a
duty to give me an heir. I have rights as your husband--"
"I believe you will find, my
lord, if you closely read the settlement papers that I hold the reins on our
"As I did read the settlement
papers closely, I am well aware of the arrangement."
An arrangement his solicitor
had argued vehemently against. He favored English law which, upon marriage,
allowed that all belonged to the husband.
Rose had merely studied the
smoking end of his cheroot. "I favor Rose law. The marquess has already proven
he has no prowess where money is concerned. Kate was raised on my lap and her
banking acumen is unparalleled for a woman. I'm handing over an unprecedented
amount of my hard-earned money, gentlemen, and I don't do so lightly. It is
done on my terms or not done at all, English law be damned."
Michael had considered
walking out, hosting another auction, but he had no desire to suffer through
the indignity again. And so he'd consented to giving his wife power over him.
It was the shortest, least troublesome route. She'd seemed an agreeable sort
when he'd danced with her, but now he had to wonder if he might have misjudged
"I will only loosen the reins
on our money if I am happy," she said, breaking into his thoughts. "I assure
you that I will not be happy if you crawl beneath the sheets with me before
you have earned my love."
"And how do you expect me to
"Speak with Lord Bertram. I
have great affection for Lord Bertram."
"The man is a toad!"
"He is most kind and
"Generous? How generous can I
be when I have to ask, 'my dear, may I have a few shillings so I can purchase
you some trinkets?' You will dictate my generosity."
"Generosity is not measured
by the number of things one is given. Generosity of spirit, of heart--"
"I don't believe this!"
"Believe what you will, but
know this. Lovemaking is an extremely intimate act that should transcend
beyond the physical to include the emotional. We have spoken hardly at all.
You cannot possibly believe I would bare my body to a man who has yet to
discern my favorite color."
"Good God, woman, what has
colors to do with bedding?"
"They both speak of intimacy,
of knowledge regarding another's preferences."
"Then what is your favorite
"That's for you to deduce."
Was she saying that
announcing her favorite color was the key to unlocking her body?
She gave him an indulgent
smile. "You have to know, not guess."
"I've given you a blasted title!"
"My mother wanted the title,
not me, and I believe you were well aware of that fact as I mentioned it the
night we met."
"If you didn't want"--in
frustration he waved his hand toward the bed--"that with me then why
didn't you tell your parents you wouldn’t marry me?"
She laughed lightly. "I could
have sworn you were acquainted with my parents. They think they know what is
best, and they are not easily swayed otherwise. You can't possibly believe my
opinion on this marriage was of any consequence."
"But you've been most
pleasant throughout the afternoon and into the evening--"
"And I'll continue to be
pleasant during the day and into the evening. As a matter of fact, I don't
think you can deny that I'm still being most pleasant. I simply won't be
bedded just because it is your husbandly right."
He began pacing in front of
the bed, panic settling around his heart. How could matters have come to this?
He came to a thunderous stop with his back to her, gripped the bedpost, bowed
his head, and ground out, "What about the money?"
"What about it?"
He glanced over his shoulder
at her, sitting there all smug and knowing, as though she sat upon a throne
and held the fate of her subjects in her hand. "Do I have to earn your
affection before you release any to me?"
The only sound in the room
was the hissing of the gaslights. He thought for an indescribable moment that
he might have seen consternation in her eyes, but it was no doubt only a
flickering of the shadows in the room. He felt as though he'd walked into a
torturous realm where a man's pride was flayed over and over for eternity.
He'd already paid his price and she was demanding more.
Slowly she shook her head.
"No, we'll see to your debts in the morning."
"And beyond the debts, I have
affairs which require funds."
"I'm not paying for your
She fairly bristled, the
first bit of real emotion he'd ever seen in her. As angry as he was at her, he
was also pleased to see she could elicit fire as well as ice. And damn it all,
if the fire didn't make him more determined to get her into bed.
"I'm not referring to those
types of affairs. I was referring to personal matters."
"We can discuss them in the
He spun around and glared at
her. "I could spend a thousand pounds for a thousand days and still have money
"It is that attitude, my
lord, which resulted in your having to marry for money. We will not
spend frivolously simply because we have an abundance of coins at our
He slapped the palm of his
hand against the bedpost, relishing the stinging pain that served to anchor
his fury so he didn't strike out at her. "This is not what I bargained for."
"Quite honestly, my lord, I
don’t give a damn. You couldn't be bothered to call on me before today. You've
never even addressed me by name. You will find that I'll be quite generous
when it comes to dispensing our funds, but as for everything else you acquired
by marriage, it is not easily given. I will not be merely money and a means by
which you can effortlessly dispense your lust."
"Lust requires desire."
He regretted the harsh words
the moment they flew from his mouth without thought, a second before she
looked as though he'd struck her a physical blow.
"My apologies, my lady. Those
words were uncalled for and their implication untrue." With a sigh, he banged
his head against the bedpost. "We've gotten off to a most unfortunate start."
"Because nothing lies between
us except my father's money. If you're discontent, my lord, we may seek an
annulment. My father is quite handy at obtaining them."
No, her solution wasn't an
"I'm not in the mood to seek
"Then you accept the revised
terms of the agreement?"
What other choice did he
have? He wasn't in the habit of forcing women to welcome his attentions, and
he couldn’t risk causing her unhappiness. Rose, damn him, had been very
explicit in the terms he'd laid out regarding the settlement. His daughter,
first and foremost, must always be happy.
Michael nodded brusquely. "I
"Goodnight then. I'll see you
in the morning."
She popped another chocolate into her mouth, and he almost hoped she'd choke