“Tell me, then.”

“No. I think I’ll let you discover it on your own.”

“Tell me!” She pounced on him eagerly, thumping him hard on the chest with her fists. Most men would have been driven back by the solid blows, but he only laughed and held his ground. “Westcliff, if you don’t tell me this instant, I’ll—”

“Torture me? Sorry, that won’t work. I’m too accustomed to it by now.” Lifting her with shocking ease, he tossed her onto the bed like a sack of potatoes. Before she could move an inch, he was on top of her, purring and laughing as she wrestled him with all her might.

“I’ll make you give in!” She hooked a leg around his and shoved hard at his left shoulder. The childhood years of fighting with her boisterous brothers had taught her a few tricks. However, Marcus countered every move easily, his body a mass of steely, flexing muscles. He was very agile, and surprisingly heavy. “You’re no challenge at all,” he teased, allowing her to roll atop him briefly. As she sought to pin him, he twisted and levered himself over her once more. “Don’t say that’s your best effort?”

“Cocky bastard,” Lillian muttered, renewing her efforts. “I could win…if I didn’t have a gown on…”

“Your wish may yet be granted,” he replied, smiling down at her. After another few moments, he held her down on the mattress, taking care not to hurt her in their love play. “That’s enough,” he said. “You’re tiring. We’ll call it an even match.”

“Not yet,” she panted, still determined to best him.

“For God’s sake, you little savage,” he said in amusement, “it’s time to give up.”

“Never!” She strained wildly against him, her weary arms trembling.

“Relax,” came his caressing murmur, and her eyes widened as she felt the hardness of his body between her thighs. She gasped, her struggles fading. “Softly, now…” He pulled the front of her gown down, momentarily trapping her arms. “Easy,” he whispered.

Lillian went still, her blood pumping violently as she stared up at him. The light was uncertain in this part of the room, the bed swathed in shadow. Marcus’s dark form moved over hers, his hands turning her this way and that as he eased the gown from her body, and unhooked her corset. And then suddenly she was breathing, breathing, too loudly, too fast, and the soothing stroke of his palm down the front of her body only agitated her further.

Her skin had become so sensitive that the feel of the open air seemed to chafe her, her entire body tingling and prickling. She began to shiver as he peeled away her chemise, her stockings and drawers, the occasional soft graze of his knuckles or fingertips causing her to start.

Marcus stood by the bed, staring at her intently as he removed his own clothes with leisurely slowness. His elegantly sculpted body was becoming familiar to her now, as was the aching excitement that penetrated every inch of her tender flesh. She moaned a little as he joined her on the mattress, gathering her against the warm fleece of his chest. Feeling the continuous tremors that ran through her, he drew his hand over the pale length of her back and cupped the taut shape of her bottom. Everywhere he touched her, she felt waves of intense relief followed by a deeper, more pleasurable ache.

He kissed her slowly, deeply, licking into the silky recesses of her mouth until she groaned with pleasure. Moving down to her breasts, he covered them with light, half-open kisses, touching her ni**les with fleeting strokes of his tongue. He coaxed and courted her as if she weren’t already flushed and trembling with desire, as if she weren’t breathing in pleading sobs for him to ease the pangs of need. When her br**sts were swollen and her ni**les had contracted to hard tips, he took one peak into his mouth and began to tug firmly, while his hand settled on her stomach.

She felt a tightening coil inside, a gathering urgency that drove her mad. Her own hand shook violently as she grasped his, and brought it to the damp tangle of curls between her thighs. He smiled against her breast, and moved to the other nipple, pulling it into the moist velvet of his mouth. Time seemed to stop as she felt his fingers searching delicately, parting the springy locks, then grazing over the wet, intricately couched peak of her sex. Ahhh …his caresses were gossamer-light as he stroked her with delicate insistence, first teasing, then assuaging, then teasing again, until she cried out in helpless release, her h*ps jerking hard against his hand.

Cuddling her protectively, Marcus caressed her quivering limbs. He whispered endearments against her half-open mouth, words of adoration and lust, while his hands moved over her body in reverent forays. Lillian wasn’t a ware of the exact moment when his touch became more arousing than soothing, but gradually she felt him layering sensation upon sensation. Her heartbeat launched into a new urgent pattern, and she shifted uneasily beneath him. He parted her legs and pushed her knees up a little, and entered her slowly. She flinched at the intimate soreness of the invasion. He was so hard, above her, inside her, that her flesh tightened instinctively, but nothing could stop the thick, heavy slide. He kept his thrusts easy and deep, nudging into the tight clasp of her sex with utter tenderness. Every movement seemed to draw a thrill of pleasure from the depths of her body, and soon she relaxed until the pain had tapered to a barely discernible twinge. She felt hot all over, feverish and desperate as she sensed the approach of another cl**ax. Suddenly he astonished her by withdrawing.

“Marcus,” she whimpered, “oh God, don’t stop, please—”

Hushing her with his mouth, he lifted and turned her carefully until she was lying on her stomach. Dazed and shaking, she felt him push a pillow beneath her hips, and then another, until she was propped up high and open as he knelt between her thighs. His fingers stroked and spread the folds of her sex, and then he was pushing inside her again, and her moans became uncontrollable. Helplessly she turned her head to the side, her cheek pressed against the mattress, while her twisting h*ps were steadied in the firm grasp of his hands. He thrust even deeper than before, probing and stroking and pleasuring her with a measured rhythm …deliberately pushing her over the edge of sanity. She begged, sobbed, groaned, even cursed, and she heard him laugh softly as he drove her into a shattering burst of rapture. Her body clenched around his sex in throbbing contractions, milking a cl**ax from him until a deep growl was torn from his throat.

Panting, Marcus lowered his body over hers, his mouth at the nape of her neck, his sex still buried inside her.

Resting passively beneath him, licking her swollen lips, Lillian mumbled, “And you called me a savage.” She caught her breath as he chuckled, the hair on his chest rubbing like rough-napped velvet against her back.

Although Lillian was pleasantly tired from their love-making, the last thing she wanted to do was sleep. She was filled with wonder at the discoveries she was making about the man she had once disdained as stodgy and boring, who had turned out to be neither. She was beginning to recognize that Marcus possessed a softer side that few people were ever allowed to see. And she sensed that he cared about her, though she was afraid to speculate on that, as the feelings that seemed to be pouring from her own heart had become alarmingly intense.

After Marcus had wiped her perspiring body with a cool, damp cloth, he dressed her in his discarded shirt, which held the scent of his skin. He brought her a plate containing a poached pear, and a glass of sweet wine, and even allowed her to feed him a few bites of the silky-soft fruit. When her appetite was sated, Lillian set aside the empty plate and spoon, and turned to snuggle against him. He rose on one elbow and looked down at her, his fingers playing idly in her hair.

“Are you sorry that I wouldn’t let St. Vincent have you?”

She gave him a puzzled smile. “Why would you ask such a thing? Surely you’re not having pangs of conscience.”

Marcus shook his head. “I am merely wondering if you had any regrets.”

Surprised and touched by his need for reassurance, Lillian toyed with the dark curls on his chest. “No,” she said frankly. “He is attractive, and I do like him …but I didn’t want him.”

“You did consider marrying him, however.”

“Well,” she admitted, “it did cross my mind that I would like to be a duchess—but only to spite you.”

A smile flashed across his face. He retaliated with a punishing nip at her breast, causing her to yelp. “I couldn’t have borne it,” he admitted, “seeing you married to anyone but me.”

“I don’t think Lord St. Vincent will have any difficulty finding another heiress to suit his purposes.”

“Perhaps. But there aren’t many women with fortunes comparable to yours…and none with your beauty.”

Smiling at the compliment, Lillian crawled halfway over him and hitched one leg over his. “Tell me more. I want to hear you wax lyrical about my charms.”

Levering himself to a sitting position, Marcus lifted her with an ease that made her gasp, and settled her until she straddled his hips. He stroked a fingertip along the pale skin that was exposed at the open vee of the shirt. “I never wax lyrical,” he said. “Marsdens are not a poetic sort. However…” He paused to admire the sight of the long-limbed young woman who sat astride him while her hair trailed to her waist in tangled streamers. “I could at least tell you that you look like a pagan princess, with your tangled black hair and your bright, dark eyes.”

“And?” Lillian encouraged, linking her arms loosely around his neck.

He set his hands at her slender waist and moved them down to grasp her strong, sleek thighs. “And that every erotic dream I’ve ever had about your magnificent legs pales in comparison to the reality.”

“You’ve dreamed about my legs?” Lillian wriggled as she felt his palms slide up her inner thighs in a lazy, teasing path.

“Oh yes.” His hands disappeared beneath the drooping hem of the shirt. “Wrapped around me,” he murmured, his tone deepening. “Gripping tightly as you rode me…”

Lillian’s eyes widened as she felt his thumbs stroking the fragile outer folds of her sex. “What?” she asked faintly, and drew a ragged breath as she felt him open her with gentle massaging strokes. His fingers were doing something wicked, their artful movements concealed by the shirt. She shivered and watched his intent face as he used both hands to toy with her, some fingers filling her, others flirting skillfully with the sensitive little crest that seemed to burn at his touch. “But women don’t…” she said in breathless confusion. “Not that way. At least…oh …ah…I’ve never heard…”

“Some do,” he murmured, teasing her in a way that caused her to moan. “My reckless angel …I think I’ll have to show you.”

In her innocence, she didn’t comprehend until he lifted her again, and positioned her, and helped her to slide along the rigid, engorged length of his arousal until she was fully impaled on him. Shocked beyond words, Lillian made a few tentative movements, obeying the low murmur of his voice and the patient guidance of his hands on her hips. After a while she found a rhythm. “That’s it,” Marcus said, now sounding breathless. “That’s the way…” Reaching beneath the shirt once more, he found the aching nub beneath the hood of her sex. He circled it with his thumb in an electrifying counterpoint to her downward thrusts, with a soft pressure that sent new heat dancing across her nerves. His steady gaze held hers, drinking in the sight of her pleasure, and the realization of how utterly focused he was on her caused the ecstasy to ripen until she shuddered in hard, deep-seated spasms, her body and heart and mind filled with him. Gripping her waist, Marcus held her firmly as he ground upward, letting his own pleasure pump and surge through her.

Feeling witless and utterly drained, Lillian let herself collapse over him, her head coming to rest on the center of his chest. His heart pounded and thundered beneath her ear for long minutes before it eased into something approaching a normal rhythm. “My God,” he muttered, his arms sliding around her, then falling away as if even that required too much effort. “Lillian. Lillian.”

“Mmm?” She blinked drowsily, experiencing an overwhelming need to sleep.

“I’ve changed my mind about negotiating. You can have whatever you want. Any conditions, anything that’s in my power to accomplish. Just put my mind at ease and say you’ll be my wife.”

Lillian managed to lift her head and stare into his heavy-lidded eyes. “If this is an example of your bargaining ability,” she said, “I’m rather worried about your corporate affairs. You don’t surrender this easily to your business partners’ demands, I hope.”

“No. Nor do I sleep with them.”

A slow grin spread across her face. If Marcus was willing to take a leap of faith, then she would do no less. “Then to put your mind at ease, Westcliff…yes, I’ll be your wife. Though I warn you…you may be sorry you didn’t negotiate when you learn my conditions later. I may want a board position on the soap company, for example…”

“God help me,” he muttered, and with a deep sigh of contentment, he fell asleep.

CHAPTER 23

Lillian stayed in Marcus’s bed for most of the night. She woke up now and then to find herself enveloped in the heat of his body and the soft layers of linen and silk and wool. Marcus must have been exhausted from their lovemaking, for there was no sound and little movement from him. As morning approached, however, he was the first to awaken. Lost in a contented slumber, Lillian protested as he roused her.

“It’s almost daybreak,” Marcus whispered in her ear. “Open your eyes. I have to take you to your room.”

“No,” she said groggily. “In a few minutes. Later.” She tried to burrow back into his arms. The bed was so warm, and the air was cold, and she knew that the floor would feel like ice beneath her feet.

Marcus kissed the top of her head and eased her to a sitting position. “Now,” he insisted gently, rubbing circles on her back. “The maid will be up to light the grate…and many of the guests will go shooting this morning, which means they will rise soon.”

“Someday,” Lillian said grumpily, huddling against his powerful chest, “you’ll have to explain why men find it such an unholy joy to go outside before it’s light, and wander through muddy fields to kill small animals.”

“Because we like to test ourselves against nature. And more importantly, it gives us an excuse to drink before noon.”


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