This Duchess of Mine Page 45


She cleared her throat. “Did you ask something?”

“I was just saying that we could return in the future,” he said. There was something in her dazed expression that made joy pump through his body with the same urgency as lust. It occurred to him that however those Frenchmen had wooed his duchess, they hadn’t woken her to her own sensuality. He would wake her.

“Of course,” she said. “It’s just a matter of sending a footman over the day before to request the baths to be heated. The caretakers support themselves, you know, so they’re always glad of visitors.”

“How on earth did you find this place?” he asked conversationally. He spread his legs, enjoying the way his muscles flexed. He was built like a bull, much to his valet’s disapproval, inasmuch as it made his pantaloons strain over his thighs in an inelegant manner. Jemma didn’t seem to mind.

“My mother enjoyed the baths,” she commented, rather absently.

Elijah ran a hand up the inside of his thigh. His manhood jerked, desperate to be touched, desperate for more than a touch, if the truth be told. “This doesn’t seem like a maternal sort of place,” he said.

“Umm,” Jemma said.

“Why did your mother bring you here?”

“It’s an old custom,” she said, obviously struggling to come up with the right words.

He ran his hand over his own length, threw back his head with the pleasure of it.

“When a young girl reaches womanhood…”

“She comes here?” Elijah’s hand tightened involuntarily at the idea of Jemma as a mere wisp of a girl. Shy, slender—

Jemma had never been shy. He revised that. A rebel of a girl…

She was still talking about old customs, and Apollo’s baths. “What were you like at that age?” he asked her.

“Romantic. I believed in fairies, and magic healing springs.”

“Is this a magic pool?”

She shook her head. “One finds a magic spring in the depths of a dark wood, only after toiling for miles over hills and catching one’s hair on brambles.”

“Is that experience talking?” he said lazily.

“My nanny was a great one for fairy tales. Aren’t you going to continue?”

“Continue what?”

She waved her hand toward his thighs.

His hand slid back to his shaft. “Would you like to watch?”

“I never have,” she said. “Seen anything of that nature.”

“But you have pleasured yourself?”

“What do you think?”

“Absolutely,” he whispered, and cleared his throat.

“Without question.”

She smiled.

“Will you demonstrate?” he asked.

She seemed to turn even pinker. “No. Not—”

“Not?”

“Not today.”

But he felt as decadent as a Roman god. “That old monk won’t show up, will he?”

She shook her head. “He would never come near the women’s baths. We’ll leave without seeing him again.”

Elijah’s hand tightened on himself. “I’m thinking about you,” he said, hearing his voice fall into a deeper register. He kept his eyes on hers and let words slip from his throat…earthy, sexy words that a respected statesman like himself would never utter. Sentences, fragments, that dropped into a little groan, about suckling her breasts, spreading her legs, where he would kiss her…what she would taste like…

She looked boneless, lying back in the warm water, staring at him. He went on, using his gift for language to describe exactly how he would spread her legs, open her for his gaze and his mouth.

“But you never kissed me like that!” she blurted out.

Somehow he had closed his eyes, lost in the pleasure, and opened them to find that she was sitting up, eyes narrowed. He stilled his hand, though it nearly killed him to do so. “I’ve never kissed any woman in that fashion,” he said bluntly. “I was too young and stupid, when we were first married, and I had no inclination with Sarah. My relations with her did not include her pleasure.” The sourness of that was in the back of his throat. “Not that she was uncomfortable,” he added.

The thought was demoralizing, and just like that, his personal weapon drooped.

Jemma stood up and moved down the remaining stairs. The water came to just the level of her breasts, so it looked as if the water was caressing them. Was she coming to him? Breaking this foolish rule?

She walked until her pink toes touched the line between the men’s and women’s baths. Then, suddenly, she ducked under the water and came up a drenched nymph, a denizen of the seas, sleek and beautiful.

Elijah was down his stairs in a moment, across the water so fast that he caused a minor tidal wave. He didn’t have to look down to realize that his weapon had leapt back to full life again.

“Surely kissing is allowed in the baths,” he suggested, leaning forward.

She shook her head. Wet, she looked mysterious, her eyes dreamy. He could see the romantic girl who came to the baths with her mother, the young wife in love with her husband, though it was an arranged marriage, and one where he paid her precious little attention to boot.

“No touching,” she said, and that wicked little smile was back. “So…”

She was within his reach. His hands itched to shape the soft weight of her breasts, take a nipple into his mouth, run a hand down her sleek back. His heart was pounding—

His heart was pounding, but regularly. In tune.

He didn’t care.

“You seem to have ideas that you didn’t attempt when we were married,” she noted.

“We are married,” he said hoarsely.

“You know what I mean. We were—” She waved her hands in the water, and drops fell on her breasts, like the caresses Elijah wanted to give her.

“Strictly under the covers,” he said resignedly. “I was very young, you know. And stupid. That goes without saying. And I was also very afraid.”

That surprised her.

It was killing him to stand just before such a luscious body, Jemma’s body, and keep his hands at his sides. His cock strained forward, as if unable to obey the command to stand still.

“Did anyone ever tell you how and where my father died?” he asked.

He hated sympathy, but not from her. It warmed something cold and miserable in his heart.

“He was entertaining some ladies,” she said carefully.

“The Palace of Salomê,” he told her. “We managed to keep some of the details from becoming public.”

“I know there were two women.”

“The true scandal wasn’t the women,” he said, resigned to telling her everything.

Her mouth dropped open. “A man?”

“No. But my father was—” It was difficult to force the words past his throat. “—he was tied to the bed. His tastes were peculiar.”

“Ah.”

“It took me a while to realize that engaging in more than the strictest interpretation of the act didn’t necessarily include a spanking.”

She laughed. The sound was delicious, charming, inviting. Shocking. “I’m sorry,” she said, giggling. “But the idea of someone spanking you, Elijah, is absurd. You’re such a duke. Even now, even naked.” She waved her hands.

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