This Duchess of Mine Page 9


“Ah.” He nuzzled her cheek, letting his voice fall to a seductive timbre. “Where will you be sleeping?”

But two could play at that game. She turned her face, caught his lips, breathed into the secret silence of his mouth. “With you.” And then, again, even quieter: “With you.”

Her eyes had turned a smoky blue, a color he would gladly look at every day of his life.

His heart stopped for a moment, kept going.

“But I shall woo you, Elijah.”

“Women don’t woo,” he said, not really listening. He was trying to ignore the beating of his heart, as syncopated as the raindrops just beginning to fall on the roof of the carriage.

Her smile sent a flare of heat up his spine. “I have never paid much attention to that sort of rule. I do not need to be wooed, Elijah.”

“And I do?”

She nodded. “You do. Could you perhaps take some time for yourself in the next few weeks? Persuade Pitt and the rest of them that the country will survive without your help?”

“I’m won,” he said. His voice sounded dark and low.

“Consider me wooed and won, Jemma. Please.”

She was laughing against his mouth, pulling away. “Not yet.”

“I don’t have a mistress, Jemma. There’s no one to win me from, I promise you.”

“It’s not that. Though I am glad to hear—”

“Not since you discovered us on my desk,” he said, coming out with the somber truth of it. “And no one else either.”

Her eyes grew round.

“You see, I decided it was you—or no one.” She seemed too stunned to speak. He bit back a smile. “Couldn’t we consider me won?”

She cupped his face in her hands. “I’m wooing you because I want it to be different than it was nine years ago. Because you and I, Elijah, we will be together until we’re old and gray.”

It was one of the great acts of courage in his life to smile at her. “And how does the Duchess of Beaumont woo, when she puts her mind to it?”

“That remains to be seen,” Jemma said. “I used to enjoy receiving poetry, but somehow I can’t see myself breaking into verse. Perhaps we’ll start with chess. We have a game left to play in our match. Don’t you remember?”

The carriage was swinging around the corner. They would be home in a moment. Blood thrummed through his body with a dark promise of pleasure.

He forced himself to sound light rather than desperate, laughing rather than lustful. “How could I not? You owe me a last game. I seem to remember that there were a few rules attached to that game.”

“We’re to play blindfolded,” she said. He could hear the faintest tremor of desire in her voice, just the promise of huskiness. But he meant to make her cry aloud with pleasure, grip his shoulders, beg for more.

“Blindfolded and in bed,” he said slowly, tracing a pattern on her knee. He felt as if his fingers burned through her skirts, as if he caressed the pale perfection of her thigh instead of just rumpling her gown. “An unusual style of wooing, Jemma. But I like it.”

“I believe you’ll enjoy my wooing,” she said, her voice as smug as a little girl with a pocket full of boiled sweets. “Perhaps I’ll let you steal my pawns.”

He was too hungry to consider her teasing, even to care about it. The carriage was finally, finally, coming to a halt. He curbed himself, drawing on years of self-control practiced in front of the House of Parliament. Of course he wouldn’t throw his wife on a bed and leap on her like a wild dog.

Jemma left the carriage before him, bending down to avoid striking her head on the door. Her bottom swayed for a tantalizing moment in the doorway of the carriage. Even given the absurd panniers she wore, the rounding of silk at her rump made him reckless, drunk with the need to touch her. He was in the grip of a raging passion that threatened to turn him into a man that he didn’t recognize.

He didn’t recognize her either.

In the flick of an eyelash she lost that edge of sensuality and hunger he saw in the carriage. She greeted Fowle at the top of the steps, looking regal, as if she hadn’t just been rescued from a yacht at the very moment of disaster. As if she was as cool and uncaring as any other duchess out for tea.

Elijah took the steps two at a time. Jemma glanced over her shoulder at him as she handed her gloves to a footman. “I was just telling Fowle that Mr. Twiddy will be arriving tomorrow to—”

Since he’d lost his mind, he backed straight into the drawing room, grabbing her wrist and swirling her with him, slamming the door in his butler’s face.

“Elijah!” Jemma said, sounding amused. “I assure you that—”

He swooped on her. Took her mouth with all the desperate wish he had to claim her, to make her his. In every sense of the word. He possessed her mouth, kissed her savagely, with all the fear he felt when he saw her on the Peregrine, standing there unprotected, without him. Anything could have happened to her. Anything.

“You’re mine.” His voice had nothing in common with a statesman’s even tenor. It was deep, savage, knowing.

“I—”

He took her mouth again, stealing her words, telling her silently that she had no choice, that he would be the one to pleasure her, that the danger they had just gone through was only a shadow of what would happen if she ever tried to push him away.

“I let you go, years ago,” he said.

“Yes,” she gasped. Her voice had a breathy catch in it, an echo of desire that reverberated deep in his body.

“I will never let you go again.” His voice grated with the truth of it.

She looked shocked. He didn’t give a damn. Then she started smiling, and something deep inside his heart relaxed. That was a wicked smile. There was anticipation there…

“You can woo me tomorrow,” he said, voice guttural, unrecognizable. “Tonight is another kind of event altogether.”

She had been shocked but was recovering herself now. “So no chess?” Her pout said that she knew precisely what her deep bottom lip did to him.

“Jemma.” He said it low and soft. His heart was dancing a wayward rhythm, and urgency gave his voice an edge.

“I must take a bath!” she said, laughing. He had her backed against the door, hunkering over her like a great beast.

“No.”

“Indeed, Elijah, I must insist. I have been thrown into a boat and splashed with river water. I am…” She paused and gestured with mock horror. “…not myself.” Vulnerability glimmered deep in those exquisite eyes of hers.

“You’d be beautiful to me if you were bathed in mud,” he said. “Let’s call for the bath and I’ll act as your maid.”

Even in the dark, with no light other than that filtering through the windows, he could see a stain of color in her cheeks. “I bathe alone, always.”

He bent closer. “After tonight I shall know every nook and cranny of your body, Jemma.” His voice roughened. “Bathing will just hasten the process.”

“You have a great deal of confidence in yourself,” she said, looking a bit uncertain, not like the arrogant duchess who had ruled Paris with her wit and beauty.

He smiled. “You see? You’re getting to know me better already. There’s no need for a courtship between us.”

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