Authors: Lauren Royal
Tags: #Historical Romance
Her senses spun, and an ache started building deep inside her.
Just when she thought she couldn't take any more, he sat up and helped her out of her chemise. Sucking in a breath, he stared down at her, then broke into a grin that had her heart lurching.
Far beyond embarrassment, she only reached for him, desperate to feel him again. With a strangled laugh, he dodged her grasp and hurried out of his breeches.
She stilled at the sight. Dear God, he was beautiful.
But there was no way he could fit.
." Clearly unaware of her distress, he lowered himself to the bed and molded his body to hers, drawing up the coverlet to lock in their warmth.
A smile curved his lips before his mouth descended to meet hers. And then he was kissing her, skimming her body with worshipful fingers, driving every coherent thought—and worry—from her brain.
Almost. She froze again when he reached to part her legs. "You're wet," he whispered.
She was. And his touch felt exquisite. For long minutes he skillfully teased her to pleasure, until she writhed against him with a strange, marvelous feeling so urgent she wondered how she could bear it.
Her hands dug into his shoulders, her nails raked his back, her fingers clawed at his hair. And all the while he kissed her, his mouth fused to hers, hot and tasting of the forbidden.
She felt melted inside, too weak to protest when he shifted over her. "
," he breathed, pushing into her, slowly at first. Then harder when he seemed to hit a barrier—a quick thrust that seemed to tear her apart.
The melting feeling died instantly, and she stiffened, every nerve in her body screaming with fiery pain.
"Oh, my God! Get off of me, Trick!" She'd known he wouldn't fit. "Stop it! Now!"
"No!" She pushed at his chest, biting her lip to stop the tears that flooded her eyes.
"Hearts wounds, Kendra. Just wait—it'll get better—"
"No," she sobbed out. "Please, just get out of me." She twisted under him. "Please!"
He shifted off her body. "Hell, I don't believe this." He lay there, breathing heavily for a minute, then rolled to the edge of the bed and sat up, rubbing his face with his hands. "I just do not believe this."
She didn't believe it, either.
He dropped his hands and turned to her, reaching for her face. "Sweet Jesus, I'm sorry," he murmured, caressing one tear-stained cheek. "I should have been slower, more gentle. I thought you were ready. You were so passionate. So wet..."
"You won't fit."
"What?" His fingertips stilled on her chin.
"You don't fit. We shouldn't have been married." Sniffling, she pushed his hand away and swiped the wetness from her cheeks. "Just leave me alone."
"Leave me alone."
She lay rigid as a sugar stick while he rose and drew a dressing gown from the wardrobe, tying it at his waist with a jerky motion borne of frustration. Without saying another word, he left the room.
Still shaking, she sat up and threw off the coverlet, staring between her spread legs. Dear God, she was bleeding.
Did any women actually
to do this?
No wonder her brothers had married her off without telling her what would happen. She'd have run in the other direction as fast as her legs would carry her—and well they knew it.
Trembling, she made her way to the washbasin and cleaned up, then climbed back into the bed and lay waiting. There was nothing else she could do. For better or worse, she was wed to Trick Caldwell.
It certainly couldn't get worse.
It wasn't long before he came back into the room and stood over her. His golden hair gleamed in the firelight. A muscle twitched in his clenched jaw.
Her own jaw set in response. "I told you to leave me alone."
"You're my wife."
She flinched under his steadfast gaze; then her spine stiffened. "I'm bleeding, Trick. You hurt me. For God's sake, you cannot expect me to do that again."
He stared at her, incredulous. "Hurt you?" he repeated slowly. "I know some women feel pain the first time, but—"
He broke off, looking to the ceiling—for patience, she supposed.
"Sweet Mary, I've never seen a woman so responsive, until—"
"That's because I didn't know what it was leading to," she muttered miserably. "Didn't you hear what I told you? I'm bleeding."
He dropped onto the mattress. "Did you come to this marriage a complete innocent? Did your brothers not tell you anything? Anything at all?"
"My brothers always stuttered when I brought up anything of the sort. I believe they each think one of the others took care of this matter."
He shook his head, clearly sympathizing with her brothers' predicament. But his voice gentled. "Do you know nothing of mating, then, my virgin bride?"
"Of course I know something! I've lived in the countryside most of my life. I've seen animals in the fields—" Quite suddenly, she sat up. "Why didn't you go from behind? The animals never seem to feel pain—"
"From behind?" In a complete reversal of mood, Trick collapsed into a heap on the bed and laughed until tears leaked from his eyes. "It's possible, and I suppose we'll get around to trying it eventually, but I don't think—" Pushing himself up, he put a hand on her arm. "Look, it's sorry I am that you weren't prepared, and even more sorry I didn't take our...courtship...more slowly. I knew I should have, or I would never have offered to wait, never mind that I didn't really want to. But it won't hurt the next time, I promise."
She jerked her arm away, trembling all over again. "You're right. Because there won't be a next time."
He raked a hand through his hair. "You think not?"
As she watched it flop back into place, she licked her lips. "I
not, Trick. I mean it. I won't let you."
He stared at her for a good long while; she was sure he could hear her heart pounding in the stillness. Then his gaze lit with determination.
He took a deep breath and blew it out before leaning close.
"You'll let me, lass." One of his fingers trailed, achingly slow, from her forehead along the bridge of her nose, past her lips, her chin, her neck, and all the way between her breasts, dragging the covers down as he went. He tossed the hair from his eyes and captured her gaze with his, his finger trailing lower, dipping into her navel and stopping there, pressing lightly.
"You won't only let me," he said, his voice low, his accent so thick she had to strain to catch the words, "you'll beg me."
He paused for so long, so still, that Kendra wondered if he'd ceased breathing. Then he drew away and turned over, leaving her staring at his back and quivering from head to toe.
The next morning, Kendra was more than relieved when Trick awakened her with a breakfast tray and told her he had "things to take care of" and would return late in the afternoon. She guessed he'd gone out to play the highwayman again and didn't quite know how she felt about that.
Never mind that he knew how to make a decent cup of chocolate with plenty of sugar to satisfy her sweet tooth, she hadn't any idea what to say to the man.
It felt a mite ridiculous to put on the wedding dress again, but she had nothing else to wear until her maid arrived with her luggage. She washed up and used Trick's comb to neaten her hair, then clasped on the amber bracelet, pausing for a moment to appreciate how the diamonds caught the light. Though she had little doubt Trick no longer considered her "worthy," the bracelet was beautiful, and she intended to enjoy it.
She munched on bread spread with orange butter as she wandered about the cottage. There were three more rooms off the corridor, but Trick had apparently found no use for them. The few pieces of furniture were covered in sheets, the floors and walls clean but unadorned.
Her work was cut out for her, but at least it would give her something to occupy her time. She was used to caring for an entire estate and found it hard to imagine what she would do with herself here. Looking forward to Jane showing up with her things, she anticipated the two of them spending a pleasant couple of days rearranging furniture and unpacking before she went stark raving mad with inactivity.
She chose a room for Jane and another she thought would suffice for herself, since she didn't plan to share with Trick anymore. The fourth and last room would make a nice nursery, except she had no intention of doing what it would take to fill it.
No wonder Caithren had yet to conceive.
Finished with her survey in a depressingly short time, she briefly considered going home to yell at her brothers, but remembered she wasn't speaking to them. She wandered to the bookshelves that lined the corridor. Noticing an abundance of poetry, she chose a book of Shakespeare's sonnets and the first two volumes of Milton's
, then sat herself in the main room to await her maid's arrival.
She was bored silly by the time Trick showed up, instead.
He'd said he wanted to give her a "tour of the countryside," as though she hadn't lived in the countryside half her life. He'd brought an elaborate supper for them to share in the caleche on the way, though she couldn't imagine where he'd obtained it.
They'd driven through miles of rich farmland and a country village called Amberley that bustled with prosperity. All the while, he'd kept up an entertaining travelogue but raised no personal subjects. Nor had he responded to her discreet probing, skillfully turning the topic back to the scenery instead.
Three hours later she knew nothing more about him than she had when she said her vows. And after all his threats last night—"
you'll beg me"
echoed in her head—he hadn't even touched her.
Not that she wasn't relieved, but nothing about this man added up, and that in itself was disquieting.
The sun was low in the sky when she dropped her napkin into the picnic basket and licked roast chicken off her fingers. "What if Jane and my trunks arrive and we're not home to meet her?"
. Don't worry yourself. We'll be there soon." He put his hand on her knee, then looked down and snatched it back, flexing it before gripping the caleche's reins.
Her knee tingled where his fingers had lain. "But—"
"Don't worry," he repeated. "We're almost home now."
"No, we're not." She had an excellent sense of direction. Though their meandering journey had brought them back near the cottage, he was now driving the opposite way. "It's—"
"There." He inclined his head as he guided the caleche off the road and onto a well-groomed drive. A very long drive. Tall trees lined the way, and an enormous mansion stood at the end.
Built of russet brick with more windows and chimneys than she could count, the mansion had to be at least the size of Cainewood Castle. Except Cainewood was mostly ancient, damaged, and closed-up, while this home sparkled with newness.
"There?" She frowned at an ostentatious clock tower atop the building. Eight o'clock. Little more than a day since she'd been wed, and she'd never felt so lost in her life. "Whatever do you mean? What is this?"
"Your new home." His wide mouth quirked in a half-smile. "Do you like it?"
"L-like it?" she sputtered. "I don't understand." Her hands twisted together in her lap, her fingers finding the amber bracelet and worrying the smooth, polished stones. "Do you work here?"
He blinked, then smiled wider. "Why, yes, I do."
"What of the cottage?"
"No, I don't work there. Not usually, in any case. It's more a place to escape, get off by myself for a while—ah, here we are."
Puzzled, Kendra turned from Trick to the house, where the double doors were flung open and a steady stream of crimson-liveried servants poured out and down the wide marble steps.
"Welcome home, your grace."
"Such a lovely bride!"
"Your grace." A straight-backed, gray-haired man extended one white-gloved hand to Kendra, presumably to help her down.
She paused before putting her fingers in his, looking about in utter confusion. "Your grace?" she repeated under her breath.
"Your grace," Trick confirmed, helping her to the gravel. Two grooms appeared from nowhere and took the caleche while more servants scurried to join the double line that flanked the tall, carved front doors.
Trick grasped Kendra by the elbow and guided her toward the steps. "May I present my wife, the Duchess of Amberley. I trust you will all do your best to see she's happy here."
Happy? She nodded and smiled stiffly, all the while planning Trick's murder.
Which would come right after her brothers'.
! The Duke of
ley, no less!" It was unbelievable. No wonder Colin had said the amber bracelet was fitting. She hooked two fingers through it, barely resisting an urge to rip it off.
"Such venom. God's blood, you say it as though a duke is the worst sort of knave."