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Authors: Cathy Maxwell

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BOOK: In the Bed of a Duke
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He didn’t need to worry.
She
wasn’t going anywhere.

Charlotte slid her arms around his neck. She
kissed his temple, his hair, his nose. Her nose kiss made him smile. He lifted his head and looked down at her, his expression bemused. “You are so beautiful.”

“So are you.” The words had just popped out of her mouth in her excitement and eagerness, but she would not call them back. He was beautiful.

His teeth flashed white in the darkness. “Sweet, sweet Charlotte. You are a constant surprise.”

Any resistance she might have had left melted. She liked being a source of surprise.

Certainly he amazed her—and when he brought his lips down for another kiss, she held nothing back. Dreams were made from moments like this.

This
man was worthy of her. He wasn’t like Thomas, narrow-minded and backward and expecting her to choose him over her family. No, Colster was the only man who’d ever challenged her as if she were an equal.

Miranda might not have been able to love him, but Charlotte knew with complete conviction she could.

He started undressing, pulling his shirt off over his head. They hadn’t broken the kiss, and so for a moment they were both hidden in folds of white linen. It added humor to the anticipation of the moment, making her feel closer to him.

He ended the kiss and slid the shirt over his
head and down his arms. His muscles had the lean, well-defined lines of a natural athlete, and Charlotte swallowed to keep herself from purring aloud.

Colster smiled as if he knew what she was thinking. He returned to her side for another kiss. She placed her arms around his broad shoulders, wanting to hold him forever—but then his hand covered her
bare
breast.

She pulled away to glance down to where his hand rested on her, too shocked to pay attention to his lips seeking hers. Her sleeve was off one shoulder, and half her bodice was practically to her waist. Common sense reared its ugly head. “What are we doing—?”

He cut her off with hungry, demanding kisses, and she didn’t care where his hands were. In fact, his fingertips lightly circling her nipple felt good.
Very
good.

All thoughts of protest left her brain. Constance, Miranda, Scotsmen, and feuds ceased to matter. She wasn’t even Charlotte anymore. Her whole being centered on discovering the touch, taste, and scent of him.

When his mouth closed over her tight nipple, the pleasure was so intense she cried out. She curled her fingers in his hair and repeated his name as he introduced new and more enticing ways to please her. When he tugged at the other
sleeve of her dress, the one still on her shoulder, she helped him take it off. She took it all off, kicking her skirts away to be gloriously naked beside him—and she felt no shame.

“Charlotte,” he said as if delighted with her body and no praise had ever pleased her more.

She felt afire with her wanting of him. All skittishness had vanished. She’d been created to be with him.

He ran his hand up her legs with more purpose than he’d done in the coach. This time, she didn’t flinch…and when she first felt his touch, she thought she would weep from the joy of it.

Charlotte knew what was going to happen between them. The tension between them was to the snapping point, and just as she did in every other facet of her life, she went after what she wanted now. Impatiently, she tugged at the band of his leather breeches. She’d given all. Now let him.

“You undo them,” he ordered quietly.

Her fingers went right to his buttons. She twisted the first free, then the second. His skin was warm against the backs of her fingers. As she reached to unfasten the third, she brushed his erection.

It was the most incredible thing she’d ever touched. Different than what she’d imagined and yet exactly what she would have anticipated. She
unbuttoned the remaining three buttons and pushed his breeches down so that she could feel all.

Colster rewarded her with a sigh of pleasure.

In her experience, men were hard, hairy creatures. She’d never imagined there could be anything about them this smooth. This soft…this sensitive. She ran a fingertip up its length in experimental wonder.

His reaction was immediate. With a low growl, he took her down to their bed of sweet hay, settling himself between her legs. “You are delightful,” he whispered before claiming her with a kiss that sucked the very breath out of her body.

Charlotte was defenseless against such an onslaught. This was perfect. It was right. It was the way things
were meant to be.
From the moment he’d entered her coach, her body had ached to join his. She understood that now.

Colster combed her hair back with his fingers. Her breasts were flattened against his chest. Her legs cradled his hips. He kissed the line of her jaw, the underside of chin, encouraging her to arch back, lifting her hips slightly—and then he entered in one smooth, strong thrust.

The magic disappeared. Reality arrived in a sharp sear of pain.

She would have scrambled out from beneath him but he leaned his weight against hers, holding her in place.

“Gentle, gentle,” he whispered. She didn’t know if he spoke to her or was telling himself. “It’s over. It won’t hurt again.”

The pain
was
ebbing, but the consciousness of reality stayed in place.

What had she done?
A part of her wanted to weep. Another, the part of her still connected with him, wanted
more.

Colster understood. “I’m sorry, Charlotte, but I can’t let this end here. You’d hate me.”

She hated him now. She’d hate him forever

He began to move. Long, steady, careful thrusts.

Slowly, her body adjusted to accommodate him. What had seemed alien began to feel right as she stretched to accept all of what he offered.

And it was beginning to feel
good
.

She turned her head, searching for his kiss, needing his reassurance. He was right there, watching her,
caring
for her. This kiss was more personal than the ones they’d had before. Simpler and honest. After all, what was done was done…and she relaxed, releasing fully into making love to him.

Nor did Charlotte believe she was the only one affected. Colster seemed to lose himself. His kisses, too, were increasingly urgent. He reminded her of a starving man feasting on his first meal. He kissed her lips, her eyelids, her ears,
and her neck. His thrusts went deeper and with more force.

He’d been right, the pain had been momentary.

Charlotte’s body began moving instinctively with his. She met each of his thrusts and found the rhythm they needed. In his arms, she imagined them dancers, and the music was the sound of their breathing and their own driving need.

She’d become wanton. This was the mystery of life, the need that humbled all of them. She grasped his arms, holding on for all she was worth.

This was brilliant. It was madness. It was divine—

Her senses hit a point sharper and more defined than the tip of a needle, and yet there was no pain. No, what hit her was pure, exquisite joy.

She gave a sharp cry. He held her tight as though he’d never let go. Deep muscles contracted. She’d couldn’t move, could barely breathe.

At last,
she understood
. Finally, she knew why Adam would follow Eve, Paris would steal Helen, and her mother had left her family, homeland, and birthright for a man she had loved.

But Colster wasn’t done.

No, he buried himself deep within her, holding her as if he’d never let her go—and she felt his seed release inside of her.

Charlotte was transfixed.

Here was the life force, the communion, the hand of God. It was the most amazing, critical moment of her existence. She was no longer flesh and blood but light and being. One with him.

This was the man she’d been waiting for all of these years.
Her
duke. And he was bolder and stronger and more handsome than she could have ever conjured from her imagination.

He stroked her hair, her waist. His heart was beating as rapidly as her own.

For a long moment, they held each other…until their bodies started to cool.

Colster lowered her to the coat, his body resting on hers. Charlotte smiled. His weight felt good. Her heart was so full of tender emotions she
knew
she’d never be sad or lonely again. She loved the feel of his weight upon her. She could spend her entire life this way.

Colster smoothed out her hair. It was then that she realized she’d had her eyes shut the whole time. She opened them and found him watching her. The tension that had always been so much a part of his personality was gone. He even looked younger.

Reverently, she reached up and pushed his hair back before laying her palm against the rough whiskers of his jaw. He was so perfect. Wonderfully perfect.

He turned his head and kissed the inside of her wrist. Those whiskers tickled. He eased the sensation by tracing a line on her skin with his tongue before looking back down at her.

What beautiful eyes he had. So honest and clear.

“Did you like that?” he asked.

“Yes,” she whispered before repeating, “Yes, yes,
yes.”

Her enthusiasm made him smile…but the expression in his eyes darkened. Immediately, she sensed something was wrong, and her doubts grew as he became more serious.

“What is it?” she asked.

He caught her hand.

Laced his fingers with hers.

For a long moment, he held her before saying in a world-weary voice, “You are not returning to London. Not without me.”

Her heart leaped in her chest at the promise in his words. Dreams she’d not dared even to breathe aloud came to life. A duke.
Her
duke.

They’d become
one. Together
.

“Why?” she asked, both fearful and excited for the answer.

“Because, now,” he said, his voice low in her ear, “we both have a secret we wouldn’t want bandied about. Not unless you wish to be completely ruined.”

His meaning struck her with the force of lightning.

She’d been deceived—and she’d been a willing victim.

A
s the full meaning of his words sank in, Charlotte drew back in horror—and Phillip
hated
himself.

Pride was what Charlotte Cameron valued. It was what had driven her to come to England and seek a future for her family through the time-honored system of making an advantageous marriage.

He had destroyed her worth on the marriage market. Without family connections or dowry, all she
could
offer a man was her purity, something he’d just ruthlessly taken. He’d stripped her of everything.

“It’s your silence for mine. We are even.” His conscience screamed at him.

“You did this on purpose?” she demanded. The set of her jaw tightened. She knew the answer, and yet she persisted as if wanting him to deny it.

“I did what I must,” he answered, his voice cold.

Yes, he’d done what was necessary to protect his family and his name…and yet, theirs had been no ordinary coupling. It was almost as if the tables had been turned. He was as trapped as Charlotte.

For the first time in his life, he understood the full power of carnal pleasure. It had taken him unawares,
possessed
him, and it was all because of Charlotte. Her passion had matched his own. She’d awaken dormant desires, breached his fabled control.

She’d given without reservation—and, dear God, he’d taken. In fact, he was already stirring and ready to take again—

Phillip’s thoughts broke off when he felt the upward movement of her leg. It was his only warning, and he moved just in time from having her knee kick his groin up to his throat. If she had made full contact, she would have turned him into a eunuch.

As it was, she’d kicked hard enough to double him over.

Pain forced him to release her. She came to her feet in one fluid, graceful movement. Tossing her hair over her shoulders, she stood silhouetted in the darkness against the doorway, hands on hips. “You deliberately seduced me. You
ruined
me.”

“Ruined you?” he puffed out. “You’ve come damnably close to ruining me!”

Her response was to pick up his boots and throw them at him, one at a time, with all of her might. He warded them off with his hand.

Furiously, she whipped her dress up from the ground and put it on, fury making her movements clumsy. “I
trusted
you.” Her voice sounded perilously close to tears. Her head came up through the neck hole.

“That’s not true,” he answered. “We haven’t trusted each other for a moment.”

“You’re right,”
she snapped. “But I did then. I let down my guard. God knows I wish I
hadn’t
.”

With that last ringing indictment, she picked up her shoes and stockings and went storming out into the night, not bothering to take the time to lace up the back of her dress.

Phillip forced himself to stand. His thigh where she’d kicked him throbbed as he pulled on his breeches. Buttoning them enough to be decent, he went after her.

“Charlotte, stop,” he ordered.

She kept going, marching with purpose toward Homer, who looked up in surprise to see them both out and about.

He caught up with her in the middle of the
field. Grabbing her arm, he swung her around to face him.

But Charlotte was not one to go quietly. She attempted to shake his hold free. When that didn’t work, she doubled her fist and tried to strike him against the side of his face.

Phillip caught both her arms at the wrists, holding them behind her back and bringing her close to him.
“Stop this.”

“Let me go,” she demanded, her tone as imperial as a princess.

“Not until I’ve had a moment to talk sense into you.”

Her response was to bring the heel of her foot down hard on his bare foot. Once again, he released his hold. She took off running.

Anger propelled him forward. He caught her in three steps.

“I can see you don’t want to be reasonable,” he said. “We shall do this
un
reasonably.” With those words he swung her up over his shoulder as if she were a sack of grain.

Charlotte was furious. “Stop manhandling me. Put me down. You are a dishonorable, disreputable
brute
.”

These were words that had never been applied to Phillip before. He’d always been the honorable one, the gallant—that is, except where Miss
Cameron was concerned. She had the uncanny ability to bring out the worst in him. She made him lose control. She made him vulnerable…and for that reason alone he must master her.

She struggled against his hold, but he would not let her go until he’d cooled down her temper. Then, perhaps, he could talk sense into her.

Reaching the stream, he waded into the cold water.

She went still. “What do you think you are doing?”

“You might want to remove your dress,” he advised.

“I shall not.”

“Very well.”

Without pity, Phillip let her go, having the presence of mind to pull her dress up as she fell. She slipped right through it. He congratulated himself for saving the majority of it from getting wet.

Charlotte hit the water and came up gasping from the shock—and looking more lovely than any woman he’d ever seen. She was like a water kelpie, with her hair molded to her white skin, her breasts full, her nipples tight, and her eyes full of rage. “How
dare you
—” she started.

Phillip waited, knowing she had to have her say and that he well deserved it.

But she fooled him. She never finished what
invective she had in mind. Instead, her eyes filled with tears that she struggled to hold back and didn’t succeed.

He took a step toward her, but she pushed him back with a hand to his chest. “Leave me alone, Colster. Just leave me alone.”

Phillip didn’t like her this way. He preferred Charlotte fighting and full of spirit. “You can’t stay in the stream all night.”

“I can’t?” She struggled for a bit of her former bravado. “I will do whatever I wish,” she said in a quiet, tight voice. “Besides, where else do I have to go?”

This was not what he wanted. He’d gone too far.

Phillip took the time to hang her dress on a limb of an overhanging tree before wading back to her. She turned from him, crossing her arms against her breasts. “Leave me be,” she ordered.

He stopped. They stood less than ten inches from each other—and he realized the truth. “I can’t.”

A bit of her defiance returned. “That wasn’t a suggestion, Colster. It was a command.”

Hours earlier her high-handedness had rankled. Now, he was so relieved to see a return of her spirit, he grinned like a fool.

She caught sight of him. “What is the matter with you?” she complained. “You take me against my will—”


Against
your will?” he questioned, raising a doubtful eyebrow.

“It was
not
what I’d planned for this evening,” she shot back.

“None of it has been what we planned for this evening. But upon my word, Charlotte,” he said with brutal honesty, “I’d not have undone any of it.”

He’d hoped his confession would soften her. He was wrong. “Of course not,” she replied. “
You
got what you wanted.”

He hated the bitterness in her voice. “No, I did what I must. And if you’d been me, you would have done the same. But that doesn’t mean, Charlotte, that I wasn’t as fully engaged as you were. The intensity between us was rare. It’s not like this for everyone.”

She glared at him through wet, spiky eyelashes as if suspecting that he toyed with her.

“Damn your pride, Charlotte,” he said, and, placing a hand on each arm, he pulled her to him and kissed her. He’d not have her deny him. This was the only sensible thing to do, even if she’d probably bite off his nose for his effort.

Charlotte’s body went rigid. She raised her arms as if preparing to use all her might to push him away.

Stubbornly, Phillip insisted.

There was a war of wills, and then her lips went warm and soft. He’d won.

Or had
she
won?

He couldn’t tell. Because when, with a soft sigh, she wrapped her arms around his neck, Phillip lost the ability to think clearly.

He no longer felt the cold. It was if a spell had been cast over him. The moon, the water, and her nakedness heightened the enchantment. He could kiss Charlotte every minute of every day and never tire of it.

She broke the kiss. Leaning her head against his chest, she whispered, “I don’t want this. I
shouldn’t
want this.”

“I know.” He did. He ran his hands up and down her arms, warming her. “I won’t let harm come to you,” he promised.

“You already have.”

“Charlotte—”

“What will become of my sisters?” she asked, cutting him off. She tried to turn away. He wouldn’t let her go.

“Don’t,” he whispered. “Please don’t. I’ll see you through this.”

“If I keep my silence.”

He’d not deny it. “It’s an even exchange. We each have a secret now.”

The moonlight caught the doubt in her eyes as
she asked, “And how will you see me through this? Can you give me back what I’ve lost? What you have taken from me?”

“I didn’t take anything that wasn’t freely offered,” he replied.

Her face paled.

He pulled her into his arms, hating to see her so frail, hating himself for being the cause. She trembled, but not from the cold. He tightened his hold. “Charlotte, I can arrange your marriage to a man of class and fortune. I have the power to make all your dreams a reality.”

She attempted to pull away. “How do you know what dreams I have?” she dared to ask. “You don’t even see
me
.”


That
is not true.” He slid his hand along her neck, his fingers in her hair. “I see you too well. Therein lies the problem,” he confessed, before kissing her again.

This was not a hungry kiss as he’d given only moments before. His desire for her was still present and strong…but there was something else at work here, too. He wanted Charlotte to trust him. He wanted the walls down between them.

He wanted her.

The salt of her tears broke the kiss.

She looked away. “I don’t usually cry. Not ever. There’s no sense in it.”

Placing a finger against her cheek, he forced
her to look at him. “It’s a burden to always be strong,” he answered. He knew.

“You don’t seem to have a difficulty with it,” she countered.

Phillip almost laughed at the assumption. “Look at me, Charlotte. I am out of my element. If that letter is true, the fate of my brother has stripped me of all trappings. They mean nothing if he isn’t safe.”

Some of the tension left Charlotte at this confidence. Family meant all to both of them. “Why did you come alone? Why didn’t you bring an army?” she asked, the anger gone from her voice.

“I’m beginning to wonder that myself,” he answered, wondering why he was being so bloody honest. Charlotte Cameron had the uncanny ability to see through him. She could use this against him…and yet he didn’t believe she would.

Something lay between them. Something that had nothing to do with feuds, anger, or pride.

She attracted him with a force he’d never experienced for another woman. Not even Elizabeth.

Charlotte had slipped past his guard.

Tomorrow he’d worry.

Tonight, he wanted to make love to her again. He wanted to see if the fulfilling release he’d experienced in her arms was as powerful a second time as it had been the first. Perhaps not. Perhaps he would be free of her.

And if it was—? Phillip didn’t want to think beyond the moment. He scooped the wet, naked woman up in his arms and started back to the hayrick.

“I can walk,” she told him.

He silenced her with a kiss. He stood, holding her in his arms and kissing as if he’d steal her breath from her.

When at last the kiss ended, she didn’t argue. Instead, her arms came up around his neck. He could feel her watch him as he carried her to the hayrick. He understood her doubts. They both had everything at stake—and it was this thought, as he walked toward the hayrick, that finally pierced his conscience. Lust and desire could not supplant honor. The cost would be too high.

Sober now, he entered the hayrick and lowered her to his greatcoat. He reached for her coat as a blanket. Charlotte’s eyes were so huge they threatened to swallow her face.

“Don’t worry,” he told he quietly, torn between a desire to make love to her and an understanding that they had already gone too far. “I’m not going to take advantage of you. I’ve come to my senses. I’m not a complete bastard, Charl—”

His declaration was cut off as she rose, pulled him down to her, and kissed him with everything she was worth.

Any thought of being noble fled Phillip’s mind. Instead, he kissed her back with all the passion of his being.

Their bodies melded together. He didn’t even remove his breeches. It was all he could do to unbutton them. Her body, strong and resilient, met his thrust for thrust. He went hard and deep, finding his pleasure in hers.

What was more amazing, was that this time, his release was even more powerful than the last. He didn’t bother to hold back. He couldn’t.

It was as if he’d been destined for this woman. This was the way it was meant to be. He could no more have reined in his drive than he could have harnessed the moon.

Afterward, spent, Phillip held her in his arms, her coat covering them. For once, life made sense.

Her hair was still damp from the freshwater stream. Tired, sated, unspeakably content, he curled a lock of it around his finger.

Charlotte was the first to break the silence. “Is it always like that?” she asked, her voice lazy with sleepiness.

“It’s never been like that,” Phillip said honestly.

She lifted her head, her palm flat against his chest. “Truly?”

He smoothed her hair back before saying, “Making love to you is like touching the hand of God.”

She laughed, pleased but not quite believing him. It didn’t matter. Her long lashes brushed his skin as she closed her eyes.

Phillip buttoned his breeches, holding her close. He thought her asleep, but then she asked, “What
does
happen if your brother lives?”

BOOK: In the Bed of a Duke
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