She didn’t seem to mind. An expression that looked a great deal like relief spread over her face and she looped her arms around his neck and tried to pull his mouth down to her lips.
James didn’t let her. Instead, he picked her up and half threw her onto the bed, then crawled on top of her, acutely conscious of his bulk and muscle looming over her. “I’m tattooed and scarred, and bigger than hell,” he reminded her, when she said nothing.
The smile that curled on her lips was pure greed. He felt a germ of hope. “I see that,” she purred. She gave up trying to pull his head to hers and ran her fingers up his arms instead.
“Are you afraid?”
She laughed, and something in his gut eased, but he had more to say.
“I don’t give a twopenny damn what you wear under your skirts, but if you wear drawers, I might rip them off you in the pantry. I want you so damn much right now that I feel as if I’ve lost my mind. I’ve never really wanted any woman but you.” He took a deep breath. “My mistresses were just signs of how dead I was. Dead to you, dead to the world. Dead to myself.”
Her eyes softened, and she cupped his cheek with her hand. “You’re back now.”
“I am. I’m back. But I didn’t come back a lapdog, Daisy. I can’t pretend to be some sort of lily-livered, bloodless version of myself anymore. I can’t be Trevelyan.”
“I don’t want you to be.”
“I need you to come back, too.” He had to be very clear about this. Everything depended on it.
Her brows drew together.
“I need you to find the courage you had when you were my Daisy.” He chose his words as precisely as he could. “I died to myself—and to you—for a few years, but part of you died as well. You won’t allow yourself to feel joy.”
“I feel joy,” she objected. “At times.”
“Life is messy. It’s messy and smelly and embarrassing. And desire is messy and smelly and embarrassing, too. There is nothing about your body that is distasteful to me. And I don’t give a damn what society thinks we should or shouldn’t be doing in our marriage bed.”
Her lips were trembling, and he didn’t know whether that was bad or good, but he kept going. “You can make love to me any way you please, and I will never, ever deny you. For my part, I want to kiss you everywhere. I always did, and it hasn’t gone away. It’s even stronger. We’ll be at dinner with the Regent himself, and I’m going to be looking at you and planning where and how I will kiss you.”
Her eyes shone with tears.
“Here,” he said, running a finger over her lower lip. “Here.” He shifted to the side and wrapped a possessive hand about one of her breasts. It plumped in his hand and a little sound broke from his lips. But he wasn’t finished. “Here.” Holding her gaze, he ran his fingers, fast and rough, over her belly and into the little tuft of amber hair between her legs. She was wet and warm and open.
But he didn’t stop.
“Here,” he said, his fingers sliding back to caress the most private place of all.
She gasped, but he could see a faint shadow of pleasure on her face even as she squirmed away from his touch.
“There is no place on your body that I don’t want to kiss, Daisy. That I don’t lust after. Because this is the most beautiful breast in the world.” He bent his head and gave her nipple a kiss and a warm lick. “And this is the most— ”
He started to head south, but she was laughing through her tears, and she pulled him back up.
But he wasn’t finished, still wasn’t finished. “I’ll kiss you in the Regent’s own dining room if you’ll let me. You’re the only one for me. I came back from the dead for you, Daisy. Twice.”
“I’m so glad you came back for me,” she whispered. A tear like liquid crystal ran down her cheek and disappeared into her hair.
“I never should have left you.”
More tears. He caressed her wet cheek with his thumb, pulling her tight against his chest.
“I love you,” he said, telling her hair because she had buried her face against him. “You haven’t told me the same,” he continued, “so I’ll say it for you. You love me too.” Then, because there are limits to how long even the most self-collected man can wait, and because he had reached his furthest limit, he reared over her, and said, “I shall now have my way with my duchess. Speak now, or hereafter hold your peace.”
He saw a kindling of pleasure in her eyes, which he took as her reply, so he pushed her knees farther apart and thrust.
She arched against him with a gasp, hands clenched on his forearms. “Again, please, James. Please.”
He gave her one more.
“Oh, that feels so good!”
He took a deep breath and fought for control. “I cannot be a proper gentleman all the time,” he growled, needing to make one last point. “I’m not tame like that. I can’t be tamed like that. I felt like an ass trying to be amused all the time, the way Trevelyan is.” His jaw clenched even saying the name.
Theo looked up at her husband and felt as if her heart was going to burst. James wasn’t at all like Geoffrey, but powerful and fierce and domineering. He had a tattoo under one eye, and he would never be at home in a drawing room. He was disorganized and untidy, and he threw newspapers on the floor. He wasn’t much good at making beds. He would always make fun of her Rules, even as he respected her. He meant to kiss her in all the wrong places.
He would not be delicate or, sometimes, even courteous.
Sure enough, at that moment he grabbed her hips and thrust forward deep and hard.
Her scream came from somewhere so hidden within her body that she hadn’t known it existed. His only response was to bend down, his nose to hers, and declare, “I have my cock buried in you, Daisy. That’s a word ladies don’t like, but you like it. Don’t you?”
Theo nodded. And then he flexed his hips, again.
She did. Scream again.
“This is not amorous congress or carnal intercourse,” James told her, his jaw clenched as he fought to regain control (though he never quite did). “This is the Act of Shame. And. We. Are. Not. Ashamed.”
After that the duke proceeded to demonstrate for his duchess almost all of the terms he knew for the sport of Venus. He was a pirate. He knew a lot.
That night, they pounded the bed and danced in the sheets. They boffed and boinked and did the dirty deed. After a while they started making up their own descriptions for the sweaty, messy, joyful games they were playing.
Her Grace proved to have a knack for coming up with phrases all of her own, and they played the blanket hornpipe until they collapsed. The sheet had long ago migrated to the floor, but neither noticed.
They each did each other personal services of one kind or another, taking turns gulping air, crying out, and losing control, utterly. Sometimes they did it at the same moment.
As it turned out, the Duke and Duchess of Ashbrook did not leave that bedchamber for four days. They spent a good deal of their time in the bed. But they also made love in the bathtub, on the little stool, and on the floor.
One morning a chambermaid almost caught her master and mistress making love when she came to light the fire; His Grace threw a sheet over his wife, who was giggling so uncontrollably that the whole bed shook.