Four Nights With the Duke

By: Eloisa James

“Befoul?” She stopped struggling to free herself and stared up at him with an absurd air of innocence.

“Taint my blood,” he said, wanting to hurt her. “I think anyone would agree that children of your family will sully the ducal line. My father expected me to marry into the best of families, Miss Carrington. Your father was not ennobled by his association with my mother. Quite the opposite.”

She glared at him. “May I remind you that you’re talking about sullying a ducal line headed by a madman and—” She stopped.

“A what?” he said, his voice dangerously low. “By what word would you characterize my mother?”

“We should not be having this discussion, Your Grace.”

This time he snatched both of her hands and reeled her close to him before she could do more than gasp. “I think the word you were looking for is whore.”

“I wasn’t, and you should not speak about your mother that way,” she cried. “What’s more, you shouldn’t even speak that word in my presence!”

Vander’s grip tightened. “You don’t make an outcry when I curse, yet I say the word ‘whore’ and you squeal like an insulted nun? Who are you, really, Mia Carrington?”

“I’m all those things you’ve called me, Your Grace,” she said steadily. “A wallflower, an old maid, a charity case. A desperate woman in need of a husband.”

“A husband?” He looked her up and down. “In your bed? Is that what this is about?”

Red flashed through her cheeks. So that was it. She still lusted after him, which should make him laugh. But this close, he could feel the warmth coming from her lush little body.

He didn’t want to look at her eyes; they made him feel odd, unbalanced. With one swift movement, he turned her about so that she was snug against his front, his arms crossed over her chest.

She fit in the circle of his arms perfectly, so perfectly that he pulled her even closer, before he realized what he was doing.

“Do you imagine that you and I will have the sort of relationship that our parents had?” he asked. He spread his right hand over her stomach, pulling her tightly against him so that she could not mistake the reaction of his body to hers. He was still hard as a rock and had been since he loomed over her in the chair.

She was no lady, and he refused to do her the courtesy of treating her like one. What he wanted to do was act like a man who had never heard of civilized society: bend her over that chair and take her.

“Let me go!” she demanded. He heard no fear in her voice, so he ignored her protest.

“If I want a whore, I pay for her,” he said, thrusting forward with his hips in a rough motion that she could not mistake. “I don’t marry the woman. Your father didn’t bother with such formalities, so why should you?”

She didn’t respond other than continuing to struggle to pull away, her head bent forward and her hair falling from its pins. Vander had a discomforting feeling that perhaps he was the one more affected by their position. For some damn reason, her body was practically burning him, and he felt as if he were surrounded by her soft elusive scent.

He had never felt like this: dizzy with raw lust, hungry to take her and prove—

With an oath, he released her and backed away, as if that would save him from the hunger that had him wanting to throw her on a bed, any bed, and tuck her body beneath his own.

She turned around slowly. Pale gold ribbons of hair fell around her neck and curled against the drab fabric of her gown. It sent another shock through him.

“Your mother was not a whore,” she repeated, as fierce as ever. “She was in love with my father. It’s not fair to brand her that way!”

“She may not have been, but her son will be. After all, you’re buying my services, are you not? The market price for one duke, in fairly good physical condition, seems to be an incriminatory letter. Perhaps you should search your father’s belongings. Just think what you could do with two such letters. Two noblemen, in the same bed, at the same time.”

“That is a loathsome thing to say,” she said, her voice shaking for the first time.

He plowed his hands through his hair, frustration mixing with his lust. “I’ll give you a dowry, if that’s the problem.” He was grasping at straws, he knew. “I can make you rich enough that you can attract a man by conventional means. You needn’t do this, Miss Carrington. We can forget it ever happened.”

Her eyes narrowed at him, her chin back up in the air. “You think I couldn’t possibly attract a husband without a large dowry?”

Vander eyed her truly awful gown. “If you bought some reasonably fashionable frocks, I’m sure that you could find someone,” he offered. “Hell, I could help there too. I know several gentlemen who—”

“Who are desperate enough to marry someone like me if a duke paid them enough?” she cut in.

He eyed her, then shrugged.

She went stiff all over, like a Greek statue sculpted by the hand of a master. But she likely had a lushly feminine grace when unclothed, a figure that those stalk-thin Greek goddesses would envy. Put it together with lips of deep rose, and those eyes . . . she could certainly have a man at her feet. Maybe a whole crowd.

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