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HIS STAND-IN BRIDE By: Michelle Styles

Chapter One
Print this Page Spring 1813Ladywell, the Tyne Valley The impatient male voice with the slightest coating of gentility cut through Lady Anne Dunstan's carefully prepared greeting. "You wished to see me? Less than two hours before the wedding? Why? What is this matter of the utmost urgency?" "My sisterthat is" Anne tightened her grip on her black beaded reticule and kept her gaze on Jason Martell's immaculately manicured hands rather than on his longer-than-strictly-respectable hair or his full lips. Her sister was correct. The man was barely a gentleman. This was far harder than she'd first considered, confronting him, being the bearer of bad tidings. But someone had to explain. Her stepmother had taken to her bed; her father was close to apoplexy and incapable of coherent thoughtlet alone speechand her sister, the cause of this debacle, was far away, presumably safe in the arms of the man she loved. So Anne was the only one left. She knew it was the right and proper thing to do, even if she wished she wasn't the person to have to do it. How did one explain thesituationat this hour in the morning in a man's library? Particularly to someone like Jason Martell, a man not known for his forgiving nature?

He'd built his fortune from nothing to become one of the wealthiest figures in Northumberland, rivaling even the Earl of Strathmore. An imminent knighthood was rumored. The match between her sister and Mr. Martell was to have been the crown jewel in his quest for society's acceptance, or so her stepmother had confided. But now Anne worried a bit of lace on her glove. "That is to say Cressida asked me" she began again. "Your sister Cressida, my bride." He gave an impatient wave of his hand which only served to emphasize the broadness of his shoulders. "I'm making you nervous. I regret that we have not spoken properly before, Lady Anne. There will be time after the ceremony. Whatever trifle" "That is the problem. There will be no marriage today," Anne said quickly before her legs gave way. "Or ever." Anne watched the color completely drain from his face. And despite Cressy's confidences about his indifference towards her as a person, it was clear the news was a blow. But before she could draw a breath, he recovered and Anne wondered if she'd imagined it. "Shouldn't your sister be here telling me?" The low growl rippled over Anne's strained nerves. "Am I not to be given the courtesy of hearing it from her lips?" "She's not here. She'saway." Anne caught her upper lip between her teeth and hoped. "I see." He tapped his long fingers on the desk and leaned forward, looming over her. "Your sister has suddenly departed on the day of our wedding. Do you know the reason, or am I supposed to guess?" "She eloped with Lord Hazelton's younger son in the early hours of this morning. They're in love," she babbled, wincing as she heard the words tumble out of her mouth. The news had emerged far more starkly than she'd practiced in the governess's cart.

"Eloped? With Hazelton's son? That fragrant fop?" "It is true love," Anne said indignantly, getting a hold of herself and stiffening her resolve. She held out the crumpled note. Hazelton might not be as wealthy as Mr. Martell but she'd seen the pair together and knew that he worshipped the ground on which Cressy trod. Who was this man to make judgments? "Cressy wrote a letter explaining everything, but I thought it best to deliver the message in person. You deserved to hear it from one of the family. This is the note she left for me to find. You can read it, if you like." He waved the paper away. "Why? It is not addressed to me." "Because I feel it necessary." Anne pushed her spectacles farther up her nose and resisted the urge to tug at the Elizabethan ruff of her made-over gown. The infuriating man. She understood completely why Cressy hadn't wanted to marry him. The only mystery was why she'd agreed to it in the first place, and why her father had been so obstinate that the match must go ahead. "It was the only polite thing to do." "Politeness has no place in this." "It has every place," Anne retorted tartly. "Without politeness and propriety civilization ceases." "Lady Anne, the church is being prepared as we speak. The guests will arrive in mere hours. Surely your family knew about thisdefection earlier. Someone must have had an inkling. And yet I was left hanging on. Did you think I am a fool? A piece of rubbish to be used and discarded at will once the true quarry was brought up to snuff? Where is the propriety in that?" Anne closed her eyes, wishing she were better at these things. She'd put it wrong. The pit in her stomach grew. The situation was partly her fault. When Anne had returned from visiting their great-aunt in Cumberland, it was

obvious that Cressy was in love. Anne had seen how Cressy spoke about Benedict Hazelton, how her eyes had shone and how she despaired at their father's stubbornness that she must wed Martell. Anne couldn't bear the thought of Cressy being forced to marry someone she hadn't chosen. So she'd urged her sister to do the right thingelope. After a while, everyone would see that Cressy had taken the only action she could. But in the meantime, it was up to Anne to manage whatever small contretemps arose. "My father and stepmother knew nothing of her plans, and I only discovered the letter this morning. Cressida left sometime in the early hours when everyone else was asleep." "She and her lover will be well on their way to Gretna Green or wherever he plans to take her. With a pair of swift horses they might even be married before they are apprehended," he said, glaring at her. "Yes. No. I've never eloped." Anne hated the way her insides squirmed under his penetrating gaze. "It would have been wrong for her to marry you when her heart belonged to another." "The state of your sister's heart is no concern of mine." A sardonic smile played on his lips. "Neither of us ever pretended that it was a love match. It suited us both. Suddenly it doesn't suit her. Pity." Arrogant. Insufferable. Devoid of all sensibilities. The man was far worse than Cressy described. Anne tilted her chin upwards to show he didn't intimidate her. "I must say that I fail to understand why Cressy agreed to marry you." "Perhaps she liked the idea of being married to a wealthy man. Or perhaps she thought I would fulfill her needs in bed." He leaned farther forward and purred, "Some people enjoy the physical side of marriage contrary to what a spinster might think."

Anne held her reticule in front of her like a shield. Physical side of marriage! What sort of man mentioned such a thing to a well-bred lady? Was it any wonder that Cressy feared his touch and preferred Hazelton's poetry? "A person should be allowed to change their mind before marriage. To make her own choices." His eyes took on an unholy gleam. "Ah, I understand now. I'm very sorry, Lady Anne, but somehow I can't see your sister acting on her own. The last time we spoke, her prattle was all of parties, costumes and carriages. I believe you encouraged her in this folly. You're the one to blame." Anne twisted the strap of the reticule, suddenly feeling like a rabbit confronting a hungry fox. But she refused to back down, not on this issue. "Yes, I did. Better a few moments of embarrassment than a lifetime of regret. Cressy wanted to call off the engagement weeks ago but lacked the courage." "Something you possess in abundance. For you have bearded the uncouth upstart in his den. I know what you and your family think of me." He gave a bitter laugh. "You needn't spell it out, Lady Anne. It shows on your face." Anne straightened her shoulders and glared at the man's powerful features. "Marriage should be more than a cold-blooded business arrangement. There must be mutual understanding and respecta partnership of equals that leads to love. That's what makes for a happy union. Cressy was right to make her own decision and marry the man she adores." Her voice gained strength with each word. This might not be the best time or place to take a stand, but she believed in a woman's right to have her own mind. Clearly he didn't. She pitied him for that. He snorted. "The idealism of the never wed. I doubt such a thing as love exists. Will you ever meet a man who matches your exacting standards?"

Anne ground her teeth, hating the sense that somehow she'd blundered into the wolf's lair. But she reminded herself that she could now leave anytime she wanted. She'd said her piece. All that remained was to exit gracefully rather than sink to his level of name-calling and accusation. She was in the right and she'd do it again. "Our business has concluded. I shall bid you adieu, sir." Before she could move, he walked over to the door, closed it with a click and pocketed the key. His tawny eyes gleamed with an unsettling light. "Our business, Lady Anne, has barely begun." Chapter Two Print this Page Anne fought a wave of panic as Jason Martell closed and locked the door. "I've delivered my message, Mr. Martell. Kindly open the door. Our acquaintance is at an end." Jason Martell reined in his temper with the last shards of his selfrestraint. Who was this badly-dressed dowd in her spectacles to make demands on him, let alone lecture him on the institution of marriage? He doubted if she'd ever been kissed, much less been asked for her hand in marriage. She'd waltzed in here, informed him that his fiance had eloped with another man and now expected him to thank her for ruining his carefully laid plans. All because of her devotion to a woman's right to choose her husband! "I'll let you go when I have finished and not before," he replied. "Your interference has cost me my intended bride and you think you can saunter out of my study with no consequences for wrecking my future?"

"With each passing breath, my happiness that my sister eloped grows," Lady Anne proclaimed with an impudent toss of her auburn curls. "No woman should be married to such an impossible man! It's simply not done to close a door and lock it with a lady inside. The servants will talk. But what would you know about such notions of propriety where you have come from?" "You mean the gutter? Others have remarked on it," Jason said between gritted teeth. "I know what I am and when my parents married." She was silent for a heartbeat. "Your parents should've taught you the fundamentals of gentility." "You, Lady Anne, were born to be an interfering spinster." "There are certain benefits to spinsterhoodlike speaking my mind and not having to put up with overbearing ogres, wherever they happen to be from." She made an irritated noise and pushed her ill-fitting spectacles back up her nose. "Allow me speak plainly. You never pretended to love my sister. All you feel at this moment is hurt pride. Such things heal quickly. You'll find another. I profoundly regret that this happened on the day of your wedding, but Cressy only discovered the courage to follow her heart last night." Though he hated to admit it, she was right. Jason had found Cressida Dunstan an insipid, vacuous blonde, but she possessed the correct pedigree and social graces to be the wife he required for his ambitions. Lord Dunstan losing badly to him at cards had prompted the match. Still, if Cressida had approached him before and indicated her opposition, he'd have agreed to different terms for settling Dunstan's considerable debt. Instead, hours before the wedding, the Dunstans, led by this woman, were attempting to cheat. No one cheated him, particularly not someone like this long-on-the-shelf spinster with her forthright views and bad taste in clothes.

He narrowed his gaze, taking in her pale yellow gown with its Elizabethan ruffle. Would anyone who was connected to Lady Dunstan dress in such an unfashionable manner? Or was this some sort of disguise? Some kind of an elaborate hoax designed to baffle the ignorant peasant? "Your sister left it too late," he declared. "She should have kept her word." "I beg to differ, sir. Cressy followed her heart, as all women should in matters of matrimony and elsewhere." Her green eyes sparkled and a flush came to her cheeks, transforming her sallow complexion. The woman possessed a temper. Jason smiled inwardly. His hunch had merit. "Should they? You believe that true love is possible?" he asked blandly, baiting the trap. "True love is a rare and wonderful thing. Something to be embraced. Cressy is to be applauded for what she did. She made the correct choice given the circumstances." "You are in favor of this runaway match? No matter the consequences?" "Yes, I am." She crossed her arms, and the movement served to highlight the fullness of her breasts. He fought the temptation to laugh. Her figure was much better than it seemed at first glance. "Better to correct a mistake now than to spend a lifetime regretting what might have been," she added. "And your father. Does he agree, or has he set out in hot pursuit?"

"My father?" She worried the button of her kid glove. "He is beside himself with rage. My stepmother has taken a sedative." "Ah, so he doesn't go after the wayward daughter. No one does. Odd that." He moved a step closer to the woman. "And who took responsibility?" Her defiant gaze met his as her spectacles once again trembled on the tip of her nose. "Someone had to be practical." "And that someone was you?" He leaned forward and plucked the spectacles from her face. Instantly her stunning eyes were revealed. This close, he could see a latent passion in her bow-shaped mouth that he'd overlooked before. "What do you think you are doing, sir?" "An experiment. A most enlightening experiment." "Kindly return my spectacles." She tapped her slipper against the carpet and held out a slender hand. "I'm blind without them." He placed them in her outstretched fingers. She quickly shoved them onto her face. "What did you hope to prove with that stunt, Mr. Martell?" "Is your dress new?" Her hands tugged at the ruff. "I regret it's not up-to-the-minute, but once I discovered Cressy's note, my sole thought was to apprise you of the situation as soon as possible." "And your choice wasn't a deliberate attempt to make yourself repulsive?" Jason counted to ten. Would she admit she heard of his reputation and had sought to make herself unattractive to him? "No," she whispered finally. "It was the first one to hand."

"Did you know that I had an agreement with your father?" "My sister is a person, not a mantua maker's doll. She should live her life as she desires. With the man she loves." "Just as you are a person." "What I am doesn't come into it." Her neat white teeth worried her bottom lip, turning it the color of strawberries. "We're discussing Cressy's right to be with the man she loves." "I could sue Hazelton for alienation of affection. He seduced an affianced woman." "You're bluffing," she retorted far too quickly. "You wouldn't want the scandal of appearing to be a jilted lover." "You seem to have thought the matter over in great detail." "Someone had to." Her clear voice hesitated slightly. "I mean, after Cressy left. I wanted to put the case dispassionately and rationally so you'd understand." "So you had time to consider the situation rationally and logically but you chose to dress in the first rag that came to hand." "That's right." She inclined her head slightly, unsure of where he was going with his line of questioning. Jason smiled inwardly, beginning to enjoy himself. Lady Anne would learn that it did not pay to deceive him. "What shall be done about the wedding?" "The wedding?" she stammered slightly. "Someone will have to tell the guests," he said, watching her every breath.

"I had rather thought you would. My fatherI'm afraidhe's incapable of speech. All it will take is a few words of regret. People will understand. It'll be a ten-day wonder. No one will suffer any lasting harm. Eventually you'll discover the right woman to be your bride." "Impossible." He allowed his gaze to travel over her form, taking in the lush curves that she tried to hide behind the shapeless clothes. In a different color, a better-styled dress and without her spectacles, Lady Anne Dunstan would be breathtaking. And she certainly had spirit. There was a certain poetic justice to the scheme forming in his brain. "Why is it impossible?" she asked. "The church is hired. The guests are on their way. There will be a wedding today, Lady Anne. A grand and glorious wedding. One which the Tyne Valley will discuss for years to come." Her strawberry-red lips turned up in a disbelieving smile. "Who will be the bride in this marriage of yours?" "You." Chapter Three Print this Page "That is a very poor joke, Mr. Martell. Marry you today? Indeed." Anne gulped a breath of life-giving air. Surely he couldn't be planning on marrying her. Today. He only wanted to make the point that he was furious about her part in Cressy's elopement. She wasn't the sort of woman that men asked to marry. Her London Season had proved that. Her stepmother reminded her on numerous occasions of the disastrous time she'd had in London.

After the Season had finished, she'd fled north and devoted herself to looking after the family's interests. She'd enjoyed the tiny measure of independence it gave her. "What do you hope to gain by this jape? My collapsing in a faint?" She put a hand on her hip. "I must warn you, sir, I never faint." "Do I look like I'm joking?" he purred, his tawny eyes becoming hooded. "I'd never joke about such a matter. Would you, Lady Anne? Maybe Cressida's elopement was the jest?" "That is real, but your solution is nonsense." He stroked his chin with his hand. "Why? What is wrong with marrying you?" "You can't simply substitute one bride for another on the wedding day. Brides aren't interchangeable cogs in a machine," she said, shocked. Anne gave a vague wave of her hand as she tried to marshal her arguments. "Certain procedures and protocols have to be followed. What you suggest is impossible." "Improbable, maybe, but nothing is impossible if one has money and connections, Lady Anne." He made an ironic bow. "The Bishop of Durham was to perform the ceremony. It is a straightforward matter for the bishop to change the name on the license. The settlement with your father is already agreed." Anne wet her lips. He was serious. Actually serious. "There's more to a marriage than a name on a piece of paper." "I agree. And it would be a real marriage, Lady Anne. Not one in name only. You must see that it is the perfect solution to the conundrum that currently troubles us." Anne tried to think clearly as he took a step closer, narrowing the space between them. She noticed as he came nearer how his shoulders seemed

to be too broad for his frock coat and how his breeches fit his form. There were so many reasons why this was total nonsense. He could have his pick of women. Why would he want a dried-up spinster like her? "It'll be a scandal," she said, dragging her mind away from the shape of his muscular calves. "Nobody wants to be the subject of rumor, particularly not me." "The scandal has already happened. I'd prefer people talk about a sudden bride switch than label me a jilted lover." His gaze was uncompromising. "But why do you want to marry me? We hardly know each other." He stopped, looking her up and down. Anne felt as if she were some prize goose at the Christmas fair. Suddenly she was aware of the ugliness of her gown and the unfashionable way her hair was dressed, not to mention how her spectacles kept sliding down her nose. They'd needed an adjustment after Mrs. Foster's baby snatched them from her face yesterday, but she hadn't had the time. "I must wed at some point," he said finally. "Your father offered one of his daughters as payment for his gaming debt. If we marry, everyone is happy." Everyone except her. Anne's heart sank at his cold words. What had she expected? That he'd seen her and fallen madly in love? That only happened in novels. "And one daughter of an aristocrat is the same as another." "You said it, not I." He gave an insolent shrug. "I wanted the land adjoining mine for a new wagon-way to the Tyne. It seemed like the perfect opportunity when your father lost heavily at our card game. The debt was rather more than the land is worth." "You bought Cressy?"

"It was a gentleman's agreement between me and your father. But now that she has decided against the match, that agreement is null and void. So, can your father pay his debt in full?" He named a large figure. Anne forced her back to remain straight even though her knees threatened to give way. She wanted to murder her father. They would have to sell everything that was not in the entail and they still wouldn't meet the sum. Then there were the other debts. Was it any wonder that she'd begged him to stop spending hours at the gaming table and to start making economies? "Could you have paid that amount if you'd lost?" "I didn't lose. I won." A slow smile crossed his face, highlighting the planes of his face. "I never wager more than I am prepared to losea policy that has served me well." "And one my father could learn?" "I believe, Lady Anne, you will make an adequate wife. Besides, am I safe in assuming you've few other realistic prospects?" An adequate wife? Few other prospects? Anne balled her fists and longed to hit him. Did he think that she was so desperate for a husband, so spineless that she'd go along with his wishes and meekly take Cressy's place in the ceremony? She advanced toward him. "Show me the paper. Show me that my father owes you that much money." He reached into his desk and withdrew a stack of paper, thrusting it under her nose. Instantly, Anne recognized her father's bold scroll and she saw what he'd wagered. It would bankrupt her family if they were forced to pay his debt. So her father had sold Cressy to this man. No, he'd sold one of his daughters. The debt could still be paid. The irony of the situation slammed into Anne. In urging Cressy to follow her heart and elope, she

who championed a woman's right to choose as her creed was left with no choice at all. "But will we suit?" she asked around the lump in her throat. He leaned toward her, his warm breath fanning her cheek. "Shall I demonstrate?" Before she had a chance to retreat, he pulled her in his arms and his lips expertly plundered her mouth. Deep within her, a fire grew, licked at her insides. But just as quickly, he released her, looked at her critically and readjusted her spectacles. She stumbled away from him. Her fingers explored her aching lips. Every particle of her tingled and suddenly the world was bathed in brilliant hues. Once Sir Cuthbert Biddlestone had given her an unaskedfor kiss under the mistletoe. But that had been nothing like this meeting of lips that set her senses ablaze. "Do we have a bargain, Lady Anne? Will you save your family or will you condemn them to penury? Will you compound your sister's error?" He snapped his fingers. "Your family's future hangs on your decision." Anne concentrated on slowing her breathing. That man knew precisely what he'd done to her, and how he'd sent her reeling. Everything about him breathed practiced sensuality. She hated him and his knowing expression. She wanted to storm out and never encounter him again. Her hand brushed her father's scrawled signature. If she turned Martell down they'd all be ruined. She'd always been the responsible one. She'd given her dying mother her word that she'd look after her father and her newborn sister. And she had. Always. She had no choice but to marry him.

Fury filled her. She'd only had this one tiny piece of independence, and now she'd been manipulated into giving that up. No, been kissed into it. "Have you no shame?" she bit out. "Do you think it pleasant sport to bait me in this fashion? Just make love to the spinster and she'll agree to anything. Is that how you saw it?" "No one is forcing you, Lady Anne. We simply shared a kiss." His full lips slowly turned upwards. "I merely point out the consequencesand the rewards." She screwed up her eyes tight and attempted to regain control of her emotions. Failed. She counted to ten and banished all consideration of sensual rewards. "Very well, Mr. Martell." Her voice shook with barely controlled fury. "I will marry youfor the sake of my family's honorbut only for that reason." Chapter Four Print this Page "You came up with the perfect solution, daughter," her father said as they waited for the wedding procession to begin. "You saved the family. I always knew Martell had the bishop in his pocket. I doubt anyone else could have arranged a license as swiftly." "Did Cressy know about your arrangement? About how she was sold to pay your gaming debt?" Her father refused to meet her eye, opting instead to wipe his forehead with a brightly colored handkerchief. "I told her some of it." Anne gripped her bouquet tighter as all the air seemed to be squeezed from her lungs. So Cressy had known but she had neglected to say anything to Anne about the true reason for the proposed marriage with

Jason Martell. She was probably afraid that Anne would have refused to give her support to the elopement. Logically, she understood that reasoning, but it didn't do anything to lessen her fury. She'd blundered right into Jason Martell's trap. "Why didn't you tell me about the debt when I returned from Aunt Mary's?" she asked, fixing her father with a hard stare. "Why did you allow me to go to see Mr. Martell without being given the whole story?" He gave a long, drawn-out sigh. "There was no need to worry you But then Cressy met Hazelton and everything changed. Your stepmother and I hoped she'd see sense." "Did you know she'd elope?" Anne asked quietly. "Cressy has her own mind, like you do." "That is not an answer, Papa." Anne caught his arm. Fury coursed through her veins. Even now, at the church door, her father was attempting to defend the indefensible. And her stepmother had simply taken to her bed with a sick headache. "I deserved an explanation. If you had said something sooner, this entire debacle could have been avoided." "I was ashamed. Utterly ashamed." He clapped his hand against his breast and tears came to his eyes. Anne could see the signs of overindulgence around his puffy jaw, and in how his hands had become soft. "I am truly fortunate to have such a daughter who would save me in this fashion." "The choice was taken from me." Anne concentrated on the wooden knots in the church's oaken door. It hurt that her father thought so little of her that he hadn't bothered to confide in her. And he was perfectly prepared to use her as a sacrificial lamb to preserve his lifestyle. She'd spent years making sure the house ran smoothly and within budget. And for what? "I'd no wish to see you in a debtor's prison." "Your mother"

"My mother would have understood." Her hand brushed her mother's pearl ear bobs, and Anne remembered her mother's last sweet smile. "Family comes first. But she'd also have told me the truth from the start. She'd have trusted me to make the right decision." He nodded, his eyes diverted. "The dress suits you, Anne." "It is passable." The style was not what she would have chosen, but it was better than the yellow morning gown she'd been wearing earlier. Luckily, Cressida was only a bit smaller than her, and the wedding dress fit if she didn't breathe too deeply or make any sudden moves with her arms. The lace overskirt reached the top of her ankles and her bosom seemed larger. Barely respectable. A bit like the wedding. The church's organ played a thundering chord. "The ceremony is starting, Father. We go in with our heads held high." He smiled, taking her arm as the doors opened. Her breath caught in her throat. Jason stood in front of the altar with the light from the stained glass windows streaming down on him. The untamed quality of his hair and face contrasted with the severity of his morning clothes. His bow-shaped mouth quirked upwards as he caught sight of her. A ripple of whispers went through the congregation as she walked down the aisle instead of Cressy. She tried to keep her head held high and ignore them. How much had they guessed about the wedding? How would the gossip explain this? She hated being the object of all the attention. This was worse than when she'd appeared in Queen Charlotte's drawing room to be presented. Her footsteps faltered and she leaned heavily on her father's arm as she missed her step.

"Anne, if you change your mind, give me a signal and I will say somethingfor your mother's sake." A lump rose in her throat. "Piecrust promise, Papa. Easily made, easily broken. I have given my word, which is worth something more than yours." "It is your choice." "I know." Anne's voice caught on the final word. She didn't look back as her father took his place in the pew. "Turn toward the altar. Pretend the wedding guests are not there." Jason's voice rumbled in her ear as she reached him. His hand closed around hers. A tiny tremor went through her. He understood her fear of being the center of attention. She gave the barest of nods. "Thank you." "You're wearing your spectacles," Jason said in an undertone. "Without my spectacles, I can barely see my hand in front of my face. Having the bride fall down in the aisle would not be a good idea." She gave a hiccupping laugh, grateful that she could talk about something other than how people were staring at them. "I'd thought they were a disguise. My mistake." "What other mistakes have you made today?" A muscle jumped in his cheek. "This was forced on me as well. I have no wish to become a laughingstock. Nobody cheats me." Anne pressed her lips together. She hadn't been told about her father's debt to Martell, but her father and stepmother had known. They'd understood full well what would happen when they'd encouraged Cressy

in her infatuation with Hazelton. And how Martell would react when Anne told him about Cressy eloping. They'd used her as well. She was through with being used. "I've never cheated. I take my vows seriously, Mr. Martell," she said between gritted teeth. "Just as I take my duty to my family seriously." He raised her hand to his lips. His breath tickled the bare gap where she'd forgotten to fasten the last pearl button. A warm curl wound its way around her insides. Her lips ached for his touch. "As do I," he murmured. "People are speculating," she whispered, longing to snatch her hand away. "Shall we start or are we going to stand here forever?" Jason turned firmly toward the bishop, ending the conversation. When the bishop asked if anyone knew of any impediments, the world seemed to slow. Anne stayed completely rigid as the church went silent, waiting. It seemed like a lifetime before the bishop continued on. The remainder of the ceremony passed in a blur, but finally the bishop proclaimed them man and wife and Jason took her in his arms and pulled her toward him. "Let's give them something to really talk about. Shall we put the seal on the scandal?" He lowered his mouth. Under the gentle persuasion of his lips, her mouth opened and she tasted the cool interior of his. Her knees threatened to give way. To prevent herself from falling she looped her arms about his neck. Immediately his arms tightened, molding her form to his hard muscles.

A long sigh went around the congregation. Anne jumped backwards. Horrified pleasure surged through her. Her hand explored her mouth. She couldn't be attracted to such a man, could she? Chapter Five Print this Page "Where is Cressida, Anne?" Mrs. Sarsfield caught Anne's arm as she went to check on how the servants were coping with the crush of people at the wedding breakfast. "I know that I sometimes get things mixed up, but I could have sworn the invitation said Cressida was to marry Mr. Martell." Anne stared at the elderly lady. She was the first one to give voice to the situation. Everyone else had merely congratulated her. Some more enthusiastically than others. "Cressy's not here." "I realize that, dear. I've looked for her and your stepmother everywhere. About you and Mr. Martell" "It's a love match," Anne began, then stopped, horrified at her words. She'd nearly blurted out about Cressy's elopement. "Between Mr. Martell and me, I mean. One of those coup de foudre that one reads about in novels. We saw each other and knew." It wasn't quite a lie, but not the unvarnished truth, either. Her cheeks burnt. She'd never intentionally misled the elderly lady before. "You knew?" Mrs. Sarsfield's gaze narrowed. "Yes, there does seem to be a certain glow about you." "Indeed. We tried to be honorable and deny it, but we were caught" Her mind searched for a suitable place to be swept off one's feet as she warmed to the theme. Jason might not believe in love but it was the

perfect excuse. And he'd started it, kissing her like that in front of everyone at the wedding. She'd finish it. "In the summer house. We were both smitten as soon as we saw each other." "You and Mr. Martell?" Mrs. Sarsfield squeaked. Anne hung her head. "I'd gone to show him the murals that Diana Clare had done for my stepmother andone thing led to another. Once our hands touched, we knew." Mrs. Sarsfield smacked her lips loudly several times before a satisfied smile crossed her face. "My daughter-in-law will never believe me. Not in a thousand years." "Sometimes you need to follow your heart. Cressy understood. And she agreed. But you will keep quiet about the reason, dear Mrs. Sarsfield, won't you? It isembarrassing." "You can trust me, my dear. I'll only tell my daughter, and she never believes a word I say." The elderly lady hurried away. Anne gave a satisfied nod. Mrs. Sarsfield would spread that little tale and Anne wouldn't have to answer any more difficult questions. She was proud of her inventiveness, but it was too close. She stumbled over to the little alcove by the drawing room fire to sit down and regain control of her nerves for a few minutes. "Hiding? I've been searching for you everywhere. A rumor is flying around the wedding breakfast." Jason stormed into the alcove, his eyes blazing and his jaw clenched. "A rumor? About the wedding breakfast? Was something off?" Anne tried for an innocent expression.

"Something about you and me and a love match. A coup de foudre, of all things." Jason made a disgusted noise. "How did this start?" "It was the only explanation I could think of when Mrs. Sarsfield cornered me. Besides, what is so preposterous about it?" She tilted her chin upward to show that his fury didn't intimidate her. "It could have happened." "Except it didn't." "In novels, women are always being ruined in summer houses. It was the first thing that popped into my head." "Was it indeed?" Jason's rich voice tickled her ear as his hand went about her waist, pulling her close. She tried to ignore his proximity. "I was hardly going to confess about Cressy's elopement. I kept as close to the truth as I could. I simply said that as soon as we touched we knew," she said, pushing his hand away. She refused to become some lovesick fool merely because they'd shared a few meaningless kisses. "The summer house?" The corners of his mouth twitched and he recaptured her waist. "I'd hope any summer-house seduction would remain a private matter. Shall we try it sometime, wife? Now that I know you have a longing for such things?" Anne twisted away from Jason, but the image of them twined together in a summer house seemed to have implanted itself on her brain. She cleared her throat and forced her mind away from something less unlikely. "You're right, I should have chosen a different excuse." She paused, horrified, realizing the implications of the story she'd created. "Everyone will thinkthat isthat you had to marry me! They're going to be looking at my waist for months to come."

"It is a small waist. Stop fishing for compliments." She crossed her arms. "That's not what I meant. Someone will have to stop the rumor before it gets totally out of hand." Instantly all good humor vanished from his face and it became thunderous. "Why? Because people would assume that the only reason you would marry someone with my lowly background is because you had to? And here I thought your only consideration was to protect your sister. Perhaps I should tell the truth and save you from such slander." He started to clear his throat and Anne put a hand on his arm. "No, please keep quiet. I don't care about any of that. My sister is my concern." He smiled wickedly. "What will you do to keep me quiet, I wonder." He rubbed the back of his thumb against her lips. Anne attempted to ignore the warm fizzing of her blood. "We should go. People will speculate where we are. They might assume" Her voice held a breathless quality and a small curl of heat infused her body. "The wrong thing? That we've retreated to the summer house again?" His voice held a teasing note but his eyes were deadly serious. "Be careful what you start, Anne, if you lack the nerves to finish it." "The incorrect thing. It would be rude to abandon everyone." The excuse sounded lame to her ears, but if she stayed here much longer with him It was one thing to twist the truth and quite another to make it seem as if she was a wanton creature. "If it is in a good cause, then we'll go out and greet people rather than staying heretogether." He released her.

Anne suddenly felt bereft. Her entire being had longed for his touch. She pressed her lips together, remembering his kiss. This was not supposed to happen. Their marriage was a business arrangementa way to salvage his pride and her family's fortune. She crossed her arms and heard the gown rip where the sleeve joined her shoulder. She winced. "Today is truly not my day." "What's wrong now?" His brows drew together. "The gown tore." Anne attempted to peer over her shoulder to see how bad the tear was. "It'll teach me to wear Cressy's gowns without letting out the back." "Do you often get her hand-me-downs?" His eyes became thoughtful. "More often my stepmother's. It is such a waste of good material, as she discards her clothing after wearing it twice at most. And we're the same basic shape." "Except your coloring is different and you have more curves." "When you are a confirmed spinster, people never mention your clothes." She attempted to pull the sleeve up. "If I don't breathe deeply, nobody will notice." He put his arm about her shoulder. "We can depart from the wedding breakfast if you like. Right now. I'll arrange for the carriage." "No, no, not without cutting the groom's cake or greeting everyone. A thousand things remain to be done before we depart." Anne smoothed the folds of her gown and tried to keep her mind from the night that loomed before her. He was a man of experience and she knew next to nothing. "All I need is a shawl and I can carry on." She fancied a bit of respect came into his eyes. "You're a very determined and resourceful person."

"I learned a long time ago that the only person who cared about me was me." "But now there is someone else," she thought she heard him murmur as he left the alcove. When he'd gone, she dismissed the idea as preposterous. Chapter Six Print this Page The only person who cared about me was me The words kept repeating around Jason's brain as the carriage rumbled toward the post inn where he and Anne would spend their wedding night. Her family might be thoughtless, but she loved them. Before they left, Anne had made a point of taking a tisane up to her stepmother. Most other women would have been worrying about their hair or their goingaway dress, but not his Anne. Jason stopped and pushed the thought to one side. She was his wife, not "his Anne." Not yet, at any rate. Soon she would be. She murmured softly in her sleep, moving closer to his body. In the dim light, her dark lashes were smudges against the pale rose and cream of her complexion. Jason wondered why she kept her beauty hidden behind ill-fitting gowns. Hers might not be the ultra-fashionable beauty of her sister but it had a timeless grace. Jason's jaw tightened. He'd done the right thing, marrying her and taking her away from her selfish family. "Time to wake up, Cinders." He gave her shoulder a quick shake.

"Cinders?" Her bright green eyes blinked up at him, and one cheek showed a bright pink mark where she'd rested her head against his shoulder. "Cinderella in a borrowed wedding dress who has to do all the housework and hasn't a fairy godmother to rescue her. I do like Isouard's opera Cendrillon." "I haven't seen it. Stepmama disapproves of the opera." "The name suits you." He fished into his coat pocket and brought out her spectacles. "They nearly fell off while you were asleep." "They need adjusting. I had an accident with them yesterday, but other things took precedence." Jason quickly bent the offending earpiece. "There, all fixed." She reached to take them from him, being careful not to touch him. Once she put them on, she seemed more remote. The thought that he alone had the right to see her without her spectacles made his body leap. It was all he could do to keep from taking her in his arms and delving deep into her mouth. But he knew once he started, he'd want to continue. To touch her, taste her skin, explore her hidden places. Above all that he wanted to give her pleasure. "I was afraid they'd fall off and break," he said instead. "Stepmama always gets cross with me for thatforgetting to take my spectacles off before retiring. It's not that I'm forgetful, it's just that I fall asleep reading in bed." Her eyes twinkled behind the lenses. "Her scolding never stopped me, though." "Do you do that often? Read in bed?"

Her lips quirked upwards. "I believe one should always enjoy a bit of pleasure at the end of the day. It's where the idea of the summer house came from." "I entirely agree. There's nothing wrong with pleasure in bed." He lifted one eyebrow and was rewarded with a quelling look over her spectacles. "You're a married woman, Anne." "You know what I mean. It is the only time I can indulge." "Why not read during the rest of the day?" "There are other things to be done." She folded her hands primly in her lap. "People depend on my assistance." "Such as arranging your sister's elopement?" he said, teasing her. She moved her skirt so it didn't touch him. "Such as sorting out my father's estate office, or visiting the tenants. My stepmother has other concerns and servants stay longer if I attend to their problems." "Are you a candidate for sainthood?" "I dislike estate managers taking advantage of my father's good nature," she replied primly. Jason clenched his jaw. It was all too easy to imagine why Anne was overworked. Someone needed to ensure she had pretty clothes and trinketsall the sorts of things that women in his experience desired instead of a life of accounts and drudgery. "You'll have time now. I employ a capable and trustworthy staff." "But houses need someone to run them. I have to have something to occupy my mind." She twisted her hands in her lap anxiously. "You will see." "We'll find another occupation for you."

She leaned forward, her eyes bright behind the spectacles. "You mustn't worry. I'm a prudent housekeeper. My stepmother hated economies. I know the cost of candles, carpets and coal." "The cost of candles is far from a concern." "And I intend to keep within my allowances. My father and stepmother used to have the most dreadful rows." Jason clenched his fist. Did she consider him such a tyrant that he'd explode if she went over her allowance? He doubted if she ever had a new dress in her life. Something he intended to remedy as soon as he could. "And as my wife, you will dress properly. You have a position to maintain. No more cast-offs from your stepmother. And that vile yellow rag is to be burnt. Never wear that color again. Choose something else." Rather than cooing with pleasure as he'd expected, her mouth became mutinous. "I've never dressed improperly." "I've outfitted a number of women and those colors do nothing for you. You need to wear strong hues that bring roses to your face rather than draining the life out of it." "Who are you to say such things?" "Your husband." "I will not have my clothes chosen for me!" She put her hand on her hip and glared at him. "I wear what I like. And if I want to wear bright yellow every day for the rest of my life I will! I'm not some sort of doll to be dressed as you please!" Anger flooded through him. He was attempting to be kind and she threw it back in his face.

"You're my wife now, not the stepdaughter of some selfish woman who shoves all the unpleasant tasks off on you." He lifted her chin so he could look directly into her eyes. "You can read all day if you want. Indulge your passion. Wear pretty clothes. Eat sweetmeats. Gossip with friends. Enjoy life." She twisted away from him. "I enjoy working with the tenants and solving their problems. You can learn far more interesting things at the estate office than during At Homes. Are you going to forbid that, as well? No more talking business because women are not supposed to know such things?" "All I am saying is that there will be different expectations now that you are my wife," he replied, his blood starting to boil. "I won't have you shaming me." "Shaming?" Her mouth became a stubborn white line. "So you don't believe a woman has enough sense to realize that when the roof blows off a barn it has to be fixed or all the grain will be ruined? I may be one of the fair sex, Jason, but I have eyes and a mind! And I intend to use them!" "I never commented on your mind or lack of it!" Jason roared. He drew a steadying breath. "You obviously have more intelligence than the rest of your family." "Then what is your objection?" she shouted back. "Just that my wife will be expected to maintain certain standards." He tried to put it in terms that she'd understand. "I won't have people whispering that I can't afford to keep my wife. Send the bills to me." "Next you'll be telling me who I should be friends with. Maybe you will say that I shouldn't visit my family? Or do things for them?" "I never said that! But I will not stand idly by if they seek to use you or my money."

"I'm a person, Jason, not some sort of servant to be ordered about. I do what I do out of love for other people. But then do you understand anything? You doubt even the existence of love." She slammed the carriage door behind her. Jason ran his hand through his hair. He'd done it all wrong. He'd wanted to show her that she no longer needed to settle for second best and all he'd done was provoke a quarrel. "You're a very stubborn person, Cinders," he said softly to her retreating back. "But you will see, even if it takes a littleseduction." Chapter Seven Print this Page Infuriating man. Who did he think he was? Anne paced the sitting room in the post inn. So angry that she was unable to sit still. Dictating what she could do or what clothes she could wear? As if she intended to spend her allowance on her stepmother! And how did he know which colors suited her? Apparently he was an expert on women's clothing. She rolled her eyes toward the ceiling. He must have bedded hundreds of women to be so sure about women's fashion. A small tendril of jealousy wound around her insides, stopping her breath. She hated to think about him with anyone else. She wanted him to look at her with desire in his eyes. And only at her. She pressed her hands to her face and sank down in the armchair. She'd spoken the truth when she'd told Mrs. Sarsfield that it was a coup de foudre. She was attracted to Jason and she wanted him to be attracted to her, not because she was his wife but because she was herself. Only this

morning she'd been vaguely aware he existed and now this. Could such things truly happen this quickly? The door slammed and Jason came into the room. He'd shed his cravat and coat and his shirt was open at the neck, revealing the strong column of his throat. Anne wet her lips and tried to cling to her anger. "Are you truly that fond of yellow?" he asked, looking at her with hooded eyes. "I want to choose my own clothes. I wish to wear whatever I desire. I detest frills and ruffles." She wrinkled her nose. "Though I'll compromise on the yellow. I prefer other colors. But I only want to go to At Homes if I choose. I've a right not to be bored to tears." His loud laugh rang out. "Whatever are we going to do with you, Cinders?" Anne was acutely aware of how her hair flowed down her back and how she'd changed into her nightdress and robe. She'd been so certain that he wasn't going to come back that she'd taken off her traveling clothes. She'd been tempted to do her hair in braids but the maid wouldn't hear of it, not on her wedding night. And now Anne was glad of it. She loved the way his eyes softened as he looked at her. "Are the rooms satisfactory? It is the best I could do on short notice," he said. "Short notice?" "I was hardly about to take the same trip that I'd planned to take your sister on." A faint smile touched his lips. "Surely you don't think me that callous and unfeeling." "Do you mind?" Anne remembered Cressy boasting that she'd be traveling down to London and attending the best balls and the theatre.

"I'm a businessman, Cinders. It is necessary to be pragmatic." He ran his hand through his hair. "London isn't possible. Not after the news I received just before we departed. I'm needed in Northumberland." Cinders again. Was that truly how he saw her, as some poor wretch by the fire? She was perfectly capable of running her life. "Then we must postpone the trip." She was proud of the way she kept her voice even. "Your business comes first. People depend on you." The tension eased in his shoulders. She wondered if he'd expected her to throw a tantrum at the news. Cressy would have done it, but all Anne felt was relief at not having to endure London again. "Thank you for understanding. Not many women would." "I'm me, not most women." His gaze traveled slowly down her form. A slow smile tugged at his mouth. "And I approve." She drew a steadying breath. "We will return to Ladywell tomorrow?" "I'm allowed a few days of pleasure. I thought we'd go to Shotley Bridge and the Derwent Valley. It will enable me to do a bit of business at the same time. They produce some of the best steel in England and I need " "You need a new sword?" What did a man like Jason need with a sword? A lump grew in her throat. Urgent business was a threadbare excuse for being ashamed of her. "No, parts for a traveling engine. I'm nearly there. The world will be at the feet of the man who makes a Loco Motive Engine truly work." Tension eased from her shoulders. One of the main topics of conversation in Ladywell was the elusive Traveling Engine. Some, like

her father, doubted it would happen in their lifetime. But from what she'd learned at the estate office, she understood why steel from Shotley Bridge might be useful, rather than iron, which shattered. "My grandfather took me to Shotley Bridge when I was younger. He wanted to buy a sword, and he swore that one of the smaller forges did the most flexible steel, far better than the larger ones. Perhaps they could make your parts." He leant forward, his eyes becoming alight. "Can you remember which one?" "I can probably find it." "What a wifedoesn't want dresses but knows where the best steel in the country is to be had." His eyes twinkled. "Do you like to walk? We can spend a few days out on the fells of the Derwent Valley." Other women got compliments on their figure and she got praised for knowing about a forge. Anne reminded herself that this wasn't a love match, and she was foolish to suddenly start hoping it was. The best situation she could reasonably expect would be pleasant companionship between them. Oh, but she hated how insipid that sounded. Anne fought to keep the disappointment from her voice. "I possess a stout pair of boots. It's far easier to walk than take a carriage when you are visiting the sick." The arrival of their cold supper interrupted the conversation. Anne couldn't believe the profusion of meat pies, salads, cheese and fruit. The maid also brought in a bottle of port and two glasses. "Eat," Jason commanded after the maid had departed. "I doubt you've had a morsel all day and I'm famished." "Other things occupied me."

Anne tightened the belt of her dressing gown and tried to concentrate on the food, but she kept being preoccupied by himthe way his shirt slid across his chest, how his eyes lit up when he spoke about the possibilities for the future. She could almost believe that there would be engines that moved without horses. And his hands, with those long tapering fingers. "It seems somehow improper to be eating a feast in these circumstances," she said. "It's highly proper." He gestured with his fork. "All sorts of things to tempt the most jaded of palates." "Do you have a jaded palate?" "I thought I did but I'm learning to enjoy the simple things in life." He reached out and plucked a grape. "Now open your mouth." "Open?" She placed her hand on her hip, her indignation growing. What did he think nowthat she couldn't eat properly? He placed the grape between her lips. "I've found a way to keep you quiet." "I don't talk too much," she protested after she'd eaten the grape. "Sometimes you do. But now I remember another way to quiet you." He lowered his lips to hers and she tasted the sweetness of his mouth. Long and slow. Unhurried. Her hands came up around his neck, and she arched her body toward his, feeling his arousal pressing into her. She forgot how to breathe. He undid the tie of her dressing gown and his hands skimmed her breasts over the thin lawn material, making her nipples tighten. Her body seemed consumed with a different sort of hunger.

"Time the true feasting begins," he growled in her ear. "I'm absolutely ravenous." Chapter Eight Print this Page "Why did my stepmother say I would have to lay back and endure?" Anne asked breathlessly. "Perhaps she doesn't enjoy the physical side of marriage." Jason pulled Anne more firmly into his arms as his body responded to the huskiness of her voice. But it was far too soon after their recent bout of lovemaking. Anne had been an enthusiastic innocent and he worried that he might hurt her. He wanted her to experience pleasure and to desire it with the same intensity he did, not to fear it. "You may be right." Anne's rounded bottom snuggled closer and her silken hair flowed over his chest. "What would you wish for if you could have anything in the world?" he asked to keep his mind off his growing discomfort. "Anything? No one ever asks such silliness." "I'm asking now," he said. "I feel far too floaty to think," came her sleep-laced answer. "But probably the freedom to be who I want to be, instead of who I have to be for society's sake. To be a person in my own right and respected for my opinions. Yes, it would be pleasant to have that luxury." He froze, realizing he hadn't allowed her that choice. She'd sacrificed herself to save her family from ruin. He'd wanted her to be his wife for selfish reasons. But did she want to be his wife?

After what had just passed between them, how could he let her go? But how could he not now that he understood how important her independence was to her? He'd lied earlier when he'd said that love had no part in a marriage. Tonight had shown him that it had every part. And although he had the right to possess her body, he wanted more, much more. And the thought frightened him. He lay for a long while listening to the sound of her steady breathing and drinking in her scentlavender, fresh air and something indefinably Anne. It strengthened his resolve to give her the choice, even if it cut his heart to shreds. *** Anne woke the next morning with pleasant aches where she didn't even know she had muscles. For the first time ever, she had slept without any clothes. And instantly she resolved always to do this. What had passed between her and Jason last night was beyond imagining. Wicked and wonderful at the same time. And far more pleasurable than reading herself to sleep. She stretched slightly and reached out toward where Jason had lain. It was cold. He'd departed from her bed a long while before. Disappointment coursed through her. She'd hoped that he felt the same way about her. That last night meant something more to him than duty. She knew what he'd said about marriage but somehow in the magic of last night, she'd wished and built mansions in the air where she was a fairy-tale Cinderella and Jason the prince who'd adore her for the person she was. "What did you think?" she muttered. "That one night would change everything? He never promised love. He doesn't believe it even exists."

She fumbled for her spectacles and put them on. The simple act only served to prove what she'd already guessedthe room was empty. Hearing a noise in the other room, she slipped her dressing gown on. She could stay in bed feeling sorry for herself or she could pretend that it didn't matter. She had a lifetime of experience doing the latter, what was another lifetime? She went into the little sitting room and saw him, standing bathed in the morning sunlight, looking down at the street. His bare shoulders were hunched as if something troubled him. Her stomach knotted. She wanted to go to him and comfort him. How could one person become so important so quickly? At the sound of her footsteps, he turned. "Did I wake you?" His voice was far more polite and remote than she expected. It made it all the harder to remain cheerful and unconcerned. Somehow she'd failed and it made the situation worse. Last night she'd had the most amazing experience of her life and he was staring gloomily out the window, wishing he was any place but here. "I'm an early riser. Always have been." She gave a careful shrug, trying to ignore how fast her heart was beating. "Wouldn't want to break such a long-standing habit." He gave a crooked smile that failed to touch his eyes. She forced her feet to move toward him. "Is something wrong?" she asked, placing a hand on his bare arm. His arms went about her and gathered her into his body. She gave in to her impulse and laid her head against his chest, breathing in his scent of spicy citrus.

"I'm sorry, Cinders," he said against her hair. She leaned back against his arms, trying to read his face. "Sorry about what?" "I should never have forced you to marry me. It was the wrong thing to do." She moved away from him. His words opened a great hole inside her. Yesterday, she'd have welcomed them, but not today. Not after last night. "A bit late for regrets." Her voice broke on the last word. "We can get an annulment, if you like." "And if I don't want one? My family's honor" He went to stand behind her, the heat from his body radiated through her. "I forced you into marriage. Last night, I seduced you. You need to be able to choose. You need to lead your life in the way you want to. Your father's debt is cancelled." "Why? Why are you doing this?" She scanned his face, searching for a sign, any sign of what she'd done wrong. "Did I displease you that much?" He ran his hands down her arms. "No! I'm saying this becauseI care about you. Because I want you to be happy. You should marry because you chose to, not because you are trying to save your family from ruin or a thousand other reasons that have nothing to do with your desires." He paused for what felt like an eternity before turning her around to face him. "So I'm giving you that freedom. Do you want to be my wife? Despite where I came from, despite my lack of true refinement. Because you want to be with me?"

Anne's heart soared. If she hadn't loved him already, she'd love him now. He was giving her a choice in how she lived her life and whom she spent the rest of her days with. He understood. "I was very easy to seduce." "Meaning?" He angled his face to her palm and his warm lips sent a thrill coursing through her. "I didn't lie to Mrs. Sarsfield. I lied to you. It was love at first touch." She cupped her hands around his face. "It is an incredibly short time since we met but I feel I know you in my heart. It is not how you're born but the man you areand you are an honorable man, Jason. Somehow all my life I've been waiting for you, and you alone. I wantno, I need you. You make me complete." "What about your freedom to choose? Your wish to live as you please?" "You are my choice. With you, I can be myself. You make me feel wonderfully alive and desired for simply being who I am." She touched her forehead to his and their breath intermingled. "Why would I want to be anywhere else but with you?" "You humble me. I don't know what I've done to deserve you, but I certainly won't quarrel with your decision. I was always cynical about the existence of love. But it was only that I needed to meet the right woman. I have now, and I'm holding her." He swung her off the ground. "I don't think your stout boots will be useful on this trip after all." "Why is that?" "Any clothing is superfluous, my very dearest wife, as you'll be in bed with me." "Exactly where I choose to be." THE END