Cursed & cherished the d.., p.11
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       Cursed & Cherished: The Duke's Wilful Wife, p.11

         Part #2 of Love's Second Chance series by Bree Wolf
 
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  Kissing him, she wondered. Yes, she wanted to kiss him. Just once. On her own terms. And wasn’t it her right? After all, hadn’t he stolen a kiss on their wedding night? Now, it was her turn. And the beauty of it was that he would never even know. He wouldn’t be able to tease her about it, or suggest that her animosity was not as whole-hearted as she had led him to believe.

  Her mind made up, Anna leaned forward on trembling arms, placing one hand on the other side of his head. As the mattress shifted though, he stirred, and Anna froze.

  Hovering above him, she watched his features closely, but not a muscle twitched nor did an eyelid flutter. She took a deep breath then, and a smile curved up her lips. “You’re quite handsome, my lord,” she whispered running her eyes over his face. “Which is rather shocking considering your wicked character.”

  Her heart hammered in her chest as she leaned closer, slowly skimming her lips over his, feeling her own tingle in delight. Then she pulled back, needing to assure herself that his eyes were indeed still closed, before kissing him again.

  ***

  A throbbing pain pulsed under his skull. How had that happened? Edmond wondered. One moment he was about to kiss his wife, and the next he found himself locked in the dark, his head hurting worse than after a drunken night with his friends during his college years.

  “Why did you make me do this?” a clearly irritated voice snapped, and Edmond all but flinched, or he would have, had he been able to move. Only at present his limbs felt heavy as lead.

  “Did you not believe that I would defend myself?” the voice continued, and Edmond finally recognised it. His wife! What was she doing? And where was he? Feeling the soft mattress under his fingertips, Edmond realised that he was in bed, covers raised up to his chin.

  “That is typical of men! First, they behave like scoundrels with no morals or integrity, and then they complain about not being treated like gentlemen.” Treated like gentlemen, Edmond wondered. Why would she…? What did she do to him? Had she knocked him out somehow? He wondered. How dare she! That was it! From this day forward, he would be done with her. No more apologies. No more presents. No more attempts to smooth things over. If she wanted a war, he would be a worthy opponent.

  “But you’re not complaining, are you?” she whispered, and all of a sudden all anger was gone from her voice. Instead, it sounded soft and even a little apologetic that Edmond forgot his own instantly. Since his eyes were closed, his other senses reached out, trying to determine where she was and what she was doing.

  Soft footsteps approached, and then he felt her small weight sink into the mattress next to him. Holding his breath, Edmond waited. Was she about to plunge a knife into his heart? He wondered, remembering her angry outburst. No, he thought, she wouldn’t do that, or would she? Hadn’t she said something about defending herself? If she truly saw him as a threat, then…

  All of a sudden she shifted, and he felt her lean closer, the warmth radiating from her body touching his skin even through the many layers of fabric between them. One hand sank into the mattress beside his head, and once more Edmond held his breath, desperately hoping that the other was not holding a knife.

  And so he waited, but nothing happened.

  When his nerves were stretched to the point of breaking, she whispered just above his face, “You’re quite handsome, my lord.”

  Stunned, Edmond didn’t know what to think. Had he heard correctly? Was this really his wife?

  “Which is rather shocking considering your wicked character.” Yes, he thought, this was his wife. No one else in the world would dare speak to him like this. Only his wife would−

  Her soft lips brushed over his own, and instantly all thoughts fled his mind.

  When she pulled back a moment later, he felt the absence of her lips on his acutely, but knew better than to protest. If she knew he was awake, she would only start yelling at him again. Maybe if he lay still, she would−

  Again her lips returned, only this time they were less tentative in their exploration of his own. Eagerly, her mouth moved over his, her body leaning against him. He could feel her delicate curves through the covers and cursed the dull pain in his head that kept him from participating more actively in this fantasy suddenly come to life. But he would. Soon, he promised himself.

  After all, she had started this game, and whether she wanted him to play or not did not matter. She had just stolen a kiss; a kiss, she had refused him at every turn. As soon as he felt like himself again, Edmond promised, he would steal it back.

  Chapter Twenty − To Bide One's Time

  After listening to her even breathing for a while, Edmond finally dared open his eyes. Night had long since claimed precedence over day, and no light seeped in through the heavy curtains covering the windows. A single candle burned on his nightstand, bathing the room in a warm glow. Its flame flickered softly in the soft draft from Anna’s breathing.

  Lying on her side, face turned away from him, she seemed to be resting peacefully. Occasionally, a small sigh escaped her, and she would stir for only a moment before returning into the depth of her dreams.

  As another sigh left her lips, Edmond waited for her to shift her head on the pillow or move her arm. Instead, she rolled onto her back, almost bumping into him as he lay watching her.

  Her scarlet hair splayed over the pillow, she snuggled into the covers, a slight twitch in her eyelids as she dreamed.

  Smiling, Edmond shifted onto his side, cursing as the movement sent a stabbing pain through his skull. However, he had to admit that only part of his annoyance was due to the pounding in his head; another, quiet stronger part of him cursed the opportunity he was forced to let slip through his hands. For weeks now, he had wanted to find a way to his wife, to get her into his bed or himself into hers, and here she was and there was nothing he could do about it.

  As the pain continued to pulse under his skull, Edmond watched the woman lying by his side. For once, her lips were not contorted in a snarl, ready to spit out yet another accusation. For once, her lips were relaxed, their corners occasionally lifting as a pleasant thought passed through her mind. Forehead not creased in anger, brows slightly curved over closed eyes, her face spoke of a woman who loved to laugh, a woman whose eyes would shine with excitement when a new day would find her unawares, a woman with a passion so deep only her match would be able to keep up with her.

  Gazing at her beautiful countenance, Edmond remembered the night he had first seen her. She had been beautiful then. She was beautiful now, for that matter. She always was. Only he had forgotten, his only focus directed at the anger driving her to such extraordinary, and yet regretful heights. Edmond knew he’d do well to remember the woman that lay underneath. The woman who had given up everything to save her sister. Such loyalty, such love were rare treats. If only she could let go of her anger, she would be his perfect match. He was sure of it.

  Another sigh escaped her lips, and she breathed in deeply. Her eyelids began to flutter, not as they did in a dream-like state but upon waking up.

  Edmond knew that the beauty her face held now would vanish once she opened her eyes and found herself in his bed. But for the life of him, he could not stop watching her.

  When her eyes finally did open, she blinked a couple of times, looking up into his eyes. Then, to Edmond’s amazement, a smile lit up her face…short-lived as it was. When awareness found her, she instantly averted her eyes, pushing herself up. Clearing her throat, she slid off the bed, looking everywhere but at him. “How is your head, my lord?”

  “Excruciating,” Edmond answered in all honesty, enjoying her obvious discomfort with the situation. But his wife wouldn’t be his wife if she’d simply accept his implied accusation and bow her head. The second her eyes narrowed and finally looked into his, Edmond realised that at least part of her anger was due to his own doing. If he wanted a more pleasant wife, he ought to be a more pleasant husband.

  “Do not believe I hold myself accountable for what happened?” s
he snapped, her inner passion once more used to fuel her anger. “After all, I only defended myself! You ought to have behaved yourself, my lord.” She swallowed.

  Observing her closely, Edmond lay back, wondering how she could justify defending herself against his kiss when not a few hours ago she had stolen one herself.

  At his lack of response, she linked her hands behind her back, eyes jittery again, only occasionally meeting his. “I hope this taught you a lesson,” she said, her voice less than strong. “I do not care for a repetition.” Her eyes fixed on his. “But make no mistake, should you forget your manners again, I will see it as my duty to remind you of them. Did I make myself clear, my lord?”

  Despite the determination that rested in her eyes, Edmond found her shoulders trembling slightly, and he grinned. “Perfectly clear, my lady,” he said, then dropped his voice as though wishing to share a secret. “I shall do my utmost to keep my hands and my…lips…to myself from now on.”

  Her gaze fell from his. “Good,” she said, eyes on the floor. “I’ll have breakfast send up to you.”

  A moment later she rushed out the door.

  Although the throbbing in his head had not ceased, Edmond laughed. What a woman!

  ***

  The following days Edmond mended his head. Impatiently, he spend most of his time in bed, trying to sleep as was doctor-recommended. However, the moment he closed his eyes, he felt his wife’s soft lips caress his own, and all thoughts of relaxation were out the window. All the while, he saw nothing of her. She kept her distance as though being near him was a torment she couldn’t bear. After a few days, Edmond had to admit that he missed her quite acutely. Raging anger or no, she was a beautiful woman who knew how to keep boredom at bay.

  When the drilling pain had finally retreated and settled on a mild headache, Edmond left his bedchamber, unable to bear the solitude any longer. Searching for his wife, he found that she had left for the afternoon to visit a friend, a Miss Henrietta Turner. For a second, Edmond was confused, realising that he knew nothing of his wife’s acquaintances, when a sour countenance surfaced from the depth of his memory.

  Slapping a hand to his forehead, Edmond winced at the pain that shot through his skull. “Curse that woman! Why did she have to go to her? Who knows what silly ideas she’ll put in her head.”

  Exhausted from the small task of locating his wife, Edmond slumped down in the armchair by the front windows. Softly the noise from the street filtered into the room, gently reminding him that things would not go his way simply because he wished they would. He could not change the company his wife kept or alter her attitude toward him by demanding she do so. If he was to win her over, he would have to bide his time and use all means at his disposal.

  Remembering her kiss, he smiled.

  She had kissed him, of her own accord. Now, what did that tell him? Maybe not that she cared about him. Not yet. But at the very least she found him attractive, and she was curious. Who knew? Maybe she had enjoyed the kiss he had demanded on their wedding night. Although she constantly acted like she couldn’t bear his touch, Edmond thought it might only be due to an appearance she felt the need to uphold at all cost. Even if her heart could, would her mind ever allow her to care for the man who’d ruin her life?

  Edmond shook his head, again wincing at the pain the movement induced. Whatever she thought she could or could not do, he would challenge what she thought she knew. May the games begin!

  Chapter Twenty-One − Cold Steel

  Closing the last button on her nightgown, Anna reached for the brush, feeling the desperate need to keep her hands occupied.

  Although Henrietta had asked what had happened, Anna hadn’t said a word about her husband’s advances or her reaction to them, let alone mention the fact that she had kissed him. Anna knew that Henrietta wouldn’t understand, and the thought of her friend’s disapproval stung even deeper when Anna realised that she herself thought so as well. He had tried to kiss her, and she had stopped him, only to succumb to his charms while he was sleeping and steal a kiss herself. Drat! How could she have done that?

  Ever since that night, she had done her best to keep herself busy and out of her husband’s way. She couldn’t look at him, not without remembering the feel of his lips under hers. At least, he didn’t know or he would tease her about it till the end of her days.

  Putting down the brush, Anna tiptoed across the cool floorboards and slid into bed. Although temperatures were picking up, the last few days the night air had a distinct nip to it, and she gratefully wrapped the thick blanket around herself. Lazy flames danced in the fireplace, their warmth like a delicate weight on her skin. Feeling her eyelids grow heavy, Anna reached out a hand to extinguish the candle by her bedside, but her hand froze in mid-air.

  The door separating her own bedchamber from her husband’s stood open, and her husband leaned leisurely in its frame, another one of those self-satisfied grins on his face.

  “Get out!” Anna hissed, hand curling around the cover, pulling it closer. “Have you learnt nothing?”

  He actually had the audacity to laugh. “On the contrary, I’ve learnt quite a lot, my lady.” He stepped into the room and closed the door. “For one, I’ve learnt that you are quite capable of defending yourself.”

  “Then what are you doing here?” Anna snapped, feeling her heart hammer in her chest at each step he took toward her.

  Again the corners of his mouth curled up. “Because that is not all that day taught me, or should I say?” A twinkle came to his eyes as he looked at her, waiting, as though he had just given her the final clue to a riddle.

  But she would not give him the satisfaction of asking, even though a dreadful suspicion settled in the pit of her stomach. And so she remind silent.

  “Shall I enlighten you?” he asked, searching her eyes. “Or do you already know? After all, you were not the one who was unconscious.” He grinned.

  Her suspicion all but confirmed, Anna’s eyes grew round as plates. She swallowed. Good god, he knew! How could he know? She wondered, and her eyes narrowed. “You were not unconscious,” she accused, anger returning to her heart. “Were you even injured?”

  Leaning against the back post of her bed, Edmond nodded. “I was injured, yes, and unconscious. At least for a time.”

  “For a time?”

  He shrugged. “I woke up hearing someone berate me for not behaving like a gentleman and thought to myself that the best course of action would be to remain ‘unconscious’ for the time being.” An even deeper smile spread over his face. “How was I to know that you would dare steal a kiss?”

  His eyes held hers, and Anna felt the blood rush into her cheeks. Lips pressed into a thin line, she drew a deep breath. “Leave!”

  Still smiling, he shook his head. “It’s my turn now.”

  “Your turn?” she demanded as another dreadful suspicion settled in her stomach, and yet excitement had her pulse dancing.

  “To steal a kiss.”

  As her hands began to shake, Anna forced herself to remain calm. “By my count, we are even. You stole a kiss, and now so did I.”

  Again he shook his head. “I did not steal it. You owed me that kiss to begin with. I only took what was mine.”

  Her pulse ringing in her ears, Anna frantically searched for something to say, something that would make him leave. But there was nothing. When she returned her eyes to his, she saw triumph in them. Triumph and…desire. While triumph stirred her anger, desire stirred something else.

  Then he came toward her.

  ***

  Her eyes were slightly widened, and he could see the pulse hammering in her neck. And yet it wasn’t fear he saw in her eyes. If it had been fear, he would have left. But what he saw buried deep in those emerald eyes spurred him on, and in a few quick strides he was by her side.

  Not wasting a second, Edmond slid onto the bed and drew her into his arms. Although she had tried to make him leave before, she did not fight him now. Skimming his thumb
over her cheek, he smiled, then lowered his head, capturing her lips with his mouth. She felt warm and soft and…

  When a moan escaped her and she parted her lips, all restraint fell from him. Pushing her back into the mattress, Edmond explored her lips more thoroughly. One hand buried in her scarlet locks, the other traced the line of her jaw and down her neck to her collar bone. Although her skin felt warm and soft under his touch, goose bumps rose under his fingertips.

  Nipping her lower lip, Edmond allowed his hand to travel past her neckline and…froze when he found cold steal pressed against his throat.

  “Get off me,” she whispered against his lips.

  Not moving, he smiled. Then he lifted his head to look into her eyes. All the while the blade kept pressing into his skin. “You sleep with a knife?” he asked, gazing into her eyes, and was delighted when a smirk flashed over her face. “My lady, you are one of only a handful of people who can still surprise me.”

  “Is that a compliment?”

  He smiled. “Indeed it is.” His eyes veered from hers and for a moment travelled down to her lips. “Are you prepared to see this through? I feel tempted to challenge your threat.”

  “I am.” Her eyes never left his as she took a deep breath, and he could feel her chest rise and fall beneath him. “I dare you!”

  He took a deep breath himself, trying to steady his nerves. “Maybe another time then.”

  Although it took every ounce of self-control he had to rise from the bed, he valued the light, teasing tone of her voice beyond everything else. There had been no anger when she spoke, instead she had sounded playful. This was a game indeed. And he was only just catching on. He had stolen back his kiss, and she didn’t seem to hate him for it. Progress, Edmond thought.

 
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