Cursed & cherished the d.., p.14
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       Cursed & Cherished: The Duke's Wilful Wife, p.14

         Part #2 of Love's Second Chance series by Bree Wolf
 
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  As it turned out he had.

  Chapter Twenty-Five − A New Challenge

  Seeing the growing tension in her shoulders, Edmond reacted just in time. The second she shot forward, her foil aimed at his chest, he parried it with his own. Instantly, her eyes narrowed and a scowl came to her face.

  Grinning, Edmond attacked, enjoying the look of annoyance on her face at his apparently flippant attitude. In truth, Edmond revelled in the glow that came to her eyes whenever she picked up her foil. She was radiant as she moved across the clearing, steps carefully measured, the weapon well-balanced in her hand, eyes focused on her target…him.

  For someone unfamiliar with handling weapons, she had a unique grasp of the concept. After abandoning her initial anger at being forced into this training, she had quickly adapted to the behavioural requirements that came with fencing. Without arguing, she allowed him to teach her how best to hold the weapon, how to place her feet for greater balance and how to move the foil and her feet in synchronisation. So far, she was doing extremely well, and Edmond realised that he was proud. Proud that she was his wife. Proud that his wife had the strength and determination needed to succeed at something as foreign to her as fencing.

  An added bonus was the physical contact that came with teaching…and winning.

  “Stop grinning!” she snarled, coming at him again. “Or I swear I’ll cut off your lips!”

  Edmond laughed, which infuriated her even more. “My lady, if someone could hear you, they would be shocked witless at your improper use of language.”

  Stepping back into the en garde position, Anna shrugged. “I doubt it’s the language people would consider offensive, but rather the threat contained within.”

  “You might be right about that, my lady.” Once again congratulating himself on his marvellous idea to teach her the art of fencing, Edmond eyed her curiously, wondering what would happen if he allowed her to win a match. What would she demand of him? Probably not a kiss, or would she? There was only one way to find out.

  As they moved back and forth across the small clearing, Edmond struggled to delay his instincts by mere fractions of seconds in order to give her an advantage without raising her suspicion. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know how she would react to him letting her win. With her temper, she would probably claw his eyes out!

  “Are you growing tired, my lord,” she asked, eyes narrowed.

  Knowing that she was on to him, Edmond doubled his efforts. “Not at all, my lady. But should you require rest, please do say so.” Knowing that she would never admit to a weakness, he once again felt the corners of his mouth draw up into a grin. For the life of him, he couldn’t help it!

  Instantly, her own lips thinned and she flung herself at him, temporarily blinded by the rage that had so obviously seized her.

  Without trouble, Edmond parried her thrust and instantly stepped into the offence. Shooting forward, he tipped his foil to her shoulder, scoring his winning point.

  “Drat!” Anna cursed, brushing the tangled locks from her face. “Drat! Drat! Drat!” For a second, Edmond thought she was rather angry at herself than at him.

  Gritting her teeth, she took a deep breath before raising her eyes to him. Indeed, she did look like a vengeful warrior bride. A woman who knew her own strength, who didn’t swoon at his feet, but capable and with a mind of her own, not afraid to put him in his place.

  Edmond had never really contemplated his idea of the perfect woman. After all, apart from his sister he had never gotten to know a woman really well. The nature of his relationship to female acquaintances was generally based on physical enjoyment, rather than intellectual or emotional bonds.

  Meeting his wife’s angry eyes, he felt his insides twist and turn with excitement. No woman had ever been more alluring, and he wondered how he could ever have lived with anything less.

  “Fine,” she said, raising her chin. “Claim your prize.”

  Seeing the tension in her jaw at her obvious disgust at having to submit to him once again, Edmond hesitated. As much as he wanted to kiss her, he didn’t want to steal a kiss. Not again. Not now.

  Although he could tell that she was not repulsed by his kiss but rather by the fact that he had the right to demand one, more than anything he wanted her to be willing. He wanted her to welcome his kiss.

  Judging from the angry scowl on her face, that was not going to happen any time soon.

  Wondering how best to break through her reserve, Edmond observed her proud face curiously, before a deep smile lit up his own. “All right, my lady,” he said, stepping closer. “As you will recall, the prize lies within the victor’s discretion.”

  Her eyes narrowed, and he thought to detect a hint of concern in them.

  “Well, then,” he whispered, leaning forward, his eyes fixed on hers. He didn’t want her reaction to what he was about to say to escape his notice. “I demand a kiss.” Some of the tension left her shoulders as confusion clouded her eyes. Again he grinned, trying to tease her. “From you.”

  Her mouth fell open, and her eyes went wide, but only for a moment. Then her usual scowl was back in place, and she glared at him in a way that made him want to grab her right then and there. But he held back, certain that what was to come would be well worth the wait.

  Leaning toward her, he asked, “So, my lady, what about that kiss?”

  Chapter Twenty-Six − Punishment

  At hearing his demand, Anna’s anger flared into life once more, and she had to keep a tight grip on her emotions to keep from slapping him in the face. However, now that he was actually standing there, patiently waiting for her to kiss him, she felt her nerves jitter and her muscles begin to tremble. How was she to go about it? Especially when she knew that this was a game. Why else would he have made such a demand, if not to humiliate her in some way?

  However, admitting defeat was out of the question. And so Anna took a deep breath and stepped forward, until the tips of her shoes brushed against his. When she lifted her hands and gently placed them on his chest, she watched with satisfaction as the last remnants of his smirk left his face and his eyes became serious. He swallowed then, and his gaze shifted down to her lips.

  Feeling his heart beat against the palm of her hand, Anna could see the desire he felt for her in his eyes, and she revelled in the knowledge that she had such power over him. Lifting her chin, she raised herself on her tiptoes and leaned into him.

  Again he swallowed, and a smile flashed across her face.

  When he lowered his head toward hers, she eyed him admonishingly. “I thought this was to be my kiss.”

  “I apologise, my lady,” he whispered against her lips, and she could see the impatience on his face as he forced himself to keep his distance.

  Licking her lips, she leaned closer, ever so slowly, enjoying the tortured expression on his face. This truly was a game, and right now she had the upper hand.

  His arms came around her then, his hands settling on her waist, immobile, waiting for her to breach the gap between them.

  Smiling, Anna slid her own hands upward, holding on to his shoulders to pull herself toward him. A hair’s breadth from his lips, she stopped and pulled back.

  A low growl escaped his throat, and the hands on her waist tightened.

  Again Anna smiled. “This is your punishment, my lord.”

  A frown drew down his brows. “Punishment?” he whispered, and his eyes reluctantly left her lips and met her own.

  “For trying to let me win,” she chided, pouting her lips in a way that had his eyes go wide before an embarrassed smile came to his face.

  He chuckled low in his throat. “You did notice then.” She nodded. “Again I apologise, my lady. I assure you my intentions were honourable.”

  “I doubt that very much.”

  He smiled then, his eyes for once fixed on hers, rather than travelling downward. “You may be right about that, my lady.” His hands tightened around her, pulling her into him. “Are you intent on punishing
me for my indiscretion then?”

  “I thought I already was.”

  He drew in a sharp breath. “Indeed you are.” He swallowed. “And what of the spoils of war? Will you honour your commitment?”

  At his response to her teasing, Anna felt herself growing bolder. Biting her lower lip, she smiled at him. “All in due time.”

  Again a frustrated growl rose from his throat, and his hands dug into her sides. “Woman, I swear, if you don’t kiss me soon, I will…” His jaw clenched, and he drew in a deep breath, visibly shaking with the effort to keep his actions under control.

  “You will what?” Anna teased. “You yourself demanded my kiss. You have no right to take one yourself.” Gritting his teeth, his hands moved over her lower back, sending tingles through her entire body, making it increasingly difficult for Anna to delay the kiss.

  As he pressed her body to his, his eyes burned into hers. “And how long will you make me wait?”

  “I could not say at the moment,” she stated, trying to appear disinterested, when all she wanted was to feel his lips on hers. “You simply demanded a kiss, but failed to specify when and where. Therefore, I am well within my rights to choose a time of my convenience; be it in a few hours, days, months, or even years.”

  “Years?” he choked out, eyes bulging.

  Fighting to suppress a smile, Anna said, “Yes, my lord. As long as you receive your kiss in this lifetime, I have fulfilled my commitment.”

  “You cannot be serious,” he snapped, all humour vanished from his face. His lips pressed into a thin line as he gazed down at her, and for a moment he seemed to contemplate throwing caution to the wind and having his way.

  Watching him carefully, Anna saw his intention and quickly interfered. “My lord, let me re-mind you that you have no grounds on which to simply take a kiss yourself,” she stated. Once more she bit her lower lip, and once more his eyes travelled down to her mouth while his hands strengthen their hold on her as though of their own accord. “Any action in this regard on your part will immediately end the current agreement between us, effectively reinstating the previous status of our relationship.” His eyes snapped up to hers at the mention of the animosity that had been their daily bread not too long ago. “However, I might be persuaded to grant said kiss in a timely manner, should you agree to−”

  “Agreed!”

  “But my lord, you have not even heard my condition.”

  “Whatever it is, I agree.”

  Anna shook her head, forcing her features to remain serious. “Unfortunately, this is some-thing you cannot grant without being made aware of it.”

  Frustration filled his eyes. “Fine. What is it?”

  “Well, as I said I might be persuaded to grant said kiss in a timely manner, should you agree to refrain from taking charge in any way during said kiss.”

  For a second he stared at her as though not sure what he’d heard, before a deep smile spread over his face. “I whole-heartedly agree, my lady. You have my word.” Once again his arms tightened around her.

  “Well then, we are in agreement, my lord,” Anna whispered, feeling a rush of nervous excitement course through her veins. Taking a deep breath, she blinked before raising her eyes to his.

  He smiled down at her then, bringing one hand up to cup her face. “Don’t worry, you’ll do fine.”

  As his thumb gently skimmed her cheek, she drew in a deep breath. “How would you know?”

  “I’ve seen you fence,” he whispered, his arm pulling her closer, almost lifting her off her feet. Anna could probably have refused to kiss him at that point on grounds of breach of agreement, but the truth was she wanted him as badly as he clearly wanted her.

  As her fingers slid under his coat and curled into his shirt, Anna lifted her head a fraction, revelling in the feeling of her lips brushing against his, ever so slightly. Then she hesitated, and instantly his arms tightened around her even more, pressing her mouth to his.

  She kissed him then, tenderly, not sure how to claim what he offered. He responded, but still held himself in check, and she could feel him tremble with the effort. His lips moved over hers as delicately as her own had initiated the kiss. Only his held a promise of a fire burning within, a fire that once unleashed would set her world ablaze.

  Unwilling to tease him any longer, Anna for once surrendered. “I release you from your word,” she whispered against his lips.

  For a moment he hesitated, as though her words needed some time to travel to his mind and be processed. Once their meaning became clear though, his lips came down on hers hard.

  A strangled groan rose from his throat as his mouth devoured hers. Anna felt herself swept off her feet, unable to withstand the storm raging around her. His hand travelled from her lower back to her face, then slid back into her hair. There it settled in the nape of her neck, not giving her a single moment to come up for breath.

  Feeling desire spring to life, Anna clung to him, hands skimming over his chest. Before long, she reached up, following his example, and buried them in his thick hair.

  The world around her was swept away in the emotional whirlwind that claimed every fibre of her being. Holding on to the one constant, the rock-hard anchor right under her fingertips, Anna allowed herself to feel, simply feel without thought, without questions, without considerations of possible consequences. Locked in his tight embrace, she succumbed to the emotions building within her as his skilful lips ravished hers. Clinging to him as tightly as he held her, Anna soon began her own experimentations, exploring his body as boldly as he did hers.

  Lost in delicious sensations, Anna felt her heart open and a warmth wash over her that she had never known before. More than anything she wanted to be in his arms for the rest of her days.

  As wonderful as that thought made her feel, it also brought with it the sudden realisation that they were not equals in this relationship. He might be as generous and kind as anyone she knew, but deep down he merely saw her as his possession. A possession acquired by means of a contract. How much did her father have to pay for him to make her his wife? How much was she worth?

  Ugly betrayal filled her body, chasing away the budding emotions his kindness had stirred within her. Instantly, her hands stilled, and she drew back, breaking the connection of their lips.

  He opened his eyes then, gazing down at her. “Is something wrong?”

  Anna swallowed, then pushed away his hands and stepped out of his embrace. “I believe all debts have been settled.” Her own words echoing in her ears, she turned away from him.

  Before she could take a single step though, his hand closed around her arm, pulling her back. “What happened?” he asked, worried eyes searching her face. “Did I do something? Was I being too forward?”

  Reading honest concern on his face, Anna felt her own resolve waver, but only for a moment. As much as she would love to walk into her future by his side, it was unwise. Who knew when he would tire of her? What would happen then? Would he simply turn from her? Yes, they were married, but what did that mean? She was his wife, and yet he had never asked for her hand. He had merely entered into a contract, a contract agreed upon with her father. Never had he cared about what she wanted. Anna glanced around the clearing, the sight of their shared joy, and wondered if all this had been a misunderstanding; if she had simply allowed herself to believe that he could truly care about her.

  “Talk to me,” his words cut into her reflections. A hand settled on her chin, forcing her to look at him. “What is bothering you?”

  Closing her eyes for a second, Anna took a deep breath. Then she placed her hand on his, only to remove it from her face, and took a step back. Shaking her head, she looked at him.

  Eyes that held not only sadness but confusion as well roamed her face as though searching for the answers she wouldn’t give him. Then he approached her once again, but she immediately took a step backward. “Anna, please, what have I done? Tell me.”

  The sound of her name on his lips almost
melted her reserve, before Henrietta’s voice echoing in her head brought her back to reality. She could not allow herself to be weak, to give him the upper hand. She had to be strong, or he would crush her. “It is nothing, my lord. Shall we continue our training?” She tried to force her voice to sound indifferent, at the same time wondering what she would do the next time he claimed her kiss as spoils of war. Would she be able to keep her emotions from clouding her judgement once again?

  As she turned to pick up her foil, his hand closed around her arm once more, pulling her back to him. “You owe me an explanation. What is going on? Why are you so distant all of a sudden?”

  Anger flared to life. “I owe you an explanation?” she snapped, jerking her arm back. “I owe you nothing! You were already paid in full. I have nothing else to give.”

  Staring at her, he shook his head before dragging his hands through his hair in an exasperated gesture that betrayed just how annoyed he truly was with her. “I cannot listen to this anymore,” he bellowed. “What do I have to do to prove that I…?” He trailed off, staring at her. Again he shook his head, then started to pace, occasionally glaring at her. Then he stopped and in three long strides stood before her. “Is this even you talking?” he asked. “Or is it your friend?”

  Anna frowned. “Of what do you speak? Of course, this is me. I may be just a woman, but I am capable of rational thought.”

  “See? That,” he said, pointing a finger at her. “That didn’t sound like you.” His eyes narrowed. “Why is it so bloody important for you to keep this distance, this animosity between us alive? It’s as though you don’t even want things to change.”

  “I told you I don’t care. I told you I wanted revenge for what you did to me.”

 
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