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.But not for long.His fingers deftly slipped the remaining buttons from their loops as he bent forward to kiss her.And then, as his hands brushed over the newly exposed skin, he stopped.“What…?” He sat up, away, and pulled the edges of her nightgown aside to expose the soft rounding of her stomach and the glint of silver that lay there.“What is that?”Of course.She’d realized he’d ask about it.He wouldn’t recognize a vis bulla, as Verbena or Sebastian would.But she hadn’t expected the expression on his face to be one of such…displeasure.She’d already decided how to explain it.“A Gardella family tradition,” she told him, reaching for the squared-off roundness of his shoulder to pull him back toward her.He resisted, and though she was strong enough to keep him moving toward her, she released him.“Why?”“It’s believed to offer a kind of protection.As I said, it is a family tradition that Aunt Eustacia requested I follow.”“It is…unusual.Does it hurt?” He reached a finger to touch the silver cross.“No.Not at all.” She flicked the cross and its small hoop to demonstrate.“I’m not at all certain I like it, or that it’s appropriate.”Victoria stared at him for a moment, then told herself it was her wedding night and she did not want it to be spoiled.“I can take it out for tonight, if it would make you feel better.”“Feel better? I’m not certain I agree with your choice of words…but, yes, Victoria, I think I would rather look only at your beautiful body without any adornments.”“I will be right back, then.” She had no intention of removing the vis bulla and leaving it in his bedchamber to be lost.Pulling on a robe she’d discarded almost as soon as she entered the room, she hurried to her adjoining chamber.In the low light she untwisted the silver ring and slipped it from its mooring at the lip of her navel.When she pulled it out and placed it on her dressing table, she had to sit for a moment.Its absence left her light-headed and clammy, and she found she needed to rest her head on the table for a moment.She could put the vis bulla back in, in the morning.And perhaps Phillip would grow used to it.She turned toward the door that joined their bedchambers, and started—for he was standing there, her husband, in all of his naked beauty.Dark hair, heavy blue eyes…lean limbs shadowed with the glow from the candle on her dressing table.Her breath caught for a moment and she felt muzzy-headed again…and this time it was not from the removal of her vis bulla.“Come here, darling,” Phillip said, holding out his hands to her.His shoulders flexed easily in the flickering candlelight.“I hope I didn’t spoil the mood.” He smiled in a manner that reminded her uncomfortably of Sebastian—a bit wicked, edged with promise…yet there was a tenderness there in his eyes, something she’d never seen in Sebastian’s golden ones.And why was she comparing him to Sebastian? Her husband, on their wedding night? Perhaps it was only normal for one to compare and contrast when confronted with something unfamiliar…and exciting.She stepped into his arms, glad that he’d come to her and apologized.She felt the warmth of his body, long and textured against hers, and the prod of his erection was gentle against her hip.Her half-donned robe gusted around them, and she slipped it off her shoulders.It collapsed onto the floor, pooling at her ankles as her naked breasts pressed against his chest.Phillip kissed her along the side of her neck, where her skin was the most sensitive, and where the bare brush of his lips made her toes curl and her breasts tighten.Somehow his mouth didn’t stop its tasting of her as he brought them to the bed—her bed, not his—and tumbled her onto it.“So beautiful, my darling,” he told her, propping himself up on an elbow above her.His body cast a shadow over half of hers, and she watched in fascinated interest as he drew his finger gently down between her breasts, along the irregular line of dark and light.The tingling that had begun in her belly, then between her legs, tightened almost painfully as he bent to draw her nipple into his mouth.As he sucked and tugged, the sensation grew and ebbed with the rhythm of his mouth and the slide of his tongue.His breathing became deeper, warm and moist over her skin, and when he slipped his fingers between her legs, Victoria didn’t know whether to press her knees together…or let them fall away.“Let me, Victoria, my wife,” he whispered against her neck, drawing his mouth along her jaw as he positioned himself over her.“I will be very gentle…and after a moment, you will feel only pleasure.”She did.She let him, and opened her legs in a wanton manner, one that would have horrified her if she’d thought about it…but she did not.She let him.Let his fingers stroke and slide, dip and delve, until she did not know what was happening…only that it was pleasure beyond anything she’d imagined.And then…the pain.The sharp, quick pain as he moved his hips between hers, and then, as he had promised, only pleasure.Only easy, rising, fulfilling pleasure.+ 21 +Wherein the New MarchionessProves Herself an Excellent Storyteller* * *Victoria felt better when she reinserted her vis bulla the next day.It took a little bit of jimmying and tugging to get the silver hoop back in place, but she managed it with a bit of help from Verbena, and once that was done she finished dressing.She was pleasantly sore from the activities of the night before, and, so far, delighted with her new marital status.Over breakfast, she and Phillip ate kippers and eggs, sausages and biscuits, preserves and clotted cream.And then they boarded his traveling coach, which had already been loaded with their trunks, and embarked on a two-week honeymoon.When they returned, she was rosy-cheeked and no longer sore.On the morning after their return, Phillip left St.Heath’s Row early to take care of some business in town with his solicitor and banker.Victoria worked diligently if reluctantly on her correspondence, but was saved from an entire afternoon of tedium by a missive from Aunt Eustacia inviting her for tea.“You look lovely, my dear marchioness,” said her elderly aunt when Kritanu showed Victoria into the sitting room [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]