I probably need to preface this post by saying, if you have not already read the book and you like surprises. You probably need to stop here.
Otherwise, other than the post I made on Sunday, there isn’t anything else from this book I can quote that doesn’t let the cat out of the bag. So…here goes.
Directly following Sunday’s sample, Madison, the final unwed sister, finds herself married to Benjamin, Duke of Gateway, also known as: Gateway, The Dangerous Duke, or in the words of a certain reviewer “that bastard you love to hate”.
The trouble is, he’s been quite taken with her for a while. A long while. Years. But she doesn’t know that and following a rather uncomfortable wedding night, she has asked for time to get to know him. During this time, he takes her swimming in a creek, they paint pictures and finally, he takes her to a bathhouse…
“Oh,” she said, gaining her feet and walking further into the bath with him. “You plan to teach me the breaststroke now, don’t you?”
“If you want, I can. But I thought we’d just relax against the side.” He wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her closer against him.
They walked along in the water until they got to a part where Madison could no longer touch with her whole foot and stopped walking. “I need to stop,” she said softly. She might be able to do the backstroke in waist deep water with someone watching, but she didn’t like the idea of standing on her tiptoes just to be able to barely keep her chin above water.
“Come a little farther,” he urged. “I’m not going to let you drown.”
She looked at him keenly. She knew he wouldn’t let her drown, but still the idea that for three seconds she could be thrashing around like a scared fish before he could bring her to safety didn’t thrill her.
“Come on,” he urged again. “I’ll support you, I promise. I’ll never be more than an inch away.”
“All right,” she agreed, inching closer to him and his protective hold.
A few steps later, she wasn’t even able to walk on her toes any longer and he used his arm to lift her and bring her squarely in front of him. He wrapped his other arm around her and walked her over to the closest wall. “This’ll do,” he said, favoring her with a grin.
She looked down at the end of the tub. “But we’re not at the end. There’s still a good two feet before we reach the end.”
“I know,” he said, moving his hands to hold her about the waist. “I don’t think I’d be able to support us at the end. Not unless I lean against the wall, too.”
“I don’t float.”
“I thought you said almost everyone floats,” she countered. Her feet were a good six or eight inches off the floor and she was being suspended in the water only by his hands on her waist and her back lightly pressing against the wall.
“I did,” he agreed. “But I’m not one of them. Actually, that’s incorrect. I don’t exactly sink, either.”
“How do you not float and not sink?” she asked dubiously. It was simple really, you either floated or sunk. Which was it?
He moved his body closer to hers and brought his thigh up between her legs, resting his foot against the wall behind her. “To help support you,” he murmured when she gave him a startled look after she saw the new position of his leg. “About the sinking and floating business, I don’t float at the top and I don’t sink to the bottom. It’s strange really. My body cannot stay on top of the water, but it can’t stay on the bottom, either. I seem to find myself sucked into the middle and struggle to come to the surface or stay on the bottom.”
“Why would you want to go to the bottom?” And why would anyone want to stay at the bottom of a body of water?
He shrugged. “To look for things. As a boy, I didn’t have anyone to play with for a few years and when I’d go swimming, I’d throw something in and dive to retrieve it. It’s a great single-person game.”
“Oh, that makes sense,” she conceded. “I wonder why you can’t float or sink. Is that common?”
“No,” he said, shaking his head. “I’ve only met one other person that has the same difficulty. But I don’t know what causes it. Something about the density of the body being more than the water, therefore, you sink. Or perhaps it’s the other way around. All I know is my body—”
She cut him off with a quick kiss on the lips. “Sorry, you were starting to remind me of my overly scientific cousin, Alex, and I just couldn’t bear you ruining this moment that way.”
He looked to be in shock. “I’d say I’ll be sure to keep my scientific talk to myself in the future, but if my punishment for talking about science is a kiss, I believe I may take up an interest in biology, astronomy, chemistry, physics, horticulture and perhaps botany as well,” he told her with a grin.
“That may not be the punishment next time,” she retorted, resting her hands on his broad shoulders. He was actually a rather big man. Not enormous and fearfully intimidating, by any means, but not small and powerless, either. The muscles in his shoulders, chest and arms were so pronounced they were visible through his clothes. She’d barely taken note of that fact before they’d married. Before her wedding day, he’d just been another man, nothing more. But in the past few days, she’d taken notice of how his body filled out his clothing. Yesterday, when she’d seen him in the water and lying on the grass, she’d noticed just how big he was but hadn’t given it much thought. However, now that he was holding her so closely, she couldn’t notice anything but his masculinity.
His chest was mere inches from hers and she had the strangest urge to reach her fingers into the middle of his small smattering of short reddish brown chest hair and feel his heartbeat under her fingers. Many doubted he had a heart, but she knew he did. And just now, it seemed to be beating in time with hers.
“You know you still owe me a kiss,” he murmured in her ear.
“I know,” she said.
“Good. As long as you didn’t think you’d gotten out of it just now.”
“You mean that paltry peck didn’t count as my Waffle Law kiss?” she teased, bringing her cheek to rest against his slightly hair roughened jaw.
He shook his head and moved his hands from her waist and brought them up to caress her lower back. “No, it doesn’t count,” he rasped, his voice barely audible.
Heat she didn’t recognize pooled in her midsection as his hands continued their gentle and thorough exploration, climbing up her back. She may have been up to her shoulders in hot water, but she could feel every heated touch of his hands as if it were a brand. She closed her eyes and leaned against his powerful chest for the support she suddenly seemed to require.
Her body sank an inch or two farther into the water and she rested on the muscled thigh he’d positioned in between her legs. His bristled jaw tickled a path across her cheek just before his lips landed on hers for a tender kiss. His soft lips pressed hers with a gentle pressure that made her sigh with pleasure. His strong hands stopped roaming her back and came to rest on her shoulders, using their strength to pull her closer to him and hold her there.
His lips moved slightly lower to focus attention on her bottom lip, gently pulling it between his lips. Her fingers dug into his shoulders and she shamelessly pressed her entire body closer to his. She could feel his strong chest against her swollen breasts and the hard planes of his stomach against her softer one. Below that, her knee brushed the hardness of his desire for her and she abruptly pulled her face back.
Embarrassment and shame washed over her. She’d just acted like a wanton by pressing her body against a man she hardly knew.
“Don’t pull away,” he panted as she scooted away from his body and toward the wall.
She couldn’t make herself look at him as she tried to scramble out of his embrace.
“Madison,” he said softly, moving closer to her as she backed up completely against the wall. “There’s nothing wrong with kissing me.”
She closed her eyes and shook her head. “I know,” she whispered. But even whispering it didn’t keep her voice from cracking.
He repositioned himself to stand in front of her with one of his legs on either side of her and his body helping to keep her pressed against the side of the bath. Bringing his hands up to frame her face and tilt it toward his, he said, “There’s no shame in enjoying it, you know?”
She swallowed. Had she been so obvious? Of course she had. She’d just pressed herself against him like a tavern wench looking for a quick coin.
“I enjoyed it,” he said with a smile. “Why shouldn’t you be able to?”
She lowered her lashes and mumbled, “I don’t know.”
“Yes, you do. You just don’t want to tell me,” he countered softly. He leaned forward and brushed a sweet kiss on her forehead. “You don’t have to tell me today. You can tell me whenever you’re ready. I’ll be ready to listen.”
“Thank you,” she choked, bringing her fingers up to idly skate along the tops of his shoulders and down his clavicle.
He wrapped his arms around her waist, kicked off the wall to the middle of the bath and lifted her partially from the water before spinning her in a full circle that caused a large wave of water to spray around the room. With a smile, he rested his forehead on hers and whispered, “I’ll always be there for you, Madison. Always.”