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“Like what?”

“This,” he answered, his head dropping so that his mouth covered hers in a light, teasing kiss. Last night’s kiss had been fierce and hot, but this kiss was tender and light and unbearably erotic.

His lips brushed hers, and then again, sending ripples of pleasure from her lips into her breasts and belly and beyond.

The fleeting caress seemed to wake nerve endings she didn’t even know she had and she lifted her mouth to his, wanting more.

She felt his smile as he kissed her, his lips just barely parting hers, and the tip of his tongue lightly touching the inside of her lower lip.

Oh, that felt so good. Goose bumps covered her arm and made the fine damp hair at her nape rise. Her breasts swelled, aching, too.

“One more of those,” she pleaded.

The soft, warm kiss flooded her with heat, and then as his tongue did a slow, lazy exploration of her mouth she pressed herself closer, thinking it was just a kiss and yet so much more.

She wanted so much more.

And when his hand moved to her breast, playing with the taut nipple through her wet suit, she nearly groaned at the pleasure. His hand felt so good on her, and the way he touched her sensitive nipple made her tummy tighten and her lower back prickle as she felt close to popping out of her skin.

“And you say desire isn’t important,” Dal said, lifting his head to look into her eyes.

She blushed and tried not to squirm as he tugged and kneaded her nipple, each small pull creating more tension inside her and adding to the heat between her thighs. “Desire is important,” she whispered breathlessly as he pinched and played with her, the sensation so new and erotic that she couldn’t focus properly.

“So you agree.”

“I agree it’s part of love.”

“You can desire someone you do not love.”

“Well, I couldn’t,” she answered, gasping as he pushed the scrap of fabric covering her breast away, exposing her nipple.

She saw his eyes darken in appreciation, his hard jaw jutting just before he bent his head and took the tender pebbled peak in his mouth.

His mouth felt surprisingly cool against her warm skin, and then as he suckled her she grew hot and wet in a way that had nothing to do with the pool or the warm, cloudless night. She clung more tightly to him, her fingers biting into his shoulders as her body came to life, shivering and shuddering from the intense sensation streaking through her.

She strained to be closer, seeking more contact and more friction. As he drew on her nipple, she pressed her hips to him, wanting the rough rasp of his chest hair and the thick press of his erection.

He wrapped her legs around his waist, securing her ankles behind his back. “Don’t move,” he commanded.

“You’re not in charge—” she began to protest but then broke off as his fingers slipped inside her bikini bottoms, finding the cleft where she was so wet and hot.

She shuddered as he stroked her there, finding her tender nub and then down and circling back again. He then drew his fingers away, and he looked down at her, a black brow lifting.

Her hips rocked helplessly. She felt beyond bereft, her core clenching, her body straining for touch, for relief.

“Are you in charge, then?” he asked quietly, silkily, combing her dark, wet hair back from her face.

Her cheeks burned. She burned. She felt as if he’d set her on fire and was now watching her incinerate.

“Maybe I spoke too soon,” she said faintly.


“You are in charge. There. Happy?”

“Not yet. But I will be, soon.”

And then he slipped his hand back beneath the elastic of her bikini panty, stroking between her thighs, learning the shape of her. It was all very nice but she wanted him to do what he’d done before. Touch her there, at that place where all the nerve endings seemed to be.

She opened her thighs wider, pressing her hips at him, unable to ask for what she wanted, but he didn’t seem in a hurry to caress the nub. Instead, he traced the outer lips and then inner lips before slipping the tip of his finger inside her. She hissed a breath, lips parting as he withdrew and then did it again, just touching her with the tip, making her shudder, making her want to press his finger deeper.

“It will sting when I possess you on our wedding night,” he said, kissing the side of her neck, finding more sensitive spots she didn’t know existed. “But it will only hurt that first night.”

“We’re not marrying,” she breathed, twitching as he found her nub and gave it a caress.

“You should give up now,” he said, stroking the nub again, making her tighten and dance against him. “You won’t win.”

“You can’t buy me, and you can’t seduce me,” she choked.

“Maybe I can’t buy you, but I can seduce you. I am seducing you.” And then as he caressed her clit, he slipped the fingertip back inside her, making her whimper.

He deftly stroked both, and she didn’t know which pleasure to focus on. Both sensations felt so good, the bright, sharp pleasure at the top of her thighs, or the sensitive shivers from teasing her below.

She felt her body try to tighten around his finger, the sensations so new and exciting but also overwhelming.

He kissed her then, and she wrapped her arms more tightly around his neck, kissing him back. He sucked her tongue into his mouth, drawing on her tongue in a tight, hot, erotic rhythm that had her hips rotating. She felt like she was on fire, sensation flooding her. It was hard to focus on any one pleasure when it all felt so good together—her tongue in his mouth, his hand between her thighs, stroking her. She felt the pressure build and tighten, everything in her tensing, and then he slipped a finger inside her even as his thumb played across her nub and suddenly she couldn’t control the pleasure, couldn’t keep it together, and she cried out against his mouth, shattering in her first climax ever.

For long moments after, she was breathless and dazed. She felt boneless and weak and she rested her head against his chest as he rearranged her in his arms, letting her legs settle and her body relax. Another few moments later, she felt sufficiently recovered to push away, needing distance now, uncomfortable with what had just happened.

* * *

“Do you have a preference for the kind of ring you’d like?” he asked.

Poppy blinked, her brain still fuzzy and disconnected from the pleasure. “Ring?”

“I’ll give you the ring tomorrow, and we’ll marry a week from today. That gives us a full week before my birthday. I don’t want to leave it to the last minute this time.”

“That is surely the least romantic proposal I have ever heard of in my life.”

“I gave you romance at dinner. I just proved we have chemistry. And there is a great deal of it between us. Now we just need to finalize the details so we can move forward with our lives—”

“You’re mad,” she interrupted, floating farther away.

“Possibly. It runs in the family.”

“Don’t say that. It’s not funny.” Poppy had first learned of Randall’s father’s illness from the housekeeper at Langston House years ago. The housekeeper had wanted Poppy to understand why control was so important to the Sixth Earl of Langston. It seemed that the Fifth Earl had none.

“I’m entirely serious. My father was quite ill.”

“I know.”

“Sophie told you?”

“I don’t think Sophie knows.”

“But you do?”

“Mrs. Holmes told me.”

“Why would she do that?”

“It was the day af

ter your father’s funeral. You’d told me to return to London and she asked me not to go.”

“Why? Was she afraid I’d hurt myself?”

Poppy flinched. “No. She just didn’t want you alone. She thought you needed a friend with you.”

“And you were my friend?”

She lifted her chin, unwilling to let him see he’d hurt her. “I was the only one there. You’d managed to scare everyone else off.”

“You make me sound like a monster.”

She heard the bruised note in his voice. She glanced away, over the sparkling surface of the water, trying to think of something to say.

“Sophie used to call me the Ice Monster.” His voice had grown even deeper. “You used to laugh.”

“It was that or cry,” she flashed, glancing down at her hands skimming back and forth just below the surface of the water. “But I’m no Belle, and you’re no Beast and I can’t save you—”

“Not asking you to save me. I’m asking you to marry me.”

“In your case, it’s one and the same, isn’t it? You don’t want me. You don’t even want to marry. You’re just trying to protect your title and lands.”

When he didn’t answer, she persisted. “Is it really so terrible to lose the earldom and estates?”


“Why? You don’t need the money. And you don’t seem to care at all for the title. If you have all this here in Mehkar, why do you need Langston House and the rest? Most of your investments aren’t tied to the property, and the title is just a title.”

Good for Poppy for asking the question. But then, he would have been surprised if she’d hadn’t eventually asked it.

He certainly would have asked it if he were her, because she was right. The income wasn’t significant, and Dal wasn’t attached to the title, but the house was his home and then there was the real issue, the issue of duty. The issue of commitment and honor. Responsibility.

Duty and responsibility had been drummed into him every single day following his mother and brother’s funeral.

His brother Andrew had understood duty. His brother, Viscount Andrew Ulrich Mansur Grant, was to have been the Sixth Earl of Langston, and Andrew loved everything about being the firstborn. He understood the responsibility but he didn’t find it crushing. He knew he’d one day marry someone who benefited the estate, rather than someone he fancied. He would have been an excellent earl, too.