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He trailed down the column of her neck. "Am I getting closer?" he murmured.

She nodded, her eyes never leaving her breast.

He found her nipple again, his fingers tracing slow, tantalizing spirals around it, then on it, and all the while she watched, her body growing tighter and tighter.

And all she could hear was her breath, hot and heavy from her lips.


"Colin!" His name flew from her mouth in a strangled gasp. Surely he couldn't—

His lips closed around her, and before she'd even felt more than the heat of him, she bucked off the bench in surprise, her hips pressing shamelessly against his, then settling back down as he ground against her, holding her immobile as he pleasured her.

"Oh, Colin, Colin," she gasped, her hands flying around to his back, pressing desperately into his muscles, wanting nothing other than to hold him and keep him and never let him go.

He yanked at his shirt, pulling it free from the waist of his breeches, and she followed his cue by slipping her hands under the fabric and running them along the hot skin of his back. She'd never touched a man this way; she'd never touched anyone like this, except maybe herself, and even then, it wasn't like she could easily reach her own back.

He groaned when she touched him, then tensed when her fingers skimmed along his skin. Her heart leaped. He liked this; he liked the way she was touching him. She hadn't the least clue what to do with herself, but he liked it just the same.

"You're perfect," he whispered against her skin, his lips blazing a trail back up to the underside of her chin. His mouth claimed hers again, this time with increased fervor, and his hands slid underneath to cup her derriere, squeezing and kneading and pressing her up against his arousal.

"My God, I want you," he gasped, grinding his hips down. "I want to strip you bare and sink into you and never let you go."

Penelope groaned with desire, unable to believe how much pleasure she could feel from mere words. He made her feel wicked, naughty, and oh-so-desirable.

And she never wanted it to end.

"Oh, Penelope," he was groaning, his lips and hands growing more frantic. "Oh, Penelope. Oh, Penelope, oh—" He lifted his head. Very abruptly.

"Oh, God."

"What is it?" she asked, trying to lift the back of her head from the cushion.

"We've stopped."

It took her a moment to recognize the import of this. If they'd stopped, that meant they'd most likely reached their destination, which was ...

Her home.

" Oh, God!" She started yanking at the bodice of her gown with frantic motions. "Can't we just ask the driver to keep going?"

She'd already proven herself a complete wanton. There seemed little harm at this point in adding "shameless" to her list of behaviors.

He grabbed the bodice for her and hauled it into place. "What is the possibility your mother won't have noticed my carriage in front of your house yet?"

"Fairly good, actually," she said, "but Briarly will have done."

"Your butler will recognize my carriage?" he asked in disbelief.

She nodded. "You came the other day. He always remembers things like that."

His lips twisted in a grimly determined manner. "Very well, then," he said. "Make yourself presentable."

"I can race up to my room," Penelope said. "No one will see me."

"I doubt that," he said ominously, tucking in his shirt and smoothing his hair.

"No, I assure you—"

"And I assure you," he said, leaping on top of her words. "You will be seen." He licked his fingers, then ran them through his hair. "Do I look presentable?"

"Yes," she lied. In truth, he looked rather flushed, with swollen lips, and hair that didn't remotely adhere to a current style.

"Good." He hopped down from the carriage and held his hand out to her.

"You're coming in as well?" she asked.

He looked at her as if she'd suddenly gone daft. "Of course."

She didn't move, too perplexed by his actions to give her legs the orders to step down. There was certainly no reason he

had to accompany her inside. Propriety didn't really demand it, and—

"For God's sake, Penelope," he said, grabbing her hand and yanking her down. "Are you going to marry me or not?"


She hit the pavement.

Penelope was—in her opinion, at least—a bit more graceful than most people gave her credit for. She was a good dancer, could play the piano with her fingers arched perfectly, and could usually navigate a crowded room without bumping into an uncommon amount of people or furniture.

But when Colin made his rather matter-of-fact proposal, her foot—at the time halfway out of the carriage—found only air, her left hip found the curb, and her head found Colin's toes.

"Good God, Penelope," he exclaimed, crouching down. "Are you all right?"

"Just fine," she managed to get out, searching for the hole in the ground that must have just opened up, so that she could crawl into it and die.

"Are you certain?"

"It's nothing, really," she replied, holding her cheek, which she was certain now sported a perfect imprint of the top of Colin's boot. "Just a bit surprised, that is all."


"Why?" she echoed.

"Yes, why?"

She blinked. Once, twice, then again. "Er, well, it might have to do with your mentioning marriage."

He yanked her unceremoniously to her feet, nearly dislocating her shoulder in the process. "Well, what did you think I

would say?"

She stared at him in disbelief. Was he mad? "Not that," she finally replied.

"I'm not a complete boor," he muttered.

She brushed dust and pebbles off her sleeves. "I never said you were, I just—"

"I can assure you," he continued, now looking mortally offended, "that I do not behave as I did with a woman of your background without rendering a marriage proposal."

Penelope's mouth fell open, leaving her feeling rather like an owl.

"Don't you have a reply?" he demanded.

"I'm still trying to figure out what you said," she admitted.

He planted his hands on his hips and stared at her with a decided lack of indulgence.

"You must admit," she said, her chin dipping until she was regarding him rather dubiously through her lashes, "it did sound rather like you've, er—how did you say it—rendered marriage proposals before."

He scowled at her. "Of course I haven't. Now take my arm before it starts to rain."

She looked up at the clear blue sky.

"At the rate you're going," he said impatiently, "we'll be here for days."

"I... well..." She cleared her throat. "Surely you can forgive me my lack of composure in the face of such tremendous surprise."

"Now who's speaking in circles?" he muttered.

"I beg your pardon."

His hand tightened on her arm. "Let's just get going."

"Colin!" she nearly shrieked, tripping over her feet as she stumbled up the stairs. "Are you sure—"

"No time like the present," he said, almost jauntily. He seemed quite pleased with himself, which puzzled her, because she would have bet her entire fortune—and as Lady Whistledown, she'd amassed quite a fortune—that he had not intended to ask her to marry him until the moment his carriage had ground to a halt in front her house.

Perhaps not even until the words had left his lips.

He turned to her. "Do I need to knock?"

"No, I—"

He knocked anyway, or rather banged, if one wanted to be particular about it.

"Briarly," Penelope said through an attempted smile as the butler opened the door to receive them.

"Miss Penelope," he murmured, one brow rising in surprise. He nodded at Colin. "Mr. Bridgerton."

"Is Mrs. Featherington at home?" Colin asked brusquely.

"Yes, but—"

"Excellent." Colin barged in, pulling Pen

elope along with him. "Where is she?"

"In the drawing room, but I should tell you—"

But Colin was already halfway down the hall, Penelope one step behind him. (Not that she could be anywhere else, seeing as how his hand was wrapped rather tightly around her upper arm.)

"Mr. Bridgerton!" the butler yelled out, sounding slightly panicked.