She stood up, self-conscious in her revealing gown, and took a step forward, then stopped, arrested by the spark flaring in those golden eyes as they moved over her body in the revealing gown. Unaccountably wary and shaky, she
hastily turned back to the mirror and absently ran a hand
over her hair. Ian came up behind her, and his hands settled on her shoulders. In the mirror she watched him bend his dark head, felt his warm lips against the curve of her neck, sending tingling sensations down her neck and arm. "You're trembling," he said in the gentlest voice she'd ever heard.
"I know," she admitted with a nervous tremor in her voice. "I don't know why."
His lips curved in a smile. "Don't you?" he asked softly. Elizabeth shook her head, longing to turn to him and plead with him to tell her what had happened to Robert; afraid to hear his answer; afraid to ruin this night with her suspicions-suspicions she knew had to be unfounded. Afraid of what was in store for her in that bed . . .
Unable to tear her gaze from his, Elizabeth watched his hand slide around her waist from behind, pulling her against him until she felt his hard chest against her back, the imprint of his legs against her own. He bent his head again, his arm tightening as he lazily kissed her ear, and his other hand swept up her arm, sliding beneath the satin ribbon at her shoulder, his hand seeking the side of her breast, fingers splaying wide in a bold, possessive caress.
Slowly he turned her in his arms, and then he kissed her again, this time with slow ardor, his hands molding her close, and Elizabeth kissed him back, helplessly caught up in the stirring sensations his kiss always evoked, her arms sliding around his neck to hold him clasped to her. . . and the moment they did, he swung her into his arms, his mouth still claiming hers as he carried her through the doorway and into his spacious suite, where a huge bed stood upon a dais.
Lost in the stormy kiss, Elizabeth felt her legs gliding down his as he gently lowered her against him until her feet touched the floor. But when his fingers pulled at the ribbon that held her gown in place at her shoulder, she jerked free of his kiss, automatically clamping her hand over his. "What are you doing?" she asked in a quaking whisper. His fingers stilled, and Ian lifted his heavy-lidded gaze to hers.
The question took him by surprise, but as he stared into her green eyes Ian saw her apprehension, and he had a good idea what was causing it. "What do you think I'm doing?" he countered cautiously.
She hesitated, as if unwilling even to accuse him of such an unspeakable act, and then she admitted in a small, reluctant voice, "Disrobing me."
"And that surprises you?" "Surprises me? Of course it does. Why wouldn't it?" Elizabeth asked, more suspicious than ever of what Lucinda had told her.
Quietly he said, "What exactly do you know about what takes place between a husband and wife in bed?"
You-you mean .as it pertains to the creation of children ??" she said. quoting his words to her the day she agreed to become betrothed to him.
He smiled with tender amusement at her phrasing. "I suppose you can call it that-for now."
"Only what Lucinda told me." He waited to hear an explanation, and Elizabeth reluctantly added, "She said a husband kisses his wife in bed and that it hurts the first time, and that is how it is done."
Ian hesitated, angry with himself for not having followed his own instincts and questioned her further when she seemed fully informed and without maidenly qualms about lovemaking. As gently as he could, he said, "You're a very intelligent young woman, love, not an overly fastidious spinster like your former duenna. Now, do you honestly believe the rules of nature would be completely set aside for people?"
His fingers slipped beneath the satin ribbons that held her shimmering gown on her shoulders, and he eased them off. Ian felt her tremble beneath his hands, and he put his arms around her, only to have her stiffen more. "I promise you," he whispered, mentally cursing Lucinda Throckmorton-Jones to perdition, "that you'll find nothing disgusting about what happens between us in this bed." Realizing that the suspense was going to be worse than the actuality for her, he leaned down and blew out the candles beside the bed, then eased her satin nightdress off her shoulders. She flinched at his touch, and he sensed the jumbled emotions running through her. Tightening his hands on her shoulders to stop her from pulling away, he said quietly, "If I'd thought for a moment all this was going to come as a surprise, I'd have explained it to you weeks ago."
Oddly, it meant a great deal to Elizabeth to know that while Lucinda-and everyone else, evidently-had guarded the facts from her, Ian would have trusted her with them. She nodded jerkily and waited in stiff tension while he unfastened her gown and sent it sliding down around her ankles, then she hastily climbed beneath the sheets, trying not to panic.
This was not the way Ian intended his wedding night should be, and as he removed his clothes by the light of the single candle burning across the room, he was determined that it would at least end as he intended. Elizabeth felt the bed sink beneath his weight and drew her whole body into the smallest possible space. He moved onto his side, leaning up on an elbow, and his hand touched her cheek.
When he said nothing Elizabeth opened her eyes, staring straight ahead, and in her agitated state, lying naked next to a man who she knew was undoubtedly naked as well, she was a mass of disjointed emotions. Wordsworth's warnings tolled in one part of her mind while another part warned her that her own ignorance of the marital act didn't relieve her of keeping their bargain; she felt tricked somehow, as well.
Lying beside her, Ian put his hand on her arm, his thumb stroking soothingly across her arm, listening to her rapid breathing. She swallowed audibly and said, "I realize now what you expected from your part of the betrothal bargain and what rights I granted you this morning. You must think I am the most ignorant, uninformed female alive not to have known what-"
"Don't do this, darling!" he said, and Elizabeth heard the urgency in his voice; she felt it as he bent his head and seized her lips in a hard, insistent kiss and did not stop until he drew a response from her. Only then did he speak again, and his voice was low and forceful. "This has nothing to do with rights-not the ones you granted me at our betrothal nor the ones this morning in church. Had we been wed in Scotland, we could have spoken the old vows. Do you know what words, what promises we would have spoken had we been there, not here, this morning?" His hand slid up to her cheek, cupping it as if to soften the effect of his tone, and as Elizabeth gazed at his hard, beloved face in the candlelight her shyness and fears slid away. "No," she whispered.