"I hate that word," she burst out, trying unsuccessfully to break free of his grasp.
"I don't think you know what it means." "I know you say it every time you force yourself on me."
And every time I do, you melt in my arms." "I will not marry you," Elizabeth said furiously, mentally circling for some way out. "I don't know you. I don't trust you."
"But you do want me," he told her with a knowing smile. "Stop saying that, damn you! I want an old husband, I told you that," she cried, mindlessly saying anything she could think of to put him off. "I want my life to be mine. I told you that, too. And you came dashing to England and-and bought me." That brought her up short, and her eyes began to blaze.
"No," be stated firmly, though it was splitting hairs, "I made a settlement on your uncle."
The tears she'd been fighting valiantly to hide began to spill over her lashes. "I am not a pauper," she cried. "I am not a p-pauper," she repeated, her voice choking with tears. "I have-had-a dowry, damn you. And if you were so stu-stupid you let him swindle you out of it, it serves you right!"
Ian was torn between laughing, kissing her, and murdering her heartless uncle.
"How dare you make bargains I didn't agree to?" she blazed while tears spilled from her wondrous eyes. "I'm not a piece of chattel, no matter what my uncle thi-thinks. I'd have found some way out of marrying Belhaven. I would have," she cried fiercely. "I would have found a way to keep Havenhurst myself without my uncle. You had no right, no right to bargain with my uncle. You're no better than Belhaven!"
"You're right," Ian admitted grimly, longing to draw her into his arms and absorb some of her pain, and then it hit him-a possible way to neutralize some of her humiliation and opposition. Recalling how proud she'd been of her own bargaining ability with tradesmen when she'd spoken of it in Scotland, he tried to enlist her participation now. "As you said, you're perfectly capable of bargaining for yourself." Coaxingly, he said, "Will you bargain with me. Elizabeth?"
"Certainly," she flung back. "The agreement is off; I refuse the terms. The bargaining is over."
His lips twitched, but his voice was filled with finality "Your uncle means to unload you and the expense of that house you love, and nothing is going to stop him. Without him, you cannot keep Havenhurst. He explained the situation to me in detail."
Despite the fact that she shook her head, Elizabeth knew it was true, and the sense of impending doom she'd been struggling with for weeks began to overwhelm her. A husband is the only possible solution to your problems."
"Don't you dare suggest a man as the solution for my troubles," she cried. "You're all the cause of them! My father gambled away the entire family fortune and left me in debt; my brother disappeared after getting me deeper in debt; you kissed me and destroyed my reputation; my fiance left me at the first breath of a scandal you caused; and my uncle is trying to sell me! As far as I'm concerned," she finished, spitting fire, "men make excellent dancing partners, but beyond that I have no use for the lot of you. You're all quite detestable, actually, when one takes time to ponder it, which of course one rarely does, for it would only cause depression."
"Unfortunately, we're the only alternative," Ian pointed out. And because he would not give her up no matter what he had to do to keep her, he added, "In this case, I'm your only alternative. Your uncle and I have signed the betrothal contract, and the money has already changed hands. I am, however, willing to bargain with you on the terms." "Why should you?" she said scornfully. Ian recognized in her answer the same hostility he found whenever he negotiated with any proud man who was being forced by circumstances, not by Ian, to sell something he wanted to keep. Like those men, Elizabeth felt powerless; and, like them, her pride alone would force her to retaliate by making the whole ordeal as difficult as possible for Ian.
In a business matter, Ian certainly wouldn't have ruined his own negotiating position by helping his opponent to see the value of what he held and the advantageous terms he might wring from Ian because of it. In Elizabeth's case, however, Ian sought to do exactly that. "I'm willing to bargain with you," he said gently, "for the same reason anyone tries to bargain-you have something I want." Desperately trying to prove to her she wasn't powerless or empty-handed, he added, "I want it badly, Elizabeth."
"What is it?" she asked warily, but much of the resentment in her lovely face was already being replaced by surprise.
"This," he whispered huskily. His hands tightened on her shoulders, pulling her close as he bent his head and took her soft mouth in a slow, compelling kiss, sensually molding and shaping her lips to his. Although she stubbornly refused to respond, he felt the rigidity leaving her; and as soon as it did, Ian showed her just how badly he wanted it. His arms went around her, crushing her to him, his mouth moving against hers with hungry urgency, his hands shifting possessively over her spine and hips, fitting her to his hardened length. Dragging his mouth from hers, he drew an unsteady breath. "Very badly," he whispered.
Lifting his head, he gazed down at her, noting the telltale flush on her cheeks, the soft confusion in her searching green gaze, and the delicate hand she'd forgotten was resting against his chest. Keeping his own hand splayed against her lower back, he held her pressed to his rigid erection, torturing himself as he slid his knuckles against her cheek and quietly said, "For that privilege, and the others that follow it, I'm willing to agree to any reasonable terms you state. And I'll even forewarn you," he said with a tender smile at her upturned face, "I'm not a miserly man, nor a poor one."
Elizabeth swallowed, trying to keep her voice from shaking in reaction to his kiss. "What other privileges that follow kissing?" she asked suspiciously.
The question left him nonplussed. "Those that involve the creation of children," he said, studying her face curiously. "I want several of them-with your complete cooperation, of course," he added, suppressing a smile.
"Of course," she conceded without a second's hesitation. "I like children, too, very much."
Ian stopped while he was ahead, deciding it was wiser not to question his good fortune. Evidently Elizabeth had a very frank attitude toward marital sex-rather an unusual thing for a sheltered, well-bred English girl.
"What are your terms?" he asked, and he made a final effort to tip the balance of power into her hands and out of his by adding, "I'm scarcely in a position to argue."