“We don’t? Didn’t you tell me this before?” she said sleepily.
“Would you describe yourself as docile and meek in every way?”
“Biddable and likely to listen calmly to good advice?”
“Yes to the second part, no to the first.” But he was obviously going down the mental list he had been cherishing for years.
“Willing to allow your husband to command you on occasion?”
“Sometimes…” she said.
He eyed her.
“In bed?” she offered hopefully.
“What about if you’re in danger?”
“I’m worried that unless we have a system of command set up, such as I had with my men, this marriage will founder or, worse, in a moment of crisis, I won’t be able to save us.”
“But Simeon, there aren’t moments of crisis in England,” she said painstakingly. “The things you likely envision—attacks by lions, sandstorms, marauding tribes—they simply do not happen here in England.”
“The Dead Watch had a remarkable resemblance to a mangy pack of starving lions.”
Isidore nodded. “If I encounter the Dead Watch again, or if there is an attack by a marauding lion, I promise that I will accept your commands.”
He smiled. “We have to know where the ultimate authority lies.”
Isidore didn’t like the sound of that. “If it’s not a moment of immediate physical danger, I would most biddably listen to the reasons behind the advice you’re offering.”
It was his turn to scowl. “I have to know that you’re mine, Isidore.”
“I am. According to English law, I am one of your possessions, just like a cow or a privy house.”
“You see? You don’t really accept it.”
“Well, I can hardly change the entire system of government in England. I’ve always known that once you came home I would have a husband.”
“It’s important,” he said earnestly. “I have to know you respect my opinions, that you’ll obey me without a moment’s thought. Otherwise our marriage will never work.”
She shook her head. “What if you said, pour that cup of coffee over my hand—and it was burning hot?”
“Why would I want coffee poured over my hand?” He had a typically male, confused look on his face.
“It’s just an illustration.”
“Pour it,” he said decisively. “If I say such a thing, it means I’ve lost my mind and returned to my second infancy. You’ll have to teach me the way we teach children, by example.”
She sighed. “What if you command me to do something that I consider truly foolish? What if there is an obviously better way to handle the given situation?”
“Why would I do that?’”
She resisted the temptation to say, Because you’re not God Almighty! And said, “Let’s just pretend that the situation arose.”
“Sometimes I make mistakes,” he said, surprising her. “There was a time when I bought a vast number of red and green flowered beads to trade. I thought they were far more beautiful than the small sky-blue ones that the merchant in Jidda told me to buy. I thought he was trying to trick me. Once we had hauled those beads far into the deserts of Abyssinia, they were rejected by everyone.”
“Why on earth did you bring beads with you?”
“They were much easier than carrying food or water,” he explained. “I always carried a quantity of beads.”
“Why not money?”
“Money is local to a given district. But the female desire for beautiful things…universal.” He grinned at her.
“So where are my sky-blue beads?” she said, giggling.
He rolled over on top of her. “So will you listen to me if there’s a dangerous situation?”
She looked up at him. “Not if you’re choosing the wrong kind of beads. But I don’t mind obeying you if you’re right.”
“Someone has to be the capo, to put it in Italian, or our marriage will be like a failed expedition. It will fall apart.”
Isidore stopped herself from rolling her eyes. It was as if Simeon was haunted by the memory of wild beasts jumping at him. It might take a few years, but he would come to learn that the English countryside held no dangers she could think of. “In cases of danger…”
“What if we had a signal between us, and when I included the signal in something I said, then you obeyed me without a second thought?”
She nodded. “As long as you didn’t abuse your privilege.”
He was braced over her, on his elbows, his lips deliciously close to hers. Who could have thought that a large male body lying on top of hers could feel so good, against all reason?
He leaned down and brushed his lips with hers. “If I say, now, Isidore, you have to obey.”
“You say now a hundred times a day,” she said.
“You would know the difference if I really meant it.”
“Danger,” she prompted him. “Danger, remember? I might not be listening all that closely to your tone of voice.”
She gave a little wiggle to remind him about the other things he was getting with this marriage along with a bad-tempered Italian wife. Sure enough, his eyes glazed a little.
“How about something in a foreign language?” she suggested.
His face cleared. “If I say, As your Baalomaal, Isidore, then you obey me without question.”
“And what does Baalomaal mean?” she asked suspiciously.
He leaned down again, a wicked smile in his eyes. “As the Lord of your Bedchamber, Isidore, I command that you kiss me now.”
She drew his head down to hers. “As you wish,” she said, as demurely as any husband could wish.
The Cricket and Song Inn
West of London
March 4, 1784
Jemma, the Duchess of Beaumont, allowed herself to be handed out of the carriage only to discover that there was an acre of mud covering the inn yard. She halted on the bottom step of her carriage and surveyed her groomsmen, trying to estimate their general strength. Unfortunately, the two standing at her carriage door looked suspiciously weedy. The last thing she wanted was to be dropped into the muck.
“Your Grace,” came a drawling voice.
She jerked up her head to find that the only other carriage drawn up in the yard had just flung open its door, revealing the Duke of Villiers.
“Villiers!” she cried, “Do tell me that you have a husky footman who can get me into that inn. I’m feeling extreme trepidation, as I’m sure my poor groomsmen are as well.”
He stepped down into the mud as if it didn’t exist. He was dressed exquisitely, of course. His cloak was a ruby red so dark that it seemed nearly black. Its capes lay over his shoulders with the sleek elegance that comes from the very finest wool.
Jemma couldn’t help smiling at him. Villiers was so dramatic, and yet now that she had come to know him, his elegance and drama seemed to fade in relation to the rest of him. He walked over to her.
“I hope you don’t expect me to put down my cloak,” he said in his usual drawl. “I’ve worn this only once, and I am inestimably fond of it.”