He didn’t answer, so finally she turned back. Simeon was busy jamming a gilt chair between the closed door and the dressing table.

“What are you doing?” she whispered.

“I’m not offering for your hand,” he said, walking over and towering above her.

“There’s no need to emphasize your decision!” she snapped. “I fully understand your reluctance.”

“Do you, Isidore? Do you really?”

She lifted her chin. “Of course I understand. I gave you scant courtesy when I made those decisions about the house, for which you were justly angry.”

“No.”

“No?”

“I’m not offering for your hand, Isidore, because I’m taking it.”

She blinked at him.

“I’m not a tame dog to follow you to London and paw at your skirts. I want you,” he said fiercely. “Because I love you, and you love me. And damn it, you’re going to be the very devil to live with. But you’re my devil, and I can’t let anyone else have you, and I can’t imagine life without you.”

Isidore took one sobbing, song-filled breath. “I thought—”

“You thought I didn’t love you enough to stay with you,” he said. “And you tested me by taking off to London and expecting me to follow.”

She lurched to her feet like an ungainly adolescent, literally throwing herself into his arms. “I love you,” she said, her voice breaking.

“I thought I couldn’t follow you because it meant I was your inferior.”

“I never thought that!” Isidore said.

“I couldn’t accept the truth,” he said. “You rule my heart, Isidore, and there’s no shame in that.”

She took his face in her hands. “I love you,” she whispered.

He kissed her so hard that her hands slipped around his neck. He kissed her so sweetly that her heart was never the same. And he kissed her so fiercely that she knew that a lion had voluntarily walked into the circle of her arms. Isidore Del’Fino, Duchess of Cosway, never forgot that last lesson.

His hands were roaming. “You can’t,” she said breathlessly, thinking of all the people on deck—and he did it anyway. “You shouldn’t,” she gasped a few minutes later—but he already was.

Her bodice was designed to cover her breasts, no matter the circumstances, but it gave way before Simeon’s determination. The breath caught in Isidore’s throat when she saw his face.

“You’re so beautiful,” he said. His voice was hoarse and his hands hovered above her, as if he were afraid to touch her. “Ripe and delicate and as beautiful as a rose.”

They didn’t have time for poetry. So Isidore caught him by the hair and said, “Simeon.”

He looked at her, his eyes dark as a moonless night. “Kiss me,” she commanded.

“Like this?” he asked, a glimmer of laughter in those wicked eyes of his. He dropped a polite little kiss on her nipple.

She shook her head.

“Like this?” he inquired, giving her a tiny lick.

Her hips bucked, but it wasn’t enough. “Simeon.”

So he laughed and suckled her, shaping her other breast with a rough hand. All thought of possible interruptions flew from her head.

It wasn’t many minutes later that Simeon found himself on his knees before Isidore. Her skirts were thrown up and she was lying back on the chaise-longue, making the sort of moans that only a woman in a very, very pleasurable state might make.

She was so beautiful. Her hair had toppled out of its coiffure of elaborate curls and puffs, and fell about her shoulders. Her lips were a deeper red than any ruby; her skin was peaches and cream. She tasted like nectar, but the true aphrodisiac was the look in her eyes.

He drew his fingers down over creamy flesh and began sweetly circling a bit lower. She trembled and then begged, finally propping herself up on her elbows and scowling at him, which was just what he wanted.

He loved her scowl. So he dipped his head and gave her exactly what she wanted, drove her to the very edge of abandonment, kissed her until cries tumbled from her lips like a song…and pulled back.

Sure enough, he got the scowl back. “You’re trying to make me addled,” Isidore said, catching her breath.

He soothed her with his fingers until she writhed under his touch. “I’m just making sure that you know who I am.”

“Simeon,” she breathed. “My husband.”

It was at that moment he heard a dim banging noise behind him. He ignored it, concentrating on giving Isidore exactly what she wanted. Sending his beloved toppling into the kind of chaotic bliss that poets dream of. Except—

It was more than a distant annoyance. There was a chaotic shouting and crashing from the boat deck. And then the pounding was on their very door. “Come out!” a voice called out, high and alarmed. “The prison ship, the hulk, hit the yacht and prisoners—”

“What?” Simeon said sharply, lifting his head. One had to expect that at some point the king’s servants would desire entrance and he meant to deny them. But this sounded more serious.

“He said something about prisoners,” Isidore said, her breath catching in a little pant. “A prison ship. Simeon…don’t stop, please don’t stop!”

But his entire body had gone on alert in the time it took for her to say the sentence. “Up,” he commanded, jerking down her skirts as he spoke.

“What?” Isidore stood up, but her legs were wobbly and she clung to his arm.

“One of the prison boats moored in the Thames must have struck this yacht. Or we struck it.” He wrenched on his breeches.

“Oh.” Isidore stood for a moment, trying to catch her breath. “I suppose we’d better leave then.” She found one of her shoes and turned it right side up.

“Can you run in those?” Simeon was listening at the door.

“No.”

“Leave them.” He tossed Villiers’s beautiful coat into the corner.

“But the diamonds—” Isidore looked about swiftly, and then flung her shoes under the sofa. She could always retrieve them later.

Simeon pulled the chair out of the way. “I think from the noise the prisoners have escaped and are getting onto the yacht,” he said. “We need to get out of here.”

“Couldn’t that chair protect us?” Isidore asked longingly, running her hands up his chest.

“Not if they fire the vessel.”

Isidore’s eyes rounded. “I can’t swim in this gown, Simeon.”

“Do you remember that conversation we had, back when I was afraid of crises and you told me there weren’t any in England?” He couldn’t help it; she was so delicious that he had to kiss her again.

“You’re my bally- something,” Isidore said a moment later, looking a great deal less frightened. “Just tell me what to do, capo.”

“We’re going overboard,” he said. “We can’t stay here, with you in that gown. And we need to get off as quickly as possible.”

Isidore nodded and put her hand in his. He pulled the door open cautiously and looked out. There was no one in the ballroom. But with the door open, the sound from the deck swelled. There was screaming and the unmistakable sound of swords clashing. “They’re fighting,” Isidore breathed.

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