The Duke I'm Going to Marry(9)

By: Meara Platt

“Are you that eager to be rid of me?”

She nodded, though it wasn’t for the reason he believed. A delicious heat radiated off his body. That heat, mingled with his divine scent and glorious, sinewy strength, was devastating to her resistance. In another moment, she’d be cupping his face in her hands and drawing him down so that his mouth met hers. All that stopped her was that she didn’t know how to kiss. Indeed, she was ridiculously incompetent at it. She’d only been kissed the one time, two years ago, and Ian had been the one doing the kissing. “I don’t wish to accidentally hurt you. I play with my elbows out and I might jab you.”

Ian shook his head and sighed. “I’m not delicate, Dillie. Ah, tea is here. Set the tray down on the table beside the hearth, Pruitt.”

“Of course, Your Grace.”

Ian winked at Dillie. “See, he doesn’t call me an idiot.” He held out his hand to her. “Join me. You can play that merry tune afterward.”

She ignored his hand, but agreed to move from the piano. She was eager to put some distance between them, though the chairs beside the fireside were only slightly separated by the small table upon which Pruitt had set the tray. She and Ian would still be too close for her liking, but not practically atop each other as they were on the piano bench.

He surprised her by taking her hand and placing it on his forearm. “I’m not delicate,” he repeated when she hesitated putting any weight on his forearm. “My injuries are healing nicely.”

“But they were serious. Half your body is still bound in bandages.”

He shrugged. “They’ll come off soon.” Then he shook his head and laughed. “I’ll give you fair warning before anything else comes off.”

She tried not to grin, but couldn’t hold back. “The sight of your naked backside as you rose from my bed is seared into my eyeballs. I’ll never forget it.” Her grin broadened. “Now I’m doomed to think of you whenever I look at a plate of firm and golden hot cross buns.”

He arched an eyebrow. “Firm and golden? I’ll accept that. Beats pale, wrinkled, and scrawny.”

He continued to gaze at her in a gentle, I’m-enjoying-your-company manner that made Dillie’s heart beat erratically fast again. She didn’t want Ian to like her. Nor did she wish to like him. She was used to his condescending arrogance, and found him easy to resist when he was his usual, irritating self. But a charming, attentive Ian was devastating to her composure. She wanted to climb onto his lap, put her arms around his neck, and kiss him senseless.

She cleared her throat as she reached for the pot of tea, struggling to concentrate on pouring the hot liquid into the delicate teacups and not all over her shaking hands. “I’ve given some thought to the Chipping Way curse. Quite a bit of thought to it actually,” she said, hoping to strike a casual tone.

“Have you now?” He eased into the chair beside hers and took the offered cup of tea, but he paid little attention to it as he waited for her to continue. What was he thinking? No matter, she preferred to do the talking.

“I have. And I’ve realized that you can’t possibly be the man I’m going to marry.” There, she’d said it. But his lingering silence began to put her on edge. “I’m sure you’re every bit as relieved as I am. Not that you believed in the superstition. Nor did I, not really. But one can never be too careful about such things.”

Still silent. Why wasn’t he pleased? Smiling in gratitude? She began to fuss over the refreshments, suddenly afraid to look him in the eye. Not that he was looking at her. He wasn’t. His gaze was now fixed on the fire blazing in the hearth.

“I see,” he said finally. “How did you come to that momentous conclusion?” He seemed tense as he spoke, but he couldn’t be. He’d made no secret of his thoughts on marriage. He didn’t wish to be tied to her any more than she wished to be tied to him.

“When my sisters met their husbands on Chipping Way... or rather, ran headlong into them on Chipping Way, it was their first meeting. It happened all four times. First Rose’s kiln exploded and Julian ran to her rescue. Then Laurel almost killed Graelem by running him down with her horse. Gabriel responded to Daisy’s cries for help and rescued our young cousin from a fast-moving carriage, and Lily met Ewan when his dog ran her over. These were all first meetings—love-at-first-sight sort of blinding bursts of attraction.”

“Like a brilliant show of fireworks.”

“Yes,” she said with a satisfied nod.

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