home | login | register | DMCA | contacts | help | donate |      


my bookshelf | genres | recommend | rating of books | rating of authors | reviews | new | | collections | | | add

Chapter Five

Late the following morning, after another nearly sleepless night, Kit went down to breakfast. A quick survey of the breakfast room revealed the duke seated at the head of the table, his head barely visible above the edge of the newspaper. No one else. Kit realized she'd been holding her breath, and exhaled in a slow sigh. The sound attracted the duke's attention; he peered over his newspaper, scowled as he recognized her, then snapped the paper back into place. Knowing from yesterday's experience that trying to speak to His Grace alone was fruitless, and not overly fond of the idea of trying to eat beneath the duke's scathing glare, Kit wrapped a scone in a napkin and retreated to the terrace.

Morning sun bathed the formal garden in a glow of gentle light. Blooms burst forth in a profusion of color, especially in the well-tended beds of roses for which Broadwell Manor was famous. Lavender scented the air; heavy-headed irises nodded in the slight breeze. The laburnums wore long trusses of yellow flowers. A few insects buzzed through the warm, humid air. A flash of color behind a boxwood topiary caught her eye, and Kit headed toward it.

She passed along a series of gravel paths that radiated outward from the middle in a maze-like lattice. At the center of the garden stood a fountain, a structure that involved two winged cherubs pouring water from pitchers into a single immense basin. Water splashed and gurgled in counterpoint to the ringing birdsong.

The dowager sat on one of the stone benches that ringed the basin, her shoulders hunched beneath her fringed shawl. In her dress of grass green silk, with a wispy lace cap perched atop her gray curls, the elderly lady reminded Kit of a dandelion that had gone to seed. Her face looked pale and drawn despite the spots of rouge on her cheeks.

Kit put two and two together: the duke's surly mood and the dowager's depression. A yawning pit opened at the bottom of her stomach. Not already! She sent a fervent prayer heavenward. Oh, please, not the children. Don't let him have threatened to keep them away from her

The dowager did not seem to hear the crunch of gravel beneath the heels of Kit's half boots, but continued to stare into the empty basin of the fountain. Kit worried her lower lip between her teeth, then pasted a bright smile on her face. "Good morning, Your Grace," she called. "How lucky we are to have such fine weather."

The dowager glanced up then, and her unhappiness vanished beneath an answering smile. She straightened. "Good morning, child. Yes, fine weather indeed. Come and sit with me."

Kit sat obediently, then began to unwrap the scone. "You seemed rather melancholy just now, Your Grace."

"Did I? Well, I shall have to stop that at once. How can I be melancholy when you are here?" she said, a twinkle in her dark eyes.

Kit placed a gentle hand on the lady's arm. "Are you feeling well, Your Grace?"

"Of course I am well, child. Never better. Why do you ask?"

"I heard that you had quarreled with the duke," Kit replied as delicately as she could, "and that you took to your bed after you returned from your outing."

"Oh, pish," snorted the dowager. "Afraid my grandson will give me apoplexy, what? You know I am not so weak and frail as all that."

"No, not at all, ma'am," Kit hastened to amend. "But I was concerned for you, especially after you took dinner in your rooms."

"You needn't be, child. I just could not stand the thought of eating while that sour-faced grandson of mine glared at me from across the table. The prospect was enough to curdle my stomach."

Kit's hand closed over her scone. "I know what you mean. I trust you are recovered this morning?"

"Quite, although I would feel a good deal better if my relations would stop meddling in my affairs," the dowager declared. "I am prodigiously displeased. I made my wishes quite clear when I told them I wanted to hear no more of their nonsense, but they have not paid any heed."

"Would you like to leave?" Kit asked quietly. "We can be back in Bath before nightfall."

"No." The dowager shook her head. "I will not turn tail and run from this bumble broth, child, and give my ninny of a grandson even the smallest sense of victory. Leaving now will only postpone the inevitable. No, we shall stay the entire week and sort out this mess once and for all. Unless, of course, you wish to leave."

Kit jerked up her head, startled. "Oh no, Your Grace."

"I must say I am glad to hear it, my dear. We shall show them that we're made of sterner stuff, what?"

"Of course," Kit murmured. She glanced down at the napkin on her lap, the scone a rather crumbly mess in the center of it, and folded it back up and set it aside, her appetite gone. Apprehension coiled in the pit of her stomach, and remained no matter how hard she tried to dispel it. She would not be the one to suggest that they leave Broadwell Manor, even to get away from the marquess; she could not break her word, nor would she cry coward. This was about the dowager's happiness, not hers.

Lord Bainbridge's words to her yesterday in the gallery told her exactly what he wanted from her, just as his kiss had told her that he was not a man to be put off.

His kiss.

Embarrassed heat scorched her face. Why on earth had she allowed him to bait her like that? To talk of seduction-she blushed again-in such a frank and open conversation? What a great looby she had been! The marquess had planned the whole thing from start to finish; he had probably been the one to suggest to the dowager that he return to the house to "check on" her. And she had fallen neatly into his trap. But her body had betrayed her. She had luxuriated in the sensation of his lips over hers, of his strong arms enfolding her body. She twitched. No matter how much she enjoyed it, she would not let him seduce her, not until he had followed through with his part of the bargain. Her fingers tightened on the edge of the bench.

"I was right, you know," commented the dowager.

"I beg your pardon?" Kit sat up in an instant.

The elderly woman regarded her with speculation. "Woolgathering, child? That is unlike you. Is anything the matter?"

Kit's blush intensified. "No. Please go on, Your Grace."

"I was merely going to say that my suspicions are correct, that my grandson and the rest of the family are plotting against me."

"Plotting against you?" Kit repeated. She flinched. She really must stop doing that. "What makes you say that?"

"Not only did they have the gall to tell me that it is high time for me to retire to the dower house in Wiltshire," she huffed, "and to stop embarrassing them with my exploits and odd starts, but this morning my grandson actually threatened to keep the children away from me unless I accede to his wishes. Of all the cheek!"

The pit in the bottom of Kit's stomach yawned wider. Oh, God, it was as she feared. They would have to act quickly, before a compromise became impossible.

"The duke may have spoken in anger," she soothed. "After all, the two of you are quite alike in your temperaments."

"Well, I suppose so," grumped the duchess. She hesitated. "I have never embarrassed you, have I child?"

"No, Your Grace," Kit insisted. She reached out and gave the dowager's hand a reassuring squeeze. "Never. And you know I am truthful enough to tell you what is de trop."

"Dear child"-her eyes grew moist, and she cleared her throat-"I do not know what I will do if I cannot see my great-grandchildren. Perhaps perhaps it is time for me to retire."

"Do not give up hope, Your Grace." Kit's mouth hardened. "The week is not over. Something may yet be done to make the duke see reason."

"Reason?" erupted the dowager. She fumbled for her handkerchief. "That oaf will see reason when pigs grow wings."

"The duke is uncommonly stubborn," Kit admitted. "Then again, Your Grace, so are you."

"I?" The dowager drew herself up.

Kit shrugged. "You are, ma'am, and you know it."

"Oh, well, I suppose I am. But not as stubborn as he is."

Kit struggled to hide her grin; such a gesture would only goad the duchess to further heights of indignation.

Then the duchess looked toward the house. "Ah, here comes my great-nephew-we shall ask his opinion. Good morning, Bainbridge."

Kit froze.

The marquess strode down the center path with a jaunty gait, one hand raised in greeting. He cut a handsome figure this morning in his jacket of charcoal gray superfine, buff inexpressibles, and highly polished Hessians. Kit forced her gaze to focus at the level of his snowy cravat, no higher; to look into his eyes meant ruin.

"Good morning, Your Grace. Good morning, Mrs. Mallory," he called as he drew close.

"Good morning," Kit muttered between clenched teeth. She had been relieved to avoid him at the breakfast table, and yet here he was. And, from the teasing light in his dark eyes, she could see he was quite pleased with himself for having found her.

Bainbridge made an elegant leg. "You are looking well, Mrs. Mallory," he said. "I am delighted to see that your megrim no longer troubles you."

The nerve of the man! Kit glared at him. "Thank you, my lord, but I fear another pain has come along to take its place."

He grinned.

The dowager looked askance at her. Kit raised her chin.

"I have brought some good news," he announced. "If the weather cooperates, we shall picnic on the lakeshore this afternoon."

"A picnic?" The dowager raised a doubtful eyebrow. "And whose suggestion was this?"

He cocked his head toward her. "Her Grace thought it might give us all a chance to enjoy each other's company in a more informal setting, and to allow the children to spend some time with you."

Kit threw a wary glance at the marquess. A picnic? The fussy, prim-and-proper duchess had proposed a picnic? Her eyes narrowed. Fustian. Either this was Lord Bainbridge's doing, or the duke was putting the screws to his grandmother, showing her just what she would be denied if she did not capitulate. How could anyone be so cruel? She pressed her lips together.

A visible struggle between delight and despair crossed the dowager's face. "Well, I must compliment my grand-daughter-in-law on such a fine idea. The children will be delighted."

"Take heart, Your Grace," Kit said softly. "Everything will work out."

"Has something happened?" the marquess asked, frowning.

The young woman regarded him sadly. "His Grace has issued an ultimatum. If the dowager does not do what he says, he will prevent her from seeing his children."

Bainbridge swore under his breath. Then he straightened his shoulders, reached down for the dowager's hand, and bowed over it. "I assure you, ma'am, that I will not allow this to happen." He shot an intent look at Kit.

A sad smile curved the dowager's lips. "You are a dear boy, Bainbridge, but I doubt you will be able to change that ninny's mind. He can be so damnably stubborn."

"He can indeed, ma'am," agreed the marquess in a steely tone. "But so can I. Mrs. Mallory and I believe we might be able to make him rescind his decision about the children."

"Oh you can, can you?" The dowager looked pointedly between the two of them. "And what hugger-mugger is this?"

Bainbridge lanced another significant glance at Kit. "Mrs. Mallory and I spoke yesterday afternoon regarding our mutual concern for Your Grace's happiness, and we may have come up with a plan."

An odd expression crossed the dowager's face. "And what sort of plan is this?"

"Both you and the duke are very set on having your own way," Kit ventured.

"Are you calling me bullheaded, child?" demanded the dowager.

Kit did not flinch. "Yes, Your Grace. Both of you are stubborn, bullheaded, and obstinate. If both of you insist on getting your own way, then both of you will end up monstrously unhappy. Lord Bainbridge and I care for you a great deal, and neither of us wants to see that happen."

The dowager's eyes narrowed. "What are you getting at, child?"

"Very well, ma'am-I shall be blunt. We want to find a compromise, something that will satisfy both you and the duke."

"A compromise?" The dowager's painted brows shot upward.

"Yes, Your Grace."

Just as quickly, her eyebrows plummeted into a scowl. "Well, if by compromise you mean giving in to that little twit, I won't do it."

"But, Your Grace-"

"I won't do it. I will not let that young popinjay dictate to me. I will not!"

"Please, Aunt," Bainbridge began.

The dowager rose, her bosom puffed out like a pigeon's. "I had thought better of you, Bainbridge, than to ask me to surrender my dignity. I will not budge, do you hear? Not one inch!" With that, she pulled her shawl around her and swept down the garden path.

The marquess grinned as he watched Her Grace flounce into the house. "I think that went rather well, don't you?"

Kit rolled her eyes. "Well? She categorically refused us!"

"What did you expect?"

Kit put a hand to her temple. "I don't know. Suspicion, doubt, relief anything but an explosion like that. This will not be easy."

"Did you think it would be? Did you think we would propose this cozy arrangement and have everyone agree to it just like that?" He snapped his fingers.

"No, of course not," Kit snapped, irritated.

Bainbridge rubbed his chin. "We are dealing with two very proud, very obstinate individuals."

"That much is obvious, my lord," she replied with no little sarcasm.

He sighed. "I'm saying that we must proceed with caution. I fear that both of us speaking to the dowager like this put her on the defensive; she suspected that we were trying to force her to change her mind."

Kit considered a moment, then bit her lip. "I had not thought of that," she admitted. "So what do we do now?"

The marquess clasped his hands behind his back. "I propose a two-pronged attack: I will deal with the duke while you plead our case to the dowager. Then, and only then, do we put them together to finalize the agreement."

"Do you think we can succeed in only a week?"

"We must, if we don't want them to be completely forlorn for the rest of their lives. And I, for one, don't particularly like dealing with miserable people; they tend to make everyone around them miserable, as well. Short of locking them in a room together and refusing to let them out until they agree, I see no other option."

Kit picked up the linen napkin and toyed with one embroidered edge. "All right. Now that we have settled on a method, what sort of compromise do we intend to propose?"

Bainbridge began to pace on the path in front of her. "That should be simple enough."

"Then why haven't they come up with it themselves?"

"Because everyone in this family takes a sort of perverse pleasure in being difficult."

"I'd noticed," she mumbled.

He chuckled. "Let us look at the facts. Wexcombe wants his grandmother to retire to the dower house."

"Which Her Grace will not even consider," Kit said.

"So she says. And now the duke has threatened to keep her from seeing the children."

She sighed. "Which will break her heart."

"We need to come up with an arrangement that will give them both what they want."

Kit nibbled on the end of her thumb, her brows drawn in a pensive line. "What if" Her voice trailed off.

"What is it?" prodded the marquess.

"What if the dowager duchess agreed to stay at the dower house for part of the year, say from Lady Day to Michaelmas. The rest of the year she would be free to travel. The chill winters prove difficult for her, but she could spend that time in Bath, or even in a warmer climate if she wished. It would mean no more prolonged voyages to India, but I suspect she will be able to live with that."

Bainbridge gazed at her with dawning comprehension. "And if she is at the dower house during the Season, Wexcombe wouldn't have to worry about any of what he calls her 'embarrassing exploits.' And she can spend the summer with the children, which will delight them all to no end. It's perfect."

"I only hope Their Graces agree," she murmured.

"We shall have to ensure that they do. It is my hope that the picnic this afternoon will put everyone in an amiable frame of mind, and receptive to our suggestion."

"I will see if I can speak to the dowager before that," said Kit. She picked up her napkin and climbed to her feet. "I want to apologize for upsetting her."

"Good luck, then. And Kit?"

He'd used her nickname. How intimate it sounded coming from him! Against all reason, a tiny spark of delight shivered all the way down her spine. "Yes?"

He held out a hand to her. "Well done."

She stared at his broad, calloused palm and remembered what had happened the last time she'd given him her hand to kiss. With an insouciant smile, she dropped her napkin-wrapped scone into his grasp. "Thank you, my lord," she said, then turned and marched back to the house.

His resonant chuckle drifted after her.

That afternoon, a carnival atmosphere reigned along the shore of the lake below Broadwell Manor. A large blanket had been spread beneath one of the stately oaks that grew not far from the lake, with liveried footmen putting away the remains of the repast that only recently covered it. Woven picnic hampers large enough to hold the small feast sat off to one side. Rowboats sat snugged up to the pier; the duke, in his shirtsleeves, rowed the duchess across the middle of the lake's placid blue surface. By the water's edge, Emma and Nathaniel shouted and clapped with joy as the dowager presented them with toy wooden boats, complete with canvas sails. The nearest Kit could tell, judging by the shrieks and yells and vocalized booms, was that the dowager was playing a menacing Bonaparte, while the children and Miss Pym defended the shores of England as the Royal Navy.

Kit laughed and took one last bite of her apple, relishing the crisp burst of flavor on her tongue. Never did an apple taste so good as it did on an idyllic afternoon, and this one certainly qualified for the honor; so far, no one had spoken so much as one angry or provoking word. That was mostly due to the interference of the marquess, who managed to deftly change the subject whenever the conversation took a dangerous turn.

The marquess. Her eyes seemed to stray to him no matter where he was, and at the moment, he and Lady Elizabeth were walking along the shore of the lake, engrossed in conversation; the drifting wind carried the lady's trill of delighted laughter to Kit's hearing. Her fingers tightened on what remained of her apple, and she flung the core as far as she could.

Why would she be upset that the duchess's sister was flirting with him? Or was he flirting with her? She unclenched her fingers and flexed the tension from them. He was an unrepentant rake, after all. She should expect as much from him.

So why could she still taste bitterness at the back of her throat?

Another burst of laughter, this time of the juvenile sort, diverted her attention. The dowager climbed the gentle slope toward the trees, accompanied by the bouncing children and the red-faced and perspiring Miss Pym.

Kit waved. "Did your new ships keep England safe from that Corsican monster?"

"We blew Boney-part up!" Nathaniel exclaimed, then laughed uproariously.

"And he won't come back!" added Emma, not to be outdone.

Kit applauded. "Good show! That will teach him." She turned to the dowager. "How very obliging of you, Your Grace, to act on behalf of the enemy."

"Someone has to," the dowager chuckled. She lowered herself onto the blanket, waving away the two footmen who hurried to assist her. "Go away, you foolish boys. When I need your help, I will ask for it."

Kit hid her grin behind her hand. She cleared her throat. "So what will you do now that England's greatest enemy is vanquished?"

"We came back up here because the children have asked for a story," said the dowager. She slanted Kit a look rife with mischief. "But I have told them that your stories are better than mine."

"My stories?" Kit echoed.

"Yay! A story! A story!" yelled Emma.

"Lady Emma, control yourself!" huffed Miss Pym, an expression of abject horror on her round face.

The dowager frowned and waved a dismissive hand in the governess's direction. "Oh, enough of your harping, woman. Let the children be children, for heaven's sake!"

Miss Pym fell silent, abashed.

"Now then," continued the dowager, "I have told Emma and Nathaniel that you have a favorite story about a prince who goes on a quest to find his princess. You should know it by heart; you've been working on it long enough."

"Indeed I have," Kit agreed with a laugh.

"Please, Kit?" Emma pleaded.

"Please?" echoed her brother.

Kit raised her hands. "All right. I will tell you the story."

Emma and Nathaniel appeared ready to erupt in yells of triumph once again, but a quelling look from Miss Pym nipped any such impulses in the bud. Still wriggling with excitement, the children began to settle on the blanket.

"What is all this commotion about?"

Kit's heart leaped into her throat at the sound of the marquess's voice-whether from pleasure or annoyance, she couldn't tell, but she didn't want to think about it too closely.

"I I was about to tell the children a story, my lord," she faltered. She raised a self-conscious hand to the battered chip-straw bonnet she wore as the marquess and Lady Elizabeth drew near. In her gown of lemon yellow sarcenet, with matching ribbons and plumes on her bonnet, the earl's daughter appeared more prepared for a fashionable tea party than an informal picnic.

"A story!" cooed Lady Elizabeth. Her pale blue gaze spat poison. "How delightful. I'm sure you're simply wonderful at telling stories."

"Indeed," Bainbridge seconded. A faint smile quirked his lips. "May we join you?"

"Well, I don't know," Kit said, tapping one finger against her cheek.

"Oh, come now," the marquess drawled. He winked at her.

She replied with a raised eyebrow. "Very well, my lord, but I will require that everyone participate."

"What's party-see-pate?" queried Nathaniel, his face scrunched in confusion.

Kit smiled down at him. "It means that everyone gets to act out a part of the story."

"That sounds fun!" Emma proclaimed. "May I be the princess?"

"Of course you may," Kit replied. "Nathaniel, would you like to be the prince?"

Nathaniel's enthusiastic nod was quickly overridden by his sister.

"Why can't Lord Bainbridge be the prince?" demanded Emma, with a shy glance at the marquess.

"Because I have other plans for him," Kit said blithely. "Now, the title of this story is the Ramayana, which means 'The Story of Rama.' "

Emma piped up, "Who's Rama?"

"Shhhhh, child-don't interrupt," advised the dowager. Emma bit her lip and fell silent.

"Rama was a great prince," Kit began, warming to her role as storyteller. "He lived in a great city called Ayodhya, and he was a very good and wise man, and a skilled soldier."

Nathaniel popped to his feet, grinning.

Kit paused a moment. The Ramayana was an epic; telling the entire story would last well into the night, not to mention bore the children to tears, so she decided to stick with the most interesting portions.

"Emma, you will be Princess Sita, Rama's beautiful wife," she continued. "And Your Grace, I would be most pleased if you would play the part of Hanuman, a great monkey warrior."

"A monkey?" blurted Lady Elizabeth. "How rude!"

"Not at all," chortled the dowager. "You see, Hanuman is the embodiment of cleverness and devotion. Very good, child, very good. I shall do my best."

"What about me?" drawled the marquess, a teasing slant to his mouth.

"You, my lord," Kit replied with asperity, "will be Ravana, the ten-headed demon king."

"A demon? Interesting." His smile broadened. "I've been called worse."

"I assume you have a part for me," said Lady Elizabeth.

"There are not many women in the Ramayana, so I will have to think a bit What about Trijata?"

Lady Elizabeth raised a perfectly arched brow. "And who is Trijata?"

Kit made a moue of embarrassment. "She is a rakshasi-a demoness."

"Well!" huffed Lady Elizabeth, her lips compressed.

"Well, of all the rakshasi, she is one of the kindest," Kit added, torn between mortification and laughter. "She consoles Sita after Ravana has kidnapped her and imprisoned her in his garden."

"This is all in fun, Lady Elizabeth," purred the marquess. "Surely you can play along."

"Oh, very well." But she did not look pleased.

With everyone eager to play their designated roles, Kit began the story. She started with Ravana's abduction of Sita from the forest and her imprisonment in Ravana's garden in the island kingdom of Lanka. Emma played a tearful Sita to the hilt, rubbing her eyes and pretending to cry.

Kit went on to tell how Prince Rama sent Hanuman to find Sita and give her Rama's ring as a token of his love and devotion. The dowager, her face alight with merriment, pretended to dodge imaginary demon hordes until she reached Emma's side. Then the two of them sat down at the edge of the blanket, giggling.

Finally, Kit staged a rousing battle between her diminutive Prince Rama and the much larger Ravana; Nathaniel took on the marquess with glee, wielding a stick sword, until Lord Bainbridge gave a mighty groan and fell to the grass. Ravana's "death" was greeted with cheers and enthusiastic applause. The marquess climbed to his feet and bowed.

"It didn't hurt when I cut off your heads, did it?" Nathaniel asked.

"Not at all." Bainbridge winked at him. The boy grinned.

Kit's heart turned over. He was so at ease with the children; it was not hard to imagine him with a little boy and girl of his own. Dark-haired children with green eyes She bit her lip and chided herself for being so foolish.

She praised each of her players, and made sure everyone, especially the children, received a round of applause. After a curtsy to her audience, Emma beamed, then gave a huge yawn.

With that, Miss Pym apologized, saying it was past time for the children's naps. She gathered the protesting Nathaniel and Emma, then started back toward the house. The marquess stretched himself out on the blanket, his laced fingers pillowed under his head, his eyes closed. Lady Elizabeth asked him if he would row her across the lake; he declined. When he also declined to show her the folly, called the Temple of Virtues, Lady Elizabeth declared that she had had too much sun and would retire to the house. She flounced back up the hill.

"Well, that's much better," announced the dowager. "I was beginning to think we'd never have a moment's peace."

Kit chuckled, then became aware that the marquess was watching her through slitted lids. She gave him a warning glance, then pointed with her chin down to the lake. He smiled lazily and closed his eyes. Kit pursed her lips. What was the matter with him? If he would but leave, she could negotiate with the dowager. But he showed no inclination to move, drat him.

After a few moments, the dowager levered herself to her feet. "I do believe I will go down to the temple and see what my grandson is up to," she announced.

"Let me help you," Kit volunteered, and started to get up.

"No, no, child. Stay where you are. You look comfortable, and I fancy a bit of a walk. I shan't be long." Humming to herself, the elderly woman started back down the hill.

Kit cast a glance over her shoulder-and then looked with more alarm. The footmen had disappeared. She was alone with the marquess. The back of her neck grew warm.

"I really should go with the dowager," she said, rising to her knees.

Bainbridge put a hand on her arm. "No more running away," he murmured.

"I am not running."

A laugh rumbled from his chest. "No, you were going to walk at a very hurried, yet still ladylike pace."

"What do you mean by this?" she demanded.

"By what?"

"The footmen have very conveniently gone missing," she said with a hiss of indrawn breath.

"What if they have?"

"Did you dismiss them?"

"Yes," he admitted with a shrug. "I wanted to spend some time with you without the presence of overly curious eyes and ears."


He gazed at her with a thoughtful frown. "You seem to labor the impression that no one wants to spend time in your company. Do you think yourself so unworthy of attention?"

"Just of yours, my lord."

He released her arm, then cocked an eyebrow at her. "My dear Kit, perhaps I am mistaken, but somehow I get the distinct impression that you do not trust me."

"Oh, you are not mistaken in the least, my lord," she shot back.

"When I asked you yesterday, you didn't give me an answer. So I'll ask you again-what are you so afraid of? Men? Or is it just me?"

She ducked her head. "No," she mumbled.

"Well, then, sit down. You have nothing to be afraid of; we are still in full view of Their Graces, so I won't be able to ravish you. At least not now." He smiled, reached back, and opened one of the picnic hampers.

"What are you-?"

He put a finger to her lips. "I have a surprise for you."

Chapter Four | A Reckless Bargain | Chapter Six