“But will you?” she asked. “Convince me?”
“Probably not,” he said huskily. For all the carefree tone of his voice, his eyes told a different story. He kissed her again, a long lingering kiss.
She couldn’t quite believe this was happening. Months of correspondence—some of it warm enough to heat her for nights—still hadn’t prepared her for this. He’d sold his business, come to London, and obtained a special license?
It all seemed to be happening so swiftly. Almost too swiftly.
“That special license you claim to have.” She swallowed. “Is that a real special license, or is it the Edward sort of special license?”
He leaned down and kissed her again. “You think I’d procure a false license? For God’s sake, Free. I’m trying to rush you into marriage. I have no desire to end that state any time soon. The only thing I forged was proof of my residency, and my solicitor assures me that can’t be used to invalidate a duly issued license. I asked.”
“Oh,” she said. She wanted to laugh. “Very well, then. I’m convinced.”
His hand tightened on hers. “Is that an I’m convinced it’s a real license, or…”
From the moment she’d received his telegram, they’d been coming to this. No, from before. Every instant since she’d met him had been leading to this pinnacle.
She smiled up at him. “Neither. It’s more like this: You idiot, why did it take you so long?”
AFTER THE WHIRL OF THE NEXT FEW HOURS, Edward couldn’t quite believe that it had really happened.
Frederica Marshall had married him. With scarcely a thought, without a moment’s hesitation. Tomorrow, she’d find out who he was and what he had planned. But tonight…
The sun had not yet set. They stood on the doorstep of her home, so newly completed that he could still smell the clean scent of sawn boards. He had his arm around her, refusing to let go for fear that she might come to her senses and leave at any moment.
“I’m off to London,” Lady Amanda was saying to Free. She had been one of their witnesses. “I had planned to go down early for the demonstration, and, well…” She glanced at Edward, and shrugged her shoulders. “All the more reason for me not to change my plans. I’m just here to get my bag.”
“Are you still speaking to Genevieve tomorrow?” Free asked.
Lady Amanda flushed faintly. “Yes.” She glanced over at Edward again, and then looked away. But even though the glance she cast him was suspicious, she didn’t say a word.
He appreciated Lady Amanda’s silence, even though he didn’t deserve any circumspection. There would be time enough for Amanda to tell Free what he was.
God, it was sweet to hold Free, to think of her as his wife. The brilliant smile she angled up at him was the sweetest yet. It was a shame it wouldn’t last the week.
“Shall I carry you over the threshold?” he asked, once Amanda had retrieved a valise by the doorway and taken her leave.
She smiled. “It’s my house. Maybe I should carry you.”
“Don’t.” He touched his gloved hand to her cheek. “I’d hate to break you this early in the evening. I have plans for you.”
She tilted her head to look up at him, and he reached out to her.
It seemed impossible that he should have her. But he did, temporary though the state was. She rested her cheek against his hand and smiled up at him, her eyes glowing.
“One of these days,” she said, “you’ll learn that I don’t break.”
“I already knew that.” He slid his arm around her, brought her close. “Now, my most lovely Free.”
He could tell her now. Tell her that he’d lied to her all this time, that the man she’d married was both Edward Clark and some other long-gone fellow by the name of Edward Delacey. He could tell her that on the morrow, he was going to change everything.
But that light in her eyes shone for him. She stood on tiptoes, her hands resting on his shoulders, her lips breathing warmth against his jawbone.
“Now, Edward,” she said, and he was lost.
He wrapped his arms around her, picking her up and taking her into her house. He shut the door behind him with a final thump.
Tell her now.
That was his conscience speaking. He would have thought the fool thing would have learned its lesson by now. He kissed her instead, taking her head between his hands as if he could pin her in place beside him not just for the moment, but for every instant that followed, and every one after that.
“Yes,” she said against his mouth, her hands on his chest. “I can tell you’re no gentleman. You’re far too well put together.”
“The better to hold you against a wall with, my dear.” He leaned down and kissed her again, as if he could steal her breath away.
But he didn’t need to steal it; she gave it to him willingly, her arms wrapping around him, her lips melding with his, her body pressing to his without any hint of shyness.
No, Free didn’t need to be coaxed into marital relations. Her hands explored him, undoing the buttons of his waistcoat, untucking the tails of his shirt. Her fingers were cool at first against the muscles of his abdomen—but he still hissed, and a jolt of lust went through him at her touch.
The way he felt about her, she should have fit perfectly against him. But she was too short by inches to kiss in comfort. That discomfort made it impossible for him to forget himself, as if the strain in his neck, the tension in his lower back as he bent down to her, was recompense for every last lie he’d given her. Kissing her was both punishment and pleasure.
“I’ve wanted you in bed for far too long,” Free said against his lips.
“Ah, God.” It ached everywhere to pull her close, to feel the curve of her waist in his hands. Not just in his tightening muscles, not only in the throb of his erection, but somewhere deep inside him.
Her lips were soft, her breath was sweet, and at least for tonight, she was his.
She took his hand in hers. Her fingers curled around his. For a moment, he felt like an innocent youth. There was nothing between them but shy, sweet desire. Nothing but want, distilled by months of aching. It was easy to follow her down the corridor, easy to open the door to her bedchamber. The curtains were open, and the sunset spilled red over the floor. Enough illumination that he could see her expression, the lovely line of her chin, the color of her hair warring with the sunset.