“Your list limits me severely,” Kitty objected to his outrageous list of qualifications for a wife.
“I am aware of that.” Justin remained cool, indifferent, unchallenged at all.
“There are few women who possess all the qualifications,” she objected
He rose and came to stand before her.
So close now, she breathed his cologne. Smelled the mint on his breath. Admired the dimple in his left cheek and the facets of green and brown in his large heavy−lidded eyes. “In fact, there are only three women who meet all of your requirements.”
“Ah. But wait, you have not heard them all.”
“No? Preposterous! There is a very small pool of possible candidates, Justin. To add more requirements would be burdensome—”
“But my fortune will be very large. My homes, here and in the country, are grand estates. I will be married to this woman for many decades, and I need the best companion possible.” He frowned, very determined looking. “I have the right to declare to whom I shall be joined!”
“Precisely so, my lord, but we must be prudent.”
“You be prudent! I shall be as I am!”
His virulence shocked her.
“Your fees are high. I shall have whom I want! Who is best suited to me.” He strode closer and seized her arms, his powerful body dwarfing hers. Once his might had been comforting, but now, full of fury, his size made her wince. She had been intimidated by her husband far too often and she would not be by any man ever again.
She stiffened her spine. “Tell me your other requirements.”
“She must spend twenty-four hours with me at Belmont Manor.”
“Oh, I see.” She let out a breath, relieved. “You want her to visit.”
“No, I want her in my bed.”
Kitty blinked. “I...I’m sorry. You want her--?”
“Naked. I want to learn if she likes men. Me, to be exact.”
“I see.” Women do like you, from what I hear. One mistress in particular who boasts of your prowess in the art of pleasing a woman. “Why wouldn’t she?
“I need to learn if she is a dry piece of toast. Or a willing woman who likes a man’s touch. If she’ll be a desirable partner.”
“Most women are.”
“Really? You think so?” With a sound of derision, he spun away and walked toward the window. “I have learned that women in English society tend to be naïve and foolish. Certainly the ones who have been shoved at me as appropriate are witless ninnies, reared in tiny rooms by smaller-minded governesses. I want a woman in my bed, a full blown beauty with brains.”
“I see.” Did you also think me witless? A ninny?
“Can you find one?” He peered at her with narrowed, merciless eyes.
She felt undressed from so far across the room, but she lifted her chin and carried on in a snit. “Indeed, I can, my lord. To fit your qualifications, I have two candidates.”
“Two. Damn me! So many!” he scoffed—and his expression implied he was surprised at her capabilities. Odd. He ought to be damn pleased. “I am delighted at your resourcefulness, Lady Varney. I wish to interview each of them, naturally. At my home in Kent.”
“First, I shall inquire if each is interested and accepts your terms.”
He waved a hand. “Of course. Do it within the week. I need to know quickly. My uncle is not well and he wishes this matter of my marriage resolved before he sheds his mortal coil.”
Kitty frowned. Had she been wrong all these years to remember Justin as kind and caring? Had she varnished him with a romantic veneer of her own making?
He strolled closer. His magnetic allure nearly buckled her knees. But she stood taller, met him toe to toe, damn his eyes!
“And who are these women you have chosen for me?”
She gathered her courage. “Maribella Winter, Baroness Avon. And Susanna Curtis, Marchioness Hamill.”
“But to be honest, there is one more. Is there not, madam?”
“A third? No, none that I—”
“What of the illustrious blonde beauty who travels in the best of Society? What of the widow who has a son by her deceased husband? What of the heiress who holds through her own ancestry the ancient title of Lady Downey?”
Kitty caught her breath at the mention of her own ancient title. “She is not available.” Not rich.“Not suitable.”
“I say she is.”
She stared at him, tempted and hating herself for it. “She is older.” Wiser than to do this.
“She will be presented to me at Belmont Manor.”
She shook her head. “No.”
“I triple my fee.”
“Triple?” she parroted like a simpleton.
“One sum of five thousand pounds for each candidate.”
She could not refuse him. Not that sum. That amount would nearly free her of Henry’s gambling debts and give her enough to buy a few new frocks for next Season. The ability to hire a governess for her son. “Justin, fifteen thousand pounds is a startling sum. But I cannot take it. Cannot ask three women to rendezvous with you. Really, how could I? I want to, but I cannot because--”
“Kitty! Stop this!” Justin stepped toward her so quickly, she scarcely noticed that he’d moved. But his arms crushed her close. His fingers lifted her chin. His lips took hers. Once, twice. Damn him, three times. Her own arms twined around him. She whimpered and moaned into his mouth while her breasts beaded and her nether regions flooded with a wet hot desire. She had not felt so gloriously wanton since last she stood in his embrace.
“Oh, you’ll take it. Look at me,” he demanded. “Tell me who the third candidate is.”She stared up at him, the devil. He had planned it this way. Devised this scheme to torture her, punish her for how she had not fought to stay with him eleven years ago. Poor man, he believed the ton. Thought she was rich. But he’d get no wife in her, only a lover. For one day and night. One risqué affair. “The last woman is me.”