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St. Joseph, Missouri
"Do be reasonable, my Lord Wolfe. It wasn't my idea to dismiss Betsy and the footmen."
I'm not your lord. I'm a bastard, remember?"
I find my memory improving with each moment Jessica said under her breath. "Ouch! That pinched."
"Then stop wiggling like a worm on a hook. There are twenty buttons left and they're as small as peas. Damnation. What silly idiot made a dress that a woman has to be helped into?"
And out of.
That was the worst of it. Wolfe knew the time would come eventually when he would have to undo each of the glittering jet buttons, and each undoing would reveal more warm, fragrant skin and fine lace lingerie. She was an elf who barely came up to his breastbone, but she was bringing him to his knees with raw desire. Her back was supple and elegant as a dancer's, graceful as a flame; and like a flame she burned him.
"I'm sorry," Jessica whispered unhappily as Wolfe's words scorched her ears. "I had hoped. . ."
"Stop whispering, damn it. If you have something to say, say it and damn all this aristocratic foolishness about talking so softly a man has to bend double to hear you."
"I thought that you would be glad to see me," Jessica said with great clarity. "Until this morning, I've not seen you once in the months since we exchanged vows. You haven't asked me how my voyage was, nor about the train trip across the United States, nor "
"You said you wouldn't complain if I left you alone," Wolfe interrupted curtly. "Are you complaining, Lady Jessica?"
Jessica fought against a wave ofunhappiness. This wasn't how she had imagined her reunion with Wolfe. She had been looking forward to riding over the Great American Desert with him on eager blooded horses. She had been looking forward to long days of comfortable silence and lively conversation, to nighttime fires beneath the blazingly clear American sky. But most of all, she had looked forward to seeing Wolfe.
"When your letter came asking me to meet you here," she said, "I thought you had gotten over your pique."
"Pique. Now there's a mincing, aristocratic kind of word." His fingers fumbled and touched warm flesh. With a savage curse he jerked his fingers back. "You don't know me very well, lady. I wasn't piqued. I was bloody furious. I will remain that way until you grow up, agree to an annulment, and return to England where you belong."
"Nor do you know me very well. You thought I would give up and beg for an annulment at the prospect of traveling alone to America."
Wolfe grunted. That had been precisely his thought. But Jessica had surprised him. She had arranged for her own passage and that of her maid, hired two footmen with the small inheritance that had come at her marriage, and crossed the Atlantic alone.
"I doubt that you'll find traveling with me as pleasant as you found being alone. Not that you were truly alone, my lady. Your entourage took care of your every need. Damn it, can't you even keep your hair out of the, way?" he asked roughly as a long, silken tendril of hair slid from her grasp and over his finger.
Jessica's arms were weary from holding her hair on top of her head, but all she said as she gathered up the fugitive lock was, "A maid and two footmen aren't an entourage."
"In America they are. An American woman does for herself and for her man as well."
"Betsy said she worked in a household that had twelve servants."
"Betsy must have worked for a carpetbagger."
Jessica blinked. "I don't think so. The man sold stocks, not rugs."
Wolfe tried not to let humor blunt his anger. He wasn't completely successful. "A carpetbagger is a kind of thief," he said carefully.
"So is a rug merchant."
Wolfe made a muffled sound.
"You're laughing, aren't you?" Delight and relief were in Jessica's voice and in her face when she looked over her shoulder at him. "You see? It won't be so bad, being married to me."
The line of Wolfe's mouth flattened once more. All he could see from where he stood was a badly buttoned dress and the graceful curve of a woman's neck. But Jessica wasn't a woman. Not really. She was a cold, spoiled little English aristocrat, the precise kind of woman he had detested since he had been old enough to understand that the glittering ladies of privilege didn't want him as a man; they wanted only to know what rutting with a savage was like.
"Wolfe?" Jessica whispered, searching the face that had once again become that of a stranger.
"Turn around. If I don't get this bloody thing done up, we'll miss the stage."
"But I'm not dressed for the theater."
"Theater?" Belatedly Wolfe understood. "Stagecoach. Not that you're dressed for that, either. Those crinolines will take up half the bench."