"Royce?" she called out softly. She ran across the room and threw open the door.
He was already at the end of the hall, his shoulders hunched over. Her heart ached at the sight.
"Royce?" she called out again, her voice cracking. "Wait!"
His shoulders tensed for a moment. Then he spun around.
She had no idea what possessed her to run down the hall and throw herself into his arms, but she realized that there was nowhere more natural than being next to him. Their bodies fit together as if they were two puzzle pieces.
Burying her face in his chest, she breathed in his warm, heady scent and sighed, melting into his arms. He raised a shaking hand and stroked the back of her head.
Her grip on his jacket tightened. "Why do you love me? We scarcely know anything about each other, and there are so many other ladies in England. Why love me after all that I did to you?"
"My life truly began when you snuck into my rooms at Lord Huntley`s house party and your brother threatened to put a bullet in me unless I agreed to marry you." He tangled his hand in her hair and lifted her head. "As for why I love you, well, that would be as difficult as describing what it`s like to breathe air or be happy. But I do know that every other girl in England is dull compared to you and that if I had the choice to marry you again, I would take it without a second thought."
She sniffed and turned her head away so that he would not see her tears. His hand moved out of her hair.
"If I asked you to, would you really leave me?" she asked.
He gripped her chin and turned her head so that she was looking into his deep blue eyes. "I was planning on returning the next day when you were more calmed down. But if you asked me to really leave you—god, that is the only wish of yours that I won`t obey. I can`t imagine a day in the future without you."
He lowered his head, and his lips brushed against hers in a gentle caress. She sighed deeply and closed her eyes. He pulled away and looked at her face.
She opened her eyes and smiled. "I love you, Royce, even though you`re the most stubborn, arrogant—"
"Thank god," he cut her off, crushing her body against his.
His lips came down on hers again. This time his kiss was rough, taking as much as she could give and coaxing even more out of her. His hands moved away from her face and traced a path down her body. When his tongue explored the line where her lips met, she moaned and opened up.
Then he pulled away from her and growled. She gasped for breath and clung to him as her knees threatened to give in on her. His eyes were focused on something over her shoulder.
"Why did you have to give in to the man, Olivia? I liked it better when you hated him." Henry made a sound of disgust from the top of the staircase. "I was looking forward to putting a bullet into that oversized ducal head of his."
Olivia groaned and hid her face in Royce`s chest. Her cheeks began to heat up. She wanted to do nothing more than hide under a rock and pretend that Henry had never saw her acting like a complete wanton in her family`s home.
Royce wrapped a protective arm around her waist. When she looked up at him, she saw a smug expression on his face.
"As you can see, things are wonderful between Olivia and me." His eyes narrowed. "I would appreciate it if you didn`t interfere with my marriage. You certainly wouldn`t want me to do the same to you."
"I`m warning you Sutherfield." Henry approached and shoved his finger in Royce`s face. "If I hear anything—even the faintest rumor—of your mistreating Olivia, I`m going to make you wish that you never married her."
Her brother then spun around and stalked off, muttering under his breath.
"As much as I love you, my dear, I still can`t summon any brotherly affection for your brother."
Olivia laughed. "He`s nice once you get to know him better. Besides, he`s only watching out for me—like you do with Georgiana. You two aren`t so different."
Royce couldn`t help but agree with her a bit about them being similar, but he was loath to admit it. The world would have to freeze over before he allowed himself to be compared to such a man.
"He`ll have to get used to it. We`re married, and that allows me to do this."
He nuzzled her neck. Olivia squealed and pounded his back with her fists.
"Stop! The servants will see, and they`re particularly fond of gossiping." Royce gave her neck a tiny nip; she gasped. "Oh, stop it! Oh! Oh, my…"
He drew back, his eyes glazed with desire. "I`d like a tour of your house—starting with your bedchambers."
"Why would you—oh!" She blushed deeply when she realized what Royce just might like to do to her as soon as they reached her bedroom.
But they couldn`t very well do…that! They were in her parents` home. Even if they were married, there had to be something wrong about doing something so intimate with the rest of the family downstairs.
"Please." His mouth moved back to her neck. "I don`t think I can wait a moment longer," he said in between kisses.
She swallowed, raised her hand, and pointed her finger down the hall. "M—my bedchambers are at the very end."
He suddenly swept her into his arms. She squealed and clung to his neck.
"You don`t know how long I`ve been wanting to do this." He kissed her on the lips and carried her down the hall.
They returned to Royce`s estate the next day. A few weeks later, they traveled to London for the little season, the period in which parliament convened for a short time. The papers immediately declared them the most besotted couple in England, and even the ton couldn`t argue such a proclamation: the duke hardly let his duchess out of sight for even a second.
As soon as Royce`s duties in parliament were over, they returned to the countryside. Spring came, and Olivia found not a single fault in her husband—except for the overprotective tendencies he had over his younger sister.
"Really, Royce, you`re scaring the poor man. You`re just like Henry."
Royce nearly directed his scowl towards his wife. He hated being placed in the same category as that bumbling idiot she called her brother.
Lord Huntley chuckled. "Really, Sutherfield, if you continue to glare at my brother as if you`re going to strangle him, I may have to step in. I can`t have a death in the family." He leaned back and propped a booted foot on the table—right next to the tea set.
Olivia glared at the earl until he took his foot down. "I really think you should get married. Perhaps a wife will do something about your manners."
The earl groaned. "Oh, not this talk again. I`ve told you several times: I`m far too young to get married. I have at least several more years of bachelorhood to enjoy before I allow myself to be locked up on chains."
Olivia couldn`t possibly comprehend what sort of traumatizing event caused Lord Huntley to look upon holy matrimony as something terrible. If only he got married; he would understand how beautiful and exhilarating marriage could be. "You`re a year older than Royce! Besides, haven`t you been betrothed for several years? I`m you're your fiancée is tired of waiting."
Lord Huntley`s mouth hardened.
Royce chuckled. "Don`t bother, Olivia. It`ll take a miracle to get him to the altar." His smile faded when he directed his gaze back to Georgiana and Captain Stratton. He took his chaperoning duties very seriously.
"By the by, I almost forgot to congratulate you on getting with child, Your Grace," Lord Huntley said, eager to change the subject.
Royce jerked his head back to Olivia. His eyes were widened. "You`re with child! And you failed to tell me?"
The duke didn`t know if he should be angry that his wife withheld such an important announcement or happy that their family was going to grow by one.
"What on earth are you talking about? Who told you such a lie?" Olivia demanded.
"It was in the paper this morning," Lord Huntley said.
"In the—don`t tell me that you`ve been reading the gossip columns again? You know that most of the things they write are false."
Royce sighed. Olivia looked at him and gave his arm a good pat. He was under a lot of pressure to continue the line. If she failed to bear him a son, the title would die out.
She turned her attention back to Lord Huntley. "Whoever wrote that article should be ashamed of himself. I`m quite tempted to sue the paper for slander—"
Royce cursed and shot to his feet.
"Royce, what`s—" Olivia grabbed the back of his coat before he could take a step towards Georgiana and Captain Stratton.
"Let go of me," Royce ground through his teeth. "I want to kill that rogue!"
Lord Huntley stood up to help Olivia restrain her husband.
"Oh, calm down. Captain Stratton is being a complete gentleman. It`s not as if he`s going to ravish Georgiana on the lawn."
The couple had paused in their stroll so that Captain Stratton could pluck a piece of grass out of Georgiana's hair. To most, it was a sweet gesture. To Royce—well, he thought that any move that the captain made towards his sister was with seduction in mind.
"They`re going to be married in a few years anyways," Lord Huntley pointed out.
"Not if I can help it." Royce clenched his jaw and took a step forward.
Olivia squealed. Her feet had been dragged along the ground an inch. She felt as if she was trying to subdue an angry bull.
"Royce, I have some very good news," she said in an effort to placate him. "The gossip column was right—I actually am with child, and I was planning on telling you tonight."
Royce froze. Then he spun around. "You are…"
She immediately felt guilty. No matter how much she wanted to save Captain Stratton`s hide, she couldn`t lie to her husband. "No, I just said that so you wouldn`t hurt the poor boy," she admitted.
He glared at her and took a step forward. She took a step back.
"Calm down, Sutherfield," Lord Huntley said, placing his hand on Royce`s shoulder.
Royce shoved him away.
"Calm down, Royce."
He took another step forward and snatched her wrist before she could run away. She gasped as he pulled her into his arms. Then his lips were on hers, hot and demanding.
Lord Huntley made a gagging noise.
Royce pulled away, taking a large gulp of air. He rested his forehead against hers. "Have I told you that I loved you today, my dear?"
Olivia giggled. "At least five times. Twice when we woke up, twice during breakfast, and once about an hour ago."
"I haven`t told you enough times today." He kissed her lightly. "I love you."
"I love you, too." She smiled and pulled his head forward for another kiss.
Author`s Note: Well, that`s the end. I hope you enjoyed this story. Thank you for your reviews and support; it`s what helped me make this novel as it is right now. Add me to your author alerts to keep an eye out for new stories. I`m currently working on several projects, so you can expect something new in the near future.