In Bed with the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 1)(10) by Lorraine Heath
“Winnie, you’ve been married for five years now.”
She’d attracted the Duke of Avendale’s attention their very first Season and had married him at Christmas that same year.
Winnie furrowed her brow. “Is that a question?”
“No, it’s an observation that I felt compelled to make before asking: Does he kiss you?”
“That’s an odd question.”
“I’m a maiden and I have no mother to ask about the questions that cause me curiosity, and so I must turn to my married friend for the answers. Does he kiss you?”
Winnie sipped her tea as though mulling over her answer. “On occasion.”
“Does it leave you wanting?”
Catherine almost laughed. If she had to explain it, well, then he wasn’t kissing as Claybourne did. But Avendale had been born a gentleman, while Claybourne was little more than a scoundrel dressed in lord’s clothing.
She watched as Winnie leaned forward ever so slightly to pour them more tea. It was ironic that such beauty as found in this garden surrounded a house where incredible ugliness lurked. Her movements explained so much about her unnecessary worry over the invitations. “He’s beaten you again, hasn’t he, Winnie?”
“Don’t be silly.”
Reaching out, Catherine placed her hand over her friend’s, stilling her actions. “I see how gingerly you move—as though the smallest of movements causes you the greatest of pain. You can confide in me. I won’t tell a soul. You know that.”
Tears welled in Winnie’s expressive eyes. “He came home late last night in a fit of temper. I’m not sure what I did wrong—”
“I doubt you did anything wrong, and even if you did, he has no right to strike you.”
“The law disagrees.”
“Damn the law.”
Gasping, Winnie widened her eyes. “Catherine, your language.”
“You chastise me for my language and yet I wager you take his beatings in silence.”
“I’m his wife, his property. The law gives him leave to do with me as he pleases, even force his attentions on me when I might not want them. A day will come when you’ll learn the truth of marriage.”
“I doubt I shall ever marry. But if I should, I’ll not give a man control over me.”
“You’ve only managed to escape marriage because your father is infirmed and your brother traipses over the continents. Once he returns and settles into his responsibilities, including those toward you, everything will change.”
No, it wouldn’t. Catherine was stronger than Winnie. Although she had to readily admit she’d grown more independent after Sterling left. Her father had begun to teach her things, for fear that her wanderlust brother might not return from his travels. Since her father had fallen ill, she’d taken it upon herself to step into his shoes as much as possible. She knew her forceful nature no doubt intimidated some and was whispered about by others. But she’d not let her father’s legacy fall into decay or disarray.
“I’m all of two and twenty, Winnie, and no man has indicated an interest in having me as a wife.”
“It’s because of the way the Devil Earl looked at you that night as though he was singling you out—and the way you peered back. You should have lowered your gaze as any decent woman would. Now you are tainted by him.”
Catherine forced herself to laugh. If Winnie knew that Catherine had done a good deal more than look at him recently, had actually welcomed his kiss, she’d no doubt expire on the spot.
“He was striving to intimidate. I’m not one to be intimidated. It seemed the perfect opportunity to demonstrate that part of my character,” Catherine said.
“What you demonstrated was that you are willful. No man wants a willful wife.”
“Then no man shall have me, for I’ll not change to please him.”
“When you love a man, you will do anything to gain his favor.”
“Even allow him to beat you?”
Winnie flinched, and while Catherine regretted the harshness of her words, she didn’t know how else to make her dear friend listen—for her own good. “Leave him, Winnie.
Come with me. We’ll go to my father’s house in the country. You’ll find sanctuary there.”
“Do you have any idea how furious my husband would be? He would find me,
Catherine, and he would kill me for so blatant a betrayal. I have no doubt. He is a proud man, and when his pride is threatened—”
“He strikes out at you, because he hasn’t the courage to face his own weaknesses.”
“You think so poorly of him.”
“Why should I think otherwise? I see what he does to you. You strive to hide it, but I fear a day will come when it can’t be hidden.”
“Not five minutes ago, you were asking if he kissed me. He does and sometimes it’s very lovely.”
“Lovely? No. A kiss should be all-consuming, make your knees weaken, your heart pound…” Her voice trailed off as she shook her head. She was getting carried away, remembering Claybourne’s kiss.
“Catherine, what have you done?”
“You’re acting most peculiar and your description…Have you had a dalliance?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Then why this sudden interest in kisses?”
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