he ceremony took
place the next Tuesday, and just like Stuart had promised he’d taken care of everything. The required waiting period had been dropped after Stuart had pulled some strings, and all Kirsty had to do was show up and be physically present while the registrar spoke the words she’d always wanted to hear, but not in the circumstances she’d dreamed of. On her side only her parents were present, slightly bemused at this sudden turn of events, while Stuart’s brothers stood by his side and, Kirsty saw to her surprise, Geoffrey and his new wife Giselle. Geoffrey was, of course, a close friend of the family, but his presence was not one she would have asked for, and the irony of him being here—the man she’d always dreamed of marrying—was not entirely lost on her.
The ceremony lasted only half an hour and then she was married to Stuart Knight and whisked away to a small reception at a nearby posh restaurateur.
She was feeling dazed and confused, and didn’t present the picture of the perfectly happy bride, but then that wasn’t what was expected of her, she knew. Throughout the procedure Stuart hadn’t even glanced at her once, and her heart had skipped a beat when he’d taken her hand and slipped a ring on her finger that fit so perfectly it was if he’d taken measurements. Perhaps he’d spoken to her mother, she thought, for it wasn’t like Stuart to care about such trivial matters as a wedding ring. She glanced at his simple gold band, which mirrored hers, with the distinction that hers carried three small diamonds set around a larger center stone. She’d actually been surprised he’d offer her such a magnificent and valuable gem, as the wedding itself was a no-frills affair.
No frills and no sentiment. Cold and businesslike, like their marriage would be, she gathered, and she’d felt miserable when Stuart had made her sign some documents his lawyers had drawn up. She hadn’t wanted to read the damn papers but Stuart had insisted it was important to guarantee her future and that of their child. What a mockery her child’s life would be, with a father who didn’t love him or her, the same way he didn’t love its mother. She’d cried, but not tears of happiness, like any new bride, but tears of deep despair.
Stuart had seen the tears trickle down Kirsty’s cheeks and had known just why she was crying. He’d seen her glance at Geoffrey, who had been invited not by him but through a mix-up with the invitations. When he’d instructed his secretary to arrange the wedding on such short notice and invite only close friends and relatives, she’d simply copied the guest list drawn up for his father’s funeral, on which Geoffrey had still prominently featured. Now he wished nothing more than to eradicate the man from his and Kirsty’s life forever.
Already Geoffrey was grumbling about life as a married man, and Stuart could see that he would never change. Once a womanizer always a womanizer, and what was funny and even charming behavior in a teenage boy was positively disgusting and repellent in a married man coming up on his thirtieth birthday.
If only Kirsty could see Geoffrey the way he saw him, but he knew that love was blind—that she would always view Geoffrey as the love of her life, with Stuart as a very poor substitute indeed. It infuriated him to see the way she was still pining for the man, but at least he’d saved her from the kind of painful affair being added to Geoffrey’s long list of conquests would have been.
He took a sip from his champagne when Kirsty’s mother approached him.
“I want to congratulate you, Stuart,” she said, her eyes shining. She had the same eyes as her daughter, which made his heart perform a sudden lurch.
“Thanks,” he responded curtly. He neither expected nor invited approval from Kirsty’s parents, knowing full well they’d consider the arrangement absurd.
To his surprise, his aunt touched his cheek fondly. “I always knew you were the one,” she murmured, and gave him a smile that touched her eyes.
He stiffened. “You did?”
Her smile widened. “Oh, of course. A mother knows these things, after all.”
Stuart nodded, though he couldn’t conceal the surprise her words elicited. He decided that she had probably seen through Geoffrey’s charade, and felt grateful her daughter had been saved the heartache of getting involved with him.
He turned to Kirsty, who stood talking to his brothers. She was holding her head high, the delicate slope of her neckline touched by the exquisite sparkle of earrings her grandmother had worn at her own wedding—a present from her father. As was her habit, her face was made up only very slightly, her youthful beauty shining through. The shadows were still touching her eyes, though, and he felt a sudden urge to take her far away from this place—to a paradise island somewhere, where it would be just the two of them. Alone and far from the pernicious influence of her youthful crush on Geoffrey, couldn’t she learn to love him over time? Immediately he crushed down the silly notion. He wasn’t in this for love. He was merely doing the right thing. Making sure that their child would not grow up a bastard and its mother the object of gossip and ridicule.
Yes, he was simply doing what was right, just like he’d always done. Someone in this family had to be the responsible adult, and when he’d taken this role upon himself, he’d done so with the seriousness and earnestness which had characterized him since an early age. That and honoring his grandfather’s wishes, of course. Kirsty would make him a wonderful bride, and even though his grandfather wasn’t physically present, he still felt his presence and approval.
He hadn’t told Kirsty, but the wedding band he himself was wearing had once belonged to his grandfather, and the wedding ring he’d offered her to his grandmother. The union they had shared had been a long and happy one, and even though he and Kirsty hadn’t come together out of love, their bond would grow and mature over time. At the very least they would develop a mutual understanding and respect, even if only for the sake of the child they’d nurture.
His gaze traveled down to her flat stomach, and the thought that soon it would swell with life, the life he’d put there, touched off an ancient and primal instinct deep inside him. His jaw worked when he imagined part of him growing inside her belly, the way his flesh had buried itself inside hers that night in Nice. It seemed like such a long time ago. And he yearned to make her his once again, night after night, conquering her body and her heart, slaying her defenses until she no longer dreamed of Geoffrey when she slept and wept, but his name was on her lips when she went to bed at night and when she awoke in the morning.
But then he shook himself. That would never happen, he knew, and the anger that filled him was so fierce and so sudden that he had to look away from her, and take another sip of champagne to numb his senses. If he didn’t, he might have stalked over to where she stood and claimed her mouth and her body, branding her his once and for all in the eyes of his family, and, most importantly, in her own eyes as well. He fought back the primitive urges of his flesh and reminded himself that he was a modern man, not a Neanderthal, and that far from dragging his woman by the hair back to his cave he would conquer her spirit, her body, and her heart by chipping away at her defenses day after day until one day she would grow to love him. No! It wasn’t her love he was after but her respect. Respect for all he’d done to save her from a fate worse than death. Save her from a love affair that would have doomed her.
Kirsty glanced up at Stuart and saw that he was standing a little ways away, as if he was a guest at his own wedding. His face was inscrutable, as always, the harsh gleam in his eye a testament to the sacrifice he was forced to make for the sake of the family. If he’d hated her before, he hated her even more now, she knew. Being forced into wedlock to a woman he thoroughly despised, and soon forced to be the father of a child he didn’t want. And all because of his warped sense of honor. She’d also seen the lascivious glances Geoffrey had been throwing in her direction, and understood now more than ever how little he really meant to her—how thoroughly she’d misjudged the man. Even with his new wife by his side all he could do was ogle other women as shamelessly as the first lech. Her heart skipped a beat when Stuart finally glanced in her direction, but from the harsh line of his lips she knew that he was simply fueling his dislike for his new bride, already distancing himself from her as much as he could.
She’d been wondering about their wedding night. How it would be. If he would make love to her as dispassionately as he was now looking at her—merely doing his duty. Or if he would bring the fire and passion to the marital bed that she’d experienced that night in Nice, when he’d proven himself to be a skilled and passionate lover. The thought of sharing a bed with Stuart tonight and every night for the rest of her life filled her with rippling thrills of delight and anticipatory pleasure. Even if he was cold and aloof, simply the feel of his skin on hers, his strong arms and fingers coaxing her to a sensuous peak was sufficient to send a flutter through her heart and a sigh of longing to her lips. Perhaps in time he would learn to love her—perhaps she would break down his defenses and lure him into the kind of passionate display of arousal that would touch his heart and make him yearn for her as she yearned for him. Perhaps…
the first time she’d set foot in Stuart’s house. She’d known where he lived, of course, and she’d heard stories that the place was ’typical Stuart’ so she’d imagined something rather austere and gloomy, in keeping with his personality, but when she crossed the threshold into the house she was surprised at the warm color scheme he’d opted for. The hallway, if an indication, was decorated in soft pastels, colorful drawings livening up the atmosphere, and the drawing room she found herself in next was more of the same: modern and functional yet cozy and warm. He’d opted for earthy colors and modern wood furniture instead of the harsher chrome and glass so many young professional bachelors favored. Rugs were placed on the hardwood floors, and the whole place radiated homeliness, out of sync with the Stuart she thought she knew.
The kitchen was a delight: large, modern but still cozy enough that she could picture a family sitting down for breakfast in the breakfast nook, or husband and wife cooking together at the kitchen island or chatting with friends.
It was almost as if Stuart had designed this entire place with a view of raising a family, and not merely as his personal bachelor pad. She walked through to the back portion of the house which consisted of a small sitting room, a home office and a large and spacious entertainment room which she could easily envision as a family room. Sliding glass doors led onto a patio where the first thing that caught her eye was a barbecue. She could just imagine Stuart’s large frame hovering over the set while he cooked the family up some burgers.
Then she caught herself. What family? Who was she fooling? They weren’t creating a real family, but a mockery of one. And when she saw the walled expression on his face as he stood in the doorway, her exuberance waned.
“You have a great place here, Stuart,” she stated meekly.
“Thanks.” He lifted his massive shoulders in a dismissive gesture. “It was one of Father’s houses. I had it completely redecorated. It’s nice to have a home to come back to, especially when you spend so much time in a hostile environment thousands of miles away.” He let his hand slide along the doorjamb. “Let’s just say it kept me sane over there—knowing I had this to come back to.”
She nodded, seeing a side of Stuart she hadn’t known existed. It only deepened her love for him. “It’s really homely,” she muttered, her hand inadvertently reaching for her belly to touch the new life growing inside her.
Stuart watched the gesture and the sudden lurch his heart made took him completely by surprise. A sudden urge to put his own large hand on top of hers and curl his fingers into hers overtook him and he put a step closer to her before he checked himself. Theirs wasn’t that kind of relationship, he reminded himself.
“It actually looks like your parents’ house a little,” she commented softly, “before Caroline moved in and rearranged everything.”
“That’s what I was going for. Mum had a way with color schemes and fabrics that created a real home. I had something similar in mind for my own place.”
She sighed as she wandered back into the house, then caught sight of the staircase and set her foot on the first step. “The… the bedroom?” she asked.
There was another tug at his heart when he pictured Kirsty in his bedroom—in his bed, her red hair fanned out across his pillow, her body spread out naked beneath him while he took her over and over again, their bodies moving as one until they were both spent and panting for breath.
Instead, he gestured stiffly. “Go ahead. This is your home now.”
She marveled at the neatness of the place as she inspected the guest bedrooms—one would make a perfect nursery, she thought. Each guest bedroom had its own en-suite bathroom and small balcony where guests could enjoy a view over the gardens that stretched out behind this house and the neighboring ones. The master bedroom that she and Stuart would share had a larger balcony and as she walked out into the evening light she took a deep breath, before her eyes took in the immaculately landscaped gardens, stretching as far as the eye could see, interspersed with other manors partly obscured by the greenery. This was a pretty exclusive neighborhood, she knew, where house prices soared. It was where the rich set lived, with even a golf course nearby. With a tiny frown she thought she could get used to living here, if only this were her real home—the home she and Stuart would share as an actual couple.
Stuart had joined her on the balcony. “Like what you see?” he asked gruffly.
She nodded and turned around, regarding him with a question in her eyes.
“All this and you lived alone?” She’d suddenly had a vision of Stuart occupying this gorgeous house with one of the glamorous girlfriends she was sure he must have dated.
He leaned against the balustrade. His eyes traveled to the horizon and settled there, and she admired his profile, the strong jawline, the cut of his cheekbones and lips, as if sculpted by a master hand. His throat and neck were almost as overwhelmingly muscular as the rest of his hard frame. “I was practically never here,” he admitted. “I spent most of my time in the Middle East, and when I was home I was too exhausted to enjoy the house or the view.”
“And what about your… your girlfriends?” she asked, her voice brittle. She realized that even though she’d married this man—or rather he’d married her—there was so much she didn’t know about him.
He eyed her censoriously. “What girlfriends?”
“You must have had—”
“No girlfriends,” he interrupted her brusquely.
Stuart thought back to the dates he’d had over the years, none of whom qualified as girlfriends. He’d had one-night stands, to satisfy his natural sexual urges, but he’d never been serious about any one of them, and none had touched his heart. He watched Kirsty from the corner of his eye. The setting sun was streaking the sky with a kaleidoscope of color and her hair looked like burnished gold, falling in tender wisps around her face. She looked stunning, he decided, and in the simple sheer and lace dress she’d chosen for the wedding she was absolutely enticing. The bodice pushed up her breasts, the sheen of the upper slopes softly glowing in the rapidly disappearing light. Each time she breathed, the sight of her swelling bosom sent a ripple of desire slicing into his defenses, gradually weakening them until he thought he could endure no more. He could only imagine how the pretty sheer would feel under his hands, and then his hand would slide beneath the filmy cover to discover the warm flesh beneath…
Thickly, he told her, “You’re the first woman to set foot in this house.”
His words struck a nerve, and she turned to him, slowly licking her lips, moistening them with the tip of her tongue, her hands resting on the balustrade. Suddenly she was reminded of their first kiss, the kiss he’d given her in her own room at her parents’ house. And just as suddenly an idea struck her. She wanted him—she needed him, especially since this was their wedding night. Their night.
Her eyes rose to meet his stern gaze, and then, ever so slowly, her heartbeat quickening, she started pulling down the dress from her shoulders, leaving them bare. Her eyes never leaving his she shimmied out of the dress until it pooled at her feet and she was only clad in the light cotton bra and panties she’d been wearing underneath. She’d wondered briefly when dressing that morning if she shouldn’t have gone for a more provocative and sensual lingerie set, but she’d opted for these simple garments in the knowledge her marriage wasn’t a real marriage at all. It was a contract between a man bound by duty and a woman trapped in unrequited love.
Now, however, she suddenly felt like taking a huge risk—the risk of being utterly and humiliatingly rejected by her own husband. She didn’t know whether it was the darkness of his eyes as they narrowed on her or the soft evening light painting the world in romantic colors, but she decided that if not his heart, she could at least capture her new husband’s desire. She wanted him to make love to her—needed to feel his skin on hers, his hands on her and his breath as he skimmed every inch of her naked body. It was an urge as powerful and intoxicating as the urge to be loved by him, but one that she felt she had more chance of attaining than the love she so desperately yearned for.
She stepped out of the circle of her dress and toed off her heels. She suddenly felt extremely vulnerable. She’d never stripped naked for a man before and had no way of gauging Stuart’s response as he stood there, watching her with shuttered eyes. She decided to go for broke, and her hands traveled up to her back to unclasp her bra. She wanted to see the look on his face when her breasts spilled from the cups.
“Stop!” he growled hoarsely, and she stopped, her hands on the clasp, her face falling and her heart skipping into her throat. Was he rejecting her out of hand? Didn’t he even want her body when she’d so flagrantly offered it to him?
When he abruptly stepped closer, towering over her, she looked up at him, a tremble suddenly holding her in its grip that had nothing to do with the sudden chill the disappearing sun sent racing over the earth. She shook even more when he placed his hands on either side of her face, and then he was lowering his head, his lips tenderly capturing hers. A soft sigh escaped her throat as she stood on tiptoes, but the quiver in her limbs set in so unexpectedly she stumbled into him.
Catching her in his arms, Stuart had the sensation of capturing a small bird trembling against his chest, or was that his heart giving a sudden lurch? The sight of her dress dropping to her feet, revealing the curves and valleys of a body that was as close to perfection as any he’d ever had the pleasure to gaze upon had been enough to stir up the fires in his body to a frenzied fever pitch.
Like liquid fire traveling through his veins, need had pounded through him the moment her hands traveled up to release her beautiful breasts, the twin peaks of her nipples already straining against the soft cotton, her areolae on visible display, puckered and engorged with her own heating blood. The quick kick of his own swollen flesh had his hardness pressing against the confines of his boxers and when he finally lowered his lips onto hers, he was almost quaking with the self-control he had to exert not to sweep her off her feet and carry her into the bedroom from the moment his hands touched her bare skin.
To remove her undergarments was a task he’d reserved for himself, and as he knelt before her, he reverently plucked the flimsy bra from her trembling body, soon joined by her panties, and then his lips were on her, feathering heated kisses across her breasts.
She placed her hands on his shoulders to steady herself against the onslaught of his tongue and teeth as he sucked and suckled her nipples, his hands holding her steady by cupping her buttocks and then he was inching lower across her belly button, a trail of slick wetness covering her pale skin before he reached the softly bedewed triangle of her sex and her legs involuntarily parted before his touch. He stroked a delicate path along her thighs with his fingers, followed by his teasing tongue, and when he tenderly parted her outer lips and licked inside her, the sensation drove her to a bloom of quivering contractions, exploding into a torrent of bliss when he touched the tip of his tongue against the sensitively jutting bundle of flesh that was her clitoris.
“Oh, Stuart,” she cried, quaking so much she felt she was about to collapse into a heap of shuddering need. His hands digging into the flesh of her buttocks his tongue slid deeply into her most sacred place—the part of her body she’d never shared with any man before Stuart. His mouth covered her sex and she moaned with furious delight, the onslaught sending her soaring to new heights.
And when he lifted her up as easily as if she were a featherweight and carried her into the bedroom—their bedroom—she gasped as he placed her on the bed, the cool linen feeling delicately erotic against the fires he’d lit under her skin.
Stuart fought a heroic battle against the overwhelming urge to take possession of Kirsty—take possession of his wife in a fury of heat. Instead, he took things slow. His eyes devouring her as she lay naked before him, her legs parted enticingly, he stripped off his shirt, painfully aware of the confines of his trousers. When finally he shucked them, he emitted a low growl when Kirsty reached out a hand and wrapped her delicate fingers around his erect flesh, the veined girth responding to her caress by quickly expanding, the burgeoning, satiny head twitching against the palm of her hand.
His lips had returned to hers, and he was kissing her passionately, deeply, and so achingly possessive that she had the impression this was a different Stuart from the man she’d always thought she knew, a man possessed and so passionate she would have given herself to him a long time before if only she’d known this man existed. She licked against his mouth, as he stabbed deeply, plunging his tongue against hers, and as her hands traveled up from his twitching hardness to the pillars of strength that were his arms, now planted firmly on either side of her head, she placed both hands against his chest, relishing in the quivering mass of finely sculpted muscle, dusted with a feathering of dark hair. He lowered his lips along the sensitive smoothness of her neck along her collarbone and to the painfully peaking swells of her breasts, her dark nipples now flushed and straining to be sucked into his hot mouth.
“Make love to me, Stuart,” she whispered. “Make love to your wife.”
Something primordially possessive slashed through Stuart at these words. His wife. She was his now, and as he buried himself inside her flesh, he felt as if he were no longer one but a single unit consisting of two bodies now blissfully united. A long, slow thrust inside her slickness and then she was sheathing him, her flesh like a second skin, and then he was slowly, rhythmically moving inside her, soon moving at a fever pitch fueled by the soft keening sounds she emitted.
Her core was on fire as she bucked her hips, and she felt him sliding deeply within her aching belly. Kirsty had never known such pleasure, and even before Stuart entered her she’d been carried over the edge of her rising pleasure and had experienced the kind of peak contractions she now associated with the ultimate act of love. Oh, yes, she loved him, with all her heart and all her body and soul. She was his—his for all eternity, and even if his heart wasn’t hers, his body was, she knew on a surge of triumph as she cried out against his ear, her nails raking the taut ridges of his back as her hips bucked and ground against his and the spreading sense of fullness his pulsating hardness created inside her.