His for a price(5)

By: Caitlin Crews

He’d laughed as if she’d delighted him. “You will.”

“I will never want to marry you,” she’d told him stoutly, some kick of temper—or self-preservation—in her gut making her bold. She’d been eighteen. And it hadn’t been lost on her that Nicodemus was not one of the silly boys she’d known then. He’d been very much a man.

He’d smiled at her as if he knew her and it had connected hard to her throat, her chest, her belly. Below. It had made her toes cramp up inside her ferociously high shoes.

“You’ll marry me, princess.” He’d seemed certain. Amused, even. “You can count on it.”

He seemed even more amused now.

Nicodemus closed the distance between them almost lazily, but Mattie knew better. There was nothing lazy about him, ever. It was all misdirection and only the very foolish believed it.

“Have we ever determined what was wrong with you that you wanted to marry a teenager in the first place?” she asked him now, trying to divert whatever was coming. But he only stopped a scant few inches in front of her. “Couldn’t find a woman your own age?”

Nicodemus didn’t reply. He reached over and raked his fingers through the long, dark hair she decided instantly she needed to cut off, then wrapped it all around his hand, like he was putting her on a leash.

Then he gave it a tug. Not a gentle one. And she felt it deep between her legs, like a flare of dark pleasure.

Mattie wanted to smack his hand away, but that glinting thing in his dark gaze dared her to try, and she didn’t want to give him the satisfaction when she was already tilting her head back at an angle that made a dangerous heat kindle to bright life inside her. Then build.

“That hurts,” she told him, horrified that there was a hint of thickness in her throat when she spoke. That gave him ammunition. It couldn’t be allowed.

“No, it doesn’t.” He sounded as certain as he had when she’d been eighteen, and it was infuriating. No matter if it made everything inside her tilt again and then tighten.

“I realize I’ve been bartered off like chattel,” she bit out. “But it’s still my hair. I know how it feels when someone pulls it.”

His smile deepened. “You lie about everything, Mattie,” he murmured, the slap of the words at jarring odds with the way he crooned them, leaning in close. “You break your word the way other women break their nails.”

“I break those, too.” It was like she couldn’t stop herself. “If this has all been a bid for the perfect, polished trophy wife, Nicodemus, you’re going to find me a grave disappointment.”

He laughed softly, which wasn’t remotely soothing, and tugged again, and it wasn’t the first time Mattie regretted the fact that she was both tall and entirely too vain. Five feet ten inches in her bare feet, and the gorgeous black boots she was wearing today put her at a good six feet and then some. Which meant that when Nicodemus loomed over her and got too close to her, that mouth of his was right there. Not miles above her, which was safer. Within easy reach—and she imagined he was deliberately standing this close to her because he wanted to remind her of that.

Like she—or her shuddering, jolting pulse she could feel in a variety of worrying places—would be likely to forget.

“I told you a long time ago that this day would come,” Nicodemus said now.

“And I told you that I wasn’t going to change my mind,” she replied, though it cost her a little more than it should have to keep her chin up and her gaze steady on his. “I haven’t. You can’t really believe that this grotesque, medieval form of blackmail is the same as me surrendering to you, can you?”

“What do I care how you come to me?” he replied in that low, amused voice of his that kicked up brushfires inside her as it worked its way through her and made her feel a delicious sort of weak. “You mistake me for a good man, Mattie. I’m merely a determined one.”

And despite herself, Mattie remembered a long, formal dinner in Manhattan’s Museum of Natural History for some charity or another and her father’s insistence that she sit with Nicodemus, who, he’d informed her when she’d balked, was like another son to him. A far-better-behaved one, he’d added. Mattie had been all of twenty-two—and infuriated.

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