His for a price(9)

By: Caitlin Crews

Nicodemus couldn’t understand why he didn’t feel jubilant. Wildly triumphant. Instead of this same dark fury that always beat in him when she looked at him like this, so recklessly defiant when the fact he would win could never have been in any doubt.

He made himself let go of her, though it was hard. Too hard, when everything inside him beat like a tight, taut drum and he wanted nothing more than to bury himself in her, at last. To ride out his victory until she screamed his name the way he’d always known she would, to taste her and learn her and take her, over and over, until this vicious hunger was sated.

Because he was certain it would be sated once he had her. It had to be.

But that would come later.

“Sit,” he ordered her, jerking his chin in the direction of two deep, dark brown leather armchairs before the nearest fireplace. “I’ll tell you how this will work.”

“That doesn’t sound like a very promising start to the marriage you’ve been threatening me with for years,” she said in her usual flippant, disrespectful way that he really shouldn’t find as amusing as he did. Like it was foreplay. “In fact, if you ask me, it sounds like the kind of marriage that will lead to a very big, very public divorce in approximately eighteen months, or as soon as I can escape and file.”

“You won’t escape,” he said, nodding toward the chairs again, and less politely. “Though you’re welcome to try. I’d be happy to chase you down and haul you back.”

He was rewarded with that dark blue glare of hers that had been making him ache with a driving need for almost as long as he’d known her. He smiled and was rewarded with the faintest hint of a shiver that she tried to hide.

She settled herself in the far chair with that wholly unearned grace of hers that he’d found nothing short of marvelous since the day they’d met. Mattie Whitaker had never suffered through any awkward phase as far as Nicodemus could tell. She’d been a gleaming bright beacon at sixteen, with her half-American, half-posh-British accent she’d wielded like a sword, even then. At eighteen, she’d been magnificent, pure and simple. From her glossy blue-black hair to her rich, dark blue eyes, to that wide mouth that should have been outlawed. She’d had poise and elegance far beyond her years, a consequence, he’d decided long ago, of having had to play hostess for her father after her mother had died when she was only eight.

He’d walked into that silly ball, that leftover nod to some gilded-age American fantasy he couldn’t begin to understand, and had been struck dumb. Like she’d been a lightning bolt instead of what she was, what he knew she was: one more pretty little rich girl in a sparkling dress.

But God help him, it was how she’d sparkled.

She’d been so careless—thoughtless and spoiled as only wealthy heiresses could be. He’d suffered through that once already back in Greece, with self-centered, deceitful Arista, who’d nearly taken him to his knees and to the cleaners when he’d been twenty-two and a trusting, stupid fool. He’d vowed he’d never trust so easily nor be so deeply foolish again.

But there was something about Mattie that had drawn him in despite that. He’d watched her careen through all her blessings as if she hardly noticed them. He’d studied the way she’d shrugged off her expensive schools and the featherweight jobs she’d taken afterward, in publishing companies or art galleries or the like that paid so little only heiresses could afford to work at them. Or only occasionally work at them, in her case.

Nicodemus watched her now as she leveled that frank gaze of hers at him, her dark eyes serious, though they were the precise color of after-dinner chocolates with that intriguing shimmer of darker blue. She could be flighty and reckless and sometimes attention-seeking, but she was also intelligent. He’d long suspected she liked to pretend otherwise, for her own murky reasons. Another mystery he looked forward to solving.

“I think it’s time you told me what this is really about,” she said, and she reminded him of her father then, with that matter-of-fact tone and her direct gaze. Nicodemus pulled in a breath. “I mean it,” she said as if that had been an argument. “I don’t believe for one second that there aren’t parades of more suitable heiresses if an heiress is what you want. Prettier ones, if that’s your thing. Richer ones, certainly. Far more notorious ones and one or two who might as well have spent their lives in a convent. You’ve always struck me as being particularly annoying—” and there was the faintest hint of that dent beside her mouth that he knew was a dimple, that he’d spent many a lazy hour longing to taste “—but there’s no denying the fact that you’d be a nice catch. You’re disgustingly wealthy. You’re very powerful. You’re not exactly Quasimodo.”

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