Love Only Once Page 26

Reggie frowned when he began to remove his coat. “What—what are you doing?”

“Getting ready for bed,” he said casually.


“Didn’t I tell you?” He frowned. “I was sure I mentioned it.” She seemed confused. “What didn’t you mention?”

“Why, that there are only three rooms to be had here. My aunt and her maid have one. Your maid and the nurse have the other, with a safe bed made up there for Thomas. That left only this room.” He sat down on the opposite side of the bed and removed his boots. Reggie’s eyes were wide as she stared at his broad back.

“You intend to sleep here?” This came out in a high-pitched voice. “Here?”

“Where else would I sleep?” He tried to sound wounded.


She got no further than that, for he swung around to face her, disturbing her by his closeness.

“Is something wrong?” he asked. “We are married, you know. And I assure you, you can be perfectly safe in the same bed with me.”

Did he have to remind her that he didn’t desire her any longer?

“You don’t snore, do you?” she asked, just to be mean.

“Me? Certainly not.”

“Then I don’t suppose sharing a room for one night will matter too much. You will leave some clothes on, though, won’t you?”

“I cannot abide constriction.”

“Then I will turn the light off now, if you don’t mind,” she said.

“So I don’t shock you with my na**dness? By all means.” Was that amusement in his voice? The cad. She would just have to ignore him.

She caught the lamp with both hands this time—she wasn’t going to have him accusing her of being foxed—but then she had a terrible time finding the edge of the turned-down covers so she could scoot her feet under them. When that was finally managed, Nicholas had finished undressing and, with no trouble at all, stretched out under the covers at the same time she did. His weight dipped his side of the bed so much, Reggie had to grip the edge of the covers to keep from rolling into him. She lay, stiff as a board, trying not to touch him with any part of her.

“Good night, wife.”

Reggie frowned. “Good night, Nicholas.”

Less than a minute later he was snoring. Reggie made a disgusted sound. Didn’t snore indeed. How was she supposed to sleep with this racket? She waited no more than another minute before shaking his shoulder.


“Have a heart, love,” he mumbled. “Once was enough for tonight.”

“Once… oh!” she gasped, startled to realize what he meant. He thought she was someone else, and that she wanted him to make love to her—again. The idea!

She fell back on her pillow in a huff. A moment later he began to snore again, but she just gritted her teeth. After a few minutes, Nicholas rolled toward her, and his hand landed alarmingly near her breast.

One leg fell across her thigh.

It flashed through her mind that the chest pressing against her arm was na**d, that the leg lying on top of her was na**d that… oh, Lord, if she moved she might wake him. Yet this intimacy was bringing back feelings best forgotten, and she couldn’t sleep like this.

Very gently she tried to lift his hand. His reaction was to grip her breast. Her eyes flew wide open. Her breathing quickened. And he slept on, blissfully unaware of what he was doing.

Once again she tried to extricate herself, prying his fingers off her one at a time, slowly. When his hand was released, it moved away of its own accord, but not where she had intended. His hand slid slowly

down her belly, across the mound between her legs, and all the way back up, stopping at her other breast. Just then, his knee moved enough to rest on her loins. The fingers caressed her breast.

“Very… nice.” His warm breath blew against her cheek as he murmured in his sleep.

The moan came from deep within her, surprising her and causing a deep blush. This was insane. He was sleeping! How could he make her feel like this when he was sleeping?

It was the wine. It had to be, for she almost wished she were the man and he the woman, so she could turn him on his back, straddle him, and ease her growing ache.

She had to risk waking him. She had to get him on his own side of the bed. “Nicholas?” she whispered.

“Nicholas, you have to—”

“Persistent, aren’t you, love?” His hand snaked up and around her neck, drawing her face to his. “Come then, if you insist.”

Warm lips touched hers, softly at first, then passionately. The hand at her neck began to caress, softly, making her tingle all over.

“Ah, love,” he murmured huskily as his lips trailed over her cheek to nibble an earlobe. “You should insist more often.”

Reggie was overwhelmed with erotic delight. What did it matter if he wasn’t fully awake and didn’t know what he was doing? She curled a hand around his neck, exerting enough pressure to keep him close.

Nicholas wished he could shout in triumph. Accepting his kiss had sealed her fate. His lips moved along her neck with tingling heat. Quickly, expertly, he unlaced her gown and, in one swift movement, whisked it over her head and aside.

Reggie’s hand, yanked from his neck in the unrobing, fell back onto his shoulder. His muscles tensed where she touched him. She shivered with her own power. There was no turning back now. He was hers for the night, whether he knew it or not.

Her fingers glided over his back. The skin was soft, warm. She kneaded gently, then harder, then gently again, taking pleasure just in being able to touch him again. It had been so terribly long. And oh, he was making her remember how it was the first time. His lips burned a searing line from her throat to her thighs.

Nicholas was becoming intoxicated by the smell and taste of her. Her skin was as firm and as silky smooth as the night he had taken her virginity. Her body had made no change since the baby, except for the fullness of her breasts, and those he was almost afraid to touch, though he yearned to. But they were the territory of her baby now, and he did not want her thinking of the infant just then. He did not want her thinking at all.

Reggie’s head moved from side to side, her pulse racing. If Nicholas did not quit the exquisite torture of his exploring fingers, she would soon be begging him.

He must have read her thoughts, for his long body slid over her, the weight so welcome. Her legs raised and wrapped around his h*ps just as his warm flesh entered her, filled her, thrusting to her depths.

His mouth closed over hers, smothering her cries of pleasure with fevered kisses. She met him thrust for

thrust, her arms locked behind his head, fingers gripping his hair.

The cl**ax took them together to shuddering heights, wave after wave washing over them. Pleasure met and savored. Passion spent. The world receded on the same tide, and they slept, wrapped in each other’s arms.

Chapter 32

NICHOLAS woke at a knock at the door, and became aware of two things simultaneously. He was lying with his limbs entwined with Regina’s, and the person who had knocked wasn’t going to wait to be invited in.

Finding his wife next to him was a lovely surprise, stirring wonderful memories. He turned toward the door and muttered a curse. Regina’s maid stood there, a candle in one hand, Thomas pressed to her shoulder with the other hand. A look of ridiculous surprise spread across her face.

“Isn’t it customary to wait until you are bid entry?” Nicholas growled.

But Meg wasn’t intimidated. “It’s not customary at all, your lordship, not when it’s my Lady Reggie’s room I am enterin‘.”

“Well, Lady Reggie is not alone, so if you will turn yourself around, I will make myself presentable.” Meg gasped as he stood up without further notice. She swung around quickly, wax spilling onto the floor. What was he doing in Reggie’s bed? The poor girl had been heartbroken when he deserted her, and now here he was back without, she guessed, so much as an apology.

“You may turn around now, and state your business.”

Meg bristled. She glanced hesitantly over her shoulder just as he came up behind her, blocking her view of the bed.

Suspiciously, she asked, “Does she know you’re here?”

Nicholas laughed. “My dear woman, what are you accusing me of?” Meg drew herself up stiffly, trying to think what she should say.

“Is there some problem that brings you here in the middle of the night?” Nicholas asked before she could speak.

“I’ve brought Lord Thomas for his late-night feeding,” she explained, making him wonder how he could have forgotten so soon that the infant required attention in the middle of the night.

Meg continued as if she had read his thoughts. “It’s troublesome, true, but it won’t be lastin‘ much longer, these late feedings. A few nights already he’s slept right through. It’s the travelin’ and the strange room that have him fussin‘ tonight.”

“Very well, you may give him to me.”

Meg drew back in amazement. “Beggin‘ your pardon, your lordship, but wouldn’t it be better if you just left the room for a while?”

“No, it would not,” Nicholas said firmly. “But you may do so. And no, dear woman, I do not imagine I can satisfy his needs, so you needn’t look at me like that. I will give him to his mother and see he is returned to you when he is finished.”

He reached for Thomas and Meg was forced to comply, though she warned, “Careful. You must support his neck… that’s right, just so. He’s not a rag doll, you know.” At the scowl he shot her, she left.

Nicholas sighed. There was nothing for it, he would have to wake her. Blister it, he didn’t want to wake her. She had slept long enough to have lost all the effects of the wine. She would be shocked by his presence. Oh, why couldn’t the child suckle without her being awake? Her lovely br**sts were already bared, and she was lying on her side. Could the child do it on his own?

He gently lifted the boy and placed him close to Regina. Nothing happened. Nicholas sat back and frowned. Why the devil wouldn’t it work? Didn’t babies possess some kind of instinct? He turned the little face toward her until the baby’s cheek brushed against her nipple. But the little head turned away again, and Thomas began making sounds of frustration.

Exasperated, Nicholas lay down behind Thomas and turned him onto his side, guiding the little mouth to the nipple. Nicholas held the boy in place until at last the nipple was found and Thomas began to suck.

Nicholas smiled, pleased with himself and the baby. With his hand covering the back of the baby’s head, holding him firmly to his source of food, Nicholas was able to lie there and watch mother and child at his leisure. Every new father ought to be so lucky, he told himself.

He nearly chuckled aloud at his own cleverness. He was feeling damned proud. This was his son—he would bloody well lay low anyone who said otherwise—and he had helped to feed him. Well, he had brought the baby to his food, anyway. It was nearly the same thing. He could understand a little of what Regina must feel each time she fed him. It was a marvelous feeling.

Watching them, he was filled again with the warmth and tenderness he had felt the night before, and a wealth of possessiveness, too. His wife, his child. They belonged to him. Something was going to have to be done to see that they knew it and accepted it.

Nicholas was handling the baby with much more confidence when he walked him down the hall to the room Meg shared with the nurse. He had even managed to turn both mother and child over so that Regina’s other breast, quite swollen with milk, could be drained as well. And all without waking her.

Meg opened the door, looking disagreeable. Here, he thought, was a good place to begin gaining acceptance.

“Tell me something, Meg. Is this animosity you have for me personal, or only a reflection of your lady’s feelings for me?”

Meg, much older than Nicholas, was bold enough to speak her mind. “Both. You shouldn’t have come back. She was doin‘ just fine without you, and she’ll do just fine again once you’re gone.”

“Gone?” He was truly shocked. “You have me leaving when I’ve only just returned?”

“Well, won’t you?” Meg retorted, working herself into a fine stew. “You didn’t want her for your wife.

She knows that well enough now.”

“And if I don’t leave again, Meg? What then?” he asked softly.

Meg held her ground. He was not to be let off easily. “She’ll make your life miserable, that’s what. No more than you deserve, beggin‘ your pardon, your lordship. Tess and I didn’t raise any insipid miss, I can tell you that. You can’t hurt a Malory twice.”

Nicholas nodded. He had heard enough. If anyone knew Regina’s real feelings, it was Meg, and the maid was outspoken enough to tell him the truth. Was she right? Was there no hope for him and Regina?

Chapter 33

IT was a quarter past eight and Meg bustled around the room, shaking out the violet dress and short-sleeved spencer Reggie would wear. Reggie sat on the edge of the bed, playing with Thomas. She had fed him already and was waiting for Tess to come back for him.

“I’m surprised Thomas slept through the night, aren’t you, Meg? I thought the strange surroundings would have him fretting.”

“D’you mean to tell me you don’t remember my bringing him in here last night?” Reggie glanced up, bewildered.

“His lordship brought him back to me all comfy and fed,” Meg told her. “I’m sure he’d like to take credit for feedin‘ the baby, but unless they’re makin’ men differently these days—”

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