Isabella started to pull away, as though coming to her senses.
“Don’t,” Mac said. “Stay with me.”
Isabella’s throat moved behind the buttons he’d parted. “I’m very tired.”
“So am I.” He broke off, touched the bruise on the side of her mouth again. “I don’t want you to be afraid of me, Isabella.”
She smiled suddenly, the abrasion pulling her mouth into a crooked line. “Afraid of you? I’ll never be afraid of you, Mac Mackenzie.”
Mac didn’t laugh. “I meant that I don’t want you thinking that I’m anything like him.”
“Like this Payne fellow?” Isabella shook her head, the end of her braid brushing his chest. “Of course I don’t.”
“He looks like me, and he’s decided to try to steal my life. But I won’t let him have it, any part of it.” He tightened his arms around her. “Especially not this part.”
Isabella’s eyes softened, becoming the shade of a misty Scottish meadow. “If I do decide to throw you out of my house, Mac, it will be because
want to, not because Payne has upset me.”
“That’s my Isabella.”
He tugged her to him and swiftly undid the rest of the buttons on her nightdress.
Warm, supple woman waited for him inside. Mac kissed her lips, fingered the weight of her breasts, eased her on top of him. On their wedding night, he’d pulled her under the covers while she still wore the dressing gown he’d lent her. He’d wanted to spare her the discomfiture of baring herself the middle of the room—he suspected she’d never been naked in front of another human being in her life. She’d probably been taught to bathe in her undergarments. Prudery at its most ridiculous.
Then, as now, he’d unbuttoned her once she was on top of him under the blankets and tugged off the dressing gown. That night, Isabella had kissed him clumsily; tonight, her kisses held the skill of experience.
Darling, darling Isabella. Men were fools not to make mistresses of their wives. What need did Mac have for courtesans when he had beautiful Isabella? What’s more, he could fall asleep with her and wake up with her, spend the day with her, go to bed with her, and begin the wonderful ritual all over again.
His thoughts broke off as she glided one hand around his very aroused cock.
“Don’t tease me, sweet,” Mac whispered, voice grating. “I need you too much to hold back.”
Isabella’s answering smile was hot. She stroked him once. “I need
, Mac,” she said.
All thoughts of his foolish game, of resisting Isabella until their reconciliation was complete, fled his head. To hell with that. Mac caught her hips and half-lifted her to straddle him. She guided Mac to her very wet opening, and closed her eyes as he slid into her.
Isabella’s sheath closed around him like a tight fist.
My beautiful, beautiful darling.
Nothing else mattered when Isabella’s scent and lovely slick opening surrounded him, nothing. The first night making love to her had shattered him, and Mac still hadn’t found all the pieces.
“It’s like heaven inside you,” he whispered.
Isabella kissed his lips, the bridge of his nose. “You once said you married me because you thought I was an angel.” Her lips curved into the wickedest smile he’d ever seen as she wriggled her hips.
“Little devil,” he growled.
She splayed her hot hands on his chest, tilting her head back as she rode him. He was going to die of this. Firelight touched her slim body, her nipples dark against cream-colored skin. Her hair trickled over her body, loose now, like a gossamer cloak of fiery red.
Isabella’s face softened, her eyes dark as her moist lips parted. The sight excited him. He thrust high inside her, and they swayed together for a long time, this coupling driving away all fear, all anger, all grief. Nothing mattered but the two of them joining, no longer two but one.
Isabella crooked one arm across her breasts, resting her hand on own shoulder as she lost herself in the pleasure. He knew she was thinking nothing, hearing nothing, only feeling Mac inside her.
He knew when she was drawing to climax, and that excited him even more. He rocked up into her, his own cry of joy ringing with hers as they peaked together.
Isabella collapsed to his chest, her loose hair covering him like a river of red. “It feels so good. I’ve never felt it like this. It’s so . . .” She trailed off, incoherent.
“Good?” Mac wanted to laugh, but his body shuddered with release, and his laughter came out a groan.
They fell silent, Mac burying his fingers in the warmth of her long, silken hair. Mac loved this part, stillness settling between them while his body went heavy, every muscle loose. He’d missed the afterward almost as much as he’d missed being inside her.
“We did this in Scotland,” said Isabella after a time, her voice sleepy. “It was glorious then. But this is better. I wonder why.”
Mac didn’t give a damn why this time seemed even more intense than it had been in his studio, but Isabella wanted an answer. Mac simply wanted to close his eyes and hold her.
“Comfy bed,” he murmured. “Difficult day.”
“I thought I’d never see you again,” Isabella whispered, her breath hot on his cheek. “And then you were there, pulling me out of danger.”
“That must be it. I was a hero. I swept you off your feet and made you want me.”
“Don’t joke.” Isabella frowned. “Don’t.”
“I’m sorry, love. No, it’s not a laughing matter.”
He kissed the line of her hair. Mac had been in time to prevent the abduction, or whatever Payne had been planning, but it had been a close thing. It made him ill to think how close.
No, he couldn’t go on thinking about
He’d brought her home, safe and sound.
Relatively safe and sound. Mac thought of her bruised lip and rage trickled through him again. Payne would answer for that.
Isabella lifted her head. “Mac.”
“Yes, sweet angel?”
“I don’t want to sleep yet.”
“Fancy a game of cards, do you? Lawn tennis, perhaps?”
“Don’t be silly. I want to do some of the things we used to do. You know.”
Mac’s thoughts scattered as his pulse quickened. “I do know. Wicked lady.”
Isabella kissed the tip of his nose. “I was taught by a wicked, wicked lord.”
He grinned. “What did you have in mind?”
Isabella showed him. They tried something they’d enjoyed before—Isabella straddling him, facing his legs instead of his face, and then leaning back until she lay full length on him, her back to his chest. Every muscle in Mac’s body tightened in pleasure, the arousal incredible.
This position let Mac cup her where they joined. The feel of her wet heat, the sounds of pleasure she made as he stroked her there aroused him all over again. They climaxed together, their shouts mingling in the stillness of the night.
Still hard, Mac rolled Isabella onto the bed and entered her again, face-to-face. A conventional position, but the best, he thought, where he could kiss Isabella’s lips and watch her green eyes sparkle with passion. If he could ever capture on canvas her expression as she rose to climax, he would treasure that painting above all others. And show it to no one, of course. It would be his own private, decadent pleasure.
Mac made love to her until both of them were limp with exhaustion. Then he blearily pulled the covers over them and fell asleep in a nest with his beautiful, incredible wife.
When Isabella came down to breakfast the next morning, a bit sore from the night’s activities, she was pleased to find a letter from Ainsley lying by her plate.
Mac read the paper at the head of the table, the pages hiding him while he crunched his usual buttered toast. Isabella thanked Morton for the coffee he poured and opened the letter.
She made a faint noise, and Mac’s paper came down. “What is it, love?”
Isabella’s face heated as she met his gaze. She’d begun her shameless behavior last night because she’d been too restless and anxious to sleep. She’d needed to drop off from exhaustion of the kind that only Mac Mackenzie could provide.
She’d sought oblivion but found pleasure so great it was indescribable. By the glint in Mac’s eyes, he understood and was gleeful that he’d been the cause.
“Mrs. Douglas,” Isabella answered. “She says she will try to contrive another meeting between myself and Louisa, but she’s not certain yet when she’ll be able to.”
“When she does, I will accompany you,” Mac said.
“You can’t. Ainsley is finding it difficult enough to invent excuses to take Louisa out alone, without my mother. Louisa might be too afraid to go through with it if she knew you were involved.”
Mac folded his paper and set it aside, his face stern. “Isabella, my lovely, I am not letting you out of my sight. Don’t mention to Ainsley that I will be there if she thinks my presence would confound the scheme, but I am going.”
Mac rarely asserted husbandly mastery. He’d told her the first day of their marriage that he thought it nonsense that men presumed to dictate to their wives—what if the husband was a fool? Wouldn’t the wife be even more of a fool to obey him? Isabella was to be given complete freedom, because, Mac said, he suspected that Isabella had far better sense than he did.
Isabella saw now that Mac simply had chosen not to assert his rather formidable will. The look in his eyes told her he would not back down, no matter how much she argued.
Isabella tried anyway. “She’s my sister.”
“And there is a madman lurking in the streets waiting to do who the hell knows what. You go nowhere without me.”
Isabella swept her lashes down. “Of course, my dear,” she said meekly.
“And don’t you dare pretend to capitulate and then sneak away when my back’s turned. Your servants agree with me and will tell me if you attempt anything so rash. If you try to leave the house without me, I promise I will drag you back home, chain you up in the cellar, and feed you bread and water with my own hands.”
The trouble with Mac making idiotic declarations was that there was a good chance he’d carry them out. Also, he was right. Payne was a danger. Isabella recalled his terribly strong hands on her and suppressed a shiver. She never, ever wanted to feel that helpless again.
“Very well,” she said in a cool tone. “Find some way that I can meet with my sister safely, and I will do as you say.”
“I will,” Mac said. “I am deadly serious, Isabella: Do not leave the house without me. I will escort you wherever you wish to go. I trust no one else to keep you safe.”
Isabella smeared jam onto a piece of toast. “Will this not severely limit your own business in town?”
“No. My business in town is you.”
“Oh.” Isabella went warm with pleasure, but she certainly would not let him see that. “Surely you’ll have errands to run.”
“And a houseful of servants to run them for me. Anyone I must do business with can come to me here.” He lifted his paper again and shook it open. “In fact, I have an important visitor arriving this morning, so don’t plan to go out until after that, there’s a good wife.”
Isabella sent him a glare that could have burned his newspaper to a crisp. But in spite of her irritation at his high-handed arrogance, she couldn’t help feeling, deep down, a warm glow at his protectiveness.
Her warm glow dimmed an hour and a half later when the Mackenzie family’s London solicitor arrived.
Isabella knew Mr. Gordon well. He’d guided her first through the legal ramifications of her marriage to Mac and his settlements on her and then through the morass of issues involved in their separation. Mr. Gordon had advised her against divorce, which he explained was costly and difficult to achieve. It would involve Isabella accusing Mac of heinous behavior, and Mac defending himself in court in front of the world. Separations were less scandalous and less of a headache, and after all, Isabella wanted only to live in peace and comfort on her own. Mac would provide a full income to Isabella, and she could do as she liked. Mr. Gordon had been kind and patient during the turmoil, and Isabella would be forever grateful to him for that.