Disclaimer: Not Mine.

A/N: Written for the Help Japan auction at fandomaid on LJ. The delightful Mingsmommy bid on me and gave ma a prompt of 'circa 19th century, Rossi is wealthy but untitled and Emily's family is titled but have lost most of their wealth and are burdened with a headstrong daughter. Bodice ripper marriage of convenience.' I want to say a special thank you to both wojelah and losingntrnslatn for their support and beta skills. They rock!


"You, sir, are a cad!" Emily Prentiss, eyes spitting fire and cheeks flaming, turned on her heel and stormed from the drawing room, David Rossi's derisive laughter following her.

If her parents thought she was going to marry that arrogant man they were very, very wrong. Gathering her skirt in her hands, she ran up the stairs. Breathless, she flew through the door of her cousin Jennifer's suite and slammed the door.

Afternoon sunlight poured through the floor-to-ceiling windows, highlighting the fact that the hardwood floor, while clean, was scuffed and the thick carpet in the center of the room was threadbare in spots. The heavy velvet drapes framing the windows were faded. The overall affect was one of a beauty that hadn't aged well.

"Ahhhhhhh! That man is insufferable!" Planting her hands on her slender hips, she heaved out a harsh breath. "Seriously, JJ, I can't possibly marry him."

Setting her pen into the inkwell, JJ, her blue eyes dark with sympathy, turned from the desk and gave Emily a sad smile. "I don't think you're going to have any choice, Em."

"There's always a choice." Emily began to pace. Long purposeful strides carried her from one side of the room to another. "I could be a governess or…or…or something." Stopping, she stomped her foot. "I could move into London and work for the Metropolitan Police."

"Emily!" JJ's shocked exclamation almost made Emily smile. "You wouldn't!"

Waving a hand dismissively, she shook her head. "Of course not. But anything would be better than having to live with Mr. Rossi."

Grinning wickedly, JJ said, "He's quite handsome."

"As handsome as your Aaron?" Emily shot back, eyes dancing with merriment.

Aaron Hotchner was JJ's fiancé. Tall, dark and intense, he was very much JJ's opposite. But the pair seemed well suited, and Emily had no doubt he would provide well for her cousin. He was currently in London, completing the required twenty-four sessions at Hall of the Inn that would allow him to become a barrister. The pair had plans to marry during the summer of the coming year.

A blush lit JJ's cheeks and she quickly shook her head. "Of course not. Aaron is…," she sighed dreamily. "Aaron is the most handsome man I've ever seen."

Rolling her eyes, Emily dropped onto the settee. Sometimes she wished she could be like her cousin: small and blonde and desperately in love with a man who was perfect for her. Not that JJ was some milquetoast. She was strong in the way all good women were. She had a knack for getting people to do things her way and yet convince them it was their idea all along. Emily had never learned to use her feminine wiles. She was much too headstrong, at least that's what her father, Lord Edward, always said when she defied him.

"It must be nice to be allowed to decide who you want to marry, or if you even want to marry." Her fingers plucked idly at her skirt, the soft cotton against her skin soothing her frayed nerves. "You aren't required to marry an old man in order to save the family estate."

"No." Something in JJ's voice had Emily lifting her head. "I'm merely the poor relation who has overstayed her welcome."

Realizing her gaffe, Emily leapt to her feet and quickly crossed the room. Dropping to her knees in front of her cousin, she took JJ's hands in hers. "Oh no," she cried. "That isn't what I meant. Not at all. You know how much I love you."

When JJ was only eight years old, her parents had died of pneumonia. As the only child of Lady Elizabeth's younger brother, and with nowhere else to go, JJ came to live with Emily's family. Having grown up together, the young women were more like sisters than cousins. Now, ten years later, they were both about to embark on a new stage in their lives, one as the wife of a man who loved her, and one as the wife of a man who was, in essence, buying her.

"I know." JJ squeezed Emily's hands. "And I know how upset you are."

Sinking down until she was sitting on the floor at JJ's feet, Emily looked up at her cousin. "I shouldn't take it out on you. I'm sorry. You know sometimes I speak without thinking."

Before JJ could reply, the sound of male voices drifted up through the open windows.

"Help me up!" Emily hissed.

Standing, JJ tugged her to her feet. Emily hurried to the window and peered out. Down in the drive, Mr. Rossi's carriage was waiting for him, his driver standing still as a statue beside it. The voices increased in volume as her father and Mr. Rossi appeared from under the cover of the portico. Emily stared down at them, straining to hear what was being said.

"Look at him," she motioned JJ over.

JJ peered out the window. Below them Mr. Rossi's black hair gleamed in the late afternoon sunlight. His deep blue coat stretched across broad shoulders, and his white pants highlighted long legs. A spill of lace at his throat and wrists was snowy against his tanned skin.

Grinning devilishly, JJ said, "He's quite the dandy."

"What?" Emily choked out. "He's so…so…old."

"Oh, he is not!" JJ gave an inelegant snort. "He's not so much older than Aaron."

"He is," she insisted. "He has to be at least thirty."

As they watched, the man settled his top hat on his head, and after shaking her father's hand, turned to climb into his carriage. With his foot on the single step, he turned and looked up at the window where they stood. Then, with a rakish grin tilting his full mouth up, he raised a hand in mock salute.

Leaping back from the window, Emily growled in frustration at his seemingly irrepressible insolence while JJ dissolved into a fit of giggles.

"Why are you laughing?" Emily narrowed her eyes at her cousin.

Holding her stomach, JJ managed to gasp out, "Because I believe you may have met your match in Mr. Rossi."

A knock on the door saved JJ from Emily's ire. Instead, she turned and snapped. "Come in!"

The door opened to reveal Penelope, the housekeeper's daughter, with a tea tray balanced precariously against her ample hip.

"Lady Emily, Miss Jennifer," Penelope bobbed a curtsey as she entered the room. Plump, with sparkling brown eyes and full lips, she was quick with a smile and possessed a wicked sense of humor. Having grown up in Lord Edward's house, she was more a friend to Emily and JJ than a servant.

Hurrying across the room, china cups clinking madly against their saucers, Penelope stooped to set the tray on a table. "So," she glanced through her lashes at Emily. "What did you think of your gentleman caller? Because I thought his driver, Morgan, was quite a tasty morsel."

"I'm sure he is no gentleman." Emily retorted. When Penelope shot a look at JJ, Emily threw up her hands. "It is 1820, in case the two of you failed to notice. I shouldn't be forced to marry a man I only met today." Once again, she began to pace, anger fueling her steps and her words. "I shouldn't be forced to marry any man. I am a person, not cattle."

Reaching the fireplace, she spun, skirt swirling around her slim ankles. "I cannot believe my own father is willing to sell me. What happened to paternal love?"

She turned again at the arched entrance to the bedchamber and stopped her in her tracks. Clearing her throat, Emily said, "Mother?"

Standing in the doorway, Elizabeth Prentiss raised a thin eyebrow and glared haughtily at the three girls. Tilting her head in Penelope's directions, in a voice dripping with ice, she said, "You are dismissed."

Blushing, soft blonde curls falling along her cheeks, mop cap slightly askew, the maid hurried toward the door. She barely stopped as she curtsied before Elizabeth. "Thank you, Lady Prentiss," she mumbled as she left the room.

Shaking her head in obvious disgust Elizabeth let her gaze rake over the cousins. "How many times do I have to tell the two of you to stop associating with that girl? She is a servant, not your peer."

Met with silence, she continued, "Emily, your father and I would like to speak with you privately. He is waiting for us in his study."

Emily drew in a deep breath and gave JJ a desperate look. For all her talk, for all her ideas about running away, Emily was loyal to her family. She knew the livelihood of all the people living at Devonfield was now her responsibility. And she would never let them down.

Bowing her head, clasping her hands docilely in front of her, she replied, "Yes, Mother." If her tone wasn't as meek as her posture, none of them bothered to acknowledge it.


Emily followed her mother along the corridor. To her left, doors led to the bed chambers that lined the front of the house. To her right, windows looked out on the garden and the stables beyond. Once again, she was struck by the beauty of Devonfield. Emerald green grass and meandering paths led from the back of the house out to the stable and paddock. Beyond that, her father's land rolled away for as far as the eye could see.

Once, Lord Prentiss had been one of the wealthiest men in all of England. But times changed and brought with them a steady decline in the family's riches. Now Emily was being forced to marry a man she didn't know in order to save land that, based simply on the capriciousness of fate, would never be hers.

When they entered the study Lord Edward was standing in front of a window. His hands were clasped behind him and he was staring out at the lengthening shadows of the late afternoon, seemingly lost in thought. Emily took a moment to study him. He was an imposing man, tall and broad with heavily muscled shoulders and a thick shock of dark hair shot through with gray; more gray than had been there even a few months earlier.

"Edward?" Elizabeth's voice broke the silence. "You wanted to speak with Emily."

His sigh was deep, a long exhalation that spoke of things weighing heavily upon his mind. For the first time, Emily realized the precariousness of her position.

"Emily," her father sounded tired. "Your behavior this afternoon was inappropriate." He turned then, pinning her in place with his brilliant blue gaze. "Mr. Rossi is a very suitable match."

Not quite sure what she had been expecting, Emily knew this wasn't it. Still, she felt the anger returning. Riding a wave of righteous indignation, she said, "He is not suitable. He's not even titled."

"If he were titled, you would find something else wrong." Lady Elizabeth snapped. "You have found fault with every suitor you've ever had. You are quickly approaching the age where no man will be interested at all."

Shame joined the anger boiling in Emily's chest. Turning to face her mother, she countered, "I am only twenty-two. That is still young enough to attract a husband."

"You are one of the oldest at court. How do you expect to compete with girls…"

"Elizabeth!" Lord Edward's sharp tone interrupted his wife. "Leave us," he commanded. When Lady Elizabeth opened her mouth to argue, he practically roared, "Now!"

Her lips snapped together and formed a hard, flat line, her nostrils flared and her eyes blazed. With a sharp harrumph of displeasure, she turned and left the room. Emily was glad to see her go. It seemed her mother never missed an opportunity to point out that Emily was on the verge of being an old maid, and she was in no mood to listen to that speech again.

Relieved, Emily was ready to plead her case. However, that was not to be. Raising a hand, Lord Edward motioned her forward. "Come here, child."

Trepidation making her steps slow, Emily crossed the room to where her father still stood by the window. When they were side by side, he wrapped an arm around her shoulders and asked, "What do you see out there?"

Being on the ground level, the study didn't afford the view she'd had upstairs. However, she could picture it in her mind; the rolling hills dotted with cattle, the manicured shrubs, her father's favorite gelding galloping in the paddock. Past the stables were hundreds of acres, some wooded, some open, and they were filled with deer and grouse and pheasant; more than enough to keep Lord Edward's family well fed for years to come. She knew that just to her right, along the side of the main house, was the cook's vegetable garden, where, depending on the time of day, the groom's son, Spencer, could be found pulling weeds or reading a book (ones she loaned to him in secret from her father's library).

Swallowing past a sudden lump in her throat, Emily murmured, "Home. I see…home."

"Ah, Emily," Edward hugged her against his side. "Sometimes, you are too much like me. If you were more like your mother, I think things would've gone differently."

She wasn't sure what he meant but before she could ask, he continued. "You see, dear girl, most of this is my fault. I indulged you, because I could see the love for the land in you, the love for the people who live and work here.

"Now, everything you see is in danger. And I have no choice in what I must ask of you." Releasing her, he moved across the room to a rich cherry wood buffet with marble inlays. He picked up a cut crystal decanter and poured a glass of port.

Emily watched him, her heart breaking over the choice she must make. In order to save the land she loved, she must set aside her feelings. It was a huge sacrifice, one she didn't want to make. To marry a man simply for his money went against everything she believed in. But, with no male sibling, the responsibility fell on her shoulders.

Quietly, her hands plucking worriedly at the fabric of her gown, she asked, "What about love?"

Her father smiled, his eyes gazing upon her fondly. "You are such a contradiction, my girl. So strong, and yet, so soft." He sipped from the glass clasped between his big hands. "Love does not always make the best match. Oftentimes, compatibility is more important."

"What could I possibly have in common with that man?"

Lord Edward shook his head. "He's a good man, Emily. Honorable and hard working." He drained his glass and set it aside. "Once you get to know him, I'm sure you'll become quite fond of him."

It had never been her goal to be fond of the man she married. She wanted to be in love; glorious, wonderful, heart-pounding love. She wanted to feel about her future husband the way JJ felt about Aaron. She never wanted to look at her mate the way her parents looked at each other. But this was about more than her and her childish dreams. This was about duty.

Resigned, Emily gave her father a tight smile. "When?"


Shock ran through her. She had thought she might have more time to get used to the idea. She wanted to protest, to plead for a little more time. But time wouldn't really change things. With her heart breaking, she nodded. "If I must."


The past few months had been a whirlwind of preparations. While most brides were given ample time to gather their trousseau, Emily had been rushed by the tight timeline set by her father. There was a hurried trip to London where she procured several new dresses for day and evening, including her wedding gown.

It was a frothy confection of muted gold silk overlaid with ivory organza. The fabric shimmered in the light of the candles and lamps set about the bedroom. Bronze lace edged the deep plunge of the square neckline and the cap sleeves. A brown velvet ribbon highlighted the Empire waist and bronze organza roses dotted the bottom of the skirt. Emily had to admit that the color made her pale skin glow and the brown brought out her eyes. She felt beautiful, just as a bride should on her wedding day.

The ceremony had been simple, the two of them exchanging vows in subdued voices. Afterward, the guests danced and dined and drank exuberantly, none of them taking the time to ascertain the mood of the bride. Even at this late hour, Emily could still hear the music and laughter continuing in the ballroom. It had been years since Devonfield was filled with people and laughter, and it saddened her that it was for this occasion.

A frown marring her brow, her thoughts running in a myriad of different directions, Emily obediently bent her knees and raised her arms so that Penelope could work the dress over her head. With it gone she shivered in the coolness of the room. Looking up, she caught her reflection in the wavy surface of the cheval glass. Objectively, she noticed how tiny the corset made her waist appear, how her hips looked rounder and fuller, and the way her breasts seemed to swell above the lace trim. Silk pantaloons skimmed her legs and ended just below her calves, leaving slender well-turned ankles exposed. She studied her reflection and idly wondered if Mr. Rossi would approve of the way she looked.

Not that she cared what he thought, she told herself sternly. Being courted by him hadn't changed her opinion of his character. He was coarse and more than a little arrogant. But she quickly discovered, underneath his penchant for fancy clothes and those ridiculous high-heeled shoes, a keen mind and a sharp wit. Despite those things, he was not, nor would he ever be, the kind of man she would want to marry. So, why then, would she possibly be concerned about being found pleasing to the eye by David Rossi?

Emily shook her head in an attempt to clear it. She was nervous. That had to be the reason her thoughts were so scattered. After all, she was now a married woman, with all the things that implied. She might have retained her innocence, but she was far from naïve. She had spent time amongst her peers. She had heard the gossip, the whispers and giggles. She had friends who were married. She knew what happened between a man and woman in the privacy of their bed chamber. She knew what Mr. Rossi would expect of her, and the idea both titillated and repelled her.

Groaning quietly when Penelope loosened the laces on her corset, Emily drew her first deep breath in hours.

"Is everything okay, pumpkin?" Penelope deftly dropped a nightgown over Emily's head then slipped the corset down over narrow hips.

Emily ran her hand along her sides, wincing as her fingers skimmed the indentations left by the restricting garment. She gave a quiet snort and shook her head. "In a few minutes my husband, a man I barely know and don't really like, is going to come into my bedroom and demand what is rightfully his." Tears stung her eyes and she swallowed back the lump in her throat. "Tonight, I am expected to give myself to a man I find tolerable on a good day and repugnant on his worst. So, no, everything is not okay."

Penelope's eyes were filled with worry. "Oh, sweetness, I am so sorry." She wrapped her arms around Emily and squeezed. "I wish there was something I could do."

Gently, Emily disentangled herself from Penelope's embrace. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't take it out on you." She pressed her fingers against her eyes and drew in a shuddering breath. "Maybe you and JJ can help me escape."

"I would help you do anything, my pet." Standing up just a little straighter, putting on her most serious face, Penelope said, "Just say the word, and I will go find JJ. We'll get you out of here somehow."

Emily gave a watery giggle and surprised herself by throwing her arms around her friend. "I'm so glad you're going with me. I don't know what I'd do if I had to leave both you and JJ behind."

"We're your friends." Penelope sniffled. "We'll always be there for you." With one last squeeze, she stepped back and swiped at her eyes. "Now, let's get your hair brushed out, so I can get out of here."

Nerves twisting her stomach into a knot, Emily shrugged into the dressing gown Penelope held out for her and sat down at the vanity. Penelope began removing the pins from Emily's hair, her fingers slipping through the curls with ease.

"So," she chirped. "I'm meeting Morgan, Mr. Rossi's driver, that's his name you know. He's waiting for me down in the kitchen. We're going to have a bite of dinner, now that my work is done. Maybe we'll take a stroll in the moonlight. You know how romantic moonlight is. And he's so handsome. Big and strong and…"

Emily smiled as Penelope rattled on about Mr. Rossi's groom. She had to admit, the man was handsome; so exotic with his caramel skin and brilliant smile. It seemed that Penelope had developed quite a fondness for him. Sighing, Emily allowed the words to swirl around her while she concentrated on the soothing stroke of the brush through her hair. The feel of it had always helped to clear her mind. But tonight was different.

A sharp rap on the door interrupted Penelope's ramblings and made Emily jump. Without waiting for an invitation, Lady Elizabeth swept into the room. "Leave us," she commanded Penelope.

Bending forward to place the brush on the polished mahogany vanity, Penelope whispered, "Good luck." Then, with a brief curtsey in Elizabeth's direction, she left, closing the door behind her.

"Mother." Emily picked up the brush and ran it over her hair, watching warily in the mirror as Elizabeth crossed the room. "I'm almost ready."

Elizabeth placed her hands on Emily's shoulders and gave a gentle squeeze. "You made a beautiful bride, dear."

Wariness became worry and her arm stilled, brush in mid-stroke. Emily couldn't remember the last time her mother had complimented her without following it up with a barb. She supposed it had always been that way. When she was a child, Emily tried very hard to please Elizabeth. Then, as she grew older, she found herself going out of her way to anger the woman. None of it seemed to make any difference in the way she was treated. Maybe, she often told herself, it was because Elizabeth had wanted so badly to give Edward a son. Whatever the reason, Emily sometimes believed her mother didn't like her, much less love her. But none of that stopped her from wanting to be loved by the woman who bore her.

Annoyed with herself and the dangerous softening of her heart, Emily murmured a thank you. Her mother turned away, clearing her throat, smoothing her hands along her skirt. Placing the brush on the vanity, Emily turned on the stool until she was facing Elizabeth.

"Emily," Elizabeth began then stopped to clear her throat. "Emily, tonight is your wedding night, and there are some things I need to tell you."

If she weren't so shocked Emily is sure she would laugh. Her mother, who had never bothered to discuss anything even remotely personal with her, wanted to explain what Mr. Rossi – David, she needed to learn to call him David – would expect from her on their wedding night. Biting her lip, Emily simply nodded.

"I know you are older than most brides, but you are still a child in some ways." Elizabeth moved to stand in front of the fireplace, holding her hands out to warm them. "A man, a husband, has certain needs. There are things…things you may find distasteful, that he will ask of you. As his wife, you must submit to him in these matters."

Emily couldn't decide if she should laugh at the ridiculousness of the statement, or cry at the turn her life had taken. Never, in her wildest dreams, would she have imagined the situation she found herself in. If she were honest, she would admit that she felt her heart breaking just a little at the thought of doing nothing more than submitting because it was required of her. That was no way to spend a life, no way to spend her life.

"I'll do whatever I have to do." Emily swallowed against the sick feeling in her stomach. "Don't worry."

Elizabeth ran a hand over her eyes. "Why can't you ever take what I say at face value? Why must you always look for some hidden meaning?"

Biting back the most obvious retort, Emily rose and tugged the sash of her robe a little tighter. As much as it went against everything she stood for, everything she was feeling at that moment, she crossed the room and took her mother's hands in hers. "I'm sorry. I'm just…nervous."

Emily watched as Elizabeth wrestled with her reply. Finally, after several moments of tense silence, she visibly relaxed. "That's only natural." With an awkwardness that said more about their relationship than any of their many battles, Elizabeth hugged Emily. Stepping back, she said, "If you are ready, I'll let Mr. Rossi know."

Drawing in a deep breath and releasing it slowly, Emily nodded. "I'm ready."


The door to the hall opened and the candle flames danced madly at the disturbance. Despite the warmth of the fire at her back, Emily shivered and hugged herself against the chill coming in from the hallway. She wished desperately for a tiny glass of port to warm her, to relax her, to make this night easier to accept. But there wouldn't be any port, nor any reprieve. Mr. Rossi was here to claim what was rightfully his.

Closing the door behind him with a quiet click, he gave her a long appraising look. She could feel his eyes on her, his gaze sliding over her body like a physical touch. Determined not to let him intimidate her, Emily straightened her spine, dropped her arms to her sides and lifted her chin, even as a knowing smile tipped up the corners of his full mouth.

"Your mother said you were ready for me, Emily." He moved across the room until he was just a few feet from her. "Are you? Ready?"

His voice was low and silky, a tone she had never heard before. That, coupled with the gleam in his eyes, convinced her she was missing something in his simple question. Schooling her features into a mask of blank acceptance, she nodded. "Of course."

"Good." He reached up and tugged at the snowy lace of his cravat. "Then let's dispense with the pleasantries."

"You'll forgive me if I say I find nothing about this pleasant." Emily fought against the panic rising in her chest.

"Well, if we are both lucky, that will change." His grin widened as he shrugged out of his brown velvet waistcoat and draped it carefully over the back of a chair.

Emily was mesmerized as he loosened his cuffs and began to unbutton his shirt. The man obviously had no idea of what was and was not proper, since he seemed intent on disrobing right in front of her.

"There's a screen there, if you'd like some privacy." She gestured toward the far corner of the room where the four-panel, hand-carved mahogany screen stood. "There is even a place to hang up your clothes."

"Emily," his tone mocked her. "We are about to be as close as two people can be. Does it matter if I undress in front of you?"

Barely resisting the urge to scream at his lack of couth, Emily clenched her fists at her sides and blew out a harsh breath. "I might be your property, but I am still a lady. You will do well to remember that."

"Is that so?" Amusement sparkled in his dark eyes, and his smile widened, his teeth flashing white against the tan of his skin.

Anger surged through her. He was making fun of her, and the mere thought of it made her blood boil. Tossing her head back, she shot what should have been lethal daggers from her eyes. "Must you behave like an ass?"

Throwing back his head, he let out a hearty laugh. "There's the woman I remember. That docile act was beginning to drive me crazy." He shrugged out of his shirt and began folding it. "Do you have any idea how beautiful you are when you're angry?"

He was standing before her now, completely unselfconscious, in his undershirt, and Emily couldn't help but notice how the thin material clung to his broad chest and sturdy shoulders. It was becoming apparent to her that his foppish clothes hid a trim, strong body. Suddenly, she realized she was staring and snatched her gaze away. But her cheeks still flamed in embarrassment when she heard his quiet chuckle.

"I don't think you are as immune to me as you would have me believe." He sat down and began to unlace his shoes.

Humiliation coursed through her. How could the man be so egotistical and not explode from it? Could he possibly believe she would welcome him into her bed? "What you think has no basis in reality."

Placing his shoes neatly beside the chair, Mr. Rossi stood and closed the short distance between them. Even without the added height from his shoes, Emily had to look up to meet his eyes. "Look, Emily, I'm not the kind of man who is going to force a woman, despite what you may think." He lifted his hand and ran a finger along her cheek. "I've never had to, and I don't intend to start now."

She flinched under his touch, and his hand dropped to his side. "Don't worry. I will do what you ask of me. No force will be needed."

Mr. Rossi shook his head, and his once mocking smile seemed subdued, maybe even a little sad. "Ah, Emily, you misread me. I only want one thing from you tonight. And it's not what you think."

"What?" The word squeaked out, and she paused to run her tongue over lips gone suddenly dry. "What do you want?"

Her heart was pounding in her chest, and she was sure he could see her body trembling from the force of it. But the fear was receding. Something in his eyes told her she had nothing to be afraid of, at least not with this man.

"A kiss." His voice was once again low and silky, but without the mockery from before. "Just a kiss."

This time, when he ran a finger over her cheek, she didn't flinch. She was captivated by his voice and the heat in his eyes, by the roughness of his skin and the gentleness of his touch.

"Have you ever kissed a man, Emily?" He was staring at her mouth, and she felt her lips parting, opening for him. "Not those boys who courted you, but a man?"

She hadn't, she realized. She had allowed Duke and Duchess Strauss' son to kiss her once, just to satisfy her curiosity. But his fumbling hands and too wet lips had more than repulsed her, and she'd never had the desire to experience that again. Now, standing there with Mr. Rossi, she wanted to be kissed. By him.

Taking her silence as his answer, he said, "I didn't think so." He cupped her cheeks with both hands, ghosting his thumb along her lower lip. "Relax," he murmured. "I won't hurt you."

Her lip tingled where he had touched it, and Emily felt the pulse hammering in her throat. She wondered vaguely if he could feel it too. Licking her lips, she watched as his eyes followed the path of her tongue. There was a slight hitch in his breathing, and she felt the tremble in his hands. And something, something so completely female, began to unfurl inside her. Suddenly she wanted this kiss; she wanted to know what it meant to be kissed by a man. And not just any man. She wanted this man, this man that she was bound to in the eyes of God and of the law, to kiss her.

Emily watched him come closer and closer. She watched until his features began to blur then her eyes drifted closed. Then he was kissing her; a gentle press of his mouth to hers, a soft whisper against her lips, with his hands cupping her cheeks and his mustache tickling her nose. And it was nothing like she thought it would be. It was warm and easy and…right. Horrified at the turn her thoughts had taken, Emily stiffened under his touch.

Pulling back, Mr. Rossi let his hands fall away from her, and simply stood watching her. Then a slow grin slid over his face. "Oh, Emily," he whispered. "I have so much to teach you."

Gathering her wits, putting the taste and feel of his lips out of her mind, Emily gave a snort of disbelief. "I have no desire to learn anything from you."

He shook his head, his smile only growing wider. Turning away, he began to unfasten his pants. "Why don't you get in bed? I'll douse the lights and join you."

Panic returning, Emily tugged her robe a little tighter. "I thought you said…"

"I did. And I stand by my word." He glanced over his shoulder. "I'm not going to ravish you, Emily. Get in bed."