Lady Newberry suddenly gasped. “Oh dear, I forgot my glasses. Will you two just wait for me right there? I do love to look at the garden in the evening! Especially with two attractive young gentlemen.” She winked and shuffled off.
Duncan snorted, “She meant me, not you.”
“Are you saying I’m not as attractive as you are?” Nick sounded shocked.
“I think any woman would think so.” Duncan pushed Nick back a little.
Nick laughed loudly. “Please. This coming from a man who can’t even drink coffee!”
“Oh, so it’s about tea and coffee again?” Duncan pushed him again. “Is that the only argument you have?”
“It’s the only argument there is! Coffee prevents cancer!”
“Tea has more antioxidants!” Duncan yelled.
Nick kicked dirt into the air. “Tea ruins people’s teeth way more than coffee does!”
Christian chuckled beside Kessen then whispered, “How long should we let this go on?”
Kessen pushed her lips together to keep from laughing. “Now seems like a good time, don’t you think?”
Christian nodded his head. “Brilliant.”
Kessen counted. “Okay, ready in one, two, three, go!”
They shot up from the ground and began pounding paintballs out as if it was their job to destroy their enemy.
Surges of yelps and swear words resounded throughout the yard as Duncan and Nick ran back into the house. Kessen and Christian had successfully pelted their legs and stomachs at point-blank range.
Laughing, Kessen grabbed Christian’s hand and pulled him to the ground again, just in case Nick and Duncan found guns and decided to fight them like men.
Christian appeared to trip and rather than land next to Kessen he landed on top of her, but braced himself above her so he wouldn’t crush her.
“Was that on purpose?” she asked breathlessly.
He leaned in, “What do you think?”
“I think your moves need work, my lord.”
Christian moved closer until his lips were only an inch from hers. “Practice does make perfect, my lady.”
To this day they still argue over who went in for the kiss first.
Kessen sighed as Christian claimed her mouth with his own. She felt the pressure of his tongue as it slid into her mouth and teased her mercilessly until she was without any logical thought.
She twisted so she could get on top of him and began tugging at his clothes. He seemed just as eager to remove any barriers from between their bodies, as he began tearing at hers with equal force and vigor.
Unfortunately, in all their excitement they had forgotten they were still outside. That is, until Lady Newberry walked up and gasped.
“Do you know,” she said, putting her hands on her hips, “I have caught you two in some of the most compromising situations I have ever seen?”
Kessen froze. Christian hid behind her head while she mouthed traitor to him.
Lady Newberry groaned. “It’s a good thing you’re getting married this weekend, a darn good thing.” And she walked off.
“Maybe we should…” Christian started to say.
“Yeah, we should go inside before…” Kessen was also without words.
“Before I destroy you!” A voice boomed behind the tree. They both turned to see Duncan with a helmet, two paintball guns and at least four sets of clothing on.
“Run!” Christian yelled, pulling Kessen to her feet. Frantically they grabbed their outer clothes and made a beeline for the house.
Kessen, remembering she merely needed to run faster than Christian, tried to open the back door. It was locked. She watched as Christian, arms over his head, shouted for her to run to the front of the house. They split up, each going around one side on their own.
When they reached the front of the house cameras began flashing.
“And here we have the happy couple now.”
“We are so glad to have the wedding in just a day here at the Vandenbrook country home,” the duke said excitedly.
Kessen froze in her tracks and sent a searing glance towards Christian.
He appeared to be swearing as he put on his coat and smoothed his hair. Lucky for them, it appeared they were being chased, not rolling around in the grass, mauling each other without a care for propriety.
What looked like a lot of media personnel ended up being only one news channel. The only one allowed to cover the wedding.
The next three hours consisted of tireless questions and lots of walking. The crew wanted to be shown everything. The bridal gown, the location, the flowers.
It was enough to give Kessen the sudden urge to elope.
After her little tryst with Christian in the grass, elopement was sounding better and better idea by the second. She hardly noticed when, after giving the news team a tour of the garden, he walked by and slipped a folded note in her hand.
Tonight, ten. My room. Don‘t let anyone see you.
She could hardly hide her smile, which threatened to take over her face.
Ten couldn't come fast enough. By the time the clock had struck a quarter till ten, Kessen gave up and promptly knocked on Christian’s door.
She knocked again, this time a bit louder.
She looked down the hall to see if anyone was coming, just as the door swung open and Christian pulled her in.
“Lock it,” she said breathlessly, but his hand was already turning the latch.
Moaning her name, he carried her to the fireplace and set her on a large blanket. Next to the blanket was a plate of chocolate-covered fruit and champagne. Next to the champagne was the book he had started reading to her the night before. Tonight they weren't going to chance any interruptions.
He lowered the lights in his room and motioned for her to scoot closer to him. She scooted, but apparently not fast enough for him. In one giant swoop, he gathered her off the floor and placed her in his lap; his arms went around her as he began alternating between massaging and kissing her neck.
“I'm getting you out of this,” he grumbled, tugging at her sweatshirt.
Either she was done trying or her morals had gone straight out the window, because rather than fight him about being proper, Kessen fully compromised herself by lifting her hands so he could slip it off her easier.
“I'm not going to seduce you,” he whispered huskily into her ear. “Yet.”
Her toes tingled with delight.
“But,” he said, “I'm going to continue with this wooing business if it kills me. “ He slipped the sweatshirt effortlessly from her and stared at her athletic form. She had nothing but a tank top and shorts on, making her feel naked and exposed sitting there.
He began expertly running his fingers across her shoulders in smooth motions. His hands ran down her arms slowly as if to savor every moment his hands were touching her skin. Kessen watched, afraid any noise might break the spell.
Christian wasn't even watching her face; he was too focused on her arms, legs, and every part of her that screamed for his attention. He kissed down her arm to the sensitive part inside her wrist. She shuddered with delight as he brought her other wrist to his lips and caressed it with his tongue.
He gently placed both wrists in her lap as he rested his hands on her hips, then he moved her gently against him and breathed into her hair. His grip tightened on her waist, and he spun her around to face him.
Kessen turned, and with his help was now straddling the future Duke of Vandenbrook in his room. Lady Newberry would have a fit if she was to barge in, but nobody was going to barge in. It was just them.
Christian sighed and placed his hand firmly over Kessen’s chest as if he wanted to feel her heart beat through his hand. Her breathing sped up. He leaned in and kissed her on the side of the mouth. The room felt heavy and tense as he tugged at her bottom lip with his teeth.
Gently at first, then more forcefully as she opened her mouth to welcome his
Her arms were still limp at her sides; Christian reached down and wrapped them around his neck. She braced herself against him and he continued to kiss her as if she was the only reason for his existence.
His kisses could ruin a girl.
She felt thoroughly ruined at that point.
Just when she didn't think she could take anymore, he slid his hands down her sides and paused, pulling away from her face for just an instant. His eyes were black with desire.
“How many days?” His voice was hoarse. Apparently his wooing was doing just as much to him as it was to her.
She smiled seductively, pushing her hand against his chest and biting his ear. “Two days.”
Christian groaned. She kissed his neck.
Muttering something in French, he threw his weight over her, his body acting as her blanket as he suggestively started pushing up her shirt.
Heat personified, he possessed her with a hunger she never knew possible. Desire coursed through her veins as she pulled him closer.
A knock echoed distantly through the haze.
“You've got to be kidding me…” His breathing was uneven as he hovered over Kessen. He looked like a lion ready to pounce at any minute.
The knock grew louder and more insistent until finally Christian told Kessen to go hide while he opened the door.
He walked slowly to the door, making sure he looked presentable, then opened it a slight crack.
Kessen couldn't hear anything but was more than shocked when Christian turned around with a silly grin on his face and walked out of the room.
She came out of her hiding spot, extremely confused, but the confusion didn't last long as her father walked through the door with arms wide open. “I should punish you for being alone with that young man, but it was my dearest wish you would marry a Brit!”
Good to know her father’s moral compass only pointed true when the man wasn't of his same heritage. It made a girl feel good.
A little mortified to be caught in any man’s room by her father, she hung her head and slowly walked over to him. He pulled her into a tight embrace and kissed her forehead.
“I couldn't have planned it better myself, you know,” he said into her hair.
“What do you mean?”
He chuckled. “Oh, nothing—just that the duke and I have been discussing for some while about how to get you two settled down. It only made sense to throw you at one another and see if any interest came out of it. Of course…” he cleared his throat, “I knew he would be interested in you, but I've never thought any of the boys you dated were good enough for you.”
All two of them, Kessen thought, suddenly glad Nick wasn't there to laugh in her face. How odd that her own father noticed she needed help in the dating department. It suddenly seemed her and Christian’s suspicions were right.
They had been set up.
Well played. Well played. Both parents made it seem like it was an accident that they were caught in the garden. It made her wonder if they had been spying on them all night, just hoping and waiting for an opportunity to sell them out to the press. She made a mental note to ask her grandmother for more clarification after the wedding … and after her grandmother had downed at least two glasses of wine.
She choked back the escaping laughter.
“What’s so funny?” Her father pushed the hair from her face.
“Just excited you are here.” She hugged him tighter and closed her eyes.
“Me too, me too.”
As weddings go, this one was turning out to be far from perfect.
First of all, the harpist was an hour late. Then it started raining, which shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone since they were in England, but people still grumbled. Luckily, Kessen’s grandmother had had enough foresight to order tents for the outdoor reception. Though Kessen was thankful that the ceremony would take place in the family’s old chapel on the estate.
Kessen was trying not to be a bundle of nerves, but was failing miserably when she caught her reflection in the mirror. She was wearing a dress straight out of Cinderella’s dreams.
It was strapless with a perfectly tight bodice that went out to her hips. The bodice had hundreds of crystals sewn into it and was, by all accounts, gorgeous. The rest of the dress flared out low on her hips into small waves of taffeta elegance. The material gathered at the back and went into a two-foot long train.
Her grandmother told her it was customary for the ladies of their families to wear tiaras, which on the inside made Kessen leap for joy, but on the outside she pretended to be indifferent.
It was a beautiful family heirloom, which delicately fit on the top of her head amidst the giant curls of her bright blonde hair.
Not that she needed any reminding, but her grandmother was doing a perfect job of making sure Kessen knew just how important this ceremony was.
“You are no longer the daughter of Lord Newberry, but the wife of the future Duke of Vandenbrook. As the future duchess, you must hold your head high like one.” Lady Newberry showed Kessen how to walk and lift her head high above the crowd.
Kessen wasn't listening.
She was only thinking about Christian and the fact she would be his wife in less than an hour. A warm fluttering had tormented her stomach ever since she woke up that morning. She hadn't seen him all day. Even though it was bad luck, she kept praying he would stop by her room to reassure her.
And then a knock came at the door.
It was Duncan and Nick with a blindfolded Christian in tow.
“What’s this?” she asked, breathless with delight.
Nick tightened the blindfold and shrugged. “He kept complaining about wanting to see you, but Duncan said it was bad luck, so we blindfolded him.”
Duncan looked beyond pleased with himself as he put his fingers through his suspenders and nodded his head in agreement. “You have five minutes, Christian. Then we are coming back to escort you to the ceremony. Do try to behave yourself until we return.”
Christian shook his head and tilted it towards the sky as if to say, “I can't believe they did this to me.”
Kessen suddenly felt nervous as she looked at her future husband. His suit had obviously been made for his chiseled body. He looked every bit the aristocratic man he was. The only thing that gave him away was the ecstatic grin spread across his face.
“So….” Kessen said, approaching him. Her dress swished around her ankles as she walked. “What brings you to my chamber?”
Christian swallowed then opened his mouth to speak; it was then Kessen, in all her bravery, stole a kiss. And not just any kiss, but a kiss that came from deep in her soul. She grabbed the back of Christian’s head and pulled it towards her, leaving him no way to escape her grasp.
Not that he appeared to mind, considering his hands began roaming all over her dress in the most inappropriate fashion.
“You're beautiful,” he said against her lips.
“What? You’re blindfolded! How would you even know?”
His hands were on her hips as he pulled his head away. He began slowly running them across the bodice, up her sides then back down again, then he pulled his hands down her hips and felt the material as it pooled at her legs. “Just beautiful,” he whispered.
Kessen wanted to melt right at his feet.
Christian stood up to face her, blindfold still firmly attached, and put his hands on her face. “I can't wait to marry you.” His voice was husky and stretched; his limit had been reached already.
“Okay!” Nick said, entering the room.
Duncan followed close behind. “It’s time to get you two married!”
“Finally!” Christian bellowed, turning to the two men.
Kessen held back her laughter and watched them leave the room.
This was not his normal behavior. For crying out loud, he had been raised to be the next duke. He had self-control; he knew what was appropriate and inappropriate, yet the temptation stayed and burned into him, causing such agony he wanted to yell.
This was love.
It was also lust—but it was mainly love. He could never do without her smile, the incessant talking, the intelligence, the spunk—there were so many things he loved about her, he felt the need to break out into song and dance, which would most likely terrify the guests, his father included.
He took off his blindfold and went outside to wait for his bride in the chapel.
Five minutes later the music started, and his heart felt like it would beat directly out of his chest. This was it—the moment they had been waiting for.
Everyone stood, making it difficult for him to see Kessen at all. He wanted to yell for everyone to sit down. He nearly went out of his mind with anticipation, and then he saw a flash of white.
And then more.
And then his heart stopped altogether.
She was perfect, and she was his.
Kessen looked like a fairy princess as she glided down the aisle towards him. The logical side of his mind said, “Steady, man. Let her make it down the aisle first. Steady.” While the more impulsive side said, “Run after her! Run to her arms!”
Up until that moment, life had always been about the logical side; he hated that side. He looked at Duncan and winked. Then he strode towards Kessen like a bat out of Hell. The normal bride reaction would be shock; instead Kessen sped towards him.
He was giving the media a feast at this moment. A Vandenbrook was breaking protocol at his own wedding. A Vandenbrook was making a romantic scene. As he closed the distance between him and Kessen, he heard people start to laugh, then gasp, then clap.
He pulled her roughly into his arms and stared into her glassy eyes. “I love you.”
She nodded, which he knew meant she was about to cry at any moment and could not utter words. She reached up and kissed him. He twirled her around the aisle kissing her face, her neck, her cheeks, anything he could get his lips on.