"I have my pride," she ground out.

James laughed harshly. "Yes, you do. And it's quite clear that you value it more than you do the well-being of your family."

She raised her hand to slap him, but he caught it easily. "Even if you didn't marry me," he said, trying to ignore the slash of pain that simple sentence struck in his chest. "Even if you didn't marry me, you could have taken the money and locked me out of your life."

She shook her head. “You would have had too much control over me."

"How? The money was yours. A bank draft. I had no way to take it back."

"You would have punished me for taking it," she whispered. "For taking it and not marrying you."

He felt something in his heart turn cold. "Is that the sort of man you think I am?"

"I don't know what sort of man you are!" she burst out. "How could I possibly? I don't even know who you are."

“Everything you need to know about the sort of man I am and the husband I'd be, you know already." He touched her cheek, allowing every emotion, every last bit of love to rise to the surface. His soul was laid bare in his eyes, and he knew it. "You know me better than anyone, Elizabeth."

He saw her hesitation, and in that instant, he hated her for it. He'd offered her everything, every shred of his heart, and all she could do was hesitate!

He swore under his breath and turned to leave. But he'd only taken two steps when he heard Elizabeth call out, "Wait!"

Slowly, he turned around.

"I'll marry you," she blurted out.

His eyes narrowed. "Why?"

"Why?" she echoed dumbly. "Why?"

"You've refused me repeatedly for two days," he pointed out. "Why the change of heart?"

Elizabeth's lips parted, and she felt her throat close up in panic. She couldn't get a word out, couldn't even form a thought. Of all things, she'd never expected him to question her acceptance.

He moved forward, the heat and strength of his body overwhelming even though he made no move to touch her. Elizabeth found herself backed up against the tree, breathless as she stared up into his dark eyes, which were gleaming with anger.

"You—you asked me," she just barely managed to say. "You asked me and I said yes. Isn't that what you wanted?''

He shook his head slowly and leaned his hands against the tree, one on her left, one on her right. “Tell me why you accepted."

Elizabeth tried to sink farther into the tree trunk. Something about his quiet, deadly resolve terrified her. If he'd been yelling, or scolding, or anything else she might have known what to do. But this calm fury was unnerving, and the tight prison made by his arms and the tree made her blood burn in her veins.

She felt her eyes widen, and knew that the expression he must see there would brand her a coward. "You— you made some very good arguments," she said, trying to hold on to her pride—the one emotion he accused her of overindulging. "I—I can't give my siblings the life they deserve, and you can, and I was going to have to marry, anyway, and it might as well be someone I—"

"Forget it," he spat out. "The offer is rescinded."

The breath left her body in a short, violent whoosh. "Rescinded?"

"I won't have you that way."

Her ankles grew wobbly, and she held on to the wide trunk of the tree behind her for support. "I don't understand," she whispered.

"I won't be married for my money," he vowed.

"Oh!" she burst out, her energy and outrage returning in full force. “Now who is the hypocrite? First you tutor me so that I might marry some other poor, unsuspecting fool for his money, then you berate me for not using your money to support my siblings. And now ... now you have the gall to rescind your offer of marriage—a highly ungentlemanly act, I might add—because I had the honesty to say that I need your wealth and position for my family. Which," she bit off, "is exactly what you've been using to try to get me to marry you in the first place!"

"Are you done?" he asked in an insolent voice.

"No," she retorted. She was angry and hurt, and she wanted him to hurt, too. "You were going to be married for your money eventually. Isn't that the way things work among your set?"

"Yes," he said with chilling softness, "I was probably always destined for a marriage of fortunes. It's what my parents had, and theirs before them, and theirs before them. I can tolerate a cold marriage based on pound notes. I've been bred for it." He leaned forward until his lips were just a breath away from hers. "But I can't tolerate one like that with you."

"Why not?" she whispered, unable to pull her eyes from his.

"Because we have this.'"

He moved quickly, his large hand cupping the back of her head as his lips found hers. In her last coherent second before he crushed her against him, she thought that this would be a kiss of anger, a furious embrace. But even though his arms held her tightly in place, his mouth moved across hers with stunning, melting gentleness.

It was the kind of kiss a woman died for, the sort that one wouldn't break if the flames of hell were licking at one's feet. Elizabeth felt her insides quicken, and her arms tore from his firm grasp to wrap around his body. She touched his arms, his shoulders, and his neck, her hands finally coming to rest in his thick hair.

James whispered words of love and desire across her cheek until he reached her ear. He tickled the lobe, murmuring his satisfaction as her head lolled back, revealing the long, elegant arch of her throat. There was something about a woman's neck, about the way her hair drew softly from her skin, that had never failed to arouse him.

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