"Perhaps not a cur, but certainly a sneaky little- "

"Victory!"

She wagged her finger at him. "Mmph grmphng gtrmph."

"Don't talk with your mouth full. It's very bad manners."

She swallowed. "I said, I will have my vengeance, you- " She broke off when the spoon connected with her nose.

"Now look what you did," he said, shaking his head in an exaggerated motion. "You were moving around so much I missed your mouth. Hold still now."

She pursed her lips but couldn't stop the barest hint of a smile from breaking through.

"That's a good girl," he murmured, leaning forward. He caught the tip of her nose in his mouth and gave it a little suck until all the gravy was gone.

"Turner!"

"The only woman in the world with a ticklish nose," he chuckled. "And I had the good sense to marry you."

"Stop, stop, stop."

"Putting gravy on your face, or kissing you?"

Her breath caught in her throat. "Putting gravy on my face. You don't need an excuse to kiss me."

He leaned forward. "I don't?"

"No."

"Imagine my relief." His nose touched hers.

"Turner?"

"Hmmm?"

"If you don't kiss me soon, I think I shall go mad."

He teased her with the most feathery light of kisses. "Will that do?"

She shook her head.

He deepened the kiss. "That?"

"I'm afraid not."

"What do you need?" he whispered, his voice hot against her lips.

"What do you need?" she countered. Her hands slid up his arms to his shoulders, and out of habit, she began to knead.

And apparently instantly diffused his ardor. "Oh, Lord, Miranda," he groaned, his body going limp, "that's wonderful. No, don't stop. Please don't stop."

"It's remarkable," she said with a faint smile. "You really are putty in my hands."

"Anything," he moaned. "Just don't stop."

"Why are you so tense?"

He opened his eyes and leveled a wry glance at her. "You know very well."

She blushed. Her physician had informed her during his last visit that it was time to stop marital relations. Turner hadn't stopped grumbling for a week.

"I refuse to believe," she said, lifting her fingers from his shoulders and then smiling when he moaned in protest, "that I am the sole cause of your horrid backaches."

"Stress from not being able to make love to you, physical exertion from carrying your now enormous body up the stairs…"

"You've never once had to carry me up the stairs!"

"Yes, well, I've thought about it, and that has certainly been enough to give me a backache. Right…" He twisted his arm around and pointed to a spot on his back. "…there."

Miranda pursed her lips but nonetheless started rubbing where he indicated. "You, my lord, are a big baby."

"Mmmm-hmmm," he agreed, his head practically lolling to the side. "Mind if I lie down? It'll make it easier for you."

How, Miranda wondered, had he managed to manipulate her into rubbing his back right there on the carpet? But she was enjoying herself, too. She loved touching him, loved memorizing the contours of his body. Smiling to herself, she pulled his shirt out of the waistband of his breeches and slipped her hands underneath so that she could touch his skin. It was warm and silky, and she could not help but run her hands lightly over it, just to feel the golden softness that was uniquely him.

"I wish you could rub my back," she heard herself say. It had been many weeks since she'd last been able to lie on her stomach.

He turned his head so that she could see his face, and he smiled. Then, with a little groan, he sat up. "Sit still," he said softly, turning her around so that he could massage her back.

It felt like heaven. "Oh, Turner," she sighed. "That feels so lovely."

He made a noise- a strange one, and she twisted as best she could so that she could see his face. "I'm sorry," she said, grimacing as she saw the desire and restraint at war in his eyes. "I miss you, too, if that's any consolation."

He crushed her to him, holding her as tightly as he was able without pressing too hard against her belly. "It's not your fault, puss."

"No, I know, but I'm still sorry. I miss you dreadfully." She lowered her voice. "Sometimes you're so deep inside of me, it feels like you're touching my heart. I miss that most of all."

"Don't talk like that," he rasped.

"I'm sorry."

"And for the love of God, stop apologizing."

She almost giggled. "I'm- no, I take that back. I'm not. But I am sorry that you, er, that you are in such a state. It doesn't seem fair."

"It's more than fair. I get a healthy wife and a beautiful baby. And all I have to do is restrain myself for a few months."

"But you shouldn't have to," she murmured suggestively, her hand straying to the buttons at the front of his breeches. "You shouldn't have to."

"Miranda, stop. I can't take it."

"You shouldn't have to," she repeated as she pushed his already untucked shirt up over his chest and kissed his flat stomach.

"What- oh, God, Miranda." He let out a ragged moan.

Her lips moved ever lower.

"Oh, God! Miranda!"

7 May 1820

I am shameless.

But my husband does not complain.

Chapter 18

The next morning, Turner dropped a gentle kiss on his wife's forehead. "You're certain you'll be all right without me?"

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