At that she had to frown. “I haven’t been deathly ill.” Depressed? Weak? Tired? Yes, but she’d never been close to death.

Her father waved that off as though it was of little importance. “The only thing that matters is that you didn’t have a wedding night, my dear. We’ve both called in some favors and we can have this marriage annulled in just a few hours and your engagement to James announced by the end of the day.”

Robert didn’t say anything as he continued to watch her, but she knew him well enough to know that he was furious. All the muscles in his arms and chest were flexing as though he were struggling with the urge to throttle someone, his lips were pressed in a thin line and if that didn’t give away his mood, the way he glared her way certainly did. It was then that she realized that he was waiting for her response, but she didn’t have much of one other than confusion.

“Why exactly would you assume that I wanted to marry James or that he would want to marry me for that matter?” she asked, focusing her attention back on the men standing in front of them.

Her father released a heavy sigh as he focused on her, his smile looking more stressed by the minute. “I don’t want to see you hurt, Elizabeth. I don’t-”

“I would never hurt her,” Robert said firmly beside her.

“Not on purpose, my boy,” he said, shaking his head slightly as he continued. “I don’t want to see either one of you hurt. I understand what happened. I do, but you have to agree that a marriage between the two of you is not a wise decision. Given your history it wouldn’t take long before the two of you were at each other’s throats and making each other’s lives a living hell,” her father said, taking her by surprise as he swore in front of her for the first time in her life.

Before either she or Robert could argue, his father took over. “I’ve already spoken with James. He understands that things between the two of you simply got carried away. He’s willing to marry you as soon as possible and make things right.”

“Really? He’s willing to marry a woman without a quid to her name after she’s left the bed of his brother?” Robert drawled lazily, but she didn’t miss the threatening edge to his tone. “That doesn’t sound like James.”

“Yes, well,” his father said, clearing his throat and looking noticeably uncomfortable. “We had a meeting with the solicitors yesterday afternoon and they believe that by annulling this marriage and marrying James that Elizabeth will meet the conditions of the will and the inheritance will once again be hers.”

She would have her inheritance back, she thought as relief soared through her. All of her plans for the future would be saved. She could help so many people. She would-

Never be with Robert again, she abruptly realized a moment later.

She would never fall asleep in his arms again. Never freely enjoy one of his smiles again and that wasn’t something that she was willing to give up. She loved his smile, loved being the cause of it and she didn’t want to give that up for anything.

Besides, James would most likely refuse to allow her to open even one school with her inheritance, she told herself, desperate for an excuse to turn down this plan without hating herself for being completely selfish. One day she would make her dreams a reality, but she didn’t want to do that as James’ wife.

“It’s going to cause a scandal,” Robert said, drawing her attention back to the men looking almost eager at this point.

“James’ title and reputation will be able to guard against that,” his father explained with a pleased smile.

“And me?” Robert asked, shifting slightly so that his bare leg was touching hers beneath the safety of the covers and giving her the support that she desperately needed.

Robert’s father cleared his throat, suddenly looking uncomfortable as his smile became forced. “We thought that perhaps you would leave town and give the gossip a chance to die down.”

“I see,” Robert muttered, sounding thoughtful.

“We realize that this situation is not ideal and that it’s unfair to put you in such a situation, Robert,” her father rushed to explain. “That’s why your father and I believe that you deserve compensation for your trouble.”

“And how much is that?” Robert asked, voicing her curiosity.

“Forty thousand pounds.”

Chapter 28

“I’d like a few minutes to discuss the matter with Elizabeth,” Robert said a stunned moment later as he did his best not to grab Elizabeth in his arms and run from this house and this conversation, so that he wouldn’t have to face the fact that he was about to lose the woman that he loved to his brother.

“I don’t think that’s wise,” Lord Norwood said after a slight pause.

“Just a few minutes, Papa,” Elizabeth said, making every muscle in his body tense.

A few minutes…..

That’s all it was going to take to rip his heart out of his chest.

“Very well,” Lord Norwood said stiffly. “We’ll be waiting in my study.”

Robert nodded, but didn’t speak, too afraid that he’d say something that he’d regret later. He’d love nothing more than to yell at the man, but he wouldn’t, not in a million years. Elizabeth would never forgive him, and although he was doing his damndest to resign himself to the fact that he was about to lose her and probably never see her again, he didn’t want her last memory of him to be him insulting her father.

When the door closed with a soft click , he opened his mouth to speak, but realized that he didn’t know what to say. How was he supposed to compete with James? He was older, had a title and a respectable reputation. He would also be able to give her the life that she deserved, that was hers by right. Staying with him would only drag her down, and he loved her too much to do that to her.

If she wanted to save herself by marrying James, then he would allow it. He would sign the necessary documents to end their marriage and then he would leave. He’d gift the forty thousand pounds to her and be done with it. He didn’t want the money, didn’t need a constant reminder of what he’d lost. He would-

“Why are you taking off your nightgown?” he asked, unable to hide his confusion even as he did his best not to look down and failed….about five or six times.

“We only have a few minutes,” he thought she said, but wasn’t entirely sure since all of his attention was on her beautiful br**sts that bounced slightly as she leaned over the side of the bed and pulled on the silk rope by her bed.

“Huh?” he mumbled, struggling to focus as her br**sts went ahead and bounced again as she shoved the covers off his lap, revealing a rather painful erection.

“Perfect,” she sighed as she threw her leg over him and straddled his lap.

“What’s perfect?” he asked absently, hissing seconds later when the tip of his c**k brushed against her wet slit.

Instead of answering him, she laid one hand on his shoulder and, with the other hand, she reached down between them and grabbed ahold of his erection. He opened his mouth once again to ask her what she was doing, but his words escaped him in a strangled moan when she rubbed the head of his c**k between the lips of her sex.

Elizabeth released a frustrated groan as she shifted his c**k against her once again. When she wiggled, brushing the tip against her core, he was forced to grab her h*ps and hold her still so that he could focus.