Wife by Wednesday (Chapter Nine)

Samantha was having a hell of a time shaking the jet lag, and they'd been in Europe for over a week. Then again, living a lie was exhausting. Even Blake seemed stressed around the edges.

The reception was the next day and everything was set to go. What Samantha needed was time away from Blake's demanding family.

Samantha had escaped into the library, determined to find a diversion when Blake found her.

"There you are."

Wearing casual slacks and a pullover sweater that emphasized his broad shoulders, Blake looked good enough to eat. "I thought you went to the office."

He shook his head. "I couldn't leave you today."

Confused, she asked, "What's so special about today?"

He brought a hand to his chest and faked a mortal wound. "I can't believe you've forgotten."

Samantha laughed. "Don't give up your day job for that acting gig," she teased.

"You really don't know what today is, do you?"

It wasn't a holiday, English or American, his birthday had already past, and hers wasn't for a few months. "Nope, color me clueless."

Blake took her hands in his and brought her frame up against his chest. "We've been married one month."

Oh, Lord, he was right. The fact that he'd thought of it and was making a big deal over it, showed just how much of a sentimental sap the dashing Duke was. "Wow. A whole month already." It felt so much longer.

"I know how to celebrate it, too."

"You want to celebrate our one month anniversary?" Samantha glanced around Blake's shoulder to see if anyone was nearby and listening. She couldn't see into the hallway so she kept her questions as to why the big deal to herself.

Blake winked at her and laced his fingers with hers. "Come on."

He tugged her from the room, down the massive hall, and out the front door. "Where are we going?" This was a carefree Blake she liked seeing when he allowed himself to relax.

"Away."

"Cryptic much?" she asked. "Where?"

"You'll see."

Instead of leading her to a car, he walked her down to the stables. "You said you rode, right?"

They'd had the conversation about horses after they'd arrived at Albany. "I do, but it's been a long time."

"Where we're going isn't far."

The sun was making a rare appearance and the warm air and birds flying around helped lift the stress from Samantha's shoulders. At the stable, two horses were already saddled and ready. Blake thanked the young man who'd readied their mounts and then whispered something into the kid's ear that Samantha couldn't hear.

The boy blushed, sent Samantha a quick glance, and then turned away. "Yes, sir," he told Blake.

"Need a hand getting on?" Blake asked her.

The chestnut horse eyed her suspiciously as she approached. After a couple of pets, the mare managed a snort as if to say, whatever.

"I might need a leg up."

Blake cupped his hands for her use for leverage. After a couple of tries, she was on the back of the horse with reins in hand.

Like a seasoned rider, Blake mounted in one clean swoop, his back rod straight as he led them from the stable and out into the fresh air.

"So what is this horse's name?" Samantha asked as they led the horses across the wide-open space behind Albany Hall.

"I think it's Maggie."

"And yours?"

"Blaze."

Tilting her head back, Samantha laughed. "Maggie sounds slow and Blaze sounds fast."

Blake winked at her. "Exactly."

"I told you I knew how to ride. No need to put me on the grandmother in the barn." Maggie tossed her head back, causing both Blake and Samantha to chuckle.

"I don't think she liked that," he suggested. "You told me you hadn't ridden in quite a while. I wouldn't want to be responsible for a broken anything if you're thrown."

Sam stretched over the neck of her horse and patted the coat behind Maggie's ear. "You won't throw me, will you?"

"She wouldn't dare."

Samantha considered kicking the horse into something faster than a walk, but didn't have any idea where they were headed.

"When was the last time you rode?" Blake asked.

"Before…" She let the word hang there for a moment. As if Blake would know its meaning. For many years, everything in her life was either before the fall of her family, or after.

Samantha noticed Blake watching her patiently. "Before my father went to prison. Before my mother's death. Before Dan. Before Jordan's suicide attempt. Jordan and I used to ride all the time." The memory of her sister on a horse made her smile.

"Who's Dan?"

Had she said his name? "Dan was the snake I dated in college."

"There's a story behind that."

Blake didn't press her for answers. Maybe that was why she didn't have a problem opening up to him. "Dan dated me to learn more about my father. He worked for the Feds."

Blake's expression turned to stone. "He slept with you to get to your dad?"

The anger in his voice put a smile on her face. It was so nice to have someone see it her way. "Slept with me, told me he loved me. Women aren't the only ones who lie to get what they want."

"That must have hurt."

She remembered those days, the pain, the deception. "I guess you know now why I have a hard time trusting people."

"I should be honored that you trust me."

"Damn right." She laughed and sent him a wink. They weren't out on this beautiful day to walk though her past.

Blake brought his horse closer to hers, reached for her hand, and brought the back of it to his lips for a small kiss.

Her heart lunged in her chest and cracked wide open. Try as she might, she couldn't help but compare her feelings for him to the man she once claimed to love. The two didn't belong on the same planet.

"Where are you taking me?" she asked, changing the subject.

Blake slid a glance over his shoulder, a smirk played on his lips. "You don't do surprises very well, do you?"

"I do… it's just… okay, no. I don't do surprises. Where are we going?"

Blake pointed to a patch of trees about a mile away. "There's a cottage by a stream where I thought we'd enjoy a quiet lunch."

Samantha allowed her shoulders to slump and a silly grin to grace her lips. "That's sweet."

"That's me, Mr. Sweet."

He was being sarcastic, but she thought title worked. "Just beyond those trees, huh?"

"Yep." He kept his horse at a walk. His thighs hugged the flanks of the animal he rode and drew Samantha's gaze to him once again. Blake's strong profile, and broad shoulders that tapered to his perfect behind made her mouth water. The thought of the cottage, with privacy, popped in her mind.

"How long will it take us to get there?"

"Half an hour at most."

"Hmmm." Then, without warning, Samantha kicked Maggie and held on as the horse lurched ahead.

"Sam?" Blake was calling her name behind her.

She fixed her knees into the horse and held on tight until Maggie had found a nice comfortable pace of her run.

Hardly a few seconds passed when Blake overtook her. The frown on his face dissipated when he saw her smile as he passed. Instead of forcing them to a stop, he let Blaze take the lead and Maggie followed.

Cool air coursed through Samantha's hair, pulling it out of the clip she'd used to hold it back. The landscape buzzed past, but not so quickly that she didn't manage to scent the lavender blooming, or the fresh grass under the horses' hooves. This she could get used to. The freedom of riding away from life's worries, the big outdoors to escape into.

They cleared the open space in five minutes and had to slow the horses to pick their way through the trees. Seemed both Maggie and Samantha were in need of catching their breath. "That was wonderful."

Blake's grey eyes caught hers and held. For the first time in days, he looked relaxed and carefree. For a moment, she thought he was going to say something, but he lowered his eyes and pulled on the reins to move Blaze deeper into the woods.

"It's so beautiful here. And quiet."

"When I was a kid, I used to take a horse out here all the time to escape my father."

"Was he so bad?" Seemed her husband and his father had the worst of relationships, but Blake hadn't really elaborated.

"I wasn't him."

"And that's what he wanted, a miniature him?"

Blake nodded.

Samantha wanted to ask more questions, but Blake moved his horse in front of hers as the path narrowed. Soon the sound of water sounded over the horses.

When the trees opened up to reveal the stream, Samantha knew why Blake chose this place to get away. Crystal-clear water cascaded down rocks and dipped around fallen branches and trees. Moss and grass grew along the banks of the stream, which made her envision Blake as a little boy sitting by the water's edge tossing rocks.

"Is this still on your land?"

"It is. The estate is over five hundred acres. But this is the most beautiful location on it."

"It's amazing, Blake."

The path opened to a small meadow with a cottage sitting on one end. Once they cleared the trees, Blake swung off his horse. "We'll let them drink before we hitch them."

Samantha slid to the ground with wobbly legs. But the energy felt good, refreshing. As the horses drank from the stream she asked, "How often is this cottage used?"

"Not often. For a time, I was the only one who came out here. I think Gwen used to escape here after I moved away."

"I'll have to ask her."

Blake led the horses to a post and tied them with enough rope to allow them to graze. "Let me show you inside."

Samantha took his hand, enjoying the warmth of his fingers circling hers, and walked beside him up the few steps to the cabin porch.

The door swung open with a tiny nudge. "You don't lock it?"

"No need."

As she stepped inside, Samantha's breath caught in her throat.

In the center of the room was a table set for two. Linen napkins, beautiful china, and crystal goblets were waiting for them to enjoy. A bucket stood to the side with wine chilling inside. Large silver trays were covered with food. "Oh, Blake, this is lovely."

"You like?"

She turned to him and wove a hand around his waist. Looking up into his eyes, she smiled and tipped her lips to his. "I love it."

Blake accepted her lips for a brief kiss, but when she started to pull away, he held her close and moved his head to the side. Her kiss of gratitude swiftly moved from 'thank you' to 'more.'

The feel of his hands roaming down her back brought a moan from deep inside her chest. Everywhere he touched heated instantly. Whenever they made love, it seemed they couldn't touch enough. Blake nibbled at her lip as his hand reached for her breast. "I'm an awful person," he said between kisses.

Her head fell back, already lost. "Why do you say that?"

He backed her into the room and kicked the door close behind them. "We haven't even eaten, and I'm already crawling all over you."

Laughing, she kicked her shoes free and peeled away at his sweater "Are you saying we were only supposed to eat?"

Blake helped her with his shirt by flinging it across the room. "Eat first, then make love. That was the plan."

Licking her way across his collarbone and down to one taut nipple, she laughed. "Make love, then eat…" she nibbled a path to his other side. "Then make love again."

Tugging her clothes free, Blake kept backing her away from the food to the only bedroom in the cottage. Samantha hardly glimpsed the lace curtains that framed the window, or the patterned quilt covering the mattress before Blake pressed her under his frame.

"You feel so good," she told him, loving the weight of him on her.

"Yes, you do." His fingers managed to unclasp her bra and toss it aside in seconds. His lips claimed her nipple as he laved up one side, circled her dusky tip, and nipped. "Tastes like spring," he whispered before shifting his attention to the other side. He took his time with slow, even strokes of his tongue. Samantha writhed with pleasure. Traveling down her tight stomach, he peeled away her pants, kissing a path over her hip and down her thigh.

They'd always giving into the need for penetration when they'd made love, but already Samantha felt this time would be different, slower, and just as satisfying. The soft pad of Blake's thumb traced up her thighs after her pants were on the floor. He hooked a finger under her panties and petted the sensitive skin at her hip. "I think," he said, blowing a heated breath above her flesh, "that my nourishment will come before and after we eat what's in the other room."

A tinge of vulnerability shot through her. For all her talk, and ease with Blake in the bedroom, having a man kiss the sensitive flesh between her legs wasn't something she'd experienced before.

"What is it?" Blake asked, his chin dangerously close to her damp panties, his eyes narrowed in concern.

"I-I've not." Darn, she wasn't a virgin, but in this she was. "No one has ever," she let her gaze drift to her mound before returning to him.

Recognition flecked in his eyes and a soft smile spread over his lips. "Never?"

She gave a quick shake of her head.

He lowered his lips to kiss the skin below her belly button, his eyes never left hers. "I like that."

With his three simple words, she let the vulnerability go and relaxed into Blake's masterful arms. His tongue sought her flesh as he removed the scrap of material between her thighs. He pressed hot, open-mouthed kisses around her core until her thighs opened to give him room. Blake kissed, licked, and moaned over her until her will nearly snapped with the want of more. When his lips connected with the most sensitive spot on her body, Samantha nearly leapt from the bed. Blake kept her anchored, his tongue swirling around her, chasing, and coaxing tiny building spasms deep inside her body. The intensity of her pending release was like nothing she'd experienced before. He took her to the edge, drew back, and had her clutching his shoulders tight.

He was teasing her, teaching her to crave this from him, and all she could do was beg for more. "Please."

With a flick of his tongue and a gentle suck, Samantha welled over and cried out her release. Her body trembled as she rode the sensation to the very end.

When Samantha felt it was safe to open her eyes, she found Blake smiling over her. His broad hands ran the length of her body as he waited for her attention.

"You're sinful," she uttered, her voice low and throaty.

He placed a delicate kiss on her lips. "You're sexy. Now that I've tasted you, I'm going to want more."

Her hand feathered over his hip, surprised to see he'd managed to free himself of his clothes. Not being of the mind to take and not give, Samantha offered a grin before pushing Blake on his back to have a taste of him. Following his example, she traced his hip, first with her fingers then with her tongue. The salty musk of his skin tantalized her taste buds until her mouth watered.

"Should I be worried?" he hissed as she let her cheek graze his erection.

"What?" she asked, pretending innocence with her tone. "I've seen movies." She hadn't but she wanted to keep him guessing. In this, she had a brief encounter. Then there were the books she'd read once in a while.

Seems tens of authors must have some idea how this worked.

"But…"

Samantha drew him into the deep, warm cavern of her mouth.

"Sweet lord." Blake moaned, his hips tilting forward, asking for more.

Samantha smiled over him, lapping, tasting, and desiring his pleasure nearly as much as her own. The musky scent of his skin and sex filled her as she brought him to the very edge of release before pulling back. She would have continued, but Blake gently forced her away. "Too much."

"You don't like?" she teased, knowing he more than liked what she was doing. She wanted to finish him as he'd done to her.

"Another time," he said, before reaching for his wallet and removing a condom.

Samantha helped him with the thin latex and then crawled over his body. She kissed him fully on the mouth, their tastes mingled as he pressed inside her. Slick with desire, he filled every inch of her, stretching her. Blake rose to meet her body, retreated, and plunged again. His fingers tangled with her hair and held tight as her body responded to his with renewed passion and need.

Samantha couldn't get enough of him. Her breasts scraped against the soft dusting of hair on his chest, his heartbeat pressed past his ribs and into hers. As much as she told herself their time together was for a physical release, a mutually satisfying sexual experience, tiny slivers of her heart melted into his.

They moved together, straining like strings of a violin until she unwound and shattered. Muscles strained on Blake's arms as he held her close and moaned his release into her ear.

Samantha knew, as the world stilled and Blake said tender things in her ear, that she was in trouble. Falling in love with her husband was not part of their plan. Voicing her concerns, in the honesty that was their relationship, didn't seem wise either.

As their breath slowed, and the heat from their bodies drifted into the air, Samantha forced herself away from his arms. Her stomach growled at that moment, giving her the perfect escape. "I'm starving."

****

Albany Hall filled with people, all wanting to get a glimpse of the new Duchess, the woman Blake finally married.

People would whisper, that Blake knew, but none would dare show anything but respect to him and his bride.

Blake caught Samantha at the far end of the room, talking with Gwen and the couple standing beside her. Samantha wore a stunning ivory silk evening gown that dipped to the small of her graceful back. He'd placed an emerald pendant around her neck with matching earrings to adorn her ears. The four-inch heels peeked out from under the silk through a slit that went the length of her thigh.

His wife was magnificent. Poised with elegance that couldn't be taught, and beauty that wasn't skin deep, Blake felt truly proud to call her his wife.

Carter, who had flown in for the reception, stood by his side. "I can't get over the transformation of your wife," he whispered so only Blake could hear.

"She is beautiful." Funny, Blake wasn't surprised with the changes. Samantha seemed to be blossoming before his eyes, every day a little more light and ease in her steps.

"It's more than that." Carter's gaze cut away to one of the Parker lawyers across the room. "How is everything else going?"

Blake wasn't about to talk about any details with a room full of ears. "Perfectly. We'll be going back to the States in a few days. Gwen wanted to come back with us, but I convinced her that Samantha and I need some time alone before we started entertaining family."

Carter laughed. "Did that work?"

"Of course." Why wouldn't it? Half the family noticed them arrive from their ride to the cottage the previous day. After making love, eating lunch, then finding a sunny spot of grass to make love a second time, their clothes were rumpled and hair was a mess. There was no mistaking their actions.

"Careful, Blake."

Blake lifted his glass with his drink in his hand and stared over the rim at his friend. "Careful about what?"

"Something about you feels different. Be careful."

Blake squared his shoulders. "I'm always careful."

Samantha was walking toward them, a smile on her lips.

Blake set his glass down and slid an arm around her waist. "You remember Carter?"

"How can anyone forget Carter?" Samantha leaned forward when Carter kissed her cheek. Although his best friend didn't threaten him in the least, Blake didn't like seeing her eyes light up when they looked at his friend. "Is Hollywood calling you yet?"

Carter laughed. Samantha had made a joke about his Hollywood good looks landing him a job on a movie set if he ever got tired of pursuing a career as a politician.

"Not yet. I'm still waiting, though."

Blake's arm tightened around her frame.

"Your mother suggested we move into the ballroom to start the dancing. Seems no one will begin until we spin around a couple of times."

The thought of Samantha pressing close to him motivated his feet. "If you'll excuse us."

Carter nodded as they walked away.

"Have I told you how lovely you are tonight?" Blake whispered close to her ear.

"You did. You clean up well yourself."

Enjoying her compliment, Blake smiled. He wore a tux, and why not? They didn't have the opportunity to dress for their wedding, so this would have to do.

The entered the ballroom where a string quartet played in one corner. When they spotted the two of them, they ended the song they were playing and started another.

The moment the music began, he led Samantha to the center of the room and swung her into his arms. Her hands lifted to his shoulders as they swayed to the music. Samantha's cheeks blossomed with color. "People are staring."

Blake fanned his fingers along the edge of her dress to the small of her back and pressed her close. "That's what they do for the bride and groom's first dance." And because he felt her stiffen, he teased her. "They want to see me trip." Blake spun her around, their bodies close.

"They might be waiting for awhile, you seem to know what you're doing out here."

Blake removed one of her arms from his neck and led her into another swing before bringing her back. "I've danced a time or two."

"Or three or four."

She followed his lead, easing into his arms. By the time the dance ended, he was staring into her eyes. He lowered his lips to hers for a small taste.

Cameras flashed and several people clapped as the quartet picked up another song. This time the dance floor started to fill.

Samantha lifted her lips to his ear. "Was that kiss for the cameras?"

His lips lifted. "That kiss was for you. But this one…" He dipped her low, arching her back and taking her mouth to his again before bringing her back up. "Is for the cameras."

Samantha chewed on her bottom lip as she smiled. "Jeeze, and I thought the English frowned on such public displays of affection."

Blake tossed his head back with laughter. "And we both know how much I long to be English."

Laughing, they spun around until Blake felt someone tap his shoulder. He twisted to see Carter grinning. "Mind if I cut in?"

Blake almost told him to bugger off. Instead, he tilted his head to his bride and let Carter dance with her.

His gaze followed them around the dance floor wondering what Carter was saying to make her laugh.

"Easy, big brother," Gwen cooed beside him. "They're just dancing."

"What?" Blake blinked and looked down at his sister.

"Dancing, which I was hoping you'd do with me." She tugged on his hand until he conceded.

"I really like her."

Blake had to spin Gwen to see his wife. "She likes you, too."

"She's a lot nicer than any of the girls you've been dating. I can see why you married her. Not to mention she's American, which dad would have hated."

Blake forced his attention to his sister and her words. "I didn't marry her to spite our dead father." No, he'd married her because of his dead father.

"But it doesn't hurt that he wouldn't have approved."

Was he so transparent that even his sister could see his demons? What if he was going through all this effort, all the lies, to tick off a dead man? What happened when Blake let go of all the animosity and pain from his past?

"Don't frown, Blake. People will think we're fighting."

Blake turned his sister and forced a smile to his face. "What about you, Gwendolyn, had you ever thought of going against the man?"

"No." She shook her head. "Mother needed me here. Can you imagine being left with him by yourself?"

Blake actually blinked with his sister's words. "I can't, but I don't think our mother would want you to give up your life for her."

Gwen patted his arm. "I know. We've talked about me traveling, seeing more of the world without her by my side. I suppose now that you've settled down, mother will focus more on you and your family."

"It's just Samantha and I."

"Please, I have eyes. It won't be long before there are more of you."

The song was fading to an end, and luckily the finish of their dance. "We haven't even cut the wedding cake, Gwen. Let's not start talking about birthday cakes."

But his mind was already there, had been ever since Mark polluted his plans and mind with another block.

He and Gwen parted and Blake turned to search Samantha out. Unfortunately, his aunt cornered him for a dance, and Samantha was already in the arms of one of his sly cousins.

The party went into the early morning hours. Out of town guests stayed in several guest rooms at the estate, while those that lived local went home.

Back in their room, Samantha removed her heels at the door and sank into the carpet with her toes. "Oh, that feels good."

"I didn't think some of the guests would ever leave."

"Leave? Some of the men retired to the blue room for cards and cigars. You'd think they were English gentleman of the eighteenth century the way they spoke."

Blake loosened his tie and toed off his shoes. "What do you mean?"

"One guy, I think his name was Gilbert…"

"Gilabert," he corrected, instantly picturing the man in his head. Old money, like his father, with his ways set in stone.

"Silly name for a grown man, but whatever, Gilabert waved off one of his 'poker friends' wives when she asked if she could join them for a game. 'Oh, no, ladies aren't allowed.'" Samantha had dipped her voice low and forced an English slant to her tongue.

"That sounds like him."

"If he'd said that to me, I'd have sat at the man's right hand side just to annoy him."

Blake would like to see that. "Imagine that tenfold and you may be able to picture my father."

Samantha stared, horrified. "I'm so sorry."

"Me, too."

Shaking her head, she stepped into the walk-in closet and Blake started to pull his shirt from his pants.

"We're a mess, you and I," Samantha said from the other room.

"Really? Why's that?"

"Our dads did a number on us. Yours is reaching from the grave, still calling the shots, and mine had me questioning every man whoever walked into my life."

Blake flung his shirt to the back of a chair before unzipping his pants. "You don't seem to question me."

"Oh, I did, in the beginning. Those first few days anyway. But you've grown on me."

He smiled into the thought. "Really?"

"You've been nothing but honest from the beginning. I admire that."

He hesitated. He should say something now, about the new, tiny problem the lawyer brought up. But Blake's mouth went as dry as a desert.

"I was shocked when some of your colleagues told me how ruthless you are in business. I guess I've not seen that side of you."

He was all that and more. Blake didn't lose. His eye never left the goal until it was met. "Was someone badmouthing me?"

"Oh please, Blake. Like I would have allowed that. No, not badmouthing. Just informing me. It was strange, even the lawyer… what was his name?"

Blake's heart slammed into his chest. "Mark Parker?"

"That's it."

He had to sit down. Good thing the bed was at his back.

"He said your father and you held the same merciless way of getting what you want. I had to laugh. I kept thinking of you sitting at the restaurant in Malibu telling me everyone had a price. Mark seemed like he wanted to add something, but I kept giggling. I think he got irritated with me before walking away."

A long-winded sigh hissed from Blake's lips. Mark kept his mouth shut. Thank God.

It wasn't as if Blake would keep the new portion of the will from Samantha forever, just that he needed more time to find a loophole, something, so that he could keep his inheritance and Samantha.

Well, for a year anyway.

Less than twelve months.

Samantha cleared her throat from across the room where she stood leaning against the doorframe.

She'd slipped into a white lace teddy with barely-there panties that covered nearly nothing. Her hair that had been piled high all night fell to her shoulders in a beautiful auburn cloud.

In her hand was an empty condom box. "Please tell me you have more of these?" She waved the box in a circle.

"And here I expected you to be too tired tonight." Him, too, for that matter. But his body sprung to life as she walked toward him, her hips swaying in time to the beat of his heart.

He had stripped to his boxers and Samantha's gaze shifted low. "You're not tired."

She slid a hand up his chest. He sucked in the scent of her skin. Three hundred and sixty five days didn't seem to be enough.

"Besides," she whispered in her deep, sexy, bedroom voice. "We didn't celebrate our real wedding night the way we should have. I think we need to make up for lost time." She tapped the box against his chest. "But we need more of these. When I get back to the States I'll see a doctor, but until then, we need to be careful."

"My suitcase," he told her. "I'll get them." He didn't want to be tempted to take what she didn't freely give, so he walked away, and found a half empty box of contraceptives.

When he returned to his bed, Samantha was already spread over the covers, one knee pulled up in offering. Blake forced thoughts of lawyers, tomorrow, and a year from that day far away while he made love to his wife.