"Not yet," he countered. The tenderness in his voice cut through some of her embarrassment.

"You're going to make me tell it all, aren't you?"

He smiled over the disgruntled look on her face. "Yes," he agreed. "I'm going to make you tell it all."

"Colin, you probably haven't noticed, but this topic embarrasses me."

"I noticed."

She heard the thread of amusement in his voice but refused to look up at him, for she knew that if she saw him smiling, she would probably start in screaming.

"Are you embarrassed?" she asked.


She tried to pull her hand away from his again. He held tight. Lord, he was stubborn. She knew he wasn't going to let her out of the carriage until she explained.

"Men will want to worship there," she blurted out.

"Where?" he asked, his confusion obvious.

"At the temple," she told him in a near shout.

He didn't laugh. He let go of her hand and leaned back. His leg effectively blocked her exit in the event she still wanted to bolt. "I see," he replied. He kept his voice as neutral as possible, hoping his casual attitude would ease her distress.

The color had come back into her face with a vengeance. She looked like she was suffering from sunburn now. Colin found her innocence incredibly pleasing.

"What else did she tell you?" he asked.

"I mustn't let them."


She nodded. "I mustn't let anyone touch me until I married. Then Mother Superior assured me it was all right because the result of the union was worthy and noble."

She glanced up to see how he was reacting to her explanation, noticed his incredulous expression, and thought he didn't quite understand. "A child is the worthy result."

"I gathered as much."

Alesandra sat back and turned her attention to straightening the folds in her gown. A long minute passed in silence before Colin spoke again. "She left out a few details, didn't she?"

"Yes," Alesandra whispered. She was relieved Colin finally understood her lack of knowledge. "If there was a book or a manual I could read…"

"I don't have anything on the topic in my study," he told her. "I don't even know if there is such a thing in print."

"But surely…"

"Oh, there are books around, but not the kind I would ever allow you to read," he said with a nod. "They aren't sold on the open market, either."

Colin reached over, flipped the latch up, and pushed the door open. He kept his gaze on his blushing bride all the while.

"What do you suggest I do?"

She asked her lap that question. He nudged her chin up and forced her to look at him. Her blue eyes were cloudy with worry. "I suggest you trust me."

It sounded more like an order than a suggestion to her. She decided she was going to have to trust him, however, for the simple reason that she didn't have any other options available to her. She gave him a quick nod. "All right then. I'll trust you."

Her immediate agreement pleased him. Colin understood why she wanted to know beforehand exactly what was going to happen. It was a way for Alesandra to gain control. The more she knew, the less afraid she would be.

It was usual and customary for a young lady to get the needed information from her mother, of course. At least, Colin thought that was how it worked. He assumed his mother had spoken to his sister Catherine about the marriage act. Regardless, Alesandra's mother had died before her daughter was old enough to need such knowledge.

And so one of the nuns had tried to take over the duty. "Exactly how old is this mother superior?" he asked.

"She looks eighty, but I imagine she's probably younger," Alesandra replied. "I never dared ask her. Why do you ask?"

"Never mind," he said. He turned the topic back to her worry. "Alesandra, I'm going to explain everything you need to know."

The tenderness in his voice felt like a soothing stroke against her cheek. "You will?"

"Yes," he promised almost absentmindedly. His mind was occupied trying to picture the ancient nun explaining the facts of life to Alesandra, using such descriptive words as temple and worship. Lord, he wished he'd been there to hear the private discussion.

Alesandra saw the sparkle in Colin's eyes and immediately jumped to the conclusion that her naivete amused him.

"I'm sorry I'm acting so… inexperienced."

"You are inexperienced," he gently reminded her.

"Yes, and I'm sorry."

Colin laughed. "I'm not," he told her.

"You'll really answer all my questions?" she asked, still not certain she believed him. "You won't leave anything out? I don't like surprises."

"I won't leave anything out."

She let out a sigh. She quit twisting the wrinkles in her gown, too. Colin's promise had just helped her regain control of her fear. She didn't even mind that he found her embarrassment amusing. He was going to give her the necessary information and that was all that counted. Her relief made her weak with gratitude.

"Well, then, it's going to be all right," she announced. "Shouldn't we get out of the carriage now?"

Colin agreed. He jumped out first, then turned to assist Alesandra. Both the guards were frowning with obvious concern for their princess. They wanted her under lock and key.

Flannaghan hovered in the doorway, waiting to greet his new mistress. He took her cloak from her, draped it over his arm, and then gave her his heartfelt congratulations.

"If you would like to go upstairs now I'll prepare your bathwater, Princess," he suggested.

The idea of a long hot bath after the stress-filled day appealed to her. It would be her second today, but Mother Superior had told her that cleanliness was next to godliness so she didn't feel at all decadent.

"Colin's going to have a talk with me in the study," she told Flannaghan. "I'll have my bath after."

"Have your bath first," Colin suggested. "I have some papers to look over."

It was a lie, of course. Colin didn't have any intention of working on his wedding night, but he thought a bath might help relax Alesandra, and she looked in need of the diversion.

It had been one hell of a wedding day for her, and even though she appeared to be a little less worried and a little more in control of her emotions now, he knew her nerves were still frayed.

"As you wish," Alesandra agreed. She turned to follow the butler up the steps. Colin was right behind her.

"Was it a beautiful wedding?" Flannaghan asked.

"Oh, yes," Alesandra answered, her voice filled with enthusiasm. "Everything went quite well. Didn't it, Colin?"

"You were almost kidnapped," he reminded her.

"Yes, but other than that, it was wonderful, wasn't it?"

"And terrorized."

"Yes, but. ."

"They destroyed your wedding dress."

She stopped on the top step and whirled around to glare at him. She obviously didn't want to be reminded of those incidents.

"Every bride wishes to believe her wedding was perfect," she announced.

He winked at her. "Then it was perfect," he announced.

She smiled, satisfied.

Flannaghan waited until he and Alesandra were alone in her bedroom to nag the details out of her. Raymond and Stefan carried in additional buckets of hot, steaming water to fill the oval tub. The butler had thoughtfully unpacked her clothes and had placed a white gown and wrapper on her bed.

She took her time in the bath. The hot water relaxed her and helped ease the tension out of her shoulders. She washed her hair with the rose-scented soap, then sat by the hearth to dry it. Alesandra didn't worry about hurrying because she knew Colin was busy working and had probably already lost track of the time.

At least an hour had passed before she decided to interrupt him. Her hair was completely dry, but after she put on her robe, she took another ten minutes or so brushing the curls again. She was yawning every other minute. The hot bath, added to the heat radiating from the fire in the hearth, made her drowsy, and she didn't want to fall asleep during Colin's explanation.

She went down the hallway to the study. She knocked on the door, then walked inside. Colin wasn't at his desk. Alesandra wasn't certain if he'd gone into his bedroom or downstairs. She decided to wait in the study for him, assuming he would want to have his talk with her there, and went over to the desk to collect a sheet of paper. She was just reaching for the pen and inkwell when Colin appeared in the doorway to his bedroom.

The sight of him took her breath away. Colin had obviously just had a bath too, for his hair was still damp. He wasn't dressed, but wore only a pair of black pants. They weren't buttoned.

He had a powerful build. His skin was beautifully bronzed and the bulge of sinewy strength hiding under the sleek exterior reminded her of a panther. The roped muscles rolled ever so slightly when he moved. His chest was covered with a thick mat of dark curly hair that tapered to a V at his waist.

She didn't look any lower.

Colin leaned against the doorframe, folded his arms across his chest, and smiled at her. A faint blush stained her cheeks. She was folding and refolding the sheet of paper in her hands and desperately trying to act nonchalant, and he knew he was going to have to take it slow and easy with her in order to help her keep her fear at bay. It was going to be a difficult undertaking, because Colin had never taken a virgin to his bed before and the sight of Alesandra in her white gown and robe was already sending heat coursing through his body. He was getting aroused just looking at her. His gaze was centered on her mouth and he was thinking what he would like her to do to him with those sweet, full, pouting lips.

"Colin, what are you thinking?"

He didn't believe it would be a good idea to tell her the truth. "I was wondering what you're doing with that paper," he lied instead.

Her concentration had become so scattered from her nervousness she had to look down at her hands before she understood what he was asking her. "Notes," she blurted out with a quick nod.

He raised an eyebrow. "Notes?"

"Yes. I thought I would take notes during your explanation so I won't forget anything important. Is that all right, Colin?"

The worry in her voice cut through his amusement. "How very organized of you," he said.

She smiled. "Thank you. My father was the first to teach me how important it is to be organized. Then Mother Superior took over my training."

Dear God, she wished she could quit rambling.

"How old were you when your father died?"


"Yet you remember…"

"Oh, yes, I remember everything he taught me," she replied. "It was my way of pleasing him, Colin, and I thoroughly enjoyed the time we spent together. It made him happy to talk about his business transactions and it made me happy to be included."

She'd turned the sheet of paper into a wrinkled ball. Colin doubted she was aware of what she'd just done. "I'll only write down key words," she promised.

He slowly shook his head. "You won't need to take notes," he assured her. "You're going to remember everything I tell you."

He was feeling damn proud of himself. The urge to laugh had almost overwhelmed him, but he'd been able to contain himself.

"All right then." She turned back to the desk, started to put the sheet of paper back, and only then realized the mess she'd made. She tossed it into the trash basket, then turned back to stare at him.

The warm glint in his eyes made her shiver with pleasure and that wonderful lopsided grin of his made her heartbeat become quite frantic. She took a deep breath and ordered herself to calm down.

Dear God, he was beautiful. Without realizing what she was doing, she blurted that thought aloud.

He laughed in reaction to her praise. His amusement didn't upset her, though, and she found herself smiling back. "For a dragon," she teased.

The way he was looking at her made her feel as though butterflies were gathering inside her stomach. She needed to give her hands something to do, she decided, and immediately folded them together. "Are we going to have our talk now?"

"First things first," he announced. "I just realized I didn't give you a proper wedding kiss."

"You didn't?"

He shook his head. Then he crooked his finger at her. She slowly walked across the room to stand directly in front of him.

"Are you going to kiss me now?" she asked, her voice a breathless whisper.


He'd drawled out that admission. He slowly unfolded himself from the doorway to tower over her. She took an instinctive step back. She immediately stopped herself. She wasn't afraid of Colin, she reminded herself, and she really did want him to kiss her. She moved forward again. "I like the way you kiss me," she whispered.

"I know."

His grin was arrogant. He knew she was nervous, too. She didn't have any doubt about that. And he was enjoying her embarrassment, too.

"How do you know?" she asked, thinking to give him some clever reply once he answered.

"The way you respond to me tells me you like me to touch you."

She couldn't think of anything clever to say to that fact. In truth she was having trouble holding on to any thought. Colin was fully responsible for her condition, of course. The warmth in his gaze was making her stomach quiver.

She felt his hands on her waist, looked down, and watched him untie the belt to her robe. She tried to stop him, but before she'd even placed her hands on top of his, he was easing her robe off her shoulders.

"Why did you do that?"

"You look warm."


The robe dropped to the floor. Her gown was transparent enough for him to see the soft curves of her body. She tried to pull the folds of the garment close around the front of her. Colin didn't give her time to shield herself. He pulled her tight against him. "Put your arms around me, Alesandra. Hold me while I kiss you."

She wound her arms around his neck just as he leaned down and began to nibble on her lips. His tongue traced the inside of her lower lip, sending shivers down her spine. She tightened her hold and leaned up on tiptoes to try to deepen the kiss. Her br**sts rubbed against his chest and she let out a broken sigh over the strange feeling of his skin against her. Her br**sts suddenly felt heavy, tight, and her ni**les hardened. It wasn't an unpleasant feeling, just strange and wonderful. She deliberately rubbed against him again, but ever so slightly so he wouldn't know what she was doing. She didn't want him to think she was bold. She wanted to be bold, though, for the heat from his hard body affected her like an aphrodisiac and she couldn't seem to get close enough to him.