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"You ride well."

Startled by the voice coming from behind him, George turned to find Aileas leaning against one of the willows, her arms crossed and her expression as disgruntled as her tone had been.

"So do you."

She scowled as she pushed herself from the tree and came toward him. "I don't want to marry you," she announced.

"Really?" he replied with a calmness distinctly at odds with the way he felt.

"No, I don't," she said firmly, planting herself defiantly in front of him.

"Well, I certainly cannot accuse you of playing the flirtatious maid with me. Might I inquire why my proposal is to be rejected before I even make it?"

"Isn't it enough that I don't want you?"

He fought to subdue his anger at her sarcastic tone. "Your father approves of the match and there are certain facts in my favor. I am wealthy. I am generous. I would treat you well. I am on good terms with several powerful lords. I am not without some personal attributes I have been told women find appealing."

"Don't forget vain and dissolute," she said with a sternness that would have done credit to her father.

He raised his eyebrows in a gesture of surprise that masked his growing vexation. "These are serious charges, my lady. I suppose you think me vain because I like fine clothes, and dissolute because I prefer to make my surroundings as pleasing to the eye and comfortable to the body as possible. If your family prefers a spartan existence, that is their right, just as it is mine to spend my money how I choose.

"While I see no reason to justify how I spend my money to you if we are not to marry, I will say that I never exceed my income, I always pay whatever taxes my overlord and the king require of me, and I have never been in debt."

Her gaze faltered for the briefest of moments, then she raised her chin to glare at him again. "I want a man, not a conceited clown!"

"I am a man."

She sniffed disdainfully. "I suppose you have all the necessary physical attributes - but that is all."

"For most women, that and I have said before, would be more than sufficient."

"Not for me! I want a man I can respect. A man I can admire. Why, I ride better than you, can surely loose an arrow better than you, and with more accuracy. I daresay I could even wrestle better than you, if I had to."

"That may be true, my lady," he replied coldly, "but I smell better than you."

She gaped at him with outraged shock.

He leaned his weight casually on one leg and surveyed her slowly. "Let me guess the kind of man you think you would like for a husband. He will be admirably strong and a champion in the manly arts, as long as brute force is the main requirement. Such force is what he will bring to everything he does, including the marriage bed. Force, not pleasure. Not tenderness.

"At first, you will indeed respect him, until you realize he gives you the same respect he give his horse or his dog." She looked about to speak, but he did not give her the chance. "I have seen what happens when a woman is forced into marriage too many times to wish to experience it myself. So calm yourself, my fiery Aileas. If you do not wish to marry me, simply tell your father so, and that will be the end of it."

She stood motionless, no longer defiant, her expression one of surprise.

A primitive urge unlike any he had ever felt enveloped him, and suddenly, George's veneer of elegance and breeding dissolved. He strode across the space between them and tugged Aileas into his arms, pressing a hot kiss onto her tempting lips.

Desire, raw and needy, coursed through his veins, but it was not George's way to take without asking, or to behave with callous disregard, so his kiss changed, became gentler, more tender, yet still with the promise of that more powerful passion waiting to be released again.

Then she began to return his passion, kissing him as if she desired him with a yearning to equal his own.

This is the seventh book in Margaret's Warrior Series.

However, Margaret always writes each book to "stand alone" so if you haven't read any of the previous books in the series, you shouldn't feel lost.

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Cover Copyright © 1998 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Text Copyright © 1998 by Margaret Wilkins
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