Annalise stood in the doorway and her golden hair glowing in the fading afternoon sunlight. She rushed toward Phillip with a smile on her face. He closed his arms around her without conscious thought, an automatic reaction to her flinging herself against his chest. Certain of his acceptance, she didn’t hesitate, and why not? He had never ignored her or given her reason to think he would.
She kissed his mouth, her lips warm and inviting. “I missed you dreadfully. The house party was deadly boring without you. I couldn’t wait to return to town.” She hung her head. “I should have listened to you, but you were being stubborn, trying to control my every movement.”
With her arms around his neck, Phillip stood, his hands at her waist, staring down into her lovely blue eyes. “I made a simple request. You ignored my wishes.”
“It was not worthy of you.” She pouted up at him. “You were not treating me as your future countess should be treated.”
The moment she’d defied him, he’d decided to wash his hands of her as a suitable bride. She was worse than a butterfly flitting from one flower to another. She flaunted his wishes, headstrong, unreasonable, and hell-bent on her own way. He’d decided not to marry at all. When in his youth, his title and wealth not yet obtained, his first love had deserted him for a higher title. At that point, he’d determined to find his pleasure where he would, not in the marriage bed. Now, in reality, treating Annalise harshly because of his past seemed an intolerable burden to him.
The sense of someone watching sent a tingle to the back of Phillip’s neck and down his spine. He glanced about, his gaze locating Emily at the top of the stairs, her expression stricken. His gaze returned to Annalise still in his embrace—not a full embrace, but his hands were on her waist, his lips still warm from her kiss.
Damn—his wife. He certainly did not wish to harm his beautiful Em, vulnerable, alone without him, open to snubs, and insults from his family, trapped in unfamiliar surroundings with nothing to protect her except his name. Now sensitive to every movement Emily made, he heard her gasp, the clearing of her throat, and the rustle of her silk dress brushing against each stair tread on her way down the steps. Not wishing to appear guilty with a hurried disentanglement from Annalise, he waited until Emily stood on the floor before he removed his hands from Annalise’s waist.