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How to Lose a Winning Match

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It started, as so many things around his castle did, with Belle and a book. It was only a few days after their summer wedding, and even though they’d spent most of those days locked in a bedroom enjoying each other, Adam found the sight of his wife—his wife!—with her nose in some leather-bound volume to be both incredibly arousing and rather frustrating.

It was hard to kiss her with all that paper in the way, after all.

So when he found her on a bench in the rose garden, completely absorbed in metaphysical poetry, he decided to see exactly how much fun he could have.

“There you are, sweetheart,” he said as he approached, seating himself beside her and pressing a kiss to her neck.

“Mm,” she replied by way of greeting.

He took the hand that was resting in her lap and traced the veins of her wrist, then skimmed his fingers over her palm.

“I’m going to need that in a minute.”

He didn’t release her hand, instead winding an arm around her shoulder and reaching for the corner of the page she was on. “Tell me when.”

She nodded and he turned the page, then ran his hand down her side to rest on her hip. He gave a squeeze and buried his face in her neck. “Missed you earlier.”

“So I surmised,” she said with a wry smile, leaning into him but still directing most of her attention to the book.

Apparently he did not win the game until the book was gone. Preferably thrown to the ground in a fit of passion.

“I thought we could eat on the terrace tonight,” Adam murmured, taking her earlobe between his teeth. He heard her sigh and ran his tongue along the curve of her ear. The last time they’d been on the terrace she’d kissed and touched and teased him until he took her up against the wall. He still had scratch marks on the back of his neck. “Or I could eat right now.” Her breath hitched; he disentangled his hand from hers and began to run his hand up her thigh.

“I suppose you could,” Belle said, her voice too tight to pass for nonchalant.

“I would, of course, request your undivided attention.” He bit her neck softly and heard her slam the book closed.

Victory.

“Where?” she asked, eyes bright.

“Over here.” He pulled her up from the bench and lead her to a patch of grass beneath a towering rosebush. “We’re in a labyrinth. No one should see.”

“Considering I practically begged you to make love to me on a terrace in plain view, I think it’s fair to say most of my capacity for shame has evaporated.” She reclined in the grass, pushing herself up on her elbows and tilting her face to the sun.

“It was dark,” Adam said as he knelt between her feet. “And there’s no one around for miles. Also, while it’s quite sweet of you to say we made love the other night, that’s not quite the word I would have used for it.”

He cherished the small frown of confusion that formed between her brows. She was so brilliant he rarely ever saw it. “What would you call it, then?”

He traced his thumbs around her ankles before reaching under her skirts to untie the drawstring of her bloomers. “Fucking.”

Her groan at his coarse language turned into something deeper as he pulled her bloomers off and hooked her legs over his shoulders, breathing warm air over her thighs. “You’re a wicked man.”

“Aren’t you glad you married me?”

“Beyond measure.”

“And you said your capacity for shame has evaporated?”

“Apparently.”

“Good.” He set his mouth to the coarse curls between her legs. “You,” he breathed, between long licks that drove every last thought from her mind, “are brilliant…and kind…the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met…” He felt her reach down and curl her fingers in his hair. “And the most strong willed.” He flicked his tongue against her clit and relished the desperate noise she made. “You’re utterly magnificent.” He hitched her legs higher over his shoulders and thrust his tongue inside her. She cried out and gasped his name, rocking her hips against his mouth. He growled low in his throat and felt her tighten beneath him. With immense effort, he raised his head just long enough to look her in the eye and say, “You have nothing to be ashamed of.”

He was in love with the sight of her, mouth open, back arched, breasts no doubt full and tight beneath her bodice, her face awash in sunlight. He lowered his head again and made love to her with his tongue until she was nearly undone.

“Adam,” she begged, and he slid one finger inside her, stroking her until she climaxed, practically screaming his name. When she tried to sit up, he put a hand to her abdomen and pressed her down, coaxing another orgasm from her before he let her go.

She collapsed on the grass in a heap of skirts and moans and “Oh good God.”

Adam lay in the grass next to her and leaned over to kiss her nose. “Close, but not quite.” Belle rolled her eyes and threw her skirts back down over her knees. “I am curious—what poet had you so thoroughly engrossed?”

Her smile was far too mischievous for his safety. “John Donne.”

“A clergyman.”

“A randy clergyman. I didn’t put the book down until I’d finished ‘To His Mistress, Going to Bed.’”

“Sounds like something I should read before tonight.”

“It absolutely is,” she said, reaching for the fastenings of his trousers, “but I don’t think we’re quite done here yet.”

 

“Oh, no,” Belle sighed half an hour later, as they picked themselves up off the ground and somewhat managed to right their clothes.

“What is it?”

“I just realized this dress is going to have some very difficult grass stains.”

“You’re the lady of the house now,” Adam said, linking arms with his wife and dropping a kiss to the top of her head. “You don’t have to explain grass stains.”

“I rather think they explain themselves.”

 

Belle got better at playing her side of the game as the months went on, Adam realized, though that only made things more explosive when he heard the welcome smack of a book against a table, or the floor, or a wall. (“Do you know,” he’d said as she retrieved her copy of La Princesse de Clèves following a particularly memorable encounter in the dining room, “I think that’s the first time I’ve seen you throw a book.” Her only answer was a mumbled, “You started it.”)

It was winter when he found her in the library, seated with her elbows propped on one of the tables, reading a book that was open flat in front of her. He’d spent much of the day answering correspondence from his less vapid cousins—who happened to be the most distant ones—and making excuses for the hundredth time about why he wouldn’t come up to Versailles. The sight of his wife, who, for all she loved living in a house with a huge library, was a country girl at heart, was a terribly welcome one.

He came behind her chair and slid his arms around her shoulders, resting his chin on the top of her head. “Good evening, chèrie.” She raised one arm to run her fingers through his hair before trailing them down his cheek. “What are you reading?”

“Your favorite.” The teasing lilt in her voice was positively dangerous. “‘If I profane with my unworthiest hand—’”

“Good God, no,” he whined. This meant war. “I thought we were past this.”

She withdrew her hand and leaned farther forward over the quarto volume. “How can you ever expect me to get past an exchange of love declarations that forms a sonnet?”

“Because they’re exchanged by two children who kill themselves.” He bent down to press hard, passionate kisses against her neck. “You have better ways to spend your time.”

“Tonight?” laughed Belle. “I don’t think so. I’m quite fine in Verona where I am. It’s summer there, you know.”

He breathed warm air into her ear. “I thought you liked winter.”

“But I’ve gotten it twice this year, what with various curses and snow in June. Also, you nearly concussed me with a snowball.”

“That was the first time I’d thrown one. Be patient with me.”

Belle turned her head slightly toward him, but pulled the book closer. Victory remained elusive. “You’d never thrown a snowball before?”

“No brothers and sisters, wasn’t allowed to fraternize with the servants’ children. I was the golden boy of the house. Who was going to have a snowball fight with me?”

Belle returned her gaze to her book. “Well…we’ll work on that later. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m reading.”

The dryness in her voice told Adam that was a challenge if he’d ever heard one. He unwound his arms from her shoulders and pulled the heavy oak chair away from the table. She snatched up the play and held it in front of her face. He circled to the front of the chair and caught her around the waist, hauling her to her feet.

Her caught her gaze over the top of the book and raised his eyebrows. Alright?

She rolled her eyes and turned the page. Continue.

“Perhaps the problem,” Adam said as he spun Belle around so she leaned against the table, “is that you only think is play is your favorite because you haven’t found the one that truly is.”

“I doubt that,” she said, threading her arm through the space between his left arm and his body so she could read her book over his shoulder. “And I’ll remind you that I don’t give you endless grief about your favorite play.”

She felt his nose brush her temple and his breath tickle her ear as he murmured seductively, “You don’t know what my favorite play is.”

“Of course I do. I distinctly remember a conversation that went something along the lines of—” she deepened her voice in a frighteningly good imitation of him, “—‘Hamlet is superior to every other play in Western literature, including the works of Monsieur Racine. And certainly that silly double suicide masquerading as a love story.’”

“I do not sound like that.”

“I’m sorry, do you spend all day listening to you?”

“Technically, yes. And I believe your response, more or less, was—” he raised his voice to a confident falsetto, “—‘Hamlet? Ugh. A prince is foolish and everyone he loves dies.’”

Belle kept her voice gruff. “‘So you can see why it appeals to me.’”

“Well,” said Adam, bending his head to press light kisses along her collarbone, “it doesn’t appeal to me as much anymore. What I can’t understand is why Romeo and Juliet still has any appeal for you.”

“Because,” she said with a gasp as he scraped his teeth down her neck, “it perfectly captures two humans in wild, passionate love.”

“Lust,” Adam corrected.

“We’ll never know, actually,” she said, “if it was lust or love. Their story gets cut short too soon. the beauty of it is in the potential, the pure emotion. ‘Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love.’ If you take away their love story, it’s possible that characters who die in the play would still die. If you take away the hatred of their families, there’s a possibility that their love survives.”

“The way he switches from Rosaline to Juliet,” said Adam, gathering Belle’s skirts up to her knees, “I doubt it.”

“But the possibility is there.” She sighed in frustration as he began to skim his fingers across the backs of her knees. “It’s about a love made impossible by circumstances. You absolutely cannot tell me you don’t have experience with that.”

He lifted her so she was sitting on the table, even as her gaze remained fixed on the book she held over his shoulder. “That I do. But couldn’t you find a play with a more…” he began to stroke up her thighs, “…satisfying payoff?”

“I haven’t come across its equal in language,” she insisted as he began to undo the laces at the front of her dress. “Listen to this.” Her other arm reached past him and he heard the sound of rustling as she turned pages, looking for a scene she clearly knew well. “‘Gallop a’—aaaah.” She let out a long sigh as he pulled her bodice free and scooped one breast out of her chemise, taking her tight, rosy nipple into his mouth.

“I’m sorry,” he said after a few moments. “Were you saying something?”

Belle took a deep breath as Adam returned his mouth to her breast and tried again. “‘Gallop apace, you firey-footed steeds, towards Phoebus’ lodging: Such a wagoner as Phaethon would whip you to the west, and bring in cloudy night immediately.’” She rocked her hips up as one of Adam’s hands delved between her legs, fingers working her clit and sliding into her slick entrance. “‘Spread thy close curtain, love-performing night, that runaway’s eyes may wink and Romeo leap into these arms, untalked of and unseen.’”

The hand that wasn’t holding the book came to rest at the back of Adam’s head, where he was still working her into a frenzy with his mouth on her breast. “You see?” she gasped. “Juliet gets to be so unabashedly sexual. It’s quite refreshing.”

“Yes,” said Adam wryly, raising his head to worry her earlobe between his teeth. “And then she must die.” He tucked his nose behind her ear and kissed the soft patch of skin there in that way that drove her mad. “And what about you, my love? Shall I give you une petite mort?”

Belle exhaled loudly. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m reading.” She spread her legs a bit wider.

Adam reached for the fastenings of his breeches, slowly enough that she could easily have stopped him. When she didn’t, he freed his stiffened cock and stroked himself, fingers still wet from being inside his wife. He circled the head of his prick with his thumb until he was moaning, then reached for Belle’s hips and fit himself against her entrance.

Smack-slam.

Before he could properly register that she’d shut the book and dropped it, she had both hands at the back of his neck and was pulling him in for a kiss so intense he felt his mouth bruise. She bit and licked and sucked at him as though he was water and she was dying of thirst, when clearly, he thought, it was the other way around. Her hands moved from his neck to his arse, where she squeezed him and pressed him into her. He hitched her legs over his hips and bent her back over the table, burying himself in her, taking her hard and gasping her name. She buried one hand in his hair as he scraped his stubbled jaw across her neck before giving her the love bites he knew she was so proud of, the deep red ones that lingered for days. He worked a hand between their bodies to press against her clit, and the pressure of her ankles against the back of his legs told him she was close.

“I love you,” she gasped, “you teasing, infuriating, wonderful man. I love you more than all the poets in France or playwrights in England will ever be able to say.” She arched against him then, and he held her tight as she followed the course of her pleasure, convulsing around his cock and pushing him even closer to the edge. When she stilled beneath him and he was sure she’d had as much as she wished, he gave a few more deep thrusts and finished hard and fast inside her, the strength of his climax making his head pound.

He held them there for a few moments against the table while they each caught their breath, then began to search up his sleeve for a handkerchief.

“Looking for this?” Belle asked, pulling a white linen square from her pocket and dangling it in front of him.

“Thank you,” he said as he reached for it, but she jerked it away.

“You still haven’t told me what your favorite play is.”

“If I promise to show you as soon as we disentangle ourselves, will you please hand over the only means I have of cleaning myself?”

“If you kiss me first.”

He did, happily, long and slow and sweet. “Since I was a bit too distracted to say it,” he murmured against her mouth, “I love you too.”

She handed over the handkerchief and began putting her own clothing to rights. When she’d re-laced her bodice and Adam had refastened his breeches, he took her by the hand and led her to the section she knew best.

“If you want true lovers,” he declared as he removed a slender volume with a flourish, “you go to Much Ado About Nothing.”

Belle smiled and shook her head. So dramatic.

“Go on,” said Adam, “open it up.” Belle opened it to the first page. “No, not that one,” he corrected, reaching over her shoulder to turn a few pages. “There. Read for Beatrice.”

She cleared her throat. “‘I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Benedick; nobody marks you.’”

“‘What,’” read Adam, his voice a deliciously low rumble, “‘My dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?”

“‘Is it possible disdain should die while she had such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick? Courtesy itself must convert to disdain if you come in her presence.’” Belle lowered the book and turned to look at Adam. “Oh. They’re quite in love, aren’t they.”

He bent down to touch his nose to hers. “Madly.”

She blinked up at him. Once. Twice. “Are you hungry?”

“Famished. To the kitchens?”

“Yes.”

“Bring the book.”

 

Mrs. Potts spotted them later that night by the fire, heads bent together, a plate of cheese toast between them.

“‘I was about to protest I loved you,’” read Belle.

Adam laughed, soft and low. “‘And do it with all thy heart.’”

“‘I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest.’”