Devil spared not a glance for the long-case clock as he passed it on the stairs. Crossing the gallery, he lifted his candle in insouciant salute to his father’s portrait, then strode on, into the long corridor that led to his rooms.
His sire, he was sure, would applaud his night’s work.
In his pocket lay three notes inscribed with Viscount Bromley’s square script. Bromley was already deep in debt, although by how much he was probably unaware. Of course, the last hand had seen the luck change. Devil smiled. He’d have Bromley tied tight in less than a week.
Despite his success, as he drew nearer his door, he tensed; the frustration he continually held at bay exerted its power. An ache settled in his gut; muscle after muscle turned heavy, as if he was fighting himself. Grimacing, he reached for the doorknob. As long as he limited his time with Honoria to public, social venues, he could cope.
He’d told her the truth-he was more than capable of manipulating, coercing, or seducing her into marriage. Indeed, his very nature compelled him to do so, which was why he felt like a wild beast caged. He was a born conqueror-taking what he wanted came naturally. Subtleties, sensitivities, were usually of little consequence.
His expression hardening, he entered his room. Shutting the door, he crossed to the tallboy; setting the candlestick by the mirror on its top, he untied his armband, unbuttoned his waistcoat, then eased the diamond pin from his cravat.
Reaching out to lay the pin in its box, his gaze slid past his reflection-white glimmered in the shadows behind him.
His head snapped around. Then, his tread utterly silent, he crossed to the chair by the fire.
Even before he touched the silk, he knew to whom it belonged. The fire, a mere glow of coals, was still warm enough to send her scent rising, wafting upward to ensorcel him. He only just stopped himself from lifting the soft silk to his face, from inhaling the beguiling fragrance. Stifling a curse, he dropped the peignoir as if it was as hot as the fire’s coals. Slowly, he turned to the bed.
He couldn’t believe his eyes. Even from this distance, he could see her hair, a rippling chesnut wave breaking across his pillows. She lay on her side, facing the center of the bed. The sight drew him like a lodestone. He was beside the bed, looking down on her, before he knew he’d moved.
No woman had ever slept in his bed-at least not during his tenure. His father had been of the stated opinion that a duke’s bed was reserved for his duchess; he had agreed-no other woman had lain between his silken sheets. To return late at night to discover those sheets warmed by the one woman he wanted to find asleep there, breathing gently, soft, sleek limbs sunk deep into the down, left him reeling.
He couldn’t think.
The realization left him shaking, battling a too-powerful urge to put aside all explanations and react-act-do what he wished with all his conqueror’s soul to do.
But he needed to think-to be sure,
His gaze roamed her face, softly flushed, then slid lower, filling in what the sheet concealed. Swallowing a savage curse, he swung away. He fell to pacing, his footfalls cushioned by the carpet. Why the hell was she here?
He cast a glittering glance her way-it fell on her lips, slightly parted. He heard again the urgent, intensely feminine moans she’d uttered in the orangery while writhing beneath his hands. With a muted oath, he paced to the other side of the bed. From there, the view was less torturing.
Three minutes later, he still couldn’t marshal a single un-lustful thought. Muttering one last, disgusted expletive, he swung back to the bed. Sitting on it was too dangerous, given her hands and her propensity to get them on him. Standing beside the carved post at one end, he reached across and, through the covers, grasped her ankle. He shook it.
She muttered and tried to wriggle free. Devil closed his hand, locked his fingers about her slim bones and shook her again.
She opened her eyes-blinking sleepily. “You’re back.”
“As you see.” Releasing her, Devil straightened. Folding his arms, he leaned against the bedpost. “Would you care to explain why, of all the beds in this house, you chose mine to fall asleep in?”
Honoria raised a brow. “I would have thought that was obvious-I was waiting for you.”
Devil hesitated; his faculties remained fogged by seething lust. “To what purpose?”
“I have a few questions.”
His jaw firmed. “One o’clock in the morning, in my bed, is neither a suitable nor wise choice of time and venue to ask questions.”
“On the contrary”-Honoria started to sit up-“it’s the perfect place.”
Devil watched the covers fall, revealing her shoulders, clearly visible through translucent silk, revealing the ripe swell of her breasts-“Stop!” His jaw clenched hard. “Honoria, just-
Tartly, she hauled the covers up as she sat, then folded her arms beneath her breasts. She frowned at him. “Why have you been avoiding me?”
Devil returned the frown. “I would have thought
Honoria held his gaze. “About that decision-you’ve told me it’s important to you-you haven’t told me why.”
For a long moment, he didn’t move, didn’t speak, then his folded arms lifted as he drew a deep breath. “I’m a Cynster-I’ve been raised to acquire, defend, and protect. My family is the core of my existence-without a family, without children, I’d have nothing to protect or defend, no reason to acquire. Given your past, I want to hear your decision declared. You’re an Anstruther-Wetherby-given all I know of you, if you make a declaration, you’ll stick by it. Whatever the challenge, you won’t back down.”
Honoria held his gaze steadily. “Given what you know of me, are you sure I’m the right wife for you?”
The answer came back, deep and sure. “You’re mine.”
Between them, the atmosphere rippled; ignoring the breathlessness only he could evoke, Honoria raised her brows. “Would you agree that, at present, I’m free of your seductive influence? Free of coercion or manipulation?”
He was watching her closely; he hesitated, then nodded.
“In that case-” She flung back the covers and scrambled across the bed. Devil straightened-before he could move away, Honoria grabbed the front of his shirt, and hauled herself up on her knees. “I have a declaration to make!”
Locking her eyes on his, locking both hands in his shirt, she drew a deep breath. “I
He’d stilled. She tugged and he moved closer, until his legs hit the bed. He stood directly before her as she knelt, knees wide, on the bed’s edge.
“Most importantly of all.” She paused to draw another breath; her eyes on his, she spread her hands across his chest. “I want
Devil felt desire soar, triumphant, compelling. Excruciatingly aware of her hands sliding as his chest swelled, he forced himself to ask: “Are you sure?” Exasperation flared in her eyes; he shook his head. “I mean about tonight.” Of the rest, he had not a doubt.
Her exasperation didn’t die. “
He managed not to wrap his arms about her and crush her, managed to cling grimly to his reins as she wound her arms about his neck, pressed herself to him in utter abandon and flagrantly incited his possession. He locked his hands about her waist, steadying her-then responded to her invitation. She opened to him instantly, her mouth softening, a sweet cavern to fill, to explore, to claim.
She took him in and held him, took his breath, then gave it back. Devil set his hands skimming, fingers finning, thumbs pressing inward at the tops of her thighs. Her nightgown was a mere cobweb of gossamer silk; he let his hands fall, tracing her sleek thighs before closing one hand above each knee. Slowly, he slid his fingers upward, feeling the silk slide over satiny skin, his thumbs drawing lazy circles along her inner thighs. Higher and higher, inch by inch, he raised his hands-the long muscles of her thighs tensed, then locked, then quivered.
He stopped with his thumbs just below her soft curls. Drawing back from their kiss, he watched her-and waited for her lids to rise. When they did, he trapped her gaze with his-and drew two more circles. She shivered.
“Once I take you, there’ll be no turning back.”
Determination flared, steely blue in her eyes. “Hallelujah.”
Their lips met again; Devil loosened his reins. Desire, hot and urgent, rose between them; passion rode in its wake.
Honoria sensed the change in him, felt his muscles harden, felt his hands, still gripping her thighs, tighten. An expectant quiver ran through her tensed muscles. He released them. One hand slid around to spread across her bottom; her skin turned feverish at his touch. He caressed her in slow, sensuous circles-her senses followed, distracted by the silk shifting between hand and naked skin.
Then his hand finned, cupping her bottom-in the same instant, she felt his other hand slide between her parted thighs.
His head angled over hers; his kiss became more demanding. He stroked her through the gossamer silk, stroked and caressed and teased until the silk clung, a second skin, muting his touch, tantalizing her senses. Honoria tensed, fingertips sinking into the muscles of his back. She felt his hand shift; one long finger slid into her, probing gently, then more deliberately.
Suddenly, she couldn’t breathe. She pulled back with a gasp-he let her go, his hands leaving her. Grasping her waist, he toppled her back on the bed.
Devil crossed to the door to his dressing room, opened it, confirmed Sligo had not waited up, then locked it. Striding back across the room, he shrugged out of his coat and threw it on the chair. Flicking the intricate folds of his cravat undone, he tugged the yard-long strip from his neck, then stripped off his waistcoat and sent it to join his coat, before unlacing his cuffs and pulling off his shirt. The flame from the candle on the tallboy gilded the muscles of his back, then he turned and picked up the candlestick.
Sprawled, breathless, across his bed, Honoria watched as he set flame to the two five-armed candelabra upon the mantelpiece. Concentrating on each graceful movement, on the play of the flames over his sculpted frame, she held back her thoughts, too scandalous for words. Anticipation had soared; excitement shivered over her skin. Her lungs had seized; a delicious panic had tightened every nerve.
Leaving the single candle on the mantelpiece, Devil carried one candelabra to the side of the bed, tugging the bedside table forward so that the candles’ light fell across the covers. Blinking, aware that in the light she’d appear next to naked, Honoria watched as he placed the second candelabra similiarly on the bed’s opposite side. She frowned. “Isn’t it usually night? I mean dark?”
Devil met her gaze. “You’ve forgotten something.”
Honoria couldn’t think what and wasn’t sure she cared; her gaze roamed his chest as he walked toward the bed, bathed in golden light. He stopped by her feet, then turned and sat. While he pulled off his boots, she distracted herself with his back. His cuts and scrapes had healed; she reached out a hand and traced one. His skin flickered at her touch; he muttered something beneath his breath. Honoria grinned and spread her fingers-he stood, casting one black glance back at her before stripping off his trousers. He sat to pull them free of his feet; Honoria stared at the long, broad muscles framing his spine, tailing into twin hollows below his waist. He reached, and muscles shifted; the view was almost as good as his chest.
Free of his last restriction, Devil half turned and fell back on the bed. He knew what would happen-Honoria didn’t. With a valiantly smothered shriek, she rolled into him, into his arms, unable to gain any purchase on the slippery sheets. He lifted her over him, her legs tangling with his, her hair fanning over his naked chest.
He expected her to be shocked, expected her to hesitate-this had to be the first time she’d touched a naked male. The shock was certainly there-he saw it in her stunned expression; hesitation followed-it lasted a split second.
In the next, their lips met-there was no longer any distinction between him kissing her and her kissing him. He felt her hands on his chest, greedily exploring; he ravaged her mouth-and felt her fingers sink deep. He spread his hands over the firm mounds of her derriere and held her against him, easing the throbbing ache of his erection against her soft belly. She writhed, heated and eager, thin silk no barrier to his senses.
Some women were catlike, elusively seductive-she was far too bold to be a cat. She was demanding, aggressive, intent on, not just fraying his reins, but shredding them. Deliberately invoking his desire, his demons-all the possessiveness in his soul. Which, given she was a virgin, qualified as abject madness.
Breathing raggedly, he pulled back from their kiss. “For God’s sake, slow down!”
Engrossed in caressing one flat nipple, Honoria didn’t look up. “I’m twenty-four-I’ve wasted enough time.”
She wriggled; Devil gritted his teeth. “You’re twenty-four-you should know better. You should at least have some measure of self-preservation.” Intent on impaling herself on her fate, she seemed to have no concept of how much he could hurt her, of how much his strength overshadowed hers, of how much harder than her he was.
She was intent on learning-her hands reached lower, exploring the ridges of his lower chest. Devil felt desire rise, full-blown, ravenous-too strong for her to handle. Releasing her buttocks, he grasped her upper arms.
Just as she grasped him.
The shock that lanced through him nearly shattered his control. He froze. So did Honoria.
She looked into his face-his eyes were shut, his expression graven. Carefully, she curled her fingers again, utterly fascinated by her discovery. How could something so hard, so rigid, so ridged, so blatantly, elementally male, be so silky smooth, so soft? Again, she touched the smoothly rounded head-it was akin to stroking hot steel through the finest peach silk.
Devil groaned; he reached down and closed his hand over hers-not to pull it away but to curl her fingers more tightly. Eagerly, she followed his unspoken instructions, obviously much more to her taste than slowing down.
He let her caress him until he thought his jaw would break-he had to pull her hand away. She fought him, squirming all over him, soft, hot, silk-encased flesh writhing over his by-now-painful erection.
With an oath, he caught her hands, one in each of his, and rolled, trapping her beneath him. He anchored her hands to the bed and kissed her, deeply and yet more deeply, letting his weight sink fully onto her-until she had no breath left to fight him, no strength to defy him.
They both stilled; in that instant, she was open to him, heated, her thighs spread, soft and welcoming, her hips a cradle in which he already lay. All he needed to do was reach down and rip the thin silk from between them, then sink his throbbing staff into her softness and claim her.
Gritting his teeth, Devil let go of her hands and lifted away. He moved back. Knees spread, he sat back on his ankles in the middle of the bed. Locking his eyes on hers, he beckoned with both hands. “Come here.”
Her eyes widened; they searched his, then fell-jaw locked, he suffered her scrutiny, saw the age-old question form in her eyes.
Giddy, not only from breathlessness, Honoria slowly blinked, then raised her eyes to his face. He looked like some god, seated in the candlelight, his maleness so flagrantly displayed. The soft light gilded the muscles of his arms, his chest-and the rest of him. She drew in a deep breath; her heartbeat thundered in her ears. Slowly, she rose on one elbow, then freed her legs from the folds of her nightgown and came up on her knees, facing him.
He took her hands in his and drew her closer, then closed his hands about her waist and lifted her. As he set her down astride his thighs, Honoria frowned into his eyes. “If you tell me we have to wait, I’ll scream.”
The planes of his face looked harder than granite. “You’ll scream anyway.”
She frowned harder-and saw his lips twitch.
The idea was new to her-she was still puzzling as Devil drew her closer. High on her knees as she was, her hips grazed his lower chest.
He didn’t need to ask twice; willingly, she twined her arms about his neck and set her lips to his.
One hand at her back holding her upright, Devil deepened the kiss, skimming his other hand upward, over her taut abdomen, before closing it about her breast. The already heated flesh swelled and firmed; he kneaded and heard her moan. He drew back from the kiss; she let her head fall back, the exposed curve of her throat an offering he didn’t refuse. He trailed hot kisses down the pulsing vein; she inched closer, pressing her breast to his palm.
Bending her back, he lowered his head. She stilled, her breathing harried. One long lick dampened the silk covering one nipple. She gasped as his lips touched the niched peak-he suckled lightly and felt her melt.
He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d bedded a virgin-even then, whoever she was, she hadn’t been a gently reared, twenty-four-year-old capable of unexpected enthusiasms. He harbored no illusions over how difficult the next half hour would be; for the first time in his lengthy career, he prayed he’d be strong enough to manage-her, and the passion she unleashed in him. Head bent, he tortured one tightly budded nipple, then turned his attention to its mate.
Sinking her fingers into his upper arms, Honoria gasped and swayed. With her bones transmuted to warm honey, her weak grip, his hand at her back and the tantalizing tug of his lips were all that was keeping her upright. Hot and wet, his lips, his mouth, moved over her breasts, teasing first one aching peak, then the other until both were swollen tight. She ached to touch him, to send her hands searching, but didn’t dare let go. His lips left her; a second later, his teeth grazed one crinkled nipple.
Sharp sensation lanced through her; she gave a muted cry. His lips returned, soothing her flesh, then he suckled hard-and within her heat rose. Wave upon wave, it answered his call, a primal urge building, swelling, surging ever stronger. With a long-drawn moan, she swayed forward, into his kiss.
It caught her, anchored her, as his hands roved her body, heated palms burning. Every curve she possessed, he traced; every square inch of her skin tingled, then ached for more. Her back, her sides, the curve of her stomach, the long muscles of her thighs, her arms, her bottom-none escaped his attention; her skin was flushed, dewed, when he lifted the edge of her gown.
The shiver that racked her came from deep within, a final farewell to the virgin she was but would be no more. His hands rose and he released her lips. From under weighted lids, Honoria saw the silk in his hands, already above her waist. Dragging in a huge breath that, for all her effort, was insufficient to steady her giddy head, she lifted her arms. The gown whispered from her. It screened the candles as it floated out beyond the bed; she traced its fall, feeling the air, then his hands, on her skin.
His arms closed about her.
Heat, warm skin, hard muscle surrounded her; his crisp mat of midnight black hair rasped her sensitized nipples. Hard lips found hers, demanding, commanding, ravishing her senses-no surrender requested, no quarter considered-he would take her, body and soul, and more.
For one instant, the onslaught swept her before it, then she shuddered in his arms, set her feet against desire’s tide-and met his demands with her own. Passion stirred, stretched, unfolded between them; splaying her fingers, she sank the tips into his chest, and felt his muscles lock. She kissed him with a fervor to match his own, reveling in the urgency building between them, glorying in the heady rush, the growing vortex of their need.
Excitement whirled as their lips melded, each breath the other’s, tongues entwined. She sank into his heat, drank it in, and felt it flood her. His hands roamed, as urgently demanding as his lips, hard palms sculpting, fingers flexing, possessing. Still on her knees, her thighs locked on either side of his, her hips pressed to his abdomen, she felt his hands curve and cup her bottom. One remained, holding her high, the other slid lower, long fingers questing. They found her heat and slid further, pressing between her thighs, probing the hot, slick folds, caressing, then pressing deep.
And deeper, igniting her fire.
The wild rush of flames seared her; she ached and burned. His only response was to deepen their kiss, holding her captive as the flames roared on. His fingers stroked slowly, deliberately-the flames grew in intensity, to a sheet, then a wall, finally erupting into an inferno, fueled by urgent need.
The inferno pulsed to her heartbeat; the same beat rang in her veins, in her ears, a tattoo of desire driving her on.
Abruptly, Devil drew back from their kiss. His fingers left her; he cupped her bottom with both hands. “Slide down.”
Honoria couldn’t believe the strength of the compulsion that gripped her-she needed him inside her more than she needed to breathe. Even so… She shook her head. “You’re never going to fit.”
His hands firmed about her hips. “Just slide.”
She did, sinking lower, his hands guiding her. She felt the first touch of his staff, hot and hard, and stopped. He slipped his fingers between her thighs and opened her; she felt the first intimate intrusion of his body into hers. Catching her breath on a strangled gasp, she sank lower, and felt the rounded head slip inside.
He felt large, much larger than she’d expected. She sucked in a breath; under the weight of his hands, she sank still lower. Hard as forged iron, hot as unquenched steel, he pressed into her. She shook her head again. “This is not going to work.”
“It will.” She felt his words within her; he was, if anything, even tenser than she, rock-hard muscles flickering. “You’ll stretch to take me-women’s bodies are built that way.”
He was the expert. Through the maelstrom of emotions besetting her-uncertainty, desire, and giddy need, laced with distant remnants of modesty, all subsumed beneath the most desperate longing she’d ever known-Honoria clung to that fact. The inferno inside her swelled; she sank down.
Immediately, Devil lifted her, not quite losing her clinging heat. “Sink down again.” She did, until her maidenhead again impeded their progress. Under his hands, she repeated the maneuver again and again.
She was hot, slick and very tight; once she was moving freely, he brushed his lips against her temple. “Kiss me.”
She lifted her head immediately, swollen lips parted, eager for more. He took her mouth voraciously, struggling to harness the wild passion that drove him, battling to remain in control long enough to avoid unnecessarily hurting her. He was going to hurt her enough as it was.
On the heels of the thought came the deed. One, powerful upward thrust, timed to meet her downward slide, enforced by the pressure of his hands on her hips, and it was done. He breached her in that single movement, forging deep into her body, filling her, stretching her.
She screamed, the sound smothered by their kiss. Her body tensed; so did his.
Focusing completely on her, waiting for her softening, the first sign of acceptance that he knew would come, Devil grimly denied the primal urge to lose himself in her heat, to plunder the scalding softness that clasped him, to assuage his driving need.
Their lips had parted; they were both breathing raggedly. From under his lashes, he watched as she moistened her lips with her tongue.
“Was that the scream you were talking about?”
“No.” He touched his lips to the corner of hers. “There’ll be no more pain-from now on, you’ll only scream with pleasure.”
No more pain. Her senses awash, overloaded with sensation, Honoria could only hope. The memory of the sharp agony that had speared her was so intense she could still feel it. Yet with every breath, with every heartbeat, the heat of him, the glow suffusing her, eased the ache. She tried to shift; his hands firmed, holding her still.
She had to obey. Until that moment, she hadn’t appreciated how completely in his control she was. The hard, throbbing reality that had invaded her, intimately filling her, impinged fully on her mind. Vulnerability swept her, rippling through her, all the way to…
Her senses focused on the place where they joined. She heard Devil groan. Blinking, she looked up; his eyes were shut, his features like stone. Under her hands, the muscles of his shoulders were taut, locked in some phantom battle. Inside her, the steady throb of him radiated heat and a sense of barely reined urgency. Her pain had gone. On the thought, the last of her tension ebbed; the last vestiges of resistance fell away. Tentatively, her gaze on his face, she eased from his hold, and rose slowly on her knees.
He stopped her at the precise point beyond which their contact would break. She sensed his eagerness, the same compelling urgency that welled within her; she needed no direction to sink slowly down, enthralled by the feel of his steely hardness sliding, slick and hot, deep into her.
She did it again, and again, head falling back as she slid sensuously down, opening her senses completely, savoring every drawn-out second. Their guidance no longer required, his hands roved, reclaiming her breasts, the full curves of her bottom, the sensitive backs of her thighs. All awkwardness, all reticence, had vanished; lifting her head, Honoria draped her arms about his neck and sought his lips with hers. The glide of their bodies, uniting in a rhythm as old as the moon, felt exquisitely right. She gave him her mouth; as he claimed it, she tightened her arms, pressing herself to him, drawn to the promise contained within his powerful body, flagrantly demanding more.
He drew back from the kiss; under his lashes, she saw his eyes gleam.
“Are you all right?”
His hands traced mesmerizing circles over her bottom. At the peak of her rise, Honoria held his gaze-and slowly, concentrating on the rigid hardness invading her, sank down.
She felt his rippling shudder and saw his jaw firm. His eyes flashed. Greatly daring, she licked the vein pulsing at the base of his throat. “Actually, I find this quite…” She was so far past breathless her words shook.
“Surprising?” His voice was a rumble almost too low to be heard.
Catching a desperate breath, Honoria closed her eyes. “
His laugh was so deep she felt it in her marrow. “Trust me.” His lips traced the curve of her ear. “There’s a great deal more pleasure to come.”
“Ah, yes,” Honoria murmured, trying desperately to cling to sanity. “I believe you claim to be a past master at this exercise.” Dragging in a tight breath, she rose upon him. “Does that make me your mistress?”
“No.” Devil held his breath as she sank, excruciatingly slowly, down. “That makes you my pupil.” It would make her his slave, but he’d no intention of telling her that, nor that, if she applied herself diligently, the connection might just work both ways.
On her next downward slide, she pressed lower; he nudged deeper. Her breath hitched; instinctively, she tightened about him. Devil set his teeth against a groan.
Eyes wide, she looked up at him, her breathing shallow and fast. “It feels… very strange… to have you… inside me.” Breasts rising and falling, brushing his chest, she moistened her lips. “I really didn’t think… you’d fit.”
Devil locked his jaw-along with every other muscle he possessed. After a moment of fraught silence, he managed to say: “I’ll fit-eventually.”
Her eyes grew round-he didn’t wait for more. He caught her lips in a ravishing kiss and, anchoring her hips against him, tumbled her back onto the pillows.
He’d chosen their earlier position to breach her, placing a limit on how deep he could go, helpful given the force of his instincts. But the time for limits had passed; his swift rearrangement landed her on her back among the pillows, his hips between her thighs, his staff still within her.
She tensed as his weight trapped her; instantly, he lifted his chest and shoulders from her, straightening his arms, his hands sinking into the down on either side. Their kiss broken, her eyes flew open.
He trapped her gaze in his. Slowly, deliberately, he withdrew from her, then, fluidly flexing his spine, he entered her.
Inexorably, inch by inch, he claimed her; heated and slick, her body welcomed him, stretching to take him in. He watched her eyes widen, the blue-grey transmuting to silver, then fracturing as he surged deeper. He sheathed himself in her softness, sinking into her to the hilt, nudging her womb. He came to rest embedded within her; she held him in a scorching silken vice.
Gazes locked, they both held still.
Honoria couldn’t breathe, he filled her so completely; she could feel the steady beat of him at the base of her throat. Staring up at his face, she saw the hard planes shift, sharp-edged with reined passion. A conqueror looked down on her, green eyes dark, ringed with silver-the conqueror she’d given herself to. A sense of possession swamped her; her heart swelled, then soared.
He was waiting-for what? Some sign of surrender? On the thought, certainty bloomed within her; a glorious confidence filled her. She smiled-slowly, fully. Her hands had come to rest on his forearms; lifting them, she reached up and drew his face to hers. She heard him groan in the instant their lips met. He came down on his elbows, his hands flicking her hair aside, then framing her face.
He deepened their kiss and her senses went spinning; his body moved on her, within her, and pleasure bloomed.
Like waves piling on the shore, they surged together. Sensations swelled like the incoming tide, rolling ever higher. She caught the rhythm and matched him, letting her body welcome him, holding him tight for a heartbeat before reluctantly releasing him. Again and again they formed that intimate embrace; each time, each devastatingly thorough thrust pushed her higher, further, onward toward some beckoning shore she could only barely perceive. Her mind and senses merged, then soared, locked in dizzying flight. Heat and light spread through her, running down each vein, irradiating each nerve. Then heat changed to fire and light to incandescent glory.
Fed by their striving bodies, by each panting breath, by each soft moan, each guttural groan, the sunburst swelled, larger, brighter, more intense.
It exploded between them-Honoria lost herself in the primal energy, all fire and light and glorious, heart-stopping sensation. Blind, she couldn’t see; deaf, she couldn’t hear. All she could do was feel-feel him under her hands and know he was with her, feel the warmth that filled her and know she was his, feel the emotion that held them, forged strong in the sunburst’s fire-and know nothing on earth could ever change it.
The sunburst died and they drifted back to earth, to the earthly pleasures of silk sheets and soft pillows, to sleepy murmurs and sated kisses, and the comfort of each other’s arms.
Devil stirred as the last candle guttered. Even before he lifted his head, he’d assimilated the fact that there was a woman, sleeping the sleep of the sated, more or less beneath him. Before he levered his shoulders away from her and looked down, he’d recalled who that woman was.
The knowledge swelled the emotion that gripped him; his gaze roved her face, gently flushed, swollen lips slightly parted. Her bare breasts rose and fell; she was deeply asleep. Triumph roared through him; smug self-satisfaction swaggered in its wake. With a grin she would probably have taken exception to, had she been in any condition to see it, he lifted from her, careful not to wake her. He’d tried to withdraw from her earlier, before he’d succumbed, but she’d clung to him fiercely and muttered an injuction he’d had insufficient strength to disobey. Despite his weight, she’d wanted to prolong their intimacy, not an aim he could argue against with any conviction.
Their intimacy had been spectacular. Superb. Sufficiently remarkable to startle even him.
He settled on his stomach, feeling her soft weight against his side. The sensation had its inevitable effect; determinedly, he ignored it. He had time and more to explore the possibilities-the rest of his life, in fact. Anticipation had replaced frustration; from the first, he’d sensed in her an underlying awareness, a sensual propensity rare in women of her kind. Now he knew it was real, he would take care to nuture it; under his tutelage, it would blossom. Then he would have time and more to reap the rewards of his control, his care, his expertise, to slake his senses in her, with her-to make her his slave.
Turning his head on the pillow, he studied her face. Lifting his hand, he brushed a stray lock from her cheek; she snuffled, then wriggled onto her side, snuggling against him, one hand searching, coming to rest on his back.
Devil stilled; the emotion that stirred within him was not one he recognized-it stole his breath and left him curiously weak. Oddly shaken. Frowning, he tried to bring it into focus, but by then it had subsided. Not left him, but sunk deep again, into the depths where such emotions dwelled.
Shaking off the sensation, he hesitated, then, very gently, slid one arm across Honoria’s waist. She sighed in her sleep, and sank more heavily against him. Lips curving gently, Devil closed his eyes.
When next he awoke, he was alone in his bed. Blinking fully awake, he stared at the empty space beside him in abject disbelief. Then he closed his eyes, dropped his head back into the pillows, and groaned.
Damn the woman-didn’t she know…? Obviously not-it was a point of wifely etiquette on which he’d have to educate her. She wasn’t supposed to leave their bed until he did-by which time she wouldn’t be able to. That was the way things were. Would be. From now on.
This morning, however, he’d have to go for a long ride.