Chapter 8

“I don’t suppose,” Martin inquired acerbically, as his carriage turned into Park Lane, “that you’ll let me set you down by your parents’ house and call this evening ended?”

Amanda glanced at him through the shadows. “No.”

So much for that. He’d had no choice, yet he’d regretted hijacking her evening from the moment of quitting Mrs. Emerson’s door. Why he was so jumpy, he didn’t know-he’d take her to his library, show her one of the damned books, then bundle her back out and take her home. And that would be that. For tonight.

The carriage turned into his drive; as per his customary orders, it headed around to the rear yard. Martin inwardly swore, then remembered the front door hadn’t been opened for years. The carriage halted. He descended and handed Amanda down, telling himself his nerves were twitchy simply because she was the first member of his ex-circle he’d allowed into this house since it had become his. Yet as he escorted her in via the dark kitchen and on through the dim corridors, his nerves tightened further.

Amanda was glad of the lack of light; other than a candle Dexter had picked up from the kitchen table, the house was in darkness. Not, however, pitch dark-she could see furniture swathed in holland covers, sense the brooding atmosphere of an empty house. The wavering light of the candle didn’t reach her face, so she could gawk as much as she liked.

This was his lair.

A shiver snaked down her spine. It was horridly cold, just one notch from chilled, and she suspected that one notch was due to the kitchen hearth. But he couldn’t possibly spend his days there. The immense staircase that rose on their right as they entered the mausoleumlike hall was of classical design, its steps leading up to a gallery shrouded in impenetrable shadows. Glancing around, she suppressed another shiver; most doors stood open-not one room showed any evidence of being used.

This was no home. He might be unmarried and live alone, yet this house had had all life sucked out of it. There was nothing left, no human warmth or gentleness, no comfort for a restless spirit.

Without pause, Dexter led her down a second corridor, wider than the first, but equally neglected.

Bleak. The word echoed in Amanda’s mind. How could he live here?

Then he opened a door. Light spilled out, a startlingly welcome sight. He waved her in; she stepped forward-and stopped on the threshold.

This was where he lived.

She looked this way, then that, eyes darting, trying to take it all in at a glance-impossible. Trying to reconcile this wonder with the desolate emptiness she’d traversed in the last minutes. Mesmerized, she walked in, only to stop again, unabashedly swivelling to stare about her.

The huge room-massive in proportion, possibly an early ballroom, for the house was old-was now a library. The term didn’t do it justice. Yes, every wall was covered with bookshelves, wood glowing all the way to the ceiling; yes, the shelves were packed with tome upon leatherbound tome, many spines heavy with gold or silver. There was a hearth big enough to roast the proverbial ox in the middle of the long inner wall. The opposite wall hosted a regimented row of long windows giving onto a courtyard in which moonlight played on lush greenery surrounding a square lawn and a fountain. The courtyard’s high stone walls were covered in vines.

Her gaze drifted to the ceiling; she sucked in a reverent breath and stared. It was a work of art, each segment of the dome depicting a constellation with various deities, animals, fish and fowl. One could stare, spellbound, for hours; she dragged her gaze away, noting the row of crystal chandeliers, all presently unlit.

Glancing around, she felt like she was drowning in sumptuous splendor. Everywhere she looked, there was some object or item, some unexpected sight to engage the senses. His years in the Orient were evident in the delicate ivory ornaments, in the jade figurines that stood on wooden pedestals, the silk runners that covered the tops of heavily carved sideboards. Across the polished floor, bright carpets stretched, sheening in the candlelight, their jewel hues vibrant even in the relative gloom.

Facing each other across the hearth in which a fire blazed, confirming this was the room to which he habitually retired, stood a chaise and a daybed, the latter piled with gold-embroidered silk cushions and draped in a veritable rainbow of silk shawls, their bright, knotted fringes winking in the candelight.

Dragging in a breath, she looked down the room to gain perspective.

It wasn’t just the scale that stunned-it was the color. The richness. The sheer sensory delight.

The house was like him. The thought burst into her mind with the clarity of truth, the conviction of accuracy. The outside was classical yet forbidding, the entrance bleak, but at the heart lay a place of unfettered warmth where beauty, knowledge and sensual pleasures held sway.

She turned and saw Dexter crouched by the fire, building it high. Strolling to the nearest bookcase, she let her gaze roam the spines. Art, the Classics, poetry-all were represented. Essays, philosophies, diaries in Latin, Greek, German and French-the collection was extensive.

Picking up a jewelled egg from one shelf, she examined the intricate work. Replacing it, she turned-to find Dexter standing, watching her, an unreadable expression on his face.

“Well.” She waved at the shelves. “Which is the tome I need to peruse?”

His features hardened. He started toward her with his usual prowling gait, the firelight behind him gilding his hair. Steeling her senses, she held her ground. Tilted her chin.

He stopped in front of her, met her gaze. “You don’t need to peruse any book.”

She tried to read his eyes. Failed. “But I do. It’s the least entertainment you can offer me, considering that little scene earlier.” Intimidation poured from him; helpfully she added, “And don’t forget-one of your volumes from the East.”

His jaw set. Through eyes harder than stone, he considered her, then reached up, high above her head, and slid a brown leather-covered tome free. He placed the heavy book in her hands-the spine was more than three inches wide-then waved her to the fire. “Pray be seated.”

He’d lighted a candelabra and set it on the low table at the end of the chaise. Amanda headed for the daybed, irresistibly drawn by the silks. She settled among the cushions; they shushed as she wriggled. The daybed was wide, unusually large; the perch was unbelievably comfortable. She looked at the low table, then at Dexter.

Stony-faced, he moved the table and candelabra to the end of the daybed beside her. Setting the book on her lap, she trailed her fingers over the cover, heavily encrusted with gold leaf. “Did you get this on your travels?”

He hesitated, then replied, “It was given to me by a maharanee.”

When he remained standing, she looked up at him, let challenge fill her eyes. He stared down at her, then surrendered and sat on the daybed’s other end, leaning back amid the cushions, arms wide. He looked so much at home, she suspected the daybed was his favorite resting place. Most un-English, yet the liking of luxurious comforts was definitely a leonine attribute.

Satisfied, she gave her attention to the book. Opening it, she turned to the first page to find it covered with wildly curling characters.

“Sanskrit.”

“Can you read it?”

“Yes, but the text is immaterial to your purpose. Go on to the illustrations.”

She could think of no way to force him to translate. She turned the page. And came to the first etching. Her first intimation that, no matter that she had not led a truly sheltered life, in comparison with him, assuming this book to be no revelation, she’d spent her entire life in a cloister.

Oddly, she didn’t feel the least bit shocked. No telltale blush rose to her cheeks. She did, however, feel as if her eyes couldn’t open wide enough, as if she hardly dared breathe.

Not shocked. She was fascinated. Enthralled.

Amazed.

Martin watched the firelight play across her face, watched the change in her expression as she turned the page. Tried not to recall what she was looking at. Then, to his consternation, discovered that he couldn’t.

He studied her face. She seemed absorbed. Intrigued. Then she tilted her head, angling her gaze… unable to bear it, he stealthily shifted sideways so he could see her more clearly.

Hell! Eyes glued to the page, he realized he’d forgotten how lifelike the illustrations in that particular book were, how detailed. She flipped a page, fell to studying the next image avidly. He stared at the work, then glanced at her face, imagined what must be going through her mind.

His mouth went dry; his whole body reacted.

He looked back at the book, fought to ease the vice slowly tightening, notch by notch, about his lower chest.

She turned the next page-to a picture of a couple, on a daybed very like the one they were on, engaged in flagrant intercourse.

Arousal rushed through him; he couldn’t stop his gaze going to her face, couldn’t not watch, his breath shallow, as she examined the finely drawn work.

She felt his gaze. She glanced at him; her eyes met his, locked on them. Then she stilled.

A wash of color spread across her collarbones, swept into her porcelain cheeks. Her lips softened; she glanced down at the book, considered the picture again.

The pulse at the base of her throat leapt; her fingers fluttered at the edge of the page. He sensed the change in her breathing, could, through the tension suddenly binding them, feel the rise of her desire.

Hesitantly, she looked at him. Her eyes were dark, pupils dilated, ringed with an intense sapphire blue.

“So you see,” he ground out, the words gravelly, deep, “the pictures do affect you.” He reached for the book-knew he had to take it from her, bring the moment to an end. Quickly.

“No. You’re wrong.” She shifted the book away from his hand. Lost her grip. The book slithered from her silk-covered lap, thudded onto the floor.

They both reached for it.

He slid forward-the movement brought him close to her.

His weight sinking into the bed pitched her into him.

In a slither of silk, Amanda squirmed around, spread her hands across his chest and stayed him. “No-leave it.” She struggled to breathe, to think, to keep her eyes on his rather than on his lips. “It’s proved my point.”

The muscles under her hands were rigid; she felt his control quake. It held, but only just. The heat of his body washed about her, engulfed her; something primitive prowled just behind his mask. She glanced at his lips. Saw him moisten them, saw them form the words, “How so?”

She looked into his eyes; he continued, “The pictures aroused you.”

“No.” Triumph warmed her, but it was getting harder and harder to think. “It wasn’t the pictures. They were… interesting. Revealing. Nothing more.” Boldly, she trailed a finger down his lean cheek, her gaze locked on the path she traced until her fingertip touched the corner of his lips. Her wits were slowly spinning away, as if speech, as if thought, no longer mattered.

She looked up; his eyes were a dark, mesmerizing deep green. “It was you-watching you look at the picture. Imagining you imagining me…” She slid her hand back, curled her fingers about his nape, drew his lips to hers. “Watching you imagining us… like that.”

Their lips touched, and they were lost.

She didn’t know it, but every instinct reacted. To the fact that she had her lion in thrall, that she’d finally breached his walls and captured the sensualist at his core. Gloried in the fact that he was hers, here and now, without reserve.

And she was his.

The realization streaked through her, not a thought but pure feeling, something she felt in her skin, in her blood, a knowledge that sank to her marrow.

She was with him from the instant that kiss set spark to tinder, followed eagerly as the conflagration grew, as the caress evolved into an explicit exchange. He eased back into the cushions; she went with him, sinking against him, luxuriating in the feel of his hard body beneath hers. Her arms about his neck, she locked him to her as the kiss went on and on.

As they fell deeper under the sensual spell fate had woven about them.

Later, she realized it was that that had driven them, overwhelmed them; at the time all she knew was an inchoate need to be his-female to his male, woman to his man. A need so elementally simple, so emotionally at one with her desires, she had no reason to think, to question.

It felt so right.

His hands speared into her hair and sent her pins flying. The mass tumbled down but he closed his hand in it, held it, savored the feel of the heavy locks sliding through his fingers, then filling his hand again. And again.

Eventually leaving her hair in tumbled disarray, his hands trailed down, fingers skimming the sensitive skin of her throat. Then his lips left hers to follow the trail. She felt a tug, then her cloak slid away, sliding off the bed to pool on the floor. He laid a hand on her breast; she pressed her flesh to his palm, sighing with content, with an anticipation he swiftly fulfilled. His lips returned to hers, appeasing their hunger while between them his hands closed, kneading gently at first, then more deliberately, until her breasts were swollen, aching, pulsating. But he didn’t touch her as she wished to be touched. Instead, his fingers went to her laces, swiftly undoing them-then she could breathe again, albeit shallowly.

He stripped the gown from her, freeing first one shoulder, then the other, murmuring instructions which she obeyed. She glanced at his face, marveled at the sharp edges desire had lent features already austere. Then he jerked the ribbon ties of her chemise undone, and pushed gown and chemise down, baring her to the waist.

The look on his face sent sheer joy winging through her-he looked stunned, mesmerized, utterly enthralled. Cool air washed over her skin, yet she didn’t feel cold, not with his eyes feasting upon her. His hands rose, closed almost worshipfully about each breast, then his fingers finned. She gasped, closed her eyes, head rising, concentrating, caught by a rush of seductive delight. He’d touched her breasts before, but not like this, not with her above him. It was different-freer-so clear that this was her choice, that she was participating by her own act, rather than accepting a caress he pressed on her.

She moved restlessly against him, felt his erection rigid against her stomach. He shifted and caught her lips with his, drew her senses once more into the heated depths of a kiss.

Then his fingers shifted, tightened about her throbbing nipples-and delight flashed through her, sharp as a lance. He repeated the torture, drank her gasp as her lungs seized. Then his touch eased, drifted, fingers stroking languidly, soothingly. Each touch was reverent, as if he were stroking the richest velvet, the most costly satin.

Heat blossomed, spread.

He slid his lips from hers, nudged her head back so he could trace the line of her throat down to where her pulse throbbed. He closed his mouth over the spot; heat flared beneath her skin as he sucked lightly, subsided when he drew back and licked, laved.

Then his head dipped lower, lips skating over the upper curve of one breast. Her nerves leapt, tensed, sparked-she caught her breath, knowing, wanting…

He urged her up and she eagerly complied, gasped when his mouth closed hotly about the niched peak of one breast, melted when he sucked lightly, licked-then he suckled and her breathing shattered.

He didn’t let her catch her breath, didn’t let her senses stop spinning. Supported by the cushions, fingers splayed on his skull, she held him to her, urging him to take as he wished, to feast, to devour to his heart’s-and her senses’-content.

Every nerve was alive, every sense she possessed focused on his touch when he finally eased back, lay back on the cushions and reached for her, spearing his hands once more through her hair and drawing her lips to his.

Martin reveled in her eagerness, in her unfettered sensuality, a sensuality that spoke so directly to his. She met him at every turn, at every touch, every beat of their hearts. They were already one-one in intent, one in anticipation. Long habit made him draw the moments out, savoring each step along a road he knew well, caught in the wonder that with her, the way had changed, the scenery altered.

He was as fascinated as she.

So much was different-she was different-but more than that, the entire landscape had transformed. He was enthralled, intrigued; they were novices together, learning together, experienced in some ways yet so much was new.

He would never get tired of touching her-simply stroking his fingers, his palms, over her lush curves, over her rose petal skin. But the heat building through their kiss, tended, fed, steadily stoked with each flagrantly evocative caress, was escalating, step by step into urgency. He needed to sate his increasingly clamorous senses, to touch more, explore further. He ravaged her mouth and she gasped, then met him, pressing her demands as boldly as he.

More-he had to have more. Sliding his palms down her sleek sides, he caught her gown and chemise and pressed them further down. The material slipped easily along her skin, down over the curves of her hips, over the lush swell of her derriere. Breaking from their kiss, he shifted, half rising, one hand splaying over her bare waist, locking her to him; with the other, he grasped the crushed fabric and drew it down her legs, all the way down, then tossed the garments to the floor.

She looked down, caught her breath, then toed off her satin slippers, with a small kick sending one, then the other, to join her gown.

His gaze fixed on her silk-stockinged toes, he drew in a long, deep breath, conscious of the expansion of his chest, of the softness of her breast pressed to him. Every nerve he possessed had stilled. Slowly, he swept his gaze up the curves of her legs, from her small, delicately arched feet, past trim ankles and slender calves to her knees, all screened by fine silk, ultimately to where her blue silk garters circled her thighs.

Above them, her skin was bare, glowing like ivory pearl in the soft light. His gaze traced the gentle swells of her thighs, rested on the thatch of blond curls at their apex. Chest tight, he sent his gaze roaming higher, over her taut stomach, over the indentation of her waist to her breasts, swollen and rosy-peaked from his attentions. Lifting his eyes, he took all of her in, drank in the sight. She lay stretched alongside him, within the circle of one arm, totally naked but for her silk stockings, a creation designed to overwhelm his senses, resilient female curves encased in alabaster satin, her golden locks lustrous in the candlelight.

At her back, all around her, the jewelled tones of his silk shawls and cushions created a fitting bed on which she was displayed-a gem, a pearl beyond price.

His.

One part of him wanted to seize, to devour, to slake the lust that rode him. Another part noted the dreamy wonder in her eyes as from under heavy lids she watched him examining her, noted her shallow breathing, and wanted, more than anything, to open her eyes to delight, to steep her in pleasure.

The latter was more to his taste.

He bent his head, found her lips, took her mouth in a slow, drowning kiss, tightened his arm and drew her to him. Her breath hitched as her sensitized skin came into contact with his clothes; he inwardly smiled, and drew her closer yet, let her sense the vulnerability of being naked in his arms while he, conquerorlike, remained fully clothed.

She quivered, then surrendered, opened her mouth to a long, extravagant brazen exploration, an invasion designed to spread heat through her veins, to draw her deeper into the furnace of their mutual need.

Amanda went without hesitation, without even pausing to try to gather her wits. They’d flown long ago; she was operating wholly on instinct, an instinct that insisted heaven lay this way, that together they could scale some fabulous peak and be forever changed. Forever bound.

Fused by fire, bound to each other by golden strands of feeling, by silver threads of shimmering emotion.

His blatantly sexual perusal, gaze burning under lids weighted by reined desire and a passion she could feel, had wound her nerves tight, so taut they ached with every long, slow sweep of his hands over her skin. Over her back, over her bottom; one hand explored in leisurely appraisal, the touch of a pasha learning a new slave. That wandering hand caressed her bottom, tantalizingly tracing, leaving damp heat in its wake, then drifted lower to close, cupping the back of one thigh.

He lifted her to him, held her against him and shifted his hips, letting her feel the insistent pressure of his erection against her lower stomach. Heat bloomed deep inside, flared into flame as he deliberately rocked against her.

She couldn’t breathe but took her breath from him, raised her hands and framed his face, spoke to him through their kiss and urged him on. She wanted him inside her-knew it without thought, surrendered without question to the need. Yet…

He understood; he shifted again, tipping her back into the silk-strewn softness of the bed. It was incredibly accommodating, designed for the act. As he rose over her, she smiled blissfully; arms freed, she reached for his coat. Pressed the halves wide, temporarily trapped his arms. He frowned slightly, but acquiesced, drawing back to strip off the coat and fling it aside.

Half sitting, she moved onto the studs securing the front of his shirt. Nimble-fingered, driven by a sense of racing urgency, she disposed of them and wrenched the linen open, then stared in open-mouthed fascination at the vista she’d uncovered.

She felt her mouth go dry. Eyes wide, she raised both hands and placed all ten fingers, splayed, over the heavy muscle band crossing his chest. Pressed her fingers in, felt his muscles shift, tense. Enthralled, she trailed her hands down, revelling in the springy hairs that wound about her fingertips. She traced through the indentation at the center of his chest, down over the ridges of his abdomen, rock-hard and rigid.

He was so hard, so hot. Heat rolled off him in waves, intensifying as, eyes dark, almost black, he reached for her.

In the instant before his lips came down on hers, she marveled at the passion blank, desire driven set of his features. Always harshly angular, in the grip of passion they seemed hewn from granite-implacable, unresistible.

Not that she thought of resisting.

She gave herself to him, wrapped her arms about his neck and kissed him back with a fervor to match his, to incite his demands, to drive him on, to bind him to her. Satisfaction rushed through her as he gathered her to him, closed his arms about her and urged her back down.

Until she lay beneath him, thighs spread with him between, his hand on her breast. He drew his lips from hers and ducked his head. She lifted her arms over her head, let them fall on the silk, sighed as his lips teased her breast. Then he drew her nipple into his mouth and suckled sharply; she caught her breath on a gasp, felt her spine arch.

Felt her body react, felt an ache blossom between her thighs.

He repeated the subtle torture, soothing one breast with a knowing hand while with his mouth he teased the other, until she was gripped by a roiling unnameable need, hot, yearning, compulsive.

His lips left her breast and drifted lower, over her midriff.

She caught her breath, glanced down. Tangled her fingers in his hair and tugged.

“Your trousers. Take them off.” She had to pause to moisten her lips, met his eyes when he glanced up. Smiled like a cat. “I want to see all of you.”

His hands had strayed to her hips. For one instant, his fingers flexed, pressed in, then his grip eased. Bending his head, he returned to tracing kisses about her navel, but his hands drifted down to his waistband.

She lay back, let her lids fall, seized the moment to catch her breath, very conscious of the warmth, the building heat, the rising, rushing tide of desire. His and hers-theirs-to be shared. Totally.

He shifted and she opened her eyes, watched him rear back and strip his trousers and stockings off; he’d already kicked off his shoes. Then he was as naked as she; as he turned back to her she wished there was a mirror usefully hung, so she could see his back, the long planes narrowing to his waist and hips, the long length of his muscled legs.

He was gorgeous-all she could see met with her complete approval, but she still hadn’t seen all she wished to see.

She tried to push back from him, tried to glance down, but he followed her too closely, pressing her deep into the silken cushions as he lowered his body to hers, lowered his head and took her lips in a suddenly searing kiss.

A kiss that left little doubt the time had come, that the lion had played enough and now would have his due. A tide of desire seemed to rise at his command-he sent it rushing through her and it swept her away.

Martin couldn’t control the force that had claimed him, that had driven him from the moment she’d told him just what had so aroused her. He knew he should think, but couldn’t, couldn’t free his rational mind from the overwhelming tide of desire, stronger this time than it had ever been before, fueled by a deeper passion, swollen by a whirlpool of emotions he didn’t recognize, much less understand.

All he knew was that she was as committed as he to their joining, to the satisfaction of merging their bodies, to the soul-deep pleasure they would share. All he could feel was the driving need to be inside her, buried deeply within her luscious body, savoring the incredible sensation of her surrounding him, pleasuring his senses with the ultimate caress. With instincts trained by long experience, he’d managed to slow the tide, hold it back long enough to ease her way. But his reins had snapped in the instant he’d felt her bare thighs caress his naked flanks.

He caught her up in the kiss, pressed her back into the cushions, anchored one hand in her hair. With his hips, he pressed her thighs wide, then reached down between their bodies. His questing fingers stroked through the soft tufts of her curls; ravenous desire growled through him at the realization they were already damp.

Reaching further, he touched her, shackled his need long enough to trace the swollen folds, seized just one moment to learn her by a lover’s touch, intimate and evocative. Hot wetness met his fingertips; sinking into her mouth, boldly probing with his tongue, he equally boldly opened her, then slid one long finger slowly, steadily into her soft sheath.

Her body arched lightly under his; she gasped through their kiss, then he took her mouth again, played havoc with her senses as he stroked once, twice-she clamped tight about his finger. He stroked again, then withdrew, then pressed another finger in alongside the first.

Her hips lifted, tilted; he inwardly smiled-ravenously. Overwhelmed by the kiss, senses dizzily fractured, she responded instinctively to the intimate caress, opening to his penetration, hips and thighs easing, relaxing.

He shifted, rising over her, pressing his hips deep between her thighs. Withdrawing his fingers to her entrance, he used them to guide the throbbing head of his erection into the soft, surrendering flesh. He pressed in and her slickness welcomed him. He rested there, just inside her body, and gave his attention to her mouth, demanding, commanding all her attention, enmeshing her senses… then he eased fractionally back and flexed his hips sharply.

Drove deep into her body with a single powerful thrust, felt the fleeting resistance of her maidenhead give way, felt the slick, sleek heat of her enclose him, then clamp tight about his rigid length.

Her cry was more a yelp, a sudden sound of pain. Then she stilled, completely, beneath him. Laboring for breath, in a state close to agony, he forced himself to remain still, held back the need to plunder her warmth, to conquer, claim her and make her his. One hand still anchored in her hair, the other braced beside her, he lifted his head and looked down at her face.

She drew in a huge, long-drawn breath, her breasts swelling against his chest. The ache in his loins increased another notch. Before he could summon wit enough to speak, her lids fluttered, lifted enough for him to see her eyes, the sapphire blue all but drowned, her gaze unfocused.

Then she exhaled, slowly. “Good God!”

She blinked, blinked again. Then her gaze slowly sharpened; she focused on his face. Blinked. Tried to shift-

“No!” He bent his head, touched his lips to hers, made them cling. “Just… wait a minute.”

She let out another shuddering breath. “It feels like-“

He sealed her lips, kissed her long, hard and deep, and felt every last ounce of resistance melt away, felt her body soften under his.

Surrender.

No moment had ever been so sweet, filled with a heady sense of rightness, of this being his due, his right, his privilege.

As if to have her had been a lifelong ambition at long last realized.

He didn’t even need to think to move, to start the slow, steady undulation of the dance that was, in truth, especially here and now, especially with her, second nature to him.

Their lips melded, parted, came together again; their bodies mirrored the movement. Their rhythm was not something he consciously set, so attuned to her needs, so sunk in her splendor, that he moderated the demands of his body instinctively, matching them to hers.

Until she writhed, sobbed, clung, until her hands sought his shoulders, fingers clutching, sinking deep, clinging frantically as ecstasy beckoned. Her knees rose, clamping about his hips; her hips tilted, taking him deeper, urging him to take, to claim.

He eased back only to spread her thighs wider, lift her knees higher until they gripped his waist, then he drove deeper into her core, deeper into her heat.

She drew back from their kiss, sobbed his name-and it had never sounded so evocative. He braced his arms, lifted his chest from her breasts, then bent his head, claimed her lips, and changed the tenor of their joining.

Changed gliding slide for forceful thrust, changed shallow angle for deeper, more powerful penetration. The strong, repetitive need washed over him; beneath him, she flowered and took him in. Then she seemed to catch her breath, as if her passion welled higher, reached a new level of desire. She boldly met him and matched him, her body caressing his, brazenly intimate.

Her softness drew him in and he was caught, the splendor of her body offering a sumptuous net into which he willingly fell. And then there was no longer her and him, separate entities, but one all-consuming need.

To be one. Utterly, completely-forever.

The wave swept in, broadsided him, lifted them both high on its crest.

Then she shattered, his name on her lips, her body clamping hard about his. Drawing him inexorably with her, into the white heat of the void.

Amanda clung, eyes closed, mind awash with bliss, knowing nothing beyond the incredible pleasure he’d given her, the joy they’d shared-and that he was still with her.

She could feel him, hard and hot at her core, buried so deep he’d touched her heart. She held tight as his body shuddered, convulsed, felt the rush of warmth deep within. Felt the intimacy strongly, powerfully, as with a muted groan he slowly collapsed onto her, their bodies slick, their lungs laboring, their hearts thundering in their ears. The physicality of the deed swept over her, her vulnerability, surrender implicit as she lay trapped beneath him, impaled to her heart.

And she knew she’d committed much more than the act.

Triumph filled her, but not the sort she’d expected to feel. This was a glow, a deeper, richer satisfaction, a tenderness that no girlish delight that he’d wanted her, desired her, and had been driven to have her despite and against his will could ever match.

She was a woman who had found her mate-her one true male-her destiny. Her future, and his.

Drifting on a tide of glory, she reached for him, found his face, trailed her fingers to his lips, then lifted her head and blindly pressed her lips to his.

He returned the caress; their lips clung, then parted.

With a soft sigh, she sank back, and let blissful exhaustion claim her.

He couldn’t think.

It was a frightening realization. No matter how hard he tried to focus his mind, it remained blank, overwhelmed.

Martin had no idea how long he’d lain, stretched naked beside Amanda, equally naked, their limbs entwined, before he managed that much rationality. He knew the fact should scare him witless. Instead…

He was all too ready to ignore his mental vacuity, to indulge his senses rather than his wits.

His ever-greedy senses were very ready to be indulged. After all she’d given him, all he’d blindly taken, said senses should have been sated, yet ever since he’d attained some semblance of wakefulness, they’d been clamoring for more.

His gaze drifted possessively over her, slumped naked on his chest, his arms about her. Just where she should be, just as he would have her.

He was accustomed to the afterglow of sensual satiation, yet the depth of contentment that weighted his limbs, that sealed his mind against all thought, enmeshed it in soul-deep satisfaction, was beyond all previous experience. Different in intangible ways, ways he couldn’t express.

It was simply more. Much more. Deeper, more profound.

Infinitely more compelling.

More dangerous. More addictive.

Precisely what he needed. Wanted. Even if he hadn’t known that before.

He knew he needed to think-knew he and she had stepped beyond the bounds of their world and would have to find their way back. Yet no matter how hard he tried to prod his laggard wits to action, to face the situation…

His mind remained a blank. A blank filled with a sense of wonder that left him feeling both vulnerable and blessed.

In the end, he surrendered-to the moment, to that feeling-and lay there, drinking in the sensations of her body snugly fitted to his, the feminine softness, the silkiness of her skin, the gentle huff of her breath across his chest. The fingers of one hand idly played with her tumbled curls.

The fire died to embers and the room grew chill. She stirred restlessly, but then settled again, boneless once more.

He didn’t want her to wake, not yet.

He wanted her in his bed first, before she could argue.

The impulse was so powerful, even though he was incapable of fathoming the whys or wherefores, he acted on it; carefully, he eased from under her, letting her snuggle down on the warm silks where he’d lain.

He rose, then draped the ends of the silk shawls over her, cocooning her. Gathering her scattered belongings-his own he left where they lay-he opened the door, then returned to the daybed. Piling her dress, chemise and slippers in her cloak, he tucked the soft bundle beside her, then scooped her up, belongings, silk shawls and all, and headed for the door.

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