As soon as he was alone, melancholy descended in a cold, weighty mantle. He was a day’s ride away from Amelia, with the morrow bringing even more distance between them. Frustrated by the progression of events, he prayed sleep would offer him a brief respite, but after years of dreaming of Amelia, he did not hold out much hope.

He was reaching to close the curtains when the door opened behind him. Gripping the hilt of the dagger hidden in his coat, he canted his torso to make himself a smaller target.


Amelia’s sweetly feminine voice caused him to freeze in midturn. He had hoped to be followed, but not by her. Now the danger that stalked him shadowed her as well.

“I had to see you,” she murmured. “Your carriage passed me in the street, and I could not allow you to go.”

Only years of training and living by his wits leashed his surprise, preventing him from ruining everything by facing her. Instead he closed the drapes, dimming the gentle light of the moon before turning toward her. If he was fortunate, the banked fire in the grate would keep his face mostly in shadow, lessening the possibility of recognition.

Mentally prepared only for her reaction to him, Colin was completely vulnerable to his own reaction to her. The sight of her by the door—and near a bed—hit him like a blow, freeing a possessive, primitive growl from his tightened throat. She shivered at the sound, her lips parting with quickened breaths.

His hands clenched into fists at his sides. Did she know what she did to him?

She stood proud and undaunted before the door, a beribboned hat tied at a jaunty angle, her slender body encased in a gown of shimmering satin and delicate white lace. The innocent cut of the dress made the years fall away, made him hard as a rock and hot to claim her. He loved her deeply and completely with lingering traces of his boyish adoration, but he also lusted for her with every drop of the wild Gypsy blood in his veins.

“Tell me you did not travel alone,” he bit out, hating to think of such beauty unattended. She was a treasure to be secured and valued. The thought of her on the journey without a guard, unwittingly in jeopardy, tied him in knots.

“I am protected.” Her eyes glittered in the muted light, and she queried in a whisper, “Are you angry with me?”

“No,” he said hoarsely, his heart thudding with rhythmic violence in his chest.

“The mask . . .” She inhaled audibly. “Most men look especially dashing in evening attire. You—”


“—move me always. Whatever you wear, wherever we are.”

His eyes closed as her praise rippled through him. He took an involuntary step toward her, then jerked to a halt. The room was suddenly too small and airless; the need to divest them both of every stitch of cloth was nearly overwhelming. His craving for her grew more ferocious, clawing and biting in its desire to be appeased.

“Are you happy to see me?” she asked in a small voice.

Colin shook his head, his eyes opening because he couldn’t bear not to see her. “It kills me.”

Tenderness swept over her finely wrought features and called to something deep inside him.

“It is the yearning I sense in you that lures me.” She stepped closer, and he lifted a hand to halt her progress before she came too near. “As long as you want me, I will want you in return.”

“I would have ceased wanting you long ago,” he rasped, “if such a thing were possible.”

Her head tilted to the side as she considered him. “You lie.”

Unable to resist, he smiled at that. She was audacious still.

“You enjoy wanting me,” she said, with purely female satisfaction.

“I would enjoy having you more,” he purred.

When her gaze shot to the bed, his cock swelled to full arousal. Her tongue darted out to lick her lower lip, and a rough, edgy sound rumbled from his chest.

“Come with me,” she entreated, her gaze returning to his. “Meet my family. My sister and her husband can assist you. Whatever plagues you, they can help to resolve.”

Colin’s gut tightened. He should say no . . . He should avoid bringing any danger into her life . . .

But the possibility of having her now . . . No more waiting, no more hiding . . .

It was night, a bed was near, and they were alone. His deepest fantasy made reality.

He stepped toward her. “There is something I must tell you. Something you will find difficult to understand. Do you have time to hear me out?”

She lifted her gloved hand and extended it to him. “As much as you need.”

“What of those who came with you?”

“He is drinking below.” She smiled. “I lied, you see. I pointed out a different patron and said I suspected he was you. So Tim is occupied with watching him, while I inquired discreetly and found you. You have a unique form—so tall and broad. The maids noticed you when you came in.”

“What of your reputation, then? A young woman of obviously fine breeding making inquiries about a bachelor.”

“Once I learned where you were, I described my relief at finding my brother who is wearing dark green.”

Colin glanced down at his blue garments. Dear God, was it true? Could he have her?

She beamed with obvious pride in her cleverness.

“You have gone to a great deal of trouble to find me, Miss Benbridge.”

“Amelia,” she corrected. “And yes I have.”

He smiled. “Turn around, then, and face the door.”

Amelia frowned. “Why?”

“Because I need to approach you, and I am not certain how much of my face can be seen in this light.” When she hesitated, he said, “You pursue me. You want me. I will be yours, in every sense, but in return you must listen to me without question. Does that frighten you?”

She swallowed hard, her irises overtaken by dilated pupils. Then she shook her head.

“It excites you,” he murmured. Hot, potent lust intoxicated him, easing the relentless drive that set him on edge. He had always led the way with her. It was highly arousing to lead the way in their bedsport, as well. “Turn.”

Complying, she faced away from him, and Colin approached with a rapid stride, freed from the fear of untimely recognition. He pressed up against her, breathing in the scent of honeysuckle, placing his palms flat to the panels on either side of her head.

The vein in her throat fluttered with her increasing heartbeat, arresting his attention.

The sound of the bolt sliding home stiffened his frame and drew his gaze away.

How simple the action was, that of locking the door, but it aroused him as nothing ever had. She wanted him to take her, to strip her bare, to fuck her sweet little body until he was spent and conquered.

Though he knew it, he still wanted her to say the words aloud.

“There is no chance that you will depart this room as virginal as you entered it,” he murmured, his tongue stroking over her racing pulse.

In answer, she reached for the chair by the door and pushed back hard against him, creating a gap that allowed her to wedge the spindle back beneath the knob.

“Do you anticipate interruptions?” he asked, with laughter in his voice and heart. “Or do you simply wish to keep the world at bay?”

The thought of Amelia forsaking the world at large to be with him made his chest tight. She had promised to do so as a young girl. Would she recommit to that promise as a woman?

“You assume I wish to lock others out.” Her mouth curved in a woman’s smile. “Perhaps I wish to lock you in.”

Colin threw back his head and laughed at that, his arms banding her torso and squeezing her tightly. “Ah, love. How glad I am that you remain so spirited.”

“The threat of lovemaking is not sufficient to repress me,” she retorted.

No, but his identity might be. The thought was sobering. He inhaled sharply. “Amelia, I must share my face and past with you before we can proceed.”

The tension that gripped her was palpable. “Will it change how I feel about you?”

“Most definitely, yes.”

“Do not reveal anything.”

He blinked. “I beg your pardon?”

“Right now, in this moment, I feel as if I could not breathe without you near.” Her voice was low and earnest. “I’ve no desire to be disillusioned. Not after these last years when nothing was vital to me. It seems almost as if I walked through life wearing a veil. Only when I am with you do I see the world in all its many colors.”

Pressing his cheek to hers, he whispered, “You should place greater worth upon your virginity. I cannot take you—”

She turned her head and pressed her lips to his. The sudden rush of sensation was dizzying. Then unbearably arousing. He felt her moving, but was unable to break the contact to discover why. His tongue stroked across her lips, licking the innocently sweet flavor that was innate to her. The taste was addicting, destroying him. He was helpless to resist it. When her bare fingertips wrapped around his wrist and lifted his hand to her breast, he knew there was no fighting her. He could not simply blurt out who he was. The revelation required more tact than that.

“I can see you with my heart,” she said breathlessly, her lips moving against his. “I want to have you while I feel for you as I do at this moment—wild and hot and free. Does that make me reckless and naïve? Do you find me foolish and fast?”

With every word that left her mouth he grew harder and less controlled. Wild. Hot. Free. The combination was a potent allure for a Gypsy male. Amelia had lived outside the boundaries of Society for so long, she found it easier than most to ignore its constrictions. He suspected that contributed to their affinity. At heart, they were both desperate to run laughing through the fields without any restraints.

Colin reached around her and unfastened the jeweled brooch that secured her lace fichu. “Can I cover your eyes?” he asked in a dark voice. “Would that dampen your ardor?”

She tried to turn her head to meet his gaze, and he stopped her with a kiss. “I would not have the revelation occur during the act. I want nothing to mar our first time together. I have waited too long for it and desired it too deeply to see it ruined.”

Nodding, she held still as he twisted the expensive lace loosely, then tied it around her head in a makeshift blindfold.

“How does that feel?”


“Do not move.” Colin backed up and shed his coat. He unwound his cravat, then began to work on the carved ivory buttons of his waistcoat.

“Are you undressing?” she asked.


He watched a shiver move through her and smiled. How erotically beautiful she looked with her kiss-swollen lips and covered eyes. His to savor and enjoy. Pietro had attempted to dissuade him away from Amelia by insisting that Englishwomen lacked the fire a Gypsy man needed. Colin hadn’t believed it then; he certainly did not believe it now.

Her lovely breasts lifted and fell with her rapid breathing; her hands clenched rhythmically at her sides. She was ripe and ready, an oasis in the desert of his barren life.

Shrugging out of his waistcoat, Colin tossed it over the back of a chair and returned to her. “I want you to speak your thoughts to me. Tell me what feels good, what doesn’t. I will know if you lie. Your body will betray you.”

“Then why should I speak?”

“For your benefit.” He caressed her shoulders, then reached for the tiny row of cloth buttons that followed the line of her spine. “Speaking aloud will force you to think in minute detail about what I am doing to you. It will anchor you to the pleasure and this moment.”

“Anchor me to you.”

“Yes, that, too.” He kissed her throat. “It will empower you, be the telling of your desires. You may hesitate to touch me or wonder what is allowed or what is not allowed. But if you sense how the sounds of your pleasure in turn please me, you will know that this is a joining of two lovers playing equal parts.”

“It sounds so intimate,” she breathed.

“For us, my love, it will be.”

Chapter 9

Ware entered Christopher St. John’s study shortly after ten in the evening. The infamous pirate was pacing between the back of his desk and the window beyond that with a sort of restlessness the earl had never seen in him before. Sans coat and bearing a skewed cravat, St. John looked rumpled and anxious, which set the hairs on Ware’s nape to rising. After seeing the travel coach hitched in the front circular drive, it was apparent that a journey of some distance was planned.

“My lord,” St. John greeted absently.

“St. John.” He cut straight to the heart of the matter. “What has happened?”

Rounding the desk, the pirate moved to the nearby console and held up a decanter in silent query. Ware shook his head in the negative and sank onto one of the matching settees that sat perpendicular to the grate. He was here to collect Amelia for the evening’s social rounds. It was unlike her to leave him waiting. Her punctuality was one of the many traits he enjoyed in her.

“There is no way for me to relate the day’s events without awkwardness,” St. John began, pouring a hefty ration.

“Never mind that. I prefer bluntness to anything else.”

Nodding, St. John took the seat opposite and said, “Mrs. St. John and Miss Benbridge went into Town today. I was told they meant to spend the day shopping. I have since learned that they were hunting the masked man who has so captured Amelia’s interest.”

Ware’s brows rose. “I see.”

“By some stray chance, Count Montoya—if that truly is his name—was seen departing London. Miss Benbridge hailed a hackney and set off in pursuit. My wife followed shortly after.”

“Bloody hell.”

“Would you care for that drink now, my lord?”

The earl seriously considered it, then shook his head. “I have made some inquiries of my own regarding this matter. I had hoped Lady Langston would shed some light on the man’s identity; however, no invitation was ever issued to a Count Montoya.”