St. John’s lips pursed grimly. “I am at a loss for how to view this situation. If the man meant to hurt her in some fashion or seduce her, why leave London?”

There was jealousy and possessiveness laced with all the other emotions Ware was presently experiencing, but there was also resignation. Some part of him had known that Amelia held off on marriage to him because of a need for . . . more. He had no idea what she felt was missing, but in truth their relationship could not progress any further and still end happily without first resolving that lack.

“I am surprised to find you still at home,” the earl said. “Amelia is not my wife, yet I feel a pressing need to go after her.”

The glare the pirate shot at him was cutting. “I am near maddened with the need to follow, but I have no notion of their direction. I am awaiting word.”

“Forgive me, I meant no offense. I was merely making an observation.” He considered his options, then said, “I should like to go with you, if you have no objection.”

St. John seemed ready to argue; then his scowl cleared and he nodded. “If you wish to come along, do. But your formal attire will be a burden.”

Ware stood, as did the pirate. “I will change and pack lightly. If you depart before I return, please leave a note so that I may follow.”

“Of course, my lord.” St. John offered a commiserating smile. “I must apologize to you, as well. Your courting of Amelia has done much for her. Mrs. St. John and I are both exceedingly grateful, as is Amelia.”

“St. John.” Ware laughed ruefully. “At this moment, the matter of my pride is secondary to Amelia’s safety.”

They clasped hands in a gesture of mutual respect. Then the earl hastened to depart before he was left behind. As his carriage rolled away from the St. John residence, Ware began a mental list of what to bring with him.

His small sword and pistol were among the items he catalogued. If Amelia’s honor was to be impugned, he considered it his right and duty to correct the slight.

As Colin spread open the back of Amelia’s gown, his thoughts were already rushing ahead, considering how this one night would change their lives forever. “Do you have an abigail with you?”

The blindfold might make some women more timid and hesitant. Not so with Amelia. Her voice came sure and strong. “No. I saw your carriage and gave chase.”

Warring with the primitive need to mark her as his, his heart still wanted to protect her even at great cost to himself. “There will be no way to hide that you have been ravished. In the heat of passion, our better sense deserts us. What you want now, you may regret in the morning.”

“I know my own mind,” she said stubbornly.

“You will give up Ware.” He gently withdrew one of her arms from a sleeve, then repeated the movement on the other side. “And you will belong to me.”

“I think it more likely that you will belong to me.”

Smiling, he bent at the knees and pulled her gown down with him. Amelia stepped out of the garment without urging, balancing her weight by leaning against the door. He deliberately delayed the joy of seeing her stripped from her outer garments. He took his time laying the dress over the back of a wing chair in an effort to spare it the most wrinkling.

“You are so calm,” she murmured. “So controlled. You must have many affairs.”

“This is not an affair.” He turned his head, raking her lithe body with a heated glance. Still too many garments, but he knew that he was seeing her as no other man ever had.

She set her hand on her hip, and a finely arched brow lifted above the fichu. “Perhaps I want an affair.”

“Well, you are not having one with me,” he growled, reaching her in two strides and lifting her feet from the floor. “You will not be having one ever, because no other man will come after me in your bed.”

Amelia laughed and wrapped her arms around his neck. “My . . . how delightful you are when you become possessive.”

He pressed his lips to her ear. “Wait until my cock is inside you. See how delightful my possession is then.”

“Tease,” she said breathlessly, with a slight note of anxiety. “At this rate, the sun will be rising before I am naked.”

“You do not have to be naked to be fucked,” he whispered, deliberately challenging her to revive her spirits. “I could toss up your underskirts, undo my breeches, and pin you to the door.”

“If your intent is to frighten me, you should know that I am difficult to scare.” The anxiousness was gone from her voice, banished by her impressive inner fortitude. “I have lived in the most rustic of places. I have seen all sorts of animals doing all sorts of things to each other.”

He buried his grin in her tender throat.

“Do not find amusement at my expense,” she said. “Your threat is groundless. You would not take my virginity in so callous a manner. You worship me too much.”

“So I do, Your Highness.” Setting her back on her feet, Colin dropped to his knees and kissed her feet.

As she laughed, he moved upward, sliding beneath the masses of skirts, pressing open-mouthed kisses up the length of her stocking-clad legs. Her laughter turned into a gasp, then a soft whimper.

The intimate smell of her drove him insane, and with a tentative finger, Colin tested her, gritting his teeth at finding her slick and hot. Startled by his bold caress, Amelia stumbled and fell into the door with a soft thud.

“Not while I am standing!” she protested.

Pressing a final kiss to the back of her knee, Colin crawled free and stood before her. He gently turned her, then set to work on her tapes and stays, taking the brief respite to regain his control. He focused on his breathing and hers instead of the animal need that clawed inside him.

Finally, she was left with only her chemise, a garment made of material so fine he could almost see clear through it. It was enough to drive him to madness, the far-too-vague hints of her body beneath.

“I want you to remove the rest,” he said, stepping back.


“Because it will please me.”

“It is not as easy as you intimate. I have never been naked before a man.”

“Do it, Amelia,” he ordered, near desperate to see all of her.

With no further hesitation, she reached down and removed her shoes. The hem of her chemise lifted as she reached for the ribbons that secured her stockings. His mouth watered at the sight, every movement she made erasing similar memories from his past. No other woman could compete with the innocent, unaffected fashion in which Amelia undressed. Her movements were not practiced or planned with an eye for seduction, but they aroused him unbearably, nevertheless.

Aching with lust for her, he freed the placket of his breeches and took his cock in hand. He was thick and hard, slick at the tip with wanting her. Stroking leisurely down the length, he groaned in need.

Amelia froze at the sound, unsure of what she had done to distress him. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing is wrong,” Montoya assured in a gruff voice that belied his words. “Everything is perfect.”

She listened carefully, regulating her breathing in order to take in every nuance of sound. “What are you doing? I hear you moving.”

“I am fondling my cock.”

Images filled her mind, incomplete due to her inexperience, but arousing regardless. The flesh between her legs throbbed in response, making her squeeze her thighs together in a vain effort to ease the ache. “Why?”

“Because it pains me, love. I am hard and ready for you. Harder and thicker than I have ever been.”

“Can I touch it?”

He made a choked noise, and the sounds of his movements became more pronounced. “Bare yourself first.”

Amelia finished undressing with haste, forcibly shoving aside thoughts of her imperfections. Unlike Maria, she was not lushly curved and built for a man’s pleasure. She was taller, thinner, and smaller-breasted. She was too active, enjoying riding and fencing more than card games and teas.

“Dear God,” he gasped when she dropped her chemise to the floor.

Her hands moved to cover herself, but he moved swiftly, catching her wrists. “Never hide from me.”

“I am nervous,” she retorted.

“My love . . .” He wrapped her against him, and she felt his erection between them. Smooth as silk, but hard as a rock and hot to the touch. Despite the shock of it, her body delighted in the feel and grew slicker.

“You are so beautiful, Amelia. Every inch of you. I dreamed of seeing you like this, naked and willing. How sorry those fantasies were compared to the reality.”

She pressed her forehead to his chest and said, “You are being kind.”

Montoya brought her hand to his cock and wrapped her fingers around it. “This is not how a man feels when he finds his lover inadequate.”

Amelia moved, squeezing and caressing, exploring. His breath hissed out between his teeth. “You will make me spend,” he gritted out.

“If it would please you to do so, go ahead,” she replied, wanting to give him pleasure. Wanting to satisfy him in a way that would brand him as hers.


She stilled as a big, warm hand cupped her breast. Immediately, her nipple, already tight and hard from the chill of the open air, pebbled further.

“See how you fit so perfectly within my palm,” he murmured, his hips beginning to thrust into her movements. “You were built for me, Amelia.” She whimpered as his thumb and forefinger surrounded her nipple and tugged on it, sending pangs of intense pleasure straight to her womb. Everything tightened and coiled, making her move restlessly.

“And how quickly you respond to me.” He leaned back, and a moment later she cried out as hot, wet suction surrounded the tender peak of her breast. Her hands gripped his cock convulsively, and he growled against her skin, the vibration driving her wild.

His powerful arms banded her waist, supporting her as he pushed her backward and worshipped her breast, his tongue curling around her nipple as his cheeks hollowed with drawing pulls.

Just as he had said, every thought left her mind, leaving her a creature of lust and desire. The lack of reason bound her tighter to him. There was only one other man she had ever considered sharing herself with in this way. That Montoya was scarred and haunted had no bearing on the emotions he aroused in her.

“Tell me you love this,” he said, as he moved to her other breast. “Let it out, Amelia. Do not be silent.”

His teeth nipped the hard peak and she cried out. He began licking her, his tongue stroking with maddening leisure. It was not enough, not nearly. She began to writhe, whimpering, arching her back in an attempt to push deeper into his mouth.

“What do you need?” he asked in a dark whisper. “What do you want? Tell me, and I will give it to you.”

Desperate, she begged, “Suck it . . . please . . . I need—”

She gasped as he obliged, his lips closing around her. In her hands his cock throbbed, and a hot trickle of moisture tickled the backs of her fingers. She touched it, found its source at the tiny hole at the head. The pad of her thumb smoothed it around, and he shuddered and suckled her harder.

With her sight stolen from her, every other sense was heightened. As his skin heated, her nostrils filled with his unique scent, increasing her desire. Her sense of touch was painfully acute; even the slight rustle of the air prickled across her flesh.

“Please,” she cried, wanting more.

With one last lingering suck, Montoya straightened and pulled her up with him. Then he lifted her into his arms and moved toward the waiting bed.

Simon was in a foul mood by the time Maria’s coach pulled off the main road and into the courtyard of an inn just shy of Reading. Two of St. John’s outriders traveled on ahead, freed of the burden of the slow-moving carriages. If they were fortunate, they would return with a more solid direction or perhaps even a sighting.

The entire day had been a study in frustration. The hackney carrying Amelia had discharged her and her guard shortly after collecting them, unwilling to travel beyond the city. They had then secured another carriage and continued on. That progression of events was to be expected. What most concerned Simon were the reports of an inordinate number of French-speaking riders moving in the same direction ahead of them.

It could be nothing, or it could be Cartland.

Simon had longed to disclose the whole of the matter to Maria over dinner, but he felt a similar level of loyalty to Colin, who had risked his life for Simon on more than a few occasions. So he said nothing, holding his tongue when they parted ways to retire for the night.

In the meantime, neither he nor Lysette had any of the items required for comfortable travel. They had no change of clothes and no servants. They did not even have the proper equipage, which led him to having an aching arse and a sore back.

At least Colin had mentioned traveling to Bristol, which gave Simon an advantage. He subtly urged Maria in that general direction, while quietly sending a lone footman back to his lodgings to inform his valet of their change of plans. The servant would manage the settling of the accounts, the packing of their things, and the rounding up of Lysette’s maid and belongings.

Thinking of the Frenchwoman, his gaze moved to where she sat before the fire. By necessity, they shared a bedchamber, the size of their party enough to take up the last remaining rooms. Maria had complained mightily about the poor quality of the inn, arguing that St. John had various lackeys scattered around the area who would take them in and provide them comfortable lodging. Simon’s insistence that they remain near the road was unreasonable to her, and he appreciated the validity of the argument. However, he had no desire for Maria to realize that he had lied about the planned holiday, a ruse that would be revealed if he donned the same garments.

A soft sigh drew his attention back to Lysette. She was curled up in a wing chair, stripped to her chemise with her legs tucked up close and a blanket across her lap. Pale blonde curls were loosened from a previously stylish arrangement and left to lie carelessly against pale, creamy skin. She was reading, as she often did, devouring historical volumes of text with a voracity he found intriguing. Why such interest in the past? They had merely intended to make discreet inquiries, and she had brought a book along with her anyway.