He chose to speak of his livelihood and the dangerous work he had done for the Crown of England. He shared how he’d traveled the length and breadth of the Continent, never having a true home or family, until the day he sought to resign and was instead embroiled in a life-threatening intrigue.

“That is why I attempted to maintain my distance from you,” he said. “I did not want to taint your life with my mistakes.”

“Is that how your face was scarred?” she asked, her fingertips lightly following the edge of the mask where it touched his skin.

He went rigid. “Beg your pardon?”

Instantly contrite for having distressed him, Amelia rushed to say, “I can understand your fear, but your disfigurement will not alter my affection for you.”

“Amelia . . .” He seemed at a loss for words.

The conversation had died then, and they had simply clung to each other as Montoya fell asleep. She remained awake, her mind shifting through a multitude of thoughts. She planned what to say to Ware and Maria and mentally rehearsed how she would ask St. John for his assistance. She catalogued the various aches and pains that heralded her new awareness as a woman and speculated on how her relationship with Montoya would proceed once they were freed from all the unknowns that plagued them. She also wondered at her outrageous behavior of the last week and what it meant.

Only Maria truly understood what a monster Lord Welton was. That his blood ran through Amelia’s veins made her ill at times. Externally, she was clearly his issue. Was she also like her father in ways she could not see? It was terrifying to realize that everything she had done these last few days had been selfishly motivated. She had disregarded the feelings and concerns of those who cared for her—Ware, Maria, and St. John—in favor of her desire to be with Montoya. Was she truly her father’s daughter?

Amelia gazed into the licking flames and thought of the mask, ruminating about the man beneath it. The urge to peek beneath the guise was pressing. She tried to excuse the action with the reasoning that it was the mystery of his identity that had goaded her to act so rashly, not a defect in her character.

But what if Montoya was a light sleeper? What if he caught her and became angry? She dreaded the thought of exchanging furious words.

Perhaps she could test the depth of his slumber in some way . . . ?

Her hand lifted from the hard expanse of his abdomen, and her fingertips ran lightly along his thigh. The muscle twitched, but he made no other movement. Amelia tried again, caressing him with deeper pressure. This time, he moved not at all.

She became hopeful. He had loved her long and well, and extended journeys were known to make many a traveler weary.

Raising her head, her gaze roamed admiringly over the sculpted beauty of his chest. The scar on his shoulder was more visible now, the room lightened considerably by the fire Montoya had stoked into a hearty blaze to banish the pervasive chill. She studied the bullet hole with sympathy, guessing by the size and many radiating lines that it had been a nasty wound.

She kissed the evidence of injury, her lips brushing featherlight over the damaged flesh. The tempo of his breathing changed, and his nipples tightened while she watched in awe.

How fascinating the human body was. Tonight she had learned so much about her own. Amelia felt the sudden urge to know everything about his.

With the memories of his lovemaking still fresh and burning in her mind, she extended her tongue and licked across the tiny bead of darkened flesh. His skin was salty, the texture firmer than hers. She loved it, as she was beginning to love all of him.

Mimicking his earlier ministrations to her breasts, Amelia wrapped her lips around his nipple and sucked gently. He stirred, but not in the way she had anticipated.

Her thigh was draped over his, her knee bent and leg raised. As his cock swelled, she felt it, and she turned her head to see the thickening outline of his erection beneath the bedclothes. Her blood heated and began to move sluggishly. More surprising yet, her mouth watered.

She glanced at his face beneath lowered lashes. In the shadows of the eyeholes he appeared to be sleeping, with no telltale shimmer from liquid eyes to betray his cognizance.

Did she dare to explore further?

Her curiosity raging, she did not debate the question long. She slid downward, pulling the counterpane with her, eventually exposing his glorious cock to her avid gaze.

“You play with fire, love.”

Montoya’s voice startled her. She looked up at him and found him watching her with slumberous, burning eyes.

“How long have you been awake?” she asked.

“I’ve yet to fall asleep.” His wicked mouth curved, revealing his dimple.

“Why did you keep your silence?”

“I wanted to see how far you would go.” His hand lifted, his fingertips catching and caressing a stray curl of her hair. “Curious kitten,” he murmured.

“Do you mind?”

“Never. Your touch is vital to me.”

Considering that permission to proceed, she returned her attention to his erection. Amelia ran one fingertip from tip to root and smiled when it jerked at her touch.

“I find it astonishing that you fit in me,” she confessed.

Remembering the rapturous feel of her cunt around his cock, Colin could not find the voice to reply. He was ferociously aroused and leashing himself by sheer will alone. When she’d begun to touch him, he had thought it by chance. Then she’d lifted her head and branded him forever with the feel of her lips upon the wound that had nearly killed him. It was the gunshot that had separated them so many years ago. The shot he’d taken while trying to save her.

Amelia slid lower still, stopping at eye level with his groin and leaving a trail of moisture along his leg. The evidence that the mere sight of his body was enough to arouse her to slickness made his bollocks tighten, forcing a perfect bead of semen to grace the tip of his cock.

His lungs seized as she eyed it hungrily. Would she be so bold?

A heartbeat later the question was answered as her tongue darted out and licked the droplet away.

Colin exhaled harshly at the whiplash of pleasure.

She studied him with narrowed eyes, a look he had come to know well over the years. It was a calculated glance, one she gave when considering how to tackle a challenge he presented. He smiled, understanding that she never sought to best him, only to equal him and be his match.

“You never answered me before,” she said, circling the base of his cock with her thumb and forefinger. “Does a woman’s mouth feel so different from her quim?”


“In what way?”

“In many ways. A cunt hugs every inch of a cock. It expands and contracts in ripples, and it is as soft as the finest silk. In contrast, a woman’s mouth hugs through suction, not design. The pad of the tongue is textured and the muscle is agile. It can stroke like a finger, which stimulates the sensitive spot”—he pointed to the place on the underside of his cockhead—“here.”

“Which do you prefer?” Her grip slid upward, then down again, making his teeth clench.

“Both have unique pleasures.”

“That is not an answer,” she murmured, caressing him again.

“It is difficult to think when you are fondling me,” he managed.

She ceased and waited impatiently for him to gather his wits.

“My preference changes with my mood. There will be occasions when I will want to lose myself in you. I will want to hold you close and feel your body moving beneath mine. I will want to suck on your nipples and feast at your mouth. I will want to watch your face as you orgasm and hold you in the aftermath.”

As he spoke he felt her grow wetter, hotter against the flesh of his leg. His voice deepened in response. “At other times, I will want to be serviced. I will want to lose myself to the pleasure in a way I cannot when I must see to your needs as well. The sight of your supplication will satisfy the primitive male in me, while my surrender to your care will be complete. I will be helpless and open, completely at your mercy.”

The smile she gave him was impish. “I should like that.”

“You might, or you might not. Many women do not. They fail to see the power in the act. They feel demeaned and used. Others simply do not like the taste of a man’s seed.”

“Hmm . . .”

He knew that hum and its portent. She wanted to know which type of woman she would be. Sadly, they had run out of time.

“We must dress you and return you safely to your room before you are seen. When the hour is appropriate to protect your reputation, we will meet and I will bare myself to you—my face and my secrets.”

“I am not finished with you,” she complained with a seductive pout that hardened him to full, raging arousal.

“It will be with exquisite pleasure that I offer myself to your sexual experimentation, love,” he said hoarsely. “But such play requires time free of interruptions. We do not have the luxury tonight.”

“You speak of our future liaisons with such surety,” Amelia said, staring at his cock and resuming her ministrations.

Colin set his hand over hers and stilled her movements. “I cannot think otherwise and advise you not to either.”

“But you have not made your intentions known.”

Fueled by heady lust and burning possessiveness, he promised, “My intention is to tear down everything that stands between us. Then I want to woo you properly, with great fanfare. I want to dazzle you with extravagance, and lay the world at your feet.” His thumb caressed the back of her hand. “Then, when every recessed corner of your heart is filled with love for me, I will wed you.”

He loved her. He could not imagine never having her, not after this night. Yet he could make her no promises with a price on his head.

Despite this, at the pinnacle of the orgasm of his life, he had pressed against her womb and emptied his seed inside her. He no longer had any time. The clock was ticking.

Colin watched her lovely face and could not guess her thoughts. “Amelia?”

She laid her cheek upon his thigh. “Do not wait until life meets some inner criteria to seize the day,” she whispered. “I have learned that sometimes tomorrow never comes.”

Her melancholy cut him, and he held his arms out to her, groaning his pleasure when she draped her nude body over his. Sexual desire simmered into the more complicated need to cling to something precious, yet unsecured.

Dawn approached, but neither was capable of releasing the other.

Chapter 12

It was a knock that woke her. At first groggy with the remnants of sleep, Maria took a moment to recognize her surroundings. Then the memories of the day before and the long, sleepless night rushed back in a deluge. She sat up abruptly, tossed back the covers, and rushed to the door.

“Christopher!” With joy, she flung herself into her husband’s arms, and he crushed her to him, lifting her feet from the floor and stepping into the room.

“How did you find me so quickly?” she asked, as he kicked the portal closed behind him.

“It would have been quicker, damn you, if you had stayed in one of my inns and not this hovel! Why the devil are you here?”

“Simon insisted.” She had tried to suggest they use one of the many homes Christopher owned across the entire length and breadth of the country. They were not grand. They were small cottages, inhabited by those who lived off pensions provided by St. John. The homes were safe, comfortable, and usually located in quiet corners where few questions were asked and fewer visitors came by. Nicknamed “inns” for both the accurate description of the service provided and also for the anonymity afforded by so generic a name, they were responsible for saving many lives.

“Damn him, too,” Christopher said. Then he took her mouth, his head tilting to fit his lips to hers.

When she was limp and breathless, he muttered, “Vexing wench. Why must you torment me by being so troublesome?”

“This is not my doing!” she protested, tossing his hat aside.

“Damned if it isn’t.” He carried her to the bed and tossed her upon it, his gaze heating at the sight of her clad in only a chemise. Shrugging out of his fawn-colored coat, he said, “If you had not indulged Amelia in her fancy, we would not be taxed with chasing her, and I would not have spent the frigid night in a carriage.”

“She would have gone alone, I know it.” Maria crawled beneath the covers.

Christopher rebuilt the fire. Then he discarded his waistcoat, removed his boots, and climbed into bed with her, wearing his breeches and shirtsleeves.

“Tell me how you found me with such haste,” she said, curling into his side.

“When Sam returned with the news of where you had gone, he mentioned Quinn. I sent men to find his lodgings, and when they discovered where he was staying, they found his valet packing. I followed him and he led me here.”

Frowning, Maria lifted her head. “How is that possible? We had no notion that we would be staying at this establishment until we chanced upon it.”

“Quinn must have known. His valet and the abigail of his French companion came directly to this place. You did say he insisted.”

“He insisted we stay near the road.” But, now that she thought of it, she remembered that it was Simon who’d begged that they take shelter at the first inn they came to just before Reading. She had protested the sorry appearance of the lodging, but he had complained of a sore arse and growling stomach.

“I do not understand.” She sat up and faced her reclining spouse. “Our meeting in the shop was unplanned, I am certain of it. Even if I were wrong about that, there was no way for Simon to know Amelia would run off as she did.”

“But, if he knew who Amelia was chasing and where the man might be headed . . .” Christopher’s words faded, leaving her to draw her own conclusions.

“He told me they were already intent on a holiday, yet you say his valet and belongings were not yet ready. Why the ruse? Why pretend to help me, when he had his own motives for following?”