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Evie ducked her head a little as she considered her reply. It was well-known among the servants that she and Sebastian had maintained separate bedrooms even before the illness. They had yet to share a bed together for a night. Although she was not quite certain how to brooch the subject to Sebastian, she knew that after all that had transpired, she did not want to play games with him any longer. Life was too uncertain to waste time. There was no guarantee that Sebastian would be faithful to her. She had nothing but hope—and the instinct that although the man she had initially married was not deserving of such faith, the man he was becoming just might be.

“I don’t think so,” she said to the maid, continuing to draw the brush through her hair. “I will stay in this room tonight, Frannie.”

“Yes, milady. If ye wish I’ll—”

Frannie broke off, the thought forever going unfinished, as they both became aware of Sebastian’s tall form entering the room. He stopped just inside the doorway, resting his back against the wall as he silently contemplated his wife. Despite the warmth of the fire, gooseflesh rose all over Evie’s body, and an erotic shiver chased down her spine.

Sebastian’s posture was relaxed, his collar open, his black necktie hanging loose. The hearth light danced over his elegant form and cast a golden glow over features that might have belonged to some ancient god of idolatry. Even though he had not yet regained his full vigor, he radiated a dangerous male potency that made her knees weak. It didn’t help that he remained utterly silent, his glinting gaze slipping over her with unnerving slowness. Helplessly recalling the feel of his satiny skin beneath her fingers, and the hard muscles beneath his loosely tailored clothes, Evie colored.

Frannie hastily gathered up Evie’s discarded gown and hurried from the room.

Sebastian continued to watch Evie as she set aside the brush and stood with an inarticulate murmur. Pushing away from the wall, he came to her, his fingertips coming to her upper arms and tracing over them through the thickness of the robe. Evie’s heart began to pound, and her skin tingled beneath the layers of velvet and silk. She closed her eyes as he eased her closer, and his lips touched her eyebrow, her temple, the crest of her cheek. Such light caresses, while his intense arousal—and her own—seemed to enfold them in a burning mist. They stood together for a long time, barely touching, simply feeling each other’s nearness.

“Evie…” His whisper stirred the tiny wisps at her hairline. “I want to make love to you.”

Her blood turned to boiling honey. Eventually she managed a stammering reply. “I-I thought y-you never called it that.”

His hands lifted to her face, his fingertips exploring delicately. She remained docile beneath his caress while the scent of his skin, fresh and clove-like, drugged her like some narcotic incense.

Reaching to his own throat, Sebastian fumbled beneath his shirt and extracted the wedding band on the fine chain. He tugged it, breaking the fragile links, and let the chain drop to the floor. Evie’s breathing hastened as he reached for her left hand and slid the gold band onto her fourth finger. Their hands matched together, palm to palm, wrist to wrist, just as they had been bound during their wedding ceremony. His forehead lowered to hers, and he whispered, “I want to fill every part of you…breathe the air from your lungs…leave my handprints on your soul. I want to give you more pleasure than you can bear. I want to make love to you, Evie, as I have never done with anyone before.”

She was now trembling so violently that she could hardly stand. “Your w-wound—we have to be careful—”

“You let me worry about that.” His mouth took hers in a soft, smoldering kiss. Releasing her hand, he gathered her body closer, applying explicit pressure against her shoulders, back, hips, until she was molded completely against him. Evie wanted him with a desperation that almost frightened her. She tried to catch his gently shifting mouth with her own, and pulled at his clothes with a fumbling urgency that made him laugh softly. “Slowly,” he murmured. “The night is just beginning…and I’m going to love you for a long time.”

Evie, whose legs were wobbling, tugged harder at his coat. “I can’t st-stand up much longer,” she said plaintively.

She saw the flash of his grin as he shrugged out of his coat, and heard the passion-roughened timbre in his voice as he said, “Go lie on the bed, love.”

Evie obeyed gratefully, crawling onto the mattress and half reclining as she watched him shed the rest of his clothes. The sight of the white bandage crossing the hard musculature of his stomach reminded her of how close she had come to losing him. She felt her face tighten with emotion. He was so infinitely dear to her…the prospect of sharing this night with him filled her with a happiness that felt like anguish. His weight depressed the bed, and she rolled to face him, their bodies separated only by the dressing-gown. She reached up to touch the dark blond fleece on his chest, her fingertips sinking through the coarse curls to the hard flesh beneath.

His mouth stroked over her face, his breath rushing across her skin in hot drifts that made her quiver. “Evie…during the past few days I’ve had nothing to do but lie in this bed and think about things that I’ve spent my entire life trying to avoid. I once told you that I wasn’t meant for a wife and family. That I wouldn’t have any interest in a child, if you…” He hesitated for a long moment. “But…the truth is…I want you to have my baby. I didn’t know how much, until I thought that I would never have the opportunity. I thought—” He broke off, a self-mocking smile touching his lips. “Damn it. I don’t know how to be a husband, or a father. But since your standards in both areas seem to be relatively low, I may have half a chance at pleasing you.” He grinned at her mock frown, then sobered. “There are many ways I can prevent you from conceiving. But if or when you ever decide that you’re ready, I want you to tell me—”

Evie stopped him with her mouth. In the blazing minutes that followed, no further words were possible. She felt herself slide into a bewilderment of pleasure, reaching an intersection of emotion and lust that seemed to dilate her senses until every sound, touch, taste, became painfully magnified.

Sebastian teased the sides of the robe away from her pale body and caressed her exposed br**sts with strokes as light as the wings of a plume moth. Her ni**les swelled and tightened, aching for his touch, and when he finally drew a hard peak into the velvety heat of his mouth, she moaned with relief. He used only the tip of his tongue at first, plying her with a delicacy that made her writhe upward with an incoherent plea. Gradually he gave her more, flicking, sucking, until she felt a corresponding throb in her loins with every tug.

The velvet robe suddenly felt oppressive to her oversensitive flesh, and Evie fought to be free of it, tugging at the swaths of clinging fabric with frustration. Murmuring gently, Sebastian reached to help her, pulling the sleeves from her arms, stripping the garment away from her back and hips. A gasp of relief escaped her lips, and she arched against him, wrapping her arms around his bare shoulders. His gentle hands eased over her body, coaxing thrills from her susceptible nerves. She couldn’t think or speak, could only respond helplessly as Sebastian stroked and arranged her limbs in ever-more revealing positions, while his mouth coursed slowly over her skin.

Inquisitive masculine fingers slipped between her thighs to find the elixir from her aroused flesh. Evie blushed and moaned as he spread the moisture in erotic circles, his fingertips dipping playfully into the entrance of her body. “Sebastian…please, I can’t wait any longer, I—” She broke off as she felt him turning her away, tucking her h*ps back against him so that they lay curved together on their sides. His arms closed around her, making her feel safe and protected, even as he reached down and parted her thighs with a soothing hand.

Evie stirred in confusion as she felt the pressure of his sex and realized he was entering her from behind. Gasping, she turned her face into the muscular arm that was wedged beneath her neck.

“Easy,” Sebastian whispered, smoothing the locks of hair away from her ear and throat, kissing her exposed skin. “Let me love you this way, sweetheart.” His caressing fingers cupped her, kneading gently until she relaxed. He teased her with the head of his sex, barely penetrating her, then withdrawing just as she thought he would enter her fully. She began to rock against him, her h*ps pressing backward. By the time he slid all the way inside her, she was groaning loudly. As their position did not allow for a broad range of motion, he thrust in deep-seated nudges, while she arched in frantic encouragement.

His quiet laughter riffled through her curls. “You’re too impatient, love,” he whispered. “Don’t struggle for it…let the pleasure come to you. Here, rest against me…” Reaching for her top thigh, he pulled it across his knees so that her legs were spread wide, her h*ps partially supported by his. Evie whimpered as she felt him slide even deeper, while his fingers stroked in rhythmic counterpoint to the prodding of his shaft.

Driven beyond sanity, Evie drew tight in every muscle, waiting as he built her pleasure at a leisurely pace. He took her to the edge and then retreated, then drove her closer, closer, making her wait, and wait, until at last he let her come in a series of convulsions that made the bed shake.

Sebastian was still hard as he withdrew from her. His tousled hair glittered like pagan gold as he pressed her to her back and dragged his open mouth over her flat stomach. Evie shook her head with groggy denial even as he bent her knees and pushed them upward. “Too tired,” she said thickly, “I—wait, Sebastian—”

His tongue searched her salty-damp flesh with assuaging licks, persisting until her protests died away. The gentle ministrations of his mouth lulled her into peace, her heartbeat slowing to measured beats. After long, patient minutes, he drew the swollen bud of her clitoris in his mouth and began to suck and nibble. She jerked at the delicate aggression of his mouth. He drove her higher, his tongue flicking and swirling in a deliberate pattern, his arms clamping around her thighs. It seemed her body was no longer her own, that she existed only to receive this torment of pleasure. Sebastian…she could not voice his name, and yet he seemed to hear her silent plea, and in response he did something with his mouth that launched her into a series of incandescent cl**axes. Every time she thought it was over, another ripple of sensation went through her until she was so exhausted that she begged him to stop.

Sebastian rose over her, his eyes glittering in his shadowed face. She moved to welcome him, opening her legs, sliding her arms around the powerful length of his back. He nudged inside her swollen flesh, filling her completely. As his mouth came to her ear, she could hardly hear his whisper over the thumping of her heart.

“Evie,” came his dark voice, “I want something from you…I want you to come one more time.”

“No,” she said weakly.

“Yes. I need to feel you come around me.”

Her head rolled in a slow, negative shake across the pillow. “I can’t…I can’t…”

“Yes, you can. I’ll help you.” His hand drifted along her body to the place where they were joined. “Let me deeper inside you…deeper…”

She moaned helplessly as she felt his fingertips on her sex, skillfully manipulating her spent nerves. Suddenly she felt him sliding even farther as her excited body opened to accept him. “Mmm…” he crooned. “Yes, that’s it…ah, love, you’re so sweet…”

He settled between her bent knees, into the cradle of her hips, driving hard and sure inside her. She encompassed him with her arms and legs, and buried her face in his hot throat, and cried out one last time, her flesh pulsing and tightening to bring him to shattering fulfillment. He shook in her arms, and clenched his hands into the warm spill of her hair as he gave himself over to her completely, worshipping her with every part of his body and spirit.

When Evie awakened alone in the large bed, the first thing she beheld was a scattering of pale pink splashes over the snowy white linens, as if someone had spilled blush-colored wine in bed. Blinking sleepily, she propped herself up on one elbow and touched one of the pink dabs with a single fingertip. It was a creamy pink rose petal, pulled free of a blossom and gently dropped to the sheet. Gazing around her, she discovered that rose petals had been sprinkled over her in a light rain. A smile curved her lips, and she lay back into the fragrant bed.

The night of heady sensuality seemed to have been part of some prolonged erotic dream. She could hardly believe the things that she had allowed Sebastian to do, the intimacies that she had never imagined were possible. And in the drowsy aftermath of their passion, he had cradled her against his chest and they had talked for what seemed to be hours. She had even told him the story of the night when she and Annabelle and the Bowman sisters had become friends, sitting in a row of chairs at a ball. “We made up a list of potential suitors and wrote it on our empty dance cards,” Evie had told him. “Lord Westcliff was at the top of the list, of course. But you were at the bottom, because you were obviously not the marrying kind.”

Sebastian had laughed huskily, tangling his bare legs intimately with hers. “I was waiting for you to ask me.”

“You never spared me a glance,” Evie had replied wryly. “You weren’t the sort of man to dance with wallflowers.”

Sebastian had smoothed her hair, and was silent for a moment. “No, I wasn’t,” he had admitted. “I was a fool not to have noticed you. If I had bothered to spend just five minutes in your company, you’d never have escaped me.” He had proceeded to seduce her as if she were still a virginal wallflower, coaxing her to let him make love to her by slow degrees, until he was finally sheathed in her trembling body.

Remembering the hours of searing tenderness, Evie dreamily performed her morning ablutions and dressed in a gown of silk-lined wool. She went downstairs to find Sebastian, who was most likely in the club office, poring over the previous evening’s receipts. The club was empty save for the employees who were cleaning it for the coming evening, and the contractors who were busy laying new carpet and painting woodwork.

Entering the office, Evie found Sebastian and Cam on opposite sides of the desk. They both mulled over account ledgers, scratching out some entries with freshly inked pens, and making notations beside the long columns. Both men looked up as she crossed the threshold. Evie met Sebastian’s gaze only briefly; she found it hard to maintain her composure around him after the intimacy of the previous night. He paused in mid-sentence as he stared at her, seeming to forget what he had been saying to Cam. It seemed that neither of them was yet comfortable with feelings that were still too new and powerful. Murmuring good morning to them both, she bid them to remain seated, and she went to stand beside Sebastian’s chair.

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