Elizabeth didn't know what he meant, but her blood ran hot and fast in her veins, and she could deny him nothing. She looked up, saw the fire in his chocolate eyes, and made her decision. "Love me," she whispered. "I trust you."

James's fingers trembled as he brought them reverently to the smooth skin of her temples. Her hair was golden silk beneath his fingers, and she looked so achingly small and fragile beneath his large, suddenly awkward hands. He could break her, he realized. She was tiny and fine, and his to protect. "I'll be gentle," he whispered, barely recognizing his own voice. "I will never hurt you. Never."

She trusted him. It was a powerful, soul-changing gift.

He let his fingers trail lightly down the planes of her cheeks to the bare skin of her neck. Her costume was like nothing she'd worn before, teasing him with the hint of her bare shoulders, threatening to slip over and off with just the slightest nudge. He could hook his finger around the soft white fabric and reveal one delicate shoulder, and then the other, and then he could pull the gown ever downward, baring her—

Blood pooled in his groin. Good God, if he was growing this hard just thinking about undressing her, what the hell was going to happen when he actually had her naked and willing in his arms? How would he ever manage to make love to her with the gentleness and care she deserved?

His breath burning in his lungs, he slowly slid her gown over one shoulder, never taking his eyes off the skin he bared. She glowed in the moonlight like the rarest pearl, and when he lowered his head to nuzzle the warm, seductive curve where her neck met her shoulder, it was like coming home.

As he kissed her, his hand worked the same magic to the other side of her dress, and he heard her gasp as the fabric inched down, revealing the gentle swell of the tops of her breasts. She murmured something—he thought it might be his name—but she didn't say no, and so he undid the single button nestled between her breasts, loosening the neckline of her dress just enough to allow it to fall away.

Her hands rose up to cover herself, but he caught them in his and held them away as he leaned forward to press one feather-light kiss on her lips. "You're beautiful," he whispered, the heat of his voice entering her mouth. "So beautiful."

Still holding both her hands in one of his, he reached out and gently cupped one of her breasts, allowing it to fill his palm. She was surprisingly lush and full, and he could not stop his groan of pleasure as he felt her nipple pucker in the hollow of his palm.

He looked up at her face, needing to see her expression, needing to know that she loved his touch. Her lips were parted and glistening as if she had just wet them with her tongue. Her eyes were dazed and unfocused, and her breath was coming in tiny fast gasps.

He slid one of his hands to cup her bottom, supporting her as they sank to the ground. The grass was a soft, cool carpet beneath them, Elizabeth's hair spreading out like a priceless golden fan. James just stared at her for a moment, murmuring a soft thanks to whatever god had led him to this moment, and then he lowered his head to her breast, making love to her with his mouth.

Elizabeth let out a startled "Oh!" as his lips closed around her nipple. His breath felt hot on her breast, and her blood felt hot beneath it. Her body became utterly foreign, feeling almost as if she were growing too big for her skin. She was overcome by the need to move, to point her toes and rub the soles against the grass, to flex her hands and then sink them into his thick brown hair.

She arched her back beneath him, consumed by some passionate devil urging her to reach for whatever it was he was offering. "James," she gasped, and then she whispered it again. His name was the only word that came to her lips, and it sounded like a plea and a prayer.

Her dress had been pulled down as far as it could go, and so one of his hands moved to her leg, stealing over her calf before sliding up to the outside of her knee. And then, so slowly she ached from the anticipation, his hand slid over her knee to squeeze the soft skin of her lower thigh.

His name passed over her lips again, but his mouth was on hers, and so her words were lost in his kiss. His hand traveled farther along her leg, moving to the softer skin of her inner thigh. She stiffened, sensing that she was nearing the edge of something, traveling to some secret place from which there was no return.

James lifted his head to look at her. She had to blink several times before she could even focus on his beloved features, and then, a rakish smile adorning his lips, he asked, "More?"

Heaven help her, she nodded, and she saw his smile widen just before his mouth lowered to the underside of her chin, nudging it up until his lips could explore the entire expanse of her neck.

And then his hand moved higher.

He was nearly at the top of her thigh now, so close to the very core of her privacy and womanhood. The proximity was unnerving, and her legs began to tremble in anticipation.

"Trust me," he whispered. "Just trust me. I'll make this good for you. I promise."

Her trembling didn't stop, but her legs parted slightly, allowing him to settle his body between her thighs. She hadn't realized until that moment that he had been holding himself away from her, using his powerful arms to support his weight.

But all of that changed as he lowered his body onto hers. The weight of him was thrilling, the length, the heat. He was so much larger than she; she'd never understood the full extent of his power and strength until it was pressed up so intimately against her.

His hand spanned the entire breadth of her thigh, his thumb coming dangerously close to the curls shielding her womanhood. He squeezed, he teased.

And then he touched her.

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