Elizabeth was completely unprepared for the bolt of pure electricity that shot up her spine. She'd never known she could feel so hot, so tingly, so desperate for the touch of another human being.

His fingers tickled her until she was certain she could take no more, and then he did it some more. His hot breath teased her ear until she was certain it would burn right off, and then he kept on whispering—words of love and words of passion. Every time she was certain she had reached her limit, he lifted her higher, rushing her to a new level of passion.

She tore at the grass, afraid that if she wrapped her arms around James she'd rend his shirt in two. But then, as his finger slid into her, he whispered, "Touch me."

Tentatively, afraid of her own passion, she brought her hands to the collar of his shirt. The top button was undone; the second quickly slipped through its loophole in her haste to touch his skin.

"My God, Elizabeth," he gasped. "You kill me."

She stopped, her eyes flying to his.

"No," he said, laughing despite himself. "That's good."

"Are you sure? Because— Ohhhhhhhhh!"

She had no idea what he did, how exactly he moved his fingers, but the pressure that had been building within her suddenly exploded. Her body tensed, then arched, then shook, and when she finally shuddered to the ground, she was certain she must be in a thousand pieces.

"Oh, James," she sighed. "You make me feel so good inside."

His body was still hard as a rock, and he was tense with desire that he knew must go unfulfilled that night. His arms began to quiver under the weight of his body, so he rolled onto his side, fitting himself alongside her on the grass. He propped his head up on one elbow, taking in the exquisite sight of her face. Her eyes were closed, her lips parted, and he was certain he'd never seen anything quite as beautiful in his life.

"There is so much I need to tell you," he whispered, smoothing her hair away from his forehead.

Elizabeth's eyes fluttered open. "What?"

"Tomorrow," he promised, gently drawing up her bodice. It seemed a shame to cover such perfect beauty, but he knew she was still self-conscious about her nakedness. Or at least she would be, once she remembered that she was naked.

She blushed, proving his theory that, in the aftermath of passion, she had forgotten her undressed state. “Why can't you tell me tonight?" she asked.

It was a good question. It was on the tip of his tongue to blurt out his true identity and ask her to marry him, but something was holding him back. He was only going to propose marriage once in his life, and he wanted it to be perfect. He had never dreamed he'd find a woman who so totally captured his soul. She deserved roses and diamonds, and him on bended knee.

And he felt he owed it to Agatha to tell her that he was ending his charade before he actually ended it.

"Tomorrow," he promised again. "Tomorrow."

That seemed to satisfy her, for she sighed and sat up. "I suppose we must be getting back."

He shrugged and grinned. "I have no pressing appointments."

That earned him a friendly scowl. “Yes, but I am expected. Lady Danbury spent all week nagging me to attend her masquerade. If I do not make an appearance, I will never hear the end of it." She shot him a wry, sideways sort of look. "She is so close to driving me mad as it is. An endless lecture about my not attending is likely to send me right over the edge."

"Yes," James murmured, "she is rather handy with guilt."

"Why don't you come with me?" Elizabeth asked.

The very worst of ideas. Any number of people might recognize him. "I'd love to," he lied, "but I cannot."


"Er, I'm quite dusty from the road, and—"

"We'll brush you off."

"I have no costume."

"Bah! Half the men refuse to wear costumes. I'm certain we can find you a mask."

In desperation, he blurted out, "I simply cannot mix among people in my current state."

That caused her to snap her mouth shut on whatever reply she'd been forming. After several seconds of awkward silence, she finally asked, "What state do you mean?''

James groaned. Had no one explained the workings of men and women to her? Probably not. Her mother had died when she was only eighteen, and he found it difficult to imagine his aunt taking on the delicate task. He looked over at Elizabeth. Her eyes were expectant. "I don't suppose you'll let me tell you that I'd like to jump in a lake and leave it at that," he said.

She shook her head.

"I didn't think so," he muttered.

"You didn't... ah ..."

He jumped on her words. "Exactly! I didn't."

"The problem," she said, not meeting his eyes, "is that I'm not precisely certain what you didn't do."

"I'll show you later," he promised. "God help me, if I don't show you later, I'll be dead before the month is out."

"A whole month?"

A month? Was he insane? He was going to have to get a special license. "A week. Definitely a week."

"I see."

"No, you don't. But you will."

Elizabeth coughed and blushed. "Whatever it is you're talking about," she mumbled, "I have a feeling it's rather naughty."

He lifted her hand to his lips. "You're still a virgin, Elizabeth. And I'm frustrated as hell."

"Oh! I..." She smiled sheepishly. "Thank you."

"I'd tell you it was no trouble at all," he said, taking her arm, "except that would be a blatant lie."


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