And as he sucked in his breath and groaned her name, she felt infinitely powerful.

He allowed her to explore him like this for a full minute before a rough growl came from deep in his throat, and he rolled over onto his side, taking her along with him. "Enough," he gasped. "I can't... Not another..."

Elizabeth took this as a compliment and curved her lips into a secret, sensual smile. But her thrill at having the upper hand was short-lived. For no sooner had James rolled her onto her side than he'd rolled her onto her back, and before she could draw in even one complete breath, he was straddling her body, staring down at her with raw need and a very male look of anticipation.

His fingers found the tiny buttons that marched between her breasts, and with startling dexterity and speed he undid all five. "Ah," he murmured, sliding the garment over her shoulders, "that was what we needed."

He bared the tops of her breasts, letting his fingers tickle into her cleavage before sliding her shift down lower.

Elizabeth clawed at the bedclothes to keep from covering herself. He was staring at her with such burning intensity that she felt heat and moisture pool between her legs. He remained still for nearly a minute, not even raising a single finger to caress her, just gazing down at her breasts and licking his lips as he watched her nipples peak and harden.

"Do something," she finally gasped.

“This?'' he asked softly, grazing one tip with the palm of his hand.

She didn't say a word, just fought for breath.

"This?" He moved his hand to the other side, and gently pinched her between his fore- and middle finger.

"Please," she begged.

"Ah, you must mean this," he said roughly, his words lost as he bent over and drew her into his mouth.

Elizabeth let out a little shriek. One of her hands twisted the bed sheet into a tight spiral while the other sank into James's thick hair.

"Oh, that wasn't what you wanted?" he teased. "Maybe I need to pay more attention to the other side." And then he did it again, and Elizabeth thought she surely would die if he didn't do something to release the incredible tension that was building inside her.

He tore himself from her for just long enough to pull the shift over her head, and then, while he was yanking off his belt, Elizabeth pulled the thin bed sheet over her.

"You won't be able to hide for long," he said, his voice thick with desire.

"I know." She blushed. "But it's different when you're next to me."

He eyed her curiously as he slid back into bed. “What do you mean?"

"I can't explain." She shrugged helplessly. "It's different when you can see all of me."

"Ah," he said slowly, "so does that mean I can look at you like this?" With a teasing glance, he tugged on the sheet until he bared one silky shoulder, which he proceeded to kiss lovingly.

Elizabeth squirmed and giggled.

"I see," he said, adopting an odd foreign accent just for fun. "And what about this?" He reached down and yanked the sheet off her foot, then tickled her toes.

"Stop!" she shrieked.

He turned back around to give her his most devilish look. "I had no idea you were so ticklish." He tickled her some more. "This is certainly important to know."

"Oh, stop," she gasped, "please stop. I can't bear it."

James smiled down at her with all the love in his heart.

It had been so important to him to make this first time perfect for her. He had been dreaming of it for weeks, of how he was going to show her how exquisite the love between a man and a woman could be. And if he hadn't exactly pictured himself tickling her toes, he had pictured her with a smile on her face.

Rather like right now.

"Oh, Elizabeth," he murmured, leaning down to press a gentle kiss on her mouth, "I love you so much. You must believe me."

"I believe you," she said softly, "because in your eyes, I see what I feel in my heart."

James felt his eyes go wet with tears, and he had no words to express the torrent of emotion her simple statement had unleashed. He kissed her again, this time tracing the outline of her lips with his tongue as he slid his hand down the side of her body.

He felt her stiffen with anticipation, her muscles quickening beneath his touch. But when he reached the core of her womanhood, her legs parted slightly to receive him. He toyed with her curls, and then, when he heard her breathing grow shallow and raspy, slipped in farther. She was already ready for him, thank God, because he wasn't certain he could wait another moment.

He nudged her legs farther open and settled between them. "This may hurt," he said, hearing regret in his voice. "There's no other way, but it will get better, I promise."

She nodded, and he noticed that her face had tensed up slightly at his words. Damn. Maybe he shouldn't even have warned her. He had no experience with virgins; he didn't have the slightest idea what to do to lessen her pain. All he could do was be gentle and slow—difficult as that was in the face of the most intense desire he had ever felt—and pray for the best.

"Shhhh," he crooned, smoothing his hand over her forehead. He moved forward an inch or so, until the tip of his manhood was pressed up against her. "See?" he whispered. "I'm nothing out of the ordinary."

"You're huge," she retorted.

To his utter shock, a burst of laughter escaped his lips. "Oh, my love, normally I'd take that as the highest compliment."

"And now ..." she prodded.

His fingers trailed lovingly over her temple to the line of her jaw. "Now all I want is for you not to worry."

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