He loved her.

He wanted her.

He needed her.

And he needed her now.

He’d spent his life being a perfect gentleman. He’d never been a flirt. He’d never been a rogue. He hated being the center of attention, but by God, he wanted to be the center of her attention. He wanted to do the wrong thing, the bad thing. He wanted to pull her into his arms and carry her to her bed. He wanted to peel every last inch of her clothing from her body, and then he wanted to worship her. He wanted to show her all the things he wasn’t sure he knew how to say.

“Honoria,” he said, because he could at least say her name. And maybe she’d hear what he felt in his voice.

“I . . . I . . .” She touched his cheek, her eyes moving searchingly across his face. Her lips were parted, just enough so that he could see the pink tip of her tongue darting out to moisten them.

And then he couldn’t bear it. He had to kiss her again. He needed to hold her, to feel her body pressed against his. If she’d said no, if she’d shaken her head or made any indication that she didn’t want this, he would have turned and walked out of the room.

But she didn’t. She just stared at him, her eyes wide and full of wonder, and so he pulled her forward, wrapped his arms around her, and kissed her again, this time allowing himself to let go of the last thread of restraint he’d been holding so tightly.

He pulled her against him, reveling in the curves and hollows of her body. She let out a little moan – of pleasure? of desire? – and it set the flame within him ablaze.

“Honoria,” he moaned, his hands moving frantically along her back, down to the delicious curve of her bottom. He squeezed, and then he pressed, forcing the gentle softness of her belly against his arousal. She let out a little gasp of surprise at the contact, but he didn’t have it in him to pull away and explain. She was an innocent, he knew that, and she probably had no idea what it meant when his body reacted like this.

He should go more slowly, guide her through this, but he couldn’t. There were limits to a man’s control, and he had passed his the moment she’d reached out and touched his cheek.

She was soft and pliant in his embrace, her untutored mouth eagerly returning his kisses, and he swept her up into his arms, carrying her swiftly to the bed. He laid her down with as much tenderness as he could manage, and then, still fully clothed, he came down atop her, nearly exploding at the sensation of her body beneath his.

Her gown had those little puffed sleeves that ladies seemed to prefer, and Marcus soon found that they settled against her skin rather loosely when she was lying down. His fingers found the edge and slid underneath, baring one of her milky shoulders.

With a ragged breath he drew back and looked down at her. “Honoria,” he said, and if he hadn’t been wound so tightly, he might have laughed. Her name was the only sound he seemed to be able to make.

Maybe it was the only word that mattered.

She looked up at him, her lips full and swollen with intimacy. She was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen, her eyes glowing with desire, her chest rising and falling with each quickening breath.

“Honoria,” he said again, and this time it was a question, or maybe a plea. He sat up to pull off his coat and shirt. He needed the feel of the air on his skin; he needed the feel of her on his skin. When his clothing hit the floor, she reached up and touched him, laying one soft hand on his chest. She whispered his name, and he was undone.

Honoria wasn’t sure when she’d made her decision to give herself to him. Maybe it was when he had said her name, and she’d reached out and touched his cheek. Or maybe it was when he’d looked at her, his eyes hot and hungry, and said, “I burn for you.”

But she had a feeling it was the moment he’d burst into the room. Right then, something within her had known that this would happen, that if he did anything to indicate that he loved her, or even just that he wanted her, she would be lost. She’d been sitting on her bed, trying to figure out how the evening had gone so inexplicably awry, and then all of a sudden he was there, as if she’d conjured him.

They had argued, and if anyone had been there to ask, she would have insisted that her only aim had been to boot him from the room and bar the door, but deep within, something inside of her was beginning to kindle and glow. They were in her room. She was on her bed. And the intimacy of the moment was overwhelming.

And so when he closed the distance between them and said, “I burn for you,” she could no more deny her desire than she could her own breath. When he laid her back upon the bed, she could only think that this was where she belonged, and he belonged there with her.

He was hers. It was as simple as that.

He pulled off his shirt, baring his firmly muscled chest. She’d seen it before, of course, but not like this. Not with him looming over her, his eyes full of a primitive need to claim her.

And she wanted that. Oh, how she wanted it. If he was hers, then she would gladly be his. Forever.

She reached out and touched him, marveling in the heat of his body. She could feel his heart leap within him, and she heard herself whisper his name. He was so handsome, so serious, and so . . . good.

He was good. He was a good man, with a good heart. And dear God, whatever it was he was doing with his lips at the base of her neck . . . he was very good at that, too.

She’d kicked off her slippers before he’d even arrived in her room, and with her stockinged feet, she ran her toes along his –

She burst out laughing.

Marcus drew back. His eyes were questioning but also very, very amused.