She loved him, but did she love him enough?

“Is it his position?” he demanded. “Does it mean so much to you to be a countess?”

She waited too long before replying, and he knew she was lying when she said, “Yes.”

“I don’t believe you,” he said, and his voice sounded terrible. Wounded. Angry. He looked at his hand, blinking with surprise as he realized he was still holding the candlestick. He wanted to hurl it at the wall. Instead he set it down. His hands were not quite steady, he saw.

He looked at her. She said nothing.

“Lucy,” he begged, “just tell me. Let me help you.”

She swallowed, and he realized she was no longer looking at his face.

He took her hands in his. She tensed, but she did not pull away. Their bodies were facing each other, and he could see the ragged rise and fall of her chest.

It matched what he felt in his own.

“I love you,” he said. Because if he kept saying it, maybe it would be enough. Maybe the words would fill the room, surround her and sneak beneath her skin. Maybe she would finally realize that there were certain things that could not be denied.

“We belong together,” he said. “For eternity.”

Her eyes closed. One single, heavy blink. But when she opened them again, she looked shattered.

“Lucy,” he said, trying to put his very soul into one single word. “Lucy, tell me-”

“Please don’t say that,” she said, turning her head so that she was not quite looking at him. Her voice caught and shook. “Say anything else, but not that.”

“Why not?”

And then she whispered, “Because it’s true.”

His breath caught, and in one swift movement he pulled her to him. It was not an embrace; not quite. Their fingers were entwined, their arms bent so that their hands met between their shoulders.

He whispered her name.

Lucy’s lips parted.

He whispered it again, so soft that the words were more of a motion than a sound.

Lucy Lucy.

She held still, barely breathing. His body was so close to hers, yet not quite touching. There was heat, though, filling the space between them, swirling through her nightgown, trembling along her skin.

She tingled.

“Let me kiss you,” he whispered. “One more time. Let me kiss you one more time, and if you tell me to go, I swear that I will.”

Lucy could feel herself slipping, sliding into need, falling into a hazy place of love and desire where right was not quite so identifiable from wrong.

She loved him. She loved him so much, and he could not be hers. Her heart was racing, her breath was shaking, and all she could think was that she would never feel this way again. No one would ever look at her the way Gregory was, right at that very moment. In less than a day she was to marry a man who wouldn’t even wish to kiss her.

She would never feel this strange curling in the core of her womanhood, the fluttering in her belly. This was the last time she’d stare at someone’s lips and ache for them to touch hers.

Dear God, she wanted him. She wanted this. Before it was too late.

And he loved her. He loved her. He’d said it, and even though she couldn’t quite believe it, she believed him.

She licked her lips.

“Lucy,” he whispered, her name a question, a statement, and a plea-all in one.

She nodded. And then, because she knew she could not lie to herself or to him, she said the words.

“Kiss me.”

There would be no pretending later, no claiming she had been swept away by passion, stripped of her ability to think. The decision was hers. And she’d made it.

For a moment Gregory did not move, but she knew that he heard her. His breath sucked raggedly into him, and his eyes turned positively liquid as he gazed at her. “Lucy,” he said, his voice husky and deep and rough and a hundred other things that turned her bones to milk.

His lips found the hollow where her jaw met her neck. “Lucy,” he murmured.

She wanted to say something in return, but she could not. It had taken all she had just to ask for his kiss.

“I love you,” he whispered, trailing the words along her neck to her collarbone. “I love you. I love you.”

They were the most painful, wonderful, horrible, magnificent words he could have said. She wanted to cry-with happiness and sorrow.

Pleasure and pain.

And she understood-for the first time in her life-she understood the prickly joy of complete selfishness. She shouldn’t be doing this. She knew she shouldn’t, and she knew he probably thought that this meant that she would find a way out of her commitment to Haselby.

She was lying to him. As surely as if she’d said the words.

But she could not help herself.

This was her moment. Her one moment to hold bliss in her hands. And it would have to last a lifetime.

Emboldened by the fire within her, she pressed her hands roughly to his cheeks, pulling his mouth against hers for a torrid kiss. She had no idea what she was doing-she was sure there must be rules to all this, but she did not care. She just wanted to kiss him. She couldn’t stop herself.

One of his hands moved to her hips, burning through the thin fabric of her nightgown. Then it stole around to her bottom, squeezing and cupping, and there was no more space between them. She felt herself sliding down, and then they were on the bed, and she was on her back, his body pressed against hers, the heat and the weight of it exquisitely male.

She felt like a woman.

She felt like a goddess.

She felt like she could wrap herself around him and never let go.

“Gregory,” she whispered, finding her voice as she twined her fingers in his hair.


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