With one last nip, he released her breast and brought his face back up to hers. His breathing was ragged, his muscles tense.

“Touch me,” he said hoarsely.

Her lips parted, and her eyes found his.

“Anywhere,” he begged.

It was only then that Lucy realized that her hands were at her sides, gripping the sheets as if they could keep her sane. “I’m sorry,” she said, and then, amazingly, she began to laugh.

One side of his mouth curved up. “We’re going to have to break you of that habit,” he murmured.

She brought her hands to his back, lightly exploring his skin. “You don’t want me to apologize?” she asked. When he joked, when he teased-it made her comfortable. It made her bold.

“Not for this,” he groaned.

She rubbed her feet against his calves. “Ever?”

And then his hands started doing unspeakable things. “Do you want me to apologize?”

“No,” she gasped. He was touching her intimately, in ways she didn’t know she could be touched. It should have been the most awful thing in the world, but it wasn’t. It made her stretch, arch, squirm. She had no idea what it was she was feeling-she couldn’t have described it with Shakespeare himself at her disposal.

But she wanted more. It was her only thought, the only thing she knew.

Gregory was leading her somewhere. She felt pulled, taken, transported.

And she wanted it all.

“Please,” she begged, the word slipping unbidden from her lips. “Please…”

But Gregory, too, was beyond words. He said her name. Over and over he said it, as if his lips had lost the memory of anything else.

“Lucy,” he whispered, his mouth moving to the hollow between her breasts.

“Lucy,” he moaned, slipping one finger inside of her.

And then he gasped it. “Lucy!”

She had touched him. Softly, tentatively.

But it was she. It was her hand, her caress, and it felt as if he’d been set on fire.

“I’m sorry,” she said, yanking her hand away.

“Don’t apologize,” he ground out, not because he was angry but because he could barely speak. He found her hand and dragged it back. “This is how much I want you,” he said, wrapping her around him. “With everything I have, everything I am.”

His nose was barely an inch from hers. Their breath mingled, and their eyes…

It was like they were one.

“I love you,” he murmured, moving into position. Her hand slid away, then moved to his back.

“I love you, too,” she whispered, and then her eyes widened, as if she were stunned that she’d said it.

But he didn’t care. It didn’t matter if she’d meant to tell him or not. She’d said it, and she could never take it back. She was his.

And he was hers. As he held himself still, pressing ever so softly at her entrance, he realized that he was at the edge of a precipice. His life was now one of two parts: before and after.

He would never love another woman again.

He could never love another woman again.

Not after this. Not as long as Lucy walked the same earth. There could be no one else.

It was terrifying, this precipice. Terrifying, and thrilling, and-

He jumped.

She let out a little gasp as he pushed forward, but when he looked down at her, she did not seem to be in pain. Her head was thrown back, and each breath was accompanied by a little moan, as if she could not quite keep her desire inside.

Her legs wrapped around his, feet running down the length of his calves. And her hips were arching, pressing, begging him to continue.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” he said, every muscle in his body straining to move forward. He had never wanted anything the way he wanted her in that moment. And yet he had never felt less greedy. This had to be for her. He could not hurt her.

“You’re not,” she groaned, and then he couldn’t help himself. He captured her breast in his mouth as he pushed through her final barrier, embedding himself fully within her.

If she’d felt pain, she didn’t care. She let out a quiet shriek of pleasure, and her hands grabbed wildly at his head. She writhed beneath him, and when he attempted to move to her other breast, her fingers grew merciless, holding him in place with a ferocious intensity.

And all the while, his body claiming her, moving in a rhythm that was beyond thought or control.

“Lucy Lucy Lucy,” he moaned, finally tearing himself away from her breast. It was too hard. It was too much. He needed room to breathe, to gasp, to suck in the air that never quite seemed to make it to his lungs.

“Lucy!”

He should wait. He was trying to wait. But she was grabbing at him, digging her nails into his shoulders, and her body was arching off the bed with enough strength to lift him as well.

And then he felt her. Tensing, squeezing, shuddering around him, and he let go.

He let go, and the world quite simply exploded.

“I love you,” he gasped as he collapsed atop her. He’d thought himself beyond words, but there they were.

They were his companion now. Three little words.

I love you.

He would never be without them.

And that was a splendid thing.

Twenty

In which Our Hero has a very bad morning.

Sometime later, after sleep, and then more passion, and then not quite sleep, but a peaceful quiet and stillness, and then more passion-because they just could not help themselves-it was time for Gregory to go.

It was the most difficult thing he had ever done, and yet he was still able to do it with joy in his heart because he knew that this was not the end. It was not even goodbye; it was nothing so permanent as that. But the hour was growing dangerous. Dawn would arrive shortly, and while he had every intention of marrying Lucy as soon as he could manage it, he would not put her through the shame of being caught in bed with him on the morning of her wedding to another man.

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