Page 32

Donald starts to bow.

“Nooo . . .” I warn, because a bow will draw attention. “Don’t.”

He holds still, the toothpick dropping out of his mouth.

Lenora looks to me, at a bit of a loss.

“Say hello, love. You’re terrifying the man.”

She waves at him with her fingers. “Hello, Donald. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance. You have a very . . . colorful establishment here.”

And the three-hundred-pound, six-foot-five man . . . just stares. I wave my hand in front of his face. He doesn’t even blink. Lenny’s bewitched him.

“All right then.” I catch Donald’s wife’s eyes. “Two pints, please, Mary. And a lifetime of secrecy.”

That snaps Donald out of the trance. He pours us two Guinnesses and slides them across the bar to me. Then he looks Lenny in the eyes.

“Come by anytime you like, Your . . . uh . . . Ma’am. Enjoy a drink or a dance—what you do and say here will never leave this room.” He taps the bar. “You have the word of Donald Macalister on that.”

With my hand on her lower back, I guide Lenny to a table in the back corner. She takes a sip from her mug and a line of foam clings to her upper lip. I want to lick it off. But she beats me to it, swiping it with her tongue.

“Still feeling naked?” I ask.

“No.” She smiles, glancing around. “It’s . . . nice. No one’s looking at me. I can’t remember the last time no one looked at me.”

For a bit, we just enjoy our drinks. But the band is good tonight. A foursome playing quick-tempo folk songs, the kind of music that begs to be danced to.

“Fancy a dance, lass?” I ask.

And Christ, she lights up for me—comes alive right before my eyes. So much joy inside her just waiting to let loose.

“I would love to.”

I take her hand and for the next hour, we swirl around the dance floor. Spinning and turning until her hair is damp at the nape of her neck and we work up a thirst for another pint. We share a slice of Mary’s sweet cake, eating with our hands and Lenny sucks at the tip of her fingers, driving me mad.

The band starts a new set with a slower tune and lyrics of love and loss. Amongst several other couples—who don’t pay us any mind—I guide my girl back to the dance floor, take her in the circle of my arms and rock her close. Holding her tight, resting my lips against her hair, our bodies pressed and aligned—a divine torture.

As the last notes of the song echo in the air, I tip Lenny’s head up and slant my mouth over hers in a quick, hot kiss meant to brand—to mark and remember this moment.

Then the sad, slow song is swept away by the sharp quick slide of a fiddle. Murmurs of approval ripple through the dance floor and Lenny throws her head back and laughs—lusty and full and beautiful.

She clasps the hand of my bended arm and my other hand holds her waist . . . and our fast feet are off again, dancing the next hours away.

Happiness makes the Queen silly. Animated. Unreserved. She whistles the entire ride back to the palace and giggles as we scale back over the wall undetected. Back into her world—our world.

As we walk through the quiet palace hand in hand, the occasional servant gives Lenny odd looks. Most likely because of her clothes, the change in hairstyle—or it could be the glow on her cheeks and the breathtaking smile that hasn’t left her lips.

When we get to her bedroom, she spins in a circle in the center of the room. “That was amazing!” Lenora’s hair fans out behind her. “Wasn’t it amazing?”

“Amazing,” I murmur, not taking my eyes off her.

“I am curious about one thing,” she says.

“What’s that?”

“Earlier you said you’d thought of my concerns about an emergency, that you had taken care of it. What did you do?”

“Ah.” I nod. “I gave your sister an envelope with our location inside and instructions for it to be opened in case of a catastrophe.”

Lenny gapes at me. “You trusted Miriam with that?”

“Your sister isn’t as clueless as she puts on. She’s actually smart enough to make everyone believe she’s clueless, so no one ever expects anything of her.”

“Hmm . . . interesting theory.”

“I’m an interesting man.”

Something in the words or the way I say them catches Lenora’s attention. She moves toward me in slow, deliberate steps—reaches up, feeling the stubble of my jaw, and then she kisses me. It’s the first time she’s taken control, initiated a kiss. I move my mouth with hers, letting her lead, willing to follow wherever she wants to go.

She rocks back to her heels, looking up at me, her voice soft and quick, as if she wants to get the words out before she changes her mind. “Can I tell you something, Edward?”

I nip at her chin. “Anything. There is no wrong between us, Lenora.”

She nods and swallows a breath.

“All the dancing, and beer, has made me feel very . . . brave. And I’ve been imagining . . . thinking . . . I want to see you. All of you. Beneath your clothes. I want to look at the man I’m going to marry. Will you show him to me?”

There’s so much to her, my chest clenches with it. So many secret sides and layers to strip away and discover. Parts I think she’s just discovering about herself—parts we can spend our lives discovering together.

Without hesitation, I grip the back of my shirt and pull it over my head, dropping it purposely to the floor. I feel her eyes on me—as hot and heavy as a caress. Her gaze trails over the muscles of my arms, my shoulders, down the center of my chest. Her eyes drop lower, tracing every ridge of my stomach and down the path of hair that leads lower still.

My hands work the buckle of my trousers. And still she watches. I push them down—I’m not exactly the shy type—stepping out of them, and her pretty eyes flare wide as my hard, thick cock bobs against my stomach, reaching for her. Wanting her.

Lenora stares, all innocent curiosity that makes me throb. Her voice is breathy.

“Does it always look like that?”

“Around you? Always.”

Her eyes skim down my legs all the way to my toes . . . then slowly drag back up again. Seeing everything, missing nothing.

“My experience is limited,” she breathes out, “but I can’t fathom God making another man as perfectly formed as you.”

Pure, primal male pride pulses through my veins. And I want to have her—conquer her—claim her and keep her.

Holding my eyes, Lenora takes a step back and reaches for the buttons on her blouse.

“You don’t have to.” The words scrape up my throat. “I want you to . . . fuck, you have no idea how much I want you to . . . but only if you truly want to. There’s no rush—we have all the time in the world.”

Her eyes are clear with challenge, bold with bravery . . . but the tips of her ears are glowing hot pink, and I know this isn’t easy for her.

Still, she lifts her chin and opens her blouse, skimming it down her arms to the floor. She reaches behind her back, and in a moment, the satin brassiere falls away—and my breath catches at the sight of her pale, high, perfect breasts and dark pink nipples that were made to be sucked.

I don’t move. I don’t breathe. I say nothing that might disturb her or give her pause. Because now that it’s begun, I’m desperate to drink in all of her.