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Her eyes widened as he spoke, as if she were genuinely surprised at the compliment.

“What? You know I’m attracted to you. Very attracted. I wouldn’t bet my boat for a night with just any woman,” he told her with a wry smile. Maybe he shouldn’t have spoken quite so honestly while wearing a towel, he thought.

She flushed and looked away. “As if you have difficulty with women,” she murmured. “The magazines call you…what was it? Oh, yes. A bronze god. A Viking adventurer. Indiana Jones of the sea.”

“I’m careful never to believe the press,” he assured her.

She smiled.

“But you didn’t come here to sleep with me, did you?” he asked softly. “Or maybe you did. Except I really don’t want you to decide to sleep with me only because you’re afraid and it’s a better alternative to sleeping alone.”

That brought a deep flush to her cheeks, and she didn’t look at him. “There’s the fact that I really did lose the bet,” she murmured.

“I admit that’s debatable. And that’s not an easy admission, because I’m not good at admitting defeat,” he assured her.

“What if I admitted that I find you attractive?” She turned to him at last.

He was a fool, he thought. A sad excuse for the male of the species. Here she was…smelling divinely, alone with him, inches away. Her body warmth and that scent seemed to reach out to him, attack his senses. But for some stupid reason he just didn’t want her this way. Though he did want her. He felt the blood throbbing in the erection beneath his towel.

He damned himself. Her skin was golden. As soft as the cotton of the thin T-shirt that covered her body but did nothing to disguise the shape and curve of it. What the hell was the matter with him? He’d never made such ridiculous rules for himself before. If a woman he wanted wanted him, that had always been enough.

“You can stay here, sleep here,” he said softly, “without having to sleep with me.”

He could almost feel her heart beating. A few inches, and he could touch her. A few minutes, and he could have her, take her with the kind of excitement that swept away time and circumstance, that pounded and pulsed with carnal pleasure. Had he lost his own sanity?

She looked up at him, something that might have been a wistful, even poignant, smile curving her lips. “I thought you found me attractive?” she said. Her voice was a whisper, as if he wasn’t already in enough agony. The sound seemed to touch him. Reach out, seep into his bloodstream, brush against the inside of his flesh.

“I don’t believe in sex for any reason other than pure desire,” he told her.

“You don’t desire me?” she asked.

Again that sound in her voice. Something husky, almost like purring.

“I like the concept of being wanted for myself,” he said.

“Who wouldn’t want a bronze god?” she inquired.

“I’m trying to be a decent human being, which isn’t all that easy right now,” he told her.

To his astonishment, she stood up and pulled the T-shirt over her head. She wore a delicate lace thong beneath—and the strappy, low-heeled sandals. Her auburn hair, like a cascade of night fire, fell over her naked shoulders and curved around the fullness of her breasts. She was long and sleek, with curving hips, a concave abdomen, and a tan line that seemed as provocative as all get-out.

It was the shoes that did it, he decided, emphasizing her long legs and…upward.

“A woman doesn’t usually bet a night of sex with a man unless she finds him appealing,” she informed him, and smiled, a come-on smile that rocked his libido and bit into his soul. And with that, she strode into the bedroom area of the cottage, where her silhouette, dimly outlined, beckoned insanity into his mind.

He was so stunned that for a second he just sat there. Then he shot to his feet and followed.

The bedside light glowed softly. They stood across the bed from each other. She stepped out of the sandals and walked around to his side of the mattress, straight up against him, her arms snaking around his neck, fingers threading into his hair. The towel fell. He made no move to retrieve it.

She barely had to stand on her toes to find his lips. He dipped his head, allowing her to ease back to her feet. She could have no doubt of his desire for her as they seemed to meld together, the toned flesh of her body hot and vibrant. He caught her chin, formed his lips over hers, pressed deep into her mouth with his tongue, and felt the spiraling tightness within himself. Purely sexual sensations ripped through him like a storm surge at sea. He felt as if he were consuming her mouth, his blood electric with the response to her taste, scent, touch…. She was sweet, so sweet, everything his dreams had whispered and he had been so determined to deny. Vital and passionate, the shape of her body was simple sin.

He kissed her, felt that he died a little with the pleasure, his hands sweeping over her. He felt her quivering and he drew his lips away from hers.

“You’re not afraid?” he asked softly.

“Of you?” she whispered. “Oh, definitely.” It was a teasing statement, but it was the truth, though in what way, he wasn’t certain.

“Of…the night?” he persisted.

“That, too,” she admitted.

He wanted to know why. What demon plagued her. But stark desire overrode sanity. He didn’t care. At that moment…screw decency. His mouth found hers again. He felt her fingertips riding down his back, over his buttocks. He held her fiercely. Dragged her down to the bed, rose above her. Her breath was coming in heady bursts. Her eyes were glittering as they touched his. And that smile curled her lips again, an expression of pure sex. She reached for him. Her fingers swept down his chest, curled around his erection. He gave a low groan, then lay against her again, catching her mouth as his hands swept over her skin, his lips following suit. He caressed her with fascination, finding the line of her collarbone, touching it with the delicate brush of his fingers and tongue. His hand curved over her breast just before his mouth fastened over her nipple, his lips circling the peak. His palm slid over her midriff, felt the tautness of her abdomen, lowered to feel the curve of her pelvic bone and the delicate lace of the thong. His body rubbed erotically against hers as he lowered himself, fingers sliding beneath the lace, tongue moving sensually atop the thin wisp of fabric between her flesh and himself.

She rocked beneath him. He caught the slender strand of lace, removed it, found her again beneath it. Caressed, ravished…felt the shiver of excitement that ran down the length of her, moved to spur her to an ever more desperate fever. She cried out and was up, meeting him, crashing into his arms, seeking his mouth with her own. They held each other while the world thundered out the beat of their passion. He caught her thighs, wrapped them around him, and thrust into her with a staggering hunger. Locked with her, he felt her inner pulse reach a frantic edge, fought his own desire to explode, felt the fantastic, delicious agony soar, felt her stiffen, shudder, shake in his arms, and allowed himself to catapult into final climax. He couldn’t let her go, nor did she seem to mind. Tremors rippled through her as he embraced her, adjusting himself to lie beside her, to allow himself to grow soft within her, still hungry to touch, to maintain their connection. His body cooling at last, he felt the slickness of heat that covered them both and cradled her even closer. He listened as the pounding of their hearts lowered to a normal speed, felt every little quiver and movement within her, buried his face in the wealth of her hair.

Then he forced himself up, looking at her. Her eyes remained steady and wide on his.

“That was…” he whispered, then ran out of words.

She smiled. “Not bad,” she said, a slight smile teasing her lips.

“Not bad?”

“Kind of like being with a Nordic god for real.”

“That’s better,” he assured her.

“Thunder and lightning and all that,” she murmured. She reached out, touching his face. “Too much like a god, maybe…”

“Never too much,” he assured her. Her lashes swept to her cheeks, hiding her thoughts. “Then again, never put a man on a pedestal,” he warned.

“You don’t want to be on a pedestal?” she asked lightly, meeting his gaze again.

He shook his head. “I wouldn’t want to fall off.” Then he asked her seriously, “Why would you be afraid of me?”

“I’m not afraid of you, exactly,” she murmured.

“What are you afraid of, then?”

“Myself,” she murmured, looking away once more. Then she stared up at him again. There was a very strange—given the circumstances—prim and almost shy tone in her voice as she asked, “May I stay?”

“Are you joking?”


“I would somehow dredge up the violence of my ancestors, conk you over the head and bodily hold on to you if you tried to leave,” he assured her solemnly.

The gratitude in her eyes touched him to the core, tore at his heart as deeply as her sensuality affected his desires. Deeper, if at all possible.


“It’s a pleasure.”

She laughed and eased into his arms. He rested on an elbow, fascinated just to let his fingers stroke down the length of her back. “I don’t suppose you’re going to explain what you meant before.”

“What I meant about what?” she murmured.

“Being afraid of yourself.”

He felt the subtle tension in her as she tightened in his arms. “Nothing,” she murmured.

He wanted to press the matter, but he didn’t. Right now, he wanted her at ease and comfortable beside him more than he wanted the truth. He laid his head down by hers, still stroking the long and elegant line of her back. In a while, he realized she had fallen asleep. He wasn’t sure what kind of a comment that was on his sexual prowess, but he was gratified she had found the serenity to sleep at his side.

Later in the night, he awoke when she shifted against him. That time their lovemaking began with the brush of her fingers against his stomach, then a slow fusion of their bodies. Soon he was fully awake, just as impassioned, as desperate, as volatile as before. The climax was just as shattering, the aftermath just as sweet, as lazy, with no words spoken—just her body curled against his trustingly as she drifted to sleep once again.