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“You’re so beautiful,” he said thickly, his mouth at her ear. “Beautiful…like a perfect little doll.” Breathing deeply, he turned her to face him, his hands pushing her shift down until her br**sts burgeoned over the top. The swollen ridge of his loins prodded against her stomach and the secret place between her thighs, and she turned hot with embarrassment. But he seemed to relish the intimate pressure, giving a soft groan, his hand clenching over her buttocks to hold her in place. “Lily…God, Lily…” Covering her mouth with his, he reached inside with deep velvet licks. She yielded to the sleek invasion, her arms wrapping tight around his neck. Suddenly he released her with a gravelly sound. He dragged at the sleeves of his coat, trying to struggle out of it, but the garment clung to him like a second skin. Muttering a curse, he lifted his head and pulled harder at the sleeves.

To his surprise, Lily’s small hands crept to his lapels, spreading them open, pushing the coat from his shoulders. It dropped to the floor in a heap. Not meeting his eyes, she touched his silk waistcoat and began to unfasten it slowly. The garment was warm from his body. Alex stood motionless, his heart slamming in his chest as he felt the pluck of her fingers against the covered buttons. When the task was done, he shrugged out of the waistcoat and unwound his starched white cravat.

As Lily watched him undress, a vague recollection stirred, causing a chill to sweep through her. She had tried to forget the night with Giuseppe, but the memory swept over her—his swarthy olive skin covered with black hair, the greedy haste of his hands searching her body. She sat on the edge of the bed and willed herself to stop thinking, to swallow back the emotions rising high in her throat.

“Lily?” Alex tossed his shirt aside and knelt before her, settling his hands on either side of her hips.

As she stared into his intent gray eyes, the unpleasant memory vanished like smoke into air. Her vision was filled with him crouching there like an inquiring tiger, his skin and hair burnished gold. Tentatively she reached to his shoulder. Without conscious direction, her fingers moved lower, grazing the uneven border of springy, coppery hair. He was close enough that her calves were pressed into the ridged muscle of his stomach. He kept her at the edge of the bed, his fingers moving to the top of her thigh. Lily held her breath as he deftly unfastened her garter and began to roll her stocking down.

Something made him pause. His fingertip touched the tautness of her inner thigh, where years of riding astride had pared down a woman’s usual plump softness. Bashfully she tried to pull the hem of the shift down, covering herself. “No,” he muttered, brushing her hands away. His head dropped closer and closer into her lap. She tensed in astonishment as she felt his mouth against her inner thigh. The scrape of his cheek, the intimate heat of his breath, sent an electric shock through her. With a stammering denial, she tried to push his head away, but he caught her knees in his large hands and pressed them wide, holding her still.

Alex stared into the tantalizing shadow beneath the hem of the shift. He tightened his hold on her legs as she made a move to be free. His senses burned with awareness of the mysterious softness and scent before him. The protesting ripple of her voice brushed the edge of his consciousness. “Quiet,” he whispered, driven forward by a clamorous beat that resonated through him. “Quiet.”

Searching with his mouth, he pressed into the shadow, using his hands to crush back the delicate edge of her shift as it got in the way. Hotly he breathed into the thick cluster of curls, lured by a maddeningly sweet, carnal scent. He hunted for the source and found softness and a place of damp, trembling sensation. Delving slowly, he drew his tongue through the moisture, back and forth, discovering a rhythm that caused her thighs to quiver against his restraining hands.

Turning ruthless, he probed for the exquisite place where softness gathered into tension, and he opened his mouth to draw her in, pulling gently, gently, until he felt the resistance leave her legs. Her shaking fingers slid into his hair, tangling in the thick waves, pressing him closer. Moving upward, he dragged his mouth through the wet curls, and lifted his head from her body.

Lily was red-faced, her eyes glittering and bewildered as she stared at him. She allowed him to push her back on the bed. Rapidly he worked at the fastenings of her shift, then gave up with a curse and pushed it to her waist. He cupped her br**sts in his hands and bent over her slim body, his tongue tracing the line where creamy white skin merged into the deeper color of the crest. Opening his lips over the tender peak, he tugged until it contracted to a silky point.

Lily slid her hands around him, over his broad, flexing back, using all her strength to pull him down to her. Some primitive instinct demanded his weight upon her, his heaviness bearing down on her br**sts and between her thighs. With a quiet growl he left her br**sts and sought her mouth. As her h*ps writhed upward, she skimmed the bulging ride of his loins, strained so tightly beneath his pantaloons. The slight contact made him groan against her mouth, and his kiss turned violent.

He gasped words against her neck and face while he reached eagerly between her legs. “Sweet…hush, I won’t hurt you…I won’t…” Gentle and sure, his fingers worked into her, gliding far into the wetness, teasing and sliding against the swollen inner surface. She whimpered, first trying to shrink away, then holding still underneath the gentle ministrations, her mouth falling open with a sigh of astonished pleasure. All of Alex’s plans of patience and self-control crumbled into dust. Her body spread beneath him, allowing whatever he wanted, and he succumbed to a tide of greed and tenderness and lust. Fumbling at the fastenings of his pantaloons, he freed himself and climbed over her, and pushed her thighs wide. Slowly he nudged against her and pressed inside. She cried out, helplessly tightening against his entry, but it was too late; he had already sunk deep into the clinging heat of her body.

Taking her head in his hands, he sifted his fingers through her hair and scattered kisses across her mouth. Her heavy lashes lifted, and she gazed at him in tearful amazement. “Am I hurting you?” he whispered, his thumbs wiping at the trail of wetness beneath her eyes.

“No,” came her low, shaken reply.

“Sweet, sweet…” He pulled back and drove forward, trying to keep his movements smooth and easy, while rampant pleasure threatened to overwhelm him. Lily closed her eyes and breathed deeply, her hands traveling restlessly over his back. She felt his lips on her forehead and his muscled weight settling on her and the slow rocking, the steady rhythm that drew an aching delight up from the very depths of her. “Oh,” she gasped when the feeling grew more intense, and he pushed deeper in answer. She couldn’t suppress a frantic sob, straining up against the hard, heavy slide of his flesh, up, and up again, grasping at his slick body.

His face was above hers, a fierce gleam of satisfaction in his eyes. Bending his head to her breast, he pulled her nipple between his teeth. The pleasure condensed into a single, unendurable spasm, and she jerked against him with a whimper. He gathered her close, his entire being focused on the flexing of her inner muscles, the wild shudders that went through her. With a few hard thrusts he found his own release, a cl**ax of sharp, dizzying intensity.

Lily lay unmoving beneath him, her arms locked around his waist. Her body throbbed, pleasantly sore, more relaxed than she could ever remember being in her life. For a moment he was crushingly heavy, his face buried in her soft neck, and then he withdrew and lifted his weight from her. She protested faintly, wanting to keep his anchoring warmth over her. He rolled to his side, his arm curving loosely around her waist. Lily hesitated before drawing closer. His masculine scent filled her nostrils as she rested her face against the crisp hair on his chest. Had he been moved to say something, be it sardonic or kind, she would have felt too awkward to snuggle close in such a manner. But he was mercifully silent, allowing anything, everything.

His breath filtered through her hair, and his hand moved up to her head. Idly he toyed with her cropped curls, his fingers drifting through the lustrous strands, winding and unwinding. Lily was conscious of an odd feeling of abandonment, lying there na*ed except for the tangled shift around her waist, surrounded by an unfamiliar earthy scent. Her skin was touched with a shiver as her perspiration cooled. She was so drowsy—she felt as if she were drunk on strong red wine. The air chilled her, but her body was warm where it touched his. She should get up and dress and put herself to rights again. In a minute—soon—she would move.

She was aware of saying something groggily, something about the covers. He tugged at the front of her shift with both hands until it tore away from her. Obeying his coaxing, she crawled between the smooth linen sheets. When he joined her, he had removed the rest of his clothes. Lily was briefly startled by the sensation of his bare legs against hers. “Easy,” he whispered, stroking her back. A shivering yawn overtook her, and she relaxed in his arms.

She didn’t know how many hours had passed when she emerged from a deep, restful slumber. Alex slept soundly. His arm was lax as it draped over her, the other curled beneath her head. Quietly Lily absorbed the strangeness of it: the masculine body pressed against her, the feel of his breath on her neck, the silkiness of his hair against her face. The thought of the intimacy they had shared made her blush. She had considered herself wordly wise, having overheard conversations between women of the demimonde, praising the prowess of their lovers. But no one had ever described such a thing as Alex had done tonight. She wondered about his past, the women he had known, the particulars of his experience…a frown collected on her face, and a disagreeable feeling came over her.

Inch by careful inch, she disentangled herself from him. There were twinges in the secret places of her body, not pain, but reminders of what had happened—the pressures and sensations, the searing invasion. She had never dreamed it would be like that. It wasn’t at all like the time with Giuseppe. It hardly seemed like the same act. She slipped from the bed, and heard a sound from Alex, an inquiring mumble. She didn’t move or answer, hoping he would fall back to sleep. There was the sound of sheets rustling, a deep yawn.

“What are you doing?” he asked, his voice sleep-scratchy.

“My lord,” she said awkwardly. “Alex, I thought…perhaps…I should leave now.”

“Is it morning?”

“No, but—”

“Get back into bed.”

For some reason, his drowsy arrogance amused her. “Spoken like some feudal lord addressing a peasant,” she said pertly. “I suppose the dark ages would have been an ideal time for you to—”

“Now.” He didn’t want to have a conversation.

Slowly she went toward the voice in the darkness, sliding back into the warm cocoon of damask, and linen and hair-roughened masculine limbs. She lay near him, not quite touching. Then all was still.

“Come closer,” he said.

A reluctant smile plucked at the corners of her lips. Shy but willing, she rolled to face him, her slim arm sliding over his neck, the tips of her br**sts brushing against his chest. He didn’t move to embrace her, but she heard a change in his breath. “Closer.”

She flattened herself against him. Her eyes widened as she felt the full, hot brand of him on her abdomen, throbbing insistently. His hand drifted over her body in light exploration, leaving smudges of fire wherever it lingered. Tentatively she lifted her fingers to his bristled face, touching his mouth.

“Why were you leaving?” he murmured, turning his lips to her palm, her wrist, the delicate hollow of her elbow.

“I thought we were finished.”

“You were wrong.”

“At times I can be, apparently.”

That pleased him. She felt him smile against her arm. He lifted her as if she were a toy, gripping beneath her arms and levering her over him until her br**sts were at his mouth. Her heart thudded erratically as she felt the swirling stroke of his tongue against her nipple. He moved to her other breast, and then slid his mouth between them. She squirmed until he eased her down with a soft laugh. “What do you want?” he whispered. “What?”

She couldn’t bring herself to say it aloud, but her mouth descended on his urgently. He smiled against her lips, his hands moving down to fondle her slender h*ps and the curve of her buttocks. Tenderly he bit at her lips, her chin, teasing her with nips and half-kisses. Gradually she joined in the play, her breath coming fast as she sought his wandering mouth with her own. When she caught it, he rewarded her with a deep thrust of his tongue. Unconsciously she tilted her h*ps forward, seeking the hard pressure of his body. She gripped his shoulders and said his name. Smiling, he turned onto his side and put his hand on her thigh, urging it high over his hip. She moved against him hungrily.

“Do you want me?” he whispered.

“Yes. Yes.”

“Then you do it.” He swept his hand over her slender back, encouraging her with a hoarse murmur. “Go on.”

Her hands stayed modestly poised on his shoulders. “I can’t,” she whispered imploringly.

Alex opened her mouth with his, circling with his tongue, stirring her excitement to a higher pitch. “If you want me, you’ll have to do it.” He waited, his pulse racing as he felt her hand lift from his shoulder. Slowly she reached down. His breath caught, and his body stiffened at the touch of her fingers. Her hand jerked back as if she’d been burned, then returned cautiously to move in a hesitant stroke along the taut surface. With a pleasured groan he shifted to help her, feeling her guide him into place. He pushed up, sliding inside her with a smooth force that made her gasp. “Is that what you want?” He moved again. “Like this?”

“Oh…yes…” She nodded and moaned, pressing her face into the hollow of his throat. He was maddeningly careful and controlled, balancing her urgency with his own restraint.

“Not so fast,” he murmured. “We have hours…and hours…” As she arched demandingly against him, he rolled her to her back with a muffled laugh, holding her down. “Relax,” he said, his lips at her throat.

“I can’t—”

“Be patient, you little devil, and stop trying to rush me.” His hands covered hers, fingers weaving together, and he pulled her arms high over her head, until she was stretched taut underneath him. Helplessly she lay pinned underneath his surging thrusts. “This is what I thought about, all last night,” he whispered, sustaining the rhythm until she groaned with pleasure. “Repaying you…for the most incredible…frustration. Making you want it…scream for it…”

She only half-understood the gently growling voice in her ear, but the veiled threat sent a tingle of fear through her. Trembling, sweating, she felt the delicious slide of his body, the measured rise and fall of his hips. There was nothing but darkness, movement, and radiant heat that clawed at her vitals until she began to struggle, breathing his name in fitful gasps.

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