Page 18

He stood over her, his hand trailing over her back, raising gooseflesh on every inch of her skin. "Put your arms around me, Lottie."

She obeyed awkwardly, bringing her body fully against his. Her ni**les sank into the coarse mat of curls on his chest. His body was incredibly hot, his erection burning through the muslin drawers. It prodded against her stomach, until he slid his hand beneath her buttocks and hitched her upward. His hand slid between her buttocks to hold her compactly against him, and she felt him press against her sex. A shock of sensation went through her, followed by a surge of lust so acute that she could hardly bear it. Gripping his neck, she pushed her face against the dense muscle of his shoulder. His fingers slid farther between her thighs. The linen beneath his fingers became damp as he stroked the soft furrow in a lazy rhythm. For a long, blissful minute he held her like that, warming her with his own body until she began to strain against the ridge of his erection.

Reaching between their bodies, he pulled at the tapes of her drawers. He let the garment drop to the floor and picked her up, carrying her to the bed with astonishing ease. As Lottie reclined on the embroidered counterpane, Nick's gaze slid over her. A smile tugged at his lips. "I've never seen anyone blush from head to toe before."

"Well, I've never been na*ed in front of a man," Lottie said, abashed. It was inconceivable that she should be conversing with someone while she wasn't wearing a stitch of clothing, except for her stockings.

His hand closed gently around her ankle. "You're adorable," he whispered, and climbed over her.

He tugged at one of her garters with his teeth, loosening the ribbon that fastened it. She gasped as he kissed the red marks left by the tie, and soothed them with his tongue. Unrolling the stockings from her legs, he pushed her thighs wide apart. Increasingly uncomfortable, Lottie used her hand to conceal herself from his view. His head moved over her, his hot breath fanning her skin. His thumbs swept over the pulse in the fragile crease between her thigh and groin.

"Don't cover yourself," he coaxed.

"I can't help it," she said, wriggling to evade the tiny flicks of his tongue, which ventured in places she had never imagined a man would want to put his mouth. Somehow she managed to dislodge the bedclothes enough to dive beneath them in search of sanctuary. She shivered at the cool slickness of the linens against her na*ed body.

Following with a low laugh, Nick slid beneath the bedclothes, until they tented over the broad outline of his shoulders. His head disappeared, and she felt his hands on her knees, pushing them apart once more.

Lottie stared blindly at the dark canopy overhead. "Nick," she asked raggedly, "is this the usual way that people h-have relations?"

His voice was muffled. "What is the usual way?"

She inhaled sharply as he nipped at the inner curve of her thigh. "I'm not entirely certain. But I don't think this is it."

His voice thickened with amusement. "I know what I'm doing, Lottie."

"I was not implying that you didn't...oh, please don't kiss me there!"

Then she felt him shake with suppressed laughter. "For someone who has never done this before, you're rather opinionated. Let me make love to you the way I want, hmmn? The first time, at least." He grasped both her wrists and pinned them at her sides. "Lie still."

"Nick..." She started as his mouth descended to the nest of blond curls. "Nick..."

But he did not listen, completely absorbed in her salt-scented female flesh. His breath filled the moist cleft with steamy heat. A moan rose in her throat, and her wrists twisted in his grasp. His tongue searched through the springy curls until he reached the rosy lips hidden beneath. He licked one side of her sex, then the other, the tip of his tongue teasing delicately.

His mouth ravished her so gently, his tongue slipping over her melting flesh to find the secret entrance to her body, filling her with silky heat...withdrawing...filling. Lottie went weak all over, her sex pulsing urgently. As he nuzzled and played with her, she tried to angle her body so that he would touch the peak that throbbed so desperately. He seemed not to understand what she wanted, licking all around the sensitive spot but never quite reaching it.

"Nick," she whispered, unable to find words for what she wanted. "Please. Please."

But he continued to deny her, until she realized that he was doing it deliberately. Frustrated beyond bearing, she reached down to his head, and she felt the puff of his brief laugh against her. Immediately his mouth slid away and traveled downward, tasting the damp creases of her knees, moving to the hollows of her ankles. By the time he made his way back to her loins, her entire body was sweltering. His head hovered over the place between her legs again. Lottie held her breath, aware of a hot trickle of moisture from her body.

His tongue brushed the peak of her sex in a tentative lap. Lottie could not hold back a wild cry as she arched into his mouth.

"No," he murmured against her damp flesh. "Not yet, Lottie. Wait just a little longer."

"I can't, can't, oh, don't stop..." She pulled at his dark head frantically, groaning as he feathered his tongue over her once more.

Catching her wrists, Nick pulled them over her head and settled his body between her thighs, taking care not to crush her. His shaft was cradled in the hot valley between her legs. His dark blue eyes stared directly into hers as he released her hands. "Leave them there," he said, and she obeyed with a sob.

He kissed her breasts, moving from one to the other. With each incendiary swirl of his tongue, she nearly rose off the sheet. His sex slid against her in disciplined thrusts that teased and rubbed and tormented, while his mouth drew hungrily on her nipples. She arched upward with supplicating moans. Stunning pleasure built inside her, gaining intensity...she hovered on the brink, waiting, waiting...oh, please...until the culmination was finally upon her. She cried out in bashful amazement as rich spasms spread from the center of her body.

"Yes," he whispered against her taut throat, his h*ps working gently over hers. The sensation eased into long shivers as he smoothed her hair back from her damp forehead.

"Nick," she told him between deep gulps of air, "s-something happened..."

"Yes, I know. You cl**axed." His voice was tender and vaguely amused. "Shall I do it again?"

"No," she said instantly, making him laugh.

"Then it's my turn." He slid an arm beneath her neck so that her head rested in the crook of his elbow. He mounted her again, the muscular weight of his thighs pushing between hers, and she felt the broad head of his shaft press against the vulnerable cove between her legs. He skimmed it through the moisture in deliberate circles, then nudged against her until Lottie felt a slight burn. Instinctively she shrank from the pressure. Holding still, Nick gazed down at her, his face suddenly taut and intent. He bent his head and touched his mouth to the delicate space between her brows. "I'm sorry," he said quietly.

"Why-" she began, and gasped as he invaded her in a single determined thrust. She recoiled from the pain, her legs closing instinctively, but she could do nothing to prevent him from sliding deeper. She was trapped beneath his body, impaled with hardness and heat.

Carefully he pushed farther. "I'm sorry," he said again. "I thought it might be easier for you if I did it quickly."

It hurt more than Lottie had expected. It was a curious sensation, having part of someone else's body inside her own. It was so remarkable that she almost forgot the pain. She sensed the effort it took for him to hold still. He was trying to wait until she became accustomed to him, she realized. But the discomfort persisted, and she knew that no matter how much time he gave her, it was not going to improve. "Nick," she said unsteadily, "would it be possible for you to finish this part of it right away?"

"God," he muttered ruefully. "Yes, I can do that." Cautiously he tightened his hips, and Lottie realized in consternation that he was advancing even deeper. As the crown of his shaft pressed against her womb, she flinched in distress. Immediately he drew back a little, his hand stroking from her breast to her hip. "The next time will be better," he said, keeping his thrusts shallow. "You're so warm, Lottie, so sweet..." He became breathless, his eyes closing tightly, his hands clenching against the mattress. Despite the pain his movements caused, Lottie experienced a curious feeling of protectiveness...of tenderness, even. Her hands slid over his back, following the deep arch of his spine. She tightened her knees on his h*ps as she contained his large body, hugging him to herself, listening to the way his breath hitched. Suddenly he buried his entire length inside her and held still. She felt him jerk violently as he released his passion with a harsh groan. Stroking his back, she let her inquisitive fingers wander lower, lower, until she found the tightly muscled curves of his buttocks, harder than she had thought human flesh could be.

Finally Nick sighed and opened his eyes, a blaze of unearthly blue in his passion-flushed face. The way he murmured her name sent shivers down her back. After tucking the linen neatly beneath her arms, Nick rose on one elbow to look down at her. A small frown pleated the space between his thick brows. "Are you all right?"

"Yes." A drowsy smile curved her lips. "It wasn't bad at all. Until the end, I thought it was even better than a shower-bath."

He made a sound of amusement. "Yes, but was it as good as chocolate?"

Lottie reached up to stroke the high plane of his cheekbone. She couldn't resist teasing him. "Not quite."

Another chuckle escaped him. "My God, you're hard to please." He turned his mouth into her hand, kissing the damp hollow of her palm. "As for me, I'm more content than a sailor at fiddler's green."

Lottie continued to explore the bold contours of his face with her fingertips. With a flush lingering high in his cheeks, and the brackets around his mouth softened, he looked younger than usual. "What is fiddler's green?" she asked.

"A place in heaven for sailors. Nothing but wine, women, and song all day and night."

"What is your idea of heaven?"

"I don't believe in heaven."

Lottie's eyes widened. "I'm married to a pagan?" she asked, and he grinned.

"You may yet be sorry you didn't marry Radnor."

"Don't joke about that," she said, turning away from him. "It's not a subject for humor."

"I'm sorry," he interrupted, his arm sliding around her waist. He pulled her into the shelter of his body, her back fitting against his hairy chest. "I didn't mean to nettle you. Here, rest against me." He nuzzled into the pale streamers of her hair. "What a fiery little wench you are."

"I'm not fiery," Lottie protested, for that quality was hardly something that befitted a ladylike graduate of Maidstone's.

"Yes, you are." His hand curved possessively over her hip. "I've known it from the moment we met. It's one of the reasons I wanted you."

"You said you wanted me merely for convenience."

"Well, there is that," he said with a grin, and reacted swiftly as she tried to elbow him. "But in truth, convenience had nothing to do with it. I wanted you more than any woman I've ever met."

"Why did you insist on marriage, when I offered to be your mistress?"

"Because being a mistress wasn't good enough for you." He paused before adding quietly, "You deserve everything I can give you, including my name."

A sobering thought dimmed Lottie's pleasure in the compliment. "After everyone learns that you are Lord Sydney, you will be quite sought after," she said. A man with his looks, a fortune, and a title to boot was an irresistible combination. He would undoubtedly receive a great deal of attention from women who would want to tempt him into having an affair.

"I won't stray from you," Nick said, surprising her with his perceptiveness.

"You can't be certain. A man with your personal history..."

"What do you know of my personal history?" He pressed her flat on her back and loomed over her, one long leg sliding between hers.

"It is obvious that you are very experienced in the bedroom."

"I am," he admitted. "But that doesn't mean that I've been indiscriminate. In fact..."

"In fact?" Lottie prompted.

He looked away. "Nothing."

"You were going to tell me that you haven't had all that many women, I suppose." Her tone was loaded with skepticism. "Although the concept is obviously subjective. What is 'many' for you, I wonder? A hundred? Fifty? Ten?"

"It doesn't matter," he said with a scowl.

"I wouldn't believe you if you claimed anything less than twenty."

"You would be wrong, then."

"How far off the mark would I be, then?"

"I've been with only two women," he said curtly. "Including you."

"You have not," she exclaimed with a disbelieving laugh.

"Believe what you like," he muttered, rolling away from her.

He was clearly annoyed, as if he regretted what he had just told her. As he left the bed and strode to the wardrobe, Lottie watched him in slack-jawed astonishment. She couldn't quite bring herself to accept his claim, and yet there was no reason for him to lie to her. "Who was the other one?" she couldn't resist asking.

His broad, well-muscled back flexed as he shrugged into a burgundy velvet robe. "A madam."

"French, you mean?"

"No, the kind of madam that owns a whorehouse," he replied bluntly.

Lottie nearly toppled from the edge of the bed. She managed to keep her face relatively composed as he turned toward her. "Was it a long...friendship?"

"Three years."

Lottie absorbed the information silently. She realized with dismay that the heaviness in her chest was caused by jealousy. "Were you in love with her?" she brought herself to ask.

"No," he said without hesitation. "But I liked her. I still do."

A frown worked across her forehead. "Why do you no longer see her?"

Nick shook his head. "After a while, Gemma believed there was nothing more to be gained on either side by continuing the arrangement. I've since come to realize that she was right. And I haven't slept with anyone else, until you. So you see, I don't have a problem keeping my trousers buttoned."

A tide of relief swept over her. Just why she was so pleased at the notion that she might be able to keep him all to herself was not something she wished to ponder too closely. Leaving the bed, she hurried to pick up her discarded dress from the floor, and held it over her front. "I will admit that I am surprised," she said, trying to appear casual with her nudity. "You are certainly not predictable in any regard."

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