"I still haven't said yes."
"That's why I'm waiting. Step five is your agreement. Even your clever brain must agree now. If a man skips this step, he risks offending his lady and losing her forever."
"'Cause I could walk away," she whispered.
"Yes, you could." He leaned closer, just a few inches from her mouth. "But I know you want it. And you wouldn't want to break my heart."
"No fair using guilt."
He stroked the side of her neck. "I can be ruthless when it comes to getting what I want."
"And I can play hard to get." In spite of her tough words, she tilted her head to make it easier for him to caress her neck.
"Go ahead, chérie. Make it hard for me." He smiled because he was definitely hard. He skimmed his fingers along the line of her jaw. "The harder I work, the sweeter will be your surrender. And you will surrender. You want this kiss."
She shivered. "What about you? Do you want this, or do you just want to prove you're right about the ten steps?"
He took her gently by the shoulders. "I don't give a damn how many steps it takes. Your happiness is the only thing that matters."
She sighed. "How do you always know the perfect thing to say?"
"I feel like I know you. I know your heart. It is...so much like mine."
"Jean-Luc," she whispered. She touched the hair at his temple.
He moved closer till his forehead rested on hers. "Step six is acceptance. We know the kiss will happen."
"Speak for yourself."
"Woman," he growled. "You continue to challenge me."
She laughed. "I know. It's so much fun. I feel so...tough. Completely opposite from the old doormat. It's the new me."
Smiling, he touched her cheek. "I like the new you. You're beautiful, strong, and...exciting."
She slid her arms up his chest and around his neck. "You're in big trouble now, buddy. If we kiss, that will only be seven steps."
"But there are many steps attached to the kiss, and I will insist on doing them all. Tasting, touching, nibbling, sucking, the tongue, the scraping of teeth - "
"Okay!" Her hands tightened on the back of his neck. "Bring it on."
His heart lurched. She was surrendering. His blood raced to his groin. No doubt his eyes were glowing red by now. He kept his eyelids partially closed, hoping she wouldn't notice. "Step seven. The test kiss." He pressed his lips gently against hers.
Her eyes flickered shut. "Did we pass?"
"Oh yes." He brushed his lips across her cheek, then planted small kisses back toward her mouth. She opened for him, her lips soft and moist. Her body leaned into him.
He took her this time, kissing her thoroughly, making her lips move with his. She was soft, pliant, delicious. He wrapped one arm around her waist and pulled her hard against him. She gasped, her breath mingling with his own. No doubt she could feel the full length of his erection now, pressed against her belly.
He deepened the kiss, exploring her mouth with his tongue. She tasted of mustard and relish, modern and American, but foreign and exotic to him. She stroked his tongue with the tip of her own, drawing a gruff moan from deep in his throat.
Her fingers delved into his curls, pulling him closer. "What step is this?" She breathed against his mouth.
He rested his forehead against hers. "I can't remember." He needed to back off. His erection was nearing maximum level of torture endurance. He would explode soon.
He took a deep breath. The scent of her blood ensnared him, refusing to let him go. Her pounding heart thrummed into his pores, into his bones. God help him, he couldn't stop.
With a growl of surrender, he drew her earlobe into his mouth and suckled. Her moan reverberated through him. He thought he moaned back, but he was no longer sure. He could no longer distinguish between her thumping heart and his own, her sighs of pleasure and his own. They were becoming one. He wanted inside her. He belonged inside her.
He splayed his hands over her rump and pulled her harder against him. She gasped and tightened her grip on his shoulders. He rubbed his nose against her carotid artery, letting his head fill with the scent of her rushing blood. His gums tingled. He gripped her rear, grinding her against his erection.
"Mon Dieu, I want you." He tilted his head back, trying to regain a modicum of control. He couldn't allow his fangs to shoot out. Or his dick to shoot off. He attempted to think through the haze of lust. He couldn't bed her here. If he teleported, he could have her in his bedroom within seconds, but no doubt she'd notice the sudden change of scenery.
The stars overhead winked at him, mocking him for being without a woman for so long. But this wasn't just any woman. This was Heather. She was standing on tiptoe to feather kisses across his neck. She was sweet and generous. He squeezed her rump. Maybe she'd invite him back to her house and her bedroom. Yes, that was the plan. After Bethany was sound asleep, he would sneak into Heather's bedroom and make love to her all night.
In the distance, he heard angels singing, sweet with innocence. His heart soared. Maybe this time, it would work. Maybe this time, he would find a true and lasting love. He would kill Lui and win Heather's heart. For the first time ever, he would have a family.
With a jolt he realized his mistake. The singing was real. With her inferior abilities, Heather probably couldn't hear it.
He grabbed her by the shoulders. "Heather, the children have started singing."
The dazed look in her eyes cleared in a flash. "Oh my God!" She pushed him away. "This is terrible!"
Heather sprinted back to the gazebo as fast as she could. Good Lord, she was too late. Already, the three-year-olds were leaving the stage and the four-year-olds were lining up to sing. She spotted two empty seats on the front row next to Fidelia and Emma. Thank God they had saved some seats for her and Jean-Luc.
It would be all right. She slowed down, struggling to breathe. Jean-Luc stopped beside her, not even winded. Just then, Cody's mother and another woman plopped down into the two empty seats, ignoring Fidelia's protest.
"Oh no!" Heather gulped down some oxygen as she scanned the rows of chairs she'd set up earlier. All the seats in the first eight rows were taken. "This is terrible! I told her I'd be in the front row. She'll look for me, and I won't be there!" Her voice rose in panic.
"Shh!" An elderly woman in the last row turned to hush them.
Heather fought for another breath. Good Lord, she was panicking. How could she have done this? How could she get so wrapped up kissing a guy she'd known only a few days? What kind of mother was she?
"I'll find an empty chair and move it to the front row," Jean-Luc offered.
"Too late," Heather's heart sank. Bethany was on stage, her eyes wide as she examined the front row. She grinned and waved at Fidelia and Emma, then a confused look of dismay came over her face.
Heather waved a hand high in the air, but Bethany didn't see her. She was surveying the first several rows of chairs, and her wounded expression pierced Heather's heart. Miss Cindy started them on their first song, but Bethany didn't join in. With her search for her mom, she didn't even notice Miss Cindy.
Heather jumped up and down, waving both arms in the air. Bethany caught sight of her and instantly brightened. Heather blew her a kiss, and Bethany grinned, then joined in with the singing.
Heather took a deep breath and blinked back tears of relief. "She's okay." She turned to Jean-Luc.
He was gone.
Damn. How could he disappear like that? Was he embarrassed that he'd made her late to Bethany's performance? A surge of guilt flooded Heather. It wasn't entirely his fault. She'd been a very willing participant, totally distracted by that kiss.
And good Lord, what a kiss. Her cheeks blazed with heat. That rascal - he'd hinted that he could make her lose control, and he had. She didn't want to think about how far she might have gone if he hadn't stopped.
And where was he now? Did he seduce women, then leave them? And wasn't he supposed to be protecting her?
The first song ended, and Heather clapped as she peered around her. Robby was standing off to one side, partially hidden by a copse of pine trees. He nodded at her as her gaze swept past. She raised a hand in greeting, then turned back to watch her daughter. The children started "God Bless America," always a crowd favorite.
"Maybe this will help," Jean-Luc whispered.