His lips touched her ear—the lobe of it, just a brush, the heat of his breath in sharp contrast to the chill of his hands. Her nipples tightened, pointing; a well of warmth rose up inside her. And then he was not just kissing her ear but catching it lightly between his teeth, his mouth tracing the edge. His tongue—oh, heavens, his tongue, flicking out. She felt it in her hands, her breasts, that rising sense of pleasure.
“What are you doing?”
He didn’t answer, just finished unbuttoning her dress, his fingers moving slowly. “Thank you for lighting the candle,” he said quietly, as he slid the sleeves down her shoulders. He pressed his lips to her neck. “I wouldn’t have been able to do this without light.”
His hands slid to her corset laces. He leisurely untied the knot, unlaced the ribbons and pulled the garment away. She wanted to grab for it, to pull it back. It wasn’t just her body he wanted; it was intimacy, and that was more than she’d given in years. She couldn’t help but feel that at any moment, he would come to his senses and leave her where she stood, trembling and hurt and wanting.
“Is there a trick to the petticoats?” He found the first button that held the top layer in place.
“Mark, what are you doing?”
“You know what I’m doing.” He peeled away one layer of muslin and started in on the next. “I’m undressing you.” The second petticoat joined the first on the floor. “I feel like I’m taking apart a watch,” he said. “It’s easy enough to disconnect the parts, but I’m fairly certain I couldn’t reconstruct the whole without expert help.”
“Truly, Mark, you have to stop.” She was beginning to shake.
Her last petticoat slid to the floor, and she stood in her shift.
“Is that what you want?”
She turned in his arms. His eyes slid down her form—uncluttered now by skirts and excess fabric.
All her scampering vulnerabilities froze in the heat of his gaze. She felt like a rabbit staring up at a hawk. But this hawk didn’t pounce. Instead, he simply leaned in and kissed her. It was a sweet kiss—just his lips against hers, his hand on her shoulder. Her body melted against his. She carried her fear inside that rising tide of pleasure, like shattered glass waiting to slice her.
As he kissed her, his hands moved. He traced her form as if he wanted to commit it to memory. The hairs on her arm stood up, brought to attention by that gentle touch.
“If we go much further, I’m going to lose my head,” she confessed.
He pushed back and looked her in the eyes. “Lose it,” he advised, and then he leaned down and fastened his lips to her breast. Heat washed over her. Her protests, weak and halfhearted as they’d been, disappeared, swallowed in the swelling need of her body.
“You like that.” His voice was hoarse. “I’ve thought about doing that for ages. I couldn’t get it out of my mind.”
Jessica nodded, not trusting her voice. And then he leaned down and did it again—his tongue swirling around her nipple, gentle and yet firm. His breath was growing ragged—she could feel it washing against her skin. The sensation rippled out from that point, powerful and intensely pleasurable. She could feel her own want grow.
Any other man, having paid this bare attention to her pleasure, would have been eager to sate his own desire. But Mark touched her as if every stroke of his tongue was new, as if she were a sweet to savor, a prize to treasure, as if her enjoyment were vital for more than just easing his way inside. Her skin burned to feel his body pressed full-length against her.
“Hurry,” she said.
He raised his head and gave her a knowing, wicked smile—one that made her feel as if he were drawing on a wealth of experience. “I’ve waited twenty-eight years for this. I don’t suppose another few hours will change anything.”
It was unlikely that he would have come here. It was improbable that he would think well of her after everything he’d learned. But her mouth dried at that bald statement. There was no mistaking his intent. He wanted her, and that was impossible.
His hand drifted down her ribs, slowly, as if he were counting them out. He found the edge of her shift and pulled it up, the fabric sliding over her sensitive flesh.
“A few hours?” Jessica said, hearing her voice rise. “You are optimistic.”
His lip quirked up at that. But he kissed his way down her body, to her navel.
“It is the most astonishing thing,” he whispered against her skin. “To touch you, to feel you tremble. To know that I’m the cause of it.” His thumbs made circles against her hips. And then he reached out tentatively and touched her thighs. Slid his hands up, parting her knees, his fingers brushing against the slick folds of her sex once more. “It is so much better than I’d imagined.”
She reached out and ran her own hands through his hair. “Just wait until I start to touch you.”
“Oh. That’s nice,” he breathed. And then he met her eyes. “Here?” he asked. She felt his thumb brush her between her legs. “Or here?”
More sure now, the pressure he exerted; more certain, the light in his eyes as he looked at her. “And what about here?”
Sparks cascaded through her. “Yes—that.”
This time, he did not just part her sex. His finger slid inside her, and she shivered, her inner muscles tightening around him.
“Too much—oh, Mark, and not enough.”
He pushed back, stood up. He undid his waistcoat quickly, unwound his cravat from his neck. He didn’t rush, not even when he pulled the lawn of his shirt over his head. His chest was pale and smooth, furred over with light golden hairs that caught the candlelight.
Jessica reached up and caught his upper arms, glorying in the curve of that muscle, so strong, and yet trembling under her touch. She ran her hands along his chest, found the smooth circle of his nipple. His breathing caught, and he canted over her.
“Jessica. Please. Darling. Do that again.”
Men sometimes talked as if curves were something that only a woman possessed. But his body was a construction of subtler curves: the gentle swell of his forearm, racing down to the blunt tips of his fingers. The ripple of his abdomen. That arc where torso met pelvis. His body seemed the pinnacle of masculine artistry.
He reached for the fall of his trousers. Her breath scalded her lungs. She reached out and set her hand over his. “What are you doing?”
His hand found hers, clasped it. “Do you know why I professed to believe in chastity? Because I don’t believe in doing harm, least of all to someone I care for.”
He relinquished her fingers and proceeded to undo his trousers.
“But it’s the woman that matters,” he said, his voice low. “Not my pride. Not my reputation. Not even my principles. I should have put you first.” He pushed the fabric to his hips, and then farther down. “I wanted peace and balance. But I should have put you first. First. Last. And, Jessica—always.”
This had to be a dream. A fantasy. He couldn’t mean those words, not to her. He couldn’t be standing naked before her. But his hand, when it found hers, was warm and real. Her feet touched the floor as he led her back to the sofa. And she would never have imagined him sitting unclothed before her, could never have believed that he would pull her to straddle him. He was warm beneath her; his mouth found hers.
He didn’t just give her a kiss, he pulled her body to his, his hands entangling with hers, her tongue darting out to taste him. His hips pressed up against hers.
And his member… He was thick and strong and hard. He twitched when she touched him. And that finally grounded her. This wasn’t just a passionate kiss. It was something more. He thrust up against her, instinct instructing him where experience could not.
This was impossible.
She reached down to touch his erection. It was heavy in her hand, the head wet already. He hissed, his hands clutching her arms, as she stroked down h
She slid up onto her knees. One of his hands clasped her waist. He was the one to adjust his member into place, the one to set his hands on her hips. He was the one to apply just the slightest pressure. This wasn’t possible.
It was possible.
And then, it simply was.
His hands clenched around her arms. His breath came in explosive little gasps. His body entered hers—not in possession, but in desire. She could feel herself stretching around him. He was thick, hot.