A Lady by Midnight (Spindle Cove #3)

Before I found Minerva, I'd passed nights with more than my share of women."

Thorne groaned. Don't. Just don't.

"I've passed time with duchesses and farm girls, and it doesn't matter whether their skirts are silk or homespun. Once you get them bare--"

Thorne drew up short. "If you start in on rivers of silk and alabaster orbs, I will have to hit you.

Beginning at her shoulders, he skimmed a touch down her arms until he clasped her hands in his. He took and lifted them to the level of her torso, then fitted her palms over her own pale, smooth breasts.

“Hold these for me,” he said.

Then he reclined to the pillow, once again lacing his hands beneath his head.

She gave him a quizzical look. Then she turned that quizzical expression on her own breasts, plumping them lightly in her hands. “What am I to do with them?”

“Whatever feels good.”

“And you’re just going to lie there and watch?”

He nodded.

Her brow wrinkled. “Truly. This is something men fantasize about?”

“With regularity.

Do you know what Aunt Marmoset told me once? She compared you to a spice drop. Overpowering and hard at first, but all sweetness at the center. I’ll admit, I’ve been desperate to try an experiment.” She gave him a teasing look. “How many times do you suppose I could lick you before you crack?”

His every muscle tightened.

Smiling, she tucked her face into the curve of his neck and ran her tongue seductively over his skin. “There’s one.”

“Katie.” The word was a low, throaty warning. It made her toes curl.

She nuzzled at the notch of his open shirt, pushing the fabric aside. The familiar musk of his skin stirred her in deep places.

With a teasing swirl of her tongue, she tasted the notch at the base of his throat. “Two . . .”

“Finn,” he called in a booming voice, lifting his head. “Send for the vicar.”

She pulled back, shocked. “Two? That’s all, truly? Two? I’m not sure whether to feel proud or disappointed.

His grip firmed on her arms. “I’m here. You’re not alone now.”

Hardly poetry, those words. A simple statement of fact. They scarcely shared the same alphabet as kindness. If true comfort were a nourishing, wholemeal loaf, what he offered her were a few stale crumbs.

It didn’t matter. It didn’t matter. She was a starving girl, and she hadn’t the dignity to refuse.

“I’m so sorry,” she managed, choking back a sob. “You’re not going to like this.”

And with that, Kate fell into his immense, rigid, unwilling embrace—and wept.

I don't want anyone fighting over me," Kate said. "It's not worth it."

"Like hell it's not." Samuel turned to her. "Don't ever say you're not worth it, Katie. You're worth epic battles. Entire wars."

Her heart pinched. "Samuel..."

"Yes, Helen of Troy?" She thought she saw him wink as he backed away, reaching for a sword to match Evan's.

After all this time...he would choose this moment to be charming.

I know how it wears on a soul. How it eats little pieces of your heart at unexpected times. How you can go whole weeks happily occupied, feeling no melancholy or deprivation, and then the smallest thing . . . Someone opens a letter, perhaps. Or stitches up a ripped garment that belongs to someone else. And it makes you realize how . . . adrift you are. Not tied to anyone.

I love you, too,” she said.

He lifted his head, surprised. “Did I say it?”

She smiled. “Only several times.”

“Oh. Then good.” He kissed her again. “I felt it enough for a thousand.

I never thought Greek philosophy could make a damn bit of sense to me. And most of it didn't, but those words just seemed right. 'Love is composed of a single soul, inhabiting two bodies.'" He took her by the shoulders drawing her close. "It rang true for me, in a way nothing else did. Whatever soul I had, Katie, I think I placed it in your keeping twenty years ago. And now, it's as if...every time we kiss, you give a little piece of it back.

Kate realized she had a grave problem. She was infatuated. Or mildly insane. Possibly both.

Katie.” He groaned. “I burn for you.”

Just a few husky words, but coming from a man so taciturn, she thought they must equal reams of poetry.

Katie, I want you. I can’t make it poetry. I can’t make it sound anything other than crude, because it is. I want you in my bed. I want you under me, holding me. I want to bury my cock so deep inside you.

Of course I want you," he said roughly. "Every thought in my head is of you. Tasting you, touching you, taking you in ways your innocent mind can't even fathom. I don't know a cursed thing about art or music or Aristotle. My every though is crude and base and so far beneath you, it might as well be on the opposite side of the earth.

She rolled toward him, nestling close and throwing her arm over his chest. Her fingers toyed idly with the hair there, sifting

So wet,” he murmured.

The words shocked her. She wanted to hear more.

He stilled, resting his temple against hers. His breath stirred her hair as he traced her intimate flesh in slow, tantalizing strokes.

“For me?” he whispered. The vulnerable rasp in his voice undid her.

She kissed his jaw. “For you. Only you.

There was good in him. Raw, molten goodness, bubbling deep in his core. But he didn’t possess the charm or manners to control it. It just erupted periodically in volcano fashion, startling anyone who happened to be nearby.

Thorne, I think I’m falling in love with you.”

“Katie.” He took her face in his hands. Roughly, and with a possessive power that thrilled her. A brooding divot formed between his eyebrows. “Katie, you’re so—”

She wondered what delightfully misanthropic word he would choose this time. Wrongheaded? Foolish? Stubborn?

Kissable, apparently.

He gave up on words and claimed her mouth instead, kissing her with more passion and fire than she would have ever dared to hope.

Whatever soul I had, Katie, I think I placed it in your keeping twenty years ago. And now, it's as if...every time we kiss, you give a little piece of it back.

What is it? For God’s sake, what is it about me you find so intolerable? So wretchedly unbearable you can’t even stand to be in the same room?”

He muttered an oath. “Stop provoking me. You won’t like the answer.”

“I want to hear it anyhow.”

He plunged one hand into her hair, startling a gasp from her lips. Strong fingers curled to cup the back of her head. His eyes searched her face, and every nerve ending in her body crackled with tension. The sinking sun threw a last flare of red-orange light between them, setting the moment ablaze.

“It’s this.”

With a flex of his arm, he pulled her into a kiss.

And he kissed her the way he did everything. Intensely, and with quiet force. His lips pressed firm against hers, demanding a response.

When you look at me that way, I feel so beautiful."

"You are beautiful." He signed deep in his chest. His hands slid up and down her arms, caressing her roughly. "So damned beautiful."

"So are you." She put a hand to his bare chest, tracing the defined ridges of his musculature. "Like a diamond. Hard and gleaming, and cut with all these exquisite facets. Inside...pure, brilliant fire.

When you’re not flapping like an outraged chicken, I sometimes think you’re the most beautiful woman in the world.

You’re hurt.”

“No. No, I’m fine. It’s not blood. The militiamen were adjusting Sir Lewis’s trebuchet, and there was a mishap. You took a melon for me.” She smiled, even though her lips trembled.

You’re like a gift,” he said, his voice rough. “All wrapped up for someone else. A man can’t look at you, but think of loosing those bows, one by one.

You’re not beneath me. I’d never think that.”

Yes, you are beneath her, he reminded himself, bracing against the forbidden bliss coursing through his veins. And don’t dare imagine you’ll ever be atop her. Or curled behind her. Or buried deep inside her while she—

Bloody hell. The fact that he could even think such a thing. He was crude, disgusting. So undeserving of even this slight caress. Her gesture was made out of guilt, offered in apology. If he took advantage, he would be a devil.

He knew all this.

But he flexed his arms anyway, drawing her close.

“You’re worried you’ve hurt my feelings,” he murmured.

She nodded, just a little.

“I don’t have those.”

“I forgot.”

Amazing. He marveled at her foolishness. After all he’d said to her, she would worry about him? Within this small, slight woman lived so much untapped affection, she couldn’t help but squander it on music pupils and mongrel dogs and undeserving brutes. What was it like, he wondered, to live with that bright, glowing star in her chest? How did she survive it?

If he kissed her deeply enough and held her tight—would some of its warmth transfer to him?

You’re undressing me,” he said thickly.

“It can’t be helped.”

“Wasn’t complaining.

You smell so good.” His eyes were closed, and his voice was a low, rummy drawl. “Like clover.”

She swallowed. “I don’t even know what clover smells like.”

“Then you need a good roll in it.