"I'm sorry, love," he whispered hoarsely, cupping her bottom in his hands and lifting her hips to receive him. "I… can't… wait." His breath caught as he eased himself slowly into her incredibly welcoming warmth, careful lest he hurt her, then he stopped in agonized surprise when she suddenly turned her face away from him and two bright tears slid from beneath her long, curly lashes.

"Alexandra?" he whispered, his arms and shoulders taut with the effort he was exerting to control the pounding need of his body to be fully sheathed within her. Bracing himself on one forearm, he took her chin between his thumb and forefinger and firmly turned her face on the pillow. "Open your eyes and look at me," he commanded quietly.

Her tear-drenched lashes fluttered, and he stared into aqua eyes swimming with tears.

"Am I hurting you?" he asked in disbelief.

Alexandra swallowed and shook her head, fighting down the wanton urge to plead with him to take her, to beg him to love her with his heart and his body, as she had been longing to do almost from the moment he stretched out beside her and took her in his arms. And that was why she was crying. In a few short minutes, his lovemaking had broken down every barrier she had erected against him, battered down her defenses and left her as weak and eager for him as she'd been as a naive girl.

"Darling, what is it?" he asked, leaning down and kissing the tear from her cheek. "Don't you want me?"

It was the humble, boyish innocence of the question, combined with the tender endearment, that was her undoing. "Yes," she whispered, gazing up into his eyes, seeing the passion he was fighting to restrain.

"Then why the tears?" he whispered.

"Because," she admitted in a fierce, suffocated little voice, "I don't want to want you."

A sound that was part groan, part laughter escaped him as he shoved his fingers into her luxuriant hair, imprisoning her face between his hands at the same moment he thrust himself full-length into her, plunging deep. Her hips arched spasmodically beneath him and Jordan lost all control. "I want you," he groaned hoarsely, withdrawing and then plunging again, deeper and deeper with each stroke, his heart swelling with joy as he felt his wife wrap her arms around his shoulders and surrender completely to his stormy desire: "I want you so much," he gasped, "that I can't wait—"

Her nails dug into the bunched muscles at his back and her hips lifted and Jordan climaxed within her with a force that tore her name from his chest in an agonized gasp.

When he moved onto his side, he wrapped his arms around her, cradling her against him while he waited for his labored breathing to even out. Staring into the candlelit darkness beyond the dais, he felt sanity finally return and with it came two stunning realizations: The first was that he had actually asked his own wife if she wanted him—like a small boy pleading for favors.

Never in his entire life had he asked a woman to want him. For that matter, never had he rushed one into bed so quickly as he'd rushed Alexandra tonight, nor had he ever spent himself so fast either. His pride rebelled at his performance in bed tonight and his general lack of control.

Beneath him, Alexandra stirred and lifted her head, tilting it back on the pillow so that she could see his face in the candlelight, studying his taut jaw as he stared straight ahead, lost in thought. "You're angry?" she whispered, filled with disbelief and dismay.

Jordan tipped his chin down and smiled without humor. "At myself, not you."

"Why?" she asked, all lovely innocence and naked woman, her eyes searching his.

"Because I—" He shook his head and clamped his mouth shut. Because I want you too much, he admitted angrily to himself. Because I lost control tonight. Because the simple touch of your hands on me makes me insane with wanting. Because you can make me angrier than anyone alive and because, in the throes of my fury, you can make me laugh. Because where you are concerned, I'm vulnerable. Soft…

His father's voice shouted scathingly in Jordan's head: "You can't be soft and be a man, Jordan… A man is hard, tough, invulnerable… A man doesn't need to trust anyone but himself… We use women for pleasure but we don't need them… A man doesn't need anyone."

Jordan shoved the memories from his head and forcibly reminded himself what a mockery his father's marriage had been. Still, he wished to God he'd taken Alexandra somewhere else; Hawthorne and the memories that dwelled here made him edgy.

Alexandra's soft, timid words drew him from his thoughts. "May I go to my own room now? I can see that I've somehow displeased you."

Unexpectedly, his heart wrenched at the thought of her believing that. "On the contrary," he said, grinning to hide the truth of his words. "You please me too much."

She looked so skeptical that he chuckled. "In bed, you please me," he clarified teasingly, smiling into her eyes. "Out of it, you infuriate me. I suppose the only solution," he huskily added as desire surged through him with renewed force, "is to keep you in bed with me." Bending his head, he took her sweet lips in a deep kiss that soothed his raw emotions. He had made too much of everything associated with their lovemaking tonight, he decided. After all, this was the first time in his life since he turned fourteen that he'd been without a woman for more than a month, let alone an entire year. Naturally, he'd been overeager, overemotional…

And this time, when he made love to her, Jordan lingered over her for hours, holding himself back while he guided Alexandra to peak after peak of trembling ecstasy, and then joining her there.

Dawn was already streaking the purple sky with wide pink slices when Jordan made love to her for the last time and finally fell into a deep slumber.

Cautiously lifting his imprisoning arm from around her waist, Alexandra inched forward and slid out from beneath the sheets. Her body, unused to such vigorous lovemaking, felt weak, limp, and deliriously weary as she walked silently around to his side of the bed and picked up her satin dressing gown.

Sliding her arms into the sleeves, she wrapped the gown around her, then hesitated, looking down at her husband. His dark hair was inky against the gleaming whiteness of the pillow, and sleep softened the rugged contours of his tanned face, making him look almost boyish. The sheet had slid down to his hips, exposing to her view the full expanse of his broad, muscled chest and arms. He was tanned there too, she realized with a start. She hadn't noticed that in the night, but evidently he must have left his shirt off while he was sailing home to England. He was thinner, too, from his imprisonment. Much too thin.

Tags: Judith McNaught Sequels Billionaire Romance
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