“Here.” The inside, secret curve of her upper thigh.

And finally, “Here.” He put a finger on her curly patch of hair and slowly, deliberately, drew it downwards.

Roberta shook like a sapling in a storm. His finger lingered, slipping deep, tutoring her body to a kind of pleasure she hadn’t imagined.

“Roberta?”

She sobbed in response, and he must have taken it as a yes, because a moment later he started following the path he had laid out. Roberta’s mind sank into a haze of desire. His lips brushed the skin of her stomach, and she squeaked. He migrated to the curve of her hip, and his hands slipped underneath her and shaped her bottom.

“How does that feel?” he asked.

She could hear the control in his voice now, the way he’d taken charge. All she could do was moan. He kept his hands there but his lips went lower and now he was skating across her thigh, nipping her a little, and she was breathing in little pants…which would have been embarrassing but there wasn’t a place for that emotion, not even when he pulled her legs apart and settled between them like a man dedicated to one cause.

Her pleasure.

From the moment his tongue touched her, she surrendered. He may not have known it, but Roberta was lost in a fever dream that had tongues of fire licking in her body. Her hands clenched in the sheets, she was sobbing rather than breathing, when he stopped.

Stopped!

“I forgot to ask permission to kiss you here,” he said, his fingers tracing a particular sensitive spot.

“Yes,” she sobbed. And oh, it was coming again, she was climbing some mountain toward—

He stopped.

“I apologize, Roberta. I forgot to mention this place.” His thumb brushed another sweet fold.

“Oh—yes!” she cried.

The feeling grew in her like a gathering calm before a storm. She was twisting against his hand now and gasping for air. He put a hand on her breast, and the fury broke in her blood, rolled like thunder through her legs. He didn’t stop—he didn’t stop—she arched her back and cried out, let the sweet storm roll over her again and again and again.

Slowly she opened her eyes, and Damon was above her, on his knees.

“You,” she said foolishly.

“Did you like that?” His eyes were dancing and she felt a wave of some emotion she didn’t want to catalog, some emotion that made her wind her arms around his neck and pull him down into a kiss.

His hard body came against hers, and for the first time she realized that a woman’s body is a perfect cradle for a man’s, and that the whole silky soft warmth of her was shaped perfectly for the hardness of his.

He was there…there…“Roberta,” he said, his voice hoarse. “May I?”

There was no thought of baths in her mind. “Yes,” she whispered, her fingers cupping his face. “Yes.”

His eyes darkened, and he kissed her as he thrust into her…which meant that he caught her scream on his lips.

Damon had never felt anything like this. In a life not starved for sensual encounters, he had never experienced anything like making love to Roberta. She was gripping his arms as if he were her savior in a strange land. Perhaps it felt that way to her.

He knew only that she was breathing in deep breathy sobs that brought him to the edge of control. Even without the silky clasp of her body. But if there was one thing he was going to do, it was stay in control.

And he did.

He thrust into her again, and again, and again—fiercely, softly, trying this, adjusting that, listening to her squeaks, and then her cries, and finally, her pleas. When she started pleading, his proud, lovely Roberta, pleading, he put his hands on her sweet bottom and pulled her up, bringing their hips together in a volley of passion. His chest burned, and his whole body was fighting for release but he held back, guided her over the brink, watched as her eyes flew open and she clenched her hands in his hair. Watched her luscious breasts arch toward him as she rode him up, up…up.

And still he didn’t lose control, though his teeth were clenched and he was panting like a stallion after a long ride.

He settled, though, let her body rest for a moment…till her eyes opened again and she smiled at him, all wonder and the shadow of joy there.

“I forgot,” he said.

“Forgot what?” Her voice was husky; it made him pulse inside her, and he had to wage another silent battle with himself.

“I forgot to show you something,” he said. He slipped out of her, not without an internal groan, picked up her boneless body, flipped her over and slid her off the bed so her toes touched the ground. And came around behind her.

“Oh,” she said, startled.

And then, when he rubbed against her, slipped into her impossibly silky depths, “Oh!”

Damon didn’t say anything. He couldn’t. It was taking every ounce of control he had to keep plunging into her while he shaped her breasts in his hands, feasted his eyes on her heart-shaped rear, counted to forty, counted to forty again, and then finally, slowly, she started moving back toward him a little bit, arching and then—finally—she began breathing in that little sob that he knew he would listen for his entire life.

She understood now and was pushing back at him with the same strength with which he thrust into her, giving her everything he had, until she convulsed with a little shriek.

And yet he still didn’t lose control because he wanted to see her, this first time, this first real time.

So he turned her over and slid back into the place where he belonged most in the world, and simply let go. Took her mouth in a kiss that was as savage and possessive as his thrusts. Her hands twined in his hair, and he couldn’t hear for the thundering sound of his own blood in his ears, so he gasped her name, thrusting again and again. Filling her; filling him, if only he’d had the words for the emotion that flooded him.

The room was silent for a long time.

“You’re marrying me.” His voice was deep and certain.

Roberta didn’t answer. She nuzzled into the strength of his arm around her and sighed blissfully.

“Just so you know,” he said.

But she was asleep.

Chapter 33

April 18

Day seven of the Villiers/Beaumont chess matches

R oberta woke up alone.

She stared at the bed curtains, realizing that she ought to think about serious subjects, like her marriage to the Duke of Villiers. But she didn’t want to think: she wanted to dream about Damon…about the way his large hands spanned her breasts, and then slid between her legs, and…everything else.

Until she suddenly woke up again and realized that her heart was beating fast, her breasts were tingling, and her maid would be there any moment to draw back the curtains.

She felt rather foolishly blissful. Almost poetic, in fact. Which was surprising enough to make her rethink the whole idea of poetry.

She wandered down to breakfast to find her father there, sitting beside Teddy. He looked up as she entered. “Mrs. Grope has gone to visit her friends at the theater,” he told her. “Master Teddy is showing me his collection of rocks.”

Roberta sat down beside Teddy. He had a number of small brown rocks in front of him. The dirty kind that one finds anywhere.

“Very interesting,” she told Teddy.

He threw her an exasperated look that was just like his father’s. “The rocks aren’t interesting,” he told her, “it’s where they’re from.”

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