She only realized that he’d stopped kissing when his hand stopped moving.

“Sweetheart?”

She frowned at him. Simeon didn’t say that sort of endearment to her. Nor did he smile like that, a kind of wide, joyful smile like a child in a playground.

“You’re gripping me very tightly,” he said, sparks of mischief in his eyes. “I might have bruises on my arms.” He moved his fingers again and she arched backward with a gasp.

She showed her teeth in a warning. “Simeon…”

“Enough pre-kisses,” he muttered. Before she knew what was happening, there was a warm wet tongue where one finger had been, and still his hand was there, filling her, making her shake all over until she finally dug her fingers into his arms and threw back her head and screamed.

Thirty seconds later she remembered where she was. “Godfrey!”

Simeon cocked an ear. “Still snoring,” he said cheerfully.

She fell backwards.

“No thanks to you,” Simeon added.

“Oh…my,” Isidore said. Her body was slowly coming back to earth. The pleasure felt as if it were still trembling in her toes, singing in her fingertips.

Simeon stood up and started taking off his clothes. He was as methodical as she would have expected. He neatly aligned his boots by the wall. He took off his neckcloth and hung it over a chair.

If Isidore hadn’t been feeling a kind of outrageous, limp pleasure, she would almost have been annoyed. But then she kept looking at his front, and she couldn’t get annoyed. He wanted her, yet there was a part of Simeon that resisted chaos so strongly that he couldn’t rip off his clothes and fall on her like a ravening wolf.

That didn’t mean he wasn’t strung as tightly as a drum. His eyes were glowing with a combination of controlled power and pure lust. Her body stopped being quite so limp and a prickling awareness overtook her.

Naked now, Simeon bent over to place his carefully folded breeches on the old rocking chair. The line of his flank gleamed golden in the firelight.

So what if he were an example of control and methodical thinking? He was gorgeous, and he was hers.

She rolled over on her side and propped up her head with one hand, checking to make sure that her breasts were not flopping inelegantly. They looked quite delectable and round, thank goodness.

He stopped and put a log on the fire.

She bit back a smile. He was afraid. Making love didn’t suit Simeon’s wish to be in control. To be in charge. In fact, she would guess that the parts of it that she most enjoyed, he most disliked.

What she wanted was to see that look on his face again, the one which surrendered to the moment, to the pleasure, to her.

Simeon straightened from the fire, turned and started to sit down next to her, probably intending, gentlemanlike, to ask her what she would prefer. Or something like that.

“My turn,” Isidore said, putting her hand over his mouth before he could speak. She was getting feverish again. She pulled him and pushed him until he was lying flat on the bed. Of course, he was too much of a gentleman to resist, though she could see he didn’t really like it. Simeon wanted to be in control. He felt too vulnerable, lying on his back.

She smiled at him, a sweet, dangerous smile. He was just where she wanted him. Then she reached out to touch him. He was hard, like a marble statue, but burning hot. Smooth and erotic. Made to stroke. He didn’t move while she explored him, soothed him, coaxed him.

He didn’t even make a sound until her hand closed around him again and she made an experimental move—

And then he uttered an odd strangled noise that made her head jerk back. But she knew, she knew that it wasn’t pain, and her fingers curled even tighter.

Then she started all those pre-kisses he had perfected, using two hands instead of one. And she followed them directly with real kisses, dusting his golden skin with the press of her lips. When she reached his nipples, he surged up under her. She looked up to find his eyes wide, full of passion, with no thought of control or order. It was hard to smile and kiss at the same time, but the taste of his skin calmed her giddy pleasure, brought on another kind of wildness. She tasted him, bit him, sipping his skin and his smell. Of course he didn’t scream, the way she did. But his breath came quickly, forcefully, especially the lower she went on his body.

And lower she went.

He tasted like soap, and felt soft and hard at once. He said “No, Isidore,” seeming to wake up, so she put her lips around him.

He fell back then, surrendered, gave in. She played with him, teased him, loved him, until he suddenly surged from beneath her and flipped her over.

“Isidore,” he growled. There wasn’t a bit of control in his eyes, or his hands, or the way he was holding her hard, at the hips. She arched toward him, loving it. He lowered his head to her breast and she started to whimper, almost to scream, except he was—

It felt different this time. She felt softer, welcoming, wetter. The largeness that had felt intrusive earlier felt delicious. She gasped and instinctively tightened around him.

“Don’t ask me to stop,” he said, and the catch in his voice filled her with joy.

“Don’t stop,” she cried. “Don’t…”

He thrust forward, and again, again, again, until she started to give little screams every time. His eyes flared and he smothered her pants with the taste and the shape of his mouth. She thought he was going to stop, but he didn’t, he kept going, and going. Every stroke made the fire burn higher until she was breathing as hard as he was, moving with his body as if they were one.

Finally she tore her mouth away from his and flew free, shuddering against him, crying out and as if Simeon had waited for her, he surged forward, desperate, violent, free…

Then they sank together back onto the bed. It was different, it was all different. They were two bodies, and yet one body.

He rolled them to their sides. She slid her arm around him, still trembling a little, and didn’t say a word.

When a man like Simeon lost every vestige of restraint, it wasn’t ladylike to show exuberance.

Chapter Thirty-six

The Dower House

March 4, 1784

The next evening

“You see, Princess Ayabdar is an extraordinary woman. She is the granddaughter both of the empress and of Ras Michael. And she married Powussen, the Governor of Begemder. I had the privilege of spending quite a good deal of time with her.”

“Why did you do that?” Isidore asked suspiciously.

“Because I was appointed a royal magician.”

“What?”

“I demonstrated that I could break through three shields with a mere tallow candle.”

“How did you do that?

“I loaded my gun with powder and a farthing candle and it went through three leather shields. And I had a magic weapon.”

“Which was?”

“My virginity.” He laughed at the look on her face.

“And here I thought you were saving it just for me.”

“Virginity is a very useful thing. The fact that I was a virgin, attested to by my men, and more seriously, by a court magician who read it in my palm, meant that I was allowed to converse with the princess.”

Isidore snorted. “How many other virgins did she have speaking to her?”

Simeon leaned over and nipped her lip. “I was the only one. There are few grown men who can claim the status.”

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