He slid his free hand into her hair, cupped her nape like before. And this time, this time when he lowered his head, she did not stop him, though her heart knocked against her chest like a frightened rabbit. His mouth settled over hers and a shock rippled through her body, slid straight into her core and set up a throbbing response that craved his touch.

She made a noise—she knew she did—but what kind of noise she would never know. Because Kadir caressed the skin of her collarbone, glided his fingers up her throat, cupped her chin and tilted her head back.

And then his tongue slipped between her lips, stroked against her own—and she was lost.

* * *

He did not mean to kiss her quite like this. It was supposed to be a sweet kiss for the people observing them. A kiss to show he’d brought home a wife of whom he was enamored. To show he was serious.

A sweet kiss for his new wife. Not this incredibly hot, shocking, erotic tangling of tongues that had him ready to devour her. This is Emily, he reminded himself. Emily.

Yes, yes.

Emily. Something inside him responded as if it recognized her. Recognized the fit and feel of her mouth against his.

She was lush, his PA, and sweeter than he could have imagined possible. Something about her drove him perfectly insane with the kind of need he didn’t recall feeling in ages—not since he’d been a young man learning his body and how it responded to a woman’s touch.

She made him feel that eager, that green.

But no, that could not be right. He was thirty years old. He’d had his share of lovers over the years, but he was not jaded. Surely someone else had excited him this much. Had made him feel this, well, new.

He just couldn’t recall it right this moment. And he had to cease this demonstration, before it turned into something that would embarrass them both. Already, he’d lost control of his ability to regulate his body’s response.

Which was going to be quite obvious in another few seconds.

Reluctantly, he dragged his mouth from hers. Heard her intake of breath, her shocked gasp when she realized what had just happened. Her eyes fluttered open and for a moment he saw everything in them.

Lust, confusion, need, pain—so many emotions crossed those lovely eyes before she locked them down tight and pressed her lips together. Her fingers were still clutched in his robes. He thought she might let him go too quickly, might give away the game—but she didn’t. Not Emily. No, she let him go softly, smoothed her fingers over his chest, her gaze dropping from his as she did so.

The shy, desperately-in-love bride. By Allah, he was proud of her for it, even if it wasn’t quite the response he’d been looking for. He’d wanted her bolder and more passionate, but this first reaction was perfect.

She was amazing, his Emily. And beautiful. That had certainly been a surprise.

Guido’s people had not turned her into someone else. They’d simply showcased the beautiful body she already had, highlighted her features—her cat’s eyes and her lush chocolate hair. Not to mention those lips he’d just kissed. He’d never seen them in anything but a serious expression—maybe the occasional smile—but like this? Moist and swollen from the pressure of his mouth on hers? So enticing, like the sweetest honey?

How had he managed to ignore her charms for four years?

“Can you walk down the stairs?” he asked, because he had to say something. Something normal, regardless that his heart pounded in his chest and he could still feel the heat of that kiss down to his toes.

She glanced down the steep stairwell. “I’ll do my best.”

He took her hand in his, gripped it tight. “I’ll hold you, Emily. I won’t let you fall.”

She smiled then, but it wavered at the corners, and he knew she was feeling overwhelmed. Guilt pierced him. He’d dragged her into this out of desperation, and now he wasn’t sure it had been the right thing to do. Still, it was done, and he couldn’t turn back now.

“I know you won’t.”

“Do you trust me?” he asked suddenly.

Because, he realized with a start, he wanted something about this to be real. He was back in Kyr after a long absence, and the father who’d filled his childhood with such confusing emotion was dying. The metaphorical ground—the ground he’d taken for granted, no doubt—was being ripped out from under him.

And he wanted something—someone—to hold on to. Something in his life that made sense. Just for now. Just this once.

She squeezed his hand. It was a light touch, tentative. But it was something. “I’ve trusted you for four years, Kadir. I’ll trust you awhile longer.”

He lifted her hand to his mouth, pressed a kiss to the back of it without breaking eye contact. He didn’t miss the shiver that rippled through her, or the answering shudder deep inside him.

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