But Stella didn’t walk away as he’d expected her to. No, she stepped right back into his personal space.
‘Play? You are dragging me to the altar.’
‘You do not want this marriage. Fine. Nor do I. But we must do what is right and best for the baby, for the royal family—an institution far bigger and more important than us two individuals. That is the reality. Accept it. Be the mother you want to be here, in San Felipe.’ He stopped and dragged in a breath, frustrated as hell. ‘And when we are alone I will not take that which you do not want to give. That which you do not want.’
She tempted him to the point of madness, but he was more of a man than that.
‘I know you wouldn’t.’
She took the wind out of his sails. For a half-second he just stared. But a need for more of her honesty burned through any reticence he had left.
‘But you want me. Don’t try to deny it.’ He spoke through clenched teeth. ‘Don’t lie to me.’ There was nothing he hated more than that.
‘I didn’t.’ Stormily she glared back up at him. ‘I won’t.’
The sulky, sultry words tore through the last of his control. He put his hand on her back and pulled her close until she was pressed tightly against him. ‘So, in your version of the future, what would you see us doing about this?’
There was no hiding his desire, and hers was equally obvious. She might have put her hands on his chest to hold him at a small distance, but her fingers spread and stroked, as if she couldn’t resist touching what she could of him. Her body shivered on impact against his, before softening to accommodate and mould to him. Her erect nipples were beautiful beacons, calling for his attention; so was her reddened, pouting mouth.
But she hesitated before answering. ‘There’s no reason why we can’t indulge for a while.’
She licked her lips, but despite the cool breathiness with which she spoke there was no hiding the hint of anxiety in her huge eyes.
He ought to laugh. Instead he was infuriated.
She would try to act the coquette? This woman had avoided physical pleasure for so long and now she was acting as if she was hard enough to cope with that game? Did she intend to acquiesce to a series of meaningless temporary affairs after screwing around with him for a while?
He would never treat her as a disposable sex partner who’d happened to get pregnant. Never let anyone else. The playgirls of minor princes in Europe were often passed from one wealthy lover to the next like possessions—the toys du jour. It wasn’t a scene he had any part of, for all his carefree reputation. The thought of any of those men laying a finger on her scalded his flesh.
Nor would he let the press hound her. Already they reported endlessly on any possible affair of his. Her private life would be up for public speculation, gossip and innuendo. Without palace protection—and control—she might succumb to the need to feed the machine. She might be tempted to sell her story.
She needed the protection of his ring. So did the child. And he would ensure they had it, so that when this ended she would have the dignity and respect of having been his wife. She would have honour, a permanent position. He would ensure the blame for the break-up would be his burden alone.
And she’d admitted her attraction to him. Satisfaction scoured his anger. Rampant sexual anticipation reared. He ached for her surrender to his kiss, to his wishes, to her own pleasure.
Rough desire drew him to mutter in her ear. ‘Your body has known no other but mine. Your body craves mine. And the baby it carries is mine,’ he said rawly, his reason lost. ‘You are mine.’
‘I am not a thing to be owned...’ A shaken whisper, and then her face lifted—unbearably, kissably close to his.
‘No, you are a woman to be treasured. Respected.’
‘I am a soldier,’ she corrected through gritted teeth.
‘You are determined to fight?’ Adrenalin primed his muscles. A bed was the best battleground for them.
‘I’m not that immature. But it is my job to protect. Defend.’
‘What is it that’s so in need of protection? What defence is required when you know I only want what’s best for this baby? When you know I will move heaven and earth to ensure it is safe? Perhaps it is not the child you are protecting. Perhaps it is yourself.’
Her vividly blue eyes widened. ‘I’m not afraid of you.’
‘No? Are you not a little afraid of this?’ He slid his hand over the curve of her butt and around her beautiful long thighs, slipped his fingers up in between them. Even through the old denim he could feel the heat of her. ‘Is that what all this bluster is about? You said yes to me, but was it too intense that day on the beach? Did sweet, virginal Stella get more than she bargained for?’ Ordinarily he’d offer a smile with this teasing, but he was too hard, too serious, because he feared this was the truth. ‘Is that why you ran away?’