Her laughter, as always, bewitched him. "I'll give you dignity," he said, and dunked her. It was innocent. Sun and water, the bright beginning of summer, the slippery edge between childhood and the future.

It couldn't stay innocent.

They splashed, warred, swam as sleekly as dolphins. Then came together as they always did, lips meeting first under the surface, then clinging when they burst through into air. Need rose with them, strong and urgent, so that she trembled as she wrapped herself around him. Her lips, warm and wet, parted for his with a trust and acceptance that shook him to the bone.

"Mia. " Knowing that he would die wanting her, he pressed his face into the wet ropes of her hair. "We have to stop. Let's go for a walk. " Even as he spoke, his hands were moving over her. He couldn't help himself.

"I dreamed last night," she said softly. Cradled in his arms, she sighed. "Of you. It's always of you. And when I woke, I knew it would be today. " She dipped her head back, and he all but fell into those great gray eyes. "I want to be with you, and no one else. I want to give myself to you, and no one else. "

His blood pounded for her. He tried to think of right and wrong, of tomorrow. But could only think of now. "You have to be sure. "

"Sam. " She traced kisses over his face. "I've always been sure. "

She slid away from him, but only to take his hand. It was she who led him out of the water and to the cave tucked into the bluff.

The cave was cool and dry, high enough at its heart for him to stand upright. He saw the blanket spread near the far wall, and the candles scattered over the floor. And looked at her.

"I told you I knew. This is our place. " Watching him, she reached for the tiny buttons running down the front of her shirt. And he saw her fingers tremble.

"You're cold. "

"A little. "

He stepped to her. "And afraid. "

Her lips curved. "A little. But I won't be either for long. "

"I'll be careful with you. "

She let her hands fall to her sides so that he could finish unbuttoning her shirt. "I know. I love you, Sam. "

He lowered his lips to hers as he peeled the cotton away. "I love you. "

The little niggle of fear inside her vanished. "I know. "

He'd touched her before, and been touched. Glorious, frustrating caresses, too often hurried. Now as they undressed each other, the candles flickered into life. As they lowered to the blanket, a thin film seemed to coat the mouth of the cave, closing them in.

Their mouths met, sweet and hot. Even as her pleasure began to rise, she sensed him holding back. His fingers, sometimes unsteady, skimmed over her as if he feared she would vanish.

"I won't leave you," she murmured, then gasped when his mouth, suddenly urgent, found her breast. She arched beneath him, hands stroking, body as fluid as the water that scented it. When he looked at her, her hair damp and tumbled on the blanket, her eyes clouded with what he brought her, he shuddered with power.

And made her fly. She cried out, a long, full-throated sound that rippled through him and made him feel invincible. When she opened for him, offering him her innocence, he trembled. Through the rage of blood, the pound of need, he struggled to be gentle. Still, he saw the flicker of shock.

"Only for a minute. " Delirious, he ran kisses over her face. "I promise. Only for a minute. " Then he surrendered to the demands of his body and took her.

Her hands fisted on the blanket, and she bit back the first cry. But almost as soon as the pain began, warmth replaced it.

"Oh. " Her breath shuddered out again, on a sigh. "Of course. " She turned her lips to the side of his neck. "Of course. "

And began to move under

him. She rose and took him deeper, fell and drew him with her. When warmth simmered to heat, their bodies grew slick. Clinging, they took each other. When she lay wrapped in his arms, half dreaming, the candlelight burned gold.

"This is where she found him. "

Sam traced his fingers over her shoulders. He couldn't stop touching her. The lazy sexual haze clouded his mind so he forgot all he'd thought of on the beach. "Hmm?"

"The one who was Fire. The one who's mine. This is where she found her silkie, in human form, and fell in love while he slept. "

"How do you know?"

She started to say she'd always known, but shook her head instead. "She took his pelt and hid it away so she could keep him. For love. It couldn't be wrong when it was for love. "

Basking in the afterglow, Sam nuzzled her neck. He wanted to be here, with her. He wanted nothing, no one else. Never would. Never could. Now, the realization steadied rather than unnerved him.

"Nothing's wrong when it's for love. "

"But she couldn't keep him," Mia said quietly. "Years later, after they'd had children, after she'd lost her sisters, her circle, he found his pelt. He couldn't stop what he did. It was his nature. Once he'd found his

pelt, nothing, not even love, could make him stay. He left her, went into the sea, and forgot she existed. Forgot his home, and his children. "

"It makes you sad to think of it. " He held her tighter. "Don't be sad now. "

"Don't leave me. " She buried her face against his shoulder. "Don't ever leave me. I think I'd die, as she died, alone and heartbroken. "

"I won't. " But something went cold inside him. "I'm right here. Look. " He shifted so that they faced the cave wall. Lifting a finger, he laid it on the stone. Light sparked from his fingertip and etched words into rock.

She read the Gaelic and her eyes misted. " 'My heart is your heart. Ever and always. ' "

She lifted her own finger, carved a Celtic knot beneath the words. A promise of unity. She turned those swimming eyes up to his. "And mine's yours. "

Alone in her house on the cliff, Mia turned her face into her pillow. And murmured his name in her sleep.


Tags: Nora Roberts Three Sisters Island Romance
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