An hour later, Jordan opened the connecting door between their suites of rooms and walked into hers, then stopped short, staring in angry disbelief at the bed. The curtains were pulled back and the pale blue satin coverlet was turned back invitingly, displaying cream silk sheets, but Alexandra was not between them.

He swung around, fully prepared to have every nook and cranny of Hawthorne searched tonight, and then he saw her—standing at the opposite side of the immense room, staring out the mullioned windows into the darkness, her arms wrapped around her as if she were cold. Or afraid. Relief replaced his anger as he approached her, his footsteps muffled by the thick Aubusson carpet, his eyes roving appreciatively over the enticing vision she created. Her hair tumbled over her shoulders in molten waves, and her skin above the low bodice of her white satin gown gleamed in the candlelight.

She swung around when he came up behind her and she saw his reflection in the window glass. Jordan stretched his hand out, gently running it down her shining hair, and anger flashed in her eyes but she did not pull away. Her hair felt like satin in his hand. "So," he said, voicing his thoughts aloud and smiling into her angry eyes, "my little sparrow turned into a beautiful swan."

"Empty compliments from—"

"With teeth," Jordan amended, grinning.

Before she could react, he leaned down and swept her up into his arms.

"Where are you taking me?" she demanded as he strode past her bed.

"To my bed," he whispered, nuzzling her neck. "It's bigger." A bank of candles burned on the mantel at the far end of the room, casting a mellow glow into the shadows. Jordan stepped up onto the huge dais that supported his bed and slowly lowered Alexandra to the floor, enjoying the exquisite sensation of her legs sliding down his. But when he lifted his head and looked into her eyes, something in those huge blue orbs—or perhaps it was the rapid shallow breaths she was taking—finally made him realize that Alexandra was not angry. She was frightened.

"Alexandra?" he asked gently, feeling her tremble when he ran his hands up her arms beneath the satin-and-lace sleeves of her dressing gown. "You're trembling. Are you afraid?"

Unable to force a word out, Alexandra gazed up at the tall, daunting, virile man who was about to do all manner of intimate things to her naked body. She nodded.

With a tender smile, Jordan gently smoothed her hair back off her pale cheek. "It won't hurt you this time, I promise."

"It isn't that!" Alexandra burst out as his hands slid down to the ribbon at her breasts. She clamped her hands over his fingers, her voice strained and rushed as she tried to plead for time. "You don't understand! I don't even know you."

"You 'know' me in the most biblical sense of the word, my sweet," Jordan teased huskily.

"But—but it's been so long…"

Lifting his head, Jordan looked searchingly into her eyes. "Has it?" he asked softly, while an amazing tide of relief swept through him. Based on the accounts of her behavior during the last three months and on his own knowledge of the relaxed morals of the married women in his set, he had been afraid to let himself hope she had known no other men and adamantly unwilling to face the fact that she might well have done so. But there was no mistaking the embarrassed innocence in her eyes as she nodded, and his heart warmed with the certainty that his intoxicatingly lovely wife was still entirely and exclusively his.

"It's been much too long for both of us," he whispered, tenderly kissing her ear.

"Please, stop!" she burst out, and Jordan lifted his head at the sound of genuine panic in her voice. "I—I'm afraid," she admitted, and he knew instinctively how much that admission had cost the courageous girl who'd pitted her will against his for the last three days.

Too wise to laugh at her fears, he tried to make her laugh at them. "I'm a little afraid too," he admitted with a tender smile at her upturned face.

"You—you are? Why?"

His voice was light, reassuring as he untied the ribbon at her bodice, exposing the satin globes of her breasts. "As you said, it's been a very long time." Dragging his gaze from them, he smiled into her eyes and slid her dressing gown off her shoulders. "Suppose I've forgotten exactly how it's done," he said with mock horror. "Once we're in bed, it's too late to ask someone how to go on, isn't it? I mean, I could summon your friend Penrose and ask him for advice, but I'd have to shout the problem at him in order to be heard, which would then wake all the servants and bring them running in here to see what the furor was about…"

Despite her misery, Alexandra couldn't suppress the giggle that rose in her chest, and she scarcely noticed as Jordan's fingers sent her dressing gown sliding down her body, landing in a pool of satin at her feet. "That's better," he said huskily, deliberately keeping his eyes on hers and not her gleaming, naked body as he drew her into his arms. "I like it when you laugh, do you know that?" he continued, trying to ease her shyness as he untied his maroon brocade robe. "Your eyes glow when you smile," he said, and tenderly but inexorably eased her back onto the bed, following her down.

Alexandra looked up into his mesmerizing grey eyes as he leaned up on an elbow, his free hand sliding gently up her midriff, then encompassing her breast while he slowly bent his head and took her mouth in an endless, drugging kiss that made her senses reel.

He kissed her again and again and again, his hands shifting, tormenting, seducing until Alexandra lost all control. Moaning helplessly, she turned into him and kissed him back with all the suppressed longing of the last year. Her parted lips crushed his, her tongue darting into his mouth, her fingers tangling in the crisp, thick hair at his nape as she held his mouth to hers. And in her surrender she gained the victory, for this time it was Jordan who groaned and lost himself in the kiss.

Wrapping his arms around her, he rolled onto his back, taking her with him, his hands eloquent of his urgency as they raced over her satiny skin, his legs tangling with hers, his body slowly thrusting against her hips, telling her what he wanted.

Somewhere in the fiery tumult of his mind, Jordan warned himself to slow down, but his body, starved for more than a year for her, would not listen to the commands of his will—particularly not when Alexandra was kissing his ear as he had kissed hers, sliding her tongue along the sensitive lobe… Shuddering with a need that refused to be denied any longer, Jordan rolled her onto her back, his hand sliding down between her thighs to the warm wetness that assured him she was ready for him.

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