“What does it matter to you?” she asked against his damp shirt. “What do you care what color my h-hair is?” She felt the hard wall of his chest beneath his shirt, and she wanted to delve beneath the garment, rub her mouth and cheeks through the dark fleece.

His voice was soft and fierce. “Because it’s not you. It’s not right. What are you hiding from?”


She shook her head weakly, her eyes swimming. “I can’t explain. There’s too much … I can’t. If you knew, I would have to go. And I want to stay with you. Just a little longer.” A sob slipped from her throat. “Not you, I meant your family.”

“You can stay. Tell me, so I can protect you.”

She swallowed back another sob. There was a hot, irritating trickle on the side of her face. A tear had slid into her hairline. She lifted a hand to brush at it, but he had already put his mouth there, his lips absorbing the trail of wet salt. Her trembling hand curved around his head. She hadn’t meant to encourage him, but he took it as such, his mouth finding hers hungrily. And she moaned, lost in a flood of urgent feeling.

He slid an arm beneath her neck, supporting her as he kissed her. She felt the excitement in him, heard it in the rasp of his breathing as he searched and teased and licked deep. His weight lifted from her, his warm hand settling on the damp fabric covering her midriff. She might as well have been na**d for all the concealment the chemise provided, her ni**les rising tightly against the transparent chill of fabric. He kissed her over the wet muslin, his mouth fastening over the rosy veiled point. Impassioned, he tugged at the tie of her chemise and spread the garment to reveal the shapes of her br**sts, high and small and round.

“Cat…” The rush of his breath against her damp skin made her shiver. “I could die of wanting you, you’re so lovely … sweet … God …” He drew a flushed bud into his mouth, circling it with his tongue, tugging softly. At the same time his fingers went to her intimate flesh, tracing the delicate slit, stroking until she was open and wet. She felt the gentle pass of his thumb over a place of excruciating sensation, the caress sending fire up to the base of her throat. Her h*ps lifted into the soft stroking, and he teased her lightly, tenderly, until pleasure hummed through every part of her and an extraordinary promise of relief hovered just out of reach.

His touch deepened, a finger nudging the entrance of her body. The gentle invasion caused her to shrink backward in surprise. Except that she was on the floor on her back, and there was no place to retreat. She reached down reflexively, her hand going to his.

Leo nuzzled the side of her neck. “Innocent darling. Relax and let me touch you, let me…” She felt the intricate workings of bone and tendon in the back of his hand as his finger slid farther into the fluid softness. She caught her breath, her body grasping helplessly at the careful intrusion.

Leo’s heavy lashes lowered over smoldering eyes, the color of the pale blue heart of a flame. A flush had crossed his cheeks and the bridge of his nose. “I want to be inside you,” he said thickly, caressing her. “Here … and deeper…”

An incoherent sound climbed in her throat as the subtle inner teasing drew her knees up and caused her toes to curl. She was suffused with desperate heat, craving things she had no words for. Drawing his head down to hers, she kissed him frantically, needing the voluptuous pressure of his mouth, the thrust of his tongue’

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A series of determined raps on the door broke through the lurid haze of sensation. Leo cursed and pulled his hand from between her thighs, and tucked her body beneath his. Cat whimpered, her heart pounding madly.

“Who is it?” Leo called out brusquely.


“If you open that door, I will kill you.” The statement was uttered with the vicious sincerity of a man who had been pushed to his limits. Apparently it was enough to give even Cam Rohan pause.

After a long moment, Cam said, “I want a word with you.”


“Definitely now,” came the inexorable reply.

Closing his eyes, Leo drew in a taut breath and expelled it slowly. “Downstairs in the library.”

“Five minutes?” Cam persisted.

Leo stared at the closed door with an expression of incredulous wrath. “Go, Rohan.”

As Cam’s footsteps retreated, Leo looked down at Catherine. She couldn’t seem to stop writhing and trembling, her nerves jangling with agitation. Murmuring quietly, he held her close and rubbed circles on her back and hips. “Easy, love. Let me hold you.” Gradually the frantic need faded, and she lay still in his arms, her cheek pressed against his.

Leo stood and scooped her up easily, and carried her to the bed. He set her half-naked body on the mattress. While she perched on the edge of the bed and fumbled to draw the counterpane around herself, he hunted for her spectacles. Finding them in the corner of the room, he brought them back to her.

The spectacles were beginning to look rather the worse for wear, she thought ruefully, straightening the battered wire frames and polishing the lenses with a corner of the counterpane.

“What are you going to say to Mr. Rohan?” she asked hesitantly, putting the spectacles on.

“I don’t know yet. But for the next two days, until the damned ball is over, I’m going to put some distance between us. Because our relationship seems to have become a bit too flammable for either of us to manage. Afterward, however, you and I are going to talk. No evasions, no lies.”