As Merripen cupped the soft shape of her breast over the gown, the tip ached and hardened. His head bent. To Win's astonishment, she felt him biting against the cloth until her nipple was caught in the light clamp of his teeth. A whimper escaped her, and her h*ps jerked upward reflexively.

Merripen crawled over her. His face was misted with sweat, his nostrils flared from the force of his breathing. The front of her skirts had ridden up between them. He tugged them higher and impelled himself between her thighs until she felt the thick ridge of him between the layers of her drawers and his trousers. Her eyes flew open. She stared up into the black fire of his gaze. He moved against her, letting her feel every inch of what he wanted to put inside her, and she moaned and opened to him.


He made a primitive sound as he rubbed over her again, caressing her with unspeakable intimacy. She wanted him to stop, and at the same time she wanted him never to stop. "Kev." Her voice was shaking. "Kev-"

But his mouth covered hers, penetrating deeply, while his h*ps moved in slow strokes. Shaken and impassioned, she lifted against that demanding hardness. Each wicked thrust caused sensations to spread, heat unfolding.

Win writhed helplessly, unable to speak with his mouth possessing hers. More heat, more delicious friction. Something was happening, her muscles tightening, her senses opening in readiness for… for what? She was going to faint if he didn't stop. Her hands groped at his shoulders, pushing at him, but he ignored the feeble shove. Reaching beneath her, he cupped her squirming bottom and pulled her higher, right against the pumping, sliding pressure. A suspended moment of exquisite tension, so sharp that she gave an uneasy whimper.

Suddenly he flung himself away from her, going to the opposite side of the room. Bracing his hands against the wall, he hung his head and panted, and shivered like a wet dog.

Dazed and trembling, Win moved slowly, restoring her clothing. She felt desperate and painfully empty, needing something she had no name for. When she was covered again, she left the bed on unsteady legs.

She approached Merripen cautiously. It was obvious he was aroused. Painfully so. She wanted to touch him again. Most of all she wanted him to put his arms around her and tell her how overjoyed he was to have her back.

But he spoke before she reached him. And his tone was not encouraging. "If you touch me," he said in a guttural voice, "I'm going to drag you back to that bed. And I won't be responsible for what happens next."

Win stopped, plaiting her fingers.

Eventually Merripen recovered his breath. And he gave her a glance that should have immolated her on the spot.

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"Next time," he said flatly, "some advance warning of your arrival might be a good idea."

"I did send advance notice." Win was amazed that she could even speak. "It must have been lost." She paused. "That was a f-far warmer welcome than I expected, considering the way you've ignored me for the past two years."

"I haven't ignored you."

Win took quick refuge in sarcasm. "You wrote to me once in two years."

Merripen turned and rested his back against the wall. "You didn't need letters from me."

"I needed any small sign of affection! And you gave me none." She stared at him incredulously as he remained silent. "For heaven's sake, Kev, aren't you even going to say that you're glad I'm well again?"

"I'm glad you're well again."

"Then why are you behaving this way?"

"Because nothing else has changed."

"You've changed," she shot back. "I don't know you anymore."

"That's as it should be."

"Kev," she said in bewilderment, "why are you behaving this way? I went away to get well. Surely you can't blame me for that."

"I blame you for nothing. But the devil knows what you could want from me now."

I want you to love me, she wanted to cry out. She had traveled so far, and yet there was more distance between them than ever. "I can tell you what I don't want, Kev, and that is to be estranged from you."

Merripen's expression was stony and unfeeling. "We're not estranged." He picked up her cloak and handed it to her. "Put this on. I'll take you to your room."

Win pulled the garment around herself, stealing discreet glances at Merripen, who was all brooding energy and suppressed power as he tucked his shirt into his trousers. The X of the braces over his back highlighted his magnificent build.

"You needn't walk with me to my room," she said in a subdued voice. "I can find my way back without-"

"You're to go nowhere in this hotel alone. It's not safe."

"You're right," she said sullenly. "I would hate to be accosted by someone."

The shot hit its mark. Merripen's mouth hardened and he gave her a dangerous glance as he shrugged into his coat.

How much he reminded her just now of the rough, wrathful boy he had been when he had first come to the Hathaways.

"Kev," she said softly, "can't we resume our friendship?"

"I'm still your friend." "But nothing more?" "No."

Win couldn't help glancing at the bed, at the rumpled counterpane that covered it, and a new surge of heat went through her.

Merripen went still as he followed the direction of her gaze. "That shouldn't have happened," he said roughly. "I shouldn't have-" He stopped and swallowed audibly. "I haven't… had a woman in a while. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time."