Merripen's dark eyes took in her reaction. She sensed that he understood what she wanted, needed, even more than she did. He removed his half boots, kicked them aside, and came closer until she caught the scent of salty maleness. He touched the lace-edged collar of her nightgown, fingered it lightly. His hand slid over her chest and molded the weight of her breast. The warm squeeze drew a shiver from her, sensation gathering at the hardening tip. She wanted him to kiss her there. She wanted it so badly that she fidgeted, her toes curling, her lips parting with a gasp beneath the binding cloth.

To her relief, Merripen reached around to the back of her head and untied the gag.


Red and trembling, Win managed an unsteady whisper. "You… you needn't have used that. I would have kept quiet."

Merripen's tone was grave, but there was a pagan gleam in the depths of his eyes. "If I decide to do something, I do it properly."

"Yes." Her throat cinched around a sob of pleasure as his fingers slid into her hair and touched her scalp. "I know that."

Cradling her head in his hands, he bent to kiss her gently, with hot, shallow laps into her mouth, and as she responded he went deeper, demanding more. The kiss went on and on, making her gasp and strain, her own small tongue darting greedily past the edges of his teeth. She was so absorbed in tasting him, so dazed by the current of arousal humming through her, that it took her a little while to realize she was lying back on the bed with him, her bound hands flung over her head.

His lips slid to her throat, savoring her with slow, open kisses.

"Wh-where are we?" she managed to ask, shivering as his mouth found a particularly sensitive place.

"Gamekeeper's cottage." He lingered on that vulnerable spot until she writhed.

"Where is the gamekeeper?"

Kev's voice was passion-thickened. "We don't have one yet."

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Win rubbed her cheek and chin against the heavy locks of his hair, relishing the feel of him. "How is it that I've never seen this place?"

His head lifted. "It's far in the woods," he whispered, "away from noise." He toyed with her breast, softly thumbing the tip. "A gamekeeper needs peace and quiet to care for the birds."

Win was feeling anything but peace and quiet inside, her nerves strung tight, her wrists pulling at the silk bonds. She was dying to touch him, to hold him. "Kev, untie my arms."

He shook his head. The leisurely pass of his hand along her front caused her to arch.

"Oh, please," she gasped. "Kev-"

"Hush," he murmured. "Not yet." His mouth passed hungrily over hers. "I've wanted you for too long. I need you too much." His teeth caught at her lower lip with arousing delicacy. "One touch of your hands and I wouldn't last a second."

"But I want to hold you," she said plaintively.

The look on his face sent a thrill through her. "Before we're through, love, you're going to hold me with every part of your body." He covered her wild heartbeat with a gentle palm. Lowering his head, he kissed her hot cheek and whispered, "Do you understand what I'm going to do, Win?"

She took a fitful breath. "I think so. Amelia told me a few things in the past. And of course, everyone sees the sheep and cattle in spring."

That drew a rare grin from him. "If that's the standard I'm being held to, we'll have no trouble at all."

She captured him with her looped arms and struggled upward to reach his mouth. He kissed her, pushing her back down, sliding one of his knees carefully between her thighs. Gently farther, and farther, until she felt an intimate pressure against the part of her that had begun to ache. The subtle rhythmic friction made her writhe, a sort of squirmy, shivery delight surging from every slow prod. Dazed, Win wondered if doing this with a man she had known so well for so long wasn't somehow far more embarrassing than doing it with a complete stranger.

Night was dissolving into day, the silvery morning slanting into the room, the wood awakening with chirps and rustlings… redstarts, swallows. She thought briefly of everyone back at Ramsay House… Soon they would discover that she was gone. A chill went through her as she wondered if they would look for her. If she returned as a virgin, any future with Merripen would be very much in peril.

"Kev," she whispered in agitation, "perhaps you should hurry."

"Why?" he asked against her throat.

"I'm afraid someone will stop us."

His head lifted. "No one will stop us. An entire army could surround the cottage. Explosions. Lightning strikes. It's still going to happen."

"I still think you should go a bit faster."

"Do you?" Merripen smiled in a way that made her heart stop. When he was relaxed and happy, she thought, he was the handsomest man who had ever lived.

He courted her mouth skillfully, distracting her with deep, fervid kisses. At the same time, he took the front of her nightgown in his hands and pulled, tearing the garment in half as if it were no more substantial than paper lace. Win gave a discomfited gasp but held still.

Merripen levered himself upward. Grasping her wrists, he pulled them over her head once more, exposing her body completely and causing her br**sts to lift. He stared at her pale pink ni**les. The soft growl that came from his throat caused her to quiver. He bent and opened his mouth over the tip of her right breast, and held it against his tongue… so hot… she flinched as if the contact had scalded her. When he lifted his head, the nipple was redder and tighter than it had ever been before.