Win relaxed helplessly as the spasms faded. She was filled with glowing weariness, a sense of peace too pervasive to allow movement. Merripen let go of her just long enough to undress completely. Naked and aroused, he came back to her. He gathered her up with brute masculine need, settling over her.

She lifted her arms to him with a drowsy murmur. His back was tough and sleek beneath her fingers, the muscles twitching eagerly at her touch. His head descended, his shaven cheek rasping against hers. She met his power with utter surrender, flexing her knees and tilting her h*ps to cradle him.


He pushed gently at first. The innocent flesh resisted, smarting at the intrusion. He thrust more strongly, and Win caught her breath at the burning pain of his entrance. Too much of him, too hard, too deep. She writhed in reaction, and he buried himself heavily and pinned her down, gasping for her to be still, telling her to wait, he wouldn't move, it would be better. They both stilled, breathing hard.

"Should I stop?" Merripen whispered raggedly, his face taut.

Even now in this flash point of need, he was concerned for her. Understanding what it had cost him to ask, how much he needed her, Win was overwhelmed with love. "Don't even think of stopping now," she whispered back. Reaching down to his lean flanks, she stroked him in shy encouragement. He groaned and began to move, his entire body trembling as he pressed within her.

Although every thrust caused a sharp burn where they were joined, Win tried to pull him even deeper. The feeling of having him inside her went far beyond pain or pleasure. It was necessary.

Merripen stared down at her, his eyes brilliant in his flushed face. He looked fierce and ravenous and even a bit disoriented, as if he were experiencing something beyond the scope of ordinary men. Only now did Win grasp the enormity of his passion for her, the years it had accumulated despite all his efforts to smother it. How hard he had fought against their fate, for reasons she still didn't fully understand. But now he possessed her body with a reverence and intensity that eclipsed all other feeling.

And yet he loved her as a woman, not some ethereal creature. His feelings for her were full-blooded, lusty, elemental. Exactly as she had wanted.

She took him, and took him, wrapping him in her slender legs, burying her face in his throat and shoulder. She loved the sounds he made, the soft grunts and growls, the harsh flow of his breath. And the power of him around her and inside her. Tenderly she stroked his back and sides and pressed kisses on his neck. He seemed electrified by her attentions, his movements quickening, his eyes closing tightly. And then he thrust upward and held, and shook all over as if he were dying.

"Win," he groaned, burying his face against her. "Win." The single syllable contained the faith and passion of a thousand prayers.

Minutes passed before either of them spoke. They stayed wrapped together, fused and damp and unwilling to part.

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Win smiled as she felt Merripen's lips drift over her face. When he reached her chin, he gave it a little nip. "Not a pedestal," he said gruffly.

"Hmmn?" She stirred, raising her hand to the shaven bristle of his cheek. "What do you mean?"

"You said I put you on a pedestal… remember?"


"It was never that. I've always carried you in my heart. Always. I thought that would have to be enough."

Moved, Win kissed him gently. "What happened, Kev? Why did you change your mind?"

Chapter Eighteen

Kev didn't intend to answer that until he had taken care of her. He left the bed and went to the small kitchen, which had been fitted with a cookstove with a brass water reservoir and pipes leading through the firebox to provide hot water instantly. Filling a hot-water can, he brought it to the bedroom along with a clean tea towel.

He paused at the sight of Win lying on her side, the flowing curves draped in white linen, her hair spilling over her shoulders in rivers of silvery gold. And best of all, the sated softness of her face and the swollen rosi-ness of lips he had kissed and kissed. It was an image from his deepest dreams, seeing her in bed like that. Waiting for him.

He dampened the toweling with hot water and peeled back the sheet, enchanted by her beauty. He would have wanted her no matter what, virgin or no… but he privately acknowledged his satisfaction in having been her first lover. No one but he would touch her, pleasure her, see her… except…

"Win," he said, frowning as he washed her, pressing the steaming cloth between her thighs. "At the clinic, did you ever wear less than your exercise costume? That is, did Harrow ever look at you?"

Her face was composed, but there was a glitter of amusement in her rich blue eyes. "Are you asking if Julian ever saw me na**d in a professional capacity?"

Kev was jealous, and they both knew it, but he couldn't stop from scowling. "Yes."

"No, he didn't," she said primly. "He was interested in my respiratory system, which, as you clearly know, is in a far different location than the reproductive organs."

"He's interested in more than your lungs," Kev said darkly.

She smiled. "If you're hoping to divert me from the question I asked earlier, it's not working. What happened to you last night, Kev?"

He rinsed the bloodstains from the towel, wrung it out, and pressed another warm pad between her thighs. "I was in the pinfold."

Her eyes widened. "The gaol? Is that where Leo went? To get you out?"


"Why in heaven's name were you behind bars?"