Win wondered what it said about her terrible selfishness that such an answer moved and pleased her.

"After you left," Merripen said, "I thought I would go mad. There was no place I could go to feel better. No person I wanted to be with. I wanted you to get well-I would have given my life for it. But at the same time I hated you for leaving. I hated everything. My own heart for beating. I had only one reason to live, and that was to see you again."


Win was touched by the severe simplicity of his declaration. He was a force, she thought. One couldn't subdue him any more than one could settle a lightning storm. He would love her as intemperately as he pleased, and devil take the hindmost.

"Did the women help?" she asked softly. "Did it ease you to lie with them?"

He shook his head. "It made it worse," came his soft reply. "Because they weren't you."

Win leaned farther over him, her hair falling in glinting light ribbons that went across his chest and throat and arms. She stared into eyes as black as sloe. "I want us to be faithful to each other," she said gravely. "From this day forward."

There was a brief silence, a hesitation born not of doubt, but awareness. As if their vows were being heard and witnessed by some unseen presence.

Merripen's chest rose and fell in a long, deep breath. "I'll be faithful to you," he said. "Forever."

"So will I."

"Promise also that you'll never leave me again."

Win lifted her hand from the center of his chest and pressed a kiss there. "I promise."

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She was entirely willing, eager, to seal their vows then, but he wouldn't. He wanted her to rest, her body to have respite, and when she objected, he quieted her with gentle kisses. "Sleep," he whispered, and she obeyed, sinking into the sweetest, darkest oblivion she had ever known.

Daylight canted impatiently against the unlined curtains at the windows, turning them into bright butter-colored rectangles. Kev had held Win for hours. He had not slept at all in that time. The pleasure of staring at her eclipsed the need for rest. There had been other times in his life when he had watched over her like this, especially when she'd been ill. But it was different now that she belonged to him.

He had always been consumed with miserable longing, loving Win and knowing nothing would ever come of it. Now, holding her, he felt something unfamiliar, a bloom of euphoric heat. He let himself kiss her, unable to resist following the glinting arc of her eyebrow with his lips. He moved on to the rosy curve of her cheek. The tip of a nose so adorable that it seemed worthy of an entire sonnet. He loved every part of her. It occurred to him that he had not yet kissed the spaces between her toes, an omission that desperately needed to be corrected.

Win slept with one of her legs hitched over him, her knee tucked between his. Feeling the intimate brush of blond curls against his hip, he went erect, his flesh alive with a hard, precise throbbing he could feel against the linen sheet that covered him.

She stirred and moved her limbs in a trembling stretch, and her eyes half-opened. He sensed her surprise at waking in his arms this way, and the slow dawning of satisfaction as she remembered what had gone before. Her hands crept over him, exploring softly. He was taut everywhere, aroused and unmov-ing, letting her discover him as she wished.

Win reconnoitered his body with an innocent abandon that seduced him utterly. Her lips brushed the taut skin of his chest and side. Finding the edge of his lowest rib, she gnawed gently, like a fastidious little cannibal. One of her hands trailed over his thigh and wandered up to his groin.

He said her name between fragmented breaths, reaching down to those tormenting fingers. But she swatted his hand away with an audible crack of skin against skin. And that aroused him beyond reason.

Win cupped the mass of him below, the shifting weights heavy against her palm. She squeezed, gently rolled the roundness, while he set his teeth and endured her touch as if he were being drawn and quartered.

Moving upward, she gripped the shaft lightly-too lightly. Kev would have begged her to do it harder had he been able to spare the breath. But he could only wait, gasping. Her head bent over him, her golden hair trapping him in a glimmering net. Despite his will to remain still, he couldn't stop the vicious twitch of his cock, the length of it jutting upward. To his shock, he felt her lean down to kiss him. And she continued, working upward along the stiff shaft, while he groaned with pleasure and disbelief.

Her beautiful mouth on him… he was dying, losing his sanity. She was too inexperienced to know how to proceed. She didn't take him deep, only licked the tip as he had done to her before. But holy Christ, it was enough for now. Kev let out an anguished groan as he felt a sweet, wet tug and heard the sound of her suckling. Muttering a garbled mixture of Romany and English, he seized her h*ps and dragged them upward. He buried his face in her, his tongue working voraciously until she writhed like a captured mermaid.

Tasting her arousal, he sank his tongue deep, again and again. Her legs stiffened, as if she were about to come. But he had to be inside her when it happened, had to feel her grip and clench around him. So he toppled her carefully and eased her to her front, and pushed a pillow beneath her hips.

She moaned and parted her knees wider. Needing no further invitation, he positioned himself, his c**k slick with the moisture from her mouth. Reaching beneath her, he found the tiny swollen bud, and he massaged slowly while he fed his shaft into her, his fingers stroking faster with every hard inch that pushed forward, and when he had finally buried his full length, she cl**axed with a sobbing cry.