The stockinged legs clamped around his waist, and she held on to him desperately, as if they were on the tossing deck of a storm-ravaged ship. But Kev kept her pinned and secure, letting his h*ps do the work. The band of his trousers slipped free of the anchoring clips of his braces, and the garment slid to his knees. He averted his face to hide a brief grin, momentarily considering the idea of stopping to take his clothes off… but it felt too good, the lust rising until it eclipsed every trace of amusement.

Win let out a little breath with each wet, rolling drive, feeling herself being filled, ransacked. He paused to kiss her hungrily, while he reached down with gentle fingers and teased the swollen lips apart. When the rhythm resumed, his thrusts grazed the little peak with each firm inward plunge. Her eyes closed as if in sleep, her intimate flesh working on him in frantic pulses.


In, and in, rooting deeper, driving her further to the edge. Her legs went tight around his waist. She stiffened and cried out against his mouth, and he sealed the kiss to keep her quiet. But little moans slipped through, her pleasure shuddering and overrunning. As Kev buried himself in the lovely milking softness, ecstasy shot through him, spilling hotly, gradually easing into helpless throbs.

Gasping, Kev lowered her legs to the floor. They stood, their bodies moistly locked, their mouths rubbing in soothing kisses and sighs. Win's hands slipped beneath his shirt and moved over his sides and back in gentle benediction. He withdrew from her carefully and stripped the clothes from his steaming body.

Somehow they made it to the bed. Kev dragged them both into the cocoon of wool and linen and nestled Win against him. The scents of her, of both of them, rose in a light saline perfume to his nose. He breathed it in, stirred by the mingled fragrance.

"Me voliv tu," he whispered, and brushed her smiling lips with his. "When a Rom tells his woman, 'I love you,' the meaning of the word is never chaste. It expresses desire. Lust."

That pleased Win. "Me voliv tu," she whispered back. "Kev…"

"Yes, love?"

"How does one marry the Romany way?"

"Join hands in front of witnesses, and make a vow. But we'll do it the way of the gadje, too. And every other way I can think of." He took off her garters and unrolled her stockings one by one, and wiggled her toes individually until she made a little purring sound.

Reaching for him, she guided his head to her br**sts, arching upward invitingly. He obliged her, taking a pink tip into his mouth and circling it with his tongue until it contracted into a tender-hard bud.

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"I don't know what to do now," Win said, her voice languid.

"Just lie there. I'll take care of the rest."

She chuckled. "No, what I meant was, what do people do when they finally reach their happy-ever-after?"

"They make it a long one." He fondled her other breast, gently shaping the roundness with his fingers.

"Do you believe in happy-ever-after?" she persisted, gasping a little as he gave her a playful nip.

"As in the children's tales? No."

"You don't?"

He shook his head. "I believe in two people loving each other." A smile curved his lips. "Finding pleasure in ordinary moments. Walking together. Arguing over things like the timing of an egg, or how to manage the servants, or the size of the butcher's bill. Going to bed each night, and waking up together each morning." Lifting his head, he cradled the side of her face in his hand. "I've always started every day by going to the window for a glimpse of the sky. But now I won't have to."

"Why not?" she asked softly.

"Because I'll see the blue of your eyes instead."

"How romantic you are," she murmured with a grin, kissing him gently. "But don't worry. I won't tell anyone."

Merripen began to make love to her again, so engrossed that he didn't seem to notice the slight rattle of the door lock.

Peeking over his shoulder, Win saw the long, skinny body of Beatrix's ferret stretching upward to pluck the key from the lock. Her lips parted to say something, but then Merripen kissed her and spread her thighs. Later, she thought giddily, ignoring the sight of Dodger squeezing beneath the door with the key in his mouth. Perhaps later would be a better time to mention it…

And soon she forgot all about the key.

Chapter Twenty-three

Although the pliashka, or betrothal ceremony, traditionally went on for several days, Kev had decided it would last for only one night.

"Have we locked away the silver?" he had asked Cam earlier, when the Gypsies from the river campsite had begun pouring into the house, dressed in colorful clothes and jingling finery.

"Phral," Cam had said cheerfully, "there's no need for that. They're family."

"It's because they're our family that I want the silver locked away."

In Kev's opinion, Cam was enjoying the betrothal process a bit too much. A few days earlier he had made a show of presenting himself as Kev's representative, to negotiate a bride-price with Leo. The two of them had mock-debated the respective merits of groom and bride, and how much the groom's family should pay for the privilege of acquiring a treasure such as Win. Both sides had concluded, with great hilarity, that it was worth a fortune to find a woman who would tolerate Merripen. All this while Kev sat and scowled at them, which seemed to amuse the addlepates even more.

With that formality concluded, the pliashka had been quickly planned and enthusiastically undertaken. A huge feast would be served after the betrothal ceremony, featuring roast pig and beef joints, all manner of fowl, and platters of potatoes fried with herbs and copious amounts of garlic. In deference to Beatrix, hedgehog was not on the menu.