The contact of his body against hers almost shattered his control. It was the most wonderful feeling he’d ever experienced. She was so soft all over. He suddenly wanted to touch her everywhere. His heart started slamming inside his chest, and he had to take a deep breath to try to regain his discipline.

The initial touch of his body against hers overwhelmed her. He was so hard, so hot, so big all over. He seemed to swallow her up. When he forced her thighs apart with his knee and settled himself between her legs, his hardness pressed against her pelvis, she went completely rigid.


The time had finally come, she realized. She braced herself for the pain she’d heard so much about. She took a ragged breath and tried to prepare herself for his invasion.

Royce kissed her forehead, then looked down at her. He waited for her to open her eyes. Then he grinned at her. “Feels good, doesn’t it?”

Lord, he sounded pleased with himself. He looked happy, too. Royce didn’t act at all like a man crazed with lust, either. When that realization settled in her mind, she began to relax. “It feels strange to me,” she admitted.

She rubbed her toes against his legs. His crisp hair tickled her. The differences between their bodies amazed her. The heat from his chest against her br**sts made her ni**les ache in an odd, heavy way. His arousal, nestled intimately against the juncture of her thighs, made that heavy, warm feeling permeate her stomach and pelvis, too. It felt good to her, and yet she ached at the same time. The feeling was as confusing to her as her sudden awareness that Royce didn’t seem to be at all affected by their closeness.

The fear had left her eyes. Now his wife looked disgruntled. He wondered what thoughts were going through her mind now.

“You do want me, don’t you, Royce?”

He almost laughed. She sounded worried. The effort to act as though he had all the time in the world to bed her had been worth the agony, he told himself. If Nicholaa had any idea of the battle he was undergoing to keep her calm, if she could guess what he wanted to do to her, she’d probably swoon.

“Yes, I want you. Can’t you feel me against you? I ache with my need for you, Nicholaa.”

Her eyes widened. “You ache?”

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He nodded. He took her hand and shifted his weight so she could touch his hard arousal. Yet the second her fingers brushed against him, his forehead dropped on top of hers and he let out a ragged groan.

She was both curious and terrified. When he moaned, she pulled her hand away. He put it back. She knew then he liked her touch.


He gritted his teeth against the fear he heard in her voice, then let out a sigh. “Yes, Nicholaa?”

“We won’t fit.”

He lifted up to look into her eyes again. She wasn’t teasing him. The worry was there in her gaze. His smile was filled with tenderness. “Aye, we will fit,” he promised her in a husky whisper.

Her fingers closed around his shaft. He closed his eyes in blissful surrender. The pleasure her touch gave him amazed her. It made her feel bold—powerful, too. She squeezed him. He growled, then pulled her hand away and put it around his neck.

He was taking deep breaths against her neck. His warm breath sent shivers down her legs. “I’m glad you want me,” she whispered. “Is there something I should do to help you?”

He kissed the blush on her cheek, then kissed the bridge of her nose. “Just tell me what you like, Nicholaa. I want to please you.”

She gently stroked his face. “I want to please you too, husband.”

His mouth covered hers then. The kiss was hot, wet, thoroughly arousing. He gave her his tongue; she caught it between her teeth just to tease him. His growl told her he liked that. Then he nibbled on her neck again. His chest hair rubbing against her br**sts felt good, and she suddenly wanted more. She deliberately rubbed against him. The warm knot inside her began to expand.

Royce liked her restless motions as much as she did. He couldn’t seem to get enough of her soon enough. He kissed her shoulders while his hands caressed her breasts. When his thumbs brushed over her nipples, she arched up against him to let him know how much she liked that.

His actions weren’t as deliberate now, for his control was quickly vanishing. He moved down her body until he was able to kiss her breasts. He cupped her left breast in his hand, then took the nipple into his mouth. She whimpered when he began to suckle. She clung to his shoulders and arched up against him again.

He kissed the valley between her breasts. His hand moved down between her thighs. His fingers gently touched the heat there. The soft curls shielding her virginity were damp with passion. Nicholaa tried to push his hand away, but he wouldn’t be deterred. “You’ll like this,” he promised before his mouth claimed hers again for a long, hot kiss.

His thumb rubbed against her most sensitive spot. She arched up against him and moaned into his mouth. White-hot desire claimed her. She kissed him with a passion that left him shaken. Royce slowly forced his fingers inside her slick, tight opening. His own desire was almost completely out of control now. A sheen of perspiration covered his brow. Nicholaa felt hot, wet, wonderful. His mouth clung to hers, and his tongue slid in and out in a mating ritual that his fingers mimicked until she was bucking against his hand and whimpering with pleasure.

He couldn’t wait any longer. He moved between her legs, spread her thighs farther apart, and slowly began to penetrate her. Her nails dug into his shoulder blades. She squirmed, trying to get away from him, and inadvertently took a little more of him inside herself. He stopped when he felt the shield of her virginity blocking him. He tried to be gentle as he pushed through the barrier. She wouldn’t let him. She tightened against him and tried to push him away.

He soothed her with honeyed words while he stroked her backside. She didn’t understand his intent when he lifted her thighs higher up on his hips.

“Don’t fight me, Nicholaa,” he whispered.

She barely understood what he was telling her. Her mind was a riot of emotions. She was trembling with desire, and yet the ache he was causing made the pleasure and the pain blend into such confusing feelings. She didn’t want him to hurt her, but she didn’t want him to stop, either.

He didn’t give her any warning. With one powerful thrust, he broke through the shield and fully embedded himself inside her.

Nicholaa cried out in pain. She clung to her husband, buried her face against his neck, and demanded that he move away from her.

He wouldn’t obey her.

“Royce, you’re hurting me.”

Bracing his weight on his elbows, he kissed her hard. His hands cupped her face. Nicholaa tried to move away from him again, but his weight made that impossible. Tears streamed down her face. She was throbbing with pain, though in truth the raw feeling had eased.

The look on Royce’s face was intense, determined, and yet there was tenderness there as well. “It’s going to feel better soon,” he whispered. He took a deep, shuddering breath. “Give me just a minute, sweetheart. Then I’ll help you like it.”

She didn’t want his help. She wanted him to get off of her. He tried to kiss her again. She turned her face away from him. Royce followed her. He tugged on her lower lip with his teeth until she opened for him; then he kissed her long and hard.

Royce didn’t know how much longer he could maintain his control. The sweet torture of holding still inside her made him throb with pain. He wanted to slam into her tight sheath again and again until he found his release and spilled his seed into her.

He wanted her to want that as much as he did, though. Her pleasure was far more important to him than his own.

The longer he kissed her, the more she relaxed. Royce was deliberately giving her body time to adjust to him, and when she finally began to caress his shoulders, he thought the initial pain might have eased.

His hand moved down between their joined bodies. Nicholaa caught hold of his wrist and tried to stop him. “Let go, Nicholaa,” he ordered, his voice a ragged whisper. “You’ll like this.”

She couldn’t stop him. He was right, too, she realized with a sigh. She did like the way he was touching her now. His fingers knew just where to stroke. When his thumb brushed against the sensitive nub hidden between her soft feminine folds, she almost came off the bed. The pleasure was intense, consuming.

He kept up the sweet torment until she felt as though her body had turned to liquid in his arms. Her whole body instinctively tightened around him. He groaned in reaction. He partially withdrew, then sank deep inside her again.

Her control was slipping away. She couldn’t seem to catch a thought and hold on to it. The pressure building inside her was unbearable. She wanted Royce to stop, for she was suddenly terrified by the feelings overwhelming her, and yet she didn’t want him to stop, and that scared her even more.

“Royce, I can’t—”

He silenced her protest with a deep kiss. “It’s all right, love. Don’t be afraid. I’ll keep you safe.”

His soothing words pushed her fear and her control away. He would keep her safe. Nicholaa’s heart accepted what her mind couldn’t sort out. She let the feelings take over. She pulled her knees up so that she could take him deeper inside herself, and then arched against him with bold insistence.

His control snapped. He thrust into her again and again, mindless now to everything but giving her fulfillment and finding his own. The mating ritual took over. The bed rocked with his forceful thrusts. And hers.

She knew she was coming apart in his arms. She didn’t care. She called his name as wave after wave of pleasure washed over her. Her cl**ax was so shattering she started to cry.

When he felt her tighten around him and cry out his name, he found his own release. He poured his seed into her with a grunt of surrender.

She thought she might have died. Yet her heart was pounding so furiously that she knew she was still alive. When Royce let out a low groan and collapsed against her, she thought he might be feeling much the same way.

She was blissfully exhausted and thoroughly astonished by what had just happened to her. She closed her eyes and tried to make sense out of the wonderful act.

It took Royce a long while to recover. He didn’t want to move. The scent of their lovemaking still hovered in the air around them. He liked that. He liked his scent on her, too.

God, he was content. It seemed so right to hold Nicholaa in his arms. It was as though she’d always belonged to him.


He grunted his answer.

“You’re crushing me.”

He reluctantly rolled onto his back. She snuggled up against his side and used his shoulder for her pillow.

Her fingers caressed his chest. “Did I please you, husband?”

His hand covered hers. “Yes, you pleased me.”

She waited a long minute to hear more praise, then whispered, “And?”

He yawned. “And what?”

She waited again for him to give her more compliments. He waited for her to explain what she wanted from him.

Neither said a word. It didn’t take Nicholaa long at all to start feeling vulnerable. She shivered and rolled away from Royce. She was beginning to feel embarrassed over her wanton behavior. His silence was tarnishing their beautiful union.

Nicholaa pulled the covers up and turned away from him. Tears filled her eyes. She didn’t understand why she felt like weeping, but she did. She hoped Royce wouldn’t know how foolishly she was behaving. He’d ask for an explanation, and since she didn’t know why she was feeling so sad, she certainly wouldn’t be able to tell him.


His voice was gruff with affection when he whispered her name. “Come back here.”


“It’s where you belong.”

That wasn’t a compliment by any means, but the joy she felt was there all the same. She rolled back against his side. Royce put his arms around her and pulled her tight against him.

There weren’t any more compliments, or fervent declarations of love either. He did kiss her on the top of her head, though.

It was just a simple little kiss.

But it was enough.

Chapter Twelve

Royce had already left the bedroom when Nicholaa finally awakened. Sunlight streamed through the open window. When she realized it was late morning, she was astonished. She’d never slept this long, or this soundly. It was decadent, she supposed with a happy sigh.

She felt wonderful until she got out of bed. The tenderness between her thighs drew her attention then. Her legs were stiff, too. The discomfort didn’t blemish the memory of last night, though. Nothing could ever mar the beauty of their lovemaking.

She was officially his wife now, she realized with a smile. She’d done her duty and pleased him, too.

They could have a good life together. Royce was a good man. He was a Norman, of course, but he was also kind, considerate, and understanding.

Nicholaa lingered in the bedroom until she realized it was embarrassment that kept her hidden. She wasn’t certain how she should behave when she saw Royce again. Would he want her to kiss him in greeting? She shook her head over that fanciful notion. The man was a warrior. Of course he wouldn’t want her to kiss him in daylight. He probably wouldn’t want her to show any sign of affection in front of his men. Still, if they chanced to meet each other alone in a corridor, then . . .

She let out a loud sigh. She was being foolish. She had a household to run, and there were many pressing duties that required her immediate attention. She shouldn’t be wasting her time worrying about her husband’s wants and her own embarrassment.

Nicholaa dressed in a pale blue gown with a cream-colored underskirt, then hurried downstairs. Odd, but she didn’t run into a single servant along the way.

A sizable group of knights had gathered in the great hall. They stood in a cluster around the long table. Only three men were seated. She spotted Royce right away at the head of the table. He was half turned away from her, speaking in a low voice to his men. Lawrence sat on Royce’s right, and the young blond man named Ingelram sat on his left.

Everyone seemed tense. Nicholaa assumed an important secret meeting was in progress, and she didn’t know if she should interrupt. Then Lawrence happened to look up. He noticed her, smiled, and nudged Royce.

Her husband slowly turned his head. He didn’t smile. He simply looked at her for a long minute, then beckoned her forward.

Odd, but she thought she saw a glimpse of relief in his expression, but that didn’t make any sense. Why would he be relieved to see her?

She pushed that thought aside while she tried to hide her irritation. Lord, how she hated it when he beckoned to her. Couldn’t the man call out a decent greeting? And why couldn’t he come to her side once in a while? Nicholaa decided to put those questions to him as soon as they were alone.