"No, not at all," she said politely, but it seemed as if the opposite were true.

Stephen looked at her in waiting silence, a tactic that normally prompted others to continue speaking, and which was predictably successful on his "fiancée."


"It is only that I seemed to expect something different," she explained.

Telling himself that he was merely trying to help her jog her memory, he said, "What was it that you expected?"

She shook her head, her smooth brow furrowed, her eyes never leaving his. "I don't know."

Her hesitant words and steady gaze only confirmed what he already suspected, which was that her real fiancé had evidently given freer rein to his passion. As Stephen gazed into those inviting silvery eyes, he abruptly decided that he was practically obligated to live up to her memory of Burleton. His conscience shouted that he had another, selfish reason for what he was about to do, but Stephen ignored it. He had, after all, promised Whitticomb that he would make her feel safe and cherished. "Perhaps you were expecting—" he said softly as he slid his arm around her waist and touched his lips to her ear, "something more like this."

His warm breath in her ear sent shivers up Sheridan's spine, and she turned her face away from the cause, which brought her lips into instant contact with his. Stephen had intended to kiss her as Burleton might have done, but when her soft lips parted on a shaky breath, his intentions slipped from his mind.

Sheridan knew the moment his arm tightened on her waist and his lips began to move insistently against hers that she couldn't have been expecting this… not the stormy rush of sensation that made her gasp and cling tighter to him, nor the compulsion to yield her mouth to his searching tongue, nor the frantic beating of her heart when his fingers shoved into the hair at her nape, holding her mouth tighter to his while her body seemed to want to meet and forge into his.

Stephen felt her lean into him and fell helpless victim to it. When he finally managed to drag his mouth from hers, he lifted his head and stared down at her flushed face, stunned by his unprecedented reaction to a few virginal kisses from an inexperienced girl who hadn't seemed to have the slightest idea how to kiss him back. He watched her lids open and gazed into her slumberous eyes, a little annoyed with his loss of control and distinctly amused by the fact that an untutored slip of a girl was responsible for it.

At three and thirty, his preferences ran toward passionate, experienced, sophisticated women who knew how to give and receive pleasure. The notion that he could have been so violently aroused by a child-woman who was currently draped in an ill-fitting peignoir belonging to his current mistress was almost comical. On the other hand, she had shown herself to be an eager and willing student during those minutes in his arms, and there hadn't been a sign of maidenly shyness, not even now, as she stood in his arms, steadily returning his gaze.

All things considered, he decided, Charise Lancaster was probably not inexperienced, but rather improperly tutored by Burleton and his predecessors. The realization that he himself had been the naive one made Stephen grin as he lifted his brows and inquired dryly, "Was that more what you expected?"

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"No," she said, giving her head a firm shake that sent her shining hair spilling over her right shoulder. Her voice shook, but her eyes never left his as she confessed softly, "I know I could never have forgotten anything that feels like that."

Stephen's amusement vanished, and he felt an unfamiliar ache in his chest. Without realizing what he was doing, he laid his hand against her cheek, his fingers splaying over the incredible softness of it. "I wonder," he mused aloud, "if you can possibly be as sweet as you seem."

He hadn't intended to voice the thought, and he didn't expect any reply, let alone the amazing one she gave him. In the voice of one confessing a terrible secret, she said, "I don't think I am sweet at all, my lord. You may not have noticed it, but I believe I have a rebellious nature."

Stephen squelched his shout of laughter and fought to keep his face straight, but she mistook his silence for dissent. "It would seem," she said in a shaky whisper, as her eyes dropped guiltily to the front of his shirt, "that I must have been quite good at hiding it from you when I had all my wits about me?"

When he didn't reply, Sheridan stared at the tiny ruby studs winking in his snowy shirtfront, savoring the sensation of a strong masculine arm around her waist. And yet she had the hazy feeling that there was something wrong in what she was doing. She concentrated on the feeling, trying to force it to take shape and reveal itself, but nothing happened. It was as unreliable as her own reactions to her betrothed; to everything, in fact. One minute she hated her gown, her fiancé, and her loss of memory, and she wanted to be rid of all of them. And then he could change all that with a warm smile or an admiring glance… or a kiss. With a single smile, he could make her feel as if her gown were fit for a princess and that she was beautiful and that her memory was best lost. She couldn't understand any of that, particularly why there were fleeting moments when she felt she didn't want to remember. And, dear God, the way he kissed her! Her whole body seemed to melt and burn, and she loved the feeling at the same time that it made her uneasy and guilty and uncertain. In an effort to explain all that to him and even perhaps ask his counsel, Sheridan drew an unsteady breath and confessed to his shirtfront, "I don't know what sort of person you think I am, but I seem to have a… a formidable temper. One might even say I have a… a completely unpredictable disposition."

Helplessly enchanted by her candor, Stephen put his fingers beneath her chin and tipped it up, forcing her to meet his gaze. "I've noticed," he said huskily.

Her expressive eyes searched his. "That doesn't bother you?"

There were several things that "bothered" Stephen at that moment, and they were not related to her disposition. Her full breasts were pressed against his chest, her molten hair was gliding over his hand at her back, and she had a soft, full mouth that positively invited a man's kiss. The name "Sherry" suited her perfectly. She was dangerously and subtly intoxicating. She was not his fiancée, she was not his mistress; she deserved his respect and his protection, not his lust. Intellectually, he knew that, but his brain seemed to be hypnotized by her smile and her voice, and his body was being ruled by an arousal that was becoming almost painful. Either she didn't understand why he was rigid, or she hadn't noticed, or she didn't mind, but whatever the reason, he was content with the result. "You 'bother' me very much," he said.

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