From the moment she'd put her hand in his and fallen asleep, some bond had sprung up between them, and nothing she'd said or done tonight had convinced him she wanted to break it, or that she didn't want him as badly as he wanted her. She was merely overreacting to a storm of gossip she'd heard about him because she didn't understand that there was rarely more than a grain of truth—if that—in any of it.
All this raced through his mind in the space of seconds, but it was long enough for his fiancée to sense that his anger was under control and to adjust her tone to exactly the right combination of appeal and firmness. "Let me up," she said quietly. Stephen added "keenly perceptive" to her many other desirable wifely traits, but he shook his head. Holding her gaze pinned to his, he spoke in a tone of quiet implacability. "I'm afraid we need to reach an understanding before you leave this coach."
"What is there to understand?" she burst out.
"This," Stephen said as he twined one hand through her hair and caught her chin with the other, turning her face up to his, and slowly lowered his mouth to hers again.
Sherry saw the purposeful gleam in those heavy-lidded eyes, and she drew in a swift breath, trying to twist her head away. When she couldn't escape his grip, she braced herself for another punishing onslaught, but it never came. He touched her mouth with an exquisite gentleness that stunned her into stillness and began to assault her carefully erected defenses. His mouth brushed back and forth over her lips, lazily coaxing, shaping, and fitting them to his own while his hand loosened its grip in her hair and slid downward, curving around her nape, stroking it sensually. He kissed her endlessly, as if he had all the time in the world to explore and savor every contour of her mouth, and Sherry felt her pulse begin to hammer in fright as her resistance to him began to crumble. The man who was kissing her had suddenly become the concerned fiancé who'd slept in a chair beside her bed when she was ill; the fiancé who'd teased her to laughter and kissed her to insensibility; only now there was a subtle difference in him that made him even more lethally effective: his seeking mouth was breathtakingly insistent and there was a possessiveness in the way he was holding and kissing her. Whatever the difference was, her treacherous heart found him utterly irresistible. Wrapped snugly in his strong arms, with his mouth caressing hers, and his thumb slowly stroking her nape, even the gentle swaying of the coach became seductive. His tongue traced the trembling line between her lips, coaxing them to open for him, and with her last ounce of will, Sherry managed to resist his urging. Instead of forcing her, he lifted his mouth from hers and switched tactics, brushing a hot kiss along the curve of her cheek to her temple and the corner of her eye. His hand tightened on her nape—imprisoning or supporting her—as his tongue touched the edge of her ear and then began to slowly explore each curve, sending shivers of desire darting through her. As if he sensed that victory was within his grasp, he dragged his mouth roughly across her cheek, and when his lips lightly touched the corner of hers, seeking and inviting, Sherry went down to defeat. With a shudder of surrender, she turned her head to fully receive his kiss. Her lips parted beneath the pressure of his, and his tongue made a brief, sensuous foray into her mouth, probing lightly at hers.
Stephen felt her hand slide up his chest, felt her press closer to him, and he claimed his victory, plundering her mouth with his, teasing and tormenting her, and she responded instinctively. The fires within her that had fueled her tempestuous rebellion earlier, now burned hot and bright with passion, and Stephen found himself in the midst of a kiss that was wildly erotic—and rapidly getting out of control. His hand was sliding over her breast, cupping it, and she was straining toward him in sweet abandon, offering her mouth to him. He told himself to stop and kissed her deeper instead, making her moan softly, and when she kissed him back, tentatively touching her tongue to his lips, it was the gasp of his own breath that he heard. He shoved his fingers into her thick hair, and the rope of pearls that had bound it broke loose, sending a shower of pearls and a gleaming waterfall of red tresses spilling over his hands and arms. He kissed her until they were both senseless and his hand was caressing her breast. He forced his hand to still, reminded himself that they were in a coach on a public street on their way to a ball… but her full breast was filling his palm, and he tugged the bodice of her gown down enough to expose it. She panicked when she realized what he had done, her fingers grasping his wrist, and with a laughing groan, he ignored her and bent his head to her breast…
Weak from the turbulence of her own emotions, Sherry let her hand slide from his shoulder to his chest and felt his heart beating hard and fast, which meant he, too, must have been affected by their kisses. That knowledge, combined with the gentle stroking of his hand down her back, went a long way toward banishing her feeling of having been vanquished. There was something different about him tonight, something indefinably more tender. And more authoritative. She didn't understand the reason for that, but she was certain she'd discovered the reason for something else. Leaning her forehead against his chest, she said it aloud:
"What we just did—it's the real reason I considered marrying you, isn't it?"
She sounded so abject, so defeated by the amazing passion they shared, that Stephen smiled against her hair. "It's the reason you are going to marry me," he corrected with finality.
"We aren't at all suited."
"Aren't we?" he whispered, curving his hand around her narrow waist and moving her closer against him.
"No, we are not. There are a great many things about you that I do not approve of."
Stephen stifled his laughter. "You can take your time enumerating all my shortcomings on Saturday."
"Why on Saturday?"
"If you mean to become a shrewish wife, you should wait until after the wedding."
He felt her body tense even before she slowly raised her head and stared at him. Her eyes were still languorous, but her refusal had a trace of strength in it. "I cannot marry you on Saturday."
"Sunday, then," he magnanimously agreed, erroneously believing her objection to the day was based on a feminine concern over a suitable trousseau.
"Not then either," she warned, but the desperation in her voice told him that she lacked conviction. "I want to have my memory back before I take such an irrevocable step."
Stephen's goal was precisely the opposite. "I'm afraid we can't wait that long."