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Page 98

He’d pushed the covers half off him and lay with his chest exposed. He’d been wearing a nightshirt, but sometime in the night had dragged it off and tossed it to the floor. The rest of the covers were mounded over his legs, dipping across his hips.

Daniel’s face was rough with new beard, his hair sticking up on the pillow. His eyes were closed, lips parted, and again came the snore.

Violet stood gazing down on him, unable to move. Daniel was a beautiful man, carved flesh and bone, well muscled from his athletic and frenzied pace of life. Violet couldn’t compare him to a god because he was so wonderfully human. Daniel was of the earth, and Violet was glad of it.

Wax dropped from the candle to splash on the sheet. Violet quickly blew out the candle, set it on the bedside table, and reached down to shake Daniel’s shoulder.

A grunt came from Daniel’s lips, but he didn’t wake. Violet shook him again. She tried to say his name, but no sound would come from her mouth.

A hot hand suddenly closed around her wrist. Daniel grunted again as he peeled open his eyes, the amber glint of them catching in the firelight.

The grunt dissolved into Mmm. “What a nice dream.” Daniel gave Violet a slow smile, his grip not loosening. “It stays even when I wake up.”

“D—” The word stuck fast in Violet’s throat.

Daniel’s fingers softened on her, and he tucked his other hand behind his head. “Are you walking in your sleep? Or am I still dreaming?”

Violet swallowed. Her mouth was still too dry, and she coughed. Daniel didn’t rush her. His hold turned to a caress, fingertips brushing the inside of her wrist.

Violet forced out the words in a hurried rush. “Daniel, I want to be your lover.”

“I didn’t think ye’d run in here in the dead of night to discuss your accounts.” Daniel’s brows drew down. “Ye didn’t, did ye?”

“Don’t tease.” She could barely breathe.

Daniel caressed her again, his touch burning. “I can’t help myself. I’m a wicked man.” In spite of his glib words, a guarded light lingered in his eyes.

“I’m wicked too,” Violet said. “I want this. I’m afraid, but I want this with you.” In case I never have another chance. “I want to be your lover. Entirely.”

Another caress as Daniel’s chest rose sharply. “Are ye sure?”

“Very sure.” Violet knew she should do something seductive—sit on the bed, touch him, flirt with him—anything but stand there like a frozen statue. “Please, Daniel. Before I can’t.”

Daniel studied her a moment longer, his fingers moving gently on her wrist. “If I were a stronger man, I’d send you away. Virtuously. For your own good. And mine.” Daniel released her, reached up, closed his hand around the lace of her nightgown, and pulled her down to him. “But I’m not.”

Chapter 27

Firelight kissed Daniel’s body as he pulled Violet close. He did it gently, not forcing, his grip light. Violet knew she could get away if she wanted to, but she didn’t want to. Not this time.

Daniel tugged her down until she lay on him, the barrier of covers between them, propped up on her hands so she didn’t come down on his bare chest. He let go of the nightgown to loosen its buttons—one, two, three, four, five. Daniel kept his gaze on Violet’s face as he loosened the placket enough for him to brush his hand inside.

Warm, rough-skinned fingers lifted the weight of her breast. Violet remained frozen, her hands on the mattress shaking with her weight. Daniel drew his hand over her breast, fingers closing over her nipple, which was already tight.

Daniel withdrew from the nightdress. Violet wanted to grab his hand and put it back inside, but she stopped herself. She wasn’t certain what she should do, how to proceed. Daniel had been so tender with her in Marseille, but they’d never completed the act. She didn’t know what was expected, or whether Daniel would simply pin her down and have her. Perhaps that was the usual method.

“I don’t know what to do,” she said rigidly. “You have to tell me.”

Daniel’s smile beamed in the darkness. “I’ll do better than that, sweet.”

He reached up with both hands, unbuttoned the last of the nightgown, and pushed it from her shoulders. Cool air, only a little heated from the fire, touched her skin.

“I won’t rush you,” Daniel said. “We have all night.”

The nightgown’s sleeves bunched at Violet’s wrists, and her br**sts hung free, unfettered. She’d never been bare in front of a man before. The red-bearded man hadn’t undressed her—he’d simply shoved up her skirts and ripped her drawers out of his way.

This is different, she told her terrified self. This is Daniel. This is what it is to be a man’s lover, not his payment.

Daniel slid both hands to her bare waist, caressing. He drew his touch up to her br**sts again, both hands cupping her now. Violet took a sharp breath, but she made herself still, to feel.

What she felt was the heat of Daniel’s fingers, his strength as he lifted her br**sts in his hands, his gentleness as he caressed them. Her back wanted to arch, to press her br**sts into the cups of his palms. Violet resisted, not knowing what he wanted.

“Love.” Daniel lifted one hand to her face. “It’s all right. No one will come in.”

“I still don’t know what to do.” She couldn’t find the words to explain. Violet, who knew all about people and how to read every one of their emotions, had no experience here.

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