In some distant part of her mind, she felt her gown falling away, and then the brush of his palms against her swollen breasts, the sudden increase in ardor in each of his searing kisses. Arms like bands of steel surrounded her, lifting her, cradling her, and then she was being carried to the bed and gently laid down upon cool sheets. Suddenly the warmth, the security of his arms and body and mouth withdrew.

Surfacing slowly from the dreamlike daze where she had deliberately sought refuge from the reality of what was going to happen, Jenny felt cool air touch her skin and, against her will, her eyelids opened. He was standing beside the bed, removing his clothing, and a tremor of alarmed admiration quaked through her. In the glow of firelight, his skin was like oiled bronze, the heavy muscles in his arms and shoulders and thighs rippling as his fingers went to the waistband of his chausses. He was splendid, she realized, magnificent. Swallowing a knot of fear and embarrassed admiration, she swiftly turned her head away, her fingers clutching the edge of a sheet, using it to partially cover herself as he removed that last piece of concealing clothing.

The bed sank beneath his weight, and she waited, her face turned away, her eyes tightly shut, wanting him to hold her and take her swiftly, before more cold reality returned to her.

Royce had no such haste in mind. Stretching out on his side, he brushed a light kiss against her ear, and gently but inexorably pushed aside the sheet. His breath caught as he beheld her in all her naked splendor. A blush stained her satiny skin from her hair to her toes as he gazed upon the exquisite perfection of her lush, rosy-tipped breasts, tiny waist, gently rounded hips, and long shapely legs. Without thinking, he voiced his thoughts aloud. "Have you any idea how beautiful you are?" he whispered huskily, his gaze sweeping slowly upward to her enchanting face, roving over the tawny red-gold hair spread luxuriantly across his pillows, "or how much I want you?"

When Jenny kept her face averted, her eyes tightly closed, his fingers gently grasped her chin, turning her face toward his. In a voice like rough velvet, filled with desire and the trace of a languorous smile, he whispered, "Open your eyes, little one."

Reluctantly, Jenny obeyed and found herself staring into seductive silver eyes that held hers imprisoned while his hand slid from her cheek to her throat and then to her breast, cupping its fullness. "Don't be afraid," he ordered softly as his caressing fingers slid to her nipple, grazing it lightly, back and forth. The deep, husky timbre of his voice, combined with the tantalizing exploration of his skillful fingers, was already working its magic on Jenny as he added, "You've never feared me before. Don't begin now."

His flattened hand slid lightly upward from her breast, curving over her shoulder, and his finely molded mouth began a purposeful descent to hers. The first light, stroking touch of his lips sent pleasure streaking through Jenny's entire body, momentarily paralyzing her. His tongue slid over her lips, coaxing them to part, teasing with tormenting gentleness. And then his mouth opened on hers, hot and insistent in an endless kiss of deep, raw hunger. "Kiss me, Jenny," he ordered thickly.

And Jenny did. Curving her hand around his nape, she offered him her parted lips, moving them against his, kissing him as erotically as he was kissing her. He groaned with pleasure and deepened the kiss, his hand splaying across her spine turning her into his arms, bringing her into vibrant contact with his rigid erection. Kissed into insensibility, Jenny's hands slid up the bunched muscles of his chest and shoulders, then glided round his neck, sliding into the crisp curly hair at his nape.

When at last Royce lifted his mouth from hers, his breathing was harsh and rapid, and Jenny felt as if she would surely melt from the molten tenderness and desire pulsing through her veins with each thundering beat of her heart. Gazing into his scorching eyes, she lifted her trembling fingers, touching his face as he had touched hers, tracing his cheek and the groove beside his mouth with her fingertip, following it to his smooth lips, while inside her, an emotion sweetly unfolded, then burst into wild, vibrant bloom with a fierceness that made her tremble. Her chest aching with it, she slid her fingertips along his hard jaw, wincing as she touched the reddened scar she'd put there. Overwhelmed with guilt, she raised her eyes to his and whispered achingly, "I'm sorry."

Royce gazed down into her intoxicating blue eyes, his raging desire increased a hundred times by her touch and her voice, and still he held back, mesmerized by the incredible sweetness of her as she trailed her fingertips down his chest and saw the maze of long scars there. He watched her, knowing instinctively that, unlike the other women he'd bedded, she would not shudder with revulsion at those scars or, worse, shiver with sordid excitement at this visible evidence of the danger he lived in, the danger he represented.

He expected something different of the wanton angel in his arms, but he was not prepared for what happened, or for his own turbulent reaction to it: Her fingers touched his scars, sliding slowly toward the one closest to his heart, making his muscles leap reflexively as he fought to keep himself from taking her. When at last she raised her eyes to his, they were bright with unshed tears, and her beautiful face was pale with torment. In a fierce, tortured moan, she whispered, "Dear God, how they've hurt you—" And before he could imagine what she meant to do, she bent her head, her lips softly touching each scar as if trying to heal it, her arms sliding tightly, protectively, around him, and Royce lost control.

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Shoving his fingers into her heavy, silken hair, he rolled her onto her back. "Jenny," he groaned hoarsely, kissing her eyes, her cheek, her forehead, her lips. "Jenny…" he whispered again and again. And the sound of that word, the hoarseness of his deep voice, affected Jenny as vibrantly as the things he began doing to her. His mouth went to her breast, teasing the taut peak, then closing tightly around it, drawing hard, until Jenny was gasping, arching her back, clasping his head to her breasts. His hands shifted, gliding down her midriff to her waist, then lower to her thighs.

Reflexively, she clamped her legs together, and a muffled, groaning laugh escaped him as his lips returned to plunder hers with searing passion. "Don't, sweetheart," he whispered hotly, his fingers delicately probing amidst the curly triangle between her thighs, seeking entrance. "It won't hurt."

Shivers of delight and fear were racing through Jenny's body, but she responded to neither of those; she responded instead to the need she heard in his voice. With a conscious effort, she forced the muscles in her legs to relax, and the moment she did, his knowledgeable fingers parted her, slipping deep inside her wet warmth, tenderly and skillfully pleasuring her, preparing the way for his passionate invasion.