"You cannot abide a lie then, no matter what the reason?"

"Tell me what the lie was," he instructed again.

"I don't really dislike you."

"What?" he asked, looking incredulous.

"I said, I don't really dislike you."

"That's it? That's the lie you ..."

"Yes."

She could feel the tension ebb from his grasp. "Well, hell, Jade, I thought it was something serious."

"like what?" she demanded in a raised voice.

"Like perhaps you were married," he answered in a near shout of his own. "I already know you don't dislike me," he added in a softer tone of voice.

"You're impossible," she cried out. "Unbending, too. If I had other lies, I certainly wouldn't admit them to you now. You get too cranky."

"Jade?"

"Yes?"

"What other lies?"

"I thought about telling you I was married," she said then. "But I'm not any good at fabrications and I didn't think you'd believe me."

"Why would you want me to believe you were married?"

He was rubbing her shoulders now in an absentminded fashion. "Because," she rushed out. "In the tavern, well, you were looking at me very like a tiger planning his next meal, and I thought that if you believed I was married ... or recently widowed, then I'd gain your compassion."

"So you wanted my compassion and not my lust?"

She nodded. "You must admit that we are attracted to each other. I've never wanted a man to touch

me the way I want you to ... touch me."

"That's nice to know, my love."

"Oh, you already know it," she whispered. "Quit looking so pleased with yourself. It was bound to happen sooner or later."

"What was bound to happen?"

"I was bound to find someone I wanted to get a little closer to," she explained.

"I'm glad it happened with me," he admitted.

He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her up against him. "Jade, do you want me to touch you now?"

She struggled out of his arms and took a step back. "It doesn't matter if I want you to touch me or not, Caine. You're my protector. You have to leave me alone."

She suddenly found herself pulled back up against his chest, his thighs, his hard arousal. Her flimsy nightgown proved scanty protection against his body, his incredible heat. "It doesn't work that way, Jade."

"Why not?"

"I want you."

The huskiness in his voice was her undoing. She knew she should be appalled by her own reaction to him. Yet she actually wanted to melt in his arms. The urge to let him touch her was such a sweet torment. Lord, she was confused. She'd never, ever permitted anyone to get this close to her. She'd always protected herself against involvements of any kind, having learned early in life that loving someone caused more pain than joy. Even Nathan had deserted her. She'd become so vulnerable then. Yes, only a fool would let a man like Caine close ... only a fool.

Thunder rumbled in the distance. Neither Jade nor Caine was aware of the weather now. They were too consumed by the heat flowing between them.

They stared into each other's eyes for what seemed an eternity.

And in the end, it was inevitable. When Caine slowly lowered his head toward her, she leaned up to meet him halfway.

His mouth took absolute possession. He was as ravenous for her as she was for him. She welcomed his tongue, rubbed against it with her own. Her whimper of longing and acceptance blended with his raw growl of need.

The kiss was openly carnal. Caine was a lusty man whose hunger wouldn't be easily appeased. He wouldn't let her retreat or give half measure. Jade didn't want to draw back. She wrapped her arms around his neck, threaded her fingers through his soft curly hair, and clung to him. She never wanted to let go.

When he finally pulled away, she felt as though he'd taken her heart. She cuddled up against him quite brazenly, resting the side of her face against his warm chest. The mat of hair tickled her nose but she liked the sensation too much to move away. His scent, so wonderfully masculine, reminded her of heather and musk. The earthy fragrance clung to his skin.

Caine's voice was ragged when he asked, "Jade? Are there other lies you want to tell me about?"

"No."

He smiled over the shyness in her voice, then said, "No, there aren't any other lies, or no, you don't want to tell me about them?"

She rubbed her cheek against his chest to try to distract him, then said, "Yes, there are other lies." She felt him tense against her, then hastily added, "But they're so insignificant I can't even remember them now. When I do, I promise to tell you."

He immediately relaxed again. Lying, she decided, was on the top of his list of atrocities. . "Jade?"

"Yes, Caine?"

"Do you want me?"

He didn't give her time to answer. "Damn it, be honest v with me now. No more lies, Jade. I have to know," he grated out. "Now."

"Yes, Caine, I want you. Very much."

She sounded as though she'd just confessed a dark sin. "Jade, there should be joy in wanting each other, not despair."

"There is both," she answered. She shivered inside over the knowledge of what she was about to do.

She was eager ... and terribly uncertain. I will not fall in love with him, she promised herself, and knew the lie was a mockery when her eyes filled with tears. Caine had already found his way into her heart.

When she moved back into his arms, he felt her tremble. He tightened his hold around her. "I'll take care of you, Jade," he whispered. "Love, what are you thinking?"

"That I'll survive," she answered.

He didn't understand what she meant, but the fear in her voice made his heart ache. "We don't have to ..."

"I want you," she interrupted. "But you have to promise me something first."

"What?" he asked.

"You mustn't fall in love with me:"

The seriousness in her voice told him she wasn't jesting. Caine was immediately infuriated with her. She was such a confusion to him. He decided he'd demand an explanation for her ridiculous request, but then she started caressing his skin into a fever. She placed hot, wet kisses on his chest, and when her tongue brushed against one of his nipples, his body began to burn for her.

She teased a path up the side of his neck with her sweet mouth, urging him without words to respond. Caine's control disappeared. He'd never had a woman respond to him with such innocence, such honesty. For the first time in his life, he felt cherished . . . and loved.

A low growl escaped him even as he told himself to be gentle with her. He wanted to savor each touch, each caress, to make this night with her last forever. Yet he contradicted his own command when she began to make those erotic little whimpers in the back of her throat. She drove him wild. He roughly pulled on her hair until he'd made a fist of her silky curls, then jerked her head back so he could once again claim her mouth for another searing kiss.

His passion consumed her. His mouth ate at her lips, and his tongue . . . dear God, his tongue made her shake with raw desire. Jade's nails dug into the bulge of muscle in his upper arms. She gave herself over into his care. A deep ache began to spread like wildfire through her stomach, then lower, until it became an excruciating sweet torture.

Caine's hands moved to her buttocks. He pulled her up against his arousal. Jade instinctively cuddled his hardness between her thighs and began to rub against him.

The ache intensified.

When his mouth moved to the side of her neck, when his tongue began to flick her sensitive earlobe, she barely had enough strength left to stand up. He whispered dark, forbidden promises of all the erotic things he wanted to do to her. Some she understood, others she didn't, but she wanted to experience all of them.

"There's no turning back now, Jade," he whispered. "You're going to belong to me."

"Yes," she answered. "I want to belong to you tonight, Caine."

"No," he grated out. He kissed her long, lingeringly. "Not for just one night, love. Forever."

"Yes, Caine," she sighed, barely aware of what she was promising. "Tell me what you want me to do.

I want to please you."

He answered her by taking her hand and moving it to the waistband of his pants. "Hold me, sweetheart," he instructed in a husky voice. "Touch me. Squeeze me. Hard."

His size frightened her but his reaction to her touch overrode her initial shyness. His groans of pleasure made her bolder. He made her feel powerful and weak at the same time. Jade sagged against him, smiling when she heard his whispered instructions again, for his voice actually shook. As to that, so did her hand. Her fingers brushed against his flat stomach, then slipped inside the wastband of his pants. Caine inhaled sharply, telling her without words how pleased he was with her aggression. She grew bolder then and slowly began to unbutton the opening of his trousers. She was awkward, yet determined until all the buttons were undone. She hesitated then. Caine took over the task for her. He forced her hand inside the opening. Her fingers splayed downward, into the springy hair, and then lower still, until she was touching the very heat of him. He was so incredibly hot, hard, but Jade had barely caressed him when he pulled her hand away.

"It will be over for me before we've started," he grated out when she tried to touch him again.

"Caine, I want. . ."

"I know," he groaned. He was pulling her nightgown up when he made that gruff statement. Jade was suddenly embarrassed and tried to push her gown back down over her hips. "Can't I have it on?"

"No."

"Caine, don't," she stammered. "Don't. . ."

And then he was touching her there, in her most private place. The palm of his hand cupped her boldly and then his fingers began to weave their magic. He knew just where to stroke and fondle, just how much pressure to exert.

Her nightgown was quickly discarded, his pants as well. His big hands cupped her full breasts. His thumbs rubbed her distended ni**les until she was straining against him.

Another bolt of lightning lit the room. When Caine saw the passion in her eyes, he lifted her into his arms and carried her over to the bed. He followed her down on the sheets. One of his knees wedged between her thighs, forcing her to open for him, and when she complied, he pushed his arousal against her moist softness.

"Oh, God, you feel good," he whispered. He propped himself up on his elbows so he wouldn't suffocate her with his weight, then lowered his head to the valley between her breasts. He kissed her there, the undersides of her br**sts next, and then slowly circled one of her ni**les with the tip of his tongue.

She felt as though she'd just been hit by lightning. She moved against him restlessly. When he finally took her nipple into his mouth and began to suckle, her nails dug into his shoulders. His low grunt was one of pain and pleasure.

"Do you like that, love?" he asked before he turned to take the other nipple into his mouth.

She wanted to tell him how much she liked what he was doing to her, but desire made speech impossible. His mouth captured hers again and his hands gently moved her thighs further apart. His fingers were relentless in their quest to make her ready for him. "Put your legs around me, Jade," he suddenly ordered in a harsh voice. "I can't wait any longer, baby. I have to be inside you."

She felt the moist tip of his sex, then his hands were holding her hips, lifting them. His mouth covered hers and his tongue thrust inside just as he drove inside her. The stabbing pain broke through her sexual haze. She cried out and tried to move away. Caine felt the resistance pushing against his arousal. He hesitated for the briefest of seconds. The look in his eyes when he tilted his head back to look at her showed his determination. And then he drove into her again, until he'd broken through the maidenhead and filled her completely. Jade cried out again and squeezed her eyes shut against his invasion.

He went completely still, trying to give her time to adjust to him, trying, too, to give himself time to gain control.

"You have to stop now," she cried out. "I don't want to do this any longer."

Tears streamed down her cheeks. She opened her eyes to look at him. "Stop now," she pleaded.

His expression showed his concern. A fine sheen of perspiration covered his brow. His jaw was clenched tight. She thought he must be in as much pain as she was.

And then he shook his head at her. "I can't stop now," he grated out. "Just hold me, Jade. Don't move like that... it makes me want to . . ."

Caine's forehead dropped to rest on top of hers. He closed his eyes against the sweet torment. "Are you in pain, too?" she asked on a near sob.

"No, love," he whispered. "I'm not in pain."

"I'm not a virgin any longer, am I? We're done now, aren't we?"

She was overwhelmed by the confusing emotions warring inside her. The pain was insistent. She wanted Caine to leave her alone . . . and yet, she wanted him to hold her, too.

"No, baby, you aren't a virgin any longer," he finally answered. "You're mine now. And we sure as hell aren't finished."

He sounded like he'd just run a great distance. The grim expression on his face when he looked at her again actually frightened her.

It was apparent he hated this as much as she did.

She felt devastated by her failure. "I knew I wouldn't be any good at this," she cried out. "Please get

off me. You're hurting me."

Caine shuddered for control. "Baby, I can't stop," he said again. He tried to kiss her, but she turned

her face away and began to struggle again.

"If you don't stop, I'm going to start crying," she pleaded. "I hate to cry," she added with a sob against

his ear.

He didn't mention the fact that she was already crying. Hell, she made him feel as low as a snake. He wanted to comfort her, yet the fact that he was fully imbedded inside her tight, hot sheath made his discipline all but desert him. "Love, the pain won't last long," he promised. He hoped to God he was right.

His hands roughly cupped the sides of her face, and his mouth ended their conversation.

His tongue swept inside to mate with hers, and when he felt her resistance begin to fade, he moved his hand down, between their joined bodies, to stroke the sensitive bud into arousal again.



----