Jade didn't forget about the pain, but it didn't seem to matter now. The restlessness came back with building insistence. Caine forced himself to stay completely still until she'd adjusted to him. When she slowly arched up against him, he partially withdrew, then drove back into her again.

Her ragged moan forced him to stop again. "Am I still hurting you?" he asked, all the while praying he wasn't causing her more pain. His body was screaming for release, and he knew, even if she begged

him, he wouldn't be able to stop now. "Is it better now?"

"A little," she answered against his neck. Her voice sounded shy, uncertain. "It's a little better."

He continued to hesitate until she bit his earlobe and pushed against him again. It was all the encouragement he needed. His body took over. Though he vowed to be gentle with her, his thrusts became more powerful, more out of control.

Her thighs clenched him tight. Her toes arched against the backs of his legs. Her nails dug into his shoulder blades.

Caine was relentless now in his quest to push her beyond control. He drove into her and then slowly withdrew, again and again. He knew he should withdraw before he reached his own cl**ax, for neither

of them had taken any precautions against pregnancy, but she was so hot, so tight, that noble thought became untenable. And somewhere, in the dark recesses of his mind was the honest admission that he wanted to give her his child.

The mating rhythm took over. The bed squeaked with each hard thrust. Thunder blended with their low moans of pleasure, his whispered words of love. Caine wouldn't let her give half measure. Wave after wave of intense pleasure began to spiral through her body until she was shaking with her need for fulfillment. He made her burn for completion. Jade was suddenly terrified of what was happening to her. It was as though he was trying to steal her soul. "Caine, I can't. . ."

He hushed her fear with another long, drugging kiss. "Let it happen, Jade. Hold on to me. I'll keep you safe."

Safe. He would keep her safe. Jade's instinctive trust in him pushed her fear and her vulnerability away. She let the storm capture her until she became one with the wind. And then she felt as though she was splintering through the air toward the sun. Her body squeezed him tight. She cried out his name, with joy, with release, and with love.

Caine buried his seed inside her at the very same moment. His head fell to her shoulder and he let out a low grunt of satisfaction.

His own cl**ax made him shudder in wonder. Never had he felt such blissful surrender. He felt drained . . . and renewed.

He was never going to let her go. That sudden thought hammered through his mind with the same force of his wild heartbeat. He neither fought the truth nor tried to move.

He was content.

Jade was exhausted.

Only when her arms began to ache did she realize she was still clinging to him. She slowly released her hold, then let her arms fall to her sides. She was too astonished by what had just happened to her to speak yet. No one had ever told her it would be like this. Dear heaven, she'd completely lost control. She'd given herself to him completely, body and soul, trusting him absolutely to keep her safe.

No one had ever had such power over her. No one.

Jade closed her eyes to keep her tears hidden. Caine, she decided, was a far more cunning thief than she was. The man had dared to steal her heart. Worse, she had allowed it.

Even when he felt her tense beneath him, he couldn't find the strength or the will to move away from her.

"I think you should leave now," she whispered. Her voice trembled.

Caine sighed against her neck. He wrapped his arms around her and rolled to his side. Jade couldn't resist the urge to cuddle up against his chest for just a minute. Though she didn't understand why, she actually wanted to hear a few words of praise from him before she sent him away . . . just a few little lies about iove and honor, that she could pull out and savor in the future on those cold nights when she was all alone. Yes, they would be lies, but she wanted to hear them anyway.

That, of course, didn't make any sense to her. She could feel herself becoming angry with him. This was all his fault because he'd turned her into a blithering simpleton who couldn't make up her mind if she wanted to weep or shout.

"Sweet, are you already having regrets?"

She couldn't detect a shred of regret in his tone. In truth, he sounded downright amused.

When she didn't answer his question, he tugged on her hair, forcing her to look up at him.

He was thoroughly pleased by what he saw. Her face was flushed from their lovemaking, her mouth swollen from his kisses, and her eyes were still cloudy with passion.

Caine felt as though he'd left his brand on her. A wave of raw possessiveness filled him, and he arrogantly nodded. He decided to ignore her disgruntled expression, guessing it was all bluster for his benefit.

He couldn't resist kissing her again. When he slowly leaned down to claim her mouth, she tried to turn away. Caine simply tightened his hold on her hair to keep her still.

The kiss was meant to melt away her glare. As soon as his mouth covered hers, his tongue sank inside

her sweet, intoxicating heat. The erotic love play coaxed her response. It was a long, intense kiss and she was clinging to him when he finally lifted his head to look at her again.

"You wanted me as much as I wanted you, Jade," he said. "You made the choice, love, and now you're going to have to live with it."

The man was a cad. Her eyes filled with fresh tears. His attitude was as callous as a hardened blister.

And did he have to smile at her after making such a painful statement?

She vowed he'd never know how much his words hurt her. "Yes, Caine, I did make the choice to give you my virginity, and I will live with the consequences of my actions. Now, if you don't mind, I'm really sleepy and I would like . . ."

"That isn't what I'm talking about," he interrupted. His voice was as ragged as lightning. "The choice you made was to belong to me, Jade. We're going to get married, sweet."

"What?"

"You heard me," he replied, his voice softer now. "Don't look so appalled, my love. It isn't as bad as all that."

"Caine, I never made any such choice," she stammered out.

He wasn't in the mood to listen to her denial. He wanted her acceptance. By God, he wasn't going to leave her bed until he had it. He rolled her onto her back, then roughly pushed her thighs apart with one of his knees. His hands held hers captive above her head. He deliberately ground his pelvis against her. "Look at me," he commanded. When she obeyed that order, he said, "What we have just shared can't be undone. You're all mine now. Accept it, Jade, and it will go a hell of a lot easier for you."

"Why should I accept?" she asked. "Caine, you don't know what you're asking."

"I'm a very possessive man," he countered. His voice had taken on a hard edge.

"I noticed," she muttered. "It's a sin, that."

"I won't share what belongs to me, Jade. Understand?"

"No, I don't understand," she whispered. The look in his eyes chilled her. "Is it because I was a virgin

and you feel guilty? Is that the reason you want to marry me?"

"No, I don't feel guilty," he answered. "You are going to marry me, though. I'll speak to your brother

just as soon as he returns to . . ."

"You are the most arrogant, unbending man I've ever had the displeasure to meet."

A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. "But you like arrogant, unbending men, love. You wouldn't have let me touch you otherwise."

Odd, but she couldn't fault that argument. "Please get off me. I can't breathe."

He immediately rolled to his side. Then he propped his head up with his elbow so he could watch her expressions. Jade pulled the sheet up over the two of them, folded her hands across her breasts, and stared intently at the ceiling.

"Jade?"

"Yes?"

"Did I hurt you?"

She wouldn't look at him. Caine tugged on her hair to emphasize his impatience. "Answer me."

"Yes, you hurt me," she whispered. She could feel herself blush.

"I'm sorry, Jade."

She shivered over the tenderness in his voice, then realized she needed to get control of her emotions.

She felt like weeping and couldn't understand why. "No, you're not sorry," she announced. "Or you would have stopped when I asked you to."

"I couldn't stop."

"You couldn't?" She turned to look at him.

"No, I couldn't."

She was almost undone by the tenderness she could see in his eyes. There was a definite sparkle there, too, indicating his amusement. She didn't know what to make of him now. "Well, it's a good thing you don't feel guilty because you have nothing to feel guilty about."

"And why is that?" he drawled out.

"Why? Because you didn't make me do anything I didn't want to do. This was all my doing."

"Was I even here?" he asked. "I seem to remember being an active participant."

She ignored the laughter in his voice. "Yes, of course you were here. But I allowed you to be ... active."

If she hadn't looked so damned sincere, if she hadn't been wringing her hands together, he would have shouted with laughter. Her feelings were at issue, however, and for that reason he controlled himself.

"All right," he agreed. "You were more active than I was. Happy now?"

"Yes," she answered. "Thank you."

"You're most welcome," he returned. "Now tell me why you wanted me to make love to you."

She looked back up at the ceiling before she answered him. Caine was fascinated by the blush that covered her face. His little innocent was embarrassed again. She'd been wild just minutes before when they'd been making love. His shoulders still stung from her nails. Her passionate nature more than matched his own, but it had also been the first time for her, and he assumed she was still shy and confused by what had happened.

"Because I wanted to," she answered. "You see, I've always known I would never marry and I wanted

to ... Oh, you aren't going to understand. I wager that soon, after I've gone away, you won't even remember me."

She turned to judge his reaction to that statement, certain she'd made him angry.

He started laughing. "You're being very rude," she announced before returning her gaze back to the ceiling. "I do wish you'd go away."

His fingers trailed a shiver down the side of her neck. "Jade? It was inevitable."

She shook her head. "It wasn't."

He slowly pulled the sheet down until her br**sts were uncovered. "It was," he whispered. "God, I wanted you for so long," He tugged the sheet lower until her stomach was in view. "You know what, love?"

"What?" she asked. She sounded breathless.

"I want you again."

He leaned down and kissed her before she could argue with him. Jade let him have his way until his mouth became more insistent. Then she nudged him away. She rolled with him, and when they were facing each other, she kept her gaze directed on his chest. "Caine?" Her fingers toyed with the crisp hair while she tried to find the courage to ask him her question.

"Yes?" he asked, wondering why she was acting shy again.

"Was it all right then?"

He tilted her chin up with his thumb. "Oh, yes, it was all right."

"You weren't disappointed?"

He was touched by her vulnerability. "No, I wasn't disappointed."

His expression had turned so somber, she decided he was telling the truth.

"I wasn't disappointed either."

"I know," he answered with that arrogant grin back in evidence.

"How do you know?"

"By the way you reacted to my touch, the way you found your own fulfillment, the way you shouted

my name then."

"Oh."

His smile melted away the rest of her worry. "It was a little shattering, wasn't it, Jade?"

She nodded. "I had no idea it would be so ... splendid."

He kissed the top of her head. "I can smell my scent on you," he said. "I like that."

"Why?"

"It makes me hard."

"I should wash."

"I'll do it for you," he offered.

She rolled away from him and was out of the bed before he could reach for her. "You'll do no such thing," she said before she gave him her back and struggled into her robe.

Her smile was dazzling but it faded quickly when she noticed the spots of blood on the sheets.

"You made me bleed." That accusation came out in a stammer.

"Love, it was your first time."

"I know that," she returned.

"You were supposed to bleed."

She looked taken aback by that statement. "You're serious?"

He nodded.

"But only the first time, Caine? Not that there's ever going to be a second time," she rushed on. "Still, I wouldn't. . ."

"Only the first time," he answered. He decided to ignore her protest about not making love again and asked instead, "Jade? Didn't anyone ever explain these facts to you?"

"Well, of course they did," she replied, feeling like a complete fool now.

He didn't believe her. "Who? Your parents died before you were old enough to understand. Was it your brother? Did Nathan explain?"

"Nathan left me." She really hadn't meant to blurt out that truth. "I mean to say, he was away at school

all the time and I rarely saw him."

Caine noticed how agitated she was becoming. She was twisting the tie of her robe into knots. "When

did Nathan leave you?"

"He was away at school," she said again.

"For how long?"

"Why are you asking me these questions?" she asked. "My Uncle Harry took over my education while Nathan was away. He did a fine job, Caine."

"He obviously left out a few pertinent facts," Caine remarked.

"Uncle is a very reserved man."

"Weren't there any women around who . . ."

He quit his question when she shook her head at him. "There were women but I would never discuss such a personal matter with any of them, Caine. It wouldn't have been proper."



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