He needed her that much.

When his lips finally covered hers, he was not gentle. He was not cruel, but the pulse of his blood was too ragged, too urgent, and his kiss was that of a starving lover, not that of a gentle suitor.

He would have forced her mouth open, but she, too, was caught up in the passion of the moment, and when his tongue sought entry, he found no resistance.

“Oh, my God, Daphne,” he moaned, his hands biting into the soft curve of her buttocks, pulling her closer, needing her to feel the pulse of desire that had pooled in his groin. “I never knew…I never dreamed…”

But that was a lie. He had dreamed. He'd dreamed in vivid detail. But it was nothing next to the real thing.

Every touch, every movement made him want her even more, and as each second passed, he felt his body wresting control from his mind. It no longer mattered was that she was here, in his arms, and he wanted her.

And, his body realized, she wanted him, too.

His hands clutched at her, his mouth devoured her. He couldn't get enough.

He felt her gloved hand slide hesitantly over his upper back, lightly resting at the nape of his neck. His skin prickled where she touched him, then burned.

And it wasn't enough. His lips left her mouth, trailing down her neck to the soft hollow above her collarbone. She moaned at each touch, the soft mewling sounds firing his passion even more.

With shaking hands, he reached for the delicately scalloped neckline of her gown. It was a gentle fit, and he knew it would take no more than the lightest push to ease the delicate silk down over the swell of her breast.

It was a sight he had no right to see, a kiss he did not deserve to make, but he couldn't help himself.

He gave her the opportunity to stop him. He moved with agonizing slowness, stopping before he bared her to give her one last chance to say no. But instead of maidenly dismay, she arched her back and let out the softest, most arousing rush of breath.

Simon was undone.

He let the fabric of her dress fall away, and in a staggering, shuddering moment of desire, just gazed at her. And then, as his mouth descended to claim her as his prize, he heard—

“You bastard!”

Daphne, recognizing the voice before he did, shrieked and jerked away. “Oh, my God,” she gasped. “Anthony!”

Her brother was only ten feet away, and closing the distance fast. His brows were knit together into a mask of utter fury, and as he launched himself at Simon, he let out a primeval warrior cry unlike anything Daphne had ever heard in her life. It barely sounded human.

She just had time to cover herself before Anthony's body crashed into Simon's with such force that she, too, was knocked to the ground by someone's flailing arm.

“I'll kill you, you bloody—” The rest of Anthony's rather violent curse was lost as Simon flipped him over, knocking the breath from him.

“Anthony, no! Stop!” Daphne cried, still clutching at the bodice of her gown, even though she'd already yanked it up and it was in no danger of falling down.

But Anthony was a man possessed. He pummeled Simon, his rage showing on his face, in his fists, in the primitive grunts of fury that emanated from his mouth.

And as for Simon—he was defending himself, but he wasn't really fighting back.

Daphne, who had been standing aside, feeling like a helpless idiot, suddenly realized that she had to intervene. Otherwise, Anthony was going to kill Simon, right there in Lady Trowbridge's garden. She reached down to try to wrest her brother away from the man she loved, but at that moment they suddenly rolled over in a quick flipping motion, clipping Daphne in the knees and sending her sprawling into the hedge.

“Yaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!” she howled, pain stabbing her in more parts of her body than she would have thought possible.

Her cry must have contained a sharper note of agony than she'd thought she'd let slip, because both men immediately stilled.

“Oh, my God!” Simon, who had been at the top of the altercation when Daphne fell over, rushed to her aid. “Daphne! Are you all right?”

She just whimpered, trying not to move. The brambles were cutting into her skin, and every movement just elongated the scratches.

“I think she's hurt,” Simon said to Anthony, his voice sharp with worry. “We need to lift her straight out. If we twist, she's likely to become even more entangled.”

Anthony gave a curt, businesslike nod, his fury at Simon temporarily put aside. Daphne was in pain, and she had to come first.

“Just hold still, Daff,” Simon crooned, his voice soft and soothing. “I'm going to put my arms around you. Then I'm going to lift you forward and pull you out. Do you understand?”

She shook her head. “You'll scratch yourself.”

“I have long sleeves. Don't worry about me.”

“Let me do it,” Anthony said.

But Simon ignored him. While Anthony stood by helplessly, Simon reached into the tangled bramble of the hedge, and slowly pushed his gloved hands through the mess, trying to wedge his coat-covered arms between the prickly branches and Daphne's bare, tortured skin. When he reached her sleeves, however, he had to stop to disentangle the razor-sharp points from the silk of her dress. Several branches had poked straight through the fabric and were biting her skin.

“I can't get you completely loose,” he said. “Your dress will tear.”

She nodded, the movement jerky. “I don't care,” she gasped. “It's already ruined.”

“But—” Even though Simon had just been in the process of pulling that very same dress down to her waist, he still felt uncomfortable pointing out that the fabric was likely to fall right off her body once the branches were done tearing through the silk. Instead, he turned to Anthony, and said, “She'll need your coat.”



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