“You're mad.”

“Quite possibly,” he agreed, “but I have excellent taste. And you”—he leaned down quite suddenly and nipped at her mouth—“taste quite good.”

Daphne giggled, quite unable to help herself.

Simon wiggled his brows. “Dare you mock me?”

“Normally I would,” she replied, “but not when you've got both my arms pinned over my head.”

Simon's free hand went to work on the fastenings of his trousers. “Clearly I married a woman of great sense.”

Daphne gazed at him with pride and love as she watched his words trip effortlessly from his lips. To hear him speak now, one could never guess that he'd stammered as a child.

What a remarkable man she'd married. To take such a hindrance and beat it with sheer force of will—he had to be the strongest, most disciplined man she knew.

“I am so glad I married you,” she said in a rush of tenderness. “So very proud you're mine.”

Simon stilled, obviously surprised by her sudden gravity. His voice grew low and husky. “I'm proud you're mine as well.” He yanked at his trousers. “And I'd show you how proud,” he grunted, “if I could get these damned things off.”

Daphne felt another bubble of laughter welling up in her throat. “Perhaps if you used two hands…” she suggested.

He gave her an I'm-not-as-stupid-as-that sort of look. “But that would require my letting you go.”

She cocked her head coyly. “What if I promised not to move my arms?”

“I wouldn't even begin to believe you.”

Her smile turned wickedly suggestive. “What if I promised I would move them?”

“Now, that sounds interesting.” He leapt off the bed with an odd combination of grace and frantic energy and managed to get himself naked in under three seconds. Hopping back on, he stretched out on his side, all along the length of her. “Now then, where were we?”

Daphne giggled again. “Right about here, I believe.”

“A-ha,” he said with a comically accusing expression. “You haven't been paying attention. We were right”—he slid atop her, his weight pressing her into the mattress—“here.”

Her giggles exploded into full-throated laughter.

“Didn't anyone tell you not to laugh at a man when he's trying to seduce you?”

If she'd had any chance of stopping her laughter before, it was gone now. “Oh, Simon,” she gasped, “I do love you.”

He went utterly still. “What?”

Daphne just smiled and touched his cheek. She understood him so much better now. After facing such rejection as a child, he probably didn't realize he was worthy of love. And he probably wasn't certain how to give it in return. But she could wait. She could wait forever for this man.

“You don't have to say anything,” she whispered. “Just know that I love you.”

The look in Simon's eyes was somehow both overjoyed and stricken. Daphne wondered if anyone had ever said the words “I love you” to him before. He'd grown up without a family, without the cocoon of love and warmth she'd taken for granted.

His voice, when he found it, was hoarse and nearly broken, “D-Daphne, I—”

“Shhh,” she crooned, placing a finger to his lips. “Don't say anything now. Wait until it feels right.”

And then she wondered if perhaps she had said the most hurtful words imaginable—for Simon, did speaking ever feel right?

“Just kiss me,” she whispered hurriedly, eager to move past what she was afraid might be an awkward moment. “Please, kiss me.”

And he did.

He kissed her with ferocious intensity, burning with all the passion and desire that flowed between them. His lips and hands left no spot untouched, kissing, squeezing, and caressing until her nightgown lay tossed on the floor and the sheets and blankets were twisted into coils at the foot of the bed.

But unlike every other night, he never did quite render her senseless. She'd been given too much to think about that day—nothing, not even the fiercest cravings of her body, could stop the frantic pace of her thoughts. She was swimming in desire, every nerve expertly brought to a fever pitch of need, and yet still her mind whirred and analyzed.

When his eyes, so blue they glowed even in the candlelight, burned into hers, she wondered if that intensity were due to emotions he didn't know how to express through words. When he gasped her name, she couldn't help but listen for another tiny stammer. And when he sank into her, his head thrown back until the cords of his neck stood out in harsh relief, she wondered why he looked like he was in so much pain.

Pain?

“Simon?” she asked tentatively, worry putting a very slight damper on her desire. “Are you all right?”

He nodded, his teeth gritted together. He fell against her, his hips still moving in their ancient rhythm, and whispered against her ear, “I'll take you there.”

It wouldn't be that difficult, Daphne thought, her breath catching as he captured the tip of her breast in his mouth. It was never that difficult. He seemed to know exactly how to touch her, when to move, and when to tease by remaining tauntingly in place. His fingers slipped between their bodies, tickling her hot skin until her hips were moving and grinding with the same force as his.

She felt herself sliding toward that familiar oblivion. And it felt so good…

“Please,” he pleaded, sliding his other hand underneath her so that he might press her even more tightly against him. “I need you to—Now, Daphne, now!”

And she did. The world exploded around her, her eyes squeezing so tightly shut that she saw spots, and stars, and brilliant streaming bursts of light. She heard music—or maybe that was just her own high-pitched moan as she reached completion, providing a melody over the powerful pounding of her heart.



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