Stormy Persuasion Page 25

She was loath to disturb them and didn’t do so immediately. The light next to Nathan wasn’t bright. It merely gave the cabin a soft glow, but it allowed for a thorough scrutiny. It was breathtaking how handsome he was. She’d been entranced by his appearance even when she’d thought him a ghost. But as a flesh-and-blood man he could stir her in uncounted ways. Sleeping, he looked endearingly boyish. Awake, he was fascinating in just how masculine he was in size and strength. He was roguish, for sure. Outrageous, too. Yet, if he did ever behave in a gentlemanly manner, she’d probably tell him to stop it. Had she really gotten so accustomed to him with all his rough edges?

With a sigh, she finally approached and carefully picked up the kitten and set it down by the milk Nathan had brought tonight. Then she gently nudged his shoulder and moved back, in case he lashed out when he was awakened, as some men did. But his eyes opened gradually, looked at his chest first, where the kitten had been, then landed on her and opened wider.

He sat forward and stretched before he said somewhat abashed, “Sorry. I thought I’d be out of here long before you finished your dinner.”

“The purring probably lulled you to sleep. It is such a pleasant sound. So you’re still avoiding me?”

“When I have to fight myself tooth and nail to keep my hands off you, I thought it best.”

Trust him to say something designed to make her blush. True or not, he grinned when the blush arrived, causing her to point out, “That’s hardly adhering to our Bargain.”

He raised a brow. “I’d think you’d be out of questions by now.”

“Not quite. For instance, having told me you’re responsible for two little girls who have only you to depend on, are you going to give up smuggling for them?”

“You still haven’t let go of that notion?” he said, clearly exasperated. “If I ever was a criminal, I’m not one now. I’m going to retrieve my ship or die trying. What I do with her afterwards I haven’t decided. But I promise you there’s no noose waiting for me in England or anywhere else.”

“I believe you.”

He was suddenly looking at her in a completely different way. He stood up, cupped her cheeks in his large hands. “Do you really?”

“Yes.”

He took her by surprise, hugging her. In relief? Possibly. But when she looked up at him, something else entered his expression. What happened next seemed a natural explosion of the senses. He didn’t just kiss her, he brought her up to his mouth, lifting her off the floor, wrapping her legs around his waist to keep her there, pulling her so tightly to him she felt engulfed by his masculinity. And thrilled beyond measure. She’d been wanting this more than she realized, wanting to feel him like this, to embrace his passion and revel in it.

She wrapped one arm around his neck and slid her other hand up through his hair, gripping a handful as she returned his kiss with a fervency she scarcely recognized in herself. She didn’t even realize he’d walked them to the bed until he laid her down on it. But she held on tight, dragging him down with her, unwilling to let him go for even a moment. Feeling him hard between her legs was so unexpected that a groan of desire escaped her. He moved off her so quickly, she might as well have burned him.

He was halfway off the bed when she realized he was leaving her and said, “Don’t go.”

She didn’t want the kissing to end. He must have thought she meant something else because he glanced back at her with such yearning, and at that moment she realized she did. She smiled slightly. He made a sound as if he were in pain as he gave in.

He came back and straddled her h*ps so he could easily remove her shirt. It still wasn’t easy. The chemise that followed was. Then came the blush and the moment of indecision. He was watching her, his eyes locked to hers as his hands began to explore what he’d uncovered. She was mesmerized by the desire she saw, then by what she felt, so tender at first, then the kneading, fanning the fire, then the flick of his finger against her nipple that sent shocks clear to her core. She wanted, needed to touch him, too, but all she could reach was his thighs, spread apart, one on each side of her.

She caressed them while he literally tore out of his shirt. She heard the rips and almost laughed. He moved off the bed to step out of his pants, but was back in a moment, at her side now, much better. She could reach his shoulders, his neck, his hair. It felt like silk against her chest when he leaned down to fill his mouth with her breast. She gasped at the heat that rushed through her body. Oh, God, the swirl of his tongue against her nipple before he sucked hard drew gasps from her, evoked another groan. He didn’t pull away this time. Now, he seemed to know the sounds she was making were expressions of pleasure, not a plea to desist.

He was taking his time now, caressing her br**sts and stomach, her neck and arms, as he kissed her, wanting to know every part of her that he could. Her shoes and britches came off so gradually she barely noticed because far too many other sensations were surprising and delighting her. Riddled with calluses, his hands weren’t soft. But his lips were. They felt like molten velvet as they moved over her body. But the two opposite sensations—one excitingly rough and the other seductively soft—had such an amazing effect, arousing her and soothing her by turns, fanning her passion even hotter.

He rolled over to his back, taking her with him and placing her on top of him. She liked the position she was in with her knees resting on either side of him because it gave her better access to his wide chest, where she could feel the muscles ripple beneath her fingertips. She was delighted to discover that his ni**les were just as sensitive as hers. But he didn’t let her stay there for long. He flipped her onto her back again. He bent one of her legs at the knee and she did the same with the other as he slid his chest up hers for a deep, penetrating kiss that seemed to draw moans from her soul.

His voice was raspy as he said, “You can’t imagine how often I’ve thought of this, nigh every bleedin’ minute, but nothing in my wildest dreams could have prepared me for what you make me feel. Do you feel it?”

With his mouth hot on her neck again, sending involuntary tremors throughout her body, she could barely think much less answer. But she gasped out, “What I feel is—akin to joy—”

He leaned up with a grin. “Really?”

“And so much frustration I just want to choke you!”

“You know why you have that urge?”

“Yes, I believe I do.”

“Then have at me, darlin’. Or better yet . . .”

His idea of “better” was to entwine his fingers with hers and kiss her hard just before he entered her. This is what she’d been dying for. If she cried out, it was lost in his kiss, but she didn’t think she did. Their joining was too smooth, too quickly done, and far too welcome. And with that thick heat filling her, she didn’t move, just wanted to savor how deeply satisfying it felt. He accommodated her, holding himself perfectly still except for his mouth moving over hers. All he was doing now was kissing her deeply but tenderly.

So sweet of him to do that, but she’d had her moment to relish him and now every nerve in her body was clamoring for more. Her muscles flexed around him. He began to move, thrusting slowly into her at first, but she gave him every clue that that wasn’t enough. Her grip on his shoulders tightened as she moved with him now, wildly as if she were being pushed toward some unknown precipice. But when it arrived, that indescribable burst of ecstasy, washing over her in waves, throbbing in her heart and loins, she merely held on tightly and rode out the storm until it vanquished him as completely as it did her.

His breathing rasped by her ear, his face dropped to the mattress over her shoulder. He was still trembling. Feeling it brought a smile to her lips. But when he finally rose up, he moved up toward the head of the bed, drawing her with him. With all that cavorting across the mattress, they hadn’t been anywhere near the pillows until now.

With his arm around her and her cheek resting on the side of his chest, he assured her, “I’ll go before dawn. Let me just hold you for a while.”

In answer, she put her leg over his. She didn’t want to talk. She’d never felt so deeply satisfied and—happy. Yes, happy. That was the glow she was basking in.

So she was almost asleep when she heard him say, “I’m never going to forget you. I want you to at least know that.”

Beautifully said, but it sounded like a good-bye. It probably was. She knew these were stolen moments. But he didn’t know she now had every intention of seeing him again when this trip was over.

Chapter Thirty-One

“Since when do you sleep the day away?” Jacqueline complained as she plopped down on the bed.

Judith curled into a ball, turning away from Jack and pulling the blanket up to her neck. “On those rare occasions when sleep eludes me, of course. Now go away.”

“But—”

“A few more hours or I’ll be yawning all day.”

“Fine, but I’ll be back if you’re late for luncheon,” Jack said, and flounced out of the room.

As soon as the door closed, the kitten jumped up on the bed and tickled Judith’s nose with its whiskers. “Shoo. I’m not getting attached to you if I’m giving you back to him.”

The kitten didn’t obey, just settled down on the pillow next to hers. Judith hadn’t been asleep. She had been awake for several hours. She had just been too content with her dreamy thoughts to want to get up yet. She could have spent the entire day in bed just thinking about last night. She should at least have gotten dressed, though, before someone showed up. Explaining to Jack why she was na**d wouldn’t have been easy when their cabins weren’t overly warm.

She should probably have some regrets that she’d stepped so far beyond the pale, but she didn’t. Not one. But she did wish Nathan had still been there when she woke. Actually, she wished he could be beside her every morning when she woke. But that required a commitment he wasn’t interested in making. She shied away from that thought. Anything was possible and she wasn’t done with Nathan Tremayne yet.

She rose and dressed quickly before Catherine made an appearance, too. She couldn’t help smiling when she found her clothes from yesterday scattered about the floor. Jack was rather messy in that regard so it wasn’t likely that she had noticed. Nettie would have. Judith was so neat she actually folded her dirty clothes before putting them in the pile for washing. And she might have to do the washing herself if Nettie didn’t recover soon.

Catherine did indeed arrive before Judith vacated the room and went right to the wardrobe to put away the final gown she had finished. Judith was making her bed, but gave her a cheery smile. She hoped that wasn’t going to be a problem today, not being able to stop smiling, even when she was alone.

Catherine paused for a moment to ask, “Are we sure this is the last gown? Your maid said it was, but she was sneezing when she said it, so she might not have checked all your trunks.”

“I’ll need a sailor to move the top chests so I can check the lower ones,” Judith said.

She knew just the one to ask. Another smile, this one quite brilliant. But she had no reason to smile over what she’d just said. This bubbly happiness she couldn’t seem to tamp down was going to be a problem.

Catherine nodded. “Which evening gown are you going to wear for the last dinner? I’m surprised your family wants to dress formally for it.”

“The yellow and cream I think.” Judith had put that one away yesterday, so it was still fresh in her mind.

“You have jewelry to complement it? If not, I have an amber pendant you can wear.”

Judith chuckled. “I have every color gem there is, but I’m not sure if I brought my amber. Since we’ve had no reason to wear jewelry thus far, I can’t remember everything I threw into my jewelry box for the trip.”

“I can check if you like. Where do you keep it?”

Judith laughed again. “I’m not sure of that either! It’s in one of the trunks. You didn’t see it when you were taking the gowns out?”

“Your maid has been putting the ones that still needed work in your wardrobe for me, which is where I have been hanging the gowns I finished so she could put them back in your trunks.”

“I’ll find it when—”

“You there!” Catherine called to a sailor who was passing by in the corridor. “We could use your help, if you please.” Turning to Judith, she said, “You look for your jewel box while I make sure all the gowns are indeed done.”

Judith sighed. So much for getting Nathan back in her room with a legitimate excuse. She easily spotted her jewelry box in the third trunk she opened. But when she opened the box, she drew in her breath. “They’re gone!”

Catherine, still bent over a trunk, said, “Who is, dear?”

“My jewelry, all of it!”

Actually, not all. She was relieved to see her most valued possession was wedged in a corner of the box, the tiny grass ring Jack had made her when they were children. Jack had one, too. They’d spent all day making them for each other. They had worn them for months until the rings had started to unravel and Judith had put hers away to preserve it. Even though it was too small to wear anymore, it was still precious to her. And, thankfully, worthless to a thief.

But everything else that had been in the box was worth a fortune because Roslynn had gone quite overboard in ordering extravagant jewelry for Judith’s come-out. Her mother’s bane was that her husband never allowed her to contribute any part of her large fortune to their living expenses. Anthony insisted on paying for everything. So she spoiled her children with gifts they didn’t need, but it made her happy to do so.

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