Authors: Laurie Paige
“What did you make?”
“Chocolate chip cookies, what else?”
Her laughter sent shafts of longing through him. “So when did you graduate to chicken?”
“When I was twelve, I started hanging around
the kitchen and watching the cooks. The head chef gave up shooing me out and started giving me chores.”
“One always starts out on salads and cold dishes. Next I learned soups and stews, pastas, terrines and pâtés, then baked dishes and finally meats. Desserts, being the most delicate, are last.”
“A private education from a world-class chef,” he said and thought of things he’d like to teach her. “You’re a fast learner.”
“It isn’t difficult when one is interested.”
Jean-Paul suppressed a groan at the images this remark conjured up. Like a dessert, she’d been the most delicate, the most inexperienced of his lovers. She’d also been a quick study, curious and intrigued by all that was happening between them. With her, lovemaking had been fresh and new and enchanting.
“Did you say something?”
“No,” he growled.
After arranging canned pears in a baking dish, she sprinkled them with a cinnamon and sugar mixture and dotted butter on top. “Oh-oh,” she said when she noticed a pot starting to boil. “Stick this in, will you?” She pointed to the dish, then the oven.
Visions raced through his mind. Gritting his teeth, he stuck the pears in the oven with the chicken, which by now was smelling heavenly.
He’d never before realized that a baking chicken could be an aphrodisiac.
Or that preparing a meal with a woman could be so damn enticing. As she moved past him, he caught a whiff of the shampoo and soap they’d shared in the bath. But not at the same time.
That idea brought its own fantasies. He couldn’t suppress the groan as hunger pangs of an erotic kind speared right down to the very middle of his libido.
Megan turned on him in concern. “Jean-Paul, what is it? Are you ill? That’s the third time you’ve moaned.” She laid a hand on his forehead. “You’re flushed, too. I’ll look in the bathroom for a thermometer.”
He grabbed her hand. “No need,” he growled. “You’re the problem. The temptation,” he added sotto voce and glared at her for putting him in this predicament.
Her alluring mouth dropped open as she stared up into his face. Understanding dawned. “Oh,” she said.
” he mocked.
Her beautiful throat worked as she swallowed. He took a deep breath and sought control of those baser instincts. It had never been this difficult in the past. Then he saw what was in her eyes.
“Megan,” he whispered, drawing an agonized breath.
She turned from him. “Dinner is almost ready. There are some rolls to be browned.”
He let her go, but he didn’t care about rolls or dinner or anything but the woman who bustled about as if cooking were the most important task in the world. She removed the chicken and put the bread in to brown, her gaze carefully avoiding his.
The demon on his shoulder urged him to overcome her reticence. He could easily do it. She wanted him as much as he wanted her. He’d witnessed the hunger in her eyes and knew it was as strong as it was in him.
So why not take what they both wanted?
“It’s ready,” she announced, setting two plates on the counter. “Shall we prepare our plates and take them to the table? That seems simpler.”
She wore no makeup at all, yet he’d never seen lips so pink and inviting. He took the platter she handed him and stood behind her while she fixed her meal. Realizing he was indeed hungry for food, too, he spooned out large servings of chicken and pasta and carrots.
“Wonderful,” he said several minutes later. “Being abducted has its advantages. I’d never have known your cooking skills otherwise.”
“Enjoy it while it lasts,” she said wryly. “This doesn’t happen often.”
“Our lives are too busy for things other people take for granted,” he commiserated.
She gazed out the window toward the rocky coast and the sea beyond. “Yes.”
He heard the loneliness and saw the grief in her eyes for a second before she smiled, picked up their plates and began clearing the table. They washed up together.
The gray of the sky faded into blackness. The evening loomed before them. He brought in more wood from the covered porch and lit the fire. Soon the evening chill was chased from the room. He found that pacing brought no relief from the hunger that plagued him.
“Rummy?” she asked after he surfed the television channels and got only static.
She bent over a magazine and paid absolutely no attention to him. Finally she threw the magazine aside. “Will you stop pacing like a caged tiger?”
“I have to do something,” he told her in a near snarl.
“We’ll hike down the trail in the morning,” she promised. “No matter what the weather.”
Her face resembled a stone carving as she stared into the fire after their exchange.
“Hell,” he said.
She didn’t spare him a glance.
“Megan,” he began, and didn’t know what to say. He sighed. “I’m sorry. It’s just that being here with you like this is difficult.”
“You think it isn’t for me? I’m embarrassed that my family put you through this. I apologize.”
He shook his head. “That isn’t the problem. It’s me. It’s being near you and trying not to touch you.” He managed a smile and shrugged.
Slowly her gaze came up to his. Her chest moved as if her breath, too, was stuck in her throat. “We…we shouldn’t.”
“Why not? It’s too late to worry about consequences.” He grimaced at the cynical note.
She clenched her hands together in her lap. “I know. I wish I could take back that night. I wish I hadn’t followed you to the marina. I’m terribly, terribly sorry.”
If she’d kicked him in the solar plexus, he wouldn’t have been more shocked. And angry. “So you do regret it,” he said. “I’d wondered…but it doesn’t matter. Whether you’re sorry or not, the night did happen. We made love, and there’s a child on the way. Live with it.”
He walked out into the night, forgetting the pouring rain until the icy shower drenched him through and through.
It was what he needed, he decided savagely. Something to chill his blood and cool his brain so he could think straight. He stalked off along the ridge, stumbled over a boulder and caught himself in time.
Peering over the ledge, he realized he stood on a cliff that was at least a hundred feet higher than
the gorge below where rainwater rushed with terrifying force on its way to the sea. Seated on the boulder, he thought about his life and the future. Usually sure of himself and where he was going, he discovered only uncertainty ahead.
“Jean-Paul,” a voice called out of the blackness.
A light swept in an arc over the landscape. An ember brightened to a glow within. His selky had come searching for him. That had to mean something.
ou’re soaked,” Megan scolded, but not harshly. She touched Jean-Paul’s arm as he entered the lodge. “And cold. Take a hot shower at once.”
“Yes, Your Royal Highness,” he said in mock obedience and kicked off his shoes, aligning them neatly on the natural stones that formed the entrance area.
Using a wad of paper towels, she mopped up after him, then added more logs to the fire. The night was turning really cold. At that moment, she heard the patter of hail on the roof and windows. There was no way they could leave in the morning. She wondered if she should mention this fact to Jean-Paul and decided he could figure it out for himself.
When he returned to the great room, he wore green sweats and thick socks. Settling on the opposite end of the sofa from her, he sighed gustily. “Ah, home and hearth. What more could a man ask for?”
“Probably a lot,” she said ruefully. “One’s own home or at least a hearth of one’s choice, companions who are also friends.”
“Aren’t we friends?”
She glanced at him, then the fire. “I don’t think so. You prefer those more like yourself, I think.” She managed a smile as she envisioned the beautiful, competent women he usually squired about.
“You think I didn’t notice you?” he asked.
She nodded, refusing to let the knowledge hurt.
“Then you’re wrong.” He turned and stretched his legs down the length of the sofa, enclosing her feet between his. “I remember you from Meredith’s birthday ball. We walked together on the shore. You told me it was your favorite place, and that you liked being alone.”
Megan tried to move her feet without his noticing. He clamped down harder so she couldn’t.
“I don’t think I’m going to let you go, selky,” he murmured lazily, his gaze narrowed as he studied her. “I don’t think I’m going to be able to.”
His soft laughter confused and thrilled her. Breathing deeply, she tried to control the hunger that roamed her blood and lit fires at unexpected
spots throughout her body. She almost moaned with the force of it.
“Do you want me half as much as I want you?” he continued in a thoughtful vein.
She glanced at him, startled.
“Ah, yes,” he said in a near whisper.
The leaping flames became the most fascinating thing she’d ever seen. She kept her eyes on the fireplace as if her life depended on its heat.
“Would you have come out into the storm had I not returned to your light when I did?” he asked, running his foot along her thigh.
“You could have gotten lost. Or fallen. The ridge is considered dangerous for hikers in the best of weather.”
“So it is,” he agreed, his eyes never leaving her.
Clenching her hands together, she desperately tried to think of another topic. “I wonder who sold our news to the original tabloid who printed the first story.”
“I thought so, but the tabloid would have known it was me in that case.”
“Unless she was scared to give a name that could be traced to her.”
“The final story broke before she could have known, but it must have been someone in the palace who overheard us or my sisters and I discussing the problem.”
He looked mildly surprised. “You’ve discussed the pregnancy with your sisters?”
“Not exactly, but Meredith knew something was going on between us. She, uh, arrived at some of the truth.”
“You didn’t simply deny everything?”
She met his gaze squarely. “No. I find it hard to outright lie, and Meredith knows me too well to believe a lie, anyway.”
His feet continued with their wayward caresses as they speculated on the palace leaks. She couldn’t summon the words or the will to stop him. As he’d noted, they were already paying the consequences of their foolish actions. Another night couldn’t change the future.
Quickly, as if her longing might give her away, she rose from the sofa and stood in front of the fire.
Jean-Paul came to her. “What ails you, fair selky?”
“Us. Being alone. Everything,” she confessed with a laugh that wouldn’t fool anyone into thinking she was happy at the moment.
“I know,” he whispered, moving closer. “It’s confusing to be tugged one way by hunger, and another by common sense. I have a suggestion.”
She looked questioningly at him.
“Let’s pretend for tonight that there is no past or future to worry about, that no ties of blood or loyalty come between us, that you are not a royal and I am not of the peerage of another country.”
“What would we be?”
“A man and a woman who have met and loved. Who are together after a long separation not of their choosing.”
“A fairy tale.” She clenched her hands on the mantel above the hearth and wished with all her heart it could be true.
“We can pretend that the only bonds that bind us are those that we choose, that we have chosen each other to love and that it will last for all time.”
When she opened her mouth, he laid a finger over her lips and shook his head.
“For one night,” he requested softly. “One night, selky. Will you not give me this before you return to the sea and your destiny there?”
She closed her eyes as pain rent her soul. “I want to,” she admitted. “So very much.”
“Then come. Take my hand.”
Still she hesitated.
“Choose me,” he urged softly. “Choose me, selky. As I do you.”
Unable to resist no matter what sorrow the next day might bring, she slowly stretched out her hand. He didn’t move. She laid her hand in his and swayed toward him as her legs suddenly grew weak.
He caught her to his chest. “You’re mine now.”
His eyes glittered with a determined light. “Perhaps,” was all he said, then he swept her up, took
two steps and laid her on the sofa. “Perhaps you’ll want to stay,” he said mysteriously as he bent to kiss her.
All else was drowned in the tumult of their kiss, and Megan forgot the enigmatic words.
She touched him desperately, wanting nothing between them. “Take it off,” she said impatiently and tugged at his sweatshirt.
He stripped it over his head and tossed it aside. His hands then slid under her top and pushed it out of the way. With quiet laughter, he nipped at her breasts until they were tighter than a new rosebud.
Tugging the fleecy garment over her head, she tossed it to the floor next to his, then ran her hands all over his powerful torso, loving the feel of his skin and bone and muscle, loving his touch, loving everything they did…loving…
Opening her eyes in alarm, she stared into eyes that were icy blue and hot with the flames of their mutual desire. His gaze trapped her, held her transfixed.
“If you’re thinking of running, you’ll not get away,” he told her fiercely. “Not tonight.”
“I couldn’t go,” she confessed. “I want you too much.”
He watched her another moment, then he threw back his head and laughed. From that point, their lovemaking changed, becoming more playful but not less serious. She felt the passion in him, but also the absence of a tension that had been present.
Had he really thought she could go?
Sighing, she did as he bid and took everything he gave—and he was generous and considerate of her needs—and tried to give back all that he wanted from her.
When kisses were no longer enough, he rose and stripped the rest of their clothing away, built up the fire once more, then returned to her. Lying over her, his weight on his elbows, he instilled a sense of protection and caring in her that she’d never known with another, as if his spirit watched out after hers.
“It’s odd,” she murmured, laving kisses along his neck, “to find this…this fire…the wonder of it. It burns me to ashes, but doesn’t hurt. Except for a little, deep inside somewhere. I can’t explain…”
He caught her face between his strong, gentle hands. “I know, selky. I know this fire.”
Content that he felt it, too, she gave herself to the hunger and the passion of the moment. The wildness of the storm couldn’t penetrate the sweet cocoon of bliss that enveloped her or compete with the tempest that raged between them as he rose slightly, then joined them as one.
“So perfect,” she said on a rapturous sigh. “How can it be so perfect?”
“Because,” he said urgently. “Because it is.”
For some reason, she understood completely.
Friday morning Megan woke in her lover’s arms for the second time. They were on the sofa, a down
comforter over them. The fire had burned to ashes and the lodge was cold.
Jean-Paul’s eyes were open and on her when she lifted her head. Pushing her hair back, she smiled when he did.
“Did it snow last night?” he asked in amusement.
“It’s cold for June,” she agreed, shivering until he pulled the cover over her shoulder and tucked her against his side again.
He chuckled. “This weather would be cold for January, I think. Stay put.”
She watched him rise and don the green sweatsuit before adding paper and kindling to the fireplace. The paper caught from the embers and soon a merry little flame was growing. He went outside and brought in an armload of wood, added it to the fire, then made three more trips to insure a good supply to heat the great room.
“I’ll make breakfast,” she volunteered.
“You did it yesterday.”
“Let the room warm up first then. I’ll put on the coffee.” He strode to the kitchen.
While he was busy, she made a dash for the bathroom. There, she decided to take a quick shower. Goose bumps appeared all over her as she undressed and stepped into the warm flow of water. Ahh, that felt better.
She’d just finished rinsing her hair when she
heard the door open and a cool breeze swirl through the steam.
“Mind if I join you?” Jean-Paul asked, then did so without waiting for a reply.
Before she hardly knew what was happening, his hands were on her waist and his lips had found hers. While he kissed her, he soaped his hands then rubbed them all over her back and down her hips.
Megan couldn’t breathe as slowly he traveled up her sides to her armpits. He lifted his head and drew back slightly, his eyes dark and sexy as he covered her breasts and drew whirls of lather over each one.
After lathering her hands, she rubbed them over his chest and along his lean waist and down his hips to his thighs. She used the soap again and slowly gathered his erection into her hands and laved him there.
“Enough,” he muttered after a few seconds.
Catching her hands, he brought them to his shoulders and held her close once more. Gently he washed her, then quickly washed himself. He dried them off on a huge bath towel, then used the blow dryer on her hair and his.
Finished, he handed her clean sweats, light blue in color, from her duffel, and slipped into the green ones he’d put on for only a few minutes the previous night.
“The coffee should be ready,” he said huskily when they emerged from the steamy bathroom.
“There’re frozen waffles in the freezer. How about some of those?”
She nodded, trying not to notice how he filled out the sweats. His quiet laughter brought her eyes to his.
“A man has a hard time concealing his needs,” he admitted. “Women are able to be more discreet.”
She put waffles into the toaster. “I thought, after last night, I mean…”
He poured them each a cup of coffee. “Once is not enough.”
“Huh. What about twice?” she demanded, reminding him that the night had been deliciously long and ardent.
Cocking his head at a challenging angle, he said, “The third time should be the charm. Shall we find out?”
She held up both hands in defense. “Not until I’ve had breakfast.”
His grin warmed her clear through. She’d never teased with a lover before, had never played these kinds of games. Love play was quite exciting, she found, in all its forms.
The waffles popped up. He buttered hers and his, then poured two glasses of milk. “Ready,” he said.
They carried their plates to the sofa and sat on the hearth rug. He brought over maple syrup. Megan felt they dwelt inside a warm cocoon of en
chantment as they ate in front of the friendly crackle of the fire.
The silence that lapsed between them didn’t feel at all awkward, merely companionable, as if they’d done this often, as if they’d been lovers forever and were content in each other’s company.
“It’s nice—” She stopped, not sure he would share her sentiments.
“It is.” He reached over and caressed her bottom lip, then sucked the drop of syrup off his thumb. “Just us, with the world far away so it can’t intrude.”
Happiness bubbled in her at the contentment in his eyes. She could grow used to this sweet intimacy with him. Fear darkened the bubble of joy.
“What makes you so thoughtful, fair selky?” he demanded, turning her face with a finger under her chin when she gazed into the fire. “I’m jealous,” he continued softly. “I want all your thoughts this morning.”
She summoned a smile. “I was thinking of you. Of us.” But she wouldn’t tell him of her suspected feelings nor the fears thus generated—that he didn’t, couldn’t, return those feelings.
Making love with her was a novelty to him, different because she was different from his usual lover, but newness wore off. What would take its place?
No answer came to her.
“You’re sad,” he said with unexpected insight.
“No. Not really,” she amended when he raised a skeptical eyebrow. She sighed, already sensing the nostalgia of missing him when he was gone. “I was wondering if it’s better to take what’s before one, no matter the cost, or if, by rejecting bliss, one is able to avoid the loss and the pain that would come later.”
“When the bliss is gone?”
Instead of laughing at her whimsical question, he appeared in deep thought. Finally he gave her a level glance. “I would never have given up our time together, even knowing I’d suffer hell forever after.”
Her heart throbbed painfully. “But why?” she whispered.
He shrugged. “That’s just the way it is.”
Running his hand into her hair, he cupped her head and brought her mouth to his. The kiss was deep, exquisitely gentle and sweet. She closed her eyes and gave herself to the embrace, ignoring the odd desire to weep.