“Thank you, but no. That is, I would like one, but I can’t.”
“I’m trying to reduce.”
Cassandra blushed and looked annoyed, as if he were being deliberately obtuse. “My weight.”
Tom’s gaze slid over her opulent and spectacularly curved form. Mystified, he shook his head. “Why?”
Cassandra’s color deepened as she admitted, “I’ve gained nearly a stone since Pandora’s wedding.”
“Why does that matter?” Tom asked, increasingly baffled. “Every inch of you is gorgeous.”
“Not to everyone,” she said wryly. “My proportions have expanded past the ideal. And you know how people gossip when one is less than perfect.”
“Why don’t you try not giving a damn?”
“Easy for you to say, when you’re so lean.”
“Cassandra,” he said sardonically, “I have two different colored eyes. I know all about the things people say when one is less than perfect.”
“That’s different. No one thinks of eye color as a lack of self-discipline.”
“Your body isn’t an ornament designed for other people’s pleasure. It belongs to you alone. You’re magnificent just as you are. Whether you lose weight or gain more, you’ll still be magnificent. Have a cake if you want one.”
Cassandra looked patently disbelieving. “You’re saying if I gained another stone, or even two stones, on top of this, you’d still find me desirable?”
“God, yes,” he said without hesitation. “Whatever size you are, I’ll have a place for every curve.”
She gave him an arrested stare, as if he’d spoken in a foreign language and she was trying to translate.
“Now,” Tom continued briskly, “about the contract—”
He was caught off guard as Cassandra launched herself at him with enough momentum to knock him off balance and back into the corner of the settee. Her soft mouth fastened to his, her body molding to his. It felt so paralyzingly good that his hands remained suspended in mid-air for one, two, three seconds, before his arms closed around her. Bewildered, he shaped his mouth to hers, and felt the supple flick of her little tongue against his, venturing past his teeth, touching his inner cheek. He went instantly hard, dying with the need to devour, stroke, squeeze, kiss, feel her everywhere. She fit her body into the space between his thighs with an instinctive little wiggle, and he couldn’t stifle a groan as a wave of pleasure nearly unmanned him.
Thank God they were lying down: He couldn’t have stood after that. A white-hot glow had filled his groin, radiating outward in rings of sensation: It would be a miracle if this didn’t end with him disgracing himself. Struggling for a measure of control, he lifted his right leg onto the settee and braced his left foot on the floor for balance. He slid his hands over her body, feeling the delicious shape of her through rustling layers of taffeta and velvet.
The rich ivory swell of her bosom plumped against the neckline of her bodice. Carefully his palms slid up to clasp the vault of her rib cage, and he hitched her a few inches higher on his chest. He pressed his lips to skin as smooth as glass, but soft and warm. His mouth traversed the lavish curve of her breast until he reached her cleavage. Very lightly, he let the tip of his tongue delve into the deep shadow, and savored the reflexive shiver that ran through her.
Hooking two fingers into her bodice, he eased one side down. Her flesh was revealed by millimeters, a beautiful rose-pink nipple budding in the cool air. She was so exquisite, so luscious. All the desire he’d ever known was nothing compared to this, a need that tore ragged edges along every breath. He put his mouth on her, sucking the tender peak past his lips, letting her feel the edges of his teeth, the velvety flat of his tongue. Soon he found a rhythm, tugging and lapping. He couldn’t help undulating his pelvis upward in lewd, subtle nudges, rubbing the swollen length of his shaft up against the sweet weight of her. She was too voluptuous and wonderful for him to be able to lie completely still.
Soon, however, he approached the brink and was forced to stop moving. He released her breast with a growl of frustration, panting heavily.
Cassandra whimpered in protest. “No, please … Tom … I feel …”
“Desperate?” he asked. “Feverish? Knotted up inside?”
She nodded and swallowed convulsively, and dropped her forehead to his shoulder.
Tom turned his head and rubbed his lips against her temple. She smelled like crushed flowers and salt and damp talc. Bewitched and aroused, he breathed deeply of her. “There are two ways to make it better,” he murmured. “One is to wait.”
In a moment, he heard her muffled voice. “What’s the other way?”
Despite the surfeit of aching, throbbing desire, a faint smile touched his lips. He lowered her to the settee until she was on her side facing him, with his arm fitted beneath her neck. Taking her mouth with his, he probed gently with his tongue, stroking and caressing the tender depths of her. He reached down to the heavy velvet swaths of her skirts and pulled up the front, until he found the shape of her hip covered in thin cambric.
Cassandra broke the kiss with a gasp.
Tom went still, his hand remaining clasped on her hip. He looked into her flushed face, assessing her mood, her quick-breathing excitement. God, he could hardly remember what it was like to be so innocent.
“I won’t hurt you,” he said.
“Yes, I’m … just so nervous …”
Tom leaned over her, his lips tracing the crest of her cheek and wandering lightly over her face. “Cassandra,” he whispered, “everything I have, everything I am, is at your service. All you have to do is tell me what you want.”
She turned a deeper shade of scarlet, if that were possible. “I want you to touch me,” she brought herself to say timidly.
Carefully he smoothed the cambric over her hip with slow circles of his palm. Her bottom was full and firm, as delectable as a fresh peach. He wanted to bite her there, press his teeth gently into the cushiony surface. His wandering hand strayed to her front, where the stiff edge of her corset dug into her abdomen. Searching lower, he found the open seam at the crotch of her drawers, and lightly fingered the lace-trimmed edges. His knuckles slipped beneath the cambric, grazing a thatch of soft curls as if by accident. She jerked a little at the touch. He let his knuckles drag gently along each side of the soft furrow, up and down, until he heard a slight moan. Encouraged, he slid his hand farther into the garment, cupping the beautiful female shape of her. His fingertips delved gently into the intricate layers of softness, stroking back and forth between the labia, finding heat … tenderness … a slick of moisture.
He could hardly believe she was letting him touch her so intimately. Softly he played with her, sensitive to every twitch and pulse of the vulnerable flesh. Taking hold of the silky inner petals, he tugged softly at each in turn. Trembling, Cassandra turned her face against his shoulder, her knees pressing together.
“No, stay open for me,” Tom urged, nuzzling into the little hollow beneath her ear.
Hesitantly her thighs parted, letting him tease and search until he found the melting heat of her entrance. He stroked across it gently, and she bit her lip with surprised dismay at the awareness of how wet she was. Tenderly he drew a damp fingertip upward, circling the half-hidden bud of her clitoris, awakening sensation but never quite touching where she most wanted.