Cassandra’s eyes closed. A loose tendril of golden hair strayed across her cheek, fluttering with every deliciously uneasy breath. Tom built her pleasure slowly, relentlessly, stroking down the sweet cleft and massaging his way back up again. He concentrated on her responses, adoring the way she gasped and writhed and pushed herself at him. Leaning down, he drew the tip of her breast into his mouth and nibbled delicately. Her pelvis began a helpless rhythm, lifting and lifting. Very gently, he pressed the tip of his middle finger to the entrance of her body. Virginal muscles tightened against him, but he waited patiently, his fingertip wriggling deeper at the first hint of yielding. The first joint of his finger gently entered the silky channel. Deeper … to the knuckle … deeper. Her flesh pulled at him, grasping delicately as if to welcome the intrusion.
His mouth went to her other breast, kissing the turgid nipple, using his teeth and tongue. He searched inside her, tickling lightly, finding places that made her squirm. She crushed her parted lips against his throat, panting and kissing his skin feverishly.
Gradually he withdrew his finger, hot and wet from the elixir of her body, and caressed the little pearl in soft, even circles. Within seconds, she was gasping and writhing as she approached the pinnacle. His mouth found hers, absorbing her moans, sucking and licking at the sounds of her pleasure as if he were pulling honey from the comb.
An abrupt noise broke through the haze of lust—a decisive knock on the door—followed by the turn of the knob.
Cassandra squeaked in fright and stiffened in his arms. With a savage growl, Tom rolled her beneath him, concealing her naked breasts from view.
“Don’t … open … that … door,” Tom snapped at the would-be intruder.
THE DOOR CRACKED OPEN sufficiently to allow Devon’s voice to come through. “We’re all waiting in the parlor with nothing to do. You’ve had enough time to talk.”
Despite Cassandra’s blind panic, Tom kept his hand between her thighs, fondling and teasing her through one helpless spasm after another. Her climax had already begun, and he’d be damned if he’d let it be ruined. “Trenear,” he said with lethal calm, “I have few enough friends as it is. I would hate to kill you. But if you don’t leave us alone—”
“Lady Berwick is going to kill me if I don’t bring Cassandra back to the parlor,” Devon’s muffled voice informed him. “Given the choice, I’d rather take my chances with you. Also, bear in mind that regardless of what the two of you may be trying to decide, nothing is going to happen unless I give my consent. Which is damned unlikely, given what I know about you after ten years’ acquaintance.”
It was close to impossible for the usually articulate Tom to form a reply with Cassandra quivering beneath him. She shook and arched, burying her face against his coat to keep silent. He slid his finger inside her, relishing the strong clamping of her muscles around him. A flash of heat went through him at the thought of being joined with her and feeling her flesh wringing and clenching on him—
“We haven’t decided anything yet,” he told Devon brusquely. “I may ask for your consent later, but right now, what I want is your absence.”
“What does Cassandra want?” Devon asked.
Tom was about to reply for her, but Cassandra jerked her face back, bit her lip after a hard shudder, and spoke in an astonishingly composed voice. “Cousin Devon, if you could allow us five minutes more … ?”
A short silence passed. “Very well,” Devon said. The door closed fully.
Cassandra dove her face against Tom’s chest, gasping uncontrollably. His experienced fingers soothed her through the last few twitches and tremors, his thumb swirling over the little bud, his middle finger stroking deep inside her. Eventually he withdrew his finger and gently petted the silky-coarse curls.
“I’m sorry, buttercup,” he murmured, cuddling her spent and trembling form against his. “You deserve time and privacy, and consideration. Not to be fondled in the library over the tea service.”
Cassandra surprised him with an unsteady chuckle. “I asked for it,” she reminded him. To his satisfaction, she was calm and glowing in the aftermath, the signs of strain gone from her face. She drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Oh, my,” she said faintly.
Tom couldn’t stop himself from kissing her again. “You’re the sweetest thing I’ve ever held in my arms,” he whispered. “I want to be the one who pleasures you. The one you reach for in the night.” He nuzzled and nipped at the velvety surface of her lips. “I want to fill the empty places inside you … give you whatever you need. My beautiful Cassandra … tell me what I have to do to be with you. I’ll meet you on your terms. I’ve never said that to anyone in my life. I—” He stopped, painfully aware of the inadequacy of words. Nothing could convey the magnitude of his desire for her, the lengths to which he was willing to go.
Cassandra moved to sit up, slow and sluggish, as if she were under water. He watched regretfully as she pulled up her bodice, concealing the wondrous breasts from view. Her face was partially averted from his, her expression distant, as if she were deep in thought.
“Cousin Devon said negotiating with you was a nightmare,” she commented after a long silence. “He said he was surprised it didn’t end in murder.”
With a leap of hope, Tom realized she was asking for reassurance.
“It wouldn’t be like that for us,” he replied instantly. “You and I would negotiate in good faith.”
A frown knitted the space between her brows. “You wouldn’t try to mislead me? You wouldn’t add fine print to the contract?”
It occurred to Tom that her suspicious expression was very much like Bazzle’s when he’d asked Tom about buggering.
“No fine print,” he said immediately. “No tricks.” When she didn’t look convinced, he exclaimed, “Good God, woman, I would hardly expect to deceive my wife and live happily with the consequences. We’ll have to trust each other.”
“That’s the marriage part,” Cassandra said absently, echoing his words of a few minutes earlier. Her gaze lifted to his, her face turning pink and radiant as she seemed to come to a decision. “All right, then.”
His heart stopped. “All right what?”
“I accept your proposal, contingent upon our negotiations, and subject to my family’s approval.”
A flush of mingled triumph and awe swept over Tom. For a moment, all he could do was stare at her. Despite what he’d wanted and hoped for and had thought might happen, the words came as a surprise after all. He was afraid to believe she actually meant it. He wanted it written down, engraved on something, so he could reassure himself later that she’d really said it. She’d said yes. Why had she said yes?
“Was it the shoes?” he asked.
That drew a quick laugh from her. “That part didn’t hurt,” she said. “But it was the idea of being met on my terms. And I want very much to help people in a large way.” She paused, turning serious. “This won’t be easy. Our life together will be a leap into the unknown, and I’ve never been comfortable with newness. I could have chosen a far lesser man than you and not felt nearly this afraid. You’ll have to be patient with me, as I intend to be with you.”