Brand didn’t know what he’d expected when they started, certainly not this fire that threatened to consume him. He’d felt rock-hard and aching from the moment their lips had met, and the pressure wasn’t getting any better, only worse.
When he couldn’t tolerate it any longer, Brand jerked his head back and battled for control. After dragging several deep breaths through his lungs, he bent forward and pressed his forehead to hers.
"I… I told you that kissing wasn’t a good idea," she reminded him in a husky whisper. "Now you know why."
"I knew it before, but that didn’t stop me." He smiled to himself as he opened his eyes enough to study her. Hungry desire was on her face. Her eyes, her nose and her delicate chin all seemed pronounced with it. Her carefully styled hair was tousled from his roving fingers, and her pink lips were the color of rose petals moist from the dew.
Her arms remained fastened around his neck, her fingers buried in his nape. Neither of them seemed capable of movement, which suited Brand just fine. He’d dreamed about holding Erin just like this a thousand times since he’d left.
"Call the office and tell them you need the day off," he told her. "Make any excuse you want, but spend the day with me."
She nodded, her eyes closed. "Aimee’s furious with me."
"Why?" He couldn’t resist the temptation to kiss the very tip of her nose.
"She thinks I’m a fool to let you go."
"Luckily, I didn’t believe you. You do love me, don’t you, Erin MacNamera?"
She took a long time answering, much longer than he deemed it should take to admit the truth.
"I shouldn’t have anything to do with you."
"But you will." He made it sound as much like a command as he dared.
"I don’t know," she sobbed, and her soft, slender body shook. "I just don’t know. I can’t believe how much I’ve missed you since you’ve been gone. I…I thought I could put you out of my mind, and then you started sending me those beautiful letters. Every night there was one waiting for me. I prayed and prayed that you’d get discouraged when I didn’t answer. Yet I’d hurry home every night and be so grateful to hear from you again."
It might have been a little egotistical on his part, but Brand was damn proud of those letters.
"Tell me you love me, Erin," he urged, bringing her back into the shelter of his arms. "Let me hear you say it. I need that."
She bent her head against his throat and began to cry softly. "I do love you, so damn much. And you’re navy."
"It could be worse," he whispered close to her ear. He’d never loved her more than he did at this moment.
He cradled her until she sniffed and gently broke away from him. "We’ll spend the day together?" Her eyes avoided his.
"Good." She smiled up at him shyly, then started to unfasten her suit jacket. Brand didn’t fully comprehend what she was doing until she pulled the white silk blouse free of her waistband.
"Erin?" His voice shook noticeably. "You’re undressing."
"I know." She still wouldn’t look him in the eye.
His Adam’s apple worked up and down his throat a couple of times. "Is there a particular reason why?"
It seemed every muscle in his body went tense at the same moment. She wanted to make love. He wasn’t going to argue with her: good grief, he’d been thinking about the same thing from the moment she’d walked out in her flannel nightgown, all tousled and sweet this morning.
"You’re sure?" He had to ask! A man shouldn’t question a woman’s willingness, even though he fully suspected Erin was a virgin.
The ache in his loins intensified.
"I…didn’t know men questioned a woman about this sort of thing." Her voice quivered slightly.
"Normally… they don’t, but there are certain factors we need to decide."
"Can’t we do that later?" The zipper in the back of her skirt made a snakelike sound as she glided it open. She slipped the straight skirt over her hips and let it drop to her feet. Then she carefully lifted it from the floor and folded it over the back of the chair.
"You want to talk later?" he repeated. If she removed her teddy, there wouldn’t be time to wait for anything. She resembled a goddess, her skin so pale it was translucent, so creamy and white. He couldn’t resist her. Hell, he didn’t even know why he was putting forth the effort. This was the woman he planned to love for the remainder of his life. The woman who would mother his children.
"You’ll go slowly?" she asked, her voice liquid and warm.
Brand tenderly brought her into his arms. "Yes, we’ll go slow, real slow. Are you sure you don’t want to wait?"
"For us to marry." The way he figured it, they could have everything arranged within a month or so.
"Married?" Erin cried. "I – I never said anything about the two of us getting married."
Erin couldn’t have shocked Brand more had she announced she was an alien from Mars. "I…thought, I…assumed we’d…you know." The last time Brand had stammered like this had been in the third grade. He couldn’t seem to get the words past his tongue without twisting and misshaping them.
"I’d assumed… you wanted to make love." Erin’s cheeks were a shiny fire-engine red.
"I do." He couldn’t argue with her over that point. He’d been half out of his mind with wanting her from the day they’d gone to the zoo. These lengthy weeks apart had intensified the longing.
"If you want to make love, then why are we standing here arguing with me over a silly thing like us being married?" She folded her arms around her middle and rooted her gaze on everything in the kitchen but him.
"We’re not arguing." At least not yet. It took Brand a few more minutes to gather his wits. In an effort to do so, he had to look away from Erin. Having her this close, and this willing, was temptation enough. He couldn’t glance her way and not ache inside. His hands longed to touch her, hold her, give her everything she was asking for and more.
Her head was bowed, and the way she was standing with her arms shielding her waist brought out every protective instinct Brand possessed.
"If we’re not arguing, then why are we…you know – waiting?"
Brand was asking himself the same question. Oh, hell, who did he think he was kidding? He wanted her. One sample of her willingness wasn’t nearly enough to satisfy him. She was so damned beautiful, standing in the middle of the kitchen in her teddy, her skin so pale and baby soft. There were so many places yet to taste her and caress her, so much to teach her and for her to teach him.
The physical frustration was growing more painful, and try as he might, Brand couldn’t get the picture of what she was offering him out of his mind.
He yearned to fill his palms with the lush heaviness of her breasts and take her nipples into his mouth and have her nourish him in ways he had yet to fully appreciate or understand. He wanted her legs wrapped tight around his waist and to bury himself so deep in her moist heat that he’d reach all the way to her soul. He yearned for all of those things with a hunger that was threatening to consume him, and in that instant he knew he couldn’t have them.
"Get dressed, Erin."
Shocked, she blinked, and he recognized the flash of pain as it lit her beautiful brown eyes.
"Why?" she demanded.
"I believe we have a stalemate here, my dear." He strove to sound unaffected, casual, but it was a front, and a fragile one at that.
"Do you mean to tell me you refuse to make love to me simply because I’m not ready to marry you?"
"Not exactly. We’re not ready to make love – not when there’s so much left unresolved between us." If she didn’t hurry and do as he asked and get dressed, she just might learn how precariously weak his principles actually were.
"Wh-what do you mean?" She reached for her blouse, and Brand swallowed a tight sigh of relief. He was already beginning to question his decision. He’d hurt her, shamed her for making herself vulnerable to him, and that was the last thing he’d meant to do. Hell, he thought he was being virtuous and noble.
He brought her into the circle of his arms and drew his fingers through her hair. "I didn’t mean to embarrass you," he whispered. "I love you, Erin."
"You’re a – a wart on a woman’s pride."
He struggled to hide a grin, not daring to let her know he was amused. "You’re right," he agreed.
"Any other man would have been glad to make love to me."
"I’d be glad, too."
"Then why aren’t you?"
Brand didn’t know how to explain to her what he found so confusing himself. He wanted her. Needed her. Craved her. There didn’t seem to be any answers to the questions that plagued him.
Holding her certainly wasn’t helping matters any. The peaks of her soft breasts were pressing into his chest, and their rich abundance felt soft and swollen. Every time she breathed, her chest would nuzzle his and he’d experience an added degree of torment. She must know what she was doing to him, because she seemed to be breathing so hard and so often.
Unable to stop himself, he kissed her throat, pushing back her hair and twisting the length around his fist. Erin moaned softly. She removed her arms from around his waist, rotated her shoulders back and forth a couple of times, and before Brand realized what she’d done, her blouse lay on the floor.
"Kiss me there," she pleaded softly in a siren’s voice. He was a sailor and he knew he should know better, but when she beckoned, he felt powerless to resist.
"There," she repeated.
She didn’t need to explain where she meant. Brand knew. He found her breasts through the silk teddy, his tongue lapping the excited peak, drawing it into his mouth and sucking gently. Erin arched and whimpered, and when she did, her hips rubbed against the hot swell of his manhood.
Brand groaned and lost himself in her body, thoughtlessly throwing his concern and fears into a forty-knot wind. The delicious heat of desire was the only direction he needed. Slowly he slid his hand past her waistband and into the silky crevice between her thighs.
His thumb caressed the dewy mound until she softly cried out and arched upward, silently begging for what her virgin mind had yet to grasp. His finger located the apex of her femininity and slipped inside the folded layers of her heat.
She was hot and moist, and Brand groaned, or at least he thought he did. Maybe it was Erin. Perhaps both of them. It didn’t matter. What did matter was the way she closed her legs convulsively around his invading hand, her hips jerking awkwardly in abruptly, frantic movements. Brand calmed her with a few whispered words of instruction then moved his hand, slowly at first, not wanting to injure or frighten her.