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Page 39


Thorn just grinned. “Don’t worry. I would tell Vander that nothing happened between us.”

“It’s not just that,” she said, trying to explain in a way he would understand. “My life—any lady’s life—is made up of morning calls, and musicales, and balls. I would be thrown out of society. No one would receive me or send invitations. That’s what it means to be ruined.”

They reached the bottom of the hill. “The life you describe sounds damned tedious. I can’t picture you just going to balls and making calls, India.”

She smiled wryly. “I have trouble imagining it myself.”

“Hell, I should ruin you just so you don’t get caught in such a boring life. It would be my good deed for the year.” He pulled her around and his mouth was on hers—not coaxing, as when they’d first kissed, but hot and demanding. This time his mouth was a burning command, a direct order that she relinquish all control.

India opened her mouth to him without hesitation, aware that her body had been longing for his taste and his touch, aware that she instantly started shaking, just a little. Aware that her arms wrapped around his neck as if she were drowning and only he could save her.

When he pulled her even tighter, she cried out, the sound muffled by his mouth. His leg pushed forward, between hers, and she ground against him, electrified.

There was a rough groan and a curse, and Thorn snatched her up, took one long stride, and released her. India shrieked and fell, landing not on the hard ground but on a stretch of canvas suspended in midair.

“It’s a hammock,” he said, laughing down at her. “Haven’t you ever been in a hammock?”

She looked up at the ropes that held the canvas above the ground. “No! We can’t do this. I need to—”

Thorn lay down beside her in a practiced gesture that revealed he’d spent night after night in hammocks.

“Is this what mudlarks sleep in?” she whispered, hardly able to shape the words because of the searing heat of his body settling against hers.

He shook his head, dusted her mouth with his. “We slept on the ground between graves, in the churchyard. Nice and quiet there.”

“When were you in a hammock?”

“Aboard ship,” he said. “I made one voyage with the East India Company.”

She meant to ask something else, but his hand had cupped her head, just enough to turn it to his mouth. And after she fell into the potency and storm of his kiss, that hand moved. . . .

It trailed along her throat, a caress that seemed almost innocent. India squirmed closer to him, her arms pulling him on top of her, parts of her hungry in a way she’d never imagined.

But she couldn’t think about it, because their kiss was wet and hot, and so fierce that her head tilted back and the hammock enveloped them and pushed their bodies together, as close as the satyr and his lover.

Thorn’s hand drifted below her neck, and a sound broke from India’s throat as his touch rounded the curve of her breast. She tore her mouth from his, an involuntary cry floating into the air.

He muttered a curse and his mouth covered hers, just as his thumb rubbed across her nipple, sending a streak of golden fire through her. India’s cry was swallowed by his kiss. Not that she consciously realized it, because she could only think about his hard, warm body pushing against hers as she arched shamelessly toward him.

When Thorn gave her breast another rough caress, India’s heart stopped beating for a moment. When it started again, it was racing. She bent one of her knees and pushed it between his thighs, and this time the groan was his.

“I want . . .” she whispered, breaking off. But the raw words came from her throat, willy-nilly. “You and I.”

He was tugging gently at her bodice, which gave way instantly. He lowered his head again and kissed her collarbone. India felt a shiver rock her entire being as she waited for his lips to drift lower.

“You and me,” she corrected herself, letting her fingers slide through his hair, thick and soft and far too long for a gentleman. She loved that he wasn’t a gentleman. No gentleman would topple her into an open-air ship-bed, kissing her so intimately where anyone might see them.

Her fingers trailed down his neck, drifting out to caress his shoulders. Thorn let out a husky groan at her touch. The only other sounds were the sleepy grumble of the river and the songs of nesting birds.

No one would know. No one would hear. She tried to pull his head down to kiss him again, but he pushed up on one arm, steady in the hammock even as it rocked.

“There is no you and me,” he stated.

“There’s you and me in this hammock,” she returned. And she moved her leg to touch that hot, vital part of him. At her touch, she saw darkness in his eyes, like the madness in her blood. “Please, Thorn. Please.”

He leaned closer and said against her lips, “What are you asking for, India?”

The hammock was swaying, and with it, his body against hers. The muscles in his shoulder rolled under her fingertips, the fine linen of his shirt sliding over his skin.

His lips opened against hers, and again his hand rounded her breast and put delicious pressure on her nipple. India clung to him, her belly strangely hot, her legs trembling.

She liked the feeling.

Very much.

When Thorn raised his head again, she saw a flare of wildness in his eyes.

“I want all of it,” she said, and gasped, because his fingers were skimming her side, the intimacy of that touch undeniable. “You and me.” She blinked. “I mean, you and I.”

Thorn had pulled aside her bodice again, his mouth descending to her breast. She arched her back and moaned. “I need. . . . Oh Thorn, I need . . .”

He moved to the other breast, and she lost control of whatever it was she had meant to say. One of his hands was sweeping up one of her legs, leaving raw hunger in its wake. The fever swept over her again: she wanted his taste, his smell, his consuming, ravishing kiss.

A foggy thought occurred to her: if she was going to play the trollop, she might as well do that. She let her leg fall open, inviting his caress.

Thorn’s teeth grazed her nipple and at the same moment his fingers curved inward. She was writhing against him, words flowing out of her mouth, an endless stream of pleas that would have embarrassed her except . . .

They didn’t.

It felt right. Like a natural thing, like the right thing. “I know you’re a gentleman under the skin, for all you say to the contrary.” The words caught in her throat. “But I’m asking you, Thorn. I’m—”

“What are you asking me for?”

He was looking down at her seriously, as if one hand wasn’t resting on the soft skin of her inner thigh. Her body was frozen, waiting for those fingers to inch higher.

“A gentleman would stop now,” she said, daring him.

His fingers drifted another inch, stopped again. The feeling raged through her, and she trembled from head to foot.

“A man who didn’t care about society would continue, because the woman in his arms was—was agreeable,” she whispered.

A dusky chuckle drifted into the air. “ ‘Agreeable’?”

His fingers drifted again, and the air whooshed from her lungs. “Please,” she said, her voice a thread of sound. She hated whispering. She just couldn’t seem to find the breath to make a forceful demand.

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