Daphne could barely even hear the music over the thundering of her heart at what this moment meant to him. Bartholomew wasn’t just dancing with her. He was risking all the rejection and humiliation he’d had to cloister himself into his town house to avoid.
He was confronting his deepest fears just for the chance to waltz in the garden with her.
She touched the side of his face. “You don’t have to do this if you’re afraid someone might see.”
“I don’t care about anyone’s opinion but yours. If I fall…” His lips curved wryly as he met her eyes. “I think I’ve already fallen.”
Her heart thudded. “Then it’s fortunate we find ourselves in each other’s arms.”
“Indeed.” He lowered his mouth. Slowly. Giving her plenty of time to turn away.
She slid her fingers into his hair and lifted her lips to his. He was what she wanted.
His kisses were gentle. Tender. She didn’t want gentleness. Her heart yearned for him too sharply to be content with mere tenderness.
Her kisses were hungry, demanding. She wanted every taste, every sensation to be seared upon her soul. If she couldn’t keep him in her arms, she would keep moments like these in her memory. Cleave them to her heart.
His feet stilled and, slowly, he broke their kiss. Their private waltz had come to an end.
She couldn’t repress the small sound of disappointment that escaped her throat… until she realized how far they now were from the ballroom. Although still and bare, the gardens’ trees and fountains provided a dark, secluded nook, sheltering them from prying eyes and the winter wind.
They were alone. Scandalously, deliciously, alone.
She didn’t think for a moment that it meant he was finally willing to introduce her to hedonistic pleasure—no matter how many nights she dreamt of just such a liaison—but she was greedy for any part of himself he was willing to share.
He led her to a stone bench and pulled her onto his lap.
Eagerly, she wrapped her arms about his neck, thrilling at the warmth of his embrace. He could have forced her to go back inside. Yet he cradled her in his arms instead. She wished she could be there forever. Her heart beat so rapidly, pressed against his.
He kissed the top of her head, the side of her temple, the shell of her ear. Letting her know he wanted more. Letting her know it was her choice.
Of course she would choose him.
She lifted her parted lips to his. He took her mouth. Her soul. His arms were heaven. She devoured him, her tongue dancing with his. He held her closer. The heat and passion of his kisses proved the intensity of his desire matched that of her own.
Her skin grew hot. Her clothes, restrictive. She wished she could tear his greatcoat from his beautiful shoulders. Feel her mouth on his warm neck, his muscled arms, his bare chest. To taste him on her tongue and know that he was hers.
The fantasy was so intoxicating, it stole her breath. Robbed her ability to think.
His kisses heated her flesh. All she could do was lose herself in the moment. Surrender to his mouth, his touch.
And pray he never let her go.