When I completed and submitted my thirtieth book, I decided to celebrate by offering a taste from each one. Enjoy!
The Marriage He Must Keep is Book One in my very popular baby swap duet, The Wrong Heirs.
Alessandro's cousin is the villain, responsible for the swap. Octavia and Alessandro have grown apart through the pregnancy and she's not ready to resume their marriage. They're in London, out for dinner, and he's asking her to go back to Naples with him.
~ * ~
But if she kissed him now, it would imply agreement.
Doubts continued to float and burst like rainbow-colored bubbles around her, but her gaze dropped to his mouth. She was giving in. She could feel herself surrendering the fight…
Because she really, really wanted him to kiss her.
His head lowered.
She expected a crush of ownership. Triumph even.
He kissed her like he had that first time. Lightly. Sweetly. Gradually coaxing her to part her lips and let the heat and dampness spread.
She was the one who slid her arms around his neck and leaned in and encouraged him to increase the pressure. She opened her mouth and fisted her hand in his hair and punished him for making her wait so long to feel alive. She had missed the sexual energy, the rush of excitement, the provocative differences in their bodies that stimulated her in ways she couldn’t even explain. She kissed him hard and drove her tongue into his mouth and made a noise of anger and relief.
He locked hard arms around her, holding her tight, just short of squeezing her. His hands moved with possessive familiarity, one splaying under her bottom and angling her hips into his groin.
She rubbed against him, inciting him with the grind of her hips and the scrape of her teeth against his lips. She wanted to bite him. Hurt him.
He grunted, kissing her harder as he took control, holding her with restrained power just short of crushing her while he pulled at her lips and ravaged her mouth.
To hell with her recovery and the tenderness across her belly. She wanted him. Her body went weak, signaling her willingness to be taken.
She felt the reaction in him, the gather of his muscles as if he would pick her up and carry her to the nearest surface. The floor. He had in the past.
He tore his mouth from hers instead, one hand moving to the back of her head to tuck her crown under his chin where he held her as though protecting her from the fireball that had exploded into flames between them. They panted, hearts slamming.
To her eternal shock, she realized they were in a restaurant. Voices drifted over the music from the other rooms.
She closed her eyes, needing this moment to collect herself. That had been raw and voracious. Alarming. They’d never been like that before. It made her a little frightened for when they could make love again. They might shred each other to pieces.
“It hurts,” he said gruffly. The hand low on her spine pressed just enough to make her aware of the iron-hard muscle digging into her tender abdomen. “It hurts to touch you and not have you. To smell your hair and feel you against me and kiss without having the rest. It damned well hurts, Octavia. That’s why I stayed away. But I’m not letting you leave me.”
Fine trembles gripped her as she tried to think and couldn’t. She just wanted to feel. She wanted him. She wanted to believe this was something they could build on.
“You haven’t even said you’re sorry,” she managed to say, forcing herself to pull back enough to see him. Pathetic as she was, she needed his support to stand, even as her voice cracked with suffering.
Remorse convulsed his features.
“I am sorry.” It wasn’t an apology. He wasn’t trying to convince her. It was a statement. “Deeply sorry. I took you for granted and underestimated my cousin. But how can I ask your forgiveness when I’ll never forgive myself?”
She’d never heard that particular scrape in his voice before. Never seen such a bleak, devastating anguish leech out all the green to completely gray his eyes. His fingers on her arms were gentle, but she felt pain from them. His pain.
An urge to comfort pressed her heart toward him, giving her a flat, aching sensation against the inner wall of her chest. She wanted to tell him it was all right, but it wasn’t. And he knew it. He felt it. He wasn’t as oblivious as she feared, which filled her with that wretched, misguided hope that kept sparkling before her like a lure.
He very tenderly caressed her cheek, fingertips smoothing her hair back and tracing a line down her jaw. The backs of his knuckles grazed under her chin and down the delicate, pulsing cords in her throat.
“We’ll save sleeping together for when we reach Italy. I want you to rest as much as you can while we’re here. Heal.” His touch, the look in his eyes, made it sound as though he wanted more than physical repair for her. As though he understood her heart was fractured and needed time.
The first tendrils of mending began as she glimpsed the man who’d turned her inside out on a three-week honeymoon, concerned and focused and with a touch like magic, thumb grazing her bottom lip so it felt puffy and incapable of anything but kissing.
Their next course came, but they just stood there, looking into each other’s eyes. After a long moment, he dropped one more very, very gentle kiss on her mouth and slowly released her, leaving her burning as he drew her back to their table.
~ * ~
Be sure to look for Book Two in The Wrong Heirs, The Consequence He Must Claim.
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