Shadow game (Chapter Thirteen)

THE house was still being watched. Arly had security guards patrolling, but the men hiding in the shadows were no civilians. Ryland was uneasy having his team split. And he was disturbed over Lily. He had reached out to her over and over in the last few hours, but she hadn't responded. He hadn't realized how much he counted on that connection between them and it was disturbing that he couldn't touch her. Once he had gotten Jeff Hollister to safety, he had concentrated on Lily, but he had been unable to establish any kind of bridge.

Throughout the long afternoon and evening, Ryland had become increasingly worried. Ian had come to him twice, saying he "felt" danger but couldn't say why. Ryland tried to put it down to the obviously military team guarding the house. It didn't help that he couldn't touch Lily.

Frowning, Ryland moved as a GhostWalker, slipping through the lines to get a fix on the positions of their enemy. Once a radio crackled, the sound loud in the crisp night air. A guard lit a cigarette, shielding the red glow with his hand, but the smell floated on the wind. Ryland watched them for some time, observing their boredom. The night was going to be long and cold for the watchers.

Finally. He saw the headlights and then Lily's car come up the winding drive. She was home and his world was right again. The day had been far too long, his heart pounding in his throat every time he thought of her alone at Donovans. Those people had managed to murder her father, and Ryland feared, as time went by and they could find no trace of the GhostWalkers, Higgens would begin to panic.

Satisfied, Ryland moved like the wind, silent, deadly. He blended into the mottled patterns of the trees and shrubbery along the high fence line. Arly had told them the fence was wired with sensors and throughout the grounds motion detectors crisscrossed the area. He gained the treeline just behind the estate, using the larger tree trunks as cover as he moved into deeper woods. Ryland slipped easily past two guards holding a bored conversation near the entrance to the closest tunnel.

The long-stemmed rose he held in his hand was devoid of thorns, he had seen to it personally. He wished he had dozens of them for Lily, but he had done the most he'd felt it safe to do. Bypassing security, he had entered a flower shop on his way back from seeing Jeff, and left the money for the single perfect rose on the counter to be found by a puzzled employee. He didn't think taking a dozen would have allowed him to sneak past the watchers unnoticed.

Ryland went swiftly through the twists and turns in the narrow tunnel. The passageway came out in the upper halls. The day staff was long gone. Even so, he went through the door cautiously, ready for anything, all senses alert. Darkness greeted him. Even the night-lights were off. It didn't matter; he moved unerringly toward his goal.

Ryland went from shadow to shadow, gliding through the enormous house quickly. He found himself directly under the staircase leading to the upper stories and the wing of the house where his men were waiting. He walked up the stairs but veered to the right, toward Lily's private quarters.

Standing just inside her bedroom, the sound hit him first. Soft. Muted. Lily, his Lily, was weeping. He stopped moving, so shaken he trembled. The sound of it tore out his heart. His fingers curled around the rose, a tight fist against such a wrong. He drew a deep breath of air into his lungs, held it, let it out slowly. Her crying was almost more than he could bear. It made him weak and it turned his insides to mush. He reminded himself every day it was a loss of control, not very macho for a Special Forces man, and most of all that Peter Whitney might really have manipulated him in some way, but none of it seemed to matter.

More than anything he respected courage and integrity and loyalty, all of which Lily had in abundance. Not wanting to startle her, Ryland eased his way close. "Lily," he said her name softly, tenderly, with a blend of heat and smoke.

Lily's gasp was audible. She buried her face in the pillow, turning away from him, humiliated to be caught in such a vulnerable moment. "What are you doing here, Ryland? Arly told me you were gone, that you had gone to check on Jeff." There was an edge to her voice. He heard it in spite of the sound being muffled by the pillow.

"Lily, you weren't worried about me, were you? You can't be crying because you were afraid for me." The idea alarmed and pleased him at the same time. He reached for the bedside lamp.

"No." She caught his wrist to stop him. "Please don't."

Ryland stood for a moment hesitating, unsure how to handle her mood. He brushed the velvet flower petals along her tear-wet cheek before laying the rose carefully on the pillow beside her.

Lily shivered with awareness, turned her head to look at the rose, then shifted her gaze to his face. There was so much sorrow in her blue eyes it beat at him, weakened him. "I'm so sorry about your father, Lily, I know how much he meant to you." He sat on the edge of her bed, carefully removed his shoes, and then dropped his shirt on the floor beside the bed. Very slowly, so as not to alarm her, he stretched his length out beside her. With infinite gentleness he pulled her into his arms. "Let me hold you, honey, just comfort you. That's all I want to do right now. I never want you to cry like this again."

Lily burrowed close to him, buried her face against his broad chest, her body relaxing into the shelter of his. She put her mouth against his ear, her breath warm on his skin. "It isn't my father, Ryland. It's everything. A moment of weakness. Nothing."

Something in her voice warned him. Everything male and warrior deep inside him went still. Waited. He inhaled sharply and smelled… blood. "What the hell?" His hands tightened possessively. "What happened to you? Where are you hurt?"

Lily clung to him. "I was in my father's office, looking around, and I found a small voice-activated recorder. Someone came in and hit me hard. I fell backward and they nailed me again as I was going down. They took the recorder."

He stiffened, a tremor running through his body. Rage was swift, volcanic. He swore very softly beneath his breath. "I'm going to light a candle and look at you. How bad were you hurt and where the hell were those idiot security guards?" He hissed the question at her.

When she didn't answer, Ryland reached around her to find the matches on her nightstand. The flare was small, a soft hissing as he lit the aromatic candle. He dropped the match in the holder and caught her chin firmly in his hand, turning her face this way and that inspecting the damage. His gut tightened; something very dangerous welling up deep inside him roared for release.

"Damn it, Lily, did you see who did this?" he persisted.

"I was just turning when he hit me. I had a brief impression of him and then I was on the floor." She traced his frown with the pad of her finger. "I'm fine, a little stiff, but I'll live."

His hands moved over her head. He felt a large bump near her temple and she winced when the pads of his fingers gently examined her.

A dark, predatory expression crossed his face, shimmered in the depths of his eyes, a menacing threat that caused her to shiver. At once he leaned forward to brush her temple and cheek with the warmth of his mouth. "You were supposed to have guards at Donovans. Where the hell were those useless guards? Where were they when all this was happening? Why weren't they watching over you? I should never have allowed you to go back there. Damn it, I'm a military officer, and I let a civilian go unprotected into a dangerous situation." He let her go-Lily-and she was hurt.

His voice was so beautiful it seeped through her pores deep into her body. As always it moved her as nothing else could. Somehow her head throbbed less with his concern. She touched his face gently, wanting to soothe him. "You know it was my decision alone and no one could have stopped me." When she felt him stiffen, she hastily continued. "An alarm went off. The guards ran to see if security had been breached," Lily said tiredly.

She lay back, settling closer to the warmth of his body without being fully conscious of doing so. "When I first went in this morning, Colonel Higgens met me and walked me to my office. Phillip Thornton joined us there and they told me they wanted me to have military guards because they were afraid you might attempt to kidnap me. They implied you may have been the one to attack me."

There was a small silence until he could swallow his anger. Both men knew he wouldn't hurt a woman.

Deliberately his white teeth flashed, a wicked smile that had his eyes glittering silver. "Kidnapping you has a very erotic side to it," he teased.

A small answering smile curved her soft, trembling mouth in spite of the attack. "You're so outrageous, Ryland. Only you would think of something so kinky."

He nuzzled her neck. "I like kinky, honey, when you're involved." His teeth teased her earlobe.

"More interesting things to look forward to." Despite her game attempt to smile, she sounded infinitely weary.

His heart turned over. He drew her closer to him, felt her soft body yielding to his. Ryland fought down his body's reaction, knowing she needed comfort. He could feel the pain throbbing in her head. "Did you take something for your headache?"

"I wouldn't take anything from them, I waited until I came home. I'm not sleepy or tired so much as just wanting to lie in the dark and feel sorry for myself."

He brushed kisses over her face. Feather light. Tender. "You need a cup of hot chocolate. I'm going to call Arly and have him get a doctor here to look you over."

"No! You can't do that, Ryland, you don't know them. Arly, John, Rosa, they'll be crazy. I'm fine, really, just a bump and a headache. And it gives me a great excuse to miss work for a couple of days and no one here will think anything of it."

"I don't want you to ever go back there. There's no need."

"Don't, Ryland." She touched her finger to the sculpted perfection of his mouth.

"Don't what? Want to protect you? I'm sorry, Lily but there's no way that instinct is going to go away. I knew. That day you walked into the room. I knew right then in that heartbeat of time when my brain was going crazy and my skin crawled and my insides were knotted up so tight I was going to explode. You walked into the room, Lily, and you were so damn beautiful it hurt."

"I don't remember it quite like that."

He crushed her silky hair in his large hands, brought the strands to his face to rub them along his jaw. "You tore out my heart on the spot, lady. It's been yours ever since. Damn it, I can't do anything else, feel anything else, but wanting to protect you."

"Ryland…" She looked up at him, her heart in her eyes. "I feel the same way about you, but we're both enhancers. Anything we feel is just more intense."

He took the rose from her pillow and placed it carefully on the nightstand beside the candle. "I've thought about this, came at it from every angle. I don't believe what I feel for you has anything at all to do with enhancing, Lily. I'd walk through hell to protect you. I'm not one of the nice men you've always known in your protected world. Don't see me like that, because it isn't who I am. You're stuck with the man I am."

"I don't want you to be any different, Ryland." It was true. In spite of herself, she couldn't help but love the way he was so protective.

"You're magic, Lily, sheer magic. And you're mine, Lily, my everything. I'm drawn to you because you're Lily Whitney with more courage in your little finger than most people have in their entire body. You have a brain, a sense of humor, a smile that knocks me over, and every single time I'm near you, I want to tear your clothes off. And damn it, I'm not going to lose you."

"You're not going to lose me." Her lashes lifted to give him a glimpse of her startling blue eyes. "I knew you would get around to sex sooner or later."

His hands slipped around her to cup her breasts beneath the sheet. She fit into his palms, warm and petal soft. "I forgot to say you always smell good too." He inhaled deeply, taking her scent into his lungs where it swirled, a potent temptation. "Stop deliberately distracting me, Lily, I want to give you a lecture."

Her mouth curved, her intriguing dimple appearing. "I believe you have your hands on my body, Captain Miller, not the other way around."

He closed his eyes briefly, groaning aloud over the possibilities her murmured words conjured up for him. "The idea of your hands on my body is alarming, Lily. Then I start thinking about what might come next. You have such a beautiful mouth. The things you could do with your mouth might be interesting."

A small laugh escaped; she opened her eyes to look at his face hovering inches from hers. "Life with you would be exhausting. You know that, don't you?"

"Deliciously exhausting," he agreed.

"And sinfully wicked."

His grin was a satisfied smirk. "Deliciously sinfully wicked."

He was simply cradling her breasts in his hands, his fingers wrapped possessively, but she felt the heat begin to spread from his hands to her body. A slow smolder. A delicious smolder.

His breath caught in his throat. She was looking up at him without guile, without hiding anything from him. Her heart was in her eyes. Love. Acceptance. Unconditional. Lily Whitney was on his side always. And that was both good and bad. Good because she belonged to him. Bad because she believed she had to protect him. She could make a tough man fall hard.

The flickering candlelight flared, the light spilling across her bruised face. She winced, looked away from him. "I feel so stupid. My father spent a fortune on the best self-defense instructors in the world. Worse, the minute the alarms went off, even before the alarms went off, I knew there was going to be trouble."

He remained silent, knowing she needed to talk about it. She was trembling, her soft body very close to his. His gut was still churning, all too aware she hadn't reached out to him at the time of the attack. His reaction swung back and forth between hurt and anger.

"I was looking through Dad's office, hoping to find something that might point me in the direction of whoever killed him. I've been through his office a dozen times and I know Thornton had to have gone through it thoroughly, but I keep thinking I'll find something."

He kissed the bump over her temple, feathered kisses down her face to her swollen cheek. "It's natural to want to find the people who murdered your father, Lily. And we will."

"I found the recorder behind a loose brick of cement. I stubbed my toe when I was pulling out the chair to sit down at the desk. When I grabbed at the desk to steady myself, I knocked the mouse onto the floor. So I got down on the floor and had to crawl under the desk to pick up the mouse and I could see the brick wasn't flush with the wall. There was a hollowed-out area and I just pulled out the case."

"And of course, they must have a hidden camera in his office, so were watching every move you made. They probably figured the recorder either had the notes on the experiment that would tell them how your father managed to enhance our psychic abilities or it had something incriminating. Either way, they couldn't let you have it."

Lily slumped back against the pillow. "I knew they'd have a camera. I was always aware of it, but when I found the recorder, I was so completely caught up in finding out what was on it, I had tunnel vision."

"Let it go, honey. Anyone would have checked the recorder out." His lips skimmed the pulse beating in her neck, trailed to the hollow of her shoulder, and settled. "Are you thinking of falling asleep on me?" He knew she would lie there thinking about the attack on her, about the lost tape.

"Yes, I hurt everywhere. If you're staying with me, blow out the candle. I'd hate for the house to burn down."

"I'd like to stay all night with you, every night, but I don't sleep in clothes."

There was a small silence. "Fine, take them off."

Ryland shed his jeans quickly, not wanting her to change her mind and send him away. He lay back down, gathering her close, inhaling, her warm scent, and trying to control his body when he fit his body protectively around hers. There was a small silence while his heart beat and his blood pounded through his body.

Lily sighed. "You're breathing too hard."

He laughed softly. "I have a plan, honey."

"Well, keep it to yourself for a while. And don't move so much, my head hurts."

She sounded drowsy, grumpy. Intimate. Warmth spread through his body, did curious things to his heart. No one else saw her like this. Lily Whitney, so in control, so perfect at work or in public. With him she was different. Soft. Vulnerable. On fire. Grumpy. His smile widened until he was grinning like an idiot. Lily was wrapped so deeply in his heart and mind he knew she would never be out.

He concentrated on the candle, stirring the air until the flame was gone and the room was once more dark. Holding her was heaven and hell but he would take it. His teeth nibbled on her bare shoulder. "I'm hungry, Lily."

She made a soft, contented noise and snuggled deeper into his body. "You can be hungry tomorrow."

His smile was in his voice. "Do you realize you're a tiny bit grumpy when you're hungry? I've noticed it before."

He was massaging her skin, his hands warm and strong and comforting in the night. Lily's body was relaxing and her headache eased under his ministrations, but she sighed heavily. "You're going to pester me until you get your way, aren't you?"

His strong teeth teased her earlobe. "Absolutely, honey. I have to have food. And I know you haven't eaten a thing." He slipped out from under the covers.

"I wasn't feeling very hungry," Lily pointed out. Ryland took her breath away with how completely uninhibited he always was. He didn't seem to know the meaning of the word "modest." His muscles rippled and his body glided, fluid and powerful. She couldn't take her eyes from him. With a little sigh of regret for lost sleep, she threw back the sheet and followed him, dragging on his shirt without buttoning it.

"I'm starving." Ryland didn't turn around; he continued to walk, magnificently sensual, padding from her bedroom like a great jungle cat. As he walked through the open space of her hall, he caught up several candles from a mahogany shelf.

"You're always starving," Lily echoed. "You're going into the kitchen? You're crazy-it's the middle of the night." She hurried after him, the tails of the shirt teasing her bare thighs as she walked. "I wasn't kidding when I said I couldn't cook. I can't even microwave properly."

"I'm a good cook. Besides, I have plans for later on when you aren't hurting so much." He glanced back at her over his shoulder, his gray eyes glinting wickedly. His gaze moved over her body possessively, hungrily, caressing her soft curves openly. "I need to build up my strength."

"You do not need any more strength, Ryland." She sounded prim, but her nipples tightened under his hot look and deep inside excitement blossomed. "You're going to do us both in. And for your information, I have enough meds in me to numb an elephant."

"It didn't seem too numb when I was examining you."

"You pressed right on the bruise! Honestly, I'm fine."

"You'd better be telling me the truth." As they entered the kitchenette Ryland nonchalantly lit the candles and set them up on the counters to give himself light. He grinned at her. "Cooking by candlelight makes all the difference in the world. That's where your gourmet chef went wrong. He had no soul."

Lily burst out laughing. "You must have been a terrible little boy. I'll bet you got away with anything when you gave your mother that killer smile of yours." She leaned against the far counter and studied him, taking in every detail of his superb body. He was fit, each muscle defined. And he was moving easily around the kitchen, totally nude, semihard and unconcerned with it. His body fascinated her almost as much as his mind did. She loved his lack of modesty and the way it never seemed to bother him that he couldn't hide how much he wanted her.

Ryland enjoyed having her eyes on him. He bent to peer into her refrigerator, mulling over the contents, pulling out various items, all the while knowing she was looking at him. His body swelled even more at the knowledge of her perusal. He was content when she was near to him. Listened for the sound of her laughter. Needed to hear the quiet tone of her voice. He ached for her, to be with her, but not just a joining of their bodies; he wanted a commitment.

His shirt on her was far too large, draping her body yet gaping open to reveal intriguing glimpses of her soft breasts. He could see the shadow of the dark triangular thatch of curls at the junction of her legs. The edges of the shirt teased his senses with quick little glimpses then moved when she moved, hiding treasures.

"I was a wonderful little boy, Lily," he told her. "Just as our son will be."

Her eyebrow shot up. "Are we having a son?"

"At least one. And a couple of daughters too." He moved past her, slid his hand down her flat belly, caressing, stroking, his fingertips teasing the black curls at the junction of her legs before he moved on to the sink. "Lily! Look at this. You have bread dough here."

A shiver of excitement went through her. Her body clenched in reaction to his touch. "Rosa often leaves bread dough for me because I love fresh bread. I do manage to put it in the oven all by myself."

He paused in his movements to look skeptically at her.

Lily shrugged. "All right, fine, she wrote the instructions down and I keep them in the drawer right by the oven." She moved closer, wanting his touch again. "You want children someday?" The thought of having his child growing inside of her moved her. She placed her palm over her stomach, unconsciously guarding an unborn baby.

"Not someday," he corrected; "soon. I'm not getting any younger." He whisked the small tea towel off the rising dough. "Cinnamon rolls sound good, what do you think?" He reached over to turn the oven on preheat.

"With me? You want to have children with me, Ryland?"

He made a rude noise as he began combining ingredients in a bowl. "Try to follow along, honey, you have a high IQ. I know you can do it if you try."

Lily rubbed the pad of her thumb across her lower lip. "You must have been a monstrous child, Ryland. You must have been in trouble all the time." She made her way to the other side of the counter, watching him intently, a daring idea forming in her head. He was so sure of himself. And doing his best to ignore her while he worked.

She wandered around the counter to stand beside him.

Ryland looked up again. "I'm working here, and the candlelight across your breast is distracting. Go stand somewhere in the shadows."

Lily shook her head. "I think you could use some assistance." She was looking at his hands working the bread dough, not at him, but her voice had a husky, sensual rasp to it, exciting him, arousing him instantly.

Dark heat spiraled through him, robbed him of breath. He didn't dare speak, not wanting to break the sexual spell Lily was weaving. He began to whip ingredients together in a small mixing bowl, his movements sure and practiced.

Lily tugged at the roped muscles along his legs, forcing him to step back away from the counter. She pulled out a small shelf directly in front of him, a small board that had been used as a stepping stool when she was a child.

The air slammed out of his lungs. "I can't imagine how you're going to help me," he ventured, his voice so hoarse he barely recognized it.

"I used to stand on this when I was a little girl and wanted to get into the cupboards." She swung the board all the way out so he could see the legs unfolded on it. "I thought I'd just sit right here and watch you work. You don't mind, do you?"

"Sit." He gave the command gruffly. The one word was all he could manage.

Lily sank down slowly onto the small stool, seating herself directly facing him. His naked body was close and hot and hard. "I knew it would be the perfect height. You just work and let me see what I can do to keep you relaxed."

She had dreamt of this. Wanted this. It was too tempting to resist. His thighs were strong columns, and Lily brushed them carefully with her fingertips. He was already thicker, harder, anxious for the silken heat of her mouth. Her hands found his buttocks, stroked, urged him a step closer. "Are you certain I won't be distracting you?" Deliberately she prolonged the moment, stretching it out, her warm breath flowing over the thick, velvety, very engorged head. Before he could answer, her tongue danced in a single caress. "Because I wouldn't want to distract you. Cinnamon rolls sound very good. Warm and frosted and spicy."

Ryland's breath shot out of his lungs. "Lily." It was a command. Nothing less.

She laughed softly. "You have no patience, do you?" She wanted to drive him crazy, to feel powerful and in control, yet she had little experience and now that she'd insisted, she was afraid of disappointing him.

"I can read your thoughts, honey," he said tenderly. He bunched her hair in his hand, crushing the strands in his palms. "Everything you do pleases me. When we're both like this, it's so intense between us, it's easy enough to pick up what we want. Open your mind to me, the way you open your body for me. It's all there in my head, every erotic fantasy I've ever had about you. And every single one you've had about me."

"You have some interesting ideas," she admitted.

"So do you," he pointed out.

Lily leaned forward and took him into her mouth, hot and moist and tight, sucking gently, her tongue teasing and dancing all over so that the pleasure shot up his body and exploded like a volcano in his gut. A shudder ran through him as her mouth tightened and her tongue played, her hands urging his hips to find her rhythm. For a moment his mind wanted to shatter with the pulsing pleasure ripping through him.

Candlelight played over her face. She was so beautiful with her silky hair and the dark passion in her eyes. His hands stilled as he watched himself gliding in and out of her mouth, wanting the sight etched in his brain for all time.

This was the way it was supposed to be. Lily loving him, teasing him. Ryland giving her the same back. Their world. His fantasy. And he was determined to make every fantasy their reality. Lily needed him in her perfect world. She needed passion and love and to be shaken up now and again.

Ryland forced his hands to move, shaping the dough he was making, spreading it out on the counter in front of him. All the while, pleasure coursed through his body. He kneaded the warm mass, his hands rhythmic, his hips surging forward as her mouth tightened, going from playful to insistent. Her fingers were like the flutter of butterfly wings at times, then strong and demanding. She wrapped her hand around the hard length of him, tight, her hand following the rhythm of his, her mouth so hot flames were roaring in his belly.

A sound escaped his throat. "I think we've found where your creativity lies. You have wonderful form." His entire being, his very existence seemed to be focused in the heat of her silken mouth. He caught at her, stilling every movement before it was too late. "Too much, Lily, I want this time for you, not me." He dragged her off the small stool. Her body slid up his, soft and tempting. Ryland snapped his teeth together, biting off another groan as he lifted her onto the counter. "Sit there, don't do anything, just sit there."

"I was having fun," she complained, sweeping her tousled hair out of her face. The action split the shirt wider open, so that her breasts were fully exposed.

He grinned at her. "I thought you said I was the impatient one." He quickly braided the dough, inserting the mixture from his mixing bowl. "We'll have plenty of time once I get this in the oven." He was already suiting action to words.

When he turned back to her, the look on his face set her heart pounding in anticipation. He moved toward her like a stalking tiger, all play gone, his eyes hot, burning with intensity. Watching him, Lily's heart accelerated. She couldn't have moved if her life depended upon it. He mesmerized her with his heat and hunger.

Ryland reached for her, pushing her legs wide to accommodate his larger body. He dragged her close, then bent her back, sprawling her on the counter. The candlelight played lovingly over the curves and hollows of her body, touching and caressing with flicking light. His hands were gentle as they shaped her, moved over her, following the playful light. "Do you know how beautiful you are to me, Lily?" Casually he dipped his finger in a small jar of strawberry jam and painted a line down the valley between her breasts to her belly button.

"I know I let you do outrageous things to me," she said, her breath in her throat. It was the way he stared at her. As if she were the only woman in the world. As if he were so hungry for her he might not make it through the night without her and he didn't care who knew it.

His hand caressed her moist entrance, long, slow strokes but never quite entering her. "We haven't even started with the outrageous things," he murmured and bent his head, his tongue following the trail of strawberries.

Lily shivered with pleasure, the cool air teasing her nipples into taut, responsive peaks. The feel of his tongue lapping over her skin, leisurely, casually, as if he had all the time in the world to enjoy her body, added to the anticipation. Her hips moved restlessly in invitation. He responded by pushing two fingers deep with tantalizing slowness.

She gasped as his teeth scraped her nipple, as his mouth closed over her breast, the sensation nearly lifting her off the counter. Then he was following the strawberries across her stomach, swirling around her belly button, dipping his head lower to catch the taste in her tight curls.

"You're killing me." Her hands found his hair, tangling deep into the curls.

He breathed fire between her legs. Pushed his fingers deeper, lifting his head so he could watch the way her eyes clouded. It heightened his own pleasure to see her response to him. As he withdrew, she pushed back, riding his hand, grinding deeper, seeking relief.

Her head was thrown back, her back arched, her breasts jutting temptingly as she moved, enticing him to fill her completely. He merely smiled, keeping the pace slow, blowing warm air against her heated mound. Before she could think, could reason, he withdrew his fingers entirely and replaced them with his tongue, stabbing deep.

She made a sound, somewhere between a scream and a moan, and her fingers tightened in his hair, dragging him closer. Her body erupted into quake after quake. Thinking she had relief, Lily took a breath only to be driven straight up into the clouds a second time as he caught her thighs firmly, holding her open to his seductive exploring.

He had wanted her like this, sprawled out in front of him, open to him, her taste and cries driving him wild. He had dreamt of it so many times, coming awake with a hard, painful arousal and no Lily to give him relief. He indulged himself, taking his time, taking her to the point of release only to stop, to ease back while she squirmed and pleaded. She was hot, a fiery inferno, and he knew what it would be like when he buried himself deep inside her. His hands moved over her body, exploring every secret hollow, every shadow, staking his claim, letting her know she belonged to him. The way he wanted to belong to her. All the while his mouth and fingers were taking her to the edge.

Lily was nearly sobbing with need. "Please, Ryland, I can't take any more." She meant it too. Her body was going up in flames and she was drowning, drowning in sensation.

"Yes, you can, Lily," he said softly, lifting his head, sucking the taste of her from his fingers, "you're going to take all of me deep inside you where I belong. I want you to know what no other man will ever do for you. I'm going to know you so intimately you're never going to think of leaving me."

He sounded so arrogant she smiled. She'd never thought of another man since the moment she'd laid eyes on him. And she certainly had never entertained the notion of doing any of the things she did with him, with some other man. "Stop talking and let's have some action," she pleaded.

He caught her hips, dragged her off the counter, and spun her around so that he could tip her back over the low shelf. She had a beautiful butt. He loved watching her walk, the sway of her hips was always such a temptation. One hand caught the nape of her neck, holding her in position while his rough palm caressed her buttocks. "Is this comfortable with your head down like this? I don't want you to hurt."

She laughed softly, pushing back against his hand. "I'm not thinking about my head right now, Ryland."

He felt her one last time, wanting to insure she was ready for him, his hand spreading her legs as he pressed insistently into her hot channel.

He was already on the edge of control and so was she. She pushed back again eagerly as he thrust hard. She was velvet soft, hot enough to burn him with flames, so tight it was as if a fiery fist gripped him and squeezed and suckled. She couldn't move, helpless in the position he had forced her into, and it gave him a heady sense of power. He drove into her again and again, filling her to the hilt, forcing her soft, yielding body to take every inch of him. She matched his rhythm, crying out softly as her body shuddered with pleasure. He kept pumping into her, hard strokes, moving in and out of her, thrusting deeply, a brutal passion seizing him, taking him ferociously.

Lily let go, the orgasm taking her like a freight train, ripping through her with immense strength. Her body shuddered, the sensation overwhelming so that she struggled not to cry from sheer pleasure. She hung there limply, exhausted, unable to move, Ryland buried deep inside her.

"Lily, tell me you're feeling what I'm feeling," he said, his mouth moving over the nape of her neck. "I didn't hurt you, did I?"

"Did I act like you hurt me, silly? But when you get your strength back, I expect you to carry me to bed. I'll never walk again."

His hands traced the line of her back, massaging, exploring, loving. "I don't know what I ever did to deserve this, Lily, but thank you."

She turned her head to smile at him, still too limp to move. Totally satiated, completely relaxed. The bump on her head was throbbing, but it didn't matter. He never stopped touching her, never stopped looking at her. He took what he wanted, but gave her so much more in return. "Has anyone ever told you how beautiful you are, Ryland?"

He cupped her breasts, his thumbs brushing her nipples, savoring the way her muscles clenched around him with every stroke. "No, but I don't mind at all if you'd like to tell me. Right now, you're looking pretty magnificent to me." And he meant it.

It was a long while before he managed to lift her into his arms and take her back to her room. They feasted on cinnamon rolls and jam before taking a long, very erotic shower together.

Long after Lily lay asleep in his arms, Ryland stared up at the ceiling. That part of him that was dark and dangerous had been aroused. Someone had dared to put hands on Lily. It was the wrong thing to do.