Abbigail accepted the chaste, brotherly salute that Nicholas offered for a kiss. Then he pulled away. Disappointment stung her.
"Ah. Is that all?" It was far, far more than she would ever want from Brother Huber, but not at all the heated embrace that had fired her recent dreams of Nicholas. Perhaps this was all a man like him could offer a woman like her.
His broad chest rose and fell.
"No, not all," he said huskily.
With slow deliberation, his hands framed her face, his leonine head angled down, and his mouth covered hers. The force of his tender assault swept her like the wind. Like a consolation for every day of her lonely, single spinster life. Softly searing, his lips branded her, and all on its own, her body curled toward his.
She froze, breathless, afraid that any move she made would signal him to stop. Or to continue. She did not know which. Poised on the brink of her fledgling flight, she did not know whether to trust the wind or risk the fall.
His arms decided her, enfolding her as if to prevent escape and banish fear. He lifted his mouth a feather's width away.
"Breathe, Liebling," he whispered. "Relax and close your eyes, and let me take you there."
She nodded in confused assent, and her unbound hair tumbled in her face.
He freed one arm, gently brushed a thick lock away, and gave her a tender smile that came from the man behind the charm. "I promise to stop when you say so."
A spinster faced with marriage should know the weight of kisses, she told herself. Besides, the sweetness of his wry reassurance gave her all the freedom and permission even she could ever need.
Expelling a pent-up breath, she closed her eyes and waited.
His mouth, so generous with smiles, was munificent with kisses. Warmth drizzled over her newly, acutely awakened mouth, which up till now had been engaged in futile speech and fruitless eating all her life. His lips touched hers like the merest wingbeat of a butterfly, then moved across her mouth in little loose nibbles, clinging, releasing, clinging again. In answer, her lips allowed, softened, clung.
His sighs roared in her ears.
The heat of his breathing fanned her face.
A slow sweet burn kindled in her belly, and her throat closed on a small, high cry-a trill, she knew, of pleasure.
Which he answered with a moan that rumbled up from deep within his chest. Then his strong large hands tenderly drew her down beside him on her featherbed where he had pinned her down only moments ago. She could not struggle now. She could not will herself to move except as he might ask her to.
He asked mutely, his thick strong arms pulling her to his broad chest, his mouth claiming hers. She gasped at the strangeness, the intimacy, the rightness of his embrace. In his arms, sheltered by his massive bulk, she felt protected and free enough to fly.
His kiss went on and on, lasting fifty, a hundred leisurely, fraught breaths, overwhelming her. She lost count, could only feel. Nicholas, charming, fearless Nicholas, the man she thought she knew, was deeper, steadier, more intense. Hot and wet, his tongue ran along the seam of her mouth, delicate but insisting that she part her lips.
Bemused, beset, besieged, she yielded, thinking-to the extent that thought would form-she had not bargained for this. She knew what kissing was. Lips pressed to lips, and that was that. But he probed at her teeth as he had at her lips. Unsure of what he wanted, unsure what to do, she opened for him awkwardly.
But he groaned with unmistakable approval, and his tongue sought hers.
Shocked, she broke away, an inch away, opened her eyes, and saw stark hunger on his face. Hunger for her. It warmed her to her bones. It shook her to the center of her being.
"We're not finished, Abbigail," he said softly. "Let me kiss you."
Not finished! His consuming kiss swallowed up her startled "Oh!" Her teeth clanged into his, his tongue possessed the inside of her mouth, and his own sweet taste and rich, masculine smell gusted through her remaining senses.
Still cautious, she accepted him, amazed when tremors quaked an inner core she never knew she had. For his deepening kiss rolled through her body like thunder, flashing her senses like lightning on a sultry afternoon. Emboldened by his sheer energy, she flew full strength into the storm. Exuberant from all the sensations streaming through her body, she wriggled closer to him, pressing her tingling breasts against his chest, her trembling stomach against the muscled flat of his, her very hip bone to his... his...
What she encountered was no hip bone.
A thick, stiff, heated rod jammed against the parting of her legs. She went still, utterly at a loss what to say or do. She knew just enough of sanctioned love to recognize that this must be his manhood, must be the most private, intimate evidence of his desire.
Abruptly, he released her and flung himself back across the bed, self-contempt flashing across his face.
"Abbigail, I am sorry..." His voice was graveled, vexed. "A man shouldn't... A man can't help... with someone he likes..."
She had done something wrong. She forced a small smile. Sitting up, she fussed her gauzy neckerchief into place. She needed to get her clothes in order. She needed to get her emotions under control.
"I take it that was a kiss?" she asked pertly.
He scrubbed his hands over his face. "Liebe Gott," he muttered.
She pressed her lips together, hiding the eagerness she had felt and the tiniest bit of amusement. The charmer who took nothing seriously had never been so serious with her.
"Adding swearing to fornication, I see, Brother Blum."
He lurched up, his massive frame sitting heavily apart from her on the edge of her creaking bed. "That was not fornication!"
"Perhaps you could define fornication for me then," she said, deliberately, excessively prim.
He jabbed his fingers through his golden mane of hair, which she had already tousled. She, as if she were his lover. And not merely his friend in need of comfort. Feeling a hot blush rise, she looked away. When she could bear to look again, he was shaking his head.
"I wouldn't define fornication for my own sisters if my soul depended on it."
She relented from her teasing and gave his hand an empathetic little squeeze. "No need, Nicholas," she said softly. "I know the difference between what we just did and that."
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