“I suppose that’s one way of putting it.” He traced light circles on her palms with his thumbs. “Weren’t you the one who assured me I would never take what you did not choose to give me?”

The thought was wicked, but the words were tumbling out before she could hold them back. “Then I could ask you for a kiss, and it would not—” her breath caught “—not be more?”

“Yes.” Theo found himself wanting to give her anything, everything she asked for. He hoped he could. “Are you asking me for a kiss, Julie?”

“If I were a coquette, I could say I am only giving you the kiss you wanted this morning.”

There was a trace of a smile in her voice, but her eyes were huge and serious.

“You could. But you are not, are you?”

“No,” she whispered. “Kiss me, Theo. Kiss me now before the sun goes down.”

He was still holding her hands in his. Lifting them again, he brushed his lips over her fingertips, once, twice. Then he laid her hands flat against his chest.

Cupping her face as gently as if she were made of glass, he tilted it up to his.

Julie forgot to breathe as she waited for the touch of his mouth on hers, but instead, his lips began a leisurely journey over her face. She sighed as he traced the curve of her cheek. Her sigh became a moan as he dipped to taste the skin warmed by the pulse that beat beneath her ear.

When his mouth found its way to hers, she was already melting. He brushed his lips over hers, teasing, provoking them both. Even when her lips parted in invitation, he continued to tease.

Julie dug her fingers into his waistcoat, sure that if she did not find purchase, she would collapse at his feet. Sure that if he did not kiss her, truly kiss her, she would go mad. But he only skimmed his mouth over hers, watching her, always watching her.

Impatience became longing. Longing became need. Need became hunger. Desperate, she whispered his name.

Something eased within him as Theo realized that this was what he had been waiting for—this knowledge that it was his kiss she wanted. His kiss and no other. Then he deepened the kiss.

Julie thought she had remembered his kiss—the taste, the texture, the sensations that it sent spinning through her. But as Theo took her mouth fully, she realized that her memories had been to reality as a single candle is to a blazing fire. As their tongues tangled, the heat arrowed through her. Here again was the power she had felt earlier, but this time, it did not frighten her. Perhaps because she knew it was too late for fear.

Theo felt Julie’s pulse racing beneath his fingers. Even her skin seemed to quiver with the rush of her blood. He felt his own body stir. It was tempting, so very tempting. Another kiss, a touch, a caress, and she would be his. His body hardened at the thought. But, he reminded himself, he had promised he would not seduce her.

Slowly, he ended the kiss. But, unable to sever the link completely, he allowed his mouth to linger on hers.

Julie felt the rush of her blood subside. The whirlwind within her waned degree by slow degree, but still, it remained a small, spinning ball in her belly, sending out heat throughout her body. It was no longer the frantic, violent heat that consumed everything in its path, but a solid, banked heat that would last through the night.

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