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His flirting had been outrageous. His request had been scandalous.
A proper young lady would have refused. Indignantly.
Joy grinned nervously to herself in her dark room, listening intently. Beneath her quilts, her clothes felt heavy and stiff. Her prim nightgown was tucked under her pillow. If the Ladies checked on her and found her fully dressed in her bed, there would be trouble. But they hadn't checked--they rarely did since she'd been moved to the tiny room under the eaves--and now the house was silent with sleep.
The clock in the main hall struck midnight.
Joy hesitated one moment more. If she was caught...
But her beautiful sailor waited.
She could stay here, be respectable and safe. He would wait a bit and go away disappointed. She would never see him again.
Swiftly, Joy slid from her bed. The room was chilly, as always; she wrapped her cloak quickly over her clothes. The windowless room was very dark, but she had no need of light. It was four steps from her little bed to the door. She ran her fingers through her hair, smoothing it. She wished she had a looking glass. The Ladies did not allow looking glasses in the orphanage. They said they encouraged vanity. The Ladies, in Joy's opinion, were quite plain women, and had no need for looking glasses to remind them of it. In any case, she had neither looking glass nor candle. She pinched her cheeks for color, licked her lips, and smoothed her hair once more.
"You are a shameless hussy," Joy whispered to herself. She pulled the door's latch and stepped down the first two narrow stairs, then stretched past the third, the one with the creaky tread. Steps four, five, and six were silent, sevenshe skipped, and then she was at the bottom door.
Joy paused, her hand on the latch. What she was doing was wrong, and she knew it full well. If the Ladies found out, there would be hell to pay. A respectable young woman did not sneak out of the house to meet with a sailor in the middle of the night.
But, oh, the sailor.
She was innocent, but not stupid. She knew perfectly well why the young sailor wanted to meet her in the stables at midnight. She knew it was wrong, and she knew she shouldn't go. A proper young woman would run right back up those stairs, put on her nightgown, and tuck herself into her safe, virginal bed.
Anything else would make her a tart, a harlot.
With an impatient toss of her head, Joy opened the door and stepped into the upper hall.
She waited. No sound from the left, the large dormer room where the other girls slept. Joy got the upper room to herself because she was the oldest and the most responsible. And because they'd needed another bed.
No sound from the right, the suite that the Ladies shared.
Joy tiptoed down the hall, down the main stairs--skipping those with the squeaky treads again--and across the kitchen. She paused to slip on her shoes, then stepped out into the yard, and eased the door shut behind her.
The cold night wind blasted against her. Joy pulled her cloak closer, feeling the surprising heat of her skin. Hunched against the wind, she walked quickly to the stable. Faint light outlined the stable door, beckoning. He was there, waiting. He had lit a lantern. It would be warm in there, cozy. The black-eyed, part-elf sailor, the cozy barn, the long hours until dawn.
Run, her inner voice whispered. Back inside to your safe little bed.
She felt warm everywhere. A bit lightheaded. She wondered if she was getting sick. Goose pimples covered her, and she shivered despite her fever.
Run, the voice said again. This boy will use you and sail away. You may never see him again. If the Ladies find out, you'll be disgraced, perhaps turned out. The other girls look up to you. How many times have the Ladies told you that? You're the oldest. You have to set an example. You have to be responsible.
Joy squared her shoulders. She had been a good, responsible, proper girl her whole life. She wanted her sailor.
She opened the door and walked into the stable.
The sailor leaned against the stall post, his white shirt unbuttoned nearly to the waist. His black curls fell rumpled over his shoulder. The look in his eyes made all of Joy's blood rush to the juncture of her legs, to the place the Ladies said she must never touch.
She turned, half staggering, and latched the door. The barn was indeed warm. She let her cloak fall open. Before she could turn, the sailor's arms were around her, his voice warm in her ear. "I thought you'd never get here," he whispered.
Joy licked her lips. "I had to wait until the Ladies were asleep."
"Right, the fearsome Dragon Ladies," the sailor answered. "I've heard all about them."
She turned in his arms. He leaned closer, pressing her back against the door. "And you weren't scared off?"
"I would brave any dragon for you," he murmured. His lips closed over hers.
"What?" he asked. "Can't I kiss you?"
"I ... yes, but..."
He drew back, frowning. "Haven't you ever been kissed before?"
"Of course I have--"
"Good." His lips crushed against hers. She tried to protest, but the instant her lips parted, his tongue was in her mouth.
Yuck, Joy thought. But if her mind objected, her mouth didn't. Her lips softened, formed to his. Her teeth parted, admitted his tongue, and as he explored her, engaged her, her whole body melted against him. Oh, she amended dreamily, he means kissed. He tried to draw back. She wrapped her arms fiercely around his head and kept him there, kissing. He tasted just a little of rum. At least, she thought it must be rum; she'd never tasted it before.
"Joshua," she murmured as their lips parted. He'd told her his name in the market, and it had been singing in her thoughts ever since.
He shook his head wryly. "You've never been kissed before."
She wasn't sure if the look in his eyes was mocking or just flirting. "I have been kissed," she protested. It was technically the truth. She had been kissed on the cheek by other orphan girls. The little ones kissed her all the time. Kissed by a boy--a man? Well, no. But he needn't tease her about that. "Just not ... as well as that."
His arms were still tight around her. Her breasts felt squashed and achy, but his chest was so warm and firm. And bare. He traced a finger along her chin, traced her ear. It tickled, a little. "How old are you?" he inquired.
"Eighteen," she answered. "Well, probably older than that. I was left at the orphanage as a baby. I had four teeth and could nearly walk, so I was probably close to a year old, but since they had no way of knowing for sure, they just named that day as my birthday and started counting then." She realized she was babbling and cringed. "I'm sorry. I'm just going on and on."
"Hmmmm," Joshua murmured, his breath on her ear again. Its warmth sent shivers through her body. "Practically an old maid."
Joy put her two hands on his chest and shoved him away. "I am no such thing. How dare you?"
The sailor grinned with mischief. "Eighteen, probably nineteen, and never been kissed?" He shook his head, clucking his tongue. "Joy, Joy, I think the Dragon Ladies have guarded this treasure too well."
He closed on her again. Joy slipped away, past him, and into the center aisle of the barn. "I'm a grown woman. I do what I choose to do."
"Do you, now?" He walked toward her. She backed away.
"I do," she repeated firmly. "And if you're going to mock me and call me old maid, I'm going back inside."
Joshua continued to grin. "Aww, now, don't be that way. You know I didn't mean it." He stepped closer, his arms spread in supplication. "Don't go, Joy. Please don't go."
His grin annoyed her. She knew he was still teasing her. He'd say anything to get her to stay. Say anything to get under her skirt. For the first time, her common sense got the best of her. "I'm going," she announced with sudden seriousness.
As she started out, the sailor stepped in front of her. He threw himself to his knees and wrapped his arms around her legs. "Please," he said, the grin gone. "Please don't go."
His arms were over her skirt, but under her cloak. She felt the strength of his arms on her thighs. His face was very nearly ... well, there, that place the Ladies so warned against. Her whole body tingled with something not quite like goose pimples. His black eyes were very sincere now.
"I'll stay," she said quietly. "I'll stay for a bit. Let go."
Joshua slid his hands up her legs, across her backside, almost in passing, then settled them on her waist as he stood up. "I knew you couldn't resist my magic powers."
Joy raised one eyebrow. "I don't believe in magic."
"Then how do you explain why you're here?"
Lust, Joy thought instantly. She bit it back. "I told you. I do as I choose."
Joshua kissed her deeply. "Kiss me back," he urged.
Tentatively, Joy let her tongue enter his mouth. His tongue met hers, and it was as if they were wrestling. Dancing, she amended. Their tongues were dancing. Not very well, at first. But she was learning, adjusting to him, and it grew smoother and warmer. It felt wonderful.
His hand snaked down to her buttocks again. She jumped, and he used the distraction to put his other hand firmly on her breast. Through the light fabric of her blouse, she felt him squeeze, rather hard. She caught her breath, squirming. "Joshua..." she began.
His thumb found the outline of her nipple, and circled it firmly. "You want me to stop?" he asked, teasing again.
"You should," she panted. What was wrong with her? This was what she'd come for, wasn't it? Part of her wanted him to stop. Or at least to slow down. Her knees felt weak and watery. Her breast positively ached in his hand, yet she didn't want him to take his hand away. Ever. She wanted more. She squirmed again, and he pressed her hips against his.
Through the thin layers of cloth separating them, she felt the outline of his growing hardness. She knew very little--well, nothing--about the anatomy of men, but she knew plenty about the animals in the barn, from chickens to horses.
Joshua felt a lot closer to a horse than a chicken.
His fingers left her breast, moved to her buttons. His other hand rolled across her butt as his hips gently gyrated against her. One button, two, his breath hot on her neck...
Yes! Joy thought triumphantly. There would be no casual courtship, no string of secret meetings, no slow-moving seduction. He meant to take her tonight. Here, in this barn. He meant to...
Four buttons, and the air in the barn was cool on the upper curves of her breasts, but his mouth was so warm. Oh, his mouth should not be there. Feelings ran through her veins like lightning, up and down and sideways, all leading to that place, the one she was forbidden to touch, the one the Ladies said was so nasty. It didn't feel nasty now. It felt hot, achy, and crampy, as if it was building up to something. It felt wonderful.
He took a step, moving her backward until she was pressed against the stall wall. Inside the stall, the old gray gelding snorted with interest, wondering if he was going to be fed again. Joy heard him, chuckled, then her attention was taken away. Joshua had both hands free now. He pushed her blouse aside, down her arms, then pulled at her loose camisole. His rough, strong hands were on her bare breasts.
He put his foot between hers and moved forward, pressing his thigh between hers, insistent until she let them part, and further still, until his strong leg was tight against her juncture.
His erection, still clothed, pressed against her belly. He means, Joy thought, to lay me down and ... and put that inside me. The idea didn't frighten her, though she had some lingering notion that it should. One of the older girls, before she left the orphanage, had whispered to Joy it hurt like the devil the first time. But it couldn't be worse than what she was feeling now, this horrible-wonderful-aching-wanting-empty-building whatever this was.
Joshua bent and kissed her nipple.
Joy jumped, startled. Then she wrapped her arms around his head and pushed his mouth to her again, arching her back, frantic now for more. The sailor chuckled, amused by her sudden aggression, but he sucked her nipple hard. "Easy, girl," he murmured. "You're more randy than I am."
Joy growled softly. She liked Joshua a lot better when he didn't talk. She tightened her arms again, and he obligingly returned to her breasts. They felt so full and hot, and her nipples were so sensitive, standing straight up, frantic for his touch. Every sensation in them ran straight to her center.
He means to fuck me, Joy thought triumphantly. She had never used that word before, not even in her mind. The Ladies would have apoplexy. But that was little Joy, the good girl, who couldn't use that word. Little Joy was about to vanish.
He means to fuck me.
And I mean to let him.