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Hawk placed a finger beneath Adrienne's chin and tilted her head back, forcing her to meet his flinty gaze.
"I will tear from you anything Adam gives you. Remember that. If I find his body draped over yours, he will suffer the same fate." His eyes drifted meaningfully over a scrap of crimson silk stuck on the bark of tree, flapping like a dead thing in the breeze.
"Because I want you."
"You don't even know me!"
His mouth curved in a beautiful smile. "Oh, sweet lass, I know everything about you. I know you're a complex woman, full of dualities; you're innocent, yet tough; intelligent"--He cocked a teasing brow--"but lacking a smidge of common sense."
"I am not!" Adrienne scowled her protest.
He laughed huskily. "You have a wonderful sense of humor and you laugh often, but sometimes you're melancholy." He crowded her with his body and gazed down at her with heavy, hooded eyes. Adrienne tossed her head, trying vainly to dislodge his finger from beneath her chin and escape his penetrating gaze.
He cupped her face firmly with both hands. "You're a willful woman, and I'd like to be the focus of such a willful woman's desire. I'd like to have you yield your trust and loyalty to me as steadfastly as you withhold it. I'm a mature man, Adrienne. I will be patient while I woo you--but woo you, I will."
Adrienne swallowed hard. Damn him for his words!
Not only will I woo you, lass--I will win you completely, the Hawk added in the privacy of his heart. But he couldn't say that aloud, not yet. Not when she was staring at him, her lower lip trembling ever so slightly, but enough. Enough to give him hope. "I'm going to teach you that one lifetime isn't long enough for all the pleasure I can bring you, lass," he promised.
Adrienne closed her eyes, willing the image of him to hell and beyond. "Where's Olivia?" she asked, eyes closed.
"Fallen over a cliff, if the gods are smiling," Hawk replied dryly.
Adrienne opened her eyes and crinkled her nose, peering at him. Did she see the hint of a smile in his dark gaze? A passionate Hawk was deadly, but she was on guard against passion. A teasing Hawk might slip right through her defenses.
"Or if I'm really lucky and the gods are forgiving, she wandered into Adam's arms and he's been struck by the same thunderbolt that hit me when I saw you. Wouldn't that solve my problems?"
The corner of her mouth twitched.
"Oh, nay. I have it. She wandered into the forest and the fae mistook her for one of their own--the wicked banshee--and she is never to return."
Adrienne laughed and was immediately rewarded with one of the Hawk's devastating smiles.
He was melting her, disarming her defenses. And it felt good.
More seriously he said, "I instructed the guards to see to Olivia's return journey the moment her horses are rested enough to make the ride."
Adrienne's spirit elevated at his words.
"Adrienne." He sighed her name like a rich port, complex and sweet. "It's only you--"
Abruptly his mood changed, lightened like quicksilver. "I want to take you somewhere. Come, lass. Give me this night to show you who I really am. That's all I ask."
Adrienne's mind shrieked a resounding no . . . but perhaps it wasn't too dangerous. Let me show you who I really am . . . how intriguing.
You mean besides beautiful beyond bearing?
But what harm could there be in conversation?
"What harm could there be in conversation, Adrienne?"
Adrienne blinked. He must have plucked the words right out of her mind.
"Look, Adrienne, the moon comes out, peeping from behind the rowans." The Hawk pointed, and her eyes followed. Down the muscled curve of his arm, over his strong hand to the shining moon beyond.
"Cool silver orb that guides the night's slumber," Hawk mused softly. "I wager you sleep little on such nights as this, lass, when a storm hovers, threatening to break through the fragile night. Do you feel it? As if the very air is charged with tension? A storm threatening has always stirred a restlessness in me."
Adrienne could feel herself weakening with each word, beguiled by his enchanting brogue.
"'Tis a restlessness I feel in you as well. Walk with me, Adrienne. You'll never sleep if you return to the castle now."
The Hawk stood, hand outstretched, gazing down at her with promises in his eyes. Not touching her, just waiting for her to choose, to commit--if only to walking with him. His breath was shallow and expectant. Her fingers twitched hesitantly beneath the heat of his smiling eyes--eyes with tiny lines at the outer corners. Eberhard hadn't had any wrinkles. She could never trust a man without a few wrinkles about his eyes. He hadn't lived and laughed enough if he didn't have a few faint creases. How had she failed to notice the fine lines of life on the Hawk's face?
"Give yourself this moment, lass," he breathed huskily. "Try."
Adrienne's hand slipped like a whisper into his and she felt him jerk at their contact. His ebony eyes flared, and she felt the exquisite sensation of his strong fingers closing over hers. He swayed forward and she felt the brush of his lips skim her cheek, an unspoken thank-you for the chance that pushed no further.
"I used to walk here when I was a boy. . . ." He took her hand and steered her westward, away from the circle of rowans and the forest's edge.
Tell her about yourself, he thought. About the boy you used to be before you went away. About who you couldn't wait to be when you got back. But most especially--make her love you before she discovers who you were in between. Love still might not be enough to make her understand, but then at least there's a chance.
They talked and strolled while the Hawk wove his wild tales of boyhood impetuosity and bravery and she laughed into the gentle breeze. They sat atop the cliff's edge and tossed pebbles down into the surf, the crisp salt air tangling her silvery-blond mane with his raven silk. He showed her where he'd hung a hammock, just over the edge and down a man's length, and he made her laugh at how he used to hide there from Lydia. Lying on his back, his arms folded behind his head he would watch the sea and dream while his mother searched the bailey for hours, her lilting voice demanding he return.
Adrienne told him about the nuns and the sultry streets of New Orleans, even got him to say it like the locals did a time or two. N'Awlins. And he listened without chiding her for believing such fantasy. Whether he believed she was weaving tall tales or he somehow placed it all in the context of the sixteenth century, she didn't know. All she did know was that he listened to her like a man had never listened before. So she told him about Marie Leveau the voodoo queen and Jean Laffite the famous pirate, and the great plantations that once stood with their magnificent sprawling houses and the scents and sounds of Bourbon Street. When she spoke of the jazz, the lover's croon of a deep sax, the trumpeting blare of the brass horns, her eyes grew deep with mystery and sensual arousal, and he found he could almost believe she was from another time. Surely from another land.
"Kiss me, lass."
"I . . . shouldn't."
Her breathless, husky murmur enchanted him. "Is it so bad then?"
Adrienne drew a deep breath. She stood up, moved away from him, and tipped her head back to study the sky. The night had cleared; the cloud cover had furled out to sea and the storm had passed without breaking. The sound of the surf ebbed and flowed below them in unfaltering rhythm. Stars pierced the mantle of night and Adrienne tried to locate the Big Dipper when suddenly a small, bright star seemed to shiver, then plummeted from the sky.
"Look!" she said excitedly. "A falling star!"
Hawk surged to his feet. "Whatever you do, don't wish, lass."
She turned a pure, glowing smile his way, and it dazzled him so completely that for a moment he couldn't think. "Why ever not, Hawk?"
"They come true," he finally managed.
Her gaze fled back to the falling star. Adrienne held her breath and wished with all her might. Please let something very good happen to me soon. Please! Unable to say the words even beneath her breath, she willed her vision to the stars.
He sighed. "What did you wish?"
"You can't tell," Adrienne informed him pertly. "It's against the rules."
Hawk cocked a questioning brow. "What rules, lass?"
"You know--the wishing-on-a-star rules," she informed him in a tone that said everybody knew those rules. "So what did you wish that came true?"
Hawk snorted. "You just told me I'm not allowed to tell."
Adrienne rolled her eyes and made an impatient sound. "That's only until they come true. Then you can tell anyone you want." Her eyes blazed with curiosity. "So--out with it." She pushed lightly at his chest.
Hawk stared at Adrienne with fascination. Over the space of this wishing-on-a-star conversation, his wife seemed to have slid backward over the years. In her unfettered gaze, Hawk could clearly discern the trusting child she had once been.
"It's not what I wished, rather what a friend of mine wished upon me," Hawk said softly.
"And that was?" Adrienne urged.
Hawk almost laughed aloud; he half thought she might box his ears if he didn't answer her quickly enough for her liking. "Kiss me, Adrienne," he said huskily, "prove to me it's not true. That a friend can't curse you with a wish upon a falling star."
"Come on, Hawk, tell me what his wish was!" Laughter lilted on her lush, pouty lips, and he wanted to kiss her until she made all his private wishes come true.
"Will you kiss me, then?" he bartered.
"Oh! Everything's a deal isn't it?"
Hawk shrugged. "Tit for tat, lass. 'Tis the way of this world. If a villein has beans and no meat, he finds someone with meat and no beans. I'm merely offering you a mutually satisfying trade."
"Do I get coffee too?" she asked shrewdly. "Tomorrow morning? For the kiss tonight? Toll troll paid in advance?"
"Och, wee lassie, who taught you to drive such a hard bargain?" But if he had his way, he'd coax enough sweet kisses from her tonight that he'd need only roll over in the morning to kiss her again. In his bed.
"Was that a yes, Hawk?"
"Cease and desist, lass! Shoot me another one of those beguiling looks and I'll be giving you my buttery with the coffee and perhaps toss in a few horses."
"I have your word, then?"
"You have my word and my pledge."
"Deal." Adrienne sealed their bargain hastily. Answers, coffee, and the excuse for a kiss. How could she ask for more? "My answer first," she demanded.
Hawk's great dark head fell forward, his mouth to her ear. Shivers slid up her back when his breath fanned her neck. "What? I can't hear you?" she said, as he mumbled something indistinct.
"It's really too foolish to bear repeating. . . ."
"A deal's a deal, Hawk!" she complained, shivering violently as his lips grazed her neck again and again.
Hawk groaned. "He wished for me the perfect wife. That my wife would be all that I ever dared dream of . . . all I ever hoped for. And then he wished that she would refuse to love me. Refuse to touch me. Refuse to share my bed."
"Why would a friend wish such a thing?" she asked indignantly.
"Why would a wife do such a thing?" he countered smoothly against the tender lobe of her ear.
She felt the tip of his tongue against her skin, and wondered why herself. Why would a wife say no to this impossibly beautiful, intriguing man?
Her pulse quickened; she turned her head and stared straight into burnished ebony eyes of unfathomable depths. Bewildered by the flush and quiver of emotion, she touched a finger to his perfectly sculpted lips. Her mind cried out to identify this new feeling, to control it, but her body demanded that she know him in a sense that had nothing to do with reason or logic.
"Let me love you, lass. I won't take anything you don't wish to give." His eyes lingered on her face, a seductive visual caress that heated her blood, and she wondered what might have been--if she'd only met him when she'd still believed in happily ever after. What would it feel like to let him run his beautiful strong hands all over her shaking body, to be kissed and teased and finally completed with the raw, pulsing steel of his hunger. Her senses were overwhelmed by the Hawk; the spicy, male scent of him, the silky feel of his hair, the rock-hard press of his body against hers.
I'll stop him in just a moment, she promised herself as he scattered kisses along her jaw. One kiss on his lips was the deal, she reminded herself.
Her conscience momentarily assuaged, she permitted the glorious rasp of his callused palms against her skin, the whisper of his shadow beard against her neck.
Suddenly she was doing more than permitting. Her arms crept up to circle his neck. She buried her fingers in his silky dark hair, then slid them down his neck to his powerful shoulders, tracing the contours of each sculpted muscle.
Adrienne drew a shaky, bewildered breath. She couldn't get enough oxygen in her lungs, but that ceased to matter as Hawk replaced her need for air with a need for his lips, a need for his tongue, a need for his need of her.
"I am the one, lass," he warned her softly. "It all stops here. With me. The best and last. Oh, definitely your last."
My last, she reluctantly acknowledged, for she doubted that any other man could match this one.
In that breathless moment, the past blurred into utter insignificance. It was as if Eberhard had never touched her, as if the twentieth century had never existed. As if all her life she had been heading toward this moment. This man. This magic.
Hawk traced kisses across her jaw, over every inch of her face; her nose, her eyelids as they fluttered closed, her brows, and then he stopped, his sensual lips hovering a flicker of a tongue away from hers. Would she? Dare she?
Adrienne's tongue flickered out and she tasted the man she'd wanted since the moment she'd laid fascinated eyes on him. "Oh my," she whispered. She wanted him, wanted this, more than she'd ever wanted anything in her life. A husky sound rumbled deep in his throat; he splayed his hand at the base of her neck and arched her head back to receive his kisses. The pink tip of his tongue circled her lips, tasted every corner, every fullness, teased her senseless; until it was too much for her, and her lips relaxed beneath his, molded to his, opened for him as her whole body seemed to be opening and crying for him. She was the bud of a rose, unfurling to the golden heat of the sun. "Magnificent," she whispered, unaware that she'd spoken her thoughts aloud.
But the Hawk wasn't unaware--he heard her one word and desire slammed through him so savagely that he shuddered. Hot and hard, ruthlessly, the Hawk moved his mouth over hers. He slanted across her lips with a relentless hunger that caused stars to shimmer behind her shut eyes.
Adrienne's eyes flew open for the sheer pleasure of looking at him and she saw that he was looking directly into them with such a smoldering promise of passion that she whimpered against his mouth.
Hundreds of feet below, nature conspired with the raw, unquenchable mystery of passion in its rhythm; the sensual tempo of the waves as billions of gallons of water came in with a fury, then eased out. Wave after wave of sensation crashed over Adrienne; she was adrift in a sea of such passion that she literally felt herself being reshaped, molded to this man's touch, just as the rocks below her were molded by the ocean's relentless caress.
The Hawk's tongue was hot silk, exploring her mouth, teasing her tongue. "Oh," she whispered, "I never knew. . . ."
"Is kissing me so bad, then, lass?"
"It's not the kissing that's bad ..." Her words were lost in a soft moan as she tipped her head back for more kisses.
"What's bad, my heart?" Hawk nipped her neck, gently.
"Me? I'm bad?" He wouldn't let her answer for a long moment while he nibbled at her lower lip, teased it, sucked it into his mouth, then slowly released it.
Adrienne drew a shaky breath. "Well . . . I mean . . . you are a man ..."
"Yes," he encouraged.
"And very beautiful at that. . . ."
"Mmm . . . yes?"
"And I hate beautiful men. . . ." Her hands moved over his shoulders, his broad muscled back, and tapered down over his tight waist to his muscular buttocks. She was shocked at her own daring, thrilled by the groan of pleasure she coaxed from him.
"I can tell. Hate me just like that, lass. Hate me like that again. Hate me all you need to hate me."
From the Paperback edition.