Authors: Linda Conrad
Nick swivelled and dropped to his knees beside her with a look of pure horror on his face. “Annieâ¦I forgot I hadn't told you. Dammit. I sincerely apologize. This is the surprise I mentioned before. It's supposed to be fun for youâ¦for both of us. I didn't mean toâ¦”
“Shush,” Annie whispered as she put her fingertips to his lips. “Don't panic. I admit it would've been nice to be consulted about my own honeymoon trip, but let's not start out our married lives with regret. Anything you want to do will be okay with me.”
Nick heaved a relieved sigh. “One of my college
roommates owns an exclusive mountainside resort on the Mexican Riviera. The honeymoon bungalow is spectacular, with its own private pool and sauna, right at the edge of a cliff where sky meets ocean. We can dance until dawn with movie stars and royalty on the resort's beach. Then we'll sleep the day away in total luxury without interference from anyone, completely on our own, if that's what we want to do. It'll be perfect.”
Annie could see his desire to make love to her written all over Nick's features. She knew what that look meant because she'd been having the exact same desires. The memory of their past passion was still clear and sharp in both her mind and her body after all these weeks.
But now that she was faced with their wedding nightâand the expected resultâshe wasn't entirely sure that she was ready to experience all those intense feelings again. Not just yet. And especially not when he'd been so overbearing about everything.
If she simply fell into his arms tonight, how would she ever be able to hold her own with him again? Making love to Nick made her too vulnerable. Too needy for more of him than he wanted to give.
With a yellow fog of panic about to choke her, Annie came to the decision that she needed more time before she and Nick could be intimate again. Time to make herself strong enough so that she could be with him and not be destroyed by loving a man who refused to love her in return.
A few daysâ¦or weeks ought to do it.
With the decision to wait set in her mind, Annie felt much better about the trip. “The place sounds just fine,
Nick.” She stood up and felt the strength returning to her body. “I'm ready to go when you are.”
Neither of them said much on the three-hour plane trip to the resort. Nick apologized several times for forgetting to tell her where they were going. The surprise trip didn't need forgiving. The assumption that he could make all the decisions did. But Annie wasn't sure yet how to discuss it with him.
In fact, the two of them needed to do a lot of talking. Since she'd made the decision that they should take it slow and get to know each other better before they made love again, Annie felt much more in control. That was one decision that she could make on her own.
Of course, she wanted Nick to agree with her. But she still wasn't sure how to approach the subject. The man had been her boss up until this morning. Their relationship would have to go through a lot of changes.
When they arrived at the resort, they were driven up the side of a mountain in a golf cart. The setting sun hung out over the ocean like a great orange fireball, readying itself for a night's dip in the cool water below.
She'd thought that Nick's island was exotic and different. But this place, with its lush foliage and spicy Latin music filling the evening air, was beyond her imaginings.
Entering the bungalow with Nick, Annie had to catch herself before she made a foolish and naive remark about how spectacular the place was. Floor-to-ceiling picture windows looked out at the edge of the cliff toward the Pacific Ocean.
Sixty-foot pine trees, strangely shaped rocks peak
ing up through the surf from the ocean's floor, and rocky paths lit by torches winding through dense foliage down to the main resort could be seen out the fantastic walls of glass. The sights were breathtaking, but she didn't want to appear to be too unsophisticated. She had to watch herself until she figured out how to get along in his world.
She spun around to see if Nick was as stunned by the sight as she was. But he had casually wandered over to a heavily laden table, set up in front of a fireplace and loaded down with various foods.
“Are you hungry?” he asked. “This is quite a spread, but if you're still full from the reception, I'll ask them to take it away.”
“No,” she said, suddenly famished. She moved to the table and stared down at mounds of fresh fruit, a tall pile of cold peeled shrimp and a heaping bowl of guacamole spiked with fresh tomatoes.
She didn't want to seem too anxious. “I could eat something,” she said offhandedly as she reached for a charred chicken wing.
Nick picked up a corn tortilla chip and popped it into his mouth. Then he frowned as he watched Annie daintily pick over the food. It wasn't like her to be so tentative and it was starting to grate on his nerves.
“You didn't say how you liked the bungalow and the view,” he asked as he scooped up a shrimp. “Are you happy with my choice of a honeymoon destination?”
She shrugged a shoulder and nibbled on a cheese quesadilla. “I suppose.”
Her totally uncharacteristic nonchalant attitude was more than he could take. “What the hell is the matter
with you? Are you still angry about me making this decision alone?”
Annie lifted her chin and narrowed her eyes. “Why are
mad all of a sudden? Have I done something wrong?”
Frustrated, he blew out a breath. “Of course not. But you're so quiet. It's not like you.”
A flame of blush pink ran up her neck and reached her cheeks. “I'm trying to be more sophisticated. I want to fit into your life.”
He reached for her then and took her by the shoulders. “Don'tâ¦ Don't try to be someone else. Christina was sophisticated and too quiet. I never knew what she was thinking. It wasâ¦difficult.”
Annie frowned and lowered her eyes.
“Hell,” he muttered, annoyed with himself now. “I didn't mean to upset you by talking about Christina. I promise never to do it in the future.” Christina would only suffer in the comparison, he knew.
Nick steadied his voice and drew Annie to his chest. “Just be yourself, sweetheart. And always tell me exactly what you think and feel,” he whispered in her ear.
Annie was so warm in his arms that he immediately sank back into the purple haze of desire that had become his perpetual companion. He could hear her breathing change, becoming more shallow as he felt her nipples peak against his chest, burning spots right through his clothes and tantalizing him.
Suddenly, he wanted nothing more than to be here with this sensual woman. He closed his eyes and breathed in the light scents of rose water and cinnamon, the smells surrounding her that had always left him hard and aching.
He leaned back, lifted her chin and kissed her. But as their lips touched, his brain exploded with dizzying yearnings. Too long denied the erotic sensations that being with her caused inside him, he poured all the years of loneliness and grief into this one kiss.
She moaned softly against his lips as their tongues met, tangled and sought the liquid warmth of each other. Briefly, he thought he'd caught a strange sensation of belonging. Of rightness and strength.
But as soon her lush body pressed against him, burned into his thighs and more importantly leaned heavily against his groin, he blocked out everything else. The guilty pleasures he found with Annie made him forget all about promises, honor and trust.
Annie's brain was in turmoil. She'd wanted this kiss, this closeness, more than she thought possible. Dreams of the passion they'd created together had kept her up at night. But she'd made that promise to herself to wait, and she knew it would be the smart thing to do.
Nick's hands roamed over her back and up her sides to the underside of her breasts. A shock of electricity zinged through her veins. But the intensity of need it stirred up only served to remind her again that this was too soon.
Was he thinking of the times the two of them had shared the same way she was? Or was he remembering what he had shared with his wife so long ago? And was he wishingâ¦?
Annie pulled back from the kiss and touched his chest. “Nick, wait, please.”
He opened his eyes but she could tell it cost him. Trying to focus on her face, he mumbled, “Wait? Why?”
“I know we're married and this may seem silly to you, but I'm worried about us rushing into another physical relationship before we get to know each other better.”
“We've known each other for nearly eight months,” he began dryly and dropped his hands. “And some of that âknowing' was rather intimate. We didn't seem to have any problems in that department. What more do we need?”
“How old am I, Nick?”
“I don't know how old you are. And it occurs to me, you don't know about me either.”
“I'll be thirty next week,” he told her with some hesitation and confusion.
“A Leo? I should've known. I'm a Virgo, a practical romantic. I'll be twenty-five on fifth of September.
“See?” she continued. “There are lots of things we don't know about each other yet. For instance, do you want more children after this one? I've always wanted to have four kids, two boys and two girls. It just seems like a nice, round number. And I don't know what kind of business your family runs in Alsaca. I think that might be important. I mean, what if your family is into something illegal? Not that I really think so. Butâ¦”
“Annie,” he whispered with a hint of a smile. “You're rambling again. There's no need to be nervous with me. I can't say I'm terribly happy about the idea of waiting before we make love again, but I see your point. We have our whole lives. If this is that important to you, I can't see any reason for us to push.”
Her shoulders slumped with relief. But as soon as she
thought she was home free, his mouth came down on hers in a restrained brush of lips and tongue. The sensual temptation of that nearly chaste kiss turned her into a mound of mush. Maybe she had been too hasty.
Nick pulled back and blinked. “Damn. Whatâ” His voice cracked. “What do you want to do now?”
In desperation she forced her gaze from his beautiful face and tried to think. Through a window, she saw their private swimming pool, and another one of her promises flipped into her mind like the turning of a page.
“I want to go for a swim,” she said with a rough voice. “Please come with me.”
“Swimming?” He started to shake his head, but then apparently thought better of it. “I didn't bring a suit.”
“But it's our own private pool. You don't need a suit. Just wear shortsâ¦or maybe your underwear.”
Without a word, he grinned and raised an eyebrow.
Oh, good Lord. What had she just gotten herself into?
ick tried to put a damper on his growing needs, but it wasn't easy. Especially since Annie had changed into a new red two-piece swimming suit and was treading water in their lighted private poolâand gazing up at him expectantly.
Expectantly. Yes, that was a good idea. He could think about all the things he'd learned from the Internet over the past two days about a woman's pregnancy.
He'd done the research because he wanted an idea of what to expect. And it had been fascinating, imagining the changes that would take place in Annie's body. Fascinating and somehow arousing. Not that he needed anything more to inflame him whenever he thought about Annieâwhich was constantly these days.
He eased out of his shirt and pants and draped them over a deck chair. The warm summer breeze off the
ocean gently caressed his skin the same way a woman's fingers might. It stirred his blood until at last he found himself biting the inside of his cheek to keep from groaning aloud.
Think, you idiot! Don't let yourself lose control, he cautioned himself. He owed Annie the honor of abiding by her wishes. And she'd probably been right about taking things slow.
Now if only he could convince his body to cooperate.
Lowering himself into the soft cocoon of warm pool water, Nick tried going over the facts of pregnancy as he'd memorized them. “A woman's body will become rounder as the months go by. Her breasts will become more sensitiveâ¦”
Hell. That wasn't the direction he wanted his thoughts to goânot now.
“Nick. Is everything okay?”
He blinked his eyes and found that Annie had swum up beside him. He could swear the heat emanating from her body was boiling him alive even from a distance of two feet away.
“Yeah. Everything's just terrific.” He glanced down at her form through the backlit water and took a breath.
Her red bathing suit was just about the sexiest thing he had ever seen. Not that it was one of those thong things, but the v-neckline exposed more of her rounded curves than he needed to see at the moment.
Annie's body looked as though it had already become fuller. The need to retrace her every curve, her every line, with both his fingers and his tongue was making him crazy with desires he'd rather not have at the moment.
Stillâ¦he couldn't keep a rein on his thoughts. Would her skin also have become more sensitive this soon? Annie had been hypersensitive to his touch before. And very expressive about it too, as he remembered. How would that have changed?
He felt another sudden rush of blood, beating a path to his straining arousal. Determined to respect Annie, he ducked his head and swam to the far side of the pool. Away from the temptation.
As he touched the wall and reached for the edge, something under the water tugged at his foot. Instantly, Annie surfaced beside him, laughing with delight as bubbles foamed between the two of them. The teasing bubbles tickled his skin, and made him think of how Annie's touch had been.
Wrong. Stop that kind of thinking now, he warned himself once again. But the roar of desire was already too loud in his ears and his body refused to pay attention.
“You're really swimming,” she exclaimed with a smile. “You totally rock!”
“Swimming is no big deal,” he grumbled. “It's just a pool. Not the ocean.”
Annie lightly shook her head and touched his arm through the water. The electric jolt of her hand on his skin set off sparkling fireworks in his mind, blinding him to promises, honor, trust. Blinded him to everythingâbut pure basic need.
Without a second thought he dove to the bottom, rising up underneath Annie's body in just the right position to capture her beside the pool wall. She didn't say anything, but her eyes were dancing with obvious desire. She laughed again as he moved even closer.
Desperate to pull back from the abyss of temptation, he put his wide hand against her bare stomach and tried one last time to think of their child growing inside her. Anything to stop the madness that was quickly swallowing him whole. He tried, but the soft texture of her skin made his mind fill with all the wrong images.
“Nick, please,” she warned softly.
He managed one last weak smile. “Do you have a preference for a boy or a girl?”
Annie blinked and swallowed a little water. “What a crazy thing to ask right now. No, I don't care. Either one will be just fine as long as it's born healthy.”
Nothing she said was sinking in. Sliding his hand up between her breasts, he traced the edge of her suit with his fingers. “The experts all say you'll become more sensitive as the days go on. Have you noticed?”
With their bodies mere inches apart, she seemed to be having trouble staying afloat. He closed even that small gap between them, leaving her no space and no choice.
Slipping his knee between her legs, he let her ride his thigh and keep her head above water. He steadied them both by hanging unto the edge of the deck behind her with one hand.
But once they were stable, he made the fatal mistake of looking down at her body again. Her shimmering red suit was the last temptation and the last straw. He couldn't help himself. Some animal demand, deep in his subconscious, drove his hand to touch what he coveted.
Slowly, he edged his fingers up one strap of her suit
and tugged at the loosely tied knot behind her neck. Both red straps fell away and the whole front of the bathing suit floated down to her waist, exposing creamy breastsâall rounded and tilted upward toward him.
The skin there was whiter than he remembered. And the nipples were larger than before, pinched and so fully engorged they were purple. Amazingâ¦and narcotic.
Not able to stand another minute just looking, Nick reached to touch a peaked tip. “When I do this, is it too tender to the touch?” He used the pad of his finger to circle the nipple, wondering at how quickly it stood up for him.
Annie made a soft sound in her throat and he glanced up to check her expression. Was she angry? Not exactly. Her eyes were closed, her nostrils flared and her breathing ragged.
She was every bit as turned on as he was, but she appeared to be fighting it desperately. As for himâ¦he couldn't bear it another minute withoutâ¦
He held his breath and bent his head under the water to flick his tongue over the tortured nipple, tasting, testing. She dug her fingers through his hair and held his head in place, letting him know how good it felt.
Without breathingâor thinkingâhe found his fingers sliding up her thigh and testing the elastic at her crotch. He let his forefinger slip inside the suit to touch the tender edges of his ultimate destination.
Just a little test, he thought vaguely. He would back off in one more minute.
But it was warmer to his touch thereâ¦and wetterâ¦and sweeter.
Lifting his head again to watch her expression, he saw Annie bite her lip as he slipped his index finger inside her body. Surprised, she slid a little lower in the water. He put his arm around her protectively, holding her close to his body while he managed another finger inside her depths.
Once two fingers were inside the tightness of her body, he flexed them both. Annie moaned against his neck, driving his madness beyond any control. He was crazy with the desire to watch her come for him. Mad to see her face fill with color and pleasure.
He ripped at the material of her suit that was keeping him from his goal. It gave way and he was suddenly free to flick a thumb over her most sensitive nub.
As he lightly rubbed and plucked, he tightened his grip around her waist to hold her steady. She stilled then, and widened her glazed eyes for one second to question his intentions. But a millisecond later, her eyes rolled and closed. He felt the beginning rumbles of climax as her internal muscles tightened around his fingers.
The garbled scream came involuntarily from deep inside her gut as she grabbed for his neck. The sensations had caught her off-guard. She seemed to be fighting to hold them off and stay afloat.
“Let it happen, sweetheart,” he groaned against her hair as he tightened his grip. “I'm here to keep you safe.”
“Oh, God, Nick,” Annie gulped.
She was shivering in his arms, and he reveled in the delicious pleasure of holding her close.
But before he could lean in for another kiss, she
reared back and smacked him in the chest as hard as she could through the water.
“Dammit.” She pushed away and narrowed her eyes at him. “I thought you said you wouldn't do that tonight. You promised to give us time.”
His head snapped up and he felt like she'd struck him with a lead pipe instead of lightly pushing him with her hands. Hell. What had he done?
“I'mâ¦I'mâ¦” he gasped as he backed away from her. What could he say? His behavior was beyond reprehensible.
So he said nothing. Just turned abruptly, swam to the other side of the pool and heaved himself out onto the deck.
“Nick, where are you going?”
“I'm sorry, okay? I'm going to take a sauna.” He couldn't look at her, couldn't stop to think or apologize again.
Making a dash for the redwood sauna, he closed himself off from his inappropriate actions, then swung open the door to the familiar and heated mists of guilt and regret.
Annie was left, shivering and feeling more than miserable in the lonely pool. Thank heaven Nick had moved away when she'd first asked. Another minute or two and she would have caved, begging him to stay, to be with her and come inside her.
She grasped the pool steps with shaky hands and pulled herself heavily out of the water. It simply amazed her that with as much control as Nick usually had over his emotions, he could be so outrageously
passionate and so intense when the two of them came together.
It was the intensity that scared the hell out of her. She was deathly afraid she could easily lose herself to it and to him. And she simply refused to do thatâto fall totally out of control with a man who didn't love herâwould never love her.
But Annie had a feeling that all the passion was a new experience for Nick, too. His gaze had been too bruised tonight when he'd realized what he'd done.
Was this much intensity just part of a normal sex life? If so, it made her wonder why Nick seemed so stunned by it.
Holding her tattered suit close to her body, Annie made a dash for the bathroom shower. As balmy as the air here was, she felt cold.
She stepped into the hot shower stream and immediately the memories of Nick touching her under the water flashed in her mind. Her body responded but she fought it.
The crazy fight between sensual and practical images in her mind made her remember the reality of her situation. She was actually a married woman, expecting Nick's child. Sooner or later she would probably have to face making love to him again.
Sooner sounded much better to her at the moment. But she had to find a way not to lose herself to him when it happened.
Annie planted her feet and set her jaw. She was strong. Strong enough to take on anything if she put her mind to it.
Perhaps she'd gone about this the wrong way. Maybe
if they had more sex, not less, the intensity would naturally wear off and then it wouldn't terrify her so much.
Great idea. Now, how could she tell Nick that she'd changed her mind?
She stepped from the shower and wrapped herself in a huge, super luxurious towel. Suddenly, she was so tired she couldn't think straight. It had been such a long day.
In two seconds flat she'd made her way to the king-size bed and slipped between the sheets. She needed some sleep. As she laid her head on the pillow, Annie briefly wondered how Nick was doing in the sauna.
The last thing in her thoughts before she closed her eyes and fell sound asleep was the hope that maybe tonight she would dream up a way to let him know she'd changed her mind. Later when she awoke, everything would be okay.
The very next thing Annie knew was when the thin gray light of predawn crept into the room and plucked at her eyelids. She blinked open her eyes, shifted her stiff body and rolled on her back.
It took a minute to orient herself to the room, to the place, to the bed. The bed. She was clearly not alone in this huge bed.
Turning over, she saw Nick, laying on his side and facing her. He was asleep, his breathing slow and deep.
When she cleared her eyes and focused on him, she nearly groaned aloud. The man was so handsome it hurt to look at him, even fast asleep with his chin stubbled in a morning beard and his fabulous gold and silver hair tumbling lightly over the pillow.
But as she studied him a little closer, she noticed that his forehead was creased in a frown and he held his
shoulders high and tight in a fighter's stance. She reached out to touch his cheek. He shouldn't have to look so tense in his sleep. Had she done that to him?
Or was he still fighting his memories of a dead wife, even in his dreams?
Her heart lurched. She'd been selfish to hold him off last night. What had he done so wrong, anyway? He'd given her passion and tenderness and asked nothing for himself.
And hadn't she told herself that she would be the one to heal this lonely man? Fine way for her to make a lost soul pay for being noble. Boy, did she ever know how to show a man she loved him. Not.
Well, today was a new beginning. The first full day of their married lives.
Tentatively, she let her fingers glide down from his face to touch his wide, strong shoulders. There must be some way for her to release the tension in them.
Trailing her hand down his arm then across his chest, she gave herself permission to follow the ridges and muscles to the smattering of hair in the center of his chest. Warm. The hair was a soft mat of fur covering warm skin and a steadily beating heart.
Nick stirred slightly, threw off his light covering and rolled on his back. But he didn't awaken. Annie inched closer, longing to feel a tiny bit of the warmth of his body seeping into her own.