Authors: Stefanie Sloane
Her body was all lush curves and valleys, the full swell
of breasts narrowing to a nipped-in waist. The shallow indent of her navel drew his
eye lower to silky dark hair, and thighs that gave way to firm calves and delicate
ankles and feet.
“My God, look at you,” he murmured reverently. He cupped one rose-tipped breast in
his hand, smoothing his thumb over skin softer than the finest silk. The pad of his
thumb found the ruched bud of her nipple and she swayed, catching at his arms to steady
her boneless legs.
“Nicholas,” she moaned.
“I’ve got you,” he murmured.
He swung her up in his arms and carried her to the bed. She curled on her side, shifting
one thigh over the other in a belated attempt at modesty.
“Don’t,” his voice rasped. Impatiently, he shrugged out of his shirt, his breeches
quickly following. “Don’t hide from me,” he added, needing to reassure her.
Sophia only smiled, her eyes dark as she watched him undress, holding her arms wide
and welcoming him into the sweet cradle of her body.
Nicholas was determined to make Sophia’s first time memorable, to gently initiate
her into lying with a man. She wrapped her legs around him, answering each stroke
and kiss with tender, sensual replies of her own.
“If we finish this, I won’t be able to give you up,” he told her. “Are you sure it’s
what you want, Sophia?”
She stilled beneath him, her hands coming to rest on his shoulders. “I’m very certain,
Nicholas,” she solemnly assured him. “You’re all I’ll ever want.”
He couldn’t speak, every last word in his vocabulary simply unable to communicate
what he felt at that very moment.
He settled between her parted thighs, nudging against her core before he caught himself.
He needed to make her his—truly and in every way. With sheer force of will, he reined
in his body and held himself still.
“A woman’s first time can be painful,” he told her, his voice husky with need. “I
couldn’t bear to think I’d harmed you in any way.”
“I know you won’t hurt me, Nicholas,” she murmured, shifting beneath him, urging him
on until they were fully joined.
“Are you all right?” he breathed in her ear.
“I am—please don’t stop now.”
Reassured, Nicholas bent his head, trailing kisses down the arch of her throat as
he shifted his hips. Her inner muscles clasped him tighter, silently protesting as
he nearly withdrew from her wet heat.
“Don’t stop,” Sophia pleaded, her hands clenching against his biceps to pull him nearer.
“No, my love, I won’t,” Nicholas managed to reply. His body protested the slow pace.
But he wanted to savor Sophia, to tell her with his body all that she was to him.
He cupped the full curve of her breast in one hand and bent to take the rosy tip in
his mouth, feasting on the soft, succulent skin. Sophia’s breath caught in a gasp
of surprise and her fingers threaded into his hair to press him closer. Beneath him,
her body lifted, her hips moving to meet the thrust of his.
Sweat slicked their bodies, the scent of their lovemaking filling the air around them
as Nicholas torturously tempted Sophia’s desire into ruthless need. He withdrew from
her and with openmouthed kisses traveled every delicious slope and curve of her body,
tasting the soft skin of her throat, breasts, and the sweet indent of her navel. He
moved his mouth to the apex of her thighs, his tongue flicking Sophia’s swollen core
until she moaned.
Her hands clutched his shoulders with desperation. “Nicholas, please. I need you.”
Her voice was throaty, drugged with seduction as she scored him with her fingernails.
He ceased his carnal assault on her luscious folds and slowly nipped his way up her,
each and every last taste punctuated by Sophia’s gasps of delight.
He loomed over her, watching as pleasure and raw yearning played across Sophia’s face.
“Do not deny me,” she begged, wrapping her arms around his neck.
“Sophia.” Her name was a prayer on his lips. The answer to everything Nicholas had
ever needed to make him whole.
He lowered himself and entered her again, the sensation piercing him to the soul.
He was home. Well and truly home.
He stroked his hand down her body, over the sweet inner curve of her waist, to close
over her thigh. He nudged her legs higher and she willingly, eagerly wrapped them
around his waist, seating him even deeper. He palmed the curve of her bottom and she
instinctively pressed her hips more tightly to his. She was made for him, her body
meeting his thrusts with dizzying precision.
“I love you, Nicholas,” she whispered, her lips seeking out his with a searing kiss.
The very passion she’d told him she craved caught them up and spun them about in a
whirlwind of carnal desire.
Sophia threw her head back upon the feather pillow and cried out, her core pulsating
with satisfaction as she gripped the bed linens in a vain attempt to gain purchase.
The sound of her ecstasy inspired a guttural growl from deep in Nicholas’s throat.
He hitched her knee higher on his hip and quickened his pace, his need now undeniable.
Sophia reached up and caressed his chest, her tender touch intensifying the moment.
He drove deeper, closing his eyes as every muscle in his body flexed and tightened.
“Come to me.”
Nicholas roared at the sound of Sophia’s demand, the powerful release of his climax
ripping through his entire being, his mind and soul shattering into oblivion.
“And I love you, Sophia. I always have, and I always will.”
The pieces floated as if in water, their jagged edges coming close to touching, but
never quite forming a full picture.
Sophia swiped at the shards until they disappeared into the recesses of her mind.
The fragments of memory frightened her, even while she dreamed of making love with
She’d never known such pleasure. Nor had any idea of the profound connection created
between two people when they gave themselves fully to each other.
He threatened to take my swan
He wore a mask, so she could not see his face, the red and black squares of the domino
coming to life before her very eyes. He must have been one of the members of the troupe—or
one of the houseguests chosen to participate. He discovered her hiding behind a large
potted plant, drawing the performers as they practiced. He waited until everyone else
had gone, then approached Sophia. He was angry with her for capturing his likeness.
When he demanded the sketch she refused.
Sophia was back in the parlor, the man’s grip on her arm hurting as he squeezed and
bruised the skin. He took the swan and told her he would smash the figurine in front
of Sophia if she did not turn over the drawing. The man frightened Sophia and so she
did as he demanded. After he’d gone, she drew a second picture of the man and woman.
The feeling of resurfacing from deep water swept Sophia up, carrying her from the
world of her dream to a fully awakened state.
She bolted upright in Nicholas’s bed, taking the bed linens with her. “Nicholas, wake
up. You must wake up. Now.”
He rolled to face her, his arms raising above his head to flex and stretch. “Whatever
“I know where the missing piece is.”
“Just up here, William.” Sophia beckoned for the young stablehand to hurry.
Nicholas walked beside her, holding her elbow as they trekked over uneven ground,
through the bracken and long, overgrown grass. “I haven’t thought about the chalk
cave for years.”
“Nor have I,” Sophia admitted, appreciating Nicholas’s steady grip. “Obviously.”
“Do not blame yourself,” Nicholas warned in a lethal tone. “Beyond the fact that there
was no real reason for you to remember the man, the incident coincided with the shock
of your mother’s death.”
Sophia knew, on a very practical level, that Nicholas was right. But there was nothing
simple about what was happening. Nothing at all.
“I cannot argue with you, Nicholas,” she whispered, eager to focus on finding the
cave—and with any luck, the sketch.
Sophia tripped over a thick tree root hidden in the grass and Nicholas tightened his
hold on her arm. She welcomed his support, leaning into his strength. “Thank you.”
She moved closer to him.
“Just up there, my lady,” William exclaimed, trotting past them. “Watch your step.
Wouldn’t do to have you
falling down into the chalk cave. Mrs. Welch would skin me alive.”
He halted where a bare patch stood out in the overgrown terrain. “Here it is, just
as you said it would be.”
Sophia rushed forward, forcing Nicholas to keep pace. “And so it is,” she answered,
staring down at the circular metal grate in the ground.
William knelt down, setting his satchel on the soft grass beside him, and examined
the hole. “I’ve heard about these caves. Never seen one for myself.”
“Unfortunately, I have—and more than once against my will,” Nicholas commented dryly,
staring at the grate. “It can get rather dark down there. You’ll need your lamp.”
The stablehand picked up the small lantern and smiled. “I thought I might.”
“I remember a crude ladder of sorts cut into the side of the cave, William,” Sophia
said, dropping to her knees and pointing to the right side of the grate. “The holds
are small, but they’ll get you in and out.”
She examined the manhole, brushing away bits of branches and other debris, most probably
left by yesterday’s storm. “Once you are in the cave and have oriented yourself, I’ll
tell you where to find the treasure.
“How did you manage to hide so much from the three of us?” Nicholas interjected, squatting
down to join them.
Sophia gripped the grate. “You boys never bothered to bring a lamp with you. I’m fairly
confident I could have hidden the contents of my father’s library within the chalk
walls and none of you would have been the wiser.”
“It was more exciting that way,” Nicholas muttered in response. “At least that’s what
Langdon always said.”
Sophia pulled at the grate with all of her might, not
moving it in the slightest. “It must be stuck from lack of use,” she assured the other
two, trying again. “I had no difficulty opening it as a child.”
“Why would you have come to the cave on your own?” Nicholas asked, gesturing for Sophia
to move aside and let him try.
She released the grate and watched Nicholas take the iron bars in hand. “There were
times I preferred to be by myself.”
He tugged once, twice, and a third time, before the grate scraped from its hold and
lifted. He grinned at her. “It simply needed a man’s touch.”
“Such as now,” Sophia grumbled, turning her attention to William. “Are you ready?”
The stablehand smiled, a dimple flashing in his cheek. “I am, my lady, and looking
forward to it. It’s about time I saw what there is to see.”
The lad’s excitement over the experience lightened Sophia’s heart a touch and she
returned his smile with one of her own. “Well, remember that the goal is to bring
, so do be careful.”
He nodded his head and stood, awaiting instructions.
“The footholds begin here,” Nicholas explained, pointing into the lip of the cave
just to the right. “Come along and step inside, then I’ll hand you the lamp.”
William walked around the hole until he stood directly in front of the spot Nicholas
had indicated, then turned his back and lowered his right leg into the cave.
Sophia watched the young man’s progress nervously, letting out a small scream when
he faltered and nearly fell back.
“I’m all right, my lady,” William assured her just as his head dipped below ground
Nicholas squeezed her arm for support. “He will be fine, Sophia. If four foolish children
were able to climb
in and out without incident, surely William can manage one trip—aided and supervised,
“And what if we four were simply lucky?” Sophia asked, planting her palms near the
cave entrance and carefully peering down.