“Maybe your mistake was in looking too far ahead,” he said softly. “Hell, maybe I was making the same mistake. Maybe we should both stop obsessing on the long term and focus more on the short term.”

She swallowed. “How short a term are we talking about here?”

“Let’s start with tonight.” He kissed her throat. “We’ll reassess matters in the morning.”

She stiffened. “I don’t do one-night time frames.”

“There you go, trying to think too far ahead again.”

“Goading me will not work,” she said. “I do not respond to taunts or dares.”

“Of course you don’t. You’re a Harte.” He leaned his forehead against hers. His thumb moved along the line of her jaw. “What will work?”

She took a deep breath, inhaled some of the dancing storm energy that swirled around them and used it to fortify herself.

“You have to admit that you cheated on the Private Arrangements questionnaire,” she said.

“What the hell does that damned questionnaire have to do with what’s happening between us?”

“I ran the one you filled out through my program. Compared it with one that I had filled out on myself. If you were completely honest in all your responses on that form, I have to tell you that we are definitely not a good match, Gabe. Not even in the short term.”

For the space of two or three heartbeats, he went utterly motionless.

“And if I did shade some of the answers?” he asked.

“Then the conclusions were invalid, of course.”

He smiled slowly. “I lied through my teeth on most of them.”

She touched the tip of her tongue to her lower lip. “Honest?”

“I swear it on my honor as a Madison,” he said against her mouth.

“I knew it.” Satisfaction unfurled within her. She put both arms around his neck. “I was sure of it. Even the one about—?”

His mouth closed on hers before she could finish the question. He kissed her, long and hard and deep; so deep that she forgot everything else.

The colors of the rainbow that surrounded her grew brighter, becoming almost painfully intense. She had to close her eyes against the shattering brilliance.

She kissed Gabe back, full on his warm, hard, incredibly sexy mouth. She gave it everything she had, moving into the moment the way she did when she was painting all out; flying with the vision, trying to get it down on the canvas before it evaporated.

Rain pounded on the roof of the cottage. Wind lashed at the windows. Electricity arced in the atmosphere. The night was alive and so was she.

She was vaguely aware of the rain cloak sliding off her shoulders. And then she realized that her feet no longer touched the floor. Gabe had picked her up in his arms.

She turned her face against his chest, savoring the scent of his body and the strength of his arms. She spread the fingers of one hand across the expanse of his chest. Beneath the fabric of his pullover, he was hard and sleek.

He carried her into the cottage’s tiny bedroom and tumbled her down onto the old-fashioned four-poster. Her shoes thudded softly on the old rug. He straightened, peeled off his pullover in a single, sweeping motion and tossed it carelessly aside. It caught on a bedpost.

He never took his eyes off her as he stripped off his trousers and briefs. His hands were quick and ruthlessly efficient. The sight of his heavily aroused body elicited an immediate reaction far inside her. She was suddenly aware of a liquid heat pooling in her lower body.

He paused long enough to open a drawer in the nightstand. She heard foil tear in the darkness.

And then he was on the quilt with her, looming over her, caging her between his arms. The ancient bed squeaked beneath his weight. If she had tried to sketch him at that moment, she knew the result would have been a picture composed of dark light, strong shadows, and fathomless pools of mystery.

He tugged the tunic off over her head. Unfastened the satin bra. Excitement sent another flood of brilliant colors through her when he touched her br**sts. She could hardly breathe. All of her senses sharpened and focused.

Gabe slid one leg between her thighs. He shifted his mouth back to hers in a heavy, drugging kiss.

She gripped his shoulders, digging her fingers into his bare skin. His hard body cut off what little light came through the doorway from the main room. She could hear the storm swirling outside the cottage, weaving a magic force field that held the rest of the world at bay. At least for now.

His hands moved on her again. Her trousers disappeared. They were soon followed by her panties.

He moved his hand across her stomach and down to the place where she was hot and wet and full. He stroked her as if he were now the painter, applying colors with lavish passion and precision. Getting into his art.

She wanted to tell him to slow down. She needed time to adjust to this unfamiliar level of raw, physical sensation; time to savor the sweep and nuance of the hues of this amazing rainbow.

But time was out of her control, along with everything else tonight. When he found her again with his fingers, she screamed. It was too much.

Her body clenched violently. The rainbow pulsed. Neon brights, effervescent blues and glorious, eye-searing reds filled the shadows with light. She could not think; could not sort out impressions or emotions.

He surged into her at that moment, spilling a whole new palette across the canvas. These were the mysterious, unnamable hues that she had seen only in her dreams.

She felt the rigid tension in the muscles and bone beneath his skin and knew that he was no longer in control either. His release crashed through both of them.

The first thing she noticed when she awoke a long time later was that she could not move. Gabe had her pinned to the bed with one heavy arm wrapped around her midsection and a muscular leg thrown across her thigh.

The second thing she became aware of was that the storm winds had died down. She could still hear gentle rain on the roof, and the darkness on the other side of the window remained immutable. But the world outside was a much quieter, calmer place than it had been earlier.

She lay still, partly because she knew that if she tried to move she would awaken Gabe and she was not at all certain she wanted to do that. Not yet, at any rate. She had things to think about and she needed to think without distractions.

Now that the chaos of passion had resolved itself, the first thing she ought to do was take a cold, hard look at what had happened between herself and Gabe. Life had suddenly become extremely complicated.

But she could not bring herself to focus just yet on her new problems. First she would allow herself the pleasure of absorbing the myriad impressions she had not been able to catalog and enjoy in the heat and turmoil of what had happened earlier. She was entitled.