One of his hands slid beneath her hips, aligning her exactly with the hard ridge behind his trousers. She whimpered against his lips, shaken by intense pleasure, wanting to stay against him like that forever. He kissed her deeply, and down below his hand pressed her against him in a corresponding rhythm, the voluptuous nudges driving her into some new dimension of feeling. Closer, closer, lapping waves urging her forward … but then he was easing her away. She made an agitated sound, her body aching with unspent sensation.

Leo sat up and stripped his clothes off, revealing a powerful masculine body, efficiently lean and paved with muscle. There was hair on his chest, an intriguing dark fleece, and more of it lower down. His body was ready to couple with hers, she saw. Her stomach clenched in nervous anticipation. He returned to her, gathering her against him, length to length.

She explored him hesitantly, her fingers moving over his chest to the sleek skin of his side. Finding the small scar on his shoulder from their mishap at the ruins, Catherine pressed her lips to it. She heard his rough intake of breath. Encouraged, she inched lower on the bed and rubbed her nose and mouth through the soft mat on his chest. Everywhere their bodies touched, she felt his muscles tighten in response.

Trying to remember Althea’s long-ago instructions, she reached down to the upthrust shape of his arousal. The skin was like nothing she had ever felt, thin and silky, moving easily over astonishing hardness. Timidly she leaned down to kiss the side of the shaft, her lips brushing against a strong pulse. She looked up to gauge his reaction, her gaze questioning.

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Leo wasn’t breathing at all well. A tremor shook his hand as he passed it over her hair. “You are the most adorable woman, the sweetest—” He gasped as she kissed him again, and laughed unsteadily. “No, love—it’s all right. No more of that for now.” Reaching down to her, he pulled her up beside him.

He was more insistent now, more authoritative, in a way that allowed her to relax completely. How strange that she could so easily relinquish all control to him, when they had been such fierce adversaries. He parted her thighs with his hand, and she felt herself turn wet even before he touched her there. He teased through the protective curls, spreading her intimately. Her head tilted back against his supportive arm, and she closed her eyes, breathing deeply as his finger slipped inside her.

Leo seemed to luxuriate in her response. His head bent to her breast, and he used his teeth gently, licking and gnawing in time to the slow thrust of his finger. It seemed her entire body aligned with that coaxing rhythm, every quiver, pulse, muscle, thought, surging together, and again, until sensation amassed into one exquisite rush of pleasure. She sobbed, riding the swell, letting it take her, letting the heat pump and swirl and ripple all through her … then finally she subsided into trembling weakness.

He loomed over her, panting, staring into her dazed face. Reaching up, she pulled him closer, her limbs moving easily to accommodate him. As he pressed against the entrance to her body, a sharp pain burned through her. He went deeper. Too much of him, the intrusion slow and hard and relentless. When he had gone as far as her resisting flesh could take him, he held still and tried to soothe her. His mouth slid gently over her cheeks and throat.

The intimacy of the moment, the sensation of holding him within her body, was stunning. She found herself trying to soothe him as well, her hands stroking his sleek back. Murmuring his name, she slid her palms to his flanks and urged him to continue. He began to thrust cautiously. It hurt, and yet there was something assuaging in the deep, low pressure. She opened to him instinctively, pulling him closer.

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She loved the sounds he made, the quiet groans and fragmented words, his roughcast breathing. It became easier to take him, her h*ps lifting naturally with each forward motion, slippery flesh plunging and grasping. Her knees bent, angling to cradle him. His body trembled roughly, a grunt of something that sounded like pain coming from his throat.

“Cat … Cat…” Leo withdrew from her abruptly and thrust against her stomach, and she felt heat spill in wet pulses over her skin. He held her tightly, groaning into the joint of her shoulder and neck.

They lay together, trying to catch their breath. Catherine was limp with exhaustion, her limbs heavy. Contentment had saturated and softened her, like water seeping into a dry sponge. For the moment, at least, it was impossible to worry about anything.

“It’s true,” she said drowsily. “You are gifted.”

Leo eased to his side heavily, as if the movement had required great effort. He pressed his lips to her shoulder, and she felt the shape of his smile on her skin. “How delicious you are,” he whispered. “It was like making love to an angel.”

“Sans halo,” she murmured, and was rewarded by his low chuckle. She touched the film of moisture on her stomach. “Why did you do it that way?”

“Withdrawing, you mean? I don’t want to get you with child, if you’re not ready.”

“Do you want children? I mean … not because of the copyhold clause, but for their own sake?”

Leo considered that. “In abstraction, not especially. With you, however … I wouldn’t mind.”

“Why with me?”

Taking a handful of her hair, Leo let the pale runners sift through his fingers, playing with it. “I’m not sure. Perhaps because I can see you as a mother.”

“Can you?” Catherine had never seen herself that way.

“Oh, yes. The practical kind who makes you eat your turnips, and scolds you for running with sharp objects.”

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