'Jennifer!’ Ewan looked quite stunned. ‘You are not serious?’
She ought to be mortified—she was behaving like a hussy, but all this talk of the future had made her realise how very precious their time together was, and how quickly it was running out. She longed to know what it would be like to make love, to really make love, with a man she had come to care for far more than was good for her. She could not have him—the idea of them having a future together was preposterous, no matter how alluring a prospect.
It didn’t matter. Not tonight. Tonight, they would be a man and a woman, alone on a tiny island together. And that thought made her bold. ‘I want to make love with you Ewan. There is nothing to stop us, unless you do not yearn for it as desperately as I do.’
He pulled her into his arms, pushing her hair from her eyes. ‘You know I do, every bit as much if not more. I’ve wanted to make love to you from the moment I set eyes on you in that tiny flat in Milne’s Court.’ He kissed her lingeringly. ‘I’ve lain in bed every night since, wishing you were lying there beside me.’
‘Yet you hesitate to grasp the opportunity for one night of passion?’
‘Only because I don’t want it to be the only one, Jennie. It won’t be enough. Nowhere near enough.’
‘You’d rather have nothing than this?
He groaned. ‘When you put it like that, how can I resist you.’
Jennifer twined her arms around his neck. ‘I don’t want you to resist me, Ewan.’
This time, when their lips met they surrendered to a smouldering flame which needed precious little fanning. Their kisses seemed endless, timeless, yet they must have ended, for somehow they found their way to the cottage, re-kindling the embers of the fire they had lit earlier, sinking down in front of it on the heap of blankets Ewan pulled from a trunk. More kisses, their lips clinging, their hands frantically searching for bare skin beneath their clothes, feverishly stroking, tugging themselves free of shirts and chemises and plaids and skirts until they faced each other naked, eyes wide, simply staring in wonder.
‘You are so very lovely,’ Ewan said, running the flat of his palm from her shoulder down her back to her bottom, ‘so very, very lovely.’
She had never experienced such a fierce, passionate gaze. She had never before gazed so hungrily back, letting her eyes roam over the breadth of his chest, the muscles of his belly, and downwards, relishing the way that her gaze excited him, astounded by how his obvious arousal triggered a visceral response in her. She felt so sure of herself, so confident of her appeal, she wanted the moment to last forever, this silent worship, but as they touched, their hands learning each other’s shape, desire took over.
He laid her on her back, kissing her mouth and then her throat and then her breasts. His tongue tightened her nipples to aching peaks, sending sparks of heat downwards, making her tense, making her moan. His hand stroked her thighs, between her legs, fingers stroking into her now, making her writhe and cry out with delight as he touched her, coaxed her, teased her, until she could hold on no longer, and a climax took her, wave after wave of pleasure such as she had never known, yet had been so certain she could find with him.
She called out his name, clinging to him, pleading with him, urging him inside her with her hands and her hips.
‘You are sure?’ Ewan asked, his voice stark with the effort of maintaining self-control.
‘Desperately sure,’ Jennifer answered.
He kissed her, and still kissing her he eased himself into her, slowly, delightfully slowly, higher and higher, and when she arched her back and tilted towards him, even higher. She had thought her own climax over, but as Ewan thrust it began again, another wave of pleasure and another, as she moved with him, as his thrusts became urgent, and he freed himself from her at the last moment as his own climax shook him.
Jennifer lay wrapped in Ewan’s arms, watching the firelight dance around the fresh wood he had stoked it with. Outside, dawn was approaching. Her muscles ached pleasantly. She was drowsy from the night spent making love and talking, and talking and then making love again. She wanted nothing more than to forget all about reality, and stay here in this cottage with him forever.
She closed her eyes, blissfully recalling the way Ewan had smiled so tenderly in the aftermath of their passion, holding her close against him, her cheek on his chest, so that she could hear his heartbeat hammer, then slow. His hand had caressed her flank as he drifted off to sleep. He had curled up against her back, making her feel safe for the first time in many years. And then, later, when his caress strayed, he’d made her feel very unsafe in the most delightful way. She knew now that she loved him, and she wanted to savour that knowledge too, for their time together was already ebbing away.
As if he read her thoughts, Ewan sat up. ‘The tide will have turned. Though I would far rather stay here with you, if we don’t make a move they’ll be sending out a search party for us.’
Reality came crashing abruptly down on Jennifer. She too sat up, clutching at the blanket. ‘Will they think that we—oh, goodness Ewan, I never thought. They’ll say…’
‘That I’ve anticipated our marriage vows. And who can blame me,’ Ewan said, smiling down at her. ‘Provided we are married sooner rather than later…’
‘No!’ Jennifer jumped to her feet and began frantically to dress. ‘No, no, no. That’s not what I—last night, dear heavens, I did not make love with you in the expectation that you would feel obliged—no!’
‘Jennie.’ He caught her hands in his. ‘I am not offering for you because I feel obliged to. I’m offering for you because…’
‘Don’t say it.’ She freed herself, stepping hastily into her skirt. ‘You are an honourable man. I should have remembered that when I propositioned you yesterday. But you must not feel—you haven’t compromised me, Ewan. I wanted this. But only this.’
‘Even though we could have so much more? Think about it, Jennifer, we could wake up with each other every morning. Go to bed with each other every night.’
She could think of nothing more wonderful, but she must not. ‘Please don’t. You don’t want to marry me, Ewan, not really. You couldn’t have asked anyone less suitable.’
‘I love you, Jennie.’ Ewan took her hands again, gazing at her with such tenderness that tears clogged her throat. ‘I told myself it wasn’t possible to fall in love after so short a time, but it is. Last night, making love with you… it was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before,’ he said earnestly. ‘I don’t know how to explain it. It felt as if I’d found a bit of me that I didn’t know was missing.’
He didn’t have to explain. She felt exactly the same. A tear tracked down her cheek. ‘I can’t marry you, Ewan. No matter how you feel about me now, it would not survive the scandal of our marriage. We would be ostracised.’
‘I don’t care.’
‘Perhaps not now, when this is all new to you and there are so many barriers to overcome already. You need a wife who is accepted in your world.’
‘I will build a new world. With you. Have I got it wrong, Jennie? Don’t you love me?’
She opened her mouth, but the lie would not be spoken. She could not and would not deny her feelings. But she could not ruin the man she loved. ‘I can’t marry you, no matter how I feel. I’m soiled goods, Ewan. Thanks to you, I no longer think the shameful things that happened in my marriage were my own fault. But the fact remains that I was married. What’s more, my husband is not long in his grave.’
Ewan clenched his jaw, with difficulty swallowing a curse. ‘Would that he had taken up residence there sooner. If I don’t care, Jennie…’
‘But I do.’ Love for him, wanting only the best for him, gave her the courage to speak the words that would utterly destroy any prospect of them being together. ‘He did not die of natural causes, Ewan. He fell down the stairs. And I don’t know, in all honesty, whether I pushed him or not.’
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