Brazen and the Beast (The Bareknuckle Bastards #2)

She smiled at the echo from earlier. “So do I.”

“Mmm.” He lowered his head to kiss her, long and slow, until desire pooled, setting her body aflame. She lifted her hips, meeting his strokes, and he sat back, watching her for a moment, “Show me how much.” She did, meeting his beautiful amber eyes as they mapped her body, her movements. As they made her believe he wanted her as he’d said. Beyond reason. “You’re so beautiful. I could watch you do that forever.”

She thrust against his fingers, and he set his thumb to the straining bud nestled above them, rubbing once, twice, until she groaned. “Whit!”

He smiled, wolfish. “That’s what it feels like when you touch me.”

She cut him a look. “Do it again. So I can remember.”

He laughed, low and deep, and did, the movement sending fire rolling through her like a tide. “My brazen, greedy beauty.” He stroked deep, over and over, slowly and perfectly, wonderfully steady, until she was writhing against him.

And then he released her, and she gasped her displeasure. “Wait!”

“Mmm.” He licked his fingers and leaned over her, kissing her long and slow. “No. You wait, now.”

He reached for the laces on her dress, untying the ribbons and loosening the bodice, opening it to reveal her chemise and corset, undressing her carefully until she was bare beneath him and he could suckle the tip of one breast, and then the other, until she was hard and aching, and her fingers were tight in his hair. “Please, Whit. Please.”

He kissed her again, lowering himself over her, blocking the cool breeze from the Thames with his impossibly warm body. “Please what, love?”

“You promised to make love to me.” She spread her thighs, knowing she shouldn’t. Knowing ladies didn’t. Not caring. “Finally,” she repeated his earlier words, loving the way he settled into her, the long, smooth length of him sliding through her, the tip of him notching just where she ached to be touched again. He groaned at the sensation, and triumph flooded her. “Properly.”

He laughed, harshly. “I want to, love.” He rocked against her again, and she sighed at the pleasure. “So much. I have never felt anything like the feel of you coming around me.” Another slide. Another notch. Another gasp.

“Do it,” she said, moving on the next slide, until he froze, the tip of him kissing her aching opening.

He cursed, low and thick. “Hattie. God. You are a Siren.”

She lifted her hips, and they both groaned as the head of him slid inside her, just barely, just enough to tempt them both. She slid her fingers into his hair. “Now,” she whispered. “Please, Whit. Now.”

He gave it to her, sliding into her with a single, slow, sure press, no hesitation like there had been the first time, as though he knew she could take whatever he gave her. And she could. At least, she could take the sensation . . . but the pleasure . . . the feeling . . . the knowledge of what was to come . . . she wasn’t sure that wouldn’t make her mad.

“You are so hard,” she said, when he was seated deep inside her, unable to keep the awe from her voice. “So full.”

He bit her shoulder with a little growl. “Hard for you, love. Only for you.”

She smiled. “Mmm.”

He barked a little laugh. “I’ll never get tired of the way you take your pleasure, love. Like you deserve it.”

She met his gaze, bold and brazen. “I do deserve it.”

He nodded. “You do. And all I want to do is give it to you.”

She smiled. “You like it.”

“I like you.”

Her heart skipped. What a magnificent man. What a strong and decent and beautiful, magnificent man. Tears sprang, and he noticed—of course he noticed—and worry marred his brow. “Love, does it hurt? Should I—”

“No,” she said, clutching his arms. “No. Don’t you dare leave me.”

He stilled.

“I . . .” She shook her head, unable to stop herself from whispering, “I love you.”

He bowed his head at that, meeting her forehead with his. “I don’t deserve it.”

What a lie it was. Her hands came to the back of his neck, fingers sliding into his hair. “You do.”

“I don’t,” he whispered. “But I’m taking it.”

He began to move, and Hattie was lost in the long, lovely strokes that stole her breath and her thought, and all she could do was sigh his name. He watched her, reading her pleasure, altering his rhythm until everything fell away—the dock and the ship and the world beyond them. Beyond him.

He kissed her neck. The line of her jaw. Her lips. “My Hattie. My beautiful Hattie.”

And she believed it, meeting a long stroke with a tilt of her hips, and sending a jolt of pleasure through them both. Their gazes met. “I liked that,” she said, shy and teasing.

“Mmm. Let’s see if we can find it again.”

They did, the thrum of desire fading into laughter. Was this what it was like for everyone? Was it always so bright? Like the sun had risen and cleared out all the darkness?

“Hattie,” he whispered. Her gaze snapped to his. “Tell me again.”

You shall lose your heart.

He rocked into her. “Please.”

Her heart was already gone. “I love you.”

He thrust into her. “Again.”

“I love you.” She clung to him, and he reached between them, finding the straining bud just above where they were joined. “Yes. Whit.”

“I can’t wait much longer, love. I’m desperate to come in you.”

“Don’t wait,” she said, his touch winding her tighter and tighter, sending her higher and higher. “Please, love. Please, don’t wait.”

“Again,” he whispered. “Just once more.”

“I love you.” She gave him the words a heartbeat before she was lost to the pleasure, flying apart beneath him and the London sky, and she was crying his name and clinging to him as he worked her in a beautiful, undeniable rhythm, carrying her through one release, and then another, before he gave up his own with a low, loud groan, the most delicious sound she’d ever heard.

When they returned to the moment, their breath in harsh symphony, the river tide lapping against the side of the ship, Whit pulled her tight against him, turning to put his back to the deck and cover them with his greatcoat. He pressed a kiss to her temple and exhaled, long and lovely. “Beauty.”

The word sent warmth through her, and she cuddled nearer to him.

He pressed a kiss to her shoulder. “I do not deserve you.”

She smiled at the words. “I think you can agree that I am almost as much trouble as I am delight.”

He did not reply, his broad, rough fingertips painting designs across her bare shoulder, soft and sure and mesmerizing enough to make Hattie forget where they were, and who they were, and all the reasons they could not be together. She tracked those movements, the slow slide of his fingers and the feel of his breath in her hair, slow and even, until her eyes became heavy, and she wondered what might happen if she fell asleep here, in his arms, on the riverfront.

And just as she decided that she didn’t much care what would happen if she did just that, because he didn’t seem to be interested in moving, either, he spoke, the words a soft rumble beneath her ear.

“Marry me.”

Chapter Twenty-Four

Of course he was going to marry her.

He’d been planning to marry her from the moment he stepped onto the damn ship and saw her standing on the raised prow, looking every inch a warrior, waiting to do battle. His warrior, waiting to take him as spoil.

As though he wouldn’t go willingly into her arms. Especially after she’d told him she’d like to murder both his father and his brother. And capped the whole thing off perfectly by telling him she loved him.

She loved him.

If Whit never heard it again, he would remember that moment forever. When he took his last breath, it would be with Hattie’s indignant fury in his memories, and the man I love in his ears.

She loved him, and that changed everything; it made her his, unquestionably.

And then she’d tied him to the mast and made him hers, after making him wild with desire and filling him with pleasure and satisfaction and calm certainty. For the first time in his life, Whit hadn’t doubted. He’d known.

He was going to marry Henrietta Sedley.

Nothing had changed, and somehow everything had.

So it was unfortunate but expected that, when he suggested the idea, it was less of a question and more of a command, but he certainly hadn’t expected what came next. He hadn’t expected her to go still against him, as though the words had been a blow. And he hadn’t expected her to lift her head slowly, moving the way one might around a rabid dog.

And he certainly hadn’t expected her to say, simply, as though he’d asked her if she would like tea, “No.”

What in hell?

“Why not?”

“Because I love you.”

His breath caught at the words, the ones he’d wanted so desperately earlier, but he could not bask in the pleasure of them. He was too concerned about the rest. “Dammit, that’s a reason to marry me, Hattie.”

“Not if you can’t love me back.” She paused. “Not if you can’t love me as your equal. Can you?”

Yes. No.

Not the way she wanted.