Her fingers slid over his chest. It was sheer torture to touch him with this near-intimacy, even though she was doing her best to concentrate on the healing aspect and not on how delicious it felt to glide the cream over hard muscle covered by silky skin. But when he shifted his jodhpur-covered groin, it took all her determination not to be distracted by the distinct bulge there. Yet she couldn’t look away, could she? She couldn’t just stare at the wall. Instead, she focused intently on the bruises he had suffered and not the soft sigh which escaped from between his parted lips.
She continued to massage him, working intently and silently until she saw some of the tension leave his body. She put the pot down and went off to wash the cream from her hands but when she returned to the divan, she stared at his torso with a feeling of disbelief.
‘Good grief,’ she said faintly. ‘Just look at that.’
Erin had spent years working for Dimitri, but she’d never seen that look of genuine astonishment on his face before, as he followed the direction of her gaze. And no wonder—for the bruises had reduced dramatically. The livid purple marks which had stained the golden skin had faded several shades lighter.
His eyes narrowed. ‘What the hell happened? Did you wave a magic wand or something?’
She could see the flicker of a pulse at his temple. She saw the gleam of his torso and suddenly her throat grew dry. ‘It must have been the potion,’ she managed.
His gaze mocked her. ‘Is that what it was?’
Erin stood there, knowing she ought to get the hell out of there while she still could, but something was keeping her rooted there—as if her feet had been superglued to the spot. Her heart began to pound. Was it the magnificence of touching his half-naked body after all this time, or just the memory of how it had felt when he was deep inside her? She shook her head slightly, trying to erase the image from her mind, only the image was stubbornly refusing to budge. She swallowed. ‘Perhaps you need to rest now.’
‘Perhaps I do.’
He stretched out on the divan, his body outlined against the rich velvet and brocade cushions, but she noticed that his eyes were only half closed. She could see the icy glint of blue from between the thick lashes and she felt as if he was observing her. Watching her. Waiting to see what she would do next. She knew she ought to turn and walk away from him. She knew a lot of things, but the thing she knew above everything else was that she wanted to kiss him. To lose herself in his arms and shudder with pleasure. And it wasn’t going to happen. She swallowed. There was a whole stack of reasons why intimacy would be a bad thing, and none of those had changed. But she was still standing there, wasn’t she? Standing there feeling conflicted while she dug her fingernails into the palms of her hands and longed for what she knew she shouldn’t have.
‘Can I get you anything else?’ she questioned stiffly.
He gave a slow, watchful smile. ‘Like what?’
The tension shimmering between them was now so intense that Erin felt as if a single word or movement would shatter it, but his expression gave nothing away. He was a contradiction, she realised. He was stubborn and proud and angry with her for keeping Leo hidden from him, but he still wanted her. She could read it in the smoky smoulder of his blue eyes and the tension in his body. He wanted her, but he wasn’t going to act on it. Instinct told her the next step was all down to her. That the ball was in her court. She had turned him down last night and his pride would not allow him to be turned down again. If she wanted him, then she was going to have to reach out to him. Still she hesitated, because wasn’t this yet another way of Dimitri exercising his power over her?
‘I think you’ve had enough rehydration and fire-berry potion for the time being, so I’ll let you rest,’ she said, even though the words felt as if they might strangle her.
But then he smiled again—and that smile changed everything. Something inside her snapped, like a piece of elastic which had been stretched too far, and suddenly she was doing what she’d only dreamed of doing in her most forbidden fantasies. She was leaning over him and brushing her lips over his—like a role reversal of the prince trying to waken the sleeping princess with his kiss.
Only, Dimitri was awake. Wide awake. The smile died on his lips. His calculating gaze lasted only a second before he hooked his hand behind her neck and brought her face back down to his.
She stared into his blue eyes. ‘I...I shouldn’t have done that.’
‘Yes, you should,’ he growled. ‘And now you’re going to do it all over again.’
He smelt of horse and dust and desire, underpinned with the faint scent of fire berries, and Erin trembled as he pulled her close and kissed her. She worried about her weight pushing against his battered body, but he didn’t seem to care. He didn’t seem to care about anything except deepening the kiss so that she quickly became weak with longing, but she drew her head back when she heard him moan.
‘Am I hurting you?’ she whispered.
‘No.’ Grabbing her ponytail as if it was a rope, he tipped her head back so that she was caught in the spotlight of his eyes. ‘But I am at something of a disadvantage, since the doctor has suggested I avoid any strenuous movement.’ His eyes gleamed. ‘And since I am in no position to undress you or to master you—I think you will have to play the dominatrix this time.’
Erin froze. Until her sister had lent her that book last year, she hadn’t even known what the word ‘dominatrix’ meant. She wondered if he was expecting some kind of souped-up sexual performance from her. Yet here was she—not a virgin, but very nearly. Did she come straight out and tell him that?
‘You know,’ he said, filling the silence, ‘the suggestion wasn’t supposed to make your eyes widen with horror. That is not what a man intends when he wants to have sex with a woman.’
‘I don’t want you to be disappointed.’
His hand still wrapped around her ponytail, he steered her face towards his. ‘What are you talking about?’
‘I’m not very...experienced.’
‘Some men might consider a lack of experience to be a positive advantage.’
‘And are you one of those men?’
He shook his head. ‘Not now, Erin. I know how much you love to talk, but now is not a good time to discuss my sexual preferences.’ His expression changed. ‘Because every time you react to one of my remarks, you jerk your head back—causing your hips to slide over mine. And as a result, my erection is getting stronger by the minute—a fact which cannot have escaped you, zvezda moya.’
No, of course it hadn’t escaped her. She didn’t need to be experienced to realise just how aroused he was. She could feel the unfamiliar ridge pressing hard against one of her thighs and she told herself that now was the time for her to get off the divan and suggest putting more distance between them, not less. Because surely that was what any sane person in her position would do.
‘We aren’t supposed to be doing this,’ she whispered as the finger which had been at the base of her neck began to slide slowly downwards.
She forced herself to say it. To say it as it was and not how she’d like it to be. ‘Sex.’
His finger stilled in its tantalising journey towards her breast. ‘Do you want to stop?’