Even after the moon set, the stars burned in such radiant profusion that ghostly shadows formed. Though as sheer as a veil, the shadows were nonetheless real.
Unhappily Eve concluded that, no matter how vague, starlight wasn’t exempt from Reno’s list of impossible demands.
A stone ship, a dry rain, and a light that casts no shadow.
She might have found an armada of stone ships, but the dry rain was as unattainable as ever. The shadowless light was also beyond her reach.
One of the hobbled horses snorted, disturbing Eve’s gloomy thoughts. She turned in her bedroll, blaming her sleeplessness on the hard ground rather than on her depressing reflections.
But the ground wasn’t any harder than it had ever been. Turning over didn’t make her more comfortable. It simply gave her a better view over the ashes of the campfire.
Reno’s powerful, broad-shouldered silhouette was looming unmistakably against the stars. His bare chest and feet were a lighter shade of darkness. Obviously he was ready for bed but not ready for sleep.
Reno was standing quietly, watching Eve rather than the slow wheeling of the stars overhead. She wondered where he had been, and why he had told her to go to sleep when he walked out of camp alone, and if he knew she was awake now.
Then he spoke to her, answering one question; he knew she was awake.
«Can’t sleep?» Reno asked in a low voice.
«No,» Eve admitted.
He walked over and sat on his heels next to her bedroll.
«Know why?» he asked.
She shook her head and asked, «Can’t you sleep?»
«Know why?» she asked, echoing him.
Reno’s smile flashed faintly in the starlight.
«Yes,» he said.
«Are you worried about Slater?»
«I ought to be.»
«But you aren’t?» Eve persisted.
«Not enough to keep me awake.»
«Then why aren’t you sleeping?»
Eve propped herself up on her elbow and stared at the darkness and thin starlight that hid as much as they revealed of Reno’s expression.
«Am I that noisy when I roll over?» she asked wryly.
He laughed. «No. You’re as graceful and quiet as a cat.»
Eve waited, watching him with eyes that gleamed in the dim light.
«But every time you move,» Reno continued, «I get to thinking how warm you are under the blankets, and how much I’d like to be lying beside you, touching all that sweet warmth.»
«I thought you didn’t want…» Eve’s voice faded.
«You?» Reno asked.
«Yes,» she whispered. «You hardly even looked at me while we made camp.»
«I didn’t dare. I wanted you too much.»
«Why does that make you angry? Do you think I’ll refuse you?»
Reno let out his breath in a stifled curse.
«I haven’t been like this since I was a boy,» he said roughly. «I don’t like it one damn bit.»
«I’m not teasing you. I lov —» Eve corrected herself instantly, «Iwantyou too much to be a good tease.»
She held the blankets aside in silent invitation.
«You’re tired, and so am I,» Reno said in a curt voice. «Tomorrow is going to be another long day. I should have enough self-control not to bother you.»
«I want you,» she repeated.
«Eve,» Reno whispered, trying and failing to control the wild rush of heat that had taken him at her words.
With an almost soundless groan of hunger and need, he knelt and then stretched out next to Eve beneath the blankets. She felt the fine trembling of his hands on her face and was amazed that she could affect his strength so much.
«I don’t want to hurt you,» he said hoarsely. «I want you so damn much, and you were so tight. …»
«It’s all right.»
Eve moved her head, kissing both of Reno’s hands in turn while he breathed her name into the fragrant warmth of her hair.
«It’s all right,» she repeated with each brush of her lips over his skin. «I want to be a part of you again.»
«Sugar girl,» he whispered. «Sweet and hot.»
He discovered within the yielding luxury of her mouth a feminine hunger and demand that raced through his blood and brain like straight whiskey. The kiss began gently but quickly changed, becoming a hungry, searching prelude to the deeper joining that would soon come.
Reno tried to rein in the wild need that had been eating at him since he had first tasted Eve in the liquid embrace of the pool, but control kept sliding away from him. He took the velvet heat of her mouth with deep, repeated movements of his tongue, probing and stroking, wanting her with a violence that was like nothing he had ever known before.
When Reno finally forced himself to end the kiss, he was wholly, painfully aroused. He braced himself on his elbow and closed his eyes, fighting for control.
It was impossible. Every breath he took was infused with the delicious scent of lilac and a woman’s secret warmth.
The huskiness in Eve’s voice was another caress, making him want to groan. He touched her cheek with fingers that weren’t entirely steady.
«I hope you want me half as much as that kiss suggested,» he said in a low voice.
Eve took his hand and slowly moved it down to her breasts. Reno’s breath broke when he felt the nipple changing at his touch, becoming a tight velvet peak in a single rushing instant.
«I wish it were full sunlight,» he said.
Instead of answering, Reno bent and caught the tip of Eve’s breast between his lips, then took her deep into his mouth, pulling on her with hot, shifting pressures.
She made a throaty sound as her back arched in passionate reflex. His hands slid beneath her, holding her while he fed on the sweet flesh she had offered him. Her breasts were seduced and shaped by his mouth until they were full, flushed, and crowned by nipples that stood up hungrily against the sheer camisole.
Reno raised his head and looked at the proof of Eve’s desire. The sight did nothing to cool the savage hunger of his body.
«That’s why I wish it were sunlight,» he said huskily. «I want to see the pink buds swelling on top of your breasts.»
He laughed softly when he felt the wave of heat climb tangibly up Eve’s body at his words.
«And the sweet blush that comes when I talk about what I’m doing to you,» Reno said. «I’d like to see that, too.»
Eve made a sound that was half laughter, half embarrassment. Smiling, he bent down and took between his teeth one of the laces that tied her camisole. With small motions of his head, he tugged until the bow came undone.
«Take off your clothes, sugar girl.»
Reno felt the tremor that went through Eve as clearly as she did.
«I could do it,» he coaxed softly, «but then I’d have to let go of you. I don’t want to do that. You feel too damn good right where you are.»
He flexed his hands and tightened his arms, deepening the arch of Eve’s back until her nipples just brushed against his mustache. His smile was a lighter shade of night as he watched her shiver and twist restlessly, seeking a deeper caress.
«Gata,» Reno said thickly. «All supple and graceful. Undress for me. Want me as much as I want you.»
Eve’s fingers were clumsy as she undid the camisole. But even when wholly unfastened, the cloth didn’t slide free of her body. Damp from his mouth, the cotton clung to the hard nipples Reno had drawn from her breasts.
Hesitantly Eve peeled the thin fabric from her body. While she did, Reno kissed her breasts, her throat, her lips, taking tiny bites of her in between each nuzzling caress. He shifted just enough to allow her to get free of the camisole, but he never released her completely.
Soon the camisole lay beside the bedroll like a pale reflection of starlight.
«Keep going,» Reno whispered. «This time I want you to be completely naked.»
With shaking fingers, Eve undid her pantalets and pushed them slowly down her legs until she was as Reno wanted her, completely naked. Her skin glowed like the creamy petals of a night-blooming flower.
«Yes,» Reno whispered. «Like that. You’re beautiful. You should always be as God made you.»
He drew his mustache across Eve’s breasts as he lowered her back to the warm blankets. She shivered and bit back a cry of pleasure as heat shimmered through her in the wake of his caress. When the tip of his tongue fenced with her taut nipples, she twisted again, harder, wanting more than his teasing.
Reno gave Eve what she asked for, his mouth both caressing and demanding, his hand sliding down her body, seeking the sultry, delicate flesh that lay concealed between her legs. When he found her and touched her once, very lightly, she cried out.
Instantly Reno withdrew, for the memory of making Eve bleed haunted him. He clenched his teeth against the pain of wanting her and not having her.
«I’m sorry,» Reno said, sitting up. «I never meant to hurt you.»
«You cried out.»
Eve touched his chest with fingers that trembled.
«Did I?» she asked huskily.
«Yes. Did I hurt you?»
«Hurt?» She shivered. «No.»
The masculine textures of muscle and hair lured Eve. She stroked Reno, liking the feel of him beneath her palm.
«Lie next to me again,» she whispered. «You make me too dizzy to sit up. Especially when you touch me like you just did. If I cried out, it was because your touch took the world away.»
Reno’s eyes narrowed against the sudden clenching of desire deep in his loins, a knife turning, bringing pain.
«You aren’t tender?» Reno asked.
As he spoke, he touched the thicket of hair that shielded Eve’s hidden warmth. Her breath came in brokenly, soft echo of the tongues of fire licking up at his touch.
«Sugar girl? Talk to me. Are you sore?»
«No. I ache, but it’s not…» Eve’s voice faded. «That is, it isn’t…»
«I…» She took a ragged breath. «I can’t…I don’t know how…to say it.»
«Embarrassed?» Reno asked gently.
«Try to tell me,» he coaxed. «I want to know if I do anything that hurts you.»
«How could you?» she muttered. «You’re not doing anything at all.»
Reno’s soft laughter was a rush of warmth across Eve’s breasts as he bent down to her. When he kissed the hardened tips, they tightened even more.
Sensual lightning went from Eve’s nipples to the pit of her stomach and beyond. In the wake of lightning came a twisting need that was close to pain.
«I ache, but not from what you’ve done,» Eve said, biting back a moan. «I ache from what youhaven’tdone.»
«Are you sure?»
Still Reno hesitated, remembering the bright blood and the terrible realization that he had taken a virgin too hard, too fast, tearing the very flesh that gave him such pleasure.
With great care he stroked Eve, smoothing over the tawny cloud that looked dark in the starlight. He heard the hesitation in her breath, the break, the ragged sigh as his fingertips sought and found the soft, warm petals.
«Do you like that?» Reno whispered.
A small, throaty cry was her answer.
He brushed his fingertips over her thighs, pressing lightly. Her legs shifted until they no longer protected her from a more intimate caress. When he traced the shadowed crease between her legs, he felt her pleasure as a hot kiss over his fingertips. The heady fragrance of her response sank into him like sweet talons, raking him into an arousal that was pain and pleasure savagely combined.
Before Reno realized what he was doing, he had unfastened his pants. When he realized how close he was to taking Eve, he rolled away and surged to his feet in a single movement.
Fists clenched at his side, he breathed hard and fast, as though he had run for miles to get where he was. He looked down at the girl lying at his feet, watching him with night-darkened eyes. The quick rise and fall of her breasts with each breath she took made him want to tear off his few clothes and bury himself in her.
The violence of Reno’s need was greater now than it had been when he first took Eve. The knowledge shocked him. He shouldn’t want her that much. He had sworn never to want a woman that much again.
«Reno?» Eve whispered.
«I’m afraid of hurting you,» he said roughly. «I want you too damn much.»
She held out her arms.
«Eve…damn it…you don’t know what you’re doing!»
Yet Reno’s hands stripped away his clothes even as his mind told him to leave Eve alone until he was less aroused, more certain of his own control.
Through half-lowered eyelids, Eve watched Reno undress. His body gleamed with heat. Power rippled darkly beneath his skin each time he moved. When he peeled away the last of his clothing, the evidence of his arousal stood out boldly.
«Finally afraid?» Reno asked, his voice rough.
She shook her head.
«You should be,» he said flatly. «I’ve never wanted a woman like this.»
Eve’s only answer was a sinuous movement of her body. Her hips lifted in silent plea.
Slowly Reno knelt between her legs.
«You don’t know…» he said, but he couldn’t finish.
«Then teach me,» she whispered.
With a word that was both profane and reverent, Reno reached for Eve. He forced himself to move slowly despite the hammering of his own blood. The back of his hands caressed her from ankle to inner thigh, sensitizing her skin and parting her legs even more. He tried to resist the scented temptation that opened to him, but he could not prevent himself from stroking her just once.
Eve was softer than silk, hotter, and she trembled at his touch. Reno eased his fingertip between the sleek petals. A fragrant, searing rain licked over him as he slid into her.
Slowly Reno withdrew, knowing that he was shaking and knowing there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it. He hadn’t expected her to be so ready to take him, so hungry for the coupling that had hurt her before.
«I’ll try to be gentle,» Reno said through clenched teeth.
«I know,» Eve whispered. «But don’t try too hard. Cats have more than one life.»
He smiled despite the sweat sliding down his spine from the fierce tension of his body.
«You’ll be the death of me, gata.»Then, his voice harsh, he added, «Help me.»
«Bring your knees up.»
Long legs shifted.
«Higher. Yes, like that. God,» Reno said heavily, «I wish I could see you.»
Eve made a stifled sound as she felt his fingertips trace every part of the night-blooming flower that was fully revealed to him. It was as though he wanted to memorize with touch what he couldn’t clearly see.
Delicately Reno tested the satin nub he had found hidden within her petals.
Eve’s breath came in with a husky sound that could have been pleasure or pain.
«Talk to me,» Reno said. «Tell me if I hurt you.»
He circled the sensitive knot with his fingertips before he caught it and plucked gently.
Eve stiffened as though he had taken a whip to her.
She couldn’t answer. Pleasure raced through her body from Reno’s touch, making it impossible to think or speak. A broken breath, a stifled moan, and a scented rain were the only answer she could give him.
It was enough. It told Reno that Eve wanted him as profoundly as he wanted her.
He pressed lightly into her again for the sheer pleasure of feeling how much she hungered for what he could give her. The hot rush of her response clung to him, shimmering in the vague light, making him dizzy with the answering surge of his own blood. He shifted, bringing his aroused flesh very close to her, pushing lightly, testing her ability to take him.
The testing was also a caress. Eve made a sound of wonder as pleasure rippled through her. Sensual heat licked over Reno’s violently aroused flesh, dragging a ragged groan from him. His hips moved reflexively, pushing between hot petals, seeking an even deeper joining.
Eve’s eyes opened as the pressure between her legs intensified, Reno’s body slowly stretching her with a gentle, measured movement that was at odds with the harsh lines of his face.
«Tell me,» he said hoarsely.
Reno wanted to say more, but he couldn’t. He was feeling Eve too intensely, sleek heat and sultry rain and a loving glide of flesh over flesh. She was feeling him in the same way, her eyes heavy-lidded, watching him as he took her and gave himself to her in the same deliberate movement.
Never had Reno known such a sensual merging of body with body, heat with heat, breath with breath. There was no barrier, no cry of pain, no sudden attempt by Eve’s body to reject him.
She gave way before him like a summer storm, luring and surrounding him as he pressed into her hot center. No matter how deeply he probed, there was only liquid heat and a satin constriction caressing him in secret, teaching him what it meant to be fully, passionately joined with a woman.
The hot perfection of sheathing himself so slowly within her nearly undid him. Blood hammered through his veins, filling him until thought he must burst or die.
Reno’s voice was ragged, all but throttled by the wild race of his blood.
Eve heard him and knew that he was trying to ask if he was hurting her. She would have answered, but the slow, heavy penetration was transforming her.
Rings of fire pulsed up from the point where her body joined his. The tiny, secret convulsions brought a pleasure so great she could only give herself to it and to the man who was so deeply a part of her that he felt each silky pulse distinctly. And with each pulse came a sensual rain that eased his way even more, luring and welcoming and caressing him profoundly.
Reno felt his control being stripped away by the sweet rhythms of Eve’s pleasure. He measured himself once within her, then twice, before the firestorm within him burst. He arched into her welcoming heat and gave himself to her in a shuddering rush that left him spent.
The weight of Reno’s body against Eve’s sent another wave of passion through her. She made a sound deep in her throat and twisted against him as her body was impaled by a shaft of ecstasy.
The sinuous, gliding pressure of Eve over his buried flesh sent tongues of fire licking sharply through Reno. He moved slowly within her and savored her shimmering response.
Watching her, he moved again, enjoying her throaty cries and the melting of her body around him. He had never known a woman to enjoy so clearly his presence within her. He had never guessed how much satisfaction there could be in watching his smallest motion transformed into sensual feminine pulses and a silent, sinuous pleading for more of him.
Nor had he known what his own body was capable of, the rushing transformation repeated, sweet needles of fire pricking delicately, deeply, until he was consumed by a need that was all the sweeter for having been ignited while he was fully sheathed within her.
«I hope you’re right about having lots of lives, gata.»
Eve’s lashes lifted, showing eyes that were still glazed with pleasure.
«What?» she asked huskily.
Her voice broke before the question was finished, for Reno was moving slowly within her, filling her.
«Do you like this?» he asked, withdrawing and returning once more.
«Dear Lord, yes.»
«It doesn’t hurt?»
Soft laughter was Eve’s answer. Her hands caressed the length of Reno’s spine. She paused to comb through the scattering of silky hair in the small of his back before she went on to his buttocks. The taut muscles intrigued her, as did the swift, ripping breath he took when her hand strayed between his thighs. She repeated the caress, drawing another shudder from him.
«No more of that,» Reno said, dragging Eve’s hand back to his flank.
«Don’t you like it?»
«Too damn much,» he admitted. «Save it for next time.»
«Yes, gata. Next time. I may need it then. I sure don’t need it now.»
«I don’t understand.»
Reno moved again within Eve, caressing and stretching her in the same motion.
«If I get any harder,» he said, «it will be over too soon. I want this one to last a long, long time.»
He bent down and put his cheek next to hers. The heat of her skin amazed him.
«Are you blushing?» he asked.
Eve buried her face in his neck and hit his shoulder lightly with her fist.
«How anyone can be so abandoned and yet so shy…» Reno’s voice faded into a soft laugh. «Never mind. You’ll get over it.»
A muffled comment told him that she doubted it.
«Look at me, sugar girl.»
When she shook her head, he gently pried her face from his neck.
«Shy little night-blooming flower,» Reno said, dropping tiny kisses over Eve’s hot face. «If you knew how rare you were, you wouldn’t blush.»
He saw the narrow gleam of Eve’s eyes as she peeked through her lashes at him.
«And you are rare,» he breathed against her lips.
«I’m just a…»
Whatever Eve was going to say was lost in the slow penetration of his tongue until he filled her mouth just as he filled her body. The tiny, throaty cry she gave affected him the way a burning match affects dry straw. He retreated and returned with exquisite control from her body, measuring both of them simultaneously, intimately. Then he withdrew again.
With a ragged sound that was Reno’s name, Eve moved her hips, trying to reclaim him.
«You make me feel like the man who first discovered fire,» Reno said in a low voice, watching her.
He rocked slowly against her, leaving none of her untouched, moving with the deliberate rhythms of a storm that has eternity to gather and break.
«Hurt?» he asked softly.
Her answer was a rippling sigh of pleasure.
«Tell me if I hurt you,» Reno said.
Smoothly he shifted, sliding his arms beneath her knees, bending and lifting her legs, pressing them gently back against her body, moving in slow motion, joining them more deeply than she would have believed possible.
«Eve?» he whispered.
«Dear God,» she said, shivering with pleasure.
As Reno moved, a hot, gentle vise closed around Eve, a burning so soft she knew it only in after-thought. A long, sweet shimmering began to steal through her, making her want to laugh and cry at the same time.
Reno withdrew, taking the sensual pressure with him.
«No,» Eve said.
«I thought I was hurting you.»
«Only when you left.»
She made a low, ragged sound as Reno slowly returned, rocked against her, then retreated as deliberately as he had taken her. The ghostly shimmering returned, delicate currents of fire claiming her softly.
«I think…» Eve whispered.
He moved again, and flames licked gently, stealing her voice.
«What do you think?» he asked.
«I think…a woman…discovered fire,» Eve said. «With you…»
Tender fire leaped, consuming her.
Reno heard the echoes of ecstasy in Eve’s voice, felt it in the rhythmic shivering of her body, and wanted to shout his triumph at the stars.
But he had no breath to shout, for the flames that he had nurtured in her were spreading outward, licking over him in the silken rhythms of her release. He held himself utterly still, fighting against the need to join her. He didn’t want that yet, not before he had plumbed the depths of her ability to respond to him.
The lure of Eve’s body was too great to withstand. When she twisted slowly, repeatedly, against him, Reno felt the world unravel in a series of soft explosions. With her name breaking on his lips, he came undone a single heartbeat at a time, giving himself to her in a long, rippling current of fire.
Eve’s breath caught and sighed out in wonder as she held Reno, savoring the gentle shuddering of his body. For long, sweet minutes, her slender fingers caressed his back and shoulders. The breadth and power of him were obvious even now, when he lay with his head between her breasts, breathing slowly, utterly relaxed.
Smiling, Eve stroked Reno’s back with slow sweeps of her hands, savoring the strength of him and the knowledge that she had never been so close to anyone.
It was more than the fact of their interlocked bodies. She loved Reno as she had never loved anyone in her life.
Eve didn’t know she had spoken her thoughts aloud until Reno lifted his head and turned it from side to side, stroking her breasts with his cheek as he spoke.
«Love is an illusion, sugar girl,» he said. «But passion isn’t.»
She felt the slow drawing of Reno’s tongue over her nipples. With each delicious movement, his body stirred within her, redoubling the effect of his caresses. An answering heat splintered through her, making her breath break audibly.
Reno heard Eve’s response and felt it in the swift rise of her breasts. His laughter was velvety, dark, exultant.
«Passion is very real,» he said, biting delicately at Eve’s taut nipples. «We’re good together, you and I. Hell, we’re better than good. There’s no word for what we have when we’re like this.»
«What do you mean?» she whispered.
«Little innocent,» Reno murmured, drinking the tender shivering of her flesh as his teeth raked lightly. «You don’t even know, do you?»
His hips moved and he drove into her as though he would fuse their bodies into a single seamless whole. A throttled cry and an urgent twisting of her hips answered him. Laughing with sheer pleasure, he twisted against her in turn and listened to his name come from her lips in a rush.
«Yes,» Reno said. «It’s me. Again. But don’t blame me, gata. I’ve never been like this before in my life.»
Another twist, another cry, another sultry wave melting through Eve to lick over Reno, fueling his passionate fire, driving him higher, urging him to drive her higher as well.
Reno moved heavily, sparing Eve nothing of his power. Nor did she ask for less. She moved in urgent counterpoint, meeting strength with fluid grace, hunger with desire, fire with searing fire.
When sweat misted her skin, he bent his head and licked salty drops, bit flesh that strained to become part of him. He seduced her breasts with his teeth and tongue, demanding and receiving a hard bud from each while his hips moved relentlessly, demanding a different kind of flowering.
His hand slid down between their slick, hot bodies until he found the satin bud. He circled, pressed, raked with shattering delicacy.
«What are you…» Eve said brokenly. «Dear God…Reno.»
Pleasure burst in her with the force of a blow, arching her body as fierce currents swept through her, driving her even higher.
Reno held Eve wild and shivering while he moved over and within her relentlessly, riding the fierce passion he had called from her. He punctuated each heavy thrust with a savagely restrained caress that demanded everything of her, plucking at the delicate bud until it began to flower one dark petal at a time.
Eve cried out as her body experienced an ecstasy that had no beginning and no end, shattering her, transforming her. If there had been room in her for fear, she would have been terrified; but there was room only for Reno’s driving body and the dark words of desire and demand he poured over her.
She cried out in abandon, sinking her nails heedlessly into his back as she arched like a drawn bow, succumbing to the sweet violence he had called from her.
Reno’s smile was as untamed as Eve’s cries. He held himself utterly motionless, absorbing her violent trembling into his strength. When she was still once more, he bent his head, drew his teeth over her shoulder in a fierce caress, and began moving inside her again.
Eve gasped as passion ravished her body once more.
«I warned you,» he said in a low voice. «Until we can’t even lick our lips.»
Reno moved powerfully, pulling the night down around them like a cloak of black fire.
And like fire, they burned.