Heartbreaker by Linda Howard

  “Why are we stopping?”

  “Because you’re cold.” He shrugged out of his suit jacket and draped it around her, enveloping her in the transferred heat and the smell of his body. “We’re almost two hours from home, so why don’t you take a nap? That wine’s getting to you, isn’t it?”

  “Mmm.” The sound of agreement was distinctly drowsy. John touched her cheek gently, watching as her eyelids closed, as if her lashes were too heavy for her to hold them open a moment longer. Let her sleep, he thought. She’d be recovered from the wine by the time they got home. His loins tightened. He wanted her awake and responsive when he took her to bed. There was no way he was going to sleep alone tonight. All day long he’d been fighting the need to touch her, to feel her lying against him. For ten years she’d been in his mind, and he wanted her. As difficult and spoiled as she was, he wanted her. Now he understood what made men want to pamper her, probably from the day she’d been placed in her cradle. He’d just taken his place in line, and for his reward he’d have her in his bed, her slim, silky body open for his pleasure. He knew she wanted him; she was resisting him for some reason he couldn’t decipher, perhaps only a woman’s instinctive hesitance.

  Michelle usually didn’t sleep well. Her slumber was frequently disturbed by dreams, and she hadn’t been able to nap with even her father anywhere nearby. Her subconscious refused to relax if any man was in the vicinity. Roger had once attacked her in the middle of the night, when she’d been soundly asleep, and the trauma of being jerked from a deep, peaceful sleep into a nightmare of violence had in some ways been worse than the pain. Now, just before she slept, she realized with faint surprise that the old uneasiness wasn’t there tonight. Perhaps the time had come to heal that particular hurt, too, or perhaps it was that she felt so unutterably safe with John. His coat warmed her; his nearness surrounded her. He had touched her in passion and in anger, but his touch had never brought pain. He tempered his great strength to handle a woman’s softness, and she slept, secure in the instinctive knowledge that she was safe.

  His deep, dark-velvet voice woke her. “We’re home, honey. Put your arms around my neck.”

  She opened her eyes to see him leaning in the open door of the car, and she gave him a sleepy smile. “I slept all the way, didn’t I?”

  “Like a baby.” He brushed her mouth with his, a brief, warm caress; then his arms slid behind her neck and under her thighs. She gasped as he lifted her, grabbing him around the neck as he’d instructed. It was still raining, but his coat kept most of the dampness from her as he closed the car door and carried her swiftly through the darkness.

  “I’m awake now; I could’ve walked,” she protested, her heart beginning a slow, heavy thumping as she responded to his nearness. He carried her so easily, leaping up the steps to the porch as if she weighed no more than a child.

  “I know,” he murmured, lifting her a little so he could bury his face in the curve of her neck. Gently he nuzzled her jaw, drinking in the sweet, warm fragrance of her skin. “Mmm, you smell good. Are you clear from the wine yet?”

  The caress was so tender that it completely failed to alarm her. Rather, she felt coddled, and the feeling of utter safety persisted. He shifted her in his arms to open the door, then turned sideways to carry her through. Had he thought she was drunk? “I was just sleepy, not tipsy,” she clarified.

  “Good,” he whispered, pushing the door closed and blocking out the sound of the light rain, enveloping them in the dark silence of the house. She couldn’t see anything, but he was warm and solid against her, and it didn’t matter that she couldn’t see. Then his mouth was on hers, greedy and demanding, convincing her lips to open and accept the shape of his, accept the inward thrust of his tongue. He kissed her with burning male hunger, as if he wanted to draw all the sweetness and breath out of her to make it his own, as if the need was riding him so hard that he couldn’t get close enough. She couldn’t help responding to that need, clinging to him and kissing him back with a sudden wildness, because the very rawness of his male hunger called out to everything in her that was female and ignited her own fires.

  He hit the light switch with his elbow, throwing on the foyer light and illuminating the stairs to the right. He lifted his mouth briefly, and she stared up at him in the dim light, her senses jolting at the hard, grim expression on his face, the way his skin had tightened across his cheekbones. “I’m staying here tonight,” he muttered harshly, starting up the stairs with her still in his arms. “This has been put off long enough.”

  He wasn’t going to stop; she could see it in his face. She didn’t want him to stop. Every pore in her body cried out for him, drowning out the small voice of caution that warned against getting involved with a heartbreaker like John Rafferty. Maybe it had been a useless struggle anyway; it had always been between them, this burning hunger that now flared out of control.

  His mouth caught hers again as he carried her up the stairs, his muscle-corded arms holding her weight easily. Michelle yielded to the kiss, sinking against him. Her blood was singing through her veins, heating her, making her breasts harden with the need for his touch. An empty ache made her whimper, because it was an ache that only he could fill.

  He’d been in the house a lot over the years, so the location of her room was no mystery to him. He carried her inside and laid her on the bed, following her down to press her into the mattress with his full weight. Michelle almost cried out from the intense pleasure of feeling him cover her with his body. His arm stretched over her head, and he snapped on one of the bedside lamps; he looked at her, and his black eyes filled with masculine satisfaction as he saw the glaze of passion in her slumberous eyes, the trembling of her pouty, kiss-stung lips.

  Slowly, deliberately, he levered his knee between hers and spread her legs, then settled his hips into the cradle formed by her thighs. She inhaled sharply as she felt his hardness through the layers of their clothing. Their eyes met, and she knew he’d known before the day even began that he would end it in her bed. He was tired of waiting, and he was going to have her. He’d been patient all day, gentling her by letting her get accustomed to his presence, but now his patience was at an end, and he knew she had no resistance left to offer him. All she had was need.

  “You’re mine.” He stated his possession baldly, his voice rough and low. He raised his weight on one elbow, and with his free hand unbuttoned the two buttons at her waist, spreading the dress open with the deliberate air of a man unwrapping a gift he’d wanted for a long time. The silk caught at her hips, pinned by his own weight. He lifted his hips and pushed the edges of the dress open, baring her legs, then resettled himself against her.

  He felt as if his entire body would explode as he looked at her. She had worn neither bra nor slip; the silk dress was lined, hiding from him all day the fact that the only things she had on beneath that wisp of fabric were her panty hose and a minute scrap of lace masquerading as panties. If he’d known that her breasts were bare under her dress, there was no way he could have kept himself from pulling those lapels apart and touching, tasting, nor could he stop himself now. Her breasts were high and round, the skin satiny, her coral-colored nipples small and already tightly beaded. With a rough sound he bent his head and sucked strongly at her, drawing her nipple into his mouth and molding his lips to that creamy, satiny flesh. He cupped her other breast in his hand, gently kneading it and rubbing the nipple with his thumb. A high, gasping cry tore from her throat, and she arched against his mouth, her hands digging into his dark hair to press his head into her. Her breasts were so firm they were almost hard, and the firmness excited him even more. He had to taste the other one, surround himself with the sweet headiness of her scent and skin.

  Slowly Michelle twisted beneath him, plucking now at the back of his shirt in an effort to get rid of the fabric between them. She needed to feel the heat and power of his bare skin under her hands, against her body, but his mouth on h
er breasts was driving her mad with pleasure, and she couldn’t control herself enough to strip the shirt away. Every stroke of his tongue sent wildfire running along her nerves, from her nipples to her loins, and she was helpless to do anything but feel.

  Then he left her, rising up on his knees to tear at his shirt and throw it aside. His shoes, socks, pants and underwear followed, flung blindly away from the bed, and he knelt naked between her spread thighs. He stripped her panty hose and panties away, leaving her open and vulnerable to his penetration.

  For the first time, she felt fear. It had been so long for her, and sex hadn’t been good in her marriage anyway. John leaned over her, spreading her legs further, and she felt the first shock of his naked flesh as he positioned himself for entry. He was so big, his muscled body dominating her smaller, softer one completely. She knew from harsh experience how helpless a woman was against a man’s much greater strength; John was stronger than most, bigger than most, and he was intent on the sexual act as males have been from the beginning of time. He was quintessentially male, the sum and substance of masculine aggression and sexuality. Panic welled in her, and her slim, delicate hand pressed against him, her fingers sliding into the curling dark hair that covered his chest. The black edges of fear were coming closer.

  Her voice was thready, begging for reassurance. “John? Don’t hurt me, please.”

  He froze, braced over her on the threshold of entry. Her warm, sweet body beckoned him, moistly ready for him, but her eyes were pleading. Did she expect pain? Good God, who could have hurt her? The seeds of fury formed deep in his mind, shunted aside for now by the screaming urges of his body. For now, he had to have her. “No, baby,” he said gently, his dark voice so warm with tenderness that the fear in her eyes faded. “I won’t hurt you.”

  He slid one arm under her, leaning on that elbow and raising her so her nipples were buried in the hair on his chest. Again he heard that small intake of breath from her, an unconscious sound of pleasure. Their eyes locked, hers misty and soft, his like black fire, as he tightened his buttocks and very slowly, very carefully, began to enter her.

  Michelle shuddered as great ripples of pleasure washed through her, and her legs climbed his to wrap around his hips. A soft, wild cry tore from her throat, and she shoved her hand against her mouth to stifle the sound. Still his black eyes burned down at her. “No,” he whispered. “Take your hand away. I want to hear you, baby. Let me hear how good it feels to you.”

  Still there was that slow, burning push deep into her, her flesh quivering as she tried to accommodate him. Panic seized her again. “Stop! John, please, no more! You’re…I can’t…”

  “Shh, shh,” he soothed, kissing her mouth, her eyes, nibbling at the velvety lobes of her ears. “It’s okay, baby, don’t worry. I won’t hurt you.” He continued soothing her with kisses and soft murmurs, and though every instinct in him screamed to bury himself in her to the hilt, he clamped down on those urges with iron control. There was no way he was going to hurt her, not with the fear he’d seen in the misty green depths of her eyes. She was so delicate and silky, and so tight around him that he could feel the gentle pulsations of adjustment. His eyes closed as pure pleasure shuddered through him.

  She was aroused, but not enough. He set about exciting her with all the sensual skill he possessed, holding her mouth with deep kisses while his hands gently stroked her, and he began moving slowly inside her. So slow, holding himself back, keeping his strokes shallow even though every movement wrung new degrees of ecstasy from him. He wanted her mindless with need.

  Michelle felt her control slipping away by degrees, and she didn’t care. Control didn’t matter, nothing mattered but the heat that was consuming her body and mind, building until all sense of self was gone and she was nothing but a female body, twisting and surging beneath the overpowering male. A powerful tension had her in its grip, tightening, combining with the heat as it swept her inexorably along. She was burning alive, writhing helplessly, wild little pleading sobs welling up and escaping. John took them into his own mouth, then put his hand between their bodies, stroking her. She trembled for a moment on the crest of a great wave; then she was submerged in exploding sensation. He held her safely, her heaving body locked in his arms while he thrust deeply, giving her all the pleasure he could.

  When it was over she was limp and sobbing, drenched with both her sweat and his. “I didn’t know,” she said brokenly, and tears tracked down her face. He murmured to her, holding her tightly for a moment, but he was deep inside her now, and he couldn’t hold back any longer. Sliding his hands beneath her hips, he lifted her up to receive his deep, powerful thrusts.

  Now it was she who held him, cradling him in her body and with her arms tight around him; he cried out, a deep, hoarse sound, blind and insensible to everything but the great, flooding force of his pleasure.

  It was quiet for a long time afterward. John lay on top of her, so sated and relaxed that he couldn’t tolerate the idea of moving, of separating his flesh from hers. It wasn’t until she stirred, gasping a little for breath, that he raised himself on his elbows and looked down at her.

  Intense satisfaction, mingled with both gentleness and a certain male arrogance, was written on his face as he leaned above her. He smoothed her tangled hair back from her face, stroking her cheeks with his fingers. She looked pale and exhausted, but it was the sensuous exhaustion of a woman who has been thoroughly satisfied by her lover. He traced the shape of her elegant cheekbones with his lips, his tongue dipping out to sneak tastes that sent little ripples of arousal through him again.

  Then he lifted his head again, curiosity burning in his eyes. “You’ve never enjoyed it before, have you?”

  A quick flush burned her cheeks, and she turned her head on the pillow, staring fixedly at the lamp. “I suppose that does wonders for your ego.”

  She was withdrawing from him, and that was the last thing he wanted. He decided to drop the subject for the time being, but there were still a lot of questions that he intended to have answered. Right now she was in his arms, warm and weak from his lovemaking, just the way he was going to keep her until she became used to his possession and accepted it as fact.

  She was his now.

  He’d take care of her, even spoil her. Why not? She was made to be pampered and indulged, at least up to a point. She’d been putting up a good fight to work this ranch, and he liked her guts, but she wasn’t cut out for that type of life. Once she realized that she didn’t have to fight anymore, that he was going to take care of her, she’d settle down and accept it as the natural order of things.

  He didn’t have money to waste on fancy trips, or to drape her in jewels, but he could keep her in comfort and security. Not only that, he could guarantee that the sheets on their bed would stay hot. Even now, so soon after having her, he felt the hunger and need returning.

  Without a word he began again, drawing her down with him into a dark whirlpool of desire and satisfaction. Michelle’s eyes drifted shut, her body arching in his arms. She had known instinctively, years ago, that it would be like this, that even her identity would be swamped with the force of his passion. In his arms she lost herself and became only his woman.

  Chapter Five

  MICHELLE WOKE EARLY, just as the first gray light of dawn was creeping into the room. The little sleep she’d gotten had been deep and dreamless for a change, but she was used to sleeping alone; the unaccustomed presence of a man in her bed had finally nudged her awake. A stricken look edged into her eyes as she looked over at him, sprawled on his stomach with one arm curled under the pillow and the other arm draped across her naked body.

  How easy she’d been for him. The knowledge ate at her as she gingerly slipped from the bed, taking care not to wake him. He might sleep for hours yet; he certainly hadn’t had much sleep during the night.

  Her legs trembled as she stood, the soreness in her thighs and deep in her
body providing yet another reminder of the past night, as if she needed any further confirmation of her memory. Four times. He’d taken her four times, and each time it had seemed as if the pleasure intensified. Even now she couldn’t believe how her body had responded to him, soaring wildly out of her control. But he’d controlled himself, and her, holding her to the rhythm he set in order to prolong their lovemaking. Now she knew that all the talk about him hadn’t been exaggerated; both his virility and his skill had been, if anything, underrated.

  Somehow she had to come to terms with the unpleasant fact that she had allowed herself to become the latest of his one-night stands. The hardest fact to face wasn’t that she’d been so easily seduced, but her own piercing regret that such ecstasy wouldn’t last. Oh, he might come back…but he wouldn’t stay. In time he’d become bored with her and turn his predatory gaze on some other woman just as he always had before.

  And she’d go on loving him, just as she had before.

  Quietly she got clean underwear from the dresser and her bathrobe from the adjoining bath, but she went to the bathroom down the hall to take a shower. She didn’t want the sound of running water to awaken him. Right now she needed time to herself, time to gather her composure before she faced him again. She didn’t know what to say, how to act.

  The stinging hot water eased some of the soreness from her muscles, though a remaining ache reminded her of John’s strength with every step she took. After showering she went down to the kitchen and started brewing a fresh pot of coffee. She was leaning against the cabinets, watching the dark brew drip into the pot, when the sound of motors caught her attention. Turning to look out the window, she saw the two pickup trucks from John’s ranch pull into the yard. The same men who had been there the day before got out; one noticed John’s car parked in front of the house and poked his buddy in the ribs, pointing. Even from that distance Michelle could hear the muffled male laughter, and she didn’t need any help imagining their comments. The boss had scored again. It would be all over the county within twenty-four hours. In the manner of men everywhere, they were both proud and slightly envious of their boss’s sexual escapades, and they’d tell the tale over and over again.

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