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Joshua walked through the woods, as was his want of late, deep in thought. His mind continued to return to that night in the clearing when his relationship with Catherine had so drastically changed. The passion they’d shared that night nearly drove him insane. He’d almost given in to that passion before she was ready, long before he was ready to face the consequences of becoming intimate with her. It frightened him more than he wanted to admit to himself. Keeping distance between them had been the hardest thing he’d ever endured.
She was in love with him, deeply. Her longing sang to him constantly, making his dilemma all the more difficult. She was waiting for him to declare for her, but every time he attempted to work up the courage to bring her into his confidence, the words refused to come. He berated himself on a nightly basis for his own cowardice. Still, he couldn’t bring himself to face the possibility of her fear, her rejection.
With a heavy sigh, he opened his mind to her, as he had done covertly over the past months, to savor the thoughts and feelings she was unknowingly broadcasting. She was dreaming of him…a passionate dream, judging by its intensity. He paused when his mental compass told him she was not in her bed, as she should have been. No, she was in the clearing, reliving in her dreams the passion he could not himself dismiss.
In the space of a heartbeat, he was there. He knelt beside her, laid a hand gently on her arm and felt her trembling sigh. “Catherine,” he whispered. She mumbled softly, but didn’t wake. He shook her gently and called her name again, bringing her out of her dream with a start. “Are you all right?” he asked softly, helping her to her feet.
She busied herself with brushing off her dress, too flustered and embarrassed to do little more than nod. “Guess I fell asleep. What time is it?”
“It’s after two in the morning. What are you doing out here alone?”
“I was thinking about us,” she told him shyly.
“Oh?” He gently lifted her face and studied her. He saw the longing in her eyes, the uncertainty. She nodded again and reached up to smooth a strand of hair from his eyes. When her fingers brushed his ear, he caught her hand and pressed her knuckles to his lips. He pulled her into his arms and held her tightly against him while his own feelings waged a war within him. When she raised her face to his, his lips found hers of their own accord. He couldn’t give her the tender kisses he’d held himself to. Instead, all the feelings he’d held tightly at bay broke free of their bonds. She returned his kisses hungrily and clung to him as if she were drowning.
He wanted her. God help him, he did. He sensed her passion rising, and when he realized she intended to let him take her as far as he would go, his tenuous control nearly snapped. She touched her tongue to his lips in a tentative gesture, igniting his passion into a raging storm that demanded answer. He took possession of her mouth, drank in her sweet, warm depths until her knees weakened. In another moment, he’d have her on the ground, exploring every inch of her, making her his own. It was only with the greatest difficulty that he managed to stop before he did just that. He pulled her tightly against him and held her while he did his best to bring his mutinous body back in line. “Oh, Catherine,” he said at last, his voice strained.
She trembled with frustration and need. “Joshua…” Her voice sounded like a sob. She tried to push away, but he held her more firmly. “Joshua, I…”
He pressed his fingers against her lips so suddenly it took her by surprise. “No, love. Be still.” When her sobs started bubbling their way to the surface, he stroked her hair and tried hard to soothe her. “I know how you feel,” he said softly. “I know what you want. We mustn’t. Not yet.”
She pushed against him until he reluctantly allowed her to leave his arms. The look on her face spoke to him of the pain and frustration in her heart. “I’m in love with you.” Her statement sounded like a desperate challenge.
He felt a lump growing in his throat. “Aye.”
“You…you love me too.”
“More than I can tell you.”
“I know you want me as much as I want you.”
“So much so it’s killing me,” he confirmed, his voice growing thick with anguish.
He turned from her, unable to face the strength of her pain for another moment. “There are things you need to know first. Things I haven’t been ready to tell you. Things that…” he paused to swallow the lump in his throat, “things that may frighten you.”
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