He pulled her to him, his need to hold her in his arms irresistible. Like a bell clanging in his ears he heard his uncle’s warning and cast a look around, satisfying himself there were no peeping toms. The first raindrops fell.
‘Quick, I think it’s only a shower.’ He took her hand in his and led her across the shingle, darting round outcrops of rock, towards the cliff face. There was a hidden cave he knew.
Entering the gloomy interior they ducked their heads. He pulled her down beside him onto a natural shelf. Gently he unfastened the clasp of her hood. Her eyes were so trusting. He shouldn’t do this. But he had to kiss her. There was no going back now. His tongue wanted to go where his finger had, and the roaring in his ears was more powerful than the timeless thump of the waves against the shore.
She seemed to be waiting for him, a tiny smile curving that lush mouth. Almost reverently, Jack put one hand behind her head, his fingers caressing her creamy neck and tilting her face towards his. She was so young and lovely, a girl instinctively acting like a woman, exciting him like no other female had before.
He must be gentle. Difficult, when his need was desperate. ‘May I kiss you? He whispered the question against her lips.
She parted her lips in response. Their mouths met.
Jac closed his eyes, tasting like a man hungry for honey after a long fast. Was this the first time she’d kissed a man? He’d discount childhood sweethearts. Hadn’t we all pretended? He wanted so much to be the first grown man to kiss her now she was a grown woman. Stopped wondering and started to fall in love.
When they broke apart, her eyes were still closed. He dropped a light kiss, first on one eyelid then the other. She opened her eyes again. Their likeness to dark brown velvet perfectly suited her copper locks. He watched in a hazy state of delight as her gaze dropped to his mouth. The tip of her tongue peeped between her lips and the buzz of desire thwacked him between the thighs, robbing him of breath and stealing his reason.
‘Rebecca,’ he said, holding her arms firmly, to create a safe distance. ‘This isn’t wise. You are a precious, beautiful young lady but you come with a price on your head. I’ll walk you back across the beach now. You must go home before your maid comes looking for you.’
‘Biddy knows better than that,’ Rebecca said quickly.
He saw the puzzlement in her eyes. She mustn’t know how much she affected him. He needed to keep that to himself. He’d never taken a virgin and he didn’t intend doing so now, even while he thrummed with longing. He’d better go for a dip in the sea before riding back. Otherwise he’d be tempted to seek out his uncle’s servant girl. Somehow he knew that wasn’t the right remedy for the way he felt.
‘Come on,’ he said, stretching out his hand to draw her hood over her hair. Even that proved dangerous. Brushing his fingers against that silken mass of curls dissolved his bones to jelly. He had to swallow hard. Take a deep breath. Then stand up, stooping to prevent bumping his head on a roof honed by countless high tides.
He heard her following him. Heard her boots crunch upon the wet shingle. Walking a few paces in front, he set off around the headland again. ‘Hurry,’ he urged, calling over his shoulder. ‘Tide’s coming in fast.’
Still she dawdled.
‘I mean it. You can be cut off on the rocks while you’re still trying not to get your feet wet.’
She started running. In the wrong direction. Wavelets splashed beneath his feet, a gentle warning of what was to follow.
He swivelled around and chased after her. His boot caught the edge of a pebble and he cursed, losing his balance, arms wind-milling as he sought to regain it. She was yards ahead of him. He set off again, heartbeat booming in his ears, legs pounding like pistons until he came close enough to grab her and scoop her up. Little minx. Once caught, she relaxed in his arms while he carried her round the headland, the incoming tide threatening not just his knees but his thighs. A whiff of her perfume rocked his senses. A blast of cold water at the junction of his trunk and thighs would be almost welcome.
He slackened his pace.
‘I’m not a child,’ she said, raising her head from his shoulder. ‘Please put me down.’
‘I’m very aware you’re not a child,’ he said. ‘That’s the reason I wanted to get you out of there. Before I did something I’d regret. Don’t play tricks like that ever again, Rebecca.’
Only when they reached firm sand did he lower her gently. She stalked ahead of him. Amused, he followed her. His horse waited patiently at the foot of the cliffs. Rebecca halted as the animal pricked up its ears and trotted forward.
‘Don’t be frightened,’ said Jac. He held out his hand to Sofia as she surged towards him, nostrils flaring, then stopped, waiting for them to approach her.
‘See? She likes you,’ he said. ‘She’d never wish to scare you.’
‘We’re the same colour, she and I.’ Rebecca raised a tentative hand to stroke the side of the mare’s tawny head.