She stared in front of her, picked up the water bottle as
if it held the secret of this mess. “I wanted to go to the
south tower. I don’t know why. My parents had always
forbidden it. But I’d snuck up there once before when I was
a child, following one of the maids. It was full of sharp
things, the things I was never allowed to go near—scissors
and needles, pins, spinning wheels. So many that they
positively glittered. That time the maid turned and saw me
and quickly slammed and locked the door again.
“The night of the ball, I was drawn to return. I was
nineteen and soon to be married. I didn’t want to be a
child, so over-protected that I couldn’t even look at a
pin! And so I went up there, even knowing the door would be
locked. It always was.”
She looked at Joel, almost wondering at the effort of
memory that seemed like yesterday and yet was hazy and
confused. She couldn’t properly explain the compulsion that
had drawn her to the tower. He gazed back steadily, waiting.
“It wasn’t. That’s the funny thing. The door wasn’t locked
at all. When I pushed, it opened immediately and now all
that was there was one solitary spinning wheel. It
glittered too. In fact, it shone so brightly I just had to
touch it, to find out what it felt like. So I walked over
to it. Despite what my parents had always said ever since I
could remember, I knew I was an adult now and nothing as
trivial as a spinning wheel could possibly damage me. I
reached out and touched the spindle.”
“Then what?” Joel prompted when she fell silent.
“I pricked my finger on it.” She lifted the finger,
examining it. “Look.”
He leaned over, taking her hand, and gazed down at the
healed scab on her right forefinger. He smiled and lifted
the finger to his lips, kissing it lightly, briefly.
“You look, Aurora. That’s not a thousand-year-old scab. And
I have to say, none of you looks a thousand years old. I
think you fell up there and hurt your head. It’s quite a
vivid story you’ve concocted for yourself, but with a
doctor’s help, I’m sure your true memories will come back.”
Stricken, she stared at him. “But I want these ones.
They’re all I have. Joel, I want my mother…”
Joel said something beneath his breath and put his arms
around her, drawing her close into his arms. “We’ll find
her,” he promised. “We’ll find everyone you’ve lost,
everyone you need.”
Stunned by his familiarity, she held herself rigid, but
then, suddenly terrified he would let her go, she relaxed
into his solid comfort and let the tears come. Suddenly she
didn’t care if he was a peasant or some strange lord from a
future time that terrified her. She clutched his arms, his
shoulders, as if they were her one salvation, buried her
face in his chest and wept.
He held her in a big, rocking hug, stroking her hair until
the storm had passed. Even then, when she slowly, shame-
facedly, lifted her head, he didn’t let her go. His lips
tugged upward and, in shy response, she let hers follow.
He bent his head and softly kissed her mouth.
At the first touch of his lips, something surged through
her, vital and desperate. It was a brief kiss, less even
than she had shared with Karl the night before the ball
she’d never got to, and yet it changed everything. He drew
back slightly, and she realized he meant it as no more than
comfort. Comforting the child that she wasn’t. She needed…
She didn’t know what she needed, except him.
So she reached up and fastened her mouth to his.
Stunned, Joel let the deranged girl’s sweet, clinging lips
move over his. He should never have kissed her in the first
place. She’d just looked so wounded and vulnerable—and yes,
so damned beautiful—that it had seemed the right thing to
do. It had been impulse, instinct, with the purest
intentions, but even as he did it, part of him was aware
that if she’d been male, old or unattractive, he was
unlikely to have chosen that particular form of comfort.
He put his hand up to her face, meaning to disengage with
gentleness, to explain how he couldn’t possibly take
advantage of someone so emotionally upset right now, but as
he moved his lips to speak, she took it as a sign of
response and sank deeper with a sigh.
Joe’s body acted without permission and from the worst of
intentions. Fire seemed to curl from her lips through his
entire body. His cock, already perked by her beauty, rose
up like a rampant beast in his pants. She was all softness
and passion. Her breasts pressed into his chest. His hands
itched to touch, to caress and tweak. With some superhuman
effort, he prevailed, but he wouldn’t have been human at
all if he’d been able to resist kissing her back.
Hell, it was only a kiss, and whatever the beast in his
pants was demanding, he’d make damned sure it got to be no
more than that. So he opened his mouth wider, taking hers
with him and slid his tongue into her mouth.
She tasted of lemons and vanilla, at once sweet and tangy,
and she smelled delicious too, some heady scent of roses
and sunshine that made him long to bury himself inside her.
Her tongue seemed shocked to encounter his, but after an
instant, it slid along his, and let him suck hers into his
She let out a little moan, twisting in his arms as if she
needed to get closer. Her lips, her whole body seemed to
burn up with a fever of passion, and everything in him
leapt to meet it. His hand closed over the softness of her
silk-covered breast at last, felt the nipple grow under his
palm until he slid his hand downward and caressed it with
his thumb. She moaned again, her breath hot and exciting in
Hot. Fever. Illness. Confusion. For fuck’s sake, Thorne,
what are you doing?
He slid his hand back to her waist, drew his mouth free
with as much gentleness as he could muster.
“Aurora,” he said a little too harshly. “Slow down.”
Confusion clouded the warm passion in her eyes. Then hurt
overlaid them both, and he groaned aloud.
“You don’t like me,” she whispered.
“God, it isn’t that…”
“It must be. You don’t fear my rank, if you even believe in
it. I’m not usually so…immodest, but I’m not stupid. Just
say I disgust you.”
“Disgust me? Aurora, this is how much you disgust me.” He
seized her hand and carried it to the rigid hardness of his
cock to make his point. Perhaps that wasn’t wise under the
circumstances, but he didn’t think best in the grip of
Her eyes widened, but she didn’t pull away in shock.
Neither, fortunately, did she delve inside his pants. Her
fingers moved uncertainly, feeling the outline of his
shaft. He swallowed, maintaining his self-control with
Her face burned. He lifted her hand off his cock and
carried it to his lips for a quick kiss. “That’s how much I
want you, so don’t tempt me anymore. When you’re better,
and if you still want to come, I’d love to take you out to
Even as he said the words, he laughed at himself. He
sounded so pompous and grown up. Which was another matter.
The girl was nineteen and clearly not as experienced as
he’d expected. Yet another reason to back off.
And yet the sneaking thought entered his head that if Vee
had ever felt half so good in his arms, he wouldn’t be this
tormented over the decision he needed to make concerning
their possible future together. She was not yet his
fiancée, not really even his girlfriend, more of a business
partner if anything. He owed Vee nothing, at least not in
emotional terms, and yet even thinking of her now felt like
treachery. Though whether to her or Aurora he wasn’t clear
and didn’t want to be.
Aurora’s gaze fell. She shifted away from him, and
perversely, he wanted her back in his arms.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I just feel so…”
“Needy,” he said ruefully. “Me too, but with considerably
less cause. Come on, eat up. It’ll make you feel better.”