Emma glanced once more behind her. She could still make out the rock face that hid the entrance to the caves. As she watched, a stream of flying creatures rose into the air, dark shapes against the violet tinged sky. Bats! Leaving now for their nightly hunt.
They were a frequent sight on summer evenings at home, and the glimpse of them flitting against the Italian sky was strangely comforting, bringing a link of familiarity to this foreign world.
The air was now much cooler and she wrapped the shawl over her head. Thank goodness she still had that and her wooden shoes, although they hurt like blazes. She’d keep them on until she found grass and could walk barefoot.
She scrambled down the path, clutching at bushes as she passed, sending small stones scattering under her feet as she slid a few yards at a time.
After what seemed a long time she landed on a flat outcrop and took stock. No sound of pursuit. Maybe Marco and his followers had decided not to come after her. Either that or they felt sure she wouldn’t get far and they would easily find her in the morning. The sun had dipped behind the hills and the last vestige of light was fading fast. The bats were no longer visible. She steeled herself against a flash of doubt about the wisdom of running just before nightfall.
Telling herself that she was well ahead of any followers, she looked for the continuation of the track. The sooner she could negotiate the steep slope the better. Then she could lie low for a couple of hours and rest until dawn.
When she could barely see her hand in front of her, she found a space big enough to lie down under a scrubby tree in a shallow hollow a few feet off the track. She thrust aside the biggest stones, making enough room for her body, and wrapped herself tightly in her shawl. The chill in the mountain air without the warmth of the sun made her shiver as she curled into a ball.
Sleep would be impossible, but she closed her eyes, knowing she needed rest. Somewhere on this path down to the valley she would find some kind of habitation and be able to contact the authorities to send a message home. The image of Marco filled her mind, of the possibility of him stalking her through the night. If she escaped, she would never see him again.
She had bedded many men, but none had called to her like the man who had kidnapped her. By rights she should be angry, should detest him, should be thankful she had escaped his imprisonment. But there was a lingering regret that she had to leave him to gain her freedom.
She was still not sure what it was he feared, what drove him to such secrecy. He’d mentioned Blackshirts. She had a vague recollection of newsreel film of men marching in dark uniforms. Arms uplifted in salute, polished boots moving in cadence, cheering crowds.
Other shots showed graves, police violently repulsing rioters. She wished she’d paid more attention. It had all seemed so far away. When she’d found out that Johnny Westmarland was working for MI5 he’d enlightened her about what was going on in Germany. He hadn’t mentioned Italy. Was it the same?
She had no desire to bring violence to the caves. If the Blackshirts were Marco’s enemy, at least she could refrain from leading his enemies to him. She was quite capable of telling a good enough story, without mentioning Marco and his hidden mountain village.
Through the mist of sleep that began to cloud her brain, her thoughts wandered back again to Johnny and Gillian and the fiasco at the Ellersbys’ country house. As far as Emma had been concerned, the house party had been an opportunity for a sexual romp; she’d had no idea of the undercurrents. Johnny had been shadowing German spies, and Gillian had helped him get to the bottom of the betrayal of state secrets.
In the process they’d fallen in love. They’d been completely besotted with each other after the dust settled. Emma had received a good scare when taciturn men in grey suits had questioned her for hours about her presence at the house party, but in truth, Johnny and Gillian were the major reason why she’d decided to change her ways. For the first time she’d seen two people totally in love, totally absorbed in each other to the exclusion of everything else, and she’d been envious. Sex and love, now there was an exciting combination! She might have to settle for a marriage without love eventually, because there had to be an heir to the Houndsdale holdings, but she clung to the very small hope that she might find what Gillian Christie had found in Johnny Westmarland.
Her last drifting thoughts were of the feel of Marco’s hands on her, the pressure of his mouth…
Marco’s eyes quickly grew accustomed to the night after the torchlight of the caves, and he easily made out the shapes of rocks and small trees as he followed the path downward, scanning everywhere for a sign of her passing.
He sensed her before he saw her, the hairs on the back of his neck announcing her nearness. He paused and made out the dark form bundled under a tree in a small hollow. He watched for a moment then, when there was no movement from her, he stepped off the track and crept toward her hiding place.
Once close, he bent over her. She had wrapped the shawl tightly over her head and her legs were curled close to her body. The sight of her lying helpless in the darkness sent his brain reeling. No amount of reason could prevent his immediate physical response to her. Heat flooded him and he felt the tightening in his groin.
She had to be exhausted to sleep so well in the cold. He glanced to the east. No glimmer of dawn as yet. The lack of light would make the immediate return to the caves a slow and dangerous process. There would be no movement on the slopes by anyone for a few hours yet. The temptation to steal a few minutes of delight was irresistible. He slid into the hollow in the earth and folded himself around her. He spread the blanket to cover her legs. His chest made a firm wall against her back and his breath fanned her cheek. He let his hands rest on her ribs.
Then pure instinct took over. At the feel of her his balls tightened and his heart began to pound. His cock swelled, jammed tight against the curve of her ass. It felt good pressed against the length of her, far too good.
Something about this woman triggered a terrible kind of lunacy within him. Raw need ricocheted through him. Ever since she’d returned his kiss on the path into the hills, nothing would do but for him to touch her again. And to demand more than a touch and a kiss.
He moved the shawl aside from her head and nuzzled the sweet, warm hollow of her neck. He breathed in the heady scent of her skin, and she stirred as his lips trailed along the thin line of her collarbone.
“Bella donna, be still.” He whispered in her ear and tightened his hold, his legs molded against hers as they lay fitted together like spoons.
For a moment her body stiffened and resisted him. “What the-”
“Shush, Emma.” He brushed his lips against her exposed nape where her hair had been.
“Marco?” He felt some of the tension leave her. “You found me. I suppose it was pretty hopeless to think I could make it all the way down.” She sighed. “I was dreaming that Catherine had put a warming pan in my bed. I was so cold.” She pressed against him.
Instead of an answer he snaked his arms under her shawl and his hands crept over her, under the material of her tunic, and found her breasts, cupping the tender mounds, kneading them before seeking her nipples. He held each one between gentle fingers, savoring the way they puckered and hardened at his touch. Then he tugged, making her moan low in her throat and press harder against him. A tremor rippled though him as her response to his touch stoked the fire in his belly.
“I shouldn’t be doing this,” she whispered, but she made no move to break away.
He kissed her neck again, but that wasn’t nearly enough. He wanted to taste all of her. Less than a breath later he turned her toward him, bringing her body flush against his. He pressed his lips to hers, deepening the kiss as she clung to him, the softness of her mouth an irresistible promise of the rest of her body that he ached to possess. Thrusting his tongue into her, he took her breath, still stroking and plucking at her breasts with his fingers, tugging gently to make her arch her back and utter a tiny cry. His teeth found her earlobe and nipped at it as he continued to tease her nipples and thrust his cock harder against her.
He wanted her naked, wanted her smooth, silky skin under his fingers, her slender length fitted against him. He lifted the hem of her tunic and to his delight she raised up to help him pull it over her head. In the faint light her breasts shone with a pearly sheen, the nipples dark and tempting as ripe fruit. He grasped her waist, holding her firm, took one breast between his lips and sucked, drawing it deep into his mouth. She gave a cry and arched her back again, making him pull harder.
His touch grew stronger as she began to writhe, and he tweaked the pebbly tips one after the other, tugging, biting, letting go, maintaining the rhythm of thrust and pull until she moaned helpless in his arms.
Her hands moved on his arms and shoulders until she found the opening where his shirt gaped wide and pressed her palms flat against his chest, stroking around his ribs, touching his nipples. The fire in his belly shot upward and he groaned in his throat.
He forced her down again and kissed her cool flesh once more, teasing each nipple with the tip of his tongue, feeling her movements grow wilder as her limbs trembled beneath him. His hands were hot and hard against her bare skin, making her quiver, skimming her rib cage, inching upward. He pressed his mouth against hers, thrusting his tongue deep into her, still stroking and nipping at her breasts.
She didn’t stop him from pulling impatiently at the drawstring of her skirt and, when it was loosened, dragging it from her, exposing her legs and the dark patch at the meeting of her thighs. He feasted his eyes on the length of her and drew his fingertips down from the peak of one breast, over her ribs, to hover over the curls hiding the treasure of her cunt.
“You like that?” she whispered.
“More than I can say.” His voice was tight in his throat.
Her eyes glittered in the starlight as she lay still under his gaze, the rise and fall of her chest matching the pounding of her heart he had felt moments before. She watched him unfasten his trousers and kick them aside, drawing in her breath when his cock sprang free. He knelt over her and she stretched out her hand to touch him.
He was going to explode if he couldn’t do it now. She’d driven him mad with this constant craving since he’d first laid eyes on her. He’d lose what remained of his mind if he couldn’t join with her now
He had to have her.
“Dio!” He closed his eyes as he allowed her to hold him in her curved fingers for just a moment. She lifted her shoulders so her lips met the tip of his quivering cock and explored the cleft with her probing tongue. He had thought his balls were as hard and tight as they could possibly be, but they swelled even more as she teased him with her wicked tongue.
He pressed her down again, making her release him and dropped kisses on the curve of her breasts, laving the sensitive peaks, coaxing her to toss and moan. He loved torturing her, postponing the release they both craved. She trembled at every touch and reached for him again. Moving away from her grasping hands, he slid lower, tickling her navel with his tongue. He slipped his hands under her, cradling the cheeks of her ass, tilting her hips.
She clawed at the ground, then buried her fingers in his hair, pulling his mouth against her. He lifted his face.
“Can you feel it between your legs?” he murmured in her ear.
She squirmed under him, held fast by his body. “You know I can.” The sound of her voice was barley audible over the rustle of the leaves on the bushes around them.
“Tell me what you want.”
“You know what I want.” She groaned. “I want you to fill me.”
“All in good time, bella donna, my lovely lady. Open for me.”
Even had she wished to, Emma was powerless to refuse him.
He squeezed the soft flesh of her backside as she let her legs fall apart. Magnifico. He stroked her inner thighs, murmuring to her, reveling in the power he had to give her pleasure. He lost all thought of what had happened, what was to happen and lived only for the feel of her, for her cries of delight.
He moved lower to rain tiny kisses on her flat stomach, knowing from her groans and the lifting of her hips what it was doing to her. Then he moved lower still, burying his face in the curls between her legs. He heard the sharp intake of her breath as he tongued the soft flesh. She grasped his head between her palms and held him close to her.
“More,” she begged.
He lifted his mouth from nuzzling her.
“How wet are you?”
“Find out. Put your hand there.”
His fingers found the warm wetness between her legs and she whispered, “Yes,” as he explored her delicate folds. He thrust one finger inside her, then two. His thumb massaged the sensitive bud of her clitoris, making her cry out again.
“Please,” she begged.
At last he rose above her and guided his cock toward the softness between her legs, anticipating the tightness of her sheath as he slid inside. The tip of his penis nudged the opening to her cunt and with a long, low groan he filled her at last.
With a sense of fulfillment Emma took him into her body, allowing him to seek her lips, joining their bodies in every possible way. She clutched his hips, pressing him as far inside her as his tongue was deep in her mouth, shuddering and sighing as his engorged cock stretched her and thrust harder. He felt so good inside her, so hard, so right.
The calluses on his palms continued to rub her sensitive areolas, sending shards of sweet agony down into her abdomen, setting her vulva on fire. The ache, relieved for a moment by the feel of him inside her, began to grow again as he drove against her swollen clit. The surge between her legs swelled and churned its way up through her belly until her whole body convulsed, and in desperation she clung to him as hard as she had clung to the piece of driftwood in the sea barely two days before. His own climax broke a mere fraction of time after hers, and she heard his triumphant shout as the hot spurt of his semen caressed the mouth of her womb.
Her body trembled and quivered still after the waves of the storm had washed through her. He held her until she sagged in his arms.
When she stilled, he slid from her and pulled the blanket over them both. He cradled her and kissed her gently, brushing back wisps of her hair with one hand.
After a moment he reached into the pile of clothing for the leather gourd that had hung from a clasp at his waist and undid the top. “Here,” he said, holding it to her lips. “Drink.”
In the gray light of predawn, she let the water run into her open mouth and over her lips. It fell in a gentle cascade down her dry throat. Some drops dribbled down her chin, and fell on the valley above her breasts. He bent his head to catch them with his tongue.
With her fingertips she touched a tiny cut on his lower lip where her teeth had pressed into him, drawing blood. He propped himself on one elbow and looked at her.
“I would like to be naked with you forever,” he said. “But we must dress, bella donna.”
Quickly they scrambled into their clothes. Her skin felt chilled after the heat of passion and she was glad to cover herself. If they were in one of the vast feather beds at home, they would not bother with clothes and would never leave the room. They would be warm and comfortable, pleasuring each other until they both were exhausted. They would sleep in each other’s arms and then start all over again…
His hair had broken loose from the thong that tied it back, framing his face.
Stretching out her hand to touch it she smiled. “Your hair is longer than mine now.”
She saw him flinch and shiver as she touched his shoulder and then his lips. He turned his head to kiss her fingers and desire flamed in her again. His greedy gaze slid over her breasts, down to her hips, to her legs. She could feel the heat in his devouring scrutiny, right through her clothing. She swallowed hard and closed her eyes.
Marco had caught her. His prisoner.
She winced at the foolishness of ever considering bartering her body for freedom. She burned with desire for this man as he did for her, and their bodies had come together at last to assuage the fire. They would do so again because she knew instinctively that the bond between would strengthen with every hour they spent together. The question was how and when.
Facing him, she trailed her hand down his chest, then farther, until it met the bulge in his trousers. She stroked the protrusion.
He closed his eyes and sucked in his breath, biting his lower lip.
A clatter of small stones tumbling down the slope halted Emma’s hand, poised above his thighs. Marco spun around and looked up.
Giovanni appeared above them and paused for the fraction of a second before leaping down beside them. Emma backed up a step, alarmed by the scowl that twisted his features.
Marco and Giovanni spoke in staccato sentences that shot from their mouths like gun fire. She read the tension and anger in their stiff shoulders and furious gestures. Impossible to follow the words, but easy to grasp the obvious hostility.
At last Giovanni took a step toward her, pushing past Marco, who tried to hold him off.
“Basta!” Marco shouted. Then, in English, “Emma, please come here.”
On shaky legs she stepped closer to him. He took her hand and spoke more calmly to Giovanni. Whatever he said seemed to reassure the other man, who nodded and gave a kind of salute, taking a step back.
Marco let out his breath and turned to Emma. “Escaping from our stronghold is very serious,” he said. “Giovanni is my second-in-command and he is justifiably angry. Looking for you has taken me away from my people at a very important time for us.”
Giovanni started to speak, but Marco silenced him with a gesture. “He is correct. In his eyes you are not to be trusted and must be watched closely. In addition, our people have to see that we deal strictly with anyone who threatens us.”
Emma stared at him. This imperious man with the somber expression bore little resemblance to the man who had just brought her to orgasm.
“I’m no threat to you.”
He took a rope from Giovanni. “I have no choice, bella donna.” He took hold of her arm.
Good God, not again! How many times had they tied her up for one reason or another? She lifted her hand, signaling him to stop. He paused, rope in hand.
“I’ll go with you,” she said. “There’s no need to truss me up again.”
Before Marco could reply, Giovanni spat out a few words, stepped forward and lifted her, slinging her over his shoulder like a sack. Enraged at the humiliating position, she struggled to kick out at him, but his arms held her legs in an iron grip. She beat her fists against his back to no avail. He climbed the small slope in three strides, then let her slide unceremoniously to the ground. A horse stood waiting, barebacked, no more than fourteen hands high, tethered to a stunted tree.
Marco followed. “Can you ride?” he asked. She looked up at him from the dirt where she’d landed.
“Of course I can bloody well ride.” She struggled to sit amid the tangle of her skirt.
“I thought that would be the case.” He reached down and hauled her to her feet, while Giovanni untied the horse. “Giovanni wants to tie you across the back of the horse, but I said you should ride upright.” He led her toward the animal.
“He doesn’t agree with me,” he added in a low voice, “so please do not try to run.”
“Aren’t you the one in charge? I won’t have him manhandle me again.”
Marco’s chin lifted. His cheekbones flushed, but with anger or embarrassment she could not tell. “Of course I am in charge, but Giovanni takes his responsibilities seriously. I must often be away and I need him. I do not wish to make the people choose between us. Especially right now.”
Again, the mysterious reference to some special circumstances. “Well, if you told me what’s going on, I might be more willing to cooperate.”
Marco sighed, and shook his head, but before he could answer, Giovanni spat on the ground at her feet and muttered angry words. Marco silenced him with a sharp retort. The other man looked ready to pick her up again, and she pulled back, repelled by the thought of his rough touch. Marco shouldered him aside, and she quickly bent over to seize the hem at the back of her skirt, pulling the material up between her legs, making rough breeches. “Give me a boost,” she ordered Marco.
He cupped his hands for her foot and she rose easily, slinging her other leg over the animal’s back. His hand lingered on her ankle, warm against her skin. She settled her behind more comfortably and looked down at the two men.
“Tie her,” Giovanni said in English. “The people must see.”
“No,” Marco said. “We will hold the reins, one on each side.”
He looked into her eyes, and she read pain and distress in his face. A muscle tightened along his jaw and his lips were clamped in a hard line. He had defended her and was still her best hope to get away. In her own interest she had to support him and not provoke strife. She held out her hands to him, wrists joined. “Do it, if it will satisfy him.” She shrugged. “I’ll break my neck if I try to get off a moving horse with my hands tied.”
The spark of gratitude in his eyes warmed her heart, and she felt a wave of satisfaction at having helped him save face. He looked down and wound the rope loosely around her wrists. When he’d finished, he kept one hand on hers and raised his eyes. His gaze held hers, seeming to want to memorize every detail of her face. The warmth of his fingers spread through her. She could recognize lustfulness when she saw it and knew he was recalling what had happened between them. The realization sent an answering thrill through her. He had shown her that he could drive her wild with pleasure and desire how and when he chose, and there was little she could do about it. In her situation she should have no room in her head for erotic fantasies, but her body had betrayed her. As it would betray her again whenever he touched her. Without a word he dropped his gaze and moved away.
She let out her breath and twined her fingers in the animal’s thick mane. Giovanni seized the halter rope.