Byrne handed her a glass of chilled wine and she
took a sip to steady her nerves, and then she smiled at him serenely. “You’ll
probably win the prize for the best male mask.”
He made a light, scoffing sound. “If they choose
me, it will only because they’re trying to cheer me up.”
“Do you need cheering up?” she asked, knowing
very well that he’d been a recluse for the past three years.
“Absolutely,” he said and he smiled. “You see?
It’s your duty to keep me happy tonight, Flutter.”
“My duty? That sounds very old fashioned. And
“We pirates are the old fashioned, chauvinistic
types. You’d better get used to it.”
Used to it. Heavens, what did that mean? Fiona
was sure she should be affronted, but for the life of her she couldn’t raise
any objection to the idea that Byrne might seek more of her company.
His eyes sparkled through the slits in his mask
and his smile warmed her. He sounded happy.
And she felt a pang of guilt. Would he be so
relaxed and happy if he knew who she was? Good grief, she’d been crazy to get
into this situation. The trouble was – masks encouraged deception. Hiding her
identity had seemed an innocent enough game at the start of the evening, but
it was beginning to feel more dangerous every minute.
She should stop the charade now.
Taking a deep swig of her wine, she polished off
half the glass in one giddying gulp. She’d get this over and done with. She’d
tell Byrne who she was.
She opened her mouth to speak. And the band
struck up a noisy bracket.
Byrne took a step towards her and she caught a whiff of his aftershave – fresh
and clean, like the ocean. He smiled again and she felt the mysterious power
of him ripple over her, as if he’d caressed her. She felt the wine spread
through her, warming her veins. Byrne bent his mouth to her ear and her skin
“Finish your wine.”
Sinking like a stone beneath his intensely
masculine spell, she drained her glass and then Byrne set it aside and took
her hand. And this time he didn’t even bother to ask if she’d like to dance.
He led her onto the floor and she didn’t resist. When he drew her into his
arms, his hand skimmed her bare back and she shivered, deliciously.
They danced – close and slow – and within no
time at all their bodies were communicating the secret, unmistakable language
They were Pete and Flutter, bound by a
mysterious chemistry. How could she destroy that? How could she announce her
name now and annihilate a magnetism more thrilling than anything she’d ever
In the middle of the third song, his mouth
dipped close to her ear. “Would you like to go outside for some fresh air?”
What to say, but yes? Her body was a flashing
green light. If he wanted to kiss her, she was too weak to say no.
And as he steered her across the dance floor,
she ignored her guilty conscience.
Byrne couldn’t quite believe he was leading Flutter through a side door and
out into the moonlit shadows. It was the kind of foolish nonsense youngsters
engaged in, not staid, single fathers, who would never see thirty again.
Perhaps he could blame their masks. With only
her mouth exposed, he’d been enchanted all evening by Flutter’s lips, so soft
and pink and lush. He’d been fantasising about kissing her. Without removing
Now, she was walking just a little ahead of him,
her bare back shimmering palely in the velvet black night.
“You’re right,” she said, turning to him. “It’s
much cooler and fresher out here.”
Her lips, beneath the azure mask, were
moon-washed and pale and they quivered ever so slightly.
He longed to kiss her. He took her hands in his,
holding her lightly by the fingers. “I’ve enjoyed this evening very much.”
“You sound surprised,” she said, smiling.
“I am. Very surprised. I didn’t expect to find
such charming company.” He let his thumbs rub lazily over her knuckles.
“You’re very good company, Flutter.”
An unexpected flush crept up her throat and he
was seized by a desperate urge to trace that burning tide with his lips.
He drew a swift breath. “I know we haven’t met
formally and I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to have to kiss you.”
A tiny sound escaped her – it might have been a
gasp or a hiccup or a laugh. But when she lifted her face to him, he knew she
“I’ve never been kissed by a pirate.” Her lips
parted as she drifted closer.
Fighting a reckless desire to crush her against his roused body, Byrne took
her gently in his arms.
He had to take this slowly.
No, he could be wild. She wouldn’t mind. She
would expect it from a pirate.
No, no. Not wild. A kiss with a stranger in the
moonlight should always be romantic.
He slipped his arms around her and felt her
smooth, soft skin beneath his palms. Her curves nestled against him. She was
soft and warm and womanly and his desire mounted so fiercely he could barely
breathe. He prayed for restraint as he nudged his lower lip against hers.
Slow, man. Slow. He teased them both
mercilessly, with leisurely caresses, letting his mouth trail slowly, slowly,
back and forth over hers. He heard her moan ever so softly and she began to
tremble in his arms. Helpless suddenly, unbearably aroused, he took her face
in his hands and kissed her deeply.
His plans for restraint were forgotten and his
kiss became fuelled by a fierce hunger. He ravaged her soft mouth with
possessive thrusts of his tongue, pulling her hips against him, so that she
couldn’t mistake his need for her.
Had he been drugged? He’d never experienced such
need. No kiss had ever felt so dreamlike and yet so real. He was completely
lost, crazed by the intoxicating sweetness of her eager mouth. He never wanted
this to end.
A voice called through the dark and Flutter went
still in his arms.
“Fiona, are you there?”
She stiffened, then pulled away from him. In a
daze, he heard her mumble some kind of apology.
“What is it?” he muttered. “Are they looking for
“Yes,” she whispered. And then, “I’m sorry.”
From “In the Heart of the Outback"
By: Barbara Hannay
Mills and Boon Romance
Copyright: © Barbara Hannay
® and ™ are trademarks of the publisher. The edition published by arrangement
with Harlequin Books S.A. For more romance information surf to: http://www.eHarlequin.com