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Shanna tightened her grip on Niall’s arm as they quickened their pace through the thick woods. Wet leaves and mud made for a very slippery journey. Wearing heels wasn’t a smart idea since she had to stop every so often to yank them from the muck. She’d promptly pull them free, accompanied by a sucking sound then continue her rush to the cottage. Niall asked to make love to her, and she wanted that so badly she couldn’t wait to lay naked in his bed. That craving shocked her because she wasn’t the type of woman who had sex with strangers. But Niall did not feel like a stranger. She felt comfortable with him, as if she’d known him forever, and she craved to be held in his arms.
Was she searching for something Derek failed to give? By no means could she categorize him as one of the world’s greatest lovers. Sure, he had a great mouth that compensated for other areas, but he lacked passion and compassion. Until now, she thought it would suffice and their relationship would survive in bland mode.
The incident last night really messed up her head. If it hadn’t happened though, she’d never know what she’d been missing.
Was she now on a hunt for the next remarkable screw? What if Niall couldn’t deliver? Then what?
What if he had reconsidered? It could’ve been a spur of the moment decision, and his mood may have diminished since then. After all, he’d asked if he could kiss her too but hadn’t acted on it.
The onset of their walk started off uneventful because they’d followed a gravel path to a line of trees separating the woods from the castle grounds. Half of the branches were completely bare, and others were covered in yellow and gold leaves. Mud puddles lay beyond those trees, and that’s when the walk became interesting for her feet. The worse part? They had to come back in the same direction.
“How much farther, Niall?” The deeper they moved into the woods, the eerier the surroundings grew. She swore—and she knew it was only her imagination, that she heard growls and twigs snapping at their backs. She shuddered during the majority of the trip and snuggled against his body for protection.
“It’s right up there, love.” He pointed straight ahead to where she saw a small, white cottage in the distance. It reminded her of a gingerbread house with its slate roof and red shutters.
The wind kicked up but the thick brush blocked most of its strength. Still, it howled above their heads as if autumn ghosts were screaming for attention. Goose flesh rose all over her body, prickling her skin as the hairs stood up. She moved closer to Niall for warmth. How could he not be cold with no shirt on?
Just then, female laughter assailed her ears. She halted, tugging Niall to a stop. “What was that!” As she glanced beyond trees and brush her heels sank all five inches. She teetered backwards losing balance and tightened her grip on Niall to break the inevitable fall into the mud. His hand snaked around her back and he yanked her close to his chest, securing her on her feet.
“What was what?”
“A woman laughing. You didn’t hear it?”
“No.” He shook his head, but he appeared on alert as if he’d heard it too but chose to lie for Shanna’s sake.
“Come on.” She yanked her heels free and sprinted forward, pulling him along. Gnarled tree branches grabbed at her clothes and hair. She batted them aside, ducking to avoid scratching her face.
She concentrated on her feet so as not to trip. The ground squished, splattering mud on her boots, but she refused to stop until they were standing on a square platform of concrete in front of the cottage.
The tiny building thirsted for a fresh coat of paint. It was weathered beyond rustic, and appeared to have been abandoned a long time ago. Weeds stood nearly as high as the windows and a film of grime covered the glass. “You live here, Niall?”
While he reached beneath a broken flower pot beside the door and removed a key, she glanced over her shoulder, assessing the woods for the woman whose laughter crackled like a witch’s voice.
The door creaked open, raising the hairs on the back of Shanna’s neck. “You maintain Tullamore well. It’s free of weeds, so why—”
“I don’t want to draw attention to my home. I’d rather it blend into the surroundings. Don’t worry, Shanna, I take pride in the interior. It’s nothing like the outside. Please,” he said, waving her inside.
A musty scent of dust and cedar smacked her in the face as she stepped over the threshold into a cozy, well kept kitchen. An antique table accompanied by four matching chairs filled most of the room. From where she stood, the entire house was visible—each section divided by only furniture. To the left side of the table, a braided rug lay on the wooden floor between a dark brown couch and full-length brick fireplace. A double bed and short dresser stood against the opposite wall. Rust colored curtains hung from all five windows, including the kitchen. A slight space in between the panels allowed minimal, natural light to cascade inside.
“I love it.” She relaxed her shoulders and stuffed her hands inside her jacket pockets. “It’s so quaint. Can we build a fire?”
He pushed the door shut. “Anything you want, love. Make yourself comfortable.”
After she unzipped and stepped out of her boots, she walked to the couch and sat down. For the first time in nearly twenty-four hours, she felt comfortable and at peace. “Did you grow up here?”
“I did. My da built this cabin for my mum.”
“Any sisters or brothers?”
“No. Mum was expecting, but she and the babe both perished during childbirth.”
“Oh, Niall, I’m so sorry.”
His broad shoulders bunched into masses of thick muscle while he stacked wood inside the fireplace. “I don’t remember her much. I was just a wee child. Three years old.”
Shanna’s heart grew heavy. Children were her soft spot, and hearing he’d grown up without a mother when hers had been her best friend, struck her hard. “You were just a baby yourself.”
“Yeah, that I was.” A forlorn smiled quickly passed over his lips. “My da raised me well. He also maintained Tullamore’s gardens. When he perished, Alanna hired me for the job.” He glanced over his shoulder. “And you?”
“It’ll be two years this month since I lost my dad. Mom passed just six months ago. I have a married sister, so it’s pretty much just me now.”
“Do you talk to her?” He removed a wooden matchstick from a box on the mantle, struck it to life against the brick mortar, and held it beneath a log until it sparked. As the tiny flame lapped against the logs, it grew into a mature fire.
“Yes. We talk a lot on the phone but rarely spend any time together.” Her gaze lowered to his defined abs as he made his way to the couch and sat down. A cloud of warmth from the fire brushed against her toes. She shivered and stuffed her hands beneath her thighs.
“Would you like a blanket?”
“No thanks. I’ll be fine in a minute.” She had a feeling the warmth worming its way between her thighs had nothing to do with the fire burning in the pit.
And suddenly she felt nervous. Had sitting beside him put things into perspective? Where they moving too fast? She’d just broken an engagement last night and was already prepared to jump in bed with Niall. Maybe she should cancel the sex hunt and focus on flying home.
Seriously, who cared? She was in Ireland, the place of romance and mystique. She hadn’t set any rules for herself so technically she had no worries. “Niall, have you changed your mind?” she asked in nearly a whisper, looking at her lap. “Or do you still want to make love to me?”
He lifted her chin with a firm but gentle hand. “My God, it’s all I’ve wanted to do.”
“Yes.” He nodded and padded his lips to her brow. “Shanna, you’ve had my body aching since the moment you stepped out of the taxi and looked into my eyes.”
She laughed softly, but it faded as he pressed his mouth desperately to hers and slipped his tongue past her teeth. Ah, she could’ve fainted from the amount of passion spilling into her. His desire. And technique. And heat. When he slide a hand slid beneath her knees and another around her back her belly unraveled.
He lifted her off the couch and headed toward the bed,
The kiss was magical, unlike any kiss she’d ever had the pleasure of receiving. It was unusually dry, but provoked an unexplainable sensation, as if her blood sparkled and insides glowed. Such an intense feeling from a simple kiss. One little kiss.
Carefully he laid her down on the mattress and lay on top of her, bearing weight on his arms. Not once had their lips separated. Not even a fraction of an inch.
She slid her hands into the hair above his ears and held him while he tantalized and teased her tongue. She raised her hips and rubbed her groin into his abdomen, telling without words what she wanted. Breaths rushed through her nostrils, matching the frenzy of her increasing passion. Nearly every skillful motion of his mouth encouraged a stream of wetness to flow from her body onto her panties.
When he broke the kiss and gazed into her eyes, leaving her breathless and panting, her lips felt plump and thoroughly abused. In a good way.
“You’re sure this is okay?” he asked.
She nodded. “Yes.” It was better than okay. She wanted him buried deep inside her.
“Take off your clothes, Shanna.” He rolled off her onto his side. “Prove to me you want me.”