The bell chimed twice more and she felt herself spiraling into the fathomless indigo of Marc's gaze. With overlapping echoes of the bell in the background, he said, "You have been so strong and so brave, for such a long time. You endured Edmond's hell. You cannot expect to have escaped unscathed."
He understood. Unbelievably, he knew how she felt. Though Edmond had left no visible scars, she surely had them. She touched the strong line of his jaw. He covered her hand with his own and turned his face just enough to touch his lips to the heel of her palm. "Is this the hand that struck me?" he asked.
"Do forgive me," she whispered.
"Done," he said, gazing upon her. What spell does this place work on a man, he wondered. More than he wanted his next breath, he wanted to kiss her.
Again, the bell tolled. "Choose carefully who you kiss at the turn of the year," Alyssa said, as if reading his mind.
"For that person will be your love for the year," Marc finished. His own father had distilled the same wives' tale.
Alyssa moved her hand to the soft fall of his hair. As the new year advanced by two more clangs of the bell, Marc guided her arms to wrap loosely around his neck. His arms circled her. He lowered his head until his mouth was near her ear. Her skin prickled in places that had never prickled before. The tension left her body as he held her. It had been so long since she felt so at ease. Since she felt so safe.
The bell sounded once more in the time it took him to say, "There is something I must tell you."
Her heartbeat filled her ears, masking the ringing of the bell and the sound of her own voice as she said, "And that is?"
"Happy New Year."
The bell's last chime died alongside the past year as he brought his lips to hers. One of his hands found its way into her hair while the other, braced at the small of her back, pressed her body into his. A moan escaped her when his tongue lightly traced her mouth. He tasted the succulent flesh of her upper lip, then the lower one, before once more sampling the two together. His lips moved over hers, nibbling, licking, and teasing. The reality of his kiss was a thousand times better than anything she had imagined. She wanted more and invited it as her hands moved over his back, luxuriating in the minute movement of hard muscle beneath softest silk.
She shivered, her lips parting in response to his gentle coaxing. The unfamiliar heat of his tongue against hers sent her thoughts into a tailspin as his kiss probed deeper, inviting her to respond in kind. She clutched handfuls of his shirt, pulling it from the waist of his breeches. He tasted her eyelids and her cheeks, nibbled her earlobes and her throat, partaking of her as heartily as he had of the New Year's banquet. Her hands slid from his taut lower back and over his firm buttocks. Her touch was electric, shocking every part of him.
An ache rose deep inside him, unlike any he'd ever known as simple want became dire need. She fit him. She moved against him, and with him, with such ease, he dared to wonder if she had been made just for him.
She drew the pads of her fingertips ever so lightly along the backs of his thighs. He moaned as he set a delicate kiss in the hollow of her throat. His lips moist with heat, he brushed them across the swell of her breasts. She tossed back her head, welcoming him when he closed his lips over one of the tight peaks of flesh pushing against the silk of her bodice.
She gasped as raw sensation washed through her. She tore at his shirt, popping buttons into the air. His lips became more voracious in their hunger for her breasts and she responded by cupping the bold ridge between his thighs. He groaned, bringing her with him as he sank to his knees.
In an instant she was lying atop him on the fragrant cushion of the bayou floor. She was as wild as the bayou she called heaven as she swept his neck and chest with chaste, fragile kisses that betrayed her inexperience. Neither the bawdiest London whore nor the most sophisticated Parisian courtesan could have dissolved his restraint faster or more effectively. He couldn't move, couldn't breathe. All he knew was the sweet touch of her lips.
She took his hands and guided them to her breasts, the only prompting he needed. He tugged aside the fabric covering her breasts to tease her bare nipples with flickers and flutters of his tongue and gentle nips of his teeth. Her breath locked in her chest as heat, glorious and rhythmical, pulsed from a molten point deep in her center. She was starved for this touch, for his touch. She hungered for more than kisses and taunting nips that were like sparks jumping from the bonfire between them.
It was intoxicating, this newly-tapped well of sensation within her. For the first time in her life, she knew the meaning of desire. She knew its power, its voracity, and the heady, thrill it sent coursing through her veins. She also knew its name.