Taking a deep breath to still his churning thoughts, he brought himself back to the matter at hand. Having asked her twice in a roundabout fashion, he decided to approach the issue head on.
"I have given this quite a bit of thought since first being presented with it some weeks ago and I have decided I should honor the betrothal contract. So, what say you?"
Having thrown down the gauntlet, he waited for the explosion he was sure would come.
Tina stared at him for a very long time. Her eyes registered varying degrees of astonishment, disbelief, doubt, and a cautious hopefulness before she looked back down at the document still sitting in her lap. It was the last emotion that he hoped would win out. After all, she had been promised Thane Park and he was now offering it to her.
It had only taken one morning in the study reviewing what she had accomplished in the two weeks he had been gone for him to realize she loved this place as much, if not more, than he did. That, to her, this place was home--and always would be. The people on the estate were dear to her, despite their treatment of her at Milton's instigation.
And it had only taken the afternoon for him to realize he wanted her. One kiss had been enough. Enough for him to realize that too much time spent in her company without touching her and he would surely go mad. Enough time to realize she was already in his blood. Enough time to realize he wanted more than a stolen kiss or two.
"You do not have to do this. I wouldn't force you to..."
He swore. "No one is forcing me to do anything."
Tina's startled gaze fastened on his face. "But, the contract. You wouldn't..."
Jay reached down, snatched the contract from her lap, and stalked toward the fireplace before he realized there was no fire burning there.
"Blast!" he muttered. Striding back to the desk, he opened a drawer, threw it inside, and slammed the drawer shut. She flinched. Returning to where she sat, he looked down at her. "Forget the contract. I'm asking you to marry me. How difficult is that to comprehend?"
Even as he said the words, he knew they were the wrong thing to say. It wasn't so much what he said, but how he said it. She could not have missed the thinly-veiled sarcasm he had put into the words, nor could she have missed the frustration and condescension in his tone.
Tina rose from the chair to stand before him, and he knew her heart must be pounding furiously, because he could see the vein in her neck throbbing. The scent of roses wafted around him.
"It is not difficult at all," she responded in a voice that told him she was barely holding on to her temper. "However, I have only been in your company for less than two days and I will not decide my future upon such a short acquaintance. Nor will I allow you to throw away yours upon some misguided notion of honor."
"Misguided notion of honor," he sputtered. How dare the chit throw his offer back in his face! He'd thought long and hard about this. He was about to renege on a promise made eighteen years ago in order to regain what should have rightfully been his with no strings attached. And she had the nerve to label his actions a misguided notion of honor! If he wasn't afraid of what might happen should he touch her, he'd strangle her.
Tina stepped closer and put her hand on his chest, as if restraining him. "I did not mean it the way it sounded," she told him in a gentler tone. "I am honored by your offer, but I--I don't know you at all--and you don't know me. Perhaps..."
At her touch, Jay felt as if a brick wall had fallen on him. Her hand burned through his jacket and shirt and he was positive when he undressed he would find a brand the exact size and shape of her hand on his skin. He forgot to breathe; his blood turned to liquid fire. He watched her lips move, but heard only the last word before he covered her lips with his, his arms enfolding her slight frame and crushing it against the hardness of his.
Their first kiss had been a gentle exploration. The second had been a mere salute. But neither prepared Tina for the sudden conflagration that ignited between them this time. It was overwhelming, overpowering, and threatened to consume them utterly. Jay's mouth took complete possession of hers, slanting over hers, his tongue penetrating her lips, seeking her inner secrets. A moan rose in her throat, its sound muffled by an answering groan from his.
Her hands rose of their own accord, sliding up the muscled planes of his chest, winding around his neck, fingers threading through the hair at his nape. Her eyes closed, she responded purely by instinct, gasping for breath when his lips left hers to travel along her jaw and down her neck to the pulse beating at the base of her throat.
Another low moan escaped her as his hand moved up over her rib cage and caressed the underside of a breast through the thin material of her gown. Something told her she should stop him, that she should not allow him such liberties, but it was overridden by the sheer magnitude of emotions roiling through her body.
Jay's mouth returned to hers and she gave herself up to the sheer wonder of it all. There was no way to explain to herself--or anyone else, for that matter--why. She only knew she didn't want him to stop. He could ravish her mouth forever and she would never be satisfied.
His hands speared into the curls at the back of her head, scattering the pins holding them in place. Ebony waves tumbled down her back and his hands sifted through the dark tresses. Lifting her off her feet, he pivoted and sat in the chair she had just vacated, settling her in his lap, as his mouth continued to plunder hers.
His hand cupped her breast and she felt her nipple tighten against the material. She gasped as his thumb grazed the sensitive peak, feeling an unfamiliar warmth begin in her lower belly and spread downward. As she began to recognize the hunger coursing through her veins, she registered the proof of his own burgeoning desire against the back of her thighs. She was suddenly aware she was sitting in his lap, and belatedly wondered how she got there.
Lifting his mouth from hers, Jay stared down into eyes glazed with untried passion and marveled at her unconscious ability to excite him. No woman had ever affected him the way she did. She touched a protective and possessive streak he didn't know he had. And while she had no idea of her allure, of the temptation she presented, he did. And he knew he would do almost anything to claim her, to protect her, to save her. He would save her from the Roderick Miltons of the world.
He nearly laughed out loud. At this moment, the Roderick Miltons of the world were the least of her worries. He should be asking who would save her from him. Because right now he wasn't sure of his own ability to resist her. Until she agreed to marry him, he had to keep his distance. A near impossibility living under the same roof.
Jay watched her carefully. He should say something, but what? He wondered if she would be embarrassed or discomfited by her current position. As he slowly managed to bring his emotions under control, he knew he wasn't up to hysterics, and hoped he had accurately assessed her disposition was such that she was unlikely to fall into them. She did not disappoint him.
Moving slowly, she slid off his lap, smoothed her dress down, and began trying to restore some order to her hair, all the while not looking at him. "I was going to say," she began, her breathing still strained, her body rigid with acute embarrassment, "that perhaps we should spend some time getting to know one another, then I will give you my answer."
Then she turned and, moving slowly, left the room without a backward glance.