He managed to subdue his laughter, but his amusement still shone clearly in his eyes. He reached out and rubbed the backs of his knuckles along her creamy cheek, dappled with shadows from the overhanging tree. "It's just so obvious that you know nothing about love. I would wager you've never even been kissed."
As he said the words, his eyes dropped to her lips, and Karina felt her pulse race with anticipation. Determined not to let him see how easily he affected her, she stiffened slightly and turned her face away from him. "I've been kissed several times. What does that have to do with anything?"
One black brow shot up, as he canted his head to the side and considered her. "If you had been kissed, I mean really kissed, you wouldn't even have to ask that question." There was clearly a challenge in his statement, and Karina had never been one to refuse a challenge.
She turned toward him to reply, and found her face very close to his, their lips mere inches apart. The deep breath that she had taken left her in a rush, and she stared at his lips, fascinated by their full lines. Even now, they were curving into a sly smile. "Would you care for a demonstration?"
When she didn't voice a denial, he swept her into his embrace and bent to taste her lips. Karina opened her mouth to protest, and he slipped his tongue inside, tasting her mouth more fully. This kiss was unlike any that she had experienced before, and she was thoroughly enjoying it. She felt as if molten fire were suddenly licking through her veins, and somewhere in the pit of her belly, a hunger started to grow.
Karina was unaware when her arms slid around his neck, but she was surprised to feel his hands drift down to boldly cup her buttocks. His kiss was hot and demanding, as his lips coaxed hers to respond. She found herself returning his kiss, and seeking to mold herself even closer against his body. He broke away from her mouth to trail hot, moist kisses down her throat. A low moan escaped her as he bent her slightly back to gain better access to her neck and bosom. The hot kisses continued lower, and she gasped as he kissed the exposed upper curves of her breasts.
His lips returned to possess hers, and he cupped her breast firmly in his palm, kneading provocatively. She quivered, nearly drowning beneath an onslaught of new sensations, but she wasn't about to protest when she loved the way she was feeling. Sensing no resistance, he drew another moan from her as he brushed his thumb across the thin silk that covered her nipple. She could feel it stiffen as his thumb flicked the engorged peak, and his fingers joined to torment and tease the hardened nub. Pleasure shot like fire into her loins, and she gasped.
Without warning, he ended the kiss and raised his head. He delved deeply into her eyes, finding all the longing he knew he would see, and he had to take a firm hold on himself to keep from kissing her again.
His face was in shadow, and Karina couldn't make out the expression in his eyes, but she noticed that his breath was coming fast. A shutter of reserve seemed to fall over his eyes, and she sensed that he was battling himself, over what, she didn't know. She had been so caught up in his kiss, that she had let him venture far beyond the bounds of decency. He glanced at her heaving bosom where his hand still toyed with her nipple, before meeting her eyes with one cocked eyebrow.
Karina whirled away from him, and struggled to draw a breath, as her cheeks burned. She must seem like a wanton hussy to him. She wanted to die of shame. Her whole body was shaking, and Karina struggled to regain control of her breathing.
"You must think me terribly promiscuous," she said over her shoulder. "I know you probably don't believe me, but I have never allowed a man to take such liberties with me before. I don't know what came over me," her voice trailed off uncertainly and she looked down at her trembling hands.
He took hold of her shoulders and turned her back to face him, lifting her chin with one knuckle and waiting until she met his probing gaze. "What we shared just now is called passion, and that's what has been missing from the other kisses you have received in the past. There's nothing to be embarrassed about, Karina. You are an incredibly beautiful woman, and it would be a shame if you didn't have a passionate nature to complement your beauty." As he spoke, he slowly rubbed his thumb along her bottom lip, and the way his eyes watched the movement, it seemed to Karina that he wanted to kiss her again.
She wished he would kiss her again too, and the thought made her blush deepen. She pulled her chin from his grasp and looked down. "It's just that I don't even know you! I shouldn't have let you kiss me to begin with." She bit her bottom lip to stop it from quivering. "Please take me back to the ballroom."
He hesitated only briefly before offering his arm. She took it, grateful for his support, as her legs seemed suddenly unable to support her weight. They walked quietly back, each of them struggling with their own thoughts.
When they reached the terrace, he turned to her saying, "You seem a bit shaken. Why don't you sit here and calm yourself. I will bring you a glass of wine to refresh you before we return to the others."
"Thank you. That would be very helpful." Karina couldn't meet his eyes, and she turned and gratefully sank onto the stone bench. Lord Bryant peered at her for a moment longer, then turned and made his way discreetly into the ballroom.
Karina inhaled several deep breaths, and she felt some sanity returning. What on earth had possessed her to behave in such a wanton manner? She had never been so carried away by a man's kiss. In fact, she rarely agreed to a kiss, and the ones she had received had been brief pecks. She reached trembling fingers up to trace her lips. They felt slightly swollen, and the tips of her breasts still tingled from his touch. She blushed again, remembering that she hadn't even resisted his advances, and it was only due to his restraint that the kiss had ended at all. A slightly hysterical giggle erupted, and she took a deep breath to calm her senses.
In a matter of minutes, Lord Bryant returned with two glasses. She took hers and quickly drained the contents. She felt warmth suffuse her, as the sweet wine trickled down her throat, and she suddenly realized that she felt chilled from the crisp night air.
Seeing her trembling with cold and nerves, Richard doffed his jacket and placed it around her shoulders. His warmth and his scent surrounded Karina, and she looked down shyly while murmuring her thanks. It was almost as if he had embraced her, and she snuggled deeper into the folds.
His deep voice was husky as he asked, "Is your father here with you tonight? I wasn't able to make his acquaintance."
Reminded of her father's ultimatum, she frowned. "Yes, he is. And he will be looking for me before long." She suddenly felt a bit faint, but she dismissed the feeling, attributing it to the excitement of being with this extraordinary man. "I'm afraid he is not too happy with me just now."
"Aren't you close to your father? You seem to be upset by him." He watched her carefully.
"Yes, we're very close." She chewed her bottom lip, "It's just that he can be very difficult and overbearing at times. I know he means well."
"How exactly is he difficult?" His expression showed genuine interest.
Karina gave a long sigh. "He wants very much for me to choose a husband, and he is no longer willing to wait for me to find the right one. He has threatened to choose for me if I don't choose a husband by tonight."
Richard watched her closely. "And there is no young man that you fancy? Perhaps there is someone your father doesn't approve of?"
Karina laughed shyly. "No, quite the opposite. Father has someone picked out that I don't approve of." His soft chuckle trickled across her senses, as she felt another wave of dizziness, and she reached up a hand to her temple. Karina felt very warm and slightly drowsy. She frowned as she wondered why she suddenly felt so tired. "We really should be getting back to the others. They will wonder where I have been," she mumbled, wondering why her tongue felt thicker than usual.
"Why don't you wait just a few more minutes? You are still pale."
He was watching her strangely, and his words seemed to come to her from far away. She looked at him and was surprised to see his image becoming blurry and dim. The darkness steadily closed in around her, and he became only a tiny pinpoint of light, before that too disappeared. She felt herself fall forward and then strong arms closed around her, before she sank into oblivion.