Excerpt: My Own

She sank to the ground, brought her knees up and wrapped her arms tightly around them, stared at the vapors coiling off the dark water. Jake paused next to her, began to strip off his clothes.

She looked up. “What are you doing?”

“Getting warm,” he said hopping as he lifted one foot clear of a trouser leg.

“By getting naked?”

“It’s the only way—”

“You bastard.” She scrambled to her feet. “How can you think to… to… after—”

“I have no designs on you, querida,” he said and kicked out of his trousers. He grasped her wrist, his gaze solemn in a faint wash of moonlight. “I only wish to hold you, in the water, where it’s warm. I can carry you in, in your clothes if you prefer, but you may find it chilly when you get out and having nothing dry to wear.”

He meant what he said; she felt nothing hard against her abdomen to suggest otherwise. He cupped her chin in one large hand, tilted her gaze to his.

“Do you remember what I told you on our wedding night?” he asked softly.

She swallowed. She had been so afraid. It all happened so fast, a hasty covert wedding calculated to foil her father’s plans to compel her into marriage with a duke old enough to be her grandsire, a marriage that would have revealed, at least to the duke, the truth she had sailed across an ocean to hide—that she was no longer a virgin, and was in fact with child, a child Jake somehow knew was not the result of a consensual act and yet he had offered for her hand, promised to raise the child as his own and to never take from her what she did not give willingly. And true to his word, he never had.

Tears welled. She curled her fingers around his strong ones, and drew his hand up to kiss the rough knuckles.

“You said you wanted a whole wife,” she murmured.

He nodded. “Yes. A willing wife. Someone who wanted me, as much as I wanted her. I meant it then, and I mean it now. I won’t accept anything less, Dianna, than your full, and willing heart.”

“But that’s all that’s left.” She closed her eyes, pressed her cheek to the knobby ridges of his knuckles. “Less. Less than nothing.”

“No. I won’t let you believe that. I won’t.”

She didn’t resist as he undressed her, stripping away the thin fabric of protective clothing until she stood as bare as he in the brisk air, and all the more vulnerable for it.

She shivered, goose bumps notching her skin as Jake’s hands traveled over her naked body. One hand paused on her flat stomach, which she contracted reflexively when a sharp pain shot up through her abdomen straight to her heart.

“I’m sorry, querida,” he murmured.

She nodded, tears erupting anew to trail down her chilled cheeks.

He kissed her temple, and then slid an arm around her shoulders to rest his cheek on her head. She stood stiffly, her arms at her sides, but when he did not let go, very slowly, she raised her hands, slipped them around his waist.

“I love you,” he whispered. “I love you.”

She tightened her hold on him, pressed her cheek into the springy curls covering his chest. “I love you, too.”

He eased away, led her to the water’s edge, and when she hesitated, he swung her off her feet and carried her in.