Mellie couldn’t stop shaking. Addison kept bundling her closer, even after they’d put their clothes back on and built the fire up again. But she wasn’t shaking because of the cold. She was trembling from some place deep inside of her. Right from her very core. 

She’d thought that kissing him, having this time with him, in this way, would make her feel whole. Instead, it had broken something within her, and whatever that something was, she was not able to name it. 

All of the sudden she understood Addison’s hesitation. What he’d meant when he said it would have to mean very little in order to walk away, and why he was unwilling to make such a promise. Mellie was no longer sure she could keep that promise either. 

No matter how hopeless it all was.

She would never return to England. And Addison would never stay. 

She shivered again and Addison relinquished more of her fur cloak to keep her warm. 

“We should head back.” Addison made the suggestion without moving, apparently as unmotivated as Mellie was to leave the sublime spot where they were huddled together by the fire. 

Returning some of the cloak to keep Addison undercover, she shook her head. “It’s too late. It’s safer to stay in place until sunrise.”


As if on cue, an animal bayed in the distance. “Don’t worry, we’ll be fine.”

The thick fabric of her woolen coat obscured the feeling, but Mellie was enjoying the twirling pattern of Addison’s fingers along her back. She would give anything to stay right here forever, locked in his embrace, and gazing up at the dark sky, full of blotchy, shimmering stars.

“You are a bold, wild woman, Mellie Harlowe,” Addison spoke with such reverence that it made her laugh. 

Wild she understood. But she wondered what it was about her made him believe she was bold. Was it that she’d essentially forced him into that kiss? He’d resisted it at every turn. He hadn’t wanted it. She’d thought perhaps she’d been wrong and that he hadn’t wanted her. 

But, oh, did he want her! 

It was like lighting a stubborn fire. It took ages before she’d finally gotten a tiny smidgen of kindling to smoke and smolder, and then once the flame finally held, it rapidly escalated into an inferno. One that she had lost control of and threatened to burn right through the forest around them. Mellie wouldn’t have been surprised to open her eyes and find the trees turned to ash and the hot springs bone dry.

Nothing had ever felt like that. 

“And you are full of surprises, Addison Kent.”

He leaned back and looked down at her speculatively. “I am?” Then it dawned on him what she’d meant and his expression quickly morphed into one of offense. “Did you think I would be bad at kissing?” She cringed and shrugged helplessly, and Addison let his head fall back with a thud. “If that is not emasculating, I don’t know what is.”

“Maybe bad isn’t the right word.” She paused, trying to think of the right words actually were. . 

“Oh, please do continue.”

“Addison, you’re just so reserved and sometimes prim and proper.” Like a lady, she thought. “I didn’t expect so much passion.” Or so much sensuality. Or so much…man. “Or tongue,” she strung on at the end, not entirely knowing why she added that tidbit. 

That shot his eyebrows directly into his hairline and he rolled them over, pinning her beneath him. She loved the feel of his weight on top of her. “Mellie,” he growled, “one does not kiss a woman like you without tongue.”

A woman like her? Wild and bold. She never before realized she could inspire such enthusiasm in a man. Mellie lifted her fingers to his lips and he nibbled them. This playful side of him was amusing, but she wanted something more gentle now, though she wasn’t sure how to communicate that. She caressed his face and waited for his eyes to catch hers, then held them as she drew a line over his eyebrow, down his cheek and along his jaw. 

Sensing the shift, he responded with his own caress on her cheek, which she closed her eyes and turned into, nuzzling his palm. Whenever he touched her like this, she felt the need to take in a great, shuttering breath, which billowed out of her lungs through her back and chest in the most startlingly pleasurable fashion.

When she looked back at him, Addison was considering her strangely, his brow lowered a hint, darkening his questioning eyes. “Tell me I wasn’t your first kiss.”

She felt the flush of color wash over her face, but even without the resulting warmth, she would have known it by the dismayed look that took over his. She smiled sheepishly. “Too late to take it back now.”

“I don’t wish to take it back. I only would have done it differently,” he explained as he stroked her bottom lip with his thumb. 

That was exactly why she hadn’t told him. “Kiss me now, Addison. The way you would have done.”

Addison slid his fingers into her hair and leaned in, lips almost on hers, and whispered, “Maybe I wouldn’t have done it too differently.” Then he opened his mouth over hers, capturing her lips to nibble and suck on them. Then a hint of pressure, a flick of something dark and hot and damp. His tongue traced a faint path across the seam of her lips, urging her to part them. 

He dipped his tongue into her mouth and kissed her deep and soft and gentle. Slowly. His tongue licking across hers, into her mouth and out again, only to come back for more. He wrapped his arm around her and cupped the back of her head. She felt his fist clutching the back of her coat, and pulling her closer. Holding her tighter. This kiss was equally as intense and just as passionate as the one earlier. And perhaps even more insistent. But there was a tenderness to it that made her feel fragile and feminine. He made her feel treasured and cherished in a way no one else had ever done before.

She arched into him, eliciting a small moan, and he strengthened his kiss. Mellie hoped that this was how he made love. With deep, long, hungry thrusts. The thought of it made her tremble. She let herself melt into his kisses. And he melted into hers, kissing her as if he needed her air to breathe. 

By the time he stopped, Mellie was clinging to him and shaking all over again. He remained close, forehead pressed to hers. “I do not understand.” Addison shook his head from side to side, as if attempting to find reason in a random thought. “Forgive me, Mellie.” His voice sounded strained and distant.

“For what?” Dread snaked its way out of her gut to run through her veins.

“For what I am about to ask you, as it is rather ungentlemanly, but I feel I must ask.” He waited for her to acknowledge him with a nod before continuing. “I had assumed you were no longer a maiden, but that is not the case, is it?”

“Does it matter?” Please don’t take it all back, she prayed, afraid he’d pull away now that he’d realized how inexperienced she was. If he did that, it would only prove her worst fears: that nobody wanted her unless she was a loose woman. 

So close, Mellie could see every shift and change of his features as he tried to gauge whether her answer indicated a yes or a no. “Of course it matters.”

She swallowed back a lump of despair. This was it. The end. The moment he would tear away this brief glimpse of happiness. It hadn’t even lasted a few hours. She’d known it was temporary, all the more reason she was mad for wanting it in the first place, but it had been so much shorter than she’d ever imagined. 

Men and their misguided sense of honor. They value women for their virginity, yet hold them at arms length because of it. They brand them as whores, yet have no compunctions about using them for their own pleasure. There was no in between for someone like Mellie. Only one or the other. Virgin or whore. 

The way he was looking at her, she knew she would never be more.

Her silence answered the question and he brushed her hair away from her face. “I wish you have told me. I never would have let it go so far before.”

Cold regret spread over her. She suddenly wished that she didn’t know his touch or his kiss or the warmth of his eyes. Or how good it had felt to have him on top of her. Naked and hard and sliding against that part of her that made her a woman. That part of her that he wanted, but didn’t want at the same time.

“Are you saying you would refuse to bed me?” He’d called her bold, so she asked a bold question.

For a moment, she thought he wouldn’t answer, but after he considered whatever it was he needed to consider, he said, “I’ll not take your virginity, Mellie.”

“You’re not a virgin,” she pointed out bitterly. 

He had the audacity to look confused. “That is not the point.”

“The women you bedded before-”

He cut her off, his voice stern, “Were not virgins.”

Mellie shoved hard at his chest. Addison grunted from the force of it but didn’t move. She shoved at him again. “No, they were just whores.”

Rolling off of her, Addison went to his knees. “I did not say that!” He watched as Mellie walked around gathering their belongings. She picked up the frozen shirt she’d worn into the spring and jammed it into her pack. “I thought you said it was too late to go back.”

“I changed my mind.” Mellie began angrily kicking snow over the fire to put it out. I should have known. I should have known. “I should have known.” She hadn’t meant to say the thought out loud, but it came with the swing of her foot and a painful breath of air. 

“Should have known what?” He’d come to his feet and started walking towards her. Mellie scooted around the fire. Kicking and kicking, the light growing more and more dim. “Should have known what, Mellie?” he asked again.

“That I couldn’t have this with you!” The words burst out of her, a ragged and shattered edge to her voice that she didn’t recognize. She kicked more snow on to the fire. “That I would have to be a whore.” Mellie heard the clogged and tearful sound of her voice, even though there were no tears. Just anger and her heart twisting so much that she could hardly understand it. She kicked again. Harder this time. Angrier. 

That you wouldn’t have me otherwise! That thought did bring the tears. She choked on them, felt the muscles in her face shaking as she tried to hold them at bay. 

Mellie couldn’t look at him. Didn’t know where he was or what he was thinking. Getting the fire out was all she wanted. So she could run and hide in the dark and cry. Cry where he couldn’t find her. Where he wouldn’t see her fall apart for no reason at all.

“You are angry with me for not treating you like a whore?” He was distraught, confused, but Mellie ignored him. “I wish to protect your honor.”

“I don’t need honor or for you to protect me,” she kicked one last kick, “Your Grace.” The fire went out and the darkness fell down around them. Mellie picked up her pack and started heading away, but Addison’s grasp came out of nowhere and latched onto her arm. 

“Don’t call me that,” he commanded in a dark and menacing tone. Now he was furious. A small thrill went up Mellie’s spine. She latched onto that part of her that craved danger and excitement. The part of her that had made her choose this life, instead of skulking in the tame English terrain.

Yanking her arm away, Mellie began hiking up the hill they’d slid down earlier. “Better follow along, Your Grace, I wouldn’t want the wolves to eat you.” She darted away from him, making quick work of the hill. 

Whether Addison secretly thrived on intense situations or whether it was merely a response to her own behavior, Mellie didn’t know. Either way, his stamina suddenly returned and he caught up to her faster than she would have guessed him capable. It quickly became apparent that he could also see much better than Mellie in the dark. She hadn’t even seen his shadow yet when he grabbed her bicep and whipped her around to land squarely against his chest. 

He was no longer weak, helpless Addison. He leaned over her, appearing more tall and foreboding, due to the eerie blue twilight. Mellie had to tell herself that was the cause, because the way he was looking at her made her feel like she was half her normal size.

“I do not know what game you are playing at, Mellie, but I will not tolerate it.” He’d said he didn’t want to be a Duke, but there he was in all his glory, arrogantly weilding his authority where he had absolutely no right to do so. 

Fine. He wanted games, then Mellie would show him her kind of game. Without warning she swung her foot out and to the side, swiping his legs out from under him. He went down with a hard grunt, but he was faster than Mellie anticipated and he grabbed her ankle, taking her down with him as he slid partially down the slope. Her pack slipped out of her hand. Unfortunate, because she would have used it to throw at him.

Mellie tried to scramble away from him, but then he was on top of her, holding her forearms down at her side. The look on his face was slightly terrifying. Hard lines etched across it, eyes nothing more than a solid black blur in the scarce, faded moonlight. Mellie wondered what was wrong with her that it made her feel excited. A vision of him tearing off her clothes and thrusting into her flashed in her mind. What would he do if she pulled him in for a kiss now?

She smiled wickedly at him, deciding to have a little fun where she could find it. She wasn’t about to let him and his fabricated morals ruin this adventure for her. “You wouldn’t hit a woman would you?”

“You’re not the average woman and I’m thinking you deserve to be throttled right now.” He threatened it, but made no move to do so. 

Mellie punched him in the side, taking him by surprised and giving her the edge she needed to flip him over. “I knew you didn’t have it in you. Unfortunately for you, I have no objections to hitting a woman.” Also fortunate for Addison, he continued to move quickly, for he easily dodged her fist as she plowed it into the snow. 

He laughed, a hint of enjoyment in it that only made her want him more. “Oh, you are feisty, my little dove.” Grabbing her shoulders he reversed their positions again. They struggled against each other, gaining and losing control, tumbling over and over down the hill, until they were sliding rapidly down a steep side of the mountain, unable to halt their momentum. Mellie grabbed on to Addison to keep them together, frantically trying to figure out where they were headed, but she’d lost her bearings. 

They hit a plateau where they tumbled over each other a few times, before coming to a stop. Without missing a beat, Mellie pushed Addison back against the snow, straddling him and taking hold of his wrists to hold him to the ground. But he was done fighting. He laid there, his panting mimicking her own. They’d rolled someplace darker. Quieter. All she could see were the whites of his eyes. She stared him down.

Her eyes shifted to where she figured his lips might be and then sought them out with her own. Her mouth found his and her hands were roaming over his neck and into his hair. Addison kissed her back, wrapping his arms around her, grabbing her hips and yanking her against him. He was already hard. Or he’d been hard all this time. She didn’t know which. She didn’t care. She loved it.

Mellie ground herself against him. He groaned into her mouth. He groped at her. Heated and tormented and dangerous, like a hungry, wild animal. Cold searching hands worked their way under her cloak, into her jacket, to find her breasts. The icy fingers against her hot skin made her gasp almost as much as the pleasure that arced through her when he found her nipples.

Beneath her his hips lifted. Rubbed her. Pushed at her. Frantic. Uninhibited. She could have him. Right now. He wouldn’t stop her. Mellie felt something building in her. An ache in her center where she pulsed and desired him most. She wanted to rip open his breeches. Take him inside. But she felt wild. Unable stop moving against him.

Addison moved his hands back down to her waist. He held her in place as he surged up against her over and over again. Control had abandoned them. They were both moaning. Writhing. Kissing beyond them. They just moved together and Addison was beneath her, using his strong arms to guide her motions over him. His cock wedged against her cleft, hard and unyielding.

Everything was pitch black. There were no sounds except their harsh breathing. Nothing to see except what she could imagine. Addison. Head thrown back. Drowning in ecstacy over her. Wanting her so bad he couldn’t help but drive himself against her again and again. Fully clothed. Lost in the darkness. In an unknown world that neither of them understood.

And as her body finally met its release, Mellie could see the stars that burst all over her skin and behind her eyes. A welling in her chest that felt like tears, but was so much more. The most pure and wild emotion she had ever felt. There were no words. Just her heart bursting. Pumping something hot and barbarous through her veins. 

Then Addison was grunting beneath her, jerking against her in the final moments of his satisfaction, and pulling her down for a searing kiss. His mouth met hers full and open. His tongue probing deep and urgent. His hands winding in her hair, angling her face to receive his kiss. And she knew he felt it, too. This insanity. This need. Not for just anyone. For each other. For her alone.

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