Read King's Ransom Online

Authors: Amelia Autin

King's Ransom (16 page)

BOOK: King's Ransom

Eleven years ago this man had taught her everything she knew of love. Everything she knew of passion. And everything she knew of despair. But life was too short—how tragically short she knew now, and she no longer cared about the despair. Not even if he broke her heart again as he'd done so long ago. She would risk that...and so much more.

With a wild cry she twisted lithely in his arms, sliding her arms around his waist, her hands brushing against corded steel muscles. Then he was kissing her, desire blazing to life between them the way it always had. The way it always would. Eleven years had taught her that no other man could rouse her passion for one simple reason—no other man was Andre.

His arms were iron bands encircling her as he plundered her mouth. He whispered her name in between kisses that sapped the strength from her knees and made her tremble like a leaf. As if her name was the most precious thing in the world to him. As if she was. Her body responded to the flames he ignited with his words, his touch, his taste, and her womanhood throbbed...then melted at the knowledge of what was to come. So long. It had been so long since she'd let herself respond to a man—not just her body, but her mind—and she was momentarily confused. Then afraid. And then no longer afraid.

“Andre.” Just one word, but all her yearning was embodied in it. All the pent-up longing to know again the physical release only he could give her. All the aching need only he could arouse...and assuage. And even more, the desire for his love her wounded heart cried out for. The devastating wound created by him. The wound no one could heal...except him.

The world shifted dizzyingly as he released her lips then caught her behind her knees and swung her into his arms. She curled trustingly in his embrace; one hand clasping his neck, feeling the controlled power there as he carried her across the room to his bed and sat her gently on the edge.

Her eyes widened and she couldn't help the small sound of panic when he drew back from her momentarily and she saw him naked in the moonlight, his body very hard. Very male. His erection rose from its thatch of golden-brown hair and she couldn't tear her eyes away. Somehow she'd forgotten how very big he every way.

He sat next to her and drew her into his arms, his vivid green eyes alight with passion held firmly in an iron grip. “No need to be afraid, little one. Perhaps I am more man than you are used to now, but we fit together once before...perfectly.”

Juliana shook her head, mutely denying there had ever been another man, but he misunderstood. “Perfectly, Juliana,” he insisted. “Do not lie to yourself, to me.” He soothed her gently with words and kisses until her desire returned. Then with exquisite tenderness that brought tears to her eyes, he slipped the oversize T-shirt from her body, drawing it away until she was naked except for the scrap of lace and silk.

He closed his eyes for a moment, as if he were remembering another night, and her body bathed in moonlight then as now. Then his eyes opened and the expression in them told her more than words that his memories, beautiful as they were to him, paled in comparison to the reality of the vision she created now. It was a heady feeling.

Juliana knew her body had changed. She had been eighteen then; she was twenty-nine now. Her breasts were fuller, her hips more womanly. But his body had changed, too. She had responded to his vibrant masculinity eleven years ago, but now she realized he had just been coming into full maturity as a man.

Andre was definitely a man now, in every sense of the word. He was taller, and his shoulders were impossibly wide, the muscles there and through his chest even more developed, corded power rippling beneath his skin. But his hips were still lean and taut. He was a physical force to be reckoned with, now more than ever. But when her fingers touched his manhood a spark transferred itself from him to her—that hadn't changed; their response to each other was as elemental now as it had been then.

“Trust me, Juliana,” he said now. Nothing more. He waited, refusing to touch her, refusing to let his hands, his body convince her.
Naked and trembling,
his eyes had told her at the reception, and she'd called it arrogance on his part. But now she saw the tensed muscles of his forearms, and when she looked down at his hands she saw they had formed fists, as if it was taking every ounce of his willpower to keep from touching her. Her eyes slid upward, lingering on his arousal, then encompassing his hips, the taut muscles of his stomach, his chest. She saw the faint tremors that shook him as that iron will was threatened...but held. And she knew.

Naked and trembling.

He hadn't just been talking about
, about making her want him. He'd been talking about
, as well.
“You will come to me because you want me the same way I want you.”
In her mind she heard the rest of his statement, but now it took on a whole new meaning. Now she understood.
want me again, Juliana. That is a promise, not a threat. And when I take you, you will understand why.”

Juliana looked up into Andre's face, saw the yearning there that matched what was in her heart, and her hands moved of their own volition. She slipped her thumbs beneath the delicate fabric and pushed it down, revealing herself to him completely. No barriers. No defenses.

Naked and trembling.

He moved then, shifting her body backward, pressing her against the pillows, his body covering hers with the same urgency she remembered from eleven years ago. Then memory blurred when he parted her legs and slid two strong fingers inside her, drawing a moan she couldn't repress. She was already damp, her body ready for him, and his fingers moved slowly...deep, deeper. Stretching her sweetly in a promise of things to come.

She shivered with anticipation, closing her eyes as she remembered the feel of him so long ago but so vivid in her mind—hot, hard, filling her so tightly, so completely, she hadn't known where she ended and he began.

“Perfect?” he whispered in a question that wasn't really a question because he already knew the answer, the husky sound of his voice making her shiver the way his hand did, his fingers sliding in and out, his thumb coaxing the tiny nub from its hiding place.

Then she was clinging to him, crying his name as he wove his dark, magical spell, the same way he'd done the first time he'd made love to her. She couldn't control her reaction to him now any more than she'd been able to do then. She loved him. She always had. She always would. She knew it, and she wanted him to know it, too. Wanted him to believe it. “Andre...” She arched against his hand. “Please...oh, please...”

“Yes,” he breathed against her throat. “Come to me, Juliana. Come to me.” Then he was whispering to her in Zakharan, the language she loved for its musical cadence. The language she loved because it was
. Whispered words that lured her ever higher as her body followed inevitably where he led.

She couldn't breathe. Couldn't bear his voice, his fingers, his body hard and insistent against hers for another minute. Not another second. She moaned and thrashed, wanting to escape but needing the feeling to go on endlessly. And then it was too late. His name was torn from her as her body simply exploded into a thousand pieces, each piece a glittering shard of ecstasy.


Chapter 16

uliana wasn't even aware Andre had moved. Wasn't even aware that he was sliding inexorably into her soft depths until he was buried deep inside her. She gasped and opened her eyes. His breathing wasn't quite steady and his eyes were hooded as he watched her, but there was an expression on his face she'd seen once before.

He pressed even deeper, making her shiver and burn. “Perfect, little one,” he said, though she could see it was an effort to get the words out. Then he was driving into her, riding her hard, his big body controlling hers with what seemed to be practiced ease. She didn't care. She just wanted him, wanted everything he could give her. Her knees rose and grasped his thighs, opening herself more fully to him. He groaned deep in his throat and took full advantage, driving even harder, deeper, both their bodies shuddering with each heavy thrust.

His mouth found her breasts, teasing the nipples into tight little buds until she begged him to stop. But he didn't stop the torment until she was weeping from the unbearable pleasure, until she was clinging to him and crying out in ecstasy. Then he pulled her knees even higher, changing the angle, and pounded into her until he exploded, too.

Juliana was crying, her chest shaking with repressed sobs as her body trembled in the aftermath of pleasure so great she could have died from it.
Eleven years.
The words kept running through her mind like a filmstrip on an endless loop.
Eleven years I've waited to feel this way again. Only with Andre. No one else. Only with him.

Andre was still embedded within her, and he was shaking, too. Only his shaking was from the breath rasping in his throat as he tried to breathe deeply enough to replenish his depleted muscles. But there was no softening of his flesh. He was still hard, rock hard. And when her tearstained eyes met his, she saw he knew it. He rolled over, bringing her with him and retaining his place inside her.

“Please...” she begged breathlessly, not sure if she was begging him to stop or to keep going.

“Yes,” he said in his deep voice. “I will please you until we both burn, until we melt into one flesh, until you forget every man but me.”

Words of denial trembled on her lips, but he thrust upward at the moment, impaling her, driving every thought out of her head but the feel of his body so deep he couldn't go deeper. She rocked against him wordlessly, matching his rhythm, and his fingers found her through the dark, silky curls. Then she was flying again, soaring high above the earth. The only thing anchoring her in place was his magician's voice whispering words of love in Zakharan.

* * *

Three times through the endless night Juliana dozed. Three times she awakened with Andre caressing her, his hard, urgent body drawing a response from hers she thought she was too exhausted to give. But each time her body quickened beneath his sure touch. Each time he brought her to a shattering climax. And each time he made her weep from the beauty of his lovemaking...and then held her close until her tears subsided.

She fell asleep after the last time as if she were drugged. At some point she felt him raising her up, dressing her with such tender, gentle hands her heart broke. Then he was lifting her in his arms as if she were weightless, carrying her through the dark passageway to her bedroom before anyone else in the palace was stirring.

She woke fully when he laid her down on her bed and drew the silk coverlet around her. She gazed up into his face and caught her breath at the love shining in his beautiful green eyes as he bent over her. “Andre... I...”

He took both her hands and raised them to his lips. “No, Juliana,” he told her firmly. “Do not tell me. I do not want to know. All that matters is you are here now. All that matters is finally...
finally came to me again after I have waited so long. All that matters is your body telling me no other man has given you what I have given you—no other man has made you weep with ecstasy.”

That faint, tantalizing smile crept into his eyes. “You were mine eleven years ago, little one. You are mine again. That is all. It is enough. But this time I will never let you go.” His lips claimed hers with urgency—a demand and a question rolled into one.

“I love you, Andre,” she said in a voice as soft as a sigh when he finally raised his head, knowing she needed to tell him this if nothing else. “And you're right. No other man has ever given me what you've given me.”
No other man ever will.

* * *

When Juliana woke again she was alone. She could tell from the angle of the sunbeams shining through her windows the sun was high in the sky. Her body ached in secret places and she desperately needed a bath, not only to wash but to soothe. Andre would come to her that night—she knew it. And she wanted to be physically ready for whatever he had in mind. Not only for herself, but for him. No sacrifice was too great for the man who had entrusted his heart to her the way Andre had.

She ran a bath in the huge bathtub, generously adding perfumed bubbles from one of the expensive flagons that lined the surround. She submerged herself and lay back against the smooth marble, trying to make sense of everything that had happened. Not just last night, but eleven years ago. She tried to reconcile the Andre who had made her believe in eternal love, then and now, with the Andre who had sent her money for an abortion...just in case. She couldn't. Her father had been right—Andre wasn't that kind of man.

The Andre of last night was like the Andre who had made love to her all those years ago. The Andre who had treated her innocence as a precious gift. The Andre who had given her such aching beauty she had wept with joy. The Andre she would have trusted with her life as she trusted him with her heart.

Neither man was the man who had coldly sent Zakharian agents to an eighteen-year-old to tell her to forget any dreams she had of a handsome prince. Neither man was the man who wanted her to destroy the child they might have created.

Why had she believed those two agents when they said Andre had sent them? Because she'd been young and unsure of herself, unsure of Andre. Because he hadn't said he loved her during their incredible night together...not even once. Because he hadn't called her, hadn't written—not even an email—in the two months since she'd left Zakhar, not even in answer to her love letters and emails. And because at the time she'd asked herself who else but Andre could have known about that night.

Now she was asking the same question, but from a different perspective. It
have been Andre—mind and heart were telling her she
have been wrong all these years. But if not Andre, then who? Who else had known? And why had he never responded when she'd tried to contact him?

A knock at the door to her suite startled Juliana out of her contemplative state. She dried herself quickly, making sure she didn't rub off the birth control patch on her hip. “Just a minute,” she called out, frantically drawing on her underwear and wrapping her bathrobe tightly around her. “Who is it?” she asked when she finally reached the door.

“It is I, Miss Richardson. Daphne,” the palace maid assigned to her called from the other side of the door. When Juliana unbolted the door and opened it, the young woman bobbed a little curtsy, smiled and handed her a sealed envelope bearing the Zakharian royal crest. “His Majesty regrets the intrusion, but requests I give you this as soon as possible.”

“Thank you,” Juliana said, staring at the envelope but slightly bemused by the curtsy. Daphne had done her best to wait on her hand and foot the entire time she was here, but she'd never curtsied before, and Juliana wasn't sure what to make of it.

Daphne's cheeks were very pink when she said, “Is there anything I can do for you, Miss Richardson? May I lay out your clothes for you? Bring you breakfast? I know you told me in the past you did not wish for breakfast to be brought to you, but...”

“No. Oh no, I'm fine, thanks.” Juliana was consumed with curiosity about the envelope, but good manners dictated she wait until she was alone. If only Daphne would go...but it seemed the maid was disinclined to leave.

Another blush suffused Daphne's cheeks. “Please do not hesitate to call for me if you need anything,” the maid insisted. “Remember, two rings on the buzzer, and I will be here directly.”

“Thank you,” Juliana repeated, starting to be amused at the young woman's overeagerness to serve. When she finally closed the door a thought occurred to her.
It's almost as if she were auditioning,
she told herself with a little smile. Then the smile faded as she asked,
Auditioning for what?
The answer, when it came, seemed almost impossible.
Auditioning to be my personal maid.
Not just now, during the making of
King's Ransom
. But for the future. Her future with Andre.

She broke open the seal with fingers that trembled and pulled out the crisp notepaper, scanning the few sentences in Andre's incisive handwriting that slashed boldly across the paper. Then read them again. Slowly.

the note said.
I trust you slept well. I watched you sleep until I could no longer bear not being in the bed next to you. Until I could no longer bear not holding you as you slept. Until I could no longer bear not holding you as I have dreamed of doing since that first night. But you needed sleep, little one, and I could not deny you that. When you wake...whenever you wake, I will be waiting for you in the little library, where it all began for me so many years ago. Come to me, Juliana. Please come to me there. I will be waiting. Andre.

Andre was waiting for her. That's all Juliana could think of. She dressed hurriedly, choosing one of her comfortable, lightweight summer dresses with a floating skirt that made her feel deliciously feminine. This one was in her favorite lavender blue. She brushed her hair and thought about pinning it up for coolness, but decided against it as a memory from the night before came to her. Andre twining her long hair around his throat, his eyes closed against the feel of it heavy against his skin. As if he had dreamed of doing that, too. As if he had dreamed of so many things where she was concerned.

She hurried toward the little library on the second floor, so lighthearted her feet barely touched the ground. When she reached her destination she recognized Lukas on duty today, standing guard by the door. As he'd done the first time she'd met Andre in the little library, Lukas opened the door for her, then quietly closed it behind her.

Andre was sitting in the same easy chair he'd been sitting in before, reading and marking comments on a document he held in his hand. The stack of documents on the table beside him that he'd already reviewed was substantial, and Juliana felt a little stab of guilt that he'd been waiting so long while she slept. The skin around his eyes looked a little weary, too, when he glanced up at her entrance. Weary, as if he hadn't slept at all, although his eyes blazed bright green when he saw her. And Juliana couldn't help but blurt out the question. “Did you get any sleep?”

Andre placed the document on the table, stood and held out his arms to her. She walked into them as if it was the most natural thing in the world, and they closed tightly around her. She tilted her face, mutely asking, and he kissed her. Long. Slow. Savoring.

Eventually he raised his head and smiled down at her, answering her earlier question. “We have plans to make, little one. How could I sleep?”

“What plans?”

“I realize you must return to Los Angeles for your friend's funeral. And you must finish filming
King's Ransom
, but the producer assures me a few more weeks back in Hollywood should suffice to wrap things up. Will you wish to continue your acting career after we are married? It would be difficult, but not impossible. Your royal duties will have to take precedence, of course, but—”

“Married?” Juliana stared at him in shock, barely able to get the word out.

The smile faded from his face and he went very still. “I told you earlier I would never let you go. What did you think I meant?”

“I... It never occurred to me that you...that we...” she fumbled.

“You thought I would just take you...until I tired of you? Is that it?” he asked tightly, harshly. “Is that what you thought of me?”

The pain in his eyes coursed through her. “No,” she said, shaking her head. “I knew you loved me, but I...I honestly didn't think beyond that. I just knew I wanted to be with you, any way I could.” Her eyes pleaded for understanding. “Andre, please.
don't look like that. I

“Yes, you love me,” he said in an emotionless voice. “But it is like before. You still see me as a man who could take you and then walk away. You still see me as the prince who took your virginity and never promised you anything.”

He clenched his jaw as if other words wanted to escape, bitter accusations he refused to let himself voice. Then he turned sharply away and headed for the door. “How long?” she heard him whisper to himself in Zakharan in utter despair and realized she wasn't meant to hear. “Must I pay forever for one mistake?”

Juliana flew across the room and caught him before he could leave. “No,” she said, throwing her arms around him from behind, pressing her body against his, holding him fiercely. “I don't think of you that way,” she told him. “Not anymore.” His body was rigid beneath her grasp but she could hear his rapid heartbeat beneath her ear, and she knew he wasn't as indifferent to her as he tried to appear. “Please,” she whispered. “Please look at me.”

He peeled her hands from his chest and turned, setting her away from him. “If not that, then what, Juliana?” he asked coolly, and she saw he had retreated behind defenses she would have to fight to tear down. He smiled cynically. “Or perhaps I am asking too much of you. To sacrifice the love and adulation of exchange for what one man has to offer.”

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