He could not feel his legs.
The thought came as a distant aside as Roake stood in the doorway of the east wing room and felt the world die around him.
He was too late.
Jenesta sat in front of the sea chest, his journal on the floor, her face white as chalk. She looked so innocent in her modest, light-pink nightgown and wrapper, her hair braided and tied with a ribbon falling down her back. Her arms were tight around her waist as if to hold herself in one piece.
If she let go, they could fall apart together.
It was obvious from her shocked blank eyes, motionless features, the book cast aside in disgust.
She knows my dreams, my desire for her.
Roake’s stomach roiled, a frigid mist rising from his toes, rushing to swamp his entire body. He tried to turn away, but could not. Jenesta’s eyes held him in place. They demanded something of him, although he was unsure what it was. An explanation? A reason? Reassurance that this was just a nightmare and they would awaken in the morning as though it never happened?
He almost laughed, but even that froze in his chest.
Impotently, he searched for something to say and the strength to say it, but all he could think was She knows.
Jenesta got to her feet, a spill of silk and pearls falling from her lap onto the carpet. She was shivering and her hand rose to clasp the top of her robe. Still she said nothing, only watched him with those wide, unfathomable eyes.
As the thought entered his head once more, Jenesta stepped back, moving away from him slowly, carefully.
At the motion, something wild and hot flared in his belly, broke through the fog holding him in place. With it came deep hurt and anger, mixed with acceptance of grim inevitability.
It was already over—their marriage, his futile hope she would bring him peace and give him the family he so desperately craved. She had destroyed everything, except the dreams he now knew would haunt him until he died.
Jenesta already knew his twisted cravings. There was no reason to hide any longer. She owed him something for the destruction she had caused.
She would pay with this night.
His feet moved of their own accord, matching her steps with the awakening instincts of the hunter.
Jenesta’s breathing sounded loud even above the rain driving against the windows and roof. Roake stalked her, lengthening his strides so, for each one she took, his brought them a little closer together.
“Why did you come in here, madam?”
Jenesta’s lips trembled open, but no sound came from them. She was almost to the far wall. Another step and she would feel the stone behind her—know there was nowhere left to run. Roake followed, taking an extra step to stop less than an arm’s length away.
“My instructions were clear. Why did you defy me?”
Her silence provoked him to action, propelled him into his fantasy. One swift movement and the lawn wrapper and nightgown tore beneath his hands to hang in rags from her shoulders.
Jenesta gasped, her face flooding with color, but before she could react further, he closed the distance between them, roughly cupping her breast with one hand as the other made short work of the remnants of her garb.
She leaned away and slapped him across the cheek.
The sound that emerged from Roake’s throat was a growl of triumph, of vindication. Jenesta’s heart leapt with joy.
Yes, my love. Yes.
She was challenging him—had been from the first step hinting at retreat—wanting to give him all he dreamed of and achieve fulfillment of her own dream in return.
Luckily, they seemed one and the same.
Roake leaned into her, pressing her back to the cold stone. Yet she hardly felt the chill. Her body was aflame.
His voice rasped harshly into her ear. “Did you look at my journal?”
Jenesta forced her reply past the yearning clogging her chest. “Yes.”
“So you know what I have to do now, don’t you.”
It was not a question, but she wanted to answer, wanted him to know she was complicit in what was to come. “Yes.”
His movements were swift, sure, as he pulled her away from the wall and across the room. Using his foot, he tugged the chair out from beneath the desk. His hand curved tight around her arm, no hint of gentleness left in his touch. Jenesta stumbled as her feet tangled in the silk on the floor, and the pearls rattled, rolling off the edge of the carpet onto the floorboards. Roake paused with his hand on the chair, looking down at the pearls.
His gaze swung to her face. Roake’s eyes were the color of an approaching storm, wild as lightning slashing in the sky. Yet something else flashed behind them—it looked like sorrow or fear but she could not tell precisely.
Inexplicably, he murmured, “One night.”
The chair was flung roughly aside and Roake pushed her toward the desk, his hand braced on her back to position her facedown on the smooth surface. Then he grasped her hands and pulled them out to the side, curving her fingers around the edge of the wood. He leaned into her, overwhelming her in his power. Jenesta shuddered, surrounded by his hard body, the tang of his distinctive scent, his rigid cock pressing into her arse through his trousers.
His voice rumbled like distant thunder as he asked, “Did your tender sensibilities allow you to read past your punishment for slapping me?”
Jenesta shook her head, the want too strong to allow a reply. Roake’s breath was hot against her cheek and fanned the flames rising to scorch her from the inside out.
“Good.” His rough voice held such anticipation, Jenesta moaned. Roake chuckled, and ground his cock into her, sending shooting spasms from her cunt to her breasts and all the way to her fingers and toes. “The element of surprise is always a benefit. Stay exactly where I have placed you, Jenesta.”