"You've ruined my surprise."

Her eyes drank in the shadowy figure of the man who had come up behind her. She couldn't see his face, but she didn't need to turn around to know him. She knew the feeling of his presence by now, knew the deep resonance of his voice, recognized it in the marketplace among a thousand others, knew that it haunted even her dreams. The muscles of his naked body gleamed red in the light of the oil as he stood behind her, lightly running the tip of his finger down her bare shoulder. "I had planned the use of the room for tomorrow. It is my last day in Makharia."

"I know, m'lord." Even to her own ears her voice sounded leaden, hopeless. "I went down to the shore to watch your ship sail into the harbor. All of the women twittered like frightened birds about how striking the Brigian sailors were. I suppose all people find the forbidden most attractive. And not a single one of them could compare to you, Lord Drey."

It was a heartfelt compliment. There was no reason for dishonesty between them in this, the end.

"But you're mistaken. I am not who you think I am."

She nearly turned, but his hands at the sides of her head kept her focus on the glass. "I don't understand."

"I am a stranger from a far land, a guest here in your master's household. We've never been introduced. I noticed you as you served our dinner, girl. You are quite pleasing to the eye. I realize that you don't know me, or anything about me, but I couldn't resist following you here. I intend no disrespect to my host, but the sight of you has aroused such a thirst in me that, by God, I cannot leave this place without having you."

A game. He wanted to play a game. "Master, I don't think…"

"You needn't worry about being caught. There's no one here to see us. No one need know." He lifted her long hair and spread soft, slow kisses upon the back of her neck until she closed her eyes, shivering.

"It could be most intriguing, little one," he whispered into the shell of her ear, his strong arm snaking around her waist. "Love in the shadows, between complete strangers. We needn't pretend to be people we are not. I am a simple horse trader, and you are a serving girl who has captured my fancy." His hardness pulsed suggestively against her. "Let me pleasure you. I can make you feel as you never have before."

The Hashier did not occupy this room. There were no guards, no prying eyes, no duties, no rules. It was only a game, after all. And she was so tired, so very tired of being strong, of fighting against what she really wanted. It could be the first and last time in her life she might permit herself to feel like a woman. A woman in love with a man.

Aryenne rocked gently back and forth against him, and wordlessly sighed her consent.

Turning and tilting her head back toward him, he kissed her hard and long, devouring her lips as she finally, finally felt free to return his embrace with equal fervor. As she captured his searching tongue, a deep, rumbling noise sounded in the back of his throat. "I knew it was there all along," he groaned. "I knew it…"

He turned her back toward the glass. "Observe, little one. This is what a beautiful, passionate woman looks like."

She stared in wonder at the reflection before her. Her lips were swollen and red, eager to be taken again, and she touched them, amazed that they radiated heat. She watched through heavy-lidded eyes as he pulled the curtain of black hair behind her shoulders, as his huge hands covered her breasts. The strong fingers which belonged to the shadowy face began a slow, sensuous massage, kneading them into full ripeness, and she watched, fascinated, as the nipples puckered and hardened, begging to be suckled. A warm simmering began between her legs, and she threw her head back against his shoulder, smiling at the flushed, smiling woman in the glass overhead…

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