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Chapter Nine

Rain fell in a steady drizzle as Phoebe ran on foot to the cottage at the edge of her family’s property. Cold seeped through the wispy fabric of her gown, and the flimsy wrapper she’d draped over her head and shoulders did little to ward of the wet chill. Her heart hammered and her stomach churned with excitement.

What did James wish to tell her? She hardly dared to hope his affections mirrored her own. Would he kiss her again as he had beneath the tree? Would he press for other liberties? More importantly… would she resist him? Did she have the strength?

A trickle of nerves traced her spine, but whatever trepidations she might experience, she felt no inclination to turn back or abandon this reckless endeavor.

The cottage came into view through the mist and drizzle. The door hung slightly ajar and her heart leapt. He’s already here. She drew a ragged breath, and rushed through the portal, throwing the wooden door back with such force it banged against the wall. The cottage interior was surprisingly tidy and well kept, leaving her to wonder who else used this as a haven for clandestine trysts. She glanced quickly about the tiny hut and spotted James immediately. Their eyes collided with physical force and thrills of awareness shivered over Phoebe’s cold skin. Soaked through, he appeared dangerous and rugged, and oh so very virile.

He stepped forward, gaze intent upon her, intensity and wonder glinting in his eyes. “You came,” he said in a deep husky tone that reached into her core.

“Of course,” she whispered, too breathless with the sheer force of her emotion for him to speak louder.

He strode the remaining few feet between them and scooped her up in an impulsive embrace. His powerful arms consumed her. “You shouldn’t have,” he whispered. His breath blew hot and heavy in her ear.

“Perhaps not, but I wanted to.” She shivered, curling her arms around his neck. “What is it you wished to tell me?”

He settled her feet back to the floor, dragging his palms possessively down her curves and pressed his forehead to hers. “A dispatch rider carried my orders in yesterday—”

A gust of wind tore through the cabin, startling them both.

“By damn that’s cold!” James released her from his arms and quickly crossed the room to shut the door. He hesitated for a moment before lifting his eyes to her. His expression grew somber. “Tomorrow I rejoin my regiment.”

Devastated, Phoebe swayed on her feet. “So soon?” Visions of him charging into battle with hundreds of muskets and sabers aimed at his heart seared her mind. “Oh, James!” She ran forward and threw her arms around his shoulders. “I don’t want you to go.”

He gathered her up, linking his arms intimately around her middle. “And I have no wish to leave you.” After a moment he lifted his head. Their eyes locked and sheer magic lit the moment. “Phoebe…” her name fell from his lips like a favored delicacy and hunger flamed in his amber eyes.

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