“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “I’m cold. I want to be nearer the fire. And you.”

“Then put your hands on my shoulders.” When she complied, he slid a forearm under her hips and lifted, boosting her to sit on the anvil. He kept his hand clenched and out of the way, to keep from mussing her frock.

But once he had here there, sitting sweetly on his anvil . . .

By God, he wanted to muss her all over.

Five minutes ago, he would have sworn there was no sight on earth more enticing than Miss Diana Highwood in her china-blue frock.

But he was wrong.

There was a sight more enticing. It was Miss Diana Highwood in her china-blue frock, damp with rain.

The cloak had protected her from the worst of it, but enough of the weather had seeped through that her bodice might as well have been a coat of paint. Her nipples were hard and perfectly outlined.

Her legs dangled above the cinder floor. He caught a glimpse of her white-clad ankles. No silk stockings today, just sensible wool. He still found them arousing as hell.

“I wasn’t expecting you.” He wiped his brow with his sleeve, then showed her his blackened hands. “Sit here by the forge. I’ll go wash up, find a fresh shirt, build a fire in the cottage. Then I can warm you properly.”

She reached for him. “No, stay. Stay with me.”

Frowning, he studied her, trying to decide whether her shivering was due to the damp weather or a fragile emotional state. Either way, he didn’t like feeling unable to help her.

He couldn’t warm her with his hands. But hands weren’t the only parts he had.

“Your fingers must be freezing,” he said, glancing down at her balled fists.

She wore those knitted handwarmers that seemed popular with all the ladies this spring. Fingerless gloves, he’d heard them called. In weather like this, “fingerless” struck him as tantamount to “useless,” but he didn’t pretend to understand ladies’ fashions.

He untied his leather apron and cast it aside. Then he jerked his homespun shirt free of his waistband and lifted it in invitation. “Put them here.”

She pressed her chilled hands flat to his torso. Their coolness gave him a jolt.

“Goodness,” she said. “You’re like a furnace.”

Love, you have no idea.

To be sure, her hands were cold. But her cold fingertips had less chance of dampening his lust than ten snowflakes falling on a bonfire.

His whole body was aflame with desire for her. Had been since long before she’d burst through the door. All he’d been able to think of since last night was her naked body under his. Her sweet touch against his bared skin.

Bending his head, he kissed the pink back to her lips, then her cheeks. He nuzzled the frosty snub of her nose. Licked a stray raindrop from her brow.

“I’m just getting started.” He pressed a kiss to her neck. “But you had something to talk about?”

Her fingers slid around his rib cage, spreading over the planes of his back, drawing him close. Instinctively, he moved to reciprocate and embrace her, too—but he remembered himself just in time to keep from smearing her frock with soot. Instead, he let his hands drop, and he gripped either end of the anvil.

Her neckline thwarted him. When damp, the muslin had no give. So he dropped his head lower, nuzzling her breasts through her bodice.

She sighed and moved against him, seeking more contact.

He knew she wanted more. Needed more. And he knew how to give it to her, too. He just wasn’t sure she was ready to receive it.

No way to find out but to try.

He sank to his knees, ducked his head, and burrowed under her skirts.

She went completely still. Not a muscle moved, but he could hear her breathing. Her breath came from a low place, deep in her belly. Husky and yearning.

She didn’t tell him to stop.

He nibbled his way up the stocking-clad slope of her calf and knee, nosing his way through the tunnel of petticoats. When he reached her ribbon garter, he knew paradise was close. He laid his tongue to the bare silk of her inner thigh, then swept boldly upward. As he moved higher, his broad shoulders pushed her legs apart.

Her thigh gave a sweet quiver against his mouth.

He found her center, nestled close, and parted her with his tongue.

She sucked in her breath.

He paused, giving her time to adjust or object if she wished—and he drew a deep inhalation of his own. He breathed the scents of spring rain, and muslin pressed with a hot iron, and her intoxicating feminine essence. So pure, so sensual. It made him wild.

He lapped at her, thirsty for more.

It wasn’t long before she surrendered to the pleasure, relaxing into his kiss. He explored gently, tenderly, learning what pleased her and what didn’t. He would have loved to bring her to climax this way. But when she tugged at his shoulders in a silent plea for him to rise, he couldn’t find any strength to object.

With his teeth, he dragged her skirts to her waist, and he wedged his hips between her spread legs, grinding his buckskin-trapped erection against her aroused flesh.

This was so good.

A flicker of doubt chased down his spine. It was the middle of the day. Pouring rain outside, yes, but someone could come in at any moment. Someone from the rooming house might be looking for her.

Were they really going to do this?

Her slender legs locked around his waist. The heel of her slipper dug into his flank—like a spur, prodding his inner beast.

Oh, yes. They were going to do this.

He tightened his grip on the pointed ends of the anvil, bracketing her hips. “You’ll have to take it from here.”

She reached between them and worked the closures of his trousers, slipping each button free with small, sure fingers. Then those same fingers reached inside and found his straining cock, drawing him out and guiding him to her core.

She was wet and ready. A low groan eased from his chest as he slid deep.

How many nights had he taken himself in hand and imagined just this scene? Perfect, refined, delicate Diana Highwood propped on his anvil, milk-white thighs spread wide. Panting for him. Her back arched in pleasure, her breasts overflowing her bodice as he took her, pounding a forged-iron erection into her willing heat, again and again and again. She’d always been his favorite erotic fantasy.

But the reality? The reality surpassed his every imagining.

He could never have pictured it like this. The sounds of rain sheeting down, battering the smithy roof. The small, private clouds of their mingled breath. The scent of laundered muslin mingling with raw, animal lust. And God, the feel of her. Her velvet heat hugging his cock. So tight. The sweet vise of her legs locked over his hips. The delicious bite of her fingernails on his neck.

I want this, too, her body told him. I want this, I want you. I want more, more, more.

With a low growl, he tightened his grip on the anvil and redoubled his pace. He would give her more. He would give her everything.

“Aaron.” Her hands fisted in the fabric of his shirt. “Aaron, wait.”

He froze, breath heaving in his chest. Damn. She’d come to her senses, realized she was a gentlewoman being crudely tupped on the anvil in a village smithy. Bloody hell. He was a rutting bastard.

Maybe he could apologize. Make it up to her by carrying her to the cottage and his bed.

Or maybe she’d just leave. Forever.

“I . . .” He didn’t know what to say or do. He just hoped she didn’t weep.

She looked up at him with sultry, heavy-lidded eyes. “Touch me,” she said huskily. “Get me dirty. I don’t mind.”

Outside of muttering his way through Sunday service, Aaron had not voiced a conscious prayer in more than ten years. He supposed it wouldn’t help his chances in the hereafter if he returned to the fold with Saints preserve me from premature ejaculation. No matter how sincerely uttered.

Instead, he gritted his teeth and slowed his thrusts to a languid roll. She held fast to his neck but relaxed her arms, so that she hung pendulous beneath him, affording them both the space to watch.

She looked on, wide-eyed and breathless, as he slid one hand to cup her breast. Her body arched into his touch. His thumb made a dark, rude streak over the pale muslin. Marking her.

She gave a sharp cry of pleasure, and her intimate muscles clenched around him.

That cry she gave . . . it was a cry of relief, born of keen anticipation. As if his rude, gritty touch was what she’d been waiting for all this time.

Touch me. Get me dirty. I don’t mind.

“I’ll be damned.” He blinked away a trickling bead of sweat. “You’ve been wanting this, too.”

She bit her lip and blushed. Her lashes fluttered coyly. “I . . . I don’t know what you mean.”

Aaron chuckled low, dragging his caress from one breast to the other. Of course she wouldn’t admit it so easily. That would spoil the fun for them both.

But he knew the truth now. She’d pictured this. Dreamed of this. Perhaps even sent her hand beneath the coverlet and touched herself while imagining just exactly this.

And he was going to make this good.

He made his voice low and smug as he thumbed her hardened nipple. Smearing soot in a lewd circle. “Don’t play innocent, Miss Highwood. You’ve been wanting this. A hard, sweaty pounding from the village smith. These strong, dirty hands all over your body. You’ve been wanting it, haven’t you?”

As he moved in and out, her head bobbed in a subtle nod.

A thrill of triumph buzzed through his whole body—then settled, tense and eager, in the base of his spine.

“Show me, love. Show me how bad you wanted it.”

She kissed him deeply, hungrily, catching his tongue and suckling it hard. As they kissed, she made soft, needy whimpers in the back of her throat.

“Take me,” she whispered. “Mark me as yours. I want everyone to see.”

Her words shredded his restraint, but he fought the urge to pump hard and fast, remaining faithful to the slow, steady grind that made her writhe and moan.

And then at long, merciful last—made her shudder and keen in sweet release.

When she’d recovered from her crisis, he gathered her tight in his arms. Then he stood, lifting her off the anvil entirely and settling her weight against his chest.

She obeyed, lashing her arms around his neck and legs about his waist.

She wanted a tupping from a coarse, common brute? That’s what she’d get. Ten years at this forge had changed him, raised him from a youth to a man. He’d learned patience, attention to detail, restraint—everything he needed to be slow and steady for her pleasure.

But it had also made him strong as an ox. And now it was his turn.

Bracing his feet shoulder-width apart, he tensed his thighs until they were solid as tree trunks. He used every bit of the hard-earned strength in his arms and shoulders, sliding her up and down his length. Using her shamelessly, clutching her bottom with his sooty hands and working her hard.

It wasn’t a feat he could have kept up all night, but that didn’t matter. His lust had reached such a desperate pitch that a minute or two was all it would take.

He wanted to keep his eyes open. This was his dream, his fantasy come to life. She was in his arms, all lacy and perfect and dirty and wet. He meant to watch her, keep his gaze on her flushed, glistening cleavage as he came.