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  Actually, though, she thought she might be. Pooled, throbbing heat between her legs made her realize how much she wanted him. However, she told herself she needed to be smart about this. For one thing, she hoped he had some condoms hidden in that rucksack of his, because no way was she going to bed with him if he didn’t have protection. The apocalypse was bad enough without risking an unplanned pregnancy.

  They both sat up. Sarah did her best to smooth her mussed hair, while Cam surreptitiously tugged at his jeans.

  Probably hiding a raging boner in there, she thought with an inward grin. Or at least, she really hoped he was. That way, she’d know she had the same effect on him that he had on her.

  “It’s stopping,” he said, and she raised an inquiring eyebrow. “The snow,” he added, by way of explanation, as he pointed toward the French doors.

  Sure enough, although the skies still looked gray and heavy, the white flakes falling from the clouds had dwindled to almost nothing. Sarah got up from the couch and went to the door, straightening her sweater and adjusting the bra underneath, which wasn’t lying quite where she wanted it. She had to hope Cameron wasn’t paying attention, was still looking at the view outside. The yard and the grounds beyond it had a fairly respectable coating of white now, the landscape blurred by what she calculated was around three or four inches of snow.

  “Good,” she said. “That’s just enough to be pretty without getting in the way too much. But it’ll be dark soon, so I think we have to forget about bough-gathering until tomorrow.”

  “That’s fine. It’s the kind of night that’s better for staying in.”

  He spoke in a neutral tone, but Sarah still felt another rush of heat go through her at his words. The memory of the kisses they’d shared, his hand on her breast, was far too vivid. Her body wanted more. She’d never been the type to jump into bed with people, so she really couldn’t explain her current behavior. Then she wanted to laugh at herself. “People”? Three boyfriends in total, and the first one had been the love of her sophomore year in high school. She hadn’t slept with him, had told herself that she wasn’t ready. She probably wasn’t ready to sleep with Chris, the guy she dated when she was nineteen, either, but at that point, she’d decided it was stupid to hang on to her virginity as though it was something precious as diamonds. No deep-held religious convictions held her back, no desire to wait until she was married or anything like that. It was just…the timing hadn’t seemed to work until then.

  Chris ended up joining the Marines and moving away, and after him had come Seth. She’d thought she and Seth could make it work. He’d had bigger plans, though. Plans he’d hoped would include her, but she was too much of a chickenshit to leave everything she’d known behind.

  Well, it was all gone anyway, so her cowardice hadn’t served much purpose. Or rather, Cloudcroft was still here, but everything that had it made it the town she loved — her father and the people she worked with, Louise at the candle shop and Marybeth at the turquoise store, her friend Candy who waited tables at Conrad’s — all that had disappeared as the Heat swept over the world.

  Worried that Cameron might read too much into her long hesitation, she said, “Yes, it is a good night to stay in. And I saved some potatoes, so I’ll make soup. Sound good?”

  The smile he gave her then was warm, eager. “Sounds great.”

  Besides the potatoes, she had a couple of precious cans of cheddar cheese soup, some evaporated milk, and canned corn. Combined with some seasonings and a dash of Worcestershire sauce, the ingredients made some surprisingly tasty potato cheese soup. They had biscuits, too, and a bottle of wine she’d liberated from the Noisy Water Winery a while back.

  Cameron had busied himself as well, and stoked the fire in the hearth that separated the bar from the restaurant’s dining room. Sarah hadn’t touched it all the time she’d been living here alone, but he insisted, saying that she’d gone to a lot of effort to make their dinner, so they should sit down and eat it at one of the dining tables like civilized people.

  As he opened the wine, he glanced over at the grand piano that sat on a little dais next to the hearth. “Do you play?”

  “No,” she replied. “I wish I did. It would have given me something to do with my time. Do you?”

  “No,” he said. “No money for piano lessons in my family.”

  Sarah could relate to that. Cam’s confession only relaxed her more. They might have only known each other for a couple of days, but she could tell that their backgrounds were very similar. Working class, or maybe the bottom layer of the middle class, but certainly no pretensions to anything more than that. If he’d been some rich guy from Santa Fe, he would have intimidated her.

  As it was…she just liked being with him.

  They drank wine, and ate their soup and biscuits. Their conversation turned to what they might do with all this snow…see if any of the snowmobiles up at Jensen’s rental place had gas in them…build a snow fort…revive the covered skating rink at the end of town. Anything but fret about how the snow might have cut them off from the outside world. How could you even worry about something that didn’t exist anymore? Cameron coming here was a one in a million shot; Sarah doubted more refugees would be making their way up the steep highway to see if anyone was still alive in tiny Cloudcroft.

  The fire was warm, the wine rich and deep. Maybe too heavy for the light meal, but she wasn’t complaining. It wasn’t as if she had to worry about driving. No, they would stay here, safe and warm. Or mostly warm. The fireplace in her room did okay, but the guest room where Cam was sleeping didn’t have a fireplace. Overnight, as the temperatures dropped and the skies cleared, that room would only get colder and colder.

  She didn’t want him to get cold. She wanted….

  Across the table, their eyes met. His were so deep and dark, with such heavy lashes, they didn’t look real. Sarah wondered if he had some Italian or Greek or something similar in his background, despite his very Anglo-Saxon last name. He did seem almost too exotic to have come out of prosaic Roswell, New Mexico.

  Neither of them spoke. For a long moment, they sat there in silence, and then Cameron got up from his chair and extended a hand to her. She hesitated, knowing what the gesture meant. If she reached out her hand to take his, then this evening would move forward to its inevitable conclusion. And if she refused, instead picked up her glass so she could drink the remainder of the wine within, she’d be telling him she wasn’t ready, that he was rushing things.

  Which would it be?

  His eyes held hers. Steady, calm, but with a fire deep within. He would be hurt by her refusal, but she somehow knew that he wouldn’t push her.

  This was crazy. She hardly knew him. She should pick up her wine, offer him a smile, act as if everything was normal.

  It wasn’t normal, though. Nothing would be normal again.

  Sarah took a breath, and laid her hand in Cameron’s.

  Chapter Seven

  Her fingers felt so fragile in his, so delicate. And yet he’d seen those same small hands carrying solar panels earlier, and later efficiently chopping their precious store of potatoes into neat cubes for their soup. Kamal knew Sarah was anything but fragile.

  Still, he also knew he needed to be careful.

  He’d intended to guide her back to his room, but where the hallway branched off, she shook her head and tugged him toward the wing where her suite was located. “I have a fireplace,” she murmured.

  Well, he couldn’t argue with that. Although a chilly room wouldn’t bother him, it would make her uncomfortable, and the last thing he wanted was for her to be uncomfortable. Besides, making love with a fire crackling in the background was always a desirable thing.

  The suite was larger than he had first thought, with the bedroom and bathroom branching off to the right, and a little sitting area with a couch, desk, and television set to the left. No wonder Sarah had taken up residence here. The parlor room she’d given him to sleep in was certainly comfortable e
nough, but it couldn’t compare to this suite.

  Logs had already been laid in the hearth, so all he had to do was take a long match from the box sitting on the mantel and touch it to one of the kindling twigs to get the fire going. If his element had been fire rather than water, he wouldn’t have needed the match at all — well, except that using djinn talents in such a way would immediately alert Sarah that her companion wasn’t quite as human as he pretended to be.

  They would have to have that conversation at some point, but for now, he only wanted to focus on her. On the silky hair that slipped over his hands as he cupped her face and kissed her again, on the smooth white sweetness of her flesh after he’d taken hold of her sweater and pulled it over her head. The bulky clothing she wore had done its best to conceal the graceful curves of her body, but there was no hiding them now. His fingers traced lightly over the swell of her breasts, and she pulled in a little startled gasp of a breath, although he noticed she did nothing to stop him, only moved closer so he could reach behind her and undo the hooks of her bra. Like the rest of her clothes, it was a utilitarian enough garment, plain white, no lace or anything to adorn it.

  Not that her beautiful breasts needed anything to enhance them. They fell free, full and rounded, so delicious-looking that he could do nothing but bend his head and take one rosy-brown nipple into his mouth, delighting in its hardness beneath his tongue. She moaned, her fingers catching in his hair as she held him close.

  It was good to stand here in front of the fire and taste her, but he thought they would both be more comfortable in the bed, only a few paces off to the right. He slipped his arms under her and lifted her, eliciting another gasp, followed by a delighted smile. With one hand he reached out and tugged down the sheets and blankets, then deposited her on the bed. Right then he wished very much he had already told her he was a djinn, for he could have simply snapped his fingers and made the rest of her clothes disappear.

  Since he knew doing so wasn’t feasible, instead he took one of the heavy boots she wore and unlaced it, then did the same with the other before tugging both of them off, along with her thick socks. Next came the jeans, although he left her panties in place for now. They, too, were plain white, but he found them enticing nonetheless, for he knew what they concealed.

  “No fair,” she said, wrapping her arms around herself, although Kamal didn’t know whether she did so because she was cold, or because she was suddenly shy now that she was nearly naked while he remained fully clothed. “If I have to freeze, so do you.”

  “I can stir up the fire, if you like.”

  “You’ve already done that,” she responded, giving him a wicked smile. “What I really want is you in this bed with me.”

  Ah, he could definitely indulge her in that request. As she stared up at him, he unzipped the hoodie he wore, then pulled off the T-shirt he had on beneath it, followed by his own boots and socks and jeans. “Better?” he asked.

  “Oh, yes,” she said, her gaze taking in his unclothed form. “Much better.”

  That was as good an invitation as any. He got into bed next to her, pulled her close so he could feel her naked breasts rubbing against him. A small sigh escaped her lips, and she reached down to touch him, to feel the hardness of his shaft beneath the cotton undergarments he still wore.

  This time he was the one who sighed — no, to be fair, that was more of a gasp. He decided to let her know that turnabout was fair play, and took hold of the underpants she wore, pulling them down so he could reveal the small patch of dark hair between her legs, could slip his finger into her, feel how aroused she was, how wet and ready.

  Right then, all he wanted was to bury himself in her, but he also knew it would be best to go about this slowly, to make every inch of her respond to him. He wanted to make sure that this experience with him would far surpass any she might have had with a mortal lover. Yes, he could tell she was not a virgin, but at the same time, he did not think she was one to have given her body freely. She had not yet experienced everything that the world of lovemaking had to offer.

  His tongue moved over her breast again as he stroked her. Another moan, this one lower, more guttural. He could hear how her breathing began to speed up, how her heart began to pound harder.

  Yes. She cried out, her body spasming around his fingers. Good. He was somewhat surprised by how quickly she had responded, but then, she had gone without for several months…at least. Although she had said nothing yet of her past lovers, Kamal had the impression that she was alone when the Heat descended.

  Some men might have left off there, but he was not yet done. He grazed kisses all down her flat stomach, pausing so he could dip his tongue into her. At once she cried out, her back arching, but he held on to her, tongue moving slowly up and down, circling, savoring her sweetness, until he felt her spasm once again, her juices flooding his mouth.

  Only then did he lift his head from her, reach down so he could get rid of the tight human-made underwear that constrained him so. His tip touched her — and then she startled and backed away, scooting up toward the pillows.

  He frowned, wondering what on earth was wrong. Surely she was not the kind of woman to tease him into giving her pleasure, only to back away when he wished to complete the act.

  “Protection?” she said in a near-whisper, her big blue eyes meeting his, imploring.

  Of course. Sarah thought he was human, and therefore could get her with child. She had no way of knowing that a djinn had to consciously decide to get a woman pregnant, that there were no “accidents” among his kind.

  “Sure,” he replied, then made a show of reaching over the side of the bed so he could retrieve his discarded jeans. He didn’t have any condoms actually hidden within his pants pockets, but she did not have to know that. A flick of his fingers, and a foil-wrapped packet appeared within them. This would not be quite as pleasurable with the prophylactic in place, but he knew he needed it if things were to progress any further.

  Moving quickly, he slid the condom over his shaft, then tossed the empty wrapper onto the nightstand, so Sarah might see it and be reassured.

  “Better?” he murmured as he went to position himself between her legs again.

  “Yes,” she said. As if to atone for stopping him mid-flow, so to speak, she reached down and wrapped her fingers around him, moving her hand up and down slowly.

  Ah, yes. The condom didn’t muffle the sensations as much as he’d feared it might, and he went even harder as she stroked him — but carefully, as though she knew to be careful so he wouldn’t spill his seed prematurely. After a few moments, he realized he couldn’t hold off for much longer, and pulled away, needing to enter her, to feel her surround him.

  That was it. He had, of course, made love to other women over the long centuries of his life, and yet there was something different about the way Sarah felt, about how the familiar act suddenly became new again. Her body began to move with his as they fell into a rhythm together, with a delicious slowness at first, and then more and more frenzied until the blessed moment when he let go, the release exquisite, perfect. He held on to her, watched her eyes shut as another climax rippled its way through her as well.

  Even when it was over, he did not want to let go. Not yet. He clung to her, listened as her breathing began to slow, then became calm and sure. Her eyes opened, wondering, yet filled with a sort of astonished affection.

  “That was….” she began, then stopped, as though she didn’t quite know which adjective she wished to use.

  “Perfect,” he said. He kissed her gently on the forehead, then on her cheek, marveling at the delicate texture of her skin.

  “You’re perfect,” she replied.

  “Mr. Perfect.”

  That comment made her chuckle. Kamal kissed her again, then pulled out slowly, eliciting another gasp from her. Luckily, the bathroom was only a few paces away; he climbed off the bed and discarded the condom, then cleaned himself up as best he could. At least now he didn’t have to wor
ry about Sarah questioning the running water.

  When he returned, he was slightly disappointed to see that she’d already gotten dressed again. Or rather, she’d pulled on a tank top, along with her underpants. The ensemble still showed enough of her form that he decided it was probably better not to protest. Instead, he reclaimed his own briefs from where they lay on the floor and put them back on. Afterward, he climbed under the covers and snuggled next to her, experiencing another stir of desire when she wrapped her arms around him.

  Her head resting on his shoulder, she said, “I’m glad you’re here, Cam.”

  In that moment, he wanted more than anything to hear her say his true name, even though the one he had taken was not so very different. Soon, he told himself. You still have to think of the best way to break the news to her. He knew now that Sarah was the woman for him, that she must be his Chosen. They had time, though. He didn’t want this wintry idyll to end. Once he had told her the truth, he would have to take her with him to Taos, and they would no longer be alone with one another.

  Right now, however, he only had to tell her the truth. “I’m glad I found you, Sarah.”

  Cameron slept next to her, the steady rise and fall of his breath more comforting than she could have imagined. It should have felt strange to have someone here, after sleeping alone in this room for the past two months, and yet Sarah thought it seemed more as if he had always been there. Even after this short time together, she knew she’d never fit with anyone like she did with him.

  Maybe this was the time to ponder the strangeness of the universe, to wonder what she could have possibly done to deserve survival at all, let alone with someone like Cam at her side. She wasn’t so starry-eyed by awesome sex to think they still wouldn’t have plenty of challenges to face in the months and years ahead, but she also wasn’t quite so frightened, now that she didn’t have to face the winter and the empty years all by herself.

  She shifted slightly to find a more comfortable position, but as gently as she could so she wouldn’t disturb the man sleeping next to her. It wasn’t completely dark, because the glow from the hearth in the next room made its way in here, just enough for her to see his fine profile, the scatter of dark hair on the white pillowcase. Right then, she wanted to lean down and kiss him awake so they might make love again…but she didn’t. They had plenty of time ahead of them, and it was important that they get their rest. The next day — if the weather cooperated — they’d venture out and gather those pine boughs, then come back and get warm, and work on decorating the Lodge. Christmas wouldn’t be empty and dark, but full of light and laughter.

 
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