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Loving Evangeline (Chapter Eleven)

Evie slept soundly for ten hours that night, from nine until seven the following morning. She woke feeling much better, though she was groggy from sleeping so hard. She stumbled through the house toward the kitchen, keeping her fingers crossed that nothing else had gone on the fritz during the night, especially the coffee-maker. Everything seemed to be in working order, though, so she put on a pot of coffee and headed back toward the bathroom while it was brewing.

Fifteen minutes later, semidressed and with hair and teeth brushed, she was contentedly curled in a chair on the deck, sipping her first cup of coffee. She closed her eyes as the morning sun bathed her with soothing heat. It was a perfect morning, clear and still and fragrant. The birds were singing madly, and the temperature was still comfortable, probably in the high seventies.

She heard tires singing on the road, the particular note that meant four-wheel drive, and a few seconds later Robert pulled into her driveway. Though she couldn't see either the driveway or the road from the deck, and though she knew any number of people who had four-wheel-drive vehicles, she had no doubt of her visitor's identity. Her blood had started moving faster, her skin tingled, and a subtle heat that had nothing to do with either the sun or the coffee had begun spreading through her body.

How many women had loved him? Instinct told her that she was far from the first Poor creatures. They, like her, had been unable to resist that gentle, ruthless charm. She knew just as certainly that he had never loved any of them in return.

Through the open patio door she heard the knock at the front "Robert?" she called. "I'm on the deck."

His footsteps in the grass were silent as he walked around, but in fifteen seconds he was coming up the three shallow steps onto the deck. He stopped, his eyes kindling as he stared at her.

Surprised, she curled a little tighter in the chair. "What have I done now?"

His expression relaxed as he moved to take the chair beside her. "You mistake the matter. That was lust, not anger."

"Ah." She used the cup to hide her face as she took another sip. "That should tell you something."

"Should it?"

"That I see anger from you more often than I do lust." Her heart was pounding even harder. My God, she was flirting. She was stunned by the realization. She had never in her life engaged in suggestive banter with a man, especially not to discuss his lust for her. She didn't think she had ever even flirted with Matt; somehow things had always seemed settled between them, and they hadn't gone through that dizzying, intense stage of courtship before commitment. They had grown up committed to each other.

"Again you mistake the matter," Robert said idly.

"In what way?"

"The lust is always there, Evangeline."

The quiet, almost casual, statement left her breathless. This time she took refuge in good manners, unwinding her legs to stand up as she said, "Would you like a cup of coffee?"

"I'll get it," he said, stopping her with a hand on her shoulder. His touch lingered, his fingertips lightly caressing the curve of the joint "You look as contented as a cat. Just tell me where the cups are."

"In the cabinet directly over the coffeemaker. I don't have any cream, only skim milk – "

"It doesn't matter. I drink it black, like you. While I'm in there, would you like a refill?"

Silently she handed him her cup, and he disappeared into the house.

As Robert got a cup from the cabinet, he noticed that his hand was shaking slightly. He was both amused and amazed at the force of his reaction to her, though he had gotten used to being at least semi-aroused whenever he was in her company. But when he had first seen her this morning… well, he had wanted to see her with her hair down, and now he had gotten his wish.

He just hadn't expected the potency of his response, hadn't expected that thick, tawny-gold, streaky mantle flowing halfway down her back, the sunlight glinting along the strands like precious metal. Only the ends curled, frothing in delight at having been released from the confines of her habitual braid. One lock hung over her shoulder and breast, the curl wrapping around her nipple as perfectly as if it had been created to do just that. It had taken only a glance for him to tell that she wasn't wearing a bra under the pale peach camisole top with the tiny tucks down the front that she probably thought disguised her braless state.

He should have become accustomed by now to the luminosity of her skin. He hadn't. Every time he saw her anew, he was struck by the way she seemed to glow. This morning the effect had been particularly acute. She had been curled in the chair like a cat, sleepy and slightly tousled, her shapely legs and delicate feet bare, the bright sunlight somehow lighting her from within.

He wanted to pick her up and carry her back into the dim coolness of her bedroom, strip her naked and sate himself on the golden pearl of her flesh. But he remembered, with an unpleasant jolt, that this was the house where Matt had grown up. He didn't want to take her here, where the memories of the boy abounded.

"Robert?" Her tone was questioning at his long delay.

"I'm just reading your coffee cups," he called back, and heard her chuckle in reply.

He chose the cup that said, "I'm forty-nine percent sweet. It's the other fifty-one percent you have to worry about," and poured coffee into it, then refilled her cup. He carried both of them out onto the deck and carefully gave hers to her, not wanting even a drop of the hot liquid to spill on her bare legs.

"That's quite a collection of cups."

"Isn't it? Jason and Paige are the culprits. Every birthday, every Christmas, they give me a cup as a gag gift. It's become tradition. They put so much time and effort into picking the cup that it's gotten to where unwrapping it is the highlight of the occasion. They don't let Becky or Paul see it beforehand, so it's always a surprise to them, too."

"Some of them are rather suggestive."

She grinned. "Paige's doing. She's an expert at finding them."

He raised his eyebrows. "That delicate, innocent child?"

"That precocious, inventive child. Don't let the shyness fool you."

"She didn't seem shy to me. She started talking to me right away when I first met her."

"Blame your own charm. She isn't that open with most people. But considering the way Sherry's baby took to you," she said judiciously, "it seems that little girls have an affinity for you."

"That's all well and good," he replied, watching her calmly over the rim of his cup, "but what about the grown-up ones?"

"I'll bring you a big stick tomorrow so you can keep them beat off." Very calmly he leaned over to place his cup on the deck, then took her cup from her hand and put it beside his. She eyed him warily. "What are you doing?"

"This." With one swift, deft movement, he scooped her out of her chair, and settled down in his again with her on his lap. She sat stunned, stiffly erect, her eyes big with surprise. He retrieved her cup and placed it in her hands, then shifted her so she was off balance and had to relax against his chest.

"Robert," she said in a weak protest.

"Evangeline." His voice lingered over the long i.

She couldn't think of anything else to say. She sat there wrapped by his strength, his warmth, his scent. She could feel the steady thumping of his heart. She had known that he was tall, but even now, with her sitting on his lap, her head wasn't as high as his. She felt physically overwhelmed and remarkably safe. Not from him, but from the rest of the world.

His thighs were hard under her, and something else was, too.

"Finish your coffee," he said, and unthinkingly she raised the cup to her lips.

They sat there in peaceful silence as the heat grew and the traffic on the river increased. When their cups were empty, he set them aside, then caught her face in his hand and turned it up for his slow, deep kiss.

Like a flower turning toward the sun, she shifted toward him, fitting herself more firmly against him. The taste of coffee was in his mouth and hers. His tongue gently explored, and she trembled, her arms lifting to encircle his neck. How long he drank from her mouth she didn't know; time was measured only by the heavy pulse of her blood, throbbing through every inch of her body.

His hand brushed across her breast, pushing her hair aside, then returned to firmly cup the soft mound. Evie stiffened slightly, but he soothed her with a deep murmur, not really a word, only a calming sound. He had had his hands and his mouth on her breasts before, but he could sense that she was still uncertain about allowing the caress. He petted her, gently circling her nipples with one fingertip until they stood temptingly erect, stroking the lush curves with tender care. He wanted her to relax, but instead the tension in her changed, became more finely charged, and he knew that he was arousing her instead.

Deliberately he unbuttoned the first three buttons of the camisole and slid his hand inside. With a sharply indrawn breath, she turned her face into his neck, but she didn't say the one word that would stop him. Her satiny flesh was cool to his touch, the small nipples puckered and tight. He played with them, rubbing them between his fingers, lightly pinching as he watched her with acute attention to learn exactly what she liked. Slowly her breasts grew warm from his touch, the paleness taking on a pinkish glow.

Evie held herself very still, barely breathing, her eyes closed as she tried to deal with the delicate, exquisite pleasure sweeping through her. She knew she was playing with fire, but she couldn't seem to make herself stop. What if he carried her inside? She would have to call a halt then, because she was still having her period, and she was neither sophisticated nor experienced enough to either let him proceed or tell him, without embarrassment, why he couldn't.

"Shall I stop?" he asked, the sound very low.

She swallowed. "I think you should." But she didn't lift her face, and that wasn't the agreed signal. He shifted her, lifted her, and the shocking heat of his mouth closed over the distended nipple of her exposed breast. She cried out, her nipple prickling at the sensation, and fire shot straight through to her loins.

Then, incredibly, his mouth left her body and he was sitting her up on his lap. "We have to stop," he was saying with gentle regret. "I don't think you're ready to give me the go-ahead, and I don't want to push my self-control much further."

Evie bent her head, struggling with a mixture of relief and chagrin as she fumbled with her buttons, restoring her clothing to order. He was right, of course. She didn't want their intimacy to go any further than it already had, though she intended to be prepared if it did.

She managed to smile at him as she scrambled out of his lap and bent down to get the coffee cups. "Thank you," she said, and carried the cups inside.

Robert rubbed his hand over his eyes. God, that had been closer than he'd let on, at least for him. Would she have let him make love to her, after all? Somehow he didn't think so; he could still sense reluctance in her. In a few more minutes she would have said no, and the way he felt now, the strain might well have killed him. Even if she had said yes, he didn't want to make love to her in this house, so it was just as well he'd had the sense to stop.

They spent the morning together without a repeat of the scene on the deck. He'd already had enough frustration for one day, he decided. When it was time for her to cross the lake to work, he kissed her goodbye and left.

The wind blowing in her face helped clear Evie's mind as she sped across the water. What did he do for most of the day? she wondered. He'd said that he was on vacation, but a person, especially a man like Robert, could take only so much relaxation.

To her relief, Burt had made real progress on the marina jobs and thought he would be able to get started on her truck that afternoon. The prospect of having a vehicle to drive home the next day made her cheerful. Perhaps the run of bad luck was over.

She called the local fast-food restaurants to ask about a part-time job in the mornings, but with school out for the summer, none of them needed any help, all of the part-time jobs being filled by teenagers. Call again after school starts, she was told.

"Well, that was a dead end," she muttered to herself as she hung up from the last call. It looked as if the pendulum of luck hadn't swung back her way, after all.

On the other hand, she had the knack of existing on practically nothing when she had to. Over the next few days Evie cut operating expenses where she could and her personal expenses to the bone. She ate oatmeal or cold cereal for breakfast, and allowed herself one sandwich for lunch and one for supper. There were no snacks, no soft drinks, nothing extra. She turned off the air-conditioning at home, making do with the ceiling fans and drinking a lot of ice water. She was pragmatic enough that she didn't feel particularly deprived by these cost-cutting measures. It was simply something that had to be done, so she did it and didn't think much about it one way or the other.

For one thing, Robert occupied a great deal of her thoughts. If he didn't drop by the house in the morning, he came by the marina in the afternoon. He often kissed her, whenever they were alone, but he didn't pressure her for sex. The more he refrained, the more confused she became about whether she wanted to make love with him or not. She had never bemoaned her lack of practical experience before, but now she did; she needed every bit of help she could muster in handling her feelings for him. With every passing day she wanted him more physically, but caution kept warning her away from letting him become more important to her than he already was. She loved him, but somehow, if she didn't make love with him, some small part of her heart remained hers. If he claimed her body, he would claim all of her, and she would have no reserve to fall back on when the end came.

Still, she was acutely aware of how gradually and skillfully he was undermining her resolve. Every day she became more accustomed to his kisses, to the touch of those lean hands, until he had only to look at her and her breasts would tighten in anticipation. Frightened of the consequences if her willpower faltered, she began taking the birth-control pills on schedule, and as she did so, she wondered if she wasn't actually weakening her own position, for knowing that she was protected might make her less inclined to say no. She was well and truly caught on the horns of that particular dilemma, afraid not to take the pills and afraid of what would happen if she did. In the end, the deciding factor had been that she would rather gamble with her own well-being than that of a helpless baby.

When the next weekend came, Robert once again asked her to swap shifts with Craig so they could have an evening out. Remembering with pleasure the first time she'd had dinner with him, and the dancing afterward, she quickly agreed.

When he picked her up the next night, a slow fire lit the green of his eyes as he looked her up and down. Evie felt a very female gratification at his response. She knew she was looking particularly good, her hair and makeup just as she had wanted, and her dress was very flattering. It was the only cocktail dress she owned, purchased three years before, when the chamber of commerce had organized a party for the local businessmen and women to meet some manufacturing representatives who were thinking about locating in Guntersville.

The deal had fallen through, but the cocktail dress was still smashing. It was teal green, a shade that did wonders for her complexion. There was a full, flirty skirt that swirled just above her knees, a sweetheart bodice supported by thin straps, and it was very low-cut in the back. She had pinned up her hair in a loose twist, with several tendrils left around her ears. Simple gold hoop earrings and her wedding band were the only jewelry she wore, but she had never liked a lot of jewelry weighing her down, so she was satisfied.

Robert was wearing an impeccable black suit with a snowy white silk shirt, but with the heat so oppressive, she wondered how he could stand it. Not that he looked hot; on the contrary, he was as cool and imperturbable as ever, except for the expression hi his eyes.

"You're lovely," he said, touching her cheek and watching her bloom at the compliment.

"Thank you." She accepted his verbal appreciation with serene dignity as he drew her outside and locked the door behind them.

He helped her into the Jeep, and as he got in on the other side he said, "I think you'll like the club we're going go. It's quiet, has good food and a wonderful patio for dancing."

"Is it in Huntsville?"

"No, it's here. It's a private club."

She didn't ask how, if it were private, he had managed to get reservations for them. Robert didn't make a show of being wealthy and influential, but he obviously was, given the quality of his clothing, the things he'd bought. Any local bigwig worth his salt would be more than willing to extend an invitation for Robert to join his club.

There was no place in Guntersville that couldn't be gotten to rather quickly. Robert turned the Jeep off of the highway onto a small private road that wound toward the river and soon was parking in a paved lot. The club was a sprawling one-story cedar-and-rock affair, with manicured grounds and a soothing atmosphere. She had seen it before only from the water which glistened just beyond the club. It was only seven-thirty, still daylight, but already the parking lot was crowded.

Robert's hand was firm and very warm on Evie's bare back as he ushered her inside, where they were met by a smiling, very correct maitre d'. They were seated in a small horseshoe booth, upholstered in buttery soft leather.

They ordered their meals, and Robert requested champagne. Evie didn't know anything about wines, period, but his choice brought a spark to the waiter's eyes.

The only time she had tasted champagne had been at her wedding, and that had been an inexpensive brand. The pale gold wine that Robert poured into her glass had nothing in common with that long-ago liquid except its wetness. The taste was dry and delicious, the bubbles dancing in her mouth and exploding with flavor. She was careful to only sip it, not knowing what effect it would have on her.

As before, the evening was wonderful, so wonderful that it was half-over before Evie realized that Robert was herding her toward some swiftly nearing conclusion as implacably as a stallion herded the mare he had chosen to breed, keeping after her, blocking all retreat, until she was cornered. Robert was unfailingly gentle and courteous, but nevertheless relentless. She could see it in those pale eyes, in which a fire smoldered. He intended to have her before the evening was finished.

It was evident in the way he touched her almost constantly, small touches that looked casual but were not. They were seductive touches, light caresses that both gentled her and accustomed her to his hand on her body, while at the same time patiently beginning the process of arousing her.

When they danced, his fingertips moved over her bare back, leaving a trail of heat behind and making her shiver in response. His body moved against hers in rhythm with the music, with her heartbeat, until it seemed as if the music flowed through her. And when they returned to their booth, he was close beside her. Several times she shifted uncomfortably, putting more distance between them, but he was inexorable; he would move closer, so that she could feel the heat of his body, smell the faint, spicy scent of his cologne and the muskiness of his skin. He would lightly stroke her arm, or trace the line of her jaw with one long finger, or rub his thumb over the curve of her collarbone. His leg would slide along hers, and then she would feel the hard curve of his arm behind her back, the firm clasp of his hand at her waist. With every move he made her more aware of him and at the same time broadcast his possession of her to any male in the vicinity who might be thinking of poaching.

Evie was both alarmed and excited, and therefore couldn't get her thoughts in order. She managed to retain an outward calm, but inside she was quietly panicking. Robert had always presented the image of an urbane, eminently civilized man, but from the beginning she had seen beneath the cosmopolitan surface to a far more primitive man, a man of swift and ruthless passion. Now she saw that she had underestimated that volatile streak. He meant to take her to bed with him that very night, and she didn't know if she could stop him.

She didn't even know if she wanted to stop him. Was it the champagne, or the fever of desire he had been expertly feeding, not just tonight, but from the moment he'd first kissed her? Her usually clear thought processes kept getting tangled by the slowly increasing heat and hunger of her own body. She tried to think why she should say no, why he was so dangerous for her, but all she could bring to mind was his mouth on her breasts, the way it felt when he touched her.

Physically… oh God, physically he had destroyed all the years of control, of peaceful solitude. She had wanted no man since Matt – until Robert – and she had never wanted Matt this much. Matt had died on the verge of manhood and was forever frozen in her memory as a laughing, wonderful boy. Robert was a man, in the purest sense of the word. He knew the power of the flesh. He knew that, in the taking of her body, he would also be forging a claim, a possession as old as time. His experience far exceeded hers, and he wanted all of her. She would never be able to hold herself, her inner self, inviolate against his taking. A small voice in her cried out in abject fear, and she struggled toward control.

But he seemed to sense whenever that clear inner voice would gather itself, whenever she would panic as she realized anew what he was doing, and with a warm, lingering touch and the brush of his hard body against her soft curves, he would fan the flames of physical desire to overcome the voice of sanity. He was too good at seduction; even though she recognized it, she couldn't stop it. She had the bitter realization that he could have had her any time he'd wanted, that her will was proving no match for his expertise. He had held back only for some reason of his own, and now he had decided that he wasn't waiting any longer.

He asked her to dance again, and helplessly she went into his arms. She felt too warm, her skin too sensitive. She could feel the fabric of her dress sliding over her body, rasping her nipples, caressing her belly and thighs. Whenever he touched her, her entire body seemed to clench. They moved across the dance floor on the patio, and he held her close while his powerful legs slid against hers, sometimes thrusting his thigh between hers, and she began to throb with a hollow ache between her legs. In the distance, heat flashes lit the sky over the mountains with flickers of purple and gold. There was a sullen rumble of thunder, and the air was humid and still, waiting.

She felt weak, physically weak. She hadn't known that desire robbed the muscles of power. She melted against him, flowed against him, until she felt as if only his arm around her was holding her up.

He brushed his hard mouth over the fragile skin at her temple, his warm breath stirring her hair, touching her ear. "Shall we go home?"

A last, small vestige of caution cried, "No!" but she was so caught in his sensual web that she could only nod her head, and the cry remained unvoiced. She leaned against him as he walked her out to the Jeep.

Not even on the way home did he ease the relentless pressure. After he had shifted gears, he put his right hand on her thigh, sliding it up under her skirt, and the heat of his palm on her naked flesh almost made her moan aloud. She didn't even realize where he was taking her until he parked in front of his house, rather than hers.

"This isn't – " she blurted.

"No," he said quietly. "It isn't. Come inside, Evie."

She could say no. Even now, she could say no. She could insist that he take her home. But even if she did, she suspected, the outcome would be the same. All she would be changing was the location.

He held out his hand. The intent behind it was ruthless. She could feel the heavy arousal and hunger that tightened his lean, powerful frame. He was going to take her.

She put her hand in his.

Even though she sensed his savage satisfaction at her tacit surrender, he remained gentle. If he had not, perhaps her common sense would have won after all. But he was too experienced to make that mistake, and she found herself standing in his moonlit bedroom with his big bed looming behind her. She looked out the French doors to the lake, a black mirror reflecting the cool, pale moon. Another low rumble of thunder reached her ears, and she knew that the heat flashes were continuing, bright bursts of light that teased with their promise of rain but never delivered.

Robert put his hands on her waist and turned her to him. Her heart thudded painfully against her ribs as he bent his head and his mouth claimed hers. His kisses were slow, so slow, and devastatingly thorough. His tongue probed, and his mouth drank deeply from hers as his hands leisurely moved over her body, unzipping, loosening, removing. The bodice of her dress fell to her waist, and beyond. He paused a moment to caress her smooth back, the inward curve of her waist; then he gently removed the dress and tossed it aside.

She stood before him wearing only high heels and panties. He caught her to him for more kisses, his tongue stroking deeply within. His hands moved over her breasts, molding them under his lean fingers. Desperately Evie clung to his broad, muscled shoulders, trying to steady her spinning senses. His silk shirt slid across her tightly budded nipples, making her whimper. He murmured soothingly as he unbuttoned his shirt and shrugged out of it, dropping it, too, to the floor. Then her naked breasts were pressed full against his bare chest, nestled into the curly black hair, and she heard herself make a low, hungry sound.

"Easy, darling," he whispered. He kicked out of his shoes and unfastened his pants, letting them drop. His thick sex extended the front of his short, snug boxers. She arched against him, blindly thrusting her pelvis forward to nestle that rigid length. His breath hissed inward, and his control cracked. Fiercely he crushed her to him, his arms tightening until pain made her cry out, the sound stifled against his shoulder.

He lowered her to the bed, the sheets cool against her heated flesh. In a swift movement he divested himself of his shorts. Evie's eyes flared as she saw him totally naked, aroused, the muscles in his body taut with desire and the strain of control. His leanness was dangerously deceptive, for it was all steely muscle, the graceful strength of a panther rather than the bulk of a lion. He lowered himself beside her, one arm cradling her head, while his other hand efficiently removed her shoes and panties. Her total nudity was suddenly startling; she made a brief movement to cover herself, a movement that he halted by catching her wrists and pinning them on each side of her head. Then, very deliberately, he mounted her.

Evie couldn't catch her breath. He was heavier, much heavier, than she had imagined. The sensations were alarming, jarring through her consciousness, coming too swiftly on waves of pleasure that both panicked and beguiled. She was violently aware of his muscled thighs pushing between hers, holding them apart, of his furry, ridged abdomen rubbing against her much softer belly, of the hard press of his chest on her breasts. Between her legs, on her bare loins, she could feel the insistent push of his naked sex against her. Her own sex felt swollen and hot, throbbing in rhythm to her own heartbeat.

He loomed over her in the darkness, much bigger, much stronger. The moonlight was sufficient for her to see the pale gutter of his eyes, the hard planes of his face. His expression was stamped with savage male triumph.

Then he released her wrists and cupped her jaw in one hard, hot hand, turning her face up to him. He held her for the deep thrust of his tongue, the blatant domination of his mouth. Helplessly she responded, caught in the heated madness.

He suckled her breasts, lingering over them and making her writhe with pleasure, and all the while she could feel that hard length impatiently nudging her softest flesh.

The moment came too soon, and not fast enough. He braced himself over her on one arm and reached between their bodies with the other. She felt his lean fingers on her sex, gently parting the folds, finding and stroking her soft, wet entrance. Her hips strained instinctively upward. Her entire body was throbbing. "Robert," she whispered. The single word was taut with strain.

He guided his rigid shaft to her, leaning over and into her as he tightened his buttocks and increased the pressure against the tender opening, forcing it to widen and admit him.

Evie stiffened, her breath quickening. The pressure swiftly became burning pain, real pain. He rocked against her, forcing himself fractionally deeper with every controlled thrust. Her fists knotted the sheet beneath her. She turned her head away, closing her eyes against the hot tears that seeped out beneath her lashes.

He froze as realization hit him.

He turned her head so that she faced him. Her eyes flew open, brilliant with tears in the silver moonlight, and then she couldn't look away. His chest was heaving with the force of his breathing, the sound loud in the quiet, still bedroom. There was nothing of the urbane sophisticate in the man who leaned over her, his face hard with desire. For a split second she saw straight into his soul, into the frighteningly intense, primitive core of him. He held her, forced her to look at him, and with a guttural, explosive sound of control breaking, thrust hard into the depths of her silky body, forcing his way past the barrier of her virginity. She cried out, her body arching under the deep lash of pain. Beyond the pain was the stunning shock of invasion, worse than she had imagined, her delicate inner tissues shivering as they tried to adjust to and accommodate the hard bulk of the intruder.

A rough, deep growl sounded in his throat as he gripped her hips, pulling her more tightly into his possession.

He rode her hard, thrusting heavily, his hips hammering and recoiling as he imprinted his physical brand on her flesh. He had never before been less than gentle with a woman, but with Evie he was ferocious in his need. He couldn't be gentle, not with his head and heart reeling, his entire body exploding with savage pleasure. She was hot and tight, silky, wet… and his. No one else's. Ever. His.

He shuddered, gasping, convulsing, and she felt the hot wash of his seed deep inside her. Then he slowly collapsed, shaking in every muscle, blindly groping for support. His heavy weight settled over her, pressing her into the mattress.

Dazed, Evie lay beneath him. She felt shattered, unable to form a coherent thought.

And then she found that it wasn't over.

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