Bianca's bedchamber was small, a whitewashed chamber tucked beneath the eaves with room only for a bed, a small table and chair, and her late husband's old sea chest. Balthazar Grattiano, despite the fact that he lay flat on his back, injured, seemed to fill the whole space with his overwhelmingly masculine presence.
Bianca felt more tense, more frightened, than she had even in the midst of a threatened tavern riot.
She drew in a deep breath, and was surrounded by the smell of the tropical night wind from the open window, the wax of candles--and of Balthazar. He smelled of clean linen, leather, salt air, sweat, blood, and that dark, mysterious scent that was his alone. She remembered that scent all too well from years ago.
But she was not that infatuated girl, hanging about hoping for one glimpse of him as he passed by, for one whiff of his cologne. And he was obviously not that young man, either. So beautiful. So angry.
She carefully removed his boots and his leather jerkin and cut away his torn shirt, conscious at every moment of his steady gaze leveled on her. Oh, the beauty was still there, undeniably. As she smoothed the damp cloth over his wound, she couldn't help but notice the lean, sculpted muscles of his torso, the smooth, gleaming skin a light golden color, as if he often worked on deck without his shirt. There were scars, too, pale, thin old ones, and one jagged pink cut along his ribs.
So, presumably the anger was still there, too. That darkness that gave an edge to his angelic beauty, and once made her flee in fear.
But he was in her home now, in her very bed. At her mercy.
She traced the cloth from the wound on his shoulder along his collarbone, lightly over one brown, flat nipple, and down his chest over the light sprinkling of pale brown hair. He drew in a sharp breath, his rippled stomach muscles tightening, but he did not pull away. Did not even say anything. His skin seemed gilded in the candlelight, a taut line arcing down to the band of his hose.
Yes, he was still handsome, the most handsome man she had ever seen. Even after all her travels, she had never found a man to compare. But there was a hard edge to his beauty, a barely leashed violence. She would be a fool to give in again to his fatal allure.
Her gaze trailed the length of his black-clad legs, sprawled across her white sheets, the bulge of his codpiece, his lean hips. Yes, he was handsome, and she knew he was good in bed. All the whores in Venice had sung his praises, and that was long ago. He had now had years to hone his carnal skills to absolute perfection. And she was a widow, who had gone many months without a man in her bed. It was only natural she would be drawn to him now.
But only a fool would give in to lust for a villain. And she hoped she was no longer a fool.