Travis sat beside her on the curved sofa, handed her a glass of champagne and touched his glass to hers. “To our union.”
She sipped the ice-cold fizz much too fast. It tasted sweet yet dry and felt so cool sliding down her throat.
Travis loosened his tie and removed his jacket and vest. He unbuttoned the top buttons of his shirt. She watched as if from a distance, feeling no embarrassment, only thinking he looked very handsome in just his shirtsleeves. His shirt was so clean and white she wanted to touch it—and the man beneath. She needed to learn what his hard muscles and warm body felt like. Her fingers ached to know, at last, what a man felt like.
Moving closer, Travis cupped her face in one hand and leaned to kiss her. Her eyes drifted closed and her lips parted when his breath brushed them and soft wetness pressed against them. It wasn’t as if she’d never been kissed before. Her sweetheart Doug McCray had graduated from holding hands to kissing before he left for college and she never saw him again. But this felt very different. The pressure of Travis’s lips was more assertive and considerably less sloppy than Doug’s inexperienced kisses had been.
Travis stroked his thumb along the side of her jaw and moved his mouth against hers. The wet tip of his tongue brushed her lips.
Amanda started and her eyes flew open. But, as he caressed and kissed her, slowly, seductively, she relaxed and allowed the pressure of his mouth to increase and his tongue to slide as smoothly as the brush of fingertips over her closed lips.
When he pulled back, she leaned toward his absent mouth. Her eyes opened once more and met his. They were hooded, darkened by desire. “You’re so beautiful.”
She was both embarrassed and thrilled at the compliment. On occasion Doug had said she looked pretty, but no one had ever called her beautiful. It wasn’t a word she connected with her appearance, but Travis’s intense gaze told her he was speaking the truth.
He took another sip of champagne and pushed a hand through his dark brown hair, lifting it from his perspiring forehead. “It’s unbearably hot in here.”
She fanned her face with her hand. “Yes. It really is.”
“Perhaps if…” He reached out and unbuttoned the high collar of her blouse.
She batted his hand away, abruptly alert and shocked. “Mr. Baxter!”
“I’m sorry for taking such liberty, but you’d be so much cooler in only your chemise.” He nodded at the silver basin that had held the champagne bottle. “And we have all that ice. It would cool your body.”
Amanda pressed her hand to the front of her blouse, feeling her own rapid heartbeats. She stared at the ice then at his ice-blue eyes that made her hotter rather than cooler. Her pulse beat between her legs as well, throbbing with a pleasurable ache. “I suppose since we are to be wed tomorrow maybe it would be all right…just because of the heat.” She unbuttoned the top button of her blouse, then the second…and the third, her fingers trembling and her flesh burning even hotter as she exposed it.
She was nervous but she more excited than she’d ever felt in her life. Taking off her blouse in front of her fiancé was more thrilling than the time she’d ridden Cousin Dale’s bicycle down the big hill near their house and nearly crashed at the bottom. Anything might happen now as she careened out of control.
Her gaze never left Travis’s face while his stayed riveted on her moving fingers and the bare skin revealed to him. Blood rushed through her veins and roared in her ears. She couldn’t believe her audacity and yet her hands kept moving until the entire row of buttons was unfastened. She grasped slid the blouse down her shoulders and off her arms.
Travis gazed at the pale swell of cleavage above her corset then back to her face. “It’s a wonder you don’t pass out wearing that thing. Turn around and I’ll loosen it for you so you can breathe. The idea of corsets is ludicrous, don’t you think?”
As if in a trance, she turned her back and soon felt his hands loosening the ribbons and brushing against her bare skin. The ties loosened and her rib cage expanded as she drew a deep breath. She caught a whiff of Travis’s cologne underlain with his own male scent. A wave of arousal swept through her at the basic masculine odor awakening the femininity in her.
He removed the corset from around her body. “That’s better. It’s much too hot a day for so much propriety.” Warm laughter percolated in his voice as his breath puffed against her naked shoulder.
That was when she fully realized she was sitting in nothing but her thin chemise, breasts unbound beneath it. Her back was to him and she dreaded and desired to face Travis. He would be able to see the shape of her breasts and even her nipples through the sheer fabric.
He moved in front of her, dropping to his knees and not letting his gaze linger on her chest. “Shoes, too.” He bent his head, concentrating on working the long row of shoe-buttons out of their holes.
She gazed down at the crown of his head. His hair grew in a neat circle from a central point, but there was also a counter swirl an inch to the right, making an endearingly boyish cowlick. The sight of him attending to her feet was entrancing. Amanda’s stomach fluttered as she waited for him to remove her shoe and actually touch her foot.
Travis looked up at her with a grin. “Lots of buttons.” He returned to his task and at last tossed one shoe then the other on the floor before caressing her stocking-clad feet.
Such intimacy made her shiver. She feared her feet might be aromatically indelicate, but he didn’t hesitate to fondle them. He rubbed the bottom of each foot and squeezed her toes, then grasped her ankles and smoothed his hands up her calves, kneading and pressing her flesh. The gentle massage was heavenly.
Amanda’s erect nipples pressed against the chemise as she anticipated his hands roaming further beneath her skirt. What would it feel like to have him touch her right on that throbbing spot between her legs which yearned for a touch? But Travis released her legs and sat back on his heels.
He looked up at her flushed face. “Will it offend you if I take off my shirt and vest, too? This room is too stifling.”
Beyond the power of speech, she nodded and watched in fascination as he unbuttoned his shirt and removed both shirt and vest. Beneath them, he wore a sleeveless undershirt that displayed his muscled biceps. He wasn’t a brawny man, but lean and wiry. Despite the lack of bulk, his shoulders and chest were strong and well built—from pushing a plow, she supposed, although his skin wasn’t as tanned as she would have expected from long hours spent under the sun.
Realizing she was staring at his body, Amanda turned her attention to his face. Travis was grinning at her frank appraisal of him. She blushed. Or thought she did. At this point she’d been flushing deeper shades of red for so long she must look like a tomato.
“Will you let me do something for you?” he asked. “Something that will cool you down?”
She cleared her throat and croaked, “All right.” She took another sip of her champagne before setting it aside.
Travis took several shards of rapidly melting ice from the champagne bucket. Sitting behind her on the sofa, he touched the ice to the base of her neck then slid it across her back from shoulder to shoulder. She squirmed at the cool sensation on her over-heated skin.