It was all about inducing her to surrender to her own. She had to want him. She had to come to him. And she would.

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As her jarred senses reestablished contact with terra firma, fury seared through her. Swinging around, she glared - at her irritating, infuriating, utterly irrepressible nemesis. Coiffed heads gleamed, jewels glittered, and hundreds of well-modulated voices rose in polite cacophony.

As usual, his impeccable, severely styled evening clothes only served to emphasize the fluid strength harnessed within his long, muscled frame. With one broad, elegantly-clad shoulder negligently propped against the wall alongside her, he regarded her with his customary, hooded, lazy lion gaze. Behind those brilliant hazel eyes lurked a mind as incisive, decisive, and ruthlessly capable as her own. Yet despite the deflective glamour of his normally impenetrable languid sophistication, from his tone and the fact his lids had briefly risen, his eyes momentarily widening, identifying the object of her interest - by surreptitiously looking over her shoulder - had genuinely surprised him.

Uttering a mental damn! It was one of those unvoiced social accommodations. At such close quarters, it was impossible not to be. Distracted, thrown off-balance, even mentally tripped to the point of feeling she was somehow falling, yes, but threatened in even the smallest way, no. His lushly lashed hazel eyes had remained unwaveringly fixed on her face, on her eyes.

She arched her brows and infused sufficient disbelieving hauteur into her tone to, she hoped, tempt him to share. Even though tonight was only the second evening since the engagement ball, Ryder was more than intelligent enough to have divined her purpose. So no, there really was no point attempting to mislead him on that score - he would only grow more diabolical.

As his lips gently curved and he drew breath to speak, she fully expected him to be diabolical anyway. You are the last chance for any of the major families to ally themselves with the Cynsters in this generation. Consequently, no matter what you might wish, you are, indeed, a prize in that regard. And, of course, Rand will inherit neither title nor estate.

His eyes locked on hers, he dismissively arched his brows. Everyone expects you to marry well. A smile tugged at his lips; he understood the sentiment. But then she shook her head. If that were the case, I would have been besieged. Matrimonially speaking, no one is looking at you at the moment. And he was now intent on stealing a march on all his potential competitors. Her lips - rosebud pink and unexpectedly lush in such a youthful face - firmed.

Turning away, she resumed her scrutiny of the gentleman in question; he was standing in a group toward the middle of the long ballroom. Indeed, marrying Randolph could be viewed as doing her gender a signal service; the female half of the population definitely did not need another Ryder. In addition to his physical impact, he was utterly unmanageable. Fixing her gaze on Randolph, she reviewed his attractions. Randolph was entirely in proportion, too - just on a more mundane, less godlike scale.

That, Mary inwardly admitted, more or less summed up the difference between the half-brothers. There was a sister, too - Eustacia, known as Stacie. Mary knew them all socially, but not well; she had yet to learn all she wished given she intended to marry into the family. She was impatient to get on, to move forward with her campaign to convince Randolph to offer for her hand.

Through Catriona, The Lady had decreed that successive Cynster female cousins should wear the necklace to assist them in finding their true heroes. The necklace of amethyst beads and gold links from which a tapered rose quartz pendant hung had been passed on to Mary; it now circled her neck, the crystal pendant warm between her breasts.

And she believed-with all her heart and considerable will believed-that it would work for her. All she really needed the necklace to do was to confirm her choice. So she was going to have to spend more time with Randolph. If he was indeed her true hero, her undisputed one, then…something should happen. Something should ignite. She shifted, casting her gaze wider, evaluating the ways of approaching him. Instantly, she was aware of Ryder leaning closer, trying to catch her words.

She ruthlessly stifled the impulse-the nearly overwhelming urge-to glance his way; he was now so close, if she did she would almost certainly find herself staring into his mesmerizing green and gold eyes, with his wicked lips and sinful smile only inches away…. She could feel him as a warmth, a temptingly seductive sensation, all down her right side. She focused on him. But while she could fix her gaze on him easily enough, the rest of her senses were slow to follow suit.

Damn Ryder. With him so close, no matter how she hid it, her wayward senses remained much more interested in him than in Randolph.

Sensually-speaking, while handsome, well-built, and in all physical respects highly attractive, Randolph nevertheless paled into insignificance when compared to his older half-brother. There was not a woman in the ton - or out of it - who would not cede Ryder his own pedestal in the Hall of Superbly Handsome, Outrageously Attractive Men.

Especially not for hers. She held no illusions regarding her own strength; Ryder possessed a will stronger than hers. She would never be able to manage him; no woman ever would. Randolph, on the other hand, was entirely within her scope; he would suit her very well.

All he had to do to further his present cause was to keep Mary with him until they did. Slowly she turned her head, just enough to bend on him what she no doubt imagined was a blackly discouraging gaze. Her resistance lured him as little else might; to one with an appetite as jaded as his, novelty was enthralling. However, in keeping with his aim to delay her departure from his side, he said nothing more, but waited for her response with the infinite patience of the experienced hunter he was.

Her darkling gaze converted to a black frown. A lady like her would scare the breeches off Rand, at least at his current age. Or, as most often occurred with him, a helpful twist of fate. Eyes still on Rand, Mary lifted one delicate shoulder. Extending his hand, he met her widening eyes. Her gaze fell to his hand, then rose to his eyes. After all" - he arched one brow - "what possible excuse could you have for refusing to dance with me? A second more and she nodded.

Resisting the impulse to grab, to seize, he recaptured her gaze and arched a brow. Indomitable will glimmered like steel in her blue eyes. As he led Mary forward, his lips spontaneously curved.

But she was fencing with a master. But first came his price - the waltz. The first of many, regardless of her present inclination. Almost as if, despite being in his arms, her mind was elsewhere… He set his hand to the delicate planes of her back - and yes, there it was.

The telltale quiver of reaction that shivered through her, no matter that she fought to damp it down. Lips curving in anticipatory delight, he stepped out and swept her into the dance, and reveled in her instant, impossible to conceal response. The way her eyes flared as her gaze snapped to his face. The way her luscious lips parted just a fraction, the way her breath hitched. From that instant on, her attention was his. Capturing her blue eyes, the color of cornflowers under a stormy sky, he whirled her down the floor, focusing on the swoop and sway, the sweeping dance of their senses, feeding the power, ruthlessly heightening the intensity of their effortless, near perfect grace.

If he was an expert on the dance floor, she was a svelte goddess. She matched him - not intentionally but instinctively stepping up to his mark. Even while, her gaze locked with his, she held fast, denying any and all susceptibility. Pure challenge. Him to her, and her to him. Like an invisible gauntlet, as they swirled around the floor they tossed intent and defiance back and forth between them, relying not on words but on the sheer power of what both of them could say with their eyes, communicate with their gazes.

No one else could see the tussle - the elemental battle - they waged. A private war that, he suspected, would very soon advance to a siege.

His inner predator delighted, encouraged and enticed. That was what he was doing now - his instincts had led him to Mary Cynster, and now he was intent on capturing her.

She would be his, and he knew that outcome would be right. The right outcome to lead him forward, to getting what he wanted and needed from his life. To making his life into what he wanted it to be. And that was all he needed to know. That, and that the battle was his to win. She might not want him now, but she would. Mary could barely breathe.


The Taming of Ryder Cavanaugh




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