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This Savage Heart


  Julie coughed and gasped, her body convulsed by a deep chill. Derek knelt beside her, running his hands over her to feel for broken bones. "Are you all right? Do you hurt anywhere?" She shook her head. "I'm just out of breath. I must have swallowed a lot of water when I went under as the wagon turned over." Faintly, from far away, Myles's voice reached them. Cupping his hands around his mouth, Derek hollered that they were both safe but would have to wait until daylight to return to the others. He turned back to Julie. "Stay here. I'll try to find some kind of shelter for the night." Trembling with fear and cold, Julie lay there as he moved away, deep into the darkness. A little later he returned and carried her to the shelter of an overhanging ledge. She watched his huge shadow as he moved about, gathering wood building a fire, the ledge sheltering them from the howling wind. She waited for him to unleash his anger at her, but instead, once he had the fire going, he said casually, "Take off your clothes, Julie." She drew her knees up to her chest. "I'll do no such thing." As though addressing a child in the throes of a tantrum, he said patiently, "You can't sit there all night in wet clothes. I'll put your things by the fire, and they should be dry before long." He stepped into the shadows and soon reappeared. In the firelight, he was naked. "Why are you embarrassed?" he grinned. "We were marooned on an island once, and we frolicked naked for quite some time. You didn't mind then." "That was then," she snapped, not really knowing what to say. "Things have changed. Or maybe they never were the way we thought they were. Maybe everything just seemed the way we wanted it to be." He shook his head wearily. "Don't you think you've caused enough problems for one night? Thanks to you, we're stuck here, wet and cold, and a big storm is about to break. We've got to try to get back across in the morning, come snow or rain or hell frozen over. Now take off your clothes so we can get them dry." "There wouldn't be this trouble if you hadn't tried to keep me from taking my wagon across," she said bitterly. "You hated my having my own wagon, and you didn't think I could handle it." "You couldn't," he pointed out brusquely "and now it's gone. I just hope the horses made it across all right. We can't look for them in the dark. I tried to tell you all along that a woman isn't capable of handling a wagon and a team on such a rough journey. Now you've destroyed a good wagon, held everyone up, and damned near gotten yourself drowned. Now take off your clothes!" Julie began to work the buttons on her dress, but the cloth was soaking wet, and her fingers were numb and stiff. Finally, she had peeled everything off. She handed him her clothes, covering her breasts with her arms. Then she shrank farther into the shelter of the overhang. Derek stretched her clothes out near the fire. She hated herself for the rush she felt at the sight of his naked magnificence. She had always thought his body a sculpture of proud, masculine flesh, and the sight of it again flooded her with memories of the glory she had known in those strong arms. His back to her, he murmured, "You're going to have to come close to the fire, Julie, close to me, and get warm."

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