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THE SURRENDER OF A LADY
by Tiffany Clare

Genre: Asia, Victorian Period, Continental Locales, Historical Romance

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Was there really a difference between obsession and love? Maybe for some people. Not for him. They were two extremes. In a person where one addiction led to another, it only seemed natural that he would form a deeper, more affectionate attachment to her. She’d long been in his thoughts and fantasies. She’d long been the root of his self-destructive path. Maybe not the root, but definitely the catalyst. And here he was, given the chance to clip her wings and keep her for himself after all their years apart. If only she’d let him.

He sat behind her, his naked thighs on either side of hers, his chin resting lightly on her shoulder.

Griffin resolved then that he would convince her they needed to stay together. To go on somehow. Grow together. Because he didn’t think he’d survive leaving her behind. Or having her leave him behind.

He sighed and pulled her in tighter against him. “I’m tired. Lie with me a while.”

No, he wouldn’t survive leaving her behind. She belonged with him. At his side. He’d do everything in his power to keep her there.

“I’ve upset you. I did not mean to,” she whispered.

“All the traveling has worn me down. I barely slept through the last stretch of the journey. My thoughts were filled with you.”

“Then I’ve a confession, as well. There was not a day I didn’t think of you.”

“Three weeks isn’t nearly enough time with you. What will you do when the contract has finished?”

“I try not to think about it. If things were different—if our lives were different—I wonder if we would have ever come together.”

“Tell me something. What damage would be done in revealing your true self to me?”

“Is the contract, the time we spend with each other, the passion we share, not enough for you?”

“No. You are holding a larger part of yourself back from me. Your true self. I’m a greedy enough man to want all of you. Whatever the truth is, you can’t frighten me off.”

“We both know the truth. Yet we both choose not to speak of it. At least not outright.” She turned in his arms, wrapping her legs around him and locking her ankles at his back. One hand stretched up and she brushed her fingers through his hair, massaging his scalp in the process. “Nothing more can come of this, Rothburn.”

“Because you refuse to share the full truth.” He closed his eyes, enjoying her soothing touch.

“No. Not at all. The truth will only hurt us more in the end.” Her fingers trailed down his arms till she found one of his hands at her back. Taking it, she placed it behind her head. “Remove my hairpins.”

His eyes drowsily looked into hers as though he would lock her in place. He didn’t give her a moment to change her mind and gripped both ends of the pins and pulled them free. The weight of the brass rings at the edge of the veil pulled it the rest of the way down.

His first thought was she really hadn’t changed much over the last ten years. What was revealed was definitely his Elena. Her mouth was still full, her chin dainty and pointed. His second thought was that he now understood why she’d insisted on the veil. Anyone with a good eye for placing a face from the past would immediately recognize her. When she looked at him, he read sadness in her eyes.

“Is it so awful to reveal the truth to me, Ele—”

“Shh”—her hand covered his mouth before he could finish speaking—“that name is no longer mine. I told you the truth would do neither of us any good. I have given you more than I have given any man. Let that be enough between us.”

“Let me take you away from here.”

She shook her head, her eyes filling with tears. “I’m afraid that is not possible. I’ve gone to great pains to make this my home. The women do not leave this place once we’ve set foot inside the palace walls. It is perhaps our fate to be star-crossed lovers. But I don’t regret your coming back into my life, even for this brief, fleeting amount of time.”

“Jinan. There is no amount of money I won’t pay to release you from this place.”

“And there is no amount of money Amir will take to let me soar free. We have three weeks left. I suggest we make the most of what we have left,” she countered.

“I’ll ask you every day until you change your mind. I can be a persuasive man when necessary.”

“Ah, but you must promise not to share the truth of my identity with anyone. You cannot let Amir know of our past. He would certainly have you removed from the palace. I told you my most frightening secret before you left. That I had feelings for a patron. It is forbidden. In truth, it is the only thing aside from leaving the island that is forbidden to us. Let us have this time together.”

“I will not give up hope on us.” When she gave a nod in understanding, he lowered his lips to hers. “You've given me more reason to pursue this.”