Ruíz's eyes appeared sleepy. His gaze lingered on her, open and unguarded for the first time since he'd returned home. And the admiration in his golden-brown eyes was unmistakable.
Like a silent caress, his gaze slid over her. And her body responded immediately with a shuddering awareness and a hot rush of blood, making her dizzy.
"I believe a toast is in order." He poured a fresh glass of wine. "Won't you join me?"
Julia considered his offer and then shook her head.
He shrugged one broad shoulder and sauntered around the table. He stopped a mere breath from her. His own distinctive masculine scent mingled indiscriminately with the earthy aromas of the wines.
Ruíz propped one hip on the table. "If you won't take the credit for your plan, Julia, then I must toast someone. Me gustan los vinos. They are excellent. Paco is a genius." He lifted his glass again. "To Paco, the master vintner."
She scooted backward on the bench by the table, but he caught her arm and gave it a gentle squeeze. She faltered, enthralled by his touch. Tentatively, he rubbed his calloused thumb up and down the soft inner flesh of her arm.
The candlelight glowed softly behind him, and Julia was bewitched by his touch. Trailing tendrils of fire scorched her skin where his fingertips brushed her. Gooseflesh rose on her arms and her breasts swelled, hot and heavy.
He abruptly withdrew his hand, and she almost cried out. Almost. Instead, she took a shaky breath and prayed that he wouldn't notice how she was trembling.
He poured himself another glass of wine and raised it to his lips. He lowered the glass, but her gaze was riveted upon his lips, stained crimson from the wine.
He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, but his gaze never left her. And what she found in his eyes jolted her to the very core of her being. His brown sugar-colored eyes were dark with lust and something else, too. A look of longing. Their gazes locked in silent understanding. An understanding as old as time itself.
He finished the glass in one swallow and set it upon the table. "No more for me, I'm afraid. If I keep going, I'll drink up all the profits in one night." He quirked one eyebrow at her.
This was the Ruíz she knew, always in control. Sometimes, though, she despised his cold and aloof demeanor. A glimpse of the warm and more relaxed Ruíz had been welcome tonight, even if his usual guard had been eroded by Paco's wine.
He reached out and touched one of the braids of her hair. Gently, he tugged on the braid. "I used to tease you unmercifully when we were children, Julia. Do you remember? Pulling on your braids."
"Sí, I remember."
He grinned but didn't remove his hand. Instead, he gently threaded his fingers through her hair, working to release the interwoven strands and combing his fingers through them. She trembled again and her nipples pebbled into hard points.
What was he doing? What did it mean? And did she have the fortitude to push him away?
But when she tried to pull away, she couldn't move or speak. What he was doing to her hair was unspeakably intimate. And when he freed the coils of her hair, it was as if her body and heart soared free, too. Her hair fell about her face, unfettered, like a thick curtain. The strands caressed her shoulders and bare arms. A blind craving rose within her, turning her insides to masa and causing simmering heat to build between her thighs.
Melting slowly, from the inside out, she leaned into his arms.
He buried his hands in her hair and pulled her closer. Rational thought fled as she savored his hands stroking through her unbound hair. His touch was soft and tender, just as she'd always known it would be.
"Your hair. How I've longed to … Julia. You are beautiful. So very, very beautiful."
And then his mouth captured hers.
She'd envisioned this--their first kiss. Ruíz's lips on her mouth, and his strong, muscular body pressed against her. She dug her fingers into the coiled strength of his shoulders. The hard planes of his chest crushed her breasts. The powerful sinew of his thighs molded themselves to her legs, making a mockery of the flimsy protection of her skirts.
And the hard evidence of his desire swelled against her abdomen.
His mouth moved over hers, tasting her fully. His lips were soft but firm. He grazed the corners of her mouth and tested the seam of her lips with his tongue. She opened to him, and he insinuated the hot tip of his tongue between her lips. Her body dissolved into his, her bones liquefying.
With their mouths open and hungry, they devoured each other; their tongues intertwined.
Tiny shivers of pleasure chased up and down her spine, and she clung to him, her body perfectly fitted to his. More than that, her body craved his. From the pit of her stomach the pleasure-pain wove itself through her heated blood, setting her female passage on fire--filling her with an achy, craving that had been long denied.
His mouth feasted upon hers, and she responded with an equally fierce passion. The passion she'd felt for him since time began. The passion she'd freely bequeathed him. Ruíz was hers. She was his. Secretly, she had promised herself to him, long ago.
He stroked and caressed her hair. His mouth lifted from hers, leaving an aching void, until his lips rained tiny kisses on her cheeks and her nose. He moved to her ear and plunged his heated tongue inside. His teeth nibbled her earlobe. She shivered and quaked, burning inside and wanting more. He nibbled and licked his way down her throat to the tops of her breasts, and she pulled him closer.