He moved sharply, so sharply that for a single moment she thought that something had angered him. And then—all in one single blinding instant—she realized that which no words could utter. For he caught her swiftly to him, lifting her off her feet, and very suddenly he covered her face and neck and throat with hot, devouring kisses—kisses that electrified her—kisses that seemed to scorch and blister—yet to fill her with a pulsing rapture that was almost too great to endure.
She tried to hide her face from him, but she could not; to protest, but his lips stopped the words upon her own. She was powerless—and very deep down within her there leaped a wild thing that rejoiced—that exulted—in her powerlessness.
The fierce storm spent itself. There came a pause during which she lay palpitating against his breast while his cheek pressed hers in a stillness that was in a fashion more compelling than even those burning kisses had been.
He spoke to her at last, and his voice was deep and tender, throbbing with that which was beyond utterance.
“You love me, little new chum,” he said.
There was no question in his words. She quivered, and made no answer. That headlong outburst of passion had overwhelmed her utterly. She was as drift upon the tide.
He drew a great heaving breath, and clasped her closer. His words fell hot upon her face. “You are mine! Why shouldn’t I keep you? Fate has given you to me. I’d be a fool to let you go again.”
But something—some inner impulse that had been stunned to impotence by his violence—stirred within her at his words and awoke. Yet it was scarcely of her own volition that she answered him. “I am—not—yours.”
Very faintly the words came from her trembling lips, but the utterance of them gave her new strength. She moved at last in his hold. She turned her face away from him.
“What do you mean?” He spoke in a fierce whisper, but—she felt it instinctively—there was less of assurance in his hold. It was that that added to her strength, but she offered no active resistance, realizing wherein lay his weakness—and her own.
“I mean,” she said, and though it still trembled beyond her control, her voice gathered confidence with the words, “that by taking me—by keeping me—you are taking—keeping—what is not your own.”
“Love gives me the right,” he asserted, swiftly—“your love—and mine.”
But the clearer vision had come to her. She shook her head against his shoulder. “No—no! That is wrong. That is not—the greater love.”
“What do you mean by—the greater love?” He was holding her still closely, but no longer with that fierce possession.
She answered him with a steadiness that surprised herself: “I mean the only love that is worth having—the love that lasts.”
He caught up the words passionately. “And hasn’t my love lasted? Have I ever thought of any other woman since the day I met you? Haven’t I been fighting against odds ever since to be able to come to you an honest man—and worthy of your love?”