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The Seduction of Snow White

Crave by Cathy Yardley
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When a woman is ripe for the picking . . .

Beth Cordova's life is no fairy tale. Having barely escaped the evil grasp of her wicked stepmother, this “missing princess” seeks refuge in a strict commune where carnal pleasures are forbidden.

Sometimes just one bite of the apple . . .

Her world is lonely and void of intimacy, until the charming Stephen Trent arrives at the commune. Suddenly Beth yearns for a man's touch, the feel of his lips on hers . . . and Stephen is eager to show this pure-as-snow princess that she can still be the sensual woman she was once upon a time.

Is all it takes to unleash her desires...

But all is not what it seems, and the stunning beauty finds herself again in danger, her stepmother hot on her trail. The commune's founders will not tolerate the pair, yet fleeing its walls could prove fatal. Trapped in a world where passion is outlawed, can Beth live happily ever after?

HarperCollins; October 2009
272 pages; ISBN 9780061850264
Read online, or download in secure EPUB
Title: Crave
Author: Cathy Yardley

Chapter One

"Why won't you simply die?"

Beth woke with a scream, her heart pounding heavily in her chest and the image of cruel, icy blue eyes following her from the dream. She forced herself to breathe, slow, measured breaths. A full moon illuminated her small room and she took comfort in the familiar surroundings: the clothes she'd neatly folded on her ladder-back chair, the handmade stationery neatly stacked on her small writing table, the colorful quilt she'd sewn herself, folded on her small wooden chest at the foot of her bed. The window threw an oblong square of moonlight on the smooth plank floor, showing her hand-braided rag rug. Everything was as it should be. It even smelled homey and familiar, like oatmeal soap and lavender.

It was all right. She was all right. Her heartbeat resumed its natural rhythm.

She was on the Compound, and everything was exactly as it should be.

She stood up on shaking legs, making her way toward the large open window and breathing in the summer night air, thick with humidity and heat. She hugged herself, shivering despite the temperature. Judging from the position of the moon, she'd say it was some time after midnight, maybe even closer to one or two in the morning.

Hiking up the hem of her long-sleeved nightgown, she stepped over the window ledge, putting a bare foot out on the soft grass. She hadn't had the nightmare in years, but she knew that dread usually followed in its wake. She did not want to be confined in her room when the claustrophobic feeling of fear struck.

She walked toward the woods, glancing at the darkened buildings around her. The women's dormitory was pitch-black, with most of the windows not only shut but shuttered, despite the heat. The men's dormitory across the Commons was a mirror image. The Dining Hall was completely still: it wouldn't be used for hours. The burnished metal Bell of Hours hung by the raised dais in the middle of the Commons, mute and glinting dull and ponderous in the moonlight. Even the stately Founders' House was dark and silent. She pushed past all of it to the nearby woods, looking around cautiously as she took hasty, quiet steps.

Once she was enveloped by the dark shadows of the trees, she breathed a little easier, feeling some of the tension retreat from between her shoulder blades. A little zing of excitement shot through her, something she'd forgotten. It had been a long time since she'd sneaked out of her room at night for a forest stroll. She tried so hard to obey all the tenets of belief the Founders had laid down, since it seemed to her they asked so little, and she received so much in return. But this was such a little transgression, she felt sure that even the strict Founders might understand.

She had a secret, favorite place: a meadow, carpeted in downy soft grass, dotted with beautiful wildflowers in yellow and purple and blue. Nestled in the heart of the forest that the Compound's high barbed-wire fence encircled, the meadow was her sanctuary-within-a-sanctuary, a place she could be totally alone. And safe. She would sit on the soft grass, amidst the daisies and wild roses, and just smile at the sheer, simple pleasure of it all.

Her life revolved around small, simple pleasures.

She was just to the edge of the clearing when a male voice pierced the night air.

"There you are."

Beth froze. The fear she'd been gradually letting go of leaped forward in a wave, clenching her heart in a stranglehold.

Then, she heard a husky feminine laugh. "Here I am."

Beth's heart restarted with the force of a cannon. She hadn't been discovered, as she'd feared. The male voice wasn't even talking to her.

Cautiously, she hid behind a thick, gnarled oak, peering out into the moon-drenched field.

The couple was already in the meadow, standing in front of each other, laughing and speaking in low voices that Beth could still hear clearly.

"I can't believe you're here."

"I can't believe I'm here!"

The man leaned forward, running his fingers through her long hair. Then he brought her face close to his and they stood there for a long moment, the soft, moist sound of their kisses blending with the night sounds of nature.

Beth stared, unable to move, barely able to breathe. All thoughts of retreat vanished in a blink.

After a few minutes, the woman made a low moan of need, her hands rubbing along the man's arms, her fingers digging into his shoulders. She pressed closer to him, her body molding against his, and his moan was an echo of hers. Their kiss grew more insistent, hungrier. His hand slid down from her hair to her throat, then moved to cup one of her breasts. The woman broke apart from him, gasping. "Henry," she murmured, stroking his face.

Beth's mouth fell open. Goodman Henry? He was one of the younger male Penitents, perhaps in his late thirties. And she thought she recognized the woman's voice now as well. Goodmaid Lydia. Lydia had only been in the Compound for a year or so and mostly kept to herself. Beth didn't know her very well.

Apparently, Beth didn't really know her at all.

How long has this been going on? Beth wondered, peering intently, disbelief adding to her chaotic tumble of fear and anger and shock.

Henry sucked at Lydia's neck, and her fingers crept to the buttons on her nightgown, undoing them slowly, whether out of seduction or unsure fingers, Beth couldn't tell. Henry continued his slow savoring, even as he removed his hand from Lydia's breast long enough for her to open the gown, slipping it off one shoulder. Her skin glowed like fresh cream in the moonlight, her red hair leached of color, looking almost as black as Beth's own. Henry's hand moved back to Lydia's breast, covering it, squeezing it. Lydia slipped the other side of the gown off, letting the heavy garment slide to the flare of her hips. She wore no bra. Beth could see the naked curve of her back, the slight shadow of her buttocks emerging from the pooled nightgown. Henry let out a growl of approval as he kissed her shoulders, holding her tight.

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