“Do you want me to suck your cock?”

His brow lifts, as if in surprise at my boldness. “Desperately,” he says, as he reaches down to stroke my skin in a lazy pattern. “But right now, I just want to bury myself in you.”

“Oh,” I say as he sweetly—so deliciously sweetly—eases inside me. I gasp in welcome and surprise, then move with him. Our movements are slow and sensual, but there is nothing gentle about my reaction. I’m rising up, buoyed by a web of dancing sparks and wild colors. He’s taking me to the edge, bringing me to the pinnacle. And as my body clenches tight around him, drawing him in deeper, silently begging him to take me further, I once again find release in the arms of this man I have always wanted, and so desperately missed.

When I feel as if I can move again, I roll sideways and glance at the clock. It is almost five. “We’ve stayed up the entire night.”

“Complaining?” He brushes a kiss over my lips, then sits up and stretches.

“Nope.” I move as well, but I don’t sit up. Instead I raise my arms above my head and stretch luxuriously all the way from my fingers to my toes.

“Hold that thought,” he says as he trails a fingertip lightly up my leg. “I barely got started.”


He traces a finger over the ribbon tattoo, then along the edge of the lock. And then, with the muscles of my belly tightening as he finger-walks up my torso, he bends to gently kiss the new flame that lights my breast. “I can’t help but think I’m following a path. These. The moon on your ankle. All the rest.”

He’s right, of course. And yet I say nothing.

“Is this what you do?” he asks. “Your own kind of therapy?”


“That’s what you said,” he reminds me. “I said you needed help. You said you had your own kind of therapy. Am I looking at it?”

I lick my lips. He knows—obviously he understands—so why am I still so hesitant to admit it to him? “Why do you think that?” I swing my legs off the bed, then stand. My robe is still on the floor from the last time I wore it, and I bend to pick it up. I shove my arms through the sleeves and tie the sash tight around my waist.

“I understand the concept of self-medicating,” he says.

I turn as he gets off the bed and walks to me, completely naked and not the least bit self-conscious. “How?” I ask, then realize I already know the answer. I brush my fingertip lightly over his knuckles as he reaches for the sash on my robe.

“Jackson …”

“Yes,” he says, but whether he’s referring to my unspoken question or the unfastening of my robe, I do not know. He lifts his hands, then eases the robe off my shoulders so it falls to the floor and I am standing naked before him.

Slowly, almost reverently, he looks over my front. His fingertip grazes the two tattoos on the swell of my right breast. The new flame and a much older female symbol twined with a rose. Then he moves lower, gently running his fingertip along the red ribbon design that has been there since before Atlanta.

“You told me this was just a random design,” Jackson says. “Now tell me the truth.”

The truth.

The thought makes me shiver, and I know that I am not ready to go there yet. Not completely. And yet I don’t want to run from the question or the man. On the contrary, I want to move in closer. I want to feel his arms around me, and I want to get lost, safe in the warmth that is Jackson.

And so I tell him. The core of it, at least. “They’re triumphs,” I say. “Reminders, anyway.”

“I see.” He steps closer, then slides his hand around my waist until his palm is pressed flat over the intertwined J and S that are inked on my lower back. “And this? Does this mark a triumph, too?”

“No.” The word is raw, pushed out past a wall of emotion. “No,” I say, “that one is a memory.” I draw in a breath for courage and then meet his eyes. “It’s the only part of you I could take with me, and I didn’t want to ever be without it.”

For a moment, he just looks at me. Then he pulls me close and kisses me hard. He scoops me up and carries me back to the bed, then gathers me close. “I found you curled up in the bathroom, and you wouldn’t let me help you.”

“I’m sorry.” My voice is small, and I hate that I did that to him. Because he’s right. I’d been freaked and scared and I’d wanted only to get out of there.

“You wouldn’t tell me anything. You just said that I had to do something for you. You said it was important.”

Tags: J. Kenner Stark International Trilogy Romance
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