Laughing, I shake my head. “Get the hell out.”

Dex winks. “JJ Watt does it, so I do it too. No way am I going to be caught with my dick in the wind facing one of those defensive linemen coming at me like a tank.”

As unassuming as Dex can be, he’s also fiercely competitive.

I give his arm a squeeze. Not one ounce of give. “My big, strong man.”

“Yes, I am,” he says without hesitation, then surveys the courtyard. “The narrow building along the side is a guest house. The building at the back is an old carriage house, now a garage on the ground floor, and my painting studio is above it.

“You can look around tomorrow,” he finishes, his voice soft, his hand warm in mine. He’s pulling me toward the main house. We go up a flight of stairs, straight to the second floor. We walk past a large, open living room—exposed brick walls, wide, worn wooden floorboards—and through a gourmet kitchen. More exposed brick. Huge center island, stainless steel appliances, white marble counters.

I want to soak it all in, but Dex is on a mission, leading me along with purposeful steps.

“Not hungry?” I tease as we pass through.

He glances back at me, heat and need in his eyes. “Not for food.” He wrinkles his nose. “Christ, that was cheesy, wasn’t it?”

I laugh. “It was cute.”

“Cute,” he repeats. “Just what every guy wants to be called.” He hesitates at the doorway leading out of the kitchen. “Are you hungry? I should have asked. I’ve—”

“Not for food,” I tell him. Because I can be cheesy too.

That has him picking up his pace. We take a set of stairs to the top floor. His bedroom overlooks the courtyard. And the dim light from the outside lanterns slants through the massive paned windows, half covered by louvered shutters. There isn’t much in here, just a big club chair, a dresser, and a king bed with a padded leather headboard.

I smell the pine of the floorboards, the spicy scent of Ethan’s skin. It’s warm and quiet in his room. Quiet enough to hear his soft breaths and the steady pounding of my heart. He stands before me, so big and present; I feel his warmth even though we’re not yet touching.

Slowly he reaches up and slides off my damp cardigan. Gentle fingers ease the strap of my sundress down. When my breast pops free, he moves to the other side, pulling the strap until the other is exposed. Ethan has seen me naked, licked and sucked every inch of me, but standing here now, on display for him, makes me so hot. I struggle to catch my breath.

It grows erratic when he gives a little hum of satisfaction and runs the tips of his fingers across my nipples. Back and forth, barely touching them. God. I fight the urge to arch into his touch, because it’s hotter to hold back, to let him fondle me while my nipples grow stiff and achy.

He circles them, worrying the tips with the rough pads of his fingers, and then, without warning, pinches—pulling until my breasts stretch—before letting go.

My breasts bob back into place, and I whimper, my knees going weak.

“I had this whole seduction thing planned,” he whispers as he plays with me, stroking, tweaking. It’s almost lewd the way he handles me as if I’m his plaything, except it’s reverent too. “But I don’t think I can wait.”

I lick my dry lips. I’m close to coming now, and he’s only touching my tits. “Don’t wait,” I say.

His gaze catches mine. In the shadows, he looks so serious, almost fierce. But I know that expression. It’s need. Strong and pure. Just like him. I lift his damp sweater over his head and wrap my arms around his neck. The press of his warm skin against mine makes us both groan. With a sigh, I kiss the hollow of his throat. That’s all it takes.

Soft bedding surrounds me and Ethan’s hard body covers mine. There’s no more talking.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Fiona

Sweat-slick and limp with exhaustion, I lie draped over Ethan’s naked body. I love that he’s so big not an inch of me hangs over the edges of him. Even so, his arm wraps loosely around my waist, holding me secure as if he’s afraid I’ll fall. His fingers trace random patterns on my back.

“How do you want to handle this?” I ask him.

His body tenses, so I know he understands my question. “Nothing to handle. I’ll just make no comment, and it will go away.”

I lift my head so I can rest my chin on his chest. “I hate to say this, but I’m not sure it will go away all that quickly. Maybe… Well, why don’t you just tell them you’re with me?”

“No.” He practically shouts the word, his lips flattening. And my heart caves in as if it’s been stomped.

“You don’t want to tell people about us?”

Instantly, he cups my cheek, his eyes going wide. “Shit, Fi, I did not mean I was ashamed or wanted to hide it. I mean there is no way in hell I’m bringing you into a media shit show.”

“That really should be my decision. Especially if it helps you. And I want to help you, Ethan.”

With a sigh, he flops his head back on the pillows and stares up at the ceiling, his hand still stroking my cheek. “Thank you for that, Cherry. But I can’t…” He takes a ragged breath. “Don’t ask me to agree to that. I couldn’t take seeing them tear you apart.” He glances down at me, his eyes now golden-green in the lamplight. “Please.”

“All right,” I say with reluctance. “For now. But, I swear, if a bunch of crazy women start stalking you, I’m stepping in.”

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