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“So your aunt raised you,” he said. “That’s why you’re so devoted to her. You glossed over that the night we were together.”

She nodded. “It requires an extended explanation. My Aunt Charlotte has always been there for me whenever I needed her. My mother wasn’t cut out for mothering. She moved out to California and sent money to Charlotte every now and then. She came to visit me twice—once when I was six and the last time when I was twelve.”

“Do you talk to her now?”

“She died a couple years ago.”

“We have that in common,” he said. “My father was killed when my brothers and I were very young.”

“You told me that. I think that was part of what made me feel at ease with you. You mentioned something about one of your brothers dying with him, but you didn’t say who had raised the rest of you.”

“Foster care for all of us. Separate homes.”

She winced. “That had to have been difficult.”

“It could have been worse,” he said with a shrug. “Each of us turned out successfully. In my case, I spent my teenage years in a group home and was lucky enough to have a mentor.”

“Do you see your brothers now?”

“Sometimes. Not on a regular basis. We’re all busy.”

“Hmm. You need a tradition.”

“Why is that?”

“A tradition forces you to get together. My aunt does this with my cousins and relatives at least twice a year. Once at Christmas, then during the summer for barbecue and games weekend.”

“Does shooting pool count?”

“It can. Good food helps.”

“Oh yeah? Junk food works for us. Buffalo wings, pizza. Maybe with both my brothers married, the women will try to civilize us.”

“Maybe so,” she said. “I hear marriage can do that sometimes with men.”

“I guess I’ll always be uncivilized, then because I don’t plan to ever get married.”

His flat statement comforted her in a bizarre way. After her breakup with Stephen, she couldn’t imagine giving another man her heart, if she even had a heart to give. She lifted her glass and met his gaze. “That makes two of us.”


Four

M ichael held her gaze for a long moment then pulled her toward him. “I’ve been watching your mouth all night,” he said and lowered his lips to hers.

An unexpected sigh eased out of her. His mouth was warm, firm yet soft and addictive. She wanted to taste him, taste all of him. He fascinated her with his confidence, power and intuitiveness.She lifted her hands to run her fingers through his wavy hair. A half breath later, he pulled her into his lap and devoured her mouth. The chemistry between them was taut and combustible. Every time he slid his tongue over hers, she felt something inside her twist tighter.

He slid his hands to her shoulders then lower to her breasts. Her nipples stood against her shirt, taut and needy. He rubbed them with his thumbs, drawing them into tight orbs. She felt a corresponding twist in her nether regions.

“You feel so good,” he muttered against her mouth. “I have to have you again.”

His voice rumbled through her, making her heart pound. He slanted his mouth against hers, taking her more fully. She craved the sensation of his mouth and tongue. His need salved a hollow place deep inside her.

She felt his hands move to the center of her white shirt. A tugging sensation followed and cool air flowed over her bare chest. His lips still holding hers, he dipped his thumbs into the cups of her bra, touching her nipples.

She gasped at the sensation.

“Good?” he murmured. “Do you want more? I can give it to you.”

She felt herself grow liquid beneath his caresses. Each stroke of his thumb made her more restless. He skimmed one of his hands down the side of her waist then to the front of her skirt.

“It’s a damn shame you’re wearing tights,” he said.

A shiver raced through her at his sexy complaint.

“I think it’s time for us to go to my room,” he said.

Suddenly, as if the room turned upside down, it hit her that this would be the beginning of the deal. She froze. He stood and pulled her to her feet.

She stared at him, struck with the awful feeling of being at his mercy. Unable to keep herself from breathing hard, she closed her eyes and told herself it would be okay. It was just sex. Since she’d lost the man she really loved, it would only ever be…sex.

“Bella,” he said, his hand cupping her chin. “Look at me.”

She swallowed hard over her conflicting emotions and opened her eyes, catching his gaze for several heart-twisting beats.

He gave a sigh and a grimace then slid his hand down to capture hers. “You’ve had a busy day, haven’t you?”

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