“I do,” she said.

“My parents died when I was young, so I wasn’t raised by them. You and I share that in common.”


“Who did raise you?” she asked.

“I wasn’t lucky enough to have an Aunt Charlotte,” he said. “No need for sympathy,” he said.

“Oh,” she said, studying his face. He was an interesting combination of strength and practicality. “That must have been hard, though.”

“It was,” he nodded and paused a moment. “The accident tore my family apart.”

“That’s horrible,” she said, filled with questions.

“It was,” he agreed. “I keep wondering if I could have done something…”

Silence followed, and Bella felt a well of understanding build inside her. The force of the emotion should have surprised her, but she identified with the depth of his misery all too easily. She slid her hand over his. “You feel guilty, don’t you?”

He glanced down at her hand on his. “Every day,” he said. He broke off. “It’s probably just a wish…”

Her heart twisted inside her. “I understand,” she whispered.

He rubbed his thumb over her hand. “You’re not just beautiful. You’re intuitive,” he said.

Bella wouldn’t have called herself beautiful. In fact, she couldn’t remember anyone doing so except Stephen. Her stomach knotted at the memory. He would never call her beautiful again, now that he’d fallen in love with someone else.

“There you go again, being too kind,” she said.

“You have that confused. I suspect you’re the kind one. I can’t believe you don’t have to turn away men all the time.”

“Now that’s flattery,” she said. “Unless you’re counting the ones who’ve had too much to drink at the bar.” She knew she was unusual looking. The contrast of her dark hair, intense eyes and pale skin sometimes drew second glances, but she suspected they were more due to curiosity than admiration.


“I’d like to spend more time with you,” he said, his eyes dark with seduction.

Her heart, which she’d thought was dead, tripped over itself. Bella reminded herself that her heart raced for many reasons, fear, excitement, inexplicable arousal…

“I’m not in the best place emotionally for any sort of relationship.”

“I wasn’t suggesting anything serious,” he said. “The only thing we need to take seriously is each other’s pleasure.”

Her breath caught at the sensual expression on his face. “A one-night stand?” she said, surprised she wasn’t immediately rejecting the offer. Heaven knew, she’d never accepted such a proposition before. That had been before she’d fallen in love and lost her heart. That had been before she’d had her chance and saw it slip away. Michael wasn’t suggesting anything like that. She felt a surprising twinge of relief.

“It depends on what we want after the night is over. You and I have some things in common. I could make you forget your problems for awhile. I think you could do the same for me.”

The lure was too tempting. He was strong, but she’d glimpsed his humanity and for some reason there was a strange connection between them. A connection that made her feel a little more alive than like the walking dead.

She took a sip to moisten her suddenly dry throat. Was she really going to do this? “I don’t even know your last name,” she said.

“Michael Medici,” he said with a slight smile. “You can run a background check, but you won’t find anything on me. We’d also be wasting time. If you need someone to vouch for me, you can call your boss. He knows me.”

One

B ella awakened to the sensation of being covered in the softest, finest cotton sheets…and wrapped in the strong, but unfamiliar arms of the man who’d made love to her most of the night.

Her chest tightened into a hard knot at the realization that she’d slept with a near stranger. What had possessed her? Was it because she still hadn’t recovered from her breakup with her ex-fiancé? Was it because she needed to escape the guilt she felt for not being there for her aunt when she’d needed her most?She blinked her bleary eyes several times then closed them again. It had been so easy to accept Michael Medici’s offer to drive her home in the rare Atlanta snowstorm with a stop at a cozy bar. Somehow, she’d ended up in his bed instead.

Taking a quick breath, she felt the overwhelming need to run. This had been a huge mistake. She wasn’t that kind of woman. Scooting a millimeter at a time, she got to the side of the bed and gently slid her foot to the ground.

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