He buries his head in my hair and inhales as if it gives him relief. “I’ve been through this before, but this kid, he’s special.”

My chin lifts, my gaze finding his troubled one. “I know. I can see the bond you’ve formed with him.”


The elevator opens and he laces his fingers with mine. It’s not long before we are in the much-warmer-than-home L.A. weather, trying to flag down a cab, which turns out to be a struggle Chris doesn’t need right now. Finally, we’re on the way to the hotel and I bring up the difficult topic of Dylan’s father. “I told Brandy I’d call her husband. I think she knew talking to him would make her melt down again. Do you want to talk to him or should I?”

Chris grabs his cell off his belt. “I will.”

I watch Chris as he explains to Dylan’s father, Sam, what has happened. Chris wears an emotionless mask throughout the conversation, but he’s gripping his leg so tightly that the muscles knot beneath his dragon tattoo.

When we pull up to the hotel Chris is still on the phone, and he tosses a hundred-dollar bill for a ten dollar-trip at the driver and waves him on. He finally hangs up with Sam when we are exiting to our floor, and the edginess of his mood is downright palpable. He doesn’t look at me, either, and I struggle with what to say or do, standing in silence as he swipes the card in the door and pushes it open.

I’m surprised when he enters ahead of me when he would normally follow me inside. I shut the door behind us in time to see him pound the wall and then press his fists against the surface. His head drops between his shoulders and I can see the long, lithe muscles rippling through his body.

I close the distance between us and reach for him. “Don’t,” he commands sharply, stilling my hand in action, his voice gravelly, rough. “I’m not in a good place.”

“Be there with me, Chris. Let me help.”

The depth of despair in his eyes seems to tunnel straight into hell. “This part of me is why I warned you away.”

“It didn’t work then and it’s not working now.”

He grabs me and puts me between the wall and him. “This is when I’d—”

“I know,” I interrupt. “This is one of those times you need pain to replace pain. I understand it, after what I saw these past twenty-four hours. But if we’re going to make it, Chris, you have to find a way to go there with me.”

‘There’s nothing gentle in me while I’m like this. You don’t want who I am right now.”

“I want every part of you, Chris.”

For several seconds, he stares at me, and then suddenly his fingers twine into my hair and he’s kissing me. His anger and pain bleed into my mouth, searing me in their intensity. My hands go to his chest and he shackles them with one of his. “Don’t touch me. Not until I’m past this.”

“Okay.” Somehow I manage to sound strong when I’m shaken by just how out of himself he truly is.

“Undress,” he orders. “I don’t trust myself to do it.”

I have no idea what he means by that, but he steps back from me and tugs his shirt over his head. I pull my own tee off, along with my bra, and I reach for my pants but struggle as my hand is trembling uncontrollably.

Chris is in front of me in an instant, holding my wrist. “Damn it, I knew this was a mistake. I’m scaring you.”

“You don’t scare me, Chris. You hurt, so I hurt.”

A thunderstorm of emotions crosses his face and he drops his forehead to mine like he did on the plane. His breathing is ragged and he’s obviously battling to rein in whatever he’s feeling.

It is nearly impossible to resist the powerful urge to touch him. “Stop trying to control it, Chris. Just let it out. I can handle it.”

“I can’t.”

He steps back from me and shocks me by walking toward the bathroom. I blink after him. He can’t? What does that even mean? I hear the shower come on and I try to stay where I am because he obviously wants space, but I can’t. I ignore the fact that my nudity isn’t the best confrontational attire, but then he’s not exactly dressed himself.

I charge to the open bathroom door and enter as he steps inside the see-through glass-encased shower. I keep walking and I open the shower. “You can’t?” I challenge. “What does that even mean? You can’t be with me? Do you want me to leave?”

He leans out of the shower and kisses me. “It means I can’t, and won’t, do anything I think will make you want to leave.” He strokes a wet thumb over my cheek. “And right now, I will.”

But the edge of his mood has shifted in that rocket-swift way it does. He is not who he was just a few minutes ago. I dare to step into the shower and hug him, the spray of warm water enveloping me, and to my relief his arms do as well. I feel the hard length of his c**k expanding, thickening, and I am further encouraged until I blink up at him and see the barely banked storm. He’s not as okay as I thought. Not even close. He says sex isn’t a part of how he deals with his pain, but he’s aroused, and I can’t hurt him. I won’t hurt him. I have only pleasure to offer him.

I press him against the wall, out of the beating force of the water, and he lets me. Taking that as a good sign, I slowly slide down his body and drop to my knees. His soft intake of breath is further encouragement I welcome. I brush wet hair from my mouth and wrap my hand around his pulsing shaft. I don’t tease him. He needs hard and fast, a release, relief. I think. I hope. I suckle the soft skin of his taut erection into my mouth and the salty taste of his arousal teases my tongue. Without lingering, I take all of him I can and his hand comes down on my head.

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