Asher smiles. “It’s the tats and ex-rocker background. They think I’m still that guy.”

Jacob points to the door. “Follow Asher. I have your back.”


Does he expect bullets to start flying? All of a sudden, I’m not sure Jacob’s claim of knowing nothing about Ava is true.

The elevator opens and Jacob follows me inside, keying in a security code for the fifteenth floor, which Dana and Steven own. “When you’re done,” he says, “call me and I’ll come up and get you.”

“I will. Any idea who’s going to be my security person?”

“Since you’ll have protection at Riptide, and Mark will have protection both here at his parents’ and while he’s at work, I’ll be able to stay point man for both of you, using backup as needed. At night we’ll have someone see you to your apartment, and we’ll be on call if you need to go out.”

Tension rolls through me. “I really hate every move I make being monitored, but I know it’s necessary. And you’ve already seen the dynamic between me and Mark, which makes you the best one equipped to protect Mark when I snap.”

He doesn’t laugh as I expect him to. The elevator stops and he holds the doors open. “Yes, I know about the two of you, as does Blake, but to every possible extent, we’ll keep the relationship private.”

“It’s not a relationship.”

His eyes narrow slightly and he looks like he wants to say something, but he only pauses before saying, “Call me when you’re ready to leave.”

“I will. Thank you, Jacob.”

“My pleasure,” he says, allowing the door to shut.

The instant that he’s out of sight, I cut to my right and go down a glossy, pale African wood hallway, nerves fluttering in my stomach. At the door I skip the buzzer, in case Dana has fallen asleep, knocking lightly instead. When it opens Mark is standing there, the knot to his red tie several inches down his shirt, his jacket off, his collar loose. I feel a jolt of pure heat as every nerve ending in me comes alive, and I quickly lower my lashes before he notices. Despite my certainty that a man like Mark Compton could never reach me emotionally, despite how he’s behaved in the past twenty-four hours, I am still devastatingly drawn to him. It must be a biological defect that I crave a man who’s destined to shred my heart.

“Ms. Smith,” he says, and the snap in his tone jolts me to the core. I look at him, giving him the control he wants over me.

In that moment he owns me as he’s promised, and Lord help me, as I look into the steely hardness of those gray eyes and find a predatory gleam, part of me wants to be owned by this man. I’m wet with the idea, my nipples aching, and my knees weak. He knows it, too. I see it in the glint of satisfaction in his eyes, and the freedom he feels to lower his gaze for an inspection that goes from my toes to my head, lingering in the more erotic regions. I swallow hard, feeling every second like a stroke of his hand, the lick of his tongue. I’m in big trouble, which he confirms when he grabs my hand and pulls me hard against his hard body.

“We need to talk,” he announces.

My hand flattens on the wall of his truly impressive chest. “Yes, we do,” I say, sounding remarkably firm, despite all the places he’s making warm and tingly.

He stares down at me, his expression unreadable. But the thundering of his heart beneath my palm tells me he’s powerfully affected by me, too.

“No time like the present,” he finally murmurs, taking my hand in his bigger one and pulling me inside.

“Not now,” I say. “Not here.”

“Now,” he insists, and the intimate way he laces his fingers with mine stirs odd feelings in my chest.

“Your mother—”

He pulls me forward and in a few steps we’re inside the elegant library, where walls of books are illuminated by droplights from a high ceiling. I turn to face him, not sure what to expect next with his changing moods.

He shuts the door, and before I can blink, he’s advanced on me and I’m against the wall. His hands are pressed to the wall above my head, but he doesn’t touch me. And I want him to. Too much. So damn much.

“Topic number one,” he says tightly. “You aren’t using your own security people. You’re my responsibility.”

My irritation is instant. “I am not your responsibility.”

“Don’t push me on this, Ms. Smith.”

“You know what? It is Ms. Smith to you. And don’t order me around like I’m your submissive. I didn’t sign your damn contract.”

“I think we’re both clear on that fact.”

“And you were right: We definitely need boundaries.”

“I won’t have my security process compromised by outsiders who aren’t fully accountable to me. You’re using my security team. Subject closed.”

“Spare me the dictator routine. I already told Jacob I’d use your people.”

“When?”

“On the way over here.”

“Why?”

“Because you and my father would be like the Clash of the Titans. You and I clash enough on our own. We don’t need to add more to the mix.”

His eyes sharpen. “Is that what you call what we do?” he asks, his voice a rough, low tone that creates a tingling in my nipples. “Clashing?”

I swallow hard, trying to control the heaviness of my breathing that I fear he’s already noticed. “You have a better name for it?”

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