“Many words come to mind. Should I start listing them?”

“No,” I say, certain I won’t approve of his choices. He glances at my mouth, and I suddenly remember the spicy, delicious way he tastes. Instinctively, my hands flatten on the hard wall of his chest. “Don’t kiss me,” I warn. The heat darting up my arms tells me how bad an idea touching him was.


“But you want me to,” he says, his hands sliding to my wrists, and somehow he makes it darkly erotic. This isn’t one of our spontaneous moments that we dismiss the next day. This is different, uncharted territory.

He leans closer and I splay my fingers on his chest, applying pressure. “I said don’t.”

“Because you don’t want me to, or because you’re afraid of where it will lead?”

“Because I said it. That’s the only reason you need.”

“Yet you didn’t deny that you want me to.”

“Eve really wanted the apple, and look where it got her.”

“If anyone’s being tempted by a poison apple”—his head lowers, lips close to mine, breath warm and tempting on my cheek—“it’s me.”

My fingers flex against hard muscle. “Mark—”

“I think it’s because you’re afraid of where it might lead, of the power you think it might give me over you.”

I try to tug my wrists away but he holds me easily, a gleam in his eyes. “I never fell into bed with you,” I say. “I was captive to the emotions you were feeling, feeding off those. You don’t have the power over me.”

“No. You have the power. That’s what you don’t understand. You have the power—or I wouldn’t be lying in bed at night remembering how you taste.” He pauses for effect. “And I do remember how you taste. All of you. Every last inch. Your mouth. Your neck. Your nipples. Your—”

“Stop it,” I hiss, knowing exactly what he was going to say next. “I know what you’re trying to do.”

He inches backward, releasing my wrists, and taking the promise of a kiss with him, those gray eyes resting keenly on my face. “What am I trying to do?”

“This is a game. It’s manipulation.”

“I want to fuck you. Many times. Many ways. How is that manipulation?”

“One minute you want to fuck me. The next—”

“I always want to fuck you. I just want to do it my way. With your pleasure at my mercy. Your hands tied up. Your legs tied up. Your clit on my tongue.”

“Stop.”

“Why? Am I making you wet?”

I glare, my only defense against an answer I’m not going to give him.

“I’ll find out myself,” he says, dragging my hemline upward before I know his intent.

I grab his hand and my skirt. “Don’t even think about it.”

“We’re both thinking about it.”

His cell phone rings and he stiffens, drawing a deep breath before his hands fall away from me and he steps back a good foot. He pulls out a phone I haven’t seen before and quickly answers, “Give me a minute.” He covers the receiver. “I need to take this,” he informs me.

I manage a nod despite my reeling senses, but his energy has changed, and his eyes harden along with his voice as he adds, “Alone.”

The slap of the dismissal shakes me to the core, jolting me into a flicker of a memory of the past I never wanted to visit again. I shake my head, trying to rid myself of the flashback. Mark Compton really is the apple. He’s stealing my control, to create his own.

I leave the room, pulling the door shut behind me. “The end,” I whisper. I will not let him play these games with me.

Mark . . .

I watch Crystal leave, and am cursing at the look on her face before she’s gone. Then I curse the damn disposable phone that chose the worst time to ring—when I should be glad that it stopped me from doing something we would both regret. I hadn’t meant to do what just happened, and that’s a problem. My plan to make her hate me won’t work if I can’t keep my damn hands off her.

Punching the Answer button, I say, “Give me good news.”

“Kilmer started the morning out with some devastating financial news that he spent all day trying to correct, but failed.”

“What happened to no names?”

“It leaves room for confusion, and I know you don’t like confusion. Trade out the phone. Text me the number and I’ll call you from another line.”

“Fine. What other news do you have for me?”

“There’s chatter about Ava in some of my circles.”

“What kind of chatter?”

“She was seen at a dive motel known to be popular with unsavory types, since they keep no records.”

“When? Where?”

“The day before yesterday. That’s all I know. I’m meeting the source tomorrow.”

“You don’t know if she’s still in Cali?”

“No.”

“Was she alone?” I ask.

“According to the information I was given, she was with a known mercenary.”

“A mercenary. By choice or as a prisoner?”

“My source wasn’t willing to disclose the information.”

“Let me guess,” I say through gritted teeth. “He wants money. Translation: You want money.”

“Another ten K.”

I’m irritated, but if Ava’s befriended a crazy killer, I need to know. “Ten K up front. Another five-K bonus when I get answers.”

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