Goose bumps lift on my skin at the intimacy of his words, ripples of awareness tingling across my chest, down to my belly, and I am blown away by how easily Liam affects me. No one has ever come close to doing this to me, but then, I know the sweetness of his mouth on mine.

The perfection of his body intimately molded against me. I know what it is like to fall asleep in his arms.

I clink my glass to his, but I cannot repeat the sultry words of his toast. Liam waylays my escape, reaching forward as my hand withdraws, and gently shackles my wrist. He arches a dark brow and his face is etched in silent reproach and yes, challenge. This man challenges me at every turn. Irrationally, nerves flutter in my stomach. I have been na**d with Liam, with my fingers laced behind my back, and somehow, I feel more na**d here and now than I did then. But I am so very tired of hiding from everything, most especially myself. And somehow hiding from me is hiding from him.

Delicately, I clear my throat. “To new friends and lovers,” I repeat, and I watch the approval in his eyes, and suddenly I know what feels different about this moment than when we’d been making love, or rather, f**king, as Liam has called it. Here, in public, there is no veil of spontaneity to hide behind, and in this moment, there is no lie spoken to deny what is burning between us. This is the most intimate I have been with this man, or any man for that matter.

We both sip our champagne and the bubbles blossom in my mouth, both tart and sweet, like this night with Liam. Like everything with Liam. “Good?” he inquires.

I nod and set my glass down and he does the same. “It’s delicious.”

“So are you.”

Blood rushes to my cheeks and I am so out of my safe zone it’s not even funny. Or maybe it is, considering I cannot stop the nervous laughter bubbling from my lips. “If someone had told me I would be sitting in Denver, having dinner with a gorgeous prodigy billionaire architect tonight who’d be giving me compliments, I’d have suggested they needed medical attention.” I reach for my champagne and sip.

“I’m not a recluse. I just wish I could be sometimes.”

“And the most bizarre part of that reply is your arguing that you aren’t a recluse. Billionaire”—I lift my hand—“no argument there.”

He sets his glass down, and his hand goes to my leg, sending darts of heat up my thigh. “I am what I am.”

It is a sobering statement and, probably compliments of the champagne, I cannot seem to hold back a wistful reply of, “That’s an enviable trait.”

“And that means what?”

I down my champagne and he arches a surprised brow. I’m pretty surprised myself. I value a tightly controlled tongue. “I don’t drink much and I haven’t eaten all day so that probably wasn’t smart.”

“If it makes you stop being afraid to speak your mind to me, then it was a good choice.”

I don’t play dumb. I probably have the champagne to thank for that, too. “You’re intimidating.”

“No. Not to you.”

“So you agree you’re intimidating.”

“To some people but not to you. I’m not your Godzilla, baby, and we both know it.”

“No. No, you aren’t. Far from it.” I pause and wait, testing him. Will he push me for the answers he swears he can wait for? He doesn’t ask. Instead, he arches his brow again, the look in his eyes clearly saying “did I pass the test?”

“You really aren’t going to ask, are you?”

“I told you—”

“Tell you when I’m ready.”

“Exactly.” He fills my glass and hands it to me.

“Are you trying to get me drunk?”

“Yes. Then maybe you’ll feel ready.”

I laugh. “You’re very…honest.”

His thumb strokes my cheek, tender and sensual. “Raw and honest, baby. Remember?”

This is a repeating theme with him, and while I’ve let guilt make the words about me, I wonder if they are really more about him. “Who made you hate lies?”

“Doesn’t everyone?”

“That’s a deflection.” I know because I’m so damn good at it.

Surprises flickers in his eyes and he sets his glass down. “Money breeds lies, baby. They swim like sharks all around me.”

More deflection, but it tells me more about him than perhaps he realizes. About us.

Outwardly we are night and day, but I now know why we share what has felt like an instant bond. We sense what is beneath the surface of each other, and it is the same. Everyone in his world he once loved is gone. Everyone who still lives wants something from him.

I reach up and touch his cheek. “I don’t want your money.”

His hand covers mine. “I know.”

“The phone—”

“Was a gift to me. It gives me piece of mind that you’re safe.” His lips curve. “And maybe you’ll even feel a little obligated to answer my calls, though I’m not gambling on that.”

I barely register the joke, but rather the concern beneath it. No one shows concern for me and I do not take it for granted. Regretting the buzz in my head, I set my glass down, done with the bubbles. “I’m serious, Liam. You spent a lot of money on me. I need you to know that I’m not one of those people—”

He leans in and kisses me. “I do know.”

“You didn’t let me finish.”

“You don’t have to. I know you aren’t one of those people. I don’t let those people in.”

Tags: Lisa Renee Jones The Secret Life of Amy Bensen Romance