“Right,” I croak and try to smile, though I imagine I look like I just swallowed a rock the lump in my throat is so big. Somehow, I lift my phone and punch in the screen to see my number, then read it to her.

“Perfect,” she declares, and if she notices I’m rattled, she doesn’t show it. “I’ll call you tomorrow and we’ll make a date.”

“Great. Yes.”

She heads towards the door and I follow her into the hallway, where she has halted, a stunned look on her face. And I know why. Liam is leaning on the wall, looking to her, I am sure, like some sort of magazine model or romance hero who has miraculously popped off the pages of a novel. His eyes meet mine and I feel the connection inside and out, radiating. To me, Liam is what he has seemed since our plane ride. Salve on an open, aching wound.

He pushes off the wall the instant he sees me and pulls me to him. “I was worried about you.”

“He’s with you?” Meg asks from behind me, and there is no missing the shock etched in her voice. I refuse to read into it.

Liam answers for me. “Yes. I’m with her.”

Meg whistles and I turn in Liam’s arms, comforted by the way his hand settles on my stomach and pulls my back to his chest. “Amy, honey,” Meg declares, “I need to know where you shop. I’ll call you tomorrow.” She darts down the hallway and I stare after her, fighting the urge to follow her to ask her boss about my new boss, unsure I am steady enough to even try.

“She’ll call you tomorrow?” Liam asks, and I turn to him.

“She’s the secretary at the leasing office. She wants to do coffee or drinks.” My hand settles on the hard wall of his chest and warmth travels up my arms and over my chest and shoulders.

“Then why do you look like you saw a ghost?”

I laugh but it sounds choked. “I guess ghosts are like lies. They swim like sharks all around me.” What was intended as a joke holds so much truth that I am shocked I have allowed such a telling statement to fall from my lips. I am even more shocked that I cannot seem to regret it.

He studies me, his eyes probing, and I sense he wants to ask questions, but he doesn’t.

Damn it, he doesn’t and I want him to ask, just as I want to answer. “Sharks only have the power you give them, baby. Own them. Don’t ever let them own you. And they’ll have to fight me to get to you anyway.”

Suddenly, I am swimming in one part fantasy, one part wicked, hot desire. His declaration checks every box on my fairy tale desire list and strokes my need for him to a full on fire. And while his words might be pure seduction, I choose to grant them the possibility. I choose the fantasy. The escape he has proven he can be for me in a way no one else ever has been.

He leans in and pressed his mouth to my ear. “I’m going to take you to my room now, and f**k you until neither of us can walk anymore.” He eases back, searching my face for a reaction, his blue eyes blazing hot through the dim lighting of the hallway. “Any objections?”

“No,” I whisper, and am shocked at how unabashedly I reply to his wicked declaration.

“No objections whatsoever.” Not only do I want this man, I have no doubt, for at least tonight, he can make me forget the phone call. He can make me forget everything but him.

“Then let’s get out of here.” He caresses a path down my arms, raising goose bumps on my arms and I am anything but cold. In fact, the only time I am not cold is in this man’s presence. His fingers lace with mine, and as he leads me forward, this intimate act of hand-holding that is becoming familiar, creates a burn in my chest and a moment of fear. I could get used to this. I could get used to him in my life, by my side.

Entering the main dining room, I am momentarily jerked back into the world where he is not all there is and where the ghosts that swim like sharks at my feet, and in my head, live. I scan for Meg and her boss, but I do not see her, or him. Relief washes over me. I do not want to think of anything right now but Liam’s wicked promise.

***

The walk to the hotel is silent. We don’t have to speak. The air between us is both electric and soothing, a contrast that speaks to my soul. This is what I need. He is what I need. I refuse to let anything else in. I will not melt down in a haze of pain and heartache, or fear over a phone call. I can worry about that tomorrow. Locked in Liam’s room I am safe, and in his arms my escape will be complete.

And when we approach the entrance of the hotel, I do not even make a pretense of my mockery of a story about fearing how I will look to the hotel staff. Maybe I should care for other reasons. Maybe I should fear being noticed, and with Liam, it is impossible not to be noticed, but I do not. I am with Liam and I will not be any other way in this moment of time.

“Mr. Stone,” the doorman greets Liam with a nod.

Liam inclines his chin at the man and I find myself drinking in his profile, so strong, so confident, and I envy him, this man who knew what he wanted to be in life and made it happen.

This man who knows where he has been and who he is. I know nothing of me, not even where I have really, truly been and why I am here. Why I exist. Why I breathe. We are not alike, as I had kidded in the restaurant. We are so different that we are top and bottom, night and day, but when I am in his arms, I do not have to face these things or myself.

The short path through the lobby to the elevator feels eternal, and I am unusually frustrated when the doors to the car open and we have to wait for someone else to exit. Liam seems to mimic my urgency, pulling me into the car before I can walk in myself, and then pressing me toward the wall by the keypad, his big body framing mine.

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