“If I don’t want to go?”

“You’ll go.”

She inhales and lets it out. “And never see you again.”

“It has to be that way.”

“If I resist?”

“Then we’ll go to war,” I assure her, “and I’ll win.”

“If you send me away, I’ll go after Sheridan on my own.”

I lean back, pressing my hands on the wall beside her. “That would be foolish, and you’re not foolish.”

“So is your thinking that you can take on something this big on your own. And don’t say you have Jared. I told you I don’t trust him, and some part of you doesn’t either. You didn’t tell him you have the cylinder. You didn’t even tell him what you were hiding for six years.”

“What he doesn’t know can’t get him killed.”

“That’s bullshit, Chad. They’ll kill him to get to you, just like they’ll kill me, or your sister. You do have to destroy them, and I don’t even know how you do that.”

“I’ll figure it out.”

“Damn you and your stubbornness,” she hisses. “You’re going to end up dead.”

“Well, I can promise you that if I do, no one will ever find that cylinder,” I say—finally admitting for the first time, to anyone, that I have it.

Her eyes blaze with pure fury. “And so the smartass returns. You think joking about your death is funny?”

I slide my hands to her hair. “Now you need to stop talking. Right here, this moment, is about just that: the moment.”

“This moment won’t erase the facts. This is bigger than you and me. I have to be a weapon if I can be.”

“But not another loss,” I declare. “You give me the information. I risk myself. End of story.” She opens her mouth to argue and I silence her with a kiss, and I swear I can almost taste the blood I won’t let be hers, almost hear the piercing scream of my mother’s agony in my head. I cup Gia’s head, deepening the connection between us. Needing again. Demanding. Taking. Relieved when she goes from stiff and unyielding to wildly responsive, her tongue stroking mine, her hands sliding under my shirt, her palms soft and warm. Her touch is somehow like a calm summer breeze on a hot Texas night and at the same time it’s the fire that makes it hotter.

But Gia isn’t calm. She’s all over me—kissing me, touching me, possessive in her own right, as if she is trying to hold onto me beyond the moment.

In a rush of movement, I manage to undress us both, picking her up to carry her to the bed. We go down together, and I intend to be on top, but we end up side by side, staring at each other, and I’m lost all right, lost in the deep pools of torment in her eyes.

I grab her and shift our bodies, pressing the thickness of my erection between her thighs. I tangle fingers in her hair and lead her gaze to mine. “Gia.”

She leans in and kisses me, and there is a desperateness in her that I don’t fully understand, but when she shoves on my chest, I let her push me to my back and climb on top. My gaze rakes over the view of her high breasts and pink, budded nipples. Her slender waist and curvy hips I grasp with my hands, anchoring her as she wastes no time, gripping me and sliding down my erection.

She takes all of me, in more ways than one, and I know that she doesn’t know. I can’t let her know. We’ve only known each other a short time. We’re reacting to circumstances, to being alone, and being destined to stay that way. She feels she needs control. I’ve given it to her, allowing her to take the top position by way of demand.

But she surprises me when she leans forward, pressing her palms to my chest as she brings her cheek to mine and whispers, “Alone isn’t better.” It’s gut wrenching.

I react instantly, one hand cupping the side of her face, flattening the other on her back, holding her to me. “And right now, we aren’t alone.”

She leans back and tries to look at me, but I don’t let her. I force her lips to mine, licking into her mouth, breathing with her, drinking in the fear I sense in her, the desperation that is richer now, fuller in a way that can’t be possible unless it’s about passion and how much we need each other in this place, at this time. I start to move, cupping her backside, lifting my hips. The kiss deepens, maybe because of me, maybe because of her. I don’t know. I don’t care. I just want her, and this, and that escape into oblivion that I look for in sex and that she actually gives me. We become more frenzied, rougher in the way we drive our bodies together, and we can’t kiss. She sits up, staring down at me, and her fear is gone, replaced by the burn of desire.

I watch her move, seduced by her body, her curves, the sway of her hips and the bounce of her breasts—loving the way her head drops forward, her long dark brown hair draping her ivory skin, the way she can no longer sit up and lowers those tight little nipples to my chest, where they rest against the wall of dark blond hair there, her face nestled in my neck.

We ride out what becomes a storm of need, a burn that has to be sated, grinding our bodies together, the sounds of pleasure and heavy rasps of breathing taking on lives of their own. I cup her backside, caress her breasts and tug roughly on her nipples. It seems to send her over the edge as she gasps, “Chad.”

A moment later, her sex tightens around the thick ridge of my erection, and it is heaven and hell at once. I ache for the burn to become a rush of pleasure, a release, and I loathe it for the ending it’s sure to become. And it does. Her body spasms and spasms some more, and I can do nothing but respond, pressing her down against me as I thrust upward. Once, twice, and then the explosion, the pleasure—the darkness of release that is eternal and not long enough—and then, too soon, the end.

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