“No, I suppose not.” His hands move to my neck, his thumbs stroking my jawline, his voice lowering. “But what I can do, baby, is take away the hurt you’re feeling right now. Make you forget.”

“No,” I say. “I don’t want to forget this day. Pretending to bury Chad was a nightmare, but he isn’t dead. And I was excited driving here, and even more so to see the Christmas tree. And I want to decorate it and create new traditions with you, Liam.”

His eyes soften, his mouth, too. “Then let’s make more good memories, baby.”

“Yes. Please,” I say, and my words land on his tongue as he kisses me tenderly. His mouth lingers over mine, my body coming alive, and I feel him breathing with me. Sometimes it feels as if he’s the only way I can breathe.

Liam shifts the spell between us to new places, turning me to face the massive four-poster bed that stirs wonderful, intimate memories, and I am most definitely ready to make more. He unzips my skirt and with deft fingers undresses me, removing one of the barriers between us. Slowly. Seductively. Somehow he never touches my skin but I feel him everywhere, my nipples aching, my sex clenched. My skin tingles the way my backside had when he smacked it. I know he’s teasing me, driving me to a place where there is only this man, this room, and me. I feel the energy shift and know that he’s no longer directly behind me, leaving me naked and untouched. The freedom to be vulnerable with this man, which I don’t dare with anyone else, is sexy in a thrilling way.

“Turn around,” he orders, and the rough, aroused quality of his voice tells me I affect him, too. I like that even when he’s in control, there’s a part of him that I set free.

I face him, finding him close, but not close enough. He shrugs out of his jacket and I’m mesmerized by him, his power, his grace. Every move he makes is controlled. Every action calculated. And I realize something I think I’ve known all along: we are the same. Both damaged. Both shattered in some deep way. Both defending ourselves from future wounds with our self-control.

He tugs his tie off and wraps it around his hand, silently promising me that soon I’ll be at his mercy. It’s not the first time he’s tied me up, and each encounter is different in a good way. Yet tonight feels like the first time—as if we really are starting a new chapter.

During our first encounter, he’d said, “Sometimes having a safe place to give it away is the best way to block everything else out. I’m asking you to let me show you that I’m that safe place.”

And Liam is my safe place.

“Amy.”

His voice commands my attention, and I look up to find I’ve missed the delicious moments leading up to him now being gloriously naked. My gaze lands on the “pi” tattoo on his belly, the 3.14 etched above a row of numbers in an upside-down triangle that is all about the infinite possibilities of life. It’s both thrilling and terrifying at times when I consider them with this man.

“Hold out your hands,” he orders, and it speaks volumes that I no longer hesitate to give myself fully to Liam.

He twists his tie around one of my wrists, and I think of the many ways he has helped me escape my past. But what about his past, which is just as etched in heartache as mine? He doesn’t talk about his mother, not since his sole emotional breakdown. Since then, he’s protected me—but who protects him?

He completes the knot binding my hands and pulls me to him. “And now, you’re mine to please and tease.”

“Yes, I am,” I agree. “Am I your safe place, too, Liam?”

His expression tightens and he fixes me in a piercing stare, letting me see the depth of emotion in his eyes. “Baby, you’re the only safe place I’ve ever known.”

“But you never let go of control.”

“That’s not what works for me. Taking control works for me. You work for me.”

“I don’t want everything in your life to be about guarding me. I don’t want that to be all we are. I want to breathe for you when you need me to, the way you breathe for me.”

His unties my bound wrists and drops the tie on the floor, his eyes dark, unreadable. Wordlessly, he scoops me up again, cradling me against his body, and in a few steps he sets me down in the center of the massive bed. Then the weight of him presses me down, his erection pressed intimately between my thighs.

“Sometimes you’re the only reason I do breathe, Amy Bensen. But let’s make a deal. From now on, let’s breathe together.”

His words seep inside, soothing every broken part of me and making me a little more whole. He makes me a little more whole.

“Yes,” I whisper, my arms twining around his neck. “Together.”

He leans in to kiss me, and we’re lost to the world.

PART THREE

Nightmares

I REMEMBER FALLING ASLEEP CURLED UP next to Liam, my hand over the tattoo that is so a part of him. It makes me feel more a part of him as well. I remember Liam talking to me, telling me a story about his first trip to Asia, the soft, masculine caress of his voice like a lullaby, relaxing and still somehow seductive. I remember asking him questions, my voice sounding as relaxed and groggy as I felt. I was sated, happy in that safe place he creates for me where there is only light and no darkness. I’d fought the way my eyelids had fluttered, willing away the sleep overcoming me. And then the nightmare I tried to shove away but failed . . .

Smoke chokes me, filling my lungs, fire licking at my heels.

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