Page 40 of The Shy Bride

Except for the way he was looking at her. Like her white silk blouse was transparent and the lacy bra she wore beneath it not much better.

“You left it down.”

She looked to the right and then to the left, but neither the pristine counter nor the small bistro table set with goodies and tea things gave her a clue what he was going on about. “Um, okay. Did you want me to pour the tea?”

He didn’t answer, his hands clenched as if he was trying to stop himself touching something.

“Uh, Neo? You’re starting to worry me.”

“Is it desire or lack of opportunity?” he demanded in a guttural voice.

“I don’t think I know what you are talking about.” In fact, she was sure of it. “Your virginity?”

“My vir…” she squeaked, choking the word off midway. “What are you talking about?” And why were they talking about it? Being untouched at age twenty-nine was not exactly her favorite topic for contemplation.

He crossed the distance between them with two long strides. “Your innocence. Is it a condition you are pleased about?”

“Pleased?” Right. Because every woman wanted to stare thirty down without ever having had a boyfriend, much less a serious relationship. “Neo, you aren’t making any sense!”

“It is a simple question, pethi mou.”

“I’m sure it is, only I don’t know what the question is.” She was getting an inkling, though, and her face was flaming because of it.

“Zee said you might not be a virgin by choice, but rather by necessity.”

“Necessity?”

“For lack of opportunity,” he clarified.

“You talked to Zephyr about my sex life?” she asked in outrage as her brain finally caught up.

He ignored her. “Lack of sex life. If you had a sex life, my own would be so much easier.”

“I don’t see how.”

He slid his hand under her hair to cup her nape, the gentle touch at odds with the feral gleam in his green gaze. “Don’t you?”

The heat from his hand froze her vocal chords. No, that didn’t make any sense. Shouldn’t heat unfreeze them? But they felt frozen, unable to move. All she really knew was that she couldn’t speak. She wasn’t even sure why she was having the silent dialogue in her head, except that it was easier to think about that then what Neo was trying to discuss.

“I do not wish to take advantage of you.” His thumb brushed her neck, up and down…up and down, sending tingles through her with each light sweep.

Her vocal chords finally unstuck. “Neo, you cannot go around discussing my private life with Zephyr.” Really, really.

“I did not go anywhere. I called him from right here.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I know I want you.”

“You do?” Okay, that bit of information was certainly enough to sidetrack her.

“Definitely.”

“But what about the no kissing friends rule?”

“I am rethinking my stance on that one.”

“Oh.” Well, it was probably a good idea, considering the fact he kept breaking it.

“Hence the call to Zephyr.” Where they talked about her virginity.

Oh, man. Her whole body flushed with embarrassment. “And he said…”

“That I should let you make your own choices. That you are an adult.”

“He’s right. I’ve been all grown up for years and as much as it seems to happen—or used to—I detest having others make important decisions for me. Only the problem here is that I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be choosing between.”

“Sex with me.”

Oh, heavens. Okay, she really got it now. “As opposed to friendship without sex?” she asked, just to be sure. “Precisely.”

“And after the sex?”

“The friendship remains.”

Friendship never remained for her, sex, or no sex, but now probably wasn’t the time to mention that salient little fact to him. “Friends with benefits.”

“I guess.” A sound of dark amusement came out of him. “Some benefit. As I told you, I have never had a female friend before.”

“But you do now. And you want to make love, er, have sex with her.”

A brilliant smile broke over his features. “Exactly.”

“But you don’t want anything else. Beyond friendship?”

The troubled expression returned. “It is not fair to you.”

“Why? If it’s fair to you and I do assume you think it is? Why wouldn’t it be fair to me?” What made her so special?

“You are far less cynical than I. And I’m worried you will mistake our intimacy for…”

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