Because it clarified one simple fact. Their relationship would never work. His independent nature would rebel against any sort of long-term connection. Deepening that problem had been his experience at the lake all those years ago, when he’d learned to trust only himself during that three-day trek home. He wouldn’t dare put his faith in someone he couldn’t trust. And once he knew the truth about her, he’d never trust her. She strongly suspected that once that trust was lost, it could never be regained.

She also found it interesting that he was running away from what she’d spent her entire life wishing she could have. Family. An ingrained knowledge that she belonged. Hearth and home. Though her grandmother had been a loving, generous woman, she hadn’t been the most sociable person in the world. She lived on a small farm, happy with a simple, natural existence far from the nearest town. While love and obligation had kept Larkin by her grandmother’s side until her grandmother’s death and news of Leigh’s death had reached her, through the years she’d begun to long for more. The sort of “more” that Rafe had rejected. During the last year of Gran’s life, Larkin had created a game plan for attaining that something more. First on her agenda was to track down her father. Then she intended to obtain a job at a rescue organization and pursue her real passion—saving animals like Kiko.

The only remaining question was… How did she get herself out of her current predicament? Of course, she knew how. All she had to do was tell him that she was Leigh’s sister—half sister—and their temporary engagement would come to a permanent end. Then he’d either agree to what she required in lieu of payment, or he wouldn’t. End of story.

What she really needed to know was how much longer he intended to drag out their engagement, and what sort of exit strategy he had planned. Knowing Rafe, there was definitely a plan.

“I have one last question,” she began.

“Unfortunately for you, I’m done answering them. There’s only one thing I want right now.” He set the flute on the table with enough force to make the crystal sing. He turned and regarded her with a burning gaze. “And that’s you.”

How had she thought she could control this man? It would seem she was as foolish as Leigh. “I don’t think—”

“I’m not asking you to think.” Rafe approached, kicking a chair from his path. “I don’t even care whether you choose to wear my ring or not. There’s only one thing that matters. One thing that either of us wants. And it’s what we’ve wanted from the moment we first met.”

Without another word, he swept Larkin into his arms. The stars wheeled overhead as her world turned upside down. She clutched at his shoulders and held on for dear life. Her lion was loose and on a rampage and she doubted anything she said or did would change that fact.

“You’re going to make love to me, aren’t you?”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Even though it breaks your promise to your grandfather?”

He shouldered his way into her bedroom. “I’m not breaking my promise to Primo. I put a ring on your finger. If you decide to take it off again, that’s your choice. As far as I’m concerned, we’re officially engaged.”


He lowered her to the bed and followed her down. “Do you really want me to stop?”

The question whispered through the air, filled with temptation and allure. It was truth time. She didn’t want him to stop. Just a few short days ago she’d never have believed herself capable of tumbling into bed with Leigh’s husband. It was the last thing she wanted from him. But now…

Now she couldn’t find the willpower to resist. It was wrong. So very wrong. And yet, she’d never felt anything so right. Every part of her vibrated with the sweetness of the connection that flowed between them. It danced from her body to his and back again, coiling around and through her, building with each passing second.

“I don’t want you to stop,” she admitted. “But I don’t want you to regret this later on.”

“Why would I regret it?” Despite the darkness, she could see the smile that flirted with his mouth and hear it penetrate his voice. “If anything, this should ease the tension between us.”

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