‘Let me at least walk you to your car.’

‘I’m perfectly capable—’

‘That wasn’t a suggestion.’

‘Didn’t you warn me about Savile-Row-dressed predators a short while ago?’

That sad, almost haunted smile made another appearance. Those endlessly fascinating fingers delved into his bespoke jacket and emerged with his smartphone. He tapped the three-digit emergency number into it and extended it to her, pointing to the dial button. ‘Hit that button if I so much as exhale the wrong way between here and your car. But make no mistake, I’m walking you out of here and seeing you into your car.’

With a shaky hand, she took his phone. His fingers brushed then stilled against hers. Warmth infused her. Without thinking, she rubbed her fingers against his and heard his sharp intake of breath as he fell into step beside her.

The walk to her car took minutes but it felt like the longest walk of her life. Beside her, the tall, dark and dangerous stranger lessened his significantly long stride to match hers. Over and over again, Perla felt the heat of his gaze travel over her. She forced herself not to glance at him. To do so would’ve wavered her intent, made her give in to the intensely mortifying need that had taken root inside her.

But, with each dreaded step to her car, Perla felt as if she was fighting a losing battle. What had she achieved by coming here? So far, a big fat nothing. She hadn’t even broached the task she would give everything not to have to deal with. A task she would’ve given everything not to return to.

Surely it wasn’t wrong to make this moment with this perfect stranger last a little longer? She gave an inward sigh.

Who was she kidding? Fate had stuck two fingers up to her over and over. Why should tonight be any different?

She stopped beside her car and turned towards him. With a deep breath, she held out his phone. ‘I told you this wasn’t necessary. But again, thanks.’

He barely glanced at the gadget. ‘You’re not out of danger yet.’

She looked up into his face. ‘What do you mean?’ she asked, her voice a touch too breathless.

He stepped closer, his body heat slamming into her, making her head spin. ‘Hang onto it for a little while longer. I don’t want to end our conversation, not just yet.’

Perla’s pulse rate shot up even higher. ‘Why?’

‘Because...’ He seemed to catch himself just then. A frown creased his brow and he shook his head.

When he stepped back, a spasm of fear that she was losing him made her lean towards him. ‘Because...?’

He focused on her. Hazel eyes pinned her to the spot, then rushed to her hair, over her face, her neck, down to her toes before coming back to her face. He muttered something under his breath, something in his native tongue that held no meaning for her.

‘Tell me your name.’

Her mouth dried. ‘It’s...Pearl.’ She cringed inwardly at the small fib but, growing up, her unusual name had often been mistaken for the more common Pearl. Besides, the anonymity made her feel less exposed.

His hooded gaze dropped to her lips, its message so blatantly sexual, her breath stalled in her chest. ‘I have an irresistible urge to kiss you, Pearl. Does that make you want to run?’

The rawness behind the words rocked her to her soul, resonated beside her own turmoil. She watched his eyes slowly grow darker, more tormented. Before she could consciously stop herself, she reached up and cupped his taut cheek.

‘No. But it makes me want to know what’s wrong,’ she said softly.

He made a rough sound under his breath, like a proud but wounded animal. ‘Nothing I wish to bore you with tonight.’

‘What makes you think I’ll be bored? Perhaps I need the distraction as much as you do,’ she said in a rush of confession. She swayed closer and stopped herself a mere whisper from him. ‘Perhaps I want to give you what you want because it’s what I want too?’ It felt a little absurd, having this conversation with him. But it also felt...oddly right.

‘Be very careful what you wish for, little one,’ he breathed.

‘Oh, but I have been. Very careful. Too careful at times. I’m tired of being careful.’

His hand reached up to cover hers, pressed her hand harder into his jaw. Underneath her fingers, his stubble bristled against her palm, sparking an electric current that transmitted up her arm and suffused her whole body.

‘Don’t offer temptation you won’t be able to deliver on,’ he warned.

‘Are you challenging me?’

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