“And I refuse to let fear or self-doubt rule my future,” she said, and then she stepped back and jerked her shirt to just beneath her breasts, revealing an abdomen completely covered in a crisscrossing linear pattern of purplish scars.

A body blow of epic proportions hit Blake, draining the blood from his face, leaving him dizzy.

Eyes snapping, she said, “Because I’ve been there before and I’m not going back.”

An ugly swearword burst from his mouth, and he fought for control as he took in the sight of months’—perhaps years’—worth of scars. Not an inch was left unmarked, her skin disfigured from the self-mutilation. Grief and horror and tenderness gripped him so tight his eyes stung with the emotion.

“Jesus, Jax,” he croaked, stepping closer, his stomach threatening to reject what little of his sandwich he’d consumed.

She met his eyes, chin still high, her expression stoic. “Don’t feel sorry for me,” she said, her voice hard. “I don’t want or need your sympathy. I am proud of who I am and how I live my life.” Confidence and passion and conviction radiated from her face as she enunciated each word clearly, her gaze boring into his as she went on. “Because I’m a goddamn warrior who has earned her stripes.”

His chest heaving, a host of emotions battled for supremacy. Fierce admiration. A profound humility. And a sliver of jealousy that this woman, a woman who had lived through hell and come back fighting, had attained what was slipping further and further from his grasp every day. Living life on her own terms instead of denying what she wanted in deference to logic.

Duty versus need.

Lust versus reason.

Making love to Jax or continuing to deny himself.

He sucked in a breath, and, against his will, his gaze drifted to the pink lips that were set in a determined line.

Eyes dark, she lowered her shirt as she stepped close enough to bring the scent of lavender back. Her passion, her strength and her beauty—both inside and out—tightened its grip around his spine.

“And unless you plan on touching me again, Suit,” she said in a low voice, “stop looking at me like you don’t know whether to make love to me or scold me like a rebellious kid.”

His heart pounded as if attempting to free its way from his chest, and a little of his resolve cracked, providing just enough room for the climbing pressure to gain a foothold. And the man who took what he wanted without thought of the consequences—the wild rebel he’d been suppressing for years—escaped in a rush.

With an explicit curse, Blake hooked his hand behind the hellion on heels’ neck and pulled, her body colliding with his, his mouth landing hard on her lips.

* * *

With a sigh, Jax melted against Blake’s unyielding chest, returning the rough, raw kiss with all the fire and longing that had been building for weeks. After an incredible night with Blake, followed by many a restless sleep, it was a relief to be back in his arms. Not just because of the need to be free to touch him again or the need to feel the relatively new, and blissfully wonderful, experience of full-on sex again. The most profound relief came from Blake finally knowing the true extent of her past.

And wanting her anyway.

No I-can’t-escape-your-presence-fast-enough expression like Jack. No horrified gleam in his eyes that communicated she’d launched beyond cute-crazy and straight into scary-crazy. Instead, Blake’s mouth was taking hers in a blatant sign of possession, as if acknowledging it all and verifying he didn’t care. His lips slanted across hers hungrily, his tongue impatient against hers. It was an act of control. A stamp of ownership.

Who knew a little domination would be such a turn-on?

Lips controlling hers, his movement tinged with an angry desperation, Blake shrugged out of his coat, his jacket hitting the floor as he gave his tie an impatient jerk. “Lock the door,” he ordered against her mouth.

In the time it took Jax to comply, Blake had his shirt and shoes off. Eyes on his gloriously heart-stopping erection beneath his pants, her throat suddenly dry, she crossed back to his desk.

Gaze dark with need, he hooked his finger in her waistband and yanked her closer, unsnapping her shorts and pushing the cutoffs to the floor. “I have to be back at the office by three.”

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