She cut her gaze to Hunter, forcing herself not to inspect the entire package again and risk a total meltdown. Arms crossed, water sluicing down his back, he regarded her with more than just desire in those slate-blue eyes. As always, there was a watchful waiting, an electric awareness that measured her every reaction. She’d never been involved with a man capable of exhibiting such restraint and self-control. And yet, even though he lived behind walls, the man had willingly stepped between her and a speeding emotional bullet.

The memory snagged at her heart, because it was something Thomas had never attempted to do. Instead, when his success had been threatened, he’d dumped her via the Bricklin Daily Sentinel. No warning. No phone call. Just her in her PJs, with a cup of coffee on a beautiful Sunday morning, and an article about what was next for the candidate running for California State Senate. Apparently her boyfriend’s backup plan had been to feed her to the wolves—despite his vow to stick by her through the scandal.

And then, of course, there was her father’s emotional desertion...

The painful memories robbed her of her breath even as the irony tightened her lips into a thin smile. How lame did it make her that she was so grateful that someone had finally stood up for her? Someone who wasn’t even family or involved with her in a relationship. No, it was the guy she’d challenged to a very public duel.

What would it be like to make love to Hunter? She’d had her fair share of boyfriends, and was no stranger to sexual attraction, but she’d always been a little disappointed by how quickly it faded. How bored she became. Of course she’d never known anyone quite like the sexy, intense, white-hat-wearing Hunter Philips.

Don’t do it, Carly. Don’t do it! It’s only lust.

But it wasn’t really. It was much more complicated than that. And still, despite the fact she shouldn’t, a part of her had to finish what she’d started.

Gathering her courage, she crossed to the gym bag, fished out some quarters and headed for the machine, not stopping to think about her plan any further. Fingers clumsy with desire—and a generous dose of nerves—she struggled with the mechanism but couldn’t get the knob to twist. She smacked it in frustration.

Okay, so maybe the lust and nerves were a little stronger than usual.

“Let me.” A wet hand rested on her left hip as an arm reached around her on the right, and a sensual longing swept through her so strong her knees almost gave way. Her mind froze, chanting out the change in circumstances.

Hunter. Naked. An embrace, of sorts, from behind. From Hunter.

Naked.

Breath fanning her temple, a damp heat emanating from his body, he turned the knob, his movements calm, collected. A condom dropped into the tray with a promising thunk. Carly turned her back to the wall beside the dispenser, examining his naked body. It was still a glorious sight, made much more devastating by his proximity. The lean, well-muscled chest peppered with dark hair. The taut abdomen and the long, powerful thighs. The straining erection.

Even now he seemed so sure of himself. So cool. Deliberate.

His eyes bored into hers. “Will we need more than one?”

With her body’s current state of arousal she might not survive the first round. But there was no need to let him know how he affected her. Mouth dry, fingers shaky, she lifted her blouse over her head and tossed it aside. “It all hinges on your stamina.”

He nodded at the machine and its display of graphic diagrams. “I choose the second go around.”

Heart galloping nervously, she held his gaze as she removed her bra. “Just as long as it’s not number five.”

He inserted a second quarter into the machine. Eyes on hers, his gaze lit with a mix of humor, bone-melting desire and blatant challenge, he slowly twisted the knob. He had to know every crank was bringing her closer to the edge. “How about a modified version?” he said.

The mechanism caught, and a second thunk occurred.

Carly’s insides twisted. Their relentless game of cat and mouse was leaving her coiled tight, never knowing which way was up. Or who had the upper hand. If either of them did.

“What if your sparring partner walks in on us?” she said.

His enigmatic smile returned as he pressed her against the wall. The tile was cold against her already over-heated skin. “Let’s just hope he doesn’t,” he murmured as he lowered his head.

The moment his lips touched hers Carly responded eagerly. He pressed her mouth open, his tongue taking hers. The soul-drugging kiss pushed what little reason she had aside as his hands made quick work of her jeans and her panties, pushing them to the floor. Hunter sought the warm flesh between her legs, teasing her until she trembled, slick against his fingers. Her body’s ready response was so quick it was almost embarrassing.

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