His hint of a smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Any number of things can be faked in this day and age.”

His tone set her on edge, and she gripped the champagne flute hard. “For example?”

His eyes scanned the crowd of people and paused on Mrs. Bennett. “Youth.”

Despite her amusement, the strained air prevented a smile. “Caring?” she said, forcing herself to hold his gaze. “Compassion?”

His words came out deceptively soft, his focus intense. “Or an orgasm.”

The statement hit hard, leaving a trail of popping electrical energy as it settled deeper in her brain. She tried to decide which was worse: him thinking she was a reckless fool or that her participation had all been an act.

Stunned, she stared at him. What had started as a game that day in the alley had led to something that now felt deadly serious—a grave threat to her sanity, her peace of mind and her heart. And the tightrope of emotional peril she was crossing with Hunter was one she’d never attempted before. Toss in an intensely hot sexual experience and—well, a girl was bound to feel a little unnerved. Because there was nothing more beautiful than Hunter Philips coming unglued. Of course, getting him there had taken a Herculean effort. He’d resisted her to the bitter end. And as soon as it was over the wall had returned. So what did that say about his opinion of her?

Her stomach twisted, and she fought the urge to retreat down the hall to safety.

Keep it light, Carly. Keep it easy.

She cleared her throat, rallying her mojo. “I can’t begin to tell you how crushed I’ll be if you confess you faked your way through Sunday night.”

The words briefly cut through the tension, easing the intensity in Hunter’s eyes a touch. “That’s where women hold a distinct advantage over men.”

“Since that often isn’t the case, I’ll take it where I can.”

His gaze dropped to her legs, his brow creased in humor. “I’m quite sure you will.”

Struggling for her usual self-assurance, she leaned her back against the doorjamb. “You’re just jealous I had visual confirmation you were very turned on.” She sent him the best charming smile she could, given the circumstances. “Helped, of course, by the fact that you leave evidence behind when you fire off your...bullets.”

He smiled. “You’re not jealous of my weapon, are you?”

“No gun-envy here.” She took a step closer and got a whiff of his cologne, bringing sensual memories of the locker room, and her tone turned huskier than she’d planned. “But you should teach me how to shoot yours.”

His body grew still and heat flared in his eyes. His tone matched his gaze. “That could be arranged.” His voice lowered to a rumble that was a mix of potent desire and distrust. “Would you approach that with pretend enthusiasm? Or would it be real?”

He clearly wasn’t comfortable with her motivation in the locker room. But the truth was too painful, cut too close to her heart, to share. What was she supposed to say? That she’d never had anyone come to her rescue before? That she’d been the damsel in distress in the past, but no knight in shining armor had ever risked anything to ride to her defense? Her profound appreciation of his gesture of protection was so enormous it was pathetic. Almost needy.

And she was a confident woman. She shouldn’t have been so desperate to conquer this man’s reserve. It wasn’t as if it proved he cared about her in any way. Or felt she was worthy of his on-air sacrifice...

Her breath hitched, but she pushed away the thought and steadily met his gaze. “Are you questioning the integrity of my responses?”

“Maybe.”

She placed a hand on her hip. “Were my moans not authentic enough?”

“The moans seemed genuine.”

“Were my groans lacking in honesty?”

“Your groans sounded sincere.” He hesitated, and his tone grew heavy with meaning. “It was the shout at the end that I questioned.”

The shout had been real, all right. She refused to look away. “I’m crushed you’re second-guessing my enthusiasm.”

His eyes held hers as the moments ticked by. When he spoke, there was suspicion and frustration in his tone. “I have no doubt your enthusiasm for your job is real.”

Devastated by the insinuation, Carly could almost hear the creaking sound as his statement strained under the weighty load of meaning.

Outside of Thomas she’d never been involved with a man who’d hurt her when he’d walked away, as they all invariably did. Yet here she was, with a guy she wasn’t even dating, wounded by his ability to take her in an explosion of hunger, calmly walk away, and with his next breath accuse her of dishonesty. Which meant he had a power over her no man had had ever before. Damn. The smile on her face grew tight, but she pushed back the need to pop the cork on her anger.

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