After they’d made love, his body completely spent, he’d realized the liberating release had been like none he’d experienced before. And he’d wanted her again. The moment the craving had hit he’d remembered exactly why she’d followed him into the shower room. Plagued by the disturbing thought she was using him, he’d had to bolt or risk losing himself in her a second time. And when he’d spied her sinfully sexy dress tonight, need had smashed him head-on. Angry at himself for being so susceptible, he’d provoked her. Insulted her...just like her father.

Regret churned in his gut. After the scene he’d just witnessed, he had a better understanding of the complex woman so full of softly rounded corners and sharp edges. Brashly forward, yet remarkably vulnerable. Driven at her job, yet oddly innocent at the same time. Hunter still wasn’t entirely clear which side of the Carly equation he fell on—or, in the end, which side she would choose—but he was now convinced she was innocent of every accusation the press had thrown at her three years ago.

Fingers gripping the champagne flutes, he watched her turn into a room at the end of the hall feeling torn, grappling with the need not to be played for a fool again. But at least when he’d suffered his parents had supported him. Booker had stuck by him. But Carly...

When Carly had made her so-called mistake she’d been abandoned by the two people that had mattered most. The knowledge took a chink from his heart and burned in ways it shouldn’t.

Jaw clenched, decision made, he left the party behind and strode down the long corridor, stopping in the open doorway at the end. Color high on her cheeks, mouth set, Carly paced the length of a masculine office done in forest-green, a bordering-on-indecent length of silky leg swishing back and forth beneath her red dress.

He hesitated, and debated changing his mind. Instead he said, “You want to tell me what just happened?”

She never broke her stride, and her tone matched the fury in her pace. “I want you to leave.”

He was used to her charm-and-slash smile, the targeted sarcastic comments and the intentional flirting, but he’d never seen her so blatantly angry before. Not even when he’d insulted her.

Champagne in hand, he slowly entered the room. “I think you should talk about it.”

“No,” she bit out, looking close to either blowing her top or bursting into tears.

He set the glasses on a massive walnut desk. “You might feel better if you cried.”

“No.” Mid-stride, she heaved her purse onto the leather office chair. In a woman who normally brimmed with self-confidence the stark emotion, the seething vulnerability on her face, was hard to watch. “I promised myself I wouldn’t cry about it again. Especially not here.”

His heart twisted, but he ignored it. “Why not here?”

She reached the far wall and turned, heading back in his direction. “Right after the Weaver story blew up in my face and I got fired I came home, looking for support.” Still pacing, she pointed in the direction of the desk, eyes burning with emotion. “And the moment I got back he sat me in this office and lectured me on a reporter’s duty and the main goal of a paper...to make money. He went on and on about the importance of the financial bottom line.” Her eyes looked suspiciously bright, but no tears welled. “He didn’t give a damn how I felt.”

It was the restraint that almost did him in.

She passed him, her scent trailing in her wake.

“Nothing I do is ever good enough. I’ve avoided him for six months.” She fisted her hands. “Six months. And in less than two minutes he’s making cracks about my love-life.”

He watched her retrace her path across the room. “Has your relationship with your father always been difficult?”

“No,” she said. “In some ways that would make it easier. Then I could just walk away. Instead I moved back to Miami.” Her lips pressed in a thin line. “And like a moron I hang around, remembering how it used to be when I was younger...”

It was a dilemma he understood well. Lately he’d been spending a lot of time dealing with the past himself. He let out a long, slow breath. “It’s hard to cut the good memories loose just to free yourself from the bad.”

She stopped in the middle of the room and her gaze met his. “Exactly.”

They studied one another for a moment. Several heartbeats passed and Hunter felt the pull, much as he had in the locker room. But this time it was so much more than sexual. Uncomfortable, he crossed his arms. “When did you two start having trouble?”

A shadow briefly flashed across her face, and she looked a little lost standing in the center of the room. “My mom died when I was a baby, so Dad’s the only family I have. Things got rough when I hit my teens,” she said, threading less than steady fingers through her hair. “Since then all he’s done is berate me over every decision I make, all the way down to the clothes I choose to wear. Pretty soon, I just gave up.” Her mouth twisted grimly, and she smoothed her hand down the silk covering her thighs. “I wore this dress tonight because I knew it would piss my father off.” After a self-derisive scoff, she shook her head and turned to stare desolately out a night-blackened window. When she spoke it was almost as if to herself. “I don’t know why I continue to antagonize him.”

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