“I’m fine.”

“Have you eaten?”

Eyes on hers, he clasped her wrist, his grip firm. “I’m not hungry.”

Pulse pounding harder, her resolve melted a touch. “You need to rest. You need to eat—”

“No.” Gaze intense, fingers around her wrist, he reached up and cupped her neck, bringing her head closer as he murmured roughly, “I need you.”

Her heart went wild in her chest as his mouth claimed hers from below. His lips and tongue held a desperation that was about more than just sexual need. It was intense, yes. Hot too. But the demand in his mouth was like that of a drowning man who seemed intent on taking her down with him.

She loved the way he made her feel. Special. Worthy of a sacrifice. But right now it was as if he needed her as much as she needed him...

Okay, Carly. This is obviously more than just lust.

The disturbing thoughts, the fear of wanting too much, were shoved aside when his hands raked up her thighs and over her hips. The despair and dogged determination in his touch set her skin on fire until she was sure her mostly naked body beneath the fabric would scorch her dress from the inside out.

With his mouth on hers, his palms consuming her body, her own need grew urgent. She began to unbutton his shirt, fingers clumsy with emotion, embarrassed at just how much this meant to her. This wasn’t about control or dominance. It was about surrender—not to each other, but yielding to the intense need they shared. She unfastened his bottom button and smoothed her hand across his chest, craving the feel of crisp hair, warm skin and hard muscle. Meeting his mouth, kiss for kiss, she tried to absorb every sensation. Afraid it would be over too soon.

Dying to draw out the moment of being so desperately needed by this man—as if he could never walk away—she pulled her head back and knelt beside him. Her fingers fumbled as she tried to unfasten his pants, and she let out a small, self-conscious laugh. “I hope I don’t hurt you.”

“I’m not afraid.”

Carly’s hands stilled as she stared up at him, her heart pumping in her chest. Because he scared the hell out of her. But the frank desire in his eyes gave her courage, so she pulled out his erection and lowered her mouth to take a taste. Hunter’s low groan drove her on, and she loved the way his hand threaded through her hair, cupping her head. Not with a sense of power or control, but one of almost vulnerability. A moment where his wall was at its lowest point. No reserve. No guard. Just his need in her hands.

Her mouth and her touch grew bolder, more demanding. Her hands, lips and tongue smoothed their way along the soft skin covering the hard shaft. Satin covering steel. The protector, the coolly controlled man, poised and ready at a moment’s notice.

The desperation in his tone was her undoing, his voice ragged. “Carly...”

Hearing his plea, she stood and reached for the hem of her dress.

“No,” he said, his eyes burning into hers, his voice tight with desire. “Leave it on.”

Slick with need, throbbing from the force of the desire coursing through her veins, she slid her thong down, kicked it aside and fetched a condom from her purse. Fear, hope, and a feeling that came too close to love twined tightly in her heart. She concentrated on Hunter’s almost desperate grip on her thighs as she straddled his legs, sitting on his lap as she sheathed him in latex.

Pulse doing double time, her breathing too fast, she said, “You seemed more amused than affected the first time I wore this dress.”

His words came out a throaty rumble. “I was affected.” He bunched her dress to her hips and positioned her over him, leaving her holding her breath. “Very affected.”

Helpless in his arms, she arched her back as he began to slide inside.

“God help me,” he groaned, filling her inch by delicious inch as he went on. “I still am.”

* * *

Try as he might, Hunter couldn’t hold back the moan of pleasure as he entered Carly. Her body was more than ready. Beyond welcoming. Wrapping him in a warmth that was less about heat and more about alleviating the years of ache within. Overcome by the sensation, he paused for a moment. With him embedded deep inside her, she cupped his face for a kiss that was part healing balm, part all-consuming need, and a very big part an emotion he refused to name. She pulled her lips back a fraction, hands on his cheeks, her warm amber gaze locked with his, and he began to move.

Their hips rocked in unison, slow yet sure, as they savored every sensation. And Carly let out a sigh, her eyes growing darker.

Somewhere along the way the teasing tones and the playful challenge had been left far behind. All that remained was his need to lose himself in Carly. The selfless way she matched his rhythm, held his face and looked into his eyes, mended the cracks he’d sworn were too massive to be repaired. The doubts and misgivings he’d clung to in order to preserve his sanity were slipping. His heart was now too large to be contained in a cynical box. The woman was a seductive mix of sassy strength and endearing vulnerability, but it was the caring in her gaze that drew him in. Called him to wade further, venture deeper.

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