Her hands find my shoulders. Her groin meets mine, and she melts into me with a passion that scorches.

Cupping her face, I angle her head and draw her ardor into mine, feeding on the inescapable rightness of it. She’s tiny in my arms, but her intensity is immeasurable, sparking from her skin, with a shimmery zap on every breath.

As my kiss consumes her mouth, I steal peeks at her between voracious bites. Flawlessly smooth complexion, thick black lashes over sharp cheekbones, and raven hair that tumbles around my hands—her beauty is effortless and deeply moving. Perhaps it’s the sensuality within her, glowing her skin from the inside out. To hold her like this is to bathe in the warmth of sunlight.

My body leans harder, pushing her against the wall as we surrender to the flames, lips biting, tongues rubbing, and hips falling into a hungry grind.

We meld into a single desire, one wish, and we both know it’s only a matter of time before I’m inside her, fucking her the way the universe intended.

Too soon, she pulls back. I chase her, stealing more greedy sips before resting my brow against hers.

Her mouth remains parted, eyes lost in emotion. She feels me, hears me, and that knowledge stirs something significant deep in my chest.

We stare at each other, breathless and searching. I tumble eagerly into the paradise of her eyes and watch in horror as they well with tears.

“Raina?”

She escapes my loose grip and moves to the far side of the bathroom with her back to me.

“Talk to me.” I can’t temper the demand in my voice.

“I already have a broken life, Lorne. I won’t survive a broken heart. Please, just… Go.”

Realization knocks the air from my lungs.

She could fall in love with me.

I’ve never had a girlfriend, never loved anyone outside of my family. I don’t even know if I’m capable of it. Am I pushing us into something that might not work out?

Dammit, I’m willing to take that leap.

But she’s not.

She turns on the shower. Then she slides the straps off her shoulders and lowers the dress down her back, wickedly and deliberately torturing me.

I want her, with every hot, hard, strumming beat in my body.

But not like this. Not until she’s with me at the same burning level.

I pivot out of the bathroom and slam the door.

Raina doesn’t show up for dinner that night. I tell myself I don’t care and head outside to escape the crawling sensation of confinement.

For the rest of the evening, I ride Captain across the acreage, checking the fences and perimeter security around the house. Between stops, I let him stretch into a gallop. As he flies over the dark terrain, Raina’s voice vibrates the air.

The wind in my face, the freedom on his back, the feel of his strength between my legs, the sound of his loyal heartbeat.

For the first time since the tragedy in the ravine, I give myself permission to enjoy the ride. It’s not just the solace in reconnecting with my old friend. It’s the memories tucked into the nature around us. The flower-picking, rabbit-hunting, stargazing memories of the trails I traversed as a child, the trees I climbed, the pond I swam in, and the fields where we camped every summer.

Happiness has been here all along, in the spirit of the land, waiting for me to wake up and be the man I’m meant to be.

A man who’s willing to dip into his soul and remember what calls to him.

Raina knew.

She always seems to know what I need.

I don’t know what time I finally sprawl on the sleeping bag. There are no watches or clocks in prison, and I’ve found I no longer want them.

As I lie on my back and stare at the stars, I evaluate my mental health. When inmates are released, we’re warned about PTSD, anxiety, depression, and nightmares.

I’ve felt the tug of those things. My nerves riot in public places and social situations. I’ve lost the drive to take over the ranching operation. I only exercise because I refuse to be weak.

And I think about drinking. I haven’t touched a bottle since that night in the stable. Haven’t so much as sipped alcohol since I was eighteen. But the urge scratches through my blood.

The interests I had as a kid are gone. I didn’t consider playing guitar again until Conor returned my instrument at dinner tonight. When I wrapped a hand around the frets, I relived the last night I played it, a night associated with masked men and brutality.

I have flashbacks. If it’s PTSD, it only surfaces when I sleep.

Because of the nightmares.

Every night, the goddamn nightmares. Usually the same ones. I’m back in prison and don’t know how I got there. I’m exhausted, and all the bunks are taken. I’m standing in the chow hall with shit on my tray, stark naked, and I can’t find my clothes.

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