The truth was she had threatened him from the word go.
He had always avoided the virginal, looking for hearthhome-and-cute hound-thrown-in types. He’d shied away from any form of commitment in relationships; the very fact that he’d let his guard down enough to allow her to move in with him demonstrated how much she had burrowed beneath his skin.
Her innocence had shocked him.
He had taken her roughly, their combined passion so strong and out of control he hadn’t given a single thought to the possibility that it might have been her first time.
He’d hurt her and yet she hadn’t cried. Instead she’d hugged him close and promised it would be better next time.
And it had been.
In fact, making love with Ashleigh had been an experience he was never likely to forget. She had given so freely of herself, the passion he’d awakened in her continually taking him by surprise. No one he’d been with since—and there had been many—had ever touched him quite the way she had touched him. Ashleigh had reached in with those small soft hands of hers to deep inside him where no one had ever been before. Sometimes, if he allowed himself, he could still feel where her gentle stroking fingertips had brushed along the torn edges of his soul.
‘Ashleigh…’ His voice sounded unfamiliar even to his own ears. He cleared his throat and continued. ‘Can we just forget about the past and only deal with the here and now?’
Ashleigh brushed at her eyes with an angry gesture of her hand, hoping he wouldn’t see how undone she really was. How could she possibly pretend the past hadn’t happened when she had Lachlan to show for it?
‘Why are you doing this?’ she asked. ‘What can you possibly hope to achieve by insisting I do this assessment for you? You say you don’t want the money all this stuff is worth…’She drew in a scalding breath as her eyes scanned the goods in front of her before turning back to meet his steady gaze, her voice coming out a little unevenly. ‘What exactly do you want?’
‘This house is full of ghosts,’ he said. ‘I want you to help me get rid of them.’
She moistened her bone-dry lips. ‘Why me?’
‘I have my reasons,’ he answered, his eyes telling her none of them.
Her gaze wavered on his for a long moment. This was all wrong. She couldn’t help Jake deal with whatever issues he carried from his past. How could she when she had the most devastating secret of all, that at some point he would have to hear?
But he needs you, another voice inside her head insisted.
How could she turn away from the one man she had loved with all of her being? Surely she owed him this short period of time so he could achieve the closure he had spoken of earlier.
It was a risk she had to take. Spending any amount of time with Jake was courting trouble but as long as she stood her ground she would be fine.
She had to be fine.
‘I think we need some ground rules then,’ she said, attempting to be firm but falling well short of the mark.
‘Rules, Jake.’ She sent him a reproachful look. ‘Those moral parameters that all decent people live by.’
‘All right, run them by me,’ he said, the edge of his mouth lifted in a derisory smile.
She forced her shoulders back and met his gaze determinedly. ‘There’s to be no touching, for a start.’
‘Fine by me.’ He thrust his hands in his jeans pockets as if to remove the temptation right there and then.
Ashleigh had to drag her eyes away from the stretch of denim over his hands. ‘And that includes kissing, of course,’ she added somewhat primly.
He moistened his lips with his tongue as if removing the taste of her from his mouth. ‘Of course.’
She straightened her spine, fighting to remain cool under that dark gaze as it ran over her. ‘And none of those looks.’
‘Which looks?’ he asked, looking.
She set her mouth. ‘That look.’
‘This look?’ He pointed to his face, his expression all innocence.
She crossed her arms. ‘You know exactly what I mean, Jake Marriott. You keep undressing me with your eyes.’
He did innocence far too well, she thought, but she could see the hunger reflected in his gaze and no way was she going to fuel it.
‘You know you do and it has to stop. Now.’
He sent her one of his megawatt lazy smiles. ‘If you say so.’
‘I say so.’
He shifted his tongue inside his cheek for a moment. ‘Are you done with your little rules?’
She gave him a schoolmarm look from down the delicate length of her nose. ‘Yes. I think that just about covers it.’
‘You want to hear my rules now?’ he asked after a tiny heart-tripping pause.