He pressed her backwards until the backs of her knees came into contact with his narrow single bed. A distant corner of her conscience prodded her, reminding her of her commitment to Howard. But somehow when Jake’s long strong body came down over hers and pinned her to the mattress, any notion of resistance disappeared on the tail end of a gasp as his thighs nudged between the quivering silk of hers.

‘I have waited so long to do this,’ Jake groaned as he lifted her skirt with impatient hands, his eyes like twin torches of fire as he looked down at her desire-flushed features. ‘I have dreamt of it, ached for it, planned for it until I could think of nothing else.’

Planned for it? Ashleigh froze as his words sank in. She eased herself up on her elbows, dislodging his weight only because he hadn’t expected it. ‘What do you mean, planned for it?’ she asked.

He began to press her back down but she pushed his hand away. ‘No, Jake. Tell me what you mean.’

He gave her a frustrated look from beneath frowning brows. ‘Do we have to talk now?’

‘Yes.’ She rolled off the bed and quickly rearranged her clothing with as much dignity as she could, and turned to face him determinedly. ‘Tell me what you meant. Now.’

He drew in a harsh breath and got off the bed in a single movement, one of his hands marking a rough pathway through his hair. ‘I have made no secret of my intention to see you again,’ he said. ‘I told you that the very first day.’

She gave him a reproachful glare. ‘You also told me the following day that you had no intention of sleeping with me, or have you forgotten that little detail?’

His mouth curled up in one corner as he looked down at her. ‘I was only responding to the invitation you’ve been sending out to me from the first moment we met in the hotel bar. You can deny it all you like, but you’re as hungry for me as I am for you.’

‘I. Am. Engaged.’ She bit the words out with stiff force.

His cynical smile tilted even further. ‘Just exactly who are you reminding of the fact, me or you?’

Ashleigh had never felt closer to violence in her entire life. Her hand twitched with the desire to take a swipe at the selfsatisfied smirk on his darkly handsome face, and in the end only some tiny remnant of her conservative upbringing forestalled her.

She clenched her fists by her sides and berated him coldly. ‘If you think you can replay our relationship just for the heck of it you’re very much mistaken. I know what you’re doing, Jake. As soon as you clean up this place you’ll be back off to London or Paris or wherever you have some other stupid misguided woman waiting in vain for you to commit.’

‘That has always been a sticking point with you, hasn’t it?’ he said, folding his arms in a casual unaffected pose. ‘You don’t think a relationship is genuine without some sort of formal commitment.’

She found it difficult to hold his very direct look but before she could think of a response he continued, ‘Which kind of makes me wonder why you don’t wear an engagement ring. Can’t poor old Howard even rustle up a second-hand one for you?’

It was all she could do to keep her temper under control. Rage fired in her blood until she could see tiny red spots of it before her eyes. She so wanted to let fly at him with every gram of bitterness she’d stored up over the years, but instead of a stream of invective coming out of her mouth when she finally opened it, to her utter shock, shame and embarrassment a choked sob came out instead.

Jake stared at her, his own mouth dropping open as she bent her head to her hands, her slim shoulders visibly shaking as she tried to cover the sounds of her distress.

He muttered one short sharp curse and reached for her, pulling her into the shield of his chest, one of his hands cupping the back of her silky head as he brought it down against his heart.

‘I’m sorry.’ He was surprised it hadn’t physically hurt to articulate the words, especially as he’d never said them to anyone before.

She didn’t answer other than to burrow a bit closer, but after a moment or two he could feel the dampness of her tears through his thin cotton T-shirt.

He couldn’t remember ever seeing her cry before. He’d always secretly admired her for it, actually. His childhood had taught him that tears were for the weak and powerless; he’d disciplined himself not to cry from an early age and, no matter what treatment had been dished out to him, he had been determined not to let his emotions get out of control. He had gritted his teeth, sent his mind elsewhere, planned revenge and grimly stored his anger, and for the most part he’d succeeded.

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