He waited for five or so heartbeats of silence.

‘I’m sorry.’ He eased himself up on his arms to look down at her. ‘That was so selfish and crass of me.’

Ashleigh reached up and touched the line of his lean jaw where a tinge of red was already pooling.

‘No…don’t apologise.’

‘I couldn’t hold back,’ he said, his breathing still a little choppy. ‘You have this weird effect on me. I feel about sixteen when I’m near you. All out-of-control hormones, no finesse, no foreplay, just full-on selfish lust.’

‘You’re not selfish…’ She traced her fingertip over the line of his top lip lingeringly.

He took her finger into his mouth and sucked on it, hard.

Her eyes glazed over with unrelieved need and he released her finger, pressing her hand back to the mattress beside her head.

She knew what that look in his eyes meant and her stomach folded over as he moved down her body.

‘You don’t have to…oh!’

He lifted his head for a moment and sent her a spineloosening look. ‘I do have to, baby. I owe you.’

‘I…I…’ She gave up when his tongue separated her, hot bursts of pleasure sending every thought out of her brain.

She was mindless under his touch, a touch her body remembered like a secret code. Her senses leapt in acute awareness, her pleasure centre tightening to snapping point, each sensitive nerve stretched beyond endurance until it was beyond her capacity to contain it. She felt the rising waves go over her head, crashing all around her, fragmenting her consciousness until she was a mindless, limbless melting pool of nothingness…

Ashleigh wasn’t sure how long the silence continued.

She lay with her eyes closed, not sure she was quite ready to meet Jake’s penetrating gaze. She knew she had let herself down terribly. Falling into his arms like a desperado was hardly going to give her the ground she needed to maintain her pride.

What a mess!

She gave a painful inward grimace. The irony of it all was gut-wrenching to say the very least. Four and a half years ago all she had wanted was a marriage proposal from him, a promise of security and a future family they could nurture together in the same wonderful way her parents had done for her sisters and her. Instead, she had left him, pregnant, terrified and alone, knowing she had no future with him while she carried his child.

Had he ever cared for her?

He had never said the words. Those three simple words that had been uttered every day of her life in her family: I love you.

No. Jake had never said he loved her. He told her he desired her, he had overwhelmed her with the physical demonstration of his need for her, but he had not once said he loved her.

She felt the shift of the mattress as he got off the narrow bed and opened her eyes, not all that surprised to encounter the stiff line of his back turned towards her as he reached for his clothes.

‘How long do you think it will take to get this place clear of all of this stuff?’ he asked, zipping up his jeans and turning to face her.

Ashleigh had to fight not to cover herself. Some remnant of pride insisted she pretend she was totally unaffected by what had just transpired. She crossed her ankles and, releasing her hair from behind her neck, met his dark, unreadable eyes.

‘I can get the house cleared within a few days,’ she said. ‘I haven’t finished assessing it all, but that can be finalised in Howard’s showroom.’

‘Good,’ he said, reaching for his discarded T-shirt. ‘I want to get started on renovating so we can move in as soon as we are married.’

She took immediate offence at his assumption that she was simply going to fall in with his plans. ‘Aren’t you assuming a little too much?’ she asked. ‘I don’t remember agreeing to marry you.’

His scooped up her clothes from the floor and tossed them towards her, his eyes sending her a warning. ‘Get dressed. I want to meet with your family tonight to discuss the wedding arrangements.’

She flung herself off the bed and threw her clothes to one side, beyond caring that she was totally naked.

‘You can take a running jump, Jake Marriott,’ she snapped at him furiously. ‘Do you think my parents are going to go along with your plans? I think I know them a little better than you do.’ She folded her arms across her heaving breasts and added bitterly, ‘Besides, I can’t see my father giving his permission.’

‘You’re twenty-four years old, Ashleigh,’ he pointed out neatly, his eyes flicking briefly to the upthrust of her breasts. ‘I hardly think we need to have anyone’s permission to get married.’

‘I can’t believe you want to go through with this. You’ve always been so against the institution of marriage. The fact that we share a child doesn’t mean we have to get married.’

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