Gretchen let out the ragged breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding in. As the air rushed from her lungs, so did the tension that had built up in every muscle. “You’re right, I’m sorry. I’m just so—”

Julian’s lips met hers in an instant, stealing the words from her mouth. His touch made all her worries disappear. She melted into his arms, pressing into the hard body she couldn’t get out of her head. Even when she heard the sound of her zipper gliding down her back, she didn’t tense up. The glide of his tongue and the hungry press of his fingertips into her flesh made her whole body soften like butter.

He tugged the straps of her dress and bra down her shoulders, planting a line of kisses along her throat and across the newly exposed skin. Julian’s hungry gaze flickered over her breasts before he dipped his head to taste the flesh that threatened to spill over the top of her bra.

With her dress open in the back, she could feel the fabric slipping down, pooling at her waist, but she fought the urge to stop it. By all indications, Julian liked what he saw. Tonight it was all coming off, no matter how anxious she might be about it.

Reaching behind her, Julian unfastened the clasp of her bra, sliding it down her arms and draping it across the nearby chair. Her nakedness was immediately covered by his hands and his mouth. Gretchen’s eyes fluttered closed as he drew one hard pink nipple into his mouth. A bolt of pleasure shot right through her, making her core tighten and ache and her legs start to tremble beneath her.

She was so lost in the moment that when Julian crouched down and lifted her up into the air, she was caught completely off guard. With a cry of surprise, she wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist. “You’re going to throw your back out or something,” she complained as she clung to him. She wasn’t some skinny-minnie supermodel, as though he could forget with her half naked in his arms.

He narrowed his gaze at her, a challenge in his eyes. “Gretchen, even on a bad day I can bench press twice what you weigh. Stop worrying and let me carry you into the bedroom to ravish you properly, all right?”

Squeezing her eyes shut, she buried her face in his neck. She couldn’t let her stupid insecurities ruin this moment. With one arm wrapped around her waist, Julian’s other slid along her outer thigh, gripping one round cheek beneath her cocktail dress. She felt his palm explore her skin in a curious fashion before he spoke.

“Naughty,” he whispered as they started toward the bedroom.

“What?” She didn’t know what he was talking about.

“You never put your panties back on.”

Gretchen straightened up in his arms, her eyes wide as she gasped. “Oh, my God. I left them on the floor of the ballroom.”

Julian chuckled and shook his head, continuing into the bedroom. “Someone’s going to get a surprise first thing in the morning.”

Thoughts of Bree or Natalie running across those sheer black panties in the ballroom suddenly consumed her. How embarrassing. Then Julian lowered her onto the bed and her bare back met with the soft, plush fabric of the comforter.

She watched as he unbuttoned his dress shirt and slipped it off, exposing the famously familiar muscles beneath it. God, he was beautiful. There was a Michelangelo-like quality to the definition of his body, as though each muscle had been carved out of flesh-colored marble with a fine chisel.

Her eyes remained glued to his hands as he unbuckled his belt, unzipped his trousers and let the last of his clothing fall to the floor. He kicked off his shoes and stepped out of it all, taking a step toward the bed in all his naked glory.

“Well?” he asked after giving her a moment to take in every inch of the glorious sight. “Will I do?”

Gretchen laughed in a nervous titter. The man was beautiful, rock hard and very aroused. Any doubts she had about his attraction to her were instantly quelled. They were replaced by the anxiety of realizing he was a large specimen of man. She covered her nerves with a wide smile and a nod. “I suppose so.”

One dark brow shot up at her blasé assessment of his manhood. Without responding, he approached the bed and reached for her waist. He gathered her dress and gave it a firm tug to slip it over her hips. When he dropped it to the floor, his gaze returned to her fully naked body.

Gretchen took a deep breath and fought the urge to cover herself. Instead she raised her hand and crooked her index finger to beckon him to her.

He didn’t hesitate. Julian covered her body with his own, every inch of his blazing-hot skin touching hers. The firm heat of him pressed at her thigh, urging her to open herself to him, so she did. He slipped between her legs and rested there. She could feel the tip of him teasing at her, but he didn’t press forward. Not yet.