“And now...if I agree to go talk to Kirsten?”

 He swallowed the last of his wine and set the glass aside. “I don’t want to discuss Kirsten anymore. You and I are the only two people here in this suite. What I desperately need is make love to you.”


                       Thirteen

 Lucy sucked in a deep breath, her insides tumbling as they had the one and only time she rode the Tilt-A-Whirl at the county fair. On that occasion, she had tossed her cookies afterward.

 Tonight was different. Tonight, the butterflies were all about anticipation and arousal and the rebirth of hope. Why else would she be here with Jeff Hartley?

 She nodded, kicking off her shoes. “Yes.” There were a million words she wanted to say to him, and not all of them kind. But for some reason, the only thing that mattered at this very moment was feeling the warmth of his skin beneath her fingers one more time.

 She felt more emotionally bereft than brave, but she made her feet move...carrying her across the plush carpet until she stood face-to-face with Jeff. His gaze was stormy, his fists were clenched at his sides.

 He stared into her eyes as if looking for something he was afraid he wouldn’t find. “God, you’re beautiful,” he said, his voice hoarse. “I thought I could put you out of my mind, but that was laughable. You’ve haunted every room in my house. Kiss me, Lucy.”

 With one of his strong arms around her back, binding her to him, she went up on her tiptoes and found his mouth with hers. The taste of him brought tears to sting her eyelids, but she blinked them back, wanting this moment to be about light and warmth and pleasure. He held her gently as he took everything she thought she knew and stripped it away, leaving only a yearning that was heart-deep and visceral.

 She wanted to say something, but Jeff was a man possessed. He found the zipper at her back and lowered it with one smooth move. Then he shimmied the garment down her body and held her arm as she stepped out of the small heap of fabric.

 Beneath the dress, she wore lacy underthings. Jeff didn’t pause to admire them. The lingerie went the way of the crumpled dress.

 Suddenly, she realized that she was completely naked, and her would-be lover was staring. Hotly. Glassy-eyed. As if he’d been struck in the head and was seeing stars.

 She crossed her arms over strategic areas and scowled. “Take off your clothes, Mr. Hartley. This show works both ways.”

 If the situation hadn’t been so emotionally fraught, she might have chuckled when Jeff dragged his shirt, still half-buttoned, over his head. His pants and socks and shoes were next in the frenzied disrobing.

 Underneath, he wore snug-fitting black boxers that strained to contain his arousal. Suddenly, she felt shy and afraid and clueless. Had she ever really known this man at all?

 He didn’t give her time for second thoughts. “We’ll be more comfortable on the bed,” he promised, scooping her up and carrying her through the adjacent doorway. She barely noticed the furnishings or the color scheme. Her gaze was locked on Jeff’s face.

 His cheekbones were slashed with color. His eyes glittered with lust. “You’re mine, Lucy.”

                       Fourteen

 The bottom dropped out of her stomach. It was as simple as that. Even if he hadn’t said the words, she would have felt his deep conviction in the way he moved his hands over her body.

 He still wore his underwear, maybe to keep things from rushing along too rapidly. He was tanned all over from his days of working in the hot sun. His chest was a work of art, sleekly muscled...lightly dusted with golden hair.

 Even as she took in the magnificence that was Jeff Hartley, she couldn’t help but question his motives. As a rancher and a member of the Texas Cattleman’s Club in Royal, he was a well-respected member of the community. Had his reputation suffered when she walked out on him? Was there a part of him that wanted revenge?

 He loomed over her on one elbow, his emerald eyes darker than normal, his forehead damp, his skin hot. It was all she could do to be still and let him map her curves like a blind man. Need rose, hot and tormenting, between her clenched thighs.

 How could she want him so desperately while knowing full well there were serious unresolved issues between them? “Jeff,” she whispered, not really knowing what to say. “Please...” Despite what her head told her, her heart and her body were in control.

 It was as if they had never been apart. He rolled her to her stomach and moved aside a swath of her hair to kiss the nape of her neck. The press of his lips against sensitive skin sent sparkles of sensation all down to her feet.

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