‘No,’ she agreed. ‘I suppose not.’

It wasn’t the answer she’d hoped to hear, that much was obvious, and Cristiano could hardly blame her. Who wanted prevarications at a moment like this? She wanted him to sweep her up into his arms, kiss her and tell her he loved her. He couldn’t do that, but two out of three wasn’t bad, was it? It was all he had to offer. All he had to give.

He pulled her closer and pressed a kiss to her forehead, then to her lips. Gentle kisses that were meant as promises, although of what he could not say.

And Laurel accepted them, her arms coming around him, her soft, warm body fitting to his. Desire flared inside him, along with something stronger—a soul-deep craving to connect in this moment, not to feel alone. Not to be solitary, even if that meant admitting weakness. In this moment he needed it. He deepened the kiss, driving his hands through her hair, searching for her and branding her. Seeking solace as much as satisfaction, and finding both in this. In them.

Laurel answered him kiss for kiss, their breathing turning harsh and ragged, their bodies coming together in a connection so piercing and deep it felt exquisitely painful. She didn’t protest when he held her by the hips and hoisted her up onto the balcony railing. She wrapped her legs around his waist as he stroked her, finding her ready for him.

It was a matter of mere moments as he slid the condom from his pocket, fumbling with it in his haste, then thrust into her, the sense of completeness, of rightness, overwhelming him so that tears came to his eyes.

Laurel arched closer, drawing him in further, matching every thrust as they both found their release.

Cristiano cried out, the sound splintering the still night air, his heart thudding against Laurel’s as he rested his forehead against her and drew shuddering breaths.

His body felt sated, drugged with the aftermath of pleasure, yet something deep inside him still ached and yearned. This, which had always been enough, wasn’t any longer.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

HOLDING ON TO happiness felt like trying to cup water in your hands. No matter how you tried, it still trickled out. Two days passed, lovely, golden days, yet they possessed an urgency, a fear, that they hadn’t before. Laurel felt it in herself, and she also felt it in Cristiano. Time was running out.

And, even though it didn’t have to be this way, even though Laurel knew if Cristiano asked her she would stay, she would try, she would risk it all, she knew in her bones, in her very soul, that he wasn’t going to ask.

He thought about it. She saw it in his eyes—the faraway look that came over him, followed by a hardening of his features into an unwelcome resolve she wanted to scream and fight against. She wanted to rail and weep—to demand why he thought staying safe was so important, why he didn’t think risking life and love with her was worth it—but she didn’t because, when it came down to it, she was afraid too.

The possibility of a face-to-face, outright rejection from Cristiano, of pushing for answers and then getting ones she didn’t want, kept her silent. She didn’t care about her dignity or her pride, but she didn’t think her heart could take one of his crushing set-downs. Not after all they’d shared.

As for the possibility of pregnancy… With every passing day Laurel wondered and hoped, even though logic told her it was unlikely. And yet…as a nurse she knew it wasn’t out of the question that she might have fallen pregnant on that first night, no matter how she’d once scoffed at such a notion.

It still seemed crazy to hope for such a thing, yet she feared it was the only way Cristiano would commit to her. She could hardly believe she’d fallen into that age-old trap of wanting a baby to snare a man. Was she that weak? That desperate?

Twelve days after Laurel had first stumbled into Cristiano’s penthouse, she lay in his bed, her head resting on his shoulder, her fingers trailing a light path down his muscled chest. She didn’t think she’d ever get tired of touching him. She’d spent a good part of the last two weeks touching him, smoothing the satiny, muscled perfection of him, learning the planes and angles of his well-defined body.

And yet so much more than that too… With a pang she thought of the laughter they’d shared, the surprising conversations, the simple pleasure of being in his company. Yet the next two days pressed down on her, an unbearable weight. Was it really going to end so soon?

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