If his reluctance to talk, to confide in her, made her feel as if she was just another warm body for him to play with during the night, then that was her problem, not his. She would not be that demanding, insecure, irritating woman who’d push and pry and look to him to give more than he wanted to.

He’d wanted sex. He’d received sex and quite a lot of it. It had been fun, a physical release, and it was way past time for her to leave. Jaci dropped her eyes from his hard face, nodded quickly and managed to dredge up a cool smile and an even cooler tone. “Of course. Excuse me, I didn’t mean to pry.” She walked across the room, picked up her dress and her shoes, and gestured to the door to the en suite bathroom. “If I may?”

Ryan rubbed the back of his neck and sent her a hot look. “Don’t use that snotty tone of voice with me. Just use the damn bathroom, Jace.”

Hell, she just couldn’t say the right thing this morning, Jaci thought. It was better if she just said nothing at all. Jaci walked toward the bathroom without looking at him again, silently cursing herself and calling herself all kinds of a fool.

Stupid, stupid, stupid. She should’ve left last night and avoided this morning-after-the-night-before awkwardness.

Lesson learned.

* * *

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Ryan gripped the edge of the credenza with white-knuckled hands and straightened his arms, dropping his head to stare at the wooden floor beneath his bare feet. You handled that with all the sophistication of a pot plant, moron. She’d asked a simple question to which there was a simple answer.

Who is she?

There were many answers to that, some simple, some a great deal more complicated. She was someone who was, once, important to me. Or... She was an ex-girlfriend. Or that, She was my fiancée. Or, if he really wanted to stir up a hornets’ nest, he could’ve said that she was Ben’s lover.

All truth.

What a complete mess of the morning, Ryan thought, straightening. He stepped over to the window and yanked up the blind and looked down onto the greenery of Central Park in spring. It was a view he never failed to enjoy, but this morning he couldn’t even do that, his thoughts too full of the woman—who was probably naked—in the next room.

Instead of slipping out of bed and getting dressed long before his lover woke up, this morning he’d opened his eyes on a cloud of contentment and had instinctively rolled over to pull her back into his arms. The empty space had been a shock to his system, a metaphorical bucket of icy water that instantly shriveled his morning erection. She’d left him, he’d thought, and the wave of disappointment that followed was even more of a shock. He did the leaving, he was in control, and the fact that he was scrambling to find his mental equilibrium floored him. He didn’t like it.

At all.

He’d long ago perfected his morning-after routine, but nothing with Jaci was the same as those mindless, almost faceless encounters in his past. Last night had been the most intense sexual experience of his life to date and he hated that she’d had such an effect on him. He wanted to treat her like all those other encounters but he couldn’t. She made him want things that he’d convinced himself he had no need for, things such as trust and comfort and support. She made him feel everything too intensely, made him question whether it was time to remove the barbed wire he’d wrapped his heart in.

Seeing her holding Kelly’s photograph made him angry and, worse, confused. There was a damn good reason why he kept their photographs in a prominent place. Seeing them there every morning, even facedown, was like being flogged with a leather strap, but after the initial flash of pain, it was a good and solid reminder of why he chose to live his life the way he did. People couldn’t be trusted; especially the people who were supposed to love you the most.

Yet a part of him insisted that Jaci was not another Kelly, that she’d never mangle his heart as she’d done, but then his common sense took over and reminded him that he couldn’t take the chance. Love and trust—he’d never run the risk of having either of those emotions thrown back at him as if they meant nothing.

They meant something to him and he’d never risk them again.

It was better this way, Ryan told himself, sliding a glance toward the still-closed bathroom door. It was better that he and Jaci put some distance between them, allowed some time to dilute the crazy passion that swirled between them whenever they were alone. Because passion had a sneaky way of making you want more, tempting you to risk more than was healthy.

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