That was a question he couldn’t answer.
Hell, the way he was feeling right now? It was best to keep his big fat mouth shut.
But he wasn’t so good with the poker face. Neither was she.
She stilled, meeting his gaze and reflecting back many of the unruly emotions that churned inside him. “What is it?” she asked again, taking a slow step toward him. “You weren’t thinking about Gloria when I came in just now, were you?”
Why lie? “I was thinking about you. It’s always you, Talia.”
The soft catch of her breath was like a feather across his belly. “I’m not sure I’m worthy of that much thought.”
“I’m sure you are.”
“Why are you so sure?” she asked quietly.
There was another unanswerable question. He could only shake his head.
“And what were you thinking about me, Tony? When I walked in?”
He opened his mouth, and out came more truth that he’d been prepared to speak.
“I was thinking that I’m trying to rebuild my life and become a solid person. I have nightmares and it doesn’t take a whole lot to throw me into a panic attack. Pretty much any sudden loud noise will do it. I’m just starting my career outside the army, and what I know about running an auction house wouldn’t fill a thimble. So I’m thinking I may be an abject failure.”
“No, you won’t—”
“So here’s my bottom line. I’m not really a treat for any woman right now. Especially a great woman like you—”
“—and if I were any kind of man, I’d stay away from you because that’s probably best for you, and you deserve nothing but the best.”
Some of the light behind her eyes began to dim. “So. This is you saying goodbye?”
“I didn’t say that.”
A long second passed, during which the air shifted between them and began a slow sizzle that he could almost hear.
She edged closer again, coming within arm’s length, and a corner of that delicious mouth curved in the beginnings of a knowing smile. Did she know, then? Did she understand that, as far as he was concerned, she was the reason he’d come home from the war in one piece?
“Then what are you saying?”
He took a deep breath and leaped with his whole heart. “I’m saying I don’t want to want you this much.”
“But you do.”
“Oh, yeah. So I’m going to go with it. If that’s okay with you.”
She didn’t hesitate. “Oh, yeah.”
Relief swelled inside him, the sweetest feeling he’d ever known. “Good.”
“I have a quote for you. From Rocky. You’ve seen Rocky, right? If you haven’t, we may have to end things right now.”
“I’ve seen Rocky.”
“He’s trying to explain his attraction to Adrian, and he says something like, ‘Gaps. I got gaps, and she’s got gaps, and we fill each other’s gaps.’”
Was that the moment? The moment when he knew, without a doubt, that he would marry this woman if she was crazy enough to have him? It sure felt like it.
Staring into those bright eyes of hers, it didn’t feel so scary.
“Come here,” he told her, opening his arms. “I think we need to discuss Rocky a little further.”
Tony’s gentle hands caressed her throat. With a serrated sigh, she let her head fall back and her eyes roll closed, happily surrendering her body and anything else he might think to ask for. He ran his thumbs over her veins, searching out her pulse, which had to be in the thousand-beats-per-minute range. When he found it, a low croon of approval vibrated in his chest, and he pulled her closer, until she was standing between his thighs. Gripping his heavy shoulders and hanging on for dear life, she waited…waited…until he leaned in and tipped his face up, pressing his hot tongue to her sensitive flesh.
Need made her cry out.
Happy to indulge her, he planted his hands on her ass and pressed her up against his rigid arousal, taunting her with what she could have if only he’d hurry up. At the same time, his tongue swirled, teasing her neck with wider and wider circles that made her unravel into more cries…more sensations…more insistent demands.