He caught a tear with the pad of his thumb. “Tears over me?” he said softly.

“Yes,” she said, then sniffed and blinked. “You are the most irritating and annoyingly smug man I’ve ever met and I love you. Madly and passionately.”

He grinned, genuine happiness suffusing his face. “I’d say mad and passionate sort of sums up our relationship.”

“We’ll never be dull,” she agreed.

“I can’t believe you were going to let me walk out that door today.”

“I can’t believe you were planning to walk out,” she countered.

He gave her a lopsided grin. “Even if I had, I’d already formulated a backup plan.”

“Oh?” she inquired. “And what would that be?”

“To woo you and make such a pest of myself that you’d realize we were destined to be together.”

“I realized that long ago,” she said wryly.

He looked surprised. “Do tell.”

Since they were being completely honest, she figured she owed him the truth. “I had the teenage crush on you to end all teenage crushes.”

He chuckled. “Now that I find hard to believe.”

“Believe it,” she said firmly. “Why do you think I was in that bar that night? Why do you think it was so humiliating for me to have you of all people turn me in to my parents?”

“You were there because you thought I’d be there?” he asked, astonishment showing on his face.

She nodded. “I figured if I acted grown up, you’d think I was. Instead, you hauled me home as if I were a sack of potatoes.”

He shook his head. “If I’d known you were there for me, I’m not sure I could have resisted you up to now.”

Now it was her turn to look disbelieving. “I thought you did a good job of acting as if I were completely resistible.”

“Acting would be the operative word there,” he said dryly. “Over the years, it became easy to treat you as if you were just a spoiled little rich girl. It meant I didn’t have to analyze my feelings too closely.”

“You said something in the kitchen after I had turned the water nozzle on you—”

He smiled. “Yeah, how can I forget?”

“You referred to ‘what’s always been between us.’ I thought you knew about my teenage crush.”

“No.” He shook his head. “I meant the electricity that practically crackles between us whenever we’re in the same room.”

She reached out to caress his jaw, tracing the crescent-shaped scar on his chin. “Why didn’t you ever say anything?”

He sighed but his eyes remained intense on hers. “You were the younger sister of my old college buddy. The precious gem of a socially prominent family. The daughter of people who’ve treated me like a son.” He paused. “There’s a trust there that you don’t betray.”

“Sometimes I wish they wouldn’t think of me as quite so precious,” she grumbled. Yet, she had to respect Connor’s code of honor. It was part of why she loved him, she realized.

“I know, petunia.” He turned his head and kissed her palm. “But it’s only because they care.”

“I lumped you in the same category with them, you know. Then I realized that what I thought of as high-handed overprotectiveness was just a way for you to show you cared.”

“Oh, I cared all right.” He gave her a quick kiss on the lips. “But how did you come to that realization?”

“It was the night in the Berkshires. When you were talking about your father and then going back into your old neighborhood to try to make peoples’ lives safer. I realized that’s the way you showed you cared. By protecting the people and things you loved.”

He smiled but shook his head. “Before you give me too much credit, I did use some heavy-handed techniques where you were concerned.”

“You don’t say?” she teased. “You mean, like getting the key to my house from Quentin? And moving right in when I told you to get lost?”

He looked contrite. “Yeah, that. In my defense, I’ll say that it was only because I was scared out of my mind that something might happen to you.” He added, “But, you were right that I wasn’t giving you the credit you deserved. If you want to continue at the DA’s Office—”

She put her finger on his lips. “Shh.” She knew how hard this was for him. Having lost his father, it would be tough to see someone else he loved in harm’s way. “You taught me not to be so lackadaisical about my safety and you were right. I thought I’d done a fairly good job by taking self-defense classes. The truth was I was a bit cavalier. I’d been raised in a tight-knit family in a nice, quiet community and nothing terrible had ever happened to me. Certainly nothing as bad as having a parent shot and killed by a burglar.”

His shoulders relaxed. It was clear he was glad she understood that part of his nature.

“As for the DA’s Office, I’m going to take it one day at a time. Now that Kendall’s been caught, the immediate threat is gone. I don’t know how long I’ll stick to the prosecutor’s job,” she admitted, “but I know that, for now, that’s where I want to be.”

He nodded. “I can’t promise I’ll always succeed, but I’ll try hard to keep my protective instincts in check.”

She smiled at him, tears threatening again. “That’s all I ask.” She added, “And, by the way, what was it that persuaded you to take our relationship to the next level, when, as you said, you were worried about betraying my family’s trust?”

“The fact that someone was threatening you,” he said simply. “When I realized something might happen to you, I knew I’d kick myself if I didn’t at least try to explore what was between us.”

He rubbed her upper arms with the palms of his hands. “Ultimately though, I’m not sure the decision was that conscious. I knew moving in with you was going to test my resolve to keep my hands off you, and I was right. Once I moved in, one thing led to another….”

“Because we hit sparks off each other.”

“Exactly.”

“Well, I just want to set the record straight. I never thought you were beneath me. Like you, I had my defensive mechanisms. To the extent you dismissed me as a spoiled, rich princess, I was going to try to live up to the image in the most obnoxious way possible.”

“By calling us a mistake, for instance?” he asked, eyebrows raised.

She looked at him, surprised. “Is that what you thought I meant?”

He shrugged. “Seemed logical.”

She shook her head. “What I actually meant was that, if you still thought of me as little better than an impetuous teenager, then I didn’t think we had the makings of a relationship based on mutual trust and respect.”

He looked deeply into her eyes. “You’ve got my trust and respect. And my love. Don’t ever doubt it.” He took her hand then and led her to the bed. He watched with hot eyes as she kicked off her sandals and shimmied out of her cargo pants, then pulled her white T-shirt over her head, so that she was clad only in her bra and panties.

“Aren’t you going to take off anything?” she teased.

“Mmm,” he responded as he reached out to caress her shoulders, a glint of amusement lighting his eyes. “Since you only have on a bra and panties, there isn’t much to choose from.”

Allison laughed. “Connor, that’s not what I meant—”

“But I think I’ll go with the bra,” he continued smoothly before undoing the front clasp of her bra with a flick of the fingers. As she spilled out of the loosened cups, his eyes darkened with desire.

Letting the bra slide down her arms and drop to the floor, she said breathlessly, “Now your turn.”

He unsnapped his jeans and lowered the zipper, which made a rasping sound as it opened. She helped him slide his boxers and jeans down his hips as he kicked off his shoes and then tugged his shirt over his head.

Rising back up from helping him out of his jeans, she reached out and stroked his arousal.

He sucked in a breath. “Ah, petunia.”

“Love me,” she said, her voice husky.

Bending toward the bed, he made a sweeping motion with his arm, sending his bag and clothes sliding off the blanket and onto the floor. Then he picked her up as easily as if she were nothing more than a bit of fluff and deposited her on the bed before coming down beside her.

His mouth moved to her breast, sending spasms of pleasure through her, before moving to her other breast and doing the same. Finally, when she thought she couldn’t stand it any longer, he raised his head for a long, slow, drugging kiss.

His hands caressed her, finding her pleasure points, making her moan. “Connor—”

“Yes,” he said gruffly, distracted by running kisses down the side of her neck.

She caressed his back, running her hands over his sinewy muscles, feeling them flex under her fingers. The anticipation was nearly too much as he built a response from her. “Please.”

He reached down between their bodies and touched her. His breath came harshly, his desire held in check, until she moaned, arched, and pulled him to her.

He put on some protection then and positioned himself, giving her a hard kiss before sliding into her with a groan.


Tags: Anna DePalo Billionaire Romance
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