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Unable to meet his blue eyes, my head dropped down. His erection had slackened. God, why was I even looking at that?

“No need—you can go back to your date.” I flicked my free hand in the direction of the hussy across the bar. “I shouldn’t have come here.”

Anger seethed just below the surface and Braydon sucked in a sharp breath. “But you did. Now tell me why.”

I scoffed. “I don’t owe you anything, Braydon.”

His hand tightened around my wrist—not enough to hurt, but enough to know that he wasn’t letting me go without a fight.

If he wanted a fight, I’d give it to him. I’d fled paradise without really explaining myself, and if he wanted the truth, I’d let him have it.

His tone softened. “For the record, I’m not here with anyone. Are you mad at me?”

I shook my head, thinking it over. “More like mad at myself.”

“For?” he asked, dark brows drawing together.

“For allowing myself to get too close to you. That arrangement wasn’t healthy for me.”

He thought it over, his jaw working. “I’m sorry. I thought having boundaries in place would make it easier for you. I tried to be honest from the start about what I was looking for.”

“And you were. It just turned out that I couldn’t do it.”

“That’s not how I remember it.” His tone had dropped lower and his eyes were still serious, still pinned on mine.

“W-what do you mean?” I stammered, heat suddenly rising to my cheeks.

“When you let yourself be free—when you stopped fighting it—you enjoyed yourself. Immensely.”

I swallowed a gulp of air as memories of Braydon flooded my system. His lips at my throat, him moving above me, me down on my knees, lightly rubbing my tongue along the steel barbell piercing while he groaned in pleasure. I wanted to argue with him, to tell him off, but instead I stood there gutted by his words, by his honest assessment of me. He always saw more than I wanted him to. “I’m not going to deny that. We both know this chemistry between us is . . .”

“Off the charts,” he finished for me.

I nodded. “But that’s not everything, Braydon. I was looking for a connection, the promise of something more—if not right away, maybe later down the line. But that possibility never manifested between us. I never got that from you.”

He remained silent, his eyes locked on mine. He couldn’t argue. Releasing a deep sigh, his hand found mine and he laced our fingers together. “I’ve missed you,” he admitted softly.

Damn it. My pulse rioted. My body remembered everything.

Braydon’s gaze lowered, moving down my curves, which suddenly felt much too exposed. “What the f**k is this dress?”

“You don’t like it?”

“I didn’t say that . . . but it will be a little difficult walking around all night with an erection.”

I laughed. I couldn’t help myself. Oh my God, it had been weeks since I’d actually laughed. That felt damn good. Better than I remembered. The tension I’d been carrying in my shoulders eased and I instantly felt calmed.

His hands smoothed over my hips. “Seriously, baby, a bathing suit would have been less revealing. Fuck.”

I relished his compliments and the lust-filled look in his eyes despite myself. I knew Braydon and I weren’t finished. Not by a long shot. He still yearned for me as much as I did for him. Only now I had to decide if I was ready to jump back in. My brain was screaming no and my body was crying yes.

He leaned down, brushing his lips past my neck, making me gasp at the sudden rush of hot breath against my skin. “We need to talk.”

I nodded. I needed to hear what he had to say.

Taking my hand, he led me down a hallway off the side of the banquet room. We continued down the hall, passing by the restrooms until we reached a door labeled “Office.” Braydon tried the doorknob, his other hand still gripping mine. The office was dark and empty. Braydon flipped on the light and closed the door behind us. It was a small square room with no window, just a single desk and chair in the center of the room facing the door.

He’d taken my hand hostage and seemed reluctant to let it go. God, I’d missed his touch even more than I realized. My blood simmered any time our skin made contact. I needed a moment to just breathe. Crossing the room, I ran my finger over the top of the desk, stalling for time. What was there to say?

Braydon stalked toward me, his eyes once again caressing my curves and making me feel all but naked. I took a step back. This room was way too small and suddenly much too warm.

“You left me,” he murmured.

I remained silent. There was no sense in arguing. I had left him without any explanation.

“I thought you’d gone for a drink or something at first, but then I noticed your suitcase was gone. I called Emmy and she didn’t know a thing.”

I hadn’t even messaged Emmy to tell her I was back in New York until the following morning. I didn’t want to be talked into staying.

His fingertip traced my hip bone in the most distracting way. “Did I not give you what you needed?” he whispered.

“In the bedroom, yes. But outside of it, no. I needed more, a lot more.” I wasn’t going to deny that any longer.

“I see.” He dropped his hand from my waist and the absence of his touch left me bereft, wanting. “I’ve missed you, if that counts for anything.”

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