Chapter Seventeen

An apology is a curse word to a Tigress. By admitting guilt, you are saying your actions were wrong. A Tigress is never wrong.

I spent the next several mornings shopping for table centerpieces. Finally I found shiny, to-die-for "magic" lamps. I bought bags of fake gemstones and planned to glue them around the lamps' bellies.

In the afternoons, I waited at Jonathan's office and followed him on his lunch hour. He and Nora had lunch together only once, and they hadn't done anything sexual, hadn't even kissed. I couldn't decide whether I wanted to snap his neck for that or hug him. Whether he was cheating or not, I just didn't know anymore. Why continue to lie to my mom, though, if he was an innocent man?

I had tried to listen to his conversations with Nora, but I just hadn't been able to get close enough to them.

Wednesday afternoon, I followed Jonathan to a nearby park. He met his daughter, Rachel, and his granddaughter there. I recognized them from the photo I'd found. The three of them I played and talked and laughed, appearing to all the world like a happy family. But seeing them together made me sad. I'd never had that with my real dad. He'd lived and died a bastard. I'd never really had that with Jonathan, either, because, even though I loved him, I'd always set myself a little apart from him.

The next day I actually met Rachel in person at a nearby park.. As trees swayed around us and children laughed and played on the swing set, we sized each other up. Jonathan sat on a bench, silent (for once), letting us have this moment to ourselves.

"So," I said. I eyed her. She had dark hair and a vivid emerald gaze. Pretty, conservative. Every man's dream daughter. Gag. "How'd your mom hook up with Jonathan?"

"They went to school together," Rachel said stiffly.

"And she never mentioned you to him?"

"No." Now she sounded defensive. I think she was as happy to meet me as I was to meet her. "But we're together now, and that's all that matters."

"I'm glad for you," I said. And I tried to mean it when I really wanted to say, "he's mine!" Kind of. I guess.

She bit her lip and glanced away. "My mother passed away a few months ago and left me a note about him. I hunted him down and you know the rest."

Hearing that she'd recently lost someone dear to her, I softened. "I'm sorry for your loss."

She softened, too. "Thank you."

For a long, silent moment our gazes met and held, gray against green. "I guess this means we're sisters now." To be honest, I'd always wanted a sister. Someone to talk and laugh with. A playmate.

"I've always wanted a sister," she said wistfully, parroting my thoughts. I grinned slowly. And that was all it took.

After that, we were able to relax around each other. To really talk. We spent more than an hour together, discussing our culinary likes and dislikes, the men in our lives (she was a single parent), Jonathan's therapy sessions and promised to stay in touch. Jonathan beamed the entire time. I left the park feeling lighthearted, like I truly had made a new friend. A friend I hadn't wanted but had, perhaps, needed.

I spent the evenings all that week on the phone with Royce, caressing my BlueJay as if it were my favorite toy. I never asked, and he never asked, but I wanted him to come over. Needed him to come over and rock my world again. But every phone call was the same.

Me: I think we should have sex again.

Royce: Bad idea.

Me: Why?

Royce: I want more from you than sex.

Me: Goodbye, you prudish bastard.

We'd switched rolls, Royce and I. He was the waiting-for-marriage woman and I was the let's-hop-into-the-sack man. This morning, while I lingered in the hot, steamy shower, I realized my only recourse was to talk him into being my-God, I felt juvenile saying this-boyfriend. We'd try that out, see how it went. It wasn't marriage, but it was close to it. That's what he wanted (kind of), and I wasn't so selfish (I hoped) that I couldn't at least try the give-and-take thing. We talked on the phone every day, anyway. Why not spend the holidays together? Why not go on romantic dates?

We'd have lots and lots of exclusive, amazing sex. I wouldn't tell him I loved him or anything like that, but I would try-try, mind you-to act like a proper girlfriend.

Friday arrived too quickly and not soon enough.

As we soared down the highway, I found myself buckled in yet another car of Royce's, this one a plush, dark blue Jag. "Are you sure you don't want to have sex with me?" I asked. "We could pull over and do it right now. I'm willing."

He flicked me a heated glance, and that glance lingered on my bare thighs. I'd purposefully worn a short pink skirt I'd borrowed from Mel, knowing it would rise every time I sat down. I wasn't without my wiles.

"I want to make love to you." His voice emerged hoarse, a little raw. "Believe me, I'm close to combustion."

"But you tell me no every day." Could I sound any whinier? "And you haven't made a pass at me this last week."

"Remember what I told you before I left for Florida? Remember what I told you on the phone? I meant it. No sex until we're committed."

"I'll be your girlfriend, okay, and you'll be my boyfriend," I grumbled. "That's a commitment."

Everything went still, silent. He kept his eyes on the road, but I noticed his hands were ultra-tight on the wheel. "What about being my fiancee?"

"One thing at a time. Girlfriend is all I can offer right now."

He sighed, but it was a happy sound. "Fair enough." Reaching over, he clasped my hand in his. "This is a big step for you. I know you never planned to be in another relationship."

So big a step I could hardly believe I'd said it out loud. "Maybe we should lay some ground rules."

"No rules."


"No rules."


"Rules are for the military and naughty children. The only restriction we need is fidelity. No seeing other people."

Hearing him say that warmed me in and out. "No asking for my hand in marriage, and no asking my stepdad for my hand in marriage."

The corners of his lips twitched. "Those sound like rules to me."

"You stated a rule, so I got to name some."

"Fair enough," he repeated.

"So I guess we're a couple."

"The enthusiasm in your voice is awe-inspiring. It really is," he said dryly. His eyes twinkled with mischief, happiness and heat, all at once.

I twisted in my seat, facing him more fully. The sun created a bright halo around him, and my throat suddenly constricted. "So you can rock my world later. Right?"

"No." He shook his head in regret and pushed out another sigh. "Sorry."

"No? No! What do you mean, no? I said I'd be your girlfriend."

"I'm saving myself for marriage."

I bared my teeth in a scowl. "Why you dirty little sneak. I take back everything I said. I'm not your girlfriend. I'm your worst enemy."

"You can't take it back." He pressed his lips-his gorgeous, pleasure giving, traitorous lips-together to keep from laughing. "You'll respect me more this way."

My eyes slitted. Fine. He wanted to play this game, I'd play it. But I was fighting dirty. When we arrived at the cabin, I was going to seduce him right out of his pants! Deciding to take our relationship to the next level really had been a huge step for me, and I expected-no, I deserved a reward.

Just you wait, Royce Powell.

An hour later, he eased the Jag down a gravel driveway and I had my strategy mapped out in my mind. Show skin, say wickedly sexy things and tease him at every opportunity. We'd just see who caved first.

The cabin came into view. It was small and homey, and overlooked a large body of glistening, crystal water. The car stopped completely. Without a word, I threw open the passenger door and jumped out.

"Leave your stuff," he said when I walked around to the trunk. "I'll take care of it."

Being a girlfriend did have some advantages. I strode away, making sure my hips swayed with every movement. Sharp gray rocks bit into my soft-soled shoes. The air was fresh and clean, like pine and summer sky. Trees swayed in the light breeze. At the door, I gave the knob an experimental turn, surprised to find it unlocked. Taking a deep breath, I forged inside. And gasped.

Sensual, perfect, and every woman's most erotic dream, the cabin appealed to me on every level. A large Jacuzzi sat in the main room, already filled, the fireplace only a few feet away. Supplying a breathtaking view of the lake was a large paneled glass window that covered the entire back wall.

It was the perfect spot to watch the sunset.

It was the perfect spot to relax.

It was simply...perfect. I smiled slowly. Royce would never be able to resist me. Wait for marriage, would he? We'd see about that.

"What do you think?"

I whirled around. Royce stood in the entry, holding my overnight bag in one hand and his own bag in the other. "What do you think?" he asked again.

"I love it. It's like a paradise hideaway. It won't work for the party, of course, but I love it."

His brows arched. "You can tell already?"

"Do you really think you can fit three hundred people in here?"

"I can decrease the number of guests if needed. We've had this conversation before."

"I'll take a look around," I grumbled.

"Good. I'll cook lunch." His footsteps tapered off as he disappeared beyond a door.

I saluted his back and said, "Yes, sir." I dug the tape measure out of my bag and began working. By taking measurements of the room, I would know how many people could fit combined with just how many decorations I could use.

Half an hour later, I had a list composed. Instead of planning for the party, however, I noted every corner, crevice and room where I wanted to have sex with Royce.

I went to the kitchen to begin my seduction.

Unnoticed by Royce, I stood silently off to the side, watching him putter around. I couldn't help but notice the way his arm muscles flexed when he reached for bowls. The way he sucked in his upper lip as he concentrated. A rich, warm aroma floated past my nostrils and my stomach growled.

Royce placed a large dish on the table.

"You cooked lasagna?" I asked, incredulous.

"Are you kidding?" he said, flicking me a glance. "I didn't want you to suffer another bout of food poisoning." He grinned with wry humor. "I paid someone to come out here. She stocked the fridge, took care of the Jacuzzi. All that stuff."

I didn't care who made the lasagna, as long as I could eat it. My stomach rumbled again.


"Ravenous." In only ten minutes, I gobbled up the delicious pasta and consumed four glasses of juice. Royce had barely touched his food.

"Hurry up and eat," I told him. "When you're done, we can get naked." The last was spoken in a throaty purr.

"No thanks." He quickly turned his attention to his plate.

Everything about him, from the way he looked to the way he moved, promised pleasure, and I was going to collect.

When he finally finished eating, he stood and carried our plates to the sink. Once back at the table, he took me by the hands and pulled me up to my full height.

"Come on." He tugged me toward the door. "Let's go outside. There's a swing on the back porch."

"No, let's stay in." I focused my weight into my feet, bringing us to a quick halt. "I'd rather sit in the Jacuzzi. The bubbles will feel so good against my skin."

"I didn't bring a swimsuit."

I licked my lips. "Neither did I."

He jolted away from me as if I'd singed him. "I, uh, think I'll take a nap instead." He gave a feigned yawn. "I'm tired from all that driving."

"Don't be a baby. We're adults, and we can swim together without it being sexual." If he believed that, he'd be inside me within the hour.

He frowned. "How do you suggest we go about this?"

"Nude, of course."

"I don't think so," he replied, folding his arms over his chest. "That's about as sexual as two people can get." A bead of sweat trickled down his temples as he stared at my hardened nipples. He gulped. "Yeah, bad idea."

I crossed my arms over my chest, too. The battle lines were drawn. "I thought you liked to be daring. We're boyfriend and girlfriend now. We can get naked together. It's acceptable."


"Where's your sense of adventure?"

"I left it at home."

I gave him a pointed once-over, even took a step closer. "Tsk, tsk, tsk," I clicked under my tongue. "I think you're lying."

He continued to back away. This trip had been his idea. I hadn't wanted to come, but I think I'd successfully managed to switch our viewpoints. "Stop it, Naomi."

"Are you afraid you can't stick to your principles?" I reached out and traced a fingertip over his erection. "If you can't, I promise I'll still respect you in the morning."

The hard, thick length of him jerked at my first touch. He squeezed his eyes closed. "You're not playing fair."

"I want you to touch me," I said. "I'll do whatever it takes to make that happen."

"What happened to the woman who was determined not to sleep with me?" The lines around his mouth were taut, and he stretched his shirt collar with two fingers.

Daring, bold, I pressed myself against him fully. Chest to chest. Hardness to softness. "Please go swimming with me, Royce. I'm dying to get into that water, to feel it lap against me. It's not like we haven't seen each other naked before."

"That was different," he said, streams of sweat now dripping from his temples.

I placed a featherlight kiss on his chin. "Different how?"

"It just was."

My teeth ground together, and I released him, stepping backward. At this rate, the stubborn man might be able to refuse me all night. I had to try a different angle. "If you don't want to swim, why don't we play a game?"

His shoulders relaxed, and he even managed a half smile. "What do you want to play?"

"How about strip poker?"

Losing all traces of that smile, he paled and shook his head. "No."

"What about twenty questions?"

I could see the wheels turning in his head as he calculated just how sexual that game could be. Obviously (and foolishly) he decided I couldn't do much damage, because he nodded and said, "All right. Twenty questions."

Grinning internally, I led him to the only sofa in the cabin. A black leather lounge made for pleasure. He claimed one side, I claimed the other.

"Why don't I go first?" I suggested.

He eased back and nodded.

I crawled my hands toward him and leaned over until I was merely a breath away. "If I take off all your clothes, will you let me lick you all over?" I whispered next to his ear.

He almost jumped off the couch. "No!"

Oh, this game was going to be fun. I smothered my smile. "It's your turn. Ask me a question. Anything you want."

A long while passed before he spoke, and he spent every second of that time studying me, looking for...something. "How long were you and your ex-husband together?"

"Which one?"

"You were married more than once?" he shouted.

I laughed. "No, I just wanted you to ask and waste another question. I was married only once, and that was for six hellish years."

"Why did you-"

"No, no, no." My words came out in a singsong taunt. "Your turn is over. I refuse to answer another question until you answer another one of mine." Nuzzling my cheek against his shoulder, I said, "What's your naughtiest fantasy?"

"Making love to my wife."

That wiped away my grin as he intended, I'm sure. The jerk.

"Have you dated anyone since you've been single?" he asked.

"Only you. It's hot in here, don't you think?" I asked next, removing my shirt and revealing my lacy pink bra.

"Is that your question?"

"Maybe." I tossed the material aside.

Shifting in his seat, Royce's eyes roved over my clothes. Or lack thereof. "No, it's not hot, it's cold. And is that strip of cloth supposed to be a bra or a Band-Aid? The fabric is so sheer I can see your nipples," he accused.

"I know."

"Enough games," he all but shouted. "I need something to drink."

He didn't wait for my reply. He just got up, strode to the bar and downed two shots of Scotch in quick succession. I loved the way his hands shook, as if he teetered on the edge of losing control. Made me feel powerful and seductive and all woman. Something I'd only ever felt with him.

When he returned to the couch, easing beside me, I said, "You finally up for that swim?"

His gaze raked over me again and he groaned. He tunneled a stiff hand through his hair. "Give me five minutes to change," he said. Shaking his head, he stormed into the bedroom. The door slammed behind him with a resounding thud.

I laughed, muttering, "Into what?"

Not feeling an ounce of shyness, I stripped down to the skin and entered the steamy, relaxing water. Another chuckle escaped when I imagined Royce in the other room, searching frantically for some type of swim trunks.

My grin disappeared the moment he opened the door, however. He had a white cotton towel draped around his waist. It was more provocative than if he'd emerged naked. Strength emanated from him. Strength and pure sex appeal.

His gaze met mine, making sure I was watching. And then he dropped his towel.

My breath snagged in my throat. Oh, my, but this man wanted me. He was rock hard, huge and as beautiful as a sculpture. "You look tense. Why don't you come over here and I'll massage your back?" I motioned to the water directly in front of me.

"No thanks." Slowly, so I got a view of every movement, he entered the water, the clear liquid caressing his skin the same way I wanted to. I guess he'd decided to play the game as unethically as I was. "I'm fine where I am." With that, he relaxed against the rim of the tub, his eyes closed, as if he hadn't a care in the world.

I frowned. "Then I'll just sit here all alone, thinking of things we could be doing. If you hear me moan, don't think anything of it. I'm probably in the throes of unbridled-"

He cursed and his eyelids popped open. "Damn it, Naomi. You win. I lose. Come here."

Well, well, well. My eyes widened, a thrill of anticipation and victory thrumming through me. I hadn't expected him to cave so early.

Obviously I didn't move fast enough for him because he clasped me by the shoulders and jerked me into his body, turning me so that my back rested against his chest. His fingers glided over the sides of my breasts, plumping, then moved over my nipples, rolling. I bit my bottom lip.

He licked a drop of water from my shoulder, and I shivered with heat that had nothing to do with the water. "You were right," he said softly. "I can't fight you, knowing you're naked. Knowing you want me."

My head lolled back, onto his shoulder. I tingled. I ached. I desired.

I remembered.

He spun me around, water sloshing over the rim of the tub. "I need to hear you say this isn't just sex. I need to hear you say this is making love."

"I-no." I shook my head. "I can't say that." The more I admitted, the more eager he would be to convince me to marry him. I knew it, felt it.

A harsh scowl tightened his lips. "You're too stubborn for your own good, you know that?"

"So are you."

"If we're together tonight, I won't promise not to ask you to marry me," he warned.

I shook my head again, and this time my hair rippled over his shoulders and stomach. "My answer won't change."

"So you say."

"So I know."

"You changed your mind about being my girlfriend."

"Yeah, well..." I didn't know what to say to that. He was right.

He kissed my jaw. Our chests rubbed together, slick from the steam and water. One of his hands trailed down my stomach. His eyes gleamed with satisfaction and desire, and I'm positive they were a mirror of mine.

Using our positions to his advantage, he hoisted me onto his lap, my legs straddling his waist.

"No more talking," he said. "I've got a better use for our tongues."

"Prove it."

His mouth meshed with mine; his tongue swept inside and mine was there to greet him. I tasted the Scotch, but mostly I tasted Royce, a heady male flavor that was all his own. This is what I'd wanted. This is what I'd needed. To be with him. To lose myself and my fears in the pleasure only he could give me.

Water churned around us, lapping at my skin, acting as another stimulant. I tightened my legs around his waist and pressed intimately against him. His erection brushed the core of me, and we both jerked in blissful response.

My hands roamed over him, every inch. Sliding down his chest. Circling his nipples. Wrapping around his thick, hard penis.

"You're killing me," he growled. He nibbled my collarbone, sucking away every drop of liquid.

"What a way to die, hmm?"

His strained chuckle wafted over me, cool against my heated, wet skin. "You're like my kryptonite. I weaken just being around you."

"I'm glad." I nipped at his neck, all the while rubbing myself against him. A moan slipped from my mouth. God, he felt so good.

"If it weren't for your four-hundred-dollars-an-hour lips, I might, might have been able to hold out another minute or two."

"Only four hundred?" The water and steam made his skin slick and sultry, and I slid down him until my mouth reached his nipples. I licked, circling the sensitive area with my tongue.

"Hundred thousand, sweetheart." His hands cupped my cheeks, forcing me to look at him. He gazed deeply into my eyes. "Your lips are four hundred thousand dollars an hour."

I grinned slowly. With my legs still anchored solidly around him, he pushed to his feet. My back straightened and I kissed him, and I didn't stop kissing him as he stepped out of the tub, groping blindly for the bedroom door. We made it inside and toppled onto the cool, dry sheets. We rolled and strained and writhed against each other, our excitement mounting, the tension building.

He pushed me to my back and crawled low, between my legs. His tongue licked inside me. I almost screamed. He brought his fingers into play, moving them inside me as his tongue worked at my clitoris. My limbs shook with the force of my pleasure, and I was just about to-

He sat up, his every muscle pulled tight. "Condom?"

"Yes," I quickly replied, though a part of me screamed no. I was going to have to have a long, stern talk with that ridiculous part of me.

"One sec," he said, his voice so husky and raw I barely heard him. He pulled away and raced to his bag.

"Why'd you bring condoms if you planned to wait until marriage?"

He smiled sheepishly, but never moved his focus from the bag. "I know my limitations."

I lay atop the bed, panting, needy, achy. "Hurry."

He was on top of me in the next instant, slipping, sliding inside me to the hilt. I welcomed him eagerly, crying out his name, arching my back, clawing at his arms. Oh, the exquisite pleasure of being with him.

He paused, staring down at me, the lines around his mouth and eyes taut. "Can you handle a rough ride?"

"I'm a Tigress, remember?"

He pulled back and slammed forward. I moaned in rapture.

Over and over, he repeated the action, taking me higher, close to the edge.

"Naomi, Naomi, Naomi." He chanted my name as he moved. A prayer, or maybe a curse.

"Royce," I chanted back. Definitely a curse.

His tempo increased, and so did my pleasure. I was almost there, so close I would die if I didn't get there soon. Suddenly he reared back, then pounded forward and hit me exactly where I needed him most. My climax ripped through me. Stars winked behind my eyes; blood pounded through my veins. I think my soul even left my body for a moment.

As I spasmed around him, he roared loud and long. His body stiffened and he gripped my hips. He shouted my name again, and this time I knew it was a prayer.