Chapter Twelve

A true Tigress will fight for what she wants with every weapon available. Manipulation? Absolutely. Screaming? Without a doubt. Fists, teeth, legs? Get in her way and find out.

Royce heaved me up and carried me to the wall. The second my back hit, the hotel picture crashed to the ground. He dropped my feet so he could kick the frame out of the way, and pushed me harder against the cold paneling.

I gasped at the sensation. Our hands were frantic, our breath choppy.

But then, all of a sudden, Royce slowed down. He ceased the frantic need of our kiss and brought it to a leisurely exploration. With one hand, he caressed my neck, my collarbone and my breasts. With the other, he skimmed downward, over the taut hollow of my stomach.

"I want to take off my panties," I gasped out. "Help me take them off."

"I knew you were sexy, but I don't think I realized exactly how sexy until this moment," he said, gazing down at me. His voice strained with suppressed ferocity.

"Mmm." Who had time for conversation? I didn't. I wanted to come now. Right now. It had been so long, too long. I ripped at his shirt buttons. "Take. Panties. Off. Me."

He stilled my hands. "Not yet."

"Do you want to have sex or not?" His fingers glided over my hard, waiting nipple. I jerked at the deliciousness. Everything in me was coiled and poised for release. I was so close to the edge, so unbelievably close.

"I want to savor you."

"Savor later." I arched against him. "Climax now."

He closed his eyes. A bead of sweat trickled down his temple. "Not yet." The words were more strained this time, barely audible.

I was burning up and he said "not yet"?

"What's the problem?" I breathed. Everywhere he touched, heat rippled under my skin, but not deep enough to make a difference. "Stop being lazy and kick it into gear."

"Lazy? Honey, you're going to thank me for my laziness when I'm done with you. I promised you that first day that I'd go slow with you, and I'm damn well going to go slow."

I reached between our bodies, opened his pants and slipped my hand inside. I clasped the long, thick length of his erection in my hand. "So you want to go slow? Fine." I moved my palm up, down with agonizing slowness.

He groaned, the vibration touching me all the way to my toes. "Think you're smart, do you?" he said, doing exactly as I had done. His hand dipped inside my panties and he pressed his fingers against my clitoris, circled, pressed again.

Actually, I thought I was a freaking genius. His actions were just enough to make me come. I screamed. I spasmed. Bright stars winked behind my eyelids. Fire swept through my blood.

"Look at me," he commanded.

My eyes refused to open.

"Look at me. See me."

I forced my lids apart. With his gaze never leaving mine, he buried two fingers deep inside of me and I clenched around him. His other hand gripped my hips. Pulling me up, helping me imitate the rhythm of sex. Once. Twice. He pushed inside. Over and over, pulling back, sinking in, making my climax last forever and ever.

And that easily, he had me ready for another round.

"See, Naomi," he said. "I can give you pleasure. You could have this for the rest of your life. I could have this for the rest of my life."

"Just a few nights." I barely managed to say it, much less breathe.

He growled. "You're too damn stubborn. Maybe I haven't shown you just how good it can be between us."

"Then do it. Show me." One orgasm wasn't enough. I wanted more, needed more.

The tips of his fingers grew bolder, pushed deeper, teasing and taunting. I writhed beneath his hands, sensation eclipsing time.

"I'm going to taste you," he said.

I turned his command into a command of my own. I was in charge of this show, after all. "Yes. Do it. Now."

His scowl said he knew what I was doing, but he immediately dropped to his knees.

He jerked my panties down, and I quickly stepped out of them. He slid his hands up my calves, gripped my knees and urged them apart. It was a little disconcerting, being naked with such a sexy man poised between my legs, but I was too excited to worry much.

Richard had never, ever done this to me. No man had. I wanted it so badly.

Royce's warm breath tickled me before I felt the first stroke of his tongue, the heat of it. The pleasure. He licked, caressed, moved his mouth against me, creating a dizzying friction. My bones liquefied. My nerve endings sizzled. I moaned, low and hungry, and the sound filled the room.

"Mmm..." I couldn't speak, could only moan. The room around me ceased to exist. My second climax ripped through me, this one even stronger than the first. Making me arch and clench and scream. I flew back to the stars.

How long until I returned to earth, I didn't know.

"I came twice," I said, awed by that fact. Royce was standing now, staring down at me with fire in his eyes. "I came twice."

"And that was only the appetizer," he promised.

I could barely stand, but Royce released me and stalked toward his pants. "What are you doing?" I asked. "Get back here. We aren't done." Pause. "Are we?"

"Condom," he said, suddenly holding me up again. "Not done, but can't savor anymore. Too...much..." With a roar, he buried his cock inside me.

Pure pleasure rocked me, intense, consuming. I wrapped myself around him. He began to move deep, deeper still, lifting me up, pulling me down. Little by little, his rhythm began to quicken.

"I had no idea you'd be this wild once I got your clothes off." His breath stroked my ear. "Thank you."

I couldn't help a grin as I rotated my hips, taking more of him inside. Oh, yeah. I gasped. "Well, I knew you'd be this good."

His hand reached down between us and pressed. His fingers moved in a circular motion; his body slipped in and out of me, increasing in speed, increasing in urgency. Yes, faster and faster. Sure enough, my sensitized body responded, dampening, aching for another orgasm.

I clawed at his back, bit the cord of his shoulder and tugged at his hair. I was an animal, a Tigress, my true, wild nature suddenly released. He surged once more, hard, and I propelled over the edge. As my body spasmed for the third time, he growled low in his throat and surged deep, so deep. Deeper than I'd thought possible. His body stiffened and he roared my name. "Damn, Naomi," he panted. "I think you almost killed me." With what little energy I had left, I sighed happily. Take that, Richard the Bastard.

When engaged in a wild, no-strings fling, how many times in one night was the couple in question allowed to make-uh, have sex? Once? Twice? Three times or more?

Hopefully the latter because Royce and I had just finished round three. On the bed, this time. I lay limp as a rag. Royce was beside me, the heat of his body like a warm blanket. A dewy sheen of sweat caused our bodies to cling and stick to the other.

I was naked, not an inch of covering over my body, and I realized I might never regain the strength to do anything about it. I knew my hair was a tangled mess, knew that my lips were slightly swollen. Knew, too, that pink scratches lined my breasts from his beard stubble. I probably resembled a beat-up prostitute. And there was no better way to look, to my way of thinking. A satisfied smile curled my lips.

I don't smoke, hate cigarettes actually, but I would have liked one right then.

Royce anchored his weight on one elbow, hovering above me, his eyes heavy-lidded and seductive. Silver moonlight surrounded his tousled hair. I smoothed several strands from his face and stared up at him.

"Thank you for tonight," I said.

His turquoise gaze suddenly glowed like the clearest ocean. "I'm the one who should be doing the thanking."

I grinned. "You're probably right."

Chuckling, he rose from the bed. "Cocky girl." His chuckle became a grimace, and he rotated his shoulders. As he padded into the bathroom, he said, "I think you did major damage when you threw your legs around my neck."

"Big baby." A cool blast of air wafted around me, and I forced my jelly-like arms to grab onto the sheet and pull it up to my chin. I heard a splash of water. Then silence.

He exited the bathroom with a wet washrag in his hand, saw me, and paused. "Now you're shy?" he teased.

"Now I'm cold," I said. If I were honest, I was beginning to feel a little self-conscious. This man had slept with some of the most beautiful women in the world. Models. Surgically enhanced heiresses. And now imperfect me.

"You're the most beautiful thing I've ever seen," he said, as if reading my mind. He grunted with pleasure as he settled beside me, then spent the next several minutes cleaning both of our bodies. Once the towel was discarded, he cuddled me to him, his body half covering mine.

I'd never been a cuddler. Hated it, in fact. I always felt pinned down, shackled-and not in a good way. But... I found that I loved it with Royce. The tenderness. The illusion of caring. I didn't want to move, could have stayed in his arms forever.

And that suddenly scared the living shit out of me.

My heart kicked into overtime, pounding sporadically in my chest. Being here with him like this felt too good, too... right. Was I...could I be- No. No! I absolutely refused to believe I was falling in love with him. This was a fling. Only a fling.

Emotions were not allowed.

Emotions meant a relationship. A relationship meant marriage. Marriage meant trusting, giving my heart totally and completely. And giving my heart eventually meant hurt, pain and perhaps betrayal. Not even my mom's marriage was going to survive, and I'd thought their union unbreakable.

A cold sweat broke out all over my body; my breathing became shallow, ragged. I began to feel claustrophobic. A wave of dizziness assaulted me. A deafening ring filled my ears and my stomach cramped. I had to get out of here. Had to get away from Royce. Right. Now.

"I have to use the bathroom," I blurted.

He untangled his limbs from mine. "Hurry back."

I raced away. When the door locked behind me, I sucked in a panicked gulp of air. What was I going to do? I couldn't stay here all night, but I couldn't pick up my clothes from the floor and take a cab home, either.

I collapsed onto the toilet lid and hunched over, putting my head between my legs. Breathe. Just breathe. There was no reason to panic. I'd think of something.

How long I stayed like that, I don't know.

"Are you okay in there?" he called.

"Fine," I croaked.

When the ringing and dizziness subsided, I forced myself to stand and splash cold water over my too-pale face. "You don't seem to worry when he's inside you," I told my reflection. "So get him inside you again and your worries will melt away. He's your sex toy. Nothing more."

With a deep breath, I stepped out of the bathroom and sashayed toward the bed. Royce was splayed out, rumpled and sexy, looking satisfied but concerned. My chest constricted at the sight of him. His torso was lined with scratches and bite marks.

"You sure you're okay?" he asked, his tone dripping with worry.

"Yeah." He's my sex toy. Nothing more.

"Come here." My sex toy patted the empty space beside him.

"Do you want me again?" I asked hopefully.

"I want to hold you."

Well, crap. I dragged my feet. Slipped in next to him. Wanted to snuggle up to him-what the hell was wrong with me-but remained a short distance away. He's my sex toy. I frowned and turned my back to him. My stomach began to churn again. My palms began to sweat again. He's my sex toy.


Please don't ask me if I want to spoon. "What?"

"Is this about the condom?"

I paused. "What do you mean?"

"It broke that last time."

My mouth went dry. My blood mutated into ice. Total and complete silence surrounded us as my world crumbled. Ohmygod. Oh. My. Freaking. God. My lungs quit working and another rush of dizziness slammed into me. "Tell me you're joking. Please, tell me you're joking."

"I wish I could."

I twisted to face him, meeting his gaze. "How the hell. Could that. Have happened?"

"Hey, I'm healthy. No reason for so much worry."

"I'm glad to hear it, but what about the other thing, huh?" At the moment, I couldn't say the B word. Couldn't even think it.

He ran a hand down his face. "Aren't you on the Pill?"

"No, damn it!" A horrible thought raced into my mind and my nostrils flared. "Is this your way of trapping me in a relationship? Because if so-"

"Hell, no." He jolted upright, pinning me to the bed with the fierceness of his gaze. "I don't have to resort to that kind of tactic to keep a woman."

I believed him. I'd even known it, deep down, before the words had rushed out of my mouth. Some of my anger and panic eased, and I was able to identify another emotion, the barest glimmer, underneath the surface of everything else. An emotion I didn't yet want to name.

My hand fluttered over my mouth, then dropped to my heart. "I'm sorry," I told him. "I shouldn't have said that."

"I understand." He nodded stiffly and eased down beside me. He tangled a hand through his hair. "I'm sorry, too. This has only happened to me once before."

I licked my lips as images of Royce playing blocks with a child, another woman's child, filled my mind. The tabloids had never printed a story about him being a father, but that didn't mean it hadn't happened. "Did the girl get-you know?"


"Maybe you're sterile," I said hopefully.

"Thanks a lot." Reaching behind himself, he folded his pillow in two and created a higher rest for his head. "Listen, I didn't mean to spoil the mood, but I thought you knew. And if you didn't, you needed to."

"You're right," I sighed.

A pause.

"I really enjoyed being with you, Naomi."

The words dangled like a lifeline, and I grabbed onto them for all I was worth. I didn't want to even consider diapers and the things that wore them-I still wasn't saying the B word. And I still didn't want to identify the ridiculous emotion swimming so determinedly through my veins.

"You roared so loudly," I said, "I think every person staying in this lodge knows you enjoyed yourself."

He chuckled, easing more of the tension between us, and pulled me into his arms. "Before we got in the plane, you mentioned an inner Tigress. I've been dying to question you all day."

A topic I could handle. "What do you want to know?"

"What exactly is it?"

I shrugged. "A Tigress is the part of a woman that is strong, self-assured and brave, able to do anything, say anything and always come out the winner. And-" I leaned toward him, lifted my hand and tapped him on the end of his nose "-a Tigress isn't particularly fond of Tigers."

"Hmm..." He took my fingers and kissed them, sucking them one at a time into the wet heat of his mouth. "Is there anything a Tiger can do to gain favor with a Tigress?"

As a delicious shiver ribboned through me, and even with the condom thing looming over my head, I knew I'd let him take me again. Like I'd realized in the bathroom, I didn't worry about anything but pleasure when he was inside me. Not emotions, not consequences.

"There is one thing," I said.

His dark brows slashed together. "And what's that?"

"He has to obey her every command."

Royce's deep, rich laughter echoed off the walls. "C'mere, kitty, kitty, and give me a command."

I leaned toward him, saying huskily, "You're going to let me kiss you right here." My fingers circled his cock. "And then you're going to pleasure me until I'm incoherent. You're going to pleasure me until I'm so sated I can no longer move." No longer think or worry.

"As a dedicated patron of the animal arts," he said, cupping my jaw, "I consider it a matter of pride to heed such a command."

We met in the middle. Our lips meshed together and our tongues collided. All worries forgotten. He tasted so good, like passion and heat and forbidden desire. My hands slid up his chest, the hard strength of his muscles covered by velvet-smooth skin.

When his lips moved away from my mouth, he placed a wet, hot caress along my jaw. "I really like this Tigress thing."

"You're about to like it even more." I inched my way down his body and took him in my mouth. He was big, very big, and my jaw stretched wide to accommodate him. I sucked him up and down, loving the heat and feel of him.

"Shit," he growled. "I'm going to come."

"Meeeooow," I said, a hint of wickedness in the undertones, then swallowed the taste of him.

An hour later, we hadn't moved from the bed. Rumpled linens had sprung from their corners and fit untidily around us. After two more rounds of intense sex, I didn't have the strength to race to the bathroom and have another mini-panic attack. I liked where I was, and even though that still scared me, I wasn't moving.

I'd allow myself tonight. Nothing more. Tomorrow I'd fight my attraction to him. Tomorrow I'd worry about possible consequences.

"I know you've told me you don't want to get married," Royce said, cutting through the silence.

He was lying on his back, hands propped behind his head. I was curled beside him, arms splayed over his chest. Every muscle in my body tensed at his words. If that was the beginning of our next conversation, I needed to seriously reconsider my decision not to move from the bed.

"But..." He hesitated here. "Did tonight change your mind?"

I tried not to cringe, tried not to scream in horror. I couldn't handle this, not right now. I'd told Kera and Mel this would happen. Damn it! Why couldn't he have waited until tomorrow?

When I didn't answer, he rolled over and braced himself on his elbows. He gazed down at me. "I want to marry you. You know that."

"I told you before, marriage is not for me."

Slowly he eased off the bed. "Tonight didn't change your mind?"


"We're amazing together." He tangled a hand in his hair. "You can't deny that."

"Maybe not." Despite the renewed roaring in my ears, the new bout of dizziness in my head, and the sick, cramping feeling in the pit of my stomach, I managed to remain calm. "But I'm never going to change my mind. Not for any reason."

He leapt into a fast back-and-forth pace, and his muscles rippled beneath his skin with every movement. "Have you already forgotten the way you clung to me, the way you moved beneath me and screamed my name?"

"Just because we had sex," I told him, "doesn't mean we need to-you know." I didn't even want to say the word. It was as foul to me as the B word. My heart was already pounding against my ribs and the ringing in my ears was growing louder.

"What do you have against marriage? "

Everything. "It's not for me, that's all."

"It could be." He softened his voice; even his gaze softened as he stopped and regarded me. "We're perfect together, sweetheart."

I tried not to shudder. "No. I'm sorry."

"Help me understand." His pacing renewed. Step by step, his feet sunk into the plush rose-colored carpet. And step by step it was clear his determination intensified. "Help me understand what's brought you to this point. Please."

The ringing reached a fevered pitch, and my next words exploded from my mouth. I couldn't stop them. "You really want to know? Well, here it is. My ex-husband didn't get the memo about fidelity. He preferred other women, and lots of them. He professed to love me while he nailed everything that breathed. Maybe I could have written that off as Richard's depraved moral character and the fact that he's a male whore, but I can't write off my stepdad. He's a decent, hardworking guy and he's cheating on my mom. I will never willingly give my heart to another man only to have it thrown back in my face. How's that for an answer?"

By the time I finished, I was huffing. My hands were shaking. And Royce wore an expression of utter shock. I tried to calm myself down with a few deep breaths, tried to picture myself in my meadow of happiness.

A bit more rationally, I added, "I need to leave now. I need to be alone."

"You're staying here, Naomi." He ran a hand down his face. "Even if I have to lock you in the bathroom."


He shook his head, his features dark and fierce. "You're going to hear me out. I'm not your ex, okay. I've never cheated on a woman, and I swear to you now I never will. I know what I want, and I want you. And, baby, you'd better understand now that I can be ruthless when it comes to getting what I want."

I threw my hands in the air. "There's nothing special about me." Why couldn't he understand that?

The distant rustle of wind sliced through the sudden silence. A thin layer of mist clouded the unadorned window. The mountainous landscape just beyond our room looked as harsh as Royce's face.

"Nothing special about you?" He stalked to that very window, gazing out at that very scenery. "Honey, I told you how you affected me at that party. And when you stepped into my office that first day, everything inside me went on alert. Your hair was messy, you had a streak of dirt on your face and when you sat down I saw the scrapes on your knees. And you know what? I'd never seen anything more beautiful. One glance at your lips, and I knew I had to have them all over me."

My cheeks reddened and I swallowed the lump in my throat. "You're just saying that because you're desperate to get married."

"You've said that before. I didn't answer you fully then, but I will now. I want to get married, yes, and I want a family. I want to belong to a woman and for her to belong to me. I want a woman to come home to-the same woman every night. I want our children running through our house. I want to know I have a partner who only wants the best for me, who will love me through everything. I want that with you. It's always been you."

The beauty of his words was shattering, and something lurched inside me at the happily-ever-after he described. Something that had nothing to do with panic, nothing to do with my hatred of marriage. "You've received thousands of applications. What if your Miss Right is in the stack, waiting for you? What if you find her after you've committed yourself to me?" I asked, softly speaking one of my deepest fears.

"I threw all the applications away the day you came into my office."


"No buts. My mother ran the story. We were arguing, again, about my lack of dating. She said you obviously weren't interested in me and decided to introduce me to women who were available. I refused to date any of the applicants, and even talked her into having a birthday party with you as the planner." Royce turned toward me, his gaze clashing and locking with mine. "There's no other woman who has your spirit, Naomi. Your humor. Your ability to set me on fire."

I covered my face with my hands. If he'd said this to me six years ago, I would have caved. I would have been all over him. Now, I bore too many scars.

I couldn't give Royce what he wanted. I just couldn't put my heart on the line like that. The thought of permanent, legal ties made me nauseous. I wasn't ready. Hell, I might never be ready.

"I'm sorry, Royce, but my answer is still no."