“Thanks.” Her thoughts shifted. Yeah, he was getting extra work and she was paying him, but this seemed like more than just a good business deal. He’d found these tables for her. He’d bought her dinner. He seemed like he wanted to please her. Was he being this nice just to get her into bed? Why didn’t it feel like a carefully constructed seduction, but more real? She did what she always did when she got confused. She asked. “Why are you doing all this for me?”

He jerked back. Those blue eyes met hers and buried deep. “Doing what? You’re paying me to do a fair job. I haven’t done anything.”

She wasn’t an idiot. He may have bargained, but she knew he was giving her the tables and the work at a huge discount. “Giving me a break on prices. Allowing me to pay in installments. And you bought me dinner.” She couldn’t help the way the words felt like an accusation.

“Crap, you’re right. Why would I buy you dinner when you’re not only beautiful, but great company? Why would I give you a break on my services when I’ll be reaping the benefits of free advertising for Pierce Brothers once everyone sees my work? Darlin’, if these are your high standards in a husband, I better rescue you right now. Let me give you some sound advice.” He leaned in, each word punctuated with smoky, toe-curling heat. “Aim higher.”

Sexual tension rippled around them. She mentally fought her treacherous body with clawing hands and desperate kicks. Then took a step back for safety. Raven was rarely nervous around men. There was nothing left of the once shy or broken girl who chased after an array of boys to prove something or slay the demons. She experienced sexual interest and enjoyed kissing. She liked the press of hard muscles against her soft curves, and the scratch of scruff against her lips. She was confident in her sexuality, comfortable with what she wanted, and rarely wasted time on head games or wordplay.

But Dalton affected her in a way that dragged the past and present together and merged them into one delicious chemistry. Her tummy tumbled, and her nipples hardened, and her mouth trembled, and he hadn’t done a damn thing but just stand there, leaning against the shed door, fingers hooked in the loops of his jeans, blistering heat in his blue eyes.

She blurted out the first thing that came to her mind.

“I like it out here.”

His gaze narrowed, assessed. Feeling ridiculously foolish, Raven cleared her throat and kept talking, scrambling for balance. “It’s quiet, I mean. My cabin is also by the woods, but I don’t have the same clear views you do of the night sky. I like looking at the stars.”

Now, why the hell had she told him that? She needed to get her act together; this was getting embarrassing. He hadn’t responded yet, just stared at her with that intense expression, making her more heated and uncomfortable.

“What did you just say?” He flicked out the question with a touch of demand.

She forced a laugh and waved her hand in the air. “Nothing, I’m babbling for no reason. Really tired. I’d like to head back now.”

She turned on her heel, but his hand shot out and stopped her. Five fingers blazed into the skin of her upper arm. Her tat tingled under his touch.

“Wait. What did you say about the stars?”

“I like looking at the stars. Kind of a hobby of mine, that’s all. Your house is elevated perfectly, with the eastern horizon on display. I bet you could catch Boötes tonight around eleven. Boötes is a constellation in the summer, it has this bright star called Arcturus and it’s pretty cool to trace it. You can find it if you follow the Big Dipper.” He looked so shocked, Raven shook her head. “Sorry, not many people are into stargazing. Can we go?”

“Not yet.” He didn’t release her, but the move still didn’t feel aggressive. It felt more . . . solid. Right. “I know what Boötes is. I know Arcturus, too. I happen to have a telescope set up on my balcony. Stargazing is one of my hobbies, too.”

She squinted with pure suspicion. “Dude, don’t play me. You don’t have to make up hobbies just to get an inroad. I told you we won’t be sleeping together.”

“God, you’re a pain in the ass.” He moved into her space, stopping inches away. She fought a shudder as the waves of male energy struck her like Zeus with his thunderbolts. “I don’t lie, Raven. I don’t pretend to be someone I’m not just to make a play. That insults me and you. I’m kind of obsessed with astronomy, and I’ve never met someone else with the same interest.”

Her eyes widened with the knowledge. He was a closet nerd, just like she was. Suddenly there was too much between them. At his physical nearness, her barriers quivered in warning, and she was desperate to get away.

Yet she didn’t move.

His eyes darkened to a gorgeous ocean blue with a bit of storm. His head dipped another inch, and his warm breath struck her mouth. She trembled.

“I’m in trouble.”

She tried to focus on his words, but those carved lips fascinated her. His features were beautiful, from his square jaw touched with scruff to the arrogant blade of his nose and his perfectly arched brows. His gaze delved so deep, she felt trapped in a hypnotic state.

“Wh-what are you talking about?” Oh, my God, had she stuttered? Why weren’t her limbs working?

He upped his game. His other hand reached out and he ran a finger lightly over her cheek. The slightest brush of skin-to-skin contact left a trail of fire. She tried to step out of the web of sensation, but the threads were strong and sticky, and she couldn’t move. Didn’t want to move. What was happening? She was always in control of her sexuality and what she would or wouldn’t do. But right now, Dalton held all the power. Yet she didn’t feel threatened. Only felt the need to move closer; breathe in his scent; touch the lean, muscled length of his body.

“I didn’t plan on this. Wasn’t going to push or make you uncomfortable in my territory. I respect what you’re looking for, Raven. But you were able to discipline the dogs. You’re passionate about your work and wicked smart. You’re interested in the stars.” He tipped her chin up, tangled his gaze with hers, and slowly lowered his head. “I don’t want to think about the future, or why we’re wrong for each other. I just want to claim this moment and kiss you in the moonlight, because you’re so fucking beautiful my heart hurts.” He paused. “But I promised not to push you while we’re working together. Promised not to make a move you didn’t want. So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to kiss you. Right now. And if that’s not okay with you, all you have to do is move back.” He stopped an inch from her lips, allowing her one last opportunity to run.

She stayed.

His mouth closed over hers.

The kiss was pure and sweet. She swayed and needed to wrap her arms around his shoulders for balance. Soft, firm lips sipped, treasured, worshipped. A tiny moan escaped her throat and he swallowed it, his tongue pushing in for more and exploring every last inch of her mouth.

Her fingers slid into the thick strands of hair at his nape and held tight. She opened wider to his demands, and the sweetness sparked into something more, a wild craving that forced her to her tiptoes in an effort to slake her own hunger. She met his tongue thrust for thrust as heat surged in her blood and turned her limbs loose and weak.

Suddenly they were pressed tight together, his hands cupping her cheeks as the kiss deepened, and the spark that always hummed between them raged into an inferno. She clutched at him, trembling from the force of raw hunger demanding satisfaction, drowning in the taste of male need. He kissed her like she was the answer to his prayers, the queen to his king, and Raven was helpless to fight.

She gave him what he wanted.

His lips tore from hers. His eyes were wild, stinging blue and fierce. “Why is it like this between us?” he whispered. His hands were a gentle contradiction to the hardness in his voice. “Why do I crave you like my very breath?”

His scent surrounded her. Her chin tingled from his stubble. Her lips felt wet and swollen. Her body shook with a need for more. His head dipped again, and the reality of the situation slammed into her.

Oh, God, what was she doing?

Raven stumbled back, pressing her fist against her mouth. “Don’t say things like that.” She grasped at the tendrils of anger and pulled them tight. “This was a mistake.”