He flinched but kept talking. “You believe they were coming back?”

“I do. All this time, I was so angry and confused. But along the way, I’d forgotten how close I was with my father. What purpose would there be to fleeing to Paris on a weeknight, leaving families they loved behind? My aunt kept telling me the same thing, but I wasn’t ready to accept it. Now I realize it doesn’t make sense.”

“People rarely do,” he muttered. “Especially when sex is involved, which is too often mistaken for love.”

She hugged her body tight against the sudden chill. “Love would’ve brought them back.”

“Love made them leave and killed them both. You’re being a romantic fool because it’s easier to believe. You’re still denying the idea of your father going after my family’s money?”

“Papa wasn’t interested in money—not that way. He lived for his art and everyday pleasures. We were poor, but it never felt like it. We were happy.”

“Maybe that was a mirage, too.”

“No. Just like I don’t believe your mother hated your father so badly she decided to cut her sons loose. She loved you.”

“You know nothing about my mother,” he whipped out.

She fell silent, caught between words that couldn’t reach him and the voice inside begging her to touch him and bring him back.

“Cal told me he knew who you were.”

She blinked in surprise. “He knew about me?”

“He didn’t tell me, though.”


His face revealed a flicker of pain. Her heart swelled with the urge to reach for him, comfort him, but she kept still. “Guess he’s come to the conclusion you have—that our parents fell in love and were coming back. He told me I looked so happy with you, he wanted you to tell me the truth yourself.”

She choked back a sob. “Dalton, I never wanted to hurt you. Never. This connection between us has always been there, and I’ve been fighting it from the very first day. But I don’t want to any longer. I realize you’re the man I was meant for, even though it’s been a short time. There’s an emptiness in my core that’s filled when I’m around you. I’ve traveled the world and met a thousand people to try to slake that emptiness, but it all went away when I first saw you.”

His jaw tightened. “I did, too. But what was real and what was a sick way to get closer to the memory of your father?”

She jerked back. “It wasn’t like that!”

“Maybe. Maybe not.”

The rage was back, shaking his body like a storm wind clutching a weak tree branch. Her body hurt, and she moved toward him, desperate to take away the pain and convince him of the truth. She knelt in front of him, her hands resting on his knees. “This is about you and me,” she said. “This is about how you make me feel when you take me in your arms and make me yours.”

“Then prove it.” His eyes glittered like water droplets hitting stone, brilliant under the glare of the sun. “Prove it to me, Raven.”

His challenge caused a wave of longing to crash through her, and there was nothing left to do but reach for him.

Still on her knees, she pulled his head toward hers and kissed him, sinking her tongue deep into his mouth, drunk on the taste of chocolate and a touch of whiskey, his dark, male fragrance rising up to surround her. He dragged her onto his lap and she straddled him, pressing her breasts against his muscled chest. He yanked her tank top down with her bra and sucked on her breasts, his teeth rough, his tongue hot. She arched into the sting, opening his belt and freeing his erection, her hands squeezing and stroking until he groaned and jerked under her touch. He raised her up just enough to tug her jeans and underwear off, splaying her open to his plunging fingers. She gritted her teeth against the impending orgasm, needing him to be inside her, and scraped her nails down his chest, half-crazed.

“Take what you want,” he commanded.

With an animal-like cry, she grasped his cock and pushed him inside her dripping entrance, then slammed down hard.

“Dalton!” She shuddered at the throbbing fullness of him; the feeling of rightness as they connected on the deepest level, and tears burned her eyes as she fought for more of him. He growled and tugged her head back hard, his lips fastened to the delicate line of her throat.

“Take what you want,” he said again, his skin hot, his fingers brutal, his voice a primitive growl in her ear. “Now.”

She moved, rising up as high as she could on her knees, then lowering so he was seated fully within her, riding him at a frantic pace that was more animal than human. She gave him everything she could, refusing to hold back, her hips working wildly to have more, always more of him.

“Now,” he grated out, his teeth sinking in where her neck met her shoulder. “Now!”

She screamed and shattered around him, tears pouring down her face. He surrendered to his own release, still clutching her so hard Raven knew she’d wear his marks tomorrow. They rode out their climaxes until the last shudder wracked them, falling back together onto the couch.

Her head lolled on his shoulder. His hands stroked her back. She relaxed in the beautiful space between them, her heart so full she had an idea how the Grinch felt that Christmas day when his heart grew three sizes. It was all going to be okay.

“That was amazing,” he said.

She smiled and pressed a kiss to his shoulder. “It certainly was.”

“Thanks.” He lifted her off his lap and placed her down to his right. Standing up, he stretched, zipped his jeans, and regarded her. “I better go. Maybe I’ll see you around.”

Ice slivered down her spine. “What?”

“Well, this isn’t going to work on a regular basis.” He motioned between them with a humorless smile. “But the sex is incredible. I think I was clear from the beginning I’m not the marrying sort. Now that your secrets are out, we can be more honest with one another.”

Her breath caught in her chest, and she fought to keep air in her lungs. A terrible premonition crawled into her brain, but she refused to believe it could be true. He wouldn’t do that to her. Wouldn’t hurt her so cruelly, not after what they’d just shared.

“Dalton, what are you trying to do? Punish me? Push me away? I’m not running anymore, and I’ve told you everything. Please don’t let this destroy what we can have together.”

His laugh was ice-cold. “There’s nothing left to destroy, Raven. It was bound to end anyway; at least we can deal with it before we pretend we have something more than sex.”

She stood up, shaking with fear and raw anger. “That was more than just sex! I gave you everything I had. I love you!”

She looked into his beloved face, searching for a glimpse of the tender, gentle, mischievous man who had so much love to give. All she saw staring back at her was a stranger.

“But I don’t love you,” he stated calmly.

“You said you did the other night,” she whispered, hating the brokenness to her voice. Her insides were bleeding, raw and open wounds that tore her to pieces. “Don’t do this to me. To us. You’ll regret it, Dalton, we both will.”

He stepped back, jerking his gaze from hers. “There’s nothing to regret. You played your game, we enjoyed each other for a while, and now it’s time to move on. I’m not punishing you, Raven. I’m just . . . leaving.”

Then he did exactly what he promised.

He left.

Raven sank to the floor, leaning her face against her raised knees, and cried for the second greatest loss of her life.

Chapter twenty-five

It was done.

Dalton knew he wouldn’t be able to continue a relationship with a woman who lied. A woman whose father had a direct responsibility for not only killing his mother, but manipulating her to leave. Both were unforgivable. He’d needed to hurt Raven so irrevocably, there’d be no coming back.

He drove back home, feeling curiously empty. Her scent drifted from his skin, the spicy musk of sandalwood. Her taste lingered on his tongue. His chest tingled from the scratch of her nails.

He drank the rest of the whiskey with the desperate intention of forgetting. Sickness formed inside him, but he wasn’t sure if it was the result of his actions or of realizing he’d never hold her again. Finally he passed out, fully dressed on his bed, hand still clutching the bottle.