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“If you were any more turned on, you’d be doing something that would get you arrested in a place like this.”

“Which is why I like The Keys.”

“I’m serious, you need to take me to that club.”

“Name the night.”

And then he got quiet because Peyton’s cousin was rising to her feet and giving the guy a hug like she was leaving.

Look at me, Axe commanded in his head. Come on, look at me.

The female had clearly been brought up correctly and she took the time to acknowledge everyone she had just been introduced to … including, at last, him.

A quick flick of her eyes in his direction and then she was lifting her hand in a brief wave, and off she went.

She walked like something he wanted to mount from behind.

Axe went to get up before he was aware of moving, but Peyton shot a live-fire glare at him, a big, fat, don’t-you-fucking-dare coupled with some don’t-even-think-about-it mixed with a whole lot of not-even-in-your-fantasies-asshole. But then saving grace walked up.

In the form of a set of DDs in a miniskirt so short it was essentially a pair of panties without the crotch. And the human woman was a blonde, Peyton’s favorite.

All the bad shit and frustration that had happened in training, coupled with the bourbon the guy had been drinking, conspired against good ol’ Pey-pey’s cockblocking, protective instincts—and the next thing you knew, the DDs had taken a load off in Peyton’s lap and her fake-tipped nails were stroking the hair at the base of his neck.

Cue the buh-bye’s.

Axe was up and outta there faster than a marksman could lock and load.

Slipping through the dim interior, he moved like a laser sight through the crowd, slicing his way to the front entrance and out into the cold.

Instinctively, he knew she’d gone left.

And just as instinctively, she stopped at the curb the second he emerged.

As she turned around to him, a gust of wind caught her hair, feathering it out from her face. With the fat snowflakes falling in a swirl and her coat catching the winter’s breath around her body, she was like something out of a fever dream, both real and illusive.

Axe walked over to her, aware that he was more like a love-starved virgin than the jaded sex addict he had become ever since he had kicked heroin.

Her eyes skipped around as if he intimidated her, and she put her hands in her pockets, although, he sensed, not from the cold.

Axe knew this because he caught her scent: This female, as skittish as she was, was far from indifferent to him.

“I knew you would come after me,” she said roughly.

“And I knew you’d be waiting.”

She kicked up her chin. “I wasn’t waiting.”

“If I hadn’t rushed out here, you would have.”

He liked the way her jaw set like he was pissing her off. But then she smiled. “If you knew I’d wait for you, why did you rush?”

“You’re worth it.”

She opened her mouth as if she had expected him to say something else and had prepared a line. Shaking her head, she smiled as she glanced away. “Isn’t that a line from a hair ad.”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“Not into women’s magazines?”

“Not into women. Or females.”

“Then what do you think I am?”

Axe didn’t see how it was helpful to point out that he could be sexually attracted to people and yet have absolutely no other care for them whatsoever.

“How do I see you,” he asked on a growl. “Name the where and when and I’ll be there.”

“What if I’m not interested,” she drawled, and stepped off the curb into the road.

He stayed right on her tail as she crossed the street. And good thing there were no cars coming in either direction—or he might have had to throw them out of his way.

“If you say you’re not interested, I’d call you on your bullshit. And really, why waste my time with that.”

On the far side, she wheeled around and put her hands on her hips. “Are you always this arrogant?”

He leaned into her, and as he inhaled deep into his lungs, he relished the scent of her arousal.

On a whisper, right next to her ear, he said, “Do you really think something as flimsy as false denial is going to keep me away from you?”

At that moment, the door to the cigar club flew open and Peyton came out, all pouncing protector and then some.

“I’m not denying anything,” she said dryly. “But my cousin most certainly is going to keep us apart.”

“Only if you let him.”

“Elise,” Peyton snapped from across the street. “Go home.”

“And this is the same male who was helping liberate me from my father,” she muttered.

“Elise!”

As a couple of cars coming and going prevented the guy from crossing the road, she turned away. “Have fun with him.”

And poof! she was gone, dematerializing into the December night.

“Goddamn it,” Axe muttered.

Meanwhile, Peyton played dodgeball with a truck, and then broke into a run to close the distance.

“For fuck’s sake,” Axe barked at the guy. “I didn’t touch her—”

Crack!

The right hook left him spitting blood out.

“You don’t fucking think about it!” Peyton gritted. “She is not your kind.”

“What, because I’m not an aristocrat like you, asshole?”

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