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“I am.” He seemed as surprised to hear his name coming from her lips as Avery was.

“Sasha is Trina’s late husband’s half sister,” Avery explained to Liam. She’d leave the rest of the woman’s significance in Trina’s life for a later conversation.

Sasha had played an intricate role in stopping Ruslan Petrov from hiring any more killers to cover up his crimes. Intricate meant being nearly killed by the man’s hands while the authorities rushed in at the last minute and put a bullet in him. If it wasn’t for her, he would have fled and still been alive to cause misery and pain to Trina and everyone she held dear. Including Avery.

“I feel the need to thank you,” Avery said.

“That isn’t necessary.”

“Sasha is occasionally helping with our security team, so hopefully we can convince her to join us outside of work.”

“That would be great, and you can tell me where you got that dress. Versace, right?”

“Paris.” A woman of one-word answers.

“It’s stunning.”

“Thank you. If you’ll excuse me.” And she was gone.

Reed moved closer once she walked away. “I’m surprised she came.”

“She’s intense” was Liam’s take on the woman.

“I don’t remember putting her down on the table assignments,” Avery said.

“She refused. Said she would witness the wedding, blend in at the reception, and drill security to make sure they were doing their job while everyone ate.” Reed glanced around the room.

“And is security doing a good job?” Liam asked.

Reed looked down his nose at him. “Our team never fails.”

Liam patted Reed’s back. “I feel safer.”

“Good to know. Now let me find my wife. I wanna dance.”

Later, after Avery delivered a toast alongside Gus, and the obligatory wedding party dance after Trina and Wade took the stage, Liam claimed her as his for the rest of the night.

He lost his tie, ditched the jacket, and swung her around the dance floor.

There wasn’t any of the bumping and grinding that went along with the club scene here. Just good moves with dips and turns for the rock and roll, and plenty of line dancing and two-stepping when the country hits were sung.

Flushed and breathless, Avery pleaded to step away from the crowd.

Liam tugged her hand toward the back of the covered dance floor and out into the night.

“You’re crazy out there.”

He did a little shuffle. “Love to dance.”

“I can tell.”

Liam slid a hand around her waist and swung her in a circle when some of the other guests walked by.

Avery glanced at them and laughed.

“I think that was Faith and Tim.”

Liam wasn’t listening. He wrapped his arms around her waist and walked behind her until they were on the edge of the manicured outdoor space, overlooking the moonlit valley below.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Avery said once they stopped walking.

“Peaceful. I managed to take a walk before everything started today. Wade has quite the spread.”

“Texas has grown on me a little,” Avery admitted. “But I wouldn’t want to live here.”

“City girl?”

“I like where I live. But I don’t think I’ll be there forever.”

She felt Liam’s breath against her ear.

“Where else would you go?”

“Somewhere, anywhere. What about you? Ever wanted to live somewhere different?”

“I haven’t really thought about it. My family is close by, my business is in LA.”

She held his arms, which wrapped around her shoulders, keeping the cool evening air away from her bare skin. “I guess that’s the difference between a close family and what I have.”

“Is it really that bad?”

Avery thought about the measures she’d gone through, marrying Bernie for a short, contracted time for a massive payoff to get out from under her parents’ financial thumbs. “It’s not good.”

“My sister and I are eleven months apart. For a long time people thought we were twins. You’ll love her, and Cassandra . . . that kid has my number.”

“How often do you see them?”

Liam laughed. “They live with me.”

Avery leaned back to look at him. “Really?”

“Michelle’s ex left without financial support. She was out of choices. Not that she needed to ask. I offered.”

“What about your parents? Couldn’t she move in with them?”

Liam’s smile faded. “My mother has Alzheimer’s.”

“I’m so sorry.”

He kissed the top of her head. “It’s okay. Right after Cassandra was born, she was diagnosed. It’s been a slow, steady decline. My dad kept up with her care for a while, but last year we had to hire help during the day so he could work. He encouraged my sister to move in with him, but the stress of a five-year-old is too much day in and day out.”

“I can’t imagine.”

He tilted his head. “My parents love us unconditionally and with every ounce of their being. I can’t imagine that you’ve lived a life without that anchor.”

“Don’t feel sorry for me. It no longer rules me. Do I wish it was different? Yes. But it isn’t. Now I take my parents in small doses and leave when it’s unbearable.”

Liam turned her around and rested his hands around her waist. “They’re missing out. You’re a special lady.”

“You hardly know me.”

“That’s changing rapidly. Besides, if I wasn’t figuring that out on my own, your friends have all told me.”

“They’re biased.”

He brushed his hand along her chin and watched his fingers as he traced them down her neck and shoulder. The touch was more intimate than if they were naked and skin to skin.

Avery shivered.

“Are you cold?”

“No.”

His eyes smiled, and he leaned closer and touched his lips to hers.

Avery closed her eyes and melted. Like every time he kissed her, there wasn’t a rush or any urgency. Only the movement of his mouth on hers, the slow request for her to open and let him inside. Her body quivered and her mind went blank.

What was it about this man that was so different from any other? Was it the fact that he wasn’t rushing? Or maybe it was the way he slowly ran his hands over her back, as if he were memorizing her. Maybe the difference was how much she knew about him. Since before Bernie, she hadn’t bothered to know more than a first name and a short sexual history. Family history and desires for the future only shortened the time she spent with the previous men in her life.

This one was different.

Liam was different.

Following his leisurely pace, Avery stroked his back and squeezed his shoulders when he nipped at her bottom lip. He heated every cell that begged for his attention.

His fingers squeezed her hips but didn’t move lower. As the bases went, he hadn’t rounded second, and she wanted a home run in the worst way.

Avery pressed closer and knew without any doubt Liam had all the working parts fired up and ready.

Unlike the man holding her, she let her hands drop lower on his hips until his firm ass filled her palms.

Liam stalled, his mouth open over hers, eyes closed. “Careful, Princess.”

The huskiness of his voice empowered her. “Why?”

He gripped her hips and brought her as close as two standing bodies, fully clothed, could get. “My control is painfully close to snapping.”

“Have you considered that I might want that?”

Liam opened his smoky eyes. “I didn’t force my hand at you bringing me here for this.”

She lifted her hand from his butt to his hip. “I know that, Liam.”

There was something he wasn’t saying; she could see it in his gaze.

Noise from the reception cut in through the night. “Now isn’t the time,” he told her.

She wanted to argue but knew he was right. Avery swallowed and shifted her weight.

His grip stopped her. “Never think, for one second, that I don’t want you. That I haven’t dreamt of peeling each layer of your clothing off your skin and kissing every bare spot until you can’t take the torture any longer.”

Her chest lifted with every short breath she took.

He pressed his lips to hers, eyes wide open.

“You’re not like any man I’ve ever met,” she whispered when he released her lips.

Liam smiled as if she’d just given him a gift. “Good.”

Monday was met with a gallon of coffee and a hard-on.

“You mean to tell me you were at Wade Thomas’s ranch the whole weekend?” Michelle stared at him across the table at six in the morning.

“I was.”

“Holy cow. Who is this woman you’re dating?”

Are we dating?

“Avery Grant.” He wondered if that was her maiden name or her ex’s.

“Do you have a picture of her?”

Liam fired up his phone and pulled up a text from Shannon. She’d added him to a group text where she’d sent a dozen pictures taken over the weekend.

He pulled up a shot from during the rehearsal dinner and twisted his phone toward his sister.

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