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Shit, he should have ignored her. Should have had those extra shots of tequila. If he were still drunk then he wouldn’t be sitting here like a total pussy, trying not to lose it completely.

“Maybe you’re right,” he told her, reaching for the remote so he could turn the volume up on the TV set. “Maybe Iron Man really is the best Avenger. Sure, he doesn’t know when to keep his mouth shut, but I guess that isn’t everything. Right, Jamison?”

She gasped and he knew he’d scored a direct hit, but he refused to apologize. Refused to so much as look at her. Instead, he kicked his legs up on the coffee table in front of them and concentrated on the movie like his life depended on it.

And maybe it did. God knew, he wasn’t going to make it if he had to rehash the past tonight—especially with Jamison. No, it would be better for everyone if he sat here and watched the stupid movie. The fact that he couldn’t see a damn thing thanks to the red haze in front of his eyes was entirely inconsequential.

He waited for her to take the hint that was really more of a No Trespassing sign—in neon lights—but she didn’t turn back to the movie. For long seconds, she didn’t do anything at all. She didn’t move. Didn’t speak. Didn’t settle back against the couch cushions. Hell, he wasn’t even sure that she breathed.

Instead, she just sat there, watching him. Willing him to look at her. To talk to her. But he wasn’t going to do that. Not now. Not—

“Ryder, please. Don’t—”

“Watch the movie, Jamison.”

“I don’t care about the movie. I care about you. About the way you always beat yourself up over things you have no control over.”

“Didn’t you get the memo? I’m a rock star, baby.” He sneered at her. “I’m way too self-absorbed to worry about anything but where my next drink and fuck are coming from.”

“Bullshit.” She put a trembling hand in the middle of his chest, right over his heart. Figuring she must be cold, he reached for the blanket at the end of the couch, started to cover her up. But then he realized she wasn’t the one shaking. He was. Goddammit.

“You need to back off, Jamison,” he told her through clenched teeth. “I don’t want to talk about this right now.”

“You never want to talk. Not about this. That’s why you need to—”

“I don’t need to do a damn thing except get some sleep.” He stood up, tossed the remote onto the couch. “Do you want the bed?”

“I don’t give a shit about the bed! I want to talk to—”

“I guess that means I’ll take it.” He started across the room, in total self-preservation mode now. He wanted—needed—to get away. Sure, there was a part of him that thought about staying, to bask in the warmth that was pouring out from her. To touch and kiss her beautiful body and listen to all the lies she was so anxious to tell. To tell some lies of his own. Lies that would shut her up and get her into his bed so that he didn’t have to think, didn’t have to feel. Didn’t have to do anything but fuck.

But this was Jamison, not some groupie just looking for a good time. He couldn’t treat her like that.

She didn’t understand. She hadn’t been there. She didn’t know what had happened to Carrie, not really. Didn’t know that he’d turned away from her because of his own guilt. Didn’t know that—

He cut himself off. There was a whole hell of a lot Jamison didn’t know and he wasn’t going to beat himself up over it. Just like she was the one who refused to acknowledge that he wanted to be alone right now. So to hell with her feelings and to hell with being gentle. She obviously didn’t give a shit about how he felt.

“Get the hell away from me,” he snarled right before he got to his bedroom door.

She’d followed him and though he refused to look at her, he felt her recoil at his words. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. I just wanted to help.”

“What am I, a fucking charity case? When are you going to get it through your head that I don’t need your help? I don’t want your help! I’m fine,” he roared, putting his hands on her shoulders and backing her up against the hallway wall. Her eyes widened, the pulse at the base of her neck suddenly beating triple time.

He slid his hand from her shoulder to her collarbone, then up so his fingers were resting against the hollow of her throat. “I told you to stop, told you to back off. I told you I didn’t want to talk about it. But you keep pushing and pushing.”

He could feel her heart beating wildly beneath his hand, her breaths coming faster and faster. In response, he stroked his fingers over her too-fast pulse, then waited to see what she’d do. He wouldn’t hurt her—would never hurt her—but he wasn’t above backing her off if it would get him some peace.

She licked her lips, whispered his name. But his plan had backfired. There was no wariness in her eyes, no trepidation. Only the same desire that was currently raging inside of him. “Ryder—”

“You’re still talking.” He skimmed his palm up to her jaw, pressed his thumb against her mouth, and rubbed. The final remnants of last night’s lipstick smeared across her cheek.

“I’m sorry.”

She was apologizing for a lot more than saying his name, but he didn’t want to hear it. She’d pushed him too far. “So am I.”

Still, they couldn’t stand here like this all morning. He shifted, started to back off. And that’s when she did the one thing he absolutely wasn’t expecting. She bit him, hard, her small, white teeth sinking sharply into the pad of his thumb.

Chapter Seven

Jamison watched, heart in her throat, as Ryder’s eyes darkened from black to oblivion. She didn’t know why she’d done it except that there were so many emotions roiling around inside of her that she hadn’t known what to do with them all. Pity, sorrow, nervousness, affection, lust…

She knew she should have heeded his warning, knew she had no right to push him the way she had. But he was drowning and he didn’t even realize it. She’d had to say something. Then, when he’d backed her up against the wall—like that would do anything but turn her on—he’d been so beautiful and so angry and so sexy that she’d just snapped.

Now it looked like Ryder was the one on the brink of snapping. She expected, was prepared, for him to back off. To yell at her or threaten her or storm into his bedroom and slam the door, effectively ending their conversation once and for all. But in the end, he did none of those.

Instead, he leaned forward, pressing his body against hers. His chest to her breasts. His hips to her stomach. She could feel him everywhere, hot and hard and haunted. Her lids grew heavy, threatened to close, but she kept them up with sheer force of will. She’d been waiting so long for him to look at her like this, to touch her like this. No way was she missing a second of it.

Then his other hand slid from her shoulder to her jaw so that he was cupping both sides of her face, and her knees went weak.

“Ryder.” It was more a whimper than a word.

He closed his eyes, rested his forehead against hers. The tightness in his shoulders, the look of anguish on his face, was almost unbearable. She wanted—needed—to soothe him.

“Tell me to go to bed,” he whispered, sounding anguished. “To leave you alone.”

“No.” She wouldn’t do that. Not now, not ever. She wrapped her arms around his waist, held him to her. He was shaking, but then again, so was she. How could she not be when his lips were only an inch or so away from hers?

“Do it.”

“No.” She tightened her hold.

He groaned, a low, tortured sound that ripped through every part of her. And then he was lowering his mouth, tilting her chin. Pressing his lips gently, softly, to hers.

In those early, unbelievable moments, Jamison’s first thought was that Ryder really knew how to kiss.

Her second thought was that this kiss, which she had longed for for at least a decade, had been more than worth the wait.

Her third thought— Oh, who was she kidding? There was no third thought. There was nothing but desire, pleasure, need as his mouth claimed hers. As his tongue swept along the seam of her lips, exploring the corners of her mouth and scrambling whatever brain cells she hadn’t killed off with her drinking binge.

“You taste so good,” he murmured, then sucked her lower lip gently between his teeth. She gasped at the sensation, at the soft, repetitive suction that sent chills skittering up and down her spine. Ryder laughed quietly at her reaction, his fingers tightening on her hip and in her hair—not enough to hurt but definitely enough to remind her that he was there. And that he was calling the shots.

“So do you,” she whispered against his mouth, licking her lips in an effort to get more of him. He tasted just like he smelled—like tequila and limes and warm, salty ocean breezes.

From the moment she’d moved to San Diego, she’d been drawn to the beach. To the smell and taste and sound of it. She wondered now if what she’d liked most about the water was that, subconsciously at least, it had reminded her of him. Of Ryder.

His hand tugged on her hair, calling her back to the present even as he tilted her head to the angle that would give him the best access. And then his mouth was on hers again, drawing her lower lip between his teeth so he could nibble softly on it before soothing the small hurt with his tongue.

She moaned a little, brought her own hands up to bury them in the cool silk of his hair. He felt so good, tasted so good, that she wished she could live in this moment forever. Wished she could freeze time so that there was no tour to take him away from her, no job issue for her to worry about, no groupies to flaunt themselves in front of him.

So that there was nothing and no one but her and him and the electricity that arced between them.

It was a silly wish, and a dangerous one. The tiny part of her brain that was still functioning screamed at her to stop this, to stop him before she got in too deep, but it was hard to hear the warning over the ragged edges of her breathing, the loud pounding of her heart. She wouldn’t have heeded it anyway, not at that moment when she had Ryder exactly where she’d always wanted him. In her arms.

He tilted her head back a little more and whatever small amount of rationality she had deserted her. But how could it not when he was devouring her, his mouth and body and tortured soul enveloping her own until all she could think of was him. She moaned low in her throat, tangled her fingers in his hair, and yanked. The time for gentleness, for the subtle build of desire, was long gone. Need was a wild, wanton thing between them, rising like a tidal wave until it all but swamped her.

It was her turn to nip at his mouth, to run her tongue over his teeth, the roof of his mouth, the sensitive skin between his gum and his upper lip. He groaned, sucked her tongue deep into his mouth, and she gasped. She’d never been kissed like this before, never felt such brutal, beautiful carnality for any other man. She wanted to hang on to this moment forever, to savor it—and him—for as long as she could.

For as long as he would let her.

His fingers swept beneath the hem of her T-shirt, skimmed up her rib cage to softly stroke her stomach and lower back. She shivered—it felt so good—then slid her hands slowly up his back.

He was lean but muscular from all those hours of guitar playing and working out when he couldn’t sleep . She’d seen him without his shirt on a million times through the years—in person and on-screen and in photos—but she’d never realized how good it would feel to touch him. To run her hands up his spine and over the taut muscles of his upper back. To slide her fingers over the sexy ink of his tattoos.

He was hard and hot and so inviting she wanted to lick him up right there in the hallway. She would do it, too, just as soon as she could bring herself to stop kissing him. Which, now that she thought about it, might not be for a while. He tasted too good.

His fingers were on the buttons at the front of her shirt now. Then they were tracing along the line of her bra, his warm palms resting on her stomach. A shiver of desire worked its way through her, and Jamison clutched at his shoulders for support.

He smiled against her lips, pressed her more firmly into the wall as he continued his exploration. Her loss of control hadn’t even fazed him, but then he was probably used to women going weak-kneed around him.

The thought pulled her out of her Ryder-induced sex stupor. Not completely, but enough for her self-consciousness to rear its ugly head. She turned her head to break the kiss, covered his hands with her own. He stopped instantly, like she’d known he would.

Of course, the second he did, she could have kicked herself for stopping him. What was wrong with her? Ryder had been with dozens of women, hundreds of women probably, in the last few years. But she wanted this, wanted him—badly—so why had her conscience picked this moment to bombard her with second thoughts? Why had she stopped him when he’d obviously been into it? Into her?