This time, he was the one who closed the distance between them. He was the one who brought his mouth to hers. And he was the one who kissed her, really kissed her, for the first time in a decade.
It was even better than he remembered.
Her lips parted on a moan, and he swept inside—to explore and taste and feel. She was hot and sweet and so responsive that he couldn’t help the answering groan that welled up in his own throat as he deepened the kiss.
He’d been right. She still tasted like strawberries, but with a rich overlay of sweet and salty caramel that was new. It was a flavor he was rapidly becoming addicted to. One he wanted to taste again and again and again.
He stroked his tongue along the roof of her mouth, brushed it over the side of one cheek and then the other. Swept it between her teeth and her upper lip, pausing to play with her sensitive frenulum for just a moment.
She gasped, the fingers of her uninjured hand coming up to clutch at his shirt even as her tongue came forward to meet his own.
His hand tightened on her neck at the first whisper of her tongue against his. He pulled her closer, pulled her into him until her br**sts were against his chest and her mouth was completely open, completely vulnerable, to him.
And then he took her, took everything she was offering, everything she had to give. Gave her everything he could in return.
He was ravenous as he plundered her, tangling his tongue with hers. Licking at her lips, the corners of her mouth, the insides of her teeth. He wanted to explore every part of her, to re-learn her, to figure out everything he’d missed since he’d walked out. To memorize her so that he would remember this even after she left again.
He pulled her closer, wrapped his free arm around her back and plastered her body to his. She gasped, moaned, and he wanted more. Always more. Just like when they’d been kids.
But they weren’t kids anymore, hadn’t been for a long time. It was that thought, more than any other, that brought him back. That had him pulling away from Elise when all he really wanted to do was sink into her.
She had real problems, problems that wouldn’t be fixed by a kiss or a quick tumble onto the closest flat surface. And that was all he could offer her. All he’d ever been able to offer her. It hadn’t been enough when they were seventeen and it sure as shit wasn’t enough now.
He untangled her fingers from his shirt, then gently dropped her hand back into her lap before standing up. He didn’t want to look at her, didn’t want to see the accusation in her eyes for so blatantly taking advantage of her when she was injured and medicated and vulnerable.
But in the end, he couldn’t not look, his eyes seeking and finding hers like they were meant to be. And what he saw there nearly brought him to his knees all over again. Passion, not accusation. Need, not mistrust.
Her eyes were heavy-lidded, dreamy. Her cheeks flushed, her ni**les hard little points pressing against the sheer fabric of the blouse Jamison had bought for her to wear home. And her lips. Those damn lips that had haunted his dreams for years after he’d walked away from her, were red and swollen and so tempting it took every ounce of willpower he had not to bend down and take another bite. One that would only end when they were in bed and he was inside her.
That last was the thought he needed to get him moving away from her as fast as his hard, aching body would carry him. He’d made love to her and left her once, when he’d been young and stubborn and too stupid to understand how doing so would shatter them both.
No way in hell was he going to do it again.
Confused, Elise watched Quinn back away like her hair had suddenly caught fire. Or like he was repulsed by her and what they’d done. But she’d felt his arousal in every too fast breath and too heavy beat of his heart. Felt it in the way his hands clutched at her and the way his lips plundered hers, taking and taking and taking.
Her head was still spinning from the kiss, while he was halfway across the kitchen calmly talking about what they should have for dinner—like the last ten minutes had never happened.
Then again, wasn’t that what he was good at? Getting close to her, making her crazy, and then backing off so fast she felt like she was in a flat spin, with nothing and no one to grab onto? He’d done it to her a million times before, and after the last time she’d sworn it would never happen again. And yet here she was, three days after he’d popped back into her life and she was all but throwing herself at him. Giving him everything he asked for and more, and then freaking out when he turned away.
Damn it. Wasn’t it just fifteen minutes ago that she’d promised herself she wouldn’t be drawn into this vortex? That she would stay here, with him, as long as it worked for her but that as soon as things got too heavy or too weird, she would walk away.
Things were already heavy, already weird, and yet here she sat, watching him. She could tell herself that after that kiss her knees were still too weak for her to walk anywhere, but she knew the truth. She didn’t want to leave. Not now. Not yet, when things were just getting interesting.
She lifted a hand to her mouth, probed her aching lips with gentle fingers. She’d been kissed since Quinn—of course she had—but no one else had ever made her feel so much after so little. No one else had ever had her hot and wet and aching with just the stroke of his tongue against her own.
No, she wasn’t ready to call uncle yet. To demand that he take her back to the hotel.
They were locked in a wicked game, one unlike any other they had ever played before, and she—for one—wanted to see where it would end up. Because no matter what happened, she was determined that this time, she would be the winner. She’d already lost too much to be satisfied with any other outcome.
Feeling steadier now that the decision had been made, she pushed to her feet. Joined Quinn near the refrigerator. And grinned just a little when he jumped at the slide of her hand across his shoulders.
“So, what did you decide on for dinner?” she asked, innocently leaning forward so that her br**sts brushed against his arm.
He responded by pushing the door further back and moving with it, so that he opened up more space between them. “I’ve got chicken br**sts or steaks. What would you prefer?”
She pushed closer, crowding him. Nearly laughed at the look on his face. Then said, “Steak sounds good,” mainly because it was furthest away from her and reaching for it required her to crowd him even more. Not to mention bend over.
She swore she could feel his eyes on her hips while she retrieved the meat, and added an extra little wiggle just to torment him. And because it was fun. Ten years ago, he’d held all the cards and called all the shots. And she’d let him. But those days were long gone. Now it was her turn.
Straightening up, she risked a glance at Quinn through her lashes—and nearly dropped the steaks at the look on his face. Oh, there was desire, just like she’d been hoping for. Even need. But overlying it all was a look of utter calculation, like he’d figured out exactly what she was up to. And was now trying to figure out exactly what he wanted to do about it.
She took a couple steps backward before she could think better of it, then cursed herself as he smiled at her obvious retreat. She needed to do better than this if she had any hope of holding her own, let alone winning.
Except it was easier to tell herself that than it was to actually do it, especially when Quinn closed the fridge and started toward her with a predatory look on his face.
She took another step back, then another and another as he stalked her across the kitchen. With each step, she told herself that it was the last. That she would stand her ground. But then he’d move closer, all lean sinew and burning eyes and she would retreat just a little more. Standing her ground was one thing, being an idiot was another.
Except, eventually, she ran out of room to retreat. And that’s when he made his move, when she was backed up against the pantry door with nowhere else to go. Bracing his arms on either side of her head, he stepped forward until his body was just brushing hers.
“Going somewhere?” he asked silkily, his dark gaze holding hers.
She knew this was it. This was the moment when she either gave it all up to him or showed him, once and for all, that she was a worthy adversary. And since she had no intention of giving up an inch…
Injecting her voice with every ounce of confidence and brashness she could, Elise tossed her hair and said, “I was going to check the pantry for some potatoes. I thought you might be able to do them on the grill with the steaks. But—” She pushed lightly against his chest with her injured hand, since she was still carrying the package of meat in her other hand. “It’s kind of hard to get into the pantry when you’re holding the door closed.”
Before he could assimilate her words let alone formulate an answer, she ducked under his right arm. Then sauntered across the kitchen to the center aisle and laid the steaks on the black granite countertop. “Oh, and if you have some garlic in there, that’d be awesome. I know a great marinade.”
Quinn muttered something beneath his breath, but before she could ask him to repeat himself, he’d pulled open the pantry and walked inside. A couple minutes later, he emerged with two huge baking potatoes, a head of garlic, and a peppermill.
“Go for it,” he said as he laid them on the counter. “I can’t wait to see what you come up with.” As she watched him walk toward the patio to start the grill, she couldn’t help thinking that they probably weren’t talking about the marinade anymore.
After a dinner that was surprisingly comfortable and easy considering the undercurrents that had swirled around them all during the meal’s preparation, he banished Elise from the kitchen while he cleared up the dishes. She offered to help, but he insisted. And she hadn’t argued. Not when her hand was throbbing and she was exhausted—both mentally and physically—from everything that had happened that day.
Settling down on the couch, she reached for the remote control and turned on some mindless program, more for the noise than because she actually wanted to watch it. Within five minutes she was groggy and five minutes after that, she was asleep.
That’s how Quinn found her fifteen minutes later, after he’d dealt with the dishes and carried her suitcase and backpack in from the car. He wanted to wake her, to get her to take a pain pill and then move her to the guest bedroom that was closest to his, but she looked so exhausted that he didn’t have the heart. Not when she’d been out of the hospital less than six hours.
So, instead, he covered her with a light blanket, then settled on the couch opposite hers, just in case she woke up and needed anything. He didn’t know if she was down for the night or if this was just a quick nap. Either way, he wasn’t comfortable leaving her alone.
But after spending much of the previous night composing music for the new album, he was pretty damn exhausted himself. It didn’t take long before he, too, started to drift, so that he was half watching the TV and half sleeping. The television show, which was a top-ranked crime drama, had lots of screaming and sirens and gunshots, and as he drifted, the sounds worked their way into his subconscious, into the dreams that weren’t quite dreams but that weren’t not either.
That was why, when he first heard whimpering, he chalked it up to the show, or some twisted hybrid that lived only in his imagination. But as the sounds grew louder, he stumbled into consciousness only to realize that the cries he was hearing weren’t coming from the TV at all. They were coming from Elise.
Bounding off the couch, he all but leaped the distance between them. He ended up in a crouch next to her head, one hand on her hip while the other brushed at her hair. She was half crying now, her injured hand cradled by the other and clutched against her chest. He cursed himself even as he soothed her, murmuring low sounds that were more nonsense than words. He should have made her take the pain pill, should have carried her upstairs where she’d be more comfortable. Should have done a lot of things to make this day, and night, easier for her.