“Talk to me, baby.” His voice was soft, his breath warm against the back of her neck.
She shook her head. There was nothing else for her to say. She’d opened herself up and he’d slapped her down. Not that that was a shock. How could it be when it was the story of her life?
When, oh when, was she going to learn? She glanced at the clock on the nightstand. It was already one a.m. Only five more hours before dawn broke across the sky. She could handle five hours. Three hundred minutes. She’d be just fine by herself tonight. It wasn’t like she hadn’t handled worse before.
Quinn cursed then, long and low “What can I do for you?” he asked when the litany of swear words had run out.
She shook her head again. She’d already told him the answer to that question. She wouldn’t open herself up again.
But he wasn’t going to let her get away that easily. Then again, when had he ever? “Damn it, Elise. Earlier you were demanding that I take you home. Now, when you’re obviously high on Vicodin, you ask me to stay with you. I don’t want to overstep here, not when I don’t know what it is you really want.”
Something in his voice broke through her reticence. Or at least cracked it. She didn’t turn back to him, but she did ask, very softly, “Will you hold me, Quinn? Just for tonight. I don’t want to be alone anymore.”
He didn’t answer, didn’t move, didn’t so much as breathe. She knew because she was listening for a response, any response. He gave her nothing.
Except then he did. She heard him stand, heard the rustle that came with shoes being kicked off. And then he was there, beside her. His arm draped over her waist. The front of his long, lean body burning against the back of her own.
“Quinn?” she asked, hating the way her voice trembled. But it had been so long since someone had held her, so long since someone had touched her in more than the most impersonal way. She’d told herself that it didn’t bother her, that she liked her solitude, the impenetrable wall that kept people from seeing the real her. But this was Quinn. Ten years might have passed, but that hadn’t changed. And neither had her soul-deep response to him.
“Relax,” he murmured. His mouth was right next to her ear, the vibrations from his whispers sending a whole different kind of shiver down her spine than the ones she’d felt just a little while before. “Go to sleep.”
It was easier said than done. Yes, she’d pushed for him to lie down next to her, to keep her from being alone, but now that his body—hot and hard and masculine—was pressed against her own, all she could do was think about what had happened in the kitchen. What it had been like to be held by him, kissed by him. To be made love to by him. There was a part of her—a big part—that wanted to melt against him, to feel that pleasure again. But because she couldn’t—of course she couldn’t—she kept herself rigid against him.
“Relax,” Quinn whispered, his huge pianist’s hand coming to rest on her hip. He patted her lightly, rubbed in circles that she knew he meant to be soothing, but which were more arousing than anything else.
Instinctively, she pressed against him…and nearly felt herself melt when she realized he was as aroused as she was. She could feel his erection against her ass, could feel his heart racing against her back.
“Quinn—” she murmured, without a clue what else she was going to say.
He turned her over then, his mouth swooping down and capturing hers in a kiss that was dark and bruising and good, so good, for all its brevity. And then he was turning her around, spooning himself up against her so that his c**k rested hot and heavy against her ass.
His lips skimmed down her neck, over her shoulder, his piercing cool against her skin. She pressed back against him and could practically feel her own heart beating out of her chest as he groaned, just a little. She pressed back against him and he groaned, just a little. She started to rock against him—she couldn’t help herself. He felt so good and it had been so long and this was Quinn, Quinn, who was holding her. Who was kissing her. And even if she regretted it in the morning, she didn’t care.
But then his mouth was gone. And while he didn’t move away, while he kept his body curved protectively against hers, she knew the moment was over. His hand, now resting on her stomach, was back to making soothing circles and his breath was no longer quite so fast, quite so hot, against her cheek.
“Go to sleep, Elise,” he told her again. His voice was strained, but there was an underlying resolve to it that both embarrassed her and made her feel safe. She didn’t understand how that could be, but there it was.
“Are you—” Her voice broke. “Are you going to leave?” She closed her eyes, held herself rigid as she waited for his answer.
“Do you want me to leave?”
Though it left her more vulnerable than she wanted to be, though it told him more than she wanted him to know, she shook her head rapidly. “No.”
“Then I’m not going anywhere.” He pressed a soft kiss to her cheek, his hair cool and silky against her jaw. “Sleep, sweetheart. I’ll be here.”
And because she believed him, because she was no longer alone in the darkness, she did.
Elise drifted slowly into consciousness. At first, she thought she was back in the hospital, but there was no beeping. No annoying IV. No air conditioning keeping the room at sub-arctic temperatures. Instead, she felt comfortable for the first time in days. Warm. Cozy. Safe.
“Aha. So Sleeping Beauty awakens.”
At the sound of Quinn’s voice, everything from the night before rushed back to her. Sitting up quickly, she narrowly avoided knocking heads with him as he leaned down and put a tray on the nightstand beside her.
“I brought you some chai tea—and another Vicodin. Take it and then you can come downstairs for breakfast.”
Ignoring the warm feeling that came with the realization that Quinn had remembered her favorite drink after all these years, Elise did her best to look him in the eyes. But it was hard when she remembered how she’d pressed against him, how she’d practically begged him to make love to her. How she’d opened herself up and shown him how vulnerable she’d felt.
Just the thought made her nauseous. This was Quinn, and while he had been wonderful to her for the last couple of days, that didn’t mean anything. She could see the demons of the past, and she knew, no matter how much she wanted him to hold her, to make love to her, that she couldn’t let herself believe in him.
She’d built her whole world around him once, when he was the only person she could feel anything for. The only person she could trust. When he had left, it had shattered her.
That had been his fault. But if she let it happen again, if she let him in and then had to watch him walk away, it would be nobody’s fault but her own. No, this time, she was stowing the damn vulnerability he seemed to bring out in her. Whatever happened between them this week. And when the week was over, she was going to be the one to walk away from him.
Her resolve lasted until she got her first real glimpse of Quinn. No one—no one—should look as hot in the morning as he did then. Dark, broody eyes. Morning stubble. Bare chest decorated by tattoos. Unsnapped jeans. Truthfully, it was a miracle she didn’t swallow her own tongue. Or use it to lick a path straight down his happy trail…
Desperate for a couple seconds to pull herself together, she made a production of clearing her throat. Stretching. Shoving her miles of hair out of her face.
“What if I don’t want to come downstairs?” she finally answered him. Her voice even sounded pretty reasonable, something she couldn’t help being proud of.
“Then I guess you can sit up here and starve,” he told her with a shrug. “Your choice.”
As he spoke, Quinn brushed his hands over his thighs in a gesture she remembered from when they were young. And though it was familiar, she still couldn’t prevent her eyes from following their movements.
He was wearing another pair of ripped jeans, and these were practically indecent. There were numerous slices going down his right thigh, including one that was intriguingly close to his zipper. She did her best not to look at that one, but it was like a magnet drawing her gaze.
Wresting her eyes back up to his face, she realized he was smirking at her. He’d been watching her study him all along. Suddenly worried, she ran a hand over her mouth to check for random drool. Being caught staring was one thing. He probably had it happen so often he barely noticed anymore. But not being able to control your own salivary glands was a little too far into obsessive territory for her peace of mind.
“Do you know what time it is?” she asked. “I can’t see the clock.”
He turned to glance behind him at the clock on the dresser, giving her a perfect view of his rear end. And the three-inch tear right below his left buttock. “It’s ten-thirty.”
“Are you kidding me?” she burst out, unable to keep silent any longer.
“Nope.” He turned back to her, a quizzical look on his face. “It’s really ten-thirty.”
“That’s not what I meant and you know it.” She gestured to his pants. “You’re a rock star, for God’s sake. You make millions of dollars every year. Surely you can afford to buy a decent pair of jeans every once in a while.”
“You don’t like my jeans? My stylist picked them out.” He looked bewildered and a little hurt, and she might actually have believed him—not to mention felt bad—if she hadn’t seen the wicked gleam in his eyes. Bewildered, her ass. He was enjoying every second of torturing her.
Which, she had to admit, was better than the reception she’d been expecting to get this morning. She’d thought he’d have questions about her erratic behavior last night. Figured he’d want to know why she’d asked him to sleep with her. Or at least, that he’d ask her about her nightmares. None of them were questions she particularly wanted to answer.
So it was a good thing he seemed perfectly content to tease her a little. Besides which, it gave her a chance to get a little of her own back. Now that the sun was out, the stars—and her nightmare—banished by the bright light of a Texas summer day, she was feeling more like herself again. Which meant she was more than ready to once again embark on Operation Put Quinn Bradford in His Place. No, she wasn’t going to hand her heart over to him again. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t have a little fun at his expense. God knew, he’d had a lot of it at her expense through the years.
Sitting up, she stretched again, but more slowly this time. As she did, she arched her back so that her br**sts pressed against the threadbare material of her pajama shirt, something she knew Quinn was very aware of from the direction his eyes had taken. She was still wearing a bra—he hadn’t taken that much off last night—but the fact didn’t seem to impede his interest.
Under his watchful gaze, she shoved the covers back. Climbed out of bed. Made sure to brush against him on her way to the bathroom. She might not have ripped jeans, but she refused to let that stop her.
But as she rubbed against him, a tingle shot down her arm from the contact. A quick glance at his face told Elise he was feeling it, too. And that he knew exactly what she was doing.
She dropped her head, let her hair fall forward to cover the smirk she couldn’t quite hide. It was a dangerous game she was playing. She knew it, but she didn’t give a damn. The rest of her life was in shambles, and she’d have to deal with the mess soon enough. For the next few days she was going to ignore what waited for her in Chicago, what waited for her outside the protective gates of Quinn’s estate, and just pretend her life was normal. That she would, somehow, be okay.
Fake it ‘til you make it. At Quinn’s behest, she’d adopted that phrase thirteen years before. Of course, he’d been speaking in reference to her stage fright problem, but hey. It had worked then. No reason it wouldn’t work now, too.