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But then, in a way, I guess I did know.

When I woke that morning when I was sixteen, it had never crossed my mind that I’d lose my best friend that night. One never knew when their life was about to be irrevocably altered. There was no warning. If anything, it always came when everything was calm and good.

“What can I do?” I asked, blinking back tears—tears for a woman and family I had never met, tears for the fact Reece had to be within ten miles of that situation, especially given his history. I wanted to ask if he was okay, make sure that he was, but before I could do anything, he was on the move.

Reece said nothing as he crossed the distance between us. Tension poured into the air, thickening it. He grasped my cheeks, the touch so incredibly gentle. He lowered his mouth to mine, and there was nothing soft about the way he kissed me. No slow seduction of my senses. He hijacked them with a kiss that swept through me, heating me up like I’d spent the entire day under the sweltering summer sun.

“You,” he said, lifting his head. “I want you. Badly. And I need this—need you right now.” His fingers splayed across my cheeks. “But if you want to slow this down, I can do that. I will do that. Just tell me now, Roxy, because I’m feeling like a live wire and when I get you naked, there’s going to be no fucking around. I’m going to be in you.”

His words sent a jolt straight from my heart to my core. I trembled as my eyes met his. “Don’t . . . don’t slow down.”

Chapter 13

As crazy as it sounded, I knew what Reece needed to do. When everything had happened with Charlie, there was so much pent-up frustration born out of helplessness and the only outlet had been painting. Sometimes that wasn’t enough, and I’d fill the bathtub up, slip under the water and scream. That frustration had grown to horrific levels, once Charlie started to slip away into what was nothing more than a husk of a living person.

Reece had felt that tonight.

Life was there one second, gone the next. Like a train running off the tracks. He hadn’t been able to do anything to stop it. He bore that same frustration, that same helplessness I felt with Charlie, and I understood that need . . . that almost instinctual drive to remind yourself that you’re still alive.

Reece kissed me again, and if I thought he’d turned my senses inside out before, I’d been wrong. This kiss left me weak in the knees and wanting on a level that was almost painful.

His hands slid into my hair, deftly undoing the bun. My hair fell as he dragged his fingers over my scalp. He tilted his head, taking the kiss deeper. As he dragged his hands down, over my arms and to my waist, I gasped into his mouth.

A deep sound rumbled out of him as he lifted me up. My legs curled against his waist, like they’d been itching to do since forever. Whispering his name, I looped my arms around his neck.

“I’ve got to get you to a bed,” he said, and he started walking. “Or I’m going to take you right here on the floor.”

I shivered, probably more excited by that prospect than I should have been. I pressed a kiss to one corner of his lips and then against his jaw as he walked us back to my bedroom. My fingers slipped over the soft brush of his hair and then to the taut muscles of his upper back. There was so much power in him.

Stopping long enough to flip the bedroom light on, he sat me down so that I was on my knees on the bed. Heat flowed into every cell as he stepped back, tugging his shirt out of the tactical pants. I was almost panting as he lifted his shirt over his head, and dropped it onto the floor.

God, he was beautiful, every square inch of him, from the way his muscles tightened along his stomach to the way his biceps flexed as he undid the belt.

So I told him as I settled on my haunches. “You’re beautiful.”

A half grin appeared. “Beautiful?”

“Yes. You’re beautiful.”

Leaving his belt, he clasped my cheeks and tilted my head back. When he kissed me this time, it was soft and sweet, like a benediction of sorts. It worked me up just as quickly and fiercely as his harder kisses did.

Reece straightened once more and proceeded with his personal strip show, which I wished I had hundred-dollar bills for. I’d be waving those suckers like a crazy person.

Grinning, he undid the button and then the zipper. He paused long enough to toe off his boots and his socks, then off went his pants and boxers.

He was . . . wow, I couldn’t even think as I drank him in.

“Up.” He wiggled his fingers.

I rose up onto my knees. His eyes met mine as he reached for the shirt and then tugged it off. The only thing left on me was a pair of boy-short undies. If I had been smart, I would’ve definitely grabbed something sexier. Like the lacy black thong I had. But oh no, I was wearing pinstriped boy shorts. Didn’t seem to matter I quickly realized.

His hot gaze tracked over me. “Now this . . . this is beautiful, Roxy.” He reached between us, smoothing his thumb over the puckered tip of my breast. “Not me. You. All you.”

My back arched, and I reached for him, where he was swollen and hard, but he caught my wrists, shaking his head. “I want to touch every part of you with my hands and my mouth.” He dropped my wrists and ran his fingers across my breasts, lingering on the aching tips. “Especially these. And I want to taste you.”

Pulse pounding, I wet my lips as he gently pushed me backward, guiding me onto my back. “I especially want to taste you here.” Reece lowered his hands, dragging them down my stomach. Between my thighs, he cupped me with one hand, and my back came straight off the bed. “Yes. This. I really want to taste this.” He knew what he was doing when he rubbed through the thin cotton. “But I can’t wait.”

“Don’t wait.” I lifted my hips.

His eyes flared with heat and then he pulled my undies off. And here we were, both of us in the buff. We’d been to this point before, but we didn’t make it far. My stomach dipped. I needed to tell him about that night, but how could I do that right now, after what he’d dealt with tonight? After he said he needed me right now?

Wrong or right, there was no way I wasn’t going to be here for him.

Reece placed a knee on the bed and came over me in a way that reminded me of a great panther stalking its prey. His arms flexed as he lowered his mouth to mine. I reached up to touch his face but halted.

“Touch me,” he ordered softly. “I like it when you touch me.”

“My fingers are covered with paint,” I said between kisses. “I’m sorry.”