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She pushed at his feet with hers. “Smart-ass.”

“C’mon. Push yourself.”

“I can’t tell if you’re manipulating me or bullying me.”

He should have been insulted. “You haven’t said no.”

Her lips pushed together. “I’m thinking about it.”

“I bet Avery would do it.”

“Avery is younger than I am.”

“Oh, you’re so old.” His voice was rich with sarcasm.

“Plastic surgery and fillers. I do live in LA.”

For half a second he found himself searching for telltale scars.

“Now who’s gullible?”

“So I’ll book us in the morning.”

“I should ask the others if they want to join us.”

“Is that a yes?”

“It isn’t a firm no.”

That’s a start. “So you’re in LA.”

“Isn’t everyone?” she asked.

“Feels like it at three in the afternoon on the freeway.”

“I know, the traffic starts earlier and earlier.”

“I’m in Santa Monica,” he told her.

“House or condo?”

“Renting. I haven’t decided if I’m going to stick there.” Which wasn’t completely true. But since his business was run out of a cell phone and a post office box, it was easy to stay mobile.

“I have a condo downtown.”

“Loft space?”

“No, high-rise. I love it. Close to my office, close to the courts.” She snuggled deeper in his blanket.

“I’d like to see how you live.” While the line was one he’d used in the past to gather information, he said it now with an unwelcome wave of guilt. He pushed it aside.

She hesitated. “Do . . . do you think this can continue outside of a cruise ship?” she asked, tilting her head up to see his face.

“Honest answer?” he asked.

“Of course.”

“I don’t know. I haven’t completely figured out what this is. Have you?”

Lori settled back in the crook of his arms. “Well, we’re both adults.”

“We are that.” He held her closer, as if emphasizing their age.

“Neither of us are married or otherwise attached.”

“True.”

“It’s safe to say there is some chemistry.” She kept rattling off her list of obstacles they’d already overcome.

“I like the chemistry,” he said against the lobe of her ear.

“We live in the same general area of the world. Which is a coincidence I’d question if I were somewhere other than a cruise ship in the Mediterranean.”

“Maybe it’s fate.” He hoped she hadn’t noticed his hand pause during her last comment.

“I’m not a big believer in fate. In my world, things happen on purpose, not accident.”

It was his turn to twist this around on her. “So you’ve been stalking me and set us up to meet?”

She laughed, as he anticipated.

His gut twisted with a taste of guilt licking the edges of his psyche.

“No, that would be on you,” she said.

“Guilty,” he admitted. “Ever since I saw you at the bar that first day on board, I’ve been stalking you.”

Her amusement leveled into something much deeper. His lines were working, he felt it in how her body relaxed against his, how when she looked up at him, her eyes peered deeper into his.

“To what end?” she slowly asked.

His hand that had been lingering on her arm took a long stroke up until the back of his fingers stroked the edges of one breast.

She shivered under his touch.

“I can think of a couple.”

Lori lifted her chin and turned up toward him. “Only a couple?”

“You know of more?” he teased.

“Maybe.” Her word sounded like sin.

He liked the banter.

Reed reached for her neck, ran his thumb along her jaw, and felt his erection spring to life.

Lori sighed and closed her eyes.

He lowered his lips.

“I have a question,” she said before he could kiss her.

“Ask it,” he said.

“Why are we sitting on this deck when we both have perfectly good private rooms?” She opened her eyes, stared at his lips.

“That is a very good question.” And unless the ship started to take on water, he was taking his investigation to a dangerous level.

“Your room or mine?” she asked.

He lifted his frame from the lounge chair, reached a hand for her. “Mine. Your friends tend to show up in yours.”

Once she was standing, Reed slipped a hand behind her back, pulled her body flush with his, and reached for her lips. He tasted cream as she melted against him. She kissed him back, open mouth and wanting.

Reed wanted her.

God help him.

Lori’s palms started to sweat when Reed unlocked the door to his stateroom.

Was he serious about wanting to see if they could be something off the ship and home in LA, or was he handing her a line?

Did she care if it was a line?

Yes, she did. Against her better judgment.

She told herself to live in the moment and not worry about what she had no way of controlling.

Truth was she was the one who wanted Reed. Even if he was a sweet talker saying all the things she wanted to hear in order to get her naked and under him. She wanted that, too.

“Looks like we share the same decorator,” she said, trying to hide her nerves. She entered his room and crossed to the drapes, which were open to the sea. “Same view.”

She felt his eyes on her back and turned.

Reed leaned against his closed door, his hands casually in his pants pockets. “You’re nervous.”

“No,” was her immediate reaction. She sighed. “I shouldn’t be.”

“We don’t have to.”

For a moment, it felt like he was backing out.

“Bite your tongue,” she teased.

He pushed away from the door and approached her. “I’d rather you do that.”

“Oh? You like pain?”

He shook his head before reaching for the back of hers. His kiss was an inferno in under a second. Unlike the ones they’d shared before, this one promised a much more satisfying end. Their tongues dueled until they were both breathless. He removed the clip that had held her hair back all evening, his fingers massaging the strands free of tangles as he continued to claim her lips, her neck.

She moaned. “Oh, you have that down.”

“One of my talents,” he said with a little growl.

Lori opened her eyes, found him watching as he kissed her. “Do you have more?”

His hands ran down her shoulders before falling to her waist. “You’ll have to tell me.”

She reached behind his neck and pulled his head back down to hers. He nibbled her lower lip before lifting her off her feet and carrying her the few feet it took to place her on the bed.

He followed her down, the weight of him the secure blanket of comfort she desired.

Lori wrapped a free leg around his, felt the vibrations of his low moan through their lips. He kissed, nibbled, and worked his way down her neck. He found a spot that made her shiver.

“There you are,” he muttered. “Relax, I have you.”

He cupped her breast through her clothes, teased her nipple through her bra.

Her body warmed, her limbs shivered. The sway of the ship lightened the cells in her head, and Reed blew them away with his touch.

Reed separated her legs with his knee, pushed against her fully.

“Too many clothes,” she whispered, wanting.

He chuckled and reached under her shirt, the heat of his hand met her skin, electrifying her senses. Lori clawed at his shirt, slid her hand beneath the waistband of his pants, met the cool flesh of his hip.

Teeth met her breast through her shirt. “Take it off.” She wanted it off . . . everything.

“Demanding.” There was laughter in his voice.

“Please.”

He huffed out a laugh and tugged her shirt over her head. Sitting up, she helped him out of his, was rewarded with a man who worked out and lived by the beach. Tan, muscular . . . and touching her.

Her nails ran down his chest, circled his nipples before reaching around his back.

Without warning, he shifted her around the bed until she was on top, straddling him.

Her hair fell around her face. Reed pulled it back and smiled up at her. “I like this look,” he told her.

“Me on top?”

“No . . .” He traced her bottom lip with his thumb. “Aroused.”

She traced his bare abs, ran her hands lower. “And what does that look like?”

“Sexy.”

Something she couldn’t identify crossed his face before he pulled her in to kiss.

Reed liked to play, his hands made quick work of the rest of her clothes, she helped him shed his.

He looked just as good out of his clothes as he did in them. While she didn’t have body image issues, Lord knew she wasn’t as fit as she’d been in her early twenties.

Did he notice?

Did he care?

“Lori?”

His thumbs parted the folds of her sex.

“Yes . . .”

“You’re beautiful.”

“Are you reading my mind?”

He pulled her under him, kissed the top of one breast, moved to the other. “I am. One of my talents.”

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