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“No, I’ll probably wait until the kitchen is done and paint everything at the same time.” Through the archway that led to the dining room, she eyed the sledgehammer leaning against the wall.

“What do you want to do next then?”

She walked into the dining room. Her hand closed around the handle of the sledgehammer. She returned to the kitchen. “I have hated this room since the day we bought this house.”

Surveying the giant yellow flowers, Grant winced. “It is a little dated.”

“Dated?” She snorted. “This was hideous when it was chosen.”

“What’s the plan for the kitchen then?”

Still holding the hammer, she went to a drawer and pulled out a folder. “Here are the plans.”

Grant looked over her shoulder. His body pressed into hers. “That wall needs to come down, but this is a nice design. Who drew these up?”

“I did.”

“I’m impressed.” His complement warmed her.

“This is the fourth house I’ve done.” Energy suddenly filled Ellie’s muscles. She fished two pairs of safety goggles out of her toolbox. Leaning the hammer on her thigh, she settled a pair of goggles on her face and tossed the other set to Grant.

Grinning, he put his on.

She walked to the wall that divided the kitchen and dining room, raised the hammer over her shoulder, and swung it like a baseball bat. The heavy steel head sank into the wallboard, splintering a stud. Bits of drywall scattered. Gray dust poofed. She slammed the wall again, satisfaction surging through her body. She’d felt so helpless about the danger to her family, so angry at the man who had been threatening her, that it was invigorating to finally have something to take it all out on. After a moment, she handed the sledgehammer to Grant. “Want to take a shot?”

“You bet. Is this a load-bearing wall?”

“No.”

His swings did considerably more damage than hers. But then, there was a lot of power behind his body. They took turns with the demolition. She enjoyed watching the play of his muscles almost as much as she appreciated the help with a job she usually tackled alone. Working with Grant made a difficult task enjoyable. An hour later, the wall lay in rubble at their feet.

“That felt great.” She set the hammer down and pulled off her goggles. “It would have taken me all day to do that myself.” Although one wall was only a tiny part of the kitchen demolition, the tearing down felt symbolic. The traumatic events of the past week had forced Ellie to prioritize her life—and commit to some positive changes.

“Glad to help. In fact, I enjoyed it.” Grant removed his goggles and handed them to her. Except for the rings around his eyes, his face was coated with dust. Sweat dampened the chest of his T-shirt. “It’s almost dark, so we’ll have to wait until tomorrow to haul this rubble out of the house.”

Ellie shrugged. “Actually, I have to arrange for a Dumpster.”

Grant laughed. “Did we get ahead of your schedule?”

“Yes, we jumped the gun, but that’s all right. I need to learn to roll with changes anyway.” The number of ways that statement applied to her life couldn’t be counted, but first on the list was Julia. Her daughter was growing up. When this was all over, Ellie had to let her.

Within reason.

She shouldn’t automatically assume her daughter would make the same mistakes she had at her age. Her sneaking out fiasco aside, she’d been an exemplary daughter.

Ellie could think of another thing that should make the top of her list. Walking close to Grant, she twined her arms around his neck. His eyes widened in surprise, then darkened when her intent sank in. “And it really felt good to let loose.”

“No argument here.” He leaned down and kissed her. His mouth slanted, his tongue sliding into her mouth for a tentative sweep.

Adrenaline buzzed through her veins as Ellie answered him. The kiss went wild. Grant broke the contact and slid his mouth down the side of her neck, tasting a path from her jaw to her collarbone. She tilted her head back to give him better access. A wave of desire heated her blood. A deep moan started in her boots, reverberated through her bones, and escaped her lips.

“I’m filthy,” she protested.

“Me too,” Grant gasped. “Don’t care.”

“We shouldn’t do this.” With an answering groan, he slid his hands under her shirt. His rough palms scraped up her rib cage.

But it wasn’t enough.

“Definitely not.” She pushed him away and ripped her shirt over her head, flinging it over her shoulder. Her bra followed. Cool air rushed across hot skin. Her nipples budded as if he’d touched them. She’d been holding back on her impulses her entire life. Baring her body to him was liberating.

She wanted him, and she was going to have him, even it was just for a couple of weeks or days or hours. Grant made her feel alive. And life was too uncertain not to grab a moment of happiness when it was right in front of her.

He pressed a hand to his chest. “Jesus, Ellie. There’s only so much a man can resist.”

“I don’t want you to resist.” She went to him and grabbed the hem of his shirt. Yanking it off, she threw it across the room. He’d been impressive in a snug T-shirt, but without the shirt, his physique was stunning. Her eyes sought every delicious inch of him from the chiseled planes of his wide chest to his rippled abdominal muscles. His jeans rode low on his hips. Ellie tracked the sparse line of blond hair that started at his navel and pointed south.

Grant’s gaze followed his shirt as it hit the floor next to hers. His Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed hard. He took a step back, his attention returning to her face, and raised his hands in surrender. “You know I’m not staying in town. I have to go back. This isn’t a good idea.”

“I know.” But Ellie cupped her own breast and raised a playful eyebrow at him. She brushed a thumb across her nipple and reveled as Grant’s mouth dropped open. She’d never been a bad girl, not even in high school. She’d simply made one mistake. But now she felt positively wicked.

It felt wonderful. Freeing. Exhilarating.

“Ellie.” Grant took another step back.

She stalked him. Stopping just short of touching him, she grabbed the front of his pants and pulled him closer. The skin-on-skin contact pumped more heat, more desire, through her veins. Their chests pressed together, the rough hair on his pectorals abrading her nipples. “I want you. I need you. Right here. Right now.”

Between their bodies, she wiggled her hand, stroking his lower abdomen inside the waistband of his jeans. A fingertip brushed the head of his erection.

He jumped. “Jesus.”

“Mm.” She tongued his nipple as she flicked open the top button of his jeans and carefully lowered the zipper. Her hand slid inside his pants and cupped him. “God, you’re hot.”

“I’m on fucking fire.” Jumping on board, Grant’s hands dove for her jeans. He had them down around her hips in two seconds. One big hand delved inside, a finger stroking the wet flesh beneath.

Pleasure weakened Ellie’s knees. She sagged against him. Releasing his erection, she shoved his jeans lower. She needed him inside her. “Do you have a condom? If not I have one upstairs.” A small package leftover from a promising series of dates that had ended in disappointment before she’d had a chance to use them.

Grant pushed her pants down around her knees and yanked one leg of her jeans over a boot. “Wallet. Back pocket.”

Obviously, if he was carrying around a condom, he hadn’t been that determined to stay out of Ellie’s bed. Unless he needed them frequently . . . no, she wasn’t going there. His personal life was his business. This was just going to be one pleasant moment seized in a week of misery.

“Here.” She opened the package with her teeth and sheathed him.

He was scanning the room, his expression almost desperate. Debris covered the floor. The makeshift worktable wasn’t strong enough. Guiding her backward, he shuffled a few feet to the opposite wall. One big hand caressed her rump, then slid between her legs. Pleasure surged through her as he stroked. Her hips flexed as he circled. She groaned. A finger entered her, then two.

The pressure, the stretching, it wasn’t enough. Greedily, she pressed into his touch, her legs separating to make room for him. “Need. More.”

Hands clutching the backs of her thighs, he lifted her and entered her with one steady, wet slide. The fit of their bodies was perfect, combining to make one whole being.

“Yes.” This was what she needed. Him. She clutched his shoulders. “Grant.”

The heat of his skin fused with hers. His mouth was on the side of her neck, his lips near her ear. He retreated and surged into her again. Her body responded with an electric wave of pleasure that started in her center and spread outward through her limbs.

“Ellie.”

She cupped his neck, and her mouth sought his. The slide of their tongues mimicked their lovemaking. Their pace increased. The grip of his hands on her thighs tightened. His fingers dug into her flesh, holding on. Her back slammed against the wall as he pumped into her. Tension built, her back arching to take every inch of him. Nearly desperate for release, she rocked her hips faster.

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