Sam went very still. “So you kneed him in the nuts and left him singing soprano on the floor, right?”

She shook her head. “I’d like to say yes, but no, that’s not what happened.”

“What did happen?”

Her breath hitched, but she kept it together. “He didn’t get that we weren’t going to be a thing again. He wasn’t listening, all he was seeing was me standing between him and the success he wanted—” She closed her eyes at the harsh memory, but that was unwise because then she saw it happening again, so she opened her eyes and kept them on Sam. “He said I owed him. He said that if nothing else, I needed to pretend to be together with him in front of Jase so Jase would feel we were all just one big, happy family again. He said he was going to kiss me and I was going to kiss him back.”

“Becca,” he murmured, with far too much understanding.

Again she pressed her face into his neck, and realizing she hadn’t said any of this out loud to anyone except her family. “I said I’d do it, I’d kiss him in front of Jase. I couldn’t do anything else, Sam. I was worried sick about my brother, and feeling all this pressure from my family. I—”

“Babe,” he said, moving his hands up and down her back. “Not your fault.” Calm hands, calm voice, royally pissed-off eyes. “Can you tell me what happened?” he asked very softly.

Could she? She had no idea, but she gulped in some air and tried. “Jase saw us kissing and toasted us, and then went inside. So I thought it was over. But Nathan pushed me into the pool house, which was really just a storage room for the pool equipment. And he— We—” She broke off and shook her head. Nope. As it turned out, she couldn’t tell him.

Sam’s fingers tightened on her for a beat. Then he let out a long breath and loosened his fingers with what felt like great effort. “He raped you.”

She lifted her face, her mouth open to say it wasn’t rape because she’d known Nathan. Hell, she’d slept with him many times before, but she’d been to counseling and knew the truth. It had been rape.

Sam had kept his hands lightly on her back, stroking up and down. “I don’t hate men,” she said inanely.

Sam’s arms tightened on her in a bear hug as he brushed his mouth to her temple. “For which I’m eternally grateful,” he murmured, voice a little gruff, like he was still fighting his own emotions. “Though I get where your distaste for closed, tight spaces comes from. Where’s Nathan now?”

“I was stupid,” she said into his chest.

“Where is he now?”

She shook her head. She wasn’t sure he understood. “I tried to tell my parents what had happened, but they didn’t really get it. They knew I’d been intimate with him before, so—”

“Are you telling me that they didn’t want you to press charges?” he asked incredulously.

“He was the son of a family friend. His parents—”

“Fuck that,” Sam said harshly.

“I underplayed it, Sam. I did. Jase was so fragile then. If I’d pressed charges and put Nathan in jail, I’d have taken away even more from Jase. I didn’t want to make things worse, and I just kept thinking it was true, I had willingly slept with Nathan before, so I could handle this. I’d just stay away.” She closed her eyes, because she knew that she’d been weak and cowardly to go that route and didn’t want to see the disappointment in his eyes. “I just wanted it to go away, Sam. I wanted that so much.”

“Becca, where is that ass**le now?”

“He’s dead. Nathan’s dead.”

“You killed him,” he said, his voice and eyes reflecting no judgment at all as he ran his hands up and down her arms.

“No,” she said with a horrified laugh. “I didn’t kill him. A Mack truck did.” She gulped in more air and tried to breathe calmly. Sam’s hands on her helped. “He was out on the freeway on his motorcycle, and he got hit. He died instantly.”

“That’s too bad.” Sam said this almost wistfully, like he’d really have liked the opportunity to kill Nathan himself.

Becca choked out a laugh but it backed up in her throat when Sam slid his fingers into her hair, lifted her face to his, and stared into her eyes. “You’re pretty damn incredible,” he said fiercely.

“Not really,” she said, trying to joke. “Just your average screwup.”

He didn’t smile. He didn’t look away; he just stared into her eyes. “Incredible,” he repeated, softly but with a fierce intensity that made the knot in her chest loosen for the first time in . . . as long as she could remember.

He took her home, and to bed, where he made slow, sweet love to her. And then not so slow, or sweet. But after, as she drifted off to sleep, she was absolutely sure of two things. One, Sam might indeed think she was incredible, but she thought the same thing about him.

And two, she wasn’t just falling for him. She had fallen. She’d fallen deep.

The next morning Becca woke up alone. This wasn’t unusual after a night in Sam’s arms. Despite him not being a particularly great morning person, he liked to get up before dawn and run with Ben, or surf.

She showered, her mind whirling with images from the night before. Sam in her bed, his erotic whispers in her ear, the small of his back slick with sweat as he took her right out of herself, over and over again . . .