And yet that’s what I’m about to do.

I glance at Padraig, the shadows under his high cheekbones darkened by the low interior lights. He scratches at his beard but keeps staring out the window as the row houses pass us by. I’m sure this is second nature to him, bringing home a girl that he’d just met that night. For some reason, that doesn’t bother me. I told Cole I hadn’t wanted to know his “magic number” because it would make me feel woefully insecure, but with Padraig, whatever is in his past is in his past. And I certainly won’t be in his future. All we have is the here and now.

And here and now we’re pulling up to a row of brick two-story houses, looking picture perfect in the warm glow of the streetlights and the lightly falling snow.

Padraig holds the door open for me and helps me out of the car. He continues to hold on to my arm, leading me through the snowy sidewalk up to the front door of his house.

“Hurt your foot?” he asks me, glancing down quickly.

I hadn’t but my gait often changes if I’ve been sitting. The question always makes me wince but I have to shake it off. He’ll find out soon enough.

I just shake my head, give him a quick smile and nod at his front door, which is painted black, making it stand out starkly against the snow and the paler bricks. “Did it used to be red?” I ask, hoping he’ll get the reference to The Rolling Stones.

He raises his brow. “I saw a red door and I had to paint it black,” he says as he unlocks his door and we step inside.

He flicks on the lights. Even though it’s sparsely decorated with white walls and lots of wood and metal accents, the place is warm and inviting against the cold outside.

“Do ye want a drink?” he asks as he shucks off his jacket and gestures for me to give him mine. I’m momentarily speechless as I attempt to take off my coat, I’m so damn distracted by the clingy fit of the navy Henley he’s wearing. It molds to his form like clay and it takes everything in me to take my eyes off the breadth of his muscles and meet his eyes.

“I have white wine,” he adds as he hangs up my coat beside his, his heated gaze coasting over my body momentarily, setting my skin on fire. It seems he may have the same problem with me.

I nod, anxiously rubbing my lips together as he walks across the open plan room to the kitchen. Even though I’d been drinking all day, even though it’s nearly one a.m., it’s like I’d sobered up in an instant.

“Please,” I say and watch as he takes out a bottle of wine and gets two wine glasses from the shelves and gives us both a generous pour. In this warm light away from the bars and dark restaurants and clubs, he looks different. Better somehow. In the darkness you have to fill in your own blanks on what someone’s eye color really is, the tone and texture of their skin, the shape of their hair. In reality, Padraig looks even sexier than the shadowed man I’d been with all evening. It’s like he’s finally real, not something I’d conjured up from smoke.

I have a lot of things I want to say, things I probably should say to fill the silence in the room. There’s a dull thud in my ears like the nightclub still lives on. I want to ask him how long he’s lived here, if he owns it, if he likes the neighborhood, if he decorated it. Anything. Small talk, I guess.

But I don’t. I just stand there in my rainbow sequined dress and watch him as he brings the glass over to me.

“We don’t need to say cheers again,” he states, raising his glass. “Let’s just drink to January first.”

“To January first,” I say quietly before taking a long sip of the cold wine. It enlivens me, brightens something inside and then I’m nervous all over again.

Probably because as I drink my wine, Padraig is standing in front of me, his eyes burning across my skin, skipping along each feature as if he’s taking a photograph with his mind, something he can pull up later.

I can barely swallow the rest of drink. The cold wine turns to heat in my belly and then all those raw cravings I had before return. My nerves dance and leap, letting loose butterflies that have no place to go.

He cups my chin with one hand and leans in, kissing the corner of my mouth slowly then tasting the wine on my lips with his tongue.

I surrender to him, my mouth open and wanting and so damn needy. I nearly drop the glass.

“Come with me,” he whispers as he pulls away, taking the glass out of my hands and placing both on the kitchen island. He takes me by the hand and leads me up the narrow staircase to the second level. There’s a landing and a short hall and he guides me into the darkened bedroom at the end.

Holy shit.

I keep telling myself not to be so silly about all of this, that I’m saying yes to new adventures, and that includes sex with this Irish rugby star, but fuck if I’m not dying inside at how real this is. Especially as he walks over to the middle of the room by his king-size bed and takes his shirt off.

In a way, I wish he’d turned on a light so I could really take him in. The only light in the room is coming from the window, a cool light that bounces off the snow, illuminating the sides of him. But it’s enough. I see the sculpted ridges of his abs, the sinewy muscle of his strong forearms and biceps, the wide expanse of his chest. He has some tattoos like Sandra predicted, but not a ton. I wish I had time to get to know them all and the history behind them.

I know I’m standing here and just drooling over him, not even making a move to undress myself while he’s now undoing his pants until he’s just in his boxer briefs.

“Enjoying the show?” he asks me, his voice playful.

“Can’t seem to help myself,” I manage to say. The words barely make it out of my throat, and my breath hitches as he strides over to me.

“It seems like ye might need some help with this,” he says, leaning over just enough to grab the hem of my dress and slowly start pulling it up off my body. I dutifully raise my arms and then remember I didn’t have to wear a bra with this dress. My breasts bounce free, and with the dress over my face, obscuring my vision as he continues to pull it up, I feel more exposed than ever.

Then I’m gasping for air as I feel his hands brush over my nipples that were already hard as pebbles.

“You might just have the most gorgeous tits I’ve ever seen,” he murmurs, pulling the dress off the rest of the way and throwing it to the ground.

I peer through the strands of my messy hair and watch as he cups my breasts before lowering his head and running his lips over the swollen peaks.

“Fuck,” I swear, forgetting how to breathe as every part of my body vibrates from his lips.

“That’s coming,” he says, taking one nipple in his warm mouth with a long hard suck that almost unravels me like a spool of thread, while his hands travel down my bare sides, coasting over my skin, barely touching me and yet I can feel the heat radiating from his palms.

As he continues to bite and suck and lick at my nipples, his mouth wet and warm and messy, he hooks his long fingers around the waistband of my leggings and proceeds to pull them down.

I immediately tense up, enough so that he pulls his mouth away and glances up at me, concern in his hooded eyes. “Am I moving too fast?” he asks, his voice rich and gruff and screaming of sex.

I shake my head and look at the bed. “No. I need to take off my boots before you can get the leggings off.”

“Let me worry about that,” he says.

I take in a deep breath and walk over to the bed, sitting on the edge of it and leaning back on my elbows so that I’m not all pale skin and stomach rolls. Padraig lifts one of my legs and starts to undo my boots, his eyes never leaving mine as his fingers make quick work of the laces.

When he’s done and he’s reaching over me to take my leggings off, I tense up again. I can’t help it. This is a big deal to me.

He raises a brow. “Are you okay?”

I nod quickly. “Yes. No. I just … I should probably tell you something and I don’t know how you’re going to react.” He continues to stare at me, eyes asking me to continue. “I have a lot of scarring on my legs and I’m extremely self-conscious about it.” I close my eyes and take in a deep breath. “I know I shouldn’t be and that it’s not a big deal, but it’s a big deal to me. It always has been. And this is the first time … usually when I get naked with a guy, when I show him the truth, I’ve known him for a bit. And I don’t know you at all.”

He swallows and nods thoughtfully, his body hovering over me, his hands not letting go of the waistband. “It doesn’t make it easier to bare yourself with a stranger?”

I bite my lip, thinking that over. “I wouldn’t have gone home with anyone but you.”

“Valerie, we don’t have to do anything ye don’t want to do.”

“I want to,” I tell him emphatically. “Believe me, I do. I just wanted to warn you.”

“Warn me?” he repeats. “I’m sorry if this sounds crass, but I don’t give a fuck what your legs look like, if they’re scarred or not, or if ye even have them. I just want my cock to be thrusting deep inside ye. I want ye to forget that you ever worried about this.”

Well, okay then.

My eyes are frozen wide at his words, and when he starts to remove my leggings and underwear, I let him, until I’m bare for him to see. Everything ugly and horrible, everything that I was made fun of for most of my life, everything I’ve had to overcome, is staring right back at him.

He only glances briefly at my legs and then stands up at the foot of the bed. With his gaze locked on mine, he removes his boxer briefs, and just like that, any worry I had about anything is gone because all I can see is his very, very big dick.

Holy hell.

The thing looks fucking dangerous, as in he better know what to do with it or I’m going to get impaled.

“Hold on,” he says gruffly and then goes to the nightstand, pulling out a condom and slipping it on with ease before coming back to the end of the bed, his cock bobbing and jutting out in front of him like a tree trunk.

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