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“My necklace. You didn’t even buy it. Did you?” I can hardly speak, my voice is so pained and raw.

“Some payments are made in substance. And we keep them on hand for bribes—so yes, princess, I didn’t buy your bauble exactly.”

“Wow. My friends were right, it meant nothing to you.”

“Which friend? The one you were kissing last night? Where is that necklace, Melanie?” He stalks toward me faster and I back away until my spine is flat against the wall and he presses into me, a big predator with eyes that somehow own me as they look down at me.

He curls a hand around my neck, and his hunger reaches me, weakens me. I feel my knees wobble at his nearness. His scent. God, I missed him and I hate that I did. That I do.

He’s standing here and I still do.

Miss him.

Want him.

“You kill people,” I rasp.

His hand circles my throat, and the pad of his thumb slowly, sinuously, begins caressing my pulse point as his eyes drop to my lips. “Sometimes.” His voice is a low rasp.

“Do you torture them?”

I’m breathless.

I’m breathless and hurting and why can’t I unlove him? Why can’t I unlove him?

“I do what I have to,” he murmurs as he strokes my neck with his thumb and keeps staring, keeps hungering openly for my mouth, his gaze so powerful I lick my lips nervously, and it only makes his eyes darken even more. He hungers even more.

My breath is no longer mine. But I keep trying to get air into my lungs, because all the emotions in my chest are too painful to hold back. “Stupid little bimbo, is that why you chose me?” I ask thickly.

“Chose you? If I’d chosen a woman, I would never have chosen you.” He rubs the back of one knuckle over my lips as he keeps f**king my lips with his eyes. “You’re a hot mess, Melanie,” he rasps. “You’re a hot, innocent little mess and I would never willingly tie myself by the balls to someone as fun, merry, innocent, and happy-go-lucky as you. I didn’t choose you, but I sure as f**k can’t free myself of you. You’re in my head, you’re like some demon in my f**king heart.”

“Fuck you!” I push him, but he grabs my wrists to halt me and pulls my arms over my head, causing my body to arch instinctively and the tips of my ni**les to brush against his hard chest. The instant bolt of arousal I feel sparks my own anger at myself.

“Use me,” I yell, squirming in his hold, “discard me. That was the plan, right? Fuck her and then f**k her over. Get some blonde who doesn’t think too much and won’t ask a lot of questions! One you can get rid of easily!”

“Do I look like someone who’s trying to get rid of you?” he grinds out, tightening his hold on my wrists, pressing his erection against me. “I want you like I want a new life, Melanie,” he grits out. “I have files thick about you and men, I know about your debt. I knew about your twin before you even told me, Melanie.”

I choke when he mentions Lauren. My eyes blur as he softly continues, easing his hold on my wrists and slowly, caressingly, dragging the cup of his hand down the delicate inside skin of my bare arms. “I know your parents lost her, and you blame yourself because you lived. Don’t you?”

I think there’s not only a fireball in my throat, but it’s in my eyes and in my heart.

“So all your sweet life you’ve tried to make up for what you feel you took from your parents. You’ve tried to make them happy, you’ve tried to make everyone around you happy, because maybe, deep down, you don’t want anyone to believe you didn’t deserve the chance your sister never got.”

“Stop it,” I say quietly, but a stream of tears pours down my face because nobody has ever seen so clearly into me before, and I’m scared, and hurting, and his hazel eyes just won’t let me go.

He tightens his hold on my shoulders now, his gaze fiercely tender and still hungry for me as he adds, “I know you’ve used sex to stop feeling lonely too long, Melanie, and I know you’re the loveliest thing I’ve ever seen, always trying to make the best of everything. Giving every frog a chance, because you were given that chance, right? So why would you deny a chance to someone? Anyone? Even a f**king ass**le like me?”

He slides a hand down my face and caresses my cheek, the kind of caress only he gives me. The one I feel under my skin, down to my nerves, my bones.

“I know that you quit a semester in college to stand by your best friend when she was injured,” he adds, “and you never told her you postponed the semester because you wanted to keep her company. I know you’re the sort of girl who’d buy a Mustang in a city where it rains almost every day of the year because it’s worth it to ride with the top down for the days where there’s sun. I know you, Melanie. Fuck, I know more about you than I wish I knew because I would not change one thing . . . one thing . . . one word . . . of the ten-inch file I have of you . . . on my f**king desk.”

I drop my gaze from his with a quiet sob, and he tips my head back and forces me to look into his face, which is fierce with conviction, as fierce as his hot, penetrating gaze. “Your saucy ‘I got this’ persona? I like her. I know her, but I see the glimpses of you, Melanie. The real you. The one who’s frightened. The one who doesn’t like being alone. The one who’s vulnerable and makes me want to say I got you. Come here, I f**king got you, princess.”

“You know all this about me and I don’t even know you!” I cry.

“Yeah you do,” he counters, and he cups my head and crushes my mouth with his, and the hunger in the kiss sizzles through my nerve endings, lights me on fire.

Hot lips. Taste. He’s not the only one hungry for the taste. I want it too, badly.

Please, please, be smart, Melanie!

Leave, Melanie!

“God,” he growls when my mouth seems to part of its own will and I somehow find my fingers digging into his biceps. “I’ve been taught to con and blackmail, lie, cheat, anything it takes to get what I want.”

The hot suckling motion of his mouth makes my toes curl, my body burn and arch closer to him as he wraps his arms around my waist.

“And I want you. These sweet little teacup br**sts. I want my mouth on them again.” He cups my ass with one hand, and one tit with the other. “I love when your ni**les bead for me. They bead at my voice. At a glance from me. I love your ass. I love your f**king mouth.” He seems to be going crazy, doing everything at once. Massaging my ass. Massaging my tit. Gobbling my mouth. Then he kisses my neck, flicking his tongue out to taste me. A shudder rockets through me. God. It’s ecstasy. Agony. Both.

“ ‘Zero’—do you know what he does, princess?” he dares me, taking a hot, sensual bite out of my lower lip before easing back to look at me with hooded eyes. “He looks for a weakness and pounces on it, wrecks the prey, and makes it pay.”

I shudder over the sensual tone of his voice and whisper, “I’m sorry for them.”

“Hmm. You should be.” He heads to my ear, his breath hot as he grinds his erection against me. “I think I know your weakness, Melanie. I know your weakness. Your weakness . . . is me.”

“Stop.”

“I’d stop it if you meant it. Mean it,” he commands, then cups my face and looks at me, waiting for me to mean what I say, his eyes electric. “Right now. Mean it,” he whispers seductively, his breath hot on my face. “Tears?” He edges back, his eyes sober and yet relentless. “Tears . . . why? I haven’t made you come yet.”

I want to pull free.

But I’m shaking and craving and wanting. It’s true that I want his body, every hot, delicious inch, but more than anything I want to know who he is—who the man who has this effect on me is.

He. Is not. Real, MELANIE!

He is a liar, a player, a f**king scoundrel and a rogue. You don’t need him! You don’t want him!

“Tell me who you are!” Suddenly my voice rises with my bewilderment.

He looks at me, dark shadows crossing over his eyes, then he surprises me when he leaves me and sits on the bed. Setting his elbows on his knees, he leans over, looking at me, every inch of him tormented. He runs his hand through his hair and, slowly, I watch as each copper-streaked strand falls into place one by one. Silence drags on, the tension palpable until he breaks the silence, a low, hard bitterness spilling into his voice.

“I was raised by my mother, Lana King. She left my dad when she got pregnant, to protect me. One day when I was thirteen I came home and she was tied up in a chair, gagged, among a group of men—among them my father. He offered . . .” He trails off, then smirks coldly. “He told me if I killed one of his men, she’d be untied and set free. I didn’t know he had a deal with her, that she’d told him I wasn’t a killer like him—that he’d promised to let me go if that was true. I didn’t know about that f**king deal when I took the gun he offered, aimed it, fired it, and killed him. And I never saw her again.”

His voice turns empty and cold, like an echo of an old tomb.

I’m not sure if it’s the tone he uses, the words he tells me, or the lack of sparkle in his usually brilliant, beautiful eyes. “My uncle Eric told me my father had made a deal with my mother. He would take me if I proved to be his son. My mother promised him that I was nothing like him. And then I shot a man. I didn’t hesitate. I shot him.”

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