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Concentrate on Ethan.

I press my mouth more firmly against his, relish the groan he makes no effort to hide. Relish even more the feel of his body, hard and hot and aroused, against my own. In that moment, I swear if I could have pulled him inside me, I would have.

Instead, I stroke my tongue along the edge of his bottom lip, then do the same to his top one. I pay special attention to the corners of his mouth—God, I love how he tastes—and the perfect bow at the center of his upper lip. Then, when I can’t take it anymore, I pull his lower lip between my teeth and nip softly. Once, and then again.

It must be the sign he’s been waiting for, the permission I didn’t know he wanted. Because suddenly I’m up against the wall, one leg wrapped around his hip as his mouth plunders mine.

His hand is on my thigh, his fingers stroking the sensitive flesh on the inside of my knee as he kisses me and kisses me and kisses me.

I shudder, clutch at him, arch into him. He groans, low in his throat, his fingers tightening in my hair and on my thigh. Not enough to hurt, but definitely enough to ground me. To let me know that he’s no more ready to let go of me than I am to be released.

My own hands come up to tangle in the cool, ebony silk of his hair. To tug and pull and claim. And still the kiss goes on, until my lips feel hot and swollen and achy from the pressure. Until my breasts and my sex feel exactly the same way.

In that one, perfect moment, I want more. I want everything. Everything I’ve denied myself since I was fifteen years old. Everything I’ve told myself I don’t want and shouldn’t have.

Ethan’s hand slides up, up, up my thigh, sneaks under my skirt, and skates along the edge of my panties. I freeze at the unexpected caress—and everything comes rushing back. The reason I’m here, what I wanted to accomplish with this visit, the promise I made myself just minutes ago about not giving in to this thing between us, whatever it is. And the fear that I’m working so hard to pretend it doesn’t exist.

But it does exist, and as it rises up inside me, I don’t know how to deal with it. How to keep it at bay. Not now, when the rigid control I keep on myself seems as nebulous as the security it brings me.

“Ethan.” I drag my mouth from his, use every ounce of willpower I have to stay calm. To stay here with him instead of drifting back to a time and place I’ve done my best to forget.

“It’s okay. I’ve got you, Chloe.” He whispers the words in my ear, his breath hot against my cheek. “I’ve got you. Let me make you feel good. Nothing else. Just that.”

He hesitates, doesn’t move as he waits for an answer I don’t have. I ache with wanting him to touch me, with the need to feel the agony and the ecstasy that comes with being loved by him. But at the same time I’m afraid I’ll freak out and ruin everything. It’s what I’m good at, after all. Ruining things.

Again, I try to separate what is from what was. Who I am from who I used to be. I don’t know if it works, only that I want Ethan to touch me.

I burrow closer, bury my head against his chest. He relaxes, tension I didn’t even know was there slowly leaving his body as he once again strokes his fingers along my sex.

Every bone in my body goes weak and I lean my head back, rest it against the wall as I allow Ethan an intimacy I’ve never granted anyone before.

I gasp, arch against him as his finger strokes its way inside my panties and down to the very heart of me. He leans forward, murmurs soothingly in my ear once more. But this time it’s all nonsense to me. He might be making sense, might be perfectly coherent, but I can’t understand him. Can’t focus on anything other than his fingers as they slowly—oh so slowly—press into my sex.

I’m wet, so wet. And trembly. And needy. And just a little scared. I’ve never let a man do this before, never opened myself up so completely. After what happened when I was younger, I’ve never wanted to let a man close enough to hurt me.

I’m terrified that Ethan can do just that. Oh, as gentle as he is with me, I’m not afraid of him hurting me physically. But emotionally? This is Ethan Frost, one of the most sought-after bachelors in the world. Genius. Visionary. Charmer. Since I can’t even figure out what he’s doing with me, how can I believe that he wants anything more than this? Just this?

I should grab his hand, push it away, tell him I don’t want him to touch me. Not that he would believe me—I don’t believe myself. How can I when my body is on fire, every nerve ending lit up by his touch? His thumb presses against my clit, circles, and I know I’m not going to do anything of the sort. I’m not going to do anything at all unless it involves this man touching me, wanting me.

“God, Chloe, you feel so good,” he tells me, his voice as dark and smooth and seductive as the chocolate bar I keep at the bottom of my purse in case of emergencies.

“You too,” I manage to gasp out.

He slips one finger, then two, all the way inside of me. I gasp, try to hold still so I can feel every pleasurable thing he does to me. But the truth is, my hips are moving of their own volition now, as beyond my control as the pleasure spiraling through me. I’m riding his hand, chasing the wicked pleasure that I can’t get away from now that he’s shown it to me.

The pressure is building alongside the pleasure, the fear going hand in hand with the ecstasy, until I feel like any wrong move will have me shattering—but not in a good way. Not in the way I so desperately crave.

And then Ethan’s dropping to his knees in front of me. Shoving my skirt up to my waist and pushing my panties aside. Before I can even imagine what he’s going to do, let alone give my permission, his mouth is on me. His tongue delving inside me even as his hands move to rest on the line where my thigh connects to my body. He lifts my leg—the same one that was wrapped around his waist a short time ago—and drapes it over his shoulder.

I’m totally open to him now, totally vulnerable. My cheeks flame, and I squirm—no one has ever done anything this intimate to my body before, and I’m traumatized even as I love it. Even as I crave more. Crave everything, including the release that has been just out of reach.

I whimper, moan, beg, and plead, words falling out of my mouth with no conscious thought or organization on my part. All I know is that I need. For this one moment, the fear has disappeared. The worry, the pain, the memories. Everything is gone and my whole body, my whole consciousness and existence, has shrunk to this one moment out of time. To the pleasure, and release, that I am chasing as relentlessly as any junkie has ever chased a high.

Ethan quiets me with a low growl, and then his tongue is there—right there—at the epicenter of my pleasure. He circles my clit, flicks at it, before sucking for one second, two. Combined with the rubbing, twisting motion of his fingers inside me, that’s all it takes. With a shudder and a shout, I tumble over the edge and into an orgasm so intense, so pleasurable that I forget everything. Who he is. Who I am. Who I was. Why we shouldn’t be doing this. Why I care.

In those moments, all I know is him. All I feel is him. And the warmth, the pleasure, the tenderness—absolute and indescribable—that he’s given me.

Chapter Seven

But nothing lasts forever—no matter how much I might wish it would. As the shudders finally stop and thought returns, so do all those things I’d banished in the moments before release.

Ethan is still kneeling on the floor in front of me, his fingers inside me and his mouth brushing glancing kisses across my hip and abdomen. There’s a part of me that wants nothing more than to stay here, right here, in this moment. To let him pet and touch and cuddle me until his heart is content…or mine is.

But it’ll take a lot more than a few gentle kisses and an out-of-this-world orgasm to make me forget the darkness that yawns inside of me. I was able to bury it earlier, to ignore it, but right now—as the world creeps in—it’s just there, waiting to swallow me whole.

I’m too raw, too open. My defenses have been shattered by the pleasure Ethan brought me—and the care he’s showing me even now. Tears bloom in my eyes, and I close my eyes, look away, before he can see them. It’s an odd feeling, having a man dress me. Having this man dress me. It smacks of gentleness, of care and concern, and isn’t at all what I expected of him.

Then again, I don’t know why I’m surprised. Nothing about this meeting is turning out as I expected. Why should Ethan’s actions be any different? Unexpected tears clog my throat, but I’m not going to cry.

Not here, not now. And certainly not in front of Ethan.

But somehow he sees. The hand on my hip slides up to my lower back, rubs soothingly. “You okay?” he asks softly, standing up so his face is close to mine.

I can smell myself on his lips, and for one wild second I think about leaning forward and kissing him. Finding out not what I taste like but what we taste like, together. But just the idea is so strange, so appalling, so embarrassing that I take a step back.

Those bright blue eyes of his darken and I know he’s not happy. He doesn’t like the distance I’ve just put between us. But how can I not distance myself when the whole house of cards I’ve spent the last five years constructing threatens to crash down around me at any second?

“That was…” I break off. What’s the appropriate adjective to use here? Mind-blowing? Body-numbing? Amazing? “Nice.”

As soon as the word leaves my tongue, I want to grab it back. Nice? A hot bath is nice. A warm chocolate chip cookie. A pedicure. What just happened between us was a lot of things, but nice is not one of them.

Ethan stiffens, and I’m afraid I’ve offended him. Not that I blame him—he gives me an earth-shattering orgasm and I call it nice? But he looks more amused than insulted. “Nice?” he asks, lifting that one damn eyebrow of his again. It gets to me, has me aching all over again. Which—judging from the gleam in his eyes—is exactly what he intended.

“You know what I mean.” I reach down, grab my briefcase from where I put it next to the couch. I don’t drop my gaze from him as I do, because at this moment he looks far too much like a predator for me to ever be so stupid.

“Actually, I do.” He brings his hand to his mouth, runs his fingers—the same fingers that were just inside me—directly under his nose. As he breathes me in, my knees go loose and shaky. I lock them to make sure I don’t end up tumbling to the ground.

“Thank you,” he tells me, his voice deep and drugged with arousal. “For letting me touch you.”

“I think I should be the one thanking you. I’m the one who…” I trail off. It’s one thing to think the word, but it’s another thing entirely to say it, even to the man who made it happen.

He grins. “You don’t ever need to thank me for giving you pleasure, Chloe.”

The way he says it makes me think he plans on this happening again. Which it can’t. No matter how much I’m aching for it to.

“I should go.”

“Why?” He steps closer, and all the oxygen in the room seems to disappear again. “Let me take you to dinner.”

“I can’t. I already have dinner plans.”

For the first time, I see a flash of displeasure cross his face. “Break them.”

My spine stiffens at the autocratic bent in his tone. “No.”

“You’re really going to go out with another man? After what we just did together?”

“One experience”—I still shy away from using the word orgasm in conversation with him—“doesn’t give you any rights over me. Or vice versa.”

“What if I want rights over you?” His voice is still soft, but there’s a menacing edge that provides a definite warning.

Fear blooms in the pit of my stomach, makes me sweat. Makes me shake. I clench my fists, refusing to give him the satisfaction of knowing just how easily he can intimidate me. “Tough luck. No man will ever have the right to tell me what to do.”

“You don’t think so?”

“I know so. I’ll never give a man that much power over me.” Not ever again.

“What about this date you have tonight? He doesn’t get to claim any rights over you?”

For a moment, just a moment, I think about letting him go on thinking that I have a date. And that I plan to keep it, even after what we just did together. Or, more accurately, what he just did to me. If he thinks I’m the kind of woman who dates one guy while getting off with another, I’m pretty sure he’ll lose interest. Ethan’s obviously the possessive type, and I doubt that possessiveness lends itself to sharing.

And that’s what I want. For him to lose interest. Not just because of the work thing, but because I can’t handle the intimacy of what we just did together. Already I feel broken. Cracked open. The pain I work so hard not to acknowledge seeping back into the surface of my consciousness.

Yet I can’t ignore the way he’s looking at me. The hold he’s exerting over me with little more than a narrowed gaze.