Author: Jill Shalvis


“You haven’t seen much of it.”


“That’s because you practically shoved me straight to your bed.” She looked around at his large bedroom, sparsely filled with big pieces of dark oak furniture that were both masculine and inviting. His sheets were earth tones and luxurious. There were a couple of towels tossed onto a chair in a corner and running shoes lying beneath it. A forgotten pair of jeans was discarded on the floor.


Izzy was snoozing on top of them.


The room was clean but not necessarily neat. Good to know he wasn’t a perfect superhero. “I like your furniture.”


“I built that, too.”


“So you’re multitalented.”


He smiled wickedly, making her laugh.


“And full of secrets,” she added.


His smile faded some. “Yes.”


She felt her heart catch at the way he looked at her as he ran the pad of a finger over her lower lip. “You going to share them?” she asked.


He just rolled her over the top of him and ran his hands down her body. “Yes. Secret number one. I’m not finished with you.”


“You’re right,” she said, feeling him hard beneath her. “One of us definitely isn’t finished.”


With a grin, he pulled her thigh over his hips so that she straddled him, opening her to his touch. “Only one of us?” he murmured and stroked her with his thumb.


It came away drenched.


“Okay, as it turns out, I might not be finished with you, either.”


“Feel free to take your time.”


She set her hands on his pecs and stared down at him, feeling shockingly at ease given how naked she was. His hands were everywhere on her body, rough and strong and gentle all at the same time. Then he produced another condom and guided her down on him.


It was a deliciously tight fit, and her hands clung to his biceps as she rocked. This wrenched a hungry groan from him, but he gripped her hips. “Slow this time,” he demanded, lazily stroking her where they were joined, making her crazy. “Real slow, Maddie.”


And he meant it. For torturously long minutes, he languidly stroked, teased, and drew her nearly out of her mind, until she was panting out his name like a mantra, desperate for release. When he finally moved, it was in fluid, rhythmic motions that had her crying out, arching into him, clinging to him as if he was her own personal life support. He was everything.


Simple and terrifying as that.


Eventually they staggered into the kitchen for provisions. Jax made grilled cheese and soup, and then they somehow ended up naked on his big leather couch in the living room. Maddie was currently lying there, gasping for breath, thinking that at this rate, they’d kill each other by Christmas. Damp with perspiration, she shifted, and the friction of her moist skin on the soft leather made a sound that had her going utterly still in horror. Then she became a flurry of motion trying to recreate the sound so Jax would know it was the couch and that she hadn’t—


They both clapped their hands to their noses at the same time as the odor hit them, hard and merciless.


“Christ,” Jax said, sitting straight up.


“It wasn’t me, it wasn’t!” Maddie shook her head wildly. “It was my skin against the leather, and—” She broke off because Jax was doubled over, gasping for breath. God. He was dying, he was—


Laughing his butt off, she realized. “It wasn’t me,” she repeated, beginning to feel insulted.


Jax managed to regain control of himself and then turned to the dog lying at their feet. “Iz, we’ve been over this—not in front of guests. You have to go out?”


The dog leapt to her feet and barked joyously, and—


Let out an audible fart.


Grinning, Jax got up to open the door for her.


“You knew it wasn’t me,” Maddie accused when he came back, crossing her arms over her chest.


Still grinning, he sank back down and hauled her into his lap. Pressing his face into her hair, he kissed her behind her ear.


Her sweet spot, and he knew it. “Let me make it up to you,” he said with a low, masculine laugh.


She lifted her chin softly. “I can’t think of anything good enough.”


“I can.” His eyes were lit with the challenge. “And it’s going to be good, Maddie. Very good.”


Not going to cave, she told herself, holding her body rigid. Not going to—


Taking her earlobe gently between his teeth, he tugged lightly. An answering tug occurred between her legs. Cause and effect…


She caved like a cheap suitcase.


Chapter 20


“If you’re going to walk on thin ice,


you might as well dance.”


PHOEBE TRAEGER


Much later, Maddie put a hand to her heart to keep it in her chest. She was trying to think of something to say, but the only thing that came to her mind was “WOW.” So she murmured it softly and then again, because frankly, it bore repeating.


Next to her, Jax let out a very male sound of agreement and reached for her hand. Entwining their fingers, he brought her palm up to his mouth and brushed his lips across it. “It’s dark out,” he noted. “When did that happen?”


She had no idea.


“Thirsty? Hungry?”


In response, her stomach rumbled loud enough to echo off the walls, and she closed her eyes in answer to his laugh. The couch dipped as he rolled over her and placed his forearms on either side of her face, his body lowering to hers. “My plan was to keep you naked until one of us begged for mercy. We’ll circle back to that.”


They showered, dressed, and made it to the Jeep just as a sleek Mercedes pulled up the driveway. Beside her, Jax stiffened. Glancing into his face, she was surprised to see that his look of satisfaction had vanished. “What is it?”


Before he answered, a man stepped out of the car wearing a well-cut suit and a flash of sophistication. His eyes went straight to Maddie.


Resisting the urge to pat down her crazy hair and squirm, she jumped a little when Jax took her hand in his and ran his thumb over her fingers. Other than that small, comforting gesture, he didn’t move a single muscle.


“So I see why you haven’t returned my phone calls,” the man said to Jax.


Jax didn’t respond. Maddie wasn’t even sure he was breathing. The other man was as tall as Jax and incredibly fit, and could have been anywhere from late forties to sixty. “As I told you in the emails you didn’t answer,’ he said to Jax. “We need to talk about Elizabeth.”


“And as I told you, don’t show up here without an appointment.” Jax’s eyes were colder and harder than Maddie had ever seen them.


“Christ,” the man said. “You’re worse than a damn woman. Fine. Can I… please…” He paused for sarcasm’s sake. “Have an appointment?”


A tight smile curved Jax’s mouth, but it wasn’t a pleasant one. “Busy.”


The man let out a snort, his gaze flicking back to Maddie, who hadn’t been born in a barn, so she held out her hand. “Maddie Moore.”


“Jackson Cullen. Are you a client, or a friend?”


“None of your business,” Jax said and put a hand on Maddie’s lower back, nudging her to the Jeep. “Let’s go,” he said. “Now.”


Only a little while ago, she’d been kissing her way down his amazing body, licking and nibbling, coaxing the sexiest sounds from him, including lots of that “now,” in a different context of course.


She loved knowing she had the power to make him lose control. She loved his warm body, his scent, the texture of his skin, the taste of him on her tongue, and the strength of his hands, and how she trusted that strength. She loved his generosity of spirit, loved the way he could be gentle and endlessly patient, and yet still vibrate with testosterone. She loved how much he cared about his friends, his dog, everyone in the town. She loved his mischievous smile. The way he looked at her. How he teased her, laughing with her, not at her.


And she was desperately afraid she loved him.


Jax opened the Jeep’s passenger door for her, and she started to get in. “He’ll never love you, you know,” Jackson said directly to Maddie.


When she looked up at him, he nodded. “He’s cold. It’s what made him so successful. Ask his old bosses. Ask Elizabeth. His fiancée.” He cocked his head and studied her face. “Did he tell you about her?”


“Dad,” Jax said tightly. “Back off.”


Jackson sent his son a long look. “Oh, he talks a mean game,” he said, still speaking to Maddie. “And he can spin wheels of logic in your head until you think you’re getting what you want from him, but it is a game. It’s all a game.” His smile was dark and grim. “You seem like a nice girl, Maddie, but you’re out of your league here. I’d get out while you can.”


“Maddie, get in,” Jax said and stood there as if guarding her until she did. Then he turned to his father. “Get off my property and don’t come back.”


Violence shimmered in the air, and Maddie stared at them through the windshield, her pulse kicking hard. Jax looked at her. With a flash of something that might have been regret, he moved around to the driver’s side.


“You’re fucking up your life,” his father said, grabbing Jax’s arm as he turned away.


Jax spun back, and at whatever Jackson saw in his son’s face, he dropped his hands from him.


“You can’t push me around anymore, Dad,” Jax said. “You can’t get to me.”


“It’s not too late to get your life back on track.”


Again, Jax locked eyes with Maddie through the windshield. “I’m on track.” With that, he slid into the driver’s side and thrust the engine into gear.


Jax was silent as he pulled out.


She was silent, too, though she eyed him very carefully as he drove. Had he inherited his father’s temper? It was possible. She of all people knew anything was possible, that people could hide parts of themselves and keep those parts under wraps until they decided to reveal them.

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