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“Hell no.”

“That’s what I thought.” Gripping both her wrists in one hand, he yanked them above her head. With his free hand he cupped her face and forced it up so that she met his gaze.

Wet, naked, and furious, she was still staring at him, sending him the sharpest daggers she could, when he lowered his head and kissed her.


Darcy heard a soft, needy moan and realized it was hers as AJ held her prisoner against the wall and pillaged.

She let him.

Not only did she let him, she strained for more.

AJ’s big body always ran hotter than most, and she’d never been more grateful in that moment. Naked and wet and up against his fully clothed self, she should have been fighting him down and dirty to get free after what he’d said.

Instead she wanted to get down and dirty.

He fisted his hands in her hair and gave her what she wanted, and when his tongue swept against hers, she gave in, pouring every emotion she felt into that kiss. Fury. Hurt. Need.

God, the need.

Breaking away from the kiss, he slid his mouth along her jaw. “Ready to listen?” he said against her ear.

She went still for a single beat before shoving him.

He took a step back. “Come out when you’re ready,” he said, before turning and walking out of the bathroom.

She resisted the urge to chuck something at his head—not that that would help since he had the hardest head of anyone she knew. Closing her eyes, she just breathed a moment, which didn’t help. Then she wrapped herself up in the hotel bathrobe hanging off the back of the door and strode out after AJ, ready to brawl.

He stood in front of the windows, hands in his pockets, staring out at the night. His shoulders were squared off and full of tension. He never gave much away, but she’d had a lot of time to study him now and she knew the tells.

He was frustrated and uncharacteristically unsettled.

With a sigh, she came up behind him, catching his gaze in the glass. “I shouldn’t have asked about Kayla,” she said. “It’s none of my business.”

He didn’t move a single muscle for a long beat, and then he turned to face her. “I was out of line. You were right, you were open to me and I cut you off at the knees when you went looking for the same thing from me. I’m sorry for that.”

She nodded. “Thanks. But I meant what I said. It’s not my business. And you didn’t have to come to my room.”

“It’s storming.”

“Well, yes,” she said, surprised at the quick subject change. “It’s why we’re still here, remember?”

“You’re afraid of storms, ever since your accident.”

Her first instinct was to deny. Her second was to throw herself at him and beg him to throw her down on the bed and make her forget the storm.

And her life.

Except he’d come here because he’d known she was afraid, which was just another example of how well he knew her and how little he let her know him. Which in turn reminded her that she was hurt and pissed, a bad combination for her. “I’m fine,” she said.

But she must have looked longingly at the minibar because he let out a low laugh and pulled not one, not two, but four mini bottles of scotch from his sweatshirt pocket.

Right then and there she nearly told him she loved him. In fact, she might have done just that if a heavy gust of wind hadn’t rattled the windows. “I know I can’t live my life being afraid of storms and driving on the highway,” she said. “But damn.”

He handed her one of the scotches. The wind kicked up and she trembled enough to nearly spill. To avoid that, she tipped the bottle back and downed it.

“Easy.” AJ took the empty out of her hand and set it on the nightstand next to his. He pulled the heavy curtains over the window and turned on a few lights and the TV. He flipped through the channels until he found an old repeat of Friends.

“Thanks,” she said, and climbed onto the bed. “But that’s not going to be enough to distract me.” She held out a hand for bottle number two.

He opened another one for each of them and clinked his bottle to hers.

“What are we toasting to?” she asked.

“Getting the hell out of Dodge soon.”

“I’ll second that.”

AJ sat on the bed, his long legs stretched out in front of him as he took a long pull on his scotch. “Okay. So you asked about Kayla.”

“Forget it.”

“I can’t make you face your fears and not face something myself,” he said. “Kayla was my fiancée.”

Her heart skipped a beat. How was it she hadn’t known this? Granted, until recently she’d been gallivanting across the globe writing for various travel sites and paying absolutely no attention to anything or anyone but herself. “Your … fiancée.”

“Yeah.” He stared down at the empty bottle in his fingers. “She was beautiful. Flawless, actually. She dreamed of getting out of the military and becoming a model. She had a big, supportive family and was always the center of attention. She was loved, happy. We were happy, too, stationed overseas together. She was a ship mechanic. Five years ago we had an onboard fire in the engine room where she worked.”

“Oh my God,” she whispered.

“She lived, though she was injured. Not all that badly when it came right down to it, not compared to the other two with her. They both died of their injuries. Kayla suffered second-degree burns to her hands and face, that was all, but she scarred pretty badly. She couldn’t handle it. In her eyes she was no longer beautiful, and even though she still had her life and family and friends, all of whom adored her, it wasn’t enough. She couldn’t cope because she thought she was no longer desirable, not to a modeling agency, not to the people who loved her, and not to me.”