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“Wait,” she gasped.

Damn. He took his mouth and hands off her body, waiting to see if there was a stop to go with that wait. If there was, he’d take it like a man and not cry.


“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Nothing.” Her hand made its way down the front of his sweats and got a handful of him. “I just think we should take this to the bed.”

“Now who’s bossy?” Scooping her up, he turned and tossed her to the bed. “What else have you got?”

She came up on her elbows and smiled a badass smile. “Strip.”

“Whatever you say.”

“Really?” she asked. “You’d do whatever I said?”

“In this bed,” he clarified with a laugh.

“I can work with that,” she said.

Darcy woke with a start at the sound of the low groan of pain.

Not hers.

Disoriented in the dark hotel room, she sat up, whipping around when the sound came again from the body thrashing in the bed next to her.

“AJ?” Leaning over him, she set a hand on his shoulder. “You okay?”

Before she could blink he’d moved and was on her, pressing his hard body flat to hers, pinning her to the mattress. Using a knee he forced her legs apart as he jerked her hands up over her head, holding her utterly immobile.

Neither of them moved.

Not that she could …

The only sound in the room was AJ’s labored breathing, like he’d just run a marathon.

A nightmare, she thought, her heart squeezing with empathy as he lifted his head. She could feel the weight of his stare in the early dawn’s light, could hear his breathing still sowing in and out of his lungs. His body felt like a furnace, heat blasting from it. “AJ,” she said softly, wanting to ground him. “It’s just me.”

He jerked back from her and came up on his knees.

Freed, she leaned over and turned on the bedside lamp. As it illuminated the room she caught the image of him kneeling there in absolutely nothing but his glory, his ripped body damp with sweat as his chest heaved.

“You okay?” she asked quietly.

Instead of answering, he shoved off the bed and strode into the bathroom.

And hit the lock.

“Right,” she said shakily, not enjoying being on the other side of the closed door. “You’re fine.”

The shower came on. He stayed in there for thirty long minutes, which she knew because she watched the clock tick the minutes over.

When AJ finally turned off the water, she cut the light, knowing from experience that having a witness to your nightmare sucked.

The last time she’d had one hadn’t been all that long ago, and she’d woken up screaming like a banshee, drenched in sweat, cowering in her bed like she was still trapped in her burning car. She hadn’t been able to stop screaming until Zoe had crawled onto the bed with her, gathered her close, and held on tight, stroking her hair for an hour before she’d been able to relax.

But AJ lived alone. Who gathered him into their arms and held on tight until the memories faded?

The bathroom door opened, and for a brief moment he was outlined in bold relief from the bathroom light behind him.

Until he clicked it off.

She strained to listen for him but he could be silent as a cat when he wanted to be. “AJ?” she whispered.

He didn’t answer but she could hear him now, clothing rustling. He was dressing to leave.

She got that. Her first instinct was always to run like hell, too, because that’s what she did when she got scared.

And she was scared.

To the bone. She was scared because she was feeling things, big things, deep things, and she’d never been good at any of them. What they’d shared this weekend went beyond her scope of experience and she had no idea how to handle it all.

Yeah, she’d most definitely be running if it hadn’t been for one fact—he needed her.

She’d never been needed before. “AJ?”

Instead of answering, he headed for the door.

Yep. He was leaving.

“It’s nearly dawn,” he said. “You’ll be fine now. We can leave whenever you want.”

Since the only words she had clogging her throat were please and don’t, she kept her mouth shut tight, holding herself taut until the door clicked quietly behind him.

She stared at it, stunned. She hadn’t taken one important fact into account. AJ didn’t want to be tied down any more than she did. Good to know. Clearly they’d had their roll between the sheets and it had been good.

Hell, it had been great.

And he’d given her back something she hadn’t realized she’d been ready for—intimacy. She’d never forget and she’d always be beholden to him for that, but … it was done now.

So done.

And because it was, she needed to find a way to seal off the feelings and sensations he’d awakened in her. Because if she didn’t care, she couldn’t lose. She’d learned that a long time ago and it was the gift that kept on giving.

That decided, she slipped out of the bed and turned on every single light before curling up into the chair in the corner to wait for dawn.


They were both quiet on the way home. Normal for AJ, who liked to relax into a driving zone and enjoy the quiet anyway. But definitely not normal for Darcy, who he doubted could find a zone to save her life.

Twice he stopped for her to stretch her legs and twice he asked if she wanted to drive, hoping to goad her out of her own head.