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Page 9


I took a long pull off my beer and then, in an instinctual gesture that surprised me as much as him, I think, I leaned my head back until it met his chest. I kept my eyes closed, per our agreement.

  “This is all so…much,” I heard myself admit. “So different. So strange. So scary. I don’t know what’s happening to me. You—you do something to me. Just by—I don’t even know—without trying. Like you know all my switches and buttons. But you couldn’t. You couldn’t possibly know what makes me tick this well. No amount of stalking, watching me from a distance, could tell you what turns me on. ”

  “Yes, you’re right. ” His voice, coming from so close, from his chest, from above my head…was loud, pure energy and vibration. “I told you, Kyrie. I can read you like a book. You’re scared, but you want this. You hate the fact that I affect you so much, but you like it in equal measure. The fear makes it that much more exciting. ”

  Glass touched wood, and then he took my bottle and set it down as well on the table behind us. His hands slid down my arms. His body towered behind me. His breath blew on my neck.

  “Eyes closed, Kyrie. ”

  “They are,” I told him.

  “Good. ” A brief pause. “Do you trust me?”

  “I’m trying. I’m getting there. ”

  “For all that I’m in control here, this still moves at your speed. I will push your boundaries, push you beyond what you think you’re comfortable with, but not so fast that your fears take over. ” Fingers, tangling in mine, big and hard and hot, twining with my own, small and trembling and cool. “Tell me what you want. Right now. One thing that you want to feel. ”

  There was no hesitation. “Another kiss. ”

  “Good girl. ”

  I hated that phrase, the way it was said, praising my response. “I’m not a f**king dog, so don’t ‘good girl’ me. ”

  He chuckled. “Touchy, touchy. ”

  “I’m not touchy. I just resent being spoken to as if I’m a poodle that finally managed to sit on command. ”

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  I’d have thought, with this little exchange, that the mood for kissing would be gone. But no. Oh, no. My eyes still closed, I still felt his breath curl over my cheek, sandpaper skin sliding softly against my jaw, warm lips brushing mine. And, just that fast, my complaint was forgotten. I twisted in place, my feet remaining planted, my torso turning and leaning back. It was an offering, yet another way for me to show him that I was giving in to this.

  You know how I said I didn’t sleep around on the first date? Well, I rarely even kissed on the first date, either. I wasn’t a prude; I’d said this before. I just didn’t believe in diving headfirst into a physical relationship if there wasn’t some kind of emotional or personal connection in place. I didn’t expect forever love from a guy I was dating. I didn’t expect sweep-me-off-my-feet romance—although it was always nice—but I did expect him to put some kind of effort into getting to know me before he tried to get in my pants.

  So why the hell was I letting this man kiss me? Why was I asking him to kiss me? He’d admitted to having watched me for a long time. He knew things about me no one should know. That was still in the back of my head, that question, why did he watch over me? Could it really be called “stalking” if he never made contact? To me, a stalker was someone who watched your every move, sent you creepy letters and made heavy-breathing phone calls, who stood outside your bedroom window and watched you change, whacking off all the while. A stalker was someone with an obsession, an unhealthy, unsafe infatuation. Naïve it might be, but I didn’t believe that of my Mystery Man.

  Definitely naïve. I mean, look at where I was. I’d been collected. Collected. That still irked me.

  “You can’t ever shut off your brain, can you?” I felt his words on my lips, shaking me from my thoughts.

  “No, not really,” I said.

  “What were you thinking about?” he asked. “It must have been rather fascinating, if it was able to distract you from kissing me. ”

  “Sorry. I just…this whole situation is weirding me right the f**k out. I don’t kiss on the first date. I don’t obey. I can’t forget that you watched me, that you know every little thing about me. ” I moved out of his embrace, held out my hand, and wiggled my fingers until he put my beer into my hand. “You can read me. You’ve said it, and it’s true. That freaks me out, too. I’m just…I’m freaked out. I may not feel afraid, or in danger, but I can’t stop trying to figure this situation out. And yeah, I can’t really get into a make-out session when my brain is running a million miles a minute, trying to figure out what the f**k I’ve gotten myself into. ” I took a sip and sighed after swallowing. “And…why me?”

  I felt his presence recede a little, heard him take a swallow of his beer. I faced away and stared out the window. It was a constant effort to not turn around, yet for some reason, it was an effort I continued to make.

  “All that is understandable. ” He paused to drink. “Why you? Let’s just say for now that…I’ve got my reasons. I chose you because I want you. I know that doesn’t really help much, but it’s all I’m willing to say at the moment. So besides that, what could I do to alleviate some of your fears?”

  I tapped my fingernail against the bottle. “I don’t know. A name? A nickname? Something for me to call you? It doesn’t have to be your real name, just…something. ”

  “Hmmm. That is a reasonable request, I suppose. ” A deep breath. “You may call me…Roth. ”

  “Roth?”

  “Yes. Roth. It is…one of my names. ”

  “You have more than one?”

  He laughed. “Of course. Don’t you? Kyrie Abigail St. Claire. One could, conceivably, call you Abby, or Claire. In the same way, part of my name is Roth. It is a truth I’m giving you, and for a man as…reclusively private as I am, that is no small gift. ”

  When put that way…. “Thank you,” I said.

  “You are welcome. ” He was there behind me, close and hot and huge, once again. “Eyes closed. ”

  I did as I was bid. I closed my eyes, forced my breathing to stay even when my instinct was to hold it, bated and anxious, until I knew what he was going to do. Breathe in, breathe out. I was a ball of tension, shoulders bunched, fists clenched, one hand around my beer bottle, the other digging my nails into my palm.

  In an effort to prove something—whether to myself or to him I wasn’t sure, nor even what I was trying to prove— I tilted my head back and finished my beer in four long pulls. Of course, I then had to cover my mouth and let out a long, quiet belch.

  “Philistine,” he said, an amused lilt to his voice.

  I laughed. “Hey, I muffled it. ”

  “True enough. Now, are you finished?”

  “Yes. ”

  “Good. ” He took my bottle and set it down. His hands cupped my elbows, slid up to my shoulders. I shivered, and felt my tension ratchet up. “You’re tense again. Relax, Kyrie. I won’t hurt you. Surely you know at least this much by now. ”

  I tried to force myself to relax but that, of course, was a contradiction in terms. You couldn’t force yourself to relax.

  His thumbs circled into the muscles of my back, his fingers kneading my shoulders. That helped. And then I felt him sweep my hair off my neck, over one shoulder. My tongue flicked out and ran across my lips, anticipating his touch, his kiss. What I got was a cool breath blowing until I shivered, and then his lips met my pebbled flesh and the heat of his mouth washed over me. Every part of me loosened and contracted all at once, my tension receding even as eagerness had me expanding and straining.

  Another kiss, to the slope of my neck. His finger tugged aside the neck of my shirt, and his lips touched my shoulder. He moved closer, near my throat now. One hand held the thick sheaf of my hair aside, and the other carved down my arm, knuckles brushing the outside of my braless breast. The shivers were constant now, every touch causing my skin to tighten and my muscl