“I used to live in Atlantic City. That’s where my family is from—I have two younger brothers, well, really four. Mom took in two of my best friends so I consider them my brothers also. Anyway, we all followed my father and make our living as dealers in casinos. First, my dad made us get a college degree before we were allowed to go to dealer school. In college, I met a girl, Rebecca, and we were together the whole four years. On graduation day, I asked her to marry me.”
Jealousy pierced her heart. She hated the idea of another woman being claimed by him. She locked the messy emotion away and concentrated on his story. “What happened?”
“We began planning a wedding. Moved in together. Then I came home from work early one day and found her in bed with one of my groomsman.” He gave a humorless laugh. “Talk about a cliché all the way around, huh? At least he wasn’t the best man.”
Horror filled her eyes as she imagined the scene. The betrayal he must have struggled with. Already in one night, she realized he gave his heart and soul without holding back. He’d demand the same of his partner.
A dozen condolences skittered through her mind. “Bitch,” she muttered.
His laugh held genuine humor. “Yeah, that about says it. Needless to say, things got pretty ugly. After a few months, I realized I couldn’t handle living there any longer. I needed a change. Jackson Castillo invited me out to Vegas, offered me a job, and I haven’t looked back.”
“That doesn’t explain why you stopped having sex.”
He shrugged. “When I first settled in Vegas, I went a bit crazy. Dated a lot, experimented with different women. Then my need fizzled out, and I only felt empty when I woke up in the morning. So, I took a break and concentrated on other stuff for a while. My hand has been my new best friend this past year.”
He waggled his eyebrow in a bad Groucho Marx imitation. She giggled. “Sounds like my vibrator. It almost caught on fire these past few months and broke from overuse.”
They laughed together. She stroked his chest, enjoying his crisp hair against her palm. “Do you still miss her?”
“No. Not anymore.” Suddenly, his gaze locked on hers, glittering with a fierce intensity. “I miss this.”
Joy broke through her at his words. Her heart pounded in confusion. What was he saying? Had he experienced the same strong connection she did? Did he want to continue when the night was over? Reality crashed around her. No. As much as she wanted more time with him, she had to stick to her plan. Work. Volunteer. College. She’d made herself a promise to never get involved with a man until she was completely whole. He’d given her a precious gift, but she couldn’t risk pushing herself. What if she was too fragile? What if he broke her heart? What if she became so enamored of him she gave up everything she was for a man?
She wasn’t ready. So, at dawn, though it would break her heart, she would leave him behind.
She pushed away the strangled grief at the idea and climbed on top of him. Surprise lit his eyes as she straddled his hips, her hair falling around his face to wrap him in a curtain as she kissed him. She gave him everything he asked for in that kiss: her surrender, her gratitude, her desire.
Her tongue swept in and she greedily tasted his dark, male hunger. When she lifted her head, her gaze burned into his with promise. “I’m doing this because I can’t stand the idea of not having your cock in my mouth.”
He tensed at her words. And then she slipped down his body, cupped his balls, and sank her mouth over his hard, throbbing length.
He groaned. Cursed. She took her time, enjoying the taste of his salty skin, licking to the tip and then swirling around in teasing circles. His muscles locked, and her nails dug into his hard thighs. Finally, she opened her mouth wide and sucked, rubbing and stroking the underside of his cock, scraping her finger nails over the sensitive flesh of his balls, while her name rang like music in her ears.
He stiffened and grabbed her shoulders. She knew he was about to explode, but she refused to move. His excitement blended and melded with hers, and her juices flowed as she rubbed herself against his leg like a cat in heat, sucking harder, harder, and….
He exploded in her mouth. She swallowed him as he jerked helplessly under her touch and slowly eased her mouth off of his length. Sheer feminine power surged through her at his response, and in that moment she finally slew all her demons.
“What have you done to me?” he groaned.
She laughed, and resumed licking him. She stroked, rubbed, and caressed. In minutes, his cock was hard again. She fisted his powerful length, enjoying the texture of iron sheathed in silk. He lifted her in one quick movement, and settled her on her hands and knees. A tearing sound echoed.
“Rick, I, oh!”
He grasped her hips and entered her. She moaned and pushed back into his hands as he rubbed her ass. Slow, delicious strokes filled her, driving her higher and higher. Her breasts hung down free, and he played with them as he thrust in and out of her. The erotic abandon pumped through her body, tightening her muscles as she neared orgasm. She circled her hips, searching for it, but he only laughed and kept his strokes shallow enough to tease but not get her off.
His hands pinched her nipples. Slid down her belly, and found the tight nub of her clit. He rubbed, using her juices to coat it, and tapped hard with his fingers. Sharp pleasure grabbed, attacked, and threw her over. She cried out his name and ecstasy shot in waves over her. He came again, and collapsed on top of her in the bed, their limbs entangled. Her heart squeezed with a mingle of raw emotions. Tears pricked her eyes as she held him close and wished dawn had never come.
His lips traveled over her soft skin. The heady scent of sex and musk and strawberries hung heavily in the air. He stroked her lush breasts, her silky hair, the curve of her buttocks. The red digits on the clock flashed with alarming rapidness.
He wasn’t ready to let her go.
He closed his eyes and reached for courage. His one-night stand had become much more. He wanted the chance to date her. Cook her dinner. Make love to her in the daytime. Wash her in the shower.
Would she give him the opportunity?
Since Rebecca, he’d never had a soul connection to another woman like he’d found in a single evening with Tara. He also knew in his gut she was different. He knew by experience, his ex-fiancée had always been selfish in her core. Tara held the soul of a giver, and a man would be safe offering his trust.
So, he ripped down the last barriers of his heart and uttered the words. “Stay with me.”
She stiffened and sat up. Her curls tumbled wildly around her face. Blue eyes held a mixture of emotions at his words. Fear. Hope. Joy. Resolve. “What do you mean?” she asked. “The contract specifically states by dawn we need to walk away.”
“Let’s change the contract.” He reached to take her hand. “Remember when we spoke about not getting caught? It’s too late for me. I know it’s crazy, that we’ve only been together one night. But you caught me. I want to see where this can lead. I want to see you again.”
She flinched. He fought uneasiness at her reaction and waited. It was time to push out of his comfort zone. This woman would walk away if he didn’t try and fight for her. And by God, he would give it his all before he surrendered.
Her voice broke. “I can’t.”
His gaze dared her to speak the truth. “Why? You’re attracted to me. We formed a connection last night. There’s no reason not to take this further.”
Suddenly, he knew. Her eyes filled with tears as she stared at him, all the naked emotion and vulnerability and fear on display. “I’m not ready. What you gave me tonight…the things you made me feel…I don’t think another man will ever come close. But I made myself a promise. I’m not ready to commit to someone else yet. You gave me back my body, my mind, my freedom. You changed my life.”
She closed her eyes and one tear leaked down her cheek. When she opened them, a hard resolve glimmered and shattered his heart. “But I’m too afraid. Afraid I’m not ready for a relationship. Afraid I’m not strong enough not to stand on my own. I need time. I need to find my own way.”
He looked at the woman before him and realized he’d fallen in love with her.
She was stronger than anyone he’d ever met. Sexy as hell, sweet as sugar, and not ready to give him everything. Emptiness poured into the spaces of his soul and threatened to stay. But damn, he needed to let her go, needed to give her the time to realize what he did. She had already found her own path. She just needed to trust herself again.
If he didn’t leave, he’d overpower her. Make her have so many orgasms she’d beg him to stay. Force her to accept they were meant to be together, and then she’d always wonder. So, he shoved his need and want to the depths of darkness and locked it tight, bent his head and kissed her. Her sweetness swam in his head and he breathed in her scent one last time. Then rose from the bed and dressed.
“Thank you, Tara Denton.” He paused at the door. “Thank you for giving me the best night of my life.”
He opened the door and left.
Tara rolled her neck in circles and tried to ease the tension from her muscles. She groaned and closed the journal in front of her, pushing her calculator aside. Between school and working more hours at the Castillo Resort, she had a serious case of tired eyes. It may be time to invest in some reading glasses. Getting up from the chair, she stretched her arms overhead.
Now, she’d be able to afford them. Satisfaction thrummed through her veins. Her work had caught the eye of Jackson Castillo, and he’d offered her a full time job, including benefits. She switched to finishing her bachelor’s degree online, which saved her commuting time, and gave her the opportunity to graduate faster. Everything she worked for finally clicked into place. She was finally happy. And almost complete.
His face flickered in her vision, never far from her mind. Three months. She dreamed of him every night, and woke up with a fierce need wracking her body. How many times had she picked up the phone to call him? How many times had she walked through the casino, hoping to catch a quick glimpse of him, knowing if she did, she’d never be able to walk away again?
She refused to do that to him. He was probably with a woman now. She pictured him kissing her, caressing her, giving her orgasms that shimmered with ecstasy. She imagined his wicked laugh, the grin on his face as he touched her, the tender way he stroked her wounds.
She swallowed back the pain and straightened her back. It had been her decision. She had needed the time to realize she was strong enough. Funny, she’d finally been convinced that giving herself to another man wouldn’t change who she was. She’d grown up, grown strong, and stood on her own two feet. But now it was too late.
Too late to let him catch her.
She pushed away the sadness and opened the door.
She blinked. Then gasped as the figment of her imagination walked into her office and stood before her. Immediately, her body softened and trembled, the intense waves of sexual energy whipping around her. God, he was gorgeous. She soaked up his figure with greed. His long blonde locks tumbled over his brow, framing glittering green-gold eyes. He wore his usual uniform of black shirt and pants, his muscles evident under the thin fabric. She remembered how he’d lifted her that night like she weighed nothing, sprawling her over his thighs as he rocked inside of her and….