About her. She confessed that she"d bought the pub after her father"s death because she hadn"t known what else to do with her life. Ronan supported her. She admitted she"d missed growing up without the feminine influence of a mother. Ronan, in much the same situation, empathized.
He"d even volunteered to clean the pub and close up when she"d sprained her ankle. He"d held her when her cat went missing and rejoiced with her when Misty had wandered home a week later. And she"d resigned herself to the fact that Ronan saw her merely as a friend.
Then he"d begun trying to seduce her. And she was so tempted. The more she said no, the more persuasive he became. In her heart, however, Kari knew if she gave in, it could ruin their friendship. And that, she couldn"t bear.
“Ronan, please…” She tried to pull her wrist free.
Reluctantly, he released her. He sighed and drank his scotch in three long swallows, then slammed his glass down. “Kari, you"re burning me up. I don"t know what to do… You"re a fever I can"t shake.”
A fever? The kind Tynan had described? No. Stupid, wishful thinking. Certainly, if Ronan suspected she was his mate, he would have said so. This had to be simple unsated lust.
“Where"s your brother tonight?”
Kari"s heart lifted with hope, even as she told herself it was stupid. “So, he"s finding you someone to shag?”
“No. I told him to go out alone. I don"t want anyone else. I need you.”
For tonight. Tomorrow, when he"d had his fill, he"d be gone. She couldn"t take that risk.
“I don"t think you know enough about me to need me.”
Ronan leaned across the bar, his eyes like a laser, green, hot, direct. “I know you drink only one sort of chardonnay and you must have lemon with your water. I know you hate for anyone to see you cry and that you"re too stubborn for your own good. I know you can argue with a wall and win more often than not. And I know you"re afraid of me.” He grabbed her hands again and held them in his. “You"re sweet and kind. You listen, you care, you help. And you"re too wonderful to be alone.”
Kari absorbed his words with a pounding heart. He"d been paying far more attention than she"d believed. How had he noticed so much about her?
“Ronan…” Her voice shook. Damn it all, nothing like showing weakness when she needed to be strong. “Don"t do this.”
He brought one hand to his mouth and pressed his lips to her palm. Fire arced through her body and became a deep ache, threatening her ability to breathe. “I only want to hold you.”
“Tonight, yes. Tomorrow, another woman will take my place.” She shook her head, refusing to repeat her Edward mistake with someone more likely to rip out her heart. “I can"t be one of many.”
“I"m not certain anyone could replace you. You do something to me no woman ever has.
I can"t explain it…”
Again, her heart stopped. Yes, it could be a line. It could also be his mating instinct, a voice inside her head chimed.
Kari stepped back and yelled to everyone in the pub, “Closing time.”
The wizards at the back racked up the balls and stowed their pool cues, settled their tab, then left. The pub"s other patrons also paid, then disappeared into the cold night.
“That meant you too,” Kari said to Ronan.
He clenched his jaw. “Why are you so determined to say no?”
“I think I"ve made that very clear.”
“As clear as I"ve made the fact you"re not merely another woman to me?”
She shrugged, but her mind raced. “It"s just talk.”
Ronan looked around and found the pub empty. He flicked a wrist toward the door, and Kari heard the distinctive click of the lock. She stared at the door, blinked. While she"d known he could do magic, she had never seen it. Wow.
By the time she turned back to Ronan, he"d appeared on her side of the bar. Sitting on a stool one minute, then he"d…dissipated and reformed, standing right beside her. And she didn"t have the good sense to be frightened. Instead, all she noticed was his pine-in-winter smell—
clean, crisp, bold.
Kari backed away before she did something foolish, like throw herself at him. He wrapped an arm around her waist and urged her against his body. He was tall, more than a head above her, and broad. The muscles of his chest and belly pressed against her, as bulging arms captured her around the waist.
“A kiss.” With a finger beneath her chin, he raised her gaze to his. “That"s all.”
Closing her eyes, Kari weighed her options. Loss of friendship versus gaining a pleasure unlike any she"d ever known.
What if you are his mate? That voice in her head asked. How will he know if he doesn’t taste you?
“Just one,” she whispered breathlessly. And hoped she wouldn"t regret it.
Ronan"s hands shook as he tilted Kari"s head into his palm and gripped her tighter. He leaned in, and her eyes began to flutter closed. A woman like no other, he thought. Kind. Beautiful. He brushed his lips over hers gently, testing his welcome. Her lips parted a fraction, and that"s all the invitation Ronan needed.
With a gentle nudge, Kari opened further to him. Then he sank deep.
No other word to describe the rich flavor, silky texture, headiness of her—which went straight to his cock. He hardened, his body tense. The cycle repeated when she gasped into his mouth, then wrapped her arms around his neck. He tasted surrender on her lips.
God, she was like the finest wine, intoxicating him beyond all good sense with one sweet taste. Complicated, perfect, addicting, just like the woman herself. Never had he tasted anything so incredible.
Her hands slid into his hair and he groaned. Her fists wrapped around the strands, and she stood up on her tip-toes, straining toward him. Ronan could refuse Kari nothing, especially his touch.
He changed the angle of the kiss, taking it deeper, driving into the heart of her mouth.
She drew in a ragged breath and clung tighter. Ah, yes. There was something so right, so perfect, about holding her like this. Still, it wasn"t enough.
Ronan feared that no matter how much she let him kiss her, touch her, it never would be.
He"d never ached so badly for a woman, never held one who felt so perfect in his arms.
Before he"d kissed her, he"d hoped that having a taste of her would cure his fever. Instead, it had morphed from a flame to a blow-torch inside him.
Hunger took over, and he seized her lips with savage need, sinking deeper than ever, fisting his hand in the flimsy shirt at her back. It had to come off now. He had to taste those pert breasts, shimmy her out of those tight jeans, know that it was Kari beneath him.
He reached for the buttons at the front of her blouse, still tasting her sweet mouth and drowning in need. The first two slid free of their moorings. When he reached the third, she wrapped her small hands around his thick wrists.
“You said one kiss.” She was panting, her mouth swollen.
It took all of Ronan"s concentration to formulate a response, rather than grab her and seduce her here, now. But that wouldn"t satisfy him—and it would make Kari fighting mad.
“Stop me, then. I don"t think I can stop myself.”
To press his point, he grabbed her tighter, cupping her backside in his hands, bringing him flush against his erection. He"d never been so hard, so feverish…
She tossed her head back on a groan. Ronan took advantage of her exposed neck and the scrap of flesh exposed by the deep vee in her red shirt, laving the swell of her breast.
“I can"t stop you.” Her voice shook.
“Is that a yes?”
She swallowed, hesitated, then nodded. “For tonight.”
It was a start. Ronan grabbed Kari tight and thought of home. If he was going for the fantasy, he would embrace it completely, have Kari in the one place he"d never taken another woman: his own bed.
When he opened his eyes again, it was to Kari blinking.
“Where am I?”
He hoped she understood the significance, though he could hardly expect it. She steadied herself against him—the aftereffects of her first teleportation—then looked around the room.
“Amazing,” she breathed.
Ronan smiled at her wonder at what seemed everyday to him. “All right?”
She nodded solemnly.
Without pause, she resumed unfastening her buttons. Ronan watched, sucking in a breath, his heartbeat spinning out of control, the sensation totally foreign.
Finally, she parted the thin fabric to expose a lacy ivory bra that was bloody near transparent. Ronan nearly died with the need to swallow her on the spot.
As much as he loved the notion of her undressing for him, his restraint wouldn"t survive.
With a flick of his wrist, he divested her of every stitch. She gasped. Kari had a butterfly tattoo on one of her gorgeous, lush hips and a perfectly wet welcome waiting for him.
With another swipe of his hand, his own clothing melted away. “I need you so badly.”
He eased her down to his bed, and she propped herself on her elbows, her legs falling apart fractionally.
Ronan had to have more.
Kneeling in front of her, he cradled a thigh in each hand, then pulled them wide. And he inhaled. Uniquely Kari, sweet, clean, enthralling. And best of all, free from another wizard"s touch. If Tynan or any other wizard had bedded her recently, he would scent the other male on her.
He leaned in to kiss her abdomen. Her stomach trembled under his lips. But a need to taste her completely compelled him. He wasn"t about to deny it.
Ronan put his mouth to her wet core, laving his tongue over her silken folds. She cried out, hands fisting in his hair. Like Kari"s kiss, her flesh was intoxicating. Her gasps and moans merely urged him on, tasting, exploring, lingering until she tensed and trembled, screaming his name.
Now. Right now. It was a chant in his head.
Scrambling to cover her body with his own, he tried to work his way inside her. Damn, she was tight. But he persisted, easing in little by little. The mindbending friction nearly made his head explode. Kari"s nails dug into his back as she screamed his name again. His only thought, when he completely sheathed himself inside her and felt her waning orgasm ramp up once more into a tight vice of pleasure, was mine.
Kari writhed against him, nearly sending him careening out of control.
“Ronan!” she panted as he thrust deep.
Kari. Finally, he had her under him, crying out for him. No pretending anymore. Her embrace, her flushed cheeks and angelic beauty, her dedication, loyalty, and big heart were all his for the taking. She was real.
His blood surged, churning. Sweat covered him as he thrust again. Hot and snug, she surrounded him, made him dizzy.
More. He needed more of her. Now.
Ronan withdrew, then surged deep again. “I want to give you everything.”
“Yes…” She wrapped her fists in his hair and titled up so he slid in deeper.
He gripped her tighter as her lips burned a fiery trail up his neck. She tightened around him, close now. He gritted his teeth, fighting to hold on.
Cradling her face in his hand, he pressed her head into his pillow. Her lips were swollen, red. Her lush lashes drifted open to reveal dilated blue eyes—and a willing desire he"d craved on her face for over two empty years.
His heart leapt as he surged into her again, sliding against her most sensitive spot. Kari gasped. Her body tensed. Impending bliss exploded across her face.
In this moment, she was totally his, and he vowed to show her exactly how good he could be to her. For her.
Ronan set a hard, steady rhythm. She tensed, gasped, clawing his back until she tightened around him and screamed. Her sex fluttered, squeezing him until he couldn"t breathe or think—just feel ecstasy as he followed her into pleasure—and saw deep into her soul.
Kari woke at once, the feel of a hard, hair-roughened body draped across her back quite foreign. As she inhaled a clean pine scent, she knew the man—the wizard—was Ronan.
She peeked over her shoulder at his closed eyes, relaxed face. His breathing remained deep and even. Truth told, she hadn"t known for certain that magickind actually slept. They ate, drank, breathed… just like humans. The additional similarity should have soothed her. But nothing about Ronan set her at ease.
Especially when memories of the previous night flooded in.
She shifted, then winced. Tynan hadn"t been joking when he said wizards possessed more stamina than the average human. Ronan had been more than eager; he"d been relentless. After their first encounter, Ronan had awakened her four times, passion seething in his kiss as he clutched her and drove deep, his gruff whisper in her ear praising her beauty and kindness, even as he cursed the fever in his blood.
But despite kissing and tasting her repeatedly, he"d never uttered anything that sounded like ritualistic mating words. Dejection weighed upon her, a drag on her limbs, a ball of pain in her abdomen. If Ronan thought for a moment that she was his mate, he would have said something. Or given her some indication that she was more than the usual shag, right?