Worried, she leaned over the crib in the nursery. Sweet Dawn, the best baby ever, settled in under her blanket without waking up. If the way she kicked off blankets was any indication, she was on her way to being a great soccer player.
Li’l munchkin had been through a lot in her short life. She’d been born into a war zone and her mother had died in childbirth despite Alex’s heroic efforts to save the girl. Her entire village had been massacred and the three of them had barely made it out with their lives.
But thanks to the trust fund Alex had set up, the legalities his lawyer had sorted out to give Alex and her permanent custody of Dawn and, of course, the roof Alex had put over both of their heads, it was nothing but smooth sailing for Dawn now. For all of them. No more running around being chased by bad guys out to kill them. Katie tiptoed out of the nursery and down the hall to Alex’s bedroom.
* * *
ALEX STOOD IN the darkness of his bedroom absorbing the familiarity of its dark shapes, noting the differences Katie had brought to the space. He could do this. He could pretend to be a normal man. Living a normal life. He could experience pleasure. Family. Love. He would not break.
Nothing would break him.
They’d tortured him and screwed with his head and made him kill. But in spite of it all, he had not broken. And to think, he’d once believed his father a bastard for training him like a spy. If only he’d known just how easy his old man had taken it on him.
Alex pulled his shirt off over his head, not bothering to unbutton it. Cool air blew lightly across his skin causing goose bumps on his chest, back and arms. He kicked off his shoes and stripped off his pants and socks. Naked, he stood stock-still in the middle of his bedroom. Nothing but darkness clothed him.
Memories rolled over him then. Remembered tortures that made him tremble even now. They’d begun like this, too. Exposed skin, cool breath upon his flesh. Then pain. Exquisite, fiery pain.
And in his agony, all the demons from his past had come calling, singing to him like sirens, calling him home. It would have been so easy to lose himself in them. Then check out of the prolonged agony and go to that other place inside his soul.
But he’d chosen the pain. He’d stayed present. Suffered the agonies of hell. Only then had he been sure he was still alive.
Even now, especially now, he wondered if any of this was real. It was so mundane. His house. Katie. The baby.
Was this the cruelest torture of all? Were they going to let him get comfortable and then rip it all away from him? If he knew what was good for him, he would reject it all. He would find the pain and live there.
But that welcome-home kiss...
He swore violently. Kissing Katie might just be worth going to hell for.
* * *
KATIE STEPPED INTO the darkness of the master bedroom and screamed a little as strong arms came out of nowhere to sweep her up against a hard body. “Gotcha. I win,” Alex announced. “You are the worst spy ever.”
“Mmm, but I’m the softest and sexiest and love you the best.”
“True,” he agreed as his mouth closed over hers.
The explosive attraction that had simmered between them before erupted, crackling like chain lightning across her skin, striking further and further inside her as their kiss deepened. Craving twisted her innards into tight knots of desire. She could never seem to get enough of him.
Her clothes went every which way as the passion overtook them, and frantic urgency spurred them onward. Naked and devouring each other, they fell onto his bed. She’d have laughed, except he speared his hand into her hair and pulled her head back so he could plunder her neck and shoulder with teeth and tongue, and the laugh became a gasp of pleasure instead.
He took control tonight, demanding ever more response from her as he kissed and stroked and nipped his way across her flesh. Where she was cold, he was hot. Where she was soft, he was hard. And where she was hungry, he starved her for more.
With hands and mouth, he played her body, using his knowledge of her pleasures and desires to drive her into a frenzy of blind lust. She needed to have him crushing her into the mattress, to fill her body with his, to feel his power and desire as he pounded into her...oh, yes. She needed all of that in the worst way.
But frustratingly, he withheld it from her tonight. Instead, he kissed his way down her body until she gasped with need. His tongue circled her most sensitive bud, wet and hot and maddening until a climax started to claw its way out of her belly. And then his mouth withdrew.
“Tell me something, Katie. How bad do you want this?”
Oh, no. “Um, bad enough to beg?”
“Is that all?” he murmured in disappointment.
“Bad enough to do anything you want?” she tried.
“You’ll do that anyway,” he replied dismissively.
True. She never could say no to him. “Bad enough to cry?”
His thoughtful silence was encouraging. Although on second thought, she wasn’t sure she wanted to find out how he would make her cry. He’d warned her before that his sexual tastes could run pretty dark at times. And he’d just come off a year of pretty dark, violent training, if she had to guess.
Before he could act on her ill-considered offer, she added, “Bad enough to say ‘please’?”
He rose up over her on powerfully muscled arms. “Say it.”
“Please, Alex.” When he didn’t move, she continued. “Please give us both an orgasm. Or ten. I want you so much I can’t stand it. Now. Take me now. Please.”
In typical Alex fashion, he continued to stare down at her, letting her frustration and desperation build until she thought she might die.
“Will you beg me to stop, too?” he growled.
He made a skeptical sound. Cynical mood he was in tonight.
He waited until she all but sobbed with need. The pleasure she knew he could give her hovered just out of reach like a tantalizing piece of candy dangling on a string. Why did he insist on playing these wicked games with her? He knew how he made her feel. He knew how deeply she lusted after him. And still, he made her wait. And suffer. As if he was punishing her for making him feel the same way she did.
She knew why he did it, of course. He hated love. But it didn’t make this cruel game of his any easier to bear.
Her entire body throbbed with unfulfilled desire for the sex that was right there. So close, and yet so totally out of her control. If she could only get him to actually make love to her, his emotional barriers would crumble the way they always did. But for now, he fought it. So hard, he struggled to hold himself apart from her. From everyone.
Tonight his fight was worse than ever. His features pulled into a macabre rictus of suffering half-lost in shadows. It was hard for her to look at. What had they done to him?
She put her hands on either side of his face and tried silently to reach past the suffering to the man beneath. But he was lost. His eyes were black hollows. All she saw in them was pain, and more pain.
“Come back to me, Alex,” she whispered.
His hands went around her neck. They were big and capable and strong. He could snap her neck quickly or choke her to death slowly if he so chose. Soul-chilling terror flashed through her, along with instinctive knowing.
They’d turned him into a killer.
She spoke slowly and clearly into the hush while he debated ending her life. “Do it, Alex. If it will heal your soul, do it.”
“Gah!” He flung her back against the pillows and grabbed her hips, shoving her thighs wide. If he’d thought to scare her, he failed. She’d decided long ago that she trusted him with her life. Giving him her body was kid stuff by comparison. She arched her chest up toward him in invitation.
The fight played itself out on the beautiful, dark features of his face above her. He hated her for how she made him feel, and yet he craved those feelings with every ounce of his being. He wanted with his entire soul not to give in to her, to what she represented. Enough that he’d seriously considered killing her. He was physically shaking with the effort of withholding himself from her.
She truly wished love didn’t hurt him so much. But she also knew he needed it. Needed this. He’d been gone a year. That was a long time not to feel anything nor to let down his emotional walls. If she knew the CIA, his training had only reinforced his belief that feelings equaled weakness.