“It doesn’t seem to…fit you.”
He glanced around. “What’s wrong with it? You don’t like my decorating taste?”
He’d decorated this place? “Nothing’s wrong with it.” That was the point. It was too perfect. Too elegant, too…classy. This was the sort of place she’d pick for herself. But he…he was rough around the edges. Primal. She’d picture him in a beach shack with empty beer bottles and old pizza boxes overflowing the trash can. She opened her mouth. Closed it again.
He glanced at her wryly as if he knew what she was thinking. He turned away and fiddled with putting his water glass in the sink. “You can sleep on the couch.”
“Where are you sleeping?” she blurted.
He cocked an eyebrow at her. “Why? Are you offering to share my bed?”
Just how tempted she was at the idea shocked her into silence. It was all well and good to be turned on by this guy but to sleep with him? That was a big step.
To get naked with him…to experience all that masculine power unleashed…to completely let go of her inhibitions with him…
Man, it was tempting. And totally out of character for her. Obviously, she was suffering some sort of strange aftereffect of the accident and her brush with death. She’d regret it tomorrow if she took him up on his offer tonight. Reluctantly, she shook her head. “Thanks for the offer, but I’d better not.”
He frowned, almost as if confused. Opened his mouth to say something, but then closed it again. He turned off the overhead lights and left the room without speaking. At least he left her the oil lamp. In its soft glow, she turned to face the couch, which was underneath a wide picture window that framed a magnificent view of the ocean below. Even in the darkness, she could make out the rolling and crashing white of the breakers rushing in toward the beach. Drawn to the view, she moved over to the window. A light rain whipped around the bure, driven by a sharp breeze. Cyclone Kato was beginning to breathe upon them.
She started when something heavy thunked down behind her. Jumpy, she whipped her head around. Tom had just dropped a blanket, pillow and sheets on the coffee table.
He shrugged apologetically. “I’d sleep on the couch, but it’s too short for me, and with my back, I’ll need to lie on my stomach.”
She smiled understandingly at him, grateful that he was being a gentleman about the sleeping arrangement. Truth be told, she felt like a heel for climbing all over him, but then turning him down when he took her up on her unspoken offer. “I don’t mind sleeping out here. The couch will fit me just fine.”
He nodded once, turned and disappeared on silent, bare feet into the bedroom. Suddenly, she was so exhausted she could hardly see straight. Mechanically, she made up the couch into a bed. She left the oil lamp burning. For some reason, she wasn’t quite ready to face the dark and her suddenly overactive imagination. She stretched out on the couch.
As exhausted as she was, her brain wouldn’t unwind enough for her to immediately contemplate going to sleep. She lay there for a long time. Eventually, she forced herself to extinguish the lamp and still, sleep eluded her.
Without warning, it all hit her. The terrifying plane crash, the desperate swim for her life, the shock of finding out about the attack on the beach. She started to shiver, and then to shake. And then the tears came. At first they were no more than hot streaks down her cheeks, but before long they’d blossomed into racking sobs. She turned her face into the pillow to muffle the sound, but for the life of her she couldn’t stop the sobs from coming.
She started violently when a male voice rumbled from above her, “Oh, for crying out loud.”
Reluctantly, she looked up at his dark form within the larger darkness of the room. Even as exasperated as he sounded, his presence was insanely comforting.
He rumbled, “I suppose you want me to hug you and tell you everything will be all right, don’t you?”
Miffed at the humor lacing his voice, she snapped, “Far be it from me to force you into such an onerous task.”
He made a noise that could have been laughter bitten off sharply. But she wasn’t sure. He sighed and sat down on the couch beside her. “Fine. Come here.”
She sniffed, “No, that’s all right.”
He ignored her and gathered her up in his arms, drawing her easily into his lap, surrounding her in his big, comfortable embrace. As hard as she tried to stop it, the floodgates opened up again. She sobbed into his shoulder for several minutes before it dawned on her that his shoulder was naked. And warm. And sexy.
And in an instant, the nature of their hug changed completely. She felt it in the way his arms suddenly tightened around her, in the electric energy zinging between them, in the sudden pounding of his heart underneath her ear. Despite herself, her own pulse accelerated, her breathing growing shallow and fast. She was not going to randomly crawl all over him, darn it! Her lust for him was just a reaction to her near death experience. Nothing more. She wasn’t actually attracted to him in the least.
When his finger tipped her chin up to him, she didn’t fight it. When she gazed up into the dark planes and shadows of his face, she didn’t say anything to forestall what was coming. And when his head started down toward hers, her lips parted in breathless anticipation. Nope, not attracted to him in the least.
Tom inhaled the scent of her, female and faintly sweet beneath an overlay of deodorant soap, unable to stop himself from wanting to inhale the rest of her. Sex poured off her in powerful waves that belied her feeble attempt at maintaining her distance from him.
When her sobs first woke him, he’d been asleep in his bed, dreaming disturbing images of fire and water and spider-webs. He’d have to talk to Joe, the local bartender, about the quality of the whiskey the guy was stocking these days. He really wished he could remember how he’d ended up on that beach with that woman draped all over him.
Maybe Joe could shed some light on that, too. When he didn’t just stay home and drink himself into a stupor alone, the other place he went to drown his sorrows was Joe’s place, the Paradise Lost Bar & Grill. That would undoubtedly be where he’d picked up Maddie.
Her name rocketed through him. As clear as a bell, the moment came back to him, a bolt out of the blue. He’d stared, shocked, into her light green eyes as she introduced herself. None of the context of the moment came with the memory, though. Not the setting nor any conversation before or after. Just that one disembodied moment. “Hi. I’m Madeline-and-I-prefer-not-to-be-called-Maddie.”
She’d looked just like Arielle. Just like Arielle. The same willfulness gleamed in her striking green eyes, the same determination was apparent in her firm handshake. They were two women who knew what they wanted and both went after it full bore.
Maybe Arielle was a little more exotic in her features. But Maddie—how could he not call her that after she’d made such a point of it? He loved the fire in her eyes when she got hot and bothered—definitely looked less dissipated. Arielle had been an exceptionally hard-partying girl, and at age twenty-four, her lifestyle was beginning to take its toll on her looks. Although he’d place Maddie in her mid-to-late-twenties, she seemed worlds more…grown up. Heh. Not hard to achieve in comparison to Arielle, who had been a pampered and extremely spoiled pop star since her early teens.
Maddie snuggled closer as if she was cold, and he pulled the blanket across both of them. Nope, definitely not Madeline material. Maddie just seemed to fit her better.
Why had an obviously classy lady like her condescended to spend time with a guy like him, anyway? What did she want from him? Unfortunately, suspicion of everyone and everything came with his line of work. Well, his former line of work. He used to be a bodyguard. A damned good one. Fought over by a who’s who of international celebrities. Until Arielle. Or rather, until she died. On his watch.
Damn, he needed a drink.
He’d noticed several new bottles of whiskey in the cabinet in his room earlier. He shook off the memory of Arielle’s dead, green eyes staring up vacantly, her back arched in death spasms, her blond hair matted black with dried blood. He swore silently to himself. How rude would it be to dump Maddie off his lap and make a beeline for the liquor cabinet?
Probably unforgivably rude. And he really liked the warm, soft, cuddly feel of her in his lap like this. She fit just right against his chest, her forehead tucked against his neck, her arms wrapped lightly around his ribs. Holding her, like he was now, was…comforting. Made him feel not so alone. He wasn’t lonely, of course, he told himself hastily. But a hug felt nice now and again. Even to a bastard like him.
Maddie’s sobs renewed themselves, although quieter this time. She swiped at her eyes, dashing away tears, then tucked her fist under her chin, childlike. He recognized the body language. She was crying out some sort of trauma that had transformed itself into a desperate need for comfort. Any kind of comfort. A cuddle, or sex or whatever. And he happened to be the nearest able-bodied male able to fill her need. And Lord knew, he was willing.
No guy in his right mind would care about being used for comfort sex by a woman this hot. Not that he’d been in his right mind for the past six months or so. But still. He was totally okay with being this woman’s shoulder sponge and sex toy.
Alarm jolted him. Jeez. What if he was the cause of her being this upset? He racked his brain. What boneheaded thing had he said or done to her within the massive black gap yawning tauntingly in his memory?
He worked through the logic quickly. She wouldn’t have come home with him if he’d hurt her or been rude to her, would she? Was she on the rebound from some other jerk, maybe?
He swore under his breath. He really had to cut back on the booze. He couldn’t recall a damned thing about the past day or so.
Thing was, Tom sighed, he knew better than to be some socialite’s casual beach fling like this. He’d watched Arielle blast through men like a demolition derby driver, leaving a messy trail of wrecked lives in her wake. The sour taste of it in his mouth washed away the lingering traces of Maddie’s impossibly sexy scent.
He probably ought to do something to draw her out of her crying jag. She’d been at it for a while now. He sighed. Ever the good guy, he was. It was probably why he never got the girl. He’d vowed to hang up his good guy white hat once and for all when he came here to the end of the world. But apparently, a few vestiges of it lingered, dammit.
Instead of kissing her like he’d originally intended, he halted, his mouth inches from hers. “Can you feel it?” he murmured.
“Blood flowing through your veins. Air moving in and out of your lungs. Heat on your skin.”
She blinked a couple of times as if she was having trouble registering the meaning of his words. Lost in a sexual haze, was she? An instant of male triumph surged in his gut. So, sue him. Yeah, he got a rush out of turning on a good-looking woman.
He half whispered, “We made it to shelter before the storm. We’re safe. Doesn’t it feel great just to be alive?”