“You sure?” His voice was a deep rasp and the sound was an aphrodisiac all in itself. Keeping his eyes on mine, he walked into my space, forcing me to step back. He did it again and again, until my back hit a tree. “If at any point you want to stop, just say the word.”
He put his hands around my neck so gently that it reminded me of how he held me right before he kissed me. It wasn’t threatening, it was consuming.
The zing from his fingertips shot down from just below my jaw to my spine and wrapped around my br**sts, beading my ni**les and making me want to practice something else entirely with his lower region.
His eyes were dark, hungry and I hoped to God he felt the same things I did. He glanced down and cleared his throat, effectively breaking the trance.
“Ready to think of me as the enemy?” he asked.
Nope. But it was part of this exercise, so I nodded.
“When an attacker has a grip on your neck and squeezes, you’ll only have a few seconds before passing out. I’m not going to squeeze, but I want you to try to break free of me.”
“Okay.” I gripped his forearms and pulled down, but he didn’t budge. “There’s no way,” I said, a little annoyed that I felt so weak.
“Don’t push against me. Use your size to your advantage. I’m bigger and coming down on you. When something’s coming down, how do you combat it?”
“By going up.”
“Exactly. Put your hands together like you’re praying.”
Okay, did that.
“Now push up between my arms and use your forearms to part mine.”
I did and another dose of shock hit. I smiled because I forced his grip to loosen.
“It’s enough to get the pressure off your neck and give you a few more seconds of air,” Rhys said.
I realized then that he was calm and calculating because he saw the big picture. Bought time to make big moves later. He set things up to win the overall war. I was the kind of person who went in swinging, trying to win all the battles.
“Now, I am still in your space,” he said and my gaze landed on his mouth. He was in my space, and that’s where I wanted him to stay. “My hands on your neck, but you can breathe and your hands are now in a position to fight back. What do you do?”
With those blazing gray eyes swallowing me up and our breaths mingling, I surged to my tiptoes, snagged his bottom lip between my teeth and tugged him to my level so I could kiss him fully.
With a small hiss, he bent enough, giving me more of his mouth and I took it. Plunging my tongue and drinking down all his sweet taste and strength.
His hands slid from my neck to my br**sts, stroking them briefly, leaving them heavy and desperate for more. He trailed his palms down my sides and gripped my hips. I moaned when his thumbs snaked just past the waistband of my pants and pressed low on my stomach.
A shot of pleasure crawled from where he was touching me to my core. I arched my back and gripped the front of his shirt, tugging him closer. When his hard c**k pressed against my belly I groaned and tried to lift his shirt up, so ready for him to be naked and inside me. But he caught my hands and stilled me.
Taking a step back, he took a deep breath, regaining his composure.
“The answer I was looking for could have been grabbing my head and slamming it on the top of yours, breaking my nose, or you jamming your thumbs into my eyes. Not kiss the assailant.”
I smiled. “Technically, I bit your lip at first.”
He didn’t smile back. Instead, he looked like he was silently battling with himself over something.
“Why don’t we call that lesson one and go inside to hydrate.”
Releasing me, Rhys stepped back. My whole body felt instantly cold and rebuffed.
“What just happened here?” I asked. “One second we were kissing, then you stop me and now you look all serious.”
I was breathing hard, but not from lack of oxygen, from adrenaline. Looking at him and his massive frame, I felt strong. Like he had shared some of that power he harbored. And I was grateful for that. Wanted to hold on to the feeling.
“Today we started self-defense training, Emma. I shouldn’t have taken it to a place other than that.”
“What place would that be? My pants?”
“Yes,” he said quickly. “This is meant for you to feel strong on your own.”
“But we’ve been together before.”
“I know and the lines have been blurred. You made a good point last night. I want you to be able to take care of yourself, detached from me.”
Detached. That word delivered a blow worse than anything Rhys and I had just practiced and it didn’t sit right with me. He was doing something, behaving a certain way, because of what I’d said last night. I should appreciate that. I did appreciate that. But the distance that came with it didn’t feel right.
In fact, it felt wrong. Very, very wrong.
I couldn’t have it both ways. So I’d take what Rhys was offering and use it. Just after this one morning, I was feeling stronger. And it was thanks to him.
My shoulders straightened a bit.
“All right,” I conceded. Because honestly, this was another battle in which I didn’t know what side to fight for. “Well, at least I know how to go for your balls now,” I said and walked past him back into the house. “Better be on your toes, Marine.”
I heard him snicker behind me. “With you, Emma, I have yet to have my feet on the damn ground.”
It had been eight days. Eight consecutive days of self-defense in the morning, cleaning up the house and planting in the afternoon, followed by mild conversation and dinner in the evening.
And in all eight days there had been zero sex.
Worst math I’d done since long division in second grade.
Ever since our first training session and our little spat, Rhys had seemed to purposefully keep things dialed back to platonic. Problem was, I enjoyed spending time with him. We spent most our time keeping busy with the house and landscaping.
I liked Rhys. A lot. And sex had nothing to do with it.
As for this weird twitch my body was starting to develop, I was pretty certain it was withdrawal from feeling him inside me. Withdrawal from the connection. He’d brush my hair out of my face here, and steal a lingering touch there, but nothing. Not a kiss, not an ass grab. Something had shifted in his brain, and whatever it was, it was starting to hurt mine.
“I hate to tell you, Gwen, but this bad boy is toast.”
She stared over my shoulder at the computer she had had since Clinton was in office and frowned.