“Did you enjoy my company the last time we met?”
His gaze was hot as it skated down the length of my body. Very different than how any other man had ever looked at me. Like I was exotic. Sexy. Worthwhile.
“I did. Of course, you were either devouring my mouth or smarting off with yours, so it was hard not to enjoy it.”
“You kissed me,” I said, correcting him.
“And you liked it.” All that male confidence and swagger was hypnotic. He merely stated facts. And yes, I did like it. And that was a fact.
“Let’s not argue semantics. You shot me down, I shot you down. We’re even now.”
His blond brows sliced down. “I shot you down? How did you come up with that notion?”
“Because I was there. I offered to take you and that kiss home for the night and — ”
“I offered you dinner first. That’s not shooting you down.”
It was to me. Dinner meant a date and dating was something I didn’t do. Mostly because a couple meals and weeks into “seeing” a guy, he turns out to be a total tool or still lives in his mother’s basement. And the kind of men that held any ounce of self-respect or ambition were from a different world than me. They were the kind that came with a promise of picket fences and two point four kids. Which was an even scarier concept.
Not that Rhys put that out there, but based on the limited details I had learned about him over our few run-ins, he and I weren’t long-term compatible. Judging by his football scholarship, small-town upbringing and insistence on buying a woman a meal before seeing her naked, I already knew he was in a different league. And if I were honest, it was a better league.
“Sex is simple,” I said honestly. “I wasn’t interested in more than that.”
“And you think dinner is — ”
“More. Than. That,” I said. Now was not the time to explain why I felt lacking. I stuck with, “So like I said, we’re even.”
“Then why do I feel like I’m the one who lost?” The way his eyes bore down on me, like he was seeing my very soul, made a violent shiver race up my spine and every nerve ending turned on as if he had verbally flicked a switch in me. “And you said wasn’t.”
“What?” I eyed him and he merely grinned.
“You said you weren’t interested in more than sex, then. Does that mean you’ve changed your mind now?”
“Maybe . . .” My eyes shot wide because I had just admitted that out loud and hadn’t meant to.
Rhys stood there, looking like he’d just won some kind of victory.
Taking a deep breath, I forced myself to get a grip. This man was disarming me in a single conversation and I couldn’t allow that. I was at my most vulnerable when my guard was down. And after the last few weeks my guard was obliterated. Not a good place to be, when Rhys Striker affected me. Deeply.
From the buzzing beneath my skin to the ache in my gut. All I wanted to do was pull him close. Breathe him in. Which, I knew from experience, was the first step in a downward slide toward dependence.
A stupid notion when everyone always ended up leaving or screwing me over in the end.
I raised my chin, gathered my brass and glared. “Do you really think that feeding me before we f**k somehow makes a one-night stand better? Makes you a better man than the rest?”
He was close enough now that I could hear a growl break low in his chest. “I don’t pretend to be something I’m not, Emma. I don’t lie. Or hide.”
That made my lower lip tremble and my attempts to get the ice back impossible. It was the same ice that had formed around my ribcage sometime between losing my virginity to a creep at twelve and getting beat to hell by a skeezy homeless man who stole everything I had. I had learned quickly that calling out for help was useless because it never came. And being a victim wasn’t an option.
Neither was crying.
“You don’t know anything about me,” I argued, because Mr. Army of One with his muscles, prying eyes and suffocating sex appeal was too much to deal with. Now was not the time to start sharing.
“I know you’re smart. I know you’re strong.” His arm barely bent, as if he were debating on whether or not to touch me. “I knew that the moment I met you. But you are running, Emma. Right now. Just like you were at the gala, just like you were after Megan and Preston’s wedding.”
His tone relaxed a bit and he cupped my neck, the same way he did all those weeks ago before he kissed me.
I looked up and words wouldn’t come. I was tired. The fight in me was dwindling and all I wanted was to get lost. Fade away. Preferably in his arms. If that made me weak, so be it. But only for one night. Tomorrow would be better. I would be better.
“What are you afraid of, Emma? What are you running from? Because we both know you weren’t breaking in to surprise me,” he said, and gently tugged on my neck so that our lips were only a whisper apart. “Tell me.”
“I’m afraid of . . .” so many things.
There was something about Rhys. Something that made me feel scared in a very different way. It was a fear of hope. Because if he kept looking at me like he was, I just might start to believe that he was being sincere.
Normally, that would be my cue to leave. To figure this mess out and get on the next bus, train, hell, anything to get me out of New York. But the only thing my mind and my body were screaming was to stay. Right here. Next to him. Just for a night.
For no other reason than that I wanted to.
“We’re in the middle of the hallway,” I stated.
My fuzzy brain snapped out of the obviously sleep-deprived fantasy I was drowning in. I might be in distress but I was no damsel and Rhys wasn’t Prince Charming. Adam was the one person who ever came through for me, and other than that, the male population was better with no strings attached to them.
“Would you prefer to come into my room with me?” He was so close that I could feel the heat of his skin. Could smell him — leather and spice. His longish blond hair hung around his face, lining his sculpted jaw and strong chin. During our few encounters, I told him he looked like Thor, which made him grouchy, but damn it, strip him down and hand him a hammer and —
“ . . . to talk?” he said.
He smiled. “I said, would you like to come in so we can talk? I have a key, so clawing the lock to death won’t be necessary.”
I chanced a look at his eyes, which I shouldn’t have because those things sucked me in.