"But it's not, is it?" He held his breath.

She shook her head, and he kept coming toward her, slowly, like a lazy prowl. Stalking.

Please don't touch me, she prayed. "You said you didn't want this," she whispered, taking another defensive step backward. "I said I didn't want this."

"Want and need are two different things," he said, his voice low and rough with desire. "And I need you, Ciara."

Her heart slammed against the wall of her chest and she stared into his ice-blue eyes, thinking she wasn't what he needed, what he even thought she was. She wasn't forever after and carpools and kids. She wasn't dinner parties and family weekends. She was temporary.

And she was lonely.

God, she was so very lonely.

She was tired of it, and she knew what this moment meant. She could feel it tingling through her body and swelling through her heart. She'd been isolated for so long and being with him had changed that. There was freedom in his eyes as there had been that night in Hong Kong. Here, there were careless decisions and fun and relaxation, and she wondered exactly when she'd healed … and when she'd become so vulnerable.

She looked down at the floor, at their feet inches apart. The separating line in more than just their bodies. There was the final straw that would break them in half. If he knew she was a CIA agent, he'd hate her. The knowledge was instinctive. She'd lied—kept it from him and the danger that could touch his daughter. Deep inside she knew she was saving it for the moment when ties would have to be cut again and she would become Ciara Caldwell, not Ciara Stuart, and slip into her role of an operative for Central Intelligence. Oh God, she thought. Right now, it was the last thing she wanted to happen.

Which was it? her mind cried. Need or want. In those words he offered her the chance and the risk to her heart that she swore she wouldn't take again, with any man.

But Bryce Ashland wasn't just any man.

He was the only one she'd truly wanted.

With him, she could forget.

One step … one step.

"Ciara?" His fingers pushed under her chi and she lifted her gaze.

Her eyes were glossy with unshed tears, and at the sight of it, Bryce felt his chest cave, emotions folding in on each other. She looked helpless and fragile right now, so different from the strong and independent female who'd taken over his life, his thoughts. At that moment he understood just how hard she'd fought her feelings, fought her desire.

Then her lips trembled and Bryce experienced the rushing need to protect her, soothe her. "Darlin', talk to me," he whispered.

She took the step, wrapping her arms around his neck, her fingers sinking into his hair as she pulled his head down. "No talking, no thinking, Bryce." The words whispered against his lips and she shuddered. "Please."

Her mouth engulfed his, and she kissed him almost frantically as she pushed her body into his. It was like melting wax, need spilling from her and into him. It was as much a balm as it was torture and he closed his arms around her, and squeezed. She seemed to need it, to feel him more than ever before. It was as if they couldn't touch enough, feel enough and five years of fantasy flourished like a white water river out of control. He wanted to taste all of her. Not to match it with his past memory, but to erase the old and create fresh.

Suddenly she pulled back, breathing hard.

"What?" Then he heard it.


Ciara was off like a shot, running through the house and up the stairs. Bryce was on her heels. She reached the baby first, gathering Carolina up against her and soothing her tears. His daughter shuddered and quieted, and Ciara rocked her in her arms, stroking her head and whispering gentle words. Bryce's gaze was riveted to her as he walked into the room.

She lifted her gaze from the baby to him and he saw her doubts. She'd had time to think. He was losing her so easily, so quickly, and panic filled him. He loved his daughter, but he needed this woman, more than in his bed. He had to have patience. But right now, he was out of it.

Carolina was already asleep in Ciara's arms and he took his daughter, laying her in the crib and covering her. Then he grabbed Ciara's hand, pulling her out of the room and closing the door. The sensation of urgency was tangible as he spun her into his arms and pinned her against the nearest wall.

Her hands flew to his chest. "Bryce?"

"No, Ciara. Don't. I know you. I know you're thinking of more reasons not to let this happen. But it's time to change things between us. Now."

Her gaze sketched his features, a million denials running through her head. But her heart spoke for her. "Yeah," she said, leaning closer.

He kissed her. Hard. A devouring kiss and thirsty for what only she could give. She responded wildly, unchecked, her hands gripping him fiercely, her body meshing to his. She gave as good as she got, and Bryce experienced the revelation of a lifetime.

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