They’d been close friends once, before a passionate kiss changed everything. But if she’d secretly loved him, those feelings had died one bright summer morning, when a reckless wager left Annabelle with terrifying injuries. Alec had abandoned her without a backwards glance.
Hardly the actions of a hero.
But Alec has never forgotten her, despite his vow to stay away. There is more to that long ago-day than Annabelle knows, and shocking lies have distorted the past. Can he uncover is painful truths, and still keep his distance from the stunning beauty? Can he deny his forbidden desire, even as it flares again between them, hotter than ever?
Impulsively, Annabelle reached up and pressed her lips to his. Alec reared back in surprise, but she clasped her arms around his neck, pulling him toward her, unwilling to let go. His lips were warm. He smelled of sandalwood still, and something spicy—shock, no doubt—but the feel of him was glorious. His heartbeat was pounding against her chest, his hair silky beneath her fingers. Even as he held his arms at his sides, refusing to touch her, she pressed closer, trying to erase the distance between them.
But he was completely still, like a pillar of salt. His mouth was unyielding, and she suddenly knew that he didn’t share her feelings. He felt none of her longing. He was holding his breath, waiting for her to be done.
Embarrassed, she slowly withdrew, easing her hands away, and then her lips.
Only to have his arms clamp like manacles around her, pulling her flush against him, trapping her there. She could feel the tension in his body, everything about him tight and hard. He angled his head down, capturing her mouth, a rush of wine-scented breath mingling with her own, making her feel lightheaded and needy.
With a low moan, he sucked at her lower lip until she opened her mouth, his tongue slipping in, slick and insistent. Annabelle shuddered with the intimacy of it, desperate to feel more of this new sensation as he gathered her closer. He swept his hands along her waist, over the curve of her hips, and down the swell of her backside, cupping her against something heavy and hot. All the while, he explored her with his mouth, as if she was something sweet and he craved the taste of her. Caught up in her desire, she knew only that she’d never felt this way. She would give him all of herself for the taking, if only he would ask.
But then inexplicably, he stopped. With a muffled curse, he dropped his arms and took several steps back. He crossed his hands behind him, as if to keep them occupied, and watched her, his eyes hooded, his breathing uneven.
How could he control himself so quickly? She still felt dizzy, as if she’d been drugged with laudanum.
“God above, I knew better,” he said. “I should have stayed as far away as possible.”
That cured her dizziness. Had she given him such a disgust of her, then?
“That should never have happened, Annabelle. It was wrong. Please, you need to go back inside.”
“I am sorry.” She could barely speak the words. “I suppose I’ve confirmed all of your worst assumptions.”
“I’m angry at myself, Annabelle, not at you. I took advantage.”
“If anything,” she said, watching him beneath her lashes, “I was the one who took advantage.”
“Do you hear yourself?” His voice was sharp now, even pained. “Can you understand why I have stayed away? You can’t tempt a man like that. I warned you I’m not so honorable.”
“Is it such a bad thing to kiss me? I’ve wanted to kiss you as long as I can remember.”
For several moments, he simply gazed at her, his face inscrutable. “Well, then,” he said quietly. “We have kissed. You have indulged your curiosity with no thought for the consequences. I don’t have that luxury.”
He turned, vanishing into the darkness as she touched a hand to her lips, where she could still feel his kiss.
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Julie LeMense has been a Regency romance addict since her first deliciously bad Barbara Cartland novel. Now, she prefers the complex plotting and characterizations of Meredith Duran, Julie Anne Long, Sherry Thomas, and Sarah MacLean. If she’s not busy reading a romance, she’s probably writing one in her haunted Pennsylvania home, where ghosts from the Gilded Age try to sneak their way into her stories.
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