Love is a risk for a woman in danger and a mercenary sworn to protect in a blistering novel of vengeance and redemption by Wall Street Journal bestselling author Brittney Sahin.
Six years ago, Maria Romano got her birthday wish—a kiss from Enzo Costa. A man she could never take her eyes off, but who seemed as haunted as her favorite book boyfriends and strictly off-limits. Just one unforgettable moment in the dark and then he was gone.
Now Maria is a divorced single mom, moving on and open to romance again. Fatefully, it’s with the new head chef at her sister’s restaurant: Enzo. A gentler man than the one she remembers, yet fire still burns. And a warning still lingers: don’t get too close.
Enzo is embarking on a new life, too. And falling in love with Maria shouldn’t happen. He has far too much blood on his hands, and he carries his damaged past like a shadow. But he can’t ignore the impulses drawing them back together.
When his secrets plunge Maria into danger, Enzo must become the man he once was to keep everyone safe. Will he go off the deep end and never find his way back? Or will Maria be enough to save his soul?
Release date: October 10, 2023
Print pages: 328
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Let Me Love You
PROLOGUE (Not proofed)
Six Years Ago—New York City
“Why aren’t they hanging out with us? I thought we were here to celebrate?” I tipped my chin toward the bar, and my sister swiveled on her seat to put eyes on our “bodyguard” and his brothers.
We were inside a nautical-themed bar in Greenwich Village, not too far from where she lived, celebrating my twenty-third birthday.
“I think they’re trying to be polite and give us time to chat. This is just our warm-up spot.” Natalia refaced me while fidgeting with the neckline of her black dress, attempting to hide her cleavage.
“So we’re pregaming, huh?” I snatched my espresso martini, ready to take my first sip of the night.
“Something like that.” Natalia smiled. “You did fly up here for your birthday, so I want to make sure you enjoy yourself.”
“I owe Enzo a huge thank-you for surprising me with a plane ticket.”
“He knew how much I missed you.”
And here I was hoping he secretly wanted to see me. I almost laughed out loud at the ridiculous idea as my eyes landed on Enzo, our so-called bodyguard for the evening.
I hadn’t expected to find him looking at me, and I nearly spilled my drink. My free hand slid up the column of my throat as I counted backward, giving myself three more Mississippi seconds to look at Enzo before focusing on my sister.
Thank God for the shitty lighting so she couldn’t spot the stain of embarrassment on my cheeks. Of course, she’d already read me, her lips twitching with mild amusement. It was her I-caught-your-hand-in-the-cookie-jar type of smile, one she used whenever she knew I was daydreaming. Or in “la-la land,” as our mother called it.
“What?” I nervously giggled, casually trying to downplay that I’d been caught lusting over one of the Costa brothers.
When my sister had moved to New York, our parents had reached out to the Costa family, their longtime friends, and asked them to keep an eye on her. Out of the three Costa sons, Enzo had the privilege of being assigned to play the dutiful role of bodyguard on nights like these. She and Enzo had become close friends, practically like family, these last few years, too.
“We may not live near each other right now, but that doesn’t mean I forgot your poker face,” Natalia teased.
I set down my drink, threading my fingers together on my lap before I spilled both the martini and my naughty thoughts about Enzo. “Speaking of the whole not-living-near-each-other thing . . . I really can’t wait for you to come home.”
We grew up in a small town outside Charlotte, and while I could see the appeal of New York, I knew I’d never survive more than a week in such a big city; otherwise, I’d probably have moved with her.
“One or two more years, then I’ll be back. It’s been an experience, that’s for sure. Busting my ass working at two restaurants and a bar learning the ropes, all so I—”
“Can open your own place back home,” I finished for her, hoping I hadn’t made her feel guilty for being away. “I know. I’m sorry. And I’m super excited for you. You’ve known what you wanted to do since you were ten. And here I am at twenty-three and still clueless.”
“You don’t need to rush.”
“Yeah, I kind of do.” My English degree wasn’t doing much for me in the workplace. And the extra student-loan debt was now heavy on my shoulders.
“Well, you’ll figure out your thing, I’m sure of it.”
“I’m working three jobs that barely pay minimum wage to afford my student loans and avoid living with Mom and Dad. All I really care about is reading, and I don’t think ‘professional reader’ is a thing.”
“Or is it?” Natalia smirked. “You never know. I mean, you do change your personality based on whatever book you’re reading like it’s a job.”
“I do not.” I laughed. Okay, not totally. I was more like an empty vessel of nothingness, and books filled me up in ways nothing else seemed to.
Taking another sip to try and dull the worries still fluttering around in my head, I felt the liquid go down the wrong pipe, and I smacked my chest while coughing. Real smooth, Maria.
When I set the glass down, I felt him watching me. I chanced a look in Enzo’s direction and was met with his concerned gaze.
Enzo mouthed, “You okay?”
How’d he hear me coughing over the loud Bon Jovi song playing? The man really was great at watching over us.
“Good,” I mouthed back with a slight nod.
“Oh no.” Natalia’s knees bumped mine from under the table. “You’re doing it again. Making googly eyes with one of the Costa brothers.”
“And if I was?” I arched a brow, eyes back on my overprotective sister.
It’d been seven years since I’d seen anyone in the Costa family. The last time I’d been in New York was for a funeral. Not the greatest memory.
“You came out of your shell at dinner last night at the Costas’ house. Flirty. Funny. Living in the moment. I loved it.” She was stalling. Why? “But redirect that sexy energy elsewhere. You don’t know the brothers like I do. Before I moved here, we only saw them a handful of times, and we were younger. And now, well, just trust me when I say you should consider them off-limits.”
But out of all the Costa brothers, only one managed to inspire a sonnet of sexy prose to echo through my head like a chorus tonight. A soft hum of pleas to walk straight up to him, fist his shirt, and pull him down for a kiss in front of a room of strangers. The perfect hot birthday kiss.
I thought back to last night and how Enzo had sent his parents’ chef home for the evening and put his culinary skills to use. Watching him cook had been nearly as gratifying as eating his food.
Enzo had seemed different in the kitchen than the man in the expensive suit tonight. With his sleeves rolled up, faded denim jeans, and wearing a backward ballcap while he’d chopped veggies, he’d been warmer. Softer. More like the younger version of him I remembered from the few vacations we’d spent together as kids at their third home in the Hamptons.
Some of my best childhood memories were from their house at the beach. Splashing around in the chilly waters and building sandcastles.
Bianca Costa, Enzo’s twin sister, babysat us when our parents went out. She was an avid reader and the one who turned me into a fan of books.
And then . . . she was viciously murdered seven years ago at twenty-four, and it was a reminder of why the real world was awful.
I did my best to shuffle my thoughts around, hoping to place my head back in the present. “So, what’s their story now?”
“Bianca’s death changed them all in a way that . . .” What was it she didn’t want to say?
“I mean, of course something like that would change them.” I quietly sat with my thoughts for a moment, the tragedy of her death washing over me again.
Bianca had believed in happily-ever-afters. That fairy tales were possible. And she’d want her brothers to fall in love, I was sure of it.
“They’re heartbreakers, Maria. That’s the easiest way I can put it.”
I wasn’t looking for love tonight. “I just want a hot birthday kiss. Not a proposal.” And preferably from the youngest brother, Enzo.
Last night had been the first time I’d set eyes on him since Bianca’s funeral. And what a way to greet him—I’d tripped on a rug inside their fancy foyer and flew right into his muscular arms. He’d circled my waist, and my breasts had smashed against his hard chest.
After that, I began a list in my head of all the naughty things I wanted to do with him, or for him to do to me.
“A hot kiss, huh?” Natalia snatched her drink and took a big gulp, clearly hating the idea.
I looked at the Costas again, thinking about our dinner together. The three brothers had sat on one side of the twelve-person table with their parents at each end. Natalia, myself, and the youngest Costa, Isabella, had been opposite the devilishly handsome men.
A few moans of pleasure had escaped my lips with every sinful bite of Enzo’s food, drawing his eyes more than once, as well as a slap on my thigh from my sister, since it sounded as though I were orgasming at the table.
While I’d indulged in a second helping of the best veal Milanese I’d had in my life, I’d also given the brothers labels in my head.
The Broody Genius was Constantine. He was thirty-five, and he’d spent a good part of his twenties in the navy, leaving only a few months before his sister was killed.
The Playboy was Alessandro. He was thirty-three and had devastatingly good looks with light-gray eyes that pierced through you. He’d also served, but in the army and only four years.
Then there was the Sexy Chef. Enzo had turned thirty-one last month in July, and although he’d originally planned to go to culinary school after high school, he wound up serving in the army for six years.
“Are you done with your inner monologue so I can have your attention again?” Natalia smirked.
“Yeah, I think so.” I took a more cautious sip this time. “But I’m still not convinced these men are walking red flags. You’ll have to give me more than ‘heartbreakers’ to scare me away.”
“Of course you’d say that,” she teased. “You love the bad boys in fiction, but I thought you had enough common sense to avoid them in real life.”
“So they’re ‘bad’ now, huh?” Glancing back at them, I saw Constantine appeared to be nursing his drink, Alessandro was flanked by two blondes, and when I cut my gaze Enzo’s way, chills scattered over my bare arms.
He adjusted the cuff of his black suit jacket, and I dragged my attention up his shirt to the top few buttons undone. And then farther up. Straight to his dark eyes. Eyes that were on me.
Maybe you are a bad boy, but . . .
“You really think you can convince Enzo to leave his fancy, rich life here to work grueling hours in a kitchen as your head chef one day?” I asked instead of continuing to press her on the kissing-a-Costa thing.
I wet my lips as Enzo squeezed the back of his neck as if frustrated by something or someone, and considering his eyes were still riveted my way . . .
“I hope he will. His mom and sister think Enzo might become the man he was before, um, Bianca died if he gets away from this city,” Natalia said, finally drawing my focus to her again. “But this is your birthday.” She blinked, probably trying to shake free any negative thoughts. “Let’s go somewhere less Top Gun–like where we can dance and find you a hot kiss.” She abruptly stood while pointing at me. “A non-Costa kiss.”
I grumbled, “Fine,” then rose as well. “Anyone in New York has to be better than whoever Mom keeps trying to set me up with back home.”
“Oh no, is she playing matchmaker again?” Natalia polished off the rest of her martini. “It’s bad enough she’s begging me to get back with Anthony. I was hoping she’d leave you alone, since you’re not as old as I am.”
“Okay, you’re only twenty-seven, not ancient. And ugh, you didn’t tell me she’s pushing you to date him again.” I wasn’t a fan of my sister’s pro–hockey player ex. They’d dated for a second in college, but I’d always wondered if Anthony’s hot Navy SEAL brother would’ve been a better match. Of course, he was older than her and always overseas.
“Yeah, you know her. She wants to see me married with kids ASAP. And who is she bugging you to date?”
“Oh, you know, just every banker between Charlotte and New York. She’s worried I’ll never find a career I love, so she thinks I need a man to support me.” I snatched my black clutch from the table and tucked it under my arm. “We have to learn to say no to her, don’t we?”
Natalia sighed. “One of these days, we will.”
But I was the pessimist, and I doubted we’d stand up to her anytime soon, given the powerful influence she had over us. “I’m going to head to the women’s room; then we can go.”
“I’ll tell the boys we’re ready.” She tossed a look Alessandro’s way. “And try and peel those women off that man.”
“Good luck with that,” I teased, then headed toward the hallway, hoping to find the restroom. But the moment I rounded the corner, I slammed into someone. “Shit, I’m sorry,” I said at the feel of something wet sloshing onto me.
My clutch tumbled to the floor, and we both crouched at the same time to get it, nearly knocking heads.
“I’m the one who spilled my drink all over you,” he said, reaching my clutch first. “I should be apologizing.” That deep drawl was far more Southern than my home in North Carolina.
We both slowly stood, and I accepted my clutch from him while staring into his incredible blue eyes. “It’s my fault. I was walking too fast,” I shared, finally checking the stain on my sleeveless gold tank top, and based on the smell, I was wearing whiskey.
“Why don’t you come to my office? I can give you some club soda, and we’ll see if we can remove the stain.”
“Your office?” Walk off with a stranger? Nope. That was on my Don’t Ever Do list.
“I own the club,” he noted, as if sensing my hesitation.
“Oh, um. I can ask one of the bartenders for a napkin and club soda. It’s no worries. Thank you, though.” I turned to the side, prepared to flee, but then I remembered I wanted a hot New York moment, and if the Costas were off-limits and this man did own the club, well, maybe I could trust him? But he’d have to prove himself first.
When I faced him again, I took a quick inventory of his looks. No Jeffrey Dahmer vibes. Muscular. Midthirties, but the beard could’ve been aging him. Trusting, and yet, lost-looking eyes. Dark denim jeans and a white button-down shirt. I checked his finger next. No ring.
“What’s your name?”
“Hudson.” He smiled, as if that were supposed to mean something.
Ohhh. The name of the bar was Hudson’s. “So you do own the club?” I relaxed at the thought. But he could have made that up. Yup. I’d never make it alone in New York.
He lightly laughed. “I have the code to enter the office to prove it.”
“Right. That’ll seal the deal, I suppose.” I shook my head, a bit embarrassed. “I mean, not like you’re going to seal, um . . .” What am I saying? He stared back at me with an amused expression. “Show me the way, please. If you still want to.”
“Oh, I do.” He winked, and I wished like hell that sexy wink created butterflies in my stomach the same way one slight look from Enzo managed to. Come on, give me something. Anything. This man is hot, hot, hot.
No bad-guy vibes, sure. But also, no wet panties. Damn.
Hudson unlocked the office, proving he wasn’t some rando. Then he propped the door open with an anchor-like stopper, which made me feel even better.
At the sight of all the framed photos on one wall, mostly of men and women in uniform, as well as of naval warships, I let go of the last bit of anxiety about being alone with a stranger. “Navy?” I asked as he went to a small bar cart by his desk.
He tossed a look over his shoulder and nodded.
I smiled; then my gaze landed on the bookshelf filled with colorful spines. “And you’re a reader, too?”
“That I am.” He swapped his glass for club soda.
“The perfect man,” I teased.
“Far from perfect, I’m afraid,” he returned in a low, rumbly voice.
As he dabbed some of the club soda on a napkin, I decided to shoot my sister a quick text to buy myself some time before Natalia came looking for me.
“I take it you’re a reader?” He offered the napkin, and I set my phone and clutch on his desk to accept it.
“A real-life Belle searching for a Beast with a library to share,” I said, feeling slightly silly until my words produced a devastatingly handsome smile from him.
And yet, no pitter-patter in my chest.
“Better yet, the Beast after he’s a man again.” With literary talk from a muscular, handsome man, how was my pulse not jumping?
I went still when a rush of heat climbed up my body, the little hairs on the back of my neck stood, and I followed Hudson’s gaze to see the only man capable of provoking such a reaction.
“She’s Natalia Romano’s sister,” Enzo said in a gravelly voice, and he propped his palms on the exterior doorframe.
“I didn’t know,” Hudson returned in an apologetic-sounding voice.
“I need the room.” It was an order, not a request from Enzo, and I looked at Hudson, surprised to see him nodding without question.
“Have a good evening.” Hudson tipped his head goodbye, and Enzo stepped aside to allow him to exit.
Then Enzo kicked aside the anchor, and the door thudded shut.
“What just happened? Why’d he leave like that?”
Enzo’s eyes shifted to the stain on my tank top. “He’s a friend. Do you think I’d let you and your sister hang out somewhere that I didn’t—”
“That you didn’t what?” I began dabbing at the stain, remembering why I was in the office.
“Deem safe,” he bit back. “What were you thinking going into a room alone with some guy you don’t know?”
“You just said he’s your friend. Based on the military photos, I figured I was in good hands.”
“Good hands, huh?” he growled out, and for whatever reason, something I’d said had further pissed him off. “You came in here before you knew that bit of information,” he pointed out, and then he began speaking in Italian.
My parents were born in Italy, but they never taught us the language, and I had a feeling it was so they could talk in private without us knowing what they were saying.
Enzo had moved to the US when he was six, and clearly, he was still fluent, even though his accent seemed to show up only when he was upset. Like now.
Enzo stalked closer to me. One angry step after the other until he was within arm’s reach of me. “I can’t protect you if you go down dark halls with men you don’t know. What in God’s name were you planning to do with him?”
“First of all,” I said, taking a defensive tone and stance, “the bathroom was down the dark hall, and I had to pee. And secondly, he spilled his drink on me and offered the club soda.” I waved the napkin, hating that it looked like a little white flag of surrender.
Enzo might have intimidated people, but I wouldn’t let him scare me. Of course, my experience with “bad boys” and “heartbreakers” was limited to fiction.
He grunted. “He’s too old for you.”
“And what does his age have to do with anything?”
Agitated, I flicked the napkin at him, and he snatched it from the air and balled it in his hand.
When his eyes dipped to my dressy tank top, I couldn’t help but look down, noticing that the whiskey had spilled right over my right breast. The thin material of the top and my sheer bra were wet, which meant my nipple penetrated the two flimsy layers of protection.
“Hudson fucks just to fuck.” The way the f-word passed through his lips and hit the air, it was as if the man had reached out and placed his large hand between my legs and skated his finger over my sex.
But then I remembered what he said and snapped out, “So you’re just going to keep riding this train of crazy, I see?”
If Constantine is the broody one . . . then what do you call this? That dark look in Enzo’s eyes was almost enough to scare me. But something told me he’d sooner lay down his own life than do anything to jeopardize mine.
Enzo’s eyes raked over the length of my body, from my slingback black heels to my black flowy skirt, and then he skipped over my tank top and found my eyes again.
“Fine, maybe I did want something from him. I’m guessing Natalia told you I’m inexperienced and a virgin to ensure you kept men away from me, but I—”
“What did you just say to me?” Enzo hissed as he stepped closer, stealing my breath as he gently cupped my chin.
His long, dark lashes remained still. His espresso-brown eyes focused on me as though I were the bane of his existence.
“Yes.” I gulped. “I’m twenty-three, and I’ve never been laid.”
Had a man tried to get me off with his hands back in college? Yeah. Had he been successful? Sadly, no. But that was the most action my body had seen aside from my vibrator.
I had high standards—like a book boyfriend in the flesh. My mom didn’t read, so she was clueless about the kind of men I’d ever want to date, which was why her matchmaking skills sucked.
“Virgin?” he mumbled, then said a word in Italian.
Note to self, google the word for virgin in Italian when home. Also, did I just stun this man into speechlessness?
He released his hold of my chin, only to run a hand over his bladed jawline, and his anger seemed to intensify based on the slant of his brows and the harsh lines cutting across his forehead.
I had to find the will to continue going head-to-head with him. And it took me channeling Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games and her fearlessness before saying, “I wasn’t planning to let some rando screw me in here, if that’s why you look all pissed off right now.”
“No? Just back at his penthouse? Up against his glass wall, huh? Your tits on display for all of Manhattan to see while he fuc—” He cut himself off as if realizing he was painting a vivid picture. Little did he know that was now number seven on the list of things I wanted to do with him.
My nipples hardened as a response to his dirty talk, and a little pulse of energy had me tightening my thighs together. This was new for me. I didn’t get all hot and bothered by a man unless he was written by a woman and inside a book.
His eyes fell to my skirt like he knew what was happening beneath it. The man freaking snarled at me, as if realizing I was aroused, and why’d it feel like he wanted to take me over his knee and punish me for it?
Well hell, that can be number eight.
A litany of curses left his mouth, a mix of English and Italian, while he tossed the napkin into the trash bin by the desk.
“You’re too young,” he murmured under his breath. “Too fragile.” He abruptly turned, clawing at his black hair, mussing it up.
“What are you talking about? Too young and fragile for what? Hudson?”
“For me,” he seethed, swiveling back around, breathing hard.
My mouth hung open. The words were trapped behind my shock. And the longer he stared at me with such a dark, heated look, the harder it became for me to think clearly.
He shoved back his suit jacket to draw his hands to his hips, continuing to stare me down. “What do you want, Maria?” He finally broke the silence, which had felt like the only real fragile thing in the room.
What I wanted was for him to remove his jacket and roll his sleeves up to expose the ink on his arms. Unbutton his shirt so I could see the tattoo on his chest.
I wanted to study him. Pretend I had artistic talent so I could sketch this man before me. Capture the emotion on his face. Immortalize in a drawing the way his muscles were no doubt bunched and tense beneath his clothes.
“Maria?” he repeated. “So help me, I don’t know what’s in your head, but you’re walking a tightrope right now by being alone with me.”
I swallowed and tore my eyes back to his face. “Why?” I rolled my tongue along the seam of my mouth, and he tipped his head to the side and dragged his thumb along the line of his lips as if he were touching me instead.
“Because I don’t fuck virgins, and certainly not one I vowed to their father to protect.” His hands snapped into fists at his sides, and I stumbled back, hitting the wall. He lifted his hands as if realizing what he’d done, and it was the first time I saw the muscles in his face go lax. “I would never hurt you.” His Adam’s apple moved as he carried his attention back to my eyes. “I’m trying to refrain from giving you what you seem to want.”
Oh jeez, could he read me that well? I was supposed to be the reader, not be the one read. “What is it that I want?” For some reason, I needed to hear those words more than I needed anything right now.
His hands relaxed at his sides as he stalked toward me, eating up the space between us. He dipped his head to find my gaze as his palms went to the wall over my shoulders.
When he didn’t answer, I offered up the truth. “I—I want, um, a birthday kiss.” Damn the stammer betraying the confidence I wanted to pretend to have in this moment. “Or maybe for you to take my v-card so I can be done with it already.” There. I said it. The real “it” in my head.
“You’re sure as hell not kissing or screwing anyone out in that bar.” His words rippled through the air and slid under my clothes, hitting me right between the legs. Being told what to do shouldn’t have turned me on, and yet . . .
“Does your order extend outside the bar? To all the boroughs of New York?” I shot back, unsure where that spitfire came from.
The side of his lip hitched, a devilish smirk appearing. “You really want me to break my rules, don’t you?”
“Would you do it if it meant stopping someone else from touching me?” I challenged, allowing my backbone to remain as stiff and tough as possible. But he wasn’t the villain he was trying to portray. I remembered him from our trips to the Hamptons. The sweet boy who’d throw paper airplanes across the room with funny jokes on them to make me laugh. Then that boy went to the army and became a man.
“If you think for one second I’m letting any guy near you tonight, you’re gravely mistaken,” he growled.
“Any man?” I rasped, unsure how long I could remain imprisoned by his hard body with his mouth so close to mine and not draw myself even closer. Not fist his shirt and arch into him. “That include you?”
His eyes fell to my lips, and his brows stitched together. “For a virgin, you like to play with fire. Why is that?” His voice was deep, thick with intent. But the intent to do what?
“I’m not a kid anymore, remember?”
“Trust me, I’m well aware of that fact.” He leaned in, his mouth nearly brushing my lips, and it took all my restraint not to kiss him. But like hell would I make the first move. “But I’m bad for you. You have no idea just how bad.”
My body had never responded to anyone like this before, and every nerve ending inside me was charged and ready to go. “I don’t believe you. The man you’re pretending to be right now is fake. The real you made dinner last night. You’re soft beneath this exterior.” I poked his chest. “I don’t know why you—” I cut myself off when he pinned his body to mine, letting me feel his rock-hard length, and my eyes widened.
“There’s nothing soft about me.” One hand left the wall, and he swept my long brown hair away from my face and palmed my cheek.
“You want me?” I murmured the question.
He skated his hand away from my face and along my bare arm, catching my fingers for a moment before he found my hip, and I gasped as he held me tighter. Unable to stop myself, I pressed up in my heels, closed my eyes, and shimmied against him, searching for relief between my legs.
“Open your eyes and look at me while you rub your pussy against my cock,” he roughly commanded, snatching my attention, and then my body went still at the realization I’d been doing what he’d said.
“I, um . . .” My hand flattened over his heart, finding it pounding. “What do you really want?” Please say me.
“The things I want are impossible.”
“What else is impossible?” I was reaching, and I knew that—hoping this man would open up to me like he could with Natalia.
“What I want is for my sister not to be dead,” he said in a broken voice, and at that, he let go of me and backed away, and I felt so utterly cold and alone without his proximity. “And that’ll never happen.” His eyes journeyed over the length of my body before he added, “Just like you and I will never be together.”
I processed his pain. Took it in. Absorbed some of it. And then admitted, “She was the best of us all.” I closed my eyes, feeling the prick of unexpected tears, such a sharp contrast to the heat still burning between my legs.
I gasped when my back went to the wall again, and I tore my eyes open to find him slamming a hand over my shoulder. “Why are you doing this to me? Why the hell are you making me feel . . .”
“Feel what?” I exhaled.
He lowered his chin, eyes moving down and to the side as if lost in thought. “You shouldn’t be in here with me.”
“I don’t see you backing away,” I challenged.
“I can’t seem to un-fucking-glue myself from you since you showed up last night,” he rasped, eyes returning to my face. “But I won’t give you what you think you want, because it’d break you, I promise.”
“But?” I hoped there was more coming.
“The birthday kiss. I’ll give that to you. I don’t want some asshole putting his mouth on you tonight.”
“Oh, I . . .”
“Save your virginity for someone you love. Don’t just give it to anyone.” There he was, that sweet, nice guy who gave a damn. He was trying to hide him. Conceal him under this facade he’d created. But even now he couldn’t help but be him. That made me want to cry for some reason. “You deserve better than what I can give you.”
I wasn’t sure why he felt that way, but I also wouldn’t refuse what he was willing to offer when I so desperately wanted to feel his mouth on mine. “Kiss me, then,” I pleaded, reaching for the lapel of his jacket.
He stared deep into my eyes, still unmoving, but when I arched into him to feel his cock, his restraint snapped. Hands darting up to cup my cheeks, he gently caressed my face as he slanted his mouth over mine.
His tongue skimmed the line of my lips, seeking entrance, and I gave it to him.
I moaned, struggling to comprehend how this felt like more than just a hot birthday kiss . . . this was borderline life-altering.
His kiss turned more ravenous, and his hands slid into my hair, holding my head tight as his tongue stroked mine. He kept me pinned to the wall with his entire body, and I melted into him, gripping onto his forearms. An all-consuming kiss. It was almost as if I could absorb his pain and his passion within the space of those few brief seconds.
I was pretty sure he was equally stunned by whatever was happening between us, because the next thing I knew, he was breaking the kiss. Resting his forehead to mine, he inhaled a shaky breath and took a second to compose himself.
And now, part of me wished he’d never given me that moment . . . because how in the world would I ever find someone to top that kiss? How would I move on from that?
He didn’t have to take my virginity to steal my heart.
He backed up and tapped his fist against his lips, lightly panting as he stared at me, appearing distraught. “Maria,” he began, a look of devastation on his face, “you have to promise me something.”
I gasped when he abruptly pulled me back to him, holding me tight to his frame with his hand at my back. “What?”
He brought his mouth to my ear, and my skin became hot and tingly. “Please, for the love of God,” he gruffly began, “never offer yourself to me again.”
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