“I’ve got you, princess. You’re safe. If you can hear me, no one’s going to take advantage of you. I promise.”

I managed to mumble, “Bummer.”

He released a heavy breath. “You’re something else.”

I really hoped he didn’t start talking about me being a piece of work again. His arms were so warm, and I’d never felt so comfortable.

We started moving, and Hunt asked me questions in a low, rumbling voice.

My head felt thick and clouded and my body outside my control. It took all my focus to string together words to answer him, but somehow, despite all of that, I was always aware of Hunt’s hands and his breath and his heart beating firmly underneath my cheek.

When I opened my eyes again, the world was a kaleidoscope of lights and colors and gray, gray eyes. Just when I thought I knew where I was and what was happening, everything would rearrange into something new and confusing.

Hunt’s eyes, though, they were constant. And they were dark and deep and so very unreadable. My head was in his lap, and the world was careening, circling and sprinting around me where I couldn’t follow and keep up. Everything tilted, and Hunt’s hand laid flat against my stomach to steady me.

I felt sick, but somehow that cleared my head a little, made it easier to think.

“What’s happening?” I mumbled.

“We’re in a cab. I can’t be certain, but . . .” His jaw clenched, and a storm brewed in his gaze. “I’m pretty sure someone slipped something in that drink while it was sitting at the bar.”


That’s what this was? Suddenly the warmth and the heaviness didn’t feel comforting and safe. It felt suffocating. I could feel my heart trying to beat faster in my chest, but the heaviness was there, too.

“Fuck,” I groaned.

“I tell you that you’ve been roofied and that’s all you have to say.”

“You tell me I’ve been roofied and expect me to say more?” I couldn’t say more. I wouldn’t. I didn’t even want to think about it.

His expression said he was pissed, but the hand on my waist and the other stroking through my damp hair told a different story.

There was a softness to him after all, and I was glad for it, glad that I wasn’t alone for this. Because if he was right . . .

Don’t think about it. Nothing happened. You’re safe.

I laid a hand over his on my stomach, and tried to just feel and breathe. There was no use in thinking about what could have happened. Just as there was no use in thinking about the past.

I must have fallen asleep again because next thing I knew Hunt was pulling me out of the cab and up into his arms. I had that strange out-of-body sensation again. I watched the way he cradled me—careful and strong, almost as though it was happening to someone else. He didn’t even break a sweat as he carried me into the lobby of a hotel.

He didn’t stop at the desk, so I guessed that this was where he was staying. My stomach clenched.

In the elevator, I blinked up at him, and in my dazed state I saw one thing clearly. It was the way he looked at me, like he already knew me inside out, like he knew something even I didn’t—that was what made me desperate to pull him closer and so eager to push him away. I didn’t know if he looked at everyone that way or just me.

“You scare me,” I said.

His brow furrowed, and his mouth opened, but no words came out. He took a breath and then very slowly said, “You have nothing to be scared of. I won’t . . . I wouldn’t. I’ll help you get to bed, and then I’ll leave, get another room.”

He thought I didn’t trust him . . . that he might do something.

“Not that. I don’t think that.”

“Then why do I scare you?”

“Because I don’t want you to see.”

There was a small part of me that knew I should shut my mouth, that I was saying things I shouldn’t, but that part of me felt like it was on the other side of a cement wall. It was too far away and too hard to understand.

“See what?”

He shouldered open a door and I answered simply, “Me.”


He was silent as he led me across the dark room and lowered me into a chair. He lay my purse and clothing at my feet. I’d checked those things. He must have picked them up, but I couldn’t remember when. He knelt in front of me and perched one hand on the chair beside my thigh.

“Why wouldn’t you want me to see you, Kelsey?”

My head was clear enough to order my mouth to stay shut on that one. I was not about to bare my soul to him. I’d lived my whole life as the confident girl, the girl not afraid to be bold or brash or independent. But that was a part I played, just like any other. Thick skin and a mask were necessities of my childhood. But when you grow up wearing a mask, you never really learn the face beneath it. I could guess at the me that hid underneath, though. It was the opposite of my illusion: ugly and afraid and not worth the cost of my manicure. If I lost my mask, if I let it drop, I’d have nothing.

“Kelsey, look at me.”

My lids were heavy, and my vision blurry, but I made myself focus on him.

“You are beautiful, that’s all I see.”

I tried to smile, but I couldn’t. Not when I knew how thin a shield that beauty was . . . how weak.

He watched me for a few seconds, and fatigue folded over me like a wave. My head started to droop, and it took all of my strength to keep my neck straight.

He cleared his throat once, twice, three times. Or maybe it was just once, and time or my mind had splintered. He said, “I, um, we should get you out of your wet swimsuit.”

I yawned and said, “Okay.” I tried to stand, but my legs collapsed beneath me. He caught my arms, and my chest slid against his. The world came quickly back into focus, and my breath caught.

Hunt cleared his throat again, and looked away. My swimsuit consisted of straps of fabric that wrapped around my chest, the small of my waist, and then tied onto my bikini bottoms. I reached for one of the knots tying my suit together at my hip, but my fingers felt useless, like all my bones had disappeared. Even when I managed to grip the fabric, I wasn’t strong enough to do anything with it.

My muscles tingled with fatigue, and I felt dizzy.

“I can’t.”

The strength of gravity seemed to double, and I just couldn’t stay upright anymore. Hunt was holding my arms, but the rest of my body began to slump.

“It’s okay. I’ll help. It’s okay.”

He lowered me into the chair, but then took a few steps back. He blew out a harsh breath and ran his hands across his head and down his face.

He mumbled, “What the fuck am I doing?”

He flexed his fists and rolled his neck, and I was too tired to do anything but watch the way his body moved, broad shoulders sloping toward muscled arms.

He said okay a few more times to himself, grabbed something from a suitcase, and then returned to me.

He knelt again and said, “Here, slip this on.”

I tried to raise my arms to help him slip the dark gray shirt on, but my arms remained stubbornly at my sides. He pulled it over my head, and it smelled like him. I closed my eyes to breathe in the scent. He picked up one of my hands, and I managed to grip his fingers. He smiled reassuringly, and then maneuvered my arm through the sleeve. He did the same with my other arm, and his hand accidentally brushed my chest. I let out a small noise, almost a mewl. His grip tightened around my hand, and he closed his eyes for a few seconds. After a labored pause, he apologized and finished moving my arm into place.

Carefully, he set my hand down by my side, and then walked to the other side of the room. With his back to me, he hooked his hands around his neck, and stood still and silent.

Tension bled from his flexed arms to his rigid back. I wanted to stand up, cross the room, and trace the lines of his body. I wanted to press myself against his back.

But I couldn’t.

“Okay. Next step,” he said, focusing on me like I was a problem to solve, a task to be completed.

He crossed the room and reached a hand around my back and another under my knees to lift me. With me in his arms, he bent and dragged back the covers from the bed. He laid me against the cool, clean sheets, and I shivered. He turned on my bedside lamp, and knelt beside me. I inclined my head to the side and met his dark gaze. The dull yellow light cast shadows over the angles of his face, accentuating his strong jaw and straight nose.

I thought he’d given up because he pulled the covers over me. I shivered again, and closed my eyes. Then I felt the brush of his fingertips under the covers against my hip. I pried my eyes open to see his chagrined smile.

“Are you that scared of seeing me naked?”

He finished untangling that first knot with ease.

“I’m not scared, sweetheart.”

The ties pulled loose, and he must have thought I was the scared one because he said, “I promise I won’t look.”

He reached farther under the covers to slide the strip of fabric off my stomach, but the rest wrapped beneath me, around my back to my chest.

“Can you lift yourself up? That might be easier.”

I tried to press my hands against the mattress and arch my body, but I was too far gone. The alcohol or the drugs or whatever had hit me hard enough that I felt almost paralyzed by exhaustion.

“I can’t.” I hated the tremble in my voice and how weak it made me sound, but I felt like my body had turned on me, and I was no longer in control.

Panic unfurled slowly, like the opening of a flower. I made myself keep my eyes open and focused. I knew what I would see if I let them close.

Hunt sat on the edge of the bed beside me.

“Wrap your arms around my neck, and use me to pull yourself up.”

Slowly, I managed to snake my arms out of the covers. He made sure the blankets stayed in place before pulling me up and helping me to hook my hands around his neck.

“Just hold on.”

He snuck his hands beneath the oversized T-shirt, and I felt him pull the fabric of my swimsuit, but it didn’t come undone. It just shifted the rest of my suit.

“Damn it. The other piece is strapped over this one. Hang on.”

He slipped a hand under the other strip, and held it out so that he could slip the other underneath it. My arms ached, so I dug my fingers harder into the back of his neck. He sucked in a breath, and his hands at my back faltered.


I watched his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed.


His fingertips skated across my lower back, dragging the fabric along, too. I skimmed one hand from the back of his neck to his jaw and said, “Tell me your other name. The one most people don’t call you.”

His eyes searched my face, flicking briefly from my lips up to my eyes.

“You won’t remember it tomorrow, sweetheart.”

“Doesn’t mean I don’t want to know, sweetheart.”

He quirked a smile, but it disappeared almost immediately. He finished working the strap through, and the hand that had been holding up the other strap pressed against my bare skin. His long fingers spread across the entire expanse of my back, and the room seemed to amp up several degrees.

“Jackson. My name is Jackson Hunt.”

I smiled, and he returned a small one of his own.

“Well, Jackson Hunt. Stop being a pansy, and just take my clothes off.”

He chuckled, low and raspy, and it built into a full, barking laugh.

“You’re something else, you know that?”

“Like you said, I won’t remember it tomorrow. Let’s just get it over with.”

He groaned and scraped his fingernails against the stubble along his jaw. He mumbled something under his breath that sounded like, “But I’ll remember.”

Exhausted and cold and tired of waiting, I eased myself back on the pillow, his hand dragging from my back to my side as I moved. I did my best to shove the covers down. The T-shirt was bunched up around my rib cage.

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