Remember Ramsey
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“If Ramsey hadn’t got his HEA there would have been a riot. What can I say he is my favorite so far. I love when a bad guy can be the hero.”
— Read All About It, GoodReads Review, ★★★★★

Prologue

Observation notes: Day one. Initial observation begins tonight. My goal is to slip into the bar and assess the subjects inside. My sources have told me that a great deal of illicit activity occurs within the confines of the bar owned by the mysterious Ramsey Hyde. Everyone knows about Ramsey’s reputation.

If I’m lucky, he’ll never even know I’m there.

***

Dr. Whitney Augustine took a deep breath and offered a tentative smile to the bouncer who sat on the old, wooden stool just outside of the bar.

He didn’t smile back. He glared. “Lady, what the hell are you doing here?”

“Looking for a drink?” Her brows climbed. “This is a bar, isn’t it?”

His gaze slid over her. He took in her loose, flowing top. Her jeans. Her high heels.

“Uh, is there like…a cover fee or something that I have to pay?” This was getting awkward. She’d watched other people slide inside the bar with no problem. The bouncer had barely glanced at them. But when she’d tried to stride boldly past him, he’d lifted up his hand to halt her progress.

“We’re at capacity.” He pointed over her shoulder. “You should get back in your ride and head down the road. I’m sure there are more bars open. Try finding a place on the beach.”

Her shoulders squared. “I don’t want another bar. I want this place.” Whitney released a long breath before saying the phrase she was about ninety percent sure would get her inside. “There is business I must conduct in Ramsey’s. I’m looking to hire someone for…a bit of work that I have.”

He stared back at her. Just stared.

He was in his early twenties, with long, brown hair and clad in a black t-shirt.

Whitney kept her chin up as she waited for his response. The intel she’d obtained had told her that Ramsey’s bar was a front. Inside, all sorts of dark deals were arranged. If you went in Ramsey’s, you were either a criminal or someone looking to hire a criminal.

Despite the words she’d just given to the suspicious bouncer, Whitney did not actually want to hire a criminal. She just wanted to study one. Or a few. Up close.

It was her job, after all. She was a psychologist, and her major area of focus was criminal behavior. She needed to understand the criminal mind. Needed to learn as much as she could and—

“I’ve got just the guy for you,” the bouncer surprised her by saying.

“What? You—you do?” Excitement pumped through her blood. Yes.

“Uh, huh.” He rose from the stool. “Follow me.”

She scrambled to keep up with him. “You’re just leaving your post? Is that all right? Your boss won’t get angry?” She didn’t want him to get in trouble because he was helping her.

The bar was packed. Music blared. And excitement had her whole body shaking. She’d planned for this immersive experience for weeks. To actually be in Ramsey’s had surges of nervous energy pumping through her.

“Oh, I don’t think the boss will be angry with me at all.”

She barely heard his words because a large, hulking figure had loomed in her path. Whitney quickly side-stepped that figure, only to draw up short when she realized the bouncer had stopped. He stood next to a man with thick, black hair. A man who wore an absolutely ancient-looking jacket.

“Got someone for you to meet,” the bouncer drawled. “A lady looking to hire someone to do some special kind of work.”

Her stomach twisted in knots. She’d done her research ever so carefully. Now this, this was finally it. It was one thing to just do research from the safety and comfort of her office. It was quite another to be in the field and get first-hand exposure. And it had been far too long since she’d journeyed into the field. Definitely time to get busy again.

The man at the bar slowly turned toward her, and every single bit of breath seemed to leave her in a whoosh. Whitney could not look away from the darkest, deepest eyes she’d ever seen in her life.

The noise around her seemed to mute as her heart launched into a triple-time rhythm. The man before her was dangerous. The waves of danger seemed to roll off him. He was also drop-dead gorgeous. His head tilted as he studied her, and he lifted a shot glass to his sexy mouth. His hand gripped the glass easily, and he drained the clear liquid in one gulp. Tats covered both of his hands. Swirling, fierce tats.

He put the glass down with a soft clink.

His gaze swept over her. Slowly. The bouncer had studied her, too, but this man’s gaze was different. It felt different. It felt like he was undressing her.

And she should have been completely pissed off.

She had never in her life been attracted to dangerous men. She studied those sorts of men. Wrote research papers on them. Lectured on them to her students at the college. She didn’t feel attraction to men like that. She certainly did not sleep with men like that.

Whitney had a rule. When it came to her personal life, she preferred nice, safe men.

One look at the stranger, and she knew there was nothing nice or safe about him.

“So…I’ll just leave you to business.” The bouncer. She’d almost forgotten he was there. “Have fun.” He sauntered away.

The stranger kept staring at her. At least his gaze had returned to her face. That was something. And her breathing was semi-normal again. That was something else.

He quirked one brow at her. “You gonna stand there or you gonna hop up on the stool and have a drink with me?”

She liked his voice. She should not have liked his voice because she wasn’t there to get drawn to some dangerous man. But his voice was low and rumbling and sexy. The kind of voice that would whisper to a woman in the dark and—

Nope. Stop it. Focus. You are a professional.

She’d never, ever had a reaction like this to someone she had just met. What in the world was wrong with her?

He leaned forward and patted the stool next to him. “I promise, I won’t bite.”

“Well, of course not,” she rushed to say as she hopped up on that stool. “I certainly didn’t think—”

“Unless you want me to bite. I mean, if you’re into that.” He gave her a slow, sensual smile. “Not quite sure what you’re paying me to do yet. Is it to fuck you? Is that what you want? You came in, and you’re looking for a guy to—”

“No!” Heat burned through her cheeks. This was so wrong. She grabbed his arm. Hello, muscles. “I am most certainly not here to hire someone to—to—”

“To fuck you?”

“Yes, that. Thank you.”

He laughed. “Too bad. For you, I would have offered a discounted rate.” He winked.

Her flush got worse. She yanked her hand away from his muscled arm and gave herself a quick fan with a flutter of her fingers. “It’s rather warm in here, isn’t it?”

“Not particularly.” His tattooed fingers drummed on the bar.

Trying to be casual, Whitney slid her hand into her purse and pulled out the four twenties she’d prepared. Then she inched that money toward his drumming fingers.

His eyebrows lifted. “What in the hell is that?”

“Eighty dollars. Eighty dollars is worth an hour of your time, isn’t it?” Surely it would—

“Not normally, no.”

Oh. She’d rather thought eighty would be a good starting point. “Maybe I should tell you about the job.”

He grunted. “Maybe you should.”

She risked a glance around. No one seemed to be paying them much attention, yet she had the weird feeling that everybody in that place was aware of her conversation with the stranger. Crazy, of course. But…

She pulled her stool closer to his. Their shoulders brushed. “I just want to sit with you.”

“Excuse me?”

“It will be the easiest job of your life, I promise.” Her words came out in a fast, soft rush.

“You smell like raspberries.”

“I—” She got caught by his eyes. “Scented soap.”

“It’s fucking delicious.”

Whitney swallowed. Her gaze drifted over his face. A line of stubble covered what was truly a phenomenal jaw. Strong. Hard. His thick, dark hair was swept back from his high forehead. And his eyes weren’t just brown. They were golden brown.

“Back to business,” he murmured.

Oh, crap. Had she just been staring at him? How embarrassing. And unprofessional.

“You want to pay me eighty bucks so that you can sit with me. That’s a new kink.”

“It’s not a—” Her breath huffed out. “If I’m with you, then no one will look twice at me.”

“Don’t be too sure of that.”

“They’ll think we’re conducting business, and I’ll be left alone.” Her brilliant plan. She’d figured she’d be the one who picked out her partner-in-crime, so to speak, but the helpful bouncer had done the job for her. “Then I can do my work.”

His face hardened. “And what exactly is your work?” A new note had entered his voice. A low, harsh note that sent chills skating down her spine. “You a cop?”

“No! Nothing like that!” Once more, she glanced around. “And I don’t think you should be throwing out the ‘C’ word in this place. You don’t want to get us in trouble. If Ramsey hears you saying that, he’ll probably throw us both out.”

“Doubtful. I’m pretty tight with him.”

“Well, I’m not.”

“Obviously.”

Her gaze darted back to him.

He was watching her. “You don’t look like a cop. Don’t have cop eyes.”

“That’s because I’m not a cop.”

“Then what are you?”

She leaned in even closer to him. “I’m a psychologist.”

“Bullshit.”

“No, I really am. And I want to have the chance to observe the behavior in this bar because I am—”

“Crazy?” he interrupted.

“Uh, no.”

“Delusional?”

“No, not that, either. Thanks for asking.”

“You sure?” He hadn’t taken her cash. He had turned fully toward her. “To me, it seems like you must be nuts. Because otherwise, why the hell would you walk into this place? You must know how dangerous it is.”

Of course, she did. “That’s why I’m here.” This wasn’t an offical study. Not sanctioned through her college. This was an observational process that she wanted to do for herself. She’d been shut away in the classroom too long. She needed to get out. To experience the real world.

“You know the bar is full of criminals.”

“I have heard that, yes.” Which went back to…That’s why I’m here.

“And you want to play with them? What the hell? You get off on screwing dangerous people?”

“I’m not here to screw anyone! Why do you keep getting fixated on that point?” Her breath huffed out. “Never mind. You are obviously not interested in helping me. I’ll just take my money and find someone else.” Her fingers closed around the cash.

His fingers closed around hers. A surge of heat flew from her fingertips all the way through her body. One of those electric jolts that people wrote about in books but that had never happened to Whitney before in her entire life.

“You’re not finding anyone else.”

Their heads were close. Their mouths were close. Why was she thinking about kissing him?

She licked her lips. His gaze followed the movement of her tongue, and she could have sworn that his stare heated. Whitney tried to de-escalate what felt like a majorly tense situation. “I’m not looking for trouble.”

“Could have fooled me.”

“I just want to sit here. I want to observe.”

“You want to run a freaking experiment on the people in the bar. People who are armed and dangerous and could hurt you in the blink of an eye. Did you even think about that? Did you think about how easy it would be for you to be hurt before you sashayed in here in those tight jeans and those screw-me shoes?”

“I have mace in my purse.”

His eyes squeezed shut. “Not going to fucking help you much.”

“I’m not helpless.” Her spine stiffened. “I know self-defense. And I’ve been in plenty of dangerous situations.”

His eyes opened. “That does not reassure me.” A pause. “Your name.” It was an order.

“Whitney Augustine.” She stared at him.

Nothing.

“Uh, this is the point where you are supposed to tell me your name,” Whitney prompted.

“How about we take a walk?”

“But I just got here. If you’re not going to take my job—”

“A walk.” He closed his hands around her waist and lifted her off the stool. “We’re going to take it now.”

“I am not going anywhere with you!” Whitney snapped even as she tried to ignore the heat that his touch had just generated. Why was she reacting this way? “Kindly take your hands off me.”

His hands dropped from her waist, but he didn’t back away. “You think this is the type of place where some white knight will rush to your rescue if you get in trouble?”

Actually, no, she rather believed the opposite. She suspected this was the kind of place where people ignored most types of trouble.

“That’s what I thought.”

Wonderful. He seemed all smug and satisfied. Good for him.

“How about this…” he murmured. “How about I promise to be on my best behavior with you? I will keep my hands off you, and we can go into the back and have a polite, private conversation. Sound good to you?”

No, it most certainly did not sound good. “You must the crazy one if you think I’ll just wander into a back room with a stranger.” Especially one as muscled and dangerous as he appeared. “My job was simple. I wanted you to just act like we were conducting business. We would have stayed right here where we were surrounded by plenty of other people. It should have been easy.” Then he’d gone and complicated things.

“I don’t think anything about you is easy…”

Was that an insult? Or a compliment? She couldn’t tell. “Just forget it. I’ll find someone else.” Whitney marched a few steps away from him.

“I don’t think I can forget you.”

“Try. Try really hard.” Her gaze was already scanning the room. Who would be her partner? Who could she pay to—

I don’t want anyone fucking touching her.” His voice boomed out behind her.

Horrified, her head—and body—whipped around, and Whitney gaped at him.

“She’s mine, and no one will put a finger on her, no matter what wild shit she says.”

Whitney could only shake her head at him. “Do you have some sort of…issue? Like, should I call someone for you?”

She thought his lips might have twitched. Before she could say anything else—

“Sure thing, boss,” one guy called out. “We hear you.”

Boss.

Her heart slammed into her chest.

Boss.

Another hard slam.

This couldn’t be right. No, no, no, this had better be wrong. The handsome devil with the tatted hands and taunting, sexy grin…he could not be the boss. Granted, there were surprisingly few pictures of Ramsey Hyde online. The man had no social media presence, and the mug shots she’d found had been taken when he’d been barely legal. Those old photos looked nothing like the guy in front of her. This man could not be—

“I guess this is the part where we finish the introduction bit.” His grin stretched. “I’m Ramsey Hyde, and your sweet ass does not belong in this bar.”

Chapter One

Observation notes: He let me stay. Ramsey is an arrogant, controlling—never mind. He agreed to let me stay. Reluctantly. He agreed to let me do my “research” in his bar. Except he told me eighty bucks just wasn’t going to “cut it” in his book. Instead, he offered me another deal.

Why the hell did I accept it?

***

“Uh, lady?” The bouncer eyed her warily. “Did you hear me? I said you don’t belong in this bar.” He cleared his throat and lifted his hand to point back toward the dark parking lot. “You should go back to your car and get the hell out of here.”

Whitney Augustine straightened her shoulders. “It’s a public bar. Anyone should be able to go inside.”

The man seemed to be sweating. Odd, it was a surprisingly crisp night.

“This is really, really not a good place for you.”

It didn’t seem to be a good place for anyone. The bar looked like a hole in the wall. Music screeched from inside. A moment ago, she’d seen two men get tossed out—literally, thrown into the air before they slammed onto the ground. It certainly wasn’t what she’d call a family-friendly spot. No matter. She was going inside. “Do I need to pay some sort of cover fee?”

The bouncer blanched.

“Are you all right?” Whitney asked in concern. Her hand rose and gripped the man’s shoulder. He’d nearly fallen off his wobbly stool. “Are you feeling sick?”

He jumped off the stool—and away from her. “You should not be touching me.”

She blinked. “Sorry.” Her hand fisted. “Look, I just need to go inside and see if—” But Whitney broke off. Mostly because what she had to say was too crazy to be believed.

I just need to go inside and see if anything about this bar is familiar to me. I need to see if anyone in there comes and talks to me…if anyone knows me.

“You should leave,” he urged her. “Now. Run away. Fast.”

But her shoulders just rolled back with determination. “I’m going in this bar.”

“He is not gonna like this.”

What? “Who won’t?”

A long exhale. “Come with me.”

Then she was scrambling to follow him. They pushed through the heavy crowd inside, and the too loud music had her temples aching. But there was something about the scene, about the atmosphere of the place, that nagged at Whitney. Something that felt…familiar.

And familiar wasn’t something that she was too used to experiencing, at least not lately.

But as Whitney followed the brown-haired bouncer through the crowd, she became aware of the fact that conversations were stopping. The noise level fell off, and even the screeching band…paused.

She looked around and realized that people were staring at her.

Yeah, right. Not like that was the first time she’d been gawked at by strangers. Unfortunately. Her face had been splashed all over the news in the last few weeks, and she couldn’t even go to the grocery store these days without people in the aisles whispering about her. Or snapping pics of her with their phones. Talk about something that made her stomach knot and twist.

“The boss is up here,” the bouncer told her.

The boss? Ramsey. The name slid through her mind and rattled her nerves. Ramsey was the man she was there to see. It was his bar. His place. And, according to the notes she’d found, he was the one who’d given her permission to visit the bar over and over again in the past. Before her life had become a nightmare.

When Whitney thought of her life, she divided it into two main parts.

Part one…life before she’d been left for dead in the Gulf of Mexico.

Part two…life when she’d come back…with too many holes in her memory.

Back in part one of her life, she’d visited this bar. The visits had been part of an unofficial research activity that she’d been conducting in criminal psychology. Since Ramsey had been aware of her visits during that time, Whitney hoped he might be the man who could help her fill in some of those holes in her memory.

Oh, she hoped he could help her.

The bouncer stopped near a man who sat at the bar. His broad shoulders were covered by an old, battered coat. His dark head was bent forward.

“Uh, boss.” A tap on the boss’s shoulder. “It’s her.

The boss—Ramsey—slowly stiffened. Then he turned his head, and deep, dark eyes met hers.

She couldn’t speak. Her whole body kind of jolted as she stared at him.

“Fuck me.” Ramsey grabbed a shot glass and drained the contents. His hold on the glass was so tight that Whitney was surprised he didn’t shatter it.

“Um, okay. I’ll leave you to it.” The bouncer fled.

The bar stayed uncomfortably quiet.

“Play some damn music!” Ramsey roared. “And everyone—look the freaking other way!”

Music started playing. Whitney didn’t glance around, but she was certain everyone started looking the other way, too. She rather thought that when Ramsey gave an order, most people jumped to obey it.

“And you…” Now he swiveled his body so that he was angled completely toward her. “You need to get out of here.”

Right. As she’d thought, most people probably jumped to obey his orders. She wasn’t most people. And she was also super, super desperate. So instead of backing away, she moved closer.

His eyes widened. Whitney realized they weren’t just dark brown. They were golden brown and—

And I knew that.

“You came to see me when I was in the hospital.” The words burst from her, but they were true. When she’d been in the hospital, this man had rushed into her room. He’d seemed frantic. Desperate to talk to her. And then…

Then everything had changed. As soon as he’d become fully aware of her—ah, her condition—he’d left.

For some reason, his departure had gutted her. It shouldn’t have mattered. He was a stranger. But…

It had hurt.

“You have me confused with someone else.” His voice was low and rumbling and rough, and it made the fine hairs on the nape of her neck rise.

“I don’t think that I do.” She risked another step closer. She was so close now that Whitney could reach out and touch him. Her fingers wanted to touch him so badly that she clenched them at her sides. “You’re Ramsey Hyde, and you know me.”

His gaze slid over her body. “I know lots of people.”

“You came to the hospital. You came to see me.” That had been weeks ago. And he hadn’t come back.

“You’re a celebrity.” He shrugged. “Lots of people want to see the woman who cheated death. Not every day that someone comes back from a watery grave.”

Whitney flinched. He didn’t know it, but his words had immediately summoned a nightmare memory for her. The damn flashes would hit at the weirdest times. And right then, she had a sudden flash of her hands clawing through water. Of her lungs burning, and the heavy water trying to pull her down…

“Hey.” His hand was on her cheek.

And his touch…familiar.

“You okay?” Gruff. As if the question had been torn from him.

Whitney was one hundred and ten percent not okay. She blinked away tears and shook her head. “If I was okay, I wouldn’t be here.” But desperate times had led to some desperate measures.

His fingers smoothed over her cheek. Was it her imagination, or did his fierce expression soften just the faintest bit?

“I’m an asshole,” he told her bluntly. “A selfish, diabolical bastard who has no business being near you, much less touching you.” His hand dropped. “This bar isn’t the right place for you. The bouncer shouldn’t have let you past the door. Jimmy knows better.”

Now why did those words hurt? She didn’t know for sure, but they just did. Time for her to bluff and see what happened. “I’ve been here plenty of times before, and you didn’t mind then.”

Now his expression definitely changed. Shock flashed across his features.

“In fact,” she continued because his response had just given her more courage, “you were more than happy with our arrangement.”

“You…remember?”

If only. Immediately after her attack, Whitney had lost all of her memories, but as the swelling in her brain had decreased and she had slowly recovered, the memories had returned…Except for the six months before her attack. Before she’d been left for dead in the Gulf of Mexico. Those memories still eluded her. Her dark time. It was frustrating and maddening. She could remember growing up. Going to college. Teaching at the university.

But those six months had been erased.

She didn’t know if she would ever get those memories back.

“Whitney.” He stood. Towered over her because he was at least six-foot-three and all solid muscle. “Do you remember me?”

She wanted to say yes. But even as she opened her mouth—

“No.” Ramsey shook his head. “No, you don’t remember a damn thing.” He turned his back on her. “This place isn’t for you. You need to get the hell out of here.”

All of the air left her like she was some kind of deflated balloon. First, she felt shock, then…anger. No, no, he would not do this to her. Whitney grabbed his shoulder and swung him around to face her. “You know me.”

One brow rose.

“I found notes. I wrote about us.”

A muscle jerked along his jaw. “What?”

“We worked together here. Now you’re acting like I’m a stranger. I want to know why. I want to know why you left me in that hospital. Why you didn’t come back. Why you—”

“First, lower your voice.” His own voice was barely a rasp. “You don’t know who is listening. And this crowd isn’t the sort I’d trust with anything valuable.”

Her lips clamped together.

“Second, you’re far too damn pale. Why the hell are you so pale?” He curled his hands around her hips and Whitney gave a startled gasp but—

He just lifted her onto the barstool and immediately released her, as if touching her had nearly burned his fingertips.

She hunched forward, and the loose tunic top she wore slid over her thighs.

“You want a drink? Hell, I could use about four more shots.” He tapped his fingers on the bar.

Her gaze darted to his tattoos. There were lots of different tats on his hands and sliding up his wrists, and when he opened up his right hand—

A rose.

There was a rose tattoo on the inside of his palm. A black rose.

“I’ve heard that palm tattoos can be one of the most painful tats to get.” Her voice was low. A little stilted. “Your palm is supposed to be more sensitive, I think something like four times more sensitive than other places to get tats on your body—”

His hand fisted. “I don’t mind pain.”

“Oh.” Whitney wasn’t exactly sure how to respond to that statement. “Well, um, good for you?”

His brow furrowed.

The bartender sidled up toward them.

“Tequila,” Ramsey snapped.

The bartender glanced at Whitney. She should order something. Check. “Could I have a water, please?”

He squinted at her. “You don’t want your lemon drop?”

Her what? Then Whitney’s eyes widened. The bartender knows me. I’ve come in here so often that he remembers the drink I like.

Ramsey growled, “We don’t serve those drinks anymore, remember? It’s beers or hard alcohol. Not a freaking thing else.”

“Water,” Whitney said again. “I’ll just have water, and thank you.”

The bartender swung away.

Whitney’s gaze darted back to Ramsey. She found him staring at her. And his expression was so stark and savage and…hungry. No, maybe hungry wasn’t the right word. But it sure as heck looked as if he wanted to eat her alive.

The bartender was already heading back to them—

“Fuck it,” Ramsey suddenly snarled. “You’re coming with me.” He locked his hand around her wrist and hauled her off the stool. Then he was tugging her through the crowd. Everyone seemed to jump out of their path, and in moments, Ramsey shoved open some door in the back. He ushered her over the threshold. Slammed the door behind them. Then threw the lock.

Her breathing heaved in and out. Whitney found herself backing up until her shoulders brushed against the nearby wall. Ramsey stalked toward her. His arms rose to cage her as his hands pressed into the wall on either side of her head. “You shouldn’t be here.”

“You know me.”

“You should stay the hell away from my bar. Away from me. You don’t belong here.”

Why did his words hurt?

“And why the fuck,” Ramsey rumbled, “are you so pale?”

He’d asked her that question before. The man seemed obsessed.

“Are you sick?” What could have been worry slid into his voice. “I thought you’d recovered. I thought—”

“You know me.” This was said with more confidence because he’d just given himself away. He’d been following her progress—somehow. Maybe keeping tabs on her through the media. Maybe even talking to someone who was in her life. But Ramsey wouldn’t do that if they didn’t have some sort of relationship, right? He wouldn’t bother if they weren’t connected.

His gaze dropped to her mouth. “Yeah, I know you.”

She wet her lips. Why had she just done that? Why was her head tipping back and her toes pressing against the floor as if she wanted to get closer to him? Did she want him to kiss her?

Utter madness.

“I know that you used to come into my place because you liked to run your little experiments.” His gaze lifted to meet hers. “But you stopped doing that. I told you the bar was off-limits, and you stayed away.”

“I…that wasn’t in my notes.” Her heart lurched. “When did you tell me to stay away?”

He swallowed. “What notes?”

He’d just answered a question with a question. There couldn’t be a more obvious diversionary tactic.

“What. Notes?” Ramsey pushed.

“I was able to recover some observational notes that I had created on an old computer. Some info about my trips to this place.” She would be as honest as possible. “Unfortunately, the files were corrupted so I couldn’t read everything.” If only. “Just bits and pieces. But they are bits and pieces from the time in my life that I lost.”

“I see.”

Did he? “I don’t think you do.” Anger hummed in her voice. “I don’t think you see anything at all about me because you don’t know what it’s like to be me. You don’t know what it’s like to have a giant hole in your life. A blank space during which anything could have happened. I lost time. I lost my life. I want it back.”

He leaned in even closer.

He’s going to kiss me.

And if he did, his mouth would be hot and hard and so sensual. He’d tug on her lower lip. Thrust his tongue past her parted lips. He’d have her moaning and arching against him, and she wouldn’t care who was outside of his door.

“Have you ever thought…” His voice had gone lower. Rougher. “That you’re better off not knowing what happened?”

Then, before Whitney could respond, he shoved away from her.

“It’s my life,” Whitney told him grimly. “I think that means I should make that decision.”

He’d turned his back on her. “And it’s my bar. So when I say that you won’t be allowed entrance here again, I mean it.”

“You are a bastard.”

He didn’t look back at her. “I’ve been told that before.” He headed for a desk. Ran his fingers along the edge. “Go back to your quiet, safe world, Whitney. You’ve always been too obsessed with danger. It’s time to put that obsession to bed.”

She didn’t move. “I have some questions for you.”

“And I don’t have answers for you.”

“You don’t even know what the questions are!” she exploded.

Slowly, his head angled toward her. His gaze met hers. And once more, she had the wild thought…

He looks like he wants to eat me up. His stare seemed to burn with intensity as it raked over her. There was too much knowledge in that stare of his.

“I’ll answer one question. Just one.”

“Oh, wow, aren’t you the super generous one.” She stomped toward him.

“No, I’m not. No one has ever accused me of being generous. Or kind. Or any of those other annoying and useless traits. I’m dangerous. I’m deadly. I’m the bastard you don’t want to face in the dark.”

“Are you trying to scare me?”

“Is that your one question?” Mocking.

Maddening.

“No!” She stopped in front of him. Straightened her spine. “I want to know…”

One dark eyebrow rose. He was all cocky and confident and arrogant and she wanted to shake him because there was so much more beneath his surface, Whitney was sure of it.

“What do you want to know?” His hand rose, and his fingers curled under her chin as his thumb brushed gently over her cheek.

She stared straight into his eyes. She wanted his control to shatter. She wanted to see the real man that he was hiding beneath this cold mask. “How do I know what it feels like when you kiss me?”

The darkness of his eyes seemed to get even deeper.

“If I don’t belong here, if I’m supposed to stay out of your bar and your world, then how come when you were leaning toward me just a few moments ago, I suddenly knew exactly what it would feel like if your mouth took mine?”

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