Dumb. Just. Dumb. Seeking sanctuary in the kitchen instead of locking myself in the bathroom, I realized my mistake too late. From the very instant he touched me, the ground gave way beneath me and I was falling harder than before, my libido short-circuiting my brain. But the dumbest thing by far was going off-script and negating every good intention I had to play it cool. Say my peace, leave the room and zip it; but do not, repeat do not, ever try to have the last word with a man like Rourke ‘The Rat’ Simmons’. No sooner had I formed those thoughts when he strolled into the kitchen and proved me right. “You want to run that by me again?” “Which part?” “The part about loving me.” Flustered by his nearness, I’d have sooner taken a bullet than let him see me squirm, so I did what any self-respecting woman would do when she’s caught with her proverbial panties down. I hit him with the smile of death. “You’re hearing things, a condition not uncommon in men of your advanced age. It has something to do with an excess of arrogance. You might want to have that checked out.” He did have a nice laugh. For a rat. Stepping up behind me, he swept my hair aside and brushed his lips against my neck. “I’d rather check you out. Put your hands on the counter top.” The husky timbre of his voice was the final irony, the voice I most wanted to hear, yet feared. The voice I’d conjured in my daydreams more times than I could count. Knowing I should run, the feel of his hard body at my back, his lips warm and firm against my skin, sent my hormones into hyper-drive, and like a fool I did as he asked. “Now what?” “Now this,” he whispered as he eased a hand beneath my top while the other inched inside my shorts. Rasping an eager nipple, he slid one long finger between my slick nether lips and took me to a place I’d only fantasized about. The pressure building, my breath came out in gasps, eight years of heartache dissolving in a hunger only he could sate. “Please.” “Good girl.” Good girl. Two silly words and I imploded, all my nerve-endings set ablaze. So different from the brusque man I remembered, he held me as I spiraled out of control; and even through the aftershocks, he was there. It ended when my sanity returned and with it my resolve. What I failed to consider was his vast experience with women, his ability to read my body language and post-orgasmic paranoia for what it was: mind-numbing terror that when this was over, I’d be left in ruins. “Look at me.” Turning me to face him, he cupped my face, but where I expected to see a self-satisfied grin, I saw a man in turmoil. “You were right. I came here prepared to do whatever it took to keep you from that damn press conference and TV show. What I didn’t count on was…” Rarely at a loss for words, he surprised me with his hesitation, the way he stared at me. Hardly longer than a few seconds, it was time enough to plant a seed of hope. “Was what?” “You. I didn’t count on you.” He took my lips in a frenzy of carnal need, and I matched it with my own. Drowning in sensation, I loved his taste, his touch, the way we fit together, an intoxicating fusion of the foreign and familiar. Long after it was over, he was still leaving a trail of tiny kisses on my eyes, my cheeks and even in my hair; and all the while a million questions rattled around inside my head, but the only one that mattered was the one I wouldn’t ask. Would I ever occupy a small place in his heart?