Just joining us? Links to previous episodes here.
Men are pigs, thought Embry, struggling to keep the flirty smile from turning into a scowl as the elevator climbed slowly to the ninth floor. Cade stood beside her, thumbs hooked in the front pockets of his jeans.
He didn’t have to agree so damned fast to this proposal.
Never mind that this was the role she was playing, that this was exactly where she wanted him.
He probably has women throwing themselves at him all the time, she thought with disgust. The sexy, successful fighter. Probably gets all the tail he could want. Neanderthal. Flavor of the week, my ass.
She felt a growl vibrate in the back of her throat.
“Did you say something?” he asked.
“Just clearing my throat,” she said, pasting the smile back on as she met his eyes. There isn’t enough air in here.
The doors slid open with a soft ding and he offered her his arm. Embry thought it was a foolishly gallant gesture given what he thought they were going to do, but she slid her hand in the crook of his elbow anyway and led him down the hall.
At the door to her room, she fumbled through her purse for the room key. She couldn’t help herself. “I guess you do this all the time, huh?” Jealous idiot, she told herself.
He smiled a trifle sheepishly. “Meet insanely attractive, audacious women with a killer sense of humor? No, not so much.”
Clearly your tastes more often run to brainless bimbos. But she smiled anyway and slid the keycard into the door.
She paused just inside the doorway, doing a quick sweep of the room with her senses. But the spells she’d put in place when she left hadn’t been disturbed. She loosed a little breath of relief.
Cade’s hands settled lightly on her shoulders and began to knead. “You seem a bit tense.”
It wasn’t the first time he’d touched her tonight. He was a casually affectionate sort of guy. But they’d been in public before, surrounded by people she had to constantly scan and assess. With no other threat to distract her, Embry was fully aware of the strength in his hands, the feel of his fingers on her bare shoulders. Heat radiated off him in the too cold air, a solid reminder that he was very much alive. He leaned in, as if to catch a too quiet response, and his breath trailed over her skin. Lust and need tangled in her belly.
As she wracked her brain for a glib reply, he circled around in front of her. “Hey, I don’t expect anything. You get uncomfortable or want me to go, you just say the word. No harm, no foul.”
“Always the gentleman,” she murmured. “Someone raised you right.”
Something flickered in his eyes before he smiled and took both her hands in his. “C’mon.”
He started tugging her further into the room. Her heart stumbled and so did her feet as her gaze strayed to the sprawling king-sized bed. But he bypassed it, nudging her instead onto the sofa. Then he sat on the floor.
“What are you doing?”
Cade lifted her foot and did a reverse Cinderella, slipping the stiletto heel off and setting it aside. “I can see how these would be uncomfortable, but they totally accomplish their mission.”
“And what’s that?” Embry asked as he began to slowly flex her foot.
“They draw attention to your truly superb legs.” He dug his thumbs into the ball and dragged them to the arch.
Embry made an involuntary groan of pleasure and let her head drop back against the sofa. “That’s it. This is your fallback career when you can’t fight anymore. Women would line up for miles for a foot massage like this.”
Chuckling, Cade continued to knead, loosening the knots and strain in her abused feet.
He’s not seducing me, Embry told herself. I’m just letting him think he is. But she couldn’t resist imagining those magic hands elsewhere on her body. Then she couldn’t stop the memory of them from flashing to life in her mind. She wanted him. She had always wanted him. But she’d be damned if she was going to let history repeat itself. This was a mission, nothing more. It couldn’t be anything more.
Because she was desperate to touch him, Embry curled her fingers into the cushions and called herself a liar.
“Hey, where did your head go just now?”
She opened her eyes to look down at him as he shifted over to the other foot. God he was beautiful. And completely out of bounds.
“You look sad.”
I found out that the man I love is still alive, and it doesn’t matter because however things turn out, I can’t be with him. Yeah, that makes me pretty fucking heartbroken.
Giving into the urge, she leaned forward and captured his face lightly in her hands. It was a pleasure to run her fingers over the planes of it. His cheeks were sharper, leaner now, without the boyish softness she remembered. There was an assortment of small scars that she didn’t recognize. She traced each of them softly, wondering if they’d all come from the cage.
His lips quirked. “I’m not too pretty after all these years of fighting.”
“Nothing has looked more wonderful to me in the last ten years,” she said.
His eyes widened, and Embry realized her mistake. Muttering a curse, she laid her lips over his.
She meant to distract him. To keep her own head and kiss him until she could think of an explanation that wouldn’t blow this. But beneath the faint taste of hops from his earlier beer, she tasted home, and she wanted to drown in it. All the years of longing, of wanting, of grieving swamped her, and she dragged him closer, her hands diving into his hair.
His arms came around her, one hand fisting in her curls as he dragged her head back and plundered her mouth with the same ragged desperation she felt.
It was foolish, dangerous, and she didn’t care. After so many years of nothing, just this once she was going to take something for herself.
He jerked her to her feet, and they circled in a fevered dance toward the bed, straining to touch and taste. And beneath his hands, she felt herself ignite.
Alarmed, Embry stumbled back. She struggled to slow the breath that threatened to whistle out of her lungs like a steam engine. She stepped back from him. “I think I need a drink.” Stupid. Idiot. Get it together.
The ice bucket was where she’d left it on the coffee table hours earlier, albeit with a puddle of condensation around it. She scooped what remained of the ice into the waiting glasses and added a generous three fingers of scotch to one. Her hand trembled. She hadn’t counted on this, hadn’t planned on all the old feelings swirling up and taking over. She needed to be focused. She was here on a mission. This was about her father, not about reviving feelings for a ghost.
The first sip burned its way down to her stomach, clearing her mind, clarifying her purpose. Slipping the tiny vial from her dress, she carefully tipped the contents into the second glass on the pretext of adding more ice, then topped it off with single malt. She offered it to Cade. “Join me?”
His breath still came harder than normal as he crossed and took the glass, and Embry hoped he didn’t see the very real spark that flew up when his finger brushed hers. Get a grip, woman or you’re going to burn the hotel down.
Rather than taking a sip of the drink in his hand, Cade swirled the glass until the ice rattled. He didn’t look amused anymore. “You said ten years.”
“Did I?” The nerves doing a river dance in her stomach trembled in her voice. Drink the damned scotch.
“You know me, don’t you.” It wasn’t a question. The words came out more as an accusation that slapped her from across the room.
No more lies on this one. Keeping her gaze steady on his, she swallowed. “Yes.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?” he demanded. The fingers gripping his glass went white.
“You didn’t remember me.”
“I don’t remember anything. Who are you?”
“I told you. I’m Embry Hollister—” she began.
“No. Who are you to me? Or who were you?”
Drink the scotch. Drink the scotch. The words repeated like a mantra in her head. She took another sip of her own, hoping he’d follow the example. “We were…involved. I wanted to see if you’d remember anything from spending time with me.” Okay, partial truth.
The ice cubes clinked in his glass as he began to pace restlessly. “I saw you. During the fight. And I felt. . . I don’t know what I felt. But something. When I asked you in the locker room if you knew me, you blew it off.” He stopped pacing to face her. “Do you have any idea how long I’ve been looking for someone who knew me from before?”
“I imagine as long as I’ve been looking over my shoulder hoping to find you.” Embry was out of scotch.
“So we were involved? Important to each other?” he asked.
“Very,” she said softly.
“Do you know what happened to me? Why I can’t remember?”
“Some of it,” she admitted.
He tipped the glass back and drained it. “Tell me everything,” he said, slapping the glass down with a thunk.
Embry stared at it in relief. “I don’t have to. You’re about to remember.”
A vein popped out at his temple and his eyes went wide. One hand flew to his throat as he began to wheeze, the other reached out to her as he stumbled forward. “What . . . have . . . you . . . done?”
“Set you free,” she said softly.
He crashed onto the coffee table. The wood splintered, the tray and the ice bucket flying.
Even knowing that the antidote wouldn’t kill him, panic pulsed through her at the sight of his purpling face. His limbs flailed, his body bowing as the potion worked its way through every cell, eradicating the memory block imposed there all those years ago.
At last, he was still, his color returning to normal. With considerable effort, she hoisted his dead weight and repositioned him on the bed. Then she poured herself another scotch and settled in to wait.