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Animal Instincts (Chapter Thirteen)

The only absolute in life is death. A Tigress knows this and avoids anything that could render her own absolute, be it physical or emotional.

Even though Royce slept in another hotel room, I tossed and turned all night, confident I'd made the right choice one minute, hating myself for making the wrong choice the next. I was so confused. Maybe I'd acted hastily. Maybe I shouldn't have told him no so quickly.

I wanted to be with him sexually-truth. I didn't want to see him ever again-truth. When I looked at him, I melted inside- truth. At the same time, when I looked at him, I panicked- again, truth.

Would he agree to a phone relationship, maybe?

I discarded that idea as quickly as it formed. His voice was as sexy and mesmerizing as the man himself. Maybe I just needed to kick him out of my life for good, party be damned.

Great, now I wanted to cry.

When subtle, golden rays of sunlight peeked through the window, I gave up trying to rest and lumbered out of bed. This was exactly why I hadn't wanted to get involved with him in the first place. I hated the confusion, the insecurity.

I took a much needed shower, lingering in the steamy water, allowing the wet heat to relax me. Afterward, I dried my hair, brushed my teeth and dressed in my new black pants with ivy and flowers sewn in the seam and a matching blouse.

To my surprise, Royce was waiting in my room when I emerged from the bathroom. He sat in the cushy recliner, watching the news on TV. I stilled, my heartbeat picking up its pace. He looked delicious. His deep tan was displayed perfectly by the black pants and shirt he wore.

Now that I knew exactly what was under those clothes, I found myself picturing his hard, tanned muscles bunching, coiled and ready for my touch.

"Are you ready?" he asked, barely sparing me a glance. His cold, hard expression cut me deeply, but I should have been prepared for it. Should have been glad for it.

"Yes."

"We still need to drive to the cabin. We'll look around, then fly home."

"Just let me get my things." I turned, went to the divan and lifted my bag. Then I followed him out the door, my gaze boring into his back. Did he hate me?

We stayed at the cabin for less than an hour before driving to the airport. The plane ride home passed in agonizing slowness. Neither of us spoke. I sat still, eyes closed, not wanting to face Royce or the land so far below. At that point, I wasn't sure what would have been better. Crashing and dying or carrying on a conversation with Royce.

After we landed, he drove to my apartment building. The same uneasy silence filled the car. I hated it. We'd been so comfortable with each other before, and I already missed that. Had he decided that I wasn't the right woman for him after all? My hands tightened into fists, the thought not sitting well with me.

Yes, I realized how contradictory my thoughts were, how silly I was acting, but I had no control over my emotions. I had no control over the way this man made me feel. I constantly swung to both sides of the pendulum: I wanted him, I didn't. I needed him, I didn't. One part of me constantly battled the other.

When his luxury sedan came to a stop just outside my apartment, he removed the key from the ignition. "I'll help you inside."

"That isn't necessary," I told him, deciding to get as far away from him as possible so I could think about all that had happened. "I can get myself in."

"I'll carry your bag."

"I told you, I can get myself in."

He frowned. "Let me do this, Naomi."

"Fine."

I held my head high as I emerged from the car. And even as I unlocked the front door, I kept up the casual facade of a woman who cared about nothing more important than the weather.

When the lock clicked, Royce leaned forward. His chest brushed my back as he held the door open and out of my way. I stepped inside, away from him, and turned, blocking any move he might make to come inside.

"If you'll set my bag down," I said primly, "I'll get it the rest of the way in."

A muscle ticked in his jaw. "I don't know what gave you the idea that I'd let a woman of mine leave me outside without any kind of goodbye, but I assure you, it's the wrong idea."

My heart skipped a beat, and I opened my mouth to respond. No sound emerged.

"We're not finished, sweetheart, and you can't get rid of me so easily. If you think you can shove me aside because you're afraid of the past and the future, you need to readjust your thinking. And I'm more than willing to help you with that."

"H-how?" I didn't know what else to say.

He shrugged and leaned in a little closer to me. "You'll just have to wait and see."

I gulped. His words were innocent, but his tone was so suggestively sensual a tremor swept through me.

"Right now," he said, "there are some things I need to discuss with you. We can have the discussion out here, for all your neighbors to hear, or you can invite me in."

The man was simply too tempting, a smooth talker who could easily charm me out of my clothes. "I can't let you in."

He took a step closer to me. "I don't have a single qualm about making a scene guaranteed to keep your neighbors entertained for weeks. Who knows? Maybe the Tattler wants to snap another picture of you."

"You wouldn't," I gasped.

"Try me."

There was a hard edge of determination to him that I'd only seen a few times before. Yeah, he'd do whatever was necessary to get inside. I moved out of his way. He brushed past me and set my bags beside the couch. He plopped down on the oversize cushions and motioned for me to take the space next to him.

I ignored his gesture and stood off to the side. One whiff of him and I might crumble like a condemned house. Before he could speak, I said, "I don't think we should discuss last night. It would be best if we just pretended it never happened."

"Maybe you can do that, sweetheart, but I'll never forget how you screamed my name so many times."

"Perhaps we should stop working together, as well," I continued, as if I hadn't heard him. I needed the money, yes, but I needed my sanity more. "I can put together a list of planners suited to y-"

He cut me off. "You agreed to help me with this, Naomi. Quit and I'll sue you for breach of contract."

I crossed my arms over my chest. "Why don't you go ahead and try it. We never signed a contract."

"You don't really want to fight me on this. I can be a bastard when I have to be."

"Like that's news," I muttered. If I were honest, though, I was immensely relieved he hadn't taken me up on my offer. I don't know why I'd even suggested it. The thought of never seeing him again rocked me to the core. In a horrible, horrible way.

"By the way," he drew out. "I want to know if you're pregnant."

I shook my head, trying to block out the P word and ensuing thoughts of the M and B words. "I'm not."

"You can't be sure."

"I'm just not, I tell you." But what if I was? A little thrill worked its way through me, the same kind of thrill I'd ignored last night, giving precedence to my panic and fear. I might not be ready for the M word, but the thought of the B word, a baby-there, I'd thought it-didn't make me panic nearly as much for some reason.

The thought of having Royce's baby suddenly made me feel all warm and tingly. God knows when I'd know for sure. My periods had always been irregular.

"Are you psychic?" he asked.

"I've been known to correctly guess the future," I lied.

He rolled his eyes. "Your voice got higher. You really need to work on your bluffing skills."

I stomped my foot and slitted my gaze at him. "Damn it-"

"You will let me know if-"

"-I told you-"

"-you're pregnant because I-"

"-I'm not-"

"-have a right to know."

"-pregnant."

He stared me down, and long minutes passed in silence.

"Fine," I finally said. "Yes. I'll tell you." Maybe.

Before I could protest, he rose and placed a hard kiss on my forehead. My lips puckered of their own accord, hoping he'd kiss them, too. "You still work for me, Naomi. I won't let you quit."

"Fine," I said again. "I won't quit."

"I'm not leaving until I have your word."

"I said okay, and I meant it. On both counts." Making a shooing motion with my hands, I said, "Now leave. I need to unpack."

"Tell me truthfully, first. Did you enjoy being with me?"

"I guess," I grudgingly admitted.

"And you'd like to be with me again?"

Damn him. "Yes, but that doesn't mean-"

"Yes," he said smugly. "It does." He strode out the door with a smile on his face, all hints of his dark mood gone.

What the hell kind of lame-ass Tigress was I? I couldn't lie worth a damn, and I hadn't told Royce to get the hell out of my life.

I decided to order a pizza and call it a day.

I gorged myself on pizza and worked on Mrs. Powell's party invitations. Which, I had to admit, were pretty amazing. I'd decided to go with something new, something different. The top portion featured a woman's bright emerald eyes, a paste-on jewel between them, and covering what would have been her nose and mouth but was actually the wording was a thin, wispy pink veil.

Sometimes I amazed myself.

When that was done, I had a long chat with my inner Tigress about her too frequent disappearing acts, then threw pepperonis at the old newspaper article about Royce that I'd saved, and decided I might-would probably-was destined to-sleep with Royce again. He was right, damn him. We weren't done.

I had needs. He had needs. I'd had a taste of him, and like an addict, I wanted more. Already. He was that potent. I'd just have to fight harder to keep my emotions under control-and his emotions, as well.

I sighed.

It was time to call my mom. I'd keep it casual. See how things were going. What I really wanted to know was what Jonathan was up to. I picked up the phone and dialed.

She answered on the second ring. "Hello."

I jumped right into the conversation as if she'd said, What can I help you with, Naomi? "Tell me what Jonathan's been up to these last two days." How was that for casual?

"Darling," she said with a nervous laugh, "now isn't a good time."

"Is he in the room?"

"Well, yes."

"Move to another room or talk in code."

Pause. Several moments passed in silence. Then I heard, "Where are you going, Gloria?"

More nervous laughter. "I have to change my tampon, dear."

Dead silence. "Uh, take your time," Jonathan said.

"All right," she whispered a few seconds later. "I'm in the bathroom."

"Please tell me you weren't telling the truth. That you're only in there to talk to me privately."

"What do you think? I've already gone through menopause, silly. I doubt your stepdad will recall that fact, stupid man." With barely a breath, she continued more sternly, "Have you been screening your calls, young lady, because I've called and I've called and you haven't answered."

"Mom, concentrate. Tell me about Dr. Johnnie."

She tsk-tsked with her tongue. "Last night he came in three hours late." Her voice shook with the force of her frustration and disenchantment, and I actually thought I heard tears in the undercurrents. "He told me a client needed extra therapy. Well, obviously that client likes to rub gardenia-scented massage oil on his-"

"Information overload. Stop right there. Did you say anything to him?"

"No. I didn't know what to say. I came close to punching him in the nose, though."

"The action of a true Tigress," I said. "Why didn't you?"

"I keep thinking that I'm blowing this all out of proportion. What if he really was working late with a patient? He's not like your father. He's really not."

Had I sounded like this at one time? Had I sounded so needy and sad and hopeful? So wrong? "Don't lie to yourself." I purposely made my tone hard and unflinching. "You're a better woman than that."

"Did…did you find anything when you were here?"

I hadn't wanted to tell her anything until I had solid proof, but she needed to know something was going on, that her first instincts were correct. "I found pictures in his desk. Pictures of a woman and child."

"Oh, is that all?" My mom exhaled a deep sigh of relief.

"Is that all? Uh, hello. Can you say secret lover and illegitimate child? What do you mean, is that all?"

"I wanted to tell you about this," she hedged, "but Jonathan didn't think it would be a good idea."

My confusion soared. I gazed up at the ceiling, hoping for a little divine intervention. "Tell me what?"

"A few months ago, Jonathan learned he has a daughter and that daughter has a daughter of her own. She's been searching for him, isn't that neat? He didn't want you to think you were being replaced in his life, so we didn't mention it."

Okay, I totally hadn't expected to hear that. "That's… wonderful," I said. "I'm happy for him." And I was. Still, a hint of jealousy swept through me. Jonathan was my stepdad, but he was the only father I'd ever really accepted and I didn't like the thought of sharing him with another woman, no matter how much I hated him at the moment.

What was with my emotions lately? They were unpredictable. They were erratic. They were so damn stupid. I rubbed my temples in a vain effort to ward off the oncoming ache. "What's her name?"

"Rachel."

I cursed the name in my mind. So he had a daughter named Rachel. Fine. That explained the photos, but not the after-hour phone calls to his secretary. Not the perfume on his clothes. Not Nora's trips to Body Electric.

"I still think he's cheating on you, Mom."

"You may be right." She sighed again. "I heard him talking on the phone a little while ago and he told whoever it was that he was closing the office Friday morning. He never goes in late. He's just like you, an early bird. I think he might be spending the morning with her.'"

Friday huh. Well, I would be there, camera in hand.

"Gloria?" Jonathan's muffled voice crackled over the line. "I just realized something. You shouldn't be having a period."

"Oh, is that so?" she said with another of her nervous laughs. "Silly me. He remembered," she whispered fiercely into the phone.

"If you're bleeding, we should take you to the hospital."

"I'm not bleeding. Who said I was bleeding?"

"Then why were you wearing a tampon?"

"To, uh, double my pleasure?" To me, she whispered, "I've got to go, darling."

The line went dead just as my doorbell erupted in a series of chimes. I shook my head at the chaos that was my life and placed the phone in its receiver. I strode into the living room, trying not to think about Jonathan and his real daughter. Rachel.

"Rachel," I sneered. My nose crinkled in distaste. I was pissed enough at the man to want to use him as live bait during a shark-fishing expedition, but still… He was my dad.

After a quick peek through the peephole, I opened the door. Kera swept inside, her expression determined. She dropped her purse on the foyer table and twirled around. "You'll never guess what happened."

You made insane love with your client-several times-told him to get lost, then decided you wanted to sleep with him again? Wait. That was my news. You think your stepdad is cheating on your mom, you hate him, but you don't want him to have a daughter of his own that he might love more than you? Wait, me again. You might very well be knocked up with the aforementioned client's baby?

Damn, me again.

"What happened?" I asked her.

Smiling as if her fondest desire had just been granted, she splayed her arms wide and twirled again. "I met the man of Mel's dreams."

I blinked. "Who?"

"Colin Phillips. Mel is pretending she's not interested in him, though."

Hey, wait. "When did you two meet him? I hadn't set anything up yet."

"Friday we were bored, so we sneaked into Powell Aeronautics. We just wanted to get a look at Colin, you know, but the security guard chased us up the stairs. Thankfully, we lost the jerk and managed to get to the nineteenth floor."

Mouth agape, I threw my hands in the air. "I can't believe you guys went to Powell Aero."

"Don't worry. Colin wasn't mad."

That was the least of my worries.

"He was so sweet about the whole thing. Even thanked us for coming."

"What's the rest of the story? The part about Mel pretending she's not interested in him?"

"I'm telling you, they clashed right from the beginning," Kera said, radiating amused glee. "Mel called him a corporate dust bunny."

"A what?"

"Someone who's always at the office, but doesn't do anything except sit around and pollute the air. Don't feel bad. I didn't know, either."

"How did you get past Elvira?"

"Who-oh, you mean the assistant. What a sweet, sweet woman. She just told us to go straight back to Colin's office."

What? No dirty looks? No superior attitude? Bitch.

"Anyway-" Breezily, Kera waved a hand through the air "-Colin wanted her, and she wanted him. You were right- they're perfect for each other. I could feel the sparks."

"But?"

She ran her bottom lip between her teeth. "But they were acting like silly children and I was afraid they'd never get around to actually dating. Not without a little help, that is."

Kera the matchmaker. Jeez. "What'd you do?"

"I, well, asked him on a date myself. Mel almost tackled me, even though she claimed she didn't want him. She's reminding me a lot of you lately."

I gave her a good frown to let her know I didn't appreciate her barb. She padded into the kitchen and snatched a soda from the fridge. I followed.

"He said yes," she added with a grin.

"First, what about George? Second, if Colin is willing to date you, even though he likes Mel, he's a bastard and not worth Mel's time."

"First, things are going very well with George. He asked me out, and I said yes. Second, I didn't say Colin and I were dating. I just said he agreed to go out with me. We talked about Mel the entire night. I think he's going to pursue her," she said, clapping happily. She twirled, spilling dark liquid all over my (formerly clean) kitchen floor.

"You know how Mel is. When she doesn't like someone, she's a mean, mean bitch." I loved her, but that was a known fact.

"That's why I'm going to make her miserable and jealous and let her think I'm after the man. She won't be able to get him out of her mind then."

I shook my head. "I thought Mel was the twin with the devil on her shoulder, but it's been you all along. You pulled this crap with me, too, didn't you? Pretending to want to date Royce."

She laughed. "Everything I do is for your own good. Mel's, too. She's too stubborn. Like you. So anyway, how was your trip?" She settled at the table and gazed expectantly at me. "You, Royce, together. All night. Did you share a room?"

"No." And that was the truth. We hadn't shared a room. He'd left in the middle of the night. "Everything went very well." Without meeting her eyes, I grabbed a paper towel and mopped up the spill.

"If everything went so peachy, why is your jaw clenching? Why is your eye twitching? Why is your voice so high?"

Had everyone known about my being deceitfully challenged but me? "All right, all right, all right." I popped to my feet and slammed the wet paper towel into the trash. I needed to work through at least one of my troubles. "The more time I spend with Royce the more confused I am about our…relationship." I almost gagged on the last word. "One minute I'm positive I never want to see him again, the next I'm wishing he were with me so I could rip off his clothes."

"That's called being human, sweetie, and I know just what to do." She leaned over and flipped through my basket of magazines. When she found the one she wanted, she held it up for me to see. "When Mel gets here, we're all taking a relationship quiz."

Oh joy.

Mel arrived soon after and Kera dragged us into the living room, where she proceeded to give us assigned seats. "Naomi, you sit here. Mel, you're there." She pointed, forming a circle on the floor.

She sat between us and opened the latest issue of City Girl. "We're taking the Keep Him or Cut Him Loose test. It's just what we need to see where we stand romantically." There was a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. "I think we'll all understand ourselves and our men a little bit better after this. Are you ready?"

"Yes." Me.

"Uh, whatever." Mel. "I don't have a man."

"You will in the future," Kera said confidently.

"As if."

That didn't dim Kera's enthusiasm. "Okay, here we go. Question one." She read, "Your man is going out of town. Do you A) throw a party in his honor. B) cry. Or C) take up a new hobby to keep your mind occupied."

None of those sounded right to me. So I said, "What about D? Drink yourself into oblivion because you aren't sure what you want to do." Now that seemed like the perfect solution.

"You can't make up your own answers. That defeats the purpose." Kera frowned. "My answer is B. If Colin left," she said, aiming her words in Mel's direction, "I'd be too upset to do anything except cry."

How had I never seen Kera's acting potential before?

Mel stiffened. "As much as D appeals to me," she said through a tight jaw, "my answer is definitely A. Party time."

"Commitment-phobia must be contagious, because I swear you both suffer from a severe case," Kera said with a shake of her head.

"Yes, but I enjoy every second of it. Now, question two." Mel swiped the magazine and read, "Your man has just given you an expensive gift that you hate. Do you A) jump up and down with excitement because he only wanted to make you happy and keep the gift. B) toss it in the trash and call him a bastard. Or C) exchange the gift for something else."

I recalled the orchids Royce had given me, and my chest constricted. "B," I said. "Toss it in the can so I won't have to look at it and remember how he has no business being so sweet to me."

"I would exchange the gift, no question," Mel said. "There's no need to toss a free item. Ever. And Naomi and I both know what your answer is, Kera. You'd pee your pants from excitement." There was a sullen quality to her voice.

"Very funny," Kera said, grinning. Then she frowned. "Hey, is anyone keeping track of our scores?" She jumped up and raced into the kitchen. Several minutes later, she returned with pen and notebook in hand. She immediately jotted down our previous answers. "All right. We're all caught up. Let's move on."

Mel tossed me the magazine. "It's your turn to read."

I lifted the pages between my fingers as if they were nuclear waste. "Question three. You've just finished making love. Do you A) relax beside your man and enjoy the rest of the night. B) try to slither away in the dark. Or C) see if you can generate the world record for number of sexual positions attempted in one night."

I already knew my answer. At least, the only one I could say out loud.

"B," Mel and I said in unison. I didn't mention that Royce and I had lived C. Nor did I mention that after our second marathon, I hadn't been so eager to get away.

Kera: "I'm A."

"Too bad for Colin," Mel grumbled, a hard glint in her eyes. "What's the next question?"

"I'll read." Kera swiped up the quiz. "You're dating one guy, but another, super-hot guy asks you out on a date. Do you A) turn him down-after all, you're perfectly content with the man you have at home. B) accept and tell your man you're going to see your sick aunt Ruby. Or C) accept and tell your man you thought you had agreed to see other people."

"A." Kera.

"C." Mel.

"D. Never get involved in the first place so you don't have to worry about this type of situation." Me.

Kera pursed her lips. "I thought we discussed not making up your own answers."

"All right. All right. I'll take A." I could never, never do to a man what had been done to me. I'd never be able to live with myself if I made someone doubt their appearance, their personality and their intelligence.

"Now," Kera said. "It's time to calculate our scores." She flipped open the calculator. Five minutes later, she smiled. "Naomi scored a five. Mel, an eight. And me, a fourteen."

"So what does that mean?" I asked.

"Let's see." Kera flipped a page in the magazine. "If you score a ten to fifteen-that's me," she said, then read, "your man is a keeper. Did you hear that Mel? Colin is a keeper. What's more, you art a keeper. You are highly motivated to succeed and care about those around you."

"What's it say about me?" Frowning, Mel grabbed the magazine and read, "If you scored a six to nine you need to readjust your priorities. Spend a little time thinking of all the wonderful things others have done for you because you may not be worthy of your man." She tossed the magazine to the ground. "That's the worst bunch of shit I've ever heard. I think of others all the time."

I couldn't wait to see what the stupid quiz had to say about me. Maybe I'd get the answers I needed and would know what to do about Royce. "My turn." I swiped City Girl from the floor. "If you scored a one to a five," I read, "seek professional help."

I looked up.

"What else does it say?" Kera asked.

"That's it." I couldn't believe it. That was the advice the quiz had for me? Seek help? What kind of dumb-ass advice was that? The stupid kind, that's what. It was like telling a burn victim to put salve on their wounds.

So I needed professional guidance. So what. I'd known that already. Dumb quiz.

Early Friday morning, I wolfed down two blueberry muffins and made a list of everything I wanted to get done that day.

. Call Royce and ask to borrow his car and a camera.

. Follow Jonathan and snap photos of him acting like a male whore.

. Take Mrs. Powell's invitation mock-up to printer so I could present a sample for Royce's approval.

After a moment's consideration, I scratched out number one. Added it back. Scratched it out again. I should avoid that man like the plague. However, I scowled and picked up the phone, hurriedly dialing his number.

It wasn't like this was a social call. I needed his help and, by God, I wouldn't be afraid to ask. Wouldn't be afraid to hear his voice. I would control my hormones or die trying.

And you know what? As the phone rang, I heard that stupid BlueJay beeping from the trash can. I ignored it. Royce finally answered, his voice scratchy with sleep. A shiver snaked down my spine, and an image of him lying in bed, naked, swept through my mind, his mouth finding my breasts, and his fingers-I growled. Damn hormones.

"Uh, hi Royce. It's Naomi."

"Hey, sweetheart. Something wrong?"

Another shiver. If only he hadn't uttered the endearment with such warmth and tenderness. "Can I borrow one of your cars?"

Pause. "Why?"

"I have to do something."

"What?"

"Can I borrow one of your cars or not?"

Another pause. "With me in it?"

"No."

"With me in it?" he asked again. "And you better answer it right this time, because your answer is the same as mine."

"Yes." Stubborn man. "Do you never have to work? You'll have to take a couple hours off if you go with me, because I need the car this morning."

"I'll call you right back," he said and hung up on me.

Openmouthed, I stared down at the phone. "No you did not," I muttered and redialed his number. He didn't answer. That decroded piece of-

The phone rang. I almost jumped out of my skin. "What?" I barked into the receiver.

"Done. I'll be there in fifteen minutes."

My pulse fluttered at the thought of seeing him again. "Bring your camera. And wear a hat. And sunglasses."

"And a fake beard?" he asked on a husky laugh.

"If you have one," I said in all seriousness. "Drive your cheapest, most unnoticeable car. No limo today."

"What's going-"

This time, I hung up on him. I'd clue him in when he got here. Time to get busy. As I strode into my bedroom, I stripped. I belted a pillow over my stomach. The condom incident with Royce had given me an idea for a disguise. Dr. Johnnie would never know the pregnant woman following his every move was actually his stepdaughter, Detective Delacroix.

I slipped the largest dress I owned over my head and shimmied it down the rest of me. The plain, light blue material was tight around my middle, emphasizing my rounded belly. I ran my hands over the pillow and a thought occurred to me: This image might actually become a reality in the coming months. My heart skipped a beat.

Don't think about that, Naomi. For God's sake, don't think about it.

As I slipped into comfortable shoes, I stuffed Mrs. Powell's party invitation in my purse. I twisted the long length of my hair under a hat, then locked up my apartment. Fighting a sense of eagerness, I headed outside to wait for Royce. Thankfully, no Tattler reporters were behind the bushes-I checked-nor was anyone waiting beside the building.

Fifteen minutes later, I was a hot, sweaty mess-and still freaking waiting outside. Did no one believe in timeliness anymore? Royce finally eased his shiny, expensive sedan in the parking slot right in front of me. I would have preferred something less expensive, less noticeable, but this would have to do.

I slid into the passenger seat, sighing as the cool, conditioned and sandalwood-fragranced air washed over me. Lord, he always smelled so good. I slammed the door with a flick of my wrist. When I turned to Royce, I noticed he was staring at my belly in openmouthed astonishment.

As I'd requested, he was wearing a hat, sunglasses and even the fake beard. He was also wearing yellow-pink-and-blue golf pants and a yellow T-shirt. The sight of him made me go all weak and needy inside. He looked so cute, and he'd done this for me. Just because I'd asked. How sweet was that?

"What the hell is going on?" he choked out. "Is that some kind of hint?" He pointed to my puffy belly.

"We're going to follow my stepdad, and I didn't want him to recognize me. Did you bring the camera?"

"It's in back." Brow furrowed, Royce reached under my skirt and smoothed his hand up my calf, my thigh, and onto the pillow.

I gasped at the sudden liquid heat pooling between my legs. Before I begged him to go ahead and give me an orgasm while he had his hand up my skirt, I slapped his arm away. "Stop that."

"I had to feel for myself."

I cleared my throat and pulled at the collar of my dress. "Yes, well, thank you for rearranging your schedule for me, but I wish you'd worn jeans or something. Everyone will notice those pants."

"I had no idea what we were doing. You hung up on me, remember? Besides, the pants go well with the beard and your, uh, belly."

I had to clear my throat again. Shifting in my seat, I rattled off my parents' address. "We need to hurry. Jonathan always leaves the house at eight-thirty."

Minutes later, Royce and I were speeding along the highway.

"I could hire a P.I. to follow him," he suggested, keeping his eyes on the road.

"That's not necessary. I'm perfectly capable of catching him in the act." Plus, it was horrible of me to admit, but I was taking a perverse sort of satisfaction in doing the investigating myself. I hadn't done anything like this with Richard. I hadn't had the courage. So, in a way, this was kind of like therapy for me. And Jonathan was big on therapy.

"Naomi," Royce said, then stopped himself. He gripped the steering wheel with one hand and massaged his neck with the other.

"What?" I stiffened. He'd sounded… upset. "Tell me."

"Remember that trip to Florida I mentioned? I'm flying out tomorrow. I'll be gone for a week."

I immediately began to analyze the situation, last night's quiz replaying through my mind. If your man goes out of town, what would you do? Did I want to throw a party? Cry? Or take up a new hobby? I was pretty certain I wanted to go with B, like Kera, and cry like a goddamn infant. I frowned, my lips pulled down so tightly my jaw began to ache.

"You want to come with me?" he asked.

Yes was the answer that first leapt to the surface. "No. No, thank you." I did want to grab him by the shirt and command him to stay. After all, a true Tigress knew how to fight for what she wanted and keep what she won. The thing is, I had never really fought for Royce, which meant I hadn't really won him. I'd all but pushed him away.

What if Royce found another woman in Florida?

What would I do then? The quiz hadn't given simple answers for that question, but I suspected I'd do more than cry. You have told him over and over you want no claims on him. Damn non-relationships. They sucked ass.

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