He glared down at her. “I was happy before you came.”
His comment hit Sarah like a punch, knocking her momentarily off balance. Then a thought occurred to her that set her mouth in determination. He wants me angry. That’s how he keeps everyone at a distance. She countered his jab with a smack of reality. “No, you weren’t.” You were hiding, numb. Too afraid to even get to know the names of the people who work here.
He pushed a hand through the back of her hair and dragged her closer to him, tipping her head up toward him. “You’re not the first woman to think she can change me.” When she gasped and struggled to pull away, he held her there, chest heaving against his own. He ran the finger of his free hand down the exposed arch of her neck and traced the round neckline of her dress. “But I do enjoy letting you try.”
Despite how her body pulsed and yearned, Sarah stood rigid in his hold. Strangle him or kiss him? Both sounded equally pleasurable. “Do you want me to hate you?”
His hands dropped away, his face tight with torment as he glared down at her. “No.”
There it is, just the slightest ray of hope—the reason I can’t give up on him.
Sarah took in a steadying breath and said, “Then stop pushing me away.”
He dragged a hand through his hair, leaving it mussed in a sexy way that Sarah cautioned her libido to ignore. He met her eyes with an openness she hadn’t seen since the cabin and said, “I’m sorry about dinner.”
Sarah touched his tense jaw with one soft hand. “It’s okay. Part of it was my fault. I knew you didn’t want it, but I thought that once we were all together you would see how it could be. I didn’t mean to make things worse.”
Really, then why do you look so miserable? What is holding you back from being happy? “When we were at the cabin you laughed. You smiled and joked. Why can’t you do that here?”
At first she didn’t think Tony would answer, but then he took her hand from his cheek and held it in his. “The cabin was different. It wasn’t real so I didn’t care.” Sarah tensed and pulled at her hand, but he gripped it and said, “That came out wrong.”
It’d better have.
Tony tipped her face up with a finger beneath her chin. “When I start thinking I know what I’m doing, really know—that’s when things fall apart. It’s never as good as you think it is, and if you let yourself believe it is, you’re setting yourself up for a bad fall.”
Sarah looked up into his beautiful green eyes and prompted, “Please tell me. Let me in.”
Tony pulled her to his chest, unwilling or unable to look her in the eye as he opened up to her. “My mother left when I was real young. I don’t remember her, but I do remember wanting to find her. I used to ask about her all the time. Didn’t matter who I met, I interrogated them. I was sure that if I asked enough people, I’d find her. You know what I found? Dean. Seems my mother left soon after I was born because she found out my father had been married before and never told her. Neither woman wanted anything to do with my father until Dean’s mother decided it was important for brothers to know each other.”
“So, Dean’s really your half brother?”
“Half, whole, it never mattered. We’re not close.”
“Did he want to be?”
“I don’t know what the hell he wanted, but after I found him I couldn’t shake him. He was always visiting, sometimes with the mother he got along so well with. All it ever did was set my father and me to fighting until we couldn’t be in the same room anymore. My father always told me that the fewer questions a man asked, the happier he tended to be. He was right in that case. I moved out at sixteen because my father and I couldn’t talk without coming to blows.”
Sarah hugged him as he went on. “I used to believe in what I was doing with horses. I had all the answers. I lost that and more when Kimberly died.” He shuddered against her, betraying how much it had cost him to relive both times.
Tipping her head back, Sarah said, “I wish I could guarantee that nothing bad will ever happen to either one of us again. If they ever do invent a time machine, I’ll be the first one in line to go back and try to do most of it better. But until then, this is the only life I’m going to have and I don’t want to waste any more of it. You helped me see that. It took coming here to see that I was only half alive up North. I could blame my parents. I could blame my brother. But no one did that to me. I did it. I let my life become so much less than it was meant to be. I won’t make that mistake twice.”
His heart thudded in his chest as she continued to speak.
“Life is scary, but I think it’s supposed to be. If you’re living it right, that is.”
He hugged her tighter against him. “What do you want from me, Sarah?”
She met his eyes and dared the truth. “A chance.”
He nodded and ran a finger teasingly over the neckline of her dress. “And in return?”
Sarah raised herself onto her tiptoes and whispered, “A confession.”
He growled deep in his throat, “I like that. Tell me.”
Rubbing herself against him, Sarah said, “When you grabbed the back of my head and pulled me to you, I liked it.”
He reenacted his early move, burying his hand in the back of her hair and holding her helplessly immobile before him. “You mean this?”
She sighed through parted lips, “Yes.”
He claimed her lips with his, teasing, testing, while he boldly slid a hand beneath the back hem of her dress, cupping her ass roughly. “You like it rough?”
Sarah playfully struggled against his hold, loving how easily he restrained her. “I don’t know, but I’d like to try it out,” she admitted.
His mouth closed over hers again, his tongue deep within her mouth, demanding a submission she gladly gave. With one strong move he ripped her thong underwear off. There was a sting to the move. Sarah moaned into the kiss, loving how the slight pain flooded her with want.
He growled into her ear. “I told you earlier that there’d be a price to pay for inviting everyone to dinner.”
Sarah wasn’t sure if his anger was fake or real, and she didn’t know if she cared.
He set her away from him for a moment and took off his belt. Her eyes rounded as she realized she should have defined rough before the game started.
He laughed and dropped the belt, along with the rest of his clothing to the floor. “Don’t worry, I would never mark what is mine.”