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         Part #3 of Breathless series by Maya Banks

  She closed her eyes. “It’s why I didn’t call you. Why I didn’t come to you. Why I didn’t accept what you offered. I was . . . afraid.”

  He tensed, his gaze focusing intently on her. “Afraid of me?”

  She nodded miserably.

  He sucked in his breath. He understood. He didn’t like hearing it, but he understood.

  “I get it,” he said, stroking his hand up her arm. “You thought because you misjudged him so badly that you couldn’t trust your judgment of me and my intentions.”

  She nodded again.

  “I understand, but Josie, you need to get this. I am not Michael.”

  She glanced back up at him, hope stirring in her eyes. She wanted to believe him. Wanted to trust herself and her instincts where he was concerned.

  “I will never hurt you,” he said, the vow coming solemnly from his lips. “If we have issues, we work them out. And it does not involve me raising my hand to you. Ever.”

  “Okay,” she whispered.

  “Come here,” he murmured, stretching his other arm to her.

  She didn’t hesitate and promptly buried herself against his chest. He wrapped both arms around her and held her close, breathing in her scent.

  “Pisses me off that you’ll wear those bruises for several more days. I don’t like seeing them, but more than me not liking to see them is you having to see them and remember him hurting you.”

  “I’m okay,” she said against his chest.

  “You’re not. Yet. But you will be,” he promised. “Give me that, Josie. Give me the chance to show you that we’re right together. I get that you’re gun-shy right now and that you’re doubting yourself, but give yourself into my care. Give me that chance. You won’t regret it.”

  She was silent for a long moment, one that had him on edge as he waited for her acceptance.

  Then she gave it. One simple word, laced with uncertainty but quiet determination.

  “Okay.”

  His own chest caved in a bit. He breathed in and out for several seconds before squeezing her to him.

  “Sleep now, Josie. Tomorrow we’ll decide what to do about your apartment.”

  He held her just as he was doing until her body went lax against his and the soft, even sounds of her breathing filled his ears. And still he waited, tense, replaying every word she’d said earlier. The fear in her voice. The self-condemnation. The image of her lying on the floor, Michael standing over her while he hurt her made it impossible for him to sleep.

  It was well past midnight when he quietly picked up his cell phone from the nightstand and punched Jace’s number from his contacts list.

  “What the hell?” his friend mumbled into the phone. “This better be good, Ash.”

  “I need an alibi,” Ash said.

  There was a long silence.

  “Jesus. Fuck! What the hell, man? Do you need help? What’s going on?”

  Ash glanced down at Josie, her eyelashes resting on her cheeks, the shadow of a bruise still on her face.

  “Not now. But soon. Right now Josie needs me. She needs comfort and peace. And she needs to know that I will never hurt her. For now, I’m going to spend every minute making sure she knows this. But then I’m going after the bastard who put these bruises on her face and I’ll need you to help provide an alibi if it becomes necessary.”

  “Christ, Ash. What the fuck? Someone hurt Josie?”

  “Yeah,” Ash bit out. “And I’m going to make sure he never touches her or any woman ever again.”

  Jace blew out his breath over the phone as he grew quiet.

  “Whatever you need, man. You have it. Never have to ask.”

  “Thanks, man,” Ash murmured. “Talk to you later.”

  chapter twelve

  Josie stirred and tried to stretch but immediately ran into a hard body. Her eyes flew open and she blinked rapidly as confusion ran through her mind. Then she remembered. She was in bed with Ash. In Ash’s apartment. In his arms.

  Her gaze met the hard wall of his chest, saw the rise and fall of that beautiful male flesh. She inhaled, savoring his smell. Her lips were so close that she could easily press her mouth to his skin. And she was tempted.

  But they weren’t lovers waking up after a night making love. They hadn’t had sex at all. Yet. They didn’t know each other at all beyond a few pleasantries and one conversation over dinner.

  And yet she was here in his bed after agreeing to move in with him.

  She closed her eyes and wondered again if she was making the right decision. Her mind and heart argued incessantly, and she still wasn’t sure who was the clear winner. Maybe there wasn’t one. She was going to have to wing this, because there was no clear and easy “right” decision.

  Hesitantly, she lifted her gaze, holding her breath as she looked up to see if he was awake. Her eyes met his and she felt the jolt all the way to her toes. He was definitely awake and he was staring intently at her. As if he could reach in and pluck her thoughts right from her head.

  “Good morning,” he murmured.

  She dipped her head as heat crept over her cheeks.

  “Josie?”

  She glanced back up to see the question in his eyes.

  “What’s wrong?” he asked gently.

  She swallowed. “This is hard.”

  He slid his hand up her body, over her arm and then up to tangle in her hair before brushing his fingers over the curve of her cheek.

  “Never said it would be easy. Nothing good ever is.”

  That was true enough. And no, Ash would definitely never be easy. Nothing about him was simple or uncomplicated.

  “Like waking up, you in my arms.”

  The statement rumbled from his chest and warmth seeped into her blood, traveling through her body.

  “I liked it too,” she whispered.

  “Want you to feel safe here,” Ash said in a serious tone. “Safe with me.”

  “I do.”

  “Good. Now give me your mouth so I can tell you good morning properly.”

  She tilted her chin upward and placed her hand against his chest. He flinched beneath her touch, his muscles tight and quivering. She withdrew hastily, but he caught her hand and guided it back to his chest.

  “Like you touching me,” he murmured. “I’ll want it often. Just like I’ll be wanting to touch you anytime you’re near me. If we’re in the same room, Josie, I’m going to be touching you.”

  And then he kissed her, his warm, sensual mouth working exquisitely over hers.

  It was gentle. Undemanding. Coaxing, almost.

  She sighed into his mouth and relaxed, going limp against him, trapping her hand between their bodies.

  “Been waiting for this,” he murmured. “You in my bed. Your mouth on mine. You the very first thing I taste in the morning. The last week has driven me crazy, Josie. Waiting for you. For this. And I finally have it. I’m not letting it go.”

  “I’ve been waiting too,” she admitted. And she had. She’d dreamed about it. Wondered how it would feel. And now she knew. It felt . . . right.

  Her earlier worries evaporated. Her questions. Her fears. The idea that she was making the wrong decision. They were gone in a perfect moment of absolute rightness. This was what she wanted. What he could give her. And she wasn’t going to fight it or herself any longer.

  He rolled her onto her back, coming up and over her, his body looming big and strong. He kissed her again, deepening it this time. Allowing his urgency to bleed into her mouth.

  His lips moved strongly over hers, demanding, taking. He stole her breath. She couldn’t breathe because he didn’t let her.

  “I was determined to wait. To be patient,” he rasped out. “Can’t do it, Josie. I have to have you now. Tell me you’re with me. You have to be with me. I can’t be the only one feeling like I’m going to die if I don’t get inside you.”

  His impassioned words cut to her core. She arched into him, inviting him without words. But he stopped, his eyes
boring intently into hers. He wanted the words. He demanded them.

  “Tell me,” he demanded. “Tell me you’re with me, Josie. I want to hear you say it so there’s no doubt that this is what you want. As much as I want you, as much as I have to have you, if you’re not with me, this stops now.”

  “I’m with you,” she said breathlessly, her heart surging, adrenaline spiking through her veins.

  “Thank fuck,” he breathed.

  He kissed her again, as if he couldn’t stand to have his mouth away from hers for even a moment. Then he reluctantly dragged his head away, his eyes brimming with lust and arousal.

  “Need to get a condom. We’ll talk about alternatives later, but for now, you have to be protected. And we have to get rid of those pajamas. Pink is you. Definitely your color, but right now, I’m dying to see that tattoo.”

  She smiled as he rolled off her and rummaged in his nightstand drawer. Then he came back to her and pushed his hands underneath her pajama top to the waistband of her bottoms.

  “Been dying to see it ever since that first day in the park where I got just a glimpse when your shirt came up.”

  “You saw it already?” she asked in surprise.

  He smiled, pausing in his downward push of her bottoms. “Yeah. Drove me crazy. I’ve been thinking about it. I want to see just how far it extends.”

  She lifted her butt so he could pull her pajamas the rest of the way off. He tossed the bottoms aside and then began working his way up from the last button, slowly opening her top to reveal the rest of her body.

  When he loosened the last button, he pushed the material apart and over her shoulders. She hitched herself upward, wanting to be rid of the top every bit as much as he did. This time it was she who sent the piece of clothing sailing across the room to hit the floor near the bathroom.

  His gaze was riveted to the tattoo. She watched as his eyes tracked downward, following the line of the design to where it flowed over the top of her thigh and disappeared between her legs.

  She shivered at the intensity in that stare. There was a brooding possessiveness. A look that screamed, “Mine!”

  Ash turned Josie gently on her side, wanting to see the entirety of the tattoo. It was startling in its vibrancy, a shock of color against pale skin. Done in pinks, oranges, aqua blues that matched her eyes and shades of purple and green.

  It was, as he’d suspected, a flowering vine, but it was rendered in exquisite detail. This was no simple tattoo done in a few hours time. He couldn’t imagine the time it had taken. The patience exerted in getting the design done just right.

  He let his fingers trail over her skin, tracing the lines to where it flared over her hip and then across the top of her thigh before dipping lower, on the inside of her thigh. He turned her again, to her back this time, his fingers resting next to the golden curls covering her mound.

  “Show me,” he said in a low growl. “Spread your legs, Josie. Show me the tattoo and that sweet little pussy.”

  Her eyes blanked and widened, the pupils flaring and then constricting. But she obeyed instantly, her legs going slack and slowly parting to bare herself to his gaze. He stroked the soft curls, approving of her easy acquiescence.

  “Beautiful,” he said, the words thick in his throat. The tattoo, all that sweet, pink, feminine flesh. Josie was beautiful.

  The intricate design curved around the inside of her thigh, coming to a stop just at the back of her leg. It was a bright, floral blanket over her skin, vibrant like her, a perfect reflection of her personality and artistry.

  There would be plenty of time to exert his dominance, to have her submit in all manner of ways. Today was about their first time together and establishing trust. It was about him taking care of her needs. Pleasuring her. He would be infinitely gentle, because before it was over with, he knew he’d take everything. He’d demand everything. So for this one time, he would give her an experience that would become the basis of their bond.

  He leaned down, pressing his mouth between her breasts. She arched into him, seeking more of his mouth. So he gave her more, kissing a line down to her belly. A soft moan escaped and her stomach clenched and quivered beneath his mouth.

  The anticipation of tasting her intimately had him doing his own amount of quivering. He was walking a razor’s edge. The urge to spread her wider and plunge into her was overwhelming. He wanted to claim her. It was a primitive instinct, one that had ruled his thoughts since the moment he’d laid eyes on her. And now she was here, naked, in his bed. His to do with what he wanted.

  He was going to damn well savor the gift and appreciate it for what it was worth. She’d given him her trust, and he knew how huge that was, given the circumstances.

  He pressed a kiss to the silky hairs over her pussy and then nuzzled deeper, inhaling her scent as he spread her further to his advances. He stroked his fingers through her velvety folds, spreading moisture from her opening up to her clit so his fingers slid more easily and he wouldn’t irritate the sensitive flesh.

  “Ash!”

  His name exploded from her mouth. He loved the way she said it, the sound of his name on her lips. And he knew he could make her even crazier with desire just as soon as he got his mouth where his fingers were.

  Using his fingers to open her to him, he pushed in, swiping his mouth from her entrance to her clit, her wetness like honey on his tongue.

  A ragged moan tore from her throat and suddenly her hand was in his hair, fingers clenching over his scalp. He sucked lightly at her clit, exerting just enough pressure to send spasms of pleasure through her legs. Then he licked downward again, wanting more of her silken, hot dampness.

  His tongue slid inside her, fucking her in slow, sensual strokes. While he may have decided that this time would be all about her and her pleasure, making her writhe beneath him was also his pleasure. He was hard and aching, so aroused that his head was spinning.

  “Give me one,” he said huskily, raising his head to look up her body. “In my mouth, Josie. Come all over my mouth. I’ll work you back up again. I’ll make it good for you.”

  Her eyes were glazed with passion, her lips red and swollen from his kisses and the fact her teeth had found purchase there while he’d eaten her.

  “You like my mouth, Josie?”

  “Oh yeah,” she breathed. “You’ve very good with your tongue.”

  “You inspire me,” he said with a chuckle.

  She moaned again when he slid his tongue back inside her liquid heat. Tasting her from the inside out.

  Deciding to up the tension and get her off with his tongue inside her, he slipped his thumb over her clit, rolling as he continued to lick and suck, acting like his tongue was his dick.

  Her ass came off the bed, bucking upward at the pressure he exerted with his thumb. She went even softer around his tongue. Hot, sleek, spilling into his mouth. He lapped hungrily, greedy for her orgasm.

  With his free hand, he inserted one finger, moving his tongue only long enough to reach inside her, stroke the silky walls and then press deep. She clutched at his finger like a greedy fist, holding on when he withdrew and replaced it once again with his tongue.

  “Now, Josie,” he growled. “Get there.”

  He stroked her with his fingers and his tongue and she went wild beneath him. She let loose a torrent of energy as she quaked around him. Her legs closed against his head, anchoring him in place as he continued to lap hungrily at her. And then a sudden burst of heated honey on his tongue.

  She rolled her hips and bucked as wave after wave of her orgasm washed over them both. Goddamn but his dick was going to be permanently imprinted on the mattress. It was rigid and straining underneath him, hungry for what his mouth was currently getting.

  He rose up when he sensed her orgasm had faded to the stage where she was too hypersensitive to his continued ministrations. Hunching over her, palms planted on either side of her head so his weight wouldn’t press down on her, he leaned down, angling his head to kiss her
. So she could taste herself, so he could share it with her.

  “Your passion. Your sweetness, Josie. Never tasted anything sweeter. It’s you on my tongue and now on your own.”

  She groaned, and it sounded nearly pained but she kissed him back every bit as hungrily. Her nipples were rigid peaks, jutting upward as if begging for his mouth just as her pussy had. He’d get to those next. But first he wanted to sample her mouth and her neck. Then he’d work down to her delectable breasts.

  “Can I touch you?” she whispered.

  “Never have to ask that,” he murmured against her ear. He licked the shell, eliciting a shiver through her body. “I want you touching me often. I’ll never not want it. If you’re with me, I want you touching me. Even if it’s not sexual. I’m a feely person, Josie. Don’t know if that bothers you. Hope to hell it doesn’t. And I don’t give a shit if it’s in public or not. I have no problem with the world knowing you’re mine.”

  She sighed and slid her hands over his shoulders and then down his back. He goddamn near purred as her nails dug into his skin.

  “I like that,” she said.

  “What part?”

  “All of it. Michael wasn’t like that.”

  Her eyes became troubled, almost as if she realized that it wasn’t likely a good idea to bring him up, especially when Ash was about to get his dick inside her for the first time.

  He made certain his face softened, not wanting her to think she’d made him angry.

  “Wasn’t like what?”

  “Demonstrative. He wasn’t into affection. Touching me. Except when we had sex. But only then, and even so, it was very . . . impersonal. But the way you say it sounds . . . nice. Like you want me to be close to you. To touch you.”

  “Hell yes I do,” he said. “Don’t give a fuck who knows it either.”

  She smiled and then shivered again when he bent to graze his teeth over the skin just below her ear.

  “I’m liking this, Ash,” she whispered. “All of it. And that scares me because it sounds too good to be true.”

  “Glad it appeals, Josie. Would suck if it didn’t, because this is who I am and what I offer. It’s not too good to be true. It’s just good. Now let’s focus on the matter at hand. Because if I don’t get my dick inside you soon, it’s going to become very painful for me.”

  She looked alarmed, but he grinned, letting her know he was only half kidding. Because it was pretty damn painful. It had been a long-ass time since he’d sported an erection this long without doing something about it. And eating her sweet pussy while his dick was poking the damn mattress was not an experience he wanted to repeat anytime soon.

  He’d much prefer a sixty-nine, with her sucking him off while he feasted on her. But as with all of the other fantasies he had, it would have to wait. And now that he had her exactly where he wanted, he had all the time in the world to explore every sexual kink he could possibly ever want to pull out of his repertoire.

  He turned his attention to her breasts, and they were perfect breasts. Small without being too small, but not too big either. Just enough swell to make his mouth water, and her nipples were absolutely perfect, pink confections.

  He ran his tongue around one puckered ridge, tracing every detail, licking the point before sucking it strongly into his mouth. Her entire body went rigid, her gasps filling the air and sliding over his ears with a warm buzz.

  “Ash.”

  The way she said his name, he knew she wanted to ask something. He looked up, connecting with her gaze, watching in fascination as the color turned electric, a shock of blue-green awash with desire.

  “I want to taste you too,” she whispered. “I want to make you feel as good as you made me feel.”

  He smiled tenderly at her and then leaned down to kiss the corner of her mouth. “You will. But right now is about you, and me making you go over as many times as I can. Believe me when I say, you’ll get my dick in your mouth soon.”

 
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