And suddenly coming here didn't seem so sappy after all if it made her happy. Three steps down into the galley, then they stumbled backward toward the sleeping quarters. The bed stretched from side to side, no room to walk around, the mattress the only real place to sit—or lie—together out of the biting wind. Yes.
As if she'd heard his thoughts, she moaned her agreement into his mouth. Minimal light filtered through the rectangular portals, slanting illumination over the brown linens in their cave-like haven.
Her frantic hands tore at his jacket, then yanked his long-sleeved polo shirt past his head, sending it sailing to the floor at the same time he finally managed to peel up her neon T-shirt and, heaven help him, her matching green bra.
Damn, he loved her bright colors and the way they echoed the brightness inside her.
The boat rocked under his feet with the gentle slap of each wave against the hull, but the soft swell of Nikki's br**sts above the lacy cups rocked him even more. A chilly gust of salty air blasted through the hatch, beading tempting br**sts against satin, luring him to touch more of her. All of her.
His mouth exploring her neck, he reached behind to close the door. Darker. Warmer.
Lowering her, he extended an arm to brace on the edge of the mattress until they stretched side by side along the brown comforter. Shoes thudded—one, two, three, four—onto the waterproof flooring. "Do you want—?"
"Yes. Totally. Want you to stop talking."
"Roger." He could think of better ways to occupy his mouth, especially since she seemed so intent on getting them both in the buff ASAP. He clicked on the miniature lamp mounted to the wall, intent on recording every inch of her to memory.
On her back, she scrunched down her jeans with an enticing wriggle and kicked them free, revealing matching mint panties and oh-so-long legs. His pulse spiked, couldn't possibly jump higher.
And then she proved him wrong.
Nikki skimmed her foot up over his ankle, rucking up his jeans to burrow her toes higher, rubbing back and forth, skin to skin contact all the more intense as the stakes rose for them.
He released the front clasp on her bra, desire pounding harder, pulling tauter. He grazed hot kisses down her neck, lower, so slow, tormenting until she splayed her fingers through his hair and guided him to...
He blew warm air over the heart of her a second before he tasted her essence—hot and moist. And apparently just what she wanted if her gasps and sweet whimpers were anything to gauge by, her legs widening to give him more. All. Her release came hard and fast, her clawing grip on his shoulders sending a bolt of pleasure throbbing through him. He held her thighs and soothed her through the aftershocks.
Confined in the cramped hull, she grappled with his jeans, unbuttoning the fly one strained pop at a time. Her hand slid inside and...
Uh, what was he thinking about?
His mind blanked, thoughts washed away along with all his blood flooding south. Jeans flew off as fast as what remained of his restraint. Fishing a condom from his wallet, he sheathed himself and rolled on top of her soft scented body, lowering himself, seating deep inside her.
Her legs locked around his waist, urging him to move, move again, endlessly with an urgency echoed inside him. The boat undulated with waves that left her clinging tight to him for anchor. The surprise surges heightened the pleasure, deeper, harder, then shallow and faster.
Until her toned legs demanded he give all. He gritted his teeth through the blinding drive to finish. But not before her...not before...
Her scream sliced through his restraint like the hull of a boat parting a wave, the wake crashing into a churning tumult that lasted and lasted, finally fading. Shuddering in the aftermath, he sagged on top of her, her sighs heating over his neck. Her hands glided along his sweaty shoulders in feather light touches that slowed along with her breaths at the onset of her nap.
Shifting to his side, he pulled her closer, holding her while she slept. No more delaying. He would have to tell her about his alcoholism, something that could, and very likely should, send her running.
Why hadn't he done this back when the prospect of losing her didn't rock him even more than facing combat?
Resting on her side, Nikki watched Carson's perfectly sculpted face as he slept, not a peaceful nap, but restless, mixed with the occasional twitch as if he might wake at any second. The tiny digital clock blared three in the afternoon, plenty of time to let him relax a while longer. She stretched her arm from under the fluffy weight of the comforter and clicked off the tiny light, casting the cave-like cabin and Carson's features in shadows.
She'd sensed a tension in him while they made love, connecting in some way that scared her to her toenails. She hadn't known the emotions would come so fast, so thick, swamping her in more—deeper—feelings for Carson than she'd ever dreamed. She wasn't so naive that she couldn't recognize the explosiveness of how he made her feel in bed.
Four orgasms in one afternoon was nothing to sneeze at, although he seemed to tease them from her as easily as an achoo.
She'd thought their first time making love had been special, even their abruptly ended encounter months ago. Now she knew none of it had come close to what had been waiting for them. .
Because they knew each other better? Or cared more? Could things grow stronger?
The caring part scared her. Really scared her. Because she didn't trust him not to break her heart again if they got closer. Her cold toes warming between his legs, she allowed her hands the unobserved pleasure of touching him, stroking along his muscled arms that had held her close, down his chest and lower still to his six-pack, tanned even in winter.
She couldn't avoid hearing whatever he'd wanted to say much longer. She'd chased off admissions with sex earlier. But whatever he was holding back, his reasons for leaving her that had nothing to do with work, would all come out soon.
Along with his connection in knowing Billy Wade's father, a man with a gambling problem.
Nikki flipped to her other side, away for distance, her toes already chilling just seconds after leaving the warmth of Carson's legs. Deja-vu jiggled the vision in front of her as she fell asleep, taking her back to that strange night.
How had she gotten here in this strange hotel-like place? And who was talking, their masculine voices so low she could barely distinguish the two from each other as she sprawled on the bedspread?
She couldn't remember anything after she'd climbed into Gary's car, sleepy. So sleepy. Her head pounded. Her stomach roiled. A couple of drinks shouldn't have done this to her. What was wrong with her?
Voices. In the hall or in the room? She struggled to focus, but her heart in her ears pounded louder than the whispers. She peeled her eyes open. Gary and another man stood at the foot of the bed. So close, she should be able to hear them but the world kept kaleidoscoping in and out.
She studied the back of the second man. He seemed familiar, even in jeans and a leather jacket, his hair trimmed military short.
His blond hair.
Panic clenched a vise grip around her throat.
The man in jeans and an aviator jacket turned in slow motion. No! built in her chest, crawling up her throat to stop him and what she didn't want to see but already foresaw. The denial lodged in her throat and he kept pivoting until she saw...
Carson cranked the anchor up, prepping the boat to set sail back to Charleston. Before they reached shore, Nikki would know every dark secret from his past. Although he almost wished now he'd broached the subject with her earlier, when she'd been in a more receptive mood.
Nikki had gone silent since he woke from his catnap, refusing to meet his eyes and he didn't have a clue why. Now she sat back by the wheel, studying the other boaters in the distance, hugging her knees as she stared out over the stretch of murky water. No ponytail or ball cap, just wild windswept hair and the elegant curve of her neck he'd explored with kisses a couple of hours ago.
Before she'd shifted to deep freeze mode.
Women were tough enough to understand on a regular day and never had understanding a woman been more important. Stepping over lines and a loose life preserver, he made his way toward her. She flinched. Flinched?
Once under full sail power, autopilot set, he asked the question burning his brain. "Is something wrong?"
She dropped her forehead to rest on her knees. "I'm just confused, that's all." She turned her face to stare back at him, tears in her eyes. "I want to trust you, but it's difficult when I can't help but think you're not being straight with me."
Had her father already spoken to her? Regardless, the time had come to tell her what he'd only discussed with J.T.—and a room full of people sworn to uphold the anonymity of the program. "I'm an alcoholic."
"What?" Her head jerked up, confusion chasing away tears. "Wait. I heard you, I just don't understand. You hardly ever drink. Even with your flaming Dr Pepper call sign, I can only think of one time I've seen you with alcohol."
One time, the night they'd been together.
But if she hadn't been questioning his drinking with her initial comment, what had she thought he was keeping from her? They would get back to that shortly.
"Yes, I was drunk the night we slept together." Guilt hammered all over again, as strong and fresh as the morning he'd dragged his hungover butt to A.A. "I'd been working on staying sober for two years until then."
A wry smile kicked through the furrows of confusion. "Great. I was a drunken mistake."
He was making this worse, and that was quite an accomplishment since the situation had pretty much sucked from the start. "You could never be a mistake. You are the most amazing, tempting woman I've ever met. The only mistake was my selfishness that night, because I knew I would hurt you eventually."
Her chin jutted with a quiet stubbornness he'd seen often in her father. "You hurt me by walking away."
And in that stubbornness he could see that, regardless of her words to the contrary, she hadn't forgiven him, not really. So why was she sleeping with him?
He'd assumed being her first meant he was somehow special to her. Now he wasn't sure of anything and he didn't like that feeling one damn bit. "I joined A.A. after our night together. I'd had blackouts before, but not one that led me to hurt someone. It was a wake-up call."
She blinked fast, straightening. "You had a blackout that night?"
"We discussed this before—the reason I didn't remember we never had sex that night."
"A blackout? You didn't remember anything?"
Hadn't he already said that? "Not much, no."
He wasn't sure if that helped her come to grips with this or not, but it certainly sent her eyebrows trenching deeper until she softened and leaned ever so slightly toward him. Her deep freeze seemed to have ended. He could all but see the wheels churning in her brain as she sifted through his words. A promising sign and incentive to keep spilling his guts even if the talk grated all the way up his throat.
Carson rested an elbow on the silver railing, the waves below offering none of their usual comfort or answers. He shifted his attention to the speedboat in the distance. "I've always known I wouldn't get married. That's the reason I dated women with zero interest in commitment, until you came along and I started questioning what I knew, damn it, what I still believe, but am having trouble holding strong all over again."
"Why are you so sure you shouldn't get married?"
"My parents were drug addicts. Two of my grandparents had substance abuse problems, as well as an aunt and a couple of uncles. I've stopped counting the cousins with chemical dependency issues." He ticked off the dreary stat count on his fingers. "It's in my genes and I've seen what it can do to a family."
"Did any of them acknowledge the problem or get help?"