A shudder racked her as a ravenous need to touch him clawed through her, to press her lips to his and let herself get carried away by her body and the sweet promise of passion. To be in his bed, naked underneath him, and allow herself to fall apart under his talented fingers. She wanted it all so badly, she almost pretended his words didn’t matter. Almost convinced herself she’d be able to handle a decadent summer affair with no promises except for physical delight.
But that would be a lie.
A lie for both of them.
She brought his hands up to her lips and pressed her mouth against his rough skin. “Who hurt you so badly?” she asked. “What happened to you that tore you apart?”
He jerked. She tightened her grip, staring deep into those beautiful, stormy eyes, and urged him to share. But he either couldn’t, or chose not to. She could practically feel the distance between them, as if the walls were closing in around his heart to barricade him into safety. He didn’t answer, his pain trapped in a place she couldn’t get to.
Her own heart breaking, she told him the truth. “I can’t, Carter. Being a wedding planner isn’t just a job to me. It’s a belief in everything I do. I want to fall in love and get married and have a crazy, messy, joyous life. I believe in all of it, and that my happy ending is out there. And I’m afraid if I let myself open up with you, I’ll fall hard, and you won’t be there to catch me. Not because you don’t want to, but because you don’t believe enough to be there.”
He muttered a curse. Sadness and loss twisted inside her for something she hadn’t even tasted yet. She couldn’t imagine what type of pain she’d go through if she allowed herself to give in and follow his path. It was as if the more time they spent together, the harder she fell, her soul seeming to recognize his.
No. He was too dangerous. Better to know now their relationship could go no further. Better to protect herself against the one thing he didn’t believe in.
An aching silence stretched between them. They held each other’s hands, realizing they were at a crossroads, until Lucy got fed up with waiting for her next bite and let out a whine.
Avery’s eyes burned, but she forced herself to speak. “I should go.”
“I don’t want you to.”
His plea made her shiver, but there was no happy ending here. “Neither do I. But we can’t change who we are, or what we want. It’s better not to make it more complicated.”
His hands slowly fell away, and she stood. Gathering up her stuff, she walked to the front door and turned. “Thanks for dinner.”
He stood close. The delicious male scent of him rose to her nostrils. Her gaze fell to his lips, and she fought the treacherous need to kiss him one last time so she could hold it in her memory forever.
She tipped her chin up, meaning to keep her goodbye brief, and suddenly they were in each other’s arms. Her hands gripped his shoulders and his forehead pressed to hers, his breathing ragged, while he waited for her to step back and shut the door behind her.
Their mouths fused together, and her arms tightened around him as she surrendered to the embrace, her breasts pressed against the hard wall of his chest. Her lips opened under the sweet thrust of his tongue, kissing him back deeply while her fingers stabbed into the silky blackness of his hair to keep him from pulling away. He groaned her name and dove his tongue deep, gathering her taste, and his erection notched between her thighs, making her grow wet and achy.
His hands slid down her back, cupped her butt, and brought her up high. He backed her up against the wall, and she clung to him as wildfire flowed hot in her veins, driving her to take everything from him in that perfect heartbreaking moment.
His teeth nipped, and his tongue soothed. His fingers bit into her flesh, and he rocked his hips against her, driving her mad with lust and the need for more. She moaned his name, and he swallowed it whole while her hands roamed over his body, enjoying each hard muscle and desperately trying to touch his naked skin. She yanked his shirt up and slid both palms over his chest, the crisp hair tickling her, his ab muscles jumping under her caress.
“I want to touch you,” he growled, dropping stinging kisses over the vulnerable curve of her neck. He snaked one hand to her front and cupped her breast. Her nipple hardened under the scratchy lace of her bra, begging for contact. “I want to please you.”
A shudder worked through her. She arched up for more, and his fingers slid under her top to stroke and play, scraping her nipple with his thumb. Her breasts swelled, and he muttered her name in question. She paused, on the verge of mind and body warring together, but then his fingers tightened on her nipple, and a bolt of pain and pleasure shot through her and weakened her knees.
His mouth reclaimed hers. He tugged her bra down, exposing her bare breasts, and teased the tight tips, the strength of his body holding her pinned against the wall for leverage. His fingers tweaked and played and tormented, until her breasts were swollen with need. Their tongues tangled together, and his hand moved downward, fingers hooking under the elastic of her panties and parting her swollen folds. She dampened, a demanding heat between her legs fogging her brain and making her crazy as she lifted her hips and allowed him full access.
His teeth nipped her bottom lip at the same time his fingers surged inside her tight channel. She cried out his name at the exquisite pleasure, and he growled blistered curse words in a symphony while his thumb rubbed her throbbing clit.
She dropped her head onto his shoulder and rolled it back and forth, helpless to fight or stop him. “I need—” She gasped, caught in the rising tide of pleasure that threatened to push her over.
“I know, sweetheart.” His fingers worked faster, diving so deep that shimmers of heat gripped every muscle. Her core wept and squeezed around him. “Come for me.” The demand was matched with one final thrust of his fingers while his thumb pressed hard on her clit.
She convulsed around him, her body writhing while he held her and milked out every last bit of her orgasm. He whispered her name, and when the shudders began to slow, he removed his hand and pulled her into a tight embrace, pressing kisses in her hair.
Her knees stopped trembling. Her breath evened out.
And Avery realized what she’d just done.
The full implication of surrendering to an orgasm with a man she’d planned to walk away from blasted into her. She’d wanted him badly enough to damn the consequences. But it hadn’t changed anything between them. Even worse? She’d spend the rest of her life wondering what making love with Carter Ross would be like.
She lifted her head. His gaze locked with hers. Her lower lip trembled. “What did I do?”
He pulled back, face ravaged with arousal and regret. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have pushed.”
“No, I am,” she tore out. “We can’t do this. We’ll only hurt each other in the end, and I don’t want that for us.”
Eyes stinging with tears, she kissed him one last time, then grabbed her bag and hurried out. The echo of her name drifted in the air, but she didn’t look back, knowing she might not have the strength to leave again.
The door slammed behind her with a finality that reminded her that sometimes happily ever after didn’t exist.
At least, not with Carter Ross.
“What do you mean you’re sick?” Avery whispered frantically into the phone. She quickly ducked into a quiet corner amid the chaos of the bridesmaids fussing with the final touches to the bride in the back of the church. “I can’t do this alone, Gabe.”
His voice came out weak. “I know, dammit, and I tried. But every time I get up, I get dizzy and puke. There’s no way I can get to the wedding.”
She filled her lungs with air and cleared her mind. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to sound like I don’t care. I just freaked out. Go back to bed and rest.”
“You can’t do it alone; there’s too much room for error with only one person on duty. I’m sending over someone to be your bitch for the day.”
“I thought Jessie was out of town this weekend,” she said with a frown. Their receptionist was known to cover in tight circumstances, but she’d booked a trip away with her boyfriend. It’d been on the calendar for weeks.
“She is. I found someone else. Don’t worry about it. Good luck.”
The phone clicked.
Poor Gabe. Maybe he was sending over one of his friends to help. Even sick, he always looked out for her and the business.
Tamping down a sigh, she began lining up the bridal party, and positioned the two mothers who’d be escorted down the aisle first. The groom, bridesmaids, and groomsmen were ready and waiting at the altar. From the middle of the aisle, Pierce nodded—the signal he was ready to begin shooting the pictures.
She whirled around and her jaw dropped. Carter stood before her, dressed in a sharp, conservative black suit. His hair looked thick and slightly damp as it curled over his forehead. He wore his glasses, and his stormy gaze slammed into hers, reminding her of their intimate encounter.
Shock froze her for a moment. “What are you doing here?”
“Gabe sent me. Said you were short-staffed and to do what you tell me.”