“Are you untouchable, duchess?” Ciaran murmured

“First, my name isn’t duchess. And second, my touch-ability or lack thereof is usually reserved for people I’ve known for twenty minutes, not two,” Sloane bit out.

His smile widened, those damn dimples flashing another appearance.

Hell. So much for putting him in his place. Apparently sarcasm was wasted on him.

She jerked on her hand, and he released her. But it wasn’t lost on her that her freedom was a direct result of his choice, not her strength. The knowledge shouldn’t have turned the screw of lust inside her, but damn if it didn’t.

“Wedding or engagement?”


He grasped her hand again and brushed his thumb back and forth over the pale strip of skin on her ring finger. The tell-tale sign of a recently removed ring.

Just that quick, the reminder of her ex and their spectacular failure of a relationship doused the desire simmering within her in a frigid wave of humiliation. Pain and something darker—uglier—convulsed inside her chest. With Herculean effort, she schooled her features into a smooth mask and extracted her hand from his grip.

“Engagement,” she said, interjecting a whole bunch of let it go into the flat monotone.

He tipped his bottle and sipped from it. The silence stretched between them as he lowered the beer, his brooding gaze fixed on her face.

“Does he need maiming or killing?”

She frowned, her aloof facade slipping into surprise and then confusion. Uh… What the hell? “I-I’m sorry,” she stammered. “Does who need maiming or killing?”

“The man who made you feel…” He paused, his full, sensual lips firming into a grim line.

“Feel like what?” she pressed, although part of her didn’t want to hear his answer.

Another beat of silence passed before he murmured, “Small. Like you didn’t matter to him.”

Ouch. That hurt. Did she wear her hurt and shame over Phillip’s betrayal so vividly that even a stranger noticed? Forcing a laugh that sounded serrated and bitter even to her ears, she waved off his observation. “Small,” she repeated with a wry smile. “Well, no one’s ever called me that before.”

“Ah.” He nodded, eyes narrowing with a piercing intensity that had her fighting the need to turn away and hide from that too-perceptive stare. “Killing, then.”

She blinked, momentarily stunned into silence. Unbidden pleasure at his unsolicited—and unconditional—defense crept through her like a stealthy invader.  She shook her head, chuckling under her breath.

“You just don’t give a damn about proper decorum or manners, do you?” She shook her head, bemused. “Because I am quite certain offering to carry out a contract killing violates at least two of Emily Post’s etiquette rules.”

He laughed, and the low, sexy rumble stroked over her skin. Lowering her lashes, she sipped from her beer. But the cool alcohol did nothing to quench the thirst that went so much deeper, burned so much hotter than something capable of being doused with a cold beverage. Suddenly nervous, she slid her tongue over her bottom lip.

A dark, growling sound—a sound caught somewhere between a groan and a purr—emanated from him. She sucked in a breath and her gaze jerked up to meet his.

Oh God