That wasn’t all he’d done. I wanted desperately to tell him so, but I couldn’t take that risk yet, so I settled for a half-truth. “No one else did,” I whispered, stepping closer still. “Just you.”
“I was doing my job,” he said, his voice as quiet as mine as he looked down at me.
I smiled. “Last I checked, you were a cook, not security rescue.”
I was so close now I could feel the heat of his body bleeding through his shirt. Slowly, hesitantly, I reached up to press my palms against his chest. His breathing hitched as I made contact, and his hands shot up to grab my arms like he was going to push me away.
But he didn’t. He just stood there, looming over me, his eyes so dark I couldn’t make out their color anymore. With my hands on his body and his palms wrapped around my wrists, I could feel the too-fast rhythm of his heart hammering against my skin.
“What are you doing?” he whispered. The question was little more than air.
“Thanking you,” I breathed back, standing on tiptoe to press my lips to his.
He froze completely, his mouth like a wall against mine. I licked his lips with the tip of my tongue, waiting for him to respond, but Rupert was a rock beneath me, completely still. He didn’t even seem to be breathing.
As the seconds ticked by, my stomach began to sink. When I’d decided to do this, the idea that he wouldn’t want it too hadn’t even occurred to me. I’d never had a problem like this before, but then I’d never gone after a man like Rupert before. Whatever he was, he wasn’t a merc. He didn’t live our rough-and-tumble, take-what-you-can-get life.
Oh god, I realized as my sinking stomach hit bottom, I’d just made a fool of myself, hadn’t I? Maybe Caldswell had ordered him to save me. Maybe I was throwing myself at a man who was just trying to find a polite way to get me to leave, and this time I couldn’t even blame it on the whiskey.
Crushed and embarrassed, I broke away, sliding my hands off his chest and out of his grasp. Knowing it was stupid, I glanced up at him through my lashes, but what I saw only drove the rejection deeper. His face was closed and cold, his eyes dark. The earlier warmth had vanished completely, and I knew, just knew I’d ruined everything.
“Listen,” I started, looking anywhere except at his eyes. “I—”
Rupert grabbed me before I could finish, swooping down so fast it was like he teleported. One second we were standing apart, the next I was in his arms, crushed against his chest with my feet dangling off the floor and his lips on mine. He kissed me so hard I couldn’t breathe, but I didn’t need air. I didn’t need anything except him. As soon as my initial shock faded, I flung my arms around his neck and pulled myself tight against the hard wall of his body, kissing him like I never wanted to stop.
And then it did.
Fast as he had scooped me up, Rupert broke the kiss and set me down, untangling my arms from his neck. We were both breathing hard as he stepped back, putting some distance between us. “I’m sorry,” he said, running his hands through his hair and over his shoulders like he was trying to find something to touch that wasn’t me.
“Why?” I panted. “I’m not.”
Rupert shook his head. “It’s not—” He stopped to steady his breathing. “It’s not that simple, Devi.”
“I don’t care about simple!” I snapped, clenching my fists.
At this point, the need to confess was almost overwhelming. I desperately wanted to tell him what I’d seen, to tell him I knew everything, and none of it mattered so long as he’d just kiss me like that again, but I didn’t dare. Not yet, not when he was pulling away.
“I know there are things you can’t tell me,” I said, breathing deep to keep my words from going choppy. “But I told you before, your secrets are yours. They don’t have anything to do with us or what’s happening right now.” That wasn’t entirely accurate, but, to my own surprise, what I said next was. “Between you and the truth, I’d rather have you.”
Rupert closed his eyes. “It’s not that simple,” he said again. “Trust me, Devi, you don’t want this.”
I stiffened. “Don’t think for one second you can tell me what I want,” I said, my voice shaking with anger and frustrated passion. “Don’t you dare assume you can tell me what I think. I’m my own person, I make my decisions. I’m the only one who knows what I want.” My eyes narrowed. “And I fight to get it.”
Tense as he was, Rupert’s lips curled into a small smile. “I know that very well,” he said, looking at me again. “But we can’t. We have to stop, Devi. Now, while we still can.”
He wanted me. The moment he told me we had to stop, I saw the hunger in his eyes, the wild longing I knew was mirrored in my own. My chest expanded with a deep, relieved breath. I hadn’t been wrong before. Rupert did want me, then and now, and that was all I needed.
My arms shot out faster than he could dodge, wrapping around his chest until I was pressed flush up against him again. “You assume stopping is still an option,” I said, rising up to kiss him on the cheek as I slid my way toward his ear. “But it’s too late for that,” I whispered when I got there, letting my lips feather against his hair. “Far, far too late.”
Rupert made a sound deep in his chest. We stood there pressed together for a breathless moment, and then, like a dam breaking, he burst into motion. His arms slid down and scooped me up like before, like I weighed nothing. Cradling me against him, he stepped back into his room as the door slid closed behind us, locking with a soft click.
For better or for worse, I’ve slept with a lot of men in my life. Some were better than others, but no one, no one has ever made love to me with the intensity that Rupert did.
After what had happened in the hallway, I’d thought it would be fast and wild, but Rupert took his time. He sat me down on the bed and peeled my clothes off, kissing me all the while until I could barely think. It wasn’t just that he was a good kisser (he was), it was everything. The way his fingers clung to mine like I was the only thing holding him down, the way his mouth slid over my body like every inch of me was the most important inch in the universe, the way he whispered my name against my skin like a prayer, his lovely accent rolling the word into something so beautiful I barely recognized it.
I was less graceful as I yanked his shirt over his head, breaking the kissing only when I had to as I tore his clothes off until he was gloriously naked. His body was as beautiful as I’d imagined—long, hard, and lean as a fighter’s, and he curled it around me like a cage as though he was afraid I’d disappear. He kissed me hard then, and I matched his ferocity with my own, tangling my fingers in his long, silky hair as I locked his mouth to mine.
After wanting him for so long, actually getting to touch him was its own kind of heaven. Even pressed naked against the wall of his chest, I couldn’t touch enough. His fingers had always been warm when he’d touched me before, but he was on fire now. Heat poured off him like a radiator, warming me to the tips of my toes. His skin was surprisingly soft, a thin layer of silk over the steel of his body. His muscles clenched and rippled under my roving fingers, and his breathing grew ragged.
I grinned against him and kept going, running my hands over his shoulders, up his arms, down his back, over his chest, everywhere I could reach. The more I touched him, the wilder he became, pulling me against him with delicious ferocity. When he finally entered me, I couldn’t help a moan of sweet satisfaction, but when he started to move, all I could do was hold on, my face buried in the crook of his neck as I let the desperate pleasure wash through me until all that remained was the intense feeling of being alive, of being cherished, of being the beautiful, precious thing he whispered I was.
I came once, hard and early, and then again, long, lovely, and slow. The second time I pulled him over with me, and we collapsed together onto the narrow single bunk. Boneless and deeply content, I rolled onto my side while he curled around me with his arm under my head and my back pressed against his chest. We were both sweaty, and my hair was clinging to everything, but I couldn’t have cared less. I snuggled closer, stretching my whole body against his as he pushed back some of my wild hair to kiss the delicate skin under my ear.
Happy as I was, the heat of him was roasting me, so I pushed myself up and rolled over until I was lying on my stomach beside him. He kept his arms around me the whole time, watching me with a smiling, serene expression that was the most open look I’d ever seen on his face. His eyes were bright and blue as they studied me, taking in my hair, my face, the curve of my shoulders, the line of my back, everything he could see, like he was trying to memorize it. His hand slid up to stroke my cheek, and I leaned into the touch. But as I turned to kiss his fingers, I caught sight of the thin black tattoo across his wrist I’d first noticed when he was chopping turnips what felt like forever ago.
I took his hand and held it in front of me, pulling his wrist right up to my face so I could examine the mark. I’d thought it was just a design, but up close, I realized it was writing. Like he’d taken a black pen and written a note across the inner skin of his wrist in a language I’d never seen.
“What does it say?” I asked, running my thumb across it.
He said something that sounded like water running down a mountain, all long vowels and fast slippery S’s broken up by harder consonants.
“This life for Tanya,” he translated.
I bristled, instantly and irrationally jealous. He must have felt me stiffen, because he chuckled. “Tanya is my sister,” he said, kissing my shoulder. “She died a long time ago.”
There was an old sadness in his words that killed my jealousy faster than hearing she was his sister. “I’m sorry,” I whispered, releasing his hand.
“I am too,” he said, and I felt the bed shift as he lay back. “She would have liked you a great deal, I think.”
“Really?” I turned to wrap my arms around him, sliding neatly against his side like I was made to fit there. “Anyone else I should worry about impressing?”
“No,” Rupert said. “Just me, and I’m already very impressed.”
I bit him, and he laughed, hugging me closer as he bent to plant a kiss on the top of my head.
Happy and more relaxed than I’d been in months, I lay against him, staring up at the ceiling in the half dark of the night cycle. I must have gotten used to Nova’s taste in decor, because Rupert’s room felt almost stark. It was shaped like an L with his bed taking up most of the long end and a rack of his ubiquitous suits along the short end, shoes lined up neatly below. Other than that, the room was bare as a monk’s chamber. The only thing on the walls was the big energy pistol he’d used to fake holding Caldswell hostage on the bridge.
The gun hung in a dark leather holster on the wall above my head, its heavy inlaid pearl handle in easy reach from both the bed and the door. That made me smile. I also slept with a gun in easy reach. Only sensible thing to do. That thought pushed my smile even wider as I snuggled down against Rupert. Nice to see I’d picked a man with some sense for once.
“Hmm?” I said sleepily. Rupert’s voice was so quiet in the dark I could barely make it out. I was starting to doubt I’d heard it at all when he didn’t speak again immediately.
“How much do you remember from the xith’cal ship?” he said at last, his arms tightening around me.
I hid my surprise at his question behind a long, languid stretch. This was probably as good an opportunity as I’d ever get to come clean, but the thought of saying something that could wreck the beautiful, contented peacefulness between us made my whole body twitch.