The next smartest move would be to distance herself from the source of the provocation. “There’s no point in talking to you if you aren’t going to be serious.”
She went to the sitting room to unpack her books and her laptop, more annoyed with herself than his teasing, because she liked it too much when he switched from Heathcliff to Black Bart. She liked him too much, period, considering survivors of violent crime, like Ryan, often developed severe anger issues. He’d translated his into a powerful need for control. In that respect, he was much like her father.
That last observation brought her unpacking to a halt. She dropped the stack of books she’d removed from a box on the desk. It turned out Ryan wasn’t the only one who had issues left over from violent crime—which wasn’t disturbing at all. She might want to give the reason behind her attraction to him more serious consideration.
She finished with her books and moved on to the next bag of her belongings. When she returned to the bedroom to put a stack of clothes in the closet, she discovered he’d fallen asleep.
Sleep didn’t soften him as much as one might expect. From the navy plaid work shirt worn over a matching T-shirt, to the wash-faded jeans with stains ground into the fibers, and hand-knit wool socks—she wondered where those had come from—he looked every inch the work-hardened rancher. He had one arm thrown over his eyes and a slight frown on his lips—more thoughtful than morose, as if even his dreams were problems in need of a solution.
And he was a problem solver, no doubt about it. If the bits and pieces of conversations she’d overheard coming from his office were true indicators, it was amazing what he’d managed to accomplish with the ranch in just over a year.
She shoved the pile of clothes haphazardly onto a shelf and tiptoed to the side of the bed. A man like this would have thrived in pioneer days, back when Montana was settled. He would have bent the land to his will—it would never have bent him.
Desire stroked up the insides of her thighs to her belly. She’d assumed the previous night had been ignited by circumstances—first the moonlit walk, the sweet talk and the kiss, then his ride to her rescue. Not so. She’d wanted him long before that.
He was so unlike any man she’d known in Chicago. She didn’t know what to do. She’d never found herself in a situation like this, where her personal and professional lives intersected with such intense and conflicting results.
She touched his leg. He didn’t stir. She tracked her finger up his thigh, over his hip, to his stomach. No reaction. She splayed her widened palm on his chest, curious as to how deeply he slept.
Strong fingers closed over her wrist and jerked her forward. She tumbled onto the bed with a cry of surprise on her lips and a thin smile on his. He’d raised his head from the pillows. Sleep-licked eyes gazed steadily into hers. Light from the window caught the bright blue ringing the outer edges of his brown pupils.
“Really, Elizabeth,” he said. “Is this how you plan to pretend nothing happened?”
“I…” She could think of nothing to say. This was her second show of weakness.
He rolled toward her, pinning her free arm between them, and stretched her imprisoned hand over her head, so that both arms were trapped. He kissed the sensitive underside of her jaw.
“How about if we save pretending nothing happened for later?” he suggested, the words whisper soft in her ear. He followed up with another light kiss, this one to the base of her throat. Warm breath feathered her skin, and sexual awareness, drunken and wild, reignited. She lost any urge to object to the hand inching under her sweater, instead welcoming the exploring touch of her body as her answer.
Seconds later, he’d discarded her sweater and bra. His hands cupped her breasts while she worked on the fly of his jeans. She had him in her palm and was stroking his velvet-skinned hardness when she remembered what was missing.
“We don’t have any condoms,” she said.
He tipped her onto her back on the bed and tugged off her trousers and panties. He shed his clothes, reached for the drawer in the small bedside table, and withdrew a foil packet. “We have three dozen, ultra-thin, ribbed condoms right here. That should last us for the next day or so.” He knelt astride her on the bed, his knees on either side of her hips, and held up the packet. He wore a drowsy, very sensual, decidedly non-Heathcliff smile. “Would you like to do the honors, or shall I?”
She was too distracted by how lovely he looked naked to hear what he said. His leanness was deceptive. Long, corded calves supported thighs thick with muscle. He had the elegant grace of a gymnast. The moves to match, too. Hot male sexuality dripped from every tongue-licking line of his body. He sucked in a breath as she ran one fingertip from the flat plane of his belly to the underside of his erection.
“You keep doing what you’re doing,” he said, dark eyes amused. Ruffled brown hair fell over his brow. “I’ll take care of the rest.” He moved to tear open the packet.
Elizabeth caught his hand. If their relationship outside of work was to be purely about sex, they had control issues—trust ones, too—that they’d have to confront. She’d never had any urge to play sex games before, but rattling that rampant male ego of his offered too much temptation. “How do you feel about bondage?”
He froze, as if sensing a sudden shift in the wind. “You or me?”
“Me.” Since she’d suggested this, she should go first. Plus, on the surface, it appeared to place him in control and her in a position of trust, the opposite of last night. She poked his male ego a little. “I never pictured you as a strictly missionary kind of guy. Is it a problem?”
He didn’t precisely relax, but he no longer appeared quite so tightly wound. “Just surprised. Got any scarves?”
She scrambled from the bed and dug through one of her bags. She came up with three and held them out for his inspection. “We could use a T-shirt for the fourth,” she suggested.
His eyes said he wanted to laugh, but his expression remained serious. “It’s a bed, not a torture rack. Two will be plenty.”
She saw what he meant. She was short, so there was no way she could be tied to all four of the bedposts unless they had something much longer. She passed him the scarves and he tied her hands over her head. He left the knots loose.
“What about a safe word?” She should have asked that particular question before her wrists were secured, not after.
“I’ll never do anything to you that a simple ‘stop’ won’t be sufficient.” His eyes glittered with promise. “My immediate goal is to make you say, ‘Don’t stop.’”
“I like your confidence. My expectations are now really high, Black Bart.”