But I can’t get the words out, and I feel the tears snaking down my cheeks, and dammit, dammit, dammit, I do not want to lose it in front of this man—this stranger who doesn’t feel like a stranger.
And then his grip on my shoulders tightens and he leans toward me.
And then—oh, dear god—his lips are on mine and they are as warm and soft as I’d imagined and he’s kissing me so gently and so sweetly that all my worries are just melting away and I’m limp in his arms.
“Shhh. It’s okay.” His voice washes over me, as gentle and calming as a summer rain. “Everything’s going to be okay.”
I breathe deep, soothed by the warm sensuality of this stranger’s golden voice. Except he isn’t a stranger. I may not have not met him before today, but somehow, here in his arms, I know him.
And that, more than anything, comforts me.
Calmer, I tilt my head back and meet his eyes. It is a soft moment and a little sweet—but it doesn’t stay that way. It changes in the space of a glance. In the instant of a heartbeat. And what started out as gentle comfort transforms into fiery heat.
I don’t know which of us moves first. All I know is that I have to claim him and be claimed by him. That I have to taste him—consume him. Because in some essential way that I don’t fully understand, I know that only this man can quell the need burning inside me, and I lose myself in the hot intensity of his mouth upon mine. Of his tongue demanding entrance, and his lips, hard and demanding, forcing me to give everything he wants to take.
I am limp against him, felled by the onslaught of erotic sparks that his kisses have scattered through me. I am lost in the sensation of his hands stroking my back. Of his chest pressed against my breasts.
But it isn’t until I realize that he has pulled me into his lap and that I can feel the hard demand of his erection against my rear that I force myself to escape this sensual reality and scramble backward out of his embrace.
“I’m sorry,” I say, my breath coming too hard.
“Callie—” The need I hear in his voice reflects my own, and I clench my hands into fists as I fight against the instinct to move back into his arms.
“No.” I don’t understand what’s happening—this instant heat, like a match striking gasoline. I’ve never reacted to a man this way before. My skin feels prickly, as if I’ve been caught in a lightning storm. His scent is all over me. And the taste of him lingers on my mouth.
And oh, dear god, I’m wet, my body literally aching with need, with a primal desire for him to just rip my clothes off and take me right there on the hard, dusty floor.
He’s triggered a wildness in me that I don’t understand—and my reaction scares the hell out of me.
“You need to go,” I say, and I am astonished that my words are both measured and articulate, as if I’m simply announcing that it is closing time to a customer.
He stays silent, but I shake my head anyway, and hold up a finger as if in emphasis.
“No,” I say, in response to nothing. “I don’t know anything about this amulet. And now you really need to leave. Please,” I add. “Please, Raine. I need you to go.”
For a moment he only looks at me. Then he nods, a single tilt of his head in acknowledgment. “All right,” he says very softly. “I’ll go. But I’m not ever leaving you again.”
I stand frozen, as if his inexplicable words have locked me in place. He turns slowly and strides out of the shop without looking back. And when the door clicks into place behind him and I am once again alone, I gulp in air and feel the warm trickle of a tear as it snakes down my cheek.
I rub my hands over my face, forgiving myself for this emotional miasma because of all the shit that’s happened with my dad. Of course I’m a wreck; what daughter wouldn’t be?
Determined to get a grip, I follow his path to the door, then hold onto the knob. I’d come over intending to lock it. But now I have to fight the urge to yank it open and beg him to return.
It’s an urge I fight. It’s just my grief talking. My fear that I’m about to lose my father, the one person in all the world who is close to me, and so I have clung to a stranger in a desperate effort to hold fast to something.
That, at least, is what my shrink would say. You’re fabricating a connection in order to fill a void. It’s what you do, Callie. It’s what you’ve always done when lonely and afraid.
I nod, telling myself I agree with the voice in my head.
And I do.
Because I am lonely.
And I am afraid of losing my dad.
But that’s not the whole of it. Because there’s something else that I’m afraid of, too, though I cannot put my finger on it. A strange sense of something coming. Something dark. Something bad.
And what scares me most is the ridiculous, unreasonable fear that I have just pushed away the one person I need to survive whatever is waiting for me out there in the dark.