And Axe hadn’t been a grower to begin with.

But fuck him, this was not the way he’d wanted to start out with her—and yeah, you could rewind that empty wish right back to him showing up at her father’s mansion bleeding down his face. The problem was—well, one of his problems was—that he’d been so fucking riffed at Peyton’s criminal sense of entitlement, he hadn’t even thought about any injury—and then this female had taken him up here, where everything smelled like her, and sat him down, and stepped into his personal space and …


Yeah, he’d gotten hard.

The entire time she’d been doing her first aid thing, he’d been hoping, praying, to will himself back to flaccidity. No luck. It was like yelling at a pig. You looked like an idiot and the pig didn’t give a shit.

So here they were, standing in a bathroom that was like something out of The Devil Wears Prada— if Miranda Priestly had had a Jacuzzi scene—with him ridiculously aroused and Elise standing in front of him as if she couldn’t decide whether to cover her eyes and run …

Or find out what he felt like.

“This is a bad idea,” he muttered as he turned around, rearranged himself, and stalked out into her bedroom.

Great, all he could stare at was her bed … and imagine what she would look like naked on it.

“Wait,” she said. “Don’t go—”

He pivoted on her expensive carpet. “You need someone else.”

She kicked up her chin. “I don’t want someone else. I want you.”

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Axe closed his eyes and tried not to read all kinds of bump and grind into that.

“Did you lose your mate?” she asked.

He shook his head to clear it. “What?”

“Your mate. Has it been … a while for you? Or something? And yes, I know that that’s a personal question, but come on,” she muttered dryly, “it’s not like we aren’t already there.”

For a second, he thought she had to be fishing for compliments … but her face was open, her eyes guileless, her affect as honest as a sunrise.

She literally had no idea why she affected him as she did.

Without meaning to, he focused on her lips—which had been the original problem for him: While she had been nursing him, doing so much better a job than he had with the cleaning and Band-Aid action, he had made eye-to-mouth contact and been instantly lost in wondering what she would taste like, feel like, be like. And not just with kissing—with everything.

As in naked bodies and desperate, hungry sex on repeat until they both passed out.

“The raids cost a lot of people their family,” she whispered. “It was a hard time for all of us.”

“No one needs to tell me that.”

She went quiet as if she were waiting for him to continue. When he didn’t, she shook her head. “Well, I’m sorry for whatever losses you had. I know … what that feels like.”

“Do you.”

“My cousin was murdered last month. It’s … been horrible. Especially as her brother had already been killed in the raids.”

From out of nowhere, and for no good reason he could think of, a fleeting pain lit off in his chest. “Death is always horrible. Unless it is your enemy.”

“I wouldn’t know … much about the war.”

“I’m going to go.”

After all, his head was now completely fucked, a debate raging between his rational side, which felt strongly that having sex with her on the job while at the same time confusing her with the ice-cold aristocrats who had killed his father would be totally unfair … and his bat-shit crazies, which were maintaining that sleeping with her while being paid for keeping her safe and tarring her with the same brush as those other glymera assholes was utterly logical.

“What exactly are you afraid of?” she murmured. “I find myself asking that again.”

He leveled a glare at her. “What?”

“Well, that’s just what I’m wondering. I mean, there’s nothing to be lost by sharing information and opinions and concerns as a means to a productive end—namely, you and I making it possible for me to go to school. You can ask me anything and I’ll tell you. I’m not afraid—and I guess I’m trying to reconcile this tough-guy, protective-exterior thing with how incredibly cowardly it is not to express yourself to someone else.”

Axe blinked.

Are you kidding me, he thought. Twice in one night?

“Let me ask you something,” he said.

Elise put her arms wide. “Anything. I’m an open book.”

“What is it about rich people that makes you believe you have a right to anything and everything? Not just material shit, but people’s lives, emotions, thoughts. You tell me it’s no big deal to talk about things? That I’m a fucking coward if I don’t reveal stuff about myself on demand?” He shrugged. “You don’t have any conception of my life or what I’ve been through, but unless I choose to give you that access, on your terms, on your timeline, suddenly I’m the one with the defect. You’re a stranger to me. I don’t know you. And I don’t have to get to know you. I don’t owe you any part of me.”

That shut her up.

And just as he was congratulating himself for putting her in her place, she pulled the rug out from under him. Again.

“God … you’re absolutely right.”

She walked across to her vanity, her graceful hand drifting over the silver brushes and the few compacts and lipsticks that were on it.

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