“There he is,” I muttered to Maggs. “I haven’t seen him since we had our little blowup. You think I should go over?”

“Yeah,” she said. “Gotta face him sooner or later. Remember what we talked about—you lay it out, and if he won’t play, leave. You’ve got choices. Always.”



Ruger’s face was completely unreadable as I approached, and for one horrible moment I thought he might not talk to me.

“Hey,” I said, feeling nervous. Seeing him should’ve pissed me off or maybe even scared me. My body didn’t get the memo, though, because standing close to him mostly turned me on. I think his scent was a big part of it—nothing got to me like that hint of sweat and gun oil. He’d taken off his shirt, leaving only jeans, boots, and his cut. His tan told me he’d spent a lot of the summer that way.

Then I caught a glimpse of that panther tat disappearing down into his pants and I shit you not, it made me feel a little light-headed. All that blood rushing downward, you know?

“Hey,” he said. I tilted my head up to look at his face, reminded once again just how much physically larger he was than me. “So, we gonna f**k around here or just get to the point?”

“Um … Not quite sure I follow,” I admitted, still off balance. What woman would seriously be able to pay attention, confronted with a body like that? Ruger grunted, exasperated.

“You gonna follow my rules tonight?” he asked. “If not, you need to get your ass in your car and leave.”

“I’ll follow the rules,” I said slowly, eyes catching on his chin. He hadn’t shaved that morning, leaving just enough stubble to make a light burn on a girl’s skin. “On one condition.”

He raised a brow, clearly skeptical.

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“And what would that be?”

“You tell me why you’re being so controlling,” I said, laying it out. The girls had been right. Either he was with me or he wasn’t, but one way or another I’d be taking charge of the situation. “Is it because you’re jealous and you want me to yourself, or because the Reapers are too dangerous?”

He studied me for a moment, his face thoughtful. Then he seemed to come to some sort of decision.

“C’mon,” he told me, and it wasn’t an invitation. He grabbed my hand and dragged me almost roughly across the courtyard, toward the large shop built against the back wall. Enclosed on three sides, the front was open to the elements, almost like a supersized carport.

Inside the air was much cooler, and it gave a sense of privacy. One half of the building held bikes in varying states of repair, including several that seemed to be little more than frames. Counters lined the back, and every tool imaginable hung from the walls. There were also some larger pieces of power equipment, including a huge drill press, a grinding wheel, and others I couldn’t begin to identify. A track had been mounted on the ceiling, with a rolling hoist hanging from it.

Filling the other side of the building were a panel truck and an old cargo van. The counters extended into that area, along with hooks for more tools. Ruger tugged me over between the van and the far wall. Despite the fact that the party continued a couple hundred feet away, we felt totally isolated. I thought about the warning I’d been given not to go off anywhere.

Did that apply to Ruger, too?

My gut instinct said I wasn’t safe with him right now … Not physically unsafe, of course. He’d never hit me. But I was pretty damned sure I’d be sorry I’d come in here with him.

Not that he’d given me much of a choice.

Ruger raised his hands, framing my face and studying me closely. He licked his lips, drawing my eyes to that ring of his once more as he stepped forward into my space, pushing me toward the van. It threw me off balance, and I stumbled. Ruger reached down and grabbed my ass, boosting me up and bracing me against the vehicle, my sex pressed to his, my br**sts flat against his chest. I reached around his neck and my legs gripped his waist for balance.

“You really want me to answer your question?” Ruger asked, his voice low and matter-of-fact. “Or you want to leave the party while you still can?”

I should leave.

I knew that. But his c**k was already hard against me and every bit of blood in my body raced downward, away from my brain. Self-preservation gave way to raw lust.

“I want the answer,” I whispered. Ruger smiled, and it wasn’t a nice smile. It was hungry as hell and utterly merciless, just like him.

“I’m jealous as f**k,” he said, his voice rough. “That’s not really my thing, but it’s the truth. I don’t much like the idea of some other man touchin’ your sweet ass, and if one of them tries to stick his c**k into that pretty little cunt of yours, I’m gonna cut it off. And, Soph?”

I caught my breath.

“Yes?” I answered, a thousand thoughts running through my brain. How did I feel about this? What should I say? The girls told me to lay down the law and stick to my guns. The look in Ruger’s eyes, though … That wasn’t the face of a man who was interested in respecting my limits.

Who was I kidding? I couldn’t even remember what those limits were supposed to be right now.

“I’m dead serious,” he continued, leaning his head down, scenting me. I felt it like a bolt of electricity, all the way through my body, right down to my toes. “Another man touches you, I’ll cut off his c**k and feed it to him. That’s not a threat, that’s a promise. And you f**k someone? He’s dead, Soph. Four years ago I made two serious mistakes. I didn’t protect you from Zach—I’ll regret that every day for the rest of my life. And then, because I felt guilty as f**k, I did the right thing and let you go.”

I closed my eyes.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“News flash, Soph,” he whispered. “It’s about f**kin’ time we talked about it, because it’s hanging between us and I’m tired of pretending it didn’t happen.”

I started squirming, trying to twist free. Everything in me screamed to run, because he was about to take us to the bad place.

“Stop,” Ruger ordered, his voice harsh. I kept squirming, so he pushed into me harder, forcing me to still. “We’re gonna deal with it, Soph. Deal and move on, because things are gonna change for you now. My mistake wasn’t touching you that night, and it sure as shit wasn’t making you come. The mistake was doing it without taking out Zach first. If I’d known … why didn’t you tell me?”

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