He’s power and strength—and he’s at my side even before I clamp my mouth shut, turning my scream into a choked gasp. He grabs my upper arms and pulls me close, and I can feel the tension and fear coming off him as he urgently demands, “Nikki, baby. What is it? What’s wrong?”
“I’m sorry—I’m sorry.” My words tumble out as I tilt my head back so that I can see his face. His dual-colored eyes are focused intently on me, so full of love and concern that it makes my heart skip. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
I draw a deep breath as he takes his raincoat off and tosses it over the back of one of the chairs. He’s wearing a pullover sweater over a plain gray T-shirt, and now he tugs it off and holds it out for me. I slide it on gratefully, welcoming both its softness and the scent of him.
It calms me immediately, and when he pulls me down to the couch and settles me on his lap, I snuggle close, wishing that I could rewind this evening—even this day—so that Damien never had to go to Santa Barbara in the first place.
“Go on, baby. Tell me what happened.”
“It’s silly,” I protest, but I tell him anyway. “I didn’t think you were back yet—and when I walked in, with your back to me and the dark, I just—”
I cut myself off as the full reality hits me. Because for a moment—just a breath, just an instant, but still a moment—I truly didn’t realize that the man standing in our bungalow was Damien. That’s when I fully comprehend how spooked I’d been by the man in the dark. Because I’m never—never—unaware of Damien. When he’s near, I know it. He’s my heart, after all. My soul. And there has never been a time when I was in his presence and didn’t feel that electricity on my skin, that flutter in my heart.
Except tonight there was a moment—just a single heartbeat, yes, but still a moment—when I was lost. When I didn’t recognize him.
When I felt alone and unprotected.
I’d been scared—genuinely scared. And I truly don’t understand why.
I shake it off. “Honestly, it was nothing. I was just spooked. The man—”
“Man?” Damien’s brow is furrowed, his face all hard lines and angles as his raven-black hair gleams in the flickering light. He’s in full protection mode now, and I feel his thighs tighten under the denim of his jeans as he moves me off his lap, and then starts to rise. “What fucking man?”
“I don’t know.” I feel foolish now, and I want to just erase this whole thing. “Honestly, he didn’t do anything. Just stood in the shadows by the spa, probably trying to stay dry. But I was going to the market and I saw him, and in the dark…” I trail off with a shake of my head. “But it’s nothing. Really. Just the night and the rain and missing you and—”
A loud rap on the front door makes me jump, and Damien cocks his head, his eyes narrowing. “Nothing?” he repeats. “Baby, you’re like a scared rabbit.”
I drag my fingers through my shoulder-length blond hair. He’s right, but I truly don’t understand why. After all, the only thing I saw was a man wearing a hat and coat. That’s hardly the kind of thing that should spark a moment of terror, much less leave me with a lingering case of the willies.
“Come on.” He slides his hand down my arm, making me feel both centered and safe, and I twine my fingers tightly with his as we go to the door.
After peering through the peephole, Damien flips the lock. A second later, he opens the door to reveal a damp Dallas Sykes sporting low slung jeans, a rumpled white T-shirt, and sex-mussed hair, which, on Dallas, I’m assuming is the real thing and not just a hairstyle choice. As the heir to the Sykes family fortune and the CEO of the family business, Dallas should be the epitome of old-money responsibility. Instead, he’s a gossip magnet. As far as I can tell, if a day goes by without his picture in the tabloids with a different woman at his side, then chances are good the apocalypse is upon us.
Now, he steps inside the bungalow, his mouth curving into a frown as he speaks to Damien. “I didn’t realize you were back.” He shifts to look at me. “I wanted to check on Nikki.”
“On me?” I’m completely baffled. “I haven’t seen you all night. Why would you need to check on me?”
He lifts a shoulder as we walk toward the living room. “I spent the evening in the bar with a couple of friends,” he says, with the kind of smile that makes clear that these friends are of the female variety. That’s when I realize that during the shower Dallas wasn’t over at Jackson’s bungalow with the rest of the men. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. The guys were gathered to support Jackson as the birth of his second child draws near. That’s pretty domestic stuff, and Dallas is about the least domestic man I know. For that matter, he may be the least domestic person on the planet.
Despite his playboy ways, though, I genuinely like the man. He’s witty and smart, and from what I’ve seen he’s a loyal friend—as evidenced by the fact that he’s in our bungalow right now.
“When the girls headed back to my bungalow,” Dallas continues, “I stayed behind to pick up a few things from the market. Wine. Whipped cream. Some cable ties.” His grin is devilish. “The usual.”
I actually blush, which, considering the various things I’ve done with Damien, is a little ridiculous. Except that we’ve never used cable ties.
My blush deepens as I think about the possibilities. And I force myself not to look at Damien, who I’m certain knows where my mind has wandered.