"Tonight was not a fantasy night, was it?" Jordan murmured on a hoarse thread of humor as he touched the fabric of her plain white underwear. "No black lace and satin?" "And no bordelio-red bedroom, either," she countered. "Miss them?" "I shall remember that night with the greatest pleasure, but no, I don't miss the trappings of the fantasy. The only thing Fm concerned with is the part that's real. You." He kissed her again as his palm slid up along her inner thigh and closed over the heart of her desire. Alyssa gasped as the warmth of his hand penetrated through the thin white cotton that still shielded her. With her mouth still trapped beneath his. she arched her hips instinctively. "Wildfire," he whispered throatily. "You're like wildfire under my hands." She couldn't answer. She was too conscious of those incredible hands, and her body was too caught up in the web they were spinning around her. When he drew small circles with a bold finger against the white cotton, she moaned far back in her throat and clung to him. Reaching up, he captured one of her wrists and lowered her hand to the heat of his thighs. "I've been dreaming of your touch all week. Make my dreams come true." The full strength of his masculinity slipped Into her palm, and she heard him suck in his breath. With trembling fingers, she explored the heavy, probing hardness of him, and a tremor went through his body. Uttering a groan of mounting need, he buried his lips against her throat while his fingers slid under the edge of her cotton panties. "Jordan!" The word was a plea as he deliberately teased the sensitized softness between her legs. He muttered something dark and sensual, and then he lowered his head to take the taut peak of one breast in his mouth. The tender tug of his caress there sent wave after wave of longing through her system. When she was a writhing flame beneath him, he began to work his way down her body, his tongue moving over her damply. "Only for me," he rasped. "I want you like this only for me. My God, woman, you're driving me out of my head!" He nipped a little savagely at the delicate silk of her inner thigh, and the small punishment sang excitingly through her senses. "Now, Jordan. Please. I need you so." But he held off a little longer, kissing her so intimately, she cried out with wonder. "Tell me," he muttered thickly as he tracked searing kisses back up to her breasts and her throat. "Tell me you're mine. Tell me you belong to me, sweetheart" She trembled at the unmistakable element of command in his words. Tonight he intended to be sure of her, he'd said. Was this what he meant? Was he going to force an acknowledgment of her own surrender from her? But she couldn't seem to think of any way around the truth in that moment. "Jordan . . . ?" "Tell me!" "Oh, yes, Jordan. Yes!" She clutched at his shoulders, urging him to cover her fully and let her absorb his hardness into her softness. It was all that mattered just then. "I want you so!" Jordan looked down at the woman lying so passionately in his arms, begging for him, and he knew he could wait no longer. All week he had been remembering the way she came alive beneath him, the satisfaction and the glory he took in first driving her wild and then taming her completely. A part of him had wanted to tease her and torment her for hours tonight before allowing either one of them the satisfaction they craved. But he had been a week without her, and the uncertainty during that time had made him too hungry. His need of her was too great to postpone the inevitable any longer. "Tell me once more," he whispered urgently as he held himself less than an inch away. "Tell me you know you're mine. That you belong to me!" God! After what he had been through this past week, waiting and wondering and berating himself for having fallen for such an elusive creature, he needed to hear the words a thousand times before morning. When she moaned beneath him and closed her eyes in anticipation, he told himself he would take the words again and again from her that night He would be absolutely certain that by the time dawn came, she knew she was his. He would not be a weekend fantasy for her! "Yes, Jordan," Alyssa whispered passionately, her hands flowing over him as she begged him to come to her. "I'm yours. Please be mine." "Alyssa!" Jordan surged against her body. How could he refuse that last request? All he wanted to do in that moment was make them one. At the moment of complete possession, Alyssa felt the breath stop in her throat Her body reacted to the sweet invasion on a thousand different levels, acknowledging its need and longing for this man who, by all rights, should have been a stranger. But he wasn't a stranger. Here in her arms, he was the other half of herself, Alyssa realized vaguely. The thought came and went, driven out by the lightning that was flashing through her. Jordan was stamping the imprint of his body on hers in no uncertain terms. As he drove her powerfully toward the final brink, a part of her wondered at the intensity of his lovemaking. When he mastered her softness with his overwhelming passion she knew he would force her to give herself up to it completely. He would brook no halfhearted surrender. Clinging helplessly to the strength in him, Alyssa found herself skyrocketing toward the ultimate conclusion, and the extent of Jordan's power over her senses was almost frightening, even in that tumultuous, primitive moment. Recognition of that power made her cry out unconsciously in a husky protest "No! Jordan, no . . ." He must have heard and understood the strange note of fear and defiance in the broken words because his mouth moved to hers, silencing the small sound forcefully. Not savagely, she reflected later when she remembered the incident, but with absolute determination. He would allow her no escape from the complete possession he was claiming. With whatever protest she might have made sealed forever, Alyssa gave herself up to the pounding conclusion of his lovemaking. She knew he felt the first delicate tremors within her almost as soon as she herself was aware of them, for he locked her close and whispered heated words of encouragement as he pushed her over the edge. Jordan clearly savored the evidence of her satisfaction for as long as possible before he let himself be swept over the same precipice. Alyssa, still lost in the world of sensation, heard his exultant shout and knew the roughness of his teeth against her bare shoulder. Instinctively, she clung to him. Long moments later, she slowly surfaced to hear the sound of her name being repeated in a rhythmic, crooning fashion, as if it were a litany. "Alyssa, Alyssa, Alyssa." She opened her eyes slowly to find Jordan watching her, his head nestled beside hers on the pillow. His body was still connected to her own, and there was a sheen of perspiration on his forehead. She was damp, too, Alyssa thought vaguely. Damp and beautifully lethargic, wonderfully satiated. The golden eyes burned into her own. "I frightened you," Jordan stated. "Perhaps. A little." She didn't have the energy just then to argue the point. "Why?" The question was almost stark. "I feel. . ." She hesitated, honestly searching for the right words. "Out of control when you're around." Her head moved restlessly on the pillow, auburn tresses fanning out on the white fabric. "I don't understand how it is you can seduce me so easily. I just don't understand." His fingers closed over hers, entangling. "It works both ways, you know." "It's different for a man." "No," he countered. "I won't buy that. I'll admit that sex can be more varied, perhaps, carry a lot of different meanings with different women. But when it happens the way it does between you and me, it's just as shattering for the male as it is for the female." "Shattering?" She looked at him uncomprehendingly. "You feel shattered? What a strange way to put it You're so perfectly seductive. It must be cool and calculated and deliberate. This is the second time you've set out to seduce me, and both times I felt as if you were spinning a web around me. I felt lured and drawn and . . . and helpless. Tonight, just before"—she paused awkwardly, glancing away from the intensity in him—"just before the end, I suddenly realized what was happening and how powerless I was. How out of control. It frightened me." "It's like gambling when you can't calculate the odds or count the cards," he murmured. "You're so in control of your working world and even of your fantasy world that it scares you when you encounter something you can't completely manage, doesn't it?" He was right, she realized, and in the vulnerable aftermath of their lovemaking, she couldn't find the strength to deny it "When . . . when we met in Las Vegas, you seduced me just as easily, but when I left, I felt I still had everything under control. You were part of the fantasy world, but I could leave that world behind when I returned to California. I still felt relatively safe." His fingers tightened on hers. "You mean as long as I stayed in my proper place, you still thought you could juggle a fantasy life and a real life." "It seemed possible," she agreed with a sigh, wondering what was going to happen now. "Then I showed up on your doorstep tonight, and you realized your carefully separated worlds were about to collide," he concluded a little roughly. "Yes." "I warned you before you left Vegas not to think of me as an illusion," he reminded her grimly. "Yes," she said again. But she hadn't heeded the warning. "I saw the fear in your eyes several times during the course of the evening, you know," he went on in a falsely conversational tone. "I knew I'd really thrown you for a loop by showing up here in Ventura. But I was furious with you for having relegated me to another side of your life. I had expected to arrive just in time to keep you from going out on a date with another man. I hadn't expected to find you giving a party. I wasn't sure what I was going to do at that point, and then you solved the problem very neatly by introducing me as some damn expert in probability theory." Alyssa winced, remembering her burst of "inspiration." "You certainly carried off the role very well!" she muttered caustically. "I had fun," he told her simply. "I thoroughly enjoyed myself tonight, Alyssa. Just as you enjoyed yourself last weekend in Las Vegas playing the role of mysterious lady gambler." "But you ... I..." She stumbled over the protest, seeking a way to explain the difference. "When we spent the night together in Las Vegas—" "You still felt an element of safety because you knew you'd be leaving that world behind. Tonight, when I made love to you, it was happening in your safe, controlled, real world, and you knew you weren't going to be able to leave it neatly behind this time," he concluded for her on a fierce note. "Well, from that standpoint, perhaps you were right to be a little scared. Because you can't package me up and ship me back to Vegas, honey. I'm the only lover in your life now, Alyssa. And I'm going to make sure that's true for both of your lives!" She turned her head quickly on the pillow, her lips parted to say words that had not yet formed in her head. The words never emerged. He sealed her mouth with his own, crushing her softly back against the pillow. . . .
* * *
The omnipresent sound of the ocean filtered slowly into Alyssa's consciousness along with the light of a new morning. She blinked sleepily, aware of the heavy weight beside her in the bed and the unaccustomed sensation of warmth from another body. Slowly, she allowed herself to focus on Jordan's intriguingly ruffled hair as he lay asleep, facing her. The memories of the night washed over her, and she stared at the hard lines of his face, which were only partially softened in sleep. Last night, he had spent the long hours of darkness making certain she would not ever be able to push him out of her life again. She had known that was his goal, sensed his desire to burn himself into her so thoroughly she would never be able to resist him regardless of which of her worlds he entered. It was the deliberate way he had done it that left her feeling so high-strung and uneasy this morning. He had carried her into the bedroom with every intention of achieving his goal. Looking back on it, Alyssa was certain that when he had switched gears and resorted to a more tenderly seductive, gently luring approach, it had been deliberate. He had played her emotions the way he played cards. What was this man doing to her? What was going to become of her if she did not extricate herself from his spell? Who he was and what he was threatened everything she had worked so hard to establish during the past few years. Her career at Yeoman Research would come to a dead standstill if it were ever discovered that she consorted with professional gamblers and even engaged in the reckless pastime herself. Professional gamblers were dangerous, untrustworthy and disreputable. They were not to be entrusted with positions of responsibility. And were they to be trusted on more personal levels? Alyssa shivered faintly as she slipped silently off the bed and reached for her yellow robe. How was she going to get herself free of this man? How could she get the situation back under control? She didn't dare risk another scene such as the one at the party last night If Jordan insisted on invading her real world as he had last night, it was only a matter of time before her luck ran out. Her luck. She had never really believed in luck until she'd met Jordan. Now she was definitely beginning to wonder about the phenomenon. If one accepted the premise that it existed, one had to also accept the premise that there was both good luck and bad. Meeting Jordan Kyle could only be a piece of incredibly bad luck for her. It wasn't until she found herself wrenching the faucets in the shower with a particularly violent twist that Alyssa realized just how much resentment was brewing in her that morning. No, that was putting it mildly. She was furious. That man in her bedroom had no right to invade her life and turn everything upside down. He had no right to have such power over her senses. No right to be able to make her respond in his arms so thoroughly. The feeling of powerlessness, of being out of control of her carefully structured world, sent a chill of fear through her once again. She had to get free of Jordan's magic web! By the time she finished the shower, she was feeling tense, ready to snap or slash like a small, cornered animal. When she opened the door into the bedroom, the yellow robe wrapped securely around her, Jordan stirred lazily amid the sheets and propped himself up on his elbow to give her a slow, satisfied, remembering smile. "Good morning, sweetheart. You're up bright and early. Part of your normal routine?" The slight reference to her "normal" world was made deliberately, she knew. Everything Jordan Kyle did was undoubtedly deliberate. Calculated. Such qualities were essential to the career he had chosen, weren't they? "It's late," she returned, not meeting his eyes as she strode firmly across the off-white carpet to her closet and began pulling out a pair of jeans and a long-sleeved shirt in jewel blue. "You'd better get dressed." He groaned, sinking back down onto the pillow. "Do I detect a shade of asperity in your tone?" "At least you didn't wake up to find me going through your wallet" "Ouch. That was unkind. I was desperate that morning." With her clothes bundled in her arms, she hurried back to the bathroom, feeling more than a little desperate herself. Jordan waited until she re-emerged, completely dressed, before he flung back the covers and got slowly to his feet. She saw the speculative, assessing gleam in his eyes as she swept past him toward the bedroom door, and then she was safely in the hall. She would have to fix breakfast for him. There was really no way around that. And then, she promised herself as she violently sliced a grapefruit in half, they would have to talk. The situation between them had to be settled. It could not be allowed to go on any longer. The danger was far too great What a fool she had been to contemplate an affair with the man! The doorbell chimed just as she finished sectioning the grapefruit, and with a renewed pang of anxiety she went to answer it Who could it be at this hour? Would she have to explain Jordan's presence? What she did was her own business, of course, but still, it would be easier if she didn't have to admit that Jordan was not only a distinguished colleague but also a lover. With such thoughts whirling in her head, she opened the door to find Ray Burgess standing outside. Surprise was in her voice as she greeted him. "Ray! What are you doing here? I wasn't expecting you. How are Julia and the baby?" The pleasant, lanky young man on her doorstep grinned, blue eyes sparkling as he held up a check. "They're just fine, of course. And I'm here early because I'm here on business." With a flourish, he proffered the check. "A thousand dollars, Alyssa. I sold three paintings this past week, and when it came to paying bills, you were on the top of my list" She stared at him, shocked. "A thousand dollars, Ray? But I can't take this! I mean, you don't have to worry about the money, please. I. . ." "Alyssa, I want you to have it 5 couldn't have made it without you a couple months ago. I insist you take it, and no arguments." He stepped forward and spontaneously kissed her cheek while stuffing the check into her reluctant hand. "Don't worry, it's not going to bounce," he added, chuckling. "And there will be another one next month." It was Jordan, his dark voice at its most dangerous, who responded to the remark. "That check may not bounce, but you sure as hell will, all the way to San Diego, if you don't take it back and make a very quick exit. And if you try to bring another check by next month, I'll take you apart."