Oh, God, help me. His mouth on hers was heaven-sent. Her back pressed to his of its own volition, or perhaps it was the way his hand clamped tight around her back, holding her to him so she couldn’t fail to be aware of every single one of his hard planes. Her hands lifted to his shoulders, resting there for a moment, her eyes sweeping shut so that every single one of her senses was somehow on an even higher alert.
His masculine scent overtook her nostrils, filling her body with promise and anticipation, drugging her with memories of the past they’d both walked away from. His tongue duelled with hers, demanding a submission she offered willingly. The hand on her back dipped lower, his fingertips moving over her bottom, pressing her further forward so a simple kiss—not that kissing Chyrós could ever be called simple—suddenly because about so much more. Her pulse was like a torrent in her veins, hammering through her so hard and fast that she could hear it in her ears and her knees felt as though they were filled with a kaleidoscope of butterflies.
“This was never a mistake,” he groaned, lifting her up by the waist, holding her to his body, deepening their kiss as he carried her inside the drawing room. It was like being offered a rope, a hint of common sense in the midst of this insatiable, immersive quicksand. She needed to stop this. Didn’t she?
Her hands curved behind his neck, holding him there for her, and she kissed him as though she were drowning and he was her only lifeline. She ran her fingertips over the skin at his nape—she’d always loved that part of him—and she curved one foot behind his calf, locking his body to hers as much as hers was glued to his.
When she’d walked out of his room three years earlier, she’d been going to the kitchens. She hadn’t expected to be summoned to see Queen Margerite, nor to have a conversation that would change her life forever. You know this will end eventually, Ivy. What I’m offering you is a chance to save him the embarrassment of having to end it with you. Not to mention a nice little settlement to soften the awkwardness of the whole thing.
She hadn’t expected that to be the last time she saw Chyrós or she might have handled everything a little bit differently.
She might have kissed him slower, longer, committing every single moment to memory. She might have luxuriated in the feeling of his body on hers. She might have lain with her head on his chest, listening to the steady beating of his heart, a heart she’d believed to be completely hers.
But she hadn’t. She’d walked out knowing that if she didn’t leave in that moment, she might not be brave enough to do it at all and that it was the right thing to do. Her heart had already been on the brink of breaking—how much worse would it have been if she’d stayed?
How much worse would it be if she were to give into this now? Because her hands were reaching for his shirt, pushing at it, and her body was cleaved to his so that even lightning would have struggled to break them apart. She wanted him, there was no sense in denying that, but no way could she act on her feelings. It was just sexual chemistry—they knew they had that in spades. But three years had passed and Ivy wasn’t the same girl she’d been back then.
“If I had offered you more money than she did, would you have stayed?”
The question, pushed into her mouth, pulled at the strings of her heart because there was such desperation in his words that she felt a visceral pain deep inside her. Tears filled her eyes and rolled down her cheeks, so she tasted salt in her mouth, salt in his kiss. She hated that he thought her capable of that. His kiss was setting her body on fire but ice had filled her veins.
“No.” She pushed at his chest emphatically, finally putting some space between them. Her breathing was ragged, each breath ripped violently from her slender frame. She shoved her hands onto her hips and glared at him, fire burning through her, a physical ache so great she was in agony at the prospect of ignoring it.
She saw her reflection in one of the enormous mirrors with a gold gilt frame that dated back to the thirteenth century, and winced. There was no questioning what she’d just been doing—she looked thoroughly ravaged.
It was some small consolation that he looked as completely stunned as she did. He concealed it better and faster, but his cheeks were slashed with dark colour and his body was rigid, his eyes glaring at her almost as if with disbelief.
“No,” she said again, though he wasn’t touching her. She dashed at her cheeks with frustration and angrily whirled away from him, moving towards the bar to pour herself another measure of Scotch. She kept her back to him, waiting for her breathing to return to normal. Her eyes stayed on the tiles behind the bar, her shoulders a little hunched forward.
“Why do you care?” she said after a moment. “And don’t give me some line about needing to know. It’s been three years—you can’t really still think of me in any way?”
“Do you think of me?”
Her stomach clenched. She couldn’t admit how often she thought of him, how frequently he was in her mind. “You have no right to ask me that. You had no right to bring me here, damn it.” She took a drink of Scotch and crossed one arm over her chest, gripping her side.
“Perhaps you’re right, and yet I did.”
“And you don’t feel even a little bit bad about that, do you?”
He was quiet for long enough that she seriously doubted he had any intention of answering.
“I hated that you left so suddenly, and worse, that you’d done it for such a mercenary reason as money. And when I called and you didn’t answer, when you changed your number, I think I even hated you for a while.”
Ivy’s chest was heavy. She bit down on her lip, her eyes chasing the lines of grout in the tiles. “A clean break was better.”
“Why?” His voice was right behind her now. She could feel his body even though they weren’t touching. “Why was a clean break so important? Why did we need a break at all?”
“What was the alternative?” She spun around to face him, her eyes locked to his. “That I would stay here until you eventually woke up and realised you could never be seriously involved with someone like me?”
“What do you mean, ‘someone like you’?”
She compressed her lips, saying nothing.
“I’m serious, Ivy. What’s wrong with you?”
“Like you could ever have publicly dated me? Look at the women you’ve been with since me! Heiresses, princesses, diplomats, human rights lawyers with billionaire parents, I mean…it’s apples and oranges.”
A line formed between his brows, and his eyes were assessing, analytical, as though he was making sense of everything she said—and everything she didn’t. “So? Who I dated after you has no bearing on what happened between us.”
“Oh, don’t be so naive. You didn’t ‘date’ me. You went out of your way to keep me hidden…”
His laugh was a harsh sound of mockery. “You were the one who requested that! You were worried about your job—I respected that.” He ran a hand over his stubbled jaw.
“So that was all for me?”
“I wanted —” He shook his head. “No. It suited me too. It was easier that way. Less complicated, no explaining. I liked that it was just you and me, nobody else to ruin what we had.”
Her heart hurt, because someone had ruined it and she’d never forget that. It had hurt like hell and she’d been angry a long time, but Queen Margerite had been right. She’d been protecting her son, and in some warped way, even protecting Ivy. Ivy had been living in a dream world to think Chyrós would ever love her—to think anyone could ever love her. Hadn’t the succession of homes she’d lived in over the years, the string of carers rather than parents, taught her that?
“You were embarrassed of me. You were ashamed to be sleeping with a servant.” Her heart rate accelerated because they were getting so close to the crux of this, to the bitter truth of why this relationship had failed. “Just admit it, and let me go.” There was a plea in her words, and she wished she had more pride than to let him see how panicked she was.
“No.” The shake of his head was emphatic. “I will not admit to something I never felt. Not for a single moment was I embarrassed by our relationship.”
“It wasn’t a relationship,” she corrected automatically. “We were just having sex.”
“Stop doing that,” he demanded—the words coated with emotion rather than being imperious and commanding. “Stop rewriting the past. You of all people know exactly how I felt about you.”
“Oh? How did you feel about me, Chyrós?” The question was scathing, and she had no real idea what to expect. So his response floored her completely.
“What do you think? I was in love with you.”
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