Karo sucked in a deep breath and inhaled his rain-and-citrus-and-Zac scent. Forcing herself to step back, to pull her hands off his chest, she took in his drawn face, his tight lips, and the navy stripes under his eyes. He looked exhausted and stressed. Nothing like the laughing man in the photograph facing the wall.
“Why are you here? Is everything okay?” she demanded, trying to wrap her head around the reality that Zac was here, standing in her cottage.
“We have unfinished business, Karo.”
The only unfinished business she could think of was Jada’s photographs as Zac made it clear that their fling ended when they parted at Kagiso. She was an idiot for even considering the possibility that he was here for her.
Yet Karo still had to fight the urge to grab his face, kiss him senseless and beg him never to leave her alone again.
“Can I come in and sit down?” Zac asked.
Karo nodded, shrugged out of her coat, kicked off her boots and took his heavy jacket from his hands, hanging it up on the hook next to hers. It looked right there…
Stop it, Karo. That way lies madness.
Karo walked into her living room, with its coffee table pushed to the side and Max’s toy cars scattered all over the carpet. A pile of his books sat on the side table and a small sweater rested on the back of the sofa. Her living room screamed that a child lived in this house. Knowing Zac and his desire to be free and easy, was an excellent reminder of why they couldn’t be together. Karo felt the all too familiar stabbing pain in her soul… Zac might be the perfect man to raise Max but that was too big an ask. He had raised his sister and was well within his rights not to want to raise another person’s child again.
And she was old enough, wise enough, to know that love didn’t conquer all. And just because she loved him, didn’t mean he had to love her back. Love, sadly, didn’t work that way. But how could she move on, how did she get over someone she didn’t have the right to have? How did she move on from breaking her own heart?
Her heart and her head were at war and Karo knew it would be a long, brutal battle. Her brain wanted her to dust Zac off, to put him behind her, her heart wanted to keep holding onto the possibility, the tiniest flicker of hope that her boldest dream would come true. The French called it la douleur exquise, an elegant phrase to explain the heart-shattering pain of wanting someone you couldn’t have.
Karo nodded for him to take a seat but, instead of sitting down, Zac jammed his hands into the pockets of his pants, his expression brooding. He looked like he was deciding whether to talk or to kiss her. Karo wished he’d skip the conversation or, at the very least, to delay it until after he took her to bed.
“Is your son here?” he asked, looking around as if expecting Max to poke his head around the door or to barrel down the stairs.
“He’s spending the day with my uncle and aunt up at the big house,” Karo explained, pushing her hair off her face. She looked down at her slouchy sweater and loose, faded jeans. Her sock had a hole in the toe. Rocking on her heels, she pulled a face. “Sorry, I look a mess. If I’d know you were coming…”
A small smile crossed Zac’s face. “Do you remember what I said about your lingerie at Kagiso Lodge?”
Karo thought back. “That you prefer the package to the packaging?”
Zac gestured to her clothes. “Same applies.”
Karo touched her top lip with the tip of her tongue. Not knowing what to say, she resorted to the tried and true. “Can I get you something? Coffee? Water?”
“Yes…this.” Zac moved quickly and, before she realized what was happening, his hand held the back of her head and his mouth covered hers, his lips chilly but his tongue lava-hot. And, for the first time since leaving Africa, she felt warm. Whole.
Wrapping her arms around Zac’s back, she returned his kiss with fervor, bringibg herself closer to him, her hands sliding down his back to explore his truly excellent ass. Karo shivered as Zac’s tongue slipped between her lips to tangle with hers. This…Oh, God, this. His mouth, his arms, his scent—being in his arms, enveloped by him…it felt normal, he felt right. Karo slid her hand up to his neck, her hand curling around the back of his neck, holding on, silently screaming at him not to let her go. Ever.
Needing him, on the point of begging, Karo dropped her hands and pulled the back of his sweater up, desperate to get her hands on his skin, to reexplore his muscled body. Her thumbs slid over his hip bone, drifted over his washboard stomach and continued. Unable to resist, she palmed him. His harsh breathing told Karo he was as turned on as she was, that he wanted her naked and panting and under him. Or to be under her. Or anyway he could get her…
Zac dragged his tongue down her neck and he used his finger to pull her long-sleeved shirt to the side, exposing her collar bone to his kisses. His hand slid up under her sweater and he covered her breast with his big hand, rubbing his palm across a nipple. Karo shuddered, desperate for more. She needed him inside her, to fill those cold and empty places, to make her feel whole.
Needing, just for a second, to look at him, Karo yanked her head back, her eyes colliding with his. She sucked in a harsh breath, sidewinded by his intensity in his deep blue eyes. This was Zac as she’d never seen him before, unsettled and off-balance. What was going through his mind? Why was he here? Had he simply traveled to Devon for some good sex, to explore their intense chemistry again? Or most heart breaking of all had it just been for Jada’s wedding photographs?
He wasn’t here because he loved her. She knew the difference between impossible dreams and cold, hard reality. She should shut this down now, be sensible, retreat. Protect herself.
It was hard but she managed to pull back, to put some distance between them. Pushing her hands into her hair, she tugged at the roots, reminding herself that he’d rejected her, that she was worth more than a quick tumble when he was in the vicinity. Oh, a part of her wanted to get naked, but twenty minutes of pleasure wasn’t worth more emotional pain.
Karo released a frustrated sigh. She needed to listen to her head because her body couldn’t resist him and heart wanted an impossible outcome. You have to protect yourself and, by extension, Max. Nobody else would, or could.
“We need to talk, Karo.”
She didn’t want to talk, didn’t need or want him to tell her, again, that he wasn’t prepared to make space in his life for her. And Max. She’d received that message, loud and clear.
Karo took a few moments to catch her breath. “I’ll go get Jada’s wedding book and the flash drive containing the photographs,” she forced the words out.
Zac’s expression turned grim. “They’re the last damn thing on my mind.”
Okay. Then, what was? Why was he here?
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