“I was coerced by a caveman,” I laugh. My laughter is cut off by my sharp intake of air when he runs his hand up my shirt to my naked nipple. He rolls it between his fingers and I feel it pebble from his touch all over again.

He sucks my earlobe and it’s a reminder of how it felt to have his mouth between my legs. He whispers against my ear. “But you’re not taking it back, are you?”

He’s coercing me again, but in a different way. He doesn’t realize it, but it’s unnecessary. Paige Beckett already belongs to him.

I think about how much fun his persuasion might be if I tell him I recant. I don’t mind his way of compelling me, but I decide it’s better to not push my luck since he warned me he gets what he wants. He claims to use reasonable means, but I don’t think that’s true after what he just did to me to get a simple yes. “No, I’m not taking it back.”

“Good. That’s what I hoped you say.” His mouth leaves my neck and he pushes himself up to stand. His touch is gone too soon and I suppress a whimper. He takes my hands in his and helps me from the table.

I stand wearing nothing from the waist down in front of him, and I feel vulnerable, even though I know this won’t be the last time I’m naked with this man. The thought makes me want to do my happy dance, but I decide to save it for later when I’m alone.

He picks up my panties and shorts from the stone floor and holds them out for me to step into, like an adult dressing a toddler. I balance by holding his shoulders, and he leans forward and inhales deeply before he places a kiss against my smooth mound. He makes me want to fall back across the table to have a second round, but I resist because I know he has other plans for me.

He pulls my panties and shorts up, and I’m frightened by how well I know this place I shouldn’t go. This man will be hazardous for my heart if I allow it. He’ll use me up if I let him. I know this without a doubt and remind myself of a lesson well learned not so long ago. Never confuse sex for love.

Right now, we’re black and white, but I vow that the second it becomes a hazy shade of cold steel gray, I will get out. No question about it.

He kisses my mouth as I fasten my shorts. I wonder if he does it because he’s curious to see my reaction—if I’ll kiss him back after he’s had his mouth between my legs. I kiss him hard and he smiles.

“Take a walk with me.” He clutches my hand and leads me through the maze of rooms toward the cave’s exit. I’m a little disappointed to leave and I hope he brings me back here again soon. I’m quite fond of his caveman ways.

We walk between two rows of vine-covered trellises that stretch as far as the eye can see. He’s quiet, but simply walking next to him is peaceful. My mind isn’t spinning in search of our next topic of conversation—for some reason, not talking is okay. Simply being next to him is enough to keep me content and that’s when I realize what is happening. He is right about this relationship. We feel relaxed with each other because there are no pretenses.

I’m his for the next three months and I’m prepared for what that means. It’s clear he has boundaries, and he’s told me what he expects from me. I’m stoked about my sudden epiphany and stop dead in my tracks. “This relationship … I get it now. I get why it works.”

He smiles but still asks me for an explanation. “Tell me what you get.”

I think he wants to hear me say the words, and I’m okay with that. “Because we have no pretenses and clear expectations, I don’t feel pressured to be anything but me. I have no worries about what today, tomorrow, or next month means for us because I already know.”

He reaches for my face and strokes his thumbs over my cheeks. He’s beaming as he watches my eyes. “You get it full circle now—what I want and need from you.”

I see how delighted he is and I realize something. Pleasing this man brings me pleasure. Common sense tells me I should be frightened by that, but for some reason, I’m not.

We go back to the cave after our walk and he drives us back to the house. I think about the things he has planned for tonight. I know he has something in mind because this man doesn’t fly by the seat of his pants. He’s done this enough to be calculating, his every move premeditated.

We get to the house and he drops me off by the door while he parks the ATV. I take the picnic basket to the counter to unload it and put the dirty dishes and utensils in the dishwasher. Any other time, I suspect Lachlan would leave the mess for Mrs. Porcelli. Since she isn’t here, I make it my job.

When he enters the kitchen, I’m loading the last of the dishes into the dishwasher. “You don’t have to do that.”

“I know, but now it’s done and we don’t have to worry about it.”

He opens the refrigerator and takes out two bottles of beer. He twists the tops off and pushes one across the counter to me. It’s an unexpected surprise, but I guess it’s presumptuous of me to think he only drinks wine. “Have a coldie with me.”

Wine drinking is a lot of work. Beer drinking is more my speed. I reach for the amber bottle and sip without holding it up to the light or sniffing it. I don’t swish it in my mouth to judge its aftertaste. I simply drink and enjoy it because that’s all you have to do.

I check out the label and see it’s an Australian brand. I like it and it goes down smoothly. “Nothin’ like an ice cold beer.”

He reaches for my free hand and tugs on it. “Come into the living room with me so we can talk and relax.” I follow him and we sit side by side on the couch. He’s close enough that his leg brushes mine and I feel like a teenager all over again. The simple touch thrills me beyond belief. “I’m sorry about bailing on you yesterday.”

“It’s fine. I understand that it wasn’t your choice.”

He rests his free hand on my bare thigh and begins to work my muscle like a professional masseur. “What did you end up doing?”

“Addison and I went shopping, which was probably the wrong thing to do considering Christmas is in three days.”

“A few things.” I smile when I think of the lingerie. I didn’t know if it would get any use when I decided to blow my budget by buying it, but now I’m certain it will, and I can’t wait.

“I haven’t been in town long, but Wagga Wagga doesn’t seem to have a lot of great places to shop.”

He’s right. The shopping choices aren’t great. I’m used to Nashville. It’s home to all the biggest country stars so places to shop are endless. “It’s a little limited when compared to what I’m used to.”

He’s stroking my leg as he talks about Wagga Wagga, but I zone out for a minute because I’m remembering what he did to me in the cave. I hear him saying something about Sydney and I force myself back into the conversation just in time to hear his invitation. “I have tickets for Madama Butterfly in February in Sydney. Will you go with me and let me take you shopping?”

He’s asking me to make plans with him two months from now, and I realize this relationship gives me the ability to accept his offer without worry about what will happen between now and then. “Sure, that sounds like fun.”

He probably thinks I like opera because I’m a musician, but he’d be wrong. I’m not a fan, but I don’t tell him this because he seems happy about taking me.

We finish our beers and have two more while we talk about everything and nothing at the same time. He tells me more about his life, but he’s guarded and I wonder if he’s telling me half-truths.

I hear “Jolene” by Dolly Parton playing inside my purse. It’s my mom’s ringtone and I’m not sure it’s wise to talk to her after having a few beers, but I decide I should probably answer since I’ve only spoken to her once since I arrived in Australia.

I reach for my purse and apologize to Lachlan. “I’m sorry. This is my mom calling, so I should probably answer.”

I take out my singing phone and I’m reminded of the one Lachlan sent me. Neither of us has brought it up yet. I’m not sure if it’s appropriate to thank him for it or not. It’s a weird situation. Not thanking him feels rude, so I’ll think that one over later. Right now, I have to talk to Jolie Prescott.

“Hey, baby girl. I haven’t heard from you in a few days. I’ve been worried.”

“Mom, you shouldn’t worry. Everything is fine.”

“Well, how am I supposed to know these things if I don’t hear from you?”

“You’re right and I’m sorry. I should have called already.”

“Are you having fun in the land down under?”

Umm, yes. A lot. I delight in the source of my fun today and he holds up his empty beer bottle and waggles his eyebrows. He’s asking me if I want another one, and I nod. He takes my empty bottle and I admire the incredible view as he walks away. He’s been in a suit the other times we were together, so this is the first opportunity I’ve had to see how great his ass looks in jeans.

“I’m having lots of fun, Mom. Australia is great so far.”

She gives me an update on the things I’ve missed in Nashville this week and then I hear her exhale a long breath. That’s when I know there’s a reason behind her call. “Have you thought any more about what we discussed before you left?”

I can’t believe she’s called me to bring this up again. She isn’t going to take no for an answer. “No, I’ve told you, I’m not doing that and I’m not going to change my mind. Please stop asking.”

Don’t get me wrong. My mom is a good woman, but she is approaching the point of obsession with my career and it’s exhausting. “Your father owes you, Laurelyn.”

“Mom, I owe it to myself to make it on my own. When I look back on this years from now, I want to be proud of what I’ve accomplished.”