And those tattoos of his … How had she dismissed them so easily after their first meeting? How had she never considered such markings attractive until him? Because damn. They were little roadways for her tongue to follow, swirling and dipping, up and down, tempting, luring.

A shiver slid down her spine. “I’m glad you like it.”

A shadow of amusement before those amber eyes frosted over, an ice storm churning inside them. The change was reminiscent of his last rejection of her, and she braced herself for another.

“I should go,” he said, but didn’t move.

“Or you could stay.” She’d wondered what she would risk to be with him. Right now the word “anything” popped in her mind.

He drew in a breath. “What is it you want from me, Noelle?”

His secrets, his body, and his slavish devotion. For starters. Things he wasn’t yet ready to hear. “I want you to have dinner with me tomorrow tonight.” Innocent, easy.

“I know, but I still want you.” Putting yourself out there again, girlie. Probably not wise.

I know. And she would have backed off if he hadn’t shown her that glimpse of jealousy earlier. If he hadn’t looked at her as if he wanted to eat her rather than the food. If he hadn’t searched her home so diligently and eyed her bed so hungrily.

Even though the frost melted, the storm remained, turbulent and troubled. “That’s a very bad idea.”

“How about this? I promise not to fuck you on the table, and you promise to enjoy yourself anyway.” Role reversal. A direct hit every time. Not to mention the fact that she’d just insulted his masculine pride.

“Your enthusiasm is heartwarming. Truly.” She didn’t change course, though. Dinner wasn’t meant to romance him, wasn’t even meant to relax him. Though that would happen, too. Hopefully. Dinner was simply her way of learning about him.

Why he used hookers—and when he’d last screwed one. Why he refused to date. Why he thought he was too dangerous for Noelle to kiss. What, exactly, he craved doing to her.

Hector scrubbed a hand through his hair, an action she figured was habit. From nerves? Or desire? Please be desire. She studied his face. The hard pinch of his lips, the slits of his eyes. Desire, yes, but he was still fighting it.

Noelle closed the distance between them. He straightened from the jamb, stiffened, but he didn’t try to prolong the separation. Practically purring, she placed her hands on those wide, strong shoulders.

His nostrils flared as he breathed. Deeply, harshly. “What are you doing, Noelle?”

Another step closer brought her breasts into contact with his chest. Immediately her nipples budded, rasping against his shirt just the way she liked. “I’m having a very stimulating conversation with you.”

His muscles twitched underneath her palms, heat radiating from him in a continuous stream. “Talk to me from across the room.”

“Why? Do I bother you when I’m this close to you?”

He seemed to brace himself for … something. Rejection, perhaps. “I told you I only … mess around with hookers. You shouldn’t want me.”

A low growl rumbled from him. “I kissed you and told you we could never do anything like that again, that I’m too dangerous for you. You really shouldn’t want me.”

“But I do,” she repeated. “And you want me. You were hard for me before, and you can’t deny it.” She arched forward, brushing against that delicious place between his legs. “You’re hard for me now.”

“Don’t lie to me, and don’t run from me. You hurt my feelings when you do.”

He softened, but only slightly. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

“Then tell me why you only mess around with hookers, and why you are too dangerous to be with me. And what does mess around mean?”

They stood like that, touching, but not doing what they both wanted—grinding—for several long, silent minutes. His scent thickened around her, enveloped her, became a part of her, the heat of him intensifying.

“I don’t like to talk about it,” he finally said.

And yet he had with her. Before, at camp, and then again today. “Do it anyway,” she repeated. “You almost did at the church. You almost did in the car.”

His teeth gnashed together. “Both times, I stopped myself. I don’t trust you enough.”

Ouch. There was no arguing with that. Still, male pride might once again come to her rescue. “Do you like to do kinky, embarrassing things, and that’s why you won’t be with a girl like me?” She’d meant to sound flippant, or even suggestive, but the pain just kind of seeped out of her.

A girl like me. Never good enough.

Sheer, absolute longing painted the harshness of his features. “Sweetheart, I’d be happy with straight-up missionary with you.”

Her eyes widened with surprise. The way he’d said “missionary,” as if he’d never wanted anything more, well, she nearly stripped then and there. Permission first, then the shedding of clothing.

“Then don’t be a pussy,” she said to goad him. “Do something with me.”

He was the one to step closer this time, and there was so much menace in his eyes she found herself backing away, despite the intensity of her desire for him. But he kept coming, until her knees hit the back of the bed and she fell to the mattress. His legs imprisoned her knees, halting any retreat she might have made.

With pleasure. She grabbed his hips and pulled. He fell forward as she fell the rest of the way back. He managed to catch himself before their bodies aligned, straddling her waist, glaring down at her. He was harder than before, his erection straining the fly of his pants.

Moisture pooled between her legs, making her desperate for his touch, his tongue. Something, anything. Little aches arced through her bloodstream, razing her cells, making them clamor for contact, too. She drew two fingers down the buttons of his shirt, popping them and causing the material to gape open.

“Noelle,” he rasped, bracing his arms as if he meant to push away. “I remember when you told me that you’d called dibs on Dallas.”

Bothered by the idea? God, she hoped so. “First, I might have called dibs, but I never actually wanted him. Second, I do want to sleep with you.” More than I’ve ever wanted anything. “But you have to give me something, Hector. Please. Info or another kiss. Gentleman’s choice.”

She traced her fingers along the ridges of his stomach, then circled his nipples. He sucked in a breath—but didn’t tell her to stop.

He leaned down, nipped at her lower lip. God, she loved when he did that.

“To save you,” he said. “There. That’s an answer, a bit of the information you demanded. I stopped kissing you to save you.”

Just a nip, but she tasted him. Sweet, minty, drugging. She let her fingers fall … fall … and cup his erection, rubbing up and down, and sweet merciful heaven. He was the stuff of fantasies. “From?”

Growls began to erupt from his throat. His hips moved with her hand, jerky thrusts that deepened the contact.

“You picked information. You can’t stop there,” she said. “Trust me. I won’t betray you, and I’ll even share a secret about myself.”

He stilled. A moment passed while he caught his breath. “If I don’t?”

“I’ll think you decided to give me a kiss instead. I’ll keep throwing myself at you. I’ll even up my game. And if you think I was shameless before, get ready. Flashing? Old news. Innuendos? Nothing. I’ll show up on your doorstep naked, and that’ll just be the appetizer.”

Well, she knew how to buy and how to take. With Ava, she knew how to give. Time, affection, anything and everything, because Ava gave so freely to her. But this thing with Hector was uncharted territory. What she wanted couldn’t be bought or taken. And she found that she didn’t want him that way, anyway. She craved his willingness.

“I can’t tell you. Not in a way you’ll believe. I’ll have to show you,” he said, his timbre guttural, gravelly.

Quickly, as if he feared talking himself out of his actions, he removed his shirt the rest of the way, then extended his arms above her. He was still without gloves, and she could see that the strange light glowed from his shoulders to fingertips. Brighter and brighter, until she could no longer see his skin. Or his muscles and bones. Just particles, floating in the air, like a thousand little sparks that conformed to the same shape as his limbs. A morbidly beautiful, hauntingly lovely sight.

She’d known he sometimes glowed, but hadn’t figured out why or how and never would have guessed this. Dazed, she reached out to touch. He jerked both arms higher in the air, preventing contact. The glow faded … disappeared, his skin returning to its natural burnished tan, though some of his tattoos were now gone. Both arms fell to his sides.

Sweat beaded on his brow, and the mix of emotion in his eyes startled her. She saw fear, anger, hope, and grim expectation.

“Don’t ever touch me when I’m like that,” he said hoarsely. “I could burn you, scar you. I could punch through your body and rip out your heart in less than a second.”

“Hector, I—” Didn’t know what to say. She’d never seen anything like that. Never heard of anything like that. Not among humans, and not among the alien races.

The grim expectation won the fight for dominance and now painted each of his features. “Do you understand why I can’t let myself have you? I can force my arms to atomize, yes, but sometimes, most times, they atomize on their own.”

She gulped, experienced a wave of fear. Atomizing unbidden. Like the times they’d kissed, when he’d burned through metal.

At the time, she’d been in tremendous danger, just as he’d said, but she hadn’t even suspected. He had, though. He had known and he had feared, and that’s why he’d left her.

What would have happened if he’d accidentally touched her, even in the slightest way? She wouldn’t have felt the pain, might have even prolonged the contact, and she would have been severely injured. “When does it happen on its own?” she asked softly. “Why?”

“And you’ve hurt people before?” she asked, gentle now, so gentle. “Unintentionally?”

A hard nod as he leaned his weight into her and carefully, oh, so carefully, braced his hands beside her temples. Close, though not daring to brush against her. “I won’t lie to you. A few times, I did it on purpose.”

She wondered who he’d harmed—killed?—and why, but she wouldn’t ask. Not yet. She didn’t want such lethal memories to intrude on this moment. He was finally opening up, sharing, giving her a chance to prove herself worthy of his trust. So push for too much too soon? No.

Her mind caught on three little words. Prove herself worthy. This time, though, she was glad to do so. This was difficult for him, a huge step. She owed him the best she had to give.

“Why are your arms like that?” she asked. “Do you know?”

Some of the stiffness melted from his shoulders. “I was born that way, I guess. First time I remember hurting someone with them, I was eight.”

Eight. So young. So sweet and innocent. “I’m sorry.” The price tag on such a lethal ability must be unbearable, and yet he soldiered on. The mental and emotional strength he must possess …

She thought back. She’d never seen him touch anyone casually. Sometimes he handled suspects, but never for long. For the most part, he kept to himself. Perhaps he was as lonely as she often was.

He nodded to acknowledge he’d heard her. “I … care about you, Noelle. I don’t like the thought of you in pain.”

“Well, that’s good because I can’t feel any. Pain, I mean. I don’t have any working receptors,” she said. “That’s my secret. That my father paid to have them fried.”

A burst of confusion in his eyes, then anger. “You were altered?” he demanded. “Surgically? Why?”

He’d trusted her; now she would trust him. As promised. “Yes. Again. For ransom. The kidnappers told my father they’d kill me if he went to the police or if the media found out, but that wasn’t why he kept things quiet. If no one knew, no one would miss the men responsible.”

“My dad paid good money for my release, but by then, I’d been a captive for three days and two nights.”

“I had just turned twelve. Anyway, to get their point across, the kidnappers hurt me, on camera, and sent the videos to my father. A new video each day. They made the mistake of thinking him a simple businessman. Truth was, he’d worked for the shadier side of the government most of his life, as only a rich man can. He had connections and resources and in the end was able to travel all over the world without suspicion and do terrible things with no one the wiser.”