And yet another leap in her chest. Strong. “Like I said, you’re too late.”

“Look, you really need to go.” Before she broke down in front of him.

Hands fisted, he stood. “You were always enough for me, but I was never enough for you, and I know that. I’m not talking about my past, either. Because I’m the best man you know. You said so.”

“That just means I have the chance to change it back. Just give me a chance. Please.”

Strong, strong, strong. “I told you nothing you said would make a difference, that if you pushed me away you’d lose me. You pushed me away. We’re done, that’s what you said.”

Shame fell over his face, a curtain. “I will never forgive myself for that. I was stupid and afraid, thinking to protect you.”

“Instead, you broke my heart. Hurt me worse than anyone ever has.” Tears burned the back of her eyes. “And one day you’ll be stupid and afraid again. You’ll accidentally burn me and the risk will be too much for you.” She spun around, facing the foyer before those damn tears started falling. She’d cried in front of him once; she wouldn’t do it a second time. “Good-bye, Hector. You can see yourself out.”

Just as she’d done in the warehouse, she walked away from him without ever looking back. She pounded up the stairs, her heart breaking all over again. He’d just offered her the world, everything she’d ever wanted, and she’d basically said no thanks.

Had to be this way.

A tear at last fell, followed quickly by another. When she reached her bedroom, she flipped on the light. There was her new bed, an oversize king with the softest cotton sheets. Red, one of her best colors. Hector would never enjoy her there. She would never enjoy him there. Never—

A pound of furious footsteps behind her. A gasp catching in her throat, she swung around. A scowling Hector rounded the corner. Without a word, he increased his speed, picked her up and launched her backward. She bounced on the mattress. Before she could right herself, he had her pinned.

“I love you,” he snarled down at her, “and I’m not letting you go again. Ever. For any reason. Not even your reasons. I should have listened to you, and you can forever hold that over my head. You can remind me at every holiday and every time I leave my socks on the floor. I’ll deserve it. I should have stuck around, rather than giving in to my fears. But now you’re doing the same thing. Cutting and running because you’re afraid. I understand, I do, but you better listen up, baby. You once had to chase and seduce me. Now I’m chasing and seducing you. That’s what I’ve been doing, but clearly I need to step up my game the way you stepped up yours.”

His lips smashed into hers, and his tongue swept inside her mouth. He tasted of mint, just like before, and she moaned as desire began to burn through her sorrow.

His hands … his hands stripped her, stripped himself, and then caressed her everywhere. He left no place untouched, was worshipping her. His fingertips learned her face. Kneaded her breasts. Traced over her stomach, her legs, even her feet.

“I’ve wanted to do this since the moment I met you,” he whispered fiercely. “You’re so soft, so warm. So sweet. Spread for me, baby. Please. I need to put my fingers in you.”

Passion fogged her brain, and she obeyed without thought, needing him, loving him.

One thick finger slid inside her. “Oh, damn, baby. You feel so good. Better than I imagined. And I imagined doing this to you every damn night.” Another thick finger entered her.

Groaning at the erotic sensation, she arched her hips, sending him deeper. A third finger joined the others. His skin was hotter than a normal man’s, but that’s what she needed. She felt him there, so wonderfully deep, arousing her in the most beautiful way.

“I want to do this to you every night, want to wake you up this way every morning. And if not with my fingers, with my mouth. I want you all over me, in me. You were right, baby. You’re it for me. There’s no one else. There’s never been anyone else and there will never be anyone else. Just you. Only you.”

As he spoke, he rocked those wanton fingers inside her, surging in, pulling out, until she was sobbing, desperate for relief. Then he scissored them, stretching her, and the sensation was so strong, so amazing, she had to grip his shoulders to keep herself from flying off the bed.

“I want to feel you this way,” he rasped, “coming on my fingers.”

In, out, slow, so slow, then faster, faster. Then his thumb brushed over her clit, and she shot off like a rocket, spasming around those fingers still pumping in her, sending her over a second time. She cried out at the bliss, the utter rightness.

“Always.” He moved on top of her, his cock sinking inside her, his chest pressing against hers. Her legs wrapped around his waist. His mouth returned to hers, his kiss now slow and drugging. He tangled his fingers in her hair, angling her head. Touching her, always touching her.

He made love to her as if he needed to savor her. As if he didn’t want to move too quickly for fear of scaring her away or ending things before he’d gotten enough. As if she were everything to him.

One of his hands moved down, down, plucked at her nipple, making her shiver, then slid between their bodies and found her most sensitive place. He rubbed as he continued stroking in and out, finally picking up the pace, just a little faster … faster.

Her muscles clenched, readying for another release. He pressed harder, and she shot off again, this climax so intense she left claw marks in his back. “Hector!”

“Noelle, my Noelle.” Just like that, he erupted, her name roaring from his mouth, his hot seed shooting inside her.

When he collapsed on top of her, he immediately rolled to the side so that she could breathe, but he didn’t allow any separation between their bodies. He held her tightly, panting, sweat sheening them both.

“Baby, please. Tell me you still love me.” He cupped her cheek, his thumb tracing the rise of the bone. “Tell me you’ll give me another chance, just one more, and I’ll do everything in my power to make you happy. I swear I will. And I will never leave you, never change my mind,” he added in a rush before she could reply. “I know what it’s like to be without you. I can deal with anything but that.”

She felt his heart beating against her ear, pounding in an uncontrolled rhythm.

He wasn’t done. “I’ve been working with my arms, and I’ve got control. It’s all about channeling the heat. I can atomize my entire body now, keeping the flames inside. I can also release the heat in continuous, manageable streams, all the time, so that I never overheat and catch fire if I don’t want. Am I still a little scared I’ll hurt you? Yes. And if I accidentally burn you, I’ll be even more scared, but we’ll work through it together.”

She traced her fingertip along the letters of her name, the one on the top of his palm. “I meant what I said. You really hurt me, Hector.”

“I know,” he said sadly. “Of all the things I’ve done in my life, that’s the one I would change first. You are everything to me.” When she remained quiet, he added, “I will never try to change you. I love you exactly how you are. You’re perfect.”

“That’s true,” she said, her heart singing. She could forgive him and have this, she thought, weighing her options. Could have him and his body and his intensity now and forever. Or, she could send him away, unable to get past what he’d done, and go to bed cold and alone. Again, forever.

He wouldn’t run if things got bad with his arms; she believed him about that. He’d always told her the truth; even when he’d broken things off, he’d told her the real reason, refusing to “feed her bullshit.” So … was there really a need to think things through?

“How about this?” he said, clearly about to do a little manipulating. “Be with me, if only to convince everyone at AIR that I’m not gay. Did you know everyone thought that? The other day, Phoenix tried to set me up with one of her boyfriend’s friends. Also, you took my virginity. If you dump me, I’ll have to tell everyone you’re a skeevy user.”

Holding in her giggles proved to be a struggle. “All right. But only to convince everyone of your straightness. And you’ll have to marry me,” she said. “I want a legal right to boss you around. And you’ll sign an agreement stating that if you ever want to end things, I get custody of your soul. That is nonnegotiable. Actually, go ahead and just hand over your soul right now. I get it no matter what.”

He jerked upright and peered down at her, hope making him radiant. “You mean it?”

“Yes.” A wave of tenderness swept through her. He’d never looked so happy, so relaxed. “I am going to boss you around, no question.”

His lips quirked at the corners. “Not about that. I know that. About marriage.”

Trembling, she reached up and cupped his jaw. “Yes. I think Hector Tremain has a nice ring to it, don’t you? Besides, it’s time you made an honest woman of me and supported your fake kid.”

A bark of laughter as he swooped down for another kiss. “Twins, baby. We’re having twins. And I knew those kids were mine. By the way, there’s a ring in my pants pocket.”

Rusty as his laughter was, it delighted her. Noelle didn’t think she’d ever been this happy before. She was loved, cherished, accepted, adored. But the best part? She was understood. “Really?”

“I told you I was going to chase you around like a puppy until you caved.”

Another kiss, one that turned so heated they began grinding together, making love again, his hands all over her, relearning her, worshipping her as she had always deserved—Hector would be the first to declare how true that was, she was just sure of it—and finally climaxing together.

Afterward, she wondered if, when she and Hector woke up the next morning, because he was staying the night, damn it, and he was going to snuggle the hell out of her, if that would mean Dallas’s vision had finally come true. If the countdown to his salvation—or damnation—would begin.

Hector finally made it to his pants and grabbed the ring. When he returned to the bed, watching her with such loving adoration and longing that her chest ached in the best way possible, she couldn’t keep her hands off him and had to climb into his lap.

He rested against the headboard, the ring enclosed in his fist. “If you don’t like it, I can always exchange it.”

Slowly he opened his fingers. A skull and crossbones with diamonds for eyes rested in his palm, and she utterly melted. “Oh, Hector. My mother is going to have a heart attack when she sees this.”

“Don’t you dare! I love it! It’s the most perfect ring ever. Put it on me right now, now, now!”

“So the bossiness has begun.” Grinning, he slid the ring into place and she admired it in the light. What other man would have given her such an exquisite piece? He knew her. He really knew her, saw the true Noelle, and he loved her anyway. “I wanted to buy you other things, too, but I wasn’t sure what to get the girl who has everything.”

“You,” she whispered, those silly tears returning for an altogether different reason. “I only ever want you.”

“You’ve got me.” He squeezed her tight. “Now and always.”

“I love you,” she said, twisting and throwing her arms around his neck. “Now let’s have sex again!”

He was laughing as he tossed her down on the mattress, and Noelle knew they were both happier than they’d ever been or had known they could ever be. No matter what happened next, they were together. They would always be together.

And now, if she and Ava ever got into trouble—let’s face it, they totally would—Hector could burn away the evidence. No need to mention that would be one of his husbandly duties, though. Not yet.

“I love that you aren’t afraid to speak your mind,” he said, kissing his way down her body.