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“I . . . excuse . . .” She caught a brief look at his grim face, and unable to stand it anymore, she fled, hearing his muffled curse on her way out. There was a horrible silence, followed by an equally horrible crash as Bryce apparently flung something against a wall. The sound of breaking glass spurred her on and she was up the stairs and into her room like a shot. Thankfully the violent noise had not awoken Kayla, and Bronwyn curled up into a small ball in the center of her bed, leaving the lights off, needing the dark to lick her gaping wounds in private.

She had awakened in his arms. Bronwyn smiled in contentment and snuggled closer. His strong arms tightened around her and he kissed the top of her head almost reverently. They had been seeing each other for only a month but the chemistry between them had been so potent that it had not taken much for Bronwyn to forget all her grandmother’s warnings about men and their “salacious appetites.” In fact she thought she had been particularly strong in not giving in much sooner; Bryce was a very persuasive kisser, and tonight it hadn’t taken much for them to fall into bed together. It had been her first time, and Bryce had been a little shocked at the discovery. He had been excruciatingly gentle and incredibly thorough in making sure that she was completely satisfied. He hadn’t left an inch of her body unexplored. Now she was limp, sated, and wondering when they would be able to do it again. She moved her thigh experimentally but still found him disappointingly unprepared for a second round.

“Give me a second,” he groaned. “You wore me out, damn it. I need to regain my strength!”

“You just can’t keep up with me, can you?” She purred teasingly and he growled before flipping her onto her back, pinning her down, and kissing her thoroughly. She felt him stir against her and grinned against his lips.

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“Now that’s more like it,” she murmured encouragingly, and he grinned, lifting his head to look down at her. The grin faded abruptly and his eyes went silver with desire and something deeper, something so achingly tender it made Bronwyn’s heart melt.

“I can’t remember my life before you,” he said wonderingly. “I can’t remember me without you. I never want to let you go. Tell me you’ll marry me . . . please?”

“Bryce?” she whispered uncertainly.

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“Bronwyn Kirkland, will you marry me?” he asked almost desperately. She was so overwhelmed by his words that she could do nothing but nod.

“Yes, yes, Bryce, I love you so much,” she managed to whisper, her voice thick with tears of joy.

“Shhh . . . don’t cry . . .” he soothed as he slid gently into her welcoming body. “No more tears. We’re going to be so happy together.”

She awoke in his arms, feeling both warm and protected. Bronwyn felt a dizzying sense of déjà vu as she struggled to find her bearings. She couldn’t believe that she had fallen asleep after the emotional turmoil at dinner—she had been so certain that her tumultuous thoughts would keep her awake. She had her face pressed to his chest and she could feel his heart beating steadily beneath her cheek.

“Bryce?” she whispered tentatively, not sure where her dreams ended and real life began. Maybe she was just now waking up after their first time together and everything in between had been nothing but a vivid dream. He didn’t stir and she moved restlessly against him, feeling his arms tighten possessively around her. His large hands started stroking her back leisurely and she burrowed closer, reveling in the comfort and not quite ready to relinquish it yet. She still wasn’t certain if this was a dream or real, but she didn’t care anymore; she was in Bryce’s arms exactly where she belonged.

His warm hands crept beneath the thin cotton blouse she was wearing until his dry palms found the soft, naked skin of her slender back. She sucked in a breath at the electrifying contact and arched toward him with a slight moan. It felt like forever since he had touched her last. Her hands crept up over his broad chest, feeling the heat of his skin through the thin material of his T-shirt. She looked up, trying to see his face in the dark, but she could see nothing except the gleam of his eyes.

“Bryce . . .” she murmured dreamily, half-asleep and still lost in the memory of her dream. She lifted a hand to his face. She loved the feel of his stubbled jaw beneath her hand. He made a slight sound and abruptly lowered his head to capture her soft, surprised lips with his hard and demanding mouth. The kiss was a lot more ruthless than she had anticipated; she had been expecting gentleness, not this almost violent caress. Still it was Bryce, her beloved Bryce, and she would deny him nothing. His kiss softened and became almost desperate as he leaned into her and over her, until she was flat on her back and he was cradled between her spread thighs. He loomed above her, not once relinquishing contact with her soft mouth, and she moaned as she wrapped her arms tightly around his neck, not wanting to let him go ever again.

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He eventually came up for air and fumbled with the buttons of her blouse, while she tugged at his T-shirt and dragged it over his head before he had managed even half of the buttons. Losing patience, he ripped the fragile garment apart, sending mother-of-pearl buttons flying everywhere. Bronwyn giggled and Bryce stilled abruptly.

“I’ve missed your laughter . . .” The sound of his sexy, smoky voice startled her into complete wakefulness. “I always loved your laugh.” He sounded so wistful that Bronwyn wished she could see his face. She raised a curious hand to his mouth but he leaned back, denying her the contact.

“Bryce what . . .” she started to say, but he cursed softly before leaning to the side and switching on the bedside lamp. The unwelcome present immediately forced its way into the bedroom as Bronwyn found herself staring up into the rough-hewn features of an older, harsher Bryce than the one she’d just dreamed about. This was not the man she had fallen in love with; this man was battle scarred and hated her more than she had ever believed possible.

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