"Almost. Once. Will stopped him and told him to leave me alone," she answered. "From then on I pretty much stayed out of his way. For the most part we ignored each other . . . that is, until he needed the money I could bring in."

"You had a hell of a time growing up, didn’t you?"

She stiffened. "Don’t feel sorry for me. It wasn’t all bad, and I got away with a lot. As long as I didn’t bother them and I stayed out of trouble, I could do whatever I wanted. And as long as my sister was around, I was okay."

"What about when she wasn’t around?" he asked quietly.

"I was more cautious," she said. "I took care of myself," she added before abruptly changing the subject. "How soon will my aunt and uncle find out that Will is going to get probation?"

"Tomorrow or the day after. What happens when he screws up again, Allison?"

"You’ve already asked me that question."

"I’m asking again."

She knew he wanted to make sure she wouldn’t waver. "He’s on his own if he messes up. I haven’t changed my mind. I’m done. I promise."

They were just a couple of blocks from her house when Liam said, "If your uncle is still sitting out front, I’m going to talk to him."

"No, I’ll handle him. You don’t need to fight my wars for me."

"Yeah, well, I’m talking to him," he insisted. "And if he’s behind the wheel and has been drinking, he’s going to be spending the night in lockup."

The set of his jaw indicated he was going to be stubborn, and when they turned the corner to her street, she was relieved. Fortunately her uncle had left. She was thankful there wouldn’t be a confrontation. 

Liam walked her to the door and once again held most of the contents of her purse while she searched for her house key. As soon as she got the key in the lock, he turned to leave.

"I’ll pick you up at eight," he said.

"I can drive myself. I have GPS. I won’t get lost."

"I’m still picking you up at eight."

Thoroughly confused, she asked, "Why?"

He walked back to her. "Because I want to."

The mood changed the closer he got to her. They stood in the shadows staring at each other, and Allison wondered if he would kiss her again.

Liam was wondering how he was going to keep away from her. Did she have any idea how seductive she was? He couldn’t stop staring at her mouth, remembering how soft her lips were and how sweet she tasted.

"Thank you for dinner," she said without taking her eyes away from his.

"You’re welcome." His voice was gruff.

He told himself to turn around and walk away, but he couldn’t make himself do it. What was happening to him? He’d never had any problems with women before. Allison was different, though. She was messing with his head, and he doubted she even realized it.

"Are you going to kiss me?"

"No."

His abrupt answer should have embarrassed her, but it didn’t. "You looked like you were about to kiss me."

"No."

"Why not?" She sounded disgruntled.

The blunt question made him smile. "I’m trying to keep my distance."

"And I’m making that difficult for you."

"Yes."

"In my defense, you’re making it difficult for me, too."

"Yeah? How’s that?"

"Mixed signals," she said, nodding. "You say you don’t want to get involved, and the next minute you’re grabbing me and kissing me crazy."

She had a point there. The last time he had brought her home, he was bouncing back and forth between doing the right thing and acting like a teenager with out-of-control hormones. "You’re right. From now on we keep this on a professional level. Understand?"

"Absolutely. And just so you know, I don’t usually throw myself at men."

She stared at him expectantly, seeming to need his agreement. "Yeah, okay," he responded.

"What happened before was as much my fault as it was yours," she explained very matter-of-factly. "For as long as I’m your asset, we’ll keep a professional relationship. I promise I won’t let you kiss me again. I have more self-control than you do."

"You think so, huh?"

"Absolutely."

He leaned down and whispered in her ear, "Wanna bet?"

TWELVE

Allison now understood what lust was all about. No wonder it was such a sin. According to the militant sisters at St. Dominic’s High School, it was one of the worst offenses, the burning-in-hell kind. Until Liam came along, she had never felt such a raw physical reaction. With him everything was different. He was masculine and sexy and strong, and oh, did he know how to make her want him! All he had to do was look at her a certain way and she felt she was melting inside. Being with him even topped writing code, and how freaky was that? These feelings were so completely foreign to her she didn’t quite know what to do about them . . . except keep them to herself. They had agreed their relationship should be a professional one, and she was determined to prove she could be sensible and focus on the work. Liam certainly didn’t seem to have any trouble with it.