Pocketing her phone, Catherine stared at the bobbing flames, angry with Alexa for ruining her fantasy, furious with herself for having gotten into this mess, and so effortlessly too. Even as a kid, she’d had a steel will, resisting the boys she’d grown up with for obvious reasons. She hadn’t wanted to get pregnant at fourteen, living out her days on welfare. She wasn’t about to let any man brutalize her because he felt berated, rendered powerless by the world.
At Georgetown, she’d never allowed herself to get close to the guys in her classes. Even if any of them had appealed to her—which they never did—revealing that she’d paid for her education by being a high-priced call girl wouldn’t have gone over very well.
So she remained apart, alone…lonely.
Meeting Tim, being within his arms, had provided such contentment Catherine realized for the first time how empty her life had been. Although powerful men coveted her, the momentary pleasure they gave never reached her soul. It hungered for something substantial and lasting.
Which wouldn’t be Tim. The moment she told him about her past, he’d take off. Tolerant guys like Hunt didn’t come around every day, and even with him accepting Alexa’s past, he wouldn’t have put up with her continuing to sleep with clients. If the impossible happened and Tim didn’t mind that guys had paid Catherine to be with them, he surely wouldn’t be thrilled that she couldn’t quit. Even after she settled into her real career, it wouldn’t pay enough for her to afford Opal’s continuing care, and no damn way was that woman going to be put out of this place.
As much as Catherine had clung to foolish hope while speaking with Alexa, reality and defeat weighed on her now. She had no other choice than to tell Tim everything and accept the inevitable.
It’s the only way.
She pressed her fingers into the mantel’s stone, repeating the awful truth. You have to do this. There’s no other possible out—
Tim. Oh god. He must have come in while she was beating herself up for being such an idiot.
He snaked his arm around her waist as though it had always belonged there. It felt heavy, protective, required.
On a whimper, Catherine forgot everything she’d decided and turned into him, filling herself with his clean scent, fresh from his shower, woodsy from his cologne.
“I’m a bit early,” he murmured. “Hope you don’t mind.”
She curled her fingers into his beige cashmere sweater, wanting to feel the man beneath. He’d dressed stylishly casual tonight in a camel’s hair jacket, overcoat and brown pants. Chastely, he kissed her temple and forehead. A passing nurse, this one male and dressed like Santa, threw them a smile.
“Your aunt all right?” Tim asked.
Catherine pressed into him, needing to be close, sheltered, desired. She nodded.
“You sure? Look, if you want, we could stay here and order in a pizza—if they allow that. I could meet Opal. Help you keep her company.”
A lump rose in Catherine’s throat at his willingness to do that, telling her more about him as a man than all the dossiers the agency could have compiled. They were still relative strangers, supposed to have a wild night out, and Tim was offering to forgo it because he knew how important Opal was to her. They’d behaved outrageously at that holiday party and yet he hadn’t bragged about it to Hunt…he’d mentioned how much he liked her. That didn’t begin to address how quickly Catherine was falling for him when she shouldn’t.
You have to tell him. Here. Now. Before you hurt him as Alexa said.
Wanting to die, Catherine lifted her face to his.
“What?” Tim asked, his smile fading. He ran his knuckles down her cheek.
Oh god. His touch defeated her best intentions for the truth. He was so beautiful, his expression so open and trusting, Catherine couldn’t find the words to destroy that. Always, she wanted to remember him like this, eager to be with her, liking who he thought she was.
Tina Donahue is an award-winning, bestselling novelist in erotic, paranormal, contemporary and historical romance for Samhain Publishing, Ellora’s Cave, and Kensington. Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, Romantic Times and numerous online sites have praised her work. Three of her erotic romances (Adored, Lush Velvet Nights, and Deep, Dark, Delicious) were named finalists in the 2011 EPIC competition. The French review site, Blue Moon reviews, chose her erotic romance Sensual Stranger as their Book of the Year 2010 (erotic category). The Golden Nib Award at Miz Love Loves Books was created specifically for Lush Velvet Nights, and two of her titles (The Yearning and Deep, Dark, Delicious) received an Award of Merit in the RWA Holt Medallion competition (2011 and 2012). Take Me Away and Adored both won second place in the NEC RWA contest (different years). Tina is featured in the 2012 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market. She was the editor of an award–winning Midwestern newspaper and worked in Story Direction for a Hollywood production company.