“You’re out of jail?” Why did I ask the question? Part of me feared it was true…the rest trembled, imagining some sort of reckless escape from the law.
Maddox’s lips teased a smirk. “Does that surprise you?”
“I was innocent.”
That wasn’t what the judge said, and it certainly wasn’t what the town thought. Enough rumors and whispers and frightening stories passed through the three streetlight town about Maddox before the fire. I believed some of them. I ignored the rest. Then I caused more when I fell in love with him.
Now he was home. Out of jail.
I couldn’t protect him here.
How was I supposed to send him away?
His dark hair obscured most of his face. He kept it just long enough to frighten people when he popped the collar of his leather jacket and waited in the shadows. His chin jutted, hard and chiseled, and his nose, never perfectly straight, matched the severe angle of his jaw.
I dared to look up, even knowing how much I’d lose if I met his gaze. He used to hate when I compared his eyes to my favorite dark chocolate brownie recipe, but nothing else came close. Espresso maybe? Chocolate ganache? I used to get hungry with Maddox…but what I craved most wasn’t dessert.
“It’s been over a year.” He spoke as if I hadn’t counted every hour, minute, and second we’d been separated. “Too damn long, Sweets.”
I melted like a truffle every time he used the nickname. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m here for you.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“It’s the only thing that makes sense.”
Maybe to him. He always knew what he wanted. He always got what he wanted. I had no idea if he was right or wrong for me, only that I never considered the consequences when he took me in his arms. That danger made him all the more attractive. He was tall, dark, but he wasn’t classically handsome. Handsome implied trustworthiness, someone gentlemanly and tender.
Maddox was none of those.
Trusting him was a mistake. Welcoming him close was a disaster. His warmth consumed me. Entirely. Dangerously. Inescapably.
“We broke up.” I said it gently because I hated saying it at all.
Maddox nodded. “That was my mistake.”
“You shouldn’t be here.”
“This is the only place for me.”
“When did you…”
“I had a parole hearing…” He tensed in the doorway, his fingers crushing the wooden frame. “You didn’t get my letter?”
“You didn’t take any of my calls either.”
I stumbled backward, hating that it looked like an invitation. Maddox stepped inside my apartment, shutting the door.
Trouble came in many forms, the worst of which existed in my heart. My back pressed against the wall, and I looked up to meet the shadow of his stare. I was never once afraid of this man, not even now when he studied me, memorized me, towered over me. Not many people knew the real Maddox. No one gave him a chance. I did, and I was the fool who fell for him.
“How’d you get so beautiful?” His voice lowered to that honeyed growl. “Christ, I missed you.”
I didn’t speak if only because I didn’t trust what I’d say. How badly I missed him? How I was lost without him in my bed?
How angry I was that nothing I did had prevented what happened.
His hands flattened on the wall behind me, pinning me beneath the simmering, molten man. My heart thrashed, beating everything inside my chest well beyond soft peaks. The paleness of his skin clashed against my smooth, nutmeg brown complexion. I resisted the urge to touch him and entwine our hands. I used to love nothing more than to admire how beautiful we looked together, light and dark, tender and hard, gentle and…
But surrendering to his touch was risky. Maddox stared at me, hungry and desperate and so unbelievably lonely.
And I knew why. It shamed me. It hurt me.
But I had no choice.
“I wanted to find you.” His words roughened, but they were as much a caress as Maddox could give. “I had to see you again. To hold you.”
He wanted more than that. His chest strained the thin T-shirt, hardly containing the twitching, testosterone-packed muscles. The leather jacket creaked as he leaned in, crackling the tight material. I hadn’t looked down yet, but I knew what waited in his jeans. Something hard. Something equally wicked.
I held my breath. It did nothing but invite his spicy, cedar and black pepper scent deeper into my lungs. It banished every lingering, nauseating nightmare rattling in my memory. Burnt sugar. Acrid smoke. Antiseptic.