Back in her husband's bed(8)

By: Andrea Laurence

 Annie scrambled to find a reason not to put the ring on. She couldn’t afford to start hyperventilating and give Nate the upper hand in any of this. “I thought I might wait until I had a chance to clean it. Give it a good polish.”

 It was stupid and she knew it. Why did putting on a ring symbolic of nothing but a legally binding slip of paper bother her so much? The smothering sensation was growing more oppressive, like a steamy, wet blanket draped over her face on a smolderingly hot Miami day. It was just how she’d felt back then. Why she’d had to run.

 Nate frowned. He moved across the room with the stealthy grace of a panther, stopping just in front of her. Without speaking, he reached out and gripped her fist. One by one, he pried her fingers back and took the band from her.

 She was no match for his firm grasp, especially when the surprising tingle of awareness traveled up her arm at his touch. He held her left hand immobile, her heart pounding rapidly in her chest as the ring moved closer and closer.

 “May I, Mrs. Reed?”

 Her heart stopped altogether at the mention of her married name. Annie’s breath caught in her throat as he pushed the band over her knuckle and nestled it snugly in place, as he had at their wedding. His hot touch was in vast contrast to the icy-cold metal against her skin. Although it fit perfectly, the ring seemed too tight. So did her shoes. On second thought, everything felt too tight. The room was too small. The air was too thin.

 Annie’s brain started swirling in the fog overtaking her mind. She started to tell Nate she needed to sit down, but it was too late.

 * * *

 Nate was enjoying watching Annie squirm up until the moment her eyes rolled into her head. He moved on reflex, catching her slumping body in his arms. He quickly repositioned his hold and lifted her up, carrying her down the hall to the bedroom. He settled her onto the navy comforter covering his king-size bed and sat down on the edge beside her.

 Annie had lingered on his mind since the day she left. Bringing her to her knees before giving her the divorce she wanted was a surefire way to put her out of his thoughts for good. Catching a couple cheaters and guaranteeing the success of his hotel for years to come was a great way to make her earn her freedom. And she made it too easy, really. He knew all the right buttons to push. He was pleasantly surprised at how gratifying it had been so far.

 At least until she passed out.

 Nate leaned over her. Annie’s breathing had returned to normal. Her ruby lips parted, and her anxious expression faded as her body relaxed into the plush mattress.

 Nate couldn’t help reaching out and running a finger along the blush of her cheek. Her skin was as soft as he remembered, like silk. She sighed as the back of his hand slid down her face and along her jaw.

 The Annie the public saw was always so cool, so put together. He’d watched her on televised tournaments over the years and seen her in interviews. She was unshakable. Unflappable. Nothing like the wildly passionate woman who had shared his bed. Or the one who passed out cold at the idea of wearing her wedding ring.

 She stirred so many emotions in him. Anger, jealousy, arousal, resentment, anxiety... Being around her now was like riding the roller coaster across the street. He was an even-keeled guy. A levelheaded businessman. That made it even more irritating knowing she could impact him the way no other woman had. He just hoped he could keep it all inside.

 When she’d first left, he was confused and furious. His worst fears had been realized. It was as though his mother had abandoned him all over again. He had watched his father crumble under the weight of his grief. The only thing Nate knew for certain was that he wouldn’t let Annie break him. He’d funneled his anger into building the greatest damn casino in Las Vegas and finding the perfect way to exact his revenge.

 Yes, they might have rushed to the altar. Yes, they might have had little more than fantastic sex in common. But their marriage would end on his terms, not hers. She’d forfeited her vote when she walked out. Now that he had her back here, bending to his will, he would finally be able to put her, and them, behind him.

 Perhaps. As he looked down at the beautiful, exciting woman...his wife...he began to wonder if luring her back here with the tournament was a mistake. The vengeance surging through his veins had dulled, leaving only the desire to possess her once again.

 Back then, his need for Annie had been all consuming. Nate hadn’t wanted to let her out of his bed, much less his life. Marrying her had seemed like the best way to guarantee that Annie would be his forever. The irony was that it was the marriage itself that drove her away. Everything had been perfect before then.

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