by Amanda K. Byrne
Every nightmare has an end.
There’s no way Nora can ignore the beating. Same heavy boots. Same curses, same pained groans. But that was two years ago, and this a different man, a different part of war-ravaged Sarajevo. This is her second chance. She has to try.
And then she’s stuck with him, nursing him, putting up with him. Declan’s an ass. He’s rude and tactless. He’s arrogant. Dismissive.
Charming. Intense. Caring when she needs it most – and least expects it. He tears away the numbing fog that’s been her constant companion and offers her a way out and a way home.
And it damn near destroys her.
Nora’s survived two years in a war zone. Can Declan show her how to live?
When she’s not plotting ways to sneak her latest shoe purchase past her partner, Amanda writes sexy, snarky romance and urban fantasy. She likes her heroines smart and unafraid to make mistakes, and her heroes strong enough to take them on.
If she’s not writing, she’s reading, drinking hot chocolate, and trying not to destroy her house with her newest DIY project. She lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, and no, it really doesn’t rain that much.
I make my way off the dance floor, skin tightening with awareness. I swear I’m being watched. Scanning the bar, I spot Declan on a stool, his booted foot propped up on the lower rung of a neighboring one. I head toward him. “Didn’t expect to see you here,” I call out over the noise.
“What the fuck was that, Nora?” He jerks his head toward the dance floor. A muscle jumps in his jaw.
Why does Zlata find him so attractive? The scowl on his lips drags his whole face down, dark brows lowered over blue eyes like shards of ice. The last of the bruises have faded, leaving behind a slight yellow tinge. His jaw is scruffy since he hasn’t bothered to shave in several days.
Not attractive. Not in any traditional sense. But he makes you look twice, and then he catches you looking and you’re stuck.
I sigh. “Dancing. I was dancing. And before you go all caveman on me, he kept his hands to himself.”
Declan grabs my hips and jerks me forward. “I saw where his hands were,” he grumbles. He strokes down and cups my ass. “They didn’t belong there.”
I lift a brow. “And yours do?” I close my hands around his wrists. “It’s sex. Don’t pretend it’s anything else.”
He flexes his fingers, making me yelp. “Isn’t it?” Dangerous. When he softens his voice, that lilt becomes dangerous. I’ll believe anything he says.
“It’s not,” I murmur, distracted. His mouth is right there. All I have to do is lean forward an inch. “Let go of my ass.” His hold softens, but he doesn’t relinquish it completely. “Declan—”
“I didn’t like it. Watching him put his hands all over you. I know I can’t dance, not with my leg in a cast. That’s no reason for another man to paw at you.”
That’s enough for me. I dig my fingers into his arms, smugly satisfied when he hisses as I poke at his injured wrist. I yank his hands away and take a step back. “Do you think we can have a conversation without you manhandling me?”
He glowers, and I step in so we don’t have to shout so much. “We have sex. Spectacular, amazing sex. It’s what you wanted. Spectacular, amazing sex does not entitle you to act like a jealous boyfriend.”
The sneaky bastard palms my ass again, bringing me to him. “I never said it was just sex, lass. I said I don’t do relationships. I don’t go in for flowers and love notes. That doesn’t mean it’s nothing more than getting naked. Call it spending time together, if you like.”
I scowl at him. “How about I call bullshit? That’s what it sounds like. We ‘spend time together’ because we live together.”
“I call it exactly that. Do you think I don’t enjoy spending time with you, Nora?” Feathery, teasing kisses burn on my skin as his mouth works its way over my jaw, drawing me closer. I dig my fingers into his thighs as his tongue flicks over my earlobe. “Are you certain it’s not more than sex?” he whispers.
I’m certain he’s a manipulative, selfish man. His words find their mark, though, as his mouth continues to taunt. He doesn’t have to spend all that time in the flat, talking to me. He’s already proven he can get around on his own, regardless of whether his leg is paining him. A moan escapes as he kisses the delicate skin below my jaw. I scramble to hold on to my frustration. “Stop it.”
He lifts his head, lips an inch from my ear. “If that’s what you want.”
It is. My feet are stuck. They won’t move. I have to move away from him, free myself before he changes my mind for me.
Decadent. That’s what my name sounds like, coming from his mouth. Is it such a bad thing to take from him like this, when he so clearly wants to give? It’s the best kind of distraction, the most beautiful reminder that life goes on, even in the midst of destruction. Is it so bad to take comfort from that?
I turn my head toward his and kiss him, sinking into it. Sometimes I think this must be what dying feels like, the air in my lungs burning to be released, unable to escape because my mouth is otherwise occupied. Then his teeth nip into my lip or his tongue curls around mine, and I figure if I’m dying at least I’m going to enjoy it.