Legend (Page 40)

He strokes the strands, from the roots to the tips, sliding his two fingers downward, and I feel the touch in the marrow of my bones. His eyes flick upward, and he looks into my eyes, penetratingly so, as he raises his hand to stroke his fingers gently down my face. As his three longest fingers feather down my cheek, his curled pinky finger traces the shell of my ear.

My body becomes lava.

He cups my cheeks gently in his palms, and his thumbs brush my cheekbones and eyelids.

Raw need. That’s what I see in his eyes.

That’s what I feel.

And I see something tender and warm. In those platinum eyes. For me?

“You have the world’s prettiest face,” he says. “On the prettiest body. With the prettiest smile. And a voice I think of when it’s all quiet.”

He flexes his jaw and eases back, then he rips off his T-shirt and sits down on the edge of the bed, inhaling deeply. When Maverick whispers, like he just did, that dark-thunder voice of his ripples through me as if he speaks from somewhere deep inside me.

God. I’m patching him up, and he’s wrecking me.

Trembling, I uncurl my fingers from around the oil bottles. Which I’d seemed to be grasping like my life depended on it. I try to keep things businesslike as I pour a little mustard oil into my palm and then I set my fingers on his shoulders.

His tattoo stares back at me.

The phoenix is so close I can almost breathe it in. I am breathing it in. Because the phoenix is him. And he smells like the shampoo in my bathroom and the very soap on my skin, but warmer and earthier.

I stroke my fingertip over the phoenix head. I want to kiss it.

I do kiss it.

I lean over, my lips brushing over the head so lovingly I hardly touch his skin.

He hisses out a breath, turns around, grabs my head as if to bring me close for a kiss, then lets go and stands, exhaling. “You’re playing with me.”

“No! No. I’m sorry.” I’m so embarrassed, I clutch my stomach and get oil on my shirt, then I pull my arms away and curl my fingers into my palms, struggling not to bury my face in my hands. “I don’t know why I feel the way I do when I’m with you.”

He narrows his eyes. “You have no idea what you do to me.”

The silence is everywhere.

He exhales and comes back to sit again, his broad back to me. He curls his hands over his knees and turns to look at me, shoulders tense.

I look at him and although my brain understands why, my body can’t seem to grasp why he’s not closer to me.

Maverick, kiss me.

Tell me not to be afraid and just kiss me.

But I am afraid. And if he kisses me, I have to push him away because this can’t be.

Exhaling, I pour more oil and I force myself to smooth it all over his back. His flesh ripples and tightens beneath my fingers, and I can feel him in every pore of my body. I’m still eyeing the tattoo of the phoenix and the scorpion.

“This tattoo . . .” I trail off, dragging my hands over his back.

“I got it the day I turned twenty-one.”

His neck is thick; he’s staring down at the carpet now, resting on his elbows as I rub.

“When I stopped waiting for him to come get me. To say he f****d up, that he chooses my mother and me. When I found out what people saw him as, I made a new me. Not with his help, but despite him. Rising now. He’s a part of me I won’t deny, but there are other parts of me too. Better ones.”

He looks at me with half-closed lids, and his voice drops. “I’m not him, Reese.”

He stares back at the wall, then he reaches to stop my hand, and an electric little singe runs up my arm as he turns to look at me again. “You’re trembling. Are you afraid of me?”

I shake my head. “I’m afraid of myself. When I’m with you.”

His eyes shine a little, and his smile comes out. “I like the way you are when you’re with me.”

“Because it’s the only Reese you know, I’m usually calmer and less impulsive.”

His eyes sparkle in pleasure over my confession, and he leans forward as if to take my lips. I set a hand on his torso, shake my head. “Maverick . . . you make me too reckless.”

“I know,” he says, and then he dives his head and presses his lips to my neck.

I put my hands on his shoulders to stop him, but when his hand roams intimately over my back as he draws me close to him so gently, I moan softly and sink my nails into his skin.

He moves his mouth up my throat, testing me first, and when I open my lips recklessly, he starts devouring their softness. His kiss sends spirals of heat through me.

It’s a quick kiss. A stolen kiss. Nowhere near what I want. Nowhere as deep as I want. Or as endless as I need.

And it still shakes me to my core.

I’m unhappy and empty and lonely when he eases back. He looks into my eyes for a long minute. “I like your pajamas.”

My ears get hot.

His smile starts to fade. He cups the back of my head. My heart leaps again and pounds like mad.

He’s going to kiss me.

And I’m going to let him.

My usual Maverick palpitations are overboard right now. I set my hands on his shoulders, and this time, start to pull him a little closer.

I stiffen when there’s a knock on the door and start to ease backward on the bed. But Maverick calmly uses his hand to pull me back to where he wants me as he ducks his head, crushes my mouth with his hot, hungry, strong lips, and his tongue flashes inside, stealing my soul when he takes this one more stolen kiss. . . .

Then he stands, shoving his hands into his pockets as he faces the door. Blocking me from view as it cracks open.