Tessa whirled away from him toward the door.
His hand was on her arm in a second. “Where do you think you’re going?” he asked. The sudden awareness of how slim her arm was in his grasp caused him to loosen his hold.
“I won’t stand here and argue with you,” she told him.
“Then let’s not argue.”
Slowly, he pulled her closer, watching the pulse jump in her neck. She didn’t resist when he lowered his mouth to hers.
Gunnar could have sworn her bones liquefied as she melted against him, into him. This was risky. It should stop. She was like a drug, the feel of her an addiction, and he feared if he didn’t break it off now, there would be no going back. He drank in a few more seconds before levering her away.
His own ragged breathing drowned out the sound of hers, but her mouth opened and closed, evidence that she too struggled to form a coherent sentence. Desire snapped in the air between them, and he turned away before it could draw him back.
What was he thinking, kissing her that way? He wasn’t—that was the problem. He hadn’t recognized how close he was to flashpoint and had allowed emotion to rule. Normally the emotion was anger. It was familiar, safe, he knew how to direct it, what to expect in retaliation.
But this…altogether different. In the short time he’d known Tessa, she had infiltrated his core needs, forcing him to reevaluate his objectives, making him
realize he still wanted things he’d long ago dismissed as impossible: a home, children, stability. Consequently, he feared things he hadn’t before: isolation, failure, dependence. It was too much, too soon.
He hadn’t lied to her mother, he hardly knew her. Yet she had already influenced him in ways he couldn’t express. What would happen over time, six months maybe, when he became more attached and unable to let her go?
When Tessa finally realized who and what he was?
“We can’t do this,” he told her, looking back. Tessa stood frozen, catching her breath. “I won’t get us into a situation we’ll regret.”
“You’re not ready for this.” The light of battle sparked to life in her eyes,
dissipating the haze of longing. “Neither am I.”
“Because I’m a virgin,” she said, disgusted.
“Yes.” He snapped the word out, but hearing the harshness of it, softened his tone. It wasn’t her fault he wanted her. Nor was he pushing her away because of her inexperience—at least not in the way she thought.
“You’re innocent and I’m not. In any sense of the word.”
Tessa crossed her arms. “So it’s your plan to keep turning me on and off like a light switch until when? Until you’re bored or decide to move back to your house?”
“I didn’t mean for this to happen.”
“You want me.”
It was a simple statement. He couldn’t have said why it sounded like a threat. “I do. But it’s not going to happen.”
“Because you say so,” she said with a nod. “Interesting. You didn’t want my mother to treat me like a child, but ten minutes later you’re doing it.”
“This is different.”
“Because you know what’s best? She thinks the same thing.”
Well, what could he say to that?
Tessa raised her chin and went to the door. “Please leave.”
She’d given him his escape from the mess he’d created. But for how long? Until the next time they were in the same room together and the scent of her freshly scrubbed skin snared him? Or she walked past and sent him one of those long looks she probably
wasn’t even aware of? The ones that made his heart spasm and his brain misfire? He had no intention of going through this again.
When she reached for the knob, he slapped a hand onto the painted wood of the door.
“I asked you to leave.” Her voice was laced with nerves and heat.
Patience ebbing, Gunnar hissed out a breath, took her by the arm and sat her on the bed.
“Sit there and shut up.”
“Don’t tell me to shut up.”
“Just…please.” Gunnar scraped a hand over the stubble on his head, then jammed his hands in his pockets.
He didn’t intend for things to spin this way. When he came into the house, it was with the desire to grab a quick shower before meeting Max and David at McIntosh’s. Almost at once, he was being lured by the sound of women’s voices singing the praises of a guy named Carter in an overt attempt to interest someone.
Entering the living room, seeing the look on Tessa’s face, it became clear she was the intended mark. She didn’t look interested, but it irritated him to think she might be. Then, to find the jerk’s card with his friendly little message…
In hindsight, keeping her mother and friends here might have been the wiser course. If they were still here, he would be on his way to a friendly game of pool. But jealousy was a newly discovered muscle, and it grew and strengthened when flexed.
He gazed out the window to where the clouds skidded away, revealing a sky of pale blue, in direct contrast to the gloomy gray of his heart. Below was a fenced in yard with thick grass, though browning, and a tall gnarled oak. The kind of yard he would have loved to play in as a kid.
Instead, he’d kept himself occupied in dim hallways and dismal rooms where he’d been forced to wait quietly while his mother entertained her boyfriend of the hour one thin wall away. It was a world away from here. A world away from Tessa.
He glanced at the fresh flowers on the table under the window, a reminder of the kind of woman Tessa was and the fact that she was far, far out of his league. He needed to stop dreaming about what he could never have and end this stupidity now before it got out of hand. And maybe the best way to do it was to force her to see the differences between them.