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  “It’s okay.”

  “No, it’s not that—” He couldn’t think with the blood running out of his head and his entire body on high alert. “Em—Wait.”

  But she didn’t, and there was something about her slightly fumbling hands and mouth, the endearing inexperience mixed with the sexual yearning that completely and totally undid him.

  He exploded. And when he lay there, annihilated, still quivering, humbled to the core and just as shocked, she put her hand on his chest and leaned over him until her face wavered in his view.


  “Still here. Barely.” He smiled.

  Hers wobbled. “I love you,” she whispered, and destroyed him all over again.


  Note to Housekeeping:

  Guest requested more silk scarves in room 1214.

  There’s some wild action going on in there!!

  “LET ME GET THIS STRAIGHT.” Pru blew the steam from her mug of Maddie’s coffee and looked at Jacob. “You stood us up last night for that cute little TV producer you accosted a few nights back?”

  Jacob had known this was coming. He’d stumbled home from Em’s room at dawn. Pru and Caya had dragged him out of bed a short time later, bringing him here for the interrogation. He concentrated on not burning his tongue on his coffee and said nothing, silently pleading the Fifth.

  At his lack of comment, Caya raised a brow. “Interesting.”

  “There’s nothing interesting,” he said.

  “Uh-huh.” This from Pru. “You went back for seconds. That’s very interesting.”

  “Look, just because you two have found…whatever it is you’ve found—”

  “Love,” Caya said, and reached across the table to squeeze Pru’s hand.

  Pru smiled in a way Jacob had never seen, a soft special curve of the mouth. He sighed. “It doesn’t mean everyone has to be just as happy as you guys.”

  “What’s wrong with being happy?” Caya wanted to know.

  He stared into his mug and thought about that. Thought about other things, too, things that started with “I” and ended with “love you.”

  Holy shit, had that really happened? Had he had the most mind-blowing orgasm of his life flat on his back in Em’s hotel room floor, and then blinked back to consciousness to find her leaning over him, smiling with her entire heart in her eyes as she said “I love you”? “Nothing’s wrong with being happy,” he finally answered. “It’s just not as easy for some.”

  “You think it was easy for us to get to the point where we know it’s real, that beneath the passion there is enough to sustain us for the long haul?” Pru asked. “Because you know it wasn’t easy, not at all.”

  “I do know. But—”

  “No buts,” Pru said. “Look, Jacob, I think you have this thing, like you believe you somehow don’t deserve love and happiness the same as the rest of us.” Her eyes were warm as she looked at him. “You’re wrong, Jacob. You do.”

  He frowned at the both of them. “I thought we had an agreement. You two worry about your own lives, and I’ll worry about mine.”

  “By your own words, that agreement was to be null and void once I got my own love life in order,” Pru reminded him.

  Caya’s eyes shone brilliantly at her. “And your love life is most definitely in order.”

  The affection that shimmered back and forth between the two of them was so powerful it was overwhelming, and Jacob felt his throat tighten. He was really losing it here.

  He’d had someone looking at him like that, and he’d walked. What did that make him?

  A smart man, he reminded himself.

  “Tell us about her,” Pru said softly.

  “Oh, I’ll tell you,” Maddie said as she came up to refill their cups. She smiled into Jacob’s frowning face, utterly unimpressed by his silent imploring. “She’s beautiful, of course. That’s what attracted him.”

  “That is not what attracted me,” he said in his defense. “I’m not that shallow.”

  “You’re a man, aren’t ya?” Maddie patted him on the head. “She’s also sweet and smart, but the most important thing…” She leaned in as if departing a state secret. “She makes him yearn for things he didn’t know were missing in his life.”


  She smiled warmly at Jacob’s warning, then kissed him sweetly on the cheek. “Oh, luv. Just accept it. She’s yours. And you’re hers.”

  Pru and Caya were staring at him in shock as Maddie walked away.

  “She is different from your other lovers,” Pru said thoughtfully.

  “Really?” Jacob asked, annoyed. “And how do you know that?”

  “Because she lasted more than one night,” Caya said.

  Ouch. Was he really that quick to move around?

  Yeah. He was.

  “Tell us more,” Pru said.

  “Look, there’s nothing to tell. She’s leaving, so what does it matter?” Was that his voice, sounding shaken at the thought of Em going back to Los Angeles? Maybe he was just tired after the past few nights of incredible, wild sex.

  Okay, not just sex. Sex he’d have been able to get past. Whatever the hell they’d done had been more, enough to grab him by the throat and hold on good.

  And then there had been those three shocking words he’d never heard directed at him before.

  I love you.

  “She loves me,” he heard himself say.

  Pru and Caya stared at him, then burst out laughing.

  “What the hell is so funny about that?” he demanded.

  “Because every woman falls in love with you,” Caya said. “Hell, I’m half in love with you and I’m taken—” She broke off at the look on his face. “Oh. Oh,” she breathed, and put her hand to her chest. Her eyes misted. “This one is different,” she said softly. “She’s different because you feel it back. Oh, Jacob.”

  “My God,” Pru murmured in wonder. “It’s happened. And I didn’t even have to do a damn thing.”

  Jacob shoved his fingers through his short hair. “Not helping.”

  “Oh, honey.” Pru grabbed his hand. “Why can’t you just admit it?”

  “Admit what? That you’re a helpless romantic?”

  “That you love her back.”

  “Maybe some of us don’t like to wear our hearts on our sleeves,” he said. “Maybe some of us have healthy caution inside and don’t feel the need to rush into anything.”

  “Maybe some of us are terrified of feeling it at all,” Caya said very softly, and leaning in, hugged him tight. “Is that it?”

  “Damn it.” He gently pushed her off him and went back to staring into his coffee and brooding.

  “You aren’t going to be stupid about this, right?” Pru asked. “You’re going to go after her, this one-and-only woman who’s ever turned your head.”

  She’d turned him upside down was what she’d done. “I’m not doing anything.”

  Caya and Pru looked at each other in dismay.

  “Look, this little coffee get-together has been sweet, but…” He shoved to his feet and tossed down some money to cover everything.

  “Jacob,” Pru chided gently. “You can’t just ignore it.”

  Sure he could. Especially when the alternative was something he couldn’t even contemplate.

  “You can’t just walk away,” Caya called after him. “You’ve always gotten away with that, I know, but one of these days it’s going to catch up to you.”

  Maybe. But not this time.

  ERIC AND LIZA flew home on an earlier flight than Em. With a few hours left before she had to leave for the airport, she sat in the lobby with her clipboard, trying to put some cohesive notes together for Nathan. Her cell phone rang. One glance at the caller ID had her wincing. The boss himself. “How’s it going?” she asked him in the most chipper voice she could muster.

  “That’s my question for you.”

  “Oh, everything’s fabulous,” she said. Which was sort of the truth. Parts of this