Chapter One

Jake Knight sat alone in the dark corner of the posh restaurant and stared at the woman seated on the other side of the room. The dim lighting surrounded her like a halo, allowing him to see her perfectly. Not that he didn’t already know what she looked like, but her appearance was different tonight. More sensual and seductive.

He shifted on his seat, trying to find a more comfortable position, but it just wasn’t possible. His dick was standing at attention, ready and willing to jump into action. But Jake ignored his blatant arousal and eased more into the shadows, content to watch, for now.

Her lips were painted a deep red, like ripe cherries. It gave a man all kinds of ideas. He’d love to nibble on those luscious lips, even better, he’d love to see them wrapped around his swollen cock.

Wasn’t going to happen. He broke out in a sweat when she licked her bottom lip and laughed at something her male companion said.

Her long, curly hair was pinned up in some kind of fancy style that seemed to defy gravity, leaving the sensitive curve of her neck bare. His shoulders tensed and he had to fight the urge to stalk over to her table, toss her over his shoulder and carry her off into the night.

But she wasn’t for him.

No, Sapphire Jewel was more than a decade younger than he, fresh and filled with an innocence that he’d lost years ago, that is, if he ever even had it. He felt old and jaded, which was why he’d broken things off with her a few weeks back.

Why then was he following her when she went out at night? He was verging on becoming a stalker, the kind of guy he hunted down and helped the cops put away. He much preferred to think of himself as a protector.

She was too damn innocent for her own good. Just the fact that she was on a date with Ivan Gregor was proof enough. The guy was a shark, a real estate developer who it was whispered regularly bribed city officials to make sure his projects went ahead with no difficulties. It was also rumored he’d recently done business with the Russian mafia. The man had friends in both high and low places.

What the hell was Sapphire doing with a man like Gregor?

Right now, she was safe enough, eating her dinner and sipping wine in a fancy restaurant. But what would happen after they left? No way was Jake leaving that to chance.

Plus, they were practically family, after all. His brother was marrying her sister. John and Topaz were tying the knot in a little over two months. Their path to the altar hadn’t been an easy one and John had resorted to kidnapping Topaz so she’d spend some uninterrupted time with him.

But their situation was different, he reminded himself. Topaz was older, and a lot more sophisticated then her younger sister. He remembered his advice to John when his brother had his doubts if he and Topaz would ever be together—we know how to fight for what we want, how to get around barriers and gain the objective. We don’t give up. Ever.

Good advice, too bad it didn’t apply in his situation. Sapphire was too young, too innocent, for a jaded soul like him.

He watched, hands clenched at his sides, his expensive steak dinner going cold, as Gregor topped up her wine glass. Sapphire smiled at him and nodded her thanks.

Could have been you, a quiet voice in the back of his head reminded him. He tried not to listen to that nagging voice. He could be the one enjoying a quiet dinner with her. Sapphire had been attracted to him and he’d certainly wanted her in a way he’d never wanted another woman.

He relaxed around her and she made him believe that anything was possible, even though he knew damn well that was a lie. Life was what it was and bad things happened to good people. His twenty years in the army and several years as a security specialist and bodyguard had shown him that.

As he watched her, she shifted in her chair, crossing her legs. Her skirt slid up, exposing a long length of smooth, silky leg. She had killer legs and the four-inch heels she was wearing made them appear even longer. He’d had those legs wrapped around his hips.

A muscle flexed in his jaw as he ground his back teeth together. He could almost feel her hot pussy closing around his hard cock, smell her light, floral perfume and the musky scent of her arousal mixed together, hear her breathy moans as she cried out his name.

He swallowed hard but didn’t look away. He couldn’t. He’d had her and he’d thrown her away. The fact that it was for her own good didn’t lessen the pain or the sense of loss that had consumed him every waking hour since.

The blouse she was wearing was silky, the front dipping low enough to show a hint of cleavage. And Sapphire had plenty to showcase. She wasn’t one of your skinny New York-model wannabes. She had curves that made any man who saw her sit up and take notice.

With her waist-length curly black hair, heart-shaped face and killer curves, Sapphire was stunningly beautiful. Not in a conventional, modern way, more like a throwback to the pinup girls from the forties and fifties.

But she hadn’t dressed that provocatively when they’d been together. Granted, he’d been her bodyguard and not her boyfriend at the time, but he’d come to know her well in the time they’d spent together. No, this was a new development, one that coincided with his walking away from her.

That was no accident. There was no denying that Sapphire had changed since he’d rolled out of her bed and left her. It was a hell of a thing for him to do to her and he knew he’d acted like a first-class bastard, but he’d done what he felt he’d had to do.

He’d done the tough things—the right things—all his life, but he’d never done anything that had shredded his soul the way that leaving Sapphire had.

It had changed them both and not in a good way.

He swore under his breath and scowled at the waiter who hovered next to his table.

“Can I get you anything else, sir?” The waiter swallowed hard, making his buttoned collar and tie appear way too tight.

“Coffee and my bill.” Jake wanted to be ready to leave the moment Sapphire and her date did.

“Right away, sir.” Jake barely registered the waiter leaving him. All his attention was on Sapphire. She’d done something to her eyes, some trick of makeup that women seemed to instinctually know how to do. It made them appear smoky and sexy, even darker than usual.

The waiter reappeared with coffee and a bill. Jake handed the man his credit card and he hurried off to finish the transaction. Jake could have told him not to rush. He wasn’t leaving until Sapphire did. He picked up his cup and sipped his coffee, enjoying the strong, dark brew. Before he’d had a chance to set his cup back on the table, the waiter was back. Jake looked over the charges, added a decent tip and signed the slip. The waiter melted away from the shadows, leaving him alone once again.

In the weeks since he’d left her, Sapphire had struck out on her own, getting her own apartment. She’d also gone out on a half-dozen dates, with a half-dozen different guys. That was totally out of character for the woman he’d come to know well over the past year. Being her personal bodyguard for several months had allowed him unimpeded access to her personal life 24/7.

Sapphire was a quiet woman who enjoyed her work and her family. When she wasn’t with her sisters or in her jewelry-design studio, she liked to putter with her small balcony garden, read and watch old movies.

When she went out it was usually with a group of her friends or with family. What was she doing dating all these guys? What was she trying to prove?

It struck him like a thunderbolt to the heart. This was his fault. He was responsible for the change in her. Pain lanced through him as he thought back to that fateful night that had changed both their lives…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“I can’t believe the trial is finally over and our lives can get back to normal.” Sapphire smiled at him as she dropped her small suitcase just inside the front door of the apartment she shared with her sister. But Topaz wasn’t here. She was off in a secluded cabin with his brother John. They were alone.

Jake closed and locked the door. His job as bodyguard was finished. He really had no reason to stay and knew he should take himself home. But he didn’t want to leave her.

She slipped off her coat and hung it neatly in the closet just inside the door. That was Sapphire. She liked order and for things to be in their place. He removed his coat and hung it next to hers.

“Do you want some coffee? Or maybe something stronger?” Her dark-brown eyes appeared even darker tonight. He knew she had to be tired. It had been a long few months and she hadn’t been resting well.

He was a bastard for not leaving immediately and letting her go to bed. His brain cells scrambled at the mere mention of the word “bed” in association with Sapphire. He’d spent many a long night lying awake, imagining what she’d look like naked and spread across her bed, waiting for him to take her. It made his dick hard to even think about it.

Not wanting her to see his arousal, he turned his back and walked over by her dining room window and peered out into the night. Lights of all shapes and sizes dotted the skyline. New York was alive and thriving. “I’m fine.”

He sensed her behind him before he felt the light brush of her hand over his back. He swallowed hard but didn’t turn around. No telling what he would do if he did.

“Jake, what’s wrong?” Her soft, melodic voice trailed over his skin, setting every nerve ending sparking.

“Nothing. I should leave.” Yet he made no move to do so.

“Stay.” Her softly spoken word echoed in his brain like a bomb blast. She couldn’t mean what he thought she did, could she? Of course not. She was probably just skittish about being alone. Her sister’s stalker was on his way to prison, but that kind of thing spooked a woman.

“Sure. I can stay on the couch and keep an eye on things.” Being tortured with hot knives would be easier, but he’d damn well do it. He’d do anything to make her feel safer.

She sighed and his cock was under enough control for him to turn around and face her. Her lips were turned down slightly and she looked sad.

He caught her chin with the edge of his hand and slowly tilted it upward until she was looking at him. “What’s bothering you?”

She bit her bottom lip and he swallowed a groan of arousal. She was the embodiment of everything he’d always wanted in a woman. Her curves begged a man to touch them, to stroke every mound and follow the arch of her hips. A man could drown in the depth of emotion shimmering in her eyes. It made him wish for things that would never be.

Sapphire shook her head. She opened her mouth to speak but quickly closed it again. That wasn’t like her at all. She was the most honest and straightforward woman he’d ever met. “What?” he prompted.

A look of determination filled her face and she went up on her toes, grabbed his shoulders and kissed him.

Holy fuck! His hands automatically went around her waist to support her. He opened his mouth to say something and she slipped her tongue inside. A dull roar began in the back of his skull and by the time the noise reached the front it blocked out all other sound.

She started to pull away, but there was no way he could let her go. Not now. Not when he was finally experiencing what he’d fantasized about for months.

He angled his head and took her mouth in an all-consuming kiss. Her fingers dug into his broad shoulders, but he barely felt them. His body was alive in a way it had never been before. She tasted sweet. A combination of coffee and mint from the snack she’d gotten when they’d stopped for gas on their trip back to the city. But beneath the artificial scents was the pure essence of woman, of Sapphire.

He coaxed her tongue into his mouth and then sucked on it, savoring her husky moan of arousal. Her hips arched against him, stroking his erect cock. He growled and lifted her more snugly into the cradle of his body. Her feet left the floor and he started walking.

Keeping his lips on hers, he maneuvered them into her bedroom, kicking the door shut behind him. Common sense and logical thinking had gone out the window the moment her lips touched his. He had to have her.

He leaned down until her feet touched the floor and pulled back. Both of them were panting hard and a lock of her hair was stuck to her cheek. He brushed it away, tenderly tucking it behind her ear.

He wanted to turn on the light, but was afraid she might balk. Thankfully, the drapes were open and there was more than enough light from the city shining in through her window to allow him to see her.

“Take off your clothes.” He sensed her surprise and her slight hesitation. He held his breath and almost roared with pleasure when she toed off her shoes and her hands went to the fastening of her jeans.

Jake took a step back, wanting a better view of her. His cock throbbed like a toothache as he watched her peel away layer after layer of clothing until she was down to her plain cotton bra and panties. He’d never seen anything sexier in his life.

“All of it.” He tensed, wondering if she would obey him. Jake wasn’t into bondage or pain, didn’t really understand why anyone would be, but he did like to be in control in the bedroom. It was as necessary to him as breathing.

Her hands slowly went behind her back and she unhooked her bra. Leaning forward, she let the garment slide down her arms and onto the floor. When she straightened, he sucked in a breath. Damn, he’d always known she had superior breasts, but they were even better then he’d imagined.

The mounds were firm and large, tipped with tight pink nipples. He reached out and thumbed one hard point. Sapphire moaned and leaned into his touch. He reluctantly pulled his hand away, knowing his control was tenuous.

“The panties.” His voice was hoarse and deep.

Sapphire hooked her fingers in the band and slowly shoved her panties over her hips and down her thighs. When they were around her ankles, she stepped out of them.

“Turn around. Slowly.” He almost came on the spot when she made a slow circle, letting him see every inch of her. “Lovely.”

She offered him a shy smile. “Like what you see?”

“Very much.” He crooked his finger toward her. “Come undress me.”

There was no hesitation as she came forward and splayed her hands over his long-sleeved waffle-weave shirt. “With pleasure.” She pushed it up and he helped her remove it. She gave a small murmur of pleasure and leaned forward to nuzzle his chest.

He groaned and stepped back. “Finish it.”

Her clever fingers had the snap open and the zipper open on his jeans before he could blink. She pushed them down but they got stuck around his ankles. She knelt before him, unlaced his boots and then lifted one foot and began to tug. When the boot was gone, she removed his sock and the jeans. Then she did the same on the other side.

Jake thought his body might implode at the sight of her kneeling naked at his feet. It didn’t get any sweeter than this. She was giving him everything he wanted without question. The amount of trust that took was staggering. After all, he was eight inches taller than she and outweighed her by at least sixty pounds.

She looked up at him, a mischievous expression on her face. Like she’d done with her own panties, she hooked her fingers into the band and tugged his boxer briefs down his thighs and off. His cock jerked toward her, more than happy to be free from confinement. She gave a low murmur of approval and captured his dick in her hands.

The feel of her soft palms wrapped around him made his balls unbearably tight. She slowly stroked up to the tip of his cock before sliding down to the base. “You’re so big and hard.”

He swallowed and called on every ounce of restraint he possessed to keep from coming. “Take me in your mouth,” he commanded. It couldn’t be for more than a few seconds or he’d lose it and come in her mouth. And while he’d love to fulfill that particular fantasy, he wanted to taste her sweet pussy, to come inside her hot, slick channel this first time.

Sapphire leaned forward, opened her mouth and closed it over the broad head of his penis. She flicked her tongue over the slit in the tip, taking delicate licks.

“Suck me.” He needed more than she was giving him. Wanted her to take all of him into the hot depths of her sweet mouth.

Several more inches disappeared past her lush lips and she hollowed her cheeks and sucked.

“Fuck.” Jake caught her head between his hands and showed her how he wanted her to move. “Take more of me. You can do it.” She had to. He was caught between heaven and hell with about half his dick in her mouth.

She sucked in a breath and moved down his hard length until he felt the head of his cock touch the back of her throat. She gagged slightly but didn’t back down.

It was fucking amazing. He eased out of her mouth until only the tip remained inside and then slowly pushed in again, going as far as he could. She was so close to taking all of him. His fingers tangled in her long, curly locks, anchoring her to him, moving her how he wanted.

He stared down at her naked form, watching his dick slip past her lips until he couldn’t take the torture any longer. He withdrew, leaned down and lifted her into his arms. Before she could speak, he had her flat on her back on the bed. He knew he should turn down the covers, but he was in too much of a hurry to bother.

Her lips were moist and her eyes slightly glazed as he knelt between her thighs, her legs on either side of him. The position opened her legs wide, giving him unrestricted access to her pussy. She was pink and swollen and wet.

“Now it’s my turn.” He cupped her hips in his hands and lifted her to his waiting mouth, feasting on her essence. There was no part of her he left untouched, unexplored. Her clit was hard and pushed out of its protective hood. He flicked his tongue over it and she moaned his name, so he did it again.

“Jake, it’s too much.” She gasped for air and tried to pull away from him.

He shook his head, his hands tightening around her to keep her where he wanted her. “It’s not enough.” He slid one thick finger into her tight channel, groaning as it closed around him. “That’s it, baby. Come for me.” He eased a second finger in to join the first one, slowly separating them.

“Oh God. Jake.” Her fingers gripped the quilt that covered the bed and she tugged on it, her entire body arching.

He closed his lips over her clit and sucked hard. She came apart in his arms, crying out his name as her climax swept her away. He reveled in her surrender, drinking in every sound, every taste, the way her thighs gripped his head and the quiver of her body as she gave herself over to her passion.

But he wasn’t done. Not by a long shot. He stroked and licked and aroused every inch of her amazing body, taking particular time on her fabulous breasts. Sapphire climaxed three more times, screaming his name each time, before he grabbed a condom out of his jeans pocket, slid it on and forged his way into her hot pussy. It wasn’t easy for him to get inside her. The delicate tissue was swollen from her multiple orgasms and she was tight to begin with.

She cried out and a single tear seeped from the corner of her eye. He leaned down and licked the salty drop, unsure if she was crying because of pleasure or pain. He hesitated, but she hooked her legs around his flanks in silent encouragement. He forged ahead and when his cock was locked deep inside her, he stopped and simply enjoyed the sensation of her wet sheath clinging to him.

He began to move, but he was too on edge to last long. Three strokes later, he came. Reaching between her thighs, he stroked her clit and she came again, joining him as he went over the edge. He yelled his release and buried his face between her breasts.

He rested there until he felt Sapphire shiver beneath him. Jake carefully eased out of her, but she winced. He frowned as he looked at her. She was pale and her eyes were unfocused. He was ready to go again and she was utterly wrecked.

Swearing under his breath, he lifted her into his arms and shifted her so he could yank down the covers and tuck her into bed. She was practically lifeless as she lay there, totally spent.

He turned on the bedside lamp and swore under his breath. There were already bruises coming out on her hips where he’d held her so tight and his five o’clock shadow had left a rash on her magnificent breasts.

“Sapphire?” When she didn’t answer him, his concern grew. “Baby, talk to me.” He patted her cheeks and her eyes gained some focus.

“Jake?” Her voice was barely a whisper.

He swallowed hard and nodded. “Yeah, baby, it’s me.”

“I’m sore.” She winced and moved, obviously trying to find a more comfortable spot to rest.

He thought about running her a bath for her to soak in. “I know, baby. I’m sorry.”

She nodded and closed her eyes. “Okay.” She drifted off to sleep seconds later.

He stared down at her for the longest time, noting the fatigue on her face and the dark circles beneath her eyes. There was another slight bruise on the inside of her inner right thigh. He couldn’t even remember what he could have done to put it there.

Swallowing hard, he turned off the bedside lamp so he wouldn’t see the marks he’d left on her. Jake pulled on his clothes, sat in the chair in the corner of her room and kept an eye on her all through the long night. He examined what had happened between them over and over as the dark of night turned into the dim light of dawn.

There was no way Sapphire could handle the sexual demands he would make of her. Not many women could. She was so sweet, so innocent. She deserved a gentle lover, one who would go slow and careful. Not a rutting bull who wanted to fuck her hard all night long and left her with bruises.

What they’d done tonight was barely the tip of the iceberg of what he wanted to do to her and with her, and she’d ended up sore and completely exhausted. And the last thing he ever wanted to do was hurt her.

No matter how he looked at the situation, it seemed he had little choice. He had to walk away from Sapphire before he hurt her worse than he had tonight. He was obviously too rough, too demanding for her.

He cursed the universe for showing him a glimpse of heaven only to tear it from him. It was obvious to him that while Sapphire was enthusiastic, she wasn’t experienced enough to handle his needs in the bedroom. He couldn’t bear to think what would happen if he really took control and did all he wanted to.

He couldn’t risk harming her again. Better a quick break now than to hurt her continuously. No matter how he played it out in his head, there was no way for either of them to win. He was too controlling, too dark for her to handle.

For fuck’s sake his intense brand of lovemaking had left bruises on her soft skin. What kind of animal did that make him?

And there was no way he wanted her to lose the sweet innocence she had. That’s part of why he’d fallen for her in the first place. She’d shown him all sides of herself, but he’d held his darker side in check, keeping it hidden until tonight.

She moaned in her sleep, as she’d been doing for the past few hours, and it hardened his resolve. It might kill him to lose her, but better to set her free than to see her come to dislike him, or worse, fear him.

It was well past eight in the morning when her eyelids fluttered open. She seemed disoriented and winced when she rolled over. Jake felt like kicking his own ass. He was too much beast for this innocent beauty.

“How do you feel?” He kept his voice level, letting no emotion show. What he really wanted to do was fall on his knees and beg her forgiveness, promising her he’d change. But he knew he couldn’t change who or what he was. He was forty years old and knew himself too well to lie.

“Jake?” She tried to push herself up, but didn’t quite make it. She licked her lips. “That was…intense.”

Jake nodded. “It was too much. I know and I’m sorry for that.” He pushed out of the chair and went to the end of the bed, looking down at her body huddled beneath the covers, wishing he could see her naked one more time. “It’s best for us both if we don’t see one another again.” Each word was ripped from his soul, leaving him bare and bleeding inside.

“What?” She blinked up at him and frowned. “I don’t understand.”

“I’m too much for you, demand too much in the bedroom.” He raked his fingers through his hair and took a deep breath. “I know you’re sore from last night, but even now I want to roll you onto your stomach and fuck you. What the hell does that say about me? I don’t want to hurt you any more than I already have, so it’s better if I just leave.” He turned and walked to the door, reaching it far too quickly. Each step away from her was agony.

“Jake.” She called his name and he glanced over his shoulder. “I don’t understand. Stay and talk with me.” A tear ran down her cheek, piercing his gut like a knife.

“I’m sorry, baby.” He hurried away. For the first time in his life, he was too much of a coward to stay. He grabbed his coat from the closet and opened the front door. It closed with a finality that almost brought him to his knees.

The only thing that sustained him was knowing he was doing what was right for Sapphire.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Jake shook off the dark memories that threatened to consume him. He’d replayed that night over and over in his head, wondering what he might have done different. Could he have stayed and tempered his sexual demands, been more careful? Could he have changed enough to make a relationship between them work? There was no way of knowing and it was too late. He’d panicked at the thought of hurting her, physically and emotionally, and had severed all ties with her. Sapphire had moved on with her life and quickly.

For the first week after he’d left her, she’d tried to reach him, calling every night, but he hadn’t answered, instead letting her calls go to his voicemail where he listened to them over and over, torturing himself with the sound of her voice. It had taken every ounce of strength he’d had to turn away when her name flashed on his phone.

Thankfully, his brother didn’t know about what had happened between them and Sapphire must not have told her sister either. If Topaz knew what had happened, she’d tell John and his twin would kick his sorry ass for what he’d done.

The day after she’d stopped calling, she’d gone on her first date. Obviously, he’d done the right thing by walking away from her, even if it didn’t feel that way.

Jake picked up his cup and downed the last of his coffee. It was cold and bitter now, much like him. He’d taken on the task of watching over her, a sort of penance for what he’d taken and how he’d hurt her.