Behind every hero is the damage that made him.
Computer game designer Ellie Fox can’t wait to start her new job in Japan. But first there’s one loose end in Auckland she needs to tie up: her obsession with her older brother’s best friend, Hunter Chase.
She’s sick of being “kid zoned”. It’s time to make like one of her kick-ass computer game heroines and take matters into her own hands. Except when she finally has Hunter where she wants him, her hands are the last thing he’ll let her use.
Hunter works hard at running the construction firm he co-owns with his friend, and at keeping his distance from his dysfunctional family. Control is his linchpin, but there’s just one spanner in the works—Ellie.
The girl he always looked out for suddenly seems determined to make him see her as a woman. But with a past darker than the angel wings tattooed on his back, the safest place for her is just beyond arm’s length. Or the next heart to suffer damage could be hers.
Warning: Contains a tortured hero, a determined heroine, cosplay kink, and a twisted twist that could cause mental whiplash. Line to the WTF Infirmary forms on the right.
Hunter heard the sound of a zip being undone, but although Ellie’s drunken attitude problem was getting a little out of hand, surely she’d never go that far.
“Ellie,” he began, “I don’t know what the hell—” Then the words died in his throat as he turned to look at her. She’d sat back in her seat, the halves of the ridiculous jumpsuit she wore hanging open, right the way down to…
He jerked his gaze back to the road, a prickling heat washing over him. Crap. She was bare to the waist.
“What the hell are you doing?” he demanded through gritted teeth.
White skin. Small, pale breasts. Little pink nipples. Perfect. All utterly perfect.
“Giving you something to laugh about.” She sounded defiant, challenging. “Because obviously the thought of me as a woman is somehow amusing to you.”
His hands gripped the steering wheel tightly, trying to forget the sight burned forever into his brain. A sight he wanted to look at again. And again. Which was wrong on so many levels he could barely even begin to think about it.
“Do you see me laughing?” he bit out. “For God’s sake, put your clothes on.”
“Why? You’re embarrassed? You don’t have to be. It’s just me. I’m like a kid sister to you, right?”
The scent of her perfume seemed to fill the confined space of the truck. A sweet, homey smell, flowers of some kind. He’d never noticed it all that much before, but now it was like he couldn’t get it out of his head. A heady, very female kind of scent.
White skin…the pink tips of her breasts…
He took a slow breath, his pulse racing. “I don’t know what point you’re trying to make, sweetness,” he said, struggling to sound normal, “but taking your clothes off isn’t the way to go about it.”
“Isn’t it obvious what point I’m trying to make? I’m trying to get you to stop seeing me as a bloody child.”
“By stripping in my truck?”
“How else am I supposed to do it? You don’t listen to me, Hunter!”
With a sharp movement, he jerked the wheel and pulled the truck over to the side of the road, a weird heat burning in his veins. A heat that was part anger and part arousal. An arousal he had no idea how to deal with or want anything to do with.
“Do your zip up,” he ordered, staring out the window. “Then I’ll listen.”
A small silence.
“No,” Ellie said.
Ah, hell, she was pushing him. Such a bad move tonight when all he’d wanted to do was get drunk and forget about the necessity of having to attend Justin’s wedding. Of having to see his family. His father, his brother, and…Elizabeth.
A sick feeling turned over in his gut, his patience slipping inexorably through his fingers. “Do it.”
He turned, looked into her eyes. “Or I’ll do it for you.”
She stared back at him, unflinching. Lounging in her seat with her dyed black hair over one shoulder, black-painted mouth pouting, her jumpsuit spread open, she looked vampish and—go on, admit it—sexy. His brain didn’t want to acknowledge it, not about her, but his body had no such qualms. Christ. Now he was getting hard.
“Maybe I want you to do it for me.” She threw the words at him like a gauntlet being thrown down. “Maybe I’d like it.” No escaping the look in her eyes. The look of a woman who knew what she wanted. Him.
Hunter kept himself very still. He’d always known she’d had a crush on him as a young teenager, but as the years had gone by, he’d thought she’d put that aside. Then again, this didn’t look like a crush. There was too much hunger in her eyes. A hunger that called to an answering heat in himself. A heat he didn’t want. A heat he couldn’t stop.
Christ, no. He did not want that heat associated in any way with Ellie Fox. The kid who used to look at him like he was her own personal hero. The one bright spot in his dark, teenage years. Anyone but her.
She made a small sound, as if he’d somehow let slip his response, as if she knew, and she sat forward suddenly. The bright metal of the zip pressed against her soft, white skin, along her stomach, the curves of her breasts. Digging in. Leaving a mark.
His breath caught. “Stop,” he said hoarsely.
She blinked. “What?”
“But…” Her eyes widened and he knew what she saw in his gaze. Oh Jesus, this was getting so messed up. “Hunter…”
He leaned forward, reached for the end of her zip. Getting her covered was imperative, hiding all that white skin away. Turning her back into Ellie, the girl he knew, not some sexual fantasy he hadn’t even known he’d wanted.
“What are you doing?” she asked uncertainly as he began to draw her zip up.
“What I told you I’d do.” Hunter kept his gaze averted, not looking at her, taking care not to touch her or brush against her as he did up her jumpsuit. Only once he’d covered her did he sit back and look into her eyes.
A strange mix of confusion, hurt and anger crossed her face. “Why did you do that?”
“Because I told you to cover yourself and you didn’t.”
Her throat moved as she swallowed. “But… But you… I thought you liked…” She stopped. “I saw it, Hunter. In your eyes.”
“You were…attracted to me.”
“No. That’s not what you saw.”
“It was. Don’t deny it.”
She searched his face. “I know what I saw. I’m not an idiot.”
“Stop pushing me, Ellie.”
“You think that’s pushing?” An expression he couldn’t read flared in her eyes. “No. This is pushing.” And before he could stop her, she moved her hand between his thighs, the warmth of her palm covering his fly. Pressing down on the hard ridge of him. Touching him.
For one intense second Hunter was conscious only of the surge of heat that went through him. A heat so intense he went rigid with shock. Couldn’t move. Couldn’t even breathe.
Ellie’s eyes had gone so wide he could see the rim of gray around the outside of her green contacts. “You’re hard,” she murmured, as if she couldn’t believe it herself. “My God… Hunter—”
Instinct kicked in. An instinct that had been protecting him for sixteen years. An instinct that turned the heat of her touch into the icy grip of fear.
Without thinking, his fingers closed around her wrist and he tore her hand away from him. “Don’t touch me,” he heard himself say roughly. “Don’t ever touch me!”