Sweet Persuasion(110)

By: Maya Banks

“There’s nothing to say that we have to rush into this,” he continued. “All I want is a chance. Time. You with me. Us working together.”

“And if I disappoint you?” she asked. “If I decide I can’t be what you want? What then?”

He smiled and shook his head. “Stubborn, hardheaded woman. Haven’t you heard a word I’ve said? Serena, you can call yourself whatever you damn well want to. I’ve never liked the word slave, as Faith will attest. That was your word, your label. You once asked me what you were to call me and I told you Damon. Just Damon. So why can’t we be Damon and Serena? Two people in love. We can work on everything else.”

Hope fluttered and uncurled, rising toward the sun from its cold haven in her soul. Her pulse sped up, as against her will, she looked ahead to what could be if she took a chance.

“I’m sick to death of the word fantasy,” Damon said. “If I never hear it again, it will be too soon. I’m real. You’re real. Our love is real. Our attraction is real. Those welts on your pretty ass were real.”

His hands moved to her arms, and his fingers collided with her arm band through the material of her jacket. He stilled and glanced up at her, the question in his eyes. Then he carefully tugged at the sleeve of her jacket until he had her halfway out of it.

The gold band gleamed in the sun, bright against her pale skin.

“You kept them on,” he said softly. “You left and yet you still wear the gifts I gave you. My mark of possession.”

She raised her hand to touch the intricate design, tracing one of the lines until she bumped into his hand. “I couldn’t bear to take them off,” she admitted. “It seemed so final.”

He put his other hand on the opposite arm and pulled her gently to him. Their lips touched, reverently, light and seeking. As her body pressed close to his, she could feel the tension rolling through his body, and it was then she realized how afraid he was.

“What’s this about you selling your business?” he asked in a quiet voice as he pulled away.

There was no censure or reproach, no disappointment. Just loving concern that made her throat swell and ache. She dropped her head only for him to cup her chin and tug gently until she faced him with watery eyes.

“I can’t do it anymore,” she whispered. “I can’t sell false dreams.”

His gaze softened, and the look he gave her was so full of understanding that she had to swallow back the tears.

“You’re raw right now, and you’re hurting,” he said gently. “I think you should give yourself time before you make any decisions about your business. Spend some time with me, Serena mine. Give me—us—a chance. Let me take care of you. Let me cherish you the way I want to cherish you. Then, when you’re ready, you can decide about Fantasy Incorporated. There’s no hurry. You and I have all the time in the world.”

The tears that had so threatened and stung her eyelids slid silently down her cheeks. “I’m so afraid,” she whispered. But at the same time, the heavy weight, the burden she’d been carrying around, lifted and took wing. She felt lighter and freer as hope unfurled.

He pulled her away just far enough that he could look into her eyes. “The only way you could disappoint me is by giving up on us, because all I ever want you to be is mine.”

She stared at him for a long moment, taking in the loving sincerity in his voice. And then she smiled through her tears. “I certainly never want to disappoint you, Damon.”

“Then say yes,” he said, his voice urgent and hoarse. “Say you’ll come home with me.”

She curled her arms around his neck and raised her lips to his. For the first time, her fears subsided. Renewed hope, alive and strong, surged hotly through her heart.

“Take me home,” she whispered.

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