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I was cold, getting wet from the mist and the steam without being under the hot spray. My boxer-briefs were wet, molded to my skin.

I watched, but didn’t touch. A thousand thoughts boiled in my mind: Did I deserve to touch her? Had I violated her? Had I raped her despite the fact that she’d been willing? Was that possible? It didn’t make sense, but there it was. I felt as if I’d somehow violated the woman I loved. Broken her trust, hurt her. Broken something between us.

And yes, I felt the stigma of what Gina had done to me. The shame, the helplessness. Shame, too, at the fact that even now, through the guilt and the confusion and the fear, I knew that the sex we’d had on the boat, when I was in the grip of the drug, had been the most wildly intense sex we’d ever had. And I think Kyrie knew it, too, adding to her internal conflict.

But there she was, telling me she needed me. Telling me she wanted my touch. By hesitating, by allowing doubt to rule me, I was letting Gina win. I was giving in to weakness by letting my fears and doubts keep me paralyzed.

Kyrie deserved more from me.

She rinsed the shampoo from her hair and worked in conditioner, and then began lathering shower gel onto her skin. She started at her shoulders, worked down her arms, her waist. I swallowed hard, watching her.

Her sensual beauty cut through my fears, her blatant need for me shredded my confusion, and the vulnerability in her eyes slashed away my doubt.

She swept the soapy washcloth over her breasts, scrubbing at the pink tips, sliding her slippery palms under one breast, and then the other. My throat swelled shut, and my heart began to beat. For the first time in a scrambled frenzy of days, I felt my pulse hammer hard, felt heat in my skin, felt desire hardening me, and I wasn’t afraid of it.

I had to take back some semblance of myself.

I am Valentine Roth, I told myself. I am in control. I will not be reduced to a weakling by the likes of Gina Karahalios.

I forced myself to believe it. I felt it, and clung to the flimsy scrim of determination.

I met Kyrie’s pale blue eyes with mine, letting her see into me, not hiding the roil of conflict, not hiding the hunger, the need, the fear, the uncertainty.

It was all there, but I was in control of it.

I had to be.

I clenched my fists and released them, letting out a slow breath. I pushed down the sopping-wet boxer-briefs and kicked them aside. The wet fabric hit the marble wall with a slap, hung there for a moment, and then slid to the floor. Kyrie’s eyes widened, and her nostrils flared, and she froze in place, the washcloth hovering at her belly.

I took a step toward her, finding my voice. “Don’t stop now, Kyrie.” My voice was low, a growled murmur. “Keep washing yourself for me.”

Her lower lip trembled and her mouth slightly parted, her eyes freighted with the same weltering myriad of emotion that boiled in mine. She ran her tongue along her upper lip, not a seductive move, but one of doubt. I stood mere inches from her, the peaks of her breasts a hair’s breadth from my chest. If she took a deep breath, our flesh would meet. But she didn’t. She wasn’t breathing, and neither was I.

This was, we both knew, a moment that would define us.

It would either remake us, or it would destroy us.

She touched the washcloth to her stomach, moved it in small circles, her eyes on me. I could see the hope blooming in the blue pools of her gaze, and it was such a delicate flower, so fragile, such a slight thing, needing a gentle touch to foster it into life. I moved to stand beneath the stream of the water, and her gaze raked over my body, head to toe and back to my crotch. Under her gaze, I felt myself twitch, harden, and burgeon into full erection. She blinked hard and squeezed the washcloth, put a dollop of shower gel onto the white fabric and squeezed and wrung.

And then she extended her hand toward me. “I think I’m clean,” she said, her voice tremulous.

I felt the washcloth touch my chest, and if I wasn’t breathing before, all capacity for breath left my body in that instant, feeling the washcloth on my skin, feeling one of her hands on my chest, slathering the soap across my skin. Her other hand slipped up to slide across the ridge of my shoulder, resting with her thumb near my clavicle and her fingers at the base of my neck. The washcloth arced over my chest, down my side to my hip. Her head tilted up again, her eyes fixing on mine, and then she leaned in, slowly, slowly, eyes lifted to mine, watching my reaction. The water rained down hot, scouring away the soap. Her lips touched my skin, and my heart stopped beating. I felt it stutter in its rhythm, and then she kissed me again, sliding her lips over my heart, and it resumed beating with the gentle warm slide of her lips, pounding harder than before. I blinked against the water on my face and watched her kiss my chest over my heart, once, twice, three times. She slid the washcloth around to my back and ran it up and down, up and down, all over my back, leaning in against me and kissing my chest, my shoulder, the hollow of my neck, slow kisses, careful kisses, switching from hand to hand, caressing my back with the soap and her hand and the washcloth.

My throat was thick, a hard lump lodged there.

Kyrie let the water rinse away the soap, and she moved around behind me, and I felt her breasts slick and soft and wet and firm against my back. Her hand moved over my chest, over my sternum. I leaned back, pressing my back to her front, and she breathed against my ear, her lips at the shell of my ear, not whispering or kissing, just there, breathing, a presence. The washcloth moved to my hip, across my belly to the other hip.

God, the touch of her lips, the soft heat of her flesh against mine, her presence, calm and comforting, the love and the hope and the determination exuding from her…I soaked all this up and let it spread like a healing salve over the wounds within me.

I sat down on the bench, and Kyrie moved around to stand in front of me. My hands rested on my thighs. We spent a long moment in the hot stream of water, my gaze roaming from her face to her breasts and down to her core, to her thighs, hers moving over me in the same way, as if relearning my body, my features, as if seeing me for the first time.

“I need—” Kyrie began, but couldn’t finish, her voice giving out.

“What, Kyrie? Tell me.” I looked up at her.

“Your hands. On—on me. I need you to—to touch me. Please. Anywhere. Just…hold me—touch me….” Her voice shook, cracked. “Please.”

As if her plea was a key unlocking invisible shackles around my wrists, my hands lifted and came to rest on her hips. She breathed out, a gasp of relief. Her eyes closed, and I could feel her trembling all over. Nerves? Fear? Need?


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