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Her breathless moans filled the darkened room, answering his every thrust. Alex felt her fingers curl, her nails raking the width of his back as she urged him on. Accommodating her unspoken demands, he drove himself deeper, harder still. Abruptly, her moans were transformed, channeled into a single, suspended cry that echoed off the walls of the spacious bedroom. He felt her convulse then melt around him.
No sooner had she recovered than Sydney arched against his pelvis, pressing close. “More. Give me more,” she panted as she wrapped her legs around his hips. Her hands shifted in a downward sweep, clutching feverishly.
His gaze swept over Sydney’s flushed face. Her eyes were glazed, lost in a haze of passion. He flexed his hips, sheathing himself within her, then, in one fluid motion, slipped his arm beneath the small of her back and rolled, bringing her with him as they switched positions. He exhaled as her nails left his back, replaced by the smoothness of the bedsheets.
Clasping her hips, Alex guided her until she’d found the rhythm, a slow grind that left her gasping, her head thrown back in rapture. His broad hands roamed, sliding over her sweat-dampened skin, stroking as they traveled upward to cup her swaying breasts. He swept his thumbs back and forth over her nipples.
Shuddering, Sydney moved against his hands, her breath catching then rushing out, ragged and quick. She was almost there, damn close to the edge, Alex thought. He shifted, raising his torso so his mouth could reach her. His teeth closed over her turgid nipple, biting down gently. As if on cue, Sydney exploded. Her inner muscles clenched violently, milking him.
Alex’s cock responded. He tensed, swelling and growing inside her, his hands grasping as he surged into her slick heat one last time and found his release. With a low groan, his mouth closed over hers, swallowing her shattered scream.
Like a curtain lowering, postcoital quiet descended. The silence was broken when Sydney rolled over onto her side to face him. “No one can make me come like you do, Alex,” she purred, skimming her fingers over the muscled contours of his chest. His pecs twitched involuntarily at the sudden memory of her nails scoring his flesh.
Sydney snuggled closer so she could press her lips to the base of his throat. With a soft sigh, she dropped her head back onto the pillow, seeming not to notice that Alex had neither replied nor offered a casual caress in return. He felt her sated body relax against his, and grow heavy as sleep claimed her. Her breathing slowed and deepened, fanning dry the sweat on his skin.
When he was certain she was fast asleep, he swung his legs over the bed and padded into the adjacent bathroom. Dropping his condom into the wastebasket, he flicked on the bathroom lights then blinked, accustoming his eyes to the sudden brightness. He turned to the sink and was abruptly confronted with his reflection in the mirrored medicine cabinet.
He stared dispassionately, cataloging the details of his face: dark blond hair, pale blue eyes, squared chin . . .
Yeah, he looked the same as ever. So what had changed? Why was it that the sex he’d just experienced left him cold and empty, with nothing more memorable to show for it than an aching head and a lacerated back? Why did he suddenly wish he were anywhere else in the world than here in this Central Park South penthouse with a beautiful woman lying naked and replete in his bed, a woman who’d climaxed three times in his arms? He didn’t know what had triggered the change in him, but he knew for certain that the act that Sydney Raines and he had just performed was precisely that: an act. Empty and meaningless.
Filled with a sudden impatience, Alex yanked open the cabinet door, banishing his blue-eyed reflection. He rummaged among the first-aid creams and sprays and boxes of Band-Aids and gauze pads he kept stocked for visits from Sophie and Jamie, his niece and nephew, before finding the aspirin. He opened the bottle and with a quick toss of his head downed two of them, then bent over the faucet for a long drink of cold water. Shutting the cabinet, he carefully kept his gaze averted from its mirrored front. He’d had enough soul-searching for one night.
He walked over to the shower stall and pulled the glass door open. Reaching in, he turned the water on full blast. It didn’t take long for the marble cubicle to fill with clouds of steam. He stepped inside and let the soft grayness envelop him. Arms braced against the tiles, he emptied his mind of everything except the lashing sting of hot water beating on his scored flesh, welcoming the pain like an old, familiar friend.
Alex didn’t bother with sleep. As the clock’s hands crept toward five, he pushed his chair away from his computer monitor, which glowed with numbers and deciles courtesy of the Nippon stock exchange, and wandered over to stand by the penthouse’s oversize windows. Hands fisted inside his jeans pockets, he stared out at the park that lay stretched below, twenty-six stories down. An ever-changing quilt, this morning the fifty-some-block-long rectangle that delineated Central Park was dominated by light browns and grays and soft, pale greens. Near the southern end of the park, just below his bare feet, was a liberal smattering of bright pink that signaled the riotous bloom of the cherry trees.
Perhaps it was the angle of the dawn’s light. Whatever the reason, Alex had a sudden urge to pull on his sweats and running shoes and go down to the park for his morning run. A voice inside his head chimed in, told him that if he went now—right now—he would see her, the mystery woman, flying down the hill near 102nd Street on her Rollerblades, her massive hound galloping flat out by her side.
The population of New York City was around ten million; densely packed Manhattan boasted close to two million. Yet there were moments when this teeming metropolis shrank to the size of a small town. Six o’clock in the morning in Central Park was one of those times. The people out then, whether running, cycling, or blading around the six-mile loop—however disparate their lives the other twenty-three hours of the day—were bound by their need to get that rush of endorphins racing through their systems.
The mystery woman belonged to this select group. Watching for her had become a ritual; an actual sighting never failed to brighten his mood. A New York miracle was how Alex thought of her. Each time he saw her, he was struck anew by how wild, how unfettered she seemed, a glorious contrast to the gritty cement and steel jungle that surrounded them . . . and Alex would find himself grinning, grateful to be alive right here and now, a witness to this brief, incredible spectacle.
It had taken nearly half a dozen sightings before he’d even been sure his hurtling Rollerblader was a woman. Bundled in a dark watch cap, fleece jacket, sweatpants, and thick gloves, she didn’t exactly advertise her sex as she sped around the park. She was more a blur of long scissoring legs, the enormous dog beside her all flying fur and lolling tongue. Then, one morning he’d heard her laugh. Definitely a woman’s laughter—light and musical—it had floated in the crisp dawn air as she acknowledged the awed, startled shout of “Holy shit!” from the two cyclists she’d flown past.
His fascination with the Rollerblader had grown with each sighting. Recently, he’d caught himself thinking of her at odd moments, as if she’d taken hold of his subconscious.
Which was why Alex couldn’t, wouldn’t permit himself to go out looking for her today. Not when he knew what lay ahead. It didn’t matter that the woman from the park was destined to remain yet another anonymous New Yorker, one he wouldn’t recognize or even look for anywhere else in the city. His personal code refused to entertain pleasurable albeit innocent thoughts of one woman when he was going to hurt another shortly.
Again. God, he’d done this so many times before, he should have the technique patented. The Alex Miller Method of breaking up. Guaranteed results.
He cursed softly and then stiffened. Unconsciously his mouth hardened in a grim line as from the bedroom behind him he heard the shrill ring of the alarm clock. Sydney would be out in a matter of minutes, ready to sit down with her Wall Street Journal, juice, and cappuccino. For a second, he was tempted to maintain his silence and put off the unpleasantness. But no, he couldn’t. To do so would only delay the inevitable. It wasn’t as if he needed more time to analyze his feelings or, more precisely, his lack of feelings.
A damned shame. Sydney Raines was beautiful, intelligent, and dynamic . . . and that was pretty much how Alex felt about his Aston Martin, too.
She deserved better than that.
From the Paperback edition.