Alice Reed never dreamed she’d escape the stigma of her disturbing past. That’s why she was shocked when, out of the blue, she was recruited to join the elite Durand Enterprises by the enigmatic CEO himself, Dylan Fall. The erotic charge between them was fast and deliciously forbidden. But as Alice opened up to worlds she’d never known, everything changed once again with a stunning discovery: there’s much, much more concealed in the shadows of Alice’s troubling childhood, and her life is about to change forever.
Now, with another piece of the puzzle of Alice’s identity revealed, a mysterious adversary plots to destroy it all—and Dylan is determined to protect her. But as Alice’s sexual addiction to Dylan turns helplessly to love, she can’t help but wonder: how deeply can she really trust him? What were his true motives in drawing her close to him? And what other secrets does he know about her past that even she has yet to learn?
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The night after the fierce storm, Alice dreamed while she lay in the circle of Dylan Fall’s arms.
She was again sitting in front of the vanity mirror at the Twelve Oaks Inn—that lovely home overlooking the lake where Dylan had first told her she was special to him, where she’d first realized she was more than passingly pretty in an edgy, “I don’t take any shit” kind of way. She was beautiful. Desirable. That was a truth she’d read in Dylan’s eyes that night.
In the dream, Deanna Shrevecraft, the sophisticated, kind owner of the Twelve Oaks Inn who had been so knowing and compassionate of Alice’s awkwardness during the romantic getaway, was once again applying her makeup.
“Your eyes are so pretty,” Deanna murmured as she gently stroked on eye shadow.
“Dylan doesn’t like the way I wear my makeup,” Alice confessed impulsively, once again experiencing a sharp pain of embarrassment at the memory of Dylan’s words. “I hate that you darken your eyebrows. And you shouldn’t put so much liner and mascara on your eyes.”
“He doesn’t like to see you hiding yourself. He knows there’s something special underneath,” Deanna said matter-of-factly.
“If you think basket-case geeks are special,” Alice mumbled.
“Some are,” Deanna assured with a glance of amusement. She reached for a tray of eye pencils. Something glittered on her wrist, capturing Alice’s attention. An uneasy feeling coursed through her.
“How did you get that bracelet?” Alice demanded. She noticed Deanna’s startled expression. “I mean . . .” What did Alice mean, snapping at Deanna that way? “It’s so pretty,” she faltered awkwardly. The vision of the unique bracelet on Deanna’s wrist felt wrong somehow. Out of place. But Alice’s dreaming brain struggled to recall why exactly.
“My husband gave it to me,” Deanna said, stepping toward her with an eye pencil in her hand. Alice lunged back when she saw the stains and burns on her gripping fingers, the dirty fingernails. A familiar chemical odor entered her nose, toxic and foul. She looked up, startled, and saw the gray pallor of a ravaged face. Deanna had disappeared. In the magical way of dreams, Sissy had taken her place.
Alice’s mother, Sissy Reed, was forty-five years old. She could easily pass for seventy. It was one of the many hazards of being a methamphetamine cook and abuser.
Anger flooded Alice, not because of the vision of her mother, but because Sissy dared to wear the exquisite rare bracelet. She grabbed at her mother’s bony wrist, lifting the bracelet with the ridge of her finger.
“This isn’t yours. You stole it. Your husband didn’t give it to you! You don’t even have a husband, Sissy.” She pushed at the other woman’s arm disdainfully, guilt mixing with disgust when she realized how hollow and insubstantial Sissy felt . . . when she saw how she stumbled back at her shove.
“You never would call me Mom,” Sissy accused, her passive-aggressive whine an all too familiar splinter under Alice’s skin.
“You never did earn the title.”
Her disgust and guilt stung like acid at the back of her throat. So did her longing for something different. Something more.
Before her eyes, Sissy altered, transforming into a beautiful pale-faced woman with large blue eyes—eyes that looked very much like Alice’s, except they were wide with terror. Alice realized with her own sense of dawning horror that there was bright crimson liquid wetting the side of the woman’s cheek and neck. She reached out to Alice, desperate in her intent, and Alice again saw the delicate gold bracelet on her wrist.
“Run, Addie. Hide!”
Alice awoke, gagging in fear.
She looked wildly around the shadow-draped bedroom, searching for a threat. Her heart was beating like it might explode any second now.
Within seconds, Dylan’s embrace penetrated her anxiety. Eased it. She was in Dylan’s suite at Castle Durand. She was in his arms.
She exhaled shakily, willing her racing heart to slow.
With waking rationality and returning memory, Alice recognized that the unique gold bracelet belonged to neither Deanna Shrevecraft nor Sissy Reed. The last woman in the dream, Lynn Durand, had been the true owner of it.
She’d seen that bracelet and the wearer in dreams before tonight. In fact, she’d thought she’d seen the woman walking right in front of her while she was wide awake. At the time, she’d wondered if it was a ghost. Later, she’d realized it was her own long-forgotten memory resurfacing within the familiar setting of the Durand mansion.
Lynn was the wife of Alan Durand, the maverick brilliant businessman who had founded Durand Enterprises, the multibillion-dollar international company that manufactured everything from candy to yogurt to sports drinks. Durand chocolates and confections were a mainstay across every candy counter in the world. Just through the surrounding woods was another Durand legacy: Camp Durand, an acclaimed summer camp that served at-risk children from Chicago and Detroit. Camp Durand was Alan and Lynn’s favorite charitable endeavor. Alice was a Camp Durand counselor, one of fifteen MBA graduates who had been handpicked by Durand executive officers to compete for nine highly coveted Durand junior management positions.
Was she really just going on her third week at Camp Durand? Time had become so difficult to gauge. Especially since a few days ago, when Alice’s life had been heaved completely upside-down.
Really, the first shaking of Alice’s known world came the moment she’d walked into the business department’s dean’s office months ago for an interview with the impossibly gorgeous, light-years-out-of-her-league CEO of Durand Enterprises, Dylan Fall: the man who currently held her naked body against his own.
The man who currently held her naked heart in his hand.
“I knew I would care about you. I had no idea I’d fall in love with you.”
She pressed her fingers against her breastbone. Her heart squeezed with anguished wonder at the memory of Dylan saying those words just hours ago, following their stormy lovemaking. The memory felt very beautiful to her: fragile and tender, new and raw, the weight of the reality of his words seemingly too big to hold inside her. She was desperate to believe him, but she wasn’t sure she could.
Especially given the magnitude of all the other information she’d been told in the last few days. The nightmare from which she’d awakened brought it home to her. She was very confused.
In his sleep, Dylan shifted slightly and pulled her tighter against him. Unnamed emotion swelled in her chest, feeling like an expanding balloon. For a few panicked seconds, she couldn’t breathe from the pressure of it. Jesus. How was it possible for her to have acquired this level of feeling for him when she’d barely known he existed these last few months, and only been intimate with him for an even shorter period of time?
You’ve known him longer than a few months, that’s why. You’ve known him for most of your life, a firm, authoritative voice in her head said. She flinched instinctively at the harsh reminder, air popping out of her lungs. Alice could only withstand the truth in small, rapid doses. It was like her body and her brain weren’t entirely her own. Her weakness mortified her. She needed to do better. She needed to be stronger.
Alice Reed didn’t run from the truth.
The comforter and sheet had slipped beneath her breasts. The air conditioner felt chilly against her bare skin, but Dylan warmed her backside. Alice craved the sensation of sinking deeper into his embrace, of melting into him. He made her forget everything. His heat and touch were the sweetest addiction.
But just like the first time she’d awakened in his arms, she furtively eased out of his embrace.
Abandoning her defenses and submitting to comfort was something Alice had been nearly hardwired to resist. As a child, she’d forced herself to sleep with the windows open, even in the most frigid nights of a Chicago winter, warding herself against the toxic fumes inherent to Sissy’s “business.” Although the trailer resounded with the abrasive, harsh voices of her uncles and Sissy’s customers, Alice never used a fan, radio, or television to trick her brain into the safety of solid sleep. She needed to hear a threat coming to her locked bedroom, to prepare herself for a fight or an escape. A potential fire from Sissy’s meth lab was yet another nightly reality for which she had to prepare herself. Escaping her history was proving to be a challenge.
She shivered as she stood next to the bed, and then cautiously moved through the dark room. Earlier, she’d seen Dylan hang her clothing in the bathroom. The thunderstorm had caught them in its first furious lash. They’d only arrived at the rear entrance of Castle Durand several seconds after the rain began to pour down in torrents.
Her T-shirt was still a little damp. She hauled it on nevertheless, willfully ignoring the fluffy, cozy, dry robe Dylan had bought her. Her shivers amplified as she unrolled the damp fabric over her breasts and belly. She ignored her jean shorts and sufficed with her mostly dry underwear.
When she silently exited the bathroom, she paused for a moment in the still room, listening. Everything was silent. Dylan slept on. It was for the best. He wouldn’t approve of her mission. Or at the very least, he’d insist on being there by her side while she undertook it. She vividly recalled his words during their heated lovemaking last night as the storm raged around them.
“I don’t like you being down at that camp, Alice. I can’t control what happens to you.”
“You can’t control what happens every second of my day,” she whimpered, because he’d pressed her to him, her back to his front, and was reassuring himself of her existence and safety in the most elemental way.
“Maybe not,” he rasped, running his teeth over the skin of her neck and molding her breast to his hand. “But right now I can.”
Mixed feelings of renewed arousal, irritation, and stark compassion at his concern swept through Alice at the volatile memory. She’d struggled to be independent and self-determined for her entire life. Dylan’s proprietary attitude over her nettled a little. His possessiveness also thrilled her a lot, a fact that often had warning sirens going off in her head.
But Dylan had a right to his worry, didn’t he? He’d earned it. He’d been consumed for more than half his life at the idea of finding Alan Durand’s kidnapped and assumed-dead daughter, Adelaide “Addie” Durand. Everyone else had long ago accepted that Addie had been murdered and lay in some long-forgotten makeshift grave. It was Dylan’s unwavering conviction—a stubborn refusal to concede defeat, a bullheaded determination even against horrible odds that had been born and bred in his youth in the rough, unforgiving streets of Chicago’s West Side—that had eventually led Dylan to Addie.
But Alice had no such personal ties or strong feelings toward Adelaide Durand. To her, that privileged, adorable little girl was a distant tragedy. If anything, that child was relevant primarily because of the singular effect Addie had on Dylan’s life.
That’s what Alice told herself, anyway, as she stood in that cool dark room, chilled to the bone.
She wavered on her feet, suppressing a powerful longing to get back into bed and cuddle against Dylan’s solid length. The vision of Lynn Durand’s exquisite bracelet flashed into her mind’s eye again.
Bizarre as it seemed, that bracelet was not just a random dream created by Alice’s unconscious mind. Her recollection of that bracelet was a genuine memory. Because as much as she was struggling to believe it, Dylan swore it was the absolute truth.
According to Dylan, Alice Reed and Adelaide Durand were one and the same person.
It was the second time in a week that Dylan awoke in the dark room to find his arms empty. Instinct told him that it was still too early for him to escort Alice to the camp, a clandestine ritual they went through every morning before dawn. Neither of them wanted the Durand managers or the VP of human resources, Sebastian Kehoe, to know that Alice had taken up with the CEO of the company. What was between Alice and him was complicated and powerful.
And it was their business alone.
At least for now it was.
Dylan wasn’t sure how long he could keep Alice and Durand Enterprises in separate spheres. For all intents and purposes, Alice was Durand Enterprises. She just didn’t want to—or couldn’t—accept that reality as of yet.
“She’ll let you know when she’s ready to hear certain things, Dylan. She won’t ask what she doesn’t want to know. That’s nature’s way; the unconscious mind’s attempt at shielding her from the truth until she’s ready to handle it.”
It was his friend Sidney Gates’s voice that he heard in his head. Sidney was a psychiatrist, and an old friend of Alan Durand’s. He was very familiar with Addie’s—and Alice’s—history. Dylan trusted his opinion more than anyone else’s when it came to Alice’s state of mind at that point.
The problem is, Sidney had also compared Alice to an undetonated cache of explosives. No one knew for sure what would set her off at this point.
Alarmed by the thought, he reached blindly, finding his cell phone on the bedside table. He squinted at the time. No, he’d been right. It was only a few minutes past two in the morning, way too early for Alice to be up and preparing to return to the camp.
He rose from the bed with just as much haste and alarm as that first time, but on this occasion with more certainty that he knew where to find her. The knowledge didn’t quiet his worry any. He switched on a bedside lamp and hauled on some jeans.
He found Alice standing square in the middle of the empty large bedroom suite in the west hall, her fists clamped tight at her sides. Her long toned legs were naked. They looked strangely vulnerable in the bright glow of the overhead chandelier.
Tension coiled tight in his muscles. On that other night when he’d found a disoriented Alice standing in the hallway, she’d claimed to have seen a woman; a woman Dylan knew to have been dead for nearly twenty years. It was as if her long-buried, resurging memories were too foreign for her to process, so they’d leapt into the solid surroundings of her waking world, like a weird unconscious hologram effect. Or at least that’s how Sidney Gates had tried to explain it to Dylan.
It was so hard, not knowing what to expect from her from one moment to the next. He felt like he could only be certain of her when he was making love to her, when she was entirely present in the moment with him, abandoning herself to pleasure.
“Do you remember who this room belonged to now?” he asked from behind her, his voice echoing off the bare walls of the large, mostly empty suite. She’d accused him of manipulation and lying when she’d realized he’d purposefully kept her from entering this room. That was before he’d told her the truth about her identity.
He was glad when she started slightly and turned her head, meeting his stare. She looked fully alert. Since Alice had come to Castle Durand, there were a few times when she’d go still in his presence, and it’d been like the ghosts of her past flickered in her eyes.
Is that what he was to her? A ghost?
“Was it Addie Durand’s room?” she asked slowly, her low hoarse voice causing his skin to roughen.
His heart knocked against his sternum, even though he knew his appearance remained calm. No matter how hard he was trying—no matter how much he understood—he couldn’t entirely adjust to Alice’s distant, disconnected attitude about Adelaide Durand. It was . . .
He nodded and stepped toward her. “It was originally the nursery, and it had just been remodeled as a bedroom before Addie was taken. Addie’s ‘big girl’ bedroom,” he added with a small smile. “Are you remembering?” he asked her again cautiously.
She shook her head adamantly. Her short dark hair was growing. Her spiky bangs fell into her eyes. She stuck out her bottom lip and blew up on her bangs to clear her vision. The uncontrived, sexy gesture distracted him.
Just like most things about Alice did.
“I don’t remember.”
Despite her quick, firm denial, he wasn’t entirely sure he believed her. “Then why did you come here?”
“I was curious,” she replied, eyebrows arching in response to his quiet challenge.
“And how did you guess this was Addie’s room?”
She shrugged. “You tried to keep me from it. And it’s the best situated in the house, so large and airy . . .” She faded off, glancing around at the ornate crown molding, the bluish-silver-colored silk wallpaper, and the enormous bay window with a built-in curving cushioned bench that looked down on the gardens and the sharp drop off the craggy limestone bluff to Lake Michigan. Because it was night, their reflections glowed brightly in the opaque black glass. The room was nearly empty, only a few of his personal items remained from his recent occupancy. “You and Sidney had suggested how the Durands prized Addie so much, always giving her the best,” she continued. “So I guessed the best bedroom suite had belonged to her. And it belonged to you. Alan Durand prized you, as well,” she added, once again meeting his stare squarely.
Slowly, she spun to face him. She wore only the fitted T-shirt she’d worn at the bonfire and a semitransparent pair of white cotton panties. Instinctively, his gaze dropped over her, trailing over her elegantly sloping shoulders, the full thrusting breasts that stood in such erotic contrast to her slender limbs, narrow waist and hips. His gaze lingered between her thighs. Alice dyed the hair on her head to an obscuring near-black color, but her true shade was a dark red-gold, a combination of her father’s blond and her mother’s rich auburn. Despite the tension of the moment, he felt his body flicker with arousal at the vision of the auburn triangle of hair beneath the see-through fabric. There was something about the contrast of Alice’s tough-girl strength and her potent vulnerability that lit a fire in him, something elemental and strong.
He dragged his gaze to her face.
“It must be strange for you, thinking of me living in Addie’s room. Here. In the Durand’s house,” he added, taking another step toward her. He was often approaching Alice like he might a half-wild animal, highly aware that she might bolt at any moment.
He was determined to catch her, no matter what move she made.
She shook her head. She wore not a trace of makeup. Without the heavy eyeliner and mascara she often wore to hide herself or intimidate—or both—her dark blue eyes looked enormous in her delicate face. God, what he’d experienced when she’d walked into that office last May, so awkward and yet so defiant in her inexpensive new interview suit. The truth had slammed home, jarring him, rattling him to the center of his bones, even though he’d taken great pains to hide his shock. He had seen those sapphire-blue eyes before. But even if it had been the first time Dylan had ever seen her, he suspected he might have been nearly as shaken. No wonder she’d been drawn to the eye goop. Her eyes would draw men with the noblest intentions.
And the foulest.
“No, it doesn’t seem strange to me at all. I can see you in this room. Did Alan suggest you take it?”
“He did, yes. Just before he died.”
“You moved out of it”—her chin tilted and her eyes sparked in that familiar defiant gesture—“because of me, didn’t you?”
“I didn’t know what to expect. Sidney thought we should cautiously expose you to the surroundings,” he admitted. Sidney had suggested bringing her to the estate under the pretense of hiring her as a Camp Durand counselor when they discovered that—miraculously—she was a business major. In those circumstances, Dylan could determine what she recalled about living there—if anything—and see how she reacted to the environment. If not Dylan personally, then the two Durand security employees he’d ordered to covertly watch her while at the camp could give him insights as to her state of mind.
“I was familiar with Addie Durand’s habits,” he said slowly. “There are a few places that I worried might be more likely to trigger memories too quickly. This one, even though it’s been redecorated. Alan and Lynn’s suite. The den, the stables, the library. . . and the dining room. The entry hall, the kitchen, the living room, the terrace gardens, and the media room have been extensively renovated, so I didn’t worry as much about that. Most of the other bedrooms here weren’t used much—either by the Durands or me, so they weren’t of any concern.”
He hesitated. “I never imagined you’d inadvertently find your way into the dining room that first night at the castle. Or the stables the next day,” Dylan told her, choosing his words carefully. Alice had made it very clear to him that while she would discuss the details of Addie Durand, Addie’s kidnapping, and Dylan’s part in the tragedy, she wouldn’t talk about Addie and herself as if they were the same person. Currently, they were treading on volatile ground.
Her eyelids narrowed slightly, and he knew he’d made some kind of misstep, despite his caution. “You suspected I was going to be in your bedroom, even before I came here? And so you moved suites, in order not to trigger any . . .” She faded off uncertainly, aware she was skimming close to the fire. Her defiant expression made a quick resurgence. “I thought you said that you hadn’t planned for anything sexual between us . . . that it just happened that morning in the stables?”
“That’s true. And since you seem to need a reminder, you’re the one who seduced me, Alice,” he said with a stern, pointed glance meant to quash her suspicion immediately. It didn’t work. He damned her defensive posture and closed the space between them. Satisfaction went through him when he took her into his arms, and the tension melted from her muscles. She pressed against him.
“If that’s what you want to call the first three seconds of what happened in those stables. It was all you after that, baby,” she grumbled under her breath.
“I didn’t hear you complaining.”
Her eyes flashed up at him.
“I’m telling you the truth,” Dylan said succinctly. “I didn’t plan for us to be together in the stables that morning. How could I have? I didn’t know you’d show up there. I didn’t plan for us to get involved in that way when you came to the Durand Estate.”
“Then why would you worry about me being here . . . in this room? Why did you pack up most of your things and decorate a whole new suite, if you didn’t plan on us sleeping together from the first? Why else would I be in the CEO of Durand Enterprises’ bedroom if you didn’t expect us to become lovers?” she demanded.
Dylan suppressed a sigh. Despite the fact that she grasped his waist and lightly pressed her breasts and belly against him in a tempting gesture, her trademark wary expression remained as she stared up at him.
“I didn’t do it because I had plans to seduce you,” he told her with an air of finality, mapping her elegant, supple spine and the tight curve of her hip with his hands. He felt his need for her mount. How would all of this have played out, if this powerful attraction hadn’t been there? It was so hard to say, but he would have contrived something to bring her closer to him.
“Why, then?” she insisted, undaunted by a tone that Dylan used regularly to cow some of the most tried and hard-boiled executives in the world. Of course it didn’t faze Alice. He closed his eyes briefly. Dammit, she could be impossible.
“I felt like an interloper, being in here . . . knowing you were about to come to the Durand Estate.”
“You felt like an interloper?” she asked slowly, looking dazed. “Because this was Alan Durand’s house? Because of your history with him?”
He held her stare. “Because it was no longer my room, Alice. No longer my home, really. Not since you came. Period.”
Regret sliced through him at his harsh tone when he saw her lush lower lip quiver.
“I’m sorry,” he said, frustrated. “It’s just that sometimes, you keep pressing. And it’s hard to know when you want the truth and when you don’t.”
“I know,” she said quickly. She, too, looked regretful. “And it’s not true, what you said. Of course Castle Durand is your home. You own it, don’t you? You bought it?”
“Yes, but only because Alan Durand offered the house to me as part of the special contract he created to make it possible for me to purchase Durand shares when he made me the CEO. I wouldn’t have been able to afford it at that time in my life if he didn’t offer me certain concessions.” He exhaled at the memory of their negotiations for his taking over Durand Enterprises. Alan had been so stubborn. So insistent. So generous in contriving a way to set terms that would allow Dylan to smoothly and completely take over the helm of the company. He missed Alan Durand, more than he liked to admit.
“Once, a lord’s title was tied to the land. That’s what Alan explained to me. Alan loved his European history and traveling,” he recalled with fond, wry amusement. “He insisted that I’d be taken more seriously as the head of Durand Enterprises if I was master of the company’s symbolic domain.”
“The castle and the estate,” Alice said, a small smile flickering across her lips. She sobered. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard what he died of. Alan Durand.”
He saw a shadow cross her face. He tensed. But she’d asked, hadn’t she? She’d been prepared for that truth? He was wary of her asking more questions. Instead, she inhaled and looked away.
She’s not ready to discuss their deaths any further yet. He didn’t know if he should be worried or relieved about that. He did know one thing. If he ever made the bizarre discovery that he’d once had a loving mother and father, he wouldn’t be too eager to plunge into the topic of losing them before he’d ever even known them. Her denial was the only way she was coping right now, and he had to try to respect that while she slowly assimilated to a new reality. It’d only been a few days since he’d told her about Addie Durand, after all.
He felt as if he navigated a minefield with no map.
“You are the master of this house, Dylan,” she said, sounding subdued.
“No. Not entirely.”
He cupped her jaw, trying to ease her sudden troubled expression . . . her abrupt fragility. She looked up at him through her spiky bangs, her glance reminding him again of a cautious, wild thing.
“It’s just so impossible to believe,” she said in a rush. “I mean, it’s not that I think you’re lying. Why would you? It’s just . . .” Her expression grew a little desperate as she seemingly searched for words to explain. “You can’t just start thinking of the world as round in a second when you’ve thought it was flat for your whole life.” She gave a sharp bark of laughter, as if she’d just absorbed the meaning of her words only upon hearing them. “It’s not a bad analogy, really,” she mumbled to herself. “I sort of feel like I might fall straight off the earth into nothingness every time I think about what you told me. Please understand.”
“I do,” he assured quietly, his fingers delving into her silky short hair. He cupped her skull. It was hard to be the rational executive when it came to Alice. It was hard to be clearheaded in this situation period. But he had to try. So much was at stake.
“What do you think would help you to make it real?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know for sure. Just time, I guess.”
He nodded, lowering his head until her upturned face was just inches from him. “Do you think it might help to see tangible proof?”
She blinked. “Like what? More photos?”
He pulled her tighter against him. Her T-shirt felt cool and slightly damp against the naked skin of his torso. Despite the chill of the fabric, it was the sensation of her full breasts pressing against his ribs that made his skin roughen. Her erect nipples were a distraction. He forced himself to focus.
“Not just photos. You’ve said yourself you don’t experience any connection to photos of Adelaide Durand.”
“What, then?” she asked in a hushed tone.
“Alan and Lynn Durand’s physician still practices at Morgantown Memorial. He’s in possession of some of their genetic material. Alan arranged it that way before he passed, because he wanted to make sure there was a potential means of identifying Addie. You could find out without a doubt if the Durands were your parents.”
She stared up at him blankly. “You want me to go for genetic testing?”
“Only if you’re up for it. It doesn’t have to be now,” he said, caressing her neck. He’d learned from experience in the past week that his touch helped to ground her. Soothe her. Distract her from her phantoms. It was selfish, too, but he wasn’t above using that fact proactively to help her through this process.
He wasn’t above using anything, in that cause.
“You mean . . . it doesn’t have to be now, but it does have to be sometime.”
He strained to keep his expression impassive, very much aware that he was once again walking through a minefield.
“I knew the truth almost the first second I saw you. I don’t need any proof that what I told you is one hundred percent true,” he said, holding her stare.
“But there will be those that demand the solid proof.”
An imagined vision of a roomful of somber Durand executives and attorneys—all the potential doubters and naysayers, people who were panicked at the idea of possible upheaval at Durand Enterprises—flew into his mind’s eye. “There will be plenty who eventually want to see those test results,” he repeated as calmly as possible.
She bit her lip and glanced aside. Aside from all these bizarre circumstances she found herself in, Dylan knew Alice Reed was typically a practical, down-to-earth young woman with a brilliant brain for mathematics and business. Never let it be said that genes weren’t telling. Alan Durand had possessed one of the finest business minds he’d ever known, and Lynn had been an outstanding scholar. She’d been an assistant professor of mathematics at the University of Michigan when Alan had first met her. He was glad to see Alice focus so rationally on the difficult topic.
“I don’t want anything of Addie Durand’s, so why should it matter?” she asked.
“You don’t know that yet.”
“I know what I want and don’t want, Dylan.”
“Then do it for yourself,” he suggested without pause. He’d been prepared for her response. He’d been prepared for her stubbornness.
He nodded. “That’s what I meant before. You need tangible proof. Not just my word. You need firsthand evidence. It’ll be something firm to grasp onto.”
“A solid start,” she whispered.
“A solid start,” Dylan agreed, relief sweeping through him because he’d seen something click in her gaze, and knew she’d go for the genetic testing. He needed that tangible proof as a shield against potential challenges.
He leaned down and brushed his mouth against hers. His kiss was meant to be gentle and reassuring, but Alice was having none of it. She put her hand on the back of his head, pulling him farther down to her and going up on her tiptoes. He responded to her invitation as always.
Their kiss deepened. His lust flared high on the fuel of her reciprocated need. So sweet. So Alice-like, to be wary and doubting one moment, and then taking him to the center of the flames within two seconds flat.
He would have to have her again tonight, experience her melting beneath his touch, laid bare and submitting to the bond between them. He needed it for Alice’s sake.
He required it for his own.