"Let go of me so I can get dressed." And so I can get away from you.
"These guys are all jerks and losers. I mean, what is it that appeals to you?"
She stiffened at the deprecation she heard in his voice. A chill settled over her. She was so tired of doing this with him. He used her taste in men as the perfect foil. They'd spent years dancing around his real problem with her, but today it seemed that they were going to get to the bottom of why he hated her, and she welcomed it. Maybe once he said his peace, he would finally leave her alone.
"Go ahead and say it, Ashton. You've been dying to for years."
A puzzled look crossed his face. "What--"
"Just say it. Admit it. You can't stand my relationship with Olivia." Her body trembled with anger as she shouted at him. He made her face her greatest insecurity--that she would never grow comfortable with the new life she'd built. That she would always be awkward in her own skin. She couldn't go back to her old life, but she didn't quite belong in the one she now had either. Ashton was the living, breathing embodiment of what her new life represented. When she was around him, she felt the differences between them so strongly. Even though he wasn't to blame for her own insecurities, she still resented him for who he was.
"You've always hated that we were so close because you think I am an embarrassment to both her and you--your entire family even. Admit it. You're embarrassed by me."
He shook his head, his face incredulous. "That--"
"You hate what I represent. And you hate the men that I choose because you consider them a direct reflection of me."
He stared down at her as if she were insane. "No. I hate the men you choose because they are not a reflection of you."
"Well, I am attracted to who I'm attracted to, so let it go," she said, her tone belligerent. "You're not my father, so you don't get to voice your opinion about the men I date."
His nostrils flared. "I fail to see what attracts you to these idiots. These are not good guys, Nikki."
She curled her lips into a mocking smile. "Good?" Her voice dripped with sarcasm as she said the word. She shook her head. "I don't do good guys, Ashton. There is nothing about a good, safe, straight-laced, uptight, preppy guy that appeals to me. Nothing." She glanced down, noting he still held her arm. She shot him a pointed glare. "Let go of me."
He stiffened as if her words had just registered in his brain. "What do you mean by that?"
Nikki ignored the menace she heard in his voice and sidestepped the question she knew he was asking. "Let me go so I can get dressed should be pretty clear--"
"You think I'm good, don't you? You think I am all those things--what did you say? Ah, yes--safe, straight-laced, uptight, preppy. That's me." His eyes narrowed to angry slits. "You think?"
She stilled when she heard the subtle challenge in his question. The temperature in the room seemed to plunge in a matter of seconds as Ashton's gaze raked over her. She shivered as wariness settled into her gut.
Desire burned in the depths of his gaze as it leisurely swept over her bared body. Her body trembled. She dragged in a shaky breath, trying to still the fluttering beat of her heart. Something inside him had changed in the span of moments, and it both terrified and excited her.
A wicked smile lifted the corners of his mouth. "You have no idea what type of man I really am, because if you did you would--"
She barely registered that he'd dropped her dress until he lifted his now free hand to trace the outline of her bottom lip with his thumb. Her nipples hardened to stiff peaks, and her warm juices seeped out of her pussy. She stifled a moan as he continued to stroke her mouth.
"I w--would w--what?" she managed to stammer out when he didn't finish. "If I knew what kind of man you really were, I would what?" she repeated, proud that she didn't sound like an idiot this time.
His fingers skimmed across her cheek and settled beneath her chin, tilting her head back.
Embers of desire flickered in the depths of his blue eyes, and a lazy smile spread across his face as he held her gaze. He lowered his head but stopped within inches of her face, letting his lips hover above her mouth as if he were teasing her.
"You would run," he whispered before he captured her mouth with his lips in a searing kiss.