“I was so scared,” she said, pushing away from him.
Ridge kept his arms clamped around her, refusing to let her go. Eventually the fight drained away and she sagged against him.
“You were both hurt. I couldn’t talk to either one of you. I’ve never felt so alone in my life.”
Why hadn’t he thought of this? He’d always seen her as so strong and independent. He hadn’t realized how much she needed her brother. Could he have been a bigger ass?
“I was so scared I would lose both of you,” she said, lifting her head and looking into his eyes. “If I’d lost you both, I don’t how I’d have survive.”
“Avery.” Her name was all he could manage. There was a pleading in her eyes that he didn’t understand, but he wanted so badly to do whatever it was she needed.
She smoothed her palms up his chest. “I’ve drifted through the last few days detached and empty.”
That he understood, along with the heat that spread throughout his system from her touch. He wanted to groan from her caress, a pleasure he didn’t deserve.
“I don’t want to feel empty anymore.” Her fingers slipped the top button of his shirt free. “I need to feel alive.” The next two buttons were quickly released.
“Avery,” he whispered, shaking his head and helpless to stop her. He couldn’t allow this. It wouldn’t be right. He didn’t have anything to offer her.
“No more talking. No more hurt right now.”
Ridge sucked in a deep breath as her warm hands pressed against his bare chest and pushed his shirt off his shoulders. He needed to stop this before it got out of hand. She didn’t really want him. She just wanted solace and he was the only one available to give it to her.
“Stop thinking,” she told him softly as she unlatched his belt.
This was what he’d dreamed of for so many years, what got him through those nights in Afghanistan. Thinking about Avery’s soft body and how mind-blowing it would be having her under him, and she was offering up that dream. Everything he’d ever wanted was right here in front of him and he’d be a bastard for taking it, or a bastard for refusing.
Avery looked at him. “Pretend I’m someone else if you have to. Just give me this.”
A single tear trickled from her eye, spilled down her cheek and erased every doubt he had about taking what she offered. Pretend? Dear God. He’d never have to pretend she was someone else.
Grasping the back of her neck, he let his gaze settle on her plump lips and lowered his head. All those years of wondering what she’d taste like, how sensuous her silky lips would be against his, and he was about to find out.
“No pretending.” He whispered the promise and then touched her lips with his.
Just a brush. He didn’t want to scare her, or push her any faster than she was willing to go in her fragile state. With featherlight kisses he touched each corner of her mouth, lingered over her lips and tried to commit her softness to memory. If she changed her mind he wanted her to think she could pull back. God help him, he hoped like hell she didn’t change her mind.